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Do you know when your university activities violate federal law?

November 21, 2013

Quick: Which of these is a violation of federal law? 

  • Conducting research with non-U.S. graduate students,
  • Shipping materials to research partners abroad,
  • Traveling internationally to present at a conference, or
  • Purchasing equipment from or engaging international organizations in service contracts? 

The correct answer is: possibly any of them!  Normally, these activities do nothing but help further the expanding universe of knowledge and keep the business of higher education moving forward.  However, it’s important to know when seemingly common practices can expose you to serious federal penalties.

"Export" may not mean what you think it means

Export control is one of the fastest-growing areas of compliance concern for colleges and universities.  The federal government has laws and regulations that either require governmental permission or flat out prohibit U.S. citizens and green card holders from transferring certain items and technology—including information itself--outside the United States.

To most people, and understandably so, “export control” conjures up scenes of federal agents stopping shipments of missiles abroad, or spies caught at the airport with national secrets.  It’s true, export controls include the monitoring of international shipments for sensitive equipment and technology leaving the U.S., but that is really the smallest part of a larger concern for U.S. universities.

The federal government has a broad definition of export that incfigure of woman walking on globeludes not just physical shipments from the U.S. to country X, but also the transmission of technical data or know-how to citizens of country X while inside the U.S., even right here on campus

We all want the best and brightest working with and for us here at CSU, and sharing information is part of the University’s mission.  The government knows that, and accordingly provides an exception for “fundamental” university research, in which the results are broadly shared and published, as is most research done at CSU. But restrictions on publication imposed by a sponsor, permissions, restrictions on the participation of foreight students, and proprietary information protections in a grant or contract can destroy this exception, putting research that is commonly assumed to be uncontrolled under federal scrutiny. To involve foreign individuals on research that is not considered “fundamental”, a license must be applied for from the federal government in advance of disclosing any export-controlled technology.

What types of information and technology are controlled?  The government, as you might suspect, has complex regulations covering military technology and equipment.  But there are also fairly extensive controls on non-military equipment considered to be “dual-use”, or of a nature that could be modified to serve an official or improvised military use.  Examples include things like lasers, radars, select biological agents, computers— even the remote entry fobs you might have on your car keys.

Before you go overseas…

When you travel abroad, the information you take goes with you just as if you shipped it there by boat. Are you taking any unpublished research, technical data, or perhaps proprietary data belonging to CSU or an industry partner? In this age of unparalleled advancements in information theft methods, you may have data stolen from you and never realize it. Travelers also need to know that even if no one accesses the information, even if you don’t access it, the government still considers the information exported. 

And there’s one more aspect of export control to which the title doesn’t let on: protecting the institution (and you!) from doing business or creating relationships with specific individuals, organizations, and entities that have been banned, disbarred, suspended, or otherwise outlawed by the U.S. government. 

Did you know there are multiple federal lists, constantly updated, comprised of people, companies, and organizations with whom it is illegal to do business?  Some are even here in the United States!  Technology has made it easier to check—and also easier to enforce—these federal lists and laws.  The Export Control Administrator has screening tools to help all members of the CSU community, including researchers, departmental purchasers, and international collaborators avoid violations.

Know where to get help!

What happens if you get in trouble?  Along with potential fines of up to $1,000,000 or time in prison, you may also lose your ability to receive governmental funds of any kind—including research dollars from federal agencies—for life.  To complicate matters, the government’s rules and prohibitions differ from one country to the next, including comprehensive embargoes on places like Iran and Cuba, and other more targeted restrictions, like prohibitions on sending military technology to China and India.  These may all still be avoided if a license is granted, but it is important to contact the university's export control administrator in advance of any export.

Export controls are complicated, extensive, and do not make for a spellbinding read.  It’s not your job to become an expert on export controls—that is the responsibility of the export control administrator.  But it is your job to ask questions and seek assistance with any of these matters.

The export control administrator works with all members of the CSU community to help ensure compliance with laws around technical research, international shipping, export licensing, international travel, and safe business transactions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or get help—the only mistake is ignoring the issue. 

Reduce the risk to yourself and CSU by contacting the export control administrator at 970-491-3599, or, and by coming  to the Risk Management Week brown bag lunch on Export Controls, Monday, Dec. 9th, noon-1:30 in Room 222 of the Lory Student Center. 

Contact: Grant Calhoun
Phone: 970-491-3599