DoD Affirms Policy on Open Research

06.03.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In a move that may help to discourage habitual secrecy in military-funded research, the Department of Defense last week reaffirmed a Reagan-era policy that the products of fundamental scientific research should normally be unrestricted. However, the policy also said that if national security required imposing controls on such research, then formal classification was the only permissible means of doing so.

“The Department of Defense fully supports free scientific exchanges and dissemination of research results to the maximum extent possible,” wrote Under Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter in a May 24, 2010 memo (pdf) to the military service secretaries, first reported by Inside the Pentagon.

“I have determined that additional clarifying guidance is required to ensure the DoD will not restrict disclosure of the results of fundamental research… unless such research efforts are classified for reasons of national security,” he wrote.  It is not evident why such “additional clarifying guidance” was deemed necessary or what prompted the memo last week.

The guidance closely follows and reinforces the policy that was first enunciated in President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 189, and then elaborated in a 2008 DoD memorandum, which is nearly identical to the latest Carter memo.  Both documents were included as attachments to the new memo.

“NSDD 189 makes clear that the products of fundamental research are to remain unrestricted to the maximum extent possible,” Under Secretary Carter noted.  “When control is necessary for national security reasons, classification is the only appropriate mechanism.  The DoD will place no other restrictions on the conduct or reporting of unclassified fundamental research, except as otherwise required by applicable federal statutes, regulations, or executive orders.”

Moreover, he ordered, DoD program managers should actively avoid getting their research entangled in export controls or other potential restrictions on public disclosure.  “Unclassified contracted fundamental research awards should not be structured, managed or executed in such a manner that they become subject to controls under U.S. statutes and regulations, including U.S. export control laws and regulations,” Dr. Carter wrote.

“The performance of contracted fundamental research also should not be managed in a way that it becomes subject to restrictions on the involvement of foreign researchers or publication restrictions,” he added, echoing similar language from a 2008 policy memo.