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Culberson Will "Vigorously Enforce" Restrictions on NASA-China Relationship - UPDATED

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Oct-2015
Updated: 15-Mar-2016 04:34 PM

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said today that NASA did not fully inform Congress about the recent State Department-led meeting in Beijing on bilateral U.S.-China civil space cooperation as required by law.  He stressed that he plans to "vigorously enforce" the law, which requires NASA to notify Congress in advance of such meetings that technology transfer, for example, will not occur.

In a statement to SpacePolicyOnline.com, Culberson said:  

“NASA has failed to provide the committee with details on the depth and scope of the meetings hosted by the Department of State. China’s Space program is owned and controlled entirely by the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese government have proven to be the world’s most aggressive in cyber espionage. I intend to vigorously enforce the longstanding prohibitions designed to protect America’s space program.”

Culberson chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds NASA.   His predecessor, former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), led the effort to include language in NASA's appropriations bills prohibiting NASA or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any funds related to bilateral space cooperation with China unless certain certifications are made to Congress in advance.  Culberson echoes Wolf's views and continues the precedent.

In June, the State Department announced the initiation of a U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue with the first meeting scheduled to take place before the end of October.  Reaction to the announcement was muted despite the controversy.  The first meeting took place in Beijing last month and another is planned in 2016.   NASA confirmed that it participated in the Beijing meeting.

Section 532 of the FY2015 appropriations law (P.L. 113-235) that funds NASA states that NASA may not spend any funds to "develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by law enacted after the date of enactment of this Act."  Those limitations do not apply if "no later than 30 days prior to the activity in question," NASA certifies that the activity poses no risk of the transfer of "technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications" and does not "involve knowing interactions with officials who have been determined by the United States to have direct involvement with violations of human rights."   Any such certification "shall include a description of the purpose of the activity, its agenda, its major participants, and its location and timing."

In an emailed statement to SpacePolicyOnline.com on October 27, NASA responded to Culberson's comments as follows:  “All discussions under the U.S.-China Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue, including NASA's participation, were conducted in full accordance with U.S. law and regulations.”  SpacePolicyOnline.com requested a copy of any correspondence NASA might have sent to Congress in fulfillment of the legal obligations, but nothing was provided.

In a related development, Culberson issued a press release last week following the indictment of two NASA supervisors as a result of the Bo Jiang espionage case.  He said the indictment is "further proof of the widespread negligence at NASA and throughout the Obama Administration when it comes to protecting U.S. intellectual property and sensitive information."

Note:  This article, originally published on October 26, 2015, was updated on October 27 with NASA's response to Culberson's comments.

Note:  The provision was extended in the FY2016 appropriations law, where it is section 531.


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