Wolf Disputes Effect of Law on Chinese Participation in Kepler Conference - UPDATE
UPDATE, October 9, 2013: The text of the letter still has not been posted on Wolf's website, so we have cut and pasted it from the email and posted it on our website at this link.
ORIGINAL STORY, October 8, 2013: Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote a lengthy letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden today about what the legal provision he sponsored does and does not say about the participation of Chinese scientists in NASA conferences. The issue is receiving significant press attention in the context of an upcoming meeting on results from NASA's Kepler planet-hunting mission.
Wolf is one of Congress's strongest critics of the Chinese government and included a provision in law prohibiting NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any appropriated funds on anything related to space cooperation. Wolf chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. He also has been critical of some NASA field centers, particularly Ames Research Center and Langely Research Center, for allowing Chinese to work on site or attend conferences. In response to Wolf's criticisms about security flaws, NASA instituted policies governing what foreign nationals can and cannot do at its field centers.
The Kepler Science Conference II is being held at NASA/Ames November 4-8 and The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday that a Kepler specialist at NASA/Ames wrote an email stating that Chinese nationals could not attend because "federal legislation passed last March forbids us from hosting any citizens of the People's Republic of China at a conference held" at NASA facilities.
Wolf's letter to Bolden sharply refutes that statement and tells Bolden that he needs to issue clarified guidance to the NASA Centers about what the law says versus what NASA's own policies require. "As you know, the congressional provision -- which has been in place since early 2011 -- primarily restricts bilateral, not multilateral, meetings and activities with the Communist Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies," Wolf writes. "It places no restrictions on activities involving individual Chinese nationals unless those nationals are acting as official representatives of the Chinese government."
By law (P.L. 112-55), neither NASA nor OSTP may "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" including "the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA." The only exceptions are if the activity is specifically authorized by Congress or NASA or OSTP certifies to Congress 14 days in advance that the activity will not result in the transfer of "technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company."
It is NASA policies put in place this spring that affect what Chinese nationals can do at NASA centers, Wolf asserts, adding that he thought those restrictions had been lifted. Therefore, "it is clear the NASA Ames guidance provided to conference attendees was inaccurate and not reflective of the statutory restrictions.... NASA Headquarters needs to send updated guidance to both the conference attendees and to the press to correct this misconception." The letter goes on at length explaining Wolf's strenuous objections to the Chinese government, criticizing scientists who said they would boycott the Kepler conference because of the restrictions, and castigating the management of NASA/Ames. Regarding NASA/Ames, Wolf exclaimed "I believe the center has become a rat's nest of inappropriate and possibly illegal activities that appear to have occurred with the concurrence of the center's leadership."
More than 95 percent of NASA employees are furloughed due to the government shutdown, so issuing clearer guidance is not likely to happen soon, and with the Kepler conference just weeks away, Chinese nationals would not be able to obtain visas to participate even if the government was operating normally.
Wolf's letter was distributed by email this afternoon and is not yet posted on his website. A link will be added when it is, but in the meantime we have cut and pasted it and posted it on our website at this link.
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