U takes secret deal

The contract included regulations about publishing the research results.

by Eddie Glenn

Last summer, the Department of Homeland Security made a $1.7 million contract with the University to do research on the automated surveillance of human activity.

The contract included regulations about publishing the research results, but the agreement is controversial, because University policy prohibits entering a contract without freedom to publish the research results.

The Board of Regents has a policy that no contract or grant may limit the prompt release of its results.

R. Timothy Mulcahy, the University’s vice president for research, said the increasing frequency of contracts with “troublesome clauses” concerns the University administration.

When the University is offered a contract containing such clauses, “We work very vigorously to negotiate that language out,” he said.

In this contract’s case, the administration was not able to have the troublesome clauses removed, Mulcahy said.

He said the administration continued to enter the contract because the advantages outnumbered the disadvantages.

“If we were not to (take the contract), the work would probably not be done as well,” Mulcahy said.

The University Senate Research Committee sent a recommendation to the committee’s president, who accepted the conditions.

The committee has a solution process for these types of contracts, but Mulcahy said “these troublesome clauses are appearing with greater and greater frequency.”

These clauses conflict with fundamental principles of research universities to freely exchange information, he said. They also put universities in an awkward position when dealing with federal agencies as research sponsors.

Mulcahy and The Associated Press said the main reason for the conflict was the department’s restrictions pertaining to a student involved in the research.

Bulgaria is on a list prohibiting citizens from that country to partake in this type of research.

But Richard Voyles, a professor in the computer science and engineering department, said the Bulgarian student was approved to work on the project by the Department of Homeland Security.

Voyles said he is directly involved in the research regarding this contract. He is also a part of the National Science Foundation’s Safety, Security, and Rescue Research program.

University administration said the Bulgarian student cannot be involved in the research because of the risks of potential violations of the U.S. State Department’s export laws.

Voyles said the State Department has regulations on all exports including “operational information on the site we’re protecting.”

The site of the research is an area of mass transportation where millions of people pass by every day.

The Bulgarian student is on a student visa while he attends the University. When he returns to Bulgaria, he might bring with him the information he learns about the site’s strengths and weaknesses, which could be dangerous information if learned by terrorists.

To avoid this kind of situation, University researchers have to attain approval from the State Department.

The researchers asked for informal approval last October and have yet to receive an answer.

The State Department did not deny the Bulgarian student’s involvement with the research. But if the research was done without approval, the department could levy fines and prison sentences to whoever the government decides is guilty.

Voyles said the research does not violate the rules of the State Department.

“We think the risk is small, but we’re not lawyers,” he said.

Voyles said the controversy arose because the University is “afraid to actually let him work.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.