WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. Energy Department on Friday told staff they are banned from taking part in foreign recruitment programs as the agency seeks to stop China and other countries from illegally acquiring sensitive research in supercomputing and other technologies.
Dan Brouillette, the Energy Department’s deputy secretary, said in a memo the agency that recruitment programs sponsored by certain countries “threaten the United States’ economic base by facilitating the unauthorized transfer of technology and intellectual property to foreign governments.”
Potential recruits are offered prestigious positions at foreign research institutes, labs and universities, it said.
Employees will have to leave the department if they participate in recruitment programs from countries it determines to be “sensitive,” the memo said.
The Energy Department oversees a network of 17 national labs that work on sensitive issues including advanced nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and supercomputing, some of which is classified.
The memo, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, did not name specific countries, but successive U.S. administrations, including that of President Donald Trump, have been concerned about China obtaining U.S. intellectual property.
A Department of Energy official said on condition of anonymity that the administration was not specifically targeting China, and that the initiative could help the agency learn more about which foreign programs have been seeking to recruit department employees.
“It gives employees a chance to disclose that information,” the official said. “It’s basically giving them the chance to say, ‘OK I want to be paid by DOE or I want to be paid by this outside, state-funded initiative’.”
Some foreign government-sponsored talent recruitment programs “have taken advantage of America’s openness to collaboration to infiltrate our labs, steal our technology and use our own resources against us,” a DOE press official said. The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)