December 30, 2019

Followup on the Department of Energy’s Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program

As a leader in advancing science and technology, the Department of Energy values the contributions of international collaborations.  As a result, the Department offers foreign nationals access to its sites, staff, and information in a broad range of unclassified work.  Department sites are responsible for implementing the Department’s Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program guidance established by the Department’s Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security.  The Department uses the Foreign Access Central Tracking System (FACTS) as the official national database of information on unclassified foreign visits and assignments.  The information contained in FACTS is used to determine if foreign nationals are qualified to participate in activities and to ensure that unauthorized access to sites, information, technologies, and equipment is denied.

Our December 2002 and March 2008 reports on The Department’s Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program collectively found that the Department had not ensured that: (1) all foreign nationals had current passports and visas, (2) some foreign nationals from sensitive countries had official approval and background checks or counterintelligence consultations completed before gaining site access, (3) sufficient information was being provided to FACTS, and (4) hosts implemented protective measures.  Because of prior weaknesses and the importance of limiting unauthorized access to the Department’s sites, programs, information, and technologies, we initiated this followup audit to determine whether the Department was effectively managing the Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program.

Since our prior audits, the Department had taken steps that were designed to ensure that hosts were meeting established responsibilities, completed visits and assignments were closed in FACTS, site access was terminated when no longer needed, and required foreign nationals’ information was accurate and complete in FACTS.  In addition, program offices directed sites to develop corrective actions to address the recommendations, and FACTS was modified to provide checks of the immigration status and identification information of foreign nationals against the visit and assignment end dates. 

Although the Department had taken corrective actions as a result of our 2002 and 2008 reports, we found that problems with the management of unclassified foreign visits and assignments continued to exist.  While nothing came to our attention to indicate that there was unauthorized access at the sites we visited, the risk of potential unauthorized access increases in the future if the issues identified in this report are not addressed.  Given that our audit disclosed that previously identified issues had not been resolved, we made recommendations designed to improve the Department’s management of unclassified foreign visits and assignments.  

Topic: Management & Administration