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The U.S. government controls the export of high performance computers to sensitive destinations on the basis of foreign policy and national security concerns. The current control system for high performance computers is ineffective because it focuses on controlling individual machines and cannot prevent countries of concern from linking or clustering many lower performance uncontrolled computers to collectively perform at higher levels than current export control allows. The current system uses the measure of millions of theoretical operations per second as a way to classify and control high power computers meant for export. However, this system, as well as three remedies suggested by the Department of Commerce, do not solve the problems posed by clustering.
The GAO recommended that the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, and State, should convene a panel of experts to comprehensively assess and report to Congress on possible ways of addressing the shortcomings of computer export controls. For example, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, which researches computer systems' performance and promotes the effective evaluation and efficient use of advanced computers, might participate in the panel because it designs evaluations that economically and reliably characterize high performance computer designs. This assessment should report on the costs and benefits of each proposed idea, including its technical feasibility.