Department of Education

Recommendations and Actions

ED04: Consolidate National Security Education Act Programs


The National Security Education Act of 1991 (NSEA) established a trust fund of $150 million to be used to award grants, scholarships, and fellowships to study foreign languages and areas of the world not commonly studied in the United States. The National Security Education Program (NSEP), currently located in the Department of Defense, will support undergraduate study abroad, as well as graduate fellowships and programs of study. In the words of its principal sponsor, Senator David Boren: "The National Security Education Act is the largest new higher education initiative of this kind since the adoption of the National Defense Education Act of 1958."(1)

The trust fund is currently set up in the Treasury; staff in the Department of Defense--recently reorganized and relocated within that Department--have sketched out pilot programs. Implementation awaits legislation freeing use of the funds, as well as nomination and Senate confirmation of the full oversight board.

Implementation of NSEP will involve cooperation with the scholarly community, which has reacted to the initiative with simultaneous praise and concern. The praise arises from the probability of increased and well-conceived support for foreign language and international studies education. The alarm is occasioned by the location of the program and the appearance of active involvement by the defense and intelligence communities in its administration. The scholarly community believes this has implications for the physical safety of program participants in many countries, and probably also for restricted research access for individual scholars and others at their institutions.

While stressing its deep commitment to the purposes of the NSEA, the American Council of Learned Societies has insisted formally on the "urgency of developing a more appropriate institutional location and structure of governance for NSEP, one which will better protect the interest of the people whom the program is intended to support."(2) The Social Science Research Council and a number of key regional studies associations have elaborated similar concerns. Meeting on April 10, 1992, members of the Association of African Studies Programs adopted a motion that they were "greatly concerned about maintaining the access, safety, long-range perspectives, and academic integrity of the Africanist scholars in Africa and in this country" and that they "unanimously agreed to abide by a moratorium on all soliciting or receiving of NSEA funds. . . ."(3) On October 28, 1992, the Middle East Studies Association of North America passed a motion that the connection with the defense and intelligence community "can only increase the existing difficulties of gaining foreign governmental permissions to carry out research and to develop overseas instructional programs. It can also create dangers for students and scholars . . . " The Board urged "that its members and their institutions not seek or accept program or research funding from NSEA" until these concerns were addressed.(4)

In response, the NSEP staff has held that "the trust fund is a Treasury account that may be used only for the Boren Program. Under the budget agreement in effect at the time, the trust fund had to be administered by the Department of Defense . . . The legislation is explicit: no one with a Boren award may do anything for an intelligence agency."(5)

While accepting that the scholarships "are for undergraduate study in foreign countries that are not emphasized in other U.S. study abroad programs," the NSEP staff insists that "the Board will not approve areas of undue risk for study and research abroad."(6) The academic community has not found these arguments reassuring or convincing, and the impasse continues. A very promising effort to enhance U.S. capacity to operate in the newly competitive and complicated international arena remains immobilized, caught in a political entanglement.

The Center for International Education in the Department of Education already administers the largest assemblage of International Education and Foreign Language Studies programs in the federal government. The programs support comprehensive language and area studies centers within the United States, fund research and curriculum development, and provide opportunities for American scholars to study abroad. Most of these programs were established under Title VI of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 or the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961. For fiscal year 1994, the Education Department has requested an appropriation of $54.1 million (roughly the same as previous years) for these programs which "not only promote general understanding of the peoples of other countries, but also serve important trade, diplomatic, defense, and other security interests of the United States."(7)

Most experts find the United States severely underprepared in the area of foreign language and international education. With NSEP's innovative emphasis on in-country undergraduate study of less commonly taught languages and on integrating graduate study of those languages and important technical specialties, it would be a natural complement to the existing foreign language and area studies programs of the Education Department.


The Departments of Education and Defense should consider a legislative proposal to move administration of the Boren program to the U.S. Department of Education, coordinating it with the Fulbright- Hays and Title VI programs.

Technically, the National Security Education Act of 1991 should be incorporated into Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Education Department should seize the opportunity to revitalize and upgrade the administration and policy oversight of all its foreign language and international education programs. Cost savings from eliminating overlapping programs could be possible.


The era of global competitiveness is forcing new attention to effective foreign language education. The Goals 2000 legislation, for example, has added foreign language to the areas in which academic achievement must be raised. Implementing this recommendation will demonstrate that listening to the customer can produce effective public-private cooperation to address critical national needs.

In addition, the NSEP enables students to exchange service for financial support and, in that respect, would reinforce one aspect of the National Service Trust Act.

Fiscal Impact

Combining these programs in the Department of Education would permit significant reductions in costs by streamlining and consolidating program administration. NPR is not able at this time to estimate FF these savings.


1. Boren, David L., U.S. Senator, "Statement Announcing Enactment of the National Security Education Act of 1991," undated.

2. American Council of Learned Societies, "ACLS Resolution Concerning the National Security Education Act," undated. See also, Social Science Research Council, Items (June-September 1992), pp. 17-23.

3. See "Association of African Studies Programs Motion on the National Security Education Act of 1991," undated.

4. See Board of Directors, Middle East Studies Association of North America, "Policy Statement," October 28, 1992.

5. National Security Education Program, "Responses to Concerns about the National Security Education Program," February 26, 1993, pp. 1-2.

6. National Security Education Program, Pilot Program Models for the National Security Education Program: Working Paper #1 (Washington, D.C., April, 1993), p. 7; National Security Education Program, p. 1.

7. U.S. Department of Education, The Fiscal Year 1994 Budget: Summary and Background Information (Washington, D.C., 1993), p. 57.

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