GAO Says U.S. Export Control System Needs "Fundamental Reexamination"

GAO Says U.S. Export Control System Needs "Fundamental Reexamination"

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight on June 4 that a fundamental reexamination of the U.S. export control system is needed. The testimonies of GAO and other witnesses and an audiocast of the hearing are available on the committee’s website.

GAO’s Gregory Kutz testified that “The combined effect of the lack of restrictions over domestic sales and the ease of illegal export of these items is that sensitive dual-use and military items can be easily purchased and exported by terrorists or foreign governments without detection.” He later added that “The key to preventing the illegal export of these sensitive items used in nuclear, IED, and military applications is to stop the attempts to obtain the items at the source, because once sensitive items make it into the hands of terrorists or foreign government agents, the shipment and transport out of the United States is unlikely to be detected.”

GAO’s findings came after it created a fictitious domestic company that surreptitiously purchased, and later exported dummy versions of, several dual-use export-controlled items. They included a gyro-chip and a Ka-band power amplifier that can be used in space systems. An examination of current laws and regulations found that the companies that sold these items to GAO’s fictitious domestic company did so legally. U.S. enforcement personnel did not detect when GAO exported the dummy versions.

While that GAO investigation focused on dual-use items that are regulated by the Department of Commerce, another GAO witness, Anne-Marie Lasowski, testified about the overall U.S. export control system, which includes the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) that frustrate many aerospace companies and universities conducting space research. Her report concluded that the U.S. export control system in its entirety needs a “fundamental reexamination.” The system, which has eight programs that are intended to identify and protect weapons and defense-related technology exports, is “inherently complex. …. Specifically, poor interagency coordination, inefficiencies in processing licensing applications, and a lack of systematic assessments have created significant vulnerabilities in the export control system.”

A 2009 National Research Council report, Beyond Fortress America: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World, also called for a restructuring of the export control system, particularly ITAR. A 2008 report from the NRC’s Space Studies Board looked at the impact of ITAR on space science. The House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing on “The Impacts of U.S. Export Control Policies on Science and Technology Activities and Competitiveness” on February 25, 2009.

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