White House Review of Export Control Policies Due January 29

White House Review of Export Control Policies Due January 29

The review of U.S. export control policies ordered by President Obama in August recently was given a deadline of January 29 according to Space News. The newspaper reports that the President signed Presidential Study Directive (PSD)-8 on December 21 setting that deadline and stating that the review would be used to prepare “comprehensive” statutory and regulatory recommendations “to create a new U.S. export control system.”

Matthew Borman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Export Administration at the Commerce Department made no mention of an upcoming deadline when he testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) last month. His formal testimony referenced only the August announcement and said the review was “well underway” and would “devise an export control system to best address diffuse threats, technology and markets of the 21st century.”

The U.S. export control regime splits responsibility between the Commerce Department for “dual-use” technologies that have both military and commercial applications, and the State Department for technologies that might pose a national security threat if they got into the wrong hands. Those technologies are placed on the State Department’s “Munitions List” and handled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Critics argue that many technologies, including commercial communications satellites, should be on the Commerce Department’s “Commerce Control List’ and not the Munitions List, and that the United States is only hurting itself by the way it currently implements ITAR. University professors have been especially vocal on the chilling effect on ITAR on science and engineering education because of restrictions on what professors can teach to foreign students. Space scientists have been critical of ITAR’s effect on internationally cooperative space science missions; a 2008 report by the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board discussed those concerns.

HFAC held a second hearing on export controls last week at Stanford University. The President of Stanford, John Hennessy, was one of the witnesses. He co-chaired a much broader NRC report on the need for export control reform that was released last year. That report recommended an initial focus on changes that could be accomplished by the President without the need for Congress to pass legislation. The President’s decision in favor of a comprehensive approach that would require both executive and congressional action is likely to significantly extend the time needed to accomplish change. Congress has a lot on its plate already and in an election year like 2010 issues that more directly affect voters, such as jobs, typically would be the focus of attention.

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