Is it too late for space reform?

International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) laws largely govern munitions, but satellites and other space equipment also fall under the rules, and efforts to reform those regulations have been repeatedly delayed. Now, some in the industry are wondering if it’s too late for action to make any difference.

The laws are hindering progress in commercial satellite development and application to U.S. interests, according to a panel of industry insiders who spoke March 14 at the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington.

Commercial satellite reform “is part of a larger initiative [in] export control reform writ large and includes the overall reshaping and streamlining of the export control system that was designed in the Cold War,” said Nancy Ziuzin Schlegel, director of global security policy at Lockheed Martin. “There’s a growing realization on Capitol Hill that the space industrialization race is much more complex and far-reaching than previously thought in that commercial satellites do impact out ability to be innovative, move technology to the next level and to retain a highly skilled workforce and trade.”

Although lawmakers on Capitol Hill are cognizant of the issue, legislation is at a standstill as members of Congress wait for a Defense Department-issued report on national security concerns in satellite communications. The so-called “1248 report” was due back in April 2010, but was repeatedly pushed back and still has not been released.

“We have [Congress members] saying, ‘Why should I co-sponsor this bill? Why should we do anything until we see what the 1248 report says?’ It could come out and say, ‘This is the worst threat to national security.’ So there is a significant group of members out there who are on the fence about this whole effort until that report comes out,” said David Fite, senior professional staff member at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Fite pointed to what could be a lengthy legislative process as a major hurdle to getting any real reform in place.

“It’s almost too late at this point. If the report comes out in the next three weeks, there are going to be hearings, there will have to be a markup in the Senate and it will need time to get through the floor and conference,” he said.

But Mike Gold, director of D.C. operations and business growth at Bigelow Aerospace, said that even if the 1248 report had already come out, it wouldn’t be enough to effect change.

“Export control is not Iraq; it’s not health care; there is always something, whether it’s an election year or some political scandal, that [prevents] it from overcoming the political hurdles,” Gold said. “I think we’ve seen an injection of common sense over the past four years, actually bringing some rationale into the export-control process. But I think we’re beginning to hit the ceiling in terms of what can be done with rational interpretations by regulators.”

Schlegel agreed that without new action, little may soon come that will improve the situation.

“We’re working together to find common-sense approaches. But we’re still stuck under a crazy, statutory limitation that impedes industry’s ability to be innovative and fully competitive in an increasingly competitive world market,” she said.

The lone DOD panelist acknowledged that the delayed 1248 report has become a thorn in the reform process, but said her office is working to move forward on issuing the report and paving the way for satellite communications legislation and export-control reform.

“I do appreciate the pressure because that allows me to elevate it [in priority],” said Lou Ann McFadden, chief of the strategic issues division at the Defense Technology Security Administration. “We are pushing forward on those [issues]. They are all really joined together.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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