Defense IT

US export control reforms advance

Obama administration officials overseeing export control reforms say they are putting the finishing touches on a rewrite of the U.S. Munitions List in advance of legislation designed to update export control regulations to reflect the pace of technological change.

Caroline Atkinson, deputy national security advisor for international economics, also said satellites and electronics are among the priorities for review as government agencies complete their rewrite of the Munitions List, also known as the International Traffic in Arms regulations. Key provisions of the rules cover sensitive technologies requiring a government license before export.

Atkinson told a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) on Feb. 3 that rewriting the Munitions List was the "cornerstone" of an export control reform effort launched by the Obama administration in 2010.

Along with moving the departments of Commerce, Defense, State to a single export licensing database, Atkinson said another priority will be turning attention to "some harder issues, notably in encryption, cloud computing and cyber security." 

The interagency effort to update U.S. export controls comes in response to industry pressure to shed outdated regulations as technologies become more widely available.

"We know from experience that out-of-date export controls can cost billions in exports and thousands in jobs without any security benefit," noted James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at CSIS. "If you get export controls wrong, if you don't take into account how the international economy has changed, they can actually do some damage." 

As the U.S. military adopts more commercial technologies, the Obama administration has moved to reform the licensing of technologies that account for an estimated $80 billion in U.S. exports.

"Export controls need to be really carefully calibrated so as to meet defense and non-proliferation objectives without undermining them," Atkinson said. "That means also that they have to be flexible. Threats changes, technology changes. We need an export control system that's nimble enough to adjust to these changes."

Among the revised categories within the Munitions List completed so far are aircraft, gas turbine engines and military vehicles. Atkinson said new rules for missiles and military training will go into effect by this summer.

Export officials stressed that the proposed reforms will provide the flexibility to adjust controls, but do not represent a wholesale decontrol of sensitive technologies.

Boosting technology exports has been a priority for the Obama administration as a way to stimulate economic growth. Hence, government agencies have been soliciting industry feedback on the proposed U.S. export reforms.

Hugh Hoffman, deputy director of the Defense Technology Security Administration, said DOD has received 80 pages of industry comments on military electronics. That feedback "gets an round-the-horn" debate within the Pentagon, Hoffman said, adding that "industry was satisfied we weren't overreaching."

Once revisions to the U.S. Munitions List are completed later this year, Atkinson said she expects the White House to propose legislation to "consolidate our licensing and enforcement agencies."

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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