Defense Bill Includes Satellite Export Measure

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WASHINGTON — The defense authorization bill passed May 18 by the U.S. House of Representatives includes a measure giving the U.S. president the authority to ease export restrictions for commercial satellites and related components.

The measure, in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (H.R. 4310), was introduced by Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. It is similar to legislation originally drafted by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and introduced late last year.

In a May 17 press release, Berman applauded the amendment and credited Reps. Smith and Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the Armed Services Committee chairman, for getting the amendment attached to the bill. U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill over a variety of provisions unrelated to the satellite-export issue.

Congress in 1999 transferred all satellite technology, regardless of its commercial availability, to U.S. State Department export jurisdiction following allegations that China was benefiting militarily from launching U.S. commercial communications satellites. At the time, certain commercial satellite technologies fell under the export licensing purview of the Commerce Department, whose rules are less restrictive than State’s.

“Treating commercial satellites and components as if they were lethal weapons, regardless of whether they’re going to friend or foe, has gravely harmed American space manufacturers — a view borne out by numerous studies, industry assessments, and the Administration’s own recent ‘1248’ report to Congress,” Berman said in a prepared statement. The recently released 1248 report, prepared by the State and Defense departments at the behest of Congress, recommended giving the president the discretion to determine export jurisdiction for satellite technology.

“We depend on these manufacturers for our own critical defense needs; if onerous restrictions prevent them from competing in the international marketplace, then they can’t innovate and ultimately cannot survive,” Berman said.

Companion legislation to Berman’s satellite export reform bill is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate.