Obama Repeats Call for Export Control Reform in State of Union

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama said during his Jan. 27 State of the Union address his administration would embark on a new National Export Initiative that would make reform of the U.S. export control system a top priority.

“We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support 2 million jobs in America,” the president said in his annual address to a joint session of Congress outlining top priorities for the nation. “To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.”

In August, the White House formed an interagency working group to review existing U.S. export controls, which govern the sale of sensitive technologies overseas, including U.S. commercial communications satellites. The group’s recommendations were due to principle members of Obama’s Cabinet Jan. 29, according to a presidential study directive Obama signed Dec. 21.

The White House said in a news release following the speech that the new National Export Initiative will include the creation of the President’s Export Promotion Cabinet and an enhancement of funding for key export promotion programs.

“The President and members of his Administration will announce additional details in the coming week,” the White House news release states.

Earlier that day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other members of Obama’s Cabinet were on Capitol Hill to brief leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees on the president’s plans to dramatically reform the U.S. export control system. Senior members of Obama’s Cabinet who attended the meeting include National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said during a Defense Department news conference later that day.

During the press conference, Morrell said that while the Pentagon traditionally has been reluctant to do more than tinker with existing export rules and regulations, “Gates is committed to working with the interagency, and with the Congress for that matter, to make meaningful and lasting changes to our export controls.”

Morrell said Gates believes export control reform is key to maintaining the U.S. competitive edge in the global economy “as well as to keep our friends and allies equipped well enough to contribute in a meaningful way to global |security.”

In response to a reporter’s question about Gates’ support for satellite export reform, Morrell said, “I think what I can say to you is that he believes that … what is required here is not, you know, tinkering around the edges of what is a rather cumbersome, antiquated, outdated, bureaucratic set of rules and regulations governing the export of technology.”

Morrell said Gates recognizes the need to “conduct wholesale reform of export controls, really starting with a blank sheet of paper.” Morrell also emphasized that while Gates is willing to go to bat for export control reform, the effort was initiated by the president and is now being led by the Commerce Department.

“And that’s what you saw this morning up on the Hill, and I think that’s what you’ll continue to see in the days and weeks to come,” he said.

Marion Blakey, president of the Washington-based Aerospace Industries Association, lauded Obama’s comments on export control reform. In a Jan. 28 news release, Blakey said U.S. aerospace industry heads look forward to the recommendations of the interagency review.

“Reforms of the system will grow high-skill, high-wage jobs, keep America’s defense industrial base competitive and sustain its ability to provide America’s military and our close allies with the best technology at the best price,” Blakey said in the statement.