Official Reaffirms White House Support for ITAR Reform

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior U.S. administration officials support reform of the current U.S. export-licensing regime — the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) — which includes tight restrictions on overseas sales of commercial communications satellites and related technology, according to a State Department official.

In prepared remarks delivered Sept. 9 during an industry conference in New York, Andrew Shapiro, assistant U.S. secretary of state for political-military affairs, said that while past efforts to modernize the export control system have fallen short, “we now have a technologically savvy president and administration who want to see reform.”

A review of the current regime, announced in an Aug. 13 statement posted on the White House Web site, is the first official indication that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama will advance export-control reform, a polarizing topic that pits national security hawks against the American space industry, whose global market share has suffered since a 1999 crackdown on U.S. commercial satellite exports.

Shapiro, who spent the past eight years advising Clinton on defense and foreign policy matters during her term in the U.S. Senate, described the administration’s export-control review as “a longer-term effort to retool a 50-year-old dual-use and munitions list system to meet the new realities of today’s complex security environment.”

But while reform advocates can expect support from a bevy of senior leaders in the Obama administration, including Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones and Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Shapiro said change won’t come easy.

“Despite this auspicious alignment, I have no illusions about the challenges ahead,” he said, emphasizing that any reform effort must be firmly rooted in preserving U.S. national security. “Ultimately, U.S. companies will benefit from an improved export-control system, but first, we must work together — the administration, Congress and industry — to identify relevant technologies and to determine how best to protect them in the 21st century.”

In the meantime, Shapiro said, his bureau is taking steps to speed review of industry export licensing requests.

He noted that in 2006, the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) handled just over 70,000 license applications with an average processing time of 43 days. “In the past eight months, DDTC staff have already acted on nearly 60,000 license applications, and the processing time for each now averages just over two weeks.”

Shapiro said similar improvements are in the works for commodity jurisdiction requests — industry appeals to determine whether certain items or services belong on the U.S. Munitions List. State has export jurisdiction over Munitions List items.  Shapiro said he is meeting weekly with his counterparts at the National Security Council and Commerce and Defense departments to review and resolve outstanding commodity jurisdiction cases.

In addition, he said, DDTC is building on this process by developing new implementation procedures, “including the use of new submission criteria and electronic staffing and adjudication processes that should cut determination time in half by the end of the year.”