WASHINGTON — As expected, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has introduced legislation that would give the U.S. president authority to transfer export jurisdiction for certain commercial satellite technologies from the U.S. State Department to the less-restrictive Department of Commerce.
Introduced in the Senate May 22, the Safeguarding United States Leadership and Security Act (S. 3211) is companion legislation to a similar measure passed by the House of Representatives May 1 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (H.R. 4310). The House satellite export reform bill was originally drafted by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In a statement issued May 22, Bennet’s office said his export reform measure is based on the recently released “1248 report” prepared by the U.S. State and Defense departments. That report recommended giving the president the discretion to determine export jurisdiction for satellite and related components after its authors concluded that much of this technology could be transferred to the Commerce Department without harming national security.
“The report released by the Administration highlights how our outdated export controls undermine our nation’s ability to compete and innovate in the international marketplace,” Bennett said in a prepared statement. “It shows that our space export control policies have put American businesses at a disadvantage, and countries that do not share our interests are benefitting. This bill will ensure that our nation’s export controls will treat satellites and their components in a manner that is consistent with other items that serve both a military and a commercial purpose.”
Congress legally transferred all U.S. satellites and related components, regardless of sophistication or commercial availability, from the Commerce Department’s Commerce Control List to State’s more restrictive U.S. Munitions List. The move, prompted by allegations that China was benefitting militarily from launching U.S. commercial communications satellites, put virtually all satellite systems in the same category of weapon systems for export purposes.
Numerous reports by agencies including the Pentagon have concluded that the restrictions have done more harm than good to national security by making U.S. space component manufacturers less competitive on the international commercial market.
In a press release issued May 22, Berman applauded the introduction of export reform legislation in the Senate. “We are long overdue to modernize our export control policies, and ensure American innovators and workers can fully compete with foreign competitors,” Berman said. “Sen. Bennet’s legislation is another key step in our effort to boost American space manufacturers, their employees, and the communities they support.”
China, along with Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria, would be barred from receiving U.S. satellite or satellite-related technologies — directly or indirectly — under Bennet’s legislation.