White House Seeks to Consolidate Export Licensing

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WASHINGTON U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates outlined broad reforms of the U.S. export control system that the White House will seek in the coming year, including plans to consolidate technology export licensing functions within a single agency and combine the federal government’s multiple rosters of controlled military and dual-use items into a single list.

During an April 20 address to members of Business Executives for National Security, a nonpartisan group here that advocates the application of business principles to the defense mission, Gates said the administration of U.S. President BarackObama also plans to stand up a single entity to enforce arms export rules and will develop a new information technology infrastructure to help streamline the licensing process.

Describing the current export control system administered primarily by the U.S. State and Commerce departments as “Byzantine,” Gates said the proposed reforms are urgently needed “given the harmful effects of continuing with the existing set of outdated processes, institutions and assumptions.”

Currently the State Department has export licensing authority over the most sensitive U.S. military technologies, which fall on the U.S. Munitions List. The Commerce Department has licensing authority over so-called dual-use items on the Commerce Control List.

During the early to mid-1990s, there was a loosening of export controls on commercial communications satellites, with the less sophisticated varieties being shifted from the highly restrictive Munitions List to the Commerce Control List. But Congress, citing concerns that China was benefiting militarily from launches of Western communications satellites, shifted all satellite technology, regardless of its sophistication, to the Munitions List in 1999.

Gates said the administration will implement the proposed reforms in three phases.

“In the first phase the executive branch will begin the transition toward the single list and single licensing agency by making significant improvements to the current system,” he said. “These efforts would include establishing criteria for a tiered control list and standing up an integrated enforcement center.”

The second phase would involve a transition to a single information technology structure for processing license requests, he said.

“These changes, which can be made through executive action, represent substantial progress and momentum toward reform,” he said. “But they are by themselves insufficient to fully meet the challenge at hand.”

Gates said the effort to create a single licensing agency and single enforcement coordination agency will require legislative action. However, after meeting with key congressional leaders, including Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gates said he is hopeful the two branches of government can “turn these proposals into legislation that the president can sign sometime this year.”

“Our hope is we can get both phases one and two done over a period of the next number of months, and we would love to get legislation before the end of the year,” Gates said.