House Takes Up Export Reform Debate

Xiaodon Liang

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony May 12 on the Obama administration’s export control reform initiative, praising and criticizing different aspects of the process. Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), speaking about a planned new single licensing agency, said she was not convinced “the creation of a costly and perhaps unaccountable new federal bureaucracy” was necessary but was sympathetic to President Barack Obama’s goal of boosting exports through streamlining of regulatory requirements. According to the administration, the proposed reform intends to create four “singularities”: a single licensing agency, a single list of controlled items, a single online license management system, and a single enforcement agency. (See ACT, October 2010.)

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, introduced legislation May 26 to replace the lapsed Export Administration Act (EAA), which serves as the basis for the Department of Commerce’s controls on dual-use items. (See ACT, May 2010.) The EAA expired in 2001, but has been preserved through the declaration of an economic state of emergency in annual executive orders.

At the hearing, Berman asked if the centralization of licensing powers would negate checks and balances built into the current, multidepartment licensing process. In his testimony, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said he expected that each department would continue to bring different concerns to the process but that intense scrutiny would be focused on a smaller number of “particularly challenging” cases.

Miller also said U.S. policy on arms sales to the Middle East will be reassessed on a “country-by-country” basis. Some transfers already have been frozen, he said, declining to provide details at an open hearing.