The White House Press Secretary issued a statement last week that President Obama “has directed that the NEC/NSC launch a broad-based interagency process for reviewing the overall U.S. export control system, including both the dual-use and defense trade processes.”
Is it real this time? Sources on the Hill are split on this issue and whether there is a need to move as quickly as some sectors want to resolve foundational issues in the U.S. export control system. The White House statement does not include a deadline for submitting the report. Congressional officials will likely want to weigh. Hence, it is unlikely that there will be any substantive items on the agenda in the near future.
Obama Administration officials should start by reviewing the reports prepared by the Coalition for Security and Competitiveness in 2007 that outlines a series of baseline reforms (some of which were already adopted by the Bush Administration in 2008). There is no shortage of ideas or reports out there, but this one is fairly balanced and a good starting point for discussion.
So the export control reform talisman has been waved again. Much like the health care debate, I still wonder if this is more political kabuki than substance. There are many “reform” mechanisms already built in the system – and they work if you are willing to put in the sweat equity to get it done. Moreover, most government agencies responsible for the enforcement of these laws and regulations are quite responsive to special cases and needs.
There is a need for some basic changes, but not major overhauls. The legal foundation for these regulations are surprisingly straightforward and clear. The regulations are another matter but the agencies are generally responsive. When you enter the realm of pan-export control law reform, you’re inviting – inevitably – more government regulation and interference in the marketplace.
For a prior “talisman” post, see this item.