home Export Controls, national security Tinkering With Congressional Power and Arms Sales, A Bridge Too Far

Tinkering With Congressional Power and Arms Sales, A Bridge Too Far

The view from Capitol Hill or down the street?

Some of the recent rumblings in town by folks dealing with export control reform (ECR) reminded me one of my favorite World War II movies, A Bridge Too Far. If what I am hearing is true, some at a trade conference yesterday in DC, then certain folks over in the Foggy Bottom region are either politically tone deaf or are pushing this process to places it should not tread.

I read a post this morning on ECR by Jeff Foust at the Space Review that provides good highlights of the recent state of play in the ECR process. While the focus is mainly on how the process relates to satellites and space technology and how it fits in to the overall reform effort, this quote caught my eye:

“…the next few months may be critical for export control reform efforts because the 2012 election cycle will soon be ramping up. Burnett said he expects an accelerated push for reforms now. “The administration knows they’re running out of time,” [Dennis Burnett, vice president for trade and export controls for EADS] said, “and they need to get as much done as they can.” This time, can they get the boulder all the way up the hill?”

The thing in, there is no need to get a boulder up the up the Hill, at least not yet. Why does it appear some folks are making things harder on themselves? A great deal has already been accomplished by the Obama team on ECR without Congressional involvement. Why? Because the Administration has the statutory authority to do so.  They picked up where the Bush Administration left off and, frankly, have defied the political odds in many respects. And for a lot of what remains to be done, they have statutory authority to do a great deal more.

What I cannot quite figure out, is why it seems as if the Foggy Bottom crew over at the State Department appears to be muddling up the process with Congressional notification battles? In most political environments, no Congressional Committee Chairman or Ranking Member worth their mettle is going to give up any power to the Executive or, worse, another Committee. There are more important items they could be presenting. Tinkering with Congressional reporting is not one of them.

When it comes to de-listing or moving things over from the USML to the CCL, the Obama team should focus on pressing on with non-controversial parts and components. Maybe do so in batches rather than all at once and afford the relevant oversight Congressional Committees time to digest it a reasonable clip. The Administration could do a lot of this on it own via IEEPA and AECA authorities, however, for every policy action there could be a louder and stronger legislative reaction that could sink ECR efforts.

Finally, folks should shelve any plans to remove or alter the role of Congressional Committees from FMS and related reporting processes. The latter is a bridge too far, even for Obama’s own Democrats on the key Committees.

Read The Space Review blog post here.


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