Congress, Other

It’s all fun and games until someone mentions ITAR

The Space Access ’07 conference is filled with talks from a variety of individuals and companies involved in the development of new space transportation systems. However, like seemingly every other space industry meeting these days, there was also a session about export control (aka ITAR). Export control is a major issue for many of these small ventures, which don’t have the resources of larger aerospace companies to deal with the regulatory process and run the risk of running into problems. So there was a useful presentation by export control lawyer Kerry Scarlott about the ins and outs of ITAR and questions about what is and isn’t covered, plus the usual exchange of “horror stories” about companies than ran into unexpected ITAR problems.

That presentation was followed by a panel featuring Scarlott, Randall Clague of XCOR Aerospace, Jim Muncy of PoliSpace, and Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings. A major topic of discussion was this: is there any realistic chance of getting some sort of export control reform passed in the near future to lessen the regulatory burden on the space industry? The panel was skeptical, in part because while the Democrats are in control of Congress, Republicans need to take a leading role in pushing through change to avoid having any reform effort being criticized as evidence that the Democrats are weak on national security issues. “Unless we can find a way to get some Republicans to take the lead and inoculate Democrats from any flanking maneuvers by other Republicans, I don’t see anyone taking the lead and actually trying to fix this in a serious way,” said Muncy. Scarlott, in his presentation, said, “There are a lot of changes potentially afoot in ITAR. I emphasize ‘potentially’ because it’s unlikely significant changes will occur in the next couple of years.”

But it could be worse. As Simberg put it, referring to a noted critic of export control reform: “I’m very glad to see Duncan Hunter running for president. I hope he does it for a long time. I hope he doesn’t win, but as long as he’s running for president he might be too distracted to keep us from doing something useful.”

5 comments to It’s all fun and games until someone mentions ITAR

  • Perhaps the ITAR amendment advocates should look at the last serious effort to amend the law. There were several patrons and co-patrons on the bill. One was my Congressman, 24-year veteran Democrat Rick Boucher. I have discussed with Congressman Boucher of the need to look at the ITAR regime again. He has expressed willingness to co-patron such a bill again but would not be the chief patron due to the amount of work that confronts him on the House Commerce and Energy Committee and the subcommittee on air quality that he chairs. As a pro-carbon coal-ming district, he is now at the epicenter of climate change debate. Nonetheless, Rick is extremely savvy on technology, satellite, and Internet related policy issues. He could make a difference in the majority caucus.

  • It always bothers me when people claim that only republicans have the “moral authority” to change ITAR. The basis for this argument is that ITAR is all about containing China’s space program. And like the belief that only a republican, Nixon, could open relations with China, that only a republican can thus change ITAR policy. This belief is bolstered as those blocking ITAR reform are major China hawks like Rep. Duncan Hunter and Sen. John Kyl. And so long as the battle over ITAR continues to be dominated by the belief of containing China, people will continue to believe that only a republican can control the issue.

    With all respect to the panel, I believe they are mischaracterizing the problem and that the key is issue definition. So long as ITAR (when I say ITAR, I am referring to it in terms of its control over space technology) is defined as the primary means for containing China’s space program, the China hawks in the republican party will continue to own the issue. However, if ITAR reform is defined as preserving America’s national security by ensuring the dominance of our space technology (like CSIS tries to define it), then the issue is taken away from the China hawks and is given to those interested in seeing that US industry dominates the global marketplace. This group of people are both republican and democrat and are for defining space technology as a dual-use export under commerce’s control and not a munitions under ITAR control.

    A golden rule in policy studies is “Whoever formulates the issue, determines it outcome” and I believe this rule applies here.

  • Ethel Kennedy

    Duncan Hunter’s running for President? Well lordy day, that IS good news. For when every other viable candidate dies in a tragic blimp over the Rose Bowl, he’ll be a shoe-in for the White House. And I, of all people, should know.

    Rand my boy, you are onto to something for once. Good job, Simberg!

  • Scott Skinner

    Thank you for blogging on ITAR. Are you able to share a copy of Kerry Scarlott’s ITAR presentation?

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