Executive branch action on ITAR?

In his luncheon speech Thursday at the NewSpace 2007 conference, Ed Morris, director of the Office of Space Commercialization within the Department of Commerce, was asked about what could be done about the export control problems facing the domestic space industry. ITAR, like the weather, is a topic everyone in the industry loves to gripe about, but about which little is done. Or is there? Morris noted that Commerce distributed a questionnaire to industry to gauge the effects of ITAR on the overall space industrial base, including both prime contractors and lower-tier suppliers. “That survey, and the results of that survey, provide the quantitative backbone for what I hope is still going to be some action on the executive branch side in the not-too-distant future,” he said. “I’m really talking around it,” he admitted, and didn’t offer any other details about what sort of action could be taken (and, unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to followup with him after his talk, since it’s not clear exactly what the executive branch can do, since it would take legislation to remove satellite components off the Munitions List.) “It’s a long answer, and it’s probably going to get me in trouble,” he said, “but I hope to see something happening, at least some policy actions and some policy discussions, using that quantitative data and quantitative analysis in the near term.”

6 comments to Executive branch action on ITAR?

  • Thomas Matula

    The easiest solution would be simply to move ITAR back to the Dept. of Commerce where it was before, and where it worked well, Loral messed things up. Given that Ed Morris is with the Dept. of Commerce its hopeful this is what is in the works.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Thomas: Loral messed things up

    This is, at best, an oversimplification. A number of other companies (e.g., Hughes) also got in trouble for similar actions. It is possible or even likely that Loral has been singled out, not because of any crimes, but because its CEO at the time was one of the Democratic Party’s largest contributors. The whole ITAR mess was created when Republicans in Congress thought they had found a cheap way to embarrass the Clinton Administration. Unfortunately for us, it did not turn out to be so cheap. . . .

    — Donald

  • Dave Huntsman

    I was the one who asked Ed the question. He mentioned during his talk that he conducted the survey of prime and sub-tier contractors in concert with the Department of Defense with respect to the ITAR problem. It is my understanding that folks internal to the DOD are moving forward with their assessment, based on the comments received, to senior DOD management (i.e., one level below the Secretary of Defense) with specific suggestions as to some specific changes the Executive Branch can make in how it implements ITAR to make things less onerous.

    To say that only legislation will make things better is not correct. The whole point of what’s going on is that the ITAR problem can be broken down into two possible pieces: that which involves how the Executive Branch has been choosing to implement the law; and, the establishing legislation itself.

    Ed Morris’ office in Commerce is incredibly small. As a result, his office has decided to focus their actions on:
    – collecting data — finding out where the problems really are;
    – and then putting their extremely limited resources into working any possible legislative changes.

    What is happening on the DOD side is the other half; i.e, taking the data, and recommending to senior DOD management that they lead the charge on specific implementation changes that are needed on Executive Branch implementation. Both are absolutely needed. The fact that the lower-levels of the DOD have, in fact, come up with specific recommended changes to how the Executive Branch implements the ITAR world that they think will make a difference is evidence of the need to attack that issue specifically as well.

    What is still missing – at least at the moment – is high-level Agency/Department-level support that recognizes something needs to be done. Even if the next two levels of DOD management get convinced in the next few weeks – a big if – it still then needs to go to the White House and State. Assuming that that happens, it would be nice if other Agencies who proclaim loudly that they support commercial space development – primarily NASA, and FAA/AST – were there to voice their support. Unfortunately, there seems to be an unfortunate lack of willingness at these other agencies to even step forward and support those who are at least trying to improve the situation.

    ITAR was intended to prevent key munition-related technologies from going to enemies. Unfortunately, it’s being interpreted so broadly – so flippantly?? – that there are increasing instances where the opposite is happening. At the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in April, several General-level officers went on record saying that ITAR, in total, including the way it’s being implemented, is actually hurting US national security.

    In his Keynote Address to the Space Frontier Foundation this week, Gary Payton, the Air Force Deputy Under Secretary for Space, noted that more and more overseas contracts are requiring ‘ITAR-Free’ responses; which, essentially, means no US content allowed. He also noted that DOD is seeing increasing technology development oversees due to ITAR; which is hardly what was intended. He also noted that he increasingly sees subtier US contractors leaving the space business totally due to the market available to them being too small. (Due to over-consolidation, the US-side of the industry is, if anything, shrinking; while the international market is increasingly being shut out to them). This was brought out later with a specific example from Dr. Paul Spudis, the John Hpkins Applied Physics Lab scientist who is building – or, trying to build – a scientific instrument for launch on India’s Chandrayan mission to the moon next year. “It is incredibly difficult to get parts right now, due to the erosion of the industrial base that has occurred…and dealing with ITAR on this instrument is also incredibly difficult”.

    NASA’s and FAA’s policies of supporting commercial space development on the one hand, are being actively negated by the unwillingness of those two agencies to help rationalize the ITAR issue on the other.

    The ITAR issue is real. It is hurting national security. It is hurting the efforts to develop a commercial space industry. Rationalizing it is mandatory. What we lack is not the money to fix ITAR – it doesn’t require any funds, per se. (With the single possible exception of increasing the number of qualified individuals assigned to State to expedite applications).

    What we seem to have been lacking is the courage and leadership to do what can be done, both inside and outside of the Executive branch, to fix it.

    NASA – for one – should assign one high-level, motivated individual – with bona fides in both the Executive and Legislative branches – to work this issue with the folks in the DOD National Security Space Office, and in Commerce, who are trying to work this. FAA should do the same. We have a window of opportunity during this last year of the Bush Administration to make some changes while a Republican is in office (which would mitigate any possible later charges of being ‘soft on security’). We should not sit on the sidelines and not take advantage of this window.

    While it is still there.

  • anonymous

    Kudos to Mr. Huntsman for his call to action and clear delineation of the issues. It’s far past time to start ameliorating the partisan-inspired changes that were made to ITAR, and the damage they’re doing to U.S. economic and national security. Even if the legislation won’t be reversed anytime soon, there is much that can be done on the executive side to alleviate the problems arising from the legislation.

  • Ryan Zelnio

    For those interested in export controls, there is a hearing this Thursday on it:

    Exports Controls: Are We Protecting Security and Facilitating Exports?
    U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs
    Event Date: July 26, 2007
    Event Time: 2:00 PM
    Event Location: B-318 Rayburn House Office Building

    Panel 2 should be especially interesting for space policy wonks as John Douglass, president of AIAA (which represents many space companies), squares off against Will Lowell, former director of DDTC (which is the part of the state department responsible for overseeing ITAR).

    If you are interested in hearing about the Hill’s opinions on export control reform, this is one hearing not to miss.

  • b.m.g

    well i think this ITAR stuff is a big deal, especially considering the fact that the president can do what ever he wants with his ‘executive power’.

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