Limited hope for ITAR reform?

With a change of administrations coming to Washington, there has been some hope in the space community that this might lead to some reform of export control policies that have hampered the ability of US space companies to do business with foreign customers. In the space policy his campaign released in August, Barack Obama proposed some degree of ITAR reform, including “a review of the ITAR to reevaluate restrictions imposed on American companies, with a special focus on space hardware that is currently restricted from commercial export”.

However, as I noted in an article in Monday’s issue of The Space Review, actually enacting any reform may be harder than some think. As one Congressional staffer said on a panel about ITAR at a space policy conference in Washington last month, “It’s very difficult to tell somebody after the [Chinese] ASAT test that we have be sitting back and being looser about these things.” More limited reform, including a closer evaluation of what “space-qualified” components should be on the US Munitions List (and thus governed by ITAR) and which should be under the less restrictive control of the Commerce Department, may be possible, although it would still require action by Congress.

2 comments to Limited hope for ITAR reform?

  • Kevin Parkin

    Given the olympics are over with and there’s an economic downturn that threatens China’s internal stability, it’s much more likely to pull the lever on the Taiwan scenario in the next 4 years that it was even at the time of the ASAT test.

    And if the US space response is sloppy, and half its tenuous incoming stream of aerospace engineers is foreign, in the process of applying for H1B visas and unable to work with ITAR related technologies as currently defined, will the public understand?

  • Jeff, et al.

    While I agree that it’s harder than some might think, I don’t believe that’s a reason to not use this shift in Administration — and today’s economic duress — as a justification for a complete rethinking of how we achieve the goal of national security through export restrictions.

    Too often I have seen people protecting the status quo for a completely unstated — and not publicly approved/supported — reason, which I call “turning u.s. exporters into foreign policy tools”.

    I don’t think there’s any reason to expect or “believe” in a reform breakthrough, there are good arguments for pursuing it, and we in the NewSpace community especially need to coalesce around those arguments.

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