The text of the National Defense Authorization Act conference report is available online; the export control reform provisions are contained in sections 1261 through 1267, starting on page 986 of the document. The language here is different from what was included in the House version, but with the same aim: restoring to the president the authority to remove satellites and related components from the US Munitions List (USML) and thus no longer subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
The conference report language does include a number of provisions beyond simply repealing the section of the 1999 defense authorization act that put those items on the USML. The bill bans the export of such items to China, North Korea, and “any country that is a state sponsor of terrorism,” as expected. The bill also requires the administration, at the time it submits its first so-called “38(f) request” to Congress seeking to move such an item from the USML to the Commerce Control List, to also provide a report listing any changes between its plan for moving items off the USML to its earlier “Section 1248 report” addressing the national security implications of such moves. The bill also requires that any review of Category 15 of the USML, which includes satellites and related components, include representatives of various agencies, including the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, and State, and the Director of National Intelligence.
The inclusion of the reform language, even with those conditions and provisos, has been welcomed by export control advocates in both industry and Congress. “For too long, the makers of American satellites and their parts have gotten weaker as their foreign competitors get stronger. Today we say, ‘not anymore,’” said Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD), ranking member of the House intelligence committee and someone who had been seeking satellite export control reform for several years, in a statement.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who earlier this year introduced a standalone export control reform bill and later sought to include language in an amendment in the Senate version of the NDAA, also praised the language in the conference report. “These reforms will give our businesses a chance to compete globally while still protecting our national security interests,” he said in a statement that also included comments from Colorado space industry representatives.
Industry groups also weighed in. “By rationalizing export controls, Congress has simultaneously improved our national security and created an environment that will keep high-tech jobs here in America,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), in a statement. Stu Witt, chairman of the CSF, added that he hoped the provision will allow the removal of crewed suborbital vehicles, like Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx, from the USML. “These vehicles have innumerable civilian uses, and should be on the Commerce Control List, where many dual-use technologies with predominantly civilian uses are already regulated.
“For years, we have watched the U.S. lose ground against global competitors because of the largely unintentional consequences of onerous regulations on space technology for export,” said Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham, thanking in particular both Bennet and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) for their support of the reforms. “We look forward to working with the administration in 2013 to ensure American Space competitiveness is maximized while keeping sensitive tecnologies out of the wrong hands.”
“Ending this self-imposed burden on U.S. competitiveness in the global commercial satellite marketplace is critical to our national security and to ensuring the U.S. space industrial base stays second to none,” said Aerospace Industries Association president and CEO Marion Blakey.
Update 5:50 pm: More reaction to the export control reform language from the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), an organization that has also advocated for reform, now that the final version of the NDAA has been passed by the House and Senate. “By repealing an outmoded law from more than a dozen years ago, Congress has significantly aided the competitiveness of the U.S. satellite industry, a crucial driver for the success of the U.S. space and technology sectors,” said SIA president Patricia Cooper in the statement.