Congress, White House

Revisions to export control lists due out soon

Late last year, when Congress passed a defense authorization bill with export control reform language included, advocates of such reform noted that this legislative provision was not the end of their efforts. The language in the bill simply returned to the President the authority to move satellites and related components off the US Munitions List (USML), with exceptions barring export to China and several other countries. It was still up to the Obama Administration to act on that authority.

It appears that the administration is about to do so. In a public meeting of the Export Control Working Group of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in Washington on Tuesday, Kevin Wolf, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, said the administration was about to publish a draft of revised Category XV of the USML, which covers satellites and related components, accompanied by updated sections of the Commerce Control List (CCL), the less-onerous export control list administered by the Commerce Department. The drafts would reflect the proposed move of many items that are currently on the USML to the CCL.

Wolf said the draft USML and CCL sections would appear in the Federal Register either later this week or next week, “as soon as there’s space in the Federal Register,” he said. “The content was agreed to a while back.” The revised Category XV, he indicated, would be similar to what the appeared in the “Section 1248″ report on the national security implications of space export control reform published in April 2012.

The publication of the draft USML and CCL sections will start the clock on a 45-day public comment period. Wolf said they welcomed comments on the proposed lists to identify any unintended consequences of moving items from the USML to the CCL. The administration will then take several weeks to review the comments and incorporate them into a final draft, which would then reviewed by Congress in what are known as “38(f)” notifications.

“If everything works completely smoothly,” Wolf said, “November or December is probably the earliest when a final rule would be ready.”

It’s unlikely that Congress would have major objections to the plan, said David Fite, senior professional staff member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that he was only speaking for himself. “I don’t expect, really, any more Congressional problems with this. We’ve seen this before, the intention is clear, the concerns are taken care of,” he said at the COMSTAC meeting.

The one exception, Fite said, is that some members might object to specific technologies listed in the 38(f) notifications that the administration wants to move from the USML to the CCL. “There are members, some very powerful members, who are still concerned about this action,” he said. “And if there is a perception that something of a national security application that has been added to this list to be taken off, there could be some problems.”

Despite that concern, the working group meeting had something of a valedictory tone. “I would like to pause for a moment and have you reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments and developments that have taken place since we met last,” said Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association and chair of the working group committee, referring to the group’s last meeting in October, before passage of the reform language in the defense bill.

With the implementation of export control reform making its way through the administration, there is little in the way of new business for space export control reform. Fite said that he was unaware of any interest in Congress on tackling additional issues regarding space-related export reform, such as allowing exports of some space items to China. The COMSTAC working group, in fact, supported a proposal at the meeting to change its name to the “international” working group to allow it to expand its focus to related issues beyond export control.

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