Sec. Gates Outlines Reforms for Export Controls

On April 20, Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed a Business Executives for National Security (BENS) audience and outlined the administration’s proposed reforms to the U.S. export controls system.

In Aug. 2009, President Barack Obama directed that the National Economic Council and National Security Council to launch a broad-based interagency process to review the overall export controls system, including the dual-use and defense-related trade processes. The President has called for reforms on key technologies and items that pose the greatest national-security threat including those related to global terrorism, the proliferation and delivery systems of weapons of mass destruction and advanced conventional weapons.

In collaboration with his counterparts at the departments of State, Commerce, and Homeland Security, as well as with the director of national intelligence and the national security advisor, Sec. Gates outlined their blueprint for reforming export controls by simplifying and consolidating exports on weapons and commercial goods that have potential military uses.

In his speech at BENS, Sec. Grates stated that their plan relies on four key reforms: a single export-control list, a single licensing agency, a single enforcement-coordination agency, and a single information-technology system.

First, Sec. Gates explained the idea of a single export-control list that will make it clear to U.S. companies which items require licenses for export and which do not. This single list, combined with a single licensing agency, would allow the U.S. to concentrate on controlling those critical technologies and items–the “Crown Jewels”–that are the basis for maintaining our military technology advantage, especially technologies and items that no foreign government or company can duplicate.

Second, a single licensing agency, instead of the current system which divides responsibilities between the departments of State, Defense and Commerce, will have jurisdiction over both munitions and dual-use items and technologies, will streamline the review process and ensure that export decisions are consistent and made based on the real capabilities of the technology. The administration is currently examining options for the agency’s location, and a presidential decision is likely to occur later this spring.

Sec. Gates went on to describe the need for coordination of our currently dispersed enforcement resources by one agency that will do a great deal to strengthen enforcement, particularly abroad, as well as coordination with the intelligence community. The fourth reform would be a single, unified information technology (IT) infrastructure that aims to reduce the redundancies, incompatibilities, and taxpayer waste that our current system of multiple databases produces. The goal is to create a single online location and database that would receive, process, and help screen new license applications and end-users.

These principles and proposals will begin taking shape through a three-phased process that will unfold over the course of the next year. In the first phase, the executive branch will begin the transition towards the single list and single licensing agency by making significant improvements to the current system. The second phase will complete the transition to a single IT structure, implement the tiered control list, and make substantial progress towards a single licensing system. A final, third phase will completely overhaul the current system, specifically the single licensing agency and single enforcement coordination agency. These fundamental changes will require congressional action.

During his speech, Sec. Gates emphasized that the new system will be in full compliance with all of our existing multilateral treaties and obligations. The prospect of more defense trade with the U.S. will incentivize other nations to strengthen their own export regimes. He also called for the Senate to approve military- trade treaties with the United Kingdom and Australia before the summer recess in August.

The president hopes that his national-security team can continue to work closely with congressional leaders and all of the key allies to turn these proposals into legislation that the president can sign sometime later this year.

Click here to read the entire speech.