Secretary of Defense Discusses Reform of the U.S. Export Controls

On April 19, 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (Gates) discussed the Administration's interagency review of the U.S. export control system. Gates stated that the consensus among the Secretaries of State, of Commerce, of Defense, of Energy, and of Homeland Security, based on the review results, is that the current export control system poses a potential threat to national security. Gates identified as part of the problem export control processes that were designed 50 years ago and are unfit for solving modern issues.  

The fundamental reform of the export control system, according to Gates, needs to take place in four dimensions, also referred as the "four singles":

  1. A single export control list. The United States Munitions List (USML) and Critical Commodities List (CCL) would be replaced by a single list, which would prevent forum shopping where exporters may try classification under one list versus another, duplication, where an item is covered by both USML and CLL, and also aid companies in understanding applicable restrictions.  
  2. A single licensing agency. Currently, two different authorities - one at the State Department and another at Commerce - often make independent, unilateral decisions, which sometimes cause for confusion and delay in decision making.
  3. A single agency to coordinate enforcement, which would strengthen the ability to identify, investigate and prosecute violations. Currently, multiple enforcement agencies exist, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), State enforcement, Commerce Export Enforcement Office, FBI, and many others. It is expected that in the future there will still be multiple enforcement institutions, but their efforts will be coordinated to avoid overlapping jurisdiction and, in some cases, confused authorities.
  4. A single unified IT system. Gates stressed that a single IT system instead of the current three would review license application process across the U.S. government and also make this process more efficient.  

Gates also mentioned that among the changes to the export controls system are treaties between the U.S. and each of the key allies that contain special arrangements under which an export license would not be required for export of goods that are not on a list of very sensitive items, to pre-determined communities of companies that have been vetted by the foreign government. This legislation is currently pending ratification in the Senate.