GAO Issues Reports Critical of U.S. Export Controls

On June 4, 2009, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued two reports following Testimony before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

In a report entitled, "Export Controls: Fundamental Reexamination of System Is Needed to Help Protect Critical Technologies," Anne-Marie Lasowski, the Director Acquisition and Sourcing Management, explained the work GAO has conducted on export controls in past years and stated that over the years, the GAO has identified interagency coordination challenges, inefficiencies in the export control system, and a lack of systematic assessments conducted by State and Commerce Departments. In conclusion, the GAO calls for the executive and legislative branches to conduct a fundamental reexamination of the current export control programs and processes.

In a report entitled, "Military and Dual-Use Technology: Covert Testing Shows Continuing Vulnerabilities of Domestic Sales for Illegal Export," Gregory D. Kutz, the GAO's Managing Director Forensic Audits and Special Investigations, testified regarding undercover tests conducted by the GAO to attempt to (1) purchase sensitive dual-use and military items from manufacturers and distributors in the United States and illegally export such items from the U.S. In its covert testing, the GAO purchased items such as gyro chips, night vision monoculars, accelerometers, electrical components used in IEDs, and secure military-grade radios used by U.S. Special Operations personnel. The covert testing was conducted between May 2008 and June 2009 and in at least two instances, the GAO was able to illegally export two items without detection. 

In this report, the GAO concluded:

A comprehensive network of controls and enforcement is necessary to ensure sensitive technology does not make it into the hands of unauthorized individuals. However, the lack of legal restrictions over domestic sales of these items, combined with the difficulties associated with inspecting packages and individuals leaving the United States, results in a weak control environment that does not effectively prevent terrorists and agents of foreign governments from obtaining these sensitive items. The key to preventing the illegal export of these sensitive items used in nuclear, IED, and military applications is to stop the attempts to obtain the items at the source, because once sensitive items make it into the hands of terrorists or foreign government agents, the shipment and transport out of the United States is unlikely to be detected.