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February 25, 2009 

House Science and Technology Committee Holds Export Controls Hearing

Today the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to review the impact of current export control policies on U.S. science and technology activities and competitiveness. Witnesses and Members of the Committee also discussed the findings and recommendations of the National Academies’ study, Beyond “Fortress America”: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World.

During the hearing, the panel of witnesses unanimously agreed that the current system of U.S. export control policies, under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations are outdated and must be reformed.

In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said that the "nation’s export controls system . . . were put into place to help protect America’s sensitive technologies from falling into the hands of those who might do harm to this nation. In short, export controls were supposed to help strengthen our national security. However, in recent years there has been a growing chorus of concern about some of the unintended consequences of the current system of export controls for both the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy and for the nation’s science and technology enterprise."

Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) said that "export controls are crucial and necessary to prevent the proliferation of militarily-useful technologies from falling into the wrong hands, and it’s critically important that we continue, to the best of our abilities, to deny the transfer of these technologies to our adversaries.” He noted, however, that "in today’s global marketplace, it’s equally important that export control regulations recognize technologies that are no longer ours alone to control, and to permit the rapid sharing of emerging R&D technologies with our friends and allies. It is clear to me that the current export control regime fails to meet these standards.”

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) noted that "everyone agrees ITAR reform needs to happen. We need to make sure that our hi tech exports aren't strangled by regulations. On the other hand, we need to remain vigilant that our advanced technology doesn't end up in the hands of nations who proliferate weapons of mass destruction. We know exactly who these nations are, and we must make absolutely sure that whatever changes we enact to ITAR and other export regulations, that these scofflaw and rogue nations are barred from receiving our high tech systems." He added that "we can make sensible changes to ITAR and other export regulations, but we must not go so far as to make them at the expense of our national security. Let us reward our friends with openness in trade; and conversely let us be as single-minded as possible in stopping items from the United States Munitions List . . . from falling into the hands of the Peoples Republic of China and other proliferators.

In his testimony, Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Ret.), who served as Co-Chair of the Beyond “Fortress America” report, said:

Because science and technology research, development and production have become a global enterprise, the “Fortress America” approach of current controls cuts us off from information and technologies that we need for our national security. If we sustain these export control and visa barriers, we will increasingly lose touch with the cutting edge of science and technology, and we risk missing emerging national security threats.
He also noted that if the reforms proposed in Beyond “Fortress America” are not implemented then:
the [current export controls] system will continue to bog down, with multiplying negative effects to our national security and competitiveness. There will be nothing to prevent the continued erosion of our defense industrial base; the loss of market-share globally in advanced technologies; the off-shoring of knowledge intensive jobs; the bureaucratic wrangling among the agencies to name a few.
In his testimony, Major General Robert Dickman, USAF (Ret.), the Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), said that current U.S. trade and visa policies are adversely affecting America's national security and economic security, by stifling innovation, reducing core sector competencies, weakening the space industrial base and diminishing American competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Dickman also said that "U.S. trade and visa policies put in place to provide additional layers of national security are having severe and long-term effects on advanced systems technology sectors and the professional workforce that serves them." He pointed out that the current trade rules have made the U.S. space research sector more risk adverse, due to the cumbersome certification protocols mandated by current law.

While the House International Relations Committee has primary jurisdiction over export control matters, the House Science and Technology Committee will play an important role in shaping future U.S. export controls policy.

The complete written testimony of all the witnesses at today's hearing can be found here.

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