Hope for ITAR?

Yes, I know, a new issue of The Space Review is out today. But as we all delve into that, I just caught up with this, from last week's issue: A new hope for export control reform? by Jeff Foust.

Jeff, speaking for just about everyone in the commercial space arena when he laments, "export control reform is like the weather: everyone talks about it, but no one, it seems, does anything about it," has this observation:

Now, though, there appears to be a chance to make a serious attempt at some form of export control reform. The change in control of Congress after the 2006 elections has put new people into leadership positions of key committees, including some representatives who may be more amenable to reform. However, getting that reform passed through Congress is no easy task, and is fraught with political peril for those who do support it. The odds of getting meaningful reform passed during this Congress may be higher now than they have been for years, but that doesn’t mean the process will be straightforward or assured of success.

Jeff overviews industry complaints about our dreaded U.S. export control regulations aired during a panel this month at the Satellite 2007 conference. We've heard all these serious complaints about ITAR a million times, and it remains critical that industry keep voicing its issues and concerns.

But here is something we haven't heard. An apology from retired Air Force colonel David Garner who as Jeff reports, helped put together the legislation that is a nemesis of space industry: “For what little part I played in where we are now, I’m sorry, and I’m trying to make it right by admitting to the error,” he said. “We never wanted to control parts and components.”

So what now? Jeff cites Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), chair of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, as "[o]ne of the strongest advocates for export control reform on Capitol Hill." You go girl. Although Rep. Tausher's deputy chief of staff warns that in Congress, “[n]ot much has changed.” Jeff quotes him as saying that leadership of certain committees remains "more pro-security than pro-business. So I would see a fairly conservative outlook for major change in the short term.”

But will the Defense Science Board's (DSB) report, expected this year, include a recommendation that the president appoint a nonpartisan commission on export control reform that would look into the issue and provide some guidance for Congress, as Garner hopes? That would be a welcome development, and at least a step in the direction of long-overdue ITAR reform.

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