“He does not believe it is a good idea to give the president the authority to remove satellites from the more restrictive U.S. Munitions List because this could lead to sensitive technologies falling into the hands of potential adversaries—especially with respect to remote sensing, navigation, and perhaps some multi-mission satellites,” according to a Senate aide. “Even with a ban on transfers to specific countries . . . there is no assurance that sensitive technologies won't make their way to these countries through third-party sales.”
To win Republican support for the satellite export issue in the House, the defense bill also included a change to the Arms Export Control Act that could impinge on the Obama administration's broader overhaul of the USML. The administration has been working to transfer items from the munitions list controlled by the State Department to one managed by the Commerce Department in order to smooth what is regarded by all to be a cumbersome export control process.
Some lawmakers and the administration have been at odds over a legal requirement to notify Congress of items transferred off the munitions list. The bill revises that notification requirement, saying that the notice “shall include to the extent practicable, an enumeration of the item or items to be removed and describe the nature of any controls to be imposed on the item or items under any other provision of law.”
The compromise, however, does not resolve the ongoing difference of opinion.
A congressional aide sees this provision being refined during the House-Senate conference process. The aide contends that the change is a slight one, and actually is a slight improvement. He points to the clause “the extent practicable” as providing some latitude to the executive branch in the level of detail it would have to provide to Congress.
But the White House sees “enumeration” as an onerous requirement that fails to consider the administration's even more extensive plan for notifying the public about the items it is transferring from the USML to the Commerce Control List. “Enumeration is not something that we're able to do for every nut, bolt and screw that we license,” says an administration official. The administration is publishing proposed rules for each of the export control categories, including the one governing aircraft. It contains 200,000 items alone. “If we have to enumerate those 200,000 items, we'll never actually finish,” says an administration official.
But, he says, “I understand [the need for] a compromise. We'll work with that.”
Export issues are one of a number of differences between the versions of the defense policy bill passed by the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) that will have to be resolved by a conference.
Senate floor action on the bill could happen as early as June, SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) says. Even in a good year, the defense authorization bill is typically one of the last pieces of legislation to be reconciled in Congress and fully passed by both chambers. So, the bill probably won't be fully passed before the November elections. But SASC leaders are optimistic it will pass for reasons that will keep the satellite industry smiling—the bill has passed every year for more than 50 years running.