“It answered the uncertainty about whether it was time to make such a big step,” Nathan says.
Along the way, AIA was issuing reports stressing the negative impact of restrictions to industry. The U.S.'s share of satellite manufacturing dropped from 65% to as low as 30% since Congress imposed export restrictions. That added up to a $21 billion loss in revenue from 1999 to 2009 and 9,000 jobs, AIA estimates.
In 2011, Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the bill with a long list of co-sponsors. It passed in the House but stalled in the Senate. This year, the bill was included in a package of amendments to the defense authorization bill with two key co-sponsors—Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who lead the House Armed Services Committee.
“This agreement will help restore America's global competitiveness in high-tech satellite technology, while also protecting vital U.S. national security interests,” says Berman, who lost re-election in November. “Treating commercial satellites and components as if they were lethal weapons, regardless of whether they're going to friend or foe, has gravely harmed U.S. space manufacturers. U.S. national security depends upon these manufacturers for our own defense needs; if they can't compete in the international marketplace due to onerous restrictions, they can't innovate and cannot survive.”
In addition to easing the restrictions on commercial satellite exports, lawmakers also handed the Obama administration a big win over its larger export control reform effort. The final version of the bill nixed a provision dealing with how the administration notifies Congress of which goods are moving from the State Department's U.S. Munitions List to lists managed by the Commerce Department.
Despite the key support for easing the restrictions on commercial satellites, lawmakers remain concerned about the export of sensitive technology to China. That includes Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, who retires at the end of this term and was on the select committee that recommended restrictions on satellite exports many years ago. “It's one thing to be able to export them, we've just got to be sure who we're exporting them to,” Dicks says. “You have got to have some control.”