Senate Moving Toward Debate over Export-Control Reform Bil
By Bruce Odessey
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - The Senate has begun grappling with a bill that would
reform the Cold War-era law authorizing advanced technology export
Although the bill appears to have broad support in Congress as well as
endorsement from the Bush administration, a group of conservative
Republican committee chairmen opposed are attempting to slow down its
consideration with delaying tactics.
Because of the opposition, supporters of the bill might twice have to
get votes from at least 60 of the 100 senators - first, to allow the
Senate to proceed to debate on the bill and, second, to limit debate.
One of the opponents, Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby,
said on the Senate floor April 26 that the bill would remove
meaningful export controls on much advanced technology to rivals such
"I fear the Senate is signaling to the Chinese that, whatever they do
and however much we criticize their actions, we will always put
commercial interest ahead of our national security," Shelby said.
Shelby and other opponents argue that the Defense Department and other
national security agencies need a stronger role in reviewing
export-control decisions made by the Commerce Department.
At issue is the Export Administration Act (EAA), which regulates
exports of computers, machine tools and other dual-use technology --
goods that have both military and civilian applications.
Attempts to reform the EAA failed 12 times in the 1990s over
disagreements between exporters on one side and national security
interests on the other.
The EAA lapsed in August 1994, and export controls were maintained
under emergency law until late in 2000 when Congress finally passed a
bill that extended EAA retroactively and through August 20, 2001.
The Senate Banking Committee approved the EAA reform bill in March on
a 19-1 vote with only Shelby dissenting.
Senator Phil Gramm, Republican chairman on the Banking Committee, said
the bill intends to eliminate controls on items no longer controllable
and to strengthen controls for the remaining crucial items. It would
effectively eliminate U.S. export controls on technology available
from foreign sources or available in mass-market quantities.
"Rather than waste our time and energy on products that are sold by
the millions," Gramm said, "we try to focus our attention in this bill
on trying to deal with those technologies that we have some realistic
hope of being successful."
The bill would allow the administration to anticipate changes in
controls because of rapid changes in availability or in technology.
It would require the administration to develop a guidance system for
exporters by assigning countries to different tiers representing
different levels of threat to U.S. national security.
It would sharply increase penalties for export-control violations
although, at Bush administration request, the committee halved the
proposed top penalties - to $5 million per criminal violation and
$500,000 per civil violation.
The bill would require timely resolution of inter-agency disputes over
decontrolling any item, but also elevate the Defense Department's and
other security agencies' participation in the process.
It would instruct the president to press other countries to improve
their own export-control systems and to cooperate to strengthen
multilateral export-control regimes.
It would repeal existing law basing control of computer exports on the
number of million theoretical operations per second (MTOPs) a computer
could execute. Gramm described that measure as obsolete given the
increased capability for linking computers together.
The bill would authorize the dual-use export-control system through
September 2004 unless the president reports to Congress on its
implementation and submits recommendations about improving it - in
that case authority would continue indefinitely.
"We want a balance that allows us to provide for the national security
of the United States," Gramm said, "but on the other hand we want to
be able to be the dominant high-tech manufacturer in the world."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: