USIS Washington File

15 March 2000

Commerce Official Says Trouble Building for Export-Control Bill

(Senate committee chairmen oppose September compromise) (800)
By Bruce Odessey
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The top U.S. Department of Commerce export-control
official says prospects for Congress passing a new Export
Administration Act (EAA) have become less certain.

Under Secretary of Commerce William Reinsch says that the bill, which
would authorize export controls on advanced technology such as
computers and machine tools, has substantial support in the Senate,
but faces determined opposition from five Republican committee
chairmen and others.

The head of the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA), Reinsch made
the remarks at a March 15 meeting of the President's Export Council
Subcommittee on Export Administration.

Since the previous EAA expired in 1994, the Clinton administration has
kept the export-control system in place under an emergency law called
the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), but that
practice has been challenged in court.

Attempts by Congress to rewrite the Cold War-era EAA failed throughout
the 1990s because of divisions between business interests on one side
and military and intelligence interests on the other.

Those divisions remain today, at least among Senate Republicans,
Reinsch said. Republican supporters of the bill are led by Senate
Finance Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, whose committee approved the
bill 20-0 in September.

Reinsch said that bill represents a good balance of interests that the
administration basically supports even though it dislikes some

One contentious issue concerns which agency will have the final word
deciding what products go on the export control list. The Commerce
Department has held that authority.

Republicans siding with national security interests want more
authority for the State Department and, even more, the Defense
Department. Some want to reverse the trend set in the Bush and Clinton
administrations of removing items from the control list and relaxing
other controls.

According to Reinsch, Senate Democrats support the bill approved by
the Banking Committee. Yet that support is slipping, he said, as Gramm
attempts to negotiate language acceptable to the opponents. Industry
representatives have also opposed more concessions, he said.

Gramm told the Senate September 10 he thought he had achieved a deal
with the five chairmen opposed with a modified bill he moved to the
Senate floor for debate that day. The deal quickly collapsed, however,
and Gramm withdrew the bill from consideration by the Senate, at least
for a while.

Reinsch said that while the Senate is in recess the week of March 12,
Gramm and his staff are struggling to renegotiate a deal with the
opposing chairmen in a way that will not lose the support of industry.

"Whether the obstacles are too great remain to be seen," Reinsch said.

He said that even if Gramm fails to reach a deal, he could still
attempt to push the bill through the Senate over the opposition. Under
Senate rules that would require votes from 60 of the Senate's 100
members in order to end the opponents' filibuster.

One opponent, Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson,
told the Senate he will vote against the bill even if Gramm makes more

"I think we ought to be tightening and they think we ought to be
loosening," Thompson said, "and never the twain shall meet."

Reinsch said he expects that leaders in the U.S. House of
Representatives will wait for the Senate to act before starting work
on the EAA.

For any bill to become law requires passage by the full House and
Senate and signature by Clinton.

In a related development, Reinsch's Bureau of Export Administration
published in the March 10 Federal Register a regulation increasing
again the threshold of computers eligible for export without an
individual license.

The regulation implements the policy announced by President Clinton
February 1.

Immediately it raised the threshold from 20,000 to 33,000 million
theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) for Tier 2 countries
including South Korea, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) countries, Slovenia, South and Central America, and most of

It also raised the thresholds from 12,300 to 20,000 MTOPS for exports
to civilian users in 45 or so Tier 3 countries, which include China,
Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel. For military users in those
countries, the threshold rises from 6,500 to 12,500 MTOPS, but not
until August 14 because of a six-month lag required under law.

The regulation also moves Romania from Tier 3 to Tier 2, effective
June 15.

Reinsch said his and other agencies are preparing to submit in April
their recommendations to Clinton for the next round of increases in
computer export levels, citing continued rapid technological advances
in the industry.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: