House Science Discusses ITAR, H1 Visas

Share This

Publication date: 
13 March 2009

The House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing February 25 on U.S. export control policy and the recent Fortress America report from the National Academies outlined in FYI #11.

Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) opened the hearing saying:

“The nation’s export control system and the related International Traffic in Arms Regulation, known as ITAR, were put in place to help protect America’s sensitive technologies from falling into the hands of those who might do harm to this nation.”

“In recent years there has been a growing chorus of concern about some of the unintended consequences of the current system of export controls for both the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy and for the nation’s science and technology enterprise.

“Equally troubling, there are also increasing expressions of concern from experts in the national security industry and academic communities to the effect that the current system of export controls is actually weakening our national security, not strengthening it; while undermining the health of our science and technology enterprise.”

“Findings such as those led this committee last year to include a provision in the House passed NASA Authorization Act of 2008 directing the director of Office of Science and Technology Policy to carry out a comprehensive study of the impact of the current export control policies on our civil and commercial aerospace enterprise. While that provision did not make it into the final public law, I am encouraged that President Obama called for a similar review during his presidential campaign… and I will be in written contact with the Administration making that request.

“In closing, I think that it is time for Congress to take another look at the nation's export control regime…. This committee is starting the process with today's hearing, and… other committees will be following up in the coming weeks and months with further oversight of other aspects of the export control issue.”

Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) opined:

“Export controls are crucial and necessary to prevent the proliferation of militarily useful technologies from falling into the wrong hands, and it's critically important that we continue to the best of our abilities to deny the transfer of these technologies to our adversaries. In today's global marketplace, as our witnesses will soon point out, it's equally important that export control regulations recognize technology that are no longer ours alone to control and to permit the rapid sharing of emerging R&D technologies with our friends and allies.

“Based on a number of scholarly studies, including the national academies beyond Fortress America report, it's clear to me that the current export control regime fails, I think, to meet these standards. Industry and academia endure enormous costs in an effort to comply with ITAR.”

“The current system has no transparency, and as a result, export licensing is bogging down the very same R&D enterprise that made our economy the largest in the world.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said in his opening statement that “everyone understands that there is a big problem… with the ITAR regulations, and everyone agrees that reform is needed.”

Lt. Gen. Brent Snowcroft (USAF, Ret.), who served as Co-Chair of the National Academies’ Committee on Science, Security and Prosperity outlined the Fortress America report:

“The study we have done on export controls and technology in a globalized world concludes that the national security controls on science and technology are broken. They harm our national security and reduce our economic competitiveness.”

“Our mindset is now negative. Don't let anything out which might be of use abroad, or don't let any H1 Visa applicants in who might be a problem. We need to turn to an open mindset. Export unless there is a reason not to. Let H1 Visa applicants in unless there's a reason not to.

“And to improve our agility, the committee recommends the establishment of two administrative entities, perhaps within the National Security Council. The first would be a coordinating center for export controls that would be a one stop shop for people seeking export licenses. This would determine whether the Commerce Department or the State Department should handle the application. Now the applicant has to decide, and if he guesses wrong, there is months of delay in determining it.

“The second entity is an appeals panel that would hear and decide disputes about whether export licenses are required and whether particular decisions to grant or deny those licenses were properly appealed, properly made, and also hear appeals on sunset requirements and how they're being carried out. Our committee proposes that sunset requirements be applied to all items on the export control list and reviewed annually.”

“To assure that conditions for scientific and technological competitiveness, the committee has recommended that the fundamental research exemption, also known as NSDD 189, should be maintained and properly implemented.

“The committee also proposes the establishment of an economic competitiveness exemption that eliminates export controls on dual use technologies where they or their functional equivalent are available without restriction in open markets outside the United States.

“A final recommendation addresses the need to maintain and enhance access to the reservoir of human talent from foreign sources through H1 Visas to strengthen the U.S. science and technology base.”

Thomas Young, Co-Chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Working Group on the Health of U.S. Space Industrial Base and the Impact of Export Controls next explained:

“It's our overarching view that our current export controls have an adverse impact on our national security. They have a negative impact on our industrial base, particularly at the second and third tier of the base. And they complicate the relationships necessary to mutually beneficial international cooperative endeavors.”

“For cooperative endeavors, the United States ceases to be the partner of choice.”

“In summary, this over-control by our current export control policies and procedures have accelerated the development of an international space community, result in the United States preeminence being challenged in many areas.”

Claude Canizares, Vice President for Research, Associate Provost, and Bruno Rossi professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology noted, “within our borders, a significant fraction of our scientific and engineering workforce is international. By the year 2000, nearly a quarter of the science and engineering workers in the U.S. were foreign nationals. I would imagine it was considerably higher today. Two thirds of the post-doctoral researchers in the United States are international.”

Maj. Gen. Robert Dickman (USAF, Ret.) emphasized the faulty logic behind ITAR saying:

“Our arms control regulations as applied to space systems not only have failed to meet the goal of slowing proliferation of technologies with national security application, they fostered the international development of comparable technologies and severely impacted the ability of U.S. firms to sell commercial products on the world market.”

“As you've heard, our export policies also ripple directly into the workforce, into our ability to hire foreign nationals to work on U.S. space systems. Unlike several decades ago when many of the best and brightest stayed in the United States because the work was more interesting and the compensation was better, now most have no choice but to return home. We'll train them, but we can't put them to work on our most challenging problems, not while they're graduate students, and not while they can enter the workforce later either.”

The hearing ran little over an hour, and lines of questioning tended towards China and Iran. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Rohrabacher both seemed concerned that either nation would benefit disproportionately from a rolling back of ITAR restrictions. Chairman Gordon ended the hearing promising to discuss arms regulation with President Obama.