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Committee begins tackling U.S. deemed export policy

Committee begins tackling U.S. deemed export policy

   A group of senior industry and academic officials held their first meeting in Washington Thursday to begin preparing recommendations that they hope will help the Commerce Department in updating its regulations regarding foreign nationals and their access to certain U.S. technologies.

   The so-called “deemed export” rule currently requires the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security and State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls to determine whether an export license is required to release technological know-how to a foreign national working in the United States. The government believes that unauthorized release of tightly monitored technologies to “parties of concern” could contribute to the development of weapons of mass destruction.

   “This committee will address evolving export policies to strike a balance between protecting national security and ensuring that the United States continues to build upon its position as a leading innovator of technology,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez in a statement.

   Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration and some members of Congress have called for the Commerce Department to strengthen its deemed export controls. A 2004 Commerce Department Office of Inspector General’s report said current controls in this area were weak.

   An effort last year by BIS to toughen its deemed export rules caused a backlash from the industry and universities, which argued that severe restrictions on access to knowledgeable foreign nationals would cause their research and development programs to suffer.

   After withdrawing its proposed rule in early June, BIS quickly formed the Deemed Export Advisory Committee. The committee comprises 12 hand-picked people from the private sector and academia. These individuals will serve a term of up to one year.

   The committee’s task won’t be easy. The topic of deemed export regulatory reform is a “well plowed field,” said Norman Augustine, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp., and co-chairman of the committee.

   Augustine told reporters that the committee, at best, will strive to develop recommendations that demonstrate a balance between sufficient national security and private sector goals. “We’re dealing with a fuzzy topic,” he said.

   The other committee co-chairman, Robert Gates, who also serves as president of Texas A&M University, said the deemed export rules have “muddied the waters, particularly in the academic world.” He said the United States needs a rule “that’s understandable and works” and doesn’t constrain access to foreign scientists.

   When asked about the likely direction the committee will take going forward, Augustine said, “It would be a mistake for us to rule out anything. It’s too early.”

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