Export Controls:

Change in Licensing Jurisdiction for Commercial Communications Satellites

T-NSIAD-98-222: Published: Sep 17, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 1998.

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GAO discussed the military sensitivity of commercial communications satellites and the implications of the 1996 change in export licensing jurisdiction, focusing on: (1) key elements in the export control systems of the Departments of Commerce and State; (2) how export controls for commercial satellites have evolved over the years; (3) the concerns and issues debated over the transfer of commercial communications satellites to the export licensing jurisdiction of Commerce; (4) the safeguards that may be applied to commercial satellite exports; and (5) observations on the current export control system.

GAO noted that: (1) the U.S. export control system--comprised of both the Commerce and State systems--is about managing risk; (2) exports to some countries involve less risk than to other countries and exports of some items involve less risk than others; (3) the planning of a satellite launch with technical discussions and exchanges of information taking place over several years involves risk no matter which agency is the licensing authority; (4) recently, events have focused concern on the appropriateness of Commerce jurisdiction over communication satellites; (5) this is a difficult judgment; (6) by design, Commerce's system gives greater weight to economic and commercial concerns, implicitly accepting greater security risks; and (7) by design, State's systems gives primacy to national security and foreign policy concerns, lessening--but not eliminating--the risk of damage to U.S. national security interests.

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