Export Controls:

Agency Actions and Proposed Reform Initiatives May Address Previously Identified Weaknesses, but Challenges Remain

GAO-11-135R: Published: Nov 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 16, 2010.

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Each year, billions of dollars in arms and "dual-use" items--items that have both commercial and military applications--are exported to U.S. allies and strategic partners. To further national security, foreign policy, and economic interests, the U.S. government controls the export of these items. Over the past 10 years, we have reported on numerous weaknesses in the export control system, including poor coordination among the multiple agencies involved, which have led to jurisdictional disputes and enforcement challenges, and the lack of systematic assessment of the overall effectiveness of the export control system. As a result, since 2007 the arms and dual-use export control systems have been included as part of our high-risk area on ensuring the effective protection of technologies critical to U.S. national security interests. We have also called for a strategic reexamination of existing programs within the U.S. export control system to identify needed changes and ensure the advancement of U.S. interests. In August 2009, the President announced that he had directed a comprehensive review of the U.S. export control system and, in April 2010, proposed a framework under which the current system would be streamlined to include a single export control list, a single licensing agency, a single primary enforcement coordination agency, and a single information technology system. The Administration has since provided updates on its reform initiatives, announcing specific actions that are being implemented using a phased approach.

Agencies have taken actions to address several weaknesses in the U.S. export control system that we previously identified and the Administration's export control reform initiatives have the potential to address others if fully implemented. Specifically, agencies have taken actions in several areas, including reducing the time it takes to process arms licenses and making initial efforts to coordinate export control enforcement activities among multiple agencies. The export control reform framework--as proposed--has the potential to address weaknesses in the U.S. export control system related to control lists, licensing, enforcement, and information technology, including areas where agencies have not addressed prior findings. However, for a few areas, such as developing measures of effectiveness for the arms export control system, agencies have not addressed some of our prior findings and the reform framework does not contain specific initiatives to address them. Furthermore, the Administration may have challenges in implementing fundamental reform of the export control system--such as reaching interagency agreement on which items need to be controlled and obtaining congressional approval for implementing reforms. Enclosure I provides additional details on our reports from 2001 to 2010 related to U.S. export controls, including their key findings, agency actions in response to these findings, and whether the export control reform framework includes actions that may address these findings. This report includes no new recommendations. We provided a copy of a draft of this report to Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Treasury for comments. Commerce and Homeland Security provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.

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