Export Controls:

Opportunities for Improving Compliance With Export Administration Regulations

NSIAD-91-47: Published: Dec 6, 1990. Publicly Released: Dec 6, 1990.

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Allan I. Mendelowitz
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GAO assessed the Department of Commerce's procedures for providing oral advice to exporters regarding controls on the export of commercial products that could be of military use.

GAO found that: (1) the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) reported that it received over 160,000 export-control-related telephone inquiries during fiscal year (FY) 1989; (2) the International Trade Administration (ITA) handled about 6,000 telephone inquiries and about 700 walk-in inquiries during FY 1989; (3) industry representatives reported that Commerce staff sometimes gave inaccurate or inconsistent advice in response to export control questions; (4) a firm's study of Commerce reported that inconsistent responses from Commerce caused problems for companies seeking definitive policy advice; (5) the export community's lack of confidence in Commerce's advice resulted in unnecessary follow-up calls by exporters to confirm the accuracy of advice; (6) Commerce's limited control over its staff, Commerce staff's failure to elicit key information from callers before providing advice, and high BXA staff turnover contributed to the provision of inaccurate and inconsistent advice; (7) most Commerce offices did not use the telephone log system Commerce implemented to allow supervisory review of oral advice given to exporters; (8) industry representatives reported difficulty in understanding and using Commerce's commodity control list; and (9) resource constraints and other priorities hampered Commerce's attempts at improving the control list.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce has initiated a number of programs to improve the quality of advice it provides. It established regular training and information procedures, and reviews this issue with other agencies that provide technical advice.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Export Administration to ensure the accuracy of the oral advice provided on export regulations. To accomplish this, the Secretary may wish to undertake a pilot project to quantify the nature and extent of the provision of inaccurate and inconsistent advice, and based on those results, take steps to increase accountability over staff currently providing oral advice, and if necessary, limit the number of staff authorized to provide advice or include them in the telephone log system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce will incorporate as many of GAO suggestions as practical in developing the new control list.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Export Administration to incorporate into the development of the new commodity control list design principles that will improve the list's presentation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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