Export Controls:

Better Interagency Coordination Needed on Satellite Exports

NSIAD-99-182: Published: Sep 17, 1999. Publicly Released: Oct 18, 1999.

Additional Materials:


Harold J. Johnson, Jr
(202) 512-3000


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on interagency coordination on satellite exports.

GAO noted that: (1) the Departments of Commerce and State used licensing conditions to support U.S. policy outlined in government-to-government agreements with each country meant to help ensure that technology is safeguarded; (2) Commerce and State included conditions meant to protect sensitive technology on 43 licensed commercial communications satellite launch campaigns by China, Russia, and Ukraine between 1989 and February 1999; (3) licenses for 35 launch campaigns included 5 conditions, while licenses for 8 launch campaigns issued by Commerce between 1994 and 1997 omitted 3 of these 5 conditions; (4) for these eight launch campaigns, Commerce did not require: (a) the Department of Defense (DOD) monitors; (b) preparation of technology control plans; or (c) strict compliance with the government's safeguards agreements; (5) at the time Commerce approved these export licenses, it did not consider these three license conditions necessary; (6) although DOD and State were involved in the interagency review of these export licenses, neither agency objected to the omission of these license conditions; (7) since 1997, Commerce and State have included all five conditions in every licensed launch campaign; (8) DOD and State documents show that monitoring problems, unauthorized transfers of technology and other violations of export control regulations possibly occurred in 14 launch campaigns in China, Russia, and Ukraine, including some of the campaigns where license safeguard conditions were omitted; (9) these documents also show that sensitive technology was transferred in at least three cases and that two of these transfers raised national security concerns; (10) many of the problems identified in the 14 launch campaigns arose because of confusion created by the shared licensing jurisidiction and a lack of clarity concerning the roles and responsibilities of each agency in licensing and monitoring these exports; (11) the October 1998 legislation that returned licensing authority for all commercial communications satellite exports from Commerce to State and led DOD to establish a monitoring organization should reduce confusion in the controls over these exports caused by the shared jurisdiction; (12) however, some confusion may remain because license applications received before the March 15, 1999, transfer of jurisdiction will still be processed by Commerce, and approved licenses will be valid for up to 2 years; and (13) consequently, there will still be a need for the agencies to coordinate their policies and monitoring activities of foreign launches.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense issued an instruction in June 2002, to define when the State Department must be consulted. GAO only obtained a copy in July 2003. On July 29, 2003, Mr. David Trimble of the State Department called to say that he had reviewed the DOD instruction and that it satisfies the concerns of the State Department about not being adequately consulted on satellite issues by DOD.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should consult with DOD and Commerce for the purpose of establishing clear roles and responsibilities for all agencies and overseas posts in implementing the government-to-government technical safeguards agreements and establishing procedures to help ensure compliance with U.S. satellite export regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Feb 8, 2021

Jan 28, 2021

Jan 27, 2021

Dec 9, 2020

Dec 2, 2020

Nov 19, 2020

Nov 9, 2020

Oct 27, 2020

Oct 2, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here