Export Controls:

Issues Related to Commercial Communications Satellites

T-NSIAD-98-208: Published: Jun 10, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 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) concerns and issues debated over the transfer of commercial communications satellites to the export licensing jurisdiction of Commerce; (4) 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 months, 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; (7) by design, State's system gives primacy to national security and foreign policy concerns, lessening--but not eliminating--the risk of damage to U.S. national security interests; (8) the addition of new controls over satellites transferred to Commerce's jurisdiction in 1996 addressed some of the key areas where the Commerce procedures are less stringent than those of State; (9) there remain, however, differences in how the export of satellites is controlled under these new procedures; (10) Congress notification requirements no longer apply; (11) sanctions do not always apply to items under Commerce's jurisdiction; (12) the Department of Defense's power to influence the decisionmaking process has diminished since the transfer; (13) technical information may not be as clearly controlled under the Commerce system; and (14) the additional controls applied to the militarily sensitive commercial communications satellites transferred to Commerce's control in 1996 were not applied to the satellites transferred in 1993.

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