Export Controls: More Thorough Analysis Needed to Justify Changes in High Performance Computer Controls

GAO-02-892 Published: Aug 02, 2002. Publicly Released: Aug 02, 2002.
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For national security and foreign policy reasons, U.S. export control policy seeks to balance economic interests in promoting high technology exports with national security interests to maintain a military advantage in high performance computers over potential adversaries. In January 2002, the President announced that the control threshold--above which computers exported to countries such as China, India, and Russia--would increase from 85,000 millions of theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) to 190,000 MTOPS. The report justifying the changes in control thresholds for high performance computers focused on the availability of such computers. However, the justification did not fully address the requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1998. The December 2001 report did not address several key issues related to the decision to raise the threshold: (1) the unrestricted export of computers with performance capabilities between the old and new thresholds will allow countries of concern to obtain computers that they have had difficulty constructing on their own, (2) the United States is unable to monitor the end-uses of many of the computers it exports, and (3) the report does not acknowledge the multilateral process used to make prior changes in high performance computer thresholds.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To help ensure that a thorough assessment of these issues is completed, Congress may wish to consider requiring that the executive branch fully comply with the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Acts of 1998 and 2000 before the executive branch alters or eliminates the export control thresholds for high performance computers.
Closed – Not Implemented
The United States controls the export of high performance computers for national security and foreign policy reasons. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1988 requires that the President provide a justification to Congress for changing the control thresholds for exports of high performance computers to certain sensitive countries. On June 30, 2006, we reported that the President's February 2006 report did not fully address the three requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1988. Similarly, we reviewed prior justifications for changing the export control thresholds on high performance computers and found that the changes were not adequately justified. In sum, the executive branch has revised the control thresholds on several occasions without adequate justification.

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