I’ve long said (to paraphrase Mark Twain) that ITAR is like the weather — everybody talks about it, but no one ever does anything about it. Well, that may be about to change:
The legislation gives the president the authority to remove satellites and related components from the US Munitions List (USML), hence removing them from the jurisdiction of ITAR. (It would not, though, allow the export of such items to China.) Other provisions of the legislation would direct an ongoing review of the USML “to determine those technologies and goods that warrant different or additional controls”, which could benefit the space industry even if the White House didn’t exercise the provision to remove satellites and related components from the list wholesale.
The legislation passed the House last year, but for several months has been sitting in the Senate, raising fears they may never consider it. But speaking on an ITAR panel at the Satellite 2010 conference last week, David Fite, a staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee but speaking only for himself, said things were going “somewhat on schedule” compared to authorization bills in previous Congresses. That schedule would have the Senate passing its version of the authorization bill by the summer and a conference report reconciling the differences between the two in September or October.
It’s unclear from the reporting whether or not this will fix the problem for launch providers, or just satellite manufacturers. For instance, will it make life easier for the suborbital folks? Of course, the biggest problem is this:
“We are in an election year,” cautioned Fite. In his 11 years on Capitol Hill, he said, “I have never seen an environment that has been this partisan.” Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, concurred. “The danger is that this will become a political issue in an election year, which means it’s not going to be addressed on its merits, it will be addressed by slogans.” That will make it harder for reform to make its way through Congress and could also hurt the administration’s other reform efforts.
I’ve also long said that, as it took Nixon to go to China, only the Republicans can fix ITAR (though Duncan Hunter made sure it would never happen all through the Bush administration) because the Dems can’t afford to look weaker on national defense than they already do. I do fear very much that this will become a casualty of the very ugly campaign we’re heading into.