Bennet Urges Defense Panel to Reform Restrictions on Satellite Exports in Final Defense Authorization Bill

Measure is Key for Colorado, a National Hub for the Satellite Industry

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today pressed Senate leaders on the Armed Services Committee to include reforms to satellite export controls in the final version of the Defense Authorization bill, called a conference report, that the Committee is expected release finalized next week.

Bennet has been working with the leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee on such reforms and filed an amendment to the bill last week. In a letter to Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), chairman and ranking member of the committee, Bennet requested that his amendment be included in the final conference report.

“Our space export control policies have put American businesses at a disadvantage, and countries that do not share our interests are benefitting,” Bennet said. “This measure will ensure that our nation’s export controls will treat satellites and their components in a manner that is consistent with other items that serve both a military and a commercial purpose. I have worked closely with the Senate Armed Services Committee on this language, and I am hopeful that it will be included in the final bill.”

“Colorado is a national hub for the satellite industry. Our companies are at the forefront of developing next generation satellite systems, and have a deep technical expertise and an inherent global competitive edge,” stated Vicky Lea with the Colorado Space Coalition. “Satellite export control reform is a critical issue to the nation’s space industrial base. The proposed changes in the NDAA will enable our companies to capitalize on their expertise, increasing high-skilled jobs and economic impact in Colorado.”

Bennet introduced a bill in May to give the Administration the ability to tailor export restrictions on certain satellites and components not deemed highly sensitive. The bill is based on recommendations from a joint Department of Defense and Department of State report on United States export controls in the satellite industry released in March. Bennet filed the bill as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill last week. However, it was never brought to a vote.

Under current law, the Administration does not have authority to determine the appropriate export controls for satellites and space-related items. They are controlled as defense articles under International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR), even if they have civilian applications and are available commercially abroad. This puts U.S. manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage in the global market while foreign competitors continue to make technological advancements.

Full Text of the Letter:

Dear Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain:

As you work to finalize the conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 (“NDAA”), I write to request that the report include reforms to our system of export controls on satellites and related items. Over the past several months, I have worked with you and your staff on legislation that would accomplish this goal.

As you know, under the current law, satellites and their related items are required to be regulated on the United States Munitions List (“USML”), which subjects these items to the most restrictive forms of export controls. Earlier this year, both the State and Defense Departments jointly issued a report, which assessed the feasibility and risks of permitting the Executive branch to transfer certain satellites and related items from the USML to the Commerce Control List (“CCL”). While items on the CCL are still subject to significant controls and oversight, they are eligible for more flexible authorizations for NATO countries and other close allies, while remaining subject to rigorous controls for destinations of concern.

The report concluded that our current system of satellite export controls provide “no noticeable benefit to national security.” All the while, it found that our current system “places the U.S. space industrial base at a distinct competitive disadvantage when bidding against companies from other advanced satellite-exporting countries that have less stringent export control policies and practices.” Our current system of controls, therefore, diminishes our nation’s economic and national security priorities.

It is my hope that the conference report to the NDAA will include language that would permit the transfer of satellites and related items from the USML to the CCL.

By reforming our nation’s export controls on satellites, we can both strengthen our economic competitiveness and improve our national security.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.   


Michael F. Bennet
U.S. Senator