Gates to lay out next steps to overhaul export control system

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday will deliver a much-anticipated speech laying out the next steps the Obama administration will take to overhaul the nation’s outdated export control system, seen by many as a Cold War relic.

Gates, who plays an integral role as part of the administration’s reform team, will address a Business Executives for National Security audience on Tuesday. Gates’ speech is expected to carry much weight in moving forward with reform.

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An extensive overhaul of the rules on exporting sensitive technologies would require action by Congress, something that has been stymied in the past. The last major effort ended shortly after the September 11 attacks.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), is moving ahead with legislation to completely revise the Export Administration Act.

The current export controls system was intended to safeguard sensitive technologies that could be used for military and commercial purposes, but has not been updated in decades. Critics say dangerous technologies are not always controlled, while restrictions on the trade of some goods that are now widely available in the commercial market only have the effect of hurting U.S. companies.

Gates’s speech will come on the heels of President Barack Obama’s call on Friday for an updated export control system to help the United States create new jobs and increase economic growth.

“We are losing business opportunities unnecessarily," Obama said in a meeting with outside economic advisers, according to Reuters. “We're also, I actually think, impeding effective monitoring of our national security because if you have export controls across everything you're not spending time focusing on the handful of things that really do touch on sensitive national security."

Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn made the case for export-control reform on Thursday while addressing a luncheon sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association on Capitol Hill. Lynn said that the Cold War-era rules end up hurting defense companies and U.S. allies.