Berman Introduces Legislation to Strengthen U.S. Satellite Industry

May 4, 2001

WASHINGTON – Rep. Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills), along with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R- Huntington Beach), today introduced legislation to strengthen the competitiveness of the U.S. satellite industry and prevent the unauthorized transfer of sensitive satellite-related technology.

Several years ago, Congress transferred responsibility for licensing exports of commercial satellites and their components from the Commerce Department to the State Department,explained Berman, but its clear that the State Department is ill-equipped to handle these items. It takes far too long to issue licenses — even for exports to our closest allies. My bill would return jurisdiction to the Commerce Department and establish a reasonable time frame for the consideration of export license applications. It protects both our national security and economic concerns.

The U.S. share of the global market for communications satellites has plummeted, Berman continued, from a ten-year average of about 75% before the transfer to the State Department to about 45% after. We cant say exactly how much of this decline is due to export controls, but theres a widespread perception, in the U.S. and among our allies, that theyve had a significant impact.

Our NATO allies and other friends are naturally reluctant to purchase US-made communica-tions satellites when they know it could — and often does — take many months to obtain the required export licenses, Berman said. Some European satellite makers have even told their engineers to use as few U.S. components as possible in their designs to avoid export-related problems. Our policies clearly are putting U.S. firms at a competitive disadvantage.

Ironically, these current controls on exports to our friends and allies could end up harming our security in the long run, said Berman. The same U.S. firms that manufacture commercial communications satellites also build the satellites our military needs for battlefield superiority. Without substantial international sales, which generate revenue for more research and development, our ability to field the worlds most advanced military-related satellites may suffer.

My bill includes a wide range of security protections to ensure that sensitive technologies dont end up in the hands of potential adversaries, Berman continued. It requires the Commerce Department to refer all satellite-related export license applications to the Pentagon and the State Department to make sure all national security and foreign policy concerns are addressed. It also requires Pentagon monitors for launches of US satellites in countries other than NATO or major non-NATO allies and intelligence reviews of applications to verify the legitimacy of the end-user.

Satellite exports are especially important to California, Berman concluded. My state is home to 4 of the worlds 6 largest satellite manufacturers. Together, these companies have built three-quarters of the communications satellites now in orbit. Over 25,000 skilled workers and engineers are employed in Californias satellite industry. To ensure the long-term health of this industry, we need this common-sense approach to commercial satellite exports.