Export Controls: Challenges Exist in Enforcement of an Inherently Complex System

DISAM Journal, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Export Controls: Challenges Exist in Enforcement of an Inherently Complex System


Report Prepared By United States Government Accountability Office

[The following are excerpts of the report presented to the House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., December 20, 2006. The report in its entirety is located at the following web site: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/do7265.pdf.]

Each year, billions of dollars in dual-use items which have both commercial and military applications and defense items are exported from more than 300 U.S. sea, air, and land ports. To protect national security, foreign policy, and economic interests, the U.S. government controls the export of these items. (1) The Department of Commerce and Department of State (DoS) are principally responsible for regulating the export of dual-use and defense items, respectively.

A key function in the U.S. export control system is enforcement, which consists of various activities that aim to prevent or deter the illegal export of controlled defense and dual-use items and can result in apprehending violators and pursuing and imposing appropriate criminal and administrative penalties, such as imprisonment, fines, denials of export privileges, or debarment. Enforcement activities which include inspections, investigations, and punitive actions against violators of export control laws are largely carried out by the Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and DoS. The Department of Enforcement activities can result in various outcomes. One recent case resulted in four business owners pleading guilty to illegally exporting defense items, including radars and smart weapons, to Chinese government-owned entities. Three were sentenced to prison, and all had to collectively forfeit almost $400,000, which represents their revenue from the illegal exports.

Attempts continue to be made by individuals, companies, terrorist organizations, and countries of concern to illegally obtain defense and dual-use items. (2) In light of this, [the committees] asked us to review export control enforcement activities. In response, we have the following.

* Described the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of the agencies responsible for export control enforcement

* Identified any challenges the agencies face in enforcing export control laws and regulations

* Assessed whether information on enforcement outcomes is provided to the export control agencies to inform the export control process and licensing decisions

This report is a publicly releasable version of a law enforcement sensitive report we issued on November 15, 2006. Therefore, some examples that involved law enforcement techniques or methods and that support our findings have been removed from this version.

To conduct our work, we identified enforcement roles, responsibilities, and authorities through an examination of export control statutes, regulations, formal interagency agreements, policies, procedures, and operating manuals. We interviewed agency officials at headquarters and selected field locations responsible for export enforcement including inspectors (3) and investigators from the Department of Homeland Security, investigators from the Department of Commerce, investigators and criminal prosecutors from the Department of Justice, and compliance officers from the DoS about enforcement activities and challenges. We also identified export control enforcement information maintained at the various agencies and spoke with DoS licensing and policy officials and Commerce officials to assess whether they obtain this information for decision making. We performed our review from September 2005 through August 2006 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Results in Brief

Export control enforcement is inherently complex, involving multiple agencies that perform various functions using differing authorities. Several agencies within the Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and DoS are primarily responsible for export control enforcement. …

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