March 16th, 2012

President Obama’s Executive Order complicates export control

President Barack Obama set out laudable goals for export control in Executive Order 13558, but unfortunately the execution achieved the oppposite effects. He complicated and overtaxed the lines of communication in government.

According to the executive order, the goal of the Export Coordination Enforcement Center it created is to “enhance our enforcement efforts and minimize enforcement conflicts.” The center is meant to coordinate the efforts of eight named departments and offices, plus any others to be named later. The State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, Energy, and Homeland Security departments are named as having roles in export controls, as is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Seven cabinet-level agencies plus an eight office does in fact create 28 lines of communication. That is undeniable and a cause for concern.

This concept, as executed, has several problems. First, instead of easing the workload on the named departments, it increases the workload while reducing staff. In addition to fulfilling their existing roles under the law, now they must also do as the center and the order demand, giving up staff and funding to the center, all without compensation. The departments must do more with less.

Second, and more fundamentally, the order is conceptually backward. If we have uncoordinated, overlapping, and even conflicting export controls, thanks to having a proliferation of departments responsible for those controls, the solution is not to create yet another office with responsibility for the topic. As Randall Munroe explained, proliferation is not solved by more proliferation. By adding the center to the mix, we’ve gone from 28 lines of communication to 36. The problem has worsened.

But the third and biggest reason the President’s executive order is the wrong approach is that it attempts to go it alone. If the President is right, and there is a problem of departments with overlapping and conflicting statutory authority, the obvious solution is to fix the statute. Why not simply go to Capitol Hill and ask the Congress to pass a bill that consolidates agencies and funds the process?

By passing a new law we would fix the problem for good, make sure export controls are fully funded, and create a leaner, more efficient government. With fewer offices, instead of more, there would be fewer lines of communication, and therefore fewer opportunities for miscommunication or even failure to communicate.

The President should rescind this executive order, and work with the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass a proper solution: consolidating the too-numerous export control efforts in Washington.