Since October 2008, I have been calling on my colleagues in the House of Representatives to fix the unintended consequences associated with American satellite export regulations that treat all satellites and satellite parts — down to the nuts and bolts — as weapons. These outdated regulations known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or "ITAR," have cost the industry an estimated $21 billion in lost revenues and 28,000 jobs a year to European companies that have long been marketing their products as "ITAR-free."
As ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and representative of a district that includes the National Security Agency, I understand more than anyone that we must keep certain technologies out of the hands of our enemies. But ITAR has made no distinction between simple, old and widely-available technology and unique technology crucial to our security.
After years of hard work, new rules regulating the satellite industry have finally been issued this week. Most commercial, scientific and civil satellites and their parts have been removed from the U.S. Munitions List and will now be regulated under the Commerce Department, where they belong.
This should help American satellite companies restore lost ground. The year before ITAR took effect, American satellite companies controlled 73 percent of the global space industry. That shrunk to 27 percent two years later as Europe's share more than doubled. Now, U.S. satellite companies will at least have a chance to succeed. I stand ready to help them. And I hope the ITAR story serves as a reminder to my colleagues in Congress that, sometimes, the best way to avoid unintended consequences is by thinking before we act.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Washington
The writer, a Democrat, represents Maryland's 2nd District.