BELLINGHAM, Wash. — The Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are calling on members to make their voices heard as the U.S. government weighs new export regulations.
The Commerce Department today opened a 60-day comment period on revisions to Category XII of the U.S. Munitions List, dealing with fire control systems, range finders, optical and guidance systems and control equipment covered by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The proposal has broad implications for the U.S. optics and photonics industry, SPIE said.
The rewrite is part of the Obama administration's Export Control Reform (ECR) initiative, said Jennifer Douris, a lobbyist for SPIE and a member of the Sensors and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security.
The ECR initiative was launched in 2009 with the expressed purpose of building higher walls around fewer items, Douris said.
"The reasoning behind this was to allow for better protection of what the military would consider to be its 'crown jewels' while recognizing the economic realities that are important to industry," she said. "This approach is meant to strengthen our national security, while improving the competitiveness of U.S. businesses."
"I believe that the ECR revisions to Category XII must allow for future growth of the photonics and optics industry while protecting technologies especially designed for the military," said Jim McNally, chairman of the SPIE Engineering, Science and Technology Policy committee. "Many of the commodities and components controlled by the [U.S. Munitions List] might more appropriately be placed on the Commerce Control List. The reforms will have a direct and lasting impact on industry and our academic community. I urge all parties to participate in the comment period."
SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said economic impacts on the industry are becoming more serious by the day.
"The stakes are high for our industry," Arthurs said. "Outside of a few major contractors, the Department of Defense does not and cannot invest enough R&D funds to sustain and grow businesses. Federal budget actions have kept R&D funding virtually flat, while market opportunity grows rapidly."
Meanwhile, he said, non-U.S. companies with similar products are selling freely and using the slogan "ITAR-Free" to do so.
"Many are prudently investing the resulting revenue back into their companies, feeding the potential for rapid growth," Arthurs said. "This scenario comes at the detriment of the U.S. industry's growth and the high-paying jobs that come with it."
SPIE plans to host a webinar on the proposed Category XII changes May 12.
OSA has organized a panel discussion on the topic May 14 at the CLEO conference and exhibition in San Jose, Calif.