Security, Weapons Firms Warn of Lost Business

Industry officials say American companies could fall behind as allies find weapons vendors elsewhere.

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U.S security business sector officials urged Congress to change the rules under which American-made weapons are sold to Washington's allies.

The Obama administration is ushering in some changes to the guidelines, aiming to make it easier on firms to sell their combat platforms to other nations. But security sector officials warn that without additional steps, U.S. firms will lose even more business.

Citing industry research, Satellite Industry Association President Patricia Cooper told House lawmakers existing rules governing foreign weapon sales are responsible for "a big drop" in security satellite transactions with other nations.

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Rep. Howard Berman of California, the House Foreign Affairs Committee's top Democrat, called the existing export rules "a Cold War relic." He applauded the Obama administration's three-year effort to draft new rules. The White House wants to double American exports over the next four years. Business officials, including the defense industry, have signed on. Security sector firms are eager to enhance the flow to Washington's allies of U.S.-made technologies that are commonly available elsewhere.

To that end, Marion Blakey, head of the Aerospace Industries Association, told the panel that keeping in place the current guidelines would continue to "limit ability of U.S. items to get out there" because "others can produce it" and sell to American allies.

Some current U.S. guidelines are so cumbersome, Blakey said, they bury firms in paperwork that can be "five inches high." And that can require expensive legal work, she said.

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Easing the export rules is one of the few issues lawmakers of both parties agree on. "We all recognize that it needs to be changed," Rep. Robert Turner, a New York Republican, said. New guidelines should be "flexible and fast, able to respond to world events," he said.

While the White House, Congress, and big business agree on the need for export reforms, analysts have said the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committee could seek some changes to the administration's reform plan. William Schneider, a Reagan administration State Department official, said last July that those panels would try to block any reforms that reduced their sway over export decisions.

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