Colorado is home to the third largest aerospace economy in the nation with more than 160,000 space-related jobs with approximately $9.7 billion in …
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Colorado is home to the third largest aerospace economy in the
nation with more than 160,000 space-related jobs with approximately
$9.7 billion in annual payroll. Some of the country’s leading
aerospace contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace,
Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance, all have major
operations in Colorado.
Unfortunately, a federal law enacted in 1999 has weakened our
nation’s aerospace industry and caused many of those highly skilled
jobs that should have been created in Colorado and elsewhere in the
United States to move overseas.
Before 1999, the United States commercial satellite industry led
the world in exports by a significant margin — at that time,
according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies,
the U.S. commercial satellite industry had 83 percent of the global
market. However, by 2005 the U.S. global market share had dropped
below 50 percent.
The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) are a
series of federal regulations that were initiated during the Cold
War and govern the import and export of defense-related services
and articles listed on the U.S. Munitions List (USML). They are
intended to ensure we do not export sensitive military technologies
that could fall into the wrong hands.
With the 1999 change in the law, passed after a controversy
involving the sharing of information between U.S. aerospace
companies and their Chinese counterparts became public, Congress
put commercial satellites and their components on the USML, thus
subjecting them to much stricter export controls under the ITAR. If
even a battery or bolt was designed with space travel in mind, it
is now classified as a technology with arduous license requirements
to be exported under federal law. Following this change in federal
policy the U.S. commercial satellite industry lost its competitive
Since all commercial satellites used U.S. parts in 1999, the
Congressional action was thought to be effective, but the law had
unintended consequences because it motivated the aerospace industry
in China and Europe to expand and fill the void left by U.S. export
restrictions. Many large European aerospace manufacturers have
actually started making and marketing commercial satellites that
are “ITAR-free” — made without any U.S. components in an effort to
avoid the challenges associated with ITAR compliance.
Unnecessarily strict export controls are a serious burden on our
commercial aerospace manufacturing sector and hurt our ability to
compete in the global market. This excessively broad and severe
regulatory environment under ITAR must be reformed. There are
simply no reasons why we should be losing market share to our
European competitors in an industry that the United States
pioneered and dominated throughout the 20th century.
This month, I announced that I am co-sponsoring a bipartisan
measure with Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., that would provide
commercial satellites and related components flexibility regarding
the USML, therefore providing much-needed relief to America’s
commercial satellite manufacturers caught under the strict ITAR
While this bill, the “Safeguarding United States Satellite
Leadership and Security Act of 2011,” allows U.S. aerospace
companies greater access to international customers, it still
protects American security interests by prohibiting the sale of
satellite components to China as well as nations that engage in the
state sponsorship of terrorism, such as North Korea, Iran, Syria,
Sudan and Cuba.
When I spoke to the Colorado Space Coalition in August, it was
clear that reforming ITAR export controls is one of their top
legislative priorities because changing this federal policy will
help our commercial aerospace manufacturers reach potential
international customers with far greater ease, allowing them to
expand their businesses and create more jobs in Colorado.
We must allow our commercial satellite manufacturers to regain
their competitive global edge, so we can bring back some of the
jobs that have been lost to our competitors overseas. With this
bill, I am confident that we can do just that.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman serves Colorado’s 6th Congressional
District, which includes Douglas and Elbert counties and parts of
Arapahoe, Jefferson and Park counties.
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