On November 9, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing the Export Enforcement Coordination Center. This action initiates a key component of the President’s Export Control Initiative as set out in an April 20, 2010 speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, which delineated four key reforms designed to make export controls more transparent, efficient, and predictable:

  • a single export control list;
  • a single licensing agency;
  • a single enforcement coordination agency; and
  • a single information technology system.

The Export Enforcement Coordination Center will serve as the primary point of contact to coordinate export control enforcement matters among the numerous departments and agencies concerned with the violation of US export control laws. The Center will coordinate matters relating to export enforcement among the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, Homeland Security, Office of Director of National Intelligence, and other branch departments, agencies, and offices as may be designated by the President.

The Executive Order identifies five functions of the new Center:

  • to act as the primary forum to coordinate and enhance enforcement efforts, including conflict resolution in criminal and administrative investigations and actions involving violations of US export control laws;
  • to serve a conduit between US enforcement agencies and the intelligence community for information exchange related to potential US export control violations;
  • to serve as the primary point of contact between enforcement authorities and licensing agencies; and
  • to coordinate law enforcement public outreach activities related to US export controls.

Officials in the US government have explained that the Obama Administration will focus first on those aspects of its reform agenda that it can accomplish without new legislation. Perhaps for this reason, the Center’s functions as established by the Executive Order appear to add an additional coordinating layer on top of the existing export enforcement authorities that already exist, rather than creating a function that unifies or streamlines export enforcement activities. Notably, the Executive Order devotes significant attention to spelling out what the Order and the Center it creates does not do. Specifically, it explicitly does not “provide exclusive or primary investigative authority to any agency.” Moreover, the Order provides that the existing export enforcement agencies “shall continue to investigate criminal and administrative export violations consistent with their existing authorities, jointly or separately, with coordination through the Center to enhance enforcement efforts and minimize potential for conflict.”

Also unclear is the relationship between the new Export Enforcement Coordination Center and Steve Pelak, who, in 2007 during the Bush Administration, was appointed as National Export Control Coordinator by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice has previously identified the National Export Control Coordinator as “responsible for ensuring full coordination between the Justice Department and the many other US law enforcement, licensing, and intelligence agencies that play a role in export enforcement.”

The Department of Homeland Security will operate and provide funding for the new Export Enforcement Coordination Center. The director of the Center will be a full-time senior officer or employee of the Department of Homeland Security, designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Despite the recent change in the Congressional majority, the export control reform initiative is expected to remain on track.