Comment deadline looms on regulation changes proposed for U.S. export controls on photonics technologies

Infrared detectors, optical sensors, imaging systems among applications covered by proposed changes

18 June 2015

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA, and WASHINGTON, D.C., USA -- A July 6 deadline looms for comments on proposed changes to U.S. export regulations covering a wide range of key photonics technologies --- regulations that some in the industry say are hampering global competitiveness of U.S. industry.

"This is your chance to tell
a lot of people in government
what you think."

The U.S. Department of State is accepting comments on proposed new Category XII rules which govern the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The rewrite is part of an overarching Export Control Reform (ECR) initiative undertaken by the Administration. Comments are also being accepted on the corresponding proposed Commerce Control List and Export Administration Regulations changes released by the Department of Commerce.

Category XII covers many of the optics and photonics commodities and components controlled under ITAR. "Most of the other categories have already been addressed, but the Administration has saved Category XII for last due to its complexity and importance to both industry and the military," said Jennifer Douris, the Government Affairs Director for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and a member of the Sensors and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee (SITAC) of the Bureau of Industry and Security in the USDC.

The comment process is seen as the best opportunity for exporters, manufacturers, and researchers to influence revisions in regulations that control photonics exports.

"This is your chance to tell a lot of people in government what you think," advised Christopher Costanzo, Deputy Director Sensors and Aviation Division, U.S. Department of Commerce, during a forum at the recent SPIE DSS symposium in Baltimore.

The stakes for industry are high, and the economic impacts being seen by industry continue to become more serious, noted SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.

"Federal budget actions have kept R&D funding virtually flat, while market opportunity grows rapidly," Arthurs said. "Meanwhile, non-U.S. companies with similar products are selling freely, and using the motto 'ITAR-Free' to do so. Many are prudently investing the resulting revenue back into their companies, feeding the potential for rapid growth. This comes at the detriment of the U.S. industry's growth and the high-paying jobs that come with it."

The ECR initiative was launched in 2009 with the expressed purpose of building higher walls around fewer items, Douris said. The intention 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- to strengthen national security, while improving the competitiveness of U.S. businesses.

"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, chair of the SPIE Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy (ESTeP) committee. "The reforms will have a direct and lasting impact on industry and our academic community."

Templates and summaries for commenting are posted on the SPIE website:

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