Next Recommendation in BIS Agenda Series: Publish Emerging and Foundational Technology Lists

Today, China Tech Threat released the second in a series of policy recommendations meant to help leaders at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) prevent adversaries from acquiring and weaponizing sensitive U.S.-made technologies.

BIS Agenda Recommendation 2: Within 90 days of starting, the new BIS Director should publish Congress’ required lists of emerging and foundational technologies.

The globalized world enables a relative free movement of goods and services, but this also allows the proliferation of weapons and items to be used for hostile purposes. Countries adopt export controls to manage the distribution of sensitive items to help ensure that people live in a secure environment.

The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at the U.S. Department of Commerce regulates U.S. exports of “dual use” technologies, which have commercial and military applications, and ensures that innovative products and services are not weaponized by adversaries against Americans.

This second installment in the series explores a key policy issue for BIS: the process and efficacy to control new and innovative dual use technologies. Major Congressional reforms adopted in 2018 require BIS to take leadership in an interagency process to identify and report on emerging and foundational technologies in foreign countries to assess what effect export controls imposed on these technologies may have on their development in the United States, and to judge the effectiveness of export controls on limiting the proliferation of emerging and foundational technologies to foreign countries.

BIS’ performance of these tasks has become a matter of controversy and debate, even prompting some observers to suggest that BIS should be moved out of Commerce because it either can’t or won’t fulfill the tasks. Others have argued that the task is difficult because BIS lacks a workable definition of national security and the view that the relevant technologies are already widely available. The Acting BIS Director states that the relevant technologies are already controlled and that it’s impractical to publish such lists.

Ultimately, this paper’s examination leads to the second recommendation for BIS: Within 90 days of assuming office, the new BIS Director should publish Congress’ required lists of restricted emerging and foundational technologies–which at the very least could include updates to their Export Control Classification Numbers (ECCN), if they are already controlled–and maintain publication thereafter to Congress’ required schedule.