Part II: More Experts Weigh in on Estevez for Top BIS Position

Alan Estevez will appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday as the nominee to lead the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) during the Biden administration. What are people saying about his nomination and what that means for the future of BIS? Last week, China Tech Threat published assessments from two risk management experts. Today, we are sharing additional commentary.

Coalition for a Prosperous America’s (CPA) Jeff Ferry, who co-authored a paper with China Tech Threat earlier this year on “Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Semiconductors and Countering China’s Threats,” observed of Estevez:

  • The Pentagon has been more aggressive in advocating for U.S. economic strength than any other government department, and Estevez’s 36 years at the Pentagon is good preparation for the BIS. The BIS and the Department of Commerce needs to be more aggressive in advocating U.S. national economic interests, not merely reflecting what it hears from the corporate sector. Many of our problems in our strategic competition with China reflect the short-term views of private tech companies. The U.S. has a long-term strategic interest in rebuilding our entire tech supply chain, from R&D through to manufacturing and from components through to complete systems. 

Others have observed that BIS needs to step up on the security front. Derek Scissors, Commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has critiqued the agency for not implementing the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) requirements to develop lists on foundational and emerging technologies for export controls, noting that the requirement is outstanding since 2018. He asked Acting BIS Under Secretary Jeremy Pelter, “How many years should Congress, having passed ECRA, wait on foundational technology for the sake of BIS finding the multilateral system sufficiently accommodated? It‘s been three years and we’ve done almost nothing. Are we looking at three more years for action?” He observed that the BIS leader nomination is not prioritized “because the Congress is unhappy with BIS for not implementing the 2018 export control legislation. And the administration should see this as an opportunity for China policy, but doesn’t seem to.”

In recent years, the agency has gained currency in the larger context of U.S.-China policy as it maintains the Entity List, which regulates whether and how U.S. actors can do business with actors determined to be threats to national security. Notably the Chinese military-aligned Huawei and more than 40 affiliates were added in 2019. Congress significantly strengthened and expanded the authority of the agency in ECRA, which allows actors to be designated as Military End Users and for restrictions to be imposed for violations of human rights.

Where is Mr. Estevez on U.S.-China policy? As China Tech Threat noted in an initial assessment following the news of his nomination, there is little known publically about his policy positions and stance on China. The Senate Banking Committee—which will oversee his confirmation—must ask direct questions to understand his stance on the Chinese government’s threat. More to come.