Russia Tech Export Restrictions Have A Weakness: No BIS Leader Yet 

The centerpiece of President Biden’s new round of Russia sanctions is a complete embargo on selling semiconductors to Russia. While the sanctions by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will deliver a powerful punch to Russia, they also expose a weakness: BIS, the enforcer of export controls as tools for our national security strategy, has no leader at the top at this critical time.  

President Biden nominated Alan Estevez to serve as Undersecretary for Industry and Security seven months ago, but Congress has not yet held a vote to confirm him. This already concerning vacancy at the top of “the most important agency most Americans have never heard of,” creates a glaring hole in the United States’ export control regime, hindering its ability to implementing policies to protect the America’s national and economic security. 

Notably, Mr. Estevez has the most extensive national security background of any recent BIS director. And, unlike many predecessors whose backgrounds were in trade compliance, Mr. Estevez brings unprecedented defense and supply chain experience, including more than three decades of service at the Pentagon. 

In the sanctions announcement yesterday, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Thea Rozman Kendler stated “Russia’s access to cutting-edge U.S. and partner country technology will halt. Its defense industrial base and military and intelligence services will not be able to acquire most Western-made products.” We are fortunate that Kendler, who has 20 years of experience in the security, counterintelligence, and export control, has assumed her role, but she will be able to be even more effective with a director in place.  

That is why next week China Tech Threat is launching a new special series, Give Alan Estevez an Up-or-Down Vote, meant to track the time this important post has been unfilled and highlight vulnerabilities the vacancy creates.