The Importance of People and Continued Vigilance: Part III of Cordell Hull on the Future of BIS

Having served as the prior Undersecretary to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, Cordell Hull has a unique and important perspective on its future. This is Part III of a three-part series with his reflections on several topics pertaining to BIS.

If you missed the prior posts, check out Part I on license processing and emerging and foundational technologies and Part II on enforcement and Entity List and Military End Use.

Section 232

BIS is also responsible for administering tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. Although perhaps unknown outside of trade lawyers before the last administration, Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum have become important in conversations with industry and other governments.It’s not clear how the Biden administration will use Section 232 on new investigations, but if it is something in which there is interest, ensuring BIS’s Office of Strategic Industries and Economic Security is fully staffed and well resourced is paramount.

Of equal importance, if the steel and aluminum tariffs are going to continue – and based on early comments by Secretary Raimondo calling them “effective,”[1] they might be – it’s important to ensure BIS and its sister bureau at the department, the International Trade Administration, remain well-resourced to continue to process the tariff exclusion requests.BIS should also strive for continuous improvement. BIS issued revisions to the Section 232 process late in the Trump administration.[2]  Those revisions were based on feedback from stakeholders, including members of Congress and industry participants. BIS should continue on this path striving to ensure that the Section 232 process is working optimally.


BIS has many wonderful, dedicated staff. It’s critical that BIS continues to seek out, train, and promote the very best people. The bureau will be on the front lines of some important geopolitical issues for the next several decades, and to navigate that successfully, it needs an exceptional workforce.There are several people at BIS who’ve served admirably for decades in the bureau and its predecessor. That institutional knowledge will be difficult to replace as those employees retire.But there is a large group of younger employees who have great promise. It’s imperative that the leadership of the bureau and department ensure this group has the opportunity to lead or risk losing them to other opportunities.

Continued Vigilance

BIS and Congress must continue to work together to ensure that the law keep pace with threats, while at the same time ensuring that policy is not unnecessarily cutting off the innovation (and revenues) that have allowed U.S. and allied companies to remain at the leading edge of so many technologies.

ECRA represented the first time BIS’s authorities had permanent statutory authority.Before ECRA, the operative statute was in effect from 1979 until 2001, when it lapsed. Between 2001 and 2018, BIS’s authorities were required to be signed into effect yearly by way of an executive order.  Fortunately, with ECRA, we will not need to relive that uncertainty.

Because technology transfer is at the forefront of many geopolitical issues, Congress and BIS need to engage regularly and productively to ensure regulations and statutes are aligned with our nation’s objectives. In addition, this and future administrations must ensure that BIS is plugged in to relevant intelligence and law enforcement information. Though the phrase is often over-used, these issues really do require a whole-of-government approach.

[1]  Eric Martin & Joe Deaux, Biden Commerce Chief Says Steel, Aluminum Tariffs ‘Effective,’ Bloomberg (Mar. 4, 2021),

[2] Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Tariff Exclusion Process, 85 Fed. Reg. 81060 (Dec. 14, 2020),