I recently authored an article for Law360 offering an inside look at two U.S. Department of Commerce committees responsible for interpreting how national security and foreign policy should be applied to transactions involving the export, re-export and transfer of U.S. technology. I served on both committees – the Export Administration Operating Committee (OC) and the Advisory Committee on Export Policy (ACEP); I was chair of the OC and executive secretary of the ACEP until joining Bass, Berry & Sims. The article lends important insight to the closed-door processes each body uses and provides clarity on how national security decisions are reached.

While the chair of the OC has decision-making authority (with certain exceptions where decisions are made by interagency vote), the ACEP is the body that reviews cases where a government agency does not agree with the OC chair’s decision. “The decisions of these bodies are where the rubber meets the road in export control implementation,” I explained in the article. “Export control is a key feature in determining whether the U.S. will continue to maintain its technological supremacy, or China or another country will catch up or surpass the U.S.”

In addition to a neutral chair of the OC, who also serves as executive secretary of the ACEP by law, and the politically appointed ACEP chair, representatives from the Department of Commerce, Defense, Energy and State sit on the OC and ACEP. At the OC level, the chair makes a decision based on recommendations from the four agencies (again, with certain exceptions). At the ACEP, decisions are based on a majority vote and where the vote is a tie, the decision reverts to the OC Chair’s decision. The goal of the balanced interagency structure at the OC level is to prevent a single agency from dominating the process. The ACEP’s process aims to resolve situations where the regulatory standards and policy are not clear and have led to disagreements among agencies at the OC, including giving policy guidance for OC members to apply in similar situations going forward.

The article sheds light on the important role these committees play in export determinations.

The full article, “Behind The Curtain At Commerce’s Operating Committee,” was published by Law360 on October 6 and is available online or in the PDF.