Export control professionals are familiar with the Obama Administration’s plan to consolidate export control agency licensing functions into a single licensing agency. [F/N 1] However, relatively few people know that the Administration also announced a separate plan to consolidate the U.S. Government’s fragmented commerce, trade, and investment functions into a single agency. [F/N 2] As noted in the White House’s January 2013 Press release announcing the initiative:
“For too long, overlapping responsibilities among agencies have made it harder, rather than easier, for our small businesses to interact with their government. Those redundancies have also led to unnecessary waste and duplication…. There is a whole host of websites, toll-free numbers and customer service centers that at times offer them differing advice.”
The Obama Administration’s trade agency consolidation initiative would have combined trade related functions of the Department of Commerce, Office of the United States Trade Representative, Export-Import Bank, Trade and Development Agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Small Business Administration. The Department of Commerce functions slated for consolidation included the Bureau of Industry and Security, the agency responsible for administration of the U.S. Export Administration Regulations.
Despite some fanfare, neither of the Administration’s trade agency consolidation initiatives left the ground. This is not at all surprising when considering how similar consolidation initiatives proposed by the Reagan and Clinton Administrations also failed to materialize. [F/N 3]
Export.gov versus BusinessUSA.gov
As the result of another prior consolidation initiative pursued during the George W. Bush Administration, the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration manages Export.gov. [F/N 4] The website was intended as a one-stop shop of information on exporting and, for this purpose, was redesigned in 2003 to host information previously posted at BuyUSA.com, USATrade.gov, Tradenet.gov, and other government trade information sources.
As part of its consolidation initiative, the Obama Administration launched BusinessUSA.gov in 2012 to provide yet another “virtual one-stop shop with information for small businesses and businesses of all size [sic] that want to begin or increase exporting.” [F/N 5] Ironically, this website now duplicates the functions and content provided at Export.gov.
For example, BusinessUSA.gov provides users with a “Begin Exporting” online interactive tool. [F/N 6] Export.gov has a similar tool in the form of an online “Export Questionnaire.” [F/N 7] Both tools ask users a series of questions to gauge readiness to export products from the United States.
On export control requirements, the BusinessUSA.gov tool asks, “Does your company have adequate knowledge of U.S. Export Controls; such as the process for determining licensing requirements?” Users who do not respond in the affirmative are taken to a page with links to other pages on BusinessUSA.gov that replicate much of the information contained on Export.gov and other government websites.
In contrast to the BusinessUSA.gov Begin Exporting tool, the Export.gov Export Questionnaire does not provide any information on export control requirements (not even to the export control pages on its own internal site). Rather, depending on how a user presently completes the questionnaire, the tool’s link to information on export control requirements leads users to a “Page Not Found.” [F/N 8]
When Too Much Information is a Bad Thing
Information on how to export is a valuable. However, the multiple exporter information websites are inconsistent with the need for a “one-stop-shop” sought by White House Administrations, increase the chance for differing advice and other misinformation, and can be quite costly to maintain. These problems were identified in a 2013 Government Accountability Office report on trade promotion agency coordination, which noted how “[o]verlapping services may cause confusion for small businesses and result in inefficient use of government resources.” [F/N 9] The redundant trade promotion websites also illustrate a commonly encountered phenomenon wherein government initiatives aimed at simplifying and streamlining agency resources have the opposite effect.
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[F/N 1] “President Obama Lays the Foundation for a New Export Control System To Strengthen National Security and the Competitiveness of Key U.S. Manufacturing and Technology Sectors,” The Office of the White House Press Secretary, August 30, 2010, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/08/30/president-obama-lays-foundation-a-new-export-control-system-strengthen-n
[F/N 2] “Government Reorganization Fact Sheet,” The Office of the White House Press Secretary, January 12, 2013, available at
[F/N 3] Interestingly, the Clinton proposal under H.R. 1756 (known as the “Department of Commerce Dismantling Act”) would have moved the export licensing functions of the Bureau of Export Administration, the predecessor to the Bureau of Industry and Security, to the Department of State; and further moved the Agency’s export enforcement functions to U.S. Customs, the predecessor of the Department of Homeland Security.
[F/N 4] “Export.gov Helps American Companies Succeed Globally,” available at http://export.gov/about/index.asp
[F/N 5] Ibid at F/N 2; see also “BusinessUSA Launches Offering Businesses One Location to Find Key Federal Information and Data,” February 17, 2012, available at http://www.commerce.gov/blog/2012/02/17/businessusa-launches-offering-businesses-one-location-find-key-federal-information-a
[F/N 6] See “Begin Exporting,” available at http://business.usa.gov/begin-exporting#
[F/N 7] See “Export Questionnaire,” available at http://www.export.gov/begin/assessment.asp
[F/N 8] See http://www.export.gov/error/error.asp (last checked February 16, 2015).
[F/N 9] “EXPORT PROMOTION: Small Business Administration Needs to Improve Collaboration to Implement Its Expanded Role,” Government Accountability Office report no. GAO-13-217 (January 2013).
*The above is not intended as an exhaustive list of restrictions that may apply to a particular transaction nor advice for a specific transaction because the specifics of an individual case may implicate application of other U.S. laws as well as foreign laws that carry added or different requirements. In addition, U.S. export control and sanctions laws are frequently subject to change. Such changes can affect the continued validity of the information above, which is based on U.S. law existing as of February 16, 2015. For these reasons, assistance from a qualified attorney competent to advise on such matters is highly recommended.
Matthew A. Goldstein is an International Trade Attorney in Washington D.C. licensed to practice in the District of Columbia. He can be reached at (202) 550-0040 and Matthew@GoldsteinPLLC.com