How Can We Combat Russia Without This?

The war against Ukraine by Russia has hastened a historic expansion of export restrictions, far beyond their usual focus on preventing nuclear and conventional weapons proliferation.

America Fighting with Its Hands Behind Its Back

However, in the United States, the transition toward future initiatives is occurring without a key authority in place. This is per the assistant secretary of Commerce for Industry and Safety, who oversees the execution of US export controls.

Congress has yet to vote on President Biden’s nomination of former Defense Department officer Alan Estevez for the position.

This is owing to a policy disagreement between the Biden government and Senate International Policy Chair Bob Menendez over-controlling firearms exports.

This left the Bureau of Industry and Safety at the Commerce Department without a leader at a time when the agency is attempting to enforce an unparalleled number of new regulations.

The Finance Ministry released a list of Russian-owned airplanes that have flown into Russia in recent times on Friday, warning supplying any service to those planes would breach new US export regulations, effectively preventing them from traveling internationally.

“Export restrictions have never been more complicated than they are today,” said Kevin Wolf, a former undersecretary of Commerce for Export Management who spent three decades working in the field.

“By definition, leadership is required to lead this cognitively challenging endeavor.”

While BIS career officers and the agency’s two new deputy secretaries did an “outstanding job” in implementing additional export controls on Russia, Wolf said the agency’s enormous needs needed it to be staffed.

For the first moment since early in the Trump administration, having a Senate-confirmed undersecretary at BIS would send a strong message to Congress.

It would show the agency’s job is vital, according to Doug Jacobson, a lawyer who specializes in export restrictions at Jacobson Burton Kelley.

The Department Has Been Abandoned

Mira Ricardel, the most recent BIS undersecretary, held the position for a short time before joining Trump’s White House as deputy director of national intelligence. After that, BIS was managed by an acting assistant secretary for several years.

“BIS has a lot of extremely experienced and committed career civil officials, so they’ll be fine. I think the fundamental issue is that having steady Senate-confirmed leadership is essential in any federal agency,” Jacobson added.

“Right now, they’re spread quite thin.”

Estevez breezed through his confirmation process before the Senate Banking Committee in September and received bipartisan support from the body in October.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a non-Banking Member of the committee, put a hold on his candidacy, demanding further data on how Estevez would manage export control issues concerning China.

Cotton released his hold in November when Estevez responded to a series of written questions, so it was only a momentary snafu.