Gina Raimondo said the Bureau of Industry and Security’s budget hasn’t changed in a decade “despite the fact that the number of licensing requests has doubled in that time period.”
By: ALEXANDER WARD
12/01/2023 01:20 PM EST
As originally appeared on Politico Pro.
“I need to get buy-in on a strategy of a more muscular BIS from all stakeholders, including Capitol Hill, because I want input and then, later, we’ll put in a big budget ask,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told POLITICO.Carolyn Kaster/AP
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo wants her export control office to be more “muscular,” she said in a Friday interview, and will ask Congress for significantly more funds to keep vital technologies out of the hands of adversaries like China.
Raimondo is headed to the Reagan National Defense Forum in California this weekend to deliver a message: The U.S. is locked in a global competition over the future of artificial intelligence and semiconductors, among other races, and her staffers charged with keeping the most sensitive items out of adversaries’ hands need more authorities and resources to win it.
Over the next few months, Raimondo plans to push to expand the powers of the Bureau of Industry and Security, the office that keeps a blacklist of companies and organizations that can’t import America’s most sensitive technologies. That sales job will start with conversations on and off stage in Simi Valley.
“What I’m doing is going to start to make the case for what a modernized BIS looks like in terms of functions, tools, staff, money,” she said in the telephone conversation. “I need to get buy-in on a strategy of a more muscular BIS from all stakeholders, including Capitol Hill, because I want input and then, later, we’ll put in a big budget ask.”
The office’s budget is just north of $200 million, which Raimondo said is not enough to make it an analytical powerhouse to keep up with fast-moving technological changes. She confirmed that she will “eventually” ask lawmakers for far more than that amount next year but wouldn’t reveal a specific number she had in mind.
While there’s another Commerce office that leads on the AI portfolio, the enhanced authorities and plussed-up budget for BIS would make it a more capable partner in the department, Raimondo said. “The BIS budget hasn’t really changed in the past decade, despite the fact that the number of licensing requests has doubled in that time period.”
The GOP-led House Foreign Affairs Committee is currently conducting a review on how to reform the office and aims to release its report by next week.
“I’m glad to see Secretary Raimondo agrees with me that BIS needs to be more muscular and robust — and her commitment to make it so. But actions speak louder than words. I look forward to hearing more specifics about how she plans to accomplish this, and to work with her to ensure the changes will be effective,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the panel’s chair, said in a statement.
The Biden administration has embraced export controls as a central element of its twin battles with China and Russia. The emphasis on restricting key technologies in unprecedented ways has become a flashpoint in the great power competition, particularly between Washington and Beijing. The strategy has kneecapped China from developing certain sensitive technologies that Beijing complains proves the U.S. is taking aim at its economy.
U.S. officials consistently note that they don’t want Beijing to develop or obtain advanced artificial intelligence and semiconductors that could boost its industry and strengthen its military. The U.S. has also turned to export controls to starve Russia’s military of critical components, including for its cyber offenses and defenses, that fuel its invasion of Ukraine.
But it’s not a given that members of Congress, who are generally hawkish toward China and Russia, will greenlight her budget request. “Republicans in Congress may be skeptical of Secretary Raimondo’s proposal so she will need to convince them this isn’t just about growing a government bureaucracy but modernizing the institution to be a sharper tool in the U.S. government’s arsenal,” said Eric Sayers, an expert on the broad U.S.-China competition at the Beacon Global Strategies consultancy.