We, the undersigned organizations, oppose H.R. 6609, the Foreign Military Sales Technical, Industrial, and Governmental Engagement for Readiness Act, out of concern for the loss of congressional visibility into, oversight of, and influence on arms transfers to foreign governments. Specifically, the bill would amend the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to decrease the number of potential arms sales Congress is notified about and require the Secretary of State to use the Drawdown Authority to transfer some major arms sales if delivery takes longer than three years.
Congressional notification is critical for effective oversight on arms transfers. Unfortunately, this bill would raise the congressional notification thresholds by approximately 66 percent. For any proposed arms sale that falls below that threshold, Congress has no transparency: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee do not even review below-threshold arms transfers. By raising the threshold amount as the bill proposes, Congress will have less knowledge of what arms are being transferred to what countries, and less ability to ensure that transfers are consistent with U.S. law, policy, and interests.
Even without the threshold increase, we know that the volume of below-threshold transfers can be significant. For example, as documented by the State Department Inspector General, over a four-year period the State Department provided more than $11 billion dollars in below-threshold sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, including equipment that Congress concurrently placed holds on due to concerns over civilian harm and human rights violations. Despite clear congressional and public concern over sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during this time period, Congress had no visibility into these sales because they were below threshold.
While some may suggest that raising the threshold simply keeps up with inflation and allows U.S. companies to remain competitive, the State Department is already approving 95 percent of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases within 48 hours and has seen record increases in both FMS and Direct Commercial Sales over the last several years.
In addition, the bill would introduce a new requirement forcing the Secretary of State to use the Drawdown Authority, an emergency mechanism, to provide major arms exports from U.S. stockpiles if the specific arms are not delivered within three years of when Congress is notified of the potential sale. This provision would not only establish an arbitrary time commitment that does not reflect the myriad concerns that may arise in the intervening period – such as a change in government, the outbreak of conflict, or serious human rights violations or instances of civilian harm – it could also impact U.S. readiness.
Due to the significant costs to congressional oversight, public transparency, and accountability, we oppose this bill.
American Friends Service Committee
Amnesty International USA
Arms Control Association
Center for American Progress
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
Center for International Policy
Demand Progress Action
Foreign Policy for America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Human Rights Watch
Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC)
Project On Government Oversight
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Win Without War
Women for Weapons Trade Transparency