ITAR: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, And The Very Ugly

Has there ever been a more nebulous qualification than ITAR? It’s one of those things that everyone has an opinion about but no one knows that much about. To some of us it’s a game with ever- changing rules and to others its simply something to overcome, while to others is something to ignore altogether.

Speaking of ignoring it, some large companies have been ignoring ITAR restrictions for years, flying right in the face of the DOD letting them know that they did not think printed circuit boards were an “important enough” component to be covered by ITAR restrictions. Even after the IPC worked hard and won the battle to have the DOD specifically include PCBs in the list of components officially recognized as an ITAR protected electronic component. In most cases, are getting away with it. While at the same time a small-time broker in the Northwest was fined and actually went to prison for ITAR infringement. So, it seems that we have another instance of too big to be prosecuted.

Look I am not expert on ITAR and all its rules and subtle nuances and frankly I don’t know many people who are, but this is what I know:

To true ITAR expert consultants ITAR means badges and scanning devices, electronically locked doors, no documents on computers leaving the country, absolutely no non-American citizens coming within a hundred yards of an ITAR project and no transmission of ITAR product data over your normal internet lines.

To CEM’s on the other hand it means almost nothing. ITAR is just something to overcome, get around or work around on their way to finding the cheapest products they can find anywhere around the world.

Brokers feel that if they have the “right documentation” whatever that is, they can legally sell offshore printed circuits to American Military contractors who require ITAR.

And to many of our defense contractors ITAR is nothing more than a pain in the neck, and since they claim they must work with an ever-diminishing portfolio of legitimate ITAR board fabricators get their ITAR parts, they are constantly looking for loopholes in the systems so they can head offshore to get their parts.

While to American PCB vendors ITAR has been one last vestige of hope against the ongoing devastation of their industry. Hoping against all odds that at least one small part of the market would be deemed off limits to offshore competition and saved exclusively for them.

To the American government, ah the American government, one must wonder what ITAR means to them since on one hand they are while they try to protect the actual nitty gritty data that goes into an ITAR protected product; while on the other hand flagrantly selling and sometimes giving away the very end products that the components go into to the countries who are friends today but possibly enemies’ tomorrow.

To one young man a very able, talented, well-educated young man with a University of Toronto PhD as well as MIT credentials who is a declared expert in special materials used on integrated circuits, 3D circuits and printed circuits boards. With numerous publications and conference presentations on the subject of high end materials and laminates in short one of the most able and qualified scientist our industry has ever seen cannot get a position in the United States because of having the enormous flaw of being born in Canada which seems to me to be a huge loss to our industry especially in these times when we are all desperately looking for technical talent, particularly you technical talent companies won’t even try to work through a perfectly legitimate immigration process to citizenship for fear of the ITAR police. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? If any of you have any need for such a talented young individual or any good ideas on what we can do to help him, please let me know.

But in the end, I feel that ITAR is a good thing and could be even better if we were all the same page. And if we all and I mean all of us from the smallest broker to the U.S. Government decided to respect, honor and yes enforce ITAR it could and would be a great thing. It’s only common sense.

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