29 Nov 2018
Senators Request Study of Section 232 Exclusion Process
Senators Doug Jones (Democrat-Alabama), Tom Carper (Democrat-Delaware) and Pat Toomey (Republican-Pennsylvania) on 26 November sent a joint letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office requesting a study of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 product exclusion process for steel and aluminium imports. These lawmakers represent states with companies that use steel and aluminium inputs in manufacturing. Sens. Carper and Toomey are also members of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade policy.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) wrote to the DOC in August expressing concern about the Section 232 product exclusion process and members of the House Ways and Means Committee have also voiced reservations of their own. In response, the DOC’s inspector general launched an investigation of the exclusion process at the end of October and the DOC recently announced that a new on-line portal is being developed to go into effect in early 2019 to streamline the process.
Requesting a GAO study is somewhat different. As noted on the GAO’s website, this entity is an independent, non-partisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the “congressional watchdog,” the GAO examines how taxpayer dollars are spent and provides Congress and federal agencies with objective and reliable information to help the government save money and work more efficiently. While an agency inspector general also aims for an independent perspective, the GAO answers exclusively to the U.S. Congress and not to the executive branch.
The senators observe in their letter that the DOC has received 49,301 exclusion requests and issued decisions in just 34 percent of cases. The letter poses eight specific questions relating to (i) whether and how stakeholder feedback is taken into account to develop and improve upon the product exclusion process, (ii) criteria used by the DOC to make a determination, (iii) efforts to ensure the timely processing of exclusion petitions, (iv) staff training aimed at properly evaluating petitions, (v) rebuttal processing, (vi) costs to date, (vii) efforts to ensure adequate communication and transparency with petitioners, and (viii) whether any technical support is provided to petitioners (especially small businesses) in filing exclusion petitions.