“Flying In” to New Heights of Awareness – Comments from IPC President John Mitchell

In late July, I took part in my first IPC “Fly-in” to Washington, D.C. The IPC Government Relations Committee supported this event to help clarify and reform ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) controls for PCBs. It was enlightening to learn that many individuals do not understand that a printed board is unique to the application for which it is designed. Incredible as it may seem, there are well-informed, educated individuals out there (not engineers!) who may know ITAR but also believe that a low-cost PCB is a commodity that can be picked up at Radio Shack and used in any application from a toaster to a guided missile, much like a bolt can be picked up at a local hardware store. In addition, while an engineer would clearly understand that a PCB is designed specifically for its intended application, that engineer might not understand the legal details of ITAR.

At the Fly-In, IPC launched a new campaign, “Follow the Law, Protect the Board,” to create awareness and understanding to prevent ITAR-intended PCBs from being manufactured in non-ITAR facilities — wherever they are located. In support of this campaign, Peter Lichtenbaum, a prominent ITAR attorney, authored a white paper entitled, Applicability of U.S. Defense Trade Controls to Printed Boards (pdf.). This short paper describes the applicable laws in plain language and provides clear examples for nontechnical individuals of why ITAR-intended PCBs need to be protected.

In addition to helping clarify current regulations, IPC is lobbying for changes that would make future regulations clearer. Our hope is to have the State department, as part of their current efforts to reform the U.S. export control system, avoid future confusion by adding printed boards to the United States Munitions List (USML) of items protected by ITAR.

That being said, IPC is not waiting for the government to decide what to do. The “Follow the Law, Protect the Board” initiative is a proactive effort to help our members understand the current laws so they do not inadvertently violate ITAR guidelines.

We were fortunate to have several members join us at the Fly-In in D.C. last month. Ken Tannehill, president of Printed Circuits Inc., shared the following about his experience, “The trip was a great experience for an even greater cause. Our industry needs representation in Washington to help with issues that directly affect the security of our country. Protecting the circuit board should only be the beginning of our efforts to secure our electronic databases and hardware.

One of the interesting thought exercises that I went through while at the event was: how does protecting a local (in this case, the United States) segment of the industry fit within IPC’s global mission? The answer in short is that the Board of Directors provided a clear exception for national defense issues. IPC may get involved in local government relations issues that are a matter of national defense — whichever nation is involved. The full language of that statement is on IPC’s website.

While “Follow the Law, Protect the Board” is a focused initiative, IPC will continue to expand and develop its public policy efforts throughout the world. When regulations are being formed, IPC’s responsibility is to keep our membership informed of what those potential changes might be. Additionally, if the membership desires, IPC can spearhead initiatives that can lobby for changes to laws and regulations. Regarding ITAR, IPC has filed eight sets of formal comments, provided congressional testimony and had more than 35 meetings with senators, representatives, the Congressional House Foreign Affairs Committee and staff at the U.S. State, Commerce and Defense departments. IPC will also host additional “Follow the Law, Protect the Board” outreach efforts and communicate broadly to members that have ITAR facilities.

Greg Papandrew, another Fly-in participant and president of Bare Board Group, shared his thoughts about the importance of outreach: “IPC membership must meet with and educate on a constant basis those individuals and organizations that make the regulations and/or pass the laws that directly or indirectly impact our industry. It was surprising to learn how many of those we met that day — people who set policies that govern our industry — have never held a PCB in their hands and don’t know how it is made. Continuing education leads to understanding and appreciation of our industry by those in Washington. If we are not proactive, we have only ourselves to blame when those who don’t understand what we do and the challenges we face unnecessarily or unknowingly hinder our PCB and PCBA businesses.”

IPC will continue to educate those in Washington and other government agencies around the world so a more scientific approach to regulations can be taken by those who are setting them. Our efforts in the past have achieved some wins, and we look to do even more on this front for our membership. Let me close with the following comment from IPC Board member and Government Relations committee member Bhawnesh Mathur, CEO, EPIC Technologies, “It is critical that we communicate with our leaders in Washington. Through events like this, we have the opportunity to make our voices heard and influence legislation that affects our industry.”

IPC President John Mitchell can be reached at JohnMitchell@ipc.org.

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