With growing congressional and business concerns over the backlog of Section 232 product exclusion requests and the lack of transparency in the review and decision-making processes of the Department of Commerce (Commerce), U.S. Senators Pat Toomey, Doug Jones and Thomas Carper submitted a letter November 26, 2018, to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a formal review by this government agency as to how Commerce has been granting these tariff exclusions. Among the issues the senators asked to be evaluated are:
- What criteria are used to make a determination to approve or deny a request, and how does Commerce adjudicate rebuttals?
- What steps is Commerce undertaking to improve the timely processing of exclusion requests?
- How does Commerce ensure transparency and adequate communication with parties who have filed requests?
- How has Commerce trained staff to properly evaluate petitions?
On December 12, the GAO responded to this request, confirming that it will conduct such an analysis and study. While this announcement will no doubt please trade practitioners and U.S. businesses that have been frustrated by the Section 232 product exclusion request process, the results of any such analysis – much like decisions resulting from the Section 232 product exclusion request process itself – are months away. The GAO informed the senators that staff will be available to initiate a review in approximately three months. The final findings of any GAO report will most likely not be presented to the Senate until mid-2019, at the earliest.