A little-noticed provision in the 1,000-page trade bill before Congress would set up a West Coast export licensing office, with the lofty aim of eliminating frustration, delays and the costs of making repeated 3,000-mile trips to Washington.
Supporters argue that the opening of a regional office could significantly boost international sales of California high-tech companies and help cut the U.S. trade deficit.
"I go back to Washington every other month just to get export licenses, but I would go every three or four days if it was just an hour or two trip to somewhere on the West Coast," said Orvil Scherrer, manager of foreign trade operations at G. E. Calma in Milpitas near San Francisco.
The trade bill is before a House-Senate conference committee, where differences between the two versions are being worked out.
An expanded regional office may open in Los Angeles next year but will not have senior staff members who can approve license applications. Lee Mercer, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for export administration, contended that such staff is unnecessary because next year exporters will be able to submit license applications to Washington electronically over phone lines.