House Bill Would Hide Billions More Dollars in U.S. Weapons Sales

The proposed notification thresholds would have shielded $635 million in sales from congressional oversight in 2023 alone.

Rosie Khan, Janet Abou-Elias, Lillian Mauldin and Women for Weapons Trade Transparency

An F-16 in a clear blue sky fires a missile downward.
Sales of heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles, like the one being test-fired here, could be obscured under the new bill. U.S. Air Force Photo by Tom Reynolds

On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard a bill that would hide billions of dollars in future foreign weapons sales from public and Congressional review. The bill comes at a time when President Biden and the Department of State are already under fire for obscuring arms sales and transfers of weapons to Israel. 

H.R. 6609, the TIGER Act, introduced by Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), would amend the Arms Export Control Act to increase by approximately 66% the thresholds at which proposed foreign arms sales trigger Congressional notification. This comes as defense industry lobbyists push for expedited weapons sales and deliveries.

Currently, thresholds range from $14 million to $300 million depending on the type of equipment or services and the destination country (NATO members, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Israel, and New Zealand have higher thresholds and shorter review periods). Under the bill, the lowest threshold, for major defense equipment, would increase to $23 million and the highest would increase to $500 million.

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According to our analysis of arms sales notifications in 2023, if these new minimums had been implemented last year, at least $635 million in sales would have been exempt from review. That figure includes sales of major defense equipment such as Sidewinder Missiles and Excalibur Tactical Projectiles. The total would likely reach billions within three years.

The current thresholds may already be obscuring as many as 95% of sales, worth billions of dollars. Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) said at the hearing, We have seen examples of administrations making below threshold sales to avoid congressional scrutiny.” (Women for Weapons Trade Transparency submitted FOIA requests in March 2022 for data on under-threshold sales — they remain unfulfilled).

Infographic that shows the billions that would be hidden in proposed house bill.
Infographic By Sam Fine

Waltz said that the bill would allow the U.S. to stockpile high demand defense items” and accelerate delivery to key allies. Nowhere is this more needed than for Taiwan Foreign Military Sales,” he added. 

He also argued that the defense industry was losing business: Because this is such a bureaucratic process we literally have allies buying from other people and other countries rather than us. This is about jobs; this is about empowering allies to fight for themselves.”’

Democrats on the committee, however, raised concerns. The bill would essentially eliminate congressional review for billions of dollars worth of arms transfers,” Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) said. Rep. Manning criticized the Department of Defense task force whose recommendations the bill drew from: “[While] the taskforce and the bill it produced consulted with many defense industrial firms and military officials, it did not take into account the views of civil society, human rights groups, legal scholars or government transparency groups.” 

Under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, the executive branch must inform Congress about potential arms transfers or sales by the U.S. government or U.S. weapons manufacturers that surpass minimum thresholds. These notifications allow Congress to scrutinize arms sales, to place informal holds on them, or to introduce a joint resolution of disapproval, such as the November 16 resolution by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) opposing a proposed sale of precision guidance bomb kits to Israel. Notifications also enable researchers, journalists and the public to track and scrutinize weapons sales, as they are posted publicly in the Federal Register and on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency website.

“This is exactly the wrong direction we should be taking. We need to do more to increase congressional oversight."

The White House can override the notification process with an emergency certification for a sale, as President Biden and the State Department recently did with nearly 14,000 tank shells to Israel. But emergency certifications often generate media attention and opposition to executive branch overstep. 

H.R. 6609 would increase the amount of arms sales notifications slipping through already existing below-threshold cracks. Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) said at the hearing, This is exactly the wrong direction we should be taking. We need to do more to increase congressional oversight, to prioritize human rights in arms sales, and to require end use monitoring mechanisms to track violations of human rights.”

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Rosie Khan is a Founding Board Member of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency specializing in the intersection of militarism, the environment, and economic policy.

Janet Abou-Elias is a Founding Board Member of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency and a Research Fellow at the Center for International Policy. Her research focuses on international arms trade policy, U.S. foreign policy, and sustainability initiatives.

Lillian Mauldin is a Founding Board Member of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency and a Research Fellow at the Center for International Policy. Her work focuses on political strategy and legislative and grassroots advocacy.

Women for Weapons Trade Transparency is a nonprofit committed to producing high-quality research on the international weapons trade and advocating for humane and sustainable global demilitarization policies.

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