By Tom Reynolds, Export Solutions

Here’s a quick test. Select a random employee and ask him or her: “What does ITAR stand for?” Do they remember? Do they stutter while answering? Or do they just give you a funny look and walk away?

Of course, your employees need to know much more than this simple question. (But hey, I told you it was a quick test.) Naturally, you’d want to probe deeper to gain some true insight into their understanding of the regulations and how your company complies. For example, you might ask them to describe to you what an export is? Where can they find the classifications of your company’s products? Ask them to give some examples of technical data they work with on a regular basis, and how they control that data. And, perhaps the most important question of all: Who should they contact with any questions or concerns about export compliance?

Several years ago, my colleague Don Buehler was seated next to a man on a flight. This gentleman told Don that he was originally from China, and was now employed as a researcher for a large, U.S. university.

“So, what have they told you about ITAR or EAR compliance?” Don asks.

“Nothing. What does ITAR stand for?” the research replies.

It’s a problem we see all the time. Here’s why this is important. Right now, there’s a Chinese employee of a New Jersey company who’s on trial for allegedly exporting ITAR-controlled technical data during an international business trip. The prosecution has charged this man (Sixing Liu) with exporting the data on his company laptop and then lying about it. Here’s what Liu’s defense attorney said in a recent interview:

“Liu’s training in the laws governing the export of defense materials consisted of 15 minutes on his first day of work, between sessions on employee benefits and sexual harassment guidelines,” said attorney James Tunick.

Does that mean Mr. Liu is off the hook? Probably not. Does it mean that Mr. Liu’s company could now be on the hook? Maybe.

Some companies do nothing when it comes to training their employees about export compliance. Others do very little. And a few companies do a lot. But is that training enough? Is it ever enough? We usually find the answer to this question on the first day of a compliance audit, within a few minutes of sitting down to talk to a random sample of employees. It starts by asking the right questions, and then following those up with additional questions, until the picture becomes clear. And, no, those questions do not include, “What does ITAR stand for?”

So, ask yourself this: Does my company provide enough training to employees on ITAR/EAR compliance? (Hint: If your ITAR training lasts 15 minutes, it probably isn’t enough.) The real question to ask your company leadership might be: Do we want to find out if our training is adequate now, or wait until a defense attorney brings this up in court?

I think we all know that answer.

Tom Reynolds is the President of Export Solutions, a consultancy firm which specializes in helping companies with import/export compliance.