2024 Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement

Matthew S. Borman

Led pivotal efforts to impose export controls on U.S. adversaries to deny them access to critical American technology that could be used for military purposes.

When Ukraine was invaded in February 2022, Matthew Borman’s encyclopedic knowledge of targeted export controls enabled the U.S. and its allies to swiftly limit advanced technology that Russia needs to wage war. 

That was just the most recent of many instances in Borman’s lengthy career in which he’s been the architect of a top national security tool: strategic trade restrictions aimed at preventing adversaries from using sensitive technology against the U.S. and its allies.  

“He keeps Americans safe, prevents China and Russia and Iran from getting equipment and technology that they need…for their nuclear weapons systems, drones or satellites,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.  

Critically, Borman worked quickly to assemble “from scratch” a coalition of 36 countries to implement similar controls against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, “which had never been done before,” said Mark Gitenstein, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.  

Borman’s role was critical 

Export controls govern transfer or disclosure of goods, technology, software, services and funds originating in the U.S. to people or entities in foreign countries.  

Borman is seen as the linchpin of that policy.  

“He has driven virtually every significant export control policy program over the past 20 years, overseeing a broad range of issues including proliferation concerns following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of terrorism threats, and national security issues in the age of great power competition,” said Alan Estevez, under secretary of Commerce for industry and security.  

Borman “was always ahead of this process, anticipating evolutions in technology and geopolitics,” Estevez said. 

In the mid-1990s, Borman helped former Soviet republics establish their own export controls on strategic technologies. In 2018, he worked with Congress to draft the first statutory authority since 2001 for controls over items with both commercial and military applications, Estevez noted. 

Technology sanctions imposed against Russia 

Against Russia, the goal is to deprive the country of Western technology needed for military and industrial use, like semiconductors, circuit boards, transistors, software and electronic gear, and tank and aircraft components. The U.S. pursues a similar strategy against China, cutting off access to advanced computer chips to limit the country’s supply of semiconductors and its military artificial intelligence capabilities. That, too, is under Borman’s guidance. 

Borman arrived at Commerce in 1992 and spent eight years at the chief counsel’s office for export administration before joining the Bureau of Industry and Security. The bureau regulates exports of commercial “dual use” items, those with commercial, military or proliferation applications. It publishes an extensive “entity list” of people, governments, institutions and others engaging in activities the U.S. believes threaten national security. The document is essentially a trade blacklist that over time gets results.  

“Export controls don’t come down like a guillotine,” Estevez said. “There is stuff in flow, in transit and in stockpiles, so you cannot just cut it off. It’s like an anaconda, we slowly squeeze the life out of the Russian industrial base. And Matt was the creator of that reality.”  

Borman is the first person Estevez turns to after a policy decision is made. “You set the strategy and then Matt is the very next person you talk to figure out how to do it,” he said. 

Bruce Andrews, who was a deputy Commerce secretary in the Obama administration, said Borman “has a better sense of both the policy and the technology in his area than anybody in the private sector. He is like the Swiss Army knife of understanding how U.S. technology policy and controls can be used.” 

Borman once worked as a tennis pro and said taking American teenagers to Europe for tournaments ignited his interest in foreign policy. And though his work is highly technical, the bottom line is simple. 

“It is really trying to keep the good stuff from the bad guys,” Borman said.