Contrast this with the State Department, which mostly manages the portfolio of sanctions imposed by congressional legislation. That responsibility traces back to the State Department's management of the annual list of state sponsors of terrorism, created by the 1979 Export Administration Act.
In retrospect, Congress probably should not have given the State Department this portfolio. The department's mission is maintaining and repairing relations with foreign countries, not antagonizing them by targeting foreign companies that do business with rogue regimes.
So it should not be surprising that the State Department has failed to enforce meaningful sanctions against Iran. In recent years, the department was responsible for enforcing the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 as well as its successor, the 2006 Iran Sanctions Act. The legislation requires the president to impose at least two out of seven specific sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in a given year in Iran's energy sector. How many violators has the State Department pursued? None. Sadly, the department's apparent unwillingness to punish offenders ensured that Iran never paid the price for supporting terrorism worldwide. Nor, as we now know, did Iran's ruling mullahs pay a price for developing a nuclear program.
So, as members of the House and Senate gather to discuss the ways that Iran energy sanctions should be administered and enforced within the U.S. government, these conferees should think twice about bestowing the State Department with this important portfolio -- one that could potentially affect efforts to stop the Iranian bomb. The Treasury Department is much better equipped (and far more eager) to pursue hard-hitting, targeted sanctions against the IRGC and the front companies that play a dominant role in Tehran's energy sector.
And if Congress wanted to ensure the Treasury Department's success, it could empower the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the Energy Department, to begin publicly listing the companies doing business with Iran's energy sector. It used to do exactly that but stopped after reportedly losing a turf battle with the State Department over the matter. Renewing this flow of information will be critical to the effort to accurately identify sanctions targets under the new legislation.
In short, Congress should reward good work with more work. It should give the Treasury Department increased authority to target the Iranian energy sector and give sanctions every opportunity to stop Iran's drive to build a nuclear bomb.