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Christopher Wall, a trade lawyer who until last year was assistant secretary of commerce for export administration, in an interview called the entity list an export enforcement tool that stops short of placing companies on a denial list.

“The entity list regulation establishes a process for companies to ‘come clean’ and bring themselves into compliance,” he said.

Of Mr. Hirschhorn’s work for companies on the entity list, Mr. Wall said, “It shouldn’t be seen as a negative at all. In fact, it should be seen as a positive. In order to get off the entity list, companies need to show that they are complying with U.S. export controls. Advising companies on how to comply with U.S. export controls is what lawyers do.”

He said Mr. Hirschhorn’s situation involving former clients happens frequently when someone takes a government position after working in the private sector.

Mr. Hirschhorn referred questions to the Commerce Department, but he referred to his private legal work in testimony before the Senate.

“I have spent a good deal of my time advising clients whose activities are subject to United States export control and regulations,” he said.

Mr. Hirschhorn’s nomination has languished in the Senate since last fall. It was one of dozens held up last month by Republican Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who reportedly placed a blanket hold on the nominations over concerns about an unrelated Air Force refueling tanker program. He’s since lifted most of the holds, but Mr. Hirschhorn’s nomination remains pending.

Former Federal Aviation (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey, now president and chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association, which includes major defense and aviation manufacturers that export overseas, said she hopes the Commerce Department post is filled soon.

“It’s very important to fill this particular position, which is key to modernizing our export control system,” she said.