The U.S. Department of Commerce and its component bureaus are responsible for the stewardship, protection, and scientific understanding of our ocean environment and its resources, effective use and growth of the nation’s technological resources, and promoting U.S. trade and tourism. The oversight hearing will examine the Department’s effectiveness in implementing these goals.
Daniel K. InouyeSenatorPresident Calvin Coolidge once said, "the business of America is business." And on the surface, the business of the Commerce Department is business, as well. But now, after more than 2 years on the job, Mr. Secretary, you know that the business of the Commerce Department includes conserving and managing our ocean resources, ensuring accuracy in standards and measurements, counting our citizens, providing economic opportunity, managing spectrum policy, and predicting the weather both for tomorrow and for the long term. The Department’s business is not only promoting commerce, but good stewardship of the very resources that dictate our economic prosperity.This Committee has been very active on issues related to the Department of Commerce. We have held hearings on travel and tourism, scientific integrity, climate change research and policy, public safety communications interoperability, trade policies and enforcement, the viability of Earth observing satellites, U.S. economic competitiveness, science policy, the digital television transition, and the safety of Chinese imports. These hearings have highlighted Commerce Department activities and missions that are working, some that need fixing, and others that are simply starved for resources.For example, we have read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s conclusions that human activities are influencing our planet’s climate. Scientists agree and have testified that we cannot defer any longer and the time to act is now. Yet, the Department appears unwilling to address the fact that critical weather and climate sensors have been eliminated from the next generation of Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites. Add this issue to the issue of increased budget constraints on climate research, and members of this Committee cannot help but question the Department’s commitment to supporting its scientists or its understanding of what is at hand.On a brighter side, the trade deficit for the month of May increased only to $60 billion, which is the same level announced when Secretary Gutierrez last appeared before us in January 2005 for your confirmation. During that hearing, every member sitting on the dais that day said the same thing, regardless of his or her position on trade agreements in general. Every member said, "I’m for fair trade, and we must enforce our trade laws." Two and a half years later, while our trade deficit is static, the concern today is safe trade.The Department’s largest agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a direct role to play when it comes to contaminated imports of seafood. In 2005, more than 84 percent of the total fish and shellfish consumed in the United States was imported, compared to 55 percent in 1995. China is the second largest importer of seafood to the United States. NOAA’s seafood inspection program provides services beyond the mandatory Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points requirements including: vessel and plant sanitation, product inspection, grading and certification, label review, laboratory analysis, and training. NOAA’s seafood inspection program is vital to America’s ability to send exports abroad to areas such as the European Union where they require a FDA certification on all seafood products that enter their market.In fact NOAA’s program is so successful that a January 2004 GAO report recommended that NOAA provide staff from its seafood inspection program to bolster the FDA’s inspection capabilities.Finally, I along with 14 of my colleagues on this committee come from coastal states, so I can assure you, there will be questions about NOAA. Many of us believe that NOAA’s missions are critical to the well being of this nation, whether it is hurricane forecasting, drought forecasting, fisheries management, or scientific research in the area of oceans and human health.Similarly, what has become a growing concern for us is the no-growth budget under which NOAA has been operating since you were confirmed as Secretary. There is much focus on and support for promoting science and technology research and education in order to spur economic innovation, and the allure of the oceans attracts and inspires young people to study science in a similar manner as other fields. The America COMPETES Act, which we hope to pass before the August recess, calls for NOAA to be a full partner in efforts to promote competitiveness, and I hope you will take that direction to heart and improve the budget allocation for this agency.
Ted StevensSenatorThank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing today. Thank you, Secretary Gutierrez, for making time in your busy schedule to come testify today. I commend you and the Administration for your efforts to improve the American economy and business. With GDP growth of 2.9% annually since 2001, an unemployment rate below the average of past decades, and with the budget set to be balanced by 2012, every American is benefitting because of your policies. I look forward to discovering what the Committee can do to maintain such a strong economy.A strong economy begins with a strong education in sciences, mathematics, technology, and engineering. I am pleased to report that last night the conference report of the America Competes act was signed. This measure was introduced last Congress and represents a major step to improve American’s competitiveness through increased funding for basic research and education programs, which I hope will be quickly implemented.In today’s market many goods and services are sold over the Internet. This e-trade is especially beneficial for Alaskans who in many cases would not have access to the same variety of goods otherwise. The Internet also provides a means for Alaskans to sell their goods in the lower 48. In addition, access to the Internet provides educational and medical opportunities. To ensure Alaskans and all Americans can afford access to the Internet, I believe Congress should extend the Internet tax moratorium and prevent federal, state, and local Internet taxes, which would only drive up the cost; and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue.Our nation’s coastlines are important to the ecology and to the economy. Nearly half of the nation’s coastline and half of the nation’s fisheries landings are in Alaska. As such, I have particular interest in the tsunami warning system, hydrographic surveys, water and climate services, coastal zone management, and fisheries and marine mammal research run by NOAA. I applaud the work done to date and look forward to hearing about the status of the department’s conservation programs and work with the fishing and aquaculture industries.Another important part of the nation’s economy is the travel and tourism sector contributing over 8 million employment opportunities and $1.3 trillion in economic activity every year, which also has a significant impact in Alaska. Following September 11th this sector took a dramatic hit. To correct this problem the Committee has passed the Travel Promotion Act of 2007. This measure will promote the United States as a travel destination.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Carlos M. GutierrezSecretaryU.S. Department of Commerce