U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a nomination hearing for The Honorable Elaine Chao, President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Department of Transportation designee, at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday, January 11, 2017.
Sen. Thune released a statement upon the naming of Chao as Secretary of Transportation designee on November 29, 2016, and following their in-person meeting to discuss infrastructure and innovation on December 6, 2016.
Secretary Chao’s nomination questionnaire is available here.
The Honorable Elaine L. Chao, to be Secretary of the Department of Transportation
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Full committee nomination hearing
This hearing will take place in Senate Dirksen Office Building, G50. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
NOTE: Location changed from SR-253 to SD-G50.
Chairman John Thune
I want to welcome everyone to the Commerce Committee’s first hearing of the 115th Congress, especially our new members, Senators Inhofe, Lee, Capito, Young, Baldwin, Duckworth, Hassan, and Cortez Masto. In addition to growing in size, our Committee now has the proud distinction of being the Senate Committee with the most women members ever, at eight.
I also would like to thank all of our returning members, especially Ranking Member Nelson, for their hard work last Congress. Together, we were able to enact over 60 measures in the 114th Congress. I am anticipating another full agenda this Congress, and I am confident that we’ll be equally successful.
Today we will consider the nomination of Secretary Elaine Chao to be the 18th Secretary of Transportation.
The agency Secretary Chao has been nominated to lead plays a vital role in facilitating and promoting the safe and efficient movement of goods and people throughout our country and the world. The Department contains 10 component agencies, employs over 57,000 full time employees, and has an operating budget of $75 billion.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the transportation sector employs over 12 million people nationwide and contributes nearly $1.4 trillion to the nation’s economy, or 8.6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. In my home state of South Dakota, this translates into approximately 10,000 jobs. But, these numbers only begin to tell the story, because so much of our economy is dependent on a thriving transportation sector.
For example, without a robust and efficient transportation sector, rural states like mine would be unable to get their goods to market. Increasing the capacity and efficiency of our nation’s highways, rail lines, pipelines, and ports is crucial, and will have to be a top priority for the next Secretary of Transportation.
Another top priority for the next Secretary of Transportation must be safety. While our nation’s pipelines, railroads, airways, and highways have a strong record of safety, improvements can and should be made. Of course, it will be important to avoid one-size-fits all solutions on safety. Instead, the Department must offer a range of tools to combat unique safety challenges, as South Dakota has done with its innovative 24/7 sobriety program to combat impaired driving.
Many of the strong safety improvements this Committee advanced as part of the FAST Act and PIPES Act last Congress are yet to be implemented, and we will expect our next Secretary of Transportation to work with us to ensure speedy implementation. We will also have the opportunity to collaborate on safety improvements when we revisit the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration later this year.
The next Secretary of Transportation will also have a unique opportunity to show federal leadership in the advancement of transportation innovation. V2V technology, autonomous vehicles, and unmanned aircraft systems, to name a few, have great promise to increase safety, improve efficiency, and spur economic growth.
But, like all new technologies, these must be properly integrated into our current networks in a way that maximizes their benefits without compromising the performance of the current systems.
Secretary Chao, if confirmed, you will have a momentous opportunity to transform Americans’ transportation network by promoting safety and innovation, growing our nation’s freight network, and ensuring all users – both rural and urban –benefit equally.
To my colleagues, I would say that, if you were to imagine an ideal candidate to tackle these challenges, it would be hard to come up with a more qualified nominee than the one before us. In addition to serving for eight years as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Secretary Chao has also served as the Deputy Secretary of the department she’s now been tapped to lead. Her extensive experience also includes leading the United Way of America, the Peace Corps, and the Federal Maritime Commission.
Secretary Chao, you have consistently proven your willingness to roll up your sleeves and address the challenges facing our nation. I would like to thank you for testifying today and for your willingness to continue your record of service to the country.
I will now turn to Ranking Member Nelson for any opening remarks and then, before Secretary Chao’s opening statement, she will be introduced by her husband Senator McConnell and the other member of the Kentucky delegation, Senator Paul.
Mr. Chairman, I want to take a minute to express my condolences to the friends and loved ones of the victims of Friday’s horrific shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
I also want to thank the heroic work that was undertaken by first responders and law enforcement personnel in responding to this shooting.
Although the investigation remains ongoing, I expect all of us here in Congress to continue exploring ways to protect the traveling public in light of this tragic incident. While we made some progress in last year’s FAA bill to double the number of K-9 teams and bolster the screening of airport workers, this shooting serves as reminder that our work to improve airport security remains a constant challenge and is far from complete. This year’s FAA reauthorization bill could be a good place to start if more needs to be done to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.
Mr. Chairman, we are here today at a time when our nation is at a crossroads.
Many of our roads, bridges, tunnels and rails are aging and desperately need to be repaired or replaced.
Years of neglect and increased demand have brought us to a point where we can no longer sit idly by and watch our country’s most critical infrastructure continue to deteriorate.
We must step up to the challenge. We must commit to build the next generation of great American infrastructure or risk harming our economy and global competitiveness by failing to do so.
That means investing in projects that will move people and goods for decades to come, such a
- • Ports – like those in my state of Florida that are responsible for moving goods in and out of our country
- • Rails and highways that move those goods throughout our states
- • Transit and rail projects that get Americans to work
- • Airports and passenger rail projects that connect our communities, and
- • Technologies of tomorrow that will move people and goods more efficiently and more safely.
These projects will also create good paying jobs – whether it’s the construction worker laying the foundation for a new project, an engineer doing the design work, or the steel worker making the parts.
The benefits of updating and expanding our transportation infrastructure can produce thunderous ripple effects – creating new developments, generating increased investments, and driving new economic opportunities.
This is what our country needs now and for the future. But it takes a strong commitment from Congress and the administration, and it will take a significant amount of funding.
Secretary Chao, I hope we’ll hear more from you today on the incoming administration’s plan and how you intend to pay for it.
Our nation’s transportation challenges include more than deteriorating roads and bridges. Safety continues to be a serious problem across all of our transportation sectors.
The last two years marked a continuing and disturbing trend of rising fatalities on our highways, reversing the significant progress we’ve seen over a half century.
The department must aggressively use all of its authority and resources to bring these numbers down, whether its cracking down on drunk and distracted driving, increasing seatbelt use, or getting defective vehicles – such as those with exploding Takata airbags – fixed immediately.
And the department must also prepare for the future. As I speak, automakers are rapidly moving toward commercializing autonomous technology and self-driving cars. The department must play a central role in ensuring that this technology is truly safe for the American public.
Aviation safety is also critical.
An important task before the committee this year is FAA reauthorization, which is currently set to expire on September 30, 2017.
Chairman Thune and I worked hard on a bipartisan and comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill last year, which passed the Senate by 95 to 3.
Unfortunately, our reauthorization bill stalled in the House given a proposal there to privatize Air Traffic Control (ATC) services.
Besides being costly and disruptive in implementation, such a privatization scheme would upset the partnership between the FAA and the Department of Defense, which provides 15 to 20 percent of ATC services in this country.
Last, but certainly not least Secretary Chao, I hope we’ll get a commitment from you that you’ll look out for the traveling public by ensuring they have basic consumer protections. This means working with us in Congress to make sure that airline passengers know what they are paying for upfront and that these costs are fair. These provisions had broad bipartisan support in last year’s FAA reauthorization bill, and we should get them across the finish line this year.
I look forward to hearing from you, especially about your plans to invest in our country’s future and ensure a safe transportation system for all.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Elaine L. Chao