Cantwell Secures Commitments from NASA, FTC, and Commerce Nominees to Uphold Scientific Integrity, Protect Local News, and Promote Diversity in STEM

April 21, 2021

Opening Statement Video | Audio | Transcript

WASHINGTON, D.C.— U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, questioned former Senator Bill Nelson, President Biden’s nominee to be National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator; Ms. Lina Khan, nominated to be a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); and Ms. Leslie Kiernan, the nominee for General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce at today’s nomination hearing. Chair Cantwell called for an increase of women in the STEM workforce, highlighted the need to uphold scientific integrity at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other scientific agencies, and stressed the FTC’s responsibility to protect consumers and address unfair and deceptive practices brought on by Big Tech.

Chair Cantwell praised Nelson saying, “Senator Nelson has been a leader in space policy and has been an integral driver of NASA strategic direction for decades. His commitment to public service and passion for space policy has been long known and makes him an incredible choice for this important role… His reputation as a tireless advocate for the space program is well deserved, and at this moment, NASA needs a great advocate that we all can be confident in.”

In her questioning with Nelson, Cantwell asked, “On the workforce issue, Artemis is a great mission. Now there are 18 astronauts that are going to be competing for that. There are a few from the State of Washington, we're very proud of them. But I think importantly, it shows that in 2019, women only made up 1/3 of NASA's workforce and 16% of the senior scientific workforce. If confirmed, will you promote diversity of roles for women in technical and leadership roles throughout NASA?”

He replied, “Yes ma’am, and already have, and I strongly recommended to the White House that the Deputy be a woman who is exceptionally qualified and, indeed, I think you will see that in the person that was announced last week, Pam Melroy, a former astronaut commander.”

Cantwell also secured a commitment from Nelson to rapidly provide Congress with a plan for assuring the United States remains competitive and resilient in regards to its space programs.

Cantwell said, “Obviously, NASA has a big tradition of ensuring resiliency and commercial programs by using multiple competitors and maintaining what's called dissimilar redundancy. So I want to know that you will commit to rapidly providing Congress with a plan for assuring that kind of resiliency, out of the Human Lander program.”

Nelson: “I do... Competition is always good.”

Staying on the topic of science, Cantwell highlighted the controversy surrounding the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, where the former Acting Inspector General of NOAA interfered with science and produced false information of the hurricane’s projected path. The Chair secured a commitment from Leslie Kiernan, Department of Commerce nominee, to always follow science.

Finally, Chair Cantwell addressed the need to protect local journalism with Lina Khan, nominee to be a Commissioner of the FTC, asking, “Google and Facebook play dominant roles as portals to news and media. I think you probably understand the challenges that these sectors have faced, given this level of activity. Do you think that the FTC should review Google and Facebook's use of journalistic content without compensation under the unfairness standard that the FTC has?”

Ms. Khan replied, “Congratulations to you and your staff for such an incisive report. I think, you know, everything needs to be on the table. Obviously local journalism is in crisis, and I think the current COVID moment has really underscored the deep, democratic emergency that is resulting when we don't have reliable sources of local news. So absolutely, you know, this would be something that I would hope to focus on at the Commission.”

Chair Cantwell’s comprehensive report calling unfair practices by tech companies a threat to local news can be found here.

Ms. Khan elaborated on those unfair and deceptive practices: “So I think there are two major factors, one of which is the fact that you know, increasingly, news publishers are dependent on a few gatekeepers to disseminate their news, and to disseminate their information, and so a single change in an algorithm can plummet readership and subscriptions for any publisher. And so I think there are some concerns generally there about arbitrary whims and the arbitrary power that these firms can exercise.”

Video of Chair Cantwell’s opening statement can be found HERE and audio is HERE.

Video of Chair Cantwell’s questioning with witnesses can be found HERE and audio is HERE.

A transcript of the opening statement is HERE and the Q&A is HERE.