WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene an executive session at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 22, 2021 to consider the presidential nominations of Alexander Hoehn-Saric to be a Commissioner and Chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); Mary T. Boyle to be a Commissioner of the CPSC; Richard Trumka, Jr. to be a Commissioner of the CPSC; and Grant Harris to be Assistant Secretary for Industry and Analysis at the Department of Commerce.
Immediately following the executive session, the Committee will hold a hearing to consider the presidential nominations of Victoria Marie Baecher Wassmer, to be Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Transportation (DOT); Mohsin Raza Syed, to be Assistant Secretary of Government Affairs at DOT; Amitabha Bose, to be Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; and Meera Joshi, to be Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Commerce Committee Executive Session
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Committee Hearing Room, Russell 253
Executive Session Agenda:
- Nomination of Alexander Hoehn-Saric, to be a Commissioner and Chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Nomination of Mary T. Boyle, to be a Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Richard Trumka Jr., to be a Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Grant Harris, to be Assistant Secretary for Industry and Analysis, Department of Commerce
At the conclusion of the markup, the Committee will go directly into the nomination hearing.
- Victoria Marie Baecher Wassmer, to be Chief Financial Officer, DOT
- Mohsin Raza Syed, to be Assistant Secretary of Government Affairs, DOT
- Amitabha Bose, to be Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, DOT
- Meera Joshi, to be Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
WATCH LIVESTREAM: www.commerce.senate.gov
Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream. Social distancing is now lifted for vaccinated members of the press who wish to attend. The Office of the Attending Physician recommends that all individuals wear masks while in interior spaces and other individuals are present.
Chair Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Executive Session and Nominations Hearing
Witnesses: Amit Bose, to be the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; of Meera Joshi, to be the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Victoria Wassmer to be the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Transportation; Mohsin Syed to be the Assistant Secretary of Government Affairs of the Department of Transportation
September 22, 2021
Cantwell: We have a distinguished list of nominees before our committee today that will touch all parts of our nation's transportation system. We welcome the nominees and their families. We live in an increasingly global economy where more than 95% of consumers live outside our borders. Americans and businesses need world class infrastructure to reach their customers. So the Investment and Infrastructure Jobs act, a $567 billion investment, will help do just that.
We will invest in historic building and rail, including significant funding to address the long standing repair backlog in Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and across the national network, $3 billion in dedicated funding to address blocked grade crossings. And in my state, this is a very big issue, as we have at least 50 rail crossings that are blocked by train for an average of two hours every day. The congestion they cause keep goods from getting to their market, not to mention the frustration it causes workers and consumers, so it's critical that we address this congestion issue.
The movement of freight is in the news today and it's a key economic driver for our country. More efficient movement of goods to and from ports helps increase jobs as far as economic growth. The infrastructure bill also includes investment to address environmental impacts of our highways, railroads, and other infrastructure. For example, the bill would create a new fund grant program aimed at restoring and helping the other infrastructure and replacing old culverts and fish passage. This is a huge priority for the Pacific Northwest and many other parts of the country where federal transportation infrastructure has challenged some of our other environmental impacts. So we have an opportunity to work with our local and regional partners to solve these issues to bolster our economy and help America recover.
Today we will consider nominees that will play an important role in addressing these infrastructure issues. First, we will consider the nomination of Amit Bose to be the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. Mr. Bose currently serves as Deputy Administrator for FRA and brings nearly two decades of public service on transportation and rail issues. This includes serving in the senior level, at the Department of Transportation and FRA. As Administrator, Mr. Bose will be a Principal Advisor to the Secretary on railroad affairs and will lead the FRA in developing rail policy, including safety regulations and initiatives. The experience that Mr. Bose has gained in his years of service at FRA and the Department of Transportation makes him uniquely qualified to fill this important role and I look forward to his confirmation.
Next we will consider the nomination of Meera Joshi, to be the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Ms. Joshi currently serves as the deputy administrator and senior official at the organization and brings to the position more than 16 years of experience leading government oversight agencies, and primarily to prevent commercial motor vehicle related fatalities and injuries. If confirmed, Ms. Joshi will be responsible for directing the agency's National Safety and Enforcement Program to promote worker safety. Ms. Josie’s experience in regulating and ensuring the safety for hire transportation in New York will provide valuable perspectives as the administrator and I look forward to the confirmation.
Next we will consider the nomination of Victoria Wassmer to be the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Transportation. Ms. Wassmer currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance and Budget of Department of Transportation. Miss Wassmer has a long history of public service including at the FAA where she has held several senior positions, including serving as the Acting Deputy Administrator, Chief Next Gen Officer, and Chief Financial Officer. As CFO of the department, she brings considerable experience in managing the budget and I hope we'll have a chance to ask questions on those issues.
And finally, we will consider the nomination of Mohsin Syed to be the Assistant Secretary of Government Affairs of the Department of Transportation. Mr. Syed’s career in public service includes positions at the Department of Transportation, the Majority Chief Counsel for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and minority Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety and Security. We look forward to working with him in ensuring this committee's priorities are communicated to the department, and that we can achieve our shared goals and improving safety and fostering innovation. So, thank you for the nominees for your willingness to serve.
First Round of Q&A
Cantwell: Thank you, Ms. Joshi. I think it's safe to say that we all intend to make sure resources get to all of you. And so, definitely our questions are going to focus around implementation of those resources, we may have a few questions for the record as well on that. But, Mr. Syed, Ms. Wassmer. Aviation is a particular area of importance for the state of Washington, and I would say for the nation, with over 2 million jobs in aviation manufacturing. During the COVID pandemic, we lost in my state alone, over 30,000 aerospace jobs as part of manufacturing in the supply chain. That's why we worked so hard on the aviation manufacturing jobs protection program, the first support just went out the door, issuing tranches in awards of $482 million, including $40 million into companies in the state of Washington. So these are small machine shops to large suppliers that are all part of the process of keeping us competitive in manufacturing.
What will the two of you do to commit to make sure that this program continues to get the resources out the door that it advocates, because obviously, there are a lot of small businesses that aren’t paying attention to our hearings, they're paying attention to meeting the bottom line of their companies. And yet we know that we need this competitive workforce to continue to produce product.
SYED: I can go first. Well, first of all, thank you so much, Chair Cantwell, for your question. And absolutely, you have our commitment to continue being a voice here, both Victoria Wassmer and I serve on the senior review team for the AMPG program, so making sure that it is being run responsibly is a priority of ours.
Really proud of the dedicated career professionals, including Elliot Black, who is heading the program, and Elliott keeps himself available for anybody, whether it's a company or whether it's the congressional staff with questions about making sure that the money is getting out to the companies and not to mention that folks are aware of the opportunities available with this program. And then, what we plan to do, as the money goes out and as the program administration continues, we plan to conduct some degree of program evaluation, which may yield some additional insights on how we can continue helping the sector.
And I'm also proud of the work that DOT and FAA is doing generally on workforce development in aviation and careers, including careers in aviation manufacturing, I mean, these are such important jobs, obviously, in your state and in states across the country. So you have our commitment to stay focused on this.
CANTWELL: Well, I think Senator Moran probably had more resources, again, given some of the supply chain that exists in his state. But the point is, we even had a roundtable to discuss this with many of the suppliers in our state. And then at the end of it, people said, well, when are you going to get this legislation passed? And we're like, well, it already is passed, we're telling you so that you might, you know, apply.
So people are just so heads down running their companies, I think we have to think about how DOT can continue to talk about the program and make sure people are aware because we're at this critical juncture of having gotten to this point of surviving. The companies that are still there, are barely still there. And yet, we're still probably two quarters away from what we think is a recovery in aviation. Ms. Wassmer, any ideas about how to get that message out?
Wassmer: Thank you, Senator, for that question. Just sort of building on this importance that you are stressing and that the motion was also reflecting on aviation manufacturers. You know, there is a strong commitment to ensuring that we're administering this program effectively. I know that the initial first round had 313 businesses who were successful on applications, many of them have never worked with the federal government before. And that's something that we're mindful of in terms of how to ensure that we can do the engagement necessary to get the education out there about these opportunities.
Likewise, 60% of them were small businesses. So to your point, you know, this is a very complex system of manufacturing. And the supply chains are also complex. And so that's the area that we want to ensure, as we continue to learn and work with these companies, what's happening with the industry.
So we have talked with FAA, there is a commitment on program evaluation. And indeed, I do believe the second round, which was closed September 1st, also yielded several additional, I think, 191 additional applicants. And so those applications will be reviewed and the resources will be swiftly given based upon the review process that is happening.
I think the other thing that’s been a strong commitment of ours, related to all of the COVID funding, is that we have strong internal controls in place. We want to be mindful of the oversight of those emergency funds to ensure that they're going to the right recipients. There have been instances, not in DOT programs, but with other federal bureaus where there's been waste, fraud, and abuse. And there's been an emphasis in the CFO community about how we can make sure that those things don't happen. I'm really proud of what has happened at the Department of Transportation and standing up this program because we worked early, we met also with the EIG, we tried to ensure that all those things were built upfront to have a smooth and successful program stood up within six months, being able to disburse funds for a new program is pretty remarkable.
Cantwell: My time has expired, but I just want to get a commitment from both of you that as it relates to the bill, Senator wicker and I worked on together the Aircraft Certification and Safety Accountability Act, which strengthens the safety oversight and improving safety culture at FAA that you'll work on the implementation of those reforms and make sure that they're a priority within the department.
Syed: Absolutely. And that's personal to me given especially my work on the House T&I and negotiating with your committee on that bill, and then my own personal relationship with the Stumo’s. Absolutely.
Wassmer: Yes, absolutely. And it's also making sure that the resources are there in our budget submissions.
Cantwell: Exactly, yes, thank you.
Second Round of Q&A
Cantwell: I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask Mr. Bose. I wanted to ask you about crude by rail. Obviously this is a very big issue for the State of Washington. In December of last year, a mile long train derailed in Custer, Washington, causing a town to be evacuated and spilling 30,000 gallons of crude oil, despite only going seven miles per hour. So we're seeing these incidents. Ten tank cars derailed, and three of them caught on fire. No one was injured, but this incident is a reminder of the danger that crude oil and LNG trains pose to communities near rail.
What will you be doing to ensure that hazardous materials are operated in a safe manner? And will you commit to reviewing whether current safety standards need to be enhanced in light of this?
Bose: Senator, I'll start out by saying that for enhancements, absolutely commit to looking at that, in my short time at DOT, this time around, we're absolutely working with the Pipelines Hazardous Materials Safety Administration as well on this issue because it involves hazardous materials.
Regarding the Custer, Washington derailment, we issued our investigation report a few weeks ago. FRA understands the potential risk associated with the movement of energy products and other hazardous materials. And we will absolutely be working, continuing to work with state and local governments and the industry to advance safety in all parts of rail transportation when it involves hazardous materials. And we also are going to continue to work closely on tank car safety as well.
Cantwell: Thank you. Yes, there's a lot to continue to be done on rail safety and rail car safety. On the ports issue, I so appreciate my colleagues, Senator Sullivan bringing this up. And many members of this committee do have big port economies. But right now, we are seeing unbelievable congestion at our ports. And so I would like to ask all of you, I guess, might as well. And Ms. Wassmer, you'll have a role, but our ports are experiencing unprecedented congestion really. Now we are seeing pictures every day of ports with ships and the amount of congestion. What do each of you think we should be doing to help relieve congestion at our ports? And maybe we'll start at this end.
Joshi: Thank you, Chair Cantwell, for the question. From the perspective of the trucking industry, I think it's critical that there be transparency and that the financial incentives be aligned. Because there's so many moving parts at a port, in order to make the trucking experience of moving freight in and out as efficient as possible, there has to be transparency on appointment systems, flexible hours, and more certainty on when it containers need to be dropped off and picked up. As well as aligning the financial incentives.
So if the trucking community is bearing the brunt of wait times, and that time is not compensated either because they have to hold containers, or because truck drivers have to wait for loading and unloading, then the congestion and the downtime is felt by them. And there's no incentive to disperse that among the whole system, which therefore will have the overall effect of improving throughput.
Cantwell: Do you think we should do a pilot program right now on something? You know, we just had a big focus with Deputy Secretary Trottenberg coming to the Port of Seattle to look at that issue and look at the West Seattle Bridge. But more specifically, there's an opportunity to demonstrate that there is a faster way and a cleaner way to get those truck drivers back on the roads and move the products more effectively through the ports. Do you think that there's a demonstration that could show this?
Joshi: I would certainly love to work on exploring that idea. We've been operating at a certain, you know, in a certain way for many, many decades. So I think it's high time to try to change things and look at them differently. And if there's an isolated place where we can have a demonstration project that's working for the industry and for the ports, then I'd be happy to explore that with you and your staff.
Cantwell: Okay, thank you, Mr. Bose. What do you think we should do about this problem?
Bose: Well, Senator, excellent question. And it's something that I along with the Deputy Administrator Joshi, we have been tasked by the Secretary because he's on the supply chain disruption taskforce from the White House. And the White House, as you know, issued an executive order about supply chain disruption. So it's absolutely on our radar. When looking at it from the rail industry perspective, we know that there's congestion at the ports, logistical equipment scarcity, labor shortages, a combination of things. And we all have a different role to play in that. FRA, for our part, is definitely going to look at the rail issues in collaboration with other transportation modes, and also other agencies across government to look for any opportunity we can to help alleviate the situation.
Cantwell: Thank you, Mr. Syed?
Syed: Thank you, Chair Cantwell. Well, building off what Mr. Bose just said about the executive order, the department recently issued a request for information and the Federal Register is seeking comments from stakeholders to figure out how to address these challenges and the department anticipates releasing this assessment early next year. So hopefully that'll inform some of the efforts here.
The department also recently had former Deputy Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari, join as a port envoy. And we look forward to having him in his expertise at the department to find near term opportunities to address port congestion.
Cantwell: Maybe we should have Mr. Porcari come before the committee if he's the person in charge of this. Okay, well, let's hear from Ms. Wassmer.
Wassmer: Senator Cantwell, this has been a really big issue. And interestingly enough, I remember being in Seattle and going to the museum there on port and shipment containers and it was when my sons were very young, so over 20 years ago, and just being amazed at all of what happens both on our import and export side, the criticality of the port infrastructure.
Again, we've talked about the investments that are anticipated in the infrastructure bill, we also made it a point this year in the President's budget for 22 to request resources. We do take this strongly at the department and in this administration, and look forward to working with you on that.
Cantwell: Well, and you mentioned workforce in your opening statement. I think we're doing the right things as it relates to the budget reconciliation efforts and the transportation infrastructure bills that we've passed, we're making, or want to make the major investments. But I would just remind people, we're seeing this and you can say it's a supply chain issue, you can say it's, you know, a lot of different things, COVID impact on the workforce. We've obviously had serious, longshoreman deaths as it related to people being essential workers trying to do their job, it's a very sad situation. So, there's lots of issues.
But you know, my state is a very big trade state. One in three jobs related to trade, and so this isn't going to go away if we recover from the pandemic. And we continue to see the growth around the globe in economic opportunity, we got to get this infrastructure flow right. And if it means getting the workforce to go with it, or the innovation on cleaner port emissions, which will be part of the issue, we just have to realize that, just as Senator Sullivan was saying, these are really critical economic development issues on the ground for our states.
And if you look at our US economy, I think it's something like 80% of our economic activity comes out of these coastal states. So that's, you know, not to say we don't ship a lot of stuff from the Midwest through the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. We do. But in reality, these states represent big economic activities. And so making the investment, getting the workforce, thinking about the supply chain, thinking about the growth around the country, and I would ask us to think about this, particularly as it relates to Canada. I mean, Canada made some major alignments to make all of this easier. I mean, they basically said, we know we're open for business, and we'll make it easier for you. And that's what we have to compete with. And that same kind of activity is going to continue around the globe as more and more people obviously join our economies.
Okay. Well, I think that I take it we have no other members wishing to ask questions. I again want to thank the witnesses for their willingness to serve and their statements here and questions that they've answered.
We have one more question to Ms. Wassmer, Mr. Syed, Mr. Bose, and Ms. Joshi. If confirmed, will you pledged to work collaboratively with this committee, provide thorough and timely responses to our request for information as we put together and address important policy issues, and appear before the committee when requested?
Joshi: Yes, I will.
Wassmer: Yes, I will.
Syed: Yes, Absolutely.
Cantwell: Thank you. Senators have 72 hours to submit questions for the committee record. Witnesses will have one week to respond to those questions. And so that will be our timeframe, obviously, then for moving forward on your nomination. So thank you all very much for being here today. We're adjourned.
Witness Panel 1
Victoria Marie Baecher WassmerTo be Chief Financial OfficerDepartment of Transportation
Mohsin Raza SyedTo be Assistant Secretary of Government AffairsDepartment of transportation
Amitabha BoseTo be Administrator of the Federal Railroad AdministrationDepartment of Transportation
Meera JoshiTo be Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration