Press Releases

Chair Cantwell Announces Subcommittee Leadership for the 117th Congress

February 19, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), announced the new Commerce subcommittee structure and leadership for the 117th Congress.

“Americans are counting on us to deliver urgent economic relief from this pandemic, help American workers and businesses compete all over the world, and protect consumers and their families with the strongest possible safety standards,” said Chair Cantwell. “I am pleased to announce a slate of subcommittee assignments that will help us meet the needs of the American people, and I look forward to working with the new administration and my colleagues on this committee on both sides of the aisle as we aggressively tackle these challenges.”

“These subcommittees cover a broad range of issues affecting our economy and the American people,” said Ranking Member Wicker. “I look forward to working with the leaders of each subcommittee in the bipartisan tradition of this Committee.”

The assignments are as follows:

Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation: Chair Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ); Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband: Chair Ben Ray Luján (D-NM); Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD)

Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight, and Ports: Chair Gary Peters (D-MI); Ranking Member Deb Fischer (R-NE)

Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change, and Manufacturing: Chair Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Ranking Member Dan Sullivan (R-AK)

Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security: Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Ranking Member Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

Subcommittee on Space and Science: Chair John Hickenlooper (D-CO); Ranking Member Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion: Chair Jacky Rosen (D-NV);  Ranking Member Rick Scott (R-FL)

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Cantwell Takes Over as Chair of Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation—First Woman to Chair the Committee

February 11, 2021

TV-Quality Video | Audio | Transcript

New Chair identifies three priorities: COVID-19 relief, planning for the information age, addressing economic disparities

Chair Cantwell: “I may be the first woman [to lead] this committee, but… I don’t plan on being the last”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a hearing today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) officially took over as Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, becoming the first woman to chair the committee in its history.

In her remarks, Cantwell thanked Roger Wicker (R-MS) for his leadership of the committee and for the bipartisanship that helped them pass a number of major accomplishments into law, including landmark aviation safety legislation and the reauthorization of the Coast Guard. She also spoke about her priorities for the committee in the 117th Congress, starting with passing more COVID-19 relief and protecting consumers from pandemic-related fraud and abuse:

“We have to continue addressing the COVID pandemic and the crisis in the impact that it’s having on our economy. We're right now in the midst of another transportation package to help revive our economy and help continue to work,” Cantwell said. “We are looking to our FTC to make sure that there are no fraudulent products and materials out here, like masks, that my state is facing.

Cantwell identified two other priorities: addressing the challenges we face living in an information age and confronting disparities in the economy.

“We live in an information age, and we just have to own up to it. To me it's better to prepare for that information age, so everything from privacy to broadband to AI to cybersecurity to STEM. I look forward to working with all my colleagues who have had so much legislation introduced on that.”

“I do think our committee has to work hard in this information age at the disparities that we have in our economy. I do think, just like this committee dealt with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, I do think that we can work together… And, to my fellow colleagues, all of you but particularly the women, I hope that we can do a better job on strategies to help women in the workforce, particularly in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. I may be the first woman of this committee, but I can tell you this--I don't plan on being the last.”

Senator Cantwell is not the first Senator from the State of Washington to chair the committee. Senator Warren Magnuson chaired the committee for 22 years from 1955-1977, during which time they passed landmark civil rights and consumer protection legislation. Cantwell noted the importance of leading the committee in the same collegial and efficient way he did, all while putting the needs of the American people first.

Video of the gavel transfer and Senator Cantwell’s remarks is available HERE, audio is HERE, and the transcript is HERE.

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Committee Announces Executive Session on February 11

February 5, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold an executive session on Thursday, February 11, 2021, at 10:00 am in Dirksen Senate Office Building G50 to consider the following agenda:

Agenda:

Rules Governing the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Budget Resolution for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Executive Session Details:

Thursday, February 11, 2021

10:00 A.M.

Full Committee

Executive Session #3 - Organizing Meeting for 117th Congress

SD-G50

A live video of the markup and additional information will be available at www.commerce.senate.gov.

*In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the markup. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this markup via the live stream. 

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Commerce Committee Approves Raimondo Nomination – Cantwell Praises Experience, Knowledge

February 3, 2021

TV Quality Video | Audio | Transcript

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation advanced the nomination of Governor Gina Raimondo to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the full Senate by a bipartisan 21-3 vote. U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, the incoming Chair of the committee, praised Raimondo’s accomplishments in the public and private sector, as well as the many important issues that Raimondo will face as secretary if confirmed.

“As the first woman to be governor of the State of Rhode Island, I think she accomplished a wide range of impressive programs but I'm most impressed by the Real Jobs Rhode Island Initiative,” said Senator Cantwell. “We all know that we need to marry up our future businesses with the skilled workers that they're looking for. This program, the Real Jobs Rhode Island Initiative, served more than 1,700 employers and 11,000 people throughout the state. As a result, she was able to send her state's unemployment rate tumbling to a 30-year low. I'm a firm believer that matching the workforce needs to those of key industry sectors is a way for all of us to see economic growth in the United States, and to help support businesses that are competing on an international basis.”

Senator Cantwell also praised Raimondo’s understanding of science and fisheries issues: “Governor Raimondo understands, coming from a coastal state, the important issues of the maritime issues before this committee, particularly NOAA’s issues on science, weather forecast, fisheries management, coastal restoration, NTIA spectrum management, and NIST research and standard setting so the department's role supporting trade and many other issues are focused on within that sector…these are important issues and having a governor that understands really the historic aspect of a fishing economy, I think will serve our committee well.”

At last week’s nomination hearing, Cantwell secured Raimondo’s commitment to prioritize science and defend scientific integrity at the Department of Commerce. 

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

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Cantwell, Committee Approve Buttigieg Nomination

January 27, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted to send the nomination of Pete Buttigieg to be U.S. Secretary of Transportation to the full Senate. U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, the incoming Chair of the committee, praised Buttigieg’s experience and discussed some of the urgent issues he will face upon confirmation as Secretary. 

“As someone who had served our country, as a United States Navy reservist, including deployment in Afghanistan, he also, as a Rhodes Scholar, showed impressive understanding of the future of our transportation policies and the major changes that they are going through,” said Senator Cantwell. “He understands what all of us have to deal with on transportation and infrastructure…I enthusiastically endorse this nomination and I asked my colleagues to support it as well.” 

During Buttigieg’s nomination hearing last week, Senator Cantwell secured key commitments from him to invest in transportation infrastructure and improve safety culture at the Department of Transportation. 

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

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Cantwell to Commerce Secretary Nominee: “Science Needs to Prevail”

January 26, 2021

Opening Statement Video | Q&A Video | Transcripts

Cantwell: U.S. should be a leader in weather forecasting

Governor Raimondo: “I plan to lead with science and lead with data”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At today’s hearing to consider the nomination of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, the incoming Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, secured Raimondo’s commitment to prioritize science and defend scientific integrity at the Department of Commerce.  

“I appreciate that [Governor Raimondo] will lead the agency in making decisions based on science and data that will help our economy grow in the future, everything from these oceans issues and fisheries, to spectrum and space issues,” said Senator Cantwell. “We in the Pacific Northwest know that we can't always agree on issues, but we know we can agree on science, and that's why science needs to continue to prevail.”

During her questioning of Raimondo, Cantwell asked, “Do you oppose any censorship of scientific data and information coming out of the Department of Commerce? And will you work with us to help restore the confidence in that science and data information and investment in it for the future?” Raimondo responded “yes” to both questions.

In her opening statement, Cantwell highlighted the critical role the Department of Commerce will play in COVID-19 recovery. In particular, she noted her work with Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) to find ways to support the aerospace manufacturing sector during a time with dramatically decreased demand and discussed the ongoing pandemic’s impact on minority-owned businesses, both in Washington state and around the country.

Cantwell noted the importance of high-quality scientific data in areas like weather forecasting to the wide variety of issues under the purview of the Department of Commerce and called for more investment in U.S. capabilities: “There's no reason why the United States should not be a leader in weather forecasting. This is an important issue for us, whether you're talking about fires or you're talking about ocean issues. So, making a better, crucial investment in science for maritime, aviation, space, and agriculture industries will be very important for us moving forward.”

Senator Cantwell has long called for U.S. spectrum policy to better respect national security, public safety, and scientific spectrum needs, and to be absolutely sure that spectrum decisions do not imperil our ability to get the highest quality weather forecasts.

Cantwell also highlighted the critical role science plays for salmon restoration and for the fishing economy as a whole, both in Washington and throughout the country.

Raimondo responded by pledging to work with Cantwell to support salmon restoration and the fishing industry, and reaffirmed the central role science will play in her decision-making: “I plan to lead with science and lead with data,” Raimondo said.

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

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Raimondo can be found HERE and audio is HERE.

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Cantwell Secures Key Commitments from Buttigieg to Invest in Transportation Infrastructure, Improve Safety Culture at the Department

January 21, 2021

Opening Statement Video | Q&A Video | Transcripts

Cantwell: “To say we need infrastructure investment is an understatement" 

Buttigieg to Cantwell: “We need to make sure that engineers and the FAA are in the driver's seat when it comes to safety”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, the incoming Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, secured a commitment from Pete Buttigieg, President Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to pursue a major investment in infrastructure and ensure safety at the FAA. Cantwell also highlighted and praised Buttigieg’s past work in this sector that qualifies him for this role within DOT.

“I am very excited that the President has nominated Mayor Pete Buttigieg,” said Senator Cantwell. “And I look forward to his vision in leading the Department of Transportation. As a mayor, I know you're no stranger to the challenges that a region faces on transportation infrastructure issues. I know that you earned national recognition for your “smart streets” project that created a safe environment for all road users, the project resulted in over $100 million in private sector investment. You used your experience as Mayor to help forge that, and I hope that you will do that for communities across the United States of America.”

In her Q&A with Buttigieg, Cantwell talked about the importance of infrastructure investment: “For us, in the state of Washington, we’re a big export state. Not only do we export our own products, so everything from cherries and wheat and apples and airplanes, but we also are a big pass through for many of the Midwest agricultural products reaching Asian destinations. So, to say that we need infrastructure investment is an understatement.”

“Would you say we need a significant increase in those programs, INFRA and Build?”

“Absolutely. There needs to be a major investment in order to deliver,” Buttigieg said.

Highlighting her bipartisan aviation safety legislation signed into law at the end of 2020, Cantwell asked Buttigieg about his commitment to implementing safety reforms at the FAA and ensuring the United States takes a leadership role in global aviation safety. Buttigieg responded: “I'm committed to doing so. We need to make sure that engineers and the FAA are in the driver's seat when it comes to safety, and we'll be working right away to implement the legislation that you've advanced with regard to ensuring that we have every confidence in safety at the FAA.”

To achieve those goals at the FAA, Cantwell asked: “Are you willing to make changes in personnel if necessary?”

“Yes,” Buttigieg responded.

Cantwell also noted the severe impact COVID-19 has had on the transportation industry around the country. Referring to the State of Washington’s Sound Transit agency as an example of budget shortfalls that have impacted transit agencies around the country, she said: “We need to make infrastructure investment all around the United States of America, including in public transportation. Projects like Sound Transit are facing a $1 billion shortfall as a result of COVID-19, which jeopardizes the much needed investment throughout Puget Sound… One of the most impacted sectors in the United States, not the only sector, but one of the most impacted sectors in the United States has been transportation.”

In closing her Q&A with Buttigieg, Cantwell noted her support for the Jones Act and the American maritime industry: “I am a big Jones Act supporter, and the State of Washington and the trade that we have related to the Jones Act to make sure that we have U.S. flagged vessels, sometimes it gets under attack but I just want to hear that you support the Jones Act.”

“Yes, I share your support for the Jones Act, it is so important to a maritime industry that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as the shipbuilding industry here in the U.S.,” Buttigieg responded.

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

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Buttigieg can be found HERE and audio is HERE.

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Committee Leaders Commend Passage of Pipeline Safety Legislation

December 22, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Tammy Duckworth, D- Ill., chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety, along with Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy, today released the following statements upon passage of the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2020, included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The legislation will reauthorize the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) pipeline safety program through fiscal year 2023 and provides important advances in new safety technology and regulatory reform. 

Senate Commerce Committee Leaders:

“The PIPES Act will measurably improve critical protections against major safety hazards,” said Cantwell. “This legislation also ensures that the latest technology will be used to detect and prevent costly methane leaks, which is especially important because methane leaks are a significant hazard and a major contributor to global warming.”

“A reliable supply of energy is essential to keeping our businesses, communities, and homes running,” said Wicker. “The PIPES Act will improve our pipeline system by advancing innovative safety programs and technologies. I thank my Senate colleagues and House counterparts for working together on this legislation, and I applaud Senators Fischer and Duckworth on a strong bipartisan bill.”

“Pipelines are a critical component of the U.S. energy network,” said Fischer. “As chair of the Senate Transportation and Safety Subcommittee, I was glad to work with Ranking Member Duckworth as well as Senate Commerce Committee chair and ranking members Senators Wicker and Cantwell on my PIPES Act of 2020 included in this funding package. This bill examines ways to improve pipeline safety with innovative technologies, updates and enhances safety regulations, and ensures that PHMSA has the resources and congressional direction it needs to create a safer pipeline network across the country.”

“Pipelines carry much of the energy that powers our nation, and helping ensure the safe transportation of that energy is critical for homeowners and businesses across Illinois and our nation,” said Duckworth. “I am thankful for Senator Fischer’s partnership throughout this process and am glad to see this important bipartisan legislation head to the President’s desk to be signed into law so that we can reauthorize PHMSA’s pipeline safety programs and invest in emerging technologies that will make the operation of pipelines even safer and more efficient.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Leaders:

“This bipartisan and bicameral legislation will help ensure that the millions of miles of pipelines in the U.S. are safe, reliable, and environmentally-sound. I’m especially proud of the provisions that help combat climate change by mandating that companies conduct leak detection and repair programs in order to reduce methane pollution, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” said DeFazio. “I am also pleased the bill contains significant safety improvements for LNG facilities, gas distribution systems, and more pipeline inspectors, while also rejecting giveaways to industry. Finally, the bill will resolve the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s bureaucratic inability to protect coastal waters and the Great Lakes as previously mandated by Congress.”

“This is a much-needed, long-overdue reauthorization of the DOT’s pipeline safety program,” said Graves. “I want to thank all my colleagues in the House and Senate for coming together to get this bill done before this Congress concludes, and I particularly want to thank Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR) for introducing his consensus-driven pipeline safety bill last year. Many of the provisions included in today’s bill are derived from the bipartisan work Ranking Member Crawford and others did in putting together his commonsense bill, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act. This bill will strengthen pipeline safety efforts in the United States and provide reasonable regulatory improvements for the safer, more efficient transportation of energy products.”

House Energy and Commerce Leaders:

“Despite making significant progress over the last 20 years, our nation’s pipelines are still far too prone to safety issues, oil spills, and gas leaks,” said Pallone. “This legislation is a sensible step in the right direction. It protects our communities by making our pipelines safer, helps us combat climate change by mandating the repair of methane leaks, and rebalances PHMSA’s prescriptive cost benefit analysis to factor in environmental and safety benefits. This final agreement is due to the hard work and leadership of our bicameral, bipartisan committee leaders, especially Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush, and I thank them all for their commitment to getting this legislation across the finish line.”

“The safe operation of our nation’s pipeline system is vital to our economy, our national security, and our energy security. Now more than ever with the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans depend on pipelines every day to deliver fuels for essential uses, such as electricity generation, heating, and cooking, and the PIPES Act will ensure our pipelines remain safe and secure. We are proud to have worked with our colleagues on a bicameral compromise to reauthorize the PIPES Act and are pleased to push this across the finish line this year,” said Walden and Upton.

Among other things, the bicameral, bipartisan agreement will:

  • Provide greater resources to state and local pipeline safety officials and increases the number of pipeline inspectors by almost 20 percent;  
  • Allow PHMSA to conduct pilot programs to evaluate innovative pipeline safety technologies;
  • Provide greater Congressional oversight and additional resources to eliminate the backlog of PHMSA rulemakings;
  • Define coastal beaches and coastal waters to ensure completion of an outstanding congressional mandate;
  • Improve due process protections and transparency in PHMSA enforcement proceedings;
  • Direct PHMSA to update its current regulations for large-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities and sets a higher maximum penalty for violating the updated regulations;
  • Establish an LNG Center of Excellence to promote and facilitate safety and technological advancements for LNG operations;
  • Direct the Secretary of Transportation to promulgate regulations to require natural gas pipeline operators to take on advanced leak detection and repair programs;
  • Require updates to inspection and maintenance plans for covered pipeline operators to identify ways to minimize leaks and require PHMSA to study ways of updating regulations to minimize natural gas releases. 
  • Improve statutory protections for whistleblowers;
  • Respond to the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations by asking the National Academy of Sciences to study potential standards for installing automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves on existing pipelines;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation to study methods, other than direct assessment, to asses distribution pipeline integrity; and
  • Update relevant regulations for distribution operators in order to prepare for and address certain risks, such as those posed by cast iron pipes and low pressure systems.

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Cantwell, Congressional Aviation Leaders Applaud Comprehensive Bipartisan, Bicameral Aircraft Safety & Certification Reforms Passed As Part of Omnibus Funding Bill

December 22, 2020

TV-Quality Video | YouTube | Audio

Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act will strengthen FAA oversight of aircraft manufacturers, reform aircraft certification process, increase Congress’ oversight of the certification process, and provide new resources to address emerging technology

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and other congressional aviation leaders applauded the passage of bipartisan, bicameral legislation that will implement needed new aircraft safety and certification reforms made clear in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX crashes. The legislation will strengthen the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) direct oversight of aircraft certification, implement new integrated systems analyses of new and derivative aircraft, require aircraft manufacturers to disclose technological changes to their aircraft, and implement new safety reporting requirements and whistleblower protections. The legislation was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress last night and it and now heads to the President’s desk. A summary of the bill can be found HERE.

In addition to Cantwell, the legislation was also negotiated by Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D, OR-04) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R, MO-06).

“It's so important that we make safety the number one priority in the United States. If we want to be number one in aviation, you have to be number one in aviation safety. Chairman Wicker and I worked with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to produce important legislation that improves the safety reforms needed at the FAA, the safety reforms of oversight of manufacturing and the certification process, and reforms that will help us here in Congress better stay on top of the information as far as the certification process,” said Senator Cantwell. “I want to thank all of the families who helped us in communicating why these safety reforms are important … and to let them know that even though we're putting a big down payment on safety reforms in the United States Congress by passing this legislation, this process does not stop with the passage of this legislation.”

“This historic legislation is a major step to prevent the certification of substandard aircraft and avoiding future crashes,” said Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya died in the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash. “ET302 families across the world have worked hard to eliminate excessive delegation and to hold those who hide safety defects accountable. We are indebted to Chairman DeFazio, Ranking Member Graves, Chairman Wicker and Ranking Member Cantwell for their hard work and dedication to safety and the future excellence of the US aviation industry.”

Key provisions of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act will:

  • Restore FAA Approval of ODA Unit Members: The FAA will be responsible for approving and removing manufacturers’ engineers who act on behalf of the FAA — the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) unit members, as found under the FAA’s Designated Engineering Representative (DER) delegation program. The bill authorizes $3,000,000 annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 in new appropriations for the FAA to provide staffing and resources necessary to undertake this work. 
  • Enable Direct FAA Oversight and Communication:  FAA safety advisors will be assigned to manufacturers’ authorized representatives so that the FAA has direct and ongoing oversight and communication with the ODA unit members responsible for certification activities, another key return to the DER program.  The Joint Authorities Technical Review identified how the lack of communication and interaction between the FAA and ODA unit members hindered FAA’s oversight over the manufacturer and awareness of safety issues with the 737 MAX.  
  • Require Integrated Safety Analysis of Design Changes for All New and Derivative Aircraft:  The FAA must conduct a rulemaking to require proposals for new aircraft designs (type certificates) and variants of existing aircraft designs (amended type certificates) to undergo an integrated system safety analysis.  The bill requires FAA to undertake an analysis of the cumulative effects of proposed design changes to the aircraft, human factors issues, and impacts on training for pilots and maintenance personnel.  In the 737 MAX certification process, FAA failed to review the proposed design changes at an aircraft level, which led to FAA misunderstanding how the MCAS system would operate.  This reform would help catch how new design features interact with other aircraft systems. 
  • Ensure New and Derivative Aircraft Comply With Latest Flight Crew Alerting Regulations:  The FAA would be prohibited, beginning two years after enactment of the bill, from issuing a type certificate for a new airliner design unless the airplane is equipped with a centralized crew alerting system that helps a pilot differentiate, prioritize, and respond to warnings, cautions, and advisories activated on the airplane.  The FAA certified the 737 MAX even though the aircraft’s flight crew alerting system did not comply with the latest airworthiness standards.  In response to a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation, the bill also would ensure for all future airplanes, including the 737 MAX derivatives, a manufacturer will complete a systems safety assessment on the flight deck alerting systems.
  • Mandate Safety Management Systems (SMS) for Manufacturers:  Safety management systems (SMS) provide a data-based means of managing risk and continuously monitoring hazards in order to mitigate safety risks before they materialize. The bill directs FAA to issue regulations requiring that aviation manufacturers implement SMS, as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, Joint Authorities Technical Review, and other leading safety authorities.  SMS is recognized as a key tool for improving safety culture.  While the FAA has required SMS for airlines, the agency has failed to require the same of manufacturers. 
  • Require Disclosure of Safety-Critical Information: Manufactures would receive up to a $1 million fine for violating disclosure requirements for safety-critical information.  This includes information regarding flight control systems and other systems whose failure or erroneous activation would present a hazardous or catastrophic risk.  The FAA is also directed to revoke an airline transport pilot certificate held by an individual who fails to disclose such safety-critical information on behalf of a manufacturer. 
  • Prohibit Interference with FAA Designees: There are new civil penalties for any manufacturer supervisory employee who interferes with (e.g., harasses, berates, or threatens) an ODA unit member’s performance of authorized functions on behalf of the FAA and requires all ODA unit members to promptly report any cases of interference experienced or witnessed at a company.  The MAX investigations found numerous instances of managers exerting undue pressure on ODA unit members in conflict with their safety duties.
  • Prohibit Incentives for FAA Employees Based on Industry Schedules:  The bill repeals existing law allowing FAA employees to receive bonuses or other financial incentive based on meeting manufacturer-driven certification schedules or quotas.
  • Repeal Authority for Industry to Set FAA Performance Goals: The bill repeals authority for the industry-friendly advisory panel, the Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee (SOCAC), to set FAA performance goals and metrics for the agency’s Aircraft Certification and Flight Standards services that do not prioritize safety in the aircraft certification process.  Safety must come first, not accelerated approval schedules. 
  • Require Up Front Review of Design Assumptions and New and Novel Aircraft Technologies. The bill prohibits the FAA from delegating its authority to ODA unit members until the FAA reviews and validates any underlying assumptions used in critical system design features. It also requires the FAA Administrator to establish an integrated project team of experts from the FAA and federal agencies, such as NASA and the Air Force, to advise the FAA on the certification process for aircraft with new technologies and novel systems. The integrated project teams will give an independent review and verification of the manufacturer’s submissions to the FAA, and recommend studies, analyses, and reports to aid in FAA’s review.
  • Create New Safety Reporting for FAA Employees:  FAA employees will have new confidential reporting channels to flag safety concerns during certification or oversight processes.  The Administrator will be required to review submitted safety reports, identify the root cause of any safety issue, and take appropriate action to rectify any errors.  In a recent FAA internal survey, certification engineers questioned their ability to raise safety concerns without fear of reprisal and FAA leadership’s commitment to safety.  This provision will provide a channel for FAA employees to report concerns without fear of retribution.  The FAA must provide yearly report to Congress on the effectiveness of the safety reporting program. 
  • Repeal Authority Permitting Self-Certification by Industry:  The bill repeals the “certified design and production” (CDPO) authority and makes clear that aviation manufacturers will not be able to self-certify their own aircraft, aircraft engines, and propellers.  Congress first granted this CPDO authority in the 2003 FAA Reauthorization and expanded it in the 2012 Reauthorization.  While the FAA has not yet implemented this authority, this bill would remove this authority and prevent FAA from further removing itself from the certification process. 
  • Repeal Authority for Automatic Delegation of Certain Functions: The bill repeals the requirement that the FAA must fully delegate all eligible tasks to an ODA, and repeals the requirement that the FAA must delegate all functions which are deemed by the FAA to be low and medium risk. Without these repeals, FAA would only be able to revoke a task delegated to an ODA if, after an investigation or inspection, FAA determined it was in the public interest. The bill ensures that FAA is in charge of making delegation decisions. 
  • Provide Expert Project Teams to Advise on Certification:  The FAA will be assisted by an integrated project team—made up of technical experts from the FAA and federal agencies such as NASA and the Air Force—for certification of proposed large commercial aircraft.  Throughout the process, the team will advise FAA on the plans, analysis, assessments, and reports necessary to properly evaluate these designs and technologies as well as advise FAA whether a request for an exemption or exception from the latest airworthiness standards is warranted.  This team will provide more scrutiny of manufacturers’ designs, assumptions, and system safety assessments starting at the beginning of the certification process, providing more transparency to the certification process.  The FAA must respond to the team’s recommendations in writing and include this in the certification project records.
  • Strengthen International Standards:  The bill authorizes $5 million annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 to enable the FAA to provide increased technical assistance to foreign civil aviation authorities.  This is an increase from the $3 million the FAA spends on this work annually.  The bill also authorizes $2 million annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 in new funding to support FAA’s efforts to develop international requirements, issued by International Civil Aviation Organization, for training programs and operational policies on pilot training, automation and human-machine interface.
  • Require FAA to Review and Verify Human Factor Assumptions:  The FAA must review and verify all underlying human factors assumptions before delegating certification tasks related to safety critical design features, such as flight control systems.  In the 737 MAX certification process, the FAA failed to review and verify Boeing’s assumptions about pilot response time to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) activation (these assumptions turned out to be incorrect), and this bill would ensure that FAA scrutinize those assumptions more closely. 
  • Establish a National Air Grant ProgramThe bill establishes a National Air Grant Program that will assist Congress and the FAA with keeping peace with changing technology.  The program will create opportunities for graduate and post-graduate students to closely engage with Congress and the FAA to develop policies aimed at promoting U.S.-led growth and innovation in the aerospace sector.  The bill authorizes $15 million annually for fiscal year 2021 through 2025 in new funding for the fellowship program. 
  • Identify Emerging Safety Trends:  A new biennial report to Congress, conducted by the Transportation Research Board, will identify emerging safety trends in air transportation.  Based on accident investigation data from the National Transportation Safety Board, FAA, air operators, and foreign aviation safety authorities, the report will illuminate the latest trends impacting aviation safety, domestically and internationally, so policymakers and FAA can stay ahead of them. 
  • Require an Annual Assessment of FAA Safety Culture:  The FAA is directed to conduct an annual safety culture assessment to survey aviation safety employees on the state of safety culture at the agency’s divisions responsible for the certification, production approval, and continued airworthiness of aircraft. The FAA’s internal survey revealed that frontline employees believe that senior leaders at the agency are overly concerned with achieving the business-oriented outcomes of industry stakeholders and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions. This assessment will inform the biennial emerging trends report to Congress.
  • Build FAA Expertise for Emerging Technologies:  The FAA is required to examine and address any shortfall in the agency’s expertise regarding innovative aviation technologies, including future technologies.  The bill authorizes $27,000,000 annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 in new funding for the FAA to recruit and retain engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists, software and cybersecurity experts, and other qualified technical experts who perform certification duties.  Building the agency’s technical expertise will ensure that safety regulators can keep pace with ongoing technological advancements in the aviation industry. 
  • Facilitate Continuing Education of FAA Certification Employees:  FAA personnel who hold positions involving aircraft and flight standards certification will receive additional continuing education and training, including in human factors, modern flight deck systems, and automation.  The bill authorizes $10 million annually in new appropriations for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 in new funding for this program. 
  • Establish a New Center of Excellence (COE) on Flight Automation and Human Factors:  The new COE will promote and facilitate collaboration among academia, the FAA, and aircraft and airline industry stakeholders to research automation and other technological advancements in aviation and examine issues related to human system integration and flight crew and aircraft interfaces. The bill authorizes $2 million annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 in new funding for the new COE. 
  • Increase Funding for Research on Composites and Advanced Aviation Materials: The bill authorizes funding for the FAA’s Joint Advanced Materials and Structures (JAMS) at $10 million annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2023.  Led by the University of Washington and Wichita State University, the center of excellence (COE) conducts research on advanced composites and aerospace materials for commercial aircraft to support the FAA’s certification program.  Funding for the COE was last authorized from fiscal years 2012 through 2015 at $500,000 per year, and the new authorization is double the approximately $5 million the FAA has funded the COE at in the last five years on average.   

Senator Cantwell has been a congressional leader in the push for aviation safety and certification reforms. In November, bipartisan aviation safety legislation she introduced with Chairman Wicker passed the Commerce Committee.

She has introduced multiple other pieces of legislation to codify expert recommendations into law and improve technical expertise to improve aviation safety – many of which have been incorporated into the final text of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. In October 2019, she introduced a bill to implement aviation safety recommendations from the NTSB, U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (DOT IG), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that seek to address challenges related to increased automation in commercial aircraft cockpits, as well as how pilots respond to flight deck alerts and uncommanded flight control inputs. Earlier this year, she introduced bipartisan legislation to create one-year paid aerospace policy fellowship roles for graduate and post-graduate students in Congress, at the FAA, and in other federal agencies to help build a pool of talent conversant in emerging technologies for the FAA and Congress to draw from as they make policy in the aviation sector. She also introduced bipartisan legislation to authorize the FAA to work with other countries to strengthen pilot training standards and enable ICAO to further enhance worldwide aviation safety and training standards.

A summary of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act with explanations of key provisions can be found HERE. The full text of the legislation can be found HERE, starting on page 2903.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech about the legislation is available HERE and audio is available HERE.

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Cantwell-Schakowsky Legislation Cracking Down On COVID-19 Scams Passes Senate and House

December 22, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, hailed the passage of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. This bill will give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) new authority to seek civil penalties for scams and deceptive practices related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  With the distribution of the vaccine, the potential for future government assistance, and a health crisis that continues to grow, vulnerable consumers remain prime targets for COVID scams. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, led the House version of the bill.

“I am pleased that we were able to, working with Senator Wicker, include language that gives the Federal Trade Commission new authority to seek civil penalties for scams and deceptive practices related to the COVID pandemic,” Ranking Member Cantwell said on the Senate floor last night. “Now, the FTC will be able to go after and find these people on first time offenses.”

“Some of our most vulnerable fellow Americans have been the targets of increased fraud and scams during the COVID-19 pandemic. They exploit fear or confusion during crises and emergencies and count on their victims being too embarrassed to report scams to the relevant authorities,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. “We urgently need a better understanding of fraud targeting American consumers and this legislation will allow the FTC to tackle these problems. The rise of fraud and scams in this time of national emergency makes it vital that we take action immediately.”

During a hearing on August 5 of this year, Ranking Member Cantwell criticized the FTC for relying too heavily on issuing warning letters to consumers about possible COVID scams, rather than taking action to obtain refunds for consumers. She said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has attracted bad actors and scam artists, including those who take advantage of people's fear and dire circumstances. While many of the attorneys general have gone after these profiteers, I believe the FTC is holding back. You could be doing more. We must move beyond warnings and threats in response to these unconscionable scams. We must see the FTC exercising real enforcement with real consequences to protect consumers and families when they are most vulnerable.” 

With new vaccines being distributed, state and federal regulators are warning consumers about scams claiming someone can pay for early access for a vaccination. The FTC reports that in Washington state, consumers have been scammed out of nearly $5 million dollars since the pandemic began. These scams can range from straightforward identity theft—made easier by the explosion of online shopping during quarantine—to more involved and pernicious schemes promising phony treatments or cures for the virus. In May, the Seattle Times reported that Washington state lost hundreds of millions of dollars to an international fraud scheme relating to unemployment.

The COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act will:

  • Allow the FTC to obtain first-time civil penalties for scams and fraudulent behavior related to COVID-19;
  • Cover deceptive statements related to: the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or means of diagnosis of COVID-19; and any government benefits associated with COVID-19 relief;
  • Work in parallel to 50 state laws prohibiting deceptive practices; and
  • Provide the FTC authority for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Here’s what consumer protection experts have to say about the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act:

Anna Laitin, Director, Financial Fairness and Legislative Strategy, Consumer Reports: “The pandemic has ushered in a new wave of fraudulent schemes by scam artists eager to take advantage of people's financial vulnerabilities and fears about the coronavirus. This bill will strengthen the FTC's authority and give it the tools it needs to go after crooks who are exploiting the COVID crisis to rip off consumers.”

Ed Mierzwinski, Senior Director, Federal Consumer Programs, U.S. PIRG: “This year, the FTC has sent hundreds of warning letters to companies regarding deceptive claims about COVID-19 products. It would be a far more effective deterrent to wrongdoing to impose civil penalties, not warnings, as the “COVID–19 Consumer Protection Act” would provide.”

Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy, Consumer Federation of America: “Consumer Federation of America strongly supports the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act because it’s essential for the Federal Trade Commission to have the tools it needs to stop scammers from taking advantage of people’s fears of the pandemic and hopes for help.”

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League: “The National Consumers League supports critically important legislation that would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to impose strong civil penalties for COVID-deceptions.  We’ve seen an onslaught of fraudsters trying to trick businesses and consumers into believing they are offering loans and advice on behalf of the government. The FTC can’t properly police this activity without meaningful penalties  - this bill would give them that power and is much needed.”

Ranking Member Cantwell has repeatedly called for a stronger FTC. Cantwell has also long been a leading advocate for privacy and data security. In November of 2019, she unveiled the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act, comprehensive federal online privacy legislation to establish privacy rights, outlaw harmful and deceptive practices, and improve data security safeguards for American consumers. She has demanded comprehensive privacy protections. She has also championed the importance of investing in cybersecurity measures throughout the U.S. economy and pushed federal agencies like the FTC to take a more robust role in protecting Americans from privacy threats.

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Speeches

Inouye Applauds Senate Passage of Historic Fuel Economy Legislation

December 13, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) delivered the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate just before passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
 
“Mr. President, I rise today in support of the Renewable Consumer and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007. After months of constructive negotiations, we have successfully crafted thoughtful and rich bipartisan agreement, particularly in Title I, otherwise known as the ‘Ten-in-Ten’ Fuel Economy Act. Title I would mandate an increase in automobile fuel economy to a nation-wide fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. In addition, the Department of Transportation would adopt fuel economy standards for medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles for the first time.
 
“Today’s agreement marks historic progress: This is the first statutory increase in fuel economy standards for cars since 1975. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is of vital importance to our national security, economic stability, and consumer welfare; the Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act is a major step forward in achieving these goals. 
 
“Title I of the bill will save approximately 1.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2020, equal to one half of what we currently import daily from the Persian Gulf. By the year 2020, the legislation will save consumers approximately $22 billion at the pump and prevent approximately 200 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from polluting our environment each year. By dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, Title I would demonstrate to the world that America is a leader in fighting global warming.
 
“Legislation of this magnitude could have only been achieved through the hard work of a coalition of Members. In this case, without Senators Feinstein, Stevens, Snowe, Kerry, Dorgan, Lott, Carper, Boxer, Durbin, Alexander, Corker, and Cantwell, the agreement would not have been reached.
 
“In particular, I wish to congratulate Senator Feinstein on her efforts in developing this bill. Her dedication over the years has led to a public policy that very few thought possible.  I would also like to praise the efforts of my good friend Senator Stevens, who was instrumental in forging the compromise before us. I also would like to thank Chairman Dingell and Senators Levin and Stabenow for their hard work and willingness to achieve an agreement that aggressively improves fuel economy while protecting domestic automobile manufacturing and U.S. workers. The American automaker and autoworker have no better champions.
 
“In addition, the tireless efforts of groups dedicated to conservation and improving national security were vital to enacting this legislation. Of special note is the support of a non-partisan group of business executives and retired senior military leaders concerned about global energy security, known as Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE). I am grateful for the support and hard work of its leaders Frederick W. Smith and General P.X. Kelley, as well as Robbie Diamond, who served as their liaison. The Union of Concerned Scientists, David Friedman in particular, provided significant technical support and advocacy for the Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act.   
 
“Finally, Mr. President, I would like to express my appreciation to all the hard working members of the staff who worked to make this historical legislation a reality. In particular, I would like to commend David Strickland, Alex Hoehn-Saric, Mia Petrini, and Jared Bomberg of my Commerce Committee staff for a job well done.
 
“The importance of this legislation cannot be underestimated. During the Arab oil embargo in 1973, Americans suffered the first devastating effects of our addiction to oil. Born out of this embargo, Congress put in place a fuel economy program that nearly doubled the gas mileage of cars from 1975 to 1985.  Passage of this bill will ensure that our nation’s energy priorities start moving in the right direction again. 
 
“Higher fuel economy standards will wean the country of its oil addiction, put billions of dollars of savings back into our domestic economy, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
 
“A diverse group of constituencies support the Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act, from environmentalists to automotive workers and automakers. While it sets forth aggressive standards, the Act also recognizes the challenges faced by the auto industry and ensures that those concerns will be addressed.  Providing flexibility to the automotive industry, the sponsors of these fuel economy provisions have worked together in a bipartisan manner to ensure that automakers have the tools they need to meet the requirements enumerated in the Act.  The Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act directs the Secretary of Transportation to create two fuel economy curves, one for passenger cars and one for light trucks. 
This change from the Senate–passed bill provides the certainty that American automakers, auto workers, and car dealers requested, but the Act still requires that the combined car and light truck fleet meet a fuel economy standard of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020.    
 
“Our actions today will improve national security, create jobs, help consumers, and protect the environment. At times it is the government’s responsibility to balance conflicting interests. Today, I believe we found that balance.”
 
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Sen. Stevens Speaks on Aviation and Surface Transportation Security Legislation

March 1, 2007

 

 

Senator Stevens:  I thank my colleagues, Senators Lieberman and Collins for working with the Commerce Committee to include important security measures in this bill.  And, I’m very grateful to my great friend, Senator Inouye, for his willingness to work in our committee on a bipartisan basis to develop and report these measures.   

In the five and a half years since the horrific events of September 11th, we have made many improvements in the security of our nation’s transportation infrastructure and ensured communications interoperability.

Our job is far from over, whether it’s more improvements to be made or gaps to close.  In matters of security, we must not become complacent – as our enemies adapt, so must we. 

The Commerce Committee’s aviation and surface transportation security legislation, which have been included in S. 4 – will significantly enhance the ability of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), to fulfill their missions.  These provisions were developed by the Commerce Committee while mindful of the delicate balance between implementing tough security measures and the effect such regulations may have on the nation’s economy and the movement of goods.

The aviation provisions incorporated into S. 4 were reported by the Commerce Committee on February 13th as S. 509, the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 2007.  The provisions incorporate aviation-related 9/11 commission recommendations, and provide TSA with additional tools to carry out its layered approach to security. 

To do this, the aviation security provisions dedicate continued funding for the installation of in-line explosive detection systems utilized for the enhanced screening of checked baggage at our nation’s airports. 

We all recognize the importance of screening 100 percent of cargo transported to and within the .  Last year, in the SAFE Port Act, Congress acted to ensure that all cargo arriving in the by sea is screened.  In S. 4, we ensure that 100 percent of air cargo also is screened.  The air cargo supply chain handles over 50,000 tons of cargo each day, of which 26 percent is designated for domestic passenger carriers. 

Screening is particularly important in Alaska .  Anchorage, my home, is the number one airport in the for landed weight of cargo, and it is number three in the world for cargo throughput.  Our provision would require TSA to develop and implement a system to provide for the screening of all cargo being carried by passenger aircraft.

To address on-going concerns about passenger pre-screening procedures, the legislation requires DHS to create an “Office of Appeals and Redress” to establish a timely and fair process for airline passengers who believe they have been misidentified against the “No-Fly” or “Selectee” watch lists. 

TSA’s “layered approach to security” relies not only upon equipment and technological advances, but also upon improved security screening techniques employed by the TSA screeners as well as the very effective use of canines.  This legislation calls for TSA’s National Explosives Detection Canine Team to deploy more of these valuable resources across the nation’s transportation network.

The bill we are considering also contains the provisions of S. 184, the Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act of 2007, which was also developed and reported on a bipartisan basis by the Commerce Committee.

While the aviation industry has received most of the attention and funding for security, the rail and transit attacks in , , and all point to a common strategy utilized by terrorists.  The openness of our surface transportation network presents unique security challenges.  The vastness of these systems requires targeted allocation of our resources based on risk. 

Most of the surface transportation security provisions in the bill before the Senate today have been included previously as part of other transportation security bills introduced by Senator Inouye, Senator McCain, and myself.  Many of the provisions in the substitute amendment passed the Senate unanimously last year, as well as in the 108th Congress.  Each time, however, the House of Representatives did not agree to the need to address rail, pipeline, motor carrier, hazardous materials and other over-the-road security.  The time has come to send these provisions to the President’s desk.  We’re hopeful the House will agree this time.

The substitute also contains the provisions of the Commerce Committee-reported measure, S. 385, the Interoperable Emergency Communications Act.  Since 2001, we have heard the cries of public safety officials that the police, firefighters and emergency medical response personnel throughout the country need help achieving interoperability.

With this $1 billion program that helps every state, public safety will be able to move forward with real solutions and begin addressing the problems that have plagued our nation’s first responders for too long.

The legislation addresses all of the public safety issues that have been brought to the Commerce Committee’s attention.  It also includes $100 million to establish both Federal and State strategic technology reserves that will restore communications quickly in disasters equal in scale to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. 

We must not politicize national security.  The Commerce Committee’s provisions included in this bill are very important, and I urge their adoption.  Again, I thank very much the cooperation of the Homeland Security Government Affairs Committee. We achieved our reported bills that I have mentioned here from the Commerce Committee because of the bipartisanship in our Committee.  I hope that this debate on this important bill before the Senate will continue in that same spirit.  The American people really expect and deserve nothing less.

 

Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young Speak at Signing of Enrolled Magnuson-Stevens Act

January 3, 2007

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in his role as President Pro Tempore, sign the enrolled Magnuson-Stevens Act on Wednesday, January 3, 2007. Stevens was joined by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) at the ceremony. The Magnuson-Stevens Act passed both the House and Senate last December. Legislation that passes both the House and Senate must be enrolled and signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate before being sent to the President for final signature and approval into law.

Op-Eds

Can the Right Technology End Distracted Driving?

February 5, 2014

Can the Right Technology End Distracted Driving?

By Sen. Jay Rockefeller

Roll Call

Feb. 5, 2014

JDR Head ShotAt any given moment during any given day, hundreds of thousands of drivers in the United States are using their phones while behind the wheel — talking, texting or searching for information — and endangering their lives and the lives of those around them. Technology may be part of our daily habits, but using these devices while driving is becoming a fatal vice that threatens to undo the remarkable progress we have made to improve highway safety. According to the National Safety Council, as many as a quarter of today’s automobile crashes involve drivers talking or texting on their phones, and there is no sign of the problem abating.

Surveys show that nearly all Americans know the perils of distracted driving — that texting behind the wheel, for instance, makes it 23 times more likely that they will be involved in a crash. Yet the temptations to use electronic devices, and the resulting tragedies, persist.

Auto companies and the software industry are now eagerly developing in-car “infotainment” systems that offer ever-more connectivity and features to mirror the temptations of our smartphones. They say consumers are demanding constant connectivity in the car, and that these systems are safer than the alternatives. Further, they claim transferring such functionalities from the phone to the built-in system will reduce distractions and increase our safety because drivers will put down their phones.

Despite these new advances, I reject this “lesser of two evils” reasoning that, because in-car infotainment systems are supposedly safer than hand-held smartphones, they belong in cars. Lost amid this focus on a technological solution is careful consideration of whether these onboard systems should, in fact, replicate so much of the connectivity — a lot of it completely unrelated to driving — that we have on smartphones. For instance, I see no reason drivers should be able to update their social-media profiles or compare restaurant and hotel reviews while behind the wheel. Furthermore, researchers have shown that distractions come in different forms, and, while these in-car systems can reduce the amount of time that the drivers’ hands and eyes are off the wheel and the road, attention can still dangerously wander. 

In contrast to the current industry approach, I believe we should be leveraging the technology in our cars and harnessing the same ingenuity to reduce distracted driving, rather than creating new forms of distraction. Many drivers may, in fact, prefer to limit their distractions while they are on the road. And many parents would like the ability to establish such limitations for teen drivers in their family. Perhaps we should be looking to limit the functionality of mobile and built-in technologies, rather than accommodate them.

I strongly believe phones should be capable of automatically limiting functionalities while in the car, whether the phones are connected to the in-car systems or not. We know that technological means of accomplishing this already exist, but they are not widely available and do not seamlessly operate across software platforms. Mobile device-makers, software developers, automakers and wireless carriers should be working collaboratively now to remove these obstacles. This is a problem that cannot be solved by just one industry alone, and I would like to see broad cooperation across the spectrum of stakeholders.

Later this week, I am convening a summit on this critical public safety matter and bringing all of the key industries to the same table and pushing them to act — and to act now. Over the course of my chairmanship of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I have dedicated significant attention to protecting Americans on our nation’s roadways. Yes, the car has never been safer, and technology has been a key ingredient in that success, but this progress is being undermined by the glut of nonessential technology that has nothing to do with the task of driving. 

It is my hope and expectation that the summit will spur industries to proactively seek technological solutions that can be widely adopted, readily available, and highlight to the public the life-or-death matter of staying focused behind the wheel.

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The Digital Revolution Must Be Televised Nationwide

October 16, 2007

The Hill Special Report: Telecom - A revolution is coming to television sets across this country. On February 17, 2009–less than 500 days away–television broadcasters will switch from analog to digital signals. For viewers, this change holds tremendous promise. By migrating to digital, they can enjoy dramatically sharper pictures and crisper sound. Broadcasters now offering a single channel of analog programming will be able to develop multiple digital channels, with more regional news, weather, children’s fare, and content for non-English speakers. On top of this, the switch to digital means more efficient use of our airwaves, opening up more spectrum for our nation’s first responders.


The rewards of a successful digital television (DTV) transition are enormous. Like in any revolution, however, these rewards come with an undercurrent of risk. As many as 21 million households rely exclusively on over-the-air television. These households risk seeing their sets go dark. So do millions more that have one or more analog sets that are not connected to either cable or satellite service. Yet a recent poll from the National Association of Broadcasters suggests that only 1 in 10 Americans know when the digital transition is coming.


To ensure success, we must draw up a battle plan. At the federal level, this responsibility falls principally on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).


The FCC is charged with managing the airwaves used by our nation’s broadcasters. It must act decisively to ensure that broadcasters are fully prepared for the switch. It also must ensure that consumers are not only generally informed about the DTV transition, but also are given information tailored to advise them about changes occurring in the communities where they live.


The NTIA is in charge of the government program that, beginning January 1, 2008, will allow consumers to request up to two $40 coupons per household to defray the cost of digital-to-analog converter boxes. These boxes make it possible for consumers who rely on over-the-air service to continue to receive television broadcasts. Without them, their sets could cease to work. But with three months to go, the NTIA program is plagued by uncertainties. It is not clear which boxes have been certified and which retailers will stock them on their shelves.


Getting these boxes in the hands of consumers is a challenge. Getting the word out is even more daunting. Yet to date, efforts on the outreach front have been patchy. The FCC is in the early stages of reaching out to at-risk populations. The NTIA has $5 million to spend on consumer outreach, but its efforts have barely begun. Making a complicated situation even more difficult, the General Accountability Office (GAO) has suggested the absence of federal action is raising questions about who has ultimate authority for the switch. In the ominous words of a recent GAO witness: “It’s pretty clear to us that there is no one in charge.”


The time has come to manage the mechanics of the transition with the American public in mind. First, to get this done right, the Administration should establish a federal, interagency DTV Task Force, co-chaired by leadership at the FCC and NTIA. The DTV Task Force would determine how best to marshal existing resources across the federal government and advise Congress as to what additional measures may be necessary to ensure a smooth transition. A similar structure was used successfully to coordinate federal action in addressing the Y2K problem.


Second, as we develop this national effort, it is imperative that we match our work with local needs and strategies. National messages will only take us so far. What works in Houston may not work in Honolulu. Questions about the impact of broadcast tower construction, the presence of translator stations, and the need for antennas will require local answers. We need the equivalent of DTV “block captains” ready, willing, and able in every media market in this country.


Finally, we must enhance transparency and accountability for the digital transition. Indeed, success will require that we regularly measure data in each television market. As part of this assessment, the DTV Task Force should consider ways of collecting and reporting granular data that will validate successful strategies and provide early warning when we are at risk of running off the rails.


The countdown to February 17, 2009 is on. For the revolution to yield benefits for viewers across the country, the time to act is now.

THE HILL OP-ED: Communications issues still need Congress’s attention

February 7, 2007

As our nation moves farther into the digital age, there are several important issues that Congress should consider which will dramatically affect the way millions of Americans communicate. These issues include reforming universal service, easing the transition to digital television, and encouraging Internet access.


All Americans deserve the advantages presented by essential communications, and telemedicine and distance learning are especially important to rural America. To encourage the deployment of such services, we must maintain and reform the universal service program, which helps connect the entire nation. An important and overdue first step is the USA Act (S.101 – the Universal Service for Americans Act), which mirrors language contained in the comprehensive communications bill reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee last year.


The USA Act would place all communications companies on a level playing field, acknowledging new technologies and lowering the burden on industry. The bill ensures continued support for schools and libraries to provide broadband Internet access to students, library patrons and health clinics (including rural pharmacies). Additionally, it creates a program to support the expansion of broadband Internet access in underserved areas. More will need to be done, but these measures are desperately needed to ensure access to communications for all Americans so our nation does not lose its technological edge.


Basic communications services for Americans are not the only issues that need to be addressed. A sea change is coming in the way Americans watch television, especially for those who receive broadcast signals over the air. Last year, the Senate set a hard date for the transition from analog television broadcasting to digital television broadcasting. This transition will allow broadcast spectrum to be devoted to emergency interoperable communications for police, firemen, paramedics and other first responders.


Also, pursuant to the digital transition law, valuable broadcast spectrum will be auctioned and proceeds will fund a converter box program to ease the digital transition for consumers. Auction proceeds will also fund important grants for public safety and first responders. To help with the transition, the National Association of Broadcasters is launching a massive education campaign to ensure consumers are aware of the coming change and are prepared for the switch to digital signals.


The Internet is an increasingly vital part of our daily lives, and Congress must work to ensure that we do not hinder its growth. It is imperative that the government find ways to encourage the deployment of broadband throughout the nation and promote increased Internet access for all Americans. The digital television transition, which passed last Congress, will free up valuable spectrum for increased broadband Internet deployment.


The FCC has also played an important part in this goal by recently approving an item that will speed the deployment of advanced networks by telephone companies. Such networks will provide competition for cable companies, and reduce prices. These networks will also increase quality television programming and offer Americans even faster Internet access. Congress can also play a role in supporting improved Internet access by extending the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which will expire on Nov. 1, 2007.


As Congress addresses these pressing communications issues, it should not get sidetracked by theoretical problems. Some members of Congress would impose net regulation in an era of unprecedented investment, innovation and job creation. I continue to support the right of every broadband consumer to access all legal content on the Internet. But behind flashy catchphrases, special interests are pushing agendas that will not solve the communications issues that require immediate attention. In fact, both Robert Kahn and David Farber, known as the father and grandfather of the Internet, are firmly opposed to sweeping regulation of the Internet.


The Internet has not only existed, but flourished without unnecessary government intervention. It is my hope that special interests do not succeed in denying consumers the benefits of communications technology, investment, innovation and jobs.


Stevens is the ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.