Press Releases

Wicker Releases Investigation Report on CPSC Data Breaches

October 17, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, has delivered an investigation report to Acting Chairman Robert Adler of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The committee’s investigation centered on the CPSC’s violation of section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and subsequent data breaches. As part of its oversight responsibility, the committee has been investigating the violations since April and released the final report this week.

Excerpt from the Chairman’s letter accompanying the investigative report to Acting Chairman Adler:

Under my direction, committee staff has conducted a thorough review of then-Acting Chairman Buerkle’s two letters and the documents she produced. Committee staff has also interviewed the staff responsible for the disclosures. Committee staff concluded this investigation this month, determining that accidental disclosures violating section 6(b) of the CPSA occurred because of a lack of formal training, ineffective management, and poor information technology implementation at CPSC rather than deliberate malfeasance by CPSC employees.

The lack of formal training on section 6(b) requirements for frontline CPSC employees is of particular concern. Some employees interviewed during the investigation reported learning of these requirements for the first time only after the improper disclosures were discovered. These employees were also provided a set of three difficult, often idiosyncratic software applications that convoluted the process of accessing and processing the relevant data, increasing the likelihood of inadvertent disclosure.

These findings are concerning. As then-Acting Chairman Buerkle wrote in her June 14 letter, CPSC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is investigating these matters further. I look forward to reviewing the OIG’s report and to working with you and your staff to improve CPSC’s internal processes and protect the consumers and manufacturers that entrust their sensitive information with CPSC.

To read the full letter, click here.

To read the full report, click here.

The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the CPSC and conducted its investigation as part of the committee’s oversight responsibilities over agencies within its jurisdiction.

Committee Announces Hearing on STELAR

October 16, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “The Reauthorization of STELAR,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 23, 2019. This hearing will examine policy considerations for reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR) before the law expires at the end of the year and how to ensure Americans living beyond the reach of a broadcast signal maintain access to local programming. In addition, witnesses will discuss the effectiveness of STELAR’s good faith requirement and other targeted video marketplace reforms Congress should consider in the next STELAR reauthorization. 

Witnesses

  • Ms. Emily Barr, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Graham Media Group and Chairwoman, Television Board, National Association of Broadcasters
  • Mr. Denny Law, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, Golden West Telecommunications
  • Mr. Jonathan Schwantes, Senior Policy Counsel, Consumer Reports
  • Mr. Robert Thun, Senior Vice President of Content and Programming, AT&T
  • Mr. J.C. Watts, Chairman and Co-Founder, The Black News Channel

*Witness list subject to change

Hearing Details:

Wednesday, October 23, 2019
10:00 a.m.
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

*Note: Witness added 10/22/19

Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Research and Innovation

October 15, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., chairman of the Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather, will convene a hearing titled, “Research and Innovation: Ensuring America's Economic and Strategic Leadership,” at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. This hearing will examine the role that research and innovation play in ensuring U.S. leadership in the global economy.

Witnesses:

  • Dr. Rebecca Blank, Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Executive Vice President, Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise
  • Dr. David Shaw, Provost and Executive Vice President, Mississippi State University
  • Dr. Diane Souvaine, Chair, National Science Board

*Witness list subject to change

Hearing Details:

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
2:15 p.m.
Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather

This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building 562. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Improving America’s Airport Security

October 10, 2019

***UPDATED TIME***

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska., chairman of the Subcommittee on Security, will convene a hearing titled, “Improving Security at America’s Airports: Stakeholder Perspectives,” at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 17, 2019. This hearing will examine stakeholder perspectives on ways the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can advance aviation security. The witnesses will share their views on TSA’s implementation of aviation security provisions of the TSA Modernization Act and other efforts to advance aviation security to better serve the traveling public. 

 Witnesses:

  • Ms. Tori Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy, U.S. Travel Association 
  • Ms. Lauren Beyer, Vice President of Security and Facilitation, Airlines for America  
  • Mr. Ken Cornick, Co-Founder and President, CLEAR
  • Mr. Chris McLaughlin, Chief Operations Officer, Denver International Airport  
  • Ms. Sara Nelson, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA

*Witness list subject to change

Hearing Details:

Thursday, October 17, 2019
10:30 a.m.
Subcommittee on Security

This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building 562. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

 

Committee Announces Hearing on Aquaculture

October 9, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Feeding America: Making Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture a Reality,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 16, 2019. This hearing will examine opportunities and barriers to expanding sustainable aquaculture in the U.S. Witnesses will discuss the environmental, economic, and social realities of open ocean aquaculture, and the need for a streamlined and predictable policy framework for advancing the development of offshore aquaculture.

Witnesses:

  • Ms. Linda Cornish, Founder and President, Seafood Nutrition Partnership
  • Dr. Paul Doremus, Deputy Assistant Administrator of Operations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Dr. Ben Halpern, Director, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California Santa Barbara
  • Mr. Jeremiah Julius, Chairman, Lummi Nation
  • Ms. Kathryn Unger, Managing Director, CQN North America, Cargill Aqua Nutrition

*Witness list subject to change

Hearing Details:

Wednesday, October 16, 2019
10:00 a.m.
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

Wicker and Sinema Statements on FCC’s Net Neutrality Court Ruling

October 1, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and Sen. Sinema, D-Ariz., today issued the following statements after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2017 rollback of net neutrality rules.

“Today’s ruling makes clear that Title II regulations are not required for maintaining an open internet. It is incumbent on Congress to pass federal net neutrality standards that will protect consumers, promote broader access to the internet, and ensure internet providers treat content from all sources fairly,” said Wicker. “We need straightforward guidelines that will not change based on who occupies the White House. I look forward to continuing to work toward these goals with Senator Sinema as we seek to find common ground on this important issue.”

"Net neutrality is critical to maintaining a vibrant internet. We need a modern, internet-specific framework that encourages the freedom and innovation that make the internet the vital tool it is today,” said Sinema. “Today's court decision makes clear Congress must pass a bipartisan, comprehensive net neutrality solution that offers certainty to consumers and providers."

In March, Chairman Wicker and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., announced a bipartisan working group focused on crafting a net neutrality proposal to encourage innovation, boost investment, and close the digital divide.

The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the FCC.

Wicker Response to NTSB Recommendations

September 26, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., issued the following statement after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released seven recommendations based on its ongoing work on the Boeing 737 MAX accident investigations.

“I am pleased to see that the NTSB has made recommendations to the FAA,” said Wicker. “I have been closely monitoring  the investigations and reviews related to the Boeing 737 MAX. I will continue to track the evaluation and implementation of these and other recommendations. Passengers from across the country and around the world rely on our aviation system. It is critical that we make the necessary improvements to ensure that passenger safety remains our foremost priority.”    

To see the full recommendations, click here

The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation exercises jurisdiction over the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

Wicker Announces Federal Fisheries Disaster Declaration During Hearing

September 25, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today convened the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for a hearing titled, “Fishery Failures: Improving the Disaster Declaration and Relief Process.” During the hearing, the chairman announced that U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross approved a federal fishery disaster declaration and relief process for Mississippi.

“I supported Governor Phil Bryant’s request for a fishery disaster declaration, and I have been working with NOAA to make sure Mississippi gets the relief it needs,” Wicker said.Late yesterday, I received the good news from the Secretary of Commerce that he is officially declaring a Fishery Disaster for Mississippi. This is welcome news for Mississippi fishing communities now, but problems remain with the fisheries disasters declaration process. Our fishermen deserve more timely consideration and relief.”

The Commerce Committee is considering reforms to federal law that would provide fishermen with disaster relief more quickly. In July, Chairman Wicker introduced the “Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations (Fishery FUNDD) Act” that would reform the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)’s Fishery Resource Disaster Relief program of the National Marine Fisheries Service, making improvements to provide fishermen with disaster relief more quickly. Last month, Chairman Wicker sent a letter with Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in support of Governor Phil Bryant’s request for a federal fisheries disaster declaration. The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

To read the full bill, click here
To read the full letter, click here.
Click here to view Sen. Wicker’s full opening statement.

Wicker Emphasizes Importance of Public Awareness Campaigns for REAL ID

September 19, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, this week sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requesting information on their efforts to ensure the public is aware of an impending change to the law that will require air travelers to have REAL ID compliant identification.

“Beginning October 1, 2020, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license (or other acceptable form of ID) to fly within the United States,” writes Wicker. “I am increasingly concerned about the potential disruption for air travel if there is widespread lack of compliance with the law among the flying public. DHS’s efforts will play a crucial role in ensuring that the public is aware and takes the necessary steps to acquire compliant identification.”

The full letter to DHS and TSA specifically requests information about steps being taken to inform the traveling public about the REAL ID compliance deadline, ways DHS is engaging aviation and travel industry stakeholders, actions DHS is taking to work with relevant state licensing officials, and the department’s contingency plans for potential disruptions to air travel after the October 1 deadline. Last week the committee held a TSA oversight hearing. During that hearing, the topic of REAL ID compliance was discussed in detail with Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell.

In addition to the letter to DHS, the chairman sent letters to various travel industry stakeholders urging them to engage with DHS and TSA and to amplify the agencies’ message about ways to acquire a REAL ID-compliant identification card and the upcoming deadline.

Click here for the letter to DHS and TSA.

Click here for the letters to the Travel Technology Association, U.S. Travel Association, Airlines for America, and Global Business Travel Association.

Committee Announces Hearing on Fishery Disasters

September 18, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Fishery Failures: Improving the Disaster Declaration and Relief Process,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. This hearing will examine federal and stakeholder perspectives on the fishery disaster process and how those disasters impact local communities. The hearing will also examine recent and pending disaster declarations and how the process for both declaration and relief could be improved.  

 Witnesses:

  • Brigadier General (Retired) Joe Spraggins, Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
  • Ms. Rachel Baker, Deputy Commissioner, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
  • Mr. Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Mr. Robert Spottswood, Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Mr. Ron Warren, Director of Fish Policy, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

*Witness list subject to change

Hearing Details:

Wednesday, September 25, 2019
10:00 a.m.
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

Speeches

Wicker Convenes First Committee Meeting of the 116th Congress

January 16, 2019

Excerpt from Chairman Wicker’s opening statement, as delivered, below:

....

The bar has indeed been set high.  This committee accomplished a great deal last congress, and I look forward to similar successes this congress.  

In particular, I see this committee focusing on a number of primary objectives across the committee’s broad jurisdiction.

Broadband connectivity is the digital engine driving investment, innovation, and productivity in virtually every economic sector in the United States. 

Although we have made significant progress on wireline, wireless, and satellite broadband deployments over the years, more needs to be done to close the digital divide, particularly in rural America.  

This process should start with collecting standardized and accurate data about where reliable fixed and mobile broadband already exists and where it does not – both in my state of Mississippi and around the country.  

Data is critical to delivering broadband to rural communities that lack service.

We will also continue the committee’s efforts to maintain U.S. leadership in 5G, the next-generation of broadband services. 

To that end, modernizing outdated rules that delay and add unnecessary costs to broadband infrastructure deployment and making more spectrum available for commercial use will be critical to our nation’s success in developing a reliable, resilient, and secure 5G network.

Robust and reliable broadband connections underpin the internet marketplace where innovative applications and services are taking on more significant and vital roles in our lives.

Maintaining consumer trust and confidence in this marketplace is critical to preserving a prosperous and thriving digital economy in the United States. 

A priority of this committee will be to protect the privacy of consumers’ data in a way that promotes industry transparency, consumer choice, and innovation.

We will continue our efforts to keep the skies safe and foster American leadership in outer space.  These efforts will include oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration and the safe integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace.  They will also, I hope, include a commercial space bill and a National Aeronautics and Space Administration reauthorization. 

With creation of a new security subcommittee, we will be able to focus on supporting the organizations — such as the Coast Guard, Maritime Administration, and Transportation Security Administration — whose efforts strengthen the nation’s economic prosperity and security. 

I hope these efforts will include Coast Guard and Maritime Administration reauthorizations, support for the American maritime industry, and a focus on the national security dimensions of agencies and issues under the committee’s jurisdiction.   

I look forward to the committee continuing its work on improving the nation’s infrastructure and safety. Work this congress will likely include a pipeline safety reauthorization as well as the reauthorization of the FAST Act.  

We will also focus on motor carrier safety, multimodal freight, as well as our nation’s rail and Amtrak and look forward to working with the administration on shoring up the highway trust fund, as well as meeting the nation’s ever-increasing infrastructure needs.  

This is by no means a complete list, although it has been a lengthy one — there are many other high priorities the committee will consider.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on a range of issues important to their states and to all Americans. 

I thank my colleagues again for giving me the opportunity to lead this great committee.

Thune Remarks on Sen. Nelson’s Time in the U.S. Senate

“Bill’s work in the Senate and the Commerce Committee has left a legacy.”

December 12, 2018

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today spoke on the Senate floor about Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.  

Excerpt of Thune’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):

“I have been honored to have Bill Nelson as a colleague from my first day in the Senate and for the last four years as a partner in an especially successful working relationship at the Commerce Committee.

Over this time, we fostered a can-do spirit with committee colleagues that drove nearly one hundred committee legislative accomplishments.

Together, we worked on policy for our nation’s future in technology, aviation, ocean management, surface transportation, scientific research, space, and many other areas.

Senator Nelson exhibited an especially extraordinary passion for prioritizing safety, the future of manned spaceflight, and an unshakable belief that powerful companies should be held to account when consumers aren’t treated fairly.”

 

Thune Speaks on the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018

“I’m proud of the bill before us today and grateful for the hard work done by members of both parties in both the House and the Senate.”

October 2, 2018

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today spoke on the Senate floor about the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.  

Excerpt of Thune’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, every few years, Congress has to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, the government agency responsible for everything from overseeing the safety of the national airspace to providing grants for critical infrastructure needs at airports.

And passing that reauthorization bill gives us the opportunity to take a look at aviation as a whole and hear from manufacturers, airport administrators, airlines, and the flying public.

And that’s exactly what we did with the reauthorization bill before the Senate today.

In the lead-up to this bill, we spent months conducting research, holding hearings in the Commerce Committee, which I chair, and listening to the aviation community and to airline passengers.

And then we took that information and used it to develop legislation that will strengthen aviation, promote economic growth, enhance transportation safety and security, and improve the flying experience for the traveling public.

I’m proud of the bill before us today and grateful for the hard work done by members of both parties in both the House and the Senate.

Click here for Sen. Thune’s full Senate floor remarks.

Highlights of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018

Modernizing airport infrastructure 

  • Provides funding for airport development.
  • Increases flexibility to finance projects.
  • Requires TSA to make available, in airports and online, real-time information on security line waits.

Improving service for the flying public

  • Prohibits involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded.
  • Directs FAA to set minimum standards for airline seat sizes.
  • Requires private rooms for nursing mothers in large and medium airports.
  • Ensures airlines promptly return fees for services (seat assignments, early boarding, etc.) not received.

Enhancing safety and security

  • Strengthens aviation training, reporting, tracking, and cybersecurity.
  • Provides new risk-mitigation authorities for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
  • Authorizes more canine security teams and, to meet demand, expands ways to test and certify dogs.

Boosting innovation

  • Streamlines certifications for design and delivery of aircraft to boost competitiveness of aviation manufacturing. 
  • Furthers efforts to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the airspace through traffic management system advancements and research.
  • Creates an Office of Spaceports to support licensing and promote infrastructure improvements.
  • Authorizes approval for civil supersonic aircraft that reduce sonic booms.

Disaster assistance

  • Provides $1.68 billion in supplemental appropriations for disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
  • Reforms Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs to help communities better prepare for and respond to disasters of all types.

To view the section by section of H.R. 302, click here.

To view the joint Senate/House highlights summary, click here

To view the full text of H.R. 302, click here.

VIDEO: Thune Speaks at White House 5G Summit

“The race to lead the world in 5G, with gigabit speeds, low latency, and connection to a trememendous numbers of devices, is upon us.”

September 28, 2018

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today spoke at the White House 5G Summit on the importance of winning the race to lead the world in 5G.  

Thune’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):

The race has begun.  The race to lead the world in 5G, with gigabit speeds, low latency, and connection to a tremendous numbers of devices, is upon us. 

It is a race we must win, but by many accounts we are already behind China and other nations in key areas. 

Here’s what’s at stake.  

5G is expected to contribute $275 billion in new American investment, $500 billion in economic growth, and three million new jobs. 

Make no mistake, we have the technology. 

The technology created by American industries, including those represented here today, is the best around and leads the world in next generation mobile communications. 

But that technology is only part of the equation.   

We must also ensure that wireless providers have the infrastructure on which their systems depend, and they must be able to deploy those networks in a reasonable and timely manner.

On a bipartisan basis, Senator Schatz and I have introduced the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, reflecting hard work with stakeholders from across the country to eliminate needless barriers to deploying 5G and to bring the benefits of 5G to American consumers.  The STREAMLINE Act will help America reap the benefits of 5G leadership while respecting the important role State and local governments play in deployment decisions.  I am very pleased that the FCC has just taken an important step to modernize its regulations consistent with the goals of the STREAMLINE Act.

The final piece of the puzzle is spectrum.  Spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless communications and presents a particular challenge for 5G.

The bipartisan, bicameral communications bill my colleagues and I passed earlier this year and the President signed into law is a good start. As part of that package, my MOBILE NOW Act requires that 255 megahertz of spectrum be identified for fixed and mobile wireless broadband use by 2022. 

But if America’s wireless carriers do not have enough of the right kinds of spectrum available, Americans simply won’t have the speed and connections we need. 

This is particularly important for those of us in rural America, where the business case for deployment is very different than in America’s big cities. 

While we’ve made important progress in securing low- and high-band spectrum, the United States is falling behind when it comes to mid-band spectrum. 

This is particularly troubling because mid-band spectrum is crucial to the initial deployment of 5G. 

Only 150 megahertz of mid-band spectrum has been specifically identified for likely 5G use, and that is on a shared basis under a creative, and novel licensing scheme. 

This puts us far behind both China and South Korea in 5G spectrum and represents a serious threat to American leadership of next-generation technology. 

And we must also be mindful of the critical role unlicensed spectrum plays in the development of 5G and throughout the communications landscape.  

Wi-Fi operating on unlicensed spectrum is responsible for a tremendous and growing amount of the data transmitted in our homes and offices, and will play an increasing role in the future. 

Identifying spectrum resources not just for the next few years, but for the next 10 years and beyond is essential if we are to retain American leadership.

I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues in the House and Senate as we continue our efforts to get keep government out of the way so that America can continue its leadership in next generation technology.”

VIDEO: Thune Calls on Colleagues to Support and Pass the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act

“We have a remarkable degree of consensus on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act both within and without Congress, and we should not disturb this momentum.”

March 20, 2018

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, took to the senate floor to discuss the importance of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and call on his colleagues to pass H.R. 1865, which includes both SESTA and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Trafficking Act (FOSTA), without delay.

Sen. Thune’s remarks, as prepared, below:

“Mr. President, for more than two decades, the commercial internet has been an undeniable force for good.

It has delivered economic opportunity to people who would not otherwise have had it.

It has empowered marginalized citizens around the world to fight back against oppressors.

It has expanded educational opportunities, and made news and information more accessible.

And more.

But like any tool, the internet can be used for evil as well as for good.

And right now, certain corners of the internet are being exploited to facilitate sex trafficking, including the widespread trafficking of children.

Mr. President, each year, thousands of children are sexually trafficked within the United States.

That’s right, Mr. President.

Thousands of children are trafficked each year in the United States.

Not in some faraway country, but right here at home, in our communities.

And more and more every day, this trafficking is being facilitated via the internet.

A Google executive reports that, and I quote, “three out of four child sex trafficking victims in the U.S. have been exploited online.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported an 846 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking from 2010 to 2015.

The increase, the National Center reports, is “directly correlated to the increased use of the internet to sell children for sex.”

Now obviously, Mr. President, dedicated prosecutors and law enforcement around the country are working every day to combat the proliferation of sex trafficking on the internet.

But some of their efforts have been stymied by a provision of a 1996 law called the Communications Decency Act.

The provision in question – Section 230 – was meant to protect websites from being held accountable for material that people create and post on their sites.  

It’s thanks in part to this provision that such popular sites as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been able to flourish.

But at least one website known to have facilitated sex trafficking has repeatedly used this provision to defend itself in court cases dealing with sex trafficking on its site.

Now needless to say, Congress never intended this provision to be used to protect websites that knowingly facilitate trafficking.

But courts have generally held that this provision does not permit them to hold websites accountable for facilitating sex trafficking.

And courts have also made it clear that if Congress wants to ensure that these trafficking accomplices can be prosecuted, it needs to provide some clarity on this provision.

And that’s what we’re here to do today.

Senator Rob Portman, of Ohio, has been a leading voice in the Senate in the fight against human trafficking.

And the legislation before us today includes his legislation, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which will prevent Section 230 from being used as a defense by those who are knowingly cooperating with sex traffickers.

Under the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, state law enforcement officials will be able to prosecute websites that knowingly assist in or facilitate sex trafficking.

And victims will be allowed to seek justice when websites violate the federal sex trafficking statute.

State attorneys general will also now be allowed to file civil suits against websites that knowingly facilitate trafficking.

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act is an outstanding bill, Mr. President.

It addresses a hole in our laws that is allowing sex traffickers to exploit the internet to facilitate their trafficking, but it ensures that only bad actors are targeted and maintains the key freedoms that have allowed the internet to flourish.

Under this legislation, websites can only be prosecuted if they knowingly facilitate or support trafficking.

This bill is strongly supported by members of both parties.

In fact, 68 out of 100 senators are co-sponsors of this bill.

This bill is supported by the White House.

It is supported by law enforcement organizations.

It is supported by organizations that fight sex trafficking.

It is supported by faith-based organizations.

And it is supported by a number of major technology companies.

I was proud to help facilitate conversations with a number of technology companies that resulted in solid support for this bill among members of the technology community.

Mr. President, the process of getting this bill to the Senate floor today has been characterized by a wonderful degree of bipartisanship.

I am hoping that continues as we debate this bill over the next couple of days.

I encourage my colleagues to reject any attempts to slow this bill down with amendments.

We have a remarkable degree of consensus on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act both within and without Congress, and we should not disturb this momentum.

We need to get this bill over the finish line.

Every day we wait for this bill to be enacted into law is another day in which websites in the dark corners of the internet can facilitate the heinous practice of sexually exploiting vulnerable human beings.

Mr. President, during the Commerce Committee hearing I chaired on this bill, we heard testimony from Yvonne Ambrose, whose daughter, Desiree Robinson, was sexually trafficked repeatedly before being murdered.

Desiree was just 16, a bright and loving girl who dreamed of becoming a doctor in the Air Force.

Instead, she was raped and murdered by a man twice her age who had sought her for sex after seeing her advertised on an internet site.

Mr. President, every day across this country, there’s another Desiree being trafficked.

Some of these children are not yet teenagers.

They should be going to basketball games and birthday parties.

Instead, they are being taken to homes and hotels to be violated by strangers.

Some, like Desiree, will die there.

Mr. President, fighting trafficking has to be a priority for all of us.

I’m proud to have helped draft two bills that became law to address human trafficking in commercial vehicles.

But while we’ve passed some good legislation over the past few years, there is a lot more work to be done.

There are many more Desirees out there in danger, and we have an obligation to do everything we can to protect them.

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act will strike an important blow against the new wave of traffickers exploiting the internet to sell children.

And the bill it’s now a part of, the bill we’re considering today – the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act – will further boost SESTA’s impact by strengthening criminal penalties for facilitating sex trafficking.

I urge my colleagues to pass this bill and get it to the president as soon as possible.

There are a lot of children out there who are waiting for our help.”

VIDEO RELEASE: Thune Voices Support for Ronald Batory’s Nomination

“The time for playing political games with the leadership of this railroad safety agency should be over.”

December 21, 2017

WASHINGTON –  Today, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, took to the Senate floor to voice his support and call on his colleagues for unanimous consent to confirm the nomination of Ronald Batory to be Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Sen. Thune’s remarks, as prepared, below:


“Mr./Madam President:  

I rise today to voice my strong support for the nomination of Ronald Batory to be Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration at the Department of Transportation, and to voice my deep frustration that this non-controversial, highly qualified nominee has been languishing in the Senate for over four months due to objections by a handful of Democrats over a parochial issue entirely unrelated to the nominee’s qualifications.  

The Commerce Committee held a hearing on his nomination on July 26, 2017, and reported his nomination favorably out of Committee – with a unanimous voice vote – on August 2, 2017.  At that time, not a single Senator on the Committee, Republican or Democrat, expressed any doubt about Mr. Batory’s extensive expertise on rail safety issues.

Mr. Batory has over 45 years of experience in the railroad industry – in both management and operational positions – and he is a respected leader in driving organizational change and, most importantly, advancing safety improvements.  In fact, Railway Age called him non-controversial and said, “he’s the best-qualified person to be the Federal Railroad Administrator in a very long time, perhaps in the agency’s history.”

Yet despite his unanimous approval from the Committee, he has been blocked from assuming his leadership duties at this important safety regulatory agency.  The FRA has critical safety decisions to make on a daily basis, and the agency needs strong strategic direction and management on time-sensitive safety issues.  A Senior Advisor – Mr. Batory’s current role at the DOT – does not have the same legal authority or ability to lead an agency, as does a Senate-confirmed Administrator.  

It is time to stop hamstringing Mr. Batory and get him confirmed so that he can operate at full capacity.

Unfortunately, it appears that we will not be able to do that without once again engaging in the cloture process on a non-controversial nominee.  This takes up valuable floor time that could be spent on other priorities, yet it will undoubtedly still lead to him being confirmed by a large, bipartisan majority of the Senate. 

This pattern of obstruction, burning up a week or more of time to confirm two or three nominees who end up with overwhelming cloture and confirmation votes, must end.

The Batory nomination is also significant for another reason.  Earlier this week, we saw the terrible tragedy of the Amtrak Cascades 501 derailment in Washington.  Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected, especially during this holiday season.

As the NTSB continues its ongoing investigation, we will learn more about the causes of this derailment and the measures that might have prevented it.  To be clear, the tragic events of this week were not caused by a vacancy at the helm of the FRA, but the Senate must act now to install a leader at this agency to advance any safety solutions and oversight found to be needed as a result of the accident. 

To date, much of the discussion surrounding this accident has been focused on positive train control or PTC.  While it is still early to know what, if any, impact PTC would have had on this accident, I could not agree more with the Democratic leader who earlier this week said “we need positive train control.”  He went on to say that “the federal Department of Transportation is not pushing federal PTC hard enough.”

If he truly believes DOT needs to do more, however, why is he, along with a few of his colleagues, standing in the way of Mr. Batory’s confirmation?  After all, Congress has tasked the FRA administrator with providing the oversight and strong push that will be needed to ensure railroads meet next year’s December 31, 2018, deadline for full PTC installation and training.

And make no mistake, a strong push is what many passenger railroads need.  According to the FRA’s latest quarterly progress report, for passenger railroads, only 50 percent of locomotives are equipped and PTC operable, 64 percent of required PTC radio towers are installed, and only 24 percent of required route miles are in operation. 

The Commerce Committee expects to continue to play its role in conducting strong oversight of PTC implementation, including holding a hearing in 2018.  However, what I do not expect the Commerce Committee to do is grant any further change to the PTC deadline framework established in current law.

That is why we need Mr. Batory.  When finally confirmed, he will play a significant role in pushing expeditious and successful PTC implementation.   

This is not just the view of the Commerce Committee, which, again, approved Mr. Batory unanimously, but also of the rail professionals who advance safety on-the-ground.  The States for Passenger Rail Coalition, which consists of 25 state Departments of Transportation, wrote in July:

“The issues facing the railroad industry today are significant, and it is vital that we have an experienced, capable and dedicated leader like Mr. Batory, who is willing to work with the states to make the improvements necessary to build a national rail system with an emphasis on increasing mobility and reliability, while enhancing safety and security now, and in the years to come.” 

Likewise, rail labor – representing conductors and communication workers – and other industry groups urged the Senate to proceed to Mr. Batory’s nomination “as soon as possible” stressing “the importance of having Mr. Batory’s expertise and leadership at the agency responsible for railroad safety.”  

That letter was written in September.  It is now December.  There is no reason for this delay.  I ask unanimous consent that both of these letters be entered into the record.

We have had an immensely qualified leader, Ronald Batory, ready to lead an important safety agency for over four months.  The time for playing political games with the leadership of this railroad safety agency should be over.  It is long past time that my Democrat colleagues end the obstruction, and this body must confirm Ronald Batory.”  

VIDEO: Thune Commends FCC’s Internet Freedom Order

“If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and those who claim to support net neutrality rules, want to enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of the law, I call on you today to join me in discussing legislation to do just that.”

December 12, 2017

WASHINGTON –  Ahead of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) planned Thursday vote on Chairman Ajit Pai’s Restoring Internet Freedom order to repeal regulation of the Internet put in place in 2015 under the Obama Administration, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, took to the Senate floor to praise the FCC’s work and transparency while calling supporters of an open internet to support bipartisan legislation. Sen. Thune’s remarks, as prepared, below:

Mr. President, for more than two decades, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents, and Republican and Democratic Congresses, the United States pursued a bipartisan “light-touch” approach to internet regulation. 

The internet as we know it today flourished under this “light-touch” approach, much to the benefit of American consumers and the domestic economy. 

It also made America the world leader in internet technology, and positioned us to continue that leadership in the years to come.

In 2002, broadband internet was classified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – our nation’s communications regulator – as an information service under Title I of the Communications Act. 

This classification exempted the internet from burdensome regulations contained in Title II of the Communications Act, which were designed in the Depression era for the old telephone monopolies. 

Under the Obama administration, though, we saw repeated attempts to bring the internet under greater government control.

Finally, in 2015, at the explicit direction of President Obama, the FCC did as it was told and reclassified broadband internet access service as a Title II service, subjecting broadband internet to onerous common carrier rules – and opening the door to further regulation, including price regulation. 

Not surprisingly, with heavier regulation came a decline in broadband investment.  Indeed, we have seen private investment in broadband infrastructure decline over the past two years.

This decline should not be mistaken as a sign that broadband infrastructure is not needed.  In fact, the opposite is true, as there are still 34 million Americans who lack access to broadband services at home. 

In states like my home state of South Dakota, encouraging broadband deployment continues to be critical to ensuring rural areas have the same economic opportunity as their urban counterparts.

The federal government should not be putting up barriers to broadband deployment – it should be removing them.  Congress and the FCC need to ensure a regulatory framework is in place that protects consumers, but doesn’t stand in the way of investment and innovation.

Prior to the FCC’s 2015 actions to bring broadband under Title II, and for more than a decade under the “light-touch” regulatory framework of Title I, we saw unprecedented growth that revolutionized our daily lives and allowed us to stay better connected with our loved ones. 

The internet created new jobs and expanded opportunities for education and commerce.  It became the greatest engine of innovation for our times.

And despite the fearmongering and doomsday rhetoric that continues to plague this debate, when the FCC moves forward with its order and restores the internet to its pre-2015 regulatory status, the internet will continue to thrive and serve as an engine for future economic growth.

I commend Chairman Pai and the Commission for all the hard work over the last year that has gotten us to this point. 

I also commend Chairman Pai for his commitment to transparency throughout this process.

For the first time in the history of the Commission, under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the public was able to view the Restoring Internet Freedom item three weeks prior to the FCC’s vote. 

That is true of all documents to be considered by the Commission – a major departure from the previous administration’s actions, which were often not made public until the very last minute.

As a result of Chairman Pai’s commitment to transparency, the public has the benefit of not only viewing the item, but also participating in the process. 

Despite attempts by those more interested in politicizing the issue and distracting from the debate, this item resulted in the most well-informed and exhaustive record of comments ever submitted at the FCC.

The FCC is now well-positioned to move forward to ensure the internet is open and free.

Regrettably, however, the debate doesn’t end here. 

The outcry from opponents of the FCC’s proposal is that the internet will fall apart without adequate consumer protections. 

There is obviously immense passion that follows the issue of net neutrality.  Americans care deeply about preserving a free and open internet.  As do I and so many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

As I have stated repeatedly, and I will say again today, Congressional action is the only way to solve the endless back and forth on net neutrality rules that we’ve seen over the past several years.

If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and those who claim to support net neutrality rules, want to enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of the law, I call on you today to join me in discussing legislation to do just that.

While we won’t agree on everything, I believe there is much room for compromise.  So many of us in Congress already agree on many of the principles of net neutrality. 

True supporters of an open internet should be demanding such legislative protections today – not posturing while waiting for years during protracted legal proceedings or waiting for the political winds to turn.

If Republicans and Democrats have the political support to work together on such a compromise, we can enact a regulatory framework that will stand the test of time.  I’ve stood willing to work with any and all supporters of net neutrality protections for many years now and I continue to stand ready today. 

It is time for Congress to settle this debate and I welcome discussion on ways to ensure a free and open internet for decades to come.

Thune Statement on Secretary Chao's Nomination

January 31, 2017

I have sought recognition to speak in support of Secretary Elaine Chao to be the next Secretary of Transportation.

 

It would be hard to come up with a more qualified nominee than Secretary Chao for this important role.  In addition to serving for eight years as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Secretary Chao has also served as the Deputy Secretary of the department she’s now been tapped to lead. 

 

Her extensive experience also includes leading the United Way of America, the Peace Corps, and the Federal Maritime Commission. 

 

The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which I am honored to chair, held a hearing on Secretary Chao’s nomination on January 11, 2017.  To no one’s surprise, she demonstrated her experience, thoughtfulness, and commitment to working collaboratively with Congress on the challenges facing our transportation system.   

 

Last week, the Commerce Committee acted by voice vote to report her nomination favorably to the floor, and I’m hopeful that the Senate will confirm her overwhelmingly today.

 

The agency Secretary Chao has been nominated to lead plays a vital role in facilitating and promoting the safe and efficient movement of goods and people throughout our country and the world. 

 

Our economy is truly dependent on a thriving transportation sector.

 

Without a robust and efficient transportation sector, rural states like mine would be unable to get their goods to market.  Increasing the capacity and efficiency of our nation’s highways, rail lines, pipelines, and ports is crucial, and will have to be a top priority for the next Secretary of Transportation. 

 

A continued focus on safety must also be a top priority for the next Secretary.  While our nation’s pipelines, railroads, airways, and highways have a strong record of safety, improvements can and should be made. 

 

Many of the strong safety improvements the Commerce Committee advanced as part of the FAST Act and PIPES Act last Congress are yet to be implemented, and we will expect our next Secretary of Transportation to work with us to ensure speedy implementation. 

 

We will also have the opportunity to collaborate on safety improvements when we revisit the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration later this year. 

 

The next Secretary of Transportation will also have a unique opportunity to show federal leadership in the advancement of transportation innovation.  V2V technology, autonomous vehicles, and unmanned aircraft systems, to name a few, have great promise to increase safety, improve efficiency, and spur economic growth. 

 

Secretary Chao will have a momentous opportunity to transform Americans’ transportation network by promoting safety and innovation, growing our nation’s freight network, advancing needed improvements to our infrastructure, and ensuring all users – both rural and urban –benefit equally.

Secretary Chao has consistently proven her willingness to roll up her sleeves and address the challenges facing our nation.  That is why I look forward to her confirmation as the next Secretary of Transportation, and I urge my colleagues to support her nomination.

 

 

Thune Speaks at South Dakota Technology Showcase

August 2, 2016

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, spoke at the South Dakota Technology Showcase on August 2, 2016, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Thank you, Cheryl, for the introduction.  And thank you to AT&T, SDN Communications, and the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry for organizing this excellent event.  We have a wonderful lineup of speakers today who will highlight how the Internet of Things and other new technologies are benefiting South Dakota’s economy.  I’m honored to be kicking off the discussion today.

As hard as it may be to believe, the Internet as we know it is now in its third decade.  While it is no longer novel, this essential technology continues to transform the world around us, often in unexpected ways.  For instance, back in the 1990’s when folks were getting acquainted with America Online, how many people thought the Internet would end up in our farms’ combines and tractors?  Today, however, wireless connectivity in precision ag equipment is making agriculture more and more efficient.  Indeed, some researchers have claimed wireless ag tech “will offer the same type of quantum leap forward for farming that GPS provided.”  We are also seeing some really remarkable advancements in health care, which is now more accessible than ever before due to telemedicine and remote monitoring services powered by the Internet.  These are all fundamental changes from the way we used to do things, and they’re only made possible because data is shared and transmitted online. 

I look at the impact the Internet has had already on South Dakota, and I believe this is merely the beginning.  That’s why I have used my position as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to promote policies that grow Internet connectivity and benefit consumers. 

Last year, I held Congress’s first-ever hearing on the Internet of Things or “IoT.”  IoT is so consequential that some call it the “third wave” of the Internet, following the fixed Internet of the 1990s and the mobile Internet of the 2000s.  By now, all of us are used to having at least one or two electronic items near us that are connected to the Internet – from computers, to phones, and even our TVs.  Increasingly, however, we are seeing common, everyday objects being connected online – a literal Internet of things that will soon be ubiquitous.  “Things” like thermostats and refrigerators, along with those precision ag machines and health sensors I mentioned earlier.  These devices unobtrusively gather data and communicate with users, and with other devices, to solve a variety of consumer and business needs. 

The Internet of Things will bring significant economic benefits and drive growth in every sector of our economy.  There are currently about 16 billion Internet-connected devices worldwide, and by 2020 some believe that number will be between 50 and 200 billion devices.  According to McKinsey, this explosion of growth has the potential to create an economic impact of up to $6.2 trillion annually by 2025.  And, as much as consumers will see IoT devices proliferate, most of the real benefit and growth will be seen in industrial, commercial, and civic applications. 

The connected economy is creating massive economic and societal impacts.  And this means it also presents complex policy challenges.  These challenges, however, are not insurmountable obstacles.  They are simply issues we need to work through together to achieve great outcomes.

Chief among these issues is the need to spread Internet connectivity to every pocket of the country for IoT and the data economy to ride on.  Privacy considerations will loom large as devices collect increasing amounts of information, making privacy tradeoffs less straightforward than ever before.  And as we’ve unfortunately learned with the all too many high-profile data breaches, Internet security will be paramount due to the scope and sensitivity of the data collected.

Connectivity, privacy, and security – these policy issues are central to the success of a connected economy and the growth of IoT.  And sitting at the intersection of these issues in Washington is the committee I am fortunate enough to chair, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  We have engaged in a serious discussion about the government’s role in this dynamic sector of innovation. 

I have counseled and urged my colleagues to tread carefully before jumping in head first to regulate IoT and other new online business models.  When the Internet was in its infancy, it really began to prosper once the federal government stepped back and allowed the new technology to blossom.  By treating IoT and the connected economy with a similar light touch, we can ensure that consumers and entrepreneurs are in the driver’s seat, rather than politicians and bureaucrats.  If issues arise in the marketplace, policymakers should examine them closely.  When doing so, we need to have the humility to recognize that the best solutions to difficult challenges created by new services are often not government solutions.  But if government intervention is necessary and unavoidable, then the fixes should be as narrow and targeted as possible. 

I am quite optimistic on how the economy is going to be transformed by IoT and other Internet-based technologies.  But this is only possible if South Dakota and the rest of the country have fast, ubiquitous Internet connectivity.  Unlike some other rural states, South Dakota is blessed to have broadband services that are often on par with more urban states.  According to the National Broadband Map, 86 percent of South Dakotans have access to 25 megabit or better broadband service, which is better than Virginia and about equal to Ohio.  And when it comes to the availability of gigabit connections that can really spur local economic activity, South Dakota ranks 6th in the country.

Of course, there is always room for improvement, and one of the ways Congress can help is to find ways to improve wireless broadband connectivity, including in the more rural areas of South Dakota and our reservations.  For IoT to really take off, we need to make more abundant those wonderful, invisible radio waves that transmit data from one point to another, seemingly without effort.  Except it’s not effortless, as many of you know.  Wireless spectrum, as it is called, can be extremely expensive; the private sector spent $45 billion in the last spectrum auction.  Building out wireless networks to take advantage of those airwaves requires massive private investment.  And then there are the infrastructure challenges in deploying wireless broadband to rural consumers and businesses, which we know all too well. 

For these reasons, I put forward legislation known as the MOBILE NOW Act to meet the communications needs of the twenty-first century.  This bill has broad bipartisan and industry support and passed the Commerce Committee earlier this year.  It will ensure huge swaths of spectrum are made available for commercial use by the year 2020, which is when we expect to see the next generation of ultra-high speed mobile services known as “5G.”  MOBILE NOW will also cut through much of the bureaucratic red tape that makes it difficult to build wireless facilities on federal property.  And the bill will facilitate inclusion of broadband-ready conduit in federally-supported highway projects, reducing the time and cost of building out Internet service. 

This legislation has the potential to quietly and subtly impact all of our lives.  One example comes from former Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker.  She pointed out that, right now, a “smart car” communicating with today’s wireless technology takes four and a half feet to brake in response to an obstacle.  By contrast, a smart car with forthcoming 5G technology would travel only one inch before braking—which could literally be the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, in what has become a story that is told all-too-often, this noncontroversial bill has gotten mired in the partisan politics of Washington, D.C.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is holding up MOBILE NOW over a dispute with other Senators about a Presidential nomination.  While this gridlock jeopardizes the prospects of the bill advancing, I am not going to give up trying to push it forward.  It is rare for Republicans and Democrats to come together to write truly bipartisan, pro-growth legislation, so I am going to do everything I can to see MOBILE NOW enacted into law this year.

At the end of the day, however, it is not going to be politicians and regulators who will determine what our digital future holds.  It will be the entrepreneurs and the engineers and the innovators, like many of you in this room and the people you are going to hear from later this morning.  You all are the ones making that digital future a reality for South Dakota.  The best that the government can do is try to facilitate your success while making sure we are not accidentally standing in the way.  I am excited to watch how IoT and other technologies develop over the coming years, and I am eager to do my small part in fostering their success.

How Our Aviation Bill Strengthens Security

July 12, 2016

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today spoke on the Senate floor about how the bipartisan aviation legislation under consideration in the Senate this week strengthens security. The agreement extends the Federal Aviation Administration through September 30, 2017, and provides important safety, security, and time-sensitive improvements for the U.S. aviation system.
 
Mr. President, over the past four months, the Islamic State has carried out two deadly terrorist attacks at airports.

Taken together, these two attacks – one at the Brussels airport and one at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport – resulted in more than 500 injuries and 57 deaths.

Mr. President, since September 11, airport security efforts have emphasized securing aircraft against hijackings.

But the Brussels and Istanbul bombings highlight other airport security vulnerabilities.
As these attacks demonstrate, it’s not just planes that are vulnerable.

Both the Brussels and Istanbul attacks began – and in the case of the Brussels attack, finished – outside of the areas protected by security checkpoints.

The large crowds of people who congregate in non-secured areas of an airport – like security checkpoints, check-in counters, and baggage claim – make appealing targets for terrorists, who like nothing better than maximum loss of life with minimum effort.

This week, the Senate will take up the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which will directly address the vulnerabilities that were exposed by these attacks.

The reforms in this legislation will help ensure that attacks like those that happened in Brussels and Istanbul don’t happen at American airports.

But while this bill has gained new urgency in the wake of the bombings in Istanbul and Brussels, the reforms in this bill are not a hasty response to these attacks.

Instead, they are the products of months of Commerce Committee oversight of our nation’s transportation safety agencies, and extended Commerce Committee analysis of airport security vulnerabilities.

I’m proud that the bill we’re considering today is the most significant airport security reform bill Congress has considered in a decade.

Mr. President, as I’ve already mentioned, one problem that the Brussels and Istanbul attacks highlighted in great detail is the tempting terrorist target offered by large crowds of people in unsecured areas of airports.

The FAA bill addresses that problem in a number of ways.

For starters, this bill includes provisions to get more Americans enrolled in the TSA’s PreCheck program.

Expanding enrollment in PreCheck will reduce wait times at security, which will help reduce the size of crowds waiting in unsecured areas.

The bill also directs the TSA to more effectively deploy its personnel during high-volume travel times to speed up wait times at checkpoints.

It also requires the TSA to develop and test new security systems that will expedite the movement of passengers through security.

Another important measure we can take to prevent attacks like those in Brussels and Istanbul is increasing the security presence in unsecured areas of airports.

The FAA bill adds more prevention and response security teams, which often include K-9 units, and expands training for local airport security personnel, so that airports are better prepared to deter and respond to bombers or active-shooter threats.

Mr. President, increasing security at our nation’s airports and expediting security checks will go a long way toward preventing terrorist attacks.

But threats at U.S. airports are not the only threats facing U.S. airline passengers.

Americans travel internationally on a regular basis, and on their return flights they depend on the quality of airport security in other countries.

Part of protecting the traveling public is making sure that Americans traveling to other countries are safe as they return to the U.S.

To increase security for Americans traveling abroad, the FAA bill we’ll pass this week authorizes the TSA to donate unneeded screening equipment to foreign airports with direct flights to the United States.

It will also strengthen cooperation between U.S. security officials and security officials in other countries and authorize the TSA to support training for foreign airport security personnel.

It also requires the TSA to conduct assessments of security at foreign airports and of foreign cargo security programs.

Mr. President, another aspect of airport security that has received less attention, but that is equally important, is the need to make sure that individuals who work behind the scenes at airports don’t pose a threat.

In October 2015, terrorists killed 224 people when they brought down Russian Metrojet flight 9268 shortly after it departed Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt.

Many experts believe that the terrorists responsible had help from an airport worker.

Ensuring that airport workers are trustworthy is essential to keeping passengers safe.

However, at times the security badges that permit individuals to work behind the scenes at airports have been issued to individuals who have no business holding them.

Right now in the U.S., individuals with convictions for crimes including embezzlement, sabotage, racketeering, immigration violations, and assault with a deadly weapon can all obtain security badges granting them access to restricted sections of an airport.

And while most criminals are not terrorists, there are too many criminals who, for the right price, would happily expand their criminal activity, even if it involved assisting terrorists.

In March of this year, an airline gate agent was arrested at a Florida airport with $282,400 in cash that he allegedly intended to hand off to an associate.

News reports indicated that he was aware the money was connected to illegal activity, but knew little else.

In other words, Mr. President, he could easily have been transporting money for terrorists without being any the wiser.

The FAA bill we will pass this week tightens vetting of anyone with access to secure areas of an airport and expands the list of criminal convictions that could disqualify someone from holding a security badge.

And to make sure individuals who have been convicted of disqualifying crimes do not slip through the cracks and end up with access to secure areas, this bill expands the period covered by background checks.

This bill also provides for an increase in random searches of behind-the-scenes airport workers, who are not always subject to security screening the way passengers are.

Mr. President, I’m very proud of everything this FAA bill achieves in terms of security.

This is the most comprehensive airport security package in a decade, and it will help us make real progress toward keeping airline passengers safer.

And that’s not all.

In addition to its robust security package, this bill puts in place a number of other important measures, among them new consumer protections.

For example, this legislation will require airlines to refund baggage fees for lost or unreasonably delayed baggage, so passengers won’t have to spend a ton of time tracking down a refund when the airline doesn’t deliver.

It will also make sure that airlines have policies that will help families traveling with children sit together on flights.

It also takes steps to improve air travel for individuals with disabilities.

And it ensures that Americans in rural areas will continue to have access to reliable air service.
The bill also takes measures to support the general aviation community.

It streamlines the requirements for the Third Class Medical Certificate for non-commercial pilots, so that private pilots don’t face unnecessary bureaucracy when obtaining their medical qualification.

And to reduce the risk of accidents for low-altitude flyers, like agricultural applicators, the bill requires highly visible markings on small towers that could pose a hazard to pilots.

On the aviation safety front, this bill updates current law to reflect the rapid advances in technology we’ve seen over the last few years – most notably, drones.

This bill includes provisions to deploy technology that will work to keep drones out of the path of airliners, which is particularly important given reports of near-miss collisions by airline pilots.

It will also deter drone operators from interfering with emergency response efforts like wildfire suppression.

And in addition to fostering drone safety, this bill authorizes expanded research opportunities and operations that will further the integration of drones into our nation’s airspace.

Mr. President, since we took control of the Senate in January of 2015, Republicans have focused on passing legislation to address the challenges facing the American people and our country.

I’m proud that with this bill, we’ve found a way to make our increasingly dangerous world a little safer for Americans.

I’m grateful to all my colleagues who contributed to this bill, particularly my Democrat counterpart on the Commerce Committee, Senator Nelson.

Senator Ayotte also led numerous subcommittee hearings in the Aviation Subcommittee to get the bill on a path to success, and both of us appreciate the contributions of Senator Cantwell, our Aviation Subcommittee ranking member.

This bill is an example of what can happen when Democrats and Republicans work together to get things done for the American people.

I look forward to sending our legislation to the president this week.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Op-Eds

Thune in The Hill: Protect and Innovate Online Privacy

September 25, 2018

The time has come for Congress to work on putting consumer data privacy protections into law.

For years, the wizards of the tech world have amazed all of us and helped fuel our economy with innovative products and services.  No one wants that to end.

At the same time, mounting controversies have undermined public trust in the ability and willingness of leading technology companies to regulate themselves and enforce real privacy safeguards for the collection and use of our digital data. 

The question is no longer whether we need a national law to protect consumers’ privacy.  The question is what shape that law should take.

The European Union and California have already acted. We need to examine whether they’ve gotten consumer privacy right and criticisms that their solutions pose an unintended challenge to innovation and competition.  For example, it’s fair to ask whether these new regulations would be too costly and cumbersome for innovative startups.

In seeking the right balance, Congress should focus on consumer choice. Effective rules must ensure transparency by addressing the ineffectiveness of current click-through privacy policies. They must also reset the unfair reality that consumers’ information may be collected, rented, or sold to outsiders but often can’t even be reviewed by consumers themselves.

Before his testimony to Congress earlier this year about the scandal involving the wholesale vacuuming of information by third-parties, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and I discussed the concept of meaningful consumer consent. Such consent tends to happen when an internet consumer receives clear, immediately relevant information about an imminent decision. It does not occur when a consumer, needing something quickly, agrees to an unread privacy policy spanning dozens of pages in a manner of seconds with no further action required.

For those few who take time to sift through a lengthy privacy policy, whether on a smartphone app or website, it typically describes the rights and limits companies assign themselves to collect, use, transmit, and sell information about users. Good luck finding straightforward details about what actually happens with your data. The real world details typically aren’t made readily available. 

Many Americans have taken time to review their credit reports, detailing the information affecting access to financial services and which businesses have looked at their information. By contrast, how many Americans know the data points collected from their time online? 

Ironically, this lack of transparency bucks the trend in industry innovation. Most smartphones today don’t come with the thick instruction manuals of a decade ago. Instead, these user-friendly pocket computers are designed to be intuitive, teaching you as you operate them and offering online resources for complex operational questions as they become relevant. 

Technology companies, if sufficiently motivated by federal government engagement, should make privacy as simple as setting up a smartphone. A world in which your smartphone quickly tells you which apps or organizations have access to your location information, your web browser informs you who is watching your page with you, and a data company website tells you which entities have paid for access to your information no longer stretches the imagination. The ability to promptly end an arrangement outside a user’s comfort-zone should not be technically difficult either. 

This week, representatives of four large technology companies and two internet service providers will testify before the Senate Commerce Committee at our first privacy hearing about their current practices, ideas, concerns, and how they can complement efforts by Congress to improve consumer data privacy.  These well-known firms have diverse approaches to consumer data privacy, ranging from companies that do not monetize the consumer data they collect, to those whose business models rest principally on the ability to collect and monetize such data in exchange for providing free or reduced-cost services. 

The technology industry is not the first to collect sensitive information on consumers. Financial service providers, educational institutions, and health care providers all collect and maintain sensitive, regulated records. These models are informing current legislative efforts and underscore that a core function of digital privacy should be to ensure that consumers have the opportunity to enter arrangements based on informed decisions with entities they trust and fair warning about those who may engage in more questionable privacy practices.  

While controversies involving privacy, allegations of political bias, anti-competitive practices, and other matters have created significant public concern, digital privacy legislation is not—and should not be—retaliatory. Fair and appropriate digital data protections benefit consumers and responsible businesses. As we heard at the Facebook hearing, informed consumers may actually prefer tailored online advertising and the accompanying free services like e-mail over irrelevant and annoying pop-up ads or pay walls.

A successful consumer data privacy law will help consumers and reward organizations with little to hide, promote innovation, and force shady practitioners to clean up their act or fold up shop.

This op-ed originally ran in The Hill

Sen. John Thune and Rep. Lamar Smith in Dallas News: U.S. Must Win the Race Against China and Europe on Quantum Computing

July 26, 2018

For the last several decades, America's lead in cutting-edge technology has helped propel our economy and national security. America is now in a race with China and Europe to develop the next technological breakthroughs based on the power of quantum science. It's a race we must win.

We have introduced the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018 to help align and accelerate public and private research and development of quantum science. Like earlier national endeavors involving space and nuclear energy, the race to quantum computing has immense economic and national security implications for the U.S.

The tiny, tiny universe of quantum physics — atoms, protons, electrons, photons — looms very, very large in our future.

Quantum science explores and exploits subtle aspects of quantum physics, such as the idea that subatomic particles can exist in many possible states at the same time, known as "quantum superposition." This will lead to valuable, real-world applications.

For example, conventional computing uses a series of tiny, electronic on-off switches within a processing chip. Technological advances have made possible supercomputers that can perform a series of on-off operations at astonishing speeds. But classical computing technology is nearing its limits.

Quantum computing, however, is different. Rather than a series of ultra-high speed on-off switches, quantum computers rely on "qbits." These are subatomic particles that are both on and off at the same time.

This property and other quantum phenomena will enable quantum computers to perform complex calculations at speeds that are potentially millions of times faster than today's most advanced supercomputers.

Fully functioning quantum computers may be 10 years or more away. But the new industries and new jobs this technology will create are just over the horizon. Quantum computing promises drastic improvements in the security of data and electronic communications, precise long-range weather forecasts, and the development of new medicines and materials.

Applications of this technology will have a profound impact on communication security, navigation, imaging, and many other technologies that are not otherwise possible with conventional hardware.

Despite these potential benefits, however, falling behind in the race for quantum technology would have sobering national security implications. The nation that harnesses quantum communications technology first may be able to decode — in a matter of seconds — every other nations' most sensitive encrypted national security information as well as proprietary technologies and even the personal information of individuals.

In testimony before Congress, expert witnesses have warned that as other nations around the world rapidly advance their own quantum programs, the U.S. faces a real threat of falling behind.

China and the European Union are investing billions of dollars in new research facilities and equipment for quantum efforts. China, in particular, has stated publicly its national goal of surpassing the U.S. during the next decade.

That is why our nation must devise a national quantum strategy and preserve America's lead in the race to this technology.

The National Quantum Initiative Act meets challenges by creating a 10-year program to advance quantum development and technology applications in the U.S. The bill is designed to put to use the expertise and resources of U.S. industry, academia and government to move quantum information science to the next level of research and development.

The legislation establishes a National Quantum Coordination Office and codifies an interagency Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee interagency coordination, provide strategic planning support, serve as a central point of contact for research, and promote commercialization of federal research by the private sector.

The bill also supports basic research, education and standards development in multiple federal agencies. These activities will address fundamental research gaps, create a stronger workforce, and develop ways to give U.S. companies and workers an enduring competitive advantage.

This bill will ensure that ongoing federal, academic, and private sector research work together to win the scientific race of the 21st century.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, is chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Capito in The State Journal: How Capito Connect is closing the digital divide in West Virginia

June 25, 2018

Whether you’re a student trying to do your homework, a small business owner looking to expand or a rural resident who would benefit from telehealth services, broadband access has the ability to open doors to new opportunities for West Virginians.

But, as too many West Virginians know, our state is falling behind when it comes to connectivity.

Affordable and reliable broadband should be easily accessible regardless of where you live. It’s that simple. And for several years, I have been leading efforts to make that a reality. In fact, during my first Senate floor speech, I named increasing broadband access as one of my top priorities for strengthening our state.

That’s why, three years ago, I launched my Capito Connect plan — a roadmap for bringing affordable, high-speed internet access to homes, businesses and classrooms in West Virginia.

In the words of Broadband Enhancement Council Chairman Rob Hinton, it’s a “forward thinking” initiative that “provides awareness, education and resources to communities throughout West Virginia.”

Since launching Capito Connect, we have made significant headway in all of these areas — particularly when it comes to Rural America — by focusing on two main strategies.

The first is making West Virginians aware of the many opportunities and resources available to better connect their communities. The second is by securing additional resources at the federal level to support broadband deployment and improvement programs. By connecting those in need with available resources and expanding the opportunities available, we are making a difference.

Just last year, I helped secure a $3 million Community Connect grant for Barbour, Randolph and Upshur counties, which will provide broadband access for nearly 4,000 residents and employers.

Region VII Planning and Development Council Executive Director Shane Whitehair directly credited the Capito Connect program for bringing these resources to his region and said the West Virginia Regional Councils have seen activity increase in developing and implementing broadband and connectivity projects throughout the state since Capito Connect launched in 2015.

While connecting all of our communities is still the ultimate goal, it’s important that we prioritize the areas that need it the most and target investments in those areas.

Dr. Dino Beckett of Mingo County found that Capito Connect is increasing opportunities for access to financial resources to fund broadband projects in rural areas specifically. He explained that, without efforts like Capito Connect, West Virginia homes, businesses, and classrooms would lack the potential to connect in an affordable way to high-speed broadband.

In addition to state partnerships, I’ve engaged federal partners like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration to raise awareness about funding opportunities.

These federal partners play an important role in the effort to connect our state and Rural America.

Take FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, for example. I’ve had the chance to bring Chairman Pai to the Mountain State several times to highlight our connectivity needs.

One of his trips included a visit to Capon Springs and Farms in Hampshire County. At the time, the resort had no internet access. Chairman Pai recalled that the Capon Springs visit left an impression on him and explained how that experience has motivated him to help close the digital divide.

Almost a year later, the resort was able to develop a solution to its broadband challenges and now they are able to offer internet access to resort guests.

Feedback from state and federal partners about the Capito Connect approach and the successes that have been made possible as a result of the initiative illustrate just how much Capito Connect is making an impact.

Raising awareness and creating a dialogue around this issue with a wide range of partners is part of the reason Capito Connect is a success. It has also helped highlight West Virginia’s connectivity needs, motivating people at all levels of both the public and private sectors to work together to bridge the digital divide.

Connecting West Virginia will not happen overnight, but Capito Connect continues to help us make progress. This goal is not only achievable, but it is critical for our state‘s future.

Thune in CNBC: I Support 'Net Neutrality.' Let's Not Let 'Political Theater' Ruin a Bipartisan Deal

May 9, 2018

I support net neutrality. I support rules that prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of internet traffic. I believe these principles should guide us on Capitol Hill as we work to expand broadband access to even the most remote and rural areas of the country.

You might be surprised to learn that most of my fellow senators believe this too.

Unfortunately, manufactured controversy often gets more attention in Washington than real solutions. We have seen this in recent months as some in Congress and outside groups have shaped an ominous narrative surrounding the way we regulate the internet.

The internet is too important for partisan politics. Congress must codify widely accepted net neutrality protections through bipartisan legislation.

Instead of crafting forward-looking solutions that protect internet users and promote innovation, however, Congress will spend the upcoming days on more political theater.

Rather than voting for 21st Century rules to protect the internet, we'll be taking a show vote on whether to look backwards and re-apply rules meant for the old Ma' Bell phone system to the modern internet.

This is a mistake, and only delays concrete protections for a free and open internet.

The misguided decision to apply regulations created in 1934 for voice telephone services to the internet—adopted on a party-line vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015—has, according to the FCC, slowed investment, preventing the improvement and expansion of services to the 39 million Americans living in rural parts of the country.

The uncertainty in the future of regulation, caused by the ever-shifting political winds, means investments to connect more Americans in states like my home state of South Dakota are likely to remain stagnant.

It doesn't have to be this way. For years, I have called for bipartisan legislation—by elected representatives, not unelected bureaucrats at the FCC—that would permanently ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization by broadband internet providers.

The new leadership of the FCC has given us an opportunity to do just that, by freeing the internet from outdated, monopoly-era regulations.

If the Democrats are serious about long-term protections for consumers, they should look ahead towards a bipartisan solution, rather than looking backwards and trying to reverse the current FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

Claims that this order would mean slower internet speeds have already been rebutted in a recent independent fact check.

The bottom line is, Congress should be spending time on a permanent solution that is not subject to Washington power shakeups—one that will spur all communities into the 21st Century and encourage a new wave of American innovation and competitiveness.

Regardless of how the Senate votes this month, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) effort will not provide Americans with lasting protections for the internet. If anything, the tempest over the CRA has stalled conversations among legislators on both sides of the aisle who have demonstrated eagerness to come together and find a bipartisan solution.

Once the latest showdown is over, we should set aside the fear mongering and manufactured hand-wringing and get to work on a solution that ends this debate and protects the economic engine of the internet for generations of Americans to come.

Cruz in Roll Call: Stop the Next Internet Power Grab

November 21, 2017

The internet has changed how we communicate, engage in commerce and live our lives. It not only provides a platform that can be used to promote free speech, but serves as a great equalizer when it comes to jobs and opportunity by dramatically reducing the barriers of entry for anyone with a new idea and broadband connection.

Unfortunately, because the nature of government power is to control, tax and regulate, there will always be government officials who will seek to implement policies to increase these inherent powers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Obama administration made the decision to set aside decades of bipartisan agreement and enact a radical proposal that reclassified the internet as a regulated public utility. The Obama-era regulations give federal bureaucrats new authority to regulate pricing and terms of service and eventually even collect billions in new taxes.

This policy not only threatens investment across the United States but seeks to force companies of all sizes to ask the government for prior approval of business decisions. The end result is less broadband, less innovation and less freedom for the American consumer.

Thankfully, relief will soon be on the way, as the Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Ajit Pai seeks to repeal the so-called Open Internet Order and return the internet to its original classification as an information service, which allowed the internet to flourish.

But, the restoration of internet freedom may be short-lived, as there are already scores of politicians and state and local regulators who have indicated an interest in replicating the Obama administration’s fatally flawed rules at the state and local level. As harmful as the FCC’s rules have been for broadband investment and innovation, replacing such rules with a patchwork of state and local requirements would have an even more detrimental effect on the internet.

The Constitution’s Commerce Clause provides Congress with the power to regulate interstate commerce. Given that the internet permits consumers and businesses to connect to others in different states (as well as countries), broadband services are inherently interstate services and must therefore be protected from state and local interference. As the FCC rolls back the Obama-era regulations on the internet, it should also take the opportunity to affirmatively recognize this.

Allowing the Obama administration’s dangerous policy to infest the internet through state and local government mandates serves no purpose other than to stifle America’s entrepreneurial spirit, frustrate innovation, and block economic opportunity.

Steve Forbes recently raised concerns that allowing state and local regulators to recreate these regulations would create “a crazy quilt-like patchwork of state regulations governing the internet — unquestionably, the most border-free platform ever known to humanity. It would be chaos, and a massive deterrent to investment, innovation, and growth.”

Even former Democratic FCC Chairman Bill Kennard agrees that the internet should not be regulated at the local or state level. He stated in a 1999 speech that, “it is in the national interest that we have a national broadband policy. The FCC has the authority to set one, and we have. We have taken a deregulatory approach, an approach that will let this nascent industry flourish.”

Imposing public utility regulations — which have their roots in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 — on the internet is not the right policy to keep America globally competitive. Now is the time to end government micromanagement of the internet and let it thrive without federal, state, or local meddling. The United States’ continued leadership in the 21st Century digital economy rests on getting this policy right.

For these reasons, it is imperative that the FCC establish a strong deregulatory federal framework for broadband regulations and preempt state and local regulators from having the opportunity to implement the next internet power grab.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, serves on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; the Committee on Armed Services; the Committee on the Judiciary; the Joint Economic Committee; and the Committee on Rules and Administration. Before his election to the Senate, he was the longest serving solicitor general in Texas and the first Hispanic to serve in that role. 

Michael O’Rielly was nominated for a seat on the Federal Communications Commission by President Barack Obama and was confirmed unanimously on October 29, 2013. He was sworn in for a new term in January after his renomination by President Donald Trump. He previously served as a policy adviser in the Office of the Senate Republican Whip.

Gardner in the Coloradoan: Science shouldn't be partisan issue

June 12, 2017

When it comes to federal research funding, it’s easy to overlook the impact it has on our everyday lives. We tend to think of scientific research as an abstract concept where a scientist spends years in a lab working on their invention that never sees the light of day; but the reality is much more complex. Scientific research has a tremendous impact on our economy, our health and our national security, and most of the time we don’t even realize how federal research improves our own quality of life. 

If you’ve ever used Google’s search engine or own an iPhone, you have benefitted from federally funded research projects. Both the algorithm behind Google’s search engine and the glass screen on your iPhone were first developed using federal research dollars. The private sector was able to turn those developments into unimaginably successful products, but they wouldn’t have been possible without federal investment.

In Colorado, scientific research is a major economic driver. More than two dozen federal labs contribute $2.6 billion annually to the state’s economy and employ more than 17,000 Coloradans. But scientific research is much more than just an economic driver. When we invest in federal research and development, we’re investing in our country, our people and our ideas.

One of my goals since being elected to the United States Senate has been to make sure science does not become a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans both have bold ideas that cannot afford to get bogged down in politics. I joined with Democrat Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) to spearhead the effort to author the first major update to federal research and technology policy to originate in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in almost a decade: the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act. After nearly two years of bipartisan work on this legislation, President Obama signed it into law in January 2017.

Funding for research and development remains a top priority for me. Recently, I called for a 4 percent (nearly $340 million) increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). I’ve worked with my colleagues to ensure the Department of Energy receives adequate funding so we can continue to meet our national security needs and maintain the United States’ position as a global leader in science and technology. I’ve supported increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health, and I have opposed calls to reduce funding for these programs that benefit Colorado and our country. It means these men and women working on solutions that can cure diseases, combat world hunger, and help our troops get the resources they need.

We must always keep in mind fiscal responsibility but also recognize the economic benefits scientific research creates. For every one dollar into NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) the federal government invests, for example, the MEP program generates an average of $17 in new sales growth. And for every $1 the Department of Energy invests in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it attracts a further $5 in private investment. These investments are important for Colorado and the nation.

This country has a history of lifting the pragmatists and the problem solvers. We’re builders, dreamers and innovators with diverse backgrounds but a unique zeal to get things done. We don’t know what the next great scientific breakthrough is going to be. But a commitment to research is a commitment to the idea that we still believe there are breakthroughs to be had and it’s an embrace of the spirit of America that encourages us to continue to dream big.

Capito in The Parkersburg News and Sentinal: Broadband Key to Economic Growth

May 7, 2017

The fate of rural America is the focus of much national attention today. Yet, many across West Virginia have been feeling the very real effects of this debate for some time. Our communities have been hard hit by job loss and decline, creating a major drag on the state’s economy and our quality of life.

One of my top priorities has been to promote policies that spur new investment and boost economic growth. Broadband access can provide West Virginians with opportunities that lead to new jobs and higher wages, providing the momentum our state’s economy needs. Potential investors need to see that West Virginia and its workforce are open for business and ready to get to work in the 21st Century economy.

According to the FCC, more than 30 million Americans lack access to high-speed broadband Internet, including a disproportionate number of rural communities. Without this connectivity, these communities struggle to compete in today’s Internet-based world.

In 2015, I launched my Capito Connect plan, jumpstarting a statewide conversation about the need to connect West Virginia. Broadband should be easily available and affordable. It’s that simple — and, at the federal level, I have been leading efforts to make this a reality.

The benefits of broadband access are numerous. But too many parts of rural America can’t attract the investment they need to get online. Despite significant federal and private funding, West Virginia is less connected than nearly every other state in America. We’ve been hamstrung by a lack of competition between service providers and burdensome regulations, and failed to maximize existing resources.

West Virginia’s rural communities have so much potential. Communities like Thomas and Davis in Tucker County or the whitewater resorts in Fayette County need robust broadband to fully capture the potential of a tourism economy. These communities can capitalize on their natural beauty and attract a technology-based workforce that simply needs a computer and strong, stable connectivity to reach clients around the globe.

In order to help these communities realize their potential we must equip them with the right tools to succeed.

That’s why I recently introduced new legislation to accelerate the development of high-speed internet in low-income communities. The Gigabit Opportunity or GO Act encourages new investment to connect these rural and urban areas.

By empowering governors and states to direct investments to areas with the greatest need, this proposal ensures that communities with the highest potential for economic development are prioritized for funding. For providers, the proposal eliminates barriers to new investment in broadband infrastructure and incentivizes competition.

Under the GO Act, the Federal Communications Commission is directed to release a framework to streamline broadband laws that states, counties and cities can voluntarily adopt. This will eliminate the myriad of duplicative and inconsistent laws that currently exist and complement existing broadband legislation in states like West Virginia.

Once adopted, governors would be able to nominate a portion of their state’s low-income areas as Gigabit Opportunity Zones. Businesses that invest in these zones or make upgrades to speed up their networks would benefit from targeted tax and other incentives.

Internet access should be broadly available regardless of whether you live in a small town or big city — and this connectivity is essential to growing West Virginia’s economy. With all the focus on rural America, now is the time to level the playing field and close the digital divide.

Sullivan in the Wall Street Journal: How to Put Building Permits on a Fast Track

It can take 15 years to win approval for a new airport runway. No wonder U.S. infrastructure needs a lift.

December 4, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has made investing in U.S. infrastructure a priority. This country urgently needs to build and repair roads, bridges, airports, pipelines and rail lines. But a huge roadblock is the federal permitting system. Even with a more business-friendly administration, a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan won’t accomplish much unless Congress reforms the way public-works projects are approved.

America used to be the envy of the world in building great projects responsibly, efficiently and on time. The Pentagon was built in 16 months. The 1,500-mile Alaska-Canadian Highway, which passes through some of the world’s most rugged terrain, took about eight months. Today, infrastructure projects across America often require several years simply to get through the federal government’s pre-build permitting process. Consider a few examples.

New U.S. highway construction projects usually take between nine and 19 years from initial planning and permitting to completion of construction, according to a 2002 Government Accountability Office study. It will have taken 14 years to permit an expansion of Gross Reservoir in Colorado, and it took almost 20 years to permit the Kensington gold mine in Alaska.

It took four years to construct a new runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but it took 15 years to get the permits. Todd Hauptli of the American Association of Airport Executives bitterly joked to the Senate Commerce Committee last year, “It took longer to build that runway than the Great Pyramids of Egypt.”

These problems have been building for decades as the U.S. regulatory state has grown. But the Obama administration has made the situation much worse by politicizing the construction of America’s critical energy infrastructure.

It took Shell seven years and $7 billion to get White House permission to drill a single oil-exploration well off the coast of Alaska. Never mind that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires that resources in those waters “be made available for expeditious and orderly development.” This capricious permitting was part of why Shell halted its operations in Alaska, stranding enormous oil and gas resources and killing thousands of potential jobs.

The Keystone XL pipeline languished in permitting purgatory for almost the entire two terms of the Obama administration before the president finally killed it in 2015. Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, called the president’s actions a “cynical manipulation of the approval process.” President Obama also recently halted the Dakota Access pipeline, though in September a federal courtdetermined that the project complied with arduous permitting, legal and consultation requirements.

Mr. Trump is set to reverse the Obama administration’s abysmal permitting record, but Congress also has a responsibility. Last year I introduced the Regulations Endanger Democracy Act, or RED Tape Act, which would cap federal regulations with a simple one-in-one-out rule. When an agency issues a new regulation, it must repeal an old one. (Mr. Trump has suggested removing two for every one that is added.) Even though the idea has been successfully implemented in Canada and the United Kingdom, not a single Senate Democrat voted for it, and the legislation died.

Another bill I wrote would expedite federal permitting to repair or rebuild thousands of crumbling bridges across our country, but it received only three Democratic votes on the Senate floor. Once again my colleagues across the aisle prevented this reform from being implemented.

After Congress convenes in January, I will introduce the Rebuild America Now Act. It would establish strict time limits so that if permits aren’t approved or denied for good cause within a specified time, then the project is deemed approved. The law also creates a one-stop shop for environmental reviews and permitting to ensure that projects don’t get bogged down by agencies pursuing different agendas. Agencies would be required to abide by the RED Tape Act, a version of which would be part of the new law.

Having lost the election, progressives are already preparing litigation and protests to stop American infrastructure and energy projects. My bill would limit sue-and-settle practices that abuse the judicial system, as well as stopping groups that oppose economic development from needlessly delaying or killing much-needed projects. It would also have a builder’s and worker’s bill of rights, which would include timely permitting decisions and transparency in agency decision-making to spell out exactly why a permit is denied.

President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus in 2009 wrecked the country’s balance sheet while doing little to spur economic growth. An infrastructure bill that fails to reform dysfunctional permitting runs a similar risk. These reforms will prevent billions of dollars from getting wasted in red tape and litigation, making it easier to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure.

Thune in CNN: How to Make Our Airports Safer

July 15, 2016

On June 28, terrorists entered Istanbul's airport and opened fire on travelers, before detonating explosives that killed 45 people and left more than 200 injured. The attack came just three months after a similar attack on Brussels Airport in Belgium, which also resulted in numerous injuries and a number of deaths.

Since September 11, airport security efforts have emphasized securing aircraft against hijackings, but the Brussels and Istanbul bombings highlighted other vulnerabilities. As these attacks demonstrate, it's not just planes that are vulnerable. Both the Brussels and Istanbul attacks sought to exploit the largely unprotected areas outside of the principal security checkpoints, where the attackers could detonate bombs outside of screening.

The large crowds of people who congregate in unsecured areas of an airport -- like security checkpoints, check-in counters, and baggage claim -- make appealing targets for terrorists, who like nothing better than maximum loss of life with minimum effort.

This week, the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill, which directly addresses these security vulnerabilities.

This legislation passed with overwhelming support from both parties, and we expect the President to sign it into law immediately. The reforms in this legislation -- the product of months of work at the Senate Commerce Committee that began long before the attacks -- will help ensure that attacks like those that happened in Brussels and Istanbul don't happen at American airports.

To address the tempting terrorist target offered by large crowds of people in unsecured areas of airports, the FAA bill includes provisions to get more Americans enrolled in the TSA's PreCheck program, which will help reduce the size of crowds by reducing wait times at security.

It also requires more effective deployment of TSA personnel to reduce wait times at checkpoints, and it requires the TSA to develop and test new security systems to expedite the movement of passengers. It also adds more prevention and response security teams and expands training for local airport security personnel, so that airports are better prepared to deter and respond to bombers or active-shooter threats.

In addition to securing U.S. airports, part of protecting the traveling public is making sure that Americans traveling to other countries are safe when they return to the U.S. Americans travel internationally on a regular basis, and on their return flights they depend on the quality of airport security in other countries.

To increase security for Americans traveling abroad, the FAA bill authorizes the TSA to donate unneeded screening equipment to foreign airports with direct flights to the United States. It authorizes the TSA to support training for foreign airport security personnel, and it requires the TSA to conduct assessments of security at foreign airports and of foreign cargo security programs.

Another aspect of airport security that has received less attention, but that is equally important, is the need to make sure that individuals who work behind the scenes at airports don't pose a threat.

In October 2015, terrorists killed 224 people when they brought down Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 shortly after it departed Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt. Many experts believe that the terrorists responsible had help from an airport worker.

Clearly, ensuring that airport workers are trustworthy is essential to keeping passengers safe. However, at times the security badges that permit individuals to work behind the scenes at airports have been issued to individuals who have no business holding them.

Right now in the United States, individuals with convictions for crimes including embezzlement, sabotage, racketeering, immigration violations and assault with a deadly weapon can all obtain security badges granting them access to restricted sections of an airport.

While most criminals are not terrorists, there are too many criminals who would happily expand their criminal activity for the right price, even if it involved assisting terrorists.

In March of this year, for example, an airline ramp agent was arrested at a Florida airport with $282,400 in cash that he allegedly intended to hand off to an unknown individual. News reports suggested that he was aware the money was connected to illegal activity, but knew little else. In other words, he could easily have been transporting money for terrorists without knowing it.

The FAA bill tightens vetting of anyone with access to secure areas of an airport and expands the list of criminal convictions that could disqualify someone from holding a security badge. This bill also provides for an increase in random searches of behind-the-scenes airport workers, who are not always subject to security screening the way passengers are.

Since we took control of the Senate in January of 2015, Republicans have focused on passing legislation to address the challenges facing our country. I'm proud that with this bill, we've found a way to make our increasingly dangerous world a little safer for Americans.

Of course, as the horrific attacks in Nice remind us, airports are by no means the only target of those wanting to kill large numbers of people. But terrorists have consistently shown a determination to attack aviation targets. With this in mind, the FAA bill is the most significant airport security package in a decade, and it will help us make real progress toward keeping airline passengers safer.

It's a good example of what can happen when Democrats and Republicans work together to get things done for the American people.

Gardner and Peters in The Hill: Reaffirming America's Commitment to Science and Technology

July 15, 2016

For decades, American hard work and ingenuity has driven our country’s unprecedented economic prosperity. Our scientific curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit led to innovative discoveries that helped establish the United States as the world’s largest economy and premier thought leader in the scientific arena. But as other nations increasingly invest in science and innovation to help grow their economies, we must recommit to promoting our own national science policy and maintaining American competitiveness around the world. Our success in this global economy will depend on our ability to compete in a fast-paced, high-tech and knowledge-based 21st century marketplace.

In 2007, the National Academy’s seminal “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report outlined the steps needed to secure our competitive advantage. Congress responded by enacting the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act. This strongly bipartisan legislation reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to investing in basic research and education and set us on a path towards reestablishing American scientific and technological supremacy so we could succeed in a global economy. The follow-on 2010 COMPETES Reauthorization Actpropelled our nation further by strengthening and solidifying federal science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education efforts. We have made great progress over the course of the last decade, but it is clear that we must do more to ensure the United States remains the global leader in technology, innovation and the creation of jobs.

That is why last year, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Innovation and Competitiveness Working Group to held a series of roundtable discussions to gather input from the science, education, business and economic development communities on how to improve the American innovation ecosystem. The American research community answered with a resounding call for increased federal investments in research and development; policies to grow our STEM workforce; enhanced efficiency of our research endeavors; and better commercialization of federally funded research.

Using the input the committee received from these roundtable discussions, the committee released the successor to the COMPETES efforts—the bipartisan American Innovation and Competitiveness Act—which was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee this week. This legislation not only strengthens American competitiveness with smart policies and updates to existing programs, it also increases federal investments in basic scientific research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) by four percent over the next year.

Building on those investments, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act will harness American inventiveness to continue developing world-renowned innovations in medicine, communications technology, aerospace and defense engineering, and more. Importantly, the bill reaffirms NSF’s merit-based peer review process for awarding grants – the international gold standard for prioritizing research proposals. The legislation also aims to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens for federal researchers, so scientists can spend more time in the lab and less time on paperwork. The bill establishes an advisory panel on STEM education to advise the federal government on how best to improve STEM programs and help educators and students more effectively teach and learn. The bill backs greater use of prizes, competitions, and crowdsourcing to engage the public in science and foster innovation. It also provides for grants to support the commercialization of federally funded research and enhances entrepreneurship training for researchers. And importantly, this bill helps make science bipartisan again.

These goals don’t just impact scientists working in labs—they are the driving force behind the next wave of discovery and innovation that will create jobs and launch new industries that will benefit every citizen. Whether we are working to improve our national security capabilities, protect our environment or design smarter cities, countries around the world look to the American model of innovation and the economic opportunity it generates to drive their own economies forward. The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act will provide our researchers and entrepreneurs with the tools they need to ensure our country remains at the top of the innovation game.