Press Releases

Committee Announces Nomination Hearing for Secretary of Department of Commerce

January 19, 2021

WASHINGTON – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 to consider the presidential nomination of Gina Raimondo to be Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce.

Witness: 

  • The Honorable Gina Raimondo, of Rhode Island, to be Secretary of Department of Commerce

*Witness list subject to change

Hearing Details:

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
10:00 a.m.
Full Committee (Hybrid)

This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

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

Wicker Calls Out Big Tech After Silencing Conservative Users

January 15, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today sent letters to Big Tech CEOs Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Bezos, and Tim Cook seeking detailed information regarding decisions to restrict or permanently ban accounts of conservative users, content, or public figures on social media platforms.

Excerpt from the letters to Big Tech CEOs:

In the wake of the fatal attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, social media companies made a series of decisions to restrict the use of their platforms and access to content. Although these decisions were initially targeted at preventing further violence, the restrictions expanded in the following days. The result was thousands of conservative users’ accounts and content being restricted or permanently removed from platforms and an entire platform being denied hosting services, causing it to shut down operations temporarily.

In October, you appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to discuss Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, concerns around politically motivated censorship, and legislative proposals that would increase transparency and accountability. I am concerned that recent actions taken by your company only highlight the need for an update to the special liability protections afforded by Section 230. The current framework of Section 230 has shielded massive technology companies from any consequences for failing to protect the American tradition of free speech.

The opaque decision-making and denial of access to numerous users by companies like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, primarily targeted at conservative accounts and content, merit additional scrutiny. Americans deserve transparency and accountability for what appears to be politically biased censorship—silencing the voices of users and public figures alike. Accordingly, I request that you please provide detailed information in response to the questions below.

  1. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter recently took actions in what appeared to be a series of closely timed decisions.  Did your company or employees coordinate or otherwise consult with the other platforms regarding restrictions or permanent bans on the accounts of any conservative users, content, or public figures? If so, how?
  2. What was the decision-making process around the removal or restriction of such accounts on your platform? Was this process consistent with your existing terms of service, community standards, or guidelines for the removal or restriction of accounts?
  3. What was the timeline for deciding to remove or restrict such accounts? Did you approve of those decisions at the time actions were taken?

Click here for the full letters.

Committee Announces Nomination Hearing for Secretary of Department of Transportation

January 15, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a nomination hearing on Thursday, January 21, 2021 to consider the presidential nomination of Peter Buttigieg to be Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation.

Witness:

  • Mr. Peter Buttigieg, of Indiana, to be Secretary of Department of Transportation 

*Witness list subject to change 

Hearing Details:

Thursday, January 21, 2021
10:00 a.m.
Full Committee 

This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

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

 

Wicker Statement on Big Tech’s Censorship of Conservatives

January 12, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today released the following statement in response to Big Tech companies that have restricted or terminated conservative users’ accounts and content on social media platforms:

"Big Tech’s denial of access to users and selective decision making about online content is further dividing our country during a time when we should be fostering unity,” said Wicker. “Social media giants are using their market dominance and exercising politically biased censorship over what content users can access. These companies are adversely affecting the lives of real people, but they need to know they are playing with fire. I will fight to hold them accountable.”

Additional Relief for Aviation Workers Included in COVID Package

December 22, 2020

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today issued the following statement upon passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes $16 billion to replenish the Payroll Support Program (PSP) for aviation workers and continues the strong taxpayer protection measures from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act:

“Extending the Payroll Support Program will provide a lifeline to the tens of thousands of airline workers who have been furloughed and the communities that have lost air service since the program expired in October,” said Wicker. “Widespread access to our air transportation network is essential to economic growth. These additional funds will be critical to helping our economy recover as we get through the pandemic.”

The $16 billion will provide assistance through March 31, 2021. Passenger air carrier workers will receive $15 billion and $1 billion will go to employees of contractors that provide ground services directly to air carriers.

Committee Broadband Priorities Included in Omnibus Heads to President’s Desk

December 22, 2020

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today issued the following statement upon passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes $7 billion in COVID-19 relief to fund important broadband initiatives and provisions from the Broadband Interagency Coordination Act and Beat CHINA for 5G Act. 

“This funding will provide telehealth services, broadband connectivity to underserved and rural communities, and improve the security of our communications networks from foreign threats,” Wicker said. “It will support the FCC in developing accurate coverage maps to ensure funds are spent where they are needed most. The important provisions will also help close the digital divide and position the United States as the leader in the race to 5G. I am pleased Congress reached agreement on these core national priorities.”

Summary of $7 billion for broadband COVID-19 relief:

$1.9 Billion to Fund the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) “Rip-and-Replace” Communications Security Program

  • The broadband package fully funds the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (Public Law 116-124), which established FCC reimbursement program to remove unsecure communications equipment from the nation’s communications networks. It also expands eligibility for the rip-and-replace reimbursement program to communications providers with 10 million subscribers or less, but still prioritizes reimbursement for providers with $2 million subscribers or less. Wicker is the sponsor of the rip-and-replace law in the Senate.

$285 Million for Connecting Minority Communities

  • The package adopts S. 4422, the Connecting Minority Communities Act, which establishes an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and appropriates $285 million to support historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving education institutions, including when they partner with minority-owned businesses, to expand broadband capacity and use at the school and in the surrounding community, including by assisting students afford broadband service. Wicker is the sponsor of the Connecting Minority Communities Act.

$250 Million for Additional FCC Support for Telehealth

  • The package appropriates an additional $250 million to the FCC for its COVID-19 Telehealth Program authorized under the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136). It also puts in place new transparency obligations for the program surrounding the FCC’s review of applications, and directs the Commission to ensure, to the extent feasible, that all states benefit from the program.

$3.2 Billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit for Low-Income Americans

  • The bill establishes a temporary, emergency broadband benefit program at the FCC to help low-income Americans, including those economically-challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, get connected or remain connected to broadband. The program will supply a $50 monthly discount to qualifying households (which increases to $75 monthly for those living on tribal lands) to help them afford broadband service, and a subsidy for a low-cost device such as a computer or tablet.

$1 Billion for a Dedicated Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program

  • The bill establishes a $1 billion grant program at NTIA to support broadband connectivity on tribal lands throughout the country. The grants would be directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.

$300 Million to Promote Broadband Expansion to Unserved Americans

  • The bill establishes a $300 million broadband deployment grant program at NTIA to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. The grants would be issued to qualifying partnerships between state and local governments and fixed broadband providers. Priority for grants would be given to networks that would reach the most unserved Americans.

$65 Million for Better Broadband Maps

  • The package fully funds the FCC’s development of new, more accurate, and more granular broadband availability maps as directed by Congress in the Broadband DATA Act, Public Law 116-130. These maps will help the Federal government better target support for broadband deployment. Wicker is the sponsor of the Broadband DATA Act.

Summary of additional provisions in omnibus:

S. 1294, Broadband Interagency Coordination Act

  • The Broadband Interagency Coordination Act will require the FCC, NTIA, and U.S. Department of Agriculture to enter into an interagency agreement to coordinate the distribution of federal funds for broadband programs, prevent duplication of support, and ensure stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
  • The agreement is required to cover, among other things, the exchange of information about project areas funded under the programs and the confidentiality of the information.
  • The FCC is required to publish and collect public comments about the agreement, including regarding its efficacy and suggested modifications. 
  • Wicker is a sponsor of this bipartisan legislation.

H.R. 451, Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020

  • The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020 repeals the requirement for the FCC to reallocate and auction the 470 to 512 megahertz (MHz) band, commonly referred to as the T-Band. In certain urban areas, the T-Band is utilized by public-safety entities.
  • The legislation will also direct the FCC to implement rules to clarify acceptable expenditures on which 9-1-1 fees can be spent, and will create a strike force to consider how the federal government can end 9-1-1 fee diversion. This clarification is essential to ensuring states and localities have the resources necessary to staff 9-1-1 calling centers, respond to emergencies, and upgrade to next-generation communications systems. This provision is sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

H.R. 1328, Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand (ACCESS BROADBAND) Act

  • The ACCESS BROADBAND Act will establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (Office) at the NTIA. This Office will be tasked with performing certain responsibilities related to broadband access, adoption, and deployment, such as performing public outreach to promote access and adoption of high-speed broadband service, and streamlining and standardizing the process for applying for federal broadband support. 
  • The Office will also track federal broadband support funds and coordinate federal broadband support programs within the executive branch and with the FCC ensuring unserved Americans have access to connectivity and preventing duplication of broadband deployment programs.
  • This legislation is cosponsored by 10 Republicans in the House and three Republicans in the Senate.

S. 4803, Beat CHINA for 5G Act of 2020

  • The Beat CHINA for 5G Act of 2020 will direct the President, acting through the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, to withdraw or modify federal spectrum assignments in the 3450 to 3550 MHz band, and will direct the FCC to begin a system of competitive bidding to permit non-federal, flexible-use services in such band no later than December 31, 2021.
  • This is intended to unleash critical mid-band spectrum for commercial use to enhance U.S. global leadership in 5G and next-generation technologies.
  • This legislation is sponsored by Wicker and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Reps. Walden, Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Bob Latta, R-Ohio.

Broadband DATA Act, (Public Law 116-130)

  • The package includes an additional $33 million for the FCC to improve its broadband maps as required by the Broadband DATA Act.

Comprehensive Aircraft Certification Reform Legislation Advances to President’s Desk

December 22, 2020

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Reps. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, today released the following statements upon the congressional approval of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes the historic and comprehensive Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. The legislation will reform and strengthen the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aircraft certification process. The proposed changes come after the conclusion of multiple reviews and investigations into the FAA’s certification of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which suffered two crashes in the span of five months that killed 346 people.

“After reviewing the evidence from incident reports, soliciting recommendations from aviation experts, speaking to witnesses and stakeholders, and holding a series of hearings, this bill was drafted in direct response to information stemming from the fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft,” said Wicker. “It also includes provisions to address findings from the Commerce Committee’s extensive investigation of aviation safety. The legislation will make critical reforms to the FAA’s oversight and certification process.”

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

“This bicameral agreement will not only strengthen our country’s aviation certification process, it will enable continued American competitiveness in the aerospace industry and ensure the United States remains the gold standard in aviation safety,” said Graves. “I want to thank Chairman DeFazio, Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, House Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Garret Graves and Chairman Rick Larsen, and all those who agreed to set politics aside and  develop a final legislative proposal that focuses on the aviation experts’ recommendations.  This bill makes America’s safe aviation system even safer by acknowledging and applying the painful lessons we’ve learned as a result of the two tragic accidents, seeks improvement of global aviation safety standards, and enhances our own system without needlessly tearing it apart.”

“Our bipartisan—and now bicameral deal—is the result of nearly two years of intense investigation in my Committee, multiple public hearings on both sides of the Capitol, and countless conversations with the families of the victims and the aviation community about how best to address the failings that led to the development of a fatally-flawed aircraft and an FAA certification process that ultimately allowed that aircraft into service,” said DeFazio. “I’m immensely grateful to my Congressional partners in this effort, especially Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen, who have all been steadfast in our mission to make sure the story of the MAX is never repeated. And of course, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Stumo family, Paul Njoroge, and all those who lost their loved ones who have kept a bright spotlight on the issue in order to bring about change. I look forward to this bipartisan legislation moving quickly and being signed into law, ushering in a new chapter in aviation safety in this country and around the world.”

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

Among other things, the bipartisan, bicameral agreement:

  • Requires aviation manufacturers to adopt safety management systems;
  • Orders an independent review of Boeing’s organization delegation authorization (ODA), safety culture, and capability to perform FAA-delegated functions;
  • Reforms the FAA’s greater oversight of manufacturer’s ODA units and FAA-designees working within those units;
  • Authorizes civil penalties against aviation manufacturer supervisors who interfere with or place undue pressure on other employees who are empowered to act as FAA designees in finding that a design or product complies with design requirements;
  • Requires the FAA to approve each new designee who performs those functions;
  • Authorizes more than $75 million over three years for the FAA to recruit and retain engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists, software and cybersecurity experts, and other qualified technical experts;
  • Requires the FAA to consider whether there comes a point at which a derivative of an old aircraft design should no longer be certificated as a derivative instead of as a new design;
  • Locks in new requirements on the disclosure of safety-critical systems;
  • Expands whistleblower protections;
  • Requires the FAA to review pilot training, including manual flying skills training, and the assumptions relied upon by the FAA and manufacturers when designing an airplane, and to work with the international community to improve pilot training globally; and
  • Ensures better understanding of human factors and how to integrate them into the aircraft certification process.

In April of 2019, weeks after the second of two tragic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, Committee staff began receiving information from whistleblowers detailing numerous concerns related to aviation safety. Last week, the Committee released the investigation report on aviation safety oversight. The report details a number of significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. The committee is in receipt of many more examples and continues to receive new information from new whistleblowers regularly.

Committee Leaders Commend Passage of Pipeline Safety Legislation

December 22, 2020

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

Senate Commerce Committee Leaders:

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

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

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

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

House Transportation and Infrastructure Leaders:

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

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

House Energy and Commerce Leaders:

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

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

Among other things, the bicameral, bipartisan agreement will:

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

Wicker Releases Committee’s FAA Investigation Report

December 18, 2020

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today released the Committee’s investigation report on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This investigation began in April of 2019, weeks after the second of two tragic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, when Committee staff began receiving information from whistleblowers disclosing numerous concerns related to aviation safety.

“Twenty months ago, the Commerce Committee launched an investigation into FAA safety oversight. We have received disclosures from more than 50 whistleblowers, conducted numerous FAA staff interviews, and reviewed over 15,000 pages of relevant documents,” said Wicker. “Our findings are troubling. The report details a number of significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. It is clear that the agency requires consistent oversight to ensure their work to protect the flying public is executed fully and correctly.”

Some of the report’s more significant findings include:

  • FAA senior managers have not been held accountable for failure to develop and deliver adequate training in flight standards, despite repeated findings of deficiencies over several decades.
  • The FAA continues to retaliate against whistleblowers instead of welcoming their disclosures in the interest of safety.
  • The Department of Transportation Office of General Counsel (DOT OGC) failed to produce relevant documents requested by Chairman Wicker as required by Article I, Section I of the Constitution.
  • The FAA repeatedly permitted Southwest Airlines to continue operating dozens of aircraft in an unknown airworthiness condition for several years. These flights put millions of passengers at risk.
  • During 737 MAX recertification testing, Boeing inappropriately influenced FAA human factor simulator testing of pilot reaction times involving a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) failure.
  • FAA senior leaders may have obstructed a DOT OIG review of the 737 MAX crashes.

The Commerce Committee released a fact sheet highlighting information on improper issuance of airworthiness certificates for 88 Southwest Airlines airplanes in November, 2019. Chairman Wicker also sent a letter to FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson expressing concern about these aircraft. In January of 2020, another fact sheet was released on alleged misconduct by FAA managers at the Flight Standards District Office in Honolulu, Hawaii. An update to this fact sheet was posted on June 17, 2020. The Committee is still reviewing the ongoing production of requested documents from the FAA and additional information received from whistleblowers.

Click here to read the Committee’s report, which includes a one-page executive summary and a six-page overview.

Bipartisan NASA Authorization Bill Clears Senate

December 18, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, along with Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, today released the following statements after the NASA Authorization Act of 2020 passed the Senate. The bill provides the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) the clear direction needed to advance our nation’s space initiatives and investments and assert American global leadership in the final frontier.


“NASA needs the resources to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024,” said Wicker. “The NASA Authorization Act would provide strong support for the Artemis program along with the tools needed for a sustained lunar presence and deep-space exploration.”

"Congress just took a big step forward in authorizing the Artemis Program, which will send women to lead our next mission to the Moon,” said Cantwell. “It also includes authorizations for continued space exploration and growing the space economy, including extending the International Space Station and supporting the lunar lander system. For more than 50 years, the State of Washington has been a leader in the space program, and with this legislation our state is poised to be a key part of NASA’s return to the Moon—maybe even with a woman from Washington taking that historic first step.” 

“As chairman of the Aviation and Space Subcommittee, I'm proud to once again lead this bipartisan legislation that continues to ensure America remains on the cutting edge of innovation and the manned exploration of space,” said Cruz. “I am grateful America’s leadership in space remains an issue of such broad bipartisan agreement. A few months ago we witnessed the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, the first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, on the first commercially-created spacecraft in American history. That successful mission was a bright moment in an otherwise difficult and tumultuous year, and has united and inspired Americans to further human potential. These next 50 years in space have the potential to be even more consequential than the last 50 years, and the legislation we’ve passed today gives NASA the resources and direction it needs to face this new era, and the challenges that will come with it, with boldness. Not only will this legislation enhance our presence in low-Earth orbit, but will help Americans safely return to the moon, and put America's dreams of taking the first step on the surface of Mars directly on our horizon. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to strengthen America’s leadership in the final frontier.”

“Strengthening America’s leadership in space exploration boosts our national security and expands economic opportunities for Arizona,” said Sinema.  

The NASA Authorization Act of 2020 would:

  • Support NASA’s human spaceflight and exploration efforts to return American astronauts to the Moon and prepare for future journeys to Mars;
  • Extend authorization for the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030 and direct NASA to take steps to grow the space economy;
  • Require the United States to maintain a continuous human presence in low-Earth orbit through and beyond the useful life of the ISS;
  • Support NASA’s leadership in coordinating the development of next generation spacesuits;
  • Leverage private sector investment to bolster human space exploration with the Artemis Program and NASA’s Human Landing System;
  • Authorize NASA's Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL) authority. EUL allows companies to lease vacant or underutilized buildings owned by NASA with lease proceeds helping to fund capital improvements at the NASA centers;
  • Provide rapid acquisition authorities similar to those that have proven successful at the Department of Defense and other agencies;
  • Direct NASA to maintain and upgrade irreplaceable rocket launch and test infrastructure;
  • Support vital life and physical science research to ensure that humans can live in deep space safely;
  • Direct NASA to improve upon its planetary defense measures in order to protect Earth from asteroids and other near-Earth objects;
  • Affirm NASA’s commitment to aeronautics research by supporting a robust X-plane program as well as work on efficient propulsion concepts and advanced composites; and
  • Support NASA’s STEM education and workforce efforts.

To see the full text of the bill, click here.

Speeches

Wicker Speaks on Upcoming STELAR Deadline

November 19, 2019

Click here to watch Chairman Wicker’s floor speech.

Excerpt from Chairman Wicker’s remarks, as delivered, below:

Madam President, I rise today because there is a legislative deadline in front of this body that we dare not miss. Even as I speak, our colleagues in the House Energy and Commerce Committee are considering the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization – or STELAR.

For 30 years, STELAR and previous versions of the law have allowed people who live beyond the reach of a broadcast signal to receive broadcast programming nonetheless.

Some Senators believe that in 2019 STELAR has outlived its usefulness and want it to expire. But other Senators want to extend some of these provisions – at least in the short term – to prevent consumers from losing these broadcast signals. Still others want to use the STELAR reauthorization legislation as a vehicle to implement other reforms.

I have introduced new legislation, the Satellite Television Access Reauthorization – or STAR – to move this process forward. The existing STELAR statute expires December 31st. 

So absent congressional action before the end of the year, the provisions included in STELAR that enable nearly 870,000 Americans to access broadcast TV signals will no longer be the law of the land.

These Americans, who depend on STELAR, are mostly in rural parts of this country, like my home state of Mississippi. They include truckers, tailgaters, and RV drivers. And they include Americans living in very remote areas.

I say to my colleagues, now is the time for Senators to make their positions clear. Over the course of this year, I have been polling Members to ascertain what this body wants. As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I will act according to the majority wishes. But time is running short.

Many people point to the fact that the media landscape is changing. There are more options for video content than ever before. New programming is coming out every day that is being streamed through new services. Those are all great things. As I said at a June Commerce Committee hearing, we are living in the Golden Age of television.

The Commerce Committee has been working to close the digital divide between rural and urban America to make sure all families can access those choices and all families can be part of the Golden Age. But, there are still Americans without internet access and without broadcast signals. They deserve the ability to view basic television services, just like everyone else.

Without the reauthorization of STELAR, many Americans would not be able to watch broadcast news or enjoy access to programming that is available for the rest of the country. They will be on the wrong side of the digital divide, and there would be a widening cultural divide as they would be cut off from the flow of programs and information.

If members of this body are of a mind to move forward with some extension of this statute, we will work with our colleagues in the House. That may include improvements and enhancements to STELAR that address good faith requirements, level the playing field in the marketplace, promote access to programming, and ensure robust competition. But we don’t have much time.

After this week, senators will go home for Thanksgiving. Many of those across the country who benefit from STELAR in our states will watch football games and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade thanks to the STELAR law. They will enjoy time with their families, and I look forward to doing the same.

But when Congress returns, there will be just two weeks – ten legislative days – to finalize any legislation and send it to the President for a signature.

Madam President, in this body taking no action is easy, it comes naturally. But in this case no action equals the repeal of the STELAR law in its entirety and members should know that. 

We have ten days to ensure 870,000 Americans will be able to watch the same programs next year that they are seeing this year. Or we can let STELAR expire and take the risk of letting the chips fall where they may.

Wicker Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

July 17, 2019

Click here to watch Sen. Wicker’s floor speech.

Excerpt from Chairman Wicker’s remarks, as delivered, below:

Michael Collins wrote during that lonely flight, while his two colleagues were walking on the face of the Moon, “I am absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over the other side of the Moon, and one plus God knows what on this side…”

These three men were separated from the rest of humanity, but they certainly were not alone. Hundreds of millions of people watched and prayed and gave them their best wishes. It is hard to believe – I still have to pinch myself – to think that I was a freshman in college for this Moon walk and that was 50 years ago; how could 50 years pass by so quickly?

You know, Mr. President, men and women have always looked up at the night sky and seen their heroes in the constellations. Now we still look up at the sky and we see our heroes, but among them are astronauts who go to the stars and return, and will go to the Moon and to Mars and return. I want to salute the people who have done it before and the people who are making plans to put a man and woman on the face of the Moon within five years.

And so as we celebrate the 50th anniversary, we look toward the future – to all the missions that will come and go. And we remind ourselves of this country’s common purpose and potential. The Moon landing was not the end of an age of discovery, it was only the beginning.

 

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.

Op-Eds

Wicker and Sullivan in Defense News: Polar icebreakers are key to America’s national interest

October 19, 2020

In 1867, the U.S. secretary of State, William Seward, struck a deal to buy Alaska from Russia for 2 cents per acre. Critics panned the deal as wasteful and labeled it “Seward’s Folly.” But Seward’s strategic foresight has brought America a bounty of natural resources, a beautiful new frontier, and a pivotal edge in World War II and in the Cold War.

To this day, the waters off the Alaskan coast supply our nation with critical petroleum, fish stocks and deep-sea minerals. Yet, the United States is losing strategic ground in the Arctic to our adversaries Russia and China. A decisive tool in that rivalry is the icebreaker, a vessel uniquely equipped to cut through deep layers of Arctic ice.

Russia has the world’s largest icebreaker fleet, numbering over 40 total with three more under construction and a dozen planned in the next decade. China, too, is building ice breakers and investing in Arctic infrastructure. By contrast, the U.S. Coast Guard has just two polar icebreakers: the Polar Star and the Healy.

Until recently, those two ships divided their efforts at opposite poles — the Polar Star resupplying the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and the Healy protecting U.S. interests in the Arctic. A recent shipboard fire aboard the Healy has put half of America’s polar icebreaker fleet out of commission. As a result, the Polar Star is now America’s only operational polar icebreaker.

This unfortunate turn of events has created new space for Russia and China to exert maritime influence. Both powers are continuing to invest heavily in Arctic-capable assets and erode American influence.

This summer, the Russian Navy conducted its largest war games exercise since the Cold War near Alaska. Russia has also reopened over 50 previously closed Soviet military facilities and positioned early warning radar and missile systems near Alaska.

China is upping its polar capabilities by pouring money into the construction of a fifth Antarctic research station, completing its second polar icebreaker and conducting six expeditions to the Arctic. In recent years China has declared itself a “near-Arctic state,” achieved permanent observer status on the multinational Arctic Council and announced its “Polar Silk Road” economic ambitions.

The Arctic is a geopolitical convergence point. Without new investment in polar capabilities, our adversaries' influence will grow. The risk is less protection of U.S. commercial and scientific vessels, weaker enforcement of international law, and an increasing threat to our national security.

At the center of U.S. efforts to reverse this trend is the Polar Security Cutter program. This program will produce a fleet of six new icebreakers — including the first heavy icebreakers built in U.S. shipyards in over 40 years. Congress has already funded the first vessel, which should undergo sea trials by 2024. The Coast Guard has requested funding for the second vessel.

These ships cannot come fast enough. Even so, the Coast Guard will have to stretch the service of the Polar Star until at least 2023, more than two decades beyond the ship’s expected useful life.

President Donald Trump raised the alarm in June when he instructed six members of his Cabinet to make recommendations to achieve “a ready, capable, and available fleet of polar security icebreakers.” The president understands that two aged and broken icebreakers are a far cry from the needs of the world’s largest trading economy and military superpower.

Secretary Seward made that historic deal for Alaska 153 years ago. The only folly would be to cede to our adversaries, through underinvestment and neglect, the Arctic advantage the United States has long enjoyed.

This op-ed was orginally ran in Defense News

Wicker and Sinema in USA Today: We need to prepare for internet of the future. Here's how Congress can help.

January 15, 2020

You have probably seen an error 508 message on the internet. When browsing a website or clicking a link, these 508 messages pop up when you cannot get where you want to go. 

It seems Congress hits an error 508 message every time it tries to address net neutrality. Common-sense proposals for a compromise on net neutrality to protect Americans are met with fear mongering, political rhetoric and demands for ideological purity — on both sides of the aisle.

The Federal Communications Commission and the federal courts also have been caught in an infinite loop, where the rules for internet providers and consumers constantly change.  Each new administration changes the rules, then the opposing sides argue in federal court for a couple of years before the next administration changes the rules again.

The DC Circuit Court's recent decision to uphold the FCC’s 2018 rollback of net neutrality rules is the most recent example of a process that results in uncertainty, confusion and more litigation. Meanwhile, Americans just want and expect a government that’s watching out for their interests and protecting both their privacy and freedom.

As senators from different parties and different parts of the country, we think Americans deserve certainty and fair treatment. We have created a working group to address the internet’s most pressing policy challenges. We hope to encourage a fact-based, bipartisan dialogue and develop a compromise that will finally resolve this infinite loop on net neutrality. 

There is more agreement on this issue than you might guess. Most people believe telecommunications proposals should protect consumers, increase transparency, promote broader access to internet services, and ensure internet providers treat content from different sources fairly, all while spurring innovation and investment. We have started with these principles as the base for our work.

FCC relied on outdated rules

Because Congress chose to spend time fighting rather than fixing this challenge, the FCC attempted to use outdated rules from the Communications Act of 1934 to regulate the internet. These laws do not work with our 21st century digital technology and did not benefit consumers when applied to today’s internet.

For example, the 2015 FCC rules unfortunately increased costs for Americans and American businesses. In fact, investment in broadband actually decreased by $4 billion in the year after these rules went into effect — a bad sign when the rest of the economy was growing at the same time.

In 2018, the FCC changed its rules again. While many were worried these changes would hurt Americans’ access to the internet, more Americans have been connected to fiber and investment has increased. Still, there is a lot of room for improvement. 

Americans know more about the opportunities and challenges provided by the internet than we did in 1996, and they expect meaningful protections and deserve to know how internet providers are operating. Providers also need clear rules that promote future investment and prevent blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of lawful Internet traffic. 

These goals require concrete laws that set the rules of the internet road, and that fit the innovative world we live in today. We believe this legislation should empower consumers and foster market transparency, choice and innovation.

Step back from partisanship

We cannot yet imagine the next-generation internet products and services that will come to market in America’s future. But as innovation continues to leap forward, the dynamic and creative nature of the internet should be encouraged, not inhibited by regulations. The internet is one of the greatest forces for entrepreneurship in history. We need to update it with a framework for the future.

We urge our colleagues in Congress, as well as all the stakeholders who have contributed to this national discussion, to step away from partisan corners or entrenched positions and join our working group’s goal of a bipartisan path forward. 

Imagine the benefits for all Americans if both parties can come together, fix this challenge and break the endless error 508 loop.

This op-ed was orginally ran in USA Today

Wicker in the Sun Herald: Getting Stennis Space Center Ready for Liftoff

December 3, 2019

Like most Mississip- pians in 1969, I had no idea that the path to the Moon and to victory in the space race went through Hancock Coun- ty, Mississippi. But it did.

The Stennis Space Center — then called the Mississippi Test Facility — was the ideal site for testing the Saturn V rock- et that sent Neil Arm- strong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on their journey. America is en- tering a new space race today, and Stennis is going to play a vital role again.

Much has changed since the 1960s. Back then, the space race was a Cold War battle be- tween the Soviet Union and the United States. There are more players now, including rivals like China. New technologies made possible by half a century of innovation make the lunar module look like an antique. And private spacefaring com- panies are blasting off, adding to the possibilities of exploration and en- terprise in space.

The economic opportu- nities of the commercial space sector have taken the spotlight. Now valued at $400 billion, experts anticipate it to grow to nearly $3 trillion over the next two decades. That is more than the gross do- mestic product of the United Kingdom. There were 35 commercial space launch and re-entry operations in 2018 licens- ed by the Federal Avia- tion Administration (FAA), up from just 17 in 2016.

This growth presents challenges. Scientists and entrepreneurs are cre- ating new and different flight operations, safety systems and propulsion technology every year, making it necessary for today’s workforce to master concepts that might not have existed or even been imagined a short time ago. The fact that many of the people who do have these skills are at or near retirement age only increases the urgency. With the accel- eration of commercial space operations and future launches already scheduled, the FAA will need to do more to en- sure that its staff is pre- pared.

Keeping pace with these developments will require ongoing recruit- ment, education and training. As the nation’s premier rocket propul- sion test facility and home of NASA’s Engi- neering and Test Directo- rate, Stennis is the best- positioned facility in the world to get America’s workers ready for liftoff.

To make sure the FAA and Stennis are equipped for this task, I have in- troduced the Licensing Innovations and Future Technologies in Space (LIFTS) Act. The LIFTS Act would create a facil- ity at Stennis to train and retrain commercial space licensing professionals. It would provide the hands- on experience necessary to make sure the com- mercial space sector remains dynamic and safe.

Under the LIFTS Act, Stennis would soon be- come the focal point for an effort involving NASA, the FAA, the commercial space industry and aca- demia to modernize and update commercial spaceflight licensing training programs. The lessons learned at Stennis would then reverberate to partners around the globe, teaching them about what works and does not work in com- mercial space licensing.

Stennis Space Center has set the course for rocket engine testing operations since the first space race. During the entire Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, no engine tested at Stennis ever failed a mission. That legacy continues, and NASA uses Stennis to test the RS-25 engines that will put the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.

The path to the Moon will once again go through Hancock Coun- ty, Mississippi. But some- thing unimaginable when I was young — a thriving private commercial space sector — is ready to take off as well. That will be thanks in large part to the Magnolia State and the hard work of the Mis- sissippians at Stennis Space Center.

Roger Wicker represents Mississippi in the U.S. Senate. He is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

This op-ed was orginally ran in the Sun Herald.

Wicker in The Hill: Pay America’s Coast Guard

December 3, 2019

Last January, during the longest government shutdown in American history, the 170 Coast Guardsmen aboard the cutter Bertholf departed Alameda, California, on an assignment to the South China Sea. They did so having not seen a paycheck since before Christmas and without knowing how long they would have to go without one.

All government shutdowns are policy failures. They waste taxpayer dollars and cause financial hardships for millions of federal workers and their families. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the five-week partial shutdown cost the American economy $8 billion in the first quarter.  I have cosponsored the End Government Shutdowns Act, which would prevent this senseless situation from happening again. While this legislation works its way through Congress, I urge my fellow members to make sure that what happened to the Coast Guard during the last shutdown does not happen again if another budget impasse should occur.

The Coast Guard was not funded and its members went without pay during the partial shutdown because it operates in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS was one of the agencies that did not receive an appropriation, forcing a partial shutdown. The other four branches of America’s armed forces – the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force – were funded because their resources come from a Department of Defense appropriation. No one – regardless of service branch – who leaves home to defend the United States by serving in our military should be asked to do so without pay. The Coast Guard deserves to be treated as an equal branch of our armed forces.

The Coast Guard’s 48,000 active-duty and reserve members are parts of a long blue line of service dating back to Alexander Hamilton’s purchase of ten ships for the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790. They protect the American people and promote security in a complex and ever-changing world. The Bertholf is just one example of the vital defense work done by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Today’s Coast Guard has unique authorities, capabilities, and partnerships that secure more than 4.5 million square miles of ocean, 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline, and a marine transportation system that collectively supports $5.4 trillion of annual economic activity. This activity supports over 23 million American jobs – many in my home state of Mississippi. On a typical day, 11 Coast Guard cutters, two patrol aircraft, five helicopters, two specialized law enforcement teams, and a Port Security Unit support Pentagon commanders on all seven continents. The Coast Guard lives up to its motto, “Semper Paratus” (Always Ready).

Three months ago I visited Alaska with the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Charles Ray. We met with some of the Coast Guard men and women hit hardest by the shutdown. My colleague Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told me a story of one Coast Guard family that illustrates what many went through. The husband, a member of the Coast Guard, had been out at sea for months and came back during the shutdown. While he was gone, his family struggled to get by. Instead of returning home joyfully to his wife and one-month old baby, the family members wondered if they could afford to stay in their house any longer. They almost had to abandon the home the husband had been deployed to defend.

This problem is solvable. The “Pay Our Coast Guard” provision in the Senate version of the 2019 Coast Guard Authorization Act is an obvious step. It would mandate that, in the event of another partial shutdown, members of the Coast Guard would be paid by the same legislation that would provide for the other branches of our armed forces. Families of the fallen and retirees would continue to receive their benefits regardless of whether or not Congress is able to resolve partisan differences. This legislation would enshrine parity across the military.

The unequal treatment of the U.S. Coast Guard was a betrayal of our nation’s armed forces. Along with honoring our veterans this November 11th, passage of this simple legislation would show that when Americans say “thank you for your service” we actually mean it.

Roger Wicker represents Mississippi in the United States Senate. He is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This op-ed originally ran in The Hill

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.