U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee issued the following statement on news that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other agencies had reached a $14.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen to compensate consumers who were duped into buying vehicles with illegal emission defeat devices:
“This was one of the most egregious examples of corporate fraud in recent history,” said Nelson. “Today’s settlement is not only a victory for American consumers but hopefully it will serve as a deterrent to those who seek to intentionally deceive the public.”
Last September, Nelson pressed the FTC to seek compensation for consumers who relied on Volkswagen’s company’s false ‘Clean Diesel’ advertising claims. The FTC filed suit against VW in March over the company’s deceptive claims. Click here to view Nelson’s letter to the FTC.
How the Internet of Things (IoT) Can Bring U.S. Transportation and Infrastructure into the 21st Century
Good morning. I am pleased to convene the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation & Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security for today’s hearing entitled “How the Internet of Things (IoT) Can Bring U.S. Transportation and Infrastructure into the 21st Century.”
This hearing will examine how the Internet of Things can advance our nation’s transportation and infrastructure system.
America’s transportation network is well-positioned to benefit from new developments in technology. For example, the Internet of Things offers new ways to help alleviate congestion on our nation’s roads, reduce cargo shipping delays at ports, and monitor rail and pipeline infrastructure safety. This growing, interconnected network can inform policymakers on where to invest limited resources in road and bridge maintenance.
In March, Senator Booker and I joined Senators Ayotte and Schatz to introduce the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things, or “DIGIT,” Act. This bipartisan legislation builds on our resolution which passed the Senate last year. It calls for a nationwide strategy to drive development of the Internet of Things.
The DIGIT Act would convene a working group of private and public sector stakeholders to offer recommendations to Congress. They would focus on how to plan for and encourage the growth of the Internet of Things. Our bill would begin discussions on the future of this network and ensure the United States is adopting policies that accelerate innovation and allow it to thrive.
This could have a positive effect on transportation.
For instance, global supply chains represent a major opportunity to take advantage of the Internet of Things to grow exports and imports. In today’s “just-in-time” shipping environment, time is money and efficiency is key. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, by 2045, freight volumes will increase by 45 percent.
DOT, in its Beyond Traffic report, found that transportation delays have a high cost. For example, Nike, Inc., “spends an additional $4 million per week” in extra inventory to compensate for shipping delays. The same report found that a week-long disruption at our nation’s two largest ports (LA & Long Beach) would cost our economy as much as $150 million per day.
Meanwhile, supply chains are changing rapidly in response to transportation delays and alternative options.
For example, after nine years, the $5.4 billion Panama Canal expansion is expected to open this week. Following the project’s completion, the Panama Canal will be able to process ships nearly three times as large as before and will provide a greater connection between our East Coast ports and Asian export markets. A recent white paper co-authored by C.H. Robinson and the Boston Consulting Group pointed out that the canal’s expansion, “promises to reorient the landscape of the logistics industry and alter the decision-making calculus of shippers that the canal serves.”
Delays in our logistics chain raise costs for shippers, infrastructure operators, carriers, and consumers. By increasing connectivity and real-time data flows between stakeholders, our transportation network and its users will gain productivity.
Infrastructure design, construction, maintenance, and safety will also benefit from improved data and connectivity. State and local highway officials constantly face challenges when allocating limited resources to an array of transportation projects.
For example, AECOM has established a Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology system (known as SMART) to remotely monitor bridges, dams, and other transportation assets. AECOM’s SMART infrastructure seeks to use the Internet of Things to enhance the operating efficiencies of infrastructure and lengthen the life of critical assets.
Real-time monitoring represents a crucial analytic tool. It can enable states and localities to expend highway dollars in a risk-based manner, thereby bolstering safety and infrastructure reliability.
As part of the FAST Act, I worked with my colleagues on this committee to author a robust national freight policy that will provide states with greater resources to designate critical urban and rural corridors. Congress also expanded the objectives of the intelligent transportation system program, which seeks to integrate technology, communications, and data into our transportation network, to include enhancing our national freight network.
Senator Booker and I have been working together to better understand the possibilities of the Internet of Things, and to educate our Senate colleagues on them.
I am pleased that we have an exceptional group of stakeholders appearing before this subcommittee today.
We are fortunate to have officials who are developing policy at the federal and local levels. I am eager to hear how private sector stakeholders are utilizing the Internet, data, and technology to manage infrastructure projects, and advance freight and passenger transportation networks.
I would now like to invite Senator Booker to offer opening remarks.
 U.S. Department of Transportation, “Beyond Traffic 2045,” p. 9.
 IBID, p. 178.
 Wall Street Journal, “Panama Canal Expands,” June 19, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-panama-canal-expands-1466378348.
 IBID (14,000 twenty foot equivalent container ships vs. 5,000).
 Boston Consulting Group and C.H. Robinson, “Wide Open: How the Panama Canal Is Redrawing the Logistics Map.”
 AECOM, “Buildings Bridges join the Internet of Things,” July 9, 2013, http://blogs.aecom.com/connectedcities/buildings-and-bridges-join-the-internet-of-things/.
 Section 6005, “Intelligent Transportation System Goals,” FAST Act.
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Layoffs, Benefit Cuts Coming Soon Due to Obama Overtime Rule
WASHINGTON – As the December 1, 2016 compliance deadline for the Department of Labor’s new overtime rule rapidly approaches, traditional small businesses, technology start-ups, and other small employers told the House Small Business Committee today that they may soon be forced to layoff workers, reduce benefits and lower wages to cover the costs of the new federally-mandated requirements.
“The DOL has heralded this rule as a long-overdue action that will provide tremendous benefits to workers,” said House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH). “However, like so many of this Administration’s policies, this one-size-fits-all mandate will do far more harm than good.”
“Numerous small employers weighed in on this proposal and told the Department of Labor that the unprecedented salary level increase would have very negative repercussions,” Chairman Chabot noted. “They asked for a common sense rule that recognized that not all employers have the same resources or utilize the same compensation structures. Unfortunately, their pleas fell on deaf ears.”
“I want to assure the small employers here today, and those tuning in from across this great country, that while DOL didn’t listen to you, we are,” Chairman Chabot added.
Painful Choices Looming for Small Businesses
“From a personal perspective, this rule is likely to have negative consequences - not only to my company, but to my employees as well,” testified Albert F. Macre, a general partner at Payroll+ Services in Steubenville, OH.
“In addition to these negative impacts, the implementation window is very short. This rule will become effective on December 1, 2016, just over five months from now. Given that many small businesses are still struggling with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act five years after the enactment, this window of compliance seems barely cracked open,” Macre explained.
“As a small business owner with several salaried employees positioned between the current exempt overtime earnings threshold and that created by the Department of Labor’s new rule, I now find myself standing with countless other small business owners forced to swallow more government 'medication' prescribed before an accurate attempt at diagnosis has been completed,”Macre added.
Stunting the Growth of Tech Start-ups
“Looking back on when I started my company in 2010, I can tell you with 100% certainty that I would have not been able to hire my first employee had this rule been in place,” said Adam Robinson, the Co-founder of Hireology, a human resources technology business, in Chicago, IL.
“My company now has 100 employees with a median annual compensation that exceeds $70,000 a year - well above the US average. How many “Hireology’s” won’t get started as a result of this rule making that 1st employee unaffordable for an entrepreneur? Are fewer good-paying jobs created and fewer businesses launched the outcomes that are desired here?” asked Robinson.
“Like most federal regulations, the overtime rule is a one-size-fits-all policy that doesn’t distinguish among firm size, sector, location, or compensation structure. This means that companies that don’t fit the Department of Labor’s outdated model will be disproportionately hurt by the rule,” explained Robinson.
“At a time when the middle-class in this country is already being squeezed, the tech sector, sales jobs, and middle-management positions are a few areas that still provide relief. The overtime rule threatens to close those career pathways that have been paved by hard work,” he added.
Small Local Governments and Non-Profits Also Affected
“Mineral County is the very definition of a small governmental entity and we are very concerned about the potential impact of the new overtime rule on our ability to fulfill our fundamental responsibilities — many of which are mandated by the state and federal government,” testified Jerrie Tipton, the Chairman of the Mineral County Board of Commissioners in Nevada.
“Unfortunately, the new overtime rule does not adequately address the wide variations in local labor markets in counties across the country. And ultimately, please remember that the new rule will have broad consequences for taxpayers — and county services,” observed Commissioner Tipton.
“[T]he rule will drastically impact the budget and operations of nonprofits, as well as colleges and universities, health care providers, small businesses and local governments. These employers may be unable to absorb such costs without adverse impact to employee relations or fiscal operations,” testified Christine V. Walters, the Sole-Proprietor of FiveL Company in Westminster, MD.
“One of my clients provides rehabilitation services to a disadvantaged population, of which 85 percent of their clients meet the current poverty threshold. Unlike other employers, this organization cannot transfer increased costs to their lower-income consumers,” explained Walters.
Kline Statement: Hearing on “Next Steps in K-12 Education: Examining Recent Efforts to Implement the Every Student Succeeds Act”
That’s not just my own personal view. It’s the view held by governors, state lawmakers, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents who recently wrote that, “[The Every Student Succeeds Act] is clear: Education decision-making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions.” It’s also the view of most honest observers. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, the law represents the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”
The reason for this hearing and our continued oversight is to ensure the letter and intent of the law are followed. A critical part of our effort is holding your agency accountable, Mr. Secretary, for the steps that are taken to implement the law. When you were with us in February, you said, “You can trust that we will abide by the letter of the law as we move forward …”
That is a strong statement, and it is one of several commitments you’ve made that the department would act responsibly. But actions speak louder than words. In recent months, we have seen troubling signs of the department pulling the country in a different direction than the one Congress provided in the law.
The first troubling sign is the rulemaking process itself. There are a number of concerns about the integrity of the negotiated rulemaking committee, including the makeup of the panel, the lack of rural representation, and the accuracy of statements made by department staff. The point of the negotiated rulemaking process is to build consensus among those directly affected by the law, yet it seems the department decided to stack the deck to achieve its own preferred outcomes.
The second troubling sign surrounds the long-standing policy that federal funds are to supplement, not supplant, state and local resources. Prior to the Every Student Succeeds Act, this rule was applied differently depending on how many low-income students a school served; some schools faced more onerous requirements than others. Last year, Congress decided the rule would be enforced equally across all schools. Now, school districts must simply show that funds are distributed fairly without prescribing a specific approach or outcome. The law explicitly prohibits the secretary from interfering, yet that is precisely what your proposal would do.
What the department is proposing would be both illegal and harmful to students and communities. It would impose a significant financial burden on states and force countless public school districts to change how they hire and pay their teachers. This regulatory effort is trying to achieve an end Congress deliberately rejected and that the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service warns goes beyond “a plain language reading of the statute.” No doubt you have good intentions, Mr. Secretary, but you do not have the legal authority to do this. I strongly urge you to abandon this flawed scheme.
The third troubling sign is the department’s accountability proposal. Let me note that there are policies in this proposal we are pleased to see, such as how states set long-term goals and measure interim progress. But in a number of ways, we also see the department’s bad habit for making decisions that must be left to states.
This is especially troubling given the law’s explicit prohibitions against federal interference, including how states compare school performance and identify schools for support. For years, states grappled with a rigid accountability system imposed by Washington. The Every Student Succeeds Act turns the page on that failed approach and restores these decisions back to state and local leaders. I urge you, Mr. Secretary, to adopt a final proposal that fully reflects the letter and spirit of the law.
We are raising these concerns because it’s vitally important for the laws written by Congress to be faithfully executed. And just as importantly, we are raising these concerns because we want to ensure every child has the best chance to receive a quality education. We cannot go back to the days when the federal government dictated national education policy—it didn’t work then and won’t work now.
If the department refuses to follow the letter and intent of the law, you will prevent state leaders, like Dr. Pruitt from Kentucky, from doing what’s right for their school districts. You will deny superintendents, like Dr. Schuler of Arlington Heights, Illinois, the ability to manage schools in a way that meets the needs of their local communities. And you will make it harder for teachers, like Cassie Harrelson from Aurora, Colorado, to serve the best interests of the students in their classrooms.
Later, we will hear from these individuals because they represent the people we want to empower. Every child in every school deserves an excellent education, and the only way to achieve that goal is to restore state and local control. That’s what the Every Student Succeeds Act is intended to do, and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure the letter and intent of the law are followed.
1. Hearing Notice
2. Witness List
Mr. Adam Robinson
*Testifying on behalf of the Job Creators Network
The Honorable Jerrie Tipton
Commission Chair Mineral County
*Testifying on behalf of the National Association of Counties
Mr. Ross Eisenbrey
Economic Policy Institute
While the federal government has long provided students with financial assistance to pursue a postsecondary education, for many, the college selection and financial aid process is complicated, burdensome, and confusing. Taking time to fully understand the available data can be an aggravating task that may get put off and ultimately ignored, often with disastrous consequences
In 2008, Congress attempted to make information about colleges and universities more transparent with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. That bill directed the secretary of education to collect and report on information from every college and university receiving federal student aid, including cost of attendance, the percentage of students receiving financial aid, and college completion rates. As a result, information from 7,000 colleges across the nation is now available to help students and their families plan for the future. But there is more that can be done.
Much of the data available because of the 2008 reforms does not take into account large numbers of students enrolled in higher education or fails to capture crucial information that students and families need. To make matters worse, many of the federal government’s efforts to increase transparency in higher education since 2008 have only added to the confusion and uncertainty many prospective students face.
That’s why I—along with my colleagues Mr. Messer and Mr. Sablan—introduced the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act. This bill will improve the information students and their families need to make smart decisions about their education, providing a more complete picture of student populations on our nation’s college campuses. It will also begin to streamline the overwhelming maze of information currently provided to students and families at the federal level.
More specifically, the bill requires the secretary of education to create a consumer-tested College Dashboard. This dashboard will provide students with the key information they need to decide what school to attend—such as the completion rates of all students at that college or university, not just those attending college full time and for the first time.
To ensure students know this information is available to them, the bill also instructs the secretary to actively provide links to the College Dashboard pages of each institution that a student lists on his or her application for federal student aid. By improving and making more students aware of the information available, we can better assist them in making financially responsible decisions that will help them achieve the dream of obtaining a college degree.
Furthermore, this legislation will streamline many of the federal government’s existing transparency efforts—requiring better coordination between federal agencies and eliminating unnecessary initiatives.
It’s crucial that we continue to increase transparency in the country’s higher education system. The Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act is a positive step forward in that effort. The substitute amendment I am offering makes small technical changes to the base bill for clarity.
I urge my colleagues to support the amendment, as well as the underlying legislation
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Students and parents face a number of difficult questions when considering their higher education opportunities. Deciding how to responsibly finance and pay for their education is an important part of that process.
Unfortunately, the policies in place to promote the financial literacy of aid recipients are seriously lacking. In fact, in a survey of current students and recent graduates who are carrying a high level of student loan debt, more than 40 percent couldn’t remember ever receiving financial counseling—even though it was required before receiving their first loan.
The current system is ineffective and failing to help students make the best financial decisions for their future. Without the information and assistance they need, applicants could make a choice about financial aid that will have detrimental consequences not only in the near-term but for years to come.
That’s why I worked with Representatives Allen and Bonamici to introduce H.R. 3179, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act. This bill will help Americans make smart decisions when it comes to financing their higher education by improving the timing and frequency of loan counseling. First, it will require individuals to receive their counseling before signing on the dotted line, helping students understand the responsibilities they are taking on and keeping them well-informed every step of the way.
Additionally, the legislation will bolster exit counseling to help borrowers make smart financial decisions as they leave school. It’s not enough to be aware of financial options and commitments before and during school. We need to empower students to make smart financial decisions as they begin to repay their college loan commitments, as well.
H.R. 3179 will also enhance the content of financial aid counseling, ensuring it is tailored to a borrower’s unique needs and individual circumstances, and it will require the secretary of education to maintain a consumer-tested, online counseling tool for institutions to use in providing required financial counseling.
In today’s anemic economy—as college costs continue to rise—students and their families cannot afford the cost of making poor financial decisions in pursuit of a higher education. The Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act will help students receive the information they need to understand their options and make financially responsible decisions as they work to achieve their goals.
The substitute amendment I am offering makes noncontroversial technical changes. I urge my colleagues to support the amendment and the underlying legislation.
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Like many aspects of the student aid system, the application for aid can be confusing and too complex for many students and families to complete. The FAFSA includes 108 questions requesting information on everything from the net worth of investments to complicated tax information. Many of these questions rely on data that students do not yet have or are so complicated they deter applicants from even completing the form.
As the chairman noted earlier, it’s critically important that students have the information they need to make timely, informed decisions about higher education. That includes information on what aid might be available to help them pursue a college degree and the responsibilities that come with accepting assistance. If the current process deters them from even completing the application for aid, how can students possibly get the help they need? That is why, based on the recommendation of higher ed leaders in Nevada, I began working with some of my colleagues on the committee to reform the FAFSA and improve the student aid application process.
The Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act—which I am proud to sponsor with Dr. Roe and Representatives Polis and Pocan—is the fruit of that labor and does exactly what the title suggests. It will streamline and improve the application process through a number of commonsense measures, all of which will help students and parents access the financial aid information they need in a timely manner to better understand their higher education payment options.
First, it will allow students to use income data from two years prior to the date of application. Traditionally, the FAFSA has relied on income tax data from the previous year, but that data is not readily available when students should begin filling out their applications. While the Department of Education currently has the authority to allow students to use “prior-prior year” data, the department only recently began taking advantage of this authority.
This bill will ensure students are able to use prior-prior year data in the future. This will allow them to complete the FAFSA earlier and receive information about their aid options sooner. It will also provide aid administrators more time to verify the income of applicants, both strengthening the integrity of the federal student aid system and enabling administrators to provide students with accurate aid information as soon as possible.
Additionally, the legislation will require the Department of Education to allow more applicants to easily import their available income data through the IRS, helping them automatically populate answers to many FAFSA questions with information from their tax returns, making it easier on students and parents to accurately complete the form. The bill will also require the FAFSA be available on a mobile app and require the online and paper versions to be consumer-tested. Both of these measures will make the application process easier and more user-friendly.
By improving the application for student aid, we can help more students make smart decisions about college and realize that a college degree is within reach.
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