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Nomination Hearing

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Commerce Announces Markup of FAA Reauthorization

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold an executive session on Thursday, June 29th at 9:00 a.m. in Dirksen 106 to consider four legislative measures and three nominations.

Thune and Nelson Introduce Bill to Protect Aspiring Olympic Athletes

Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 ensures an independent entity for reporting and investigating abuse ...

Committee Announces Hearing for Two Nominees

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a nomination hearing at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, for two nominees subject to Senate confirmation.

Commerce Leaders Introduce FAA Reauthorization Bill

Commerce leaders announced the introduction of S. 1405, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2017, which reauthorizes federal aviation programs through fiscal year 2021.

Thune Asks FCC to Redouble Efforts to Free Mid-Band Spectrum

Thune’s letter stresses the need to modernize spectrum policy to keep pace with innovation as the nation moves toward a 5G world.

Ranking Member Bill Nelson Opening Statement

Thank you Admiral Pekoske for joining us today to discuss your nomination to be the next administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.  And I want to thank you for your 33 years with the Coast Guard and your willingness to continue to serve our country.

As you know, TSA is tasked with protecting our transportation systems and the traveling public, while also ensuring the flow of commerce. Though TSA is most visible to the public at commercial airports across the nation, the agency’s security responsibilities cut across all modes of transportation; including transit, railroads, pipelines, and maritime.

As threats to our transportation systems evolve, TSA must respond to meet new challenges and anticipate future risk.

For instance, the attacks this week in London and Brussels, as well as several others over the last few years, continue to ring the alarm that surface transportation security remains a serious threat.

That’s why I worked with Chairman Thune and Senators Fischer and Booker to introduce the Surface Transportation and Maritime Security Act.

For too long, surface transportation security has been underfunded and unfocused. Our bill aims to fix that by enhancing risk-based security, requiring training to address threats on our highways, closing gaps in port security, and providing funding to improve security at our rail stations and ports.

Importantly, the bill adds as many as 200 canine teams, which provides a powerful psychological and physical deterrent to potential threats.

Also, the FAA extension, which passed into law in July 2016, included bipartisan provisions to better guard against terrorism threats and improve security screening efficiency for travelers. 

For instance, it authorized TSA to double the number of TSA’s VIPR teams from 30 to as many as 60 teams. It also expanded grant funding to assist law enforcement in preparing for and responding to mass casualty and active shooter incidents at airports and mass transit systems. 

TSA was also required to evaluate staffing, technology options, and checkpoint configurations to expedite passenger movement through security screening.  This included efforts to expand TSA PreCheck.

Now although the administration increases TSA’s overall budget from the previous fiscal year, it includes several proposals that could undermine security, including cutting the VIPR teams from 31 to 8, eliminating TSA staffing at airport exit lanes, and eliminating the Law Enforcement Officer Reimbursement Program.

Instead of cutting the tools that have proven most effective, I believe we should be focused on reexamining and bolstering our transportation security strategy.

Admiral Pekoske, I look forward to hearing how you will protect our citizens and our nation’s vital transportation networks. And I hope that you will remain committed to visiting at least one of our Florida airports with me.

Reopening the American Frontier: Promoting Partnerships Between Commercial Space and the U.S. Government to Advance Exploration and Settlement

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a hearing titled “Reopening the American Frontier: Promoting Partnerships Between Commercial Space and the U.S. Government to Advance Exploration and Settlement” at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. The subcommittee will examine partnerships between the U.S. government and commercial space industry to advance space exploration.

Witnesses:

- Mr. Robert Cabana, Director, NASA Kennedy Space Center
- Mr. Tim Ellis, Co-Founder and CEO, Relativity
- Dr. Moriba K. Jah, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Cockell School of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin
- Mr. Jeffrey Manber, CEO, Nanoracks
- Ms. Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer, SpaceX

Hearing Details:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017
2:30 p.m.
Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness

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

Subcommittee to Explore Issue of Marine Sanctuaries

The subcommittee hearing will provide oversight of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Sanctuaries Program. The hearing will also explore the new nomination process for sanctuaries and how sanctuaries can contribute to the economy.

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When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act in 1996, it made clear that all Americans should have access to quality communications services at just, reasonable, and affordable rates.  From that time, the Universal Service Fund, established by the FCC, has been a primary mechanism for achieving universal communications service across the country.  It has supported the deployment of communications networks to rural and remote geographic areas, and it has provided essential support to build-out networks to health-care facilities and other institutions that would likely go without service.

In 2011, the FCC significantly reformed parts of the USF program in an attempt to address past shortcomings and inefficiencies, particularly when deploying communications services to high-cost rural areas.  Many of these reforms stemmed from economic assumptions and other judgments about how the Commission anticipated funding needs for service in hard-to-reach areas.  They also aimed to make support more efficient, while modernizing programs and ensuring next-generation communications technologies and services reach rural areas.

Despite reforms, challenges within USF persist.  These challenges include the program’s ability to support meaningful investments into broadband deployment and conduct necessary maintenance on established networks.  As a result, this has left a disparity in quality communications service between urban and rural areas.

Inadequate data collection methods are also one of USF’s challenges, leading to an inefficient distribution of funds to truly underserved and unserved areas.  To address this issue, I recently joined Senator Manchin in introducing the “Rural Wireless Access Act,” which has the support of several of my colleagues, including Senators Schatz, Fischer, Klobuchar, Moran, and Peters.  This bill would require the FCC to standardize its data collection methods to ensure that USF support is directed to rural communities – in Mississippi and across the nation – that are actually in need. 

Reliable data is a critical step toward eliminating inefficiencies within the USF program and fulfilling the statutory goal of universal service.  I appreciate the efforts of all stakeholders involved to improve data collection at the FCC. As these efforts continue, it is important that this data be collected quickly so as not to delay the delivery of essential communications services, through programs like Phase II of the Mobility Fund, to communities in need.

Ensuring the deployment of broadband service to rural health-care providers is another critical component of the USF program.  Today, Senator Schatz and I will reintroduce the “Reaching Underserved Rural Areas to Lead on Telehealth Act.”  With this bill, several health-care providers that offer service predominantly to rural areas would qualify for support under USF’s rural health-care program.  Mississippi is a leader in telemedicine and is driving the use of innovative technologies to improve the quality, accessibility, and affordability of care.  Robust broadband connections, supported through USF, are vital to the adoption of this life-saving technology.

The importance of our efforts to deliver broadband service to rural areas cannot be understated.  Job creation, economic development, and access to digital innovation – such as telemedicine, fully self-driving cars, and smart communities – have become increasingly reliant on the presence of high-quality, high-capacity broadband networks.  It is imperative for all Americans to have access to the communications services promised by USF programs.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about the state of broadband investment in rural America and how the USF program is affecting the market.  I also hope the witnesses will offer recommendations on how the Commission can address inefficiencies within USF to ensure that the economic and digital opportunities afforded by broadband reach our rural communities.

Today we will consider the nomination

Today we will consider the nomination of Adm. David Pekoske to become the next Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Having spent over 32 years in the Coast Guard after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy in 1977, Adm. Pekoske is an exceptionally well-qualified nominee to become the next TSA Administrator.

His extensive leadership experience ranges from serving as the Commander of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area and Coast Guard Defense Forces West, where he was in charge of all Coast Guard operations in the western hemisphere, to becoming the 26th Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard in 2009, where he served as the second-in-command, the Chief Operating Officer, and the Component Acquisition Executive of the Coast Guard.

Adm. Pekoske’s nomination to become TSA Administrator comes at an important time.  Security threats remain a persistent challenge for both aviation and surface transportation, and the TSA is not only tasked with protecting these modes from terrorist attacks, but also ensuring the freedom of movement of people and commerce in an efficient manner.

Since its creation by this Committee in response to the 9-11 attacks, the TSA has been subject to extensive scrutiny by Congress, the public, and the media.  The TSA has been appropriately criticized for issues like the ease with which covert testers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have been able to smuggle contraband through screening checkpoints, as well as persistent problems with large acquisitions.

In spite of these challenges, the previous TSA Administrator, Adm. Peter Neffenger, made significant positive changes to the agency, some of which include shortening wait times during last summer’s travel season, improving technology at checkpoints, and the creation of a training academy for workers.  I hope that Adm. Pekoske can build on these improvements, provide continuity for TSA’s workforce, and apply his extensive leadership skills to solving the challenges that remain, should he be confirmed.

The Commerce Committee has been active on aviation security.  Last Congress, the Committee passed the most comprehensive reforms to TSA in a decade in the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which addressed the challenges posed by unauthorized access to secure areas of airports, expanded access to TSA PreCheck, and attempted to optimize checkpoint operations.

Earlier this year, however, the Commerce Committee held an oversight hearing in which DHS Inspector General John Roth testified that challenges still remain with regard to many of these issues.  Inspector General Roth’s testimony indicated that these challenges include vulnerabilities related to the vetting of employees, ensuring that only cleared employees have access to secure areas, and the troubling issue of lost or stolen access badges.  I hope that Adm. Pekoske will make progress in addressing these persistent problems raised by Inspector General Roth.

As the Committee continues to work with TSA to improve aviation security, it is important to incorporate the perspectives of stakeholders.  The Commerce Committee recently held a hearing to highlight stakeholder perspectives on improving TSA to better serve the traveling public.  One of the major themes that emerged from the witness testimony was the need for a risk-based approach to security, as well as better collaboration between TSA and industry to promote innovation.

Currently, the agency is drawing considerable attention for exploring the possible expansion of the ban on personal electronic devices, such as laptop computers, on flights to the United States from certain last point of departure airports.  While the Secretary of Homeland Security has recently signaled that such a move may be unnecessary, this is a good example of an issue where stakeholder collaboration will be critical to the development of solutions and the acceptance –and implementation – of security protocols.  My hope is that Adm. Pekoske will work to promote relationships with the private sector and create a culture at TSA that embraces innovative approaches to security.

In the surface transportation sector, a long-standing challenge for TSA has been adopting a cross-cutting, risk-based approach to security across all modes.  In April, the Committee held a markup on the Surface and Maritime Transportation Security Act, which I introduced with Ranking Member Nelson.  Our bill would direct TSA to conduct an analysis across all modes of transportation for asset deployment, require that TSA apportion its budget on this basis, and establish a Surface Transportation Advisory Committee similar to the Aviation Stakeholder Advisory Committee.  The bill was reported favorably with bipartisan support and we continue to work to ensure its eventual enactment.

I was able to meet with Adm. Pekoske last week in advance of this hearing, and I believe that if confirmed, he will provide important strategic and cultural continuity to the TSA in much the same manner as his distinguished predecessor.  I strongly support his nomination, and I hope that we can move quickly to confirm him.  With that, I turn to the Ranking Member for any remarks he might have.

Subcommittee to Explore Solutions to Marine Debris

The subcommittee hearing will explore solutions to marine debris and provide oversight of current government efforts to clean up debris in our nation’s oceans and waterways.

Committee Announces Hearing for TSA Administrator Nominee

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a nomination hearing at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, for the president’s nominee to serve as administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.

Subcommittee to Explore Universal Service Fund and Rural Broadband Investment

The subcommittee will examine the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund and its capabilities for the deployment of broadband in rural America.

Subcommittee to Examine Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Space Exploration

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a hearing titled “Reopening the American Frontier: Promoting Partnerships Between Commercial Space and the U.S. Government to Advance Exploration and Settlement” at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.

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