Mar 04 2010

CJS Hearing on Commerce Budget

Opening Statement of Ranking Member Richard Shelby

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS), today delivered the following opening statement at the CJS hearing examining the proposed Department of Commerce budget for fiscal year 2011.

Department of Commerce FY2011 Budget Request
March 4, 2010

“Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.  This is the beginning of our fifth year on this subcommittee. We have worked closely together, sharing many of the same goals and expectations for the agencies we oversee.  I am pleased to serve beside you once again and want to thank you for your continued leadership.

“I also welcome back Secretary Locke, along with Inspector General Zinzer, and look forward to learning more about the fiscal year 2011 budget request for the Department of Commerce, and what the Inspector General is doing to ensure that the Department’s programs are being run efficiently.   

“The nation relies heavily on the Department of Commerce to maintain America’s competitiveness within markets around the world.   The Department provides avenues to promote the products and services of U.S. businesses, and then helps level the playing field by expanding, strengthening, and enforcing our international trade agreements. 

“Also, through the Department of Commerce, our country is able to maintain high technical standards, as well as staying on the cutting edge of scientific research – all of which are fundamental to our nation’s leadership in the global market place.   In particular, one area of the budget request that accomplishes this objective is the 7.3 percent increase in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s budget line.  The $918.9 million request maintains the commitment to budget levels authorized by the COMPETES legislation.  Key thrusts of this request will enable NIST to expand research on measurements and standards related to cyber security, health IT, the Smart Grid, and manufacturing applications. 

“Unfortunately, Mr. Secretary, today we will also hear about programs that are not nearly as successful, and some that are complete failures.  The Administration has put forth a Department of Commerce budget request that attempts to balance priorities with a freeze on discretionary spending.  Yet this budget proposes a $1.1 billion increase accomplished by offsetting reductions in the onetime costs of the Decennial Census and providing the Department of Commerce with a significant increase in base spending.  This budget simply hides a massive spending increase under the guise of fiscal discipline through a hidden spending reduction.

“Mr. Secretary, over the past year, we have learned of cost and schedule overruns within NOAA satellite acquisition programs, numerous Information Technology failures, disconcerting treatment of our fisheries, and glaring failures at the Census. 

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) faces many challenges in FY11, including the creation of the National Climate Service, the reorganization of the National Polar Orbiting Satellite Program (NPOESS), as well as addressing the system vulnerabilities of NOAA weather satellite data to security breaches.

“Mr. Secretary, there are some proposed improvements in the management of NPOESS, but these changes are only cosmetic.  This restructuring will still cost the taxpayers $5 billion more than the original estimate.  And what will this additional funding get the American taxpayer?  Two satellites, which is four less than the six originally required.

“I wish the failure of NPOESS was the only bad news to report about the management of National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, but there is more.   For at least four years, NOAA has operated high-impact systems without the required security controls.  The Inspector General’s FY2009 Federal Information Security Management Act assessment of the Environmental Satellite Processing Center indicates that 110 of 134, or 82 percent of the required security controls that should be implemented to control access to devices and information at this center are lacking or non-existent.  The IG indicates that, because of the lack of any security planning, the number of security vulnerabilities cannot even be calculated.

“These failures show that the Department of Commerce is lacking in the competencies required to procure, operate, and protect the government systems and the information they contain.  The Department’s total disregard for the sensitive information to which it is entrusted is an abomination, and if there is not a significant correction in the Department’s direction, I will recommend that these programs, and any others that the IG questions, be ended.  From this point forward, the Department would be better served to focus its attention on addressing its shortcomings and less on providing commentary to the IG’s findings.  

“Mr. Secretary, as NOAA attempts to actually manage NPOESS adequately, I am concerned it may be doing the exact opposite for our nation’s fisheries through over-regulation. 

“The red snapper fishery provides valuable commercial and recreational opportunities in Alabama, as well as being an enormous contributor to the economy.  Both the fishermen’s observations in my state and NOAA’s own data show a dramatic increase in the number of catchable red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.  And yet catch limits remain low and the season is shortened every year.

“While we need to promote the health of this fishery, we must balance environmental concerns with economic well-being.  We cannot overburden the hard working men and women in the Gulf whose livelihood depends on fishing by restricting their catch based on faulty science and data collection.  Today in the Gulf, NOAA is continuing to put catch limits on fishermen when it lacks any comprehensive independent fisheries data that is critical to making accurate assessments of the health of the red snapper population.  Without this independent scientific information, the fishery and NOAA must rely on fishery dependent data, which are inherently biased against the fisherman and do not provide an accurate picture of the red snapper population. 

“I understand NOAA is required to end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks, but fishermen along the Gulf Coast have suffered severe cutbacks in their catches for many years. If the science shows the stock is as healthy as it seems to be, it is time for fishermen to benefit from their sacrifices.  Mr. Secretary, I want to work with you to make certain that NOAA has the resources to collect this independent data to implement fair and adequate fisheries management. 

“Finally, Mr. Secretary, the Department is about to reach the height of arguably its most important mission this year – the 2010 Census.  The Census is vastly important to the representation in Congress and the allocation of federal funds.  It must proceed in as reliable and accurate manner as possible.  This is an enormous undertaking that has already faced many challenges.

“During the 2010 Census, the Department intended to incorporate new technology to reduce costs and improve accuracy.  Instead, we, the US taxpayer, paid $595 million for a technology that could not be operated and cannot be implemented.  The Census has now turned back to the antiquated paper-based counting method.

“After wasting millions for the Department to revert back to paper and pencil counting, the Census office spent $2.5 million on a Super Bowl commercial to advertise that the Census is required by law.

“Further, the Census will also hire hundreds of thousands of temporary workers as part of their effort to count every single person in the nation.  However, there are disturbing news reports that 10,000 temporary hires were paid $3 million for doing no work; another $1.5 million was wasted on paying 5,000 people who worked for a single day or less, while an additional 581 employees have submitted questionable mileage reimbursement requests. 

“Mr. Secretary, there are many managerial failures at the Department of Commerce – many of which I highlighted today.   The acquisition history of NPOESS, the overly restrictive management of the Gulf’s fisheries, as well as the failed acquisition of the Census handhelds demonstrates that management and acquisition oversight does not exist at the Department.  Just these few examples show a systematic failure in the leadership at the Department that we must address.

“Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, Mr. Secretary, and Inspector General Zinzer.”