May 26 2005

SHELBY CHAIRS HEARING ON COMMERCE DEPARTMENT BUDGET

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL), Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, today heard testimony from Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez regarding the FY 2006 budget for the Commerce Department. Senator Shelby’s opening statement, as prepared, is included here:

“Good Morning. I want to welcome Secretary Gutierrez to his first appearance before the newly created Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. Thank you for joining us his morning to discuss the fiscal year 2006 budget for the Department of Commerce.”

“We look forward to hearing from you about your vision for the Commerce Department, and the challenges you see in the coming fiscal year. Given the tight budget constraints we are facing, this Committee will need your assistance in making some very tough choices about the distribution of resources and your guidance regarding the true priorities of the Department.”

“The fiscal year 2006 budget request for the Department of Commerce is $9.4 billion. This includes $3.7 billion for the President's Strengthening America's Communities Initiative. With the initiative, the Department's total budget increases by $3 billion, or 48 percent over last year's funding level. Without the initiative, however, the Department's total budget decreases by $656 million.”

“While this initiative has laudable goals, I believe there may be some obstacles ahead. The program consolidates eighteen federal economic and community development programs from a variety of agencies into a single direct-grant program to be housed within the Commerce Department. Legislation has not yet been introduced to authorize the program and the details of the initiative are still unknown. I hope that today you will provide the Committee some of the details that have been lacking about the initiative as well as your plans to move it forward.”

“The Department's budget also proposes significant increases for the Census Bureau, Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), and the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). I understand the increase for the Census Bureau primarily supports the Decennial Census, and the increase for PTO reflects full access to its fees and will support minimizing application processing time and enhancing the quality of products and services for the patent process and the trademark process. I hope we can discuss these increases in further detail today. We would also like to discuss whether the increases proposed for the Bureau of Industry and Security are sufficient to support BIS’ critical mission of regulating the export of sensitive goods and technologies.”

“Your budget does include some programmatic decreases that concern us. Mr. Secretary, the Administration proposes to cut funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by 8.5 percent. This cut comes at a time when the Presidentially-appointed U.S. Ocean Commission recommended doubling our federal expenditures on ocean and coastal research. Given the recommendation, the Committee finds such a decrease puzzling.”

“Mr. Secretary, following your confirmation I am sure you were surprised to learn that NOAA makes up 65 percent of your budget. While we appreciate that you must balance many important priorities within the Department of Commerce, you will find on this committee, there is significant interest in NOAA.”

“NOAA produces nautical charts and tide predictions critical to trade and commerce; it manages fish and shellfish for world consumption; it provides weather and climate predictions vital to the agriculture and energy sectors, and to commerce as a whole. Mr. Secretary, I hope that as you begin to write your first budget request for the Commerce Department, you will consider carefully the concerns of this committee regarding funding for NOAA.”

“I am pleased that the Administration continues to show support in this budget request for the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, better known as NIST, by proposing $426 million, a 12.5 percent increase above last year's appropriation. The NIST labs play a vital role in the development of measurements, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life. NIST's measurements and standards contribute to the development of such things as bullet-proof vests, mammogram technology, DNA analysis, computer security, nanotechnology, voting machines, and manufacturing.”

“Unfortunately, the Administration proposed to terminate the Advanced Technology Program and reduce the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Program by over 50 percent. I am sure you will find, Mr. Secretary, these programs enjoy bipartisan support from a number of Members here in the Senate. I plan to work with Senator Mikulski to ensure that all of NIST's programs are funded so that it can carry out its mission of 'standards' and 'technology'.”

“In addition, the budget proposes to terminate the Public Telecommunications Facilities, Planning, and Construction Program grants which provide support for public broadcasting's digital conversion. The proposal assumes these grants can be provided through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's (CPB), even though CPB's assistance has traditionally been more limited. I would like to discuss the impact this shift of responsibilities will have, especially on rural stations.”

“Secretary Gutierrez, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Commerce Department's budget request, and

I look forward to working with you on these and the many other important issues facing our Nation.”

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