Department of Commerce Secretary Testifies before Appropriations Subcommittee

Mar 16, 2020

by ASME.org

Last week, the Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified before Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-Science, on the Department’s Budget Request for FY2021.  The Secretary shared how the $7.9 billion budget request (a $7.3 billion decrease from FY 2020 enacted levels) would allow the agency to best accomplish its mission, which includes conducting the 2020 Census; combating unfair foreign trade practices; prioritizing  U.S. leadership in space; and supporting research and development in cutting-edge technologies the President dubs “Technologies of the Future,” which include artificial Intelligence, quantum information science, 5G, advanced manufacturing, and biotechnology. Secretary Ross also shared that the drastic decrease of 48% is driven by the completion of the 2020 Decennial Census, which accounts for a $5.9 billion—or 81%--of the 48% decrease.

Subcommittee Chairman José Serrano (D-NY) opened the hearing sharing his dismay that the Commerce Secretary did not testify last year and admonished him for only submitting answers to questions that Committee asked last year just four days before this hearing took place. Chairman Serrano stated that “this disregard for the role of Congress not only offends this Committee, but diminishes our ability to do our job.” The Chairman also voiced his concern that the President’s budget “undermines American manufacturing by once again proposing to eliminate the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program.” He also shared his concern that the budget cuts offered by President Trump would significantly impact the ability of the U.S. to educate the next generation of STEM students, which would “undermine the future of our Nation’s scientific leadership and our ability to respond comprehensively to global climate change.”

While the Chairman condemns the President’s Budget Request for lacking support for advanced manufacturing, Subcommittee Ranking Member Robert Aderholt (R-AL) applauded the President for supporting manufacturing jobs across the country by making American industry a top priority.

Most of the questioning was highly contentious and focused around the census, as well as questions concerning the deep budget cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). One of the few questions around technology came from Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) who shared her strong views on ensuring that the U.S. is able to compete to be a world leader in 5G technology, as well is in artificial intelligence (AI), especially in the face of Chinese investment. It is important to note that Congresswoman Lawrence also stated that the President’s focus on AI cannot come at the expense of other research. She asked, how can America remain competitive with China if it doesn’t take a wholistic approach to research and development (R&D)? Secretary Ross answered that AI is a strategic priority of the United States, though he did not touch on the President’s decreasing R&D budget in other areas.

To view a recording of the entire hearing please visit: https://appropriations.house.gov/events/hearings/department-of-commerce-budget-request-for-fy2021.

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