Shelby Statement on Commerce Dept. FY15 Budget Request

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-Science, today delivered the following opening statement at a hearing on the Department of Commerce’s fiscal year 2015 budget request:

Thank you Madam Chair.

I want to welcome Secretary Pritzker to her first hearing before the CJS Subcommittee. 

The Department of Commerce is responsible for a broad range of activities critical to our nation.  Weather forecasting, fisheries management, economic development, and trade enforcement are just a few of the Department’s responsibilities. 

In a time of constrained budgets, prioritization and strong oversight are essential to keeping the Department on the right path.  The request for 2015 is $8.7 billion, $568 million more than the 2014 enacted level. 

The budget request attempts to balance the wide range of activities under the purview of the Department.  Finding that balance, however, remains a challenge.  Costly satellite procurements and the build-up to the 2020 Census add significant budget pressures that could negatively impact other important core programs. 

Ensuring that priority satellite projects stay on schedule and on budget is essential to the overall budget picture.  Additionally, as the Department develops long-range plans for satellite procurements, it must maintain focus on those projects that ensure weather forecasters have the data and information they need to protect life and property. 

While there are a number of satellite projects on the books, resources are limited.  I am concerned that the Department has not prioritized these costly projects based on the value of services they provide to the core mission of the agency. 

Madam Secretary, when it comes to projects of this magnitude, the Department must differentiate between the must-have’s and the nice-to-have’s.  Unfortunately, I am not convinced that all of the satellite projects the Department is focused on are truly necessary to the core mission of NOAA.

My concern is exacerbated by reports from the GAO and the Department of Commerce Inspector General suggesting that a gap in polar satellite data is likely. 

Without this data, weather forecasters would be unable to do their jobs and the safety of millions of Americans could be in jeopardy.  Yet the Department has failed to present a viable gap mitigation plan in its 2015 request, choosing instead to advance “nice-to-haveâ€? satellite projects.  

Secretary Pritzker, this troubles me. 

Finally, I want to touch on the Department’s request for the Economic Development Administration (EDA). 

The Department has once again proposed to shift support away from traditional, effective economic development programs that help distressed communities to fund a new community planning program.  The Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program proposes to support 25 communities the Administration believes have the best economic development and planning regime in place. 

The program gives selected communities a seal of approval intended to signal to business and industry around the world that the community has been chosen by the Administration as worthy of investment.  Additionally, chosen communities will be granted priority access to federal resources.

I am concerned that this type of system allows the Administration to pick winners and losers.  There are many communities that have worked diligently to recruit business and industry and I worry that their future efforts might be disadvantaged by this new program if they are not chosen.  What’s more, I am concerned that they might be further disadvantaged in obtaining federal grants because their grant application won’t be given the same consideration as a chosen community.

Sustained growth and competitiveness should be a priority for communities across the nation.  It should not however, be restricted to a few manufacturing communities hand-picked by the Administration.  

I look forward to working with you Madam Chair and the Secretary to address these issues as we prepare the 2015 bill.

Thank you Madam Chair.