CONFIRMATION HEARING: Don Graves, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

On Tuesday, March 10th, 2021, the Senate Committee on Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a full committee hearing on President Biden’s nomination Don Graves to be the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Topics covered in the hearing included concerns over fishery management, rural broadband access, supply chain resilience, the pandemic’s impacts on tourism, competition with China, and the US-EU privacy shield. More information on the hearing can be found here, and Nominee Graves’ opening testimony can be found here.

ISSUES RAISED

  • Rural Broadband Access – Multiple Senators raised concerns with the lack of access to broadband connection in many rural and tribal communities, and asked Nominee Graves to elaborate on the role Commerce can play in increasing broadband access. Nominee Graves noted that the pandemic has highlighted the necessity of a broadband connection for businesses and for access to health and government services, and stated that the NTIA is well equipped to help support increased access to broadband for rural and tribal areas. He committed to ensuring NTIA coordinates with the FCC and USDA to ensure funds are distributed to truly un- and underserved areas, and stated he would also ensure engagement with stakeholders across the country, including tribal leaders and local government officials, as well as businesses. Graves stated that he would work with NTIA to develop a balanced approach between supporting proven technologies and supporting new technologies in broadband access.
  • Fishery Management – Chairwoman Cantwell (D-WA) and Ranking Member Wicker (R-MS) both raised concerns about federal fishery management, with Cantwell noting the years-long wait to get fishery disaster determinations from NOAA, while Wicker raised concerns with a lack of access of high-quality data for commercial and sport fishing limits. Nominee Graves committed to working with both senators on these issues, stating that he would work with NOAA to make certain disaster dollars are getting out the door and are used to support critically impacted communities, and stated he would work with NOAA and Senator Wicker to ensure access to high quality data, while noting a balance needs to be struck with conservation. Graves stated that the Economic Development Agency could be an effective tool to help those associated with the commercial fishing industry grow back while the restaurant industry recovers. 

 

  • Supply Chain Reslience – Multiple Senators raised concerns with the security of the US supply chain, particularly around semiconductor shortages, and asked Nominee Graves how Commerce can help make US supply chains more resilient and secure. Nominee Graves stated that supply chain resilience is critical for international competition, and highlighted President Biden’s recent executive order directing a whole-of-government review of US supply chains. He stated Commerce needs to use all the tools at its disposal, including offensive and defensive tools, to ensure access to critical items like semiconductors for vital industries.
  • Competition with China – Multiple Senators raised concerns about China’s actions, including human rights violations and failures to comply with their agreements. They asked Nominee Graves to elaborate on Commerce’s role in competing with China. Graves stated that China is a threat to US security, prosperity, and values, and they have already hurt American workers and businesses, they have blunted US technological advantage, they have challenged national security, and they have committed gross human rights violations. He stated that if confirmed, he would use all tools at his disposal, both offensive and defensive, to protect American businesses. Graves stated this will require a whole-of-government approach, working with economic policy agencies, national security agencies and the foreign policy team to develop a set of practices to hold China accountable, stating that this will require working with allies and partners around the globe to help them understand that the threat to the US is also a threat to them. 
  • Impact on Tourism – Multiple Senators raised concerns about the severe impacts the COVID-19 pandemic had on the tourism, travel, and hospitatlity sectors, and asked Nominee Graves how he would support this industry. Nominee Graves stated that part of the solution is ensuring that funds appropriated to the Economic Development Agency get out the door efficiently, which will require close coordination between EDA and partners in federal, state, and local governments. He committed to working with the Committee to ensure that the tourism and travel industries have the necessary resources to fully recover. He stated that it is important the US promotes tourism in every state. 
  • US-EU Privacy Shield – Several Senators raised concerns about the ongoing US-EU Privacy Shield negotiations, and asked Nominee Graves to elaborate on how he would address the issue. Nominee Graves stated that he was dismayed by the European Court of Justice’s ruling about data privacy, noting the free flow of data and privacy is critical to many businesses. He stated that the US should do everything in its power to speed up negotiations with the EU and member countries to ensure the continued free flow of data. 
  • US Exports – Multiple Senators noted that 95% of customers live beyond American borders, and asked Nominee Graves how he would support US businesses seeking to export their products. Nominee Graves stated that he would work with the US Commerican Service and across Commerce to ensure US taxpayers and businesses are able to navigate Commerce programs and use Commerce resources. He also stated that US export controls, in addition to investing in innovation and R&D, can help increase manufacturing of products inside the US. In response to Senator Peters (D-MI), Nominee Graves stated he would work with the Senator on his proposed legislation to create a team at Commerce that monitors trade flows and produces self-initation reccomendations to help small and mid-sized businesses who cannot afford to bring trade actions. 
  • Weather Forecasting – Chairwoman Cantwell stated her concern that NOAA’s weather forecasting and predictions have been subpar, stating that accurate predictions are vital, especially with planning around extreme weather events like smoke from fires. Nominee Graves stated that the US deserves the gold standard in weather forecasting and predicting, and committed to working with her to ensure this is the case. 
  • Census – Chairwoman Cantwell stated her concern about the delays in processing the census, noting that several states have concerns about meeting requirements for public input before their constitutional requirements on redistricting. Nominee Graves committed to prioritizing addressing accuracy and timeliness issues, promising to not allow politics to impact the timeliness or the accuracy of the Census, and that he would listen to career census experts. 
  • Spectrum and 5G – Senator Thune (R-SD) asked Nominee Graves if he supported freeing up spectrum currently held by the federal government for commercial use to better compete with China in the race to 5G. Nominee Graves stated that Commerce should work with the FCC and other federal agencies to idenitify ways to free up spectrum for use by the private sector, so long as it does not impact national security needs, or the needs of first responders. Senator Blackburn (R-TN) asked Nominee Graves if he supported nationalizing the 5G network. Graves stated he did not support nationalizing the 5G Network.