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Testimony Before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Testimony Before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

Chairwoman Mikulski, Ranking Member Hutchison, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to join you to discuss the President’s Budget request for the Department of Commerce for Fiscal Year 2012. 

Since I joined the Department of Commerce two years ago, we have focused on delivering our services more efficiently at less cost to the taxpayer. 

Those efforts paid off. 

  • The 2010 Census was completed on schedule and under budget, saving taxpayers $1.9 billion;
  • Our Economic Development Administration cut the time it takes to award a grant from 128 days to 20 days, and;
  • Our Patent Office reduced an 800,000 application backlog by 10 percent last year, even as applications surged 7 percent. This month, we’ll be rolling out a program allowing applicants to have patents evaluated in a year or less for a small fee. 

Our efficiencies and cost savings are not one-off achievements.

We’ve instituted comprehensive performance management processes throughout the department, which should help our reforms stand the test of time.

It is in this context of proven savings and performance that I hope the committee will consider Commerce’s FY 2012 budget request. 

Our 2012 budget request is lean.  It cuts outdated programs, and drives major efficiencies in others.   And our budget projects $142.8 million in savings thanks to significant IT improvements, aggressive acquisition reform, and other administrative savings.

At the same time, it contains key investments that will help America win the future by:

  • Spurring innovation;
  • Increasing America’s international competitiveness; and
  • Supporting scientific research and our coastal communities.

These are the core missions of the Commerce Department.

On the innovation front, the Department of Commerce is responsible for providing the tools, systems, policies and technologies that give U.S. businesses a competitive edge in world markets.

That’s why we are requesting additional funds for our National Institute of Standards and Technology, including an increase of more than $100 million for research into:

  • Advanced manufacturing technologies;
  • Health information technology;
  • Cybersecurity; and
  • Interoperable smart grid technology.

These investments in standard-setting and in basic research –  which are often too risky or too expensive for businesses alone – have historically spurred waves of private-sector innovation, helping make machines more efficient and technologies more compatible.

To further support innovation, our FY2012 budget also requests that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gain full access to its fees, so we can expand the already substantial reforms undertaken by Undersecretary David Kappos.  These reforms will help get cutting edge technologies into the marketplace quicker, which will create jobs.

The Commerce Department, through our International Trade Administration, is also playing a lead role in the president's National Export Initiative, which aims to double U.S. exports by 2015.

American companies – especially small and medium-size businesses – rely heavily on the federal government support available under the NEI. I hear about it everywhere I go.

These companies often face significant hurdles in:

  • Getting access to working capital to produce the goods they want to sell abroad; and
  • Finding reliable foreign customers and vendors for their goods and services.

Our International Trade Administration helps many companies clear these hurdles.  Last year, we:

  • Helped 5,500 U.S. companies export for the first time or increase their exports; and
  • Coordinated an unprecedented 35 trade missions to 31 different countries.

Our efforts are paying off, with U.S. exports up 17 percent last year.

And our FY 2012 budget envisions more funds for activities like:

  • Business-to-business matchmaking services; and
  • Identifying and resolving trade barrier issues.

Finally, I want to touch on the critical work done by our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA – an agency that is a key source of scientific information and increasingly critical to America’s economy.

Last year, NOAA played a pivotal role in responding to the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill by providing targeted weather forecasts, oil spill trajectory maps and by ensuring the safety of Gulf seafood.

And last month, NOAA issued its first tsunami warning just nine minutes after the tragic earthquake that struck Japan.

NOAA was able to so quickly sound the tsunami alarm because of strong Congressional support. In 2004, before the tsunami that struck Indonesia, NOAA had six buoys in the Pacific to detect seismic and wave activity. Today, thanks to Congress, it has 39.

The work that NOAA does to predict and respond to weather and natural disasters saves communities money, and most importantly, saves lives.

What I've just discussed is, of course, just a fraction of the Commerce Department’s work, and I’d direct you to my written testimony for more detail.  In the meantime, I will be happy to answer your questions.