Chaired By: Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)
Witnesses: J. Randolph Babbitt, Nominee to be FAA Administrator; Rebecca M. Blank, Nominee to be Undersecretary for Economic Affairs at the Department of Commerce; Aneesh Chopra, Nominee to be Associate Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President; John D. Porcari, Nominee to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation; Lawrence Strickling, Nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce Ffor Telecommunications and Information, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
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SEN. WARNER: This meeting will come to order. Let me say to Senator Isakson and Senator Begich, this is the most rapid rise of a freshmen member to committee chairmanship and I think in recent Senate history. (Laughter.) Please don't tell Senator Rockefeller that I got comfortable in this chair for any moment in time. But we are going to, I know Senator Rockefeller sends his apologies to the nominees. I'm going to do a brief opening statement and then we will start with Senator Mikulski and Senator Cardin who will make the introductions of one of our nominees.
So we'll start with that. I'm happy to welcome and congratulate all the nominees before us today. It's a great honor for you to be before the committee and I look forward to hearing from these distinguished individuals. If confirmed, these leaders will be responsible for improving our networks, advancing our policies and promoting our transportation systems. I mentioned Chairman Rockefeller sends his sincere regret for not being able to welcome you in person, but looks forward to reading your remarks and hopes to work with you in the coming months and years.
I'd also like to recognize Senator Isakson, Senator Begich and if Ranking Member Hutchison comes, she'll obviously have a chance to make her comments as well. Because we have a number of nominees this morning, I would ask each of them to make their remarks fairly briefly so we can make sure we've got plenty of questions. Obviously President Obama, was elected to bring change to our nation and advancing the shared goals we all have of progress and prosperity will require everyone's best efforts.
Before us in a few moments will be the nominees for positions in: the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, NTIA; the Office of Science and Technology Policy, OSTP; and the United States Department of Transportation. Obviously as somebody who spent a career in communications before taking the plunge in the government, I'm particularly interested to hear from Mr. Strickling because his challenges will be not only to manage digital television transition, making sure we appropriate distribute broadband stimulus funds and navigate the Internet governance.
These are all issues that have remarkable consequence as all beyond the bounds of telecommunications policy, extending into the overall health of our economy. We're then going to be hearing from Mr. Chopra who had a long record in association with, you obviously have been nominated to serve two roles, associate director of White House Office of Science and Technology and chief technology officer, a new position the president has recently created. And I'll be making some more formal comments about Mr. Chopra when I have chance to introduce you.
Mr. Porcari, if confirmed, you will be responsible for giving our nation's transportation system a new vision and you'll have to balance the needs of all the transportation -- the Department of Transportation's agencies, to ensure that our transportation systems are safe, efficient and sustainable. I would also add, I hope today is not the high point considering the glowing articles you received recently of bipartisan support in the Washington Post today.
I've been around a long time in the region and I rarely do see such a strong story of endorsement of your background and credentials and I know we're going to hear from Senator Mikulski and Senator Cardin on that subject in a moment. Mr. Babbitt, obviously, as administrator of the FAA, enormously challenging position, both in terms of next-gen safety issues and a host of other issues around aviation; we look forward to your testimony.
And finally, Mr. Blank, conducting the 2010 Census, one of the largest undertakings of our government and as undersecretary for economic affairs at the Department of Commerce, you will also serve as head of economics and statistics administration, providing analysis for Commerce and interacting with the industry and know their community leaders. I know you've got a great background and look forward to your position. As I've said, with such great individuals, highly qualified, I look forward to hearing from each of you, but we will start with Mr. Porcari, and I would like to call upon our colleagues, Senator Mikulski and Senator Cardin to introduce John Porcari. Senator Mikulski --
SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-MD): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And it's good to see you in the chair. I come today to join with my colleague, Senator Ben Cardin, to strongly recommend John Porcari to be deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. John has the experience, knowledge and a can-do attitude to successfully serve in this capacity. For those of us from Maryland who come before you today, it is a bittersweet situation. If confirmed, John Porari will do a great job and therefore the choice will be a great one for the United States of America.
But it is a sad day for Maryland as we lose him to be our secretary of transportation. Secretary Porcari, and I'm calling him that because of his position in Maryland, just comes with outstanding personal characteristics, a wonderful family. They're here today, you'll meet Heidi and the five children and all the Porcaris, and you'll find that he is a man who from his personal characteristics, a man who believes in honor and integrity and really getting the job done.
When one deals with large contracts, you not only have to master the budget process, particularly if you're working in a public agency. But you also have to be ensured that it's done with honesty and integrity, so we're starting with that threshold which I know is so important as a characteristic for the Obama administration. He has my full support because John will bring vision, new ideas and actually juice to the excellent transportation team President Obama is assembling.
He's had great deal of experience in fixing crumbling transportation infrastructure and doing it, knowing how to do it under very difficult financial times. John has served our great state twice as transportation secretary, once for Governor Glendening, from 1999 to 2002 and then returned to serve in the O'Malley administration. Mr. Chairman, as secretary of transportation, is unique, for him it's not only about highways, byways, beltways and subways. But it also goes to airports and seaports and he's had an enormous set of challenges when terms of everything from large transit systems to the airport to the port of Baltimore as well as highways and bridges.
President Obama has made an excellent choice because he will carry out the Obama agenda for rebuilding our infrastructure.
But in rebuilding that infrastructure, he knows he will use it to build a bridge to somewhere, to use our highways and our physical infrastructure as a way to generate jobs, solve transportation problems that will promote economic growth and vitality -- and doing it at the time with very difficult funding sources.
As working with Governor O'Malley in probably one of the worst economic crisis Maryland has ever seen, John was able to give advice to the governor about how we could meet compelling transportation needs and at the same time meet our budget challenges. I'm going to conclude and turn to my colleague, Senator Cardin. But I want people in this room to know he's worked on issues like D.C. metro, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, building the Appalachian highways.
In that way he's worked for the District of Columbia and with governors from Virginia and as you know, that's almost like treaty negotiations. (Laughter.) When we finish working on the Woodrow Wilson bridge, we felt that he was going to be tapped by Bill Clinton to be secretary of state. But as where your governor sat, you know how difficult it is. So he knows how to bring together politics, deal with coalitions, prickly issues from design to consumer to environment to budget. I think President Obama has made a great choice and we enthusiastically support him and hope you do as well.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Senator Mikulski. Senator Cardin? Senator Warner, thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here with Senator Mikulski to endorse John Porcari's nomination to be deputy secretary for the United States Department of Transportation. I want to compliment the president on all three of the nominees that he has sent forward, that are being considered today by this committee. I think all three are dedicated people, I want to thank them and their families for the sacrifices they make to serve our nation.
Now I'm going to confess to you, I'm not objective when it comes to John Porcari. He's a friend. He's a person I've known for many years, a person of unquestioned integrity, a real professional who gets the job done, a person who has the experience to do this job for our country -- his experience under two administrations, both the Glendening administration and O'Malley administration. And as Senator Mikulski pointed out, the responsibility that our secretary of Transportation has in Maryland is far broader than just dealing with one mode of transportation. He has to deal with all the modes of transportation.
Senator Mikulski mentioned some of the projects that he had to manage, or to see completed. The Woodrow Wilson bridge which Senator -- U.S. governor was very familiar about the difficulties. That's a two billion (dollar) plus project that was delivered on time and on budget, which showed some extraordinary leadership from Secretary Porcari. He had to deal with a lot of tough political battles, let me just mention some of the transit issues in our state. The Purple Line, the Inter-County Connector, these are issues that require the best in professionalism and political skills and John Porcari exercised the right judgment that made our state proud of the manner in which he conducted his service as secretary of transportation.
I think he has the package needed at this time for our country. We know that we have just passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a significant increase in funding for our transportation infrastructure. We now need to make sure there's accountability. John Porcari will be an excellent person if confirmed to carry out the oversight necessary to make sure that the taxpayers of this country get the value for the investments that have been made. We know that we have tremendous needs in this country for infrastructure investment and transportation. We also know we have challenges on revenue.
I think John Porcari will be an excellent person to try to help us map out the strategies necessary to achieve our goals of modernizing our infrastructure system and doing it in a fiscally responsible manner. I concur with Senator Mikulski; this is a contribution being made by the people of Maryland. We're going to miss him as secretary of transportation, but we think it's an excellent choice for the Obama administration and we wholeheartedly endorse his candidacy.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Senator Cardin and Senator Mikulski. Let me just add -- echoing the comment that Senator Mikulski made that all of us in the greater Washington region realize that for many decades, the Potomac River was the great divide between Virginia and Maryland and we too often did not view our transportation system as a regional network.
And I had the opportunity -- and my secretary of transportation, Pierce Homer, had an opportunity to work in great length with John Porcari and I will echo what your comments that he has been able to negotiate those water and move us forward as a region. So echoing both of your comments that I think he will be a great administration, and I thank you both for your testimony and you don't have anything else to add --
SEN. MIKULSKI: Mr. Chairman, I just would like to put my appropriations hat on for a moment. As you know, I chair the subcommittee that funds the Commerce Department on appropriations. There are those at the table that are part of my subcommittee, and Mr. Chairman you have three outstanding nominees here that will be working in the Commerce Department. I too would like to congratulate them and in each and every one of their areas, whether it's census, the digital-TV conversion issues and so on, we look forward to working with them and implementing also the president's rural broadband.
And I would really hope then, with this talent that will be coming before you and working with the authorizer's we can really revitalize and recapitalize the Commerce Department. I look forward to working with you and the people who will be confirmed. Thank you very much.
SEN. : Thank you, Chairman. You noticed the endorsement, the outstanding endorsement that Mr. Porcari and that Senator Mikulski reminded us that she's on the Appropriations Committee.
SEN. WARNER: It wasn't very subtle was it?
SEN. : Not for me, I'm on her subcommittee. (Chuckles.)
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Senator Mikulski. Thank you, Senator Cardin. Senator Hutchison, I already, in my interim step here as chair gave an opening statement, and I wondered if you would like to offer an opening statement as well?
SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do have an opening statement, but I will not read it because everyone is here, we're going to have a vote soon and I would like to proceed with the hearing. And I will submit mine for the record.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you and I know that I will also ask the committee's unanimous consent to insert statements for the record from Chairman Rockefeller, Senators Kennedy, Durbin and from Representative Dingell. So I'd like to ask the nominees to come to the table now. Again, I'd like to welcome you all here and look forward to your testimony and your service.
I want to -- following Senator Mikulski and Senator Cardin's glowing endorsement of their fellow Marylander, John Porcari, I want to take the same opportunity as a Virginia senator to introduce Aneesh Chopra and Randy Babbitt.
I'll do this quite briefly but Aneesh Chopra has been nominated by President Obama to be both chief technology officer, a new position, a position that I've been a strong advocate for and believe is combined with the CIO and the CPO can bring really new focus to making sure that we're more effective, efficient and technologically adept at our national level. In addition to that position he's also been nominated to be associate director of the Office of Science and Technology.
And I'll come back to Mr. Babbitt in a moment. Now, Mr. Chopra and I have gone back decades, ever since he first got involved in public policy and I was proud to appoint him to a series of boards when I had the opportunity to be governor and then my successor, Governor Kaine, appointed him as secretary of technology, where he has performed admirably.
Last year Government Technology Magazine named him one of the top 25 doers, dreamers and drivers and as someone who has spent a great deal of time with Aneesh, keeping up with all his idea, he's a bit of a whirlwind and I know that you'll bring that same energy to this new position.
He's got a great background serving senior private experience with the Advisory Board, with Morgan Stanley. He brings a right mix of technology background, governmental background and I know he's going to do a remarkable job as CTO and look forward to his service.
I also want to take a moment and introduce Randy Babbitt, who the president has nominated as administrator of the FAA. Mr. Babbitt has spent more than 40 years focusing on aviation industry, labor relations and I believe he is the right person to lead the FAA at this moment.
He began his career as a commercial pilot for Eastern Airlines. I think we all remember when it was the Eastern Shuttle. Many years ago he served as president and CEO of the U.S. Division of the Airline Pilots Association and most recently has served as an aviation consultant.
His background, his knowledge around safety issues, his understanding of the challenges at the FAA, we had a chance to visit on matters related to, making sure we resolved issues with the air traffic controllers, that we really make sure that next-gen project moves from discussion into implementation. I think he will bring the appropriate skills and background to this very, very important position and I commend the president for his nomination.
We'll now ask each of the nominees to -- I know a number of you have brought family members along -- to introduce anyone you've brought and put forward your statements again recognizing that we may have some votes and we've got five of you and we all want to make sure we will get to questions. So we'll start with Mr. Strickling.
LAWRENCE STRICKLING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Hutchison and distinguished members of the committee. My name is Larry Strickling and I want to thank you for considering my nomination and for giving me the opportunity to appear before you today to introduce myself and answer any questions you may have for me.
I want to thank President Obama for nominating me for this position and also to thank Secretary Locke for his support for my nomination. I'd also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Anna Gomez, the deputy administrator of NTIA and senior policy advisor Mark Seifert, who have let the agency's efforts since February. From all reports, they have done a magnificent job with respect to the digital-television transition and the implementation of the broadband grants program established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and they both deserve our thanks.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to introduce the members of my family in the audience. My wife, Sydney Hans, is a professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration. As the one member of our family with a steady job, she will remain in Chicago, but I do want to thank her and I ask the members to acknowledge her and thank her for her sacrifice in allowing me to be considered for this position in the administration.
My oldest son Taylor is completing a year of study of Arabic in Morocco and could not be here today, but my other two sons are here. Alex Strickling, who worked as a field organizer and deputy field director in the Obama campaign for two years and my youngest son Rob is also here today who just finished his successful freshmen campaign at -- (inaudible, cross talk).
SEN. WARNER: Can they raise their hands?
MR. STRICKLING: -- college.
SEN. WARNER: I want to make sure we at least recognize them. Nice to see you guys.
MR. STRICKLING: And, finally, my sister Ann (sp) Strickling is also in attendance. Given the size of today's panel, I ask that my longer prepared remarks be included in the record of today's hearing.
SEN. WARNER: Without objection.
MR. STRICKLING: And, instead, I would like to summarize my testimony by making the following three points. First, I have spent more than 25 years in the communications sector of the economy. I have worked for what was one of the largest and most heavily regulated companies in this industry, Ameritech, as well as for a fledgling, unregulated start-up, CoreExpress. I've also had a chance to see this industry through the eyes of a regulator, given my post at the FCC 10 years ago. I have seen companies succeed in this industry, and I have shared the heartbreak of employees who have lost their jobs when their company failed.
But, even as companies come and go, there is no doubt that the communications sector of our economy is a huge potential source of growth and innovation. It impacts every other part of our economy. Advances in communication technology and products can improve the competitiveness of all American businesses, whether they are in health care, energy or any other line of business. And these advances create jobs. Moreover, we must do everything we can to insure that all Americans have access to these modern communication services.
The Internet plays such an important day-to-day role in the lives of so many of us that those of our citizens who are not connected risk being left behind, in terms of getting a modern education, in terms of competing for high-value jobs, receiving health care and in so many other ways.
Second, Congress has entrusted NTIA with many important responsibilities ranging from managing the government's use of Spectrum to Internet governance to implementing the Broadband Grant Program established by the recovery act. While each of these tasks is important in its own right, NTIA should ensure that everything it does supports the priorities of Secretary Locke and the administration to help the economy recover as quickly as possible, and then to support the larger mission of the department to promote commerce, particularly through encouraging growth, innovation and job creation in this sector. If I am confirmed, NTIA will perform its responsibilities with clarity, common sense and creativity, and always with the goal of promoting our overall economy through the growth and innovation that the communications sector can deliver.
Third, and in closing, I want to assure you that you have my commitment that if I am confirmed, I will work with each one of you and members of your staff to address the challenges facing our technology and telecommunications sector. Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today and I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have for me. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Strickling. As somebody who's spent 20 years in the telecom sector before I also made the transition to government, I can't think of a more critical position -- an area where we've got to make sure we get things right. Mr. Porcari?
JOHN PORCARI: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Hutchison and members of the committee, it is both a personal and professional honor to have been nominated by the president for the position of deputy secretary of the United States Department of Transportation and to appear before you today.
If confirmed, I pledge to you that I will work enthusiastically and diligently every day to support Secretary LaHood and the talented professionals at the Department of Transportation. With your permission, I'd like to introduce my wife, Heidi; my children, Emily, James, Anna, John and Julia -- they are back there. Hands, guys! Raise your hands, guys, let's see it. (Laughter.) My dad, Jim, and his wife, Nancy; my sister, Lieutenant Commander Jennie Kehoe; my brother, Jim, and his wife, Vicki; my brother, Charles, and his wife, Jennifer, and my cousin, Lieutenant Colonel Van Updor (sp).
The department's mission of ensuring the safe and efficient movement of people and goods has never been more important than it is today. Safety has been, and must continue to be the top priority of the department. In addition, virtually every element of our transportation system faces daunting capacity constraints. Our transportation system is essential to the long-term prosperity of the United States and must also play a key role in advancing important policy goals such as livable communities, energy conservation and climate change.
We also face unprecedented challenges in maintaining our existing infrastructure while simultaneously building a true, multi-model transportation system that will serve the varied needs of our communities. I'm confident that, together, we have the abilities to successfully address these challenges.
If confirmed, I look forward to working with Secretary LaHood and the excellent team that he's assembled. Having served two tours at a state level in Maryland DOT from 1999 to 2003, and 2007 until today, I've had the opportunity to manage an agency that uniquely incorporates all the transportation modes under one roof: highways, transit, aviation, maritime commerce, passenger and freight rail, as well as a toll authority and motor vehicle administration. I have a keen sense of why we must have a balanced transportation system that meets the nation's diverse needs. The large, complex public organizations that I've had the honor to serve in have provided me with the management, teamwork and leadership skills necessary to support the administration, Secretary LaHood and the department.
Having completed significant projects like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, major terminal improvements at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, light-rail subway and commuter rail projects, and new facilities for the port of Baltimore, I understand the imperative of delivering projects on time and on budget. Likewise, the financial and human resources procurement and administrative challenges of the department are ones that I bring a hands-on perspective to.
We must relentlessly focus on safety, accountability and transparency, while at the same time encouraging innovation and collaboration. We must also coordinate with other federal agencies and departments. Mr. Chairman, you, the members of the committee and staff have my commitment that I will work closely with you on our mutual goal of preserving and enhancing America's transportation system -- one of the keystones to our quality of life. I'll be please to answer any questions and thank you for your consideration of my nomination.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Porcari, and thank you for your comments and bringing so many members of your family. Again, someone who is going to bring a great set of skills to a new position, something that has enormous potential -- my friend Aneesh Chopra.
ANEESH CHOPRA: Thank you. Chairman Rockefeller, if you are joining us via Web cast, Ranking Member Hutchison and distinguished members of this committee, it is indeed a great honor to appear before you today. Compounding this honor is the opportunity to appear before my mentor, Senator Mark Warner, who has led the way in harnessing the power of technology and advancing our public priorities.
I am indeed grateful for President Obama's confidence to fulfill this important role and for OSTP director Doctor John Holdren for his leadership in support of my nomination. If confirmed I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that every American has the opportunity to participate in our vibrant, technology based economy, and that we thoughtfully apply emerging technologies to address our nation's most pressing challenges.
With your permission, I'd like to introduce members of this committee to my family: first, my wife, Rohini; and our young daughters, Nia and Devin. Yeah, that's right -- you heard her scream in the back -- in addition I have an extended member of -- my parents are here, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles. If we could have them just raise their hands, they are standing in the room behind us. (Laughter.)
I want to bring specific attention to my father, Rahm (sp) Chopra, who like so many immigrants came to this country to live the American dream. Following his graduate engineering work, my father contributed to our culture of innovation by filing three patents in the area of cooling refrigeration systems. Products carrying those technologies -- built in my home town of Trenton, New Jersey, Senator Lautenberg, are still in operations today.
Senator, that sign on route one -- "Trenton Makes -- The World Takes" is etched in my mind. (Laughter.)
I draw inspiration from my father who instilled in me the values of intellectual rigor, personal excellence and public service. His decision to bring me to Congressman Chris Smith's town hall meeting in Plainsboro, New Jersey, at the age of 11 sparked my passion for public service.
If confirmed by the Senate, I intend to channel that passion to execute on the president's vision for a 21st century economy. One where jobs are more plentiful, American firms more competitive, communications more affordable, broadband more abundant, families more connected and Americans more safe and secure.
And we also must apply that vision to government itself. Built on the president's core principles of transparency, participation and collaboration, we will apply the most innovative technologies to: bend the health care cost curve, as Peter Orszag refers to it; optimize the energy grid; deliver an educational system focused on student excellence with special emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics; protect our nation's critical infrastructure and build the high-wage, high-growth jobs in all corners of our country.
I have seen the benefits of this approach as Virginia's secretary of technology under Governor Tim Kaine -- ranked by Governing Magazine two surveys in a row as the nation's top performing state, tied with Utah and Washington.
We championed broadband and tele-work policies that brought good jobs to our more rural communities hard hit by an increasingly competitive global market. We worked to build a culture of innovation in the public sector that saw state employees translate simple ideas into funded prototypes expected to deliver a four to one return on taxpayer investment -- and directly aligned with both legislative and executive priorities.
Two years ago, I joined in the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, and was reminded of the spirit of commonwealth that continues to call on us to work together for the advancement of our common good. For many, the government we elect is the embodiment of that spirit. For others, it is a sense of neighborhood when we chip in to improve our communities or mentor a child striving for excellence in school.
Modern technologies are closing the distance between these views and unleashing a new wave of entrepreneurship, involvement and service. If confirmed by the Senate, I look forward to working with this world-class team assembled before us today -- in collaboration with our Congress -- and particularly members of this committee -- to harness the power and potential of technology and innovation to advance our nation's goals.
I would welcome any questions the committee may have.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chopra. Now I would like to call upon Rebecca M. Blank, who is up for undersecretary of economic affairs and has enormous challenges as well with census and other items. So, Ms. Blank, thank you for being here.
REBECCA M. BLANK: Thank you, Senator Warner, Ranking Member Hutchison and distinguished members of this committee. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today as nominee for undersecretary of economic affairs at the Department of Commerce. It's an honored to be nominated for this job by President Obama and I look forward to working with Secretary Locke and others at the department.
With your permission if I can introduce my family, my husband Hanz Cuttner is back there in the third row; sitting next to him is my brother Grant Blank; and in the front row in the red skirt is my daughter Emily, who is a seventh grader at Westland Middle School in Bethesda. I know I've got a number of other friends and colleagues around the audience as well.
There are two parts to the undersecretary's job: The first is the management and oversight of the two top statistical agencies in the United States -- the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This management role is particularly important this year, as the Census Bureau takes its 2010 Decennial Census. I realize that one of the most important and immediate responsibilities of this position is focused oversight and guidance to ensure that the 2010 census is complete and accurate.
Of course, the Census Bureau and the BEA collect and disseminate a wide range of data, and my role as undersecretary would be to work with these agencies to develop a long-term strategic plan for improving America's statistics and to make sure that those agencies have the expertise and the resources they need to implement that plan.
The second part of the undersecretary's job is to serve as head of the Economics and Statistics Administration -- providing high quality economic analysis inside the Department of Commerce.
If confirmed, I would work with the excellent group of economists at ESA to make sure the secretary had the best possible economic information to track important trends in the economy, and to work with economists elsewhere around the administration to develop and analyze the policies that will define President Obama's administration.
I've worked in a number of different jobs in the past. I'm an economic researcher, deeply interested in the ways in which the U.S. economy interacts with government policy. As a researcher, I've used Census and BA data for years, and have consulted regularly with those agencies about measurement issues. I know these organizations and I deeply appreciate what they do and how well they do it.
Second, I've been a higher education administrator and manager. I spent eight years as dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan -- and in that job I managed a growing educational and research enterprise inside a very large university. That provided the hands-on management experience that I suspect will be important to the job of undersecretary.
Third, I've been a public servant and a government employee. I worked for a year as a senior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisors during the first President George Bush administration and returned as one of three members of the CEA during the second term of Mr. Clinton's administration. I know how to write one-page policy memos and I know how to provide the wide-ranging economic analysis that's constantly in demand inside government.
While it is an honor and a privilege to work in the White House, when I left the CEA job I decided if I ever go back into an administration, I want to be in one of the agencies that actually run programs. This nomination gives me the opportunity to do that. The undersecretary for economic affairs is one of the best agency jobs available to an economist, and I am grateful for the privilege of being considered for this position.
I appreciate the opportunity to come before you today. If approved by this committee and confirmed by the full Senate, I would look forward to working with you and with your staff on all items of shared interest and concern. Thank you.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Ms. Blank. Thank you for your testimony, and I think we all love those one page analysis papers. (Laughter.) Mr. Babbitt.
J. RANDOLPH BABBITT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Hutchison and members of this committee for the privilege of being able to address you today. It's an honor for me to appear before you today as President Obama's nominee for the administrator of the Federal Aviation Agency. And I must admit that I am flattered and quite honestly humbled by this nomination and the opportunity to serve our nation, Secretary LaHood and the president. And Senator Warner, thank you sir for your kind introduction as we got underway.
I too would ask your indulgence to take a moment so I can introduce my family -- if I begin, I have a couple of them with me today. My wife is here, Cathy Babbitt, along with my daughter and son-in-law, Mike Warslur (sp). I have a contingency in Illinois watching too, I believe.
By way of background I have been involved in flying since I was 16 years old when I soloed. I began flight instructing while I was in college and I left college early to pursue my goal of becoming an airline pilot back in 1966. And while flying professionally I became active in the Airline Pilot's Association, involved in both representation and labor relations.
In 1990, my work in the Airline Pilot's Association led to my election as its president -- and I remained in office there until 1998. Afterwards, I continued to pursue my passion in aviation as a private consultant. In 1999, I had the honor of being nominated by President Clinton to serve as a member of the FAA's management advisory council, and last summer I had the privilege of serving on the Department of Transportation's internal review team at the request of former secretary, Mary Peters.
And this team consisted of five members that had both aviation safety and risk management backgrounds, and our task was to review, report and research the background and the situation surrounding the groundings of two major carriers that found it necessary to ground a substantial number of aircraft at great expense to themselves and at great inconvenience to their passengers.
In reviewing my aviation career of more that 40 years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the FAA, with industry leaders and with members of Congress on major aviation safety issues, including one of which I am personally most proud -- "One Level of Safety."
I led this project in 1993 when I was president of APA, and this program required regional carriers to begin to operate under the same rules and under the same level of safety as their major carrier counterparts. And if confirmed I intend to built on my extensive experience in this industry to meet the agency's current and future challenges. And our challenges are not small.
We need to insure that the world's safest skies become even safer, and that we continue to be recognized as the world leader of aviation safety. We need to move quickly and efficiently to implement our next generation of air traffic modernization programs to maximize our aviation system's efficiency.
We can more our aircraft more quickly, and we can move them more efficiently with less carbon impact and small footprints, and less noise with our new technology. But we need to move aggressively with implementation jointly by all of our stakeholders.
And within the FAA, we need to regain internal labor stability, mutual trust and build on the can-do spirit of the entire FAA workforce. And we need to ensure the FAA's accountability and credibility in the delivery of its goals, its budgetary compliance and its safety standards.
Mr. Chairman, I am honored by the trust that the president has placed in me as his nominee, and if confirmed I pledge to do my utmost to guide the FAA through the many challenges that lie ahead, and I hope to use my experience to take our aviation system to a new peak of a safety and efficiency with the same skill and judgment that is shown by my colleagues in aviation.
I'd also like to thank this committee again for its consideration of my nomination; I look forward to working with you closely should the Senate act favorably. I would also be happy to take any questions that you might have.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Babbitt, and let me again thank all of the nominees -- one for their willingness to serve, two -- I think you all have extraordinarily important challenges in front of you. I hope this committee will act quickly on your nominations. I have to apologize and head off to another session, so I believe I'm supposed to be turning over the gavel to Senator Udall, which, as somebody who's only been here for about 127 days to get to dabble for 45 minutes and have to turn it over after only 45 minutes is a little challenging, but I will submit my questions for the record. I look forward to working with all of you, and Senator Udall, I'd ask you to step into the chair. Thank you all.
For the first round of questions --
SENATOR MARK UDALL (D-CO): Senator Warner, I'm going to defer and allow Senator Begich to take over here -- (laughter) -- if that's all right with you, Mark.
SEN. WARNER: Well, it might be all right with me, but we'd better make sure it's alright with Senator Lautenberg too though, on that.
SENATOR FRANK R. LAUTENBERG (D-NJ): Well, yes -- (inaudible, off mike).
SENATOR MARK BEGICH (R-AK): You know, I don't know if it's because I'm the last one on the row here, but I'd be happy to cheer. We all I think have other meetings we were rushing back and forth to. I'm not sure where the list is, I'm looking to staff to see the first -- but I'm going to go to Senator Lautenberg because he graciously allowed me to be chair for a second.
Then I'll flip it over -- I'm waiting for the list here in a second, just to be in all fairness. I have a feeling I might have been first here. I was, but I'm going to first give to Ranking Member Hutchison, and I'll turn to you first if that's okay Mr. -- Senator -- Lautenberg, and then I'll come back. Senator Hutchison, or --
SEN. HUTCHISON (R-TX): I'd be happy for you to --
SEN. BEGICH: There we go, Senator Lautenberg, you're on.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: We are. You know, you brought us all --
SEN. BEGICH: Rock and roll.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: -- together, you didn't just bring the largest number of people I have ever seen at a hearing in this room, and we've been through war and peace and economic disruption, but the popularity that each of you brings to this is really astounding. And with that, I want to say that this handoff is not one that has anything to do with your interest or your ability; it has to do with overcrowded schedules.
Mr. Babbitt, the FAA has taken a major airspace redesign project in New Jersey, New York and the Philadelphia region -- and it's going to result in a major overhaul of flight patterns there. Unfortunately, the FAA has not adequately included the front line air traffic controllers in the FAA's plan, my view. Would you pause -- hold -- the implementation of the airspace redesign project until you see that the interested parties who have value to contribute will be included?
MR. BABBITT: Senator, I'm not exactly certain where that process stands at that point in time, and I do understand there is some litigation surrounding it, so I'm not sure just legally what I could agree to do and not do. But I would suggest to you that -- on a personal basis -- I would really like to solicit the input from all the stakeholders in that area and I think key to that, we're working right now -- the secretary has announced a program to resolve some outstanding issues for the air traffic controllers, and to this point in time they haven't been active participants in this redesign.
And I think it's key, and I think its very important that they do play a role in this. So I can assure you that I would certainly pursue and try and get the input of everybody to the extent the law allows me at this point.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: I'm happy to hear you say it -- and we're not being presumptive, there is an automatic says if you are confirmed -- (laughter) -- everybody understands that if you're not it'll be a miracle. (Laughter.) No --
Mr. Porcari, you had your advocates here really in tune, was among the most glowing endorsements that I've heard for a candidate -- a nominee, and so when you hear what Senator Mikulski and Senator Cardin had to say, you come with an excellent credentials supported by the momentary chairman.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Last week, Senator Rockefeller and I introduced legislation that would establish a long-overdue national surface transportation policy, as well as set performance goals for the nation's surface transportation system. Do you believe that we need a national transportation plan that puts performance-based measures on our federal transportation programs?
To me, it's quite obvious that we have neglected to put the same -- make the same investments in rail, for instance, that we have in highways and aviation. None of those three legs has had sufficient investment, and it is something we are going to have to look forward to fixing in the years ahead. Is there a performance-based test that you see that will help us measure how much of an effort that we put into each of these legs?
MR. PORCARI: Senator, first, Secretary LaHood and his team have been very strong advocates of a balanced transportation system that includes all modes. That balance obviously means different things in different places -- urban, rural and suburban areas. Also, performance measures fit very closely into that paradigm as well.
If confirmed, I look forward to working closely with Secretary LaHood and his team to help build that balance and maintain that balanced system, including a fresh look at all of the modes and the increasing capacity constraints that we have in some of them, and again the different solutions that are needed in different places.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: I would, again, ask you a question, Mr. Babbitt -- 2006, the former FAA administrator informed me that Newark Liberty air traffic control tower needed at least 35 full-performance controllers to move the traffic safely. Now there are only 26 certified controllers and there are seven trainees. This airport is a very busy airport; this airport is a very cumbersome airport in terms of delays -- they are enormous. We, I think, have the crown, unfortunately, for being the most delayed airport. If confirmed, can you assure us that the Newark tower will be staffed to the volume of the performance that we require there?
MR. BABBITT: Senator, it is my hope that every tower in this country will be staffed and manned to the highest possible degree. I need to understand more -- we've had an issue, as you recall there were a number of controllers -- a substantial number of controllers hired in bulk at a certain period in time, and that has led to a bubble of a lot of the controllers being of a similar age, or in a band of age, which has resulted in a substantial number of retirements. And that is not going to go away in the next two or three years.
So I will give you my assurance that we are going to look at training facilities and mechanisms, centers of excellence and the like to get controllers and, you know, people in the TRACON, the en-route centers, everyone, at a fully qualified level, and not have to depend on trainees to supplement the staffing.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Thank you. Thank you, Madame.
SEN. BEGICH: Senator Hutchison? Senator Hutchison is next.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Mr. Porcari -- well, I have to ask all of you to answer a question. This is my ranking member question. The committee and our members have long enjoyed a close and productive working relationship with agencies under our jurisdiction. We rely on the legal and technical expertise of the agency staff when we are drafting legislation. I would ask each of you to answer if you and your staffs will respond to every member of the committee on both sides of the aisle for this kind of help as we are doing our job of oversight and drafting. Mr. Babbitt?
MR. BABBITT: Absolutely, Senator.
MS. BLANK: Absolutely.
MR. CHOPRA: Yes.
MR. PORCARI: Yes.
MR. STRICKLING: Yes, Senator, I think it is a critical part of each of our jobs.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Thank you, thank you, I appreciate that. Mr. Porcari, Secretary LaHood recently announced that he was moving forward with the antitrust immunity of two airline applications to the department for alliances. The Continental-Star alliance and the American Airlines-British Airways application are very important for the competitive landscape in America, and I would ask you if you will commit to moving expeditiously in this process for those applications to be considered.
I am not asking you for the final conclusion, but just that the department know that time is very important in these decisions and I fear another merger mania if we don't have these kinds of opportunities for competitive alliances that would put off the need for mergers. So my question is really will you move forwards expeditiously in the process so that a final decision can be made in a timely manner.
MR. PORCARI: Yes, Senator, I understand that expeditiously considering the antitrust immunity request is important. I would point out, on a personal note, at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport the OneWorld Alliance antitrust immunity application is an important part of that strategy.
And I should note for the committee that I am a party of record in favor of that.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Thank you, that is very good. I really believe that our airlines are trying to stay independent and these alliances foster that goal. I think it's in the traveling public's best interest that they remain so, so I thank you for that.
Mr. Babbitt, next-gen implementation is, I hope, your highest priority. We have been working on this issue for a long time, and I would ask you how you are going to proceed on that, and particularly to assure that all of the people in aviation -- both the consumers as well as the airline and aviation community -- want to see how this will benefit them and how do you consider your responsibility to proceed?
MR. BABBITT: Well, first, of course, I know we all accept that safety will be my number one priority, but in terms getting next generation, that is one of the highest priorities before us -- the FAA and myself personally. What I would like to do -- and I have the advantage of currently, there is an industry-wide taskforce under the umbrella of the RTCA that is looking at what do the users actually want, what technology do they have on board their aircraft, what technology exists at airports that will allow us to begin to implement a lot of the key functions of the next generation of air navigation, and aircraft separation. This is not needed new technology -- we have it. We don't need a Manhattan Project to move forward.
We have a carrier right now in Louisville that has a wonderful program going where they guide over 100 aircraft every night using the next-gen technology with technology that we have today. And that make continuous-descent approaches, meaning they are saving 400-500 pounds of fuel every arrival. The noise footprint that they lay down over the city of Louisville is much smaller than it existed before.
We have this technology, so we need to find where we can deploy it and deploy it efficiently. Obviously, I'm going to be able to turn to some very helpful people here with the team that the president has assembled. And we can do this strategically. And what I mean by strategic implementation -- there are places where we will gain the biggest advantage in terms of reducing delays rather than doing things on a linear basis.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Thank you. Mr. Strickling, I want to hear from you that DTV transition is your highest priority. As you know, this committee agreed, after much discussion and much dissension among all of the interest groups, to delay the DTV transition. But a lot of people have had to make added investments and it has been a hardship in many ways. But we felt that there were not enough people aware of the transition who would, all of a sudden, lose any kind of television reception. So my question is, is it your highest priority and what are your plans to move forward?
MR. STRICKLING: Yes, Senator. If confirmed, it absolutely will be our highest priority. As you know, the transition will take place in a little more than three weeks. The good news is that since the extension from February, over three million households have now become ready for the transition that would not have been ready back in February. So I think the committee in the Senate -- in the Congress -- should take comfort in the fact that the extension has well-served the American public.
Between now and June the 12th, we are -- the NTIA is very closely monitoring the situation. As you know, with the coupon program, there were concerns in February about a backlog and about the availability of funds to provide -- to pay for the coupons that needed to be issued at that time. Today, as I understand it, there is no backlog. NTIA believes there are adequate funds available to provide coupons to the estimated number of unready households.
And while it would not be surprising to see some upsurge in requests for coupons as we approach June the 12th, everything would indicate that at most it will mean a few days' delay in people getting coupons, if in fact the daily processing capabilities of the system are taxed. And today they are not; today the system is processing fewer coupons than it has capacity to process. So all signs look to be promising for a smooth transition on the 12th in terms of the coupon program, but we -- NTIA and I, if I am confirmed, will certainly pay very close attention to that over the next several weeks.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, it is my understanding that the chairman of the committee would like to consider these nominations tomorrow at our executive session and we have notified all of the Republicans and no one objects. But I have questions for the record and I would like to ask that, for you to go forward, any written questions to you that you will get today need to be back in by 6:00 today for us to be able to have the full information for that consideration. So we will notify all of the members of that, but I will agree to that expeditious voting on each of you if you will agree to spend the rest of your day answering questions.
SEN. BEGICH: Is there any objection from the five? No objection, that's --
MR. STRICKLING: We'll go sharpen our pencils and our keyboards.
MR. CHOPRA: Or keyboards.
SEN. BEGICH: They will be available -- they will be available, Senator Hutchison.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you. I know I'm next in line, but I'm going to move over to Senator Isakson and also, then, Senator Brownback and I'll be last. Senator Isakson?
SENATOR JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-GA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and congratulations to all of you on your appointment. Mr. Babbitt, as you know, in our discussion in my office, I have some concern with the slowness of the deployment of next generation as far as FAA is concerned. And I know you worked some with the previous administrator in advising and consulting. What are you going to do to expedite next generation in the FAA, technology-wise?
MR. BABBITT: Well, I think the most important thing we can do is to -- working with the stakeholders, come up with a plan that makes sense to them. Currently, Senator, a stakeholder meeting an airline -- whatever this airline is -- they are often being asked to put aboard equipage that in some cases is $700,000 to $800,000 dollars per aircraft. So if you have a fleet of 700 airplanes, that's a very expensive undertaking. And they need to understand that they are going to get a capital return off of that.
And I have to say that they have some skepticism. And one of the things that I have tried to set forth here is I intend to make the FAA or -- certainly one of my highest priorities -- to make us as accountable and credible as we can be, so that when we ask someone to make that type of a capital commitment, that they are going to see a benefit, that they are going to enjoy, in fact -- if you make $1 million dollar investment over a period years, you are going to save $2 million in fuel and five minutes per leg, or some calculable amount of money.
And in order to do that -- in order to deploy that -- we need to go to the places where the delays are the worst and sort of work backwards. Now, I'm not suggesting that we take the most delayed region in the nation and start there. I'd suggest we probably should open off-Broadway, if you would, where we understand the technology, deploy it, and once we're convinced it's up and running, I think it comes naturally that people will then want to provide the equipage on their aircraft and we'll be able to provide the metering, the spacing and the reduced separation and higher levels of safety that bring us the benefit that we hope we get from next-gen.
SEN. ISAKSON: You were very kind, about two weeks ago, to meet with the families that lost loved ones in the most recent crash. And I'd asked you, you are familiar with the most-wanted improvements that that the NTSB has -- recommendations they have made with regard to air safety; what would be your plans with regard to those recommendations?
MR. BABBITT: Well, I think two levels -- obviously, the hearing, if you specifically, Senator, are talking of the Flight 3407, we don't have those recommendations yet. But we do have a number of recommendations and I know that the NTSB keeps a list of their top 10. I'd like to undertake a review as quickly as possible, if confirmed, to understand those.
And I had the opportunity last summer -- I was on a committee -- and a member of that committee that worked for the DOT, looking at oversight and risk management, was the former chairman of the NTSB. And he acknowledged to me that often, the NTSB puts forth a broad array of suggestions because they don't want any stone, you know, unturned. However, I think we have an obligation to either adopt, modify and adopt or explain why we didn't adopt any particular recommendation from the NTSB.
SEN. ISAKSON: Well, I appreciate the answer. I think those families deserve -- particularly on the qualification questions, with regard to that aircraft and the pilots -- a response on our behalf so that something like that doesn't ever happen again, if at all possible. Dr. Blank, as a University of Georgia graduate, I'm very intimidated by doctors from MIT. (Laughter.) Every time a turn around, there's another MIT Ph.D. like Christina Romer that I'm talking to. And I am a little intimidated.
But I do have two -- I don't know whether these are questions or statements. Number one, on the economic advice that you will be giving statistically to the secretary, one of the concerns that I had in the waning months of the Bush administration when we went into the economic difficulties beginning September 18, and quite frankly, still experience now, I'm not sure how much government is reaching out to people who are actually out there running companies and doing business to get some background before they make recommendations to try and address economic concerns.
I know the Federal Reserve regions do that -- they actually bring in businesses, homebuilders and bankers and manufacturers and exporters and importers. Do you -- are you going to seek that kind of advice from people actually out there really doing the work as you develop policy recommendations?
MS. BLANK: Senator, thank you for the question. I think one of the rules of the Department of Commerce is to be in touch with some of its constituencies, which are private-sector businesses and consumers. And I know that Secretary Locke is -- on a regular basis is out talking to those groups. I certainly hope that, in my role, I would have the opportunity to interact regularly with groups from the private sector, from various consumer groups, to talk about what their concerns are, particularly with regard to the current economy, and to bring that back into the analysis and advice that I do.
SEN. ISAKSON: Well, it's just my -- all the classical education in the world is no replacement for actually being out there doing it in the environment. So I really encourage that type of input to be brought in. My only other -- I'll make it a comment since my time is up: The census is so important. I was, for 20 years, in state government. Everything ends up divided up based on what the census comes out looking like from state legislatures to economic assistance. And I hope you'll work to make sure it's statistically accurate and fair and it's a real count and not a model count.
MS. BLANK: Yes, thank you Senator. I certainly take that as the most important part of my job.
SEN. ISAKSON: Thank you, ma'am.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much. The next one -- Senator Brownback -- and then I'm also going to hold my position and then go to Senator Dorgan after that.
SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS): My, you're nice and accommodating. Thank you very much --
SEN. BEGICH: Patience is a virtue.
SEN. BROWNBACK: It certainly is. (Laughter.) Johnny's saying we'll replace you with Rockefeller or Rockefeller with you.
SEN. ISAKSON: I'm not here to cause any trouble.
SEN. BROWNBACK: All right, all right, all right. Mr. Babbitt, general aviation is a huge industry for the country and certainly for my state -- $150 billion industry in the United States. We're having a lot of difficulty today. It's a big export industry -- 40 percent going overseas. But with the global economy having trouble, we're having trouble with that industry and certainly we are in my state.
I'd also point out to you -- and perhaps you know this, but many people don't -- that only 10 percent of the airports in the United States are served by commercial air flights; 90 percent are not. And if you are going to access the places where the 90 percent are, many across my state and others across the country, you need to do that through general aviation. So it's a key part of linking businesses, linking people across the country. And I just want to urge you to work with the general aviation industry, if you will.
And I'm certain you would. I want to invite you as well to come to Wichita to see the, you know, the hub of the manufacturing of general aviation. We just -- we've got great people working there building a wonderful product. We'd appreciate it if people wouldn't make fun of those using business aircraft for travel because it hurts our business and we think it's a good use of -- good resource for time savings and for linking these 90 percent of the airports in the country that don't get commercial service. So I want to invite you to Wichita, we'll feed you a great steak and we'll show you nice aircraft if you're --
MR. BABBITT: I'll take you up on the visit and the steak.
SEN. BROWNBACK: It will be -- both will be excellent, I can guarantee you.
MR. BABBITT: One thing I would just note: One of the things -- one of the byproducts of next-gen is the ability to have approaches into those other 90 percent of the airports that aren't served commercially, because we don't need to put any ground facilities. These approaches are designed with satellite navigation to guide you in and provide guidance to hundreds -- literally thousands of airports who currently don't have any navigational facilities. You'll have precision guidance to runways in airports, if nothing else, just to provide better surveillance and approach alignment for even people just that would normally be flying visually.
SEN. BROWNBACK: That's good. And I think that's very helpful. And as we work on new air traffic control system -- although there was one runway some years ago that I landed -- was a grass strip. My guess is you won't get next-gen into that one, but -- (chuckles) -- I hope you will work with general aviation on the air traffic controller system and on next-gen and also on the how you pay for it. That's been the big issue that we've wrestled with a lot of times around here, is the cost-sharing.
You know, general aviation is willing to pay its share but not be penalized, nor -- and want it such that it's not on a transaction basis so that every time you call the tower there's a charge, because I really think that could affect safety, if you do it that way. So I hope you will work with us as well on how you pay for the next-gen and its implementation.
MR. BABBITT: I certainly will, and I had a very good discussion with Senator Rockefeller on that issue. I think that he was -- and I obviously am not in any position to speak on how you all operate at the committee level -- but he seemed to think that resolution was in sight, a compromise that everyone would be reasonably comfortable with.
SEN. BROWNBACK: I think so. It's just -- it's one that we're concerned about, because if it's funded inappropriately, you're going to reduce the use of general aviation in the process or you're going to hurt safety in the process, either of which, I think, are harmful to the United States or to the United States economy or to air traffic safety.
Essential air service is another major issue for rural state -- many of the rural areas like my state, and I hope in the Department of Transportation that you as administrator in FAA will help and work with the rural communities on EAS, which is a key program for us.
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir. That probably falls as much --
SEN. BROWNBACK: Yes, Mr. Porcari.
MR. PORCARI: Thank you, Senator, I'm very familiar with the Essential Air Service program. I would point out that at the state level in Maryland, we have jurisdictions that avail themselves of the EAS program. And I recognize that it is an economic lifeline to many communities. It is in a difficult period in part because of the economy, but I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you and the committee on that issue.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Thank you. Thank you, chairman.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much. Senator Dorgan?
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN (D-ND): Senator Begich, thank you very much. Let me say to the four nominees, Mr. Strickland, Mr. Porcari, Mr. Chopra and Ms. Blank, that I intend to support all of you. I think you are well-suited for the nominations that the president has given you. And I know you are here with families and so on and everyone is enormously proud of your service, so let me just say thank you and to tell you I'm going to support you.
I do want to ask some questions of Mr. Babbitt with respect to the FAA because I was chairing an appropriations subcommittee all morning and wasn't able to be here at the start. And I have announced that -- I'm chairman of the aviation subcommittee -- we're going to hold some hearings. We hope the first one will be June 10th, but we'll be making notice of when the hearings will be on the issue of aviation safety. And I want to ask Mr. Babbitt a few questions, if I might.
And I especially want to refer you back to the stunning disclosures last week. This weekend, I read the cockpit recordings that was released by the Transportation Safety Board and let me go through a couple of the facts that were stunning to me. Someone sitting in a cockpit of a commercial carrier making $16,500 a year in salary and having a second job at a coffee shop; someone in the crew in the cockpit flying in icy conditions and saying on the cockpit recorder, "I've had no experience flying in icy conditions;" someone in the cockpit saying that she flew all night across the country -- all night across the country from Washington State to New York just to get to the duty station to begin flying as a copilot on the commuter; a member of the cockpit crew failing five exams over a career.
As I listened to this, I realized the passengers that got on that airplane got on an airplane that was painted the same way as a trunk carrier -- in this case it was Continental. And the question for all of us who fly commuter airlines versus trunk airlines and so on is, are there the same standards in the cockpit -- same standards exist -- are the same standards enforced? And if so, what is the role of the FAA in them?
Now, I was just -- I was really staggered by trying to understand last week what was coming out of the National Transportation Safety Board hearings. And I think these facts just make me furious to understand there's something wrong here. Is it just this airplane, just this crew, or is it a system that's developed and evolved over a lengthy period of time in which we have different standards -- dramatically different standards -- in various cockpits on commercial planes? And Mr. Babbitt, you have a breadth of experience in aviation. Give me your assessment of last week's disclosures.
MR. BABBITT: All right, sir, I will do my best. In my opening remarks, Senator, I did go back and review a period of time where we introduced one level of safety when I was president of the Air Line Pilots Association. And at that point in time, 1993-94, there were literally two different sets of regulatory requirements. The aircraft were certified under different rules -- less stringent. The pilots were trained under less stringent rules. All of the flight time limitations were different and less favorable to the regional pilots.
And we didn't think that was right. And we came before this committee and others and said, we need -- when I buy a ticket on a given airline and I walk out on the ramp and it's a much smaller airplane, I would at least expect that it would in fact have the same level of safety, it would have the same well-trained crew. We made some changes in that period of time, and got those considerably better aligned to develop one level of safety. Perhaps we need to go back and look and see if we've gone far enough.
The second thing, we have seen a dramatic shift -- not that this is an excuse or anything of the like, but I'm simply observing the fact that the regional air part of our industry has grown dramatically. We have new technology. We have small jets going into a lot of small cities. The pilots are exposed to a lot more takeoffs and landings at airports that don't necessarily have the same equipment as a John F. Kennedy or some of the other airports. So all of this adds together to make an environment that exposes them to a lot higher risk levels, and I think we're probably going to have to go back and look at some of this.
SEN. DORGAN: I understand your point, but I guess my question is, do you think equivalent standards now exist or does the disclosure last week suggest to you that something different has happened?
MR. BABBITT: The same level -- the requirements are there, however --
MR. DORGAN: I understand that; I'm asking about whether the standards exist and are enforced.
MR. BABBITT: The standards are there and they are enforced, but the difference is, the reality is when you're hiring a pilot at a major carrier, you're probably going to get somebody who walks in the door with 5,000 hours. When you hire someone at a regional carrier, you're probably going to get someone with considerably less time.
MR. DORGAN: But Mr. Babbitt, how could they be enforced if you put a copilot on a plane on a plane flying into Buffalo, New York in the winter with icing who says on the cockpit recorder, I've never flown in icing and I'm very nervous about this. That cannot possibly be a standard that is enforced by the FAA.
MR. BABBITT: You're absolutely correct, Senator; that's not even a requirement. The idea is that you would have received training in it. I think we need to look at the training. We have today the ability to simulate, in high-definition and high-fidelity simulators, anything that can happen in an airplane. And why we're not doing that I think we need to all look at.
MR. DORGAN: And Mr. Babbitt, the question about -- I've raised about five questions and we're going to get into them in the hearings of the subcommittee -- of crew rest: I assume the crew rest issue is not just something with commuters. I've sat with pilots on airplanes all over the country who are deadheading across the country in order to reach their duty station -- not unusual at all. In this case, someone goes from the state of Washington to the state of New York to get on their airplane to begin to work flying all night long.
Clearly, that is not in anybody's interest in terms of crew rest standards. I guess what I would ask -- look, I'm going to strongly support your nomination. I told you when we met in my office, I am very pleased you have decided to accept this opportunity. But we have not had consistent leadership. We've had an acting administrator now for some while and so on. This is an agency that requires a lot of attention -- a lot of good people -- but requires a lot of attention.
And my own view -- my own view is I think these standards have waned and waxed and I think what's happened is we have very different standards for commuter carriers than we do for the majors, at least -- perhaps not with respect to what the rules require, but certainly with respect to enforcement. I can't believe anybody would say, go ahead and put people on an airplane that haven't flown in icing or have flown all night to get to the duty station or are paid $16,000 a year and have to live with their parents in order to make ends meet.
That's not a standard that I think anybody wants in the cockpit of an airplane they board to take a commercial flight. So we're going to ask tough questions. We've been blessed -- we have not had very many accidents in recent years. We have an unbelievable safety record. But the preponderance of the accidents have been commuters, and I think we've gone a ways now without asking the really hard questions.
Has our attention to detail here and enforcement of standards -- has it waned some and do we have some real work to do to bring these standards back up to par? I think a lot of this is about money, I would say to you, because you can put some very inexpensive pilots in some of those seats and save money, but I'm not sure that's what the traveling public in this country would expect boarding those airplanes.
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you. Senator Klobuchar -- we have a vote that's been called now and I'm going to turn to Senator Klobuchar and then I'm going to close up.
SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Okay, thank you very much --
SEN. HUTCHISON: Mr. Chairman, if we have time for one more second round after the two of you, I'd like to ask it we have time.
SEN. BEGICH: Okay.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay. I'll be quick here. Mr. Porcari, I have talked before to Mr. LaHood -- Secretary LaHood -- about legislation there's a lot of interest in to incorporate road construction projects with the deployment of broadband technology with this idea that we can save taxpayer money we can reduce disruptions to Americans' lives if we dig once. And obviously, this is going to have to be done with care and coordinating with the states, but people get sick and tired of just one ditch after another getting dug up on their roads when there should be some kind of coordination. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. PORCARI: Yes, Senator. It's an excellent point. There is a lot of opportunity, both with new construction and rehabilitation of the highway system, to incorporate fiber and other utility and telecommunication elements. I can tell you that at the state level in Maryland, it is one way that we've been able to bring broadband to every corner of the state, including some of the most rural parts of the state, by doing it as a package deal, and also getting a portion of the capacity as part of that overall agreement as well. There are places where it is more difficult to do, but I think by and large, there are many opportunities.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay, very good. Mr. Babbitt, I enjoyed our visit yesterday. And one of the things we talked about was some legislation that Senator Snowe and I actually introduced last year about the FAA inspectors, particularly the supervisory inspectors. And we talked about doing a cooling-off period when inspectors are assigned to a certain company and then they go and they eventually go to that company. There was a revolving door situation and there were some major concerns about it in the last few years. At the same time, we understand the importance of having a familiarity with that airline. Could you comment on that?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, Senator, I sure could, and likewise, enjoyed the visit yesterday and found that enlightening. The issue was actually one that we covered pretty well in the internal review team. That was one of the subjects that we were to look at, and that is this relationship. And it is a very difficult balance. On the one hand, to understand an airline and understand all of its operations, an inspector has to spend a fair amount of time there.
But at what point in time does that time spent working with that carrier, getting to know its people, its management, its line employees -- when does that become a liability? When they become too friendly, too accepting -- okay, you'll get it next time. And the answer is, the second that safety of flight becomes an issue. And so we've got a position now that is in development -- the FAA is in the process of adopting some of the recommendations, and in those recommendations are some ways to deal with that.
Remember that you have turnover in the airlines, too. So we probably want to look at both sides of that room. If the entire airline management is turned over, there is no sense to change the inspector. But conversely, if everybody is in a static environment, it probably makes some sense. There is a human aspect to it as well. You have someone who has made a home in Minnesota or some place and you say, well, you've been here five years --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Understand -- and to make the move -- because no one ever wants to leave Minnesota, Mr. Babbitt.
MR. BABBITT: That's right.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay, Mr. Chopra, just last -- if you could just answer in about a minute so I can pass this on to my colleagues. We had also had a great meeting, and one of the things I'm very focused on, as we look at the issue of long-term care, so many people, especially in rural areas, in their homes, where we'd like them to stay, but needing to use more technology to do everything from monitor their health care to make sure that technology is available to them. Could you talk about the potential role for your job with that?
MR. CHOPRA: Thank you, Senator, and I appreciate the chance for visiting with you. This is an example of an opportunity to essentially address two of our challenges. One, to promote an innovation strategy that creates new jobs. We see a growth market in a lot of the devices you're describing, which is a win for the economy. In addition, we see an opportunity to actually bend the curve on health care costs -- improving quality of care for folks who want to be living at home, but also to lower our cost structure in addressing their needs.
So it has the benefit of both addressing cost concerns as well as a potential platform for economic growth. As adviser to the president, Senator, it will be my challenge and responsibility to work to harness the power of this capacity on the president's priorities for health care reform and for economic growth. And I thank you for the question.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Good luck to all of you.
MR. CHOPRA: Thank you.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much, Senator Klobuchar. I'm going to ask a couple of quick ones and then close out. We have six minutes before our vote closes out. Senator Hutchison, we won't have time for another question based on what staff just told me. So let me just be real quick. I'll submit mine to you, but if I can, Mr. Porcari, in regards to transportation, here's a simple question that I'm -- I struggle with as a former mayor in having to deal with the federal government and their inability to get projects done on time and within a reasonable time when they use Federal Highways Administration dollars.
A simple idea, that if you have a state or a local community that can allocate their dollars -- or that they have a road project in mind, that it's federally funded, but they have not had any issues with the Federal Highways Administration -- in other words, any environmental issues or anything over a period of time -- three, five years -- why can't we just let them use their local regulation then to implement them and cut the time in half? In Alaska, this is exactly how we can do it. And is there a --
MR. PORCARI: Senator, it's a good question. The National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historical Preservation Act are the guiding documents in requirements here. In some cases, it is possible to get a categorical exclusion. In practice, many of the larger, more complicated projects do not permit that. It puts a premium --
SEN. BEGICH: It doesn't permit it by law, but we write the laws. So the question is a very simple one, and that is, if you have a jurisdiction that has not had any issue with environment violation around road projects or other types of maybe NEPA, EIS, whatever the process might be from the federal government for a period of time -- let's just say five years -- why can't you then substitute -- let them use the federal dollars and substitute with local regulation or state regulation?
MR. PORCARI: Senator, Secretary LaHood and his team have made it clear that they are very much interested in streamlining processes. If confirmed, I would look forward to working with you on any ideas --
SEN. BEGICH: That's all you need to say at this point -- (laughter) -- only because time is allowed only for me to ask very quickly. Let me just say, for members, staff that are here, 6:00 p.m. today, all the questions have to be submitted in. For all of you that will get questions from the minority side that wants your answers by 6:00 p.m. today, I wish you the best in that accomplishment, but we will have all questions submitted by 6:00 p.m. I want to say thank you all for being here, thank you for your willingness to serve this country. Thank you. Meeting is adjourned.
MR. PORCARI: Thank you.