Sunday, March 2, 2014

Congressional Hearings – Week of 3-2-14

With Monday’s submission of the President’s FY 2015 budget to Congress (one month late, again) this week officially starts the annual spending scramble. The hearing schedule in the House reflects this, but the Senate is officially sitting out the budget process this year so we have a couple of weeks yet before they join this particular game. So the Senate hearings this week will include a DHS appointment hearing, a look at crude trains and an oversight hearing about EO 13650.

Budget Hearings

The annual spending scramble officially starts on Wednesday with the House Budget Committee holding their initial hearing on the President’s FY 2015 budget. Only one witness is scheduled, Ms. Burwell the OMB Director. There will only be broad overviews of the budget discussed here.

The only other budget hearing this week of specific interest to readers of this blog will be the House Armed Services Committee’s initial hearing on the President’s FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Budget. This will be a contentious hearing about the President’s propose Defense Department cuts, but cybersecurity will almost certainly be mentioned. The interesting stuff will come out in the subcommittee hearings in the coming weeks.

DHS Nominations

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will be holding a nomination hearing on Wednesday looking at Mr. Brothers for S&T Under Secretary and Mr. Taylor for Intelligence and Analysis Under Secretary. Cybersecurity will certainly be a topic here.

Rail Safety
The Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday looking at Enhancing our Rail Safety: Current Challenges for Passenger and Freight Rail. The witness list right now is organizational rather than by name. Witnesses will be representing the:

• Federal Railroad Administration
• Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
• National Transportation Safety Board
• Federal Communications Commission
• American Petroleum Institute
• Association of American Railroads

The PHMSA and API witnesses indicate that crude oil trains will be discussed, no surprise there. The apparent odd-ball of the list, the FCC, means that positive train control (PTC) issues will be discussed as the FCC is one of the current impediments being blamed on potential delays in PTC implementation.

To get a real discussion of the crude oil issues going, the Subcommittee should have included a representative from Railway Supply Institute and let a panel including them the API and the AAR duke it out in a cage match. All three of these organizations will each have a major stake in the outcome of any Congressional action on crude-by-rail shipments and will be responsible for any real solution to the safety issues involved. Leaving the RSI out of this hearing is a sure way for them to get stuck holding the blame sack.

EO 13650

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be holding an oversight hearing on the President’s Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security. Okay, by definition, Congress doesn’t have any oversight authority over an Executive Order but that’s what Senator Boxer is calling this. No witness list has yet been posted, but if this hearing is to mean anything at all (I’m not holding my breath, Sen. Boxer’s committee accomplishes little if anything of importance) it will include the three Assistant Secretary’s that head the Working Group.

On the Floor

The House has a full election-year schedule going this week. There are lots of political posturing bills that will get full debate and party line votes. Some real work will get done though.

As I predicted HR 4076, the Home Heating Emergency Assistance Through Transportation (HHEAT) Act of 2014, will come to the floor this week. It will be considered on Tuesday under suspension of the rules and will pass with near unanimous support (there may not even be a recorded vote). There will not be any discussion of the increased risk of transportation accidents by allowing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to continue its emergency suspension of transportation safety rules to allow timely fuel oil and propane deliveries to the hard hit communities in the north and east. I’m pretty sure that more lives will be saved from cold injuries than will be expended in transportation related accidents, but that trade off should be specifically addressed in the debate; it won’t. Life-and-death cost-benefit analysis is not something that politicians are willing to go on the record debating; it opens them up to too much potential criticism.

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