Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Committee Hearings – Week of 02-11-18

This week both the House and Senate will be in session. The big news is, of course, the President’s FY 2019 budget request is arriving on the Hill. This leads to the official start of the spending bill process, so the various committee budget hearings will start to provide a look at how those spending bills are going to shape up. There are also three oversight hearings this week in the House that may be of specific interest to readers of this blog: NHTSA, Positive Train Control and the CFATS program.

FY 2019 Budget Hearings

The actual budget being submitted by the President is essentially a meaningless exercise as Congress has their own internal considerations that drive the budgeting and spending process. The hearings starting this week, however, will provide a window into what the various oversight committees will be looking to see in the final spending bills.

House Budget Committee – 02-14-18; and

NHTSA Oversight

The Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing on Wednesday of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Deputy Administrator will be the only witness. This hearing is likely to focus on cybersecurity as it pertains to data protection in advanced driving systems, but we may hear questions on operational controls as well.

PTC Oversight

On Thursday the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee will be holding an oversight hearing of the progress of the implementation of the congressionally mandated positive train control network. With the spate of recent rail accidents that involved sections of track not currently under PTC the questions will be sharp and unfriendly. The witness list includes:

• Juan D. Reyes III, Federal Railroad Administration;
• Robert Sumwalt, National Transportation Safety Board;
• Edward Hamberger, Association of American Railroads;
• Richard Anderson, Amtrak
• Paul Skoutelas, American Public Transportation Association
John P. Tolman, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen

The Staff summary of the PTC program points out (pg 6) that the freight railroad systems is significantly further along the implementation process than is the passenger rail system. The current flexible deadline for PTC implementation is December 31st, 2018.

CFATS Oversight

On Thursday the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee will be holding an oversight hearing on the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, focusing on industry feedback. There is no witness list currently available, but I expect that we will see industry representatives from the major chemical manufacturing organizations.

The CFATS program is currently set to expire on December 18th, 2018. This hearing is the first step in the reauthorization process. I do not expect to see any major complaints from industry about the program, but it will be interesting to see what questions about the new threat assessment model being used by DHS to determine which facilities are included in the program. I also expect to see some serious questions about the personnel surety vetting program.

There has not yet been a reauthorization bill introduced. This may not be necessary if Congress does not see any need for specific revisions to the program. We could see Congress return to the annual extensions of the program in spending bills that we saw before the current program authorization bill was passed in 2014. It will be interesting to see if any of the witnesses address this reauthorization process question in their prepared testimony.

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