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Overview

The Department of Commerce (DOC) has something of an odd mix of responsibilities. As its name indicates, the DOC focuses on promoting American businesses both in the United States and overseas. The department also gathers economic and demographic data to measure the well-being of the economy, promotes U.S. exports, enforces international trade agreements, regulates the export of sensitive goods and technologies, and issues patents and trademarks. But then there are Commerce’s non-business duties, such as overseeing scientific data that helps forecast the weather and determine the health of the world’s oceans. Altogether, Commerce maintains a fairly low profile in comparison to other cabinet-level departments, although that does not mean it is above causing controversy, especially when it involves the census or the issuing of patents.

 

In January 2012, President Barack Obama announced his intention to restructure the DOC as part of a cost-cutting reorganization of the federal bureaucracy. To accomplish this, he has asked Congress to create legislation that would grant him the power to make such changes with a majority congressional vote.


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History:

The Department of Commerce and Labor was created in 1903 at the direction of President Theodore Roosevelt. The combined missions of the new department didn’t last long, as officials in Washington soon realized the need to have a federal agency that was exclusively devoted to promoting American business. Roosevelt’s successor, President William Howard Taft, signed legislation in 1913 establishing separate Departments of Commerce and Labor.

 

President Taft left office before he could appoint the first Commerce secretary, so the duty fell to President Woodrow Wilson, who appointed manufacturing executive and politician William C. Redfield to lead Commerce. The new department consisted of the Lighthouse Service, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Steamboat Inspection Service, Census, Standards, Navigation, Fisheries, Foreign and Domestic Commerce, and the Bureau of Corporations.

 

Since then, the Department of Commerce (DOC) has undergone numerous changes to its composition. For example, the Bureau of Public Roads and the Maritime Administration eventually were removed from the department, while new offices were added, including those that later evolved into the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Department of Transportation.

 

Other subsections that have been part of and continue to be part of Commerce include the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Minority Business Development Agency, Economic Development Administration, International Trade Administration, and Bureau of Industry and Security.

 

An extensive restructuring of the DOC may be in the offing, as President Barack Obama, in January 2012, proposed the establishment of a new, Cabinet-level department that would oversee business and trade, while moving DOC’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the Department of the Interior. The action is pending congressional approval. (See Suggested Reforms.)

U.S. Department of Commerce; 75 years stimulating America's progress: 1913-1988 - includes related articles (by M. Katherine Glover, Business America)

Dept of Commerce Historical Milestones

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What it Does:

The Department of Commerce (DOC) focuses on promoting American business at home and abroad. The department gathers economic and demographic data to measure the health and vitality of the economy, promotes U.S. exports, enforces international trade agreements, and regulates the export of sensitive goods and technologies. Commerce also issues patents and trademarks, protects intellectual property, forecasts the weather, conducts oceanic and atmospheric research, provides stewardship over living marine resources, develops and applies technology, measurements and standards, formulates telecommunications and technology policy, fosters minority business development, and promotes economic growth in distressed communities.

 

DOC Offices

Water and Air

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The NOAA is one of the Commerce Department’s key divisions. Through seven major offices, the NOAA provides scientific data for weather services, global warming research and fisheries management, among other duties. The NOAA’s five subcomponents are as follows:

 

National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service

The NESDIS operates the nation’s system of weather satellites. It launches and controls satellites and collects data transmitted back to ground stations. It also manages the processing, distribution and archiving of satellite data to make it available to researchers, planners, weather forecasters, the general public and others. The NESDIS operates two types of satellite systems. One is a polar-orbiting environmental satellite (POES) and the other is a geostationary operational environmental satellite (GOES).

 

National Marine Fisheries Service

The NMFS regulates commercial and recreational ocean fishing, managing marine life and their habitats in the waters three to 200 nautical miles from a U.S. shore (an area known in maritime law as an “exclusive economic zone,” where countries have enhanced resource-exploitation rights). The agency attempts to promote the multi-billion-dollar fishing industry through sensible stewardship. This entails carefully balancing the competing interests of economics and conservation. Much of the agency’s energy is devoted to propping up dwindling catches due to pollution or overfishing. It also conducts research and coordinates conservation efforts with local authorities.

 

National Weather Service

The NWS provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the U.S., including its territories, adjacent waters, and ocean areas. Data is gathered from a broad national infrastructure covering land, sea and air, including weather radar and satellites as well as from marine observation buoys and surface observation systems that assist the aviation industry. The agency collects, compiles and analyzes data, and generates outlooks, forecasts, and warnings.

 

National Ocean Service

The NOS carries out three main activities related to navigation services, ocean resources conservation and assessment and ocean and coastal management. The office primarily collects environmental data and analyzes information about the world’s oceans. It also oversees the National Marine Sanctuary program and monitors coral reef sanctuaries. As part of its oceanic mission, the NOS is responsible for overseeing the cleanup of oil and chemical spills in or near ocean waters. 

 

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

The OAR studies different aspects of the environment in an effort to understand, protect, and predict climate variability, water resources and the world’s different ecosystems. The office’s three main research areas cover climate, bodies of water (i.e., oceans, Great Lakes), and weather and air quality. In 2007 the OAR won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former Vice President Al Gore in distributing information about global warming. This work, at that time, stood in contrast to the position of the George W. Bush administration, which resisted the idea of global warming.

 

Office of Marine and Aviation Operations

The OMAO operates specialized ships and aircrafts to carry out research missions for the NOAA. The OMAO fleet is operated and managed by the NOAA Corps Officers along with civilian employees.

 

Office of Program Planning and Integration

The PPI uses corporate management to effectively run NOAA’s many programs with stakeholders, domestic and international partners in regards to environmentalism. The PPI involves strategic management, support for employees and performance evaluation.

 

Numbers

Census Bureau

In addition to carrying out annual surveys, the Census Bureau conducts a decennial census (every 10 years). The census is used to determine the number of each state’s congressional representatives and electoral votes, as well as the allocation of federal tax dollars. Census data directly affect how more than $200 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to local, state, and tribal governments. The data are vital to other planning decisions, such as emergency preparedness and disaster recovery.

 

Bureau of Economic Analysis

The BEA is responsible for collecting data, conducting research and analysis and publishing statistics. The Census Bureau collects much of the raw data, which the Bureau of Economic Analysis then interprets. The statistics produced by the BEA are used by government, business and the public to track the nation’s economic performance. The figures that the BEA is most known for are the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the U.S. economy’s ranking among other economies and trade balance. Many government agencies, businesses and individuals make decisions based on the figures the BEA publishes.

 

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The NIST is charged with advancing measurement science, standards and technology for everything from nutrition to time and national security. The institute fuels U.S. technological innovation and progress through research and development in four key areas of focus: biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing. Headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with laboratories in Boulder, Colorado, the NIST is home to one of the world’s most accurate atomic clocks, which serves as the source of the nation’s official time.

 

Economics and Statistics Administration

The ESA is responsible for providing timely economic analysis and disseminating national economic indicators, which it does through the release of briefings, fact sheets and reports that are developed by its team of expert analysts and economists. The ESA also oversees the BEA and the Census Bureau, working with their leadership on high-priority budget, employment, and management issues.

 

Patents, Trademarks and Licenses

Patent and Trademark Office

The USPTO is responsible for processing patent and trademark applications. Patents are a type of constitutionally sanctioned property right granted to inventors for exclusive development and deployment of their discoveries. The office has long been criticized for long waiting times, inefficiency, and granting patents for unjustifiably ridiculous “inventions.” Although the office only grants patents and trademarks valid in the U.S., its issue of U.S.-company patents for genetic modifications of biotechnology in foreign countries makes it susceptible to criticism of facilitating biopiracy and makes it part of a larger debate over international intellectual property. The office underwent a major reform in September 2011 with the passing of a law that, among other things, altered patent procedures from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system.

 

Bureau of Industry and Security

The BIS grants licenses for the export of sensitive goods and technologies while balancing commercial interests against those of national security. The bureau also enforces sanctions and embargoes, works with other countries on export controls, monitors the health of the domestic defense industry and promotes U.S. trade interests abroad. The BIS has a range of responsibilities relating to the interaction between industry and security. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, emphasis has been placed on restricting the export of technologies that could be used to create weapons of mass destruction.

 

Helping Business

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

The NTIA advises the president and works with other Executive Branch agencies to develop the administration’s domestic and foreign telecommunications policy. The agency is responsible for managing federal use of radio frequencies that includes significant military and intelligence use. NTIA regulations and policies affect common technologies such as cell phones, the Internet, public radio and television, wireless technology, and airplane travel. The agency both assigns frequencies to federal agencies and works with the Federal Communications Commission. The NTIA also carries out telecommunications and engineering research, develops new technologies, resolves technical issues for the federal government and private sector, and develops policy for the government communications satellite system. The agency administers grants in the telecommunications and information sector and promotes deregulated telecommunications policies abroad.

 

International Trade Administration

The ITA is responsible for promoting and protecting U.S. industry interests in international trade through various research, policymaking, and enforcement activities. The association focuses on unfair trade practices and so-called “dumping” of goods, which leads to investigations by the association into whether merchandise is sold in the U.S. at less than fair value. In the interest of U.S. industry, the ITA imposes “countervailance” duties to offset the effects of subsidies granted to foreign manufacturers by their governments.

 

The ITA also oversees the Iraq Investment and Reconstruction Task Force, which helps American companies participate in the economic rebuilding of Iraq. The task force and its web site serve as clearinghouses of information for U.S. companies interested in Iraq. The task force works closely with other federal government agencies and international organizations to provide companies with the latest information on the commercial environment in Iraq and potential reconstruction business opportunities.

 

National Technical Information Service

The NTIS serves as a public clearinghouse for scientific and business information primarily acquired through government-funded research. According to the agency’s web site, the NTIS maintains some 3 million publications in more than 350 subject areas, with many documents created after 1997 available for download. Its Bibliographic Database contains more than 2 million records dating back to 1964, and adds more than 30,000 new records per year. The contents of the database include research reports, computer products, software, plus video and audio cassettes. The NTIS currently receives no appropriations from the federal government, covering expenses by charging fees for most products and services.

 

Helping the Poor and Minorities

Economic Development Administration

The EDA provides grants to poor communities in order to create new employment and stimulate industry and commercial growth. Much of EDA assistance is aimed at rural and urban areas of the U.S. that are experiencing high unemployment, low-income or other types of severe economic distress. The EDA’s three key investment programs focus on expanding and upgrading physical infrastructure, designing strategies to diversify local economies, and supporting research of leading economic development practices.

 

Minority Business Development Agency

The MBDA funds minority resource and development centers throughout the country to assist entrepreneurs/business owners with business plans, marketing, management and technical assistance, and financial planning. The agency’s six regional offices dispense technical advice and information to a network of 40 local business development centers around the country, located in areas with the highest concentration of minority populations and the largest number of minority businesses. Ethnic groups designated eligible for MBDA assistance include Native Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders.

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Where Does the Money Go

The Department of Commerce (DOC) spent more than $44.7 billion on 270,156 private contractor transactions from 2002 to 2012. The top five types of goods and services paid for were professional support ($2,670,365,598), information technology and telecommunications services ($2,149,375,196) and development ($1,346,336,808), printed matter ($1,024,599,040), and R&D operational system development ($950,922,030).

 

The section of the DOC that spent the most on contractors was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($10 billion), followed by the Bureau of the Census ($5.4 billion), the Patent and Trademark Office ($4.88 billion), the National Institute of Standards and Technology ($2.3 billion), and the Bureau of Industry and Security ($15.7 million).

 

The top five recipients of Commerce contracts included two of the country’s largest defense contractors (Lockheed Martin and Raytheon):

 

1. Harris Corporation                                      $1,495,562,725          

2. Lockheed Martin Corporation                    $1,118,603,599          

3. Reed Elsevier Group PLC                             $962,293,674

4. IBM Corporation                                           $569,060,681

5. Raytheon Company                                                   $515,870,831

 

 

Department of Commerce FY 2013 Budget (pdf)

 

Examples of Commerce contracts

IBM was awarded a $120 million contract to help consumers make the transition from analog televisions to digital once TV broadcasters began transmitting digital signals in 2009. IBM provided services for the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program through its business partners: Corporate Lodging Consultants, Epiq Systems, and Ketchum Public Affairs. Services provided consisted of consumer education; coupon distribution to consumers and retail store participation; and financial processing to reimburse retailers as well as maintain records to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

 

From the Web Site of the Department of Commerce

Blog

Contact Information

Economic Indicators

Editorials

Fact Sheets

Leadership Directory

Newsroom

Offices

Organization Chart (pdf)

Press Releases

Speeches by Secretary

Twitter Posts

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Controversies:

NMFS Approves Killing Sea Lions

A federal appeals court ruled in 2011 that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) within the DOC overstepped its bounds when it authorized officials in three states to kill numerous sea lions each year.

 

After the Humane Society of the United States sued the NMFS to halt the killings, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the agency did not provide an adequate explanation for allowing Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to hunt sea lions for the purpose of protecting salmon runs on the Columbia River. Fisheries killed just as many if not more salmon as the sea lions.

 

The NMFS had decided in 2008 that the three states could kill a maximum of 85 California sea lions per year around the Bonneville Dam.

 

In March 2013, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Washington), plus two other Republicans and one Democrat, introduced a bill to take up the cause against the sea lions once more. As of November 2013, it was still in committee.

Legal Killing of Sea Lions Halted (SandBar)

Sea Lion Killings Spark Fierce Debate (by Rob Hotakainen, Olympian)

Oregon Kills First Salmon-Eating Sea Lion of 2013 at Bonneville Dam (by Scott Learn, Oregonian)

H.R. 1308: Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act (govtrack.us)

 

American Community Survey Controversy

A two-centuries old survey that helped the federal government understand the state of American lives was in danger of being eliminated in 2012 when House Republicans voted to axe all funding for it.

 

The American Community Survey, conducted since 1850, tells federal officials how wealthy and how poor Americans are, as well as what languages they speak, whether they have access to health care, who uses food stamps, and other important statistical information.

 

The one-of-a-kind survey’s findings help determine how more than $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.

 

But Republicans, led by Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, adopted a measure eliminating all funding for the survey, resulting in an estimated savings of $2.4 billion.

 

“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” Webster told the media, adding that in his opinion, the survey was unconstitutional, as the U.S. government was never authorized to conduct such inquiries.

The Beginning of the End of the Census? (by Catherine Rampell, New York Times)

The American Community Survey Stirs Up Controversy (by Al Macias, KJZZ)

House Votes To Cut Census Survey Done Since Thomas Jefferson (by Michael McAuliff, Huffington Post)

Robert Groves, Census Director, Hammers House For Cutting Major U.S. Survey (by Michael McAuliff, Huffington Post)

 

Solar Industry Trade War with China

The United States and China found themselves in a trade war involving solar panels during 2012-2013.

 

In fall 2012, the U.S. imposed tariffs of 24% to 36% on Chinese imports after determining that Chinese companies received what officials said were unfair subsidies from their government or state-owned banks, allowing those manufacturers to sell their products below the cost of production, a practice known as dumping. A dozen U.S. solar panel makers were shuttered because they were unable to compete against the cheaper Chinese imports.

 

China responded in 2013 by imposing tariffs of more than 50% on a material it imports from the U.S. and South Korea to make solar panels.

 

The decision was said to represent a blow to the American solar industry because it relies on China as its largest customer for solar-grade polysilicon, the main ingredient in solar panels.

 

China also imports polysilicon from Europe, but no penalty tariffs were imposed on European sources. That was taken as evidence that the fees charged against the U.S. were in direct retaliation for the earlier U.S. tariffs.

China’s Feud With West on Solar Leads to Tax (by Diane Cardwell, New York Times)

The Coming U.S.-China Solar War (by Bryan Walsh, Time)

Grumbling All Around After Solar Panel Deal (by Keith Bradsher, New York Times)

 

Commerce Renews Internet Contract

The Commerce Department maintains a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit that oversees key technical matters governing how computers communicate over the Internet. The decision effectively maintains the United States’ monopoly over key aspects of the Internet.

 

ICANN has been the source of controversy since its beginning in 1998. Many countries, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and members of the European Union have called for phasing out the Commerce Department’s oversight of Internet protocols in favor of some new system that would increase international input.

 

The Internet Corporation coordinates the root zone of the domain name system and allocates IP address spaces—functions that are crucial to the stability of the Internet.

 

The organization grew out of a clandestine meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1998. Critics in the past have accused it of lacking transparency in its operations and moving sluggishly to approve new top-level domain names. In recent years, Capitol Hill politicians and advocacy groups began criticizing the organization for agreeing to what amounts to a perpetual contract with VeriSign to run the .com registry, which some said would result in unnecessary price hikes and a veritable monopoly. VeriSign and ICANN renewed their contract for .com registration early in 2012, and in November 2012, Commerce approved the agreement but without allowance for raising prices. The price would remain at $7.85 per domain name registration for the six-year period of the agreement, with no increases except on approval of the DOC. VeriSign was permitted to run the .net registry until June 30, 2017.

U.S. Renews Contract for Oversight Of Internet (by Arshad Mohammed, Washington Post)

Feds renew contract with Net oversight body (by Anne Broache, CNET News)

Flak flies over ICANN contract renewal (by Matt Loney, ZDNET)

Verisign loses right to increase .com prices (by Kevin Murphy, Domain Incite)

 

NWS Smart Phone Weather App

At a time when there are hundreds of weather apps available to consumers for their mobile devices, the NWS, which has a mobile web site that offers forecasts by ZIP codes, has been conspicuously absent in providing its own weather app for smart phones.

 

After all, most of the private weather apps use NWS data, so why doesn’t the agency just put out its own app, government observers wondered.

 

In 2012, the NWS management explicitly told employees not to work on developing a weather app, which didn’t sit well with many workers, or their labor representatives, the National Weather Service Employees Union.

 

The union wrote to the NWS saying it considered the no-apps policy a de facto form of privatizing NWS products and services, because it essentially kept the agency out of a busy marketplace filled with consumers.

National Weather Service Hold On Mobile Apps Stirs Controversy (by Andrew Freedman, Washington Post)

The Great Gov Apps Debate Hits NOAA (by Joseph Marks, Nextgov)

National Weather Service Mobile Site To Get Facelift (by Alice Lipowicz, GCN)

 

Document-Shredding Fisheries Official Named to Manage NOAA Data

The former head of law enforcement for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries—who was fired for interfering with an investigation by shredding documents—was given a new job with the agency, much to the dismay of critics.

 

Dale Jones was selected in January 2012 to head a major effort to organize, streamline, and standardize data management within NOAA.

 

Streamlining may be Jones’ forte—he had gained notoriety for destroying most of his office documents during an investigation being run by the NOAA inspector general. Jones was also heavily criticized for condoning and even encouraging more-than-zealous prosecution of overfishing violations in the Northeast.

 

But the decision to rehire Jones was quickly reversed after the NOAA came under fire from members of Congress and environmentalists. NOAA head Jane Lubchenco announced only days after Jones’ rehiring that he would, in fact, not be put in charge of the new data management program.

NOAA Reassigns Former Head of Law Enforcement (by Steve Urbon, South Coast Today)

Report Finds 75% of NOAA Chief's Files Destroyed (by Richard Gaines, Gloucester Times)

NOAA Drops New Duties for Jones (Boston Business Journal)

 

Climate Change Denial Taught in School

Similar to the blowback witnessed in schools over the teaching of evolution, the subject of climate change has prompted conservatives to demand that contrarian viewpoints be taught to students as well.

 

Frank Niepold, a climate education coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who meets with hundreds of teachers annually, told The Los Angeles Times in 2012: “Any time we have a meeting of 100 teachers, if you ask whether they’re running into pushback on teaching climate change, 50 will raise their hands.”

 

In recent years, lawmakers in Texas and Louisiana called for new education standards that required educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah approved resolutions denying climate change, while Tennessee and Oklahoma introduced bills authorizing climate change skeptics to speak their minds in the classroom.

 

In response to the pushback against climate change, the National Center for Science Education, a California-based watchdog group that supports the teaching of evolution, said it would begin monitoring the teaching of climate science and evaluate the sources of resistance to it.

Climate Change Skepticism Seeps Into Science Classrooms (by Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times)

Climate Change Debate Brewing in American Classrooms (by Sam Favate, Wall Street Journal)

 

NOAA Weather Satellites Become Victims of Budget Cuts

Efforts to reduce the federal deficit have taken their toll on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather satellite program.

 

In August 2011, Congress slashed $140 million from NOAA’s overall budget and another $500 million for new satellite production. The reductions were part of a compromise reached with President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. Treasury ran out of money.

 

The cuts impacted plans to replace a critical north-south satellite, delaying them from 2015 to 2017.

 

A year later, lawmakers again debated reducing the NOAA’s budget as part of a larger deficit reduction scheme that was supposed to be crafted before the end of 2012. In this instance, the reduction would have trimmed $182 million from the satellite program. In this age of the Weather Channel and AccuWeather and more, why is that important? Because even they get their weather data, in order to make forecasts, from the NOAA.

 

One satellite program alone, COSMIC-2, lost $13.7 million when the sequestration hit in 2013. That’s because the NOAA chose to use that money to keep from having to furlough workers. The move might have helped employee morale, but it angered the Taiwanese government with which the NOAA has partnered on the COSMIC-2 system.

Budget Cuts May Ground NOAA Weather Satellite Program (by John Nelander, Palm Beach Daily News)

States May Lose Ability to Predict, Prepare for Bad Weather (by Elizabeth Daigneau, Governing)

US Government in Massive New Global Warming Scandal - NOAA Disgraced (by John O'Sullivan, Examiner.com)

Satellitegate Update by John O’Sullivan (CO2 Insanity)

The Space Race Is On for Climate, Weather Privatization (by Andrew Freedman, Climate Central)

 

NIST, the 9/11 Investigation, and the Truth Movement

Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth has spent years since the terrorist attacks in New York City claiming the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center were not brought down by the hijacked jetliners that crashed into the towers, but were actually destroyed by explosives inside the buildings.

 

The group disputed a report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which said Building 7 collapsed as result of falling debris from the Twin Towers. They insisted that the building came straight down, and that could only have been caused by a series of well-placed detonations planted by an unknown group.

 

The group also disagreed with NIST’s conclusions about the collapse of the towers.

 

The official NIST version said the towers came down because “(1) the impact of the planes severed and damaged support columns, dislodged fireproofing insulation coating the steel floor trusses and steel columns, and widely dispersed jet fuel over multiple floors; and (2) the subsequent unusually large, jet-fuel ignited multi-floor fires weakened the now susceptible structural steel.”

 

But the 9/11 Truth group latched onto trace evidence of an “active thermitic material” in the dust from the collapsed towers as indication that explosives—not the airliners—destroyed the buildings.

Group's 9/11 Theories Draw Controversy and Indignation in Pennsylvania (911 Blogger.com)

Inside the Dust of the World Trade Center (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Architects Shy From Truther 9/11 Conspiracy Theory (by Jeremy Stahl, Architect Magazine)

 

Obama Invokes Cold War Powers to Combat Chinese Cyberspying

Concerned over the growing threat of cyber espionage by China, the Obama administration in 2011 invoked Cold War-era national-security powers to require telecommunication companies to reveal confidential information about their networks.

 

The Department of Commerce distributed a survey to companies asking for details about their foreign-made hardware and software, especially systems manufactured or produced by companies “owned, directed or subsidized” by China. It also asked if businesses had experienced security-related incidents, including the discovery of “unauthorized electronic hardware” or suspicious equipment that could duplicate or redirect data and creating a backdoor method of intercepting data going across U.S. networks.

 

Some companies were hesitant to cooperate because the Commerce Department office handling the survey had itself been hacked by the Chinese in 2006, leading business leaders to fear that any company data that was turned over might become known to the Chinese.

Obama Invokes Cold-War Security Powers to Unmask Chinese Telecom Spyware (by Michael Riley, Bloomberg)

U.S. Law to Restrict Government Purchases of Chinese IT Equipment (by Alina Selyukh and Doug Palmer, Reuters)

 

Gulf Dolphin Deaths

Following the nation’s worst-ever oil spill, scientists working for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were told not to publicly discuss the investigation into why dolphins were dying in large numbers along the Gulf Coast.

 

Officials with the Department of Commerce, which oversees the NMFS, placed a gag order on biologists hired to collect samples from the approximately 200 dolphins found dead as of March 2011.

 

Some scientists said they were admonished by the federal government for speaking to the media about the recent “unusual mortality event,” or the other 90 dead dolphins discovered in 2010 following the BP oil spill that polluted large sections of the Gulf of Mexico.

  

Dolphin carcasses, including dozens of stillborn and immature babies, began showing up in coastal waters in January 2011, before the species’ traditional birthing season.

 

According to the NMFS, no samples could be sent for analysis without the permission of the government because of a federal “criminal investigation associated with the oil spill.”

 

But in April 2011, another Commerce branch, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said 15 of the 406 dolphins washed ashore had oil on their bodies, and that the oil on eight of those dolphins was linked to the BP well.

 

A scientific report released in 2012 said 186 dead bottlenose dolphins washed ashore between Louisiana and western Florida over a four-month period (January to April 2011).

 

The report’s findings suggested, but didn’t prove, that the BP oil spill may have helped weaken the dolphins before an unusual influx of cold water occurred in the Gulf. Also, there was evidence that the oil spill affected the dolphin food chain, making prey scarce in the midst of the breeding season, researchers reported.

Commerce Dept. Forbids Biologists from Releasing Data Regarding Gulf Dolphin Deaths (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Gulf Watchers Friday - Blackmail and Dolphin Death - BP Catastrophe AUV #499 (by Lorinda Pike, Daily Kos)

Dolphin Deaths: BP Oil Spill May Have Contributed To High Mortality Rate, Study Finds (by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience)

 

Tsunami Warning Centers on GOP Hit List

Republicans in the U.S. House tried in 2011 to slash funding for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which alerts the U.S. of potentially deadly waves heading toward Hawaii and the West Coast.

 

The budget cut, which totaled $454 million and came only weeks before the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, left officials with the NOAA, which runs the tsunami warning center, shaking their heads.

 

Observers said Republicans were unhappy with the NOAA over its research on climate change and wanted to get back at the agency. GOP leaders said it was simply a matter of finding ways to trim billions of dollars and reduce the budget deficit.

 

“Look, I think that all of us need to be tempered by the fact that we’ve got to stop spending money we don’t have,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) told the media. “I mean, essentially what you’re saying is, go borrow money from the Japanese so we can go and spend it there to help the Japanese.”

 

Following the earthquake that struck Japan, scientists at the tsunami warning center issued an international bulletin that helped the Japanese government order an evacuation of coastal areas, a move that may have saved thousands of additional lives from being lost during the disaster.

Congress Wants To Cut Tsunami Warning Centers? Really? (CNN)

Tsunami Warning Center Submerged In Budget Debate (by Abby Leonard, PBS)

GOP Budget Cuts Target Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Current)

 

“Climate-gate” Controversy

In late 2009, critics of climate change seized upon the release of more than a thousand emails from scientists at the NOAA that purportedly showed they had manipulated data to prove global warming existed. The emails were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain.

 

Conservatives and Republican lawmakers blasted the NOAA in what became known as “climategate.” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate environment committee, ordered an investigation of the emails and the NOAA. Inhofe had called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

 

In 2011, the Department of Commerce’s inspector general’s office concluded its probe and found no evidence that NOAA climate scientists had manipulated data.

 

The investigation echoed the findings of other probes also exonerated the scientists of any misconduct. No fewer than six official bodies, along with several media outlets, including Pennsylvania State University, the InterAcademy Council, the National Research Council, and the British House of Commons, came to the same conclusion: nothing in the emails pointed to the NOAA cooking the facts about global warming.

GOP Inquiry Finds No Evidence That ‘Climategate’ Scientists Misused Data (by Sahil Kapur, The Raw Story)

Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails in the "Climategate" Manufactured Controversy (Union of Concerned Scientists)

NOAA: Past Decade Warmest on Record According to Scientists in 48 Countries (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

“Climategate” (FactCheck.org)

Scientists Are Cleared of Misuse of Data (by Leslie Kaufman, New York Times)

 

Groves’ Stand on Census Count Method Becomes Political Fodder

Robert Groves was confirmed as director of the U.S. Census Bureau in July 2009 after Republicans held up his vote in the Senate over concerns that he would use a controversial methodology with the 2010 census.

 

GOP Senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Richard Shelby of Alabama delayed a final vote on Groves’ nomination until the White House assured them that statistical sampling would not be used to adjust the census count. It was assumed that such sampling benefits minorities and the poor.

 

The U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled statistical sampling illegal for purposes of congressional reapportionment. Nevertheless, Republicans seized on Groves’ support for sampling following the 1990 census, when he was the bureau’s associate director.

 

During his confirmation hearing, Groves had stated that the Bureau definitely would not use sampling to adjust the results of the 2010 census.

Robert Groves Confirmed as Census Director (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

Census Bureau Director Resigns: Who is Robert Groves? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

2010 U.S. Census (Wikipedia)

 

Counterfeit Electronic Parts Used In Military Hardware

The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) revealed in January 2010 that much of the country’s military hardware contained counterfeit electronics.

 

The BIS report demonstrated that the Pentagon’s supply chain was exposed to the possibility that counterfeit parts could make their way into gear and that, in turn, meant the lives of American soldiers could be in danger.

 

The assessment focused on electronic components, microcircuits, and circuit board products purchased from 387 companies and organizations from 2005 to 2008.

 

Investigators found 39% of suppliers encountered counterfeit electronics during the four-year period. The number of incidents grew from 3,868 in 2005 to 9,356 in 2008.

 

Not only does that raise the possibility that equipment wouldn’t work as expected when needed, but also that it might have malware in it that could affect other components.

 

In a letter to Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tom Carper of Delaware insisted the Pentagon needed to do more to protect the system from fake supplies, many of which come from overseas. “Counterfeit parts manufactured offshore not only hurt American manufacturing and competitiveness, but in this case, have the potential to put our military at risk and jeopardize our national security missions,” Brown said.

Surge in Counterfeit Items in Pentagon's Supplies (Homeland Security News Wire)

Pentagon to Crack Down on Counterfeit Parts from China (by Kristina Wong, Washington Times)

Murphy to Pentagon: More Care Needed in Selecting Military Suppliers (Integrated Circuit Electronics)

 

Obama’s Controversial Commerce Candidate Judd Gregg Withdraws

Shortly after his 2008 inauguration, President Barack Obama selected Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to serve as his secretary of commerce. But the choice proved ill fated, as Gregg provoked concerns among both liberals and conservatives, leading to the senator withdrawing from consideration.

 

Gregg said that he pulled out in part because of serious disagreements with the White House over the census, which the Commerce Department oversees.

 

Conservatives blasted the administration over its plans for the decennial headcount that was coming up in 2010, claiming Obama was trying to pull a “power grab.”

 

This claim was based on remarks Obama made after nominating Gregg, whose selection worried liberals and Democrats who feared the Republican nominee would not back efforts such as using sampling to get a more accurate census count. The White House openly promised that its senior management would work closely with the census director.

 

Republicans took that comment as meaning the census would be run from the White House in 2010. The White House later issued a written clarification saying, “This administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce.”

 

From the beginning of his nomination, Gregg seemed like an odd choice to Democrats, given that the fiscal conservative had once called for eliminating the Commerce Department altogether.

Why the 2010 Census Stirs Up Partisan Politics (by Amy Sullivan, Time)

Judd Gregg Quits as Commerce Pick, Cites Conservative Census Concerns (by Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News & World Report)

Judd Gregg: A Curious Choice for Commerce (by Pete Engardio, Bloomberg)

 

Who Counts?

Most controversies relating to the DOC’s Census Bureau have to do with the counting of minorities and other marginalized groups, such as the homeless, prisoners, and undocumented workers. According to the Constitution, the census should count everyone in the country. Attempts to bend that requirement inevitably arise, because the stakes are so high. The census determines the number of representatives elected from each state and the distribution of federal money among the states. 

 

The Bureau counts prisoners in the districts in which they are incarcerated. Some argue that this practice is a violation of international treaty. Counting prisoners as local residents, despite the fact that they can’t vote or participate in the communities where they are incarcerated, leads to unequal distributions of power. 

 

The 1990 census was criticized for excluding one Native American in every eight. The statisticians’ solution is to follow each census with a quality check, surveying representative areas to create a picture of those overlooked in the full count and correcting the figures accordingly. Because of the transient nature of many homeless people, it is virtually impossible to count the whole of this population and leads to distortion as to the nature of homelessness and the magnitude of the problem. In 1992, the cities of Baltimore and San Francisco, along with homeless advocates, sued the Bureau, accusing it of deliberately setting out to undercount the homeless during its one-night count of street people for the 1990 census.

Prisoners of the Census

Prison Policy Initiative

 

Census Bureau Short on Cash

The Commerce Department and the George W. Bush administration came under severe criticism from lawmakers and others over their failure to prepare the government for the 2010 census.

 

In 2007, the Census Bureau struggled to receive sufficient funding to prepare for 2010 because the administration failed to exempt it from a zero-increase budget plan for most federal offices. As a result, the bureau had to revise key aspects of its so-called “dress rehearsal” which was scheduled for 2008 and tests every detail of the census taking process. Tests of the bureau’s plans and procedures for counting people on military bases were at risk of being eliminated.

 

Furthermore, the Census Bureau reported to Congress that it had failed to develop a reliable hand-held computer (HHC) system for census takers to use when counting Americans for the 2010 census. The technological failure—along with cost overruns and poor contractor communication—came after nearly four years of work and almost $600 million in expenditures, and it meant the bureau would have to once again rely on a paper system to carry out the census.

 

And to top things off, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told lawmakers that the agency would need up to an additional $232 million in funding to ramp up systems to accommodate the paper count, including new forms, instructions and training materials and redesigned management and logistical support. To cover the increase, Commerce proposed cutting other programs—including those that the White House tried to kill or reduce in 2008 but which were rescued by Congress. Those programs included the National Institute of Standards and Technology, marine sanctuaries, pollution control, Chesapeake Bay restoration, and economic development grants for Appalachia. When all was said and done, the necessity of reverting to the paper system resulted in an added cost of between $2.2 and $3 billion, bringing the total cost of the 2010 census to upward of $14.5 billion.

Hobbling the Census (Editorial, New York Times)

Another Heck of a Job (Editorial, New York Times)

 

Inaccurate Navigation Charts

As a predominantly research-focused agency, the National Ocean Service (NOS), an agency within the Department of Commerce, has managed to avoid a great deal of controversy—except regarding the accuracy of their marine navigation charts.

 

The NOS is the primary source of nautical maps, and most commercial and recreational boaters depend on the NOS for safe navigational maps, yet they sometimes find those charts inaccurate, outdated, and unsafe. For example, the owners of the Oregon-based vessel the New Carissa named the NOA as one of the defendants in a $96 million negligence claim filed in 2001. The complaint alleged that navigation chart published by the NOS incorrectly identified an area as safe for anchorage, leading to the grounding and eventual sinking of the New Carissa. The vessel broke anchor in strong winds, damaging the ship and spilling 70,000 gallons of fuel oil onto the shoreline and into the water. The government filed a counter complaint and the matter was settled privately, with the government conceding $4 million to cover the faulty charts claim.

 

The government began using sonar mapping in 1945. The prior “lead-lining” method resulted in charting gaps, which can lead to accidents. Complaints about inaccurate maps have been ongoing since the NOS’s creation, although the exact number or related accidents is unclear. As stated in The New York Times in 1992, this is partially because federal law only requires that commercial liners report accidents that cause $25,000 in damages, and recreational boaters do not have to report groundings. 

 Outdated U.S. Charts Trouble Navigators (New York Times)

 

NOAA/NWS Censors Its Web Site On Global Warming Doubts

The NWS was accused in 2009, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), of removing information that doubted the existence of global warming from its website.

 

On the NWS site was a page entitled “It’s a Gas Man” that contained lessons on the atmosphere. The content included a statement that read: “There is no evidence that it [carbon dioxide] is causing an increase in global temperatures.”

 

Another section stated: “The behavior of the atmosphere is extremely complex. Therefore, discovering the validity of global warming is complex as well. How much effect will [sic] the increase in carbon dioxide will have is unclear or even if we recognize the effects of any increase.”

 

The page then came down a couple days after it was uploaded. When it went back online, the above-referenced statements were gone.

 

Examiner.com wrote: “The entire episode has many questioning if NOAA is censoring the content that National Weather Service employees believe is most appropriate for their audience. Worse yet, is NOAA censoring dissenting opinions of trained meteorologists within its own organization?”

Controversial NOAA Climate Change Page Returns - Missing Original Skeptical Text (by Tony Hake, Examiner.com)

More Americans Now Believe Climate Change (by Sally Anne Lewis, Suite 101)

Climate Change Belief Increased In U.S. After Extreme Weather, NOAA Chief Says (by Rod McGuirk, Associated Press)

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Debate:

Can the Patent Office set its own rules?

After years of complaints regarding backlogged patent applications, cramped resources and alleged abuse of the system, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) introduced a new set of rules to the patent application process. The USPTO claimed the rules would prevent abuse and allow for a more effective review process, while critics countered that the rules would unfairly inhibit innovators seeking patents. In August 2007 Connecticut inventor Triantafyllos Tafas sued the agency, claiming that the agency’s proposed rules regarding continued applications (those re-filed after a rejection) would cause him to lose potential rights to inventions that result from his original work. The case was later joined by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

 

In October 2007 the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled against the USPTO and issued a preliminary injunction stopping the office from implementing its new rules. Then in late March 2008, the court threw out the USPTO rules, saying the office had overstepped its authority.

 

In October 2008 USPTO Director Jon Dudas filed an appeal, and in March 2009 the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that USPTO’s continuation rules were invalid, but also reversed the District Court’s ruling that the claim limitation rules were also invalid, and it ordered additional briefings. Then, four months later, both parties requested a stay pending confirmation of Director Dudas’s replacement, David Kappos, on the possibility that he would rescind the rules at issue, thereby making the entire case moot. Indeed, that is exactly what happened in a decision made by Director Kappos in September of that year. Had the controversial rules been put into effect, they would have limited the number of patent claims per application, and the number of continuing applications that could be filed.

 

Pro (for USPTO making substantive rule changes):

The USPTO maintained that the proposed changes would prevent abuses of the system and help address the massive backlog (the agency reportedly received more than 467,000 applications in 2007, about 30% of which were continuations—ending in a backlog of about 760,000 applications). Legal scholars argued that pharmaceutical companies take advantage of the system, submitting applications before drugs have been thoroughly researched in order to hold competitors at bay.

 

Con (against allowing USPTO to make substantive rule changes):

The patent process for the biotech industry is inherently different from others, according to industry proponents, because the discovery and development process require a different time frame. That is, drugs cannot be changed after an application is submitted, but information—as from clinical trials—may be added along the way to provide supporting evidence. Applications are usually approved based on lab data. For competitive reasons, the biotech industry will often submit applications before the completion of clinical trials, which “prove” the drug’s curative powers and ensure its approval. In the years it takes to complete most clinical trials, competitors can move in on the discovery. Unlimited claims and continuations have allowed drug companies to protect discoveries and secure patents for a wide range of clinical applications for the same drug.

Copy of the U.S. District Court decision (pdf)

Bush Administration Speaks Against Patent Overhaul (by Grant Gross, IDG News Service)

Feds may appeal biotech patent ruling (by Amy Coombs, Sacramento Business Journal)

Administration softens position on patent reform: Damages still at issue, but push for quality praised (by Rick Merritt, EE Times)

Court rejects new USPTO rules meant to kill patent backlog (by Ryan Paul, Ars Technica)

Court rejects Patent Office's new rules (by Diane Bartz, Reuters)

USPTO Rescinds Controversial Patent Regulations Package Proposed by Previous

            Administration (USPTO)

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Suggested Reforms:

Obama’s Plan to Modernize and Simplify Export Controls

The Department of Commerce unveiled new regulations in 2011 designed to simplify export guidelines, streamline the process for awarding patents, and eliminate outdated import restrictions as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce unnecessary regulations.

 

Commerce sought to lower costs for companies and individuals trying to sell products overseas in keeping with Obama’s plan to double U.S. exports to about $3.1 trillion by 2015 and support two million new jobs.

 

The plan also involved the State Department, which works with Commerce to regulate exports that have military use. Changes put forth by the White House called for shifting as many as 30,000 licenses for basic defense articles from State to Commerce, which has more flexible export rules.

Preliminary Plan for Retrospective Analysis of Existing Rules (Department of Commerce)

Commerce Plans Export Regulation Overhaul to Boost Trade (by Eric Martin, Bloomberg)

Obama Forges Ahead with Historic Overhaul of Export Controls (by Ben Goad, Hill)

 

Field Data Collection Automation Program

In order to reduce the cost of the census, the Census Bureau has recognized the need to reduce the amount of paper used in collection. Thus, for 2010, the Bureau proposed the use of handheld computers (HHCs) equipped with GPS tracking systems in order to completely restructure the data collection process. But the HHC plan fell behind schedule in programming these devices, as well as training the 500,000 temporary interviewers to use the equipment. Census Bureau director Steve H. Murdock blamed the delay on a lack of communication between the Bureau and the prime contractor for the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program. He explained in a press release that the contractor had difficulty developing the full scope of the project within the Bureau’s deadline.

 

Although HHCs were eventually used in address canvassing, the primary program was scrapped after a special task force recommended a return to paper-based methods. The reasons all related to an array of problems with the development of the handheld devices, including missed deadlines, technical problems, cost overruns, and poor contractor communication. Harris Corporation had been awarded a $595 million contract for developing 525,000 HHCs. The decision to revert to paper resulted in an added cost of between $2.2 and $3 billion, bringing the total cost of the 2010 census to upward of $14.5 billion.

 

Following the 2010 census, the Bureau announced a tech makeover, including consolidating major data centers, reducing the total number of storage systems, and changing the way it handles IT systems.

Automated Field Data Collection for the 2010 Census

The Census at “High Risk” (Editorial, New York Times)

Census to scrap handheld computers for 2010 count (by Gautham Nagesh, Nextgov)

U.S. Census tech makeover includes “oasis” for innovation (by Patrick Thibodeau, Computerworld)

 

Make the Census Bureau an Independent Agency

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers tried in 2009 to separate the U.S. Census Bureau from the Department of Commerce before the agency began the 2010 national headcount.

 

Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania), Jim Gerlach (R-Pennsylvania), and then-Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), introduced legislation to make the Census Bureau an independent agency.

 

Maloney introduced a similar bill in 2008 that drew the support of seven former Census directors.

 

“The Census Bureau’s work is scientific: it requires careful, thoughtful planning by those who know how best to perform this huge undertaking. The work is too important to be a stepchild of a larger organization—buffeted by year-to-year budget whims and political storms that every Cabinet agency is subject to,” Maloney said in a statement.

 

Republicans supported the idea, following President Barack Obama’s plan to have the next Census Bureau director report to both the commerce secretary and White House senior officials. They contended that Obama’s idea would mean the introduction of politics into the Bureau, with “operatives” in the White House.

 

In 2010, the Senate adopted a bill that would give the Census director a five-year term overlapping the four-year presidential terms, so the position would have a timetable consistent with the 10-year cycle of planning and implementing the decennial census. The bill failed in the House.

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Remove Census Bureau From Commerce Department (by Stephen Clark, Fox News)

More Independence for the Census Bureau? (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

 

Patent Judges Appointments

Since 1999, judges who make rulings on patents have been appointed by the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Before then, such appointments were made by the secretary of the Department of Commerce (DOC). This new appointment system, however, endangered the validity of thousands of patents, prompting the Justice Department to search for a solution to change things before complete mayhem developed in the patent world.

 

George Washington University Law Professor John F. Duffy discovered in 2007 a constitutional flaw in the appointment process over an eight-year period for judges who decide patent appeals and disputes. According to Duffy, the 1999 legislation that granted the director of the USPTO the ability to appoint judges was in violation of the Constitution. His published findings quietly alarmed lawyers at the Justice Department who couldn’t help but agree that Duffy was correct in his assessment. But that meant thousands of patent decisions worth billions of dollars could have been overturned unless some kind of legal remedy was adopted.

 

At the center of the problem was the U.S. patent court that hears appeals from people and companies whose patent applications were turned down by patent examiners. By Duffy’s analysis, every three-judge panel that had made a ruling since 2000 could have been challenged if a single judge was appointed by the USPTO director.

 

The matter was resolved in 2008 when the Congress passed bill S.3295 (pdf) and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The new law established that all administrative patent judge appointments be made by the secretary of Commerce, and all appointments made by the director since 1999 are “deemed” to have been made by the secretary. That effectively protected all the patent decisions since 1999 from falling into jeopardy.

In One Flaw, Questions on Validity of 46 Judges (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)

Are Administrative Patent Judges Unconstitutional? (by John F. Duffy, Social Science Research Network)

Justice Dept Memorandum (pdf)

 

Obama Proposes Restructuring Commerce Department

On January 13, 2012, President Barack Obama asked Congress for the authority to undertake an extensive restructuring of the Department of Commerce.  If this happens, it would be the first time in about three decades that a U.S. President had the ability to do that. (A Depression-era executive tool that endured for 52 years, U.S. Presidents were permitted to restructure the federal bureaucracy with the majority approval of Congress.)

 

Claiming that it will reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of the government, President Obama wants to close the DOC and create a new Cabinet-level department the sole focus of which would be to oversee trade and business. His blueprint for that new department includes the combining of the White House’s Office of U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, DOC’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau, and four independent agencies: the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp., and the Trade and Development Agency.

 

A second aspect of the President’s proposal is the removal of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including all of its sub-agencies, from the DOC, where it currently resides. It would be moved, en masse, to the Department of the Interior.

 

The President is also calling for the creation of an Interagency Trade Enforcement Center to tackle unfair trade practices overseas, most notably in China. Among the unfair policies to be challenged are foreign favored-industry subsidies and intellectual property violations, an area that has received heightened scrutiny from Congress. President Obama’s 2013 budget request earmarks $26 million for the proposed enforcement center, which would exist within the DOC, pending outcome of the department restructure.

 

The Obama Administration claims that this massive overhaul will save the federal government $3 billion over a 10-year period, and support the President’s goals of doubling U.S. exports—from $1.57 trillion in 2009 to $3.14 trillion by 2015—and increasing trade with countries in Asia. It has also been noted that collateral damage from this restructuring could be the loss of between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs through attrition.

 

Resistance to the proposal has been signaled from several camps, including business groups and members of Congress who believe that blending the Trade Representative into a larger department would result in a loss of independence and clout, thereby harming trade policy. Environmentalists oppose moving the NOAA into the Interior because that department is devoted to the extraction of natural resources, running contrary to NOAA’s mission.

 

In the following year, the sweeping proposal went nowhere, although Obama did include it again in his FY 2014 budget plan.

Ahead of State of the Union, Obama Proposes New “Super Commerce” Department (by

            Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Obama wants export agency, closing of Commerce Department (by Laura MacInnis, Reuters)

'It has to change': Obama takes on big government (by Ben Feller, Associate Press) Remarks by the President on Government Reform (White House Briefing Room)

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Former Directors:

Secretaries of Commerce

 

Herbert Hoover spent 8 years as Secretary of Commerce before being elected president of the United States in 1928.

 

 

Donald Evans (January 2001 to January 2005)

A native of Houston, Texas, Don Evans served as the Secretary of the Commerce Department during President George W. Bush’s first term in office. Evans attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he received a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1969 and an MBA in 1973.

 

In 1975, Evans moved to Midland, Texas, and began roughnecking on an oil rig for Tom Brown Inc., a large independent energy company now based in Denver. Ten years later he took over the company as CEO and continued running it until becoming Commerce Secretary.

 

Evans is a longtime friend of President Bush. In 1995, Evans was appointed by Bush, then governor of Texas, to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System, serving as chairman for the last four years. Evans also worked for Bush’s successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1994 and 1998 and served as chairman of the Bush/Cheney 2000 campaign.

 

White House Bio

Wikipedia Bio


 

 

 

Carlos Gutierrez (2005-2008)

Bio (AllGov)

Official Bio (DOC)

 

 

Otto J. Wolff (Acting)           (January 20, 2009 - March 26, 2009)

Biography

 

 

Gary Locke (March 26, 2009 - August 1, 2011)

Bio (AllGov)

Official Bio (DOC)

 

 

Rebecca Blank (Acting) (August 1, 2011 - October 21, 2011)

Official Bio (DOC)

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Comments

John B. Crane, MD 9 months ago
I have more a question than a comment. I'm trying to determine whether the Dept. of Commerce (or whatever department has taken over their duties)has any jurisdiction over internet vehicular scamming. I reside in Missouri and the offending company is in Nebraska. They have a long history of cheating customers out of money. Any info you could provide, or a reference to the pertinent office, would be appreciated. Thank you... John B. Crane, MD

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Founded: 1903
Annual Budget: $8 billion (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: About 47,000 worldwide (FY 2013 Request)
Official Website: http://www.commerce.gov/

Department of Commerce

Pritzker, Penny
Secretary

President Barack Obama has turned to a billionaire heiress who raised at least $1 million for his presidential campaigns to help repair frayed relations with the wealthy by serving as Secretary of Commerce. An heiress to the Hyatt Hotels (2011 revenues: $3.7 billion) fortune, Chicagoan Penny Pritzker carries such significant baggage that the administration decided in 2009 not to nominate her to Commerce despite the President's stated wish to do so. Among other things, Pritzker was chair of a bank that failed because of subprime loans, Hyatt is a staunchly anti-labor hotel chain, and many believe that the murky overseas investments of the secretive Pritzker family fortune represent a form of offshore tax evasion—a practice criticized by Obama during the 2012 campaign.

 

Born May 2, 1959, the daughter of Sue (née Sandel) and Donald N. Pritzker (1932–1972), co-founder of Hyatt hotels, which grew dramatically while he was president from 1959 to 1972. After graduating Castilleja School in 1977, Pritzker earned a BA in Economics at Harvard in 1981 and a JD/MBA at Stanford University in 1984.

 

Having grown up in an exceptionally wealthy family, Pritzker, whose net worth is about $1.85 billion, pursued a business career, mostly in managing the family's vast and complex assets, which are worth billions, all the while sitting on various boards of family companies including that of Hyatt Hotels,. Among the companies she founded or co-founded are Classic Residence by Hyatt (now called Vi) in 1987; Pritzker Realty Group in 1991; The Parking Spot, an off-site airport parking management company, in 1998; Artemis Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment management company, in 2010; and PSP Capital Partners in 2012.

 

Meeting Barack Obama shortly before his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, Pritzker became a supporter. She was the national finance chair of Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 and was national co-chair of Obama for America 2012. Although she ran outreach to small donors, on July 2, 2008, she and her husband hosted a $28,500 per plate fundraiser for Obama's campaign in Chicago. She has also been a campaign bundler, encouraging friends and associates to give, and raising between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama in 2008 and at least $500,000 in 2012. A co-chair of Obama's first inauguration, Pritzker gave $250,000 to help pay for his second one in January, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

 

Over the years, Pritzker and her husband have donated $55,600 to Obama, more than triple the $14,200 the Pritzkers gave to their second-ranking recipient, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). Pritzker also gave about $120,000 to various Democratic party committees in the 2010 and 2012 campaign cycles combined.

 

Although they donated almost exclusively to Democrats, thefewer have been exceptions, including $1,000 to George W. Bush in 2000, another $2,000 in 2004 for his re-election, and donations to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), former Rep. Tom Campbell (R-California) and a few others.

 

Pritzker will have to answer questions about the collapse of Superior Bank, which was co-owned by her family and of which she was chair from 1991 to 1994. The bank aggressively pursued subprime mortgages and car loans, and its failure in 2001 led to charges of fraud and mismanagement. When the dust had settled, the Pritzker family obtained an unusual deal allowing themselves, as bank shareholders, to be paid from recovered assets ahead of depositors, even as 1,406 uninsured depositors lost their savings. The fact that the Pritzkers had bought their share of Superior Bank using federal tax credits—essentially free taxpayer money—will only add fuel to the fire at her confirmation hearing, although it will be odd to see Republicans making such criticisms.

 

Pritzker's nomination has already drawn fire from labor leaders, owing to Hyatt Hotels' longstanding and well-earned reputation as an anti-labor hotel chain. Hyatt, on whose board Pritzker sits, has resisted unionization for years, fighting long battles in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere. Even where a union has been certified, like Unite Here Local One in Chicago, Hyatt does not give an inch, and remains locked in a four-year labor dispute there over contract provisions. Last year, Unite Here launched a boycott of Hyatt, which has garnered wide support.

 

Pritzker is no more popular with the Chicago Teachers Union, which has been critical of her tenure on the Chicago School Board, from which she resigned in March 2012, because of her support for charter schools, school closings and increased testing. Kristine Mayle, the union's financial secretary, told the Chicago Tribune that “We know Penny Pritzker has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss. Her policies adversely affect working families. She has worked to close schools and destabilize neighborhoods, and we hope she does a better job in her new position, if she gets it.”

 

The murkiness of the Pritzker family finances can only add to the populist coloring of the criticisms apt to be leveled at Penny Pritzker, and the fact that she served as Chairman of the Board of credit reporting company TransUnion, LLC, from 2005 to 2012, is icing on the cake, for no one really likes the credit reporting agencies.

 

Penny Pritzker is married to ophthalmologist Bryan Traubert, with whom she has two children.

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Penny Pritzker Nominated for Commerce Secretary (by Christi Parsons, Melissa Harris and Katherine Skiba, Chicago Tribune)

Cabinet Pick’s Finances May Foreshadow Battle (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)

Penny Pritzker's Commerce (Part One) (by Rick Perlstein, The Nation)

Penny Pritzker's Commerce (Part Two) (by Rick Perlstein, The Nation)

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Bryson, John
Previous Secretary

A retired utilities executive, John E. Bryson was considered a low-profile choice as President Barack Obama’s next secretary of commerce. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for controversy when Obama named Bryson on May 31, 2011.

 
For starters, Bryson was seen as too liberal because of his longstanding support for the environment. If that wasn’t enough to alarm Republicans in the Senate, there was the ongoing dispute the GOP has had with the administration over free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Though the issue had nothing to do with Bryson, key Republicans threatened to hold up his confirmation hearings until Obama made concessions on the trade agreements.
 
Bryson was finally confirmed by the Senate on October 20. After suffering a “partial seizure” while driving in Southern California, Bryson resigned on June 20, 2012.
 
Born on July 24, 1943, Bryson graduated from Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon, in 1961. He received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1965 and his Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School in 1969.
 
Fresh out of law school, Bryson helped found the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970. He served as legal counsel for the fledgling group that eventually grew into a prominent player in the environmental movement.
 
By the mid-1970s, Bryson moved into California state government, serving as an adviser to Governor Jerry Brown, chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board (1976-1979) and president of the California Public Utilities Commission (1980-1982).
 
The bulk of his career, though, was with Edison International. He served as chief executive of Southern California Edison from 1984-1990 and led its parent (Edison International) from 1990 until his retirement on July 31, 2008.
 
Consumer advocates criticized his annual compensation in the wake of the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001, and complained about his retirement package, which included a pension plan and stock options valued at almost $65 million at the time.
 
After retiring from Edison, Bryson became a senior adviser to the private-equity giant Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts.
 
When Obama began working on filling out his cabinet, Bryson was rumored as a candidate for the energy secretary job.
 
Bryson has served as a director of Boeing, Disney and the W. M. Keck Foundation. He also was a director/trustee for three western asset management funds at Legg Mason. In addition, he has been on a number of educational, environmental and other nonprofit boards, including chairman of the California Business Roundtable, a trustee of Stanford University, a trustee of the California Institute of Technology, co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy and chairman of the Public Policy Institute of California.
 
Bryson has been chairman of the board at BrightSource Energy, Inc., a developer of large-scale solar thermal power systems, since September 2010.
 
Bryson has contributed more than $70,000 to campaigns since 1990, with most of his money going to Democrats, including $2,400 to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California in 2009 and $1,000 to President Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. He has given to several Republicans over the years, including President George H. W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 1992 and former California Governor Pete Wilson’s presidential bid in 1995.
 
Profile (Wikipedia)
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Overview

The Department of Commerce (DOC) has something of an odd mix of responsibilities. As its name indicates, the DOC focuses on promoting American businesses both in the United States and overseas. The department also gathers economic and demographic data to measure the well-being of the economy, promotes U.S. exports, enforces international trade agreements, regulates the export of sensitive goods and technologies, and issues patents and trademarks. But then there are Commerce’s non-business duties, such as overseeing scientific data that helps forecast the weather and determine the health of the world’s oceans. Altogether, Commerce maintains a fairly low profile in comparison to other cabinet-level departments, although that does not mean it is above causing controversy, especially when it involves the census or the issuing of patents.

 

In January 2012, President Barack Obama announced his intention to restructure the DOC as part of a cost-cutting reorganization of the federal bureaucracy. To accomplish this, he has asked Congress to create legislation that would grant him the power to make such changes with a majority congressional vote.


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History:

The Department of Commerce and Labor was created in 1903 at the direction of President Theodore Roosevelt. The combined missions of the new department didn’t last long, as officials in Washington soon realized the need to have a federal agency that was exclusively devoted to promoting American business. Roosevelt’s successor, President William Howard Taft, signed legislation in 1913 establishing separate Departments of Commerce and Labor.

 

President Taft left office before he could appoint the first Commerce secretary, so the duty fell to President Woodrow Wilson, who appointed manufacturing executive and politician William C. Redfield to lead Commerce. The new department consisted of the Lighthouse Service, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Steamboat Inspection Service, Census, Standards, Navigation, Fisheries, Foreign and Domestic Commerce, and the Bureau of Corporations.

 

Since then, the Department of Commerce (DOC) has undergone numerous changes to its composition. For example, the Bureau of Public Roads and the Maritime Administration eventually were removed from the department, while new offices were added, including those that later evolved into the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Department of Transportation.

 

Other subsections that have been part of and continue to be part of Commerce include the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Minority Business Development Agency, Economic Development Administration, International Trade Administration, and Bureau of Industry and Security.

 

An extensive restructuring of the DOC may be in the offing, as President Barack Obama, in January 2012, proposed the establishment of a new, Cabinet-level department that would oversee business and trade, while moving DOC’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the Department of the Interior. The action is pending congressional approval. (See Suggested Reforms.)

U.S. Department of Commerce; 75 years stimulating America's progress: 1913-1988 - includes related articles (by M. Katherine Glover, Business America)

Dept of Commerce Historical Milestones

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What it Does:

The Department of Commerce (DOC) focuses on promoting American business at home and abroad. The department gathers economic and demographic data to measure the health and vitality of the economy, promotes U.S. exports, enforces international trade agreements, and regulates the export of sensitive goods and technologies. Commerce also issues patents and trademarks, protects intellectual property, forecasts the weather, conducts oceanic and atmospheric research, provides stewardship over living marine resources, develops and applies technology, measurements and standards, formulates telecommunications and technology policy, fosters minority business development, and promotes economic growth in distressed communities.

 

DOC Offices

Water and Air

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The NOAA is one of the Commerce Department’s key divisions. Through seven major offices, the NOAA provides scientific data for weather services, global warming research and fisheries management, among other duties. The NOAA’s five subcomponents are as follows:

 

National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service

The NESDIS operates the nation’s system of weather satellites. It launches and controls satellites and collects data transmitted back to ground stations. It also manages the processing, distribution and archiving of satellite data to make it available to researchers, planners, weather forecasters, the general public and others. The NESDIS operates two types of satellite systems. One is a polar-orbiting environmental satellite (POES) and the other is a geostationary operational environmental satellite (GOES).

 

National Marine Fisheries Service

The NMFS regulates commercial and recreational ocean fishing, managing marine life and their habitats in the waters three to 200 nautical miles from a U.S. shore (an area known in maritime law as an “exclusive economic zone,” where countries have enhanced resource-exploitation rights). The agency attempts to promote the multi-billion-dollar fishing industry through sensible stewardship. This entails carefully balancing the competing interests of economics and conservation. Much of the agency’s energy is devoted to propping up dwindling catches due to pollution or overfishing. It also conducts research and coordinates conservation efforts with local authorities.

 

National Weather Service

The NWS provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the U.S., including its territories, adjacent waters, and ocean areas. Data is gathered from a broad national infrastructure covering land, sea and air, including weather radar and satellites as well as from marine observation buoys and surface observation systems that assist the aviation industry. The agency collects, compiles and analyzes data, and generates outlooks, forecasts, and warnings.

 

National Ocean Service

The NOS carries out three main activities related to navigation services, ocean resources conservation and assessment and ocean and coastal management. The office primarily collects environmental data and analyzes information about the world’s oceans. It also oversees the National Marine Sanctuary program and monitors coral reef sanctuaries. As part of its oceanic mission, the NOS is responsible for overseeing the cleanup of oil and chemical spills in or near ocean waters. 

 

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

The OAR studies different aspects of the environment in an effort to understand, protect, and predict climate variability, water resources and the world’s different ecosystems. The office’s three main research areas cover climate, bodies of water (i.e., oceans, Great Lakes), and weather and air quality. In 2007 the OAR won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former Vice President Al Gore in distributing information about global warming. This work, at that time, stood in contrast to the position of the George W. Bush administration, which resisted the idea of global warming.

 

Office of Marine and Aviation Operations

The OMAO operates specialized ships and aircrafts to carry out research missions for the NOAA. The OMAO fleet is operated and managed by the NOAA Corps Officers along with civilian employees.

 

Office of Program Planning and Integration

The PPI uses corporate management to effectively run NOAA’s many programs with stakeholders, domestic and international partners in regards to environmentalism. The PPI involves strategic management, support for employees and performance evaluation.

 

Numbers

Census Bureau

In addition to carrying out annual surveys, the Census Bureau conducts a decennial census (every 10 years). The census is used to determine the number of each state’s congressional representatives and electoral votes, as well as the allocation of federal tax dollars. Census data directly affect how more than $200 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to local, state, and tribal governments. The data are vital to other planning decisions, such as emergency preparedness and disaster recovery.

 

Bureau of Economic Analysis

The BEA is responsible for collecting data, conducting research and analysis and publishing statistics. The Census Bureau collects much of the raw data, which the Bureau of Economic Analysis then interprets. The statistics produced by the BEA are used by government, business and the public to track the nation’s economic performance. The figures that the BEA is most known for are the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the U.S. economy’s ranking among other economies and trade balance. Many government agencies, businesses and individuals make decisions based on the figures the BEA publishes.

 

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The NIST is charged with advancing measurement science, standards and technology for everything from nutrition to time and national security. The institute fuels U.S. technological innovation and progress through research and development in four key areas of focus: biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing. Headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with laboratories in Boulder, Colorado, the NIST is home to one of the world’s most accurate atomic clocks, which serves as the source of the nation’s official time.

 

Economics and Statistics Administration

The ESA is responsible for providing timely economic analysis and disseminating national economic indicators, which it does through the release of briefings, fact sheets and reports that are developed by its team of expert analysts and economists. The ESA also oversees the BEA and the Census Bureau, working with their leadership on high-priority budget, employment, and management issues.

 

Patents, Trademarks and Licenses

Patent and Trademark Office

The USPTO is responsible for processing patent and trademark applications. Patents are a type of constitutionally sanctioned property right granted to inventors for exclusive development and deployment of their discoveries. The office has long been criticized for long waiting times, inefficiency, and granting patents for unjustifiably ridiculous “inventions.” Although the office only grants patents and trademarks valid in the U.S., its issue of U.S.-company patents for genetic modifications of biotechnology in foreign countries makes it susceptible to criticism of facilitating biopiracy and makes it part of a larger debate over international intellectual property. The office underwent a major reform in September 2011 with the passing of a law that, among other things, altered patent procedures from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system.

 

Bureau of Industry and Security

The BIS grants licenses for the export of sensitive goods and technologies while balancing commercial interests against those of national security. The bureau also enforces sanctions and embargoes, works with other countries on export controls, monitors the health of the domestic defense industry and promotes U.S. trade interests abroad. The BIS has a range of responsibilities relating to the interaction between industry and security. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, emphasis has been placed on restricting the export of technologies that could be used to create weapons of mass destruction.

 

Helping Business

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

The NTIA advises the president and works with other Executive Branch agencies to develop the administration’s domestic and foreign telecommunications policy. The agency is responsible for managing federal use of radio frequencies that includes significant military and intelligence use. NTIA regulations and policies affect common technologies such as cell phones, the Internet, public radio and television, wireless technology, and airplane travel. The agency both assigns frequencies to federal agencies and works with the Federal Communications Commission. The NTIA also carries out telecommunications and engineering research, develops new technologies, resolves technical issues for the federal government and private sector, and develops policy for the government communications satellite system. The agency administers grants in the telecommunications and information sector and promotes deregulated telecommunications policies abroad.

 

International Trade Administration

The ITA is responsible for promoting and protecting U.S. industry interests in international trade through various research, policymaking, and enforcement activities. The association focuses on unfair trade practices and so-called “dumping” of goods, which leads to investigations by the association into whether merchandise is sold in the U.S. at less than fair value. In the interest of U.S. industry, the ITA imposes “countervailance” duties to offset the effects of subsidies granted to foreign manufacturers by their governments.

 

The ITA also oversees the Iraq Investment and Reconstruction Task Force, which helps American companies participate in the economic rebuilding of Iraq. The task force and its web site serve as clearinghouses of information for U.S. companies interested in Iraq. The task force works closely with other federal government agencies and international organizations to provide companies with the latest information on the commercial environment in Iraq and potential reconstruction business opportunities.

 

National Technical Information Service

The NTIS serves as a public clearinghouse for scientific and business information primarily acquired through government-funded research. According to the agency’s web site, the NTIS maintains some 3 million publications in more than 350 subject areas, with many documents created after 1997 available for download. Its Bibliographic Database contains more than 2 million records dating back to 1964, and adds more than 30,000 new records per year. The contents of the database include research reports, computer products, software, plus video and audio cassettes. The NTIS currently receives no appropriations from the federal government, covering expenses by charging fees for most products and services.

 

Helping the Poor and Minorities

Economic Development Administration

The EDA provides grants to poor communities in order to create new employment and stimulate industry and commercial growth. Much of EDA assistance is aimed at rural and urban areas of the U.S. that are experiencing high unemployment, low-income or other types of severe economic distress. The EDA’s three key investment programs focus on expanding and upgrading physical infrastructure, designing strategies to diversify local economies, and supporting research of leading economic development practices.

 

Minority Business Development Agency

The MBDA funds minority resource and development centers throughout the country to assist entrepreneurs/business owners with business plans, marketing, management and technical assistance, and financial planning. The agency’s six regional offices dispense technical advice and information to a network of 40 local business development centers around the country, located in areas with the highest concentration of minority populations and the largest number of minority businesses. Ethnic groups designated eligible for MBDA assistance include Native Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders.

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Where Does the Money Go

The Department of Commerce (DOC) spent more than $44.7 billion on 270,156 private contractor transactions from 2002 to 2012. The top five types of goods and services paid for were professional support ($2,670,365,598), information technology and telecommunications services ($2,149,375,196) and development ($1,346,336,808), printed matter ($1,024,599,040), and R&D operational system development ($950,922,030).

 

The section of the DOC that spent the most on contractors was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($10 billion), followed by the Bureau of the Census ($5.4 billion), the Patent and Trademark Office ($4.88 billion), the National Institute of Standards and Technology ($2.3 billion), and the Bureau of Industry and Security ($15.7 million).

 

The top five recipients of Commerce contracts included two of the country’s largest defense contractors (Lockheed Martin and Raytheon):

 

1. Harris Corporation                                      $1,495,562,725          

2. Lockheed Martin Corporation                    $1,118,603,599          

3. Reed Elsevier Group PLC                             $962,293,674

4. IBM Corporation                                           $569,060,681

5. Raytheon Company                                                   $515,870,831

 

 

Department of Commerce FY 2013 Budget (pdf)

 

Examples of Commerce contracts

IBM was awarded a $120 million contract to help consumers make the transition from analog televisions to digital once TV broadcasters began transmitting digital signals in 2009. IBM provided services for the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program through its business partners: Corporate Lodging Consultants, Epiq Systems, and Ketchum Public Affairs. Services provided consisted of consumer education; coupon distribution to consumers and retail store participation; and financial processing to reimburse retailers as well as maintain records to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

 

From the Web Site of the Department of Commerce

Blog

Contact Information

Economic Indicators

Editorials

Fact Sheets

Leadership Directory

Newsroom

Offices

Organization Chart (pdf)

Press Releases

Speeches by Secretary

Twitter Posts

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Controversies:

NMFS Approves Killing Sea Lions

A federal appeals court ruled in 2011 that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) within the DOC overstepped its bounds when it authorized officials in three states to kill numerous sea lions each year.

 

After the Humane Society of the United States sued the NMFS to halt the killings, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the agency did not provide an adequate explanation for allowing Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to hunt sea lions for the purpose of protecting salmon runs on the Columbia River. Fisheries killed just as many if not more salmon as the sea lions.

 

The NMFS had decided in 2008 that the three states could kill a maximum of 85 California sea lions per year around the Bonneville Dam.

 

In March 2013, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Washington), plus two other Republicans and one Democrat, introduced a bill to take up the cause against the sea lions once more. As of November 2013, it was still in committee.

Legal Killing of Sea Lions Halted (SandBar)

Sea Lion Killings Spark Fierce Debate (by Rob Hotakainen, Olympian)

Oregon Kills First Salmon-Eating Sea Lion of 2013 at Bonneville Dam (by Scott Learn, Oregonian)

H.R. 1308: Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act (govtrack.us)

 

American Community Survey Controversy

A two-centuries old survey that helped the federal government understand the state of American lives was in danger of being eliminated in 2012 when House Republicans voted to axe all funding for it.

 

The American Community Survey, conducted since 1850, tells federal officials how wealthy and how poor Americans are, as well as what languages they speak, whether they have access to health care, who uses food stamps, and other important statistical information.

 

The one-of-a-kind survey’s findings help determine how more than $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.

 

But Republicans, led by Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, adopted a measure eliminating all funding for the survey, resulting in an estimated savings of $2.4 billion.

 

“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” Webster told the media, adding that in his opinion, the survey was unconstitutional, as the U.S. government was never authorized to conduct such inquiries.

The Beginning of the End of the Census? (by Catherine Rampell, New York Times)

The American Community Survey Stirs Up Controversy (by Al Macias, KJZZ)

House Votes To Cut Census Survey Done Since Thomas Jefferson (by Michael McAuliff, Huffington Post)

Robert Groves, Census Director, Hammers House For Cutting Major U.S. Survey (by Michael McAuliff, Huffington Post)

 

Solar Industry Trade War with China

The United States and China found themselves in a trade war involving solar panels during 2012-2013.

 

In fall 2012, the U.S. imposed tariffs of 24% to 36% on Chinese imports after determining that Chinese companies received what officials said were unfair subsidies from their government or state-owned banks, allowing those manufacturers to sell their products below the cost of production, a practice known as dumping. A dozen U.S. solar panel makers were shuttered because they were unable to compete against the cheaper Chinese imports.

 

China responded in 2013 by imposing tariffs of more than 50% on a material it imports from the U.S. and South Korea to make solar panels.

 

The decision was said to represent a blow to the American solar industry because it relies on China as its largest customer for solar-grade polysilicon, the main ingredient in solar panels.

 

China also imports polysilicon from Europe, but no penalty tariffs were imposed on European sources. That was taken as evidence that the fees charged against the U.S. were in direct retaliation for the earlier U.S. tariffs.

China’s Feud With West on Solar Leads to Tax (by Diane Cardwell, New York Times)

The Coming U.S.-China Solar War (by Bryan Walsh, Time)

Grumbling All Around After Solar Panel Deal (by Keith Bradsher, New York Times)

 

Commerce Renews Internet Contract

The Commerce Department maintains a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit that oversees key technical matters governing how computers communicate over the Internet. The decision effectively maintains the United States’ monopoly over key aspects of the Internet.

 

ICANN has been the source of controversy since its beginning in 1998. Many countries, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and members of the European Union have called for phasing out the Commerce Department’s oversight of Internet protocols in favor of some new system that would increase international input.

 

The Internet Corporation coordinates the root zone of the domain name system and allocates IP address spaces—functions that are crucial to the stability of the Internet.

 

The organization grew out of a clandestine meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1998. Critics in the past have accused it of lacking transparency in its operations and moving sluggishly to approve new top-level domain names. In recent years, Capitol Hill politicians and advocacy groups began criticizing the organization for agreeing to what amounts to a perpetual contract with VeriSign to run the .com registry, which some said would result in unnecessary price hikes and a veritable monopoly. VeriSign and ICANN renewed their contract for .com registration early in 2012, and in November 2012, Commerce approved the agreement but without allowance for raising prices. The price would remain at $7.85 per domain name registration for the six-year period of the agreement, with no increases except on approval of the DOC. VeriSign was permitted to run the .net registry until June 30, 2017.

U.S. Renews Contract for Oversight Of Internet (by Arshad Mohammed, Washington Post)

Feds renew contract with Net oversight body (by Anne Broache, CNET News)

Flak flies over ICANN contract renewal (by Matt Loney, ZDNET)

Verisign loses right to increase .com prices (by Kevin Murphy, Domain Incite)

 

NWS Smart Phone Weather App

At a time when there are hundreds of weather apps available to consumers for their mobile devices, the NWS, which has a mobile web site that offers forecasts by ZIP codes, has been conspicuously absent in providing its own weather app for smart phones.

 

After all, most of the private weather apps use NWS data, so why doesn’t the agency just put out its own app, government observers wondered.

 

In 2012, the NWS management explicitly told employees not to work on developing a weather app, which didn’t sit well with many workers, or their labor representatives, the National Weather Service Employees Union.

 

The union wrote to the NWS saying it considered the no-apps policy a de facto form of privatizing NWS products and services, because it essentially kept the agency out of a busy marketplace filled with consumers.

National Weather Service Hold On Mobile Apps Stirs Controversy (by Andrew Freedman, Washington Post)

The Great Gov Apps Debate Hits NOAA (by Joseph Marks, Nextgov)

National Weather Service Mobile Site To Get Facelift (by Alice Lipowicz, GCN)

 

Document-Shredding Fisheries Official Named to Manage NOAA Data

The former head of law enforcement for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries—who was fired for interfering with an investigation by shredding documents—was given a new job with the agency, much to the dismay of critics.

 

Dale Jones was selected in January 2012 to head a major effort to organize, streamline, and standardize data management within NOAA.

 

Streamlining may be Jones’ forte—he had gained notoriety for destroying most of his office documents during an investigation being run by the NOAA inspector general. Jones was also heavily criticized for condoning and even encouraging more-than-zealous prosecution of overfishing violations in the Northeast.

 

But the decision to rehire Jones was quickly reversed after the NOAA came under fire from members of Congress and environmentalists. NOAA head Jane Lubchenco announced only days after Jones’ rehiring that he would, in fact, not be put in charge of the new data management program.

NOAA Reassigns Former Head of Law Enforcement (by Steve Urbon, South Coast Today)

Report Finds 75% of NOAA Chief's Files Destroyed (by Richard Gaines, Gloucester Times)

NOAA Drops New Duties for Jones (Boston Business Journal)

 

Climate Change Denial Taught in School

Similar to the blowback witnessed in schools over the teaching of evolution, the subject of climate change has prompted conservatives to demand that contrarian viewpoints be taught to students as well.

 

Frank Niepold, a climate education coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who meets with hundreds of teachers annually, told The Los Angeles Times in 2012: “Any time we have a meeting of 100 teachers, if you ask whether they’re running into pushback on teaching climate change, 50 will raise their hands.”

 

In recent years, lawmakers in Texas and Louisiana called for new education standards that required educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah approved resolutions denying climate change, while Tennessee and Oklahoma introduced bills authorizing climate change skeptics to speak their minds in the classroom.

 

In response to the pushback against climate change, the National Center for Science Education, a California-based watchdog group that supports the teaching of evolution, said it would begin monitoring the teaching of climate science and evaluate the sources of resistance to it.

Climate Change Skepticism Seeps Into Science Classrooms (by Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times)

Climate Change Debate Brewing in American Classrooms (by Sam Favate, Wall Street Journal)

 

NOAA Weather Satellites Become Victims of Budget Cuts

Efforts to reduce the federal deficit have taken their toll on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather satellite program.

 

In August 2011, Congress slashed $140 million from NOAA’s overall budget and another $500 million for new satellite production. The reductions were part of a compromise reached with President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. Treasury ran out of money.

 

The cuts impacted plans to replace a critical north-south satellite, delaying them from 2015 to 2017.

 

A year later, lawmakers again debated reducing the NOAA’s budget as part of a larger deficit reduction scheme that was supposed to be crafted before the end of 2012. In this instance, the reduction would have trimmed $182 million from the satellite program. In this age of the Weather Channel and AccuWeather and more, why is that important? Because even they get their weather data, in order to make forecasts, from the NOAA.

 

One satellite program alone, COSMIC-2, lost $13.7 million when the sequestration hit in 2013. That’s because the NOAA chose to use that money to keep from having to furlough workers. The move might have helped employee morale, but it angered the Taiwanese government with which the NOAA has partnered on the COSMIC-2 system.

Budget Cuts May Ground NOAA Weather Satellite Program (by John Nelander, Palm Beach Daily News)

States May Lose Ability to Predict, Prepare for Bad Weather (by Elizabeth Daigneau, Governing)

US Government in Massive New Global Warming Scandal - NOAA Disgraced (by John O'Sullivan, Examiner.com)

Satellitegate Update by John O’Sullivan (CO2 Insanity)

The Space Race Is On for Climate, Weather Privatization (by Andrew Freedman, Climate Central)

 

NIST, the 9/11 Investigation, and the Truth Movement

Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth has spent years since the terrorist attacks in New York City claiming the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center were not brought down by the hijacked jetliners that crashed into the towers, but were actually destroyed by explosives inside the buildings.

 

The group disputed a report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which said Building 7 collapsed as result of falling debris from the Twin Towers. They insisted that the building came straight down, and that could only have been caused by a series of well-placed detonations planted by an unknown group.

 

The group also disagreed with NIST’s conclusions about the collapse of the towers.

 

The official NIST version said the towers came down because “(1) the impact of the planes severed and damaged support columns, dislodged fireproofing insulation coating the steel floor trusses and steel columns, and widely dispersed jet fuel over multiple floors; and (2) the subsequent unusually large, jet-fuel ignited multi-floor fires weakened the now susceptible structural steel.”

 

But the 9/11 Truth group latched onto trace evidence of an “active thermitic material” in the dust from the collapsed towers as indication that explosives—not the airliners—destroyed the buildings.

Group's 9/11 Theories Draw Controversy and Indignation in Pennsylvania (911 Blogger.com)

Inside the Dust of the World Trade Center (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Architects Shy From Truther 9/11 Conspiracy Theory (by Jeremy Stahl, Architect Magazine)

 

Obama Invokes Cold War Powers to Combat Chinese Cyberspying

Concerned over the growing threat of cyber espionage by China, the Obama administration in 2011 invoked Cold War-era national-security powers to require telecommunication companies to reveal confidential information about their networks.

 

The Department of Commerce distributed a survey to companies asking for details about their foreign-made hardware and software, especially systems manufactured or produced by companies “owned, directed or subsidized” by China. It also asked if businesses had experienced security-related incidents, including the discovery of “unauthorized electronic hardware” or suspicious equipment that could duplicate or redirect data and creating a backdoor method of intercepting data going across U.S. networks.

 

Some companies were hesitant to cooperate because the Commerce Department office handling the survey had itself been hacked by the Chinese in 2006, leading business leaders to fear that any company data that was turned over might become known to the Chinese.

Obama Invokes Cold-War Security Powers to Unmask Chinese Telecom Spyware (by Michael Riley, Bloomberg)

U.S. Law to Restrict Government Purchases of Chinese IT Equipment (by Alina Selyukh and Doug Palmer, Reuters)

 

Gulf Dolphin Deaths

Following the nation’s worst-ever oil spill, scientists working for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were told not to publicly discuss the investigation into why dolphins were dying in large numbers along the Gulf Coast.

 

Officials with the Department of Commerce, which oversees the NMFS, placed a gag order on biologists hired to collect samples from the approximately 200 dolphins found dead as of March 2011.

 

Some scientists said they were admonished by the federal government for speaking to the media about the recent “unusual mortality event,” or the other 90 dead dolphins discovered in 2010 following the BP oil spill that polluted large sections of the Gulf of Mexico.

  

Dolphin carcasses, including dozens of stillborn and immature babies, began showing up in coastal waters in January 2011, before the species’ traditional birthing season.

 

According to the NMFS, no samples could be sent for analysis without the permission of the government because of a federal “criminal investigation associated with the oil spill.”

 

But in April 2011, another Commerce branch, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said 15 of the 406 dolphins washed ashore had oil on their bodies, and that the oil on eight of those dolphins was linked to the BP well.

 

A scientific report released in 2012 said 186 dead bottlenose dolphins washed ashore between Louisiana and western Florida over a four-month period (January to April 2011).

 

The report’s findings suggested, but didn’t prove, that the BP oil spill may have helped weaken the dolphins before an unusual influx of cold water occurred in the Gulf. Also, there was evidence that the oil spill affected the dolphin food chain, making prey scarce in the midst of the breeding season, researchers reported.

Commerce Dept. Forbids Biologists from Releasing Data Regarding Gulf Dolphin Deaths (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Gulf Watchers Friday - Blackmail and Dolphin Death - BP Catastrophe AUV #499 (by Lorinda Pike, Daily Kos)

Dolphin Deaths: BP Oil Spill May Have Contributed To High Mortality Rate, Study Finds (by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience)

 

Tsunami Warning Centers on GOP Hit List

Republicans in the U.S. House tried in 2011 to slash funding for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which alerts the U.S. of potentially deadly waves heading toward Hawaii and the West Coast.

 

The budget cut, which totaled $454 million and came only weeks before the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, left officials with the NOAA, which runs the tsunami warning center, shaking their heads.

 

Observers said Republicans were unhappy with the NOAA over its research on climate change and wanted to get back at the agency. GOP leaders said it was simply a matter of finding ways to trim billions of dollars and reduce the budget deficit.

 

“Look, I think that all of us need to be tempered by the fact that we’ve got to stop spending money we don’t have,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) told the media. “I mean, essentially what you’re saying is, go borrow money from the Japanese so we can go and spend it there to help the Japanese.”

 

Following the earthquake that struck Japan, scientists at the tsunami warning center issued an international bulletin that helped the Japanese government order an evacuation of coastal areas, a move that may have saved thousands of additional lives from being lost during the disaster.

Congress Wants To Cut Tsunami Warning Centers? Really? (CNN)

Tsunami Warning Center Submerged In Budget Debate (by Abby Leonard, PBS)

GOP Budget Cuts Target Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Current)

 

“Climate-gate” Controversy

In late 2009, critics of climate change seized upon the release of more than a thousand emails from scientists at the NOAA that purportedly showed they had manipulated data to prove global warming existed. The emails were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain.

 

Conservatives and Republican lawmakers blasted the NOAA in what became known as “climategate.” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate environment committee, ordered an investigation of the emails and the NOAA. Inhofe had called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

 

In 2011, the Department of Commerce’s inspector general’s office concluded its probe and found no evidence that NOAA climate scientists had manipulated data.

 

The investigation echoed the findings of other probes also exonerated the scientists of any misconduct. No fewer than six official bodies, along with several media outlets, including Pennsylvania State University, the InterAcademy Council, the National Research Council, and the British House of Commons, came to the same conclusion: nothing in the emails pointed to the NOAA cooking the facts about global warming.

GOP Inquiry Finds No Evidence That ‘Climategate’ Scientists Misused Data (by Sahil Kapur, The Raw Story)

Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails in the "Climategate" Manufactured Controversy (Union of Concerned Scientists)

NOAA: Past Decade Warmest on Record According to Scientists in 48 Countries (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

“Climategate” (FactCheck.org)

Scientists Are Cleared of Misuse of Data (by Leslie Kaufman, New York Times)

 

Groves’ Stand on Census Count Method Becomes Political Fodder

Robert Groves was confirmed as director of the U.S. Census Bureau in July 2009 after Republicans held up his vote in the Senate over concerns that he would use a controversial methodology with the 2010 census.

 

GOP Senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Richard Shelby of Alabama delayed a final vote on Groves’ nomination until the White House assured them that statistical sampling would not be used to adjust the census count. It was assumed that such sampling benefits minorities and the poor.

 

The U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled statistical sampling illegal for purposes of congressional reapportionment. Nevertheless, Republicans seized on Groves’ support for sampling following the 1990 census, when he was the bureau’s associate director.

 

During his confirmation hearing, Groves had stated that the Bureau definitely would not use sampling to adjust the results of the 2010 census.

Robert Groves Confirmed as Census Director (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

Census Bureau Director Resigns: Who is Robert Groves? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

2010 U.S. Census (Wikipedia)

 

Counterfeit Electronic Parts Used In Military Hardware

The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) revealed in January 2010 that much of the country’s military hardware contained counterfeit electronics.

 

The BIS report demonstrated that the Pentagon’s supply chain was exposed to the possibility that counterfeit parts could make their way into gear and that, in turn, meant the lives of American soldiers could be in danger.

 

The assessment focused on electronic components, microcircuits, and circuit board products purchased from 387 companies and organizations from 2005 to 2008.

 

Investigators found 39% of suppliers encountered counterfeit electronics during the four-year period. The number of incidents grew from 3,868 in 2005 to 9,356 in 2008.

 

Not only does that raise the possibility that equipment wouldn’t work as expected when needed, but also that it might have malware in it that could affect other components.

 

In a letter to Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tom Carper of Delaware insisted the Pentagon needed to do more to protect the system from fake supplies, many of which come from overseas. “Counterfeit parts manufactured offshore not only hurt American manufacturing and competitiveness, but in this case, have the potential to put our military at risk and jeopardize our national security missions,” Brown said.

Surge in Counterfeit Items in Pentagon's Supplies (Homeland Security News Wire)

Pentagon to Crack Down on Counterfeit Parts from China (by Kristina Wong, Washington Times)

Murphy to Pentagon: More Care Needed in Selecting Military Suppliers (Integrated Circuit Electronics)

 

Obama’s Controversial Commerce Candidate Judd Gregg Withdraws

Shortly after his 2008 inauguration, President Barack Obama selected Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to serve as his secretary of commerce. But the choice proved ill fated, as Gregg provoked concerns among both liberals and conservatives, leading to the senator withdrawing from consideration.

 

Gregg said that he pulled out in part because of serious disagreements with the White House over the census, which the Commerce Department oversees.

 

Conservatives blasted the administration over its plans for the decennial headcount that was coming up in 2010, claiming Obama was trying to pull a “power grab.”

 

This claim was based on remarks Obama made after nominating Gregg, whose selection worried liberals and Democrats who feared the Republican nominee would not back efforts such as using sampling to get a more accurate census count. The White House openly promised that its senior management would work closely with the census director.

 

Republicans took that comment as meaning the census would be run from the White House in 2010. The White House later issued a written clarification saying, “This administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce.”

 

From the beginning of his nomination, Gregg seemed like an odd choice to Democrats, given that the fiscal conservative had once called for eliminating the Commerce Department altogether.

Why the 2010 Census Stirs Up Partisan Politics (by Amy Sullivan, Time)

Judd Gregg Quits as Commerce Pick, Cites Conservative Census Concerns (by Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News & World Report)

Judd Gregg: A Curious Choice for Commerce (by Pete Engardio, Bloomberg)

 

Who Counts?

Most controversies relating to the DOC’s Census Bureau have to do with the counting of minorities and other marginalized groups, such as the homeless, prisoners, and undocumented workers. According to the Constitution, the census should count everyone in the country. Attempts to bend that requirement inevitably arise, because the stakes are so high. The census determines the number of representatives elected from each state and the distribution of federal money among the states. 

 

The Bureau counts prisoners in the districts in which they are incarcerated. Some argue that this practice is a violation of international treaty. Counting prisoners as local residents, despite the fact that they can’t vote or participate in the communities where they are incarcerated, leads to unequal distributions of power. 

 

The 1990 census was criticized for excluding one Native American in every eight. The statisticians’ solution is to follow each census with a quality check, surveying representative areas to create a picture of those overlooked in the full count and correcting the figures accordingly. Because of the transient nature of many homeless people, it is virtually impossible to count the whole of this population and leads to distortion as to the nature of homelessness and the magnitude of the problem. In 1992, the cities of Baltimore and San Francisco, along with homeless advocates, sued the Bureau, accusing it of deliberately setting out to undercount the homeless during its one-night count of street people for the 1990 census.

Prisoners of the Census

Prison Policy Initiative

 

Census Bureau Short on Cash

The Commerce Department and the George W. Bush administration came under severe criticism from lawmakers and others over their failure to prepare the government for the 2010 census.

 

In 2007, the Census Bureau struggled to receive sufficient funding to prepare for 2010 because the administration failed to exempt it from a zero-increase budget plan for most federal offices. As a result, the bureau had to revise key aspects of its so-called “dress rehearsal” which was scheduled for 2008 and tests every detail of the census taking process. Tests of the bureau’s plans and procedures for counting people on military bases were at risk of being eliminated.

 

Furthermore, the Census Bureau reported to Congress that it had failed to develop a reliable hand-held computer (HHC) system for census takers to use when counting Americans for the 2010 census. The technological failure—along with cost overruns and poor contractor communication—came after nearly four years of work and almost $600 million in expenditures, and it meant the bureau would have to once again rely on a paper system to carry out the census.

 

And to top things off, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told lawmakers that the agency would need up to an additional $232 million in funding to ramp up systems to accommodate the paper count, including new forms, instructions and training materials and redesigned management and logistical support. To cover the increase, Commerce proposed cutting other programs—including those that the White House tried to kill or reduce in 2008 but which were rescued by Congress. Those programs included the National Institute of Standards and Technology, marine sanctuaries, pollution control, Chesapeake Bay restoration, and economic development grants for Appalachia. When all was said and done, the necessity of reverting to the paper system resulted in an added cost of between $2.2 and $3 billion, bringing the total cost of the 2010 census to upward of $14.5 billion.

Hobbling the Census (Editorial, New York Times)

Another Heck of a Job (Editorial, New York Times)

 

Inaccurate Navigation Charts

As a predominantly research-focused agency, the National Ocean Service (NOS), an agency within the Department of Commerce, has managed to avoid a great deal of controversy—except regarding the accuracy of their marine navigation charts.

 

The NOS is the primary source of nautical maps, and most commercial and recreational boaters depend on the NOS for safe navigational maps, yet they sometimes find those charts inaccurate, outdated, and unsafe. For example, the owners of the Oregon-based vessel the New Carissa named the NOA as one of the defendants in a $96 million negligence claim filed in 2001. The complaint alleged that navigation chart published by the NOS incorrectly identified an area as safe for anchorage, leading to the grounding and eventual sinking of the New Carissa. The vessel broke anchor in strong winds, damaging the ship and spilling 70,000 gallons of fuel oil onto the shoreline and into the water. The government filed a counter complaint and the matter was settled privately, with the government conceding $4 million to cover the faulty charts claim.

 

The government began using sonar mapping in 1945. The prior “lead-lining” method resulted in charting gaps, which can lead to accidents. Complaints about inaccurate maps have been ongoing since the NOS’s creation, although the exact number or related accidents is unclear. As stated in The New York Times in 1992, this is partially because federal law only requires that commercial liners report accidents that cause $25,000 in damages, and recreational boaters do not have to report groundings. 

 Outdated U.S. Charts Trouble Navigators (New York Times)

 

NOAA/NWS Censors Its Web Site On Global Warming Doubts

The NWS was accused in 2009, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), of removing information that doubted the existence of global warming from its website.

 

On the NWS site was a page entitled “It’s a Gas Man” that contained lessons on the atmosphere. The content included a statement that read: “There is no evidence that it [carbon dioxide] is causing an increase in global temperatures.”

 

Another section stated: “The behavior of the atmosphere is extremely complex. Therefore, discovering the validity of global warming is complex as well. How much effect will [sic] the increase in carbon dioxide will have is unclear or even if we recognize the effects of any increase.”

 

The page then came down a couple days after it was uploaded. When it went back online, the above-referenced statements were gone.

 

Examiner.com wrote: “The entire episode has many questioning if NOAA is censoring the content that National Weather Service employees believe is most appropriate for their audience. Worse yet, is NOAA censoring dissenting opinions of trained meteorologists within its own organization?”

Controversial NOAA Climate Change Page Returns - Missing Original Skeptical Text (by Tony Hake, Examiner.com)

More Americans Now Believe Climate Change (by Sally Anne Lewis, Suite 101)

Climate Change Belief Increased In U.S. After Extreme Weather, NOAA Chief Says (by Rod McGuirk, Associated Press)

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Debate:

Can the Patent Office set its own rules?

After years of complaints regarding backlogged patent applications, cramped resources and alleged abuse of the system, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) introduced a new set of rules to the patent application process. The USPTO claimed the rules would prevent abuse and allow for a more effective review process, while critics countered that the rules would unfairly inhibit innovators seeking patents. In August 2007 Connecticut inventor Triantafyllos Tafas sued the agency, claiming that the agency’s proposed rules regarding continued applications (those re-filed after a rejection) would cause him to lose potential rights to inventions that result from his original work. The case was later joined by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

 

In October 2007 the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled against the USPTO and issued a preliminary injunction stopping the office from implementing its new rules. Then in late March 2008, the court threw out the USPTO rules, saying the office had overstepped its authority.

 

In October 2008 USPTO Director Jon Dudas filed an appeal, and in March 2009 the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that USPTO’s continuation rules were invalid, but also reversed the District Court’s ruling that the claim limitation rules were also invalid, and it ordered additional briefings. Then, four months later, both parties requested a stay pending confirmation of Director Dudas’s replacement, David Kappos, on the possibility that he would rescind the rules at issue, thereby making the entire case moot. Indeed, that is exactly what happened in a decision made by Director Kappos in September of that year. Had the controversial rules been put into effect, they would have limited the number of patent claims per application, and the number of continuing applications that could be filed.

 

Pro (for USPTO making substantive rule changes):

The USPTO maintained that the proposed changes would prevent abuses of the system and help address the massive backlog (the agency reportedly received more than 467,000 applications in 2007, about 30% of which were continuations—ending in a backlog of about 760,000 applications). Legal scholars argued that pharmaceutical companies take advantage of the system, submitting applications before drugs have been thoroughly researched in order to hold competitors at bay.

 

Con (against allowing USPTO to make substantive rule changes):

The patent process for the biotech industry is inherently different from others, according to industry proponents, because the discovery and development process require a different time frame. That is, drugs cannot be changed after an application is submitted, but information—as from clinical trials—may be added along the way to provide supporting evidence. Applications are usually approved based on lab data. For competitive reasons, the biotech industry will often submit applications before the completion of clinical trials, which “prove” the drug’s curative powers and ensure its approval. In the years it takes to complete most clinical trials, competitors can move in on the discovery. Unlimited claims and continuations have allowed drug companies to protect discoveries and secure patents for a wide range of clinical applications for the same drug.

Copy of the U.S. District Court decision (pdf)

Bush Administration Speaks Against Patent Overhaul (by Grant Gross, IDG News Service)

Feds may appeal biotech patent ruling (by Amy Coombs, Sacramento Business Journal)

Administration softens position on patent reform: Damages still at issue, but push for quality praised (by Rick Merritt, EE Times)

Court rejects new USPTO rules meant to kill patent backlog (by Ryan Paul, Ars Technica)

Court rejects Patent Office's new rules (by Diane Bartz, Reuters)

USPTO Rescinds Controversial Patent Regulations Package Proposed by Previous

            Administration (USPTO)

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Suggested Reforms:

Obama’s Plan to Modernize and Simplify Export Controls

The Department of Commerce unveiled new regulations in 2011 designed to simplify export guidelines, streamline the process for awarding patents, and eliminate outdated import restrictions as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce unnecessary regulations.

 

Commerce sought to lower costs for companies and individuals trying to sell products overseas in keeping with Obama’s plan to double U.S. exports to about $3.1 trillion by 2015 and support two million new jobs.

 

The plan also involved the State Department, which works with Commerce to regulate exports that have military use. Changes put forth by the White House called for shifting as many as 30,000 licenses for basic defense articles from State to Commerce, which has more flexible export rules.

Preliminary Plan for Retrospective Analysis of Existing Rules (Department of Commerce)

Commerce Plans Export Regulation Overhaul to Boost Trade (by Eric Martin, Bloomberg)

Obama Forges Ahead with Historic Overhaul of Export Controls (by Ben Goad, Hill)

 

Field Data Collection Automation Program

In order to reduce the cost of the census, the Census Bureau has recognized the need to reduce the amount of paper used in collection. Thus, for 2010, the Bureau proposed the use of handheld computers (HHCs) equipped with GPS tracking systems in order to completely restructure the data collection process. But the HHC plan fell behind schedule in programming these devices, as well as training the 500,000 temporary interviewers to use the equipment. Census Bureau director Steve H. Murdock blamed the delay on a lack of communication between the Bureau and the prime contractor for the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program. He explained in a press release that the contractor had difficulty developing the full scope of the project within the Bureau’s deadline.

 

Although HHCs were eventually used in address canvassing, the primary program was scrapped after a special task force recommended a return to paper-based methods. The reasons all related to an array of problems with the development of the handheld devices, including missed deadlines, technical problems, cost overruns, and poor contractor communication. Harris Corporation had been awarded a $595 million contract for developing 525,000 HHCs. The decision to revert to paper resulted in an added cost of between $2.2 and $3 billion, bringing the total cost of the 2010 census to upward of $14.5 billion.

 

Following the 2010 census, the Bureau announced a tech makeover, including consolidating major data centers, reducing the total number of storage systems, and changing the way it handles IT systems.

Automated Field Data Collection for the 2010 Census

The Census at “High Risk” (Editorial, New York Times)

Census to scrap handheld computers for 2010 count (by Gautham Nagesh, Nextgov)

U.S. Census tech makeover includes “oasis” for innovation (by Patrick Thibodeau, Computerworld)

 

Make the Census Bureau an Independent Agency

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers tried in 2009 to separate the U.S. Census Bureau from the Department of Commerce before the agency began the 2010 national headcount.

 

Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania), Jim Gerlach (R-Pennsylvania), and then-Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), introduced legislation to make the Census Bureau an independent agency.

 

Maloney introduced a similar bill in 2008 that drew the support of seven former Census directors.

 

“The Census Bureau’s work is scientific: it requires careful, thoughtful planning by those who know how best to perform this huge undertaking. The work is too important to be a stepchild of a larger organization—buffeted by year-to-year budget whims and political storms that every Cabinet agency is subject to,” Maloney said in a statement.

 

Republicans supported the idea, following President Barack Obama’s plan to have the next Census Bureau director report to both the commerce secretary and White House senior officials. They contended that Obama’s idea would mean the introduction of politics into the Bureau, with “operatives” in the White House.

 

In 2010, the Senate adopted a bill that would give the Census director a five-year term overlapping the four-year presidential terms, so the position would have a timetable consistent with the 10-year cycle of planning and implementing the decennial census. The bill failed in the House.

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Remove Census Bureau From Commerce Department (by Stephen Clark, Fox News)

More Independence for the Census Bureau? (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

 

Patent Judges Appointments

Since 1999, judges who make rulings on patents have been appointed by the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Before then, such appointments were made by the secretary of the Department of Commerce (DOC). This new appointment system, however, endangered the validity of thousands of patents, prompting the Justice Department to search for a solution to change things before complete mayhem developed in the patent world.

 

George Washington University Law Professor John F. Duffy discovered in 2007 a constitutional flaw in the appointment process over an eight-year period for judges who decide patent appeals and disputes. According to Duffy, the 1999 legislation that granted the director of the USPTO the ability to appoint judges was in violation of the Constitution. His published findings quietly alarmed lawyers at the Justice Department who couldn’t help but agree that Duffy was correct in his assessment. But that meant thousands of patent decisions worth billions of dollars could have been overturned unless some kind of legal remedy was adopted.

 

At the center of the problem was the U.S. patent court that hears appeals from people and companies whose patent applications were turned down by patent examiners. By Duffy’s analysis, every three-judge panel that had made a ruling since 2000 could have been challenged if a single judge was appointed by the USPTO director.

 

The matter was resolved in 2008 when the Congress passed bill S.3295 (pdf) and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The new law established that all administrative patent judge appointments be made by the secretary of Commerce, and all appointments made by the director since 1999 are “deemed” to have been made by the secretary. That effectively protected all the patent decisions since 1999 from falling into jeopardy.

In One Flaw, Questions on Validity of 46 Judges (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)

Are Administrative Patent Judges Unconstitutional? (by John F. Duffy, Social Science Research Network)

Justice Dept Memorandum (pdf)

 

Obama Proposes Restructuring Commerce Department

On January 13, 2012, President Barack Obama asked Congress for the authority to undertake an extensive restructuring of the Department of Commerce.  If this happens, it would be the first time in about three decades that a U.S. President had the ability to do that. (A Depression-era executive tool that endured for 52 years, U.S. Presidents were permitted to restructure the federal bureaucracy with the majority approval of Congress.)

 

Claiming that it will reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of the government, President Obama wants to close the DOC and create a new Cabinet-level department the sole focus of which would be to oversee trade and business. His blueprint for that new department includes the combining of the White House’s Office of U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, DOC’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau, and four independent agencies: the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp., and the Trade and Development Agency.

 

A second aspect of the President’s proposal is the removal of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including all of its sub-agencies, from the DOC, where it currently resides. It would be moved, en masse, to the Department of the Interior.

 

The President is also calling for the creation of an Interagency Trade Enforcement Center to tackle unfair trade practices overseas, most notably in China. Among the unfair policies to be challenged are foreign favored-industry subsidies and intellectual property violations, an area that has received heightened scrutiny from Congress. President Obama’s 2013 budget request earmarks $26 million for the proposed enforcement center, which would exist within the DOC, pending outcome of the department restructure.

 

The Obama Administration claims that this massive overhaul will save the federal government $3 billion over a 10-year period, and support the President’s goals of doubling U.S. exports—from $1.57 trillion in 2009 to $3.14 trillion by 2015—and increasing trade with countries in Asia. It has also been noted that collateral damage from this restructuring could be the loss of between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs through attrition.

 

Resistance to the proposal has been signaled from several camps, including business groups and members of Congress who believe that blending the Trade Representative into a larger department would result in a loss of independence and clout, thereby harming trade policy. Environmentalists oppose moving the NOAA into the Interior because that department is devoted to the extraction of natural resources, running contrary to NOAA’s mission.

 

In the following year, the sweeping proposal went nowhere, although Obama did include it again in his FY 2014 budget plan.

Ahead of State of the Union, Obama Proposes New “Super Commerce” Department (by

            Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Obama wants export agency, closing of Commerce Department (by Laura MacInnis, Reuters)

'It has to change': Obama takes on big government (by Ben Feller, Associate Press) Remarks by the President on Government Reform (White House Briefing Room)

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Former Directors:

Secretaries of Commerce

 

Herbert Hoover spent 8 years as Secretary of Commerce before being elected president of the United States in 1928.

 

 

Donald Evans (January 2001 to January 2005)

A native of Houston, Texas, Don Evans served as the Secretary of the Commerce Department during President George W. Bush’s first term in office. Evans attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he received a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1969 and an MBA in 1973.

 

In 1975, Evans moved to Midland, Texas, and began roughnecking on an oil rig for Tom Brown Inc., a large independent energy company now based in Denver. Ten years later he took over the company as CEO and continued running it until becoming Commerce Secretary.

 

Evans is a longtime friend of President Bush. In 1995, Evans was appointed by Bush, then governor of Texas, to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System, serving as chairman for the last four years. Evans also worked for Bush’s successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1994 and 1998 and served as chairman of the Bush/Cheney 2000 campaign.

 

White House Bio

Wikipedia Bio


 

 

 

Carlos Gutierrez (2005-2008)

Bio (AllGov)

Official Bio (DOC)

 

 

Otto J. Wolff (Acting)           (January 20, 2009 - March 26, 2009)

Biography

 

 

Gary Locke (March 26, 2009 - August 1, 2011)

Bio (AllGov)

Official Bio (DOC)

 

 

Rebecca Blank (Acting) (August 1, 2011 - October 21, 2011)

Official Bio (DOC)

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Comments

John B. Crane, MD 9 months ago
I have more a question than a comment. I'm trying to determine whether the Dept. of Commerce (or whatever department has taken over their duties)has any jurisdiction over internet vehicular scamming. I reside in Missouri and the offending company is in Nebraska. They have a long history of cheating customers out of money. Any info you could provide, or a reference to the pertinent office, would be appreciated. Thank you... John B. Crane, MD

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Founded: 1903
Annual Budget: $8 billion (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: About 47,000 worldwide (FY 2013 Request)
Official Website: http://www.commerce.gov/

Department of Commerce

Pritzker, Penny
Secretary

President Barack Obama has turned to a billionaire heiress who raised at least $1 million for his presidential campaigns to help repair frayed relations with the wealthy by serving as Secretary of Commerce. An heiress to the Hyatt Hotels (2011 revenues: $3.7 billion) fortune, Chicagoan Penny Pritzker carries such significant baggage that the administration decided in 2009 not to nominate her to Commerce despite the President's stated wish to do so. Among other things, Pritzker was chair of a bank that failed because of subprime loans, Hyatt is a staunchly anti-labor hotel chain, and many believe that the murky overseas investments of the secretive Pritzker family fortune represent a form of offshore tax evasion—a practice criticized by Obama during the 2012 campaign.

 

Born May 2, 1959, the daughter of Sue (née Sandel) and Donald N. Pritzker (1932–1972), co-founder of Hyatt hotels, which grew dramatically while he was president from 1959 to 1972. After graduating Castilleja School in 1977, Pritzker earned a BA in Economics at Harvard in 1981 and a JD/MBA at Stanford University in 1984.

 

Having grown up in an exceptionally wealthy family, Pritzker, whose net worth is about $1.85 billion, pursued a business career, mostly in managing the family's vast and complex assets, which are worth billions, all the while sitting on various boards of family companies including that of Hyatt Hotels,. Among the companies she founded or co-founded are Classic Residence by Hyatt (now called Vi) in 1987; Pritzker Realty Group in 1991; The Parking Spot, an off-site airport parking management company, in 1998; Artemis Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment management company, in 2010; and PSP Capital Partners in 2012.

 

Meeting Barack Obama shortly before his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, Pritzker became a supporter. She was the national finance chair of Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 and was national co-chair of Obama for America 2012. Although she ran outreach to small donors, on July 2, 2008, she and her husband hosted a $28,500 per plate fundraiser for Obama's campaign in Chicago. She has also been a campaign bundler, encouraging friends and associates to give, and raising between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama in 2008 and at least $500,000 in 2012. A co-chair of Obama's first inauguration, Pritzker gave $250,000 to help pay for his second one in January, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

 

Over the years, Pritzker and her husband have donated $55,600 to Obama, more than triple the $14,200 the Pritzkers gave to their second-ranking recipient, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). Pritzker also gave about $120,000 to various Democratic party committees in the 2010 and 2012 campaign cycles combined.

 

Although they donated almost exclusively to Democrats, thefewer have been exceptions, including $1,000 to George W. Bush in 2000, another $2,000 in 2004 for his re-election, and donations to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), former Rep. Tom Campbell (R-California) and a few others.

 

Pritzker will have to answer questions about the collapse of Superior Bank, which was co-owned by her family and of which she was chair from 1991 to 1994. The bank aggressively pursued subprime mortgages and car loans, and its failure in 2001 led to charges of fraud and mismanagement. When the dust had settled, the Pritzker family obtained an unusual deal allowing themselves, as bank shareholders, to be paid from recovered assets ahead of depositors, even as 1,406 uninsured depositors lost their savings. The fact that the Pritzkers had bought their share of Superior Bank using federal tax credits—essentially free taxpayer money—will only add fuel to the fire at her confirmation hearing, although it will be odd to see Republicans making such criticisms.

 

Pritzker's nomination has already drawn fire from labor leaders, owing to Hyatt Hotels' longstanding and well-earned reputation as an anti-labor hotel chain. Hyatt, on whose board Pritzker sits, has resisted unionization for years, fighting long battles in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere. Even where a union has been certified, like Unite Here Local One in Chicago, Hyatt does not give an inch, and remains locked in a four-year labor dispute there over contract provisions. Last year, Unite Here launched a boycott of Hyatt, which has garnered wide support.

 

Pritzker is no more popular with the Chicago Teachers Union, which has been critical of her tenure on the Chicago School Board, from which she resigned in March 2012, because of her support for charter schools, school closings and increased testing. Kristine Mayle, the union's financial secretary, told the Chicago Tribune that “We know Penny Pritzker has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss. Her policies adversely affect working families. She has worked to close schools and destabilize neighborhoods, and we hope she does a better job in her new position, if she gets it.”

 

The murkiness of the Pritzker family finances can only add to the populist coloring of the criticisms apt to be leveled at Penny Pritzker, and the fact that she served as Chairman of the Board of credit reporting company TransUnion, LLC, from 2005 to 2012, is icing on the cake, for no one really likes the credit reporting agencies.

 

Penny Pritzker is married to ophthalmologist Bryan Traubert, with whom she has two children.

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Penny Pritzker Nominated for Commerce Secretary (by Christi Parsons, Melissa Harris and Katherine Skiba, Chicago Tribune)

Cabinet Pick’s Finances May Foreshadow Battle (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)

Penny Pritzker's Commerce (Part One) (by Rick Perlstein, The Nation)

Penny Pritzker's Commerce (Part Two) (by Rick Perlstein, The Nation)

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Bryson, John
Previous Secretary

A retired utilities executive, John E. Bryson was considered a low-profile choice as President Barack Obama’s next secretary of commerce. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for controversy when Obama named Bryson on May 31, 2011.

 
For starters, Bryson was seen as too liberal because of his longstanding support for the environment. If that wasn’t enough to alarm Republicans in the Senate, there was the ongoing dispute the GOP has had with the administration over free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Though the issue had nothing to do with Bryson, key Republicans threatened to hold up his confirmation hearings until Obama made concessions on the trade agreements.
 
Bryson was finally confirmed by the Senate on October 20. After suffering a “partial seizure” while driving in Southern California, Bryson resigned on June 20, 2012.
 
Born on July 24, 1943, Bryson graduated from Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon, in 1961. He received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1965 and his Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School in 1969.
 
Fresh out of law school, Bryson helped found the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970. He served as legal counsel for the fledgling group that eventually grew into a prominent player in the environmental movement.
 
By the mid-1970s, Bryson moved into California state government, serving as an adviser to Governor Jerry Brown, chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board (1976-1979) and president of the California Public Utilities Commission (1980-1982).
 
The bulk of his career, though, was with Edison International. He served as chief executive of Southern California Edison from 1984-1990 and led its parent (Edison International) from 1990 until his retirement on July 31, 2008.
 
Consumer advocates criticized his annual compensation in the wake of the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001, and complained about his retirement package, which included a pension plan and stock options valued at almost $65 million at the time.
 
After retiring from Edison, Bryson became a senior adviser to the private-equity giant Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts.
 
When Obama began working on filling out his cabinet, Bryson was rumored as a candidate for the energy secretary job.
 
Bryson has served as a director of Boeing, Disney and the W. M. Keck Foundation. He also was a director/trustee for three western asset management funds at Legg Mason. In addition, he has been on a number of educational, environmental and other nonprofit boards, including chairman of the California Business Roundtable, a trustee of Stanford University, a trustee of the California Institute of Technology, co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy and chairman of the Public Policy Institute of California.
 
Bryson has been chairman of the board at BrightSource Energy, Inc., a developer of large-scale solar thermal power systems, since September 2010.
 
Bryson has contributed more than $70,000 to campaigns since 1990, with most of his money going to Democrats, including $2,400 to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California in 2009 and $1,000 to President Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. He has given to several Republicans over the years, including President George H. W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 1992 and former California Governor Pete Wilson’s presidential bid in 1995.
 
Profile (Wikipedia)
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