This Week: Senate Antitrust Subcommittee holds hearing on antitrust enforcement, FAA sends proposed rule for remote identification of drones to OIRA for review, NHTSA proposes minimum sound requirements for hybrid and electric vehicles, and House Subcommittee examines technologies to accelerate sustainable transportation.
Week in Review
With government spending authority set to expire on September 30, congressional leaders focused this week on efforts to avert a shutdown. The House voted 301-123 today to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to extend funding through November 21; the CR also includes several other measures, including provisions to extend the Export-Import Bank charter and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through November 21. In the meantime, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced several of its FY20 spending bills this morning, including the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (THUD), Financial Services and General Government, and Agriculture, Rural Development, and FDA measures.
Elsewhere, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continued to bring pending executive branch nominations to the floor, including several ambassadorial nominations. The House also passed several consumer protection bills and a motion to go to conference with the Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also swore in new Reps. Greg Murphy (R-NC) and Dan Bishop (R-NC), who recently won special elections to fill vacant seats.
On Monday, President Trump participated in credentialing ceremonies for new ambassadors before meeting with Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier sent a letter to members of the United States research community, including professional societies and universities and other academic institutions providing an update on the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE) and the importance of research security. The letter notes that OSTP will convene meetings over the coming months at academic institutions nationwide to facilitate dialogue around research security.
Eugene Scalia, the President’s nominee to serve as the next Secretary of Labor, testified in support of his nomination this morning before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
The House no longer plans to be in session on Monday as members are expected to attend funeral services for Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s late wife, Emily Clyburn. It will resume legislative business on Tuesday.
The Senate is expected to take up the House-passed CR while House and Senate conferees formally begin to reconcile the differences between the chambers’ National Defense Authorization Acts with the goal of bringing a final product to each floor by the end of the month.
Next Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust will hold a hearing to review the impact of recent digital platform mergers. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government will hold a hearing Wednesday on the Federal Trade Commission during which Chairman Joe Simons and Commissioner Rohit Chopra will testify.
A House Science, Space, and Technology Committee panel will also hold a hearing next week to examine artificial intelligence (AI) and the future of work. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will also vote on Eugene Scalia’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Labor next Tuesday at 10:00 AM.
On Sunday, President Trump will participate in an event with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India in Houston before traveling to Ohio to tour an Australian-owned manufacturing facility with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Senate Antitrust Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Antitrust Enforcement
On Tuesday, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joe Simons and Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust during a hearing on “Oversight of the Enforcement of the Antitrust Laws.”
During their opening remarks, Simons and Delrahim discussed how the FTC and DOJ are using existing antitrust authority to oversee the private sector, particularly focusing on efforts to investigate the state of competition within the technology and health care industries. Both Simons and Delrahim requested that Congress provide additional resources to strengthen their investigation capabilities. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), who dedicated the majority of his remarks to criticizing the FTC and DOJ for what he deems lax enforcement practices, questioned the efficacy of providing additional resources given his concerns that they cannot effectively manage existing allocations.
Subcommittee Chairman Mike Lee (R-UT) dedicated the majority of his questions to discussing whether Congress should create a single antitrust agency rather than have authority divided between the FTC and DOJ. He disapproved of the reported division of investigations into large technology companies and suggested that additional resources may not be necessary if antitrust authority were housed in a single entity. Neither Simons nor Delrahim expressed an opinion on the matter. Simons and Delrahim also declined to provide the Subcommittee with details regarding pending investigations into large technology companies, despite several questions Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senators Hawley and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) posed.
FAA Sends Proposed Rule for Remote Identification of Drones to OIRA for Review
Late last week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, to the White House Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. Congress directed the FAA in the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 to within two years issue regulations or guidance for remotely identifying UAS. The delayed rulemaking process has been the subject of both industry and congressional scrutiny.
In April, Senators Thune (R-SD) and Markey (D-MA) wrote to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao asking about the status of the rulemaking after its expected date of publication was delayed from May to July 2019. Thune and Markey recently sent a second letter to new FAA Administrator Steve Dickson noting that the expected date of publication had again been delayed to December of 2019 and posing a series of questions about a recent Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) initiative to encourage early implementation of remote identification technology before the agency makes its proposed requirements public.
This week, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) wrote a letter to White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney urging a “thorough review on an expedited timeline.” The NPRM is also expected to be a subject of discussion during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation hearing next Thursday on the status of implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which directed the FAA to initiate dozens of additional UAS-related activities. Bipartisan Committee leadership wrote to Secretary Chao and then-Acting Administrator Dan Elwell in July underscoring the importance of remote identification to safety and innovation.
NHTSA Proposes Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) this week on Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles. The NPRM proposes to change the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) so that hybrid and electric vehicle (HEVs) manufacturers can install more sounds to alert pedestrians and bicyclists to the presence of such vehicles. Currently, the so-called “Quiet Vehicles” rule limits manufacturers to installing one sound per “vehicle operating condition,” such as stationary or reverse. As a result of the change, drivers would be able to choose a sound from a selection of compliant sounds installed in their vehicles. NHTSA asks for comment on whether there should be a limit to the number of compliant sounds that a manufacturer can install in a vehicle and what that limit should be.
The NPRM is a response to a January 2017 petition filed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Global Automakers, which count hybrid and electric vehicle manufacturers among their members. Their petition argues that providing for increased choice for pedestrian alert sounds will support consumer acceptance for HEVs. NHTSA also suggests in the NPRM that the rulemaking will improve international harmonization, noting that a United Nations regulation on Audible Vehicle Alerting Systems does not limit the number of sounds manufacturers may install in HEVs. Comments are due by November 1.
House Subcommittee Examines Technologies to Accelerate Sustainable Transportation
On Wednesday, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing on “The Next Mile: The Technology Pathways to Accelerate Sustainability within the Transportation Sector” to discuss innovative transportation technologies. Subcommittee Chairman Connor Lamb (D-PA), Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Ranking Member Randy Weber (R-TX) expressed enthusiasm for innovative transportation technologies and continuing to support the Department of Energy’s (DOE) research and development efforts and activities in this area.
During their opening statements, the witnesses explained how DOE’s laboratories are a critical place to advance innovative fuel cell solutions, develop advanced and cellulosic biofuels, support transportation electrification technologies, and leverage distinguishing capabilities in science and engineering to execute research into affordable and sustainable transportation solutions that satisfy growing and changing consumer demand. Throughout the hearing, Subcommittee members asked the witnesses to discuss how technologies like artificial intelligence can be leveraged to ease traffic congestion and what sort of technological breakthroughs have or will improve vehicle technologies.