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Department of Commerce Progress Report, April 29, 2009

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Summary

To date, the Department of Commerce’s accomplishments under the Obama Administration include clearing the waiting list for digital TV converter box coupons and resuming the acceptance and processing of new coupon requests; working to complete the complex preparations for the 2010 Census; and helping the areas hardest-hit by recession by providing grants to stimulate economic development. The department ‘s National Telecommunications and Information Administration kicked off its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded broadband initiative with a series of forums across the country. The town hall-style events allowed the public to help shape the eventual form of the program, which will bring broadband service—and access to the 21st Century economy—to underserved and unserved communities across the country.

The Department also continues—with a commitment to excellence—to carry out its everyday work in areas ranging from international trade to aquaculture.

Department Overview

The Department of Commerce touches ordinary American citizens in ways obvious and obscure every day—from the weather satellites of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the global offices of the International Trade Administration, and from the laboratories of National Institute of Standards and Technology to the many communities that benefit from Economic Development Administration grants.

Secretary Gary Locke envisions a vibrant Department of Commerce that aggressively promotes American products, services, and ideas both at home and around the world. The Department is aiming to be an engine for job growth and economic renewal, working to save American jobs and create the jobs of the future. Some of the Department’s immediate, high-profile priorities are the digital television transition, broadband implementation, and the Decennial Census.

Next year, in conducting the Decennial Census, 1.2 million temporary Commerce employees will fan out across the country to provide a full, accurate and physical count of the American people. The Census will be run through the Department of Commerce and by a Director who will work with Congress, the administration, and state and local leaders to make sure we have a successful count.

Other critical challenges include:

  • improving weather forecasting;
  • managing our marine fisheries responsibly;
  • reducing the backlog of patent applications;
  • leading the world in innovation, science and technology;
  • boosting exports by promoting American products and working with American businesses;
  • protecting the health of our oceans and understanding climate change;
  • creating new, energy-efficient businesses and green jobs; and
  • strengthening our ability to compete in a global economy through free and fair trade.

Secretary Locke is working to create public-private partnerships that bring together businesses, other federal agencies, state and local governments, universities, and community-based organizations. Through these partnerships, the Department is working to develop innovative solutions to:

  • create jobs that are made in America and stay in America;
  • foster entrepreneurship and growth across all sectors of the economy;
  • deliver broadband to communities far and wide;
  • support innovation through cutting-edge, reliable science;
  • protect our global ecosystem; and
  • reduce our Federal trade deficit by positioning the United States as a world leader in exports.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act)

Signed into law on February 17, 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) allots $7.9 billion to the Department of Commerce.

In January 2009, the DTV Converter Box Coupon Program accumulated a waiting list due to insufficient funding. One of the most immediately visible results of the Recovery Act funding is that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Digital Television (DTV) Converter Box Coupon Program has been able to provide coupons to all persons on the waiting list; fulfill requests for replacement coupons to those who had received original coupons but did not redeem them before the coupons expired; and resume processing new coupon requests.

The Digital Television (DTV) Delay Act, signed into law on February 11, 2009, extended the date for coupon requests through July 31, 2009. The total Recovery Act funding for the Coupon Program is $650 million, and the program will continue to fulfill coupon requests as they are received. In addition, funds have been transferred to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—as allowed by law—to provide education and outreach to the public on the importance of being ready for the conversion to digital TV.

The transition to digital broadcast television will free up the airwaves for better communications among emergency first responders and for new telecommunications services, and offers consumers a clearer picture and more programming choices. The NTIA Digital TV Converter Box Coupon Program provides assistance to households that have not yet converted to digital TV.

Almost 60% of the Recovery Act funding for the Department of Commerce is going to the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP). This program is the first step in realizing President Obama’s vision of bringing the benefits of broadband technology to all Americans. At their core, the broadband initiatives in the Recovery Act offer a tremendous opportunity to stimulate job creation and economic growth in both the near term and for the future. Broadband serves as an engine of economic development, enabling communities and regions to develop and expand job-creating businesses and institutions.

With these broadband initiatives, the Department has been especially attentive to transparency and seeking public input. In March 2009, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration conducted joint public meetings and public field hearings with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

BTOP expects to award its first grants early in the first quarter of fiscal year 2010. The program will divide total grants funding roughly into thirds and roll out three different Notices of Funds Availability (NOFAs), with the first NOFA expected in June for approximately $1.6 billion.

One billion dollars in Recovery Act funding is allocated to the Census Bureau, which will spend the majority of this amount in fiscal year 2010 for salaries and expenses related to the Decennial Census. In fiscal year 2009, some funds will be used for media buys and to hire outreach and education program staff.

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is receiving $150 million in Recovery Act funding, which it expects to award in its entirety in competitive grants by the end of fiscal year 2009. The EDA economic assistance and development grants program will directly support economic development in the areas hardest hit by the recession. The Recovery Act calls on EDA to “give priority consideration to areas of the Nation that have experienced sudden and severe economic dislocation and job loss due to corporate restructuring.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) collectively represent the remainder of the Recovery Act funding, which will support a variety of science- and technology- related programs in areas such as climate modeling, coastal habitat restoration, innovation, and industrial competitiveness. NOAA and NIST will expend their funding over the fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2010 periods in a wide variety of competitive grant and contract activities.

As of Friday, April 17, 2009, the Department of Commerce (DOC) had distributed the following in Recovery Act funds:

Total Obligated

NTIA Digital Television (DTV) Converter Box Coupon Program

Total Disbursed

$241,176,729

Reform

Some examples of efforts within the Department to increase efficiency, accountability, and transparency:

  • The Economic Development Administration (EDA) has streamlined the grant process for Recovery Act projects by delegating additional authority to EDA’s six regional directors to make determinations relating to grant rates in order to address applicants’ problems in finding resources to meet matching share requirements.
  • The Minority Business Development Agency is implementing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application to increase its efficiency and effectiveness with customer/client intake and performance management processes. The CRM application will also promote service transparency.
  • In February 2009, review teams from various panels of the National Research Council assessed the technical merit, relevance, and quality of the scientific and technical work performed by a number of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) divisions and laboratories in Boulder, CO, and Gaithersburg, MD.
  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) is reviewing the results from the Organizational Assessment Survey (OAS) that it took in 2008, with the goal of determining areas for potential improvements.

Policy/Regulatory Initiatives

Congressional Passage of Department-Related Legislation:

  • DTV Delay Act - On February 4, 2009, Congress passed S. 352, the DTV Delay Act. President Obama signed the Act into law on February 11, 2009. The Act:
    • extended the deadline for the digital television (DTV) conversion—the date by which all full-power television broadcasters must broadcast only in digital—from February 18, 2009, until June 12, 2009
    • extended the date by which eligible households may apply for coupons through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) TV Converter Box Coupon Program from March 31, 2009, until July 31, 2009
    • authorized NTIA (contingent on budget authority, which was provided by Recovery Act) to issue replacement coupons to households whose coupons had expired without being redeemed
    • permitted television broadcast licensees to cease analog operations prior to the new conversion deadline and permitted public safety service licensees to begin operation on frequencies made available by such voluntary cessation
    • required NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make necessary changes to their respective rules and regulations within 30 days of enactment and extended the FCC’s spectrum auction authority by one year

Notable Departmental Funding Increases in the President’s Budget:

The President’s budget for the Department of Commerce for fiscal year 2010 is $4.5 billion more than current year, most of which is allocated to the Census Bureau for the Decennial Census.

Interagency Efforts

  • Smart Grid - The Department of Commerce—specifically its National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—has been working with the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to coordinate Smart Grid efforts. Secretary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will host in May a national meeting with leaders from key stakeholders’ organizations to discuss the development of industry-wide standards for Smart Grid.
  • Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP)—NTIA is working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, the FCC, and other agencies on broadband-related efforts.

Department Contributions to Task Forces and Working Groups

During the first 100 days, the Department of Commerce has engaged with the task forces and working groups that have been established to further the Administration’s goals. One of the first priorities has been to identify and align the activities occurring in our Bureaus with the needs of these policy groups. The following outlines some of the key areas of contribution that the Department has identified.

Food Safety Working Group

The Food Safety Working Group, co-chaired by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, has four areas of interest: food safety activities, data sources related to food safety, agency regulatory or administrative actions pending, and current food safety partnerships. The Department of Commerce will contribute to this Working Group through the following programs and activities:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — Seafood Inspection Program; aquaculture efforts focused on creating a safe domestic supply to meet the growing demand for seafood products
  • International Trade Administration (ITA) — Import safety activities, participation in the National Biosurveillance Integration System (a Department of Homeland Security-led effort that tracks information on a variety of events, including import and food safety issues)
  • National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) — development of measurement tools, standard reference materials, calibration services, and methodology development that supports the activities of the departments and agencies that are directly responsible for food safety
  • The Census Bureau — production of a wide variety of food-related data ranging from food production to food processing to food services

Innovation and Information Policy Working Group

This working group has begun the process to expand on the Administration’s Innovation and Information Policy Agenda. The agencies of the Department of Commerce will be instrumental in helping the Administration to develop a “2016 Vision of Success.”

  • National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – serves as the executive branch agency principally responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information policies
  • National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) – supports vital basic and applied research to strengthen the Nation’s innovation enterprise.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – utilizes the latest science and technology to provide improved weather and climate forecasting capabilities, and sustainable management of fisheries and related ocean and coastal resources.
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — is responsible for issuing patents and trademarks that are central to the protection of intellectual property and providing an environment conducive to innovation.
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA) — aims to lead the Federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness, preparing American regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy.
  • Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) — ESA’s two bureaus—the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of the Census—measure and report on innovation activity and its impact on the U.S. economy.
  • International Trade Administration (ITA) — aims to create prosperity by strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. industry, promoting trade and investment, and ensuring fair trade and compliance with trade laws and agreements.
  • Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) — works to increase the innovative capacity of minority-owned firms so that they are better positioned to create jobs, impact local economies and expand into national and global markets.

Green Jobs Working Group

This Working Group grew out of the first town hall meeting of the Vice President’s Middle Class Task Force. Co-chaired by the Office of the Vice President and the Council on Environmental Policy, this working group is focused on ensuring that the disbursement of Recovery Act funds results in verifiable and measurable “green jobs.” The Department of Commerce—through the Office of the Secretary, the Economic Development Administration, and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at the National Institute for Standards and Technology—is providing expertise on definitional issues surrounding “green jobs,” economic clusters, and manufacturing facility transitioning expertise.

Other Interagency Groups

  • Task Force on Auto Recovery
  • Climate Change Work Group
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders Work Group
  • Interagency Business Council
  • Service Work Group
  • Interagency Work Group on Cybersecurity
  • Women and Girls Task Force

Miscellaneous

Aggregate amount of major grant awards (non-Recovery Act):

  • National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Grants
    Total number of grants awarded thus far: 59 grants totaling $1,702,749
    Total number of pending grants to be awarded: 50 grants totaling $1,617,798
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA) Investments
    Total number of grants awarded: 74 grants (including both EDA regular program and disaster supplemental funding) totaling $33,224,251
    Anticipated number of additional grants to be awarded this fiscal year (as well as next fiscal year, in the case of the disaster funding): approximately 800
  • Low-Power Television Digital-to-Analog Conversion Program
    Through this program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) made grant awards to 36 low-power television (LPTV) stations for a total of $36,000 in funding. The program provides $1,000 in grant funds to each eligible LPTV station to purchase a digital-to-analog conversion device that will convert incoming digital signals of full-power stations to analog for transmission on the LPTV station’s analog channel. Low-power stations are not required to switch to digital-only broadcasts as part of the DTV transition.

Public service campaigns:

  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has partnered with the FCC to promote awareness of the DTV transition.
  • The Census Bureau continues to develop a comprehensive campaign to promote the Decennial Census.

Major outreach efforts:

  • Stakeholder outreach:
    • Secretary Locke will launch a listening tour across America to hear from business leaders and other stakeholders involved in job creation and economic renewal.
    • He has also addressed the National Census Partnership and the Business Council for International Understanding, and will participate in events with various business groups.
    • In April 2009, Secretary Locke and other top Department officials spoke at the cable-industry convention Cable Show 2009 regarding the importance of broadband.
  • Secretary Locke continues briefings and employee town halls with bureaus across the Department of Commerce.
  • International outreach: Secretary Locke has met with ambassadors and senior leaders from numerous countries. He continues to engage with his various international counterparts via telephone calls and in-person meetings.

New facilities:

  • New National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Learning Center Dedicated in Hawaii.
    On April 13, the grand opening of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Learning Center took place in Kilhei, HI. The new Learning Center provides a venue for education programs and facilities supporting research and resource protection activities.

Examples of bureaus engaging with the public:

The Department of Commerce’s bureaus host and participate in a number of events designed to inform and assist the public and stakeholders, and to gain feedback. Some examples from the past few months:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has hosted an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and to examine scientific progress since that time; an industry briefing regarding the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®); and a climate change workshop.
  • The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has hosted a technology translation workshop for small businesses.
  • The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) has hosted a public meeting seeking feedback as it plans its 2009 National Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week Conference.
  • The Economic Development Administration (EDA) took part in an economic development forum at which government officials and non-government participants engaged in a roundtable discussion, with the latter providing feedback to the former.