Emerging Technologies Washington Update

December 6, 2018

Pardon Our Dust

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Week in Review

Yesterday, the President, Vice President, former Presidents and Vice Presidents, members of Congress, and other US and foreign dignitaries attended a state funeral honoring the late President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington. The federal government and the stock market also closed to mark the national day of mourning.

As the nation paused this week to remember President Bush, Congress took steps to extend the December 7 deadline to address the remaining four areas of FY19 appropriations, including Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (THUD) and Commerce-Science-Justice (CJS). Earlier this week, with support from the President and Senate leaders, House appropriators rolled out a bill to extend funding through December 21. Congress passed the measure earlier today, which heads to the President for his signature before current authorities expire tomorrow.

In the meantime, the Senate voted on Wednesday to end debate on Bernard McNamee’s nomination to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The upper chamber confirmed McNamee earlier this afternoon. Lawmakers will also vote later today on Kathleen Kraninger’s nomination to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Incoming congressional committee leaders are making key staff appointments for the 116th Congress. John Keast, a former top aide to incoming Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), will return to Capitol Hill to serve as the Committee’s Staff Director. Earlier today, incoming House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) announced his Chief of Staff Paul Sass will serve as Republican Staff Director.

Today the White House hosts a number of senior executives from leading technology companies to discuss U.S. leadership within emerging technology sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Liddell, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, and presidential advisors Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will represent the Administration during the discussion alongside White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty are among the industry leaders scheduled to attend today’s meeting.

The Week Ahead

Both chambers are in session next week. The Senate will process more executive nominations. Following passage of the stopgap funding measure this week, lawmakers in both chambers will continue to negotiate an agreement on long-term FY19 appropriations for the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, State, Justice and Interior, among others. Negotiations remain stalled over the Trump Administration’s demands for border wall funding.

Key Hearings Postponed as Nation Remembers President George H.W. Bush

Events honoring the late President Bush, including Wednesday’s national day of mourning, prompted Congress to adjust its schedule and postpone several closely watched hearings. Notably, a House Judiciary Committee hearing during which lawmakers will hear from Google CEO Sundar Pichai on the company’s data collection, use, and filtering practices, originally scheduled for December 5, was postponed until December 11. Pichai still traveled to Washington to attend a Thursday roundtable on innovative industries at the White House. The Committee also rescheduled a hearing on antitrust enforcement; Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons will now testify on December 12.

On the other side of the Capitol, a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights hearing to examine competition law approaches to monopoly and abuse of dominance in the US and the EU was postponed until December 19.

Senate Commerce Committee Moves to Advance Highly Automated Vehicles Bill Before Year’s End

This week, the Senate Commerce Committee floated a revised draft of S. 1885, the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act intended to alleviate opposition that has stalled the bipartisan legislation since it was reported out of Committee earlier this year. The new draft responds to concerns regarding the scope of preemption of State and local regulations and the preservation of common law claims for personal injury by limiting the lawfulness of pre-dispute arbitration clauses in purchase, lease, or operating agreements. The bill also revises provisions relating to exemptions, development of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Level 2 vehicles (to align with the House-passed bill), testing of automated driving systems (ADS), safety evaluation reports, cybersecurity, and privacy. Notwithstanding the effort to reshape the bill to respond to concerns and align it more closely with H.R. 3388, the SELF DRIVE Act, supporters still face significant opposition to moving it during the lame duck session, whether as a standalone bill or attached to a spending bill. Notably, Senators Markey (D-MA) and Feinstein (D-CA) maintain their opposition. Rep. Schakowsky (D-IL), the incoming chair of the House subcommittee of jurisdiction, also opposes the new draft.

TSA Releases Cybersecurity Roadmap

This week, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released its Cybersecurity Roadmap for the next 5 years. TSA expects to update and revise the plan each year. The Roadmap focuses on TSA’s role in protecting its programs and those throughout the Federal Government, as well as its role in protecting the security of the transportation systems sector (TSS). TSA identified four priorities, which align with the May 2018 DHS Cybersecurity Strategy. Priority 1 is Risk Identification, which will address risks both to TSA and the TSS. Priority 2, Vulnerability Reduction, likewise will focus on reducing the cybersecurity risks to TSA and the TSS, and will involve information sharing and the provision of capabilities, tools, and services. Priority 3, Respond Effectively to Cyber Incidents, will involve coordinated response efforts, incident reporting, and victim notification to facilitate response assistance. Priority 4 is to Enable Cybersecurity Outcomes by promoting continuous awareness, sustainable community action, increasing resources and training to develop a premier cyber workforce, and to enhance international collaboration.

Senate Commerce Subcommittee Holds FTC Oversight Hearing

On November 27, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security held an oversight hearing of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that featured testimony from the five FTC commissioners. Lawmakers asked FTC leadership to comment on the agency’s existing efforts and what, if any, additional resources are needed to carry out its mission. The majority of time was spent discussing the development of a federal privacy law. While lawmakers and witnesses agreed that a federal law must include adequate consumer protections, there was a lack of consensus regarding federal preemption of existing state efforts. Democratic Commissioner Chopra cautioned that such federal authority could create unintended consequences for consumers. His colleague Commissioner Slaughter noted that a federal law preempting state action should not be weaker than existing state laws. Republican Commissioner Phillips expressed additional concerns with a federal privacy law, noting that definitions and penalties must be clear to avoid stifling innovation or reducing market competition.

Subcommittee Chairman Moran (R-KS) noted that the committee intends to hold additional hearings on privacy and consumer protection during the next several months as lawmakers continue to develop federal privacy legislation. Both he and Subcommittee Ranking Member Blumenthal (D-CT) noted efforts are already underway within the committee to craft bipartisan legislation for consideration in the 116th Congress.

FCC Unveils Proposals to Target Spam Calls and Texts

Last month, FCC Chairman Pai unveiled two proposals aimed at targeting spam robocalls and robotexts. Under the first proposal, the Commission would establish a comprehensive database whereby callers could verify whether a telephone number has been reassigned. The database would seek to mitigate instances of individuals with reassigned numbers receiving unwanted calls intended for the previous number-holder. Under the second proposal, the Commission would reclassify text messages as “information services” rather than “telecommunications services” under the Communications Act. This reclassification would strengthen consumer protection efforts by enabling carriers to block unwanted text messages. The FCC is slated to consider both proposals during its December 12 Open Commission Meeting.

“Combatting robocalls is our top consumer protection priority, and these proposals are a
significant step forward in that effort,” Chairman Pai stated in an adjoining press release. Release of the proposals comes amid several FCC initiatives aimed at addressing spam calls and texts. Last month, the Commission sent letters to voice providers calling on them to assist industry efforts to trace scam robocalls.

The issue of  robocalls also surfaced during the Senate Commerce Committee’s November 27 oversight hearing of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Senator Capito (R-WV) asked FTC Chairman Simons what efforts the Commission has made to stop the illicit calls. Simons noted the FTC and the FCC are working in tandem to resolve the issue for consumers.