Emerging Technologies Washington Update

December 20, 2018

Pardon Our Dust

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Week in Review

The White House and Congress spent the early part of the week negotiating the parameters of an end of year spending package that would avert a partial government shutdown at midnight on Friday. The negotiations focused on the President’s strong desire for $5 billion to build a border wall. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a clean continuing resolution (CR) extending current funding levels for upwards of seven departments and agencies (among them the Departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, and Commerce) through February 8. The bill also extends several government programs, mostly for the duration of the CR, including the National Flood Insurance Program, the Violence Against Women Act, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday evening by voice vote.  

The House was expected to vote on the measure late tonight, but conservative members oppose kicking the can down the road, especially to a Democratic majority, and failing to fill the President’s $5 billion request. The President told House Republican leadership this afternoon that he will not sign the CR as is, prompting outgoing Speaker Ryan (R-WI) to say the House will add “border security” to the bill and increasing the likelihood of a partial shutdown.

Congress moved several other pieces of legislation this week. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 87-12 to pass sweeping bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation. With the President’s endorsement, the House is scheduled to follow suit on Thursday under suspension of the rules. The House will also move a Republican end of year tax bill today with little hope of the Senate doing the same. In the meantime, the President signed the farm bill into law.

As the Administration and Congress grappled over government funding, each also saw a slew of personnel and membership-related announcements. Last Friday evening, the President named Mick Mulvaney Acting White House Chief of Staff upon the departure of John Kelly. Mulvaney, a former representative from South Carolina, is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and until recently was also serving as the Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). OMB Deputy Director Russell Vought will take over as Acting Director. On Saturday, the President announced that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will also step down at the end of the year.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that Senators-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D-NV) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) will sit on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in the next Congress. Senators Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Hassan (D-NH) are leaving the Committee. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said last Friday that he will resign at the end of the year, prompting Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) to name another appointment to the late Senator John McCain’s seat until a 2020 special election. On Tuesday, Ducey tapped Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who narrowly lost her bid in November for the state’s other Senate seat to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee also announced this week that he will not seek reelection in 2020.

Looking Ahead

The 116th Congress will convene on January 3, when the Senate will welcome nine new faces and the House will swear in 100 new representatives.

Senate Judiciary Committee Examines US and EU Approaches to Antitrust

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights held a hearing to take “A Comparative Look at Competition Law Approaches to Monopoly and Abuse of Dominance in the US and EU.” The Subcommittee heard from several professors and thought leaders who described the basis of antitrust enforcement in the European Union and its effects on industry growth and innovation. The panel also discussed the consequences of the US antitrust framework and the impact these diverging approaches have on companies who engage in international commerce. While witnesses disagreed on the efficacy of the EU’s approach to regulating the private sector, there was consensus that the EU exhibits more vigorous enforcement practices than the United States.

During the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Lee (R-UT) expressed skepticism about the need for antitrust reform in the United States. This was not the first time the Senator has indicated concerns with overhauling antitrust law; Lee made similar statements during previous hearings examining competition law and the prospects of a federal privacy framework. Ranking Member Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), the only other lawmakers besides Chairman Lee to attend yesterday’s hearing, criticized existing enforcement policies they believe have allowed markets to become increasingly concentrated. Klobuchar also touted several merger reform bills she sponsored and cosponsored this Congress that she argued would alleviate market concentration. As the 115th Congress draws to a close, it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will find common ground on issues related to competition and consumer protection in the new Congress.

Senators Put Spotlight on the Future of Work

Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Angus King (I-ME) joined Washington Post Live this week for an event on the future of work. Discussing the need for new policies that better align with the evolving nature of work, Senator Young urged support for the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act (S.1251), legislation he introduced last year with Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) that would establish a $20 million grant fund within the Department of Labor. Young explained that the grant fund would incentivize states, localities and nonprofit organizations to experiment with portable benefits models to better support the growing number of Americans engaged in part-time, contract, or other alternative work arrangements. Senator King, who cosponsored S. 1251, also underscored the importance of developing reskilling programs aimed at supporting “stranded workers” or those displaced by new technological advancements. Senator Warner was originally slated to join the panel discussion, but was unable to attend the event. WayUp CEO Liz Wessel, MIT Assistant Director Philip Lippel, Handy CEO and Co-Founder Oisin Hanrahan, and Postmates Vice President of Global Public Policy Vikrum Aiyer also participated in separate panels on the jobs and workforce of the future.

115th Congress Looks to Adjourn with Key Technology and Innovation Posts Still Vacant

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are discussing a package of nominations that may move before the end of the week, the 115th Congress is close to coming to a close without Senate votes on several nominations for key executive branch posts that play a significant role in technology and innovation policy development. Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier’s nomination to serve as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is one that remains pending; OSTP has been without a permanent director since the President took office. The Senate Commerce Committee advanced Droegemeier’s nomination in September by voice vote. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has the primary responsibility over the autonomous vehicle industry within the Department of Transportation, has similarly been without a permanent Administrator during the current Administration. The Senate Commerce Committee advanced Deputy Administrator Heidi King’s nomination 14-13 in June.

Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) had also been blocking a floor vote on a full term for Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. Since nominations are usually paired to maintain a partisan majority on the Commission, the stalemate held up a vote on Democratic nominee Geoffrey Starks. Sullivan’s hold stemmed from concerns with the FCC’s rural health care program subsidies. Manchin sought a firm date by which the FCC will release funds through its Mobility Fund, which are on hold while the FCC looks into the integrity of carrier-supplied broadband coverage data. All said today that they are lifting their holds, however, and expect the Senate to vote on both nominations before the 115th Congress adjourns.

Drone Advisory Committee Seeks New Members

The Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), an advisory committee charged with advising the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drone, integration issues, is seeking new members to fill several vacancies. Nominations are due by January 9. Members represent the drone industry, as well as other aviation stakeholders such as airports, the manned aviation community, and local governments.

FCC Proposes to Limit Autonomous Vehicle and Drone Operations in 6 GHz Band

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published in Monday’s Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Unlicensed Use of the 6 GHz Band that was adopted unanimously at the October 23 FCC Open Meeting. The FCC proposes to permit unlicensed use of the 5.925-7.125 GHz (“6 GHz”) band, while ensuring that licensed services operating in that spectrum “continue to thrive.” The Commission explained that unlicensed devices may operate, but only in locations and frequencies that would not cause harmful interference to the licensed services in that band. In particular, paragraph 48 of the NPRM proposes to prohibit moving vehicles, cars, trains and aircraft from using the spectrum. With respect to drones, the Commission “is especially concerned about the interference consequences of allowing operations onboard aircraft because the longer line-of-sight distances from devices at typical aircraft altitude could result in interference over a wide area.” The FCC seeks comment “on whether there are alternative, feasible proposals to use the band for moving vehicles.”  Comments are due by February 15, 2019 and reply comments are due by March 18, 2019.