Locke Assures Senators on Census, DTV Switch
Updated 3:20 p.m. ET
Former Washington State governor Gary Locke expressed his full commitment to helping restore the nation's economic health and stated that he was prepared to address the challenges facing the Commerce Department during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee today.
"We must rebuild, retool and reinvent our national strategies for sustained economic success," Locke told the panel. If confirmed, the former governor faces several immediate challenges, including preparation for and execution of the 2010 census, which some critics say is in danger of being politicized by the Obama administration.
“The president has assured me that the director of the Census will report to me and of course I ultimately report to the president, but that there will always be consultation and information shared with the White House and with the members of Congress, because everyone has an interest in a full and accurate conducting of the 2010 Census," Locke said during questioning.
He also expressed confidence in the ability of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration to oversee the remainder of the transition to digital television, a process which has been criticized for its cost and time overruns.
"We will not be seeking additional funds nor will we be seeking an extension beyond the June 12th deadline," he said. Still, Locke said DTV public service announcements produced by the government and broadcasters "have not been all that clear so far."
“Up until just about a month or so ago, I was not even aware of the full implications of this conversion. Most people who are affected don’t understand what digital or analog television is,” he said, adding that his brother-in-law had to help explain the process to him a few weeks ago.
It appears Locke's nomination will easily clear committee, as senators from both parties expressed support for his nomination today.
Committee chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said he expects the committee to unanimously approve Locke’s nomination today and refer it to the full Senate for a vote at a later date.
Clearing up any concerns that President Obama might have to seek a fourth nominee for the job, Rockefeller said, "The ranking member and I have both looked at all the financials and FBI reports. It was clean and happy reading."
"Boring would have been better," joked Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the committee's ranking Republican.
Hutchison expressed general GOP concerns about the independence and objectivity of next year's Census, but said she was pleased by Locke's assurances "that the Census will stay in the Department of Commerce and it will be run in a professional process."
Should he win conformation from the full Senate, Locke would oversee 12 loosely-associated bureaus all tasked with promoting U.S. economic growth, including the Census Bureau, National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), speaking on Locke's behalf at the start of the hearing, noted that former Commerce Committee chairman Fritz Hollings "used to joke that the secretary of commerce always comes in thinking he will be the head businessman. And then he finds out that he's really the head fisherman."
Locke is the only Chinese American to be elected governor of a state and if confirmed would become the third Asian American in Obama's Cabinet, joining Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He would also be the third Evergreen State resident named to a high-ranking position in the Obama administration, joining Ron Sims, Obama's nominee for deputy HUD secretary, and Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, tapped last week to serve as drug czar.
The former governor's political career began in the Washington House in 1982 and he was elected county executive of Seattle's King County in 1993. Elected governor in 1996, he won reelection in 2000, served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in 2003 and gave the Democratic response to President George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address. Declining to run for a third term in 2004, Locke instead joined the Seattle office of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, specializing in China and energy issues.
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