3rd Commerce Nominee Breezes Through Senate Hearing

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009


Clearing up any concerns that President Obama might have to seek a fourth nominee for the job, former Washington governor Gary Locke (D) sailed through his confirmation hearing on his nomination as commerce secretary yesterday, with nary a sign of tax or legal problems nor a shred of doubt that he wanted the job.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, declared early on: "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 Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.), the committee's ranking Republican.

Rockefeller 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.

If confirmed, Locke faces several immediate challenges, including preparation for and execution of the 2010 census, which some critics have said 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," 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 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," he said. "Most people who are affected don't understand what digital or analog television is."

Should he win confirmation, Locke would oversee 12 semiautonomous bureaus, all tasked with promoting U.S. economic growth, including the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), speaking on Locke's behalf to start the hearing, noted that former committee chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) "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. Locke also would be the third Evergreen State resident named to a high-ranking position in the Obama administration, joining Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske, tapped last week to serve as drug czar, and Ron Sims, Obama's nominee to be deputy secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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