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Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta

Free Media
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Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000; 5:30 p.m. EDT

In June Vice President Gore tapped Commerce Secretary William Daley to chair his campaign for the White House. To replace Daley, President Clinton turned to a veteran Washington operator, former California congressman Norman Y. Mineta, to take the helm over the Commerce Department's huge and diverse bureaucracy now numbering 63,000 people.

A 10-term Democratic legislator from Silicon Valley, Mineta once turned down the job of Clinton's secretary of transportation. In 1995, after losing his post as chairman of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation in the republican takeover of Congress, Mineta disappointed some supporters by quitting Congress only five months into his 11th term to take a high-paying job at Lockheed Martin Corp.

Mineta answered questions live online on Thursday, Aug. 17 from the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Free Media: Good afternoon, Secretary Mineta, and welcome. International trade and relations have been a main focus of many of the protests both here and in Philadelphia during the Republican convention. How do you respond to protesters' criticisms of the trade deficit and the way U.S. deals with countries overseas?

Norman Y. Mineta: First of all, we cannot afford to continue to have the kinds of trade deficits that we have seen, and this year is going to be a record year in terms of the imbalance. With that kind of trade imbalance, that's not a good sign for our workers. And the Clinton-Gore administration has had a tremendous record in expanding the economy. And most of that has been based on the growth of the domestic portion of the economy, but unfortunately, though the economy has grown, the trade imbalance has also widened. And the trick is to continue the expansion of the economy, but also to now focus, and I think that the Gore-Lieberman administration will focus on the export trade aspect of the GDP.

One of those marketplaces is China. And so I am hopeful that the Senate will take up the China PNTR on their return during the week of Sept. 5. It seems to me that once we get that legislation passed and signed into law that we will be able to then have the Chinese at the table and to deal with the Chinese in terms of not only trade interests but also human rights values and proliferation of weaponry, and we'll be able to talk to them at the table. If we don't get it passed, then we won't be able to deal with the Chinese as a member of the WTO -- then we would be able to engage them in conversation on other aspects of our relationship other than just the trade items.

Allison, Washington, D.C.: As Secretary of Commerce, you oversee the Patent and Trademark Office. Being from the Silicon Valley and knowing how important that office is to that area, will you allow the House and Senate Appropriations Committee to continuing stealing the fees from the PTO to pay for other programs instead of using the user fees to improve and expand the PTO workforce?

Norman Y. Mineta: Allison is correct in the sense that from those who register their patents and trademarks with the Department of Commerce, they are paying a fee. The income from those fees amounts to about $1.2 billion -- it may be $1.3 billion. The total cost of the agency is about $1 billion, and people who are the users of the system feel that $1.3 billion ought to stay with the Office of Patents and Trademark. But right now, the money goes into the general treasury. There are some folks who would advocate putting the revenues into a Patent and Trademark Office trust fund so that all of the income would go into the trust fund to finance their present operations as well as bring in additional patent and examiners, as well as to update the computer system for the agency.

I have a personal leaning toward that approach, because as a member of Congress, I advocated the aviation trust fund be off budget, as well as the highway trust fund. However, there are the budget committees of the House and Senate as well as the appropriations committees of the House and Senate and OMB, who are opposed to this approach. So I don't feel that those proponents of giving special treatment to the user fees will succeed, because of the overwhelming opposition to this approach.

Newark, N.J.: What is the Department of Commerce doing to reduce America's $300 billion trade deficit in the world? Are we working with the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, and African nations to increase U.S. trade?

Norman Y. Mineta: We are, and one of the basic tenets that the administration supports is free and fair trade. And because trade is a two-way street, we're trying to make sure that anybody who comes in to play in our economic sandlot, by the same token our companies would be able to play in the economic sandlot of our foreign competitors. This, however, is not always the case, and recently we issued a steel report regarding the dumping of steel in the United States by companies in Japan, Korea, Brazil and Russia. In that report, we have made certain recommendations that are compliant with the World Trade Organization, and we intend first of all to track and statistically keep tabs on the practices of the steel companies in the United States. With worldwide economic recession, especially in Asia and South America, because they have no market in their own localities, they were dumping their steel in the United States. So by keeping tabs on what they're doing, we would take faster action to slow down or to invoke sanctions against those companies that would be dumping in the United States.

This steel report has met with favorable reaction, both from the steel companies as well as the steelworker unions, and we intend to forcefully carry out the recommendations in the steel report.

Free Media: The Commerce Department oversees the U.S. Census. The Clinton administration has supported the idea of census sampling, to much fire from Republicans who say that anything other than a straight head count of U.S. citizens is unconstitutional. Do you favor sampling? Would Vice President Gore work to change the way the census is conducted?

Norman Y. Mineta: First of all, the Census Bureau is committed to an accurate count of the population. However, historically, no matter how many enumerators you have, there is still and undercount that occurs. So in order to make sure that everybody is counted and that it be as accurate as possible, the Census Bureau will have two figures that they will be providing as "official" figures. One is the numerical count based on the work of the 500,000+ enumerators. But recognizing that there is a historical undercount, there is a method of utilizing statistical sampling in order to protect against that undercount.

As an example, here in the state of California, based on the 1990 census, there was about a 970,000 undercount in the state of California. And specifically, in the city of San Jose, that has a population of roughly 950,000 people today, there was an undercount of some 30,000, and most of them were low-income and minority. So with these two figures, then each jurisdiction will be able to use what they consider to be a better figure. So we don't say to the jurisdictions -- local or state governments, say a state government trying to do reapportionment -- which figure to use. They can choose that on their own. The second option is the use of statistical sampling to overcome the problems of historical undercount.

The beauty of what this administration is doing is that it is trying to minimize the politicization of the subject matter, and as the Department of Commerce secretary, Bill Daley delegated his authority to the director of the Census Bureau. A week ago, I signed a renewal of that delegation to the director of the Census Bureau, because I don't want the Republicans accusing us as political appointeed of manipulating these figures. Admittedly, Dr. Prewitt, the head of the Census Bureau, is a political appointee. His longtime reputation as a scientist and statistician overcomes people who accuse him of attempting to manipulate these figures for political purposes. Consequently, we have left to the Census Bureau, to all of the scientists and the statisticians, the responsibility of making sure that there is an accurate count. Whenever there have been partisan political charges made against the Census Bureau, it has always been either Dr. Prewitt responding or President Clinton. Everyone else has stayed out of the fray.

Joplin, Mo.: Hello Norm,

Congratulations on another first for Asian Pacific Americans.

Keep the economy going and we will keep our trucks full and rolling.


Kris Ikejiri

Norman Y. Mineta: Kris, how are you? Great to hear from you. Hope things are going well at CFA.

Los Angeles, Calif.: What is your impression of the Democratic convention this election year so far? Any suggestions for Gore on how he should present his speech and what he should talk about?

Norman Y. Mineta: My opinion of the convention, first of all, is that if you look at the floor of the Republican convention in Philadelphia, and you compare it with the sea of faces that you see at the Democratic convention here in L.A., there's no question that what you would find here in Los Angeles really reflects what the United States looks like. President Clinton made a promise that his government would look like America, and so he has made sure that all throughout his appointments that he has taken the best people available, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion -- and put them into office. And to me, I think the Republicans tolerate diversity. But I know as an American of Japanese ancestry, and I think all people feel this way -- they don't want to be tolerated; they want to be respected. And I think the Democratic Party respects diversity. As I said in my speech here at the convention, I am a real secretary of commerce and a proud American who by accident of birth happens to be of Japanese ancestry. And I am not from central casting.

And so when you look at the president's cabinet, it really does reflect America.

I'm quite sure that the vice president tonight will have a two-fold message. One that deals with the substance of the specifics in outlining the differences between the Democratic approach and the Republican approach to issues that are facing us. And secondly, to lay out a personal history about himself in order to relate to the American public.

I think he'll do a bang-up job, as did Sen. Lieberman on Wednesday night.

Free Media: That was our last question today for Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. Thanks so much to Secretary Mineta, and to everyone who joined us.

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