Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Chair: Roger Wicker

F

Projected Grade for the 116th Congress*

* Adjustments have been applied so that committees' grades are not lowered by the constraints on hearings caused by Covid-19 [oversight-index.thelugarcenter.org/covid-19-statement]

2 Investigative Oversight Hearings

21 Policy/Legislative Hearings

76 Total Hearings

Last updated: Aug. 5, 2020, 11:34 a.m.

As its title indicates, the committee’s jurisdiction sprawls over a broad swath of American life. One of the largest Senate committees, with 27 members, its responsibilities include two cabinet departments and numerous separate agencies, from NASA to the Federal Trade Commission to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Aviation, highway, maritime and railroad safety, the Panama Canal and the Internet, climate change and natural disasters, sports and tourism, marine fisheries and the Coast Guard, STEM research and policy, and consumer product safety are some of the many areas it covers. While the committee sets broad policy and budget authorization, the independent agencies it oversees often have major impact, such as the FCC on telecommunications and the FAA on airline safety. The committee has six subcommittees: aviation and space; communications, technology, innovation and the Internet; manufacturing, trade and consumer protection; science, oceans, fisheries and weather; transportation and safety; and security.

With many different and controversial policies under its purview, over the years the committee’s hearing schedule typically has peaked in the first Congress after a change in the White House, then subsided. Under Democrats it held 119 hearings in the 111th Congress (2009-10), immediately after the election of President Obama, and under Republicans it held 124 hearings in the 115th Congress (2017-18) after the election of President Trump. In the three intervening Congresses (two controlled by Democrats, one by Republicans), it averaged about 85 hearings. Its 124 hearings in the 115th Congress, under Chair John Thune (R, S.D.), were the most for the committee in the 10-year period.

The committee historically has been quite active in oversight investigation hearings, with an emphasis on probes of private sector activity. During the 115th Congress, it conducted nine investigative oversight hearings, seven of the private sector and two of government agencies. This represents a major jump from the 114th Congress (2015-16), when it conducted only two investigative oversight hearings, and more in line with the previous three Congresses, when it conducted between six and 10. This figure for the 115th Congress was second only to the Homeland Security and Judiciary committees, which each conducted 10.

Commerce’s agency investigative oversight hearings in the 115th Congress were an examination of waste, fraud and abuse of the FCC’s Lifeline Program that helps ensure phone access for low-income families in emergencies; and a look into the causes and response to the January 2018 false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii that went uncorrected for nearly 30 minutes, panicking thousands, disrupting events and crashing the 911 emergency phone system.

In its private sector investigative hearings, it focused heavily on concerns over online privacy and cybersecurity. It held one hearing on Facebook, another on Cambridge Analytica and other Facebook partners, one entitled “Protecting Consumers in the Era of Major Data Breaches,” and one on the systemic vulnerability of the nation’s computer and Internet systems to sophisticated hackers first discovered by Google’s Project Zero team in 2017. It also held two hearings on the scandals about the sexual abuse of Olympic and amateur athletes, and one on pipeline safety following the September 2018 natural gas explosions and fires in Massachusetts.


Chairs

111th Congress: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

112th Congress: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

113th Congress: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

114th Congress: John Thune (R-SD)

115th Congress: John Thune (R-SD)

116th Congress: Roger Wicker (R-MS)


Current Congress

We are 87% of the way through the 116th Congress

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

2 Investigative Oversight Hearings; 21% historical maximum
21 Policy/Legislative Hearings; 43% historical maximum
76 Total Hearings; 71% historical maximum

Committee History

Number of Hearings
Committee Hearing Performance
Investigative/Oversight Policy/Legislative Total Hearings Score Grade
111th Congress 10 56 119 100% A
112th Congress 5 44 79 67% D
113th Congress 11 37 97 82% B
114th Congress 3 43 80 62% D
115th Congress 9 36 124 86% B
116th Congress* 2 21 76 58% F
Historical average 6.7 39.5 95.8

* Adjustments have been applied so that committees' grades are not lowered by the constraints on hearings caused by Covid-19 [oversight-index.thelugarcenter.org/covid-19-statement]

Number of Hearings

--- Historical Average

Hearings held by the
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Date Hearing Title Committee Category