ICYMI: Senator Murkowski Works to Prioritize Alaska throughout Appropriations Process
Takes Part in Series of Hearings to Discuss Agency Budgets
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) prioritized Alaska during a variety of Senate Committee and Subcommittee hearings to examine details of the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget proposal, which was released in early February of this year. Murkowski stressed the importance of Arctic and cold weather training for our military, a long-term solution for fixing the Denali Park Road, and highlighted the need for Arctic energy initiatives. Each year, Congress is tasked with developing 12 appropriations bills to fund federal government agencies, departments, and programs for each fiscal year.
Senator Murkowski chaired a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to examine the FY2021 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE), which included issues such as critical minerals security, Arctic initiatives, and advancing nuclear reactors.
“I have long sounded the alarm about our nation’s dependence on foreign minerals. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, we import more than half of our supply of 46 different minerals, and are completely reliant on imports for 17 of them,” said Senator Murkowski. “If we want to lead on emerging technologies, such as energy storage and electric vehicles that has to change. We can’t surrender the front end of the supply chain and hope to somehow recover the rest. I’m glad to see the Department utilizing so many of its assets to address this problem.”
During the hearing, Senator Murkowski highlighted DOE’s new Critical Minerals Initiative, which will bring together the Office of Science and the applied energy offices to help rebuild a stable, sustainable supply chain in the United States. Murkowski expressed disappointment in the President’s request to eliminate or make deep cuts to innovation-focused programs such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. She also asked DOE Secretary Dan Brouillette about his commitment to re-establish the Arctic Energy Office in Alaska. The Secretary provided assurances that the Department is moving full speed to re-open it and he hopes to make an announcement in about 90 days.
As chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Murkowski held a hearing to examine the FY2021 budget request for the Department of the Interior (DOI). Senator Murkowski raised Alaska priorities with DOI Secretary David Bernhardt, such as the Alaska land conveyance program, tribal justice and public safety initiatives, and expanding energy and mineral security—including unlocking onshore Arctic resources in ANWR and NPRA-A.
“In Alaska, federal land makes up over 60 percent of the state; the Department oversees the majority of those lands and is responsible for developing our abundant natural resources, providing assistance to our tribal communities, addressing climate change impacts, and much more. The Department’s budget request addresses many of these responsibilities, but falls short in addressing others. Like with every President’s budget request, this is a proposal and Congress will work together to enact the final budget for the Department,” said Senator Murkowski.
During the hearing, Senator Murkowski also asked Secretary Bernhardt about how the Department of Interior is addressing a mandate for payments of leasing costs under section 105(l) of the Indian Self Determination Act when tribal facilities are used to operate tribal programs, including details on the number and type of lease agreements. She also spoke to current efforts of the Park Service to prepare Denali Park Road for a safe and timely opening and the importance of finding a long-term solution—whether that is stabilization or re-routing—in order to maintain access to the park and in-holders at the end of the road.
COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE:
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Senator Murkowski took part in a hearing to examine the FY2021 budget request for the U.S. Department of Commerce. During the hearing, Senator Murkowski questioned Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross on funding for fishery surveys and the Pacific Salmon Treaty, as well as critical habitat for Humpback whales—a topic of concern for a number of Alaska coastal communities.
“You know the significance of the fisheries in my state. The National Marine Fisheries Service relies on annual surveys that are conducted by regional science centers to determine sustainable harvest levels. We’ve heard continued concerns that surveys are at risk due to budget pressures. My concern has always been that NOAA shouldn’t be put in a situation where they’ve got to choose between personnel and survey funding. NOAA shouldn’t have to make trade-offs, effectively, that jeopardize the core mission of managing our fisheries and supporting our U.S. Seafood producers,” said Senator Murkowski. “How does NOAA plan to accurately survey? And, I guess more broadly, why isn’t the agency requesting the funds that it needs for such a key part of its mission? Because if you don’t have accurate surveys you don’t have sustainably managed fisheries.”
Murkowski also questioned Secretary Ross on a new privacy system which is being implemented by the Census Bureau for the first time, starting with the 2020 U.S. Decennial Census, noting her concern over the unintended impacts the system could have in accurately counting Alaska Native villages.
“We know that the intention of this new privacy system is to balance data accuracy with data privacy. But what we’ve learned is that there’s some concern that when you have small populations, and specifically with groups such as American Indians and Alaska Natives you could be in a situation where, in order to provide for that level of privacy, you could end up with an undercount. They did a recent analysis of certain Alaska Native villages and found that applying differential privacy could result in a nearly 30 percent undercount of Alaska Native people in the 2020 census. This is a great concern for us,” said Senator Murkowski. “I want to ask you about progress in the development of privacy systems that meet user needs as well as protecting confidentiality. And, whether or not you have enough time to develop and implement a privacy system that will not undercut the count, given the fact that the Census has already started.
The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the FY2021 budget request for the National Guard and Reserve. As a member of the subcommittee, Senator Murkowski directed a written question for the record for General Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, on how he is working to prioritize the Guard’s delivery timelines for equipment and aircrafts, and whether Congress should look at how the Services are prioritizing Guard deliveries. Murkowski also included a question to the entire witness panel, on Arctic and cold weather training for the National Guard and Reserve.
“As global threats shift, Arctic weather conditions mimic the kind of environment our forces could face in future. How are you ensuring troops receive Arctic and cold weather training? How does the Reserve and Guard provide Arctic and cold weather training? Are there plans to increase Arctic and cold weather training for Reserve and Guard?” said Senator Murkowski.
The Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the FY2021 budget request for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). As a member of the subcommittee, Senator Murkowski directed a written question for the record for David Pekoske, Administrator of the TSA, on the concerns expressed by Alaskans regarding TSA training when it comes to the 2020 implementation of the REAL ID cards.
“Alaskans, especially rural Alaskans, have expressed concerns about what documentation will be accepted after October 2020. One of the forms of ID that is acceptable is a federally recognized tribal ID but I am concerned that – especially given the high rates of turnover – agents won’t be adequately trained on what they can accept,” said Senator Murkowski. “What are your plans to ensure adequate training ahead of the REAL ID deadline especially for all the acceptable forms of identification?