Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
“Hearing on the Nomination of John R. Fernandez to be
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development.”
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Good morning, Madam Chairman. I’d like to join you in welcoming John Fernandez and his family to our hearing today. I was able to meet with Mr. Fernandez last week, and I let him know that I am unaware of any objections to his nomination to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. In that position, he will lead the Economic Development Administration, an agency over which this Committee has jurisdiction. I am pleased to have worked closely with former Assistant Secretaries Sandy Baruah and Dr. David Sampson to assist numerous communities in Oklahoma, and I hope to have a similar experience working with Mr. Fernandez as Assistant Secretary.
I have long been a strong supporter of EDA. I believe the agency does an outstanding job of providing relatively small grants that help secure significant amounts of private investment in distressed communities across the country. Contrary to what some people would say, the government itself does not – cannot – expand the economy and create long-term jobs – the private sector does.
What the government can do, however, is help provide the right conditions for private sector investments to flourish. EDA does this in a myriad of ways, but primarily through infrastructure investments. I only wish more of the so-called “stimulus” bill had been dedicated to programs like EDA that are truly successful at spurring economic development.
EDA has worked long and hard with economically distressed communities in my home state of Oklahoma to bring in private capital investment and jobs. In fact, over the past six years, EDA grants awarded in my home state have resulted in approximately 9,000 jobs being created. With an investment of about $29 million, we have leveraged another $30 million in State and local dollars and more than $558 million in private sector dollars. Specifically, since the fall of 2004 when we last reauthorized the agency, EDA investments in Oklahoma include:
--assistance for infrastructure to support a 75,000 square foot facility in Elgin for the Paladin Integrated Management (PIM), which is a program that would accelerate modernization of the M109A6 Paladin artillery howitzer;
--assistance to help build the Woodward Community Campus, a multipurpose higher education and conference center campus;
-- thousands of new jobs in Oklahoma City which paved the way to support the infrastructure necessary for a new Dell service center, and
--funds to create additional space to manufacture and assemble goods in an expanded Foreign Trade Zone in the Durant area.
Mr. Fernandez has been nominated to lead this high-performing agency, and I believe he has the background and experience to make it even stronger. As a former mayor, Mr. Fernandez knows first-hand the economic challenges local communities face, and his economic development accomplishments as Mayor are impressive and instructive.
Yet local elected experience is not all the nominee will bring to EDA. He also brings experience in private sector development. In fact, it is unique for a nominee to combine local and private sector experience, which, I should add, was highlighted in the letter of support we received from two recent Assistant Secretaries – Sandy Baruah and Phillip Singerman. Madam Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to include that letter in the record.
Mr. Fernandez, I hope that once confirmed you will work with us to reauthorize EDA’s primary programs. As I’m sure you know, EDA’s authorization expired on September 30, 2008. I am concerned that the lapse in authorization may leave the agency vulnerable to funding cuts during this appropriations cycle and more generally result in uncertainty for the agency as well as the struggling communities that depend on its assistance.
I introduced a reauthorization bill in July 2008, and this Committee reported a bipartisan bill in September. Unfortunately the bill was never enacted. In February of this year, I again introduced a bill to reauthorize and improve EDA’s programs. I think it is important that we complete reauthorization as quickly as possible, and I ask that, once confirmed, you work closely with us to do so.