The Senate confirmed Bryson as Secretary of Commerce by a 74–26 vote on October 20, 2011. He was sworn in on October 21, 2011. Bryson took a leave of absence in June 2012 for medical tests due to seizures that were related to a hit and run. On June 21, 2012 Bryson resigned because, "the work that [Commerce employees] do to help America’s entrepreneurs and businesses build our economy and create jobs is more important now than ever and I have come to the conclusion that I need to step down to prevent distractions from this critical mission."
Bryson was born in New York City. His father operated a sawmill. He graduated from Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon, in 1961. He received his bachelor's degree from Stanford University in 1965 and his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Yale Law School in 1969.
In 1970, with other recent Yale Law graduates, Bryson helped found and served as legal counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council. From 1976 to 1979, Bryson served as chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board, and from 1979 to 1982, he served as president of the California Public Utilities Commission. In 1983 Bryson worked for the law firm of Morrison and Foerster in the San Francisco office. Bryson joined Edison International in 1984, and served as director from 1990 until his retirement on July 31, 2008.
Bryson was a director of The Boeing Company, W. M. Keck Foundation, and The Walt Disney Company, and a former Director/Trustee for three Western Asset Management funds at Legg Mason. He serves or has served on a number of educational, environmental and other nonprofit boards, including chairman of the California Business Roundtable, a trustee of Stanford University, a trustee of California Institute of Technology, co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy, and chairman of the Public Policy Institute of California.
On May 31, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Bryson to succeed Gary Locke as the United States Secretary of Commerce. Citing Bryson's environmental views, United States Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, put a hold on his nomination in July. The Senate later reached a unanimous consent agreement to vote on Bryson's nomination, and the Senate confirmed Bryson by a 74–26 vote on October 20, 2011. He was sworn in on October 21, 2011, becoming the 37th Secretary of the Department of Commerce.
As Secretary of Commerce, Bryson co-chaired the White House Office of Manufacturing Policy with Gene Sperling.
On June 9, 2012, Bryson was involved in a pair of car crashes in San Gabriel, California and Rosemead, California, which were investigated as possible felony hit and run. He is said to have been found unconscious at the site of the second crash. A Department of Commerce spokesperson confirmed he was involved in a crash, and said Bryson had suffered from a seizure. Los Angeles County prosecutors announced on July 3, 2012, that no criminal charges would be pursued.
On June 11, Bryson announced in a memo that he was taking a medical leave of absence. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank began serving as Acting Secretary of Commerce.
On June 21, 2012, Bryson announced his resignation from the post of Secretary of Commerce.
Bryson joined the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a Distinguished Senior Public Policy Scholar in October 2012.
Bryson is married to Louise. Their four daughters graduated from the Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California. Bryson and his wife both served on the school's Board of Trustees. Bryson and his wife reside in San Marino, California.