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Improving America's Security Act--Continued

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


IMPROVING AMERICA'S SECURITY ACT--Continued -- (Senate - March 07, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, there is no question that unions have these rights for TSO agents. This is a commonsense approach. What is not common sense is to put in jeopardy every traveling American for the sake of paying back a raw political debt. That is what this debate is about. Do we jeopardize safety, do we jeopardize the flexibility, do we jeopardize the fine work that has come from an incentivized system that has very low turnover now compared to the rest of the industry, that has a bonus system for great performance, a performance-based system, to give them what they need and not jeopardize the traveling American public? The McCaskill amendment actually hurts our flexibility and our security.

As a matter of fact, we had a hearing after this bill was on the floor, wherein Mr. Hawley and Mr. Gage came before us and talked about union representation of the TSO officers. Very revealing statements were said, especially by Mr. Gage. When we raised concerns about flexibility during emergencies and complicated issues that required absolute flexibility to move people around at all times, it was the testimony of Mr. Hawley who said they have to plan, that they are in an emergency all the time, which means they have to have the flexibility all the time. Mr. Gage's response to that was: These are sometimes bogus emergency situations.

Well, the reason we have had such an effective airline screening program is because we call everything an emergency and plan for it as an emergency, so we never have an emergency.

This amendment will gut the flexibility of the TSA in doing the very thing we have asked them to do; that is, protect us and have an institution that is viable, responsive, and nimble to protect us, without having to have a shop steward ask them what we can do and when we can do it.

Now, the McCaskill amendment says we will let you do that in an emergency, but the fact is, we are in an emergency mode all the time. So whatever contract we might have signed is not going to have any bearing anyway. So the contrast for the American public on this vote--and we know this is going to be a party-line vote. Even those Members who want to vote the other way have been told not to vote the other way. We know this is a party-line vote about paying back, so Mr. Gage and his associates can have 40,000 people a month pay $30 a month to put $12 million to $17 million in the coffers of the employees union. That is what this is about.

This is not about security for this country and flexibility with the TSA. I urge a vote against the McCaskill amendment and a vote for the Collins amendment.

I yield the floor.

BEAK IN TRANSCRIPT

CHANGE OF VOTE

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, on rollcall vote 62, I voted ``yea', it was my intention to vote ``nay'. I ask unanimous consent that I be permitted to change my vote since it will not affect the outcome.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, first of all, let me compliment the chairman and ranking member for their foresight in making sure we have the capability to have interoperability, with the wisdom of taking spectrum and putting it specifically for that.

I want to answer several of the questions that have been raised because they are somewhat peculiar to me.

But before I do that, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that Senator Kyl be added as a cosponsor to this amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I say to the Senator, I would also like to note that one of the members of your committee, who was instrumental in bringing this interoperability grant program to the floor, is also a cosponsor of my amendment, realizing we do not need both programs and that they need to be combined.

Now, what does DHS tell us about the present grant program? Here is what they tell us. And I say to the American public, you ask yourself if you want your Government to run this way. What they say is: We can meet the September 30 deadline, and we may be able to tell you who is going to get grants, but we are not going to be able to tell you, anywhere close, how much money they are going to get. So they can tell them who will get the grants because that is what the law says, but they will never have the capability, for several months thereafter, to know how much money they are going to get. So nobody is going to buy anything until the actual grants are going to be awarded.

Let's clear up the difference between the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security. No. 1, Homeland Security has the authority for interoperable communications. I do not care where this grant program is, quite frankly. I do not care if it is at Homeland Security or at Commerce. I do not care. But what I do know is, out of that $1 billion, the only thing the Department of Commerce is going to keep is $12 million with which to use to announce the grants. That is what they have told us. So $988 million out of that--the rest of that money--is going to go for grants, administered by, controlled by, run by Homeland Security.

So if the problem with my amendment is that the money isn't going to get out there to do it, Homeland Security has already said the money isn't going to get out there to do it. Commerce has already said the money isn't going to get out there to do it. We know who will get money, but the money won't get out there regardless of what they have said, because they just came to an understanding of the agreement 3 weeks ago on administering this money.

I think it is very wise what the chairman and ranking member have done in terms of allocating resources. As a matter of fact, I applaud them for that. I think it is wise to dedicate resources to certain things when we sell spectrum. I would tell my colleagues most Americans would say: You are going to give grant money, but you don't know how much you are going to give and you are not going to give it on the basis of competition in allocation of those resources because you have a date to meet that doesn't fit with fiscal responsibility. It doesn't fit with the best outcome or the ability to follow up to see what happened with the money. So we do have a date in the law by which they have to do it. But how are they going to do it, because the date in there is wrong. They are liable to give the wrong people too much money and the right people not enough, because we are telling them what they have to do.

The second thing--let me put up a chart. These programs are identical, even though you claim they are not. Let me show my colleagues how they are identical. Under the PSIC grant programs, they are State and regional planning; under the DHS program, they are State and regional planning. Under the system design and engineering, PSIC; same thing under DHS. System procurement and installation; same thing under DHS. Technical assistance, the same. Implementing a strategic technology reserve is the only difference, but guess where it is made up. ``Other appropriate uses as determined by the administrator of FEMA.' Do you think they are not going to put in that reserve there? They certainly are. They are going to do it.

So there is no difference in the grant programs whatsoever, other than the deadline, which isn't going to be followed anyway. Like I say, I don't care if this is at Homeland Security or Commerce, I would as soon it be at Commerce in terms of the spectrum.

But the fact is the American people shouldn't have to pay for the administration of two separate programs running parallel with two separate sets of requirements to Congress. We ought to get them together. We ought to figure out how we do it so we have one grant, and if, in fact, we need $4.3 billion. The problem is, we don't know how much money we need. We are throwing money at it.

The second question I would ask is if this program belongs at Commerce, why Commerce agreed to give 99.9 percent of it to FEMA and to the Department of Homeland Security. They don't think it belongs there.

The other point I would make in rebuttal to the Senator from Hawaii is this amendment doesn't decrease funding at all. This takes $3.3 billion and an amount greater than $1 billion and combines it so the same amount of money is there, except it is going to make the money be spent better. It is going to allow us the time to do it.

I agree we need to get money out to our primary responders. This isn't about trying to hold that up. I am not trying to do that. But the Department of Homeland Security has already said the money isn't going to go out by your day. There isn't one application right now at the Department of Homeland Security for this money. We all know how Washington works. They haven't even written the requirements for the grant applications yet, which will take another 90 to 120 days. So we have a laudable goal that is not going to be accomplished, and if it is going to be accomplished, it will be accomplished in a very inefficient and wasteful way, which the American people don't deserve.

I think this is a very good chance for us to talk about what is wrong with us in the Congress. We are working at cross purposes. We have one committee working here and one committee working here, rather than solving those problems for the best interests of our country. I want Hawaii to have everything it needs in terms of tsunami prevention, in terms of interoperability. I know there are special requirements in the State of Alaska because line of sight can't be used and much of our emergency frequencies require some of that. I believe we can take care of those problems and combine these grant programs in a way that the American taxpayer gets value, in a way where we can measure the accountability of what we do, in a way in which we can have transparency for the dollars we get in reauctioning the spectrum, and plus the other $3.4 billion that is going to come out in terms of appropriated funds for these other grant programs. The American people want that. They deserve that.

To me, this isn't about a turf battle of control. To me, this amendment is about common sense for the American public to combine two programs into one so we spend less money, and we don't duplicate things and we don't duplicate efforts.

I understand and appreciate very much the long service of Senator Inouye and Senator Stevens and their commitment to making sure these things are coming through. I am not trying to be a fly in the ointment to mess up what are very good-intended results, but I am a realist. The very things my colleagues have asked to happen in the Budget Act that was passed are not going to happen. Homeland Security has said that. So if those things aren't going to happen, and if the fears of what isn't going to happen can be allayed, can we not figure out a way to put these programs together where the American people get the best value, and also as a part of my amendment which says: Can we look to the private sector to not just give us interoperability in Hawaii among National Guard and first responders, but how about between California and Arizona, or Texas and Oklahoma, or Maryland and New York, if they need Maryland first responders there, which has not been addressed in any of the legislation that has been put forward. There is great technology out there. There are great companies out there that could do that.

Again, without desiring to interfere or upset, I believe the application of some pretty commonsense principles ought to be applied to these two grant programs. I am willing to discuss with the chairman and the ranking member how to do this a different way. I am raising it on the floor because I think the taxpayer is not getting good value, and I think we ought to talk about that.

The National Taxpayer Union endorses this amendment. The Citizens Against Government Waste endorses this amendment. Your very own committee member, who was one of the first people to say we should have auctioned spectrum

for first responders, is a cosponsor of this amendment. So I am willing to defer to what the ranking member and the chairman of this committee want to do, but I think we ought to stick it out here until we can work a way for the American people to get better value, better clarity, better transparency, and better accountability for these funds.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. COBURN. First, let me sincerely apologize to the Senator from Hawaii if he took my words to mean that. I did not mean that. I referred to his words in terms of tsunami. I have no inference whatsoever that this has any parochial interest of either the Senator from Hawaii or the Senator from Alaska. But it is interesting that the debate doesn't ever come back to the fact of whether we have two programs; it is all about the money. The fact is the money will not get out there. Homeland Security has already said that.

Now, the reason the $350 million--not thousand--was chosen is because at the same time this happened, you are going to have another $1 billion come through in--the fiscal year is going to be over this year on September 30 of 2007. The worst problem that happens in our Federal Government today is the indiscriminate, rushed issuing of grants, of throwing money at something, rather than a measured response of grants.

These aren't competitive grants, I would remind the people who are listening to this debate. There is no competition for this money. You don't have to compete by saying you have a greater need than somebody else or you have a greater risk than somebody else. This is money that is going to go out, period. It is not based on competition for the greatest need or the greatest risk.

The last thing we need to be doing is having a grant program that is rushed so we are not making sure the money is well spent. In the last 2 years we have discovered $200 billion of waste, fraud, abuse, or duplication in the discretionary budget of the Federal Government--$200 billion. We would have enough money to pay for the war, pay for expanding the military in this country, and cutting our deficit in half if we would do our job in terms of eliminating duplication, fraud, abuse, and waste.

What this amendment is about is let's don't waste any of this $1 billion these two gentlemen have so wisely put for one great purpose.

So that is my intention today, I assure the Senators from Alaska and Hawaii. We all know how homeland security works. We have seen all too well some of the failings and lack of efficiency and lack of responsiveness in that agency. To now assume the other side of that, that that is going to happen overnight because we have mandated by law--if it does, it will be a very poor choice of the use of this money.

I thank the Senator from Hawaii and the Senator from Alaska for their debate on this issue. My goal was to have a debate about whether we should have two programs and whether we should waste money. It is not about the debate of whether we need to have 911 interoperability and the functionality that needs to be there in all the States. But we should look at the whole as well as the individual. I compliment them on finding a funding stream that doesn't add to our children's debt. Unfortunately, we have not done that in this bill with the other grants, which I think is a mistake.

My hope is we will be able to have a vote on this amendment before we go to cloture--or even after cloture--because it is germane, and we can defend the germaneness of this amendment.

With that, I yield the floor.

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