Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I want to thank both Senator Bond and Senator Mikulski for their hard work on this important legislation which provides federal funding for the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies. Unfortunately, I must again speak about the unacceptably high funding levels of parochial projects in this appropriations bill. Overall, this legislation contains approximately $1.2 billion in unrequested spending and locality-specific earmarks.
The Committee provides $29.3 billion in discretionary funding for the VA. That amount is $1.3 billion more than the President's budget request and $2.8 billion above the amount in fiscal year 2003. Some progress has been made to reduce the overall amount of earmarks for the VA in this spending bill.
Among other Senators who have stood on the Senate floor to fight for additional funding for veterans' healthcare, I am concerned that the Committee has directed critical dollars from veterans' healthcare to fund spending projects that have not been properly reviewed. Certain provisions funded under the VA in this legislation illustrate that Congress still does not have its priorities in order.
One especially troubling expense, neither budgeted for nor requested by the Administration over the past twelve years, is a provision that directs the VA to continue the twelve year old demonstration project involving the Clarksburg, WV, Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) and the Ruby Memorial Hospital at West Virginia University. Several years ago, the VA-HUD appropriations bill contained a plus-up of $2 million for the Clarksburg VAMC that ended up on the Administration's line-item veto list and since then the millions keep flowing.
Three years ago, the Committee 'recommended' $1 million for the design of a nursing home care unit at the Beckley, WV, VAMC. Two years ago they strengthened their report language urging 'the VA to accelerate the design of the nursing home care unit at the Beckley, WV VAMC." Last year, they have urged the VA "to include sufficient funding" for a new nursing home care unit at the Beckley, WV VAMC. This year, they urge the VA to include sufficient funding in the 2005 budget request.
For St. Louis, MO, the Committee 'encouraged' the VA to pursue an innovative approach at a cost of $7 million for leasing parking spaces at the John Cochran Division of the VA Medical Center in St. Louis as a means to address a parking shortfall at the VA hospital.
Additionally, the Committee "supports continuation" at the current spending level of the Rural Veterans Health Care Initiative at the White River Junction, VT VAMC. The current level is an astounding $7 million.
While I am encouraged by the increase specifically in veterans health care funding over last year's enacted levels, we must do much more. We made a promise to our veterans that we would take care of their mental and physical health needs incurred for their many sacrifices for our nation. The VA currently has an incredible backlog of claims. Currently, four out of every ten claims for veterans' disability benefits are decided incorrectly further contributing to the backlog. The millions in dollars wasted in pork barrel spending would go a long way to decreasing the backlog in veterans claims by funding additional claims adjudicators and training.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the provisions in this legislation related to AmeriCorps. Whether it is tutoring inner-city youth or fighting forest fires in the West, the lives of countless people are touched by AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps' efforts to reach out to those affected by natural disasters are paying serious dividends. Over 246,000 victims of fires, floods and hurricanes have been aided by AmeriCorps volunteers working in conjunction with groups such as the American Red Cross.
Despite AmeriCorps' countless success stories, the appropriators have funded AmeriCorps $93.2 million below the President's request, while imposing incredibly restrictive report language that could very well fundamentally change the face of a very successful program.
I was heartened when I saw that the President requested funding to expand AmeriCorps to 75,000 volunteers in Fiscal Year 2004. This was an important first step on the road to large scale expansion of AmeriCorps. Despite the President's request, the appropriators took it upon themselves to ensure that we do not provide adequate funding to reach this ambitious level set forth by the President. The Appropriations Committee's counterparts in the House of Representatives funded AmeriCorps with $23.4 million more than the Senate, yet only believe that they can fund 55,000 volunteers.
Everybody is well aware of money management problems that the Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps have faced over the last few years. I am confident that the change in leadership at the corporation should help minimize the potential for these same problems to repeat themselves. However, if we do not provide the amount of money the corporation says it will need to fully fund 75,000 volunteers, we are inviting a disastrous repeat of history. If we do not want to repeat this summer's battle for supplemental funds for AmeriCorps, we must fully fund AmeriCorps to the level that the Corporation feels is adequate, not the appropriators.
The last authorization for the AmeriCorps program lapsed in 1996. It is time to reauthorize the program. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has oversight responsibility for this program. It is time that we hold hearings to reauthorize this program and markup the Call to Service Act, which I authored with Senator Bayh and Senator Kennedy. If there is a need to impose restrictions on how AmeriCorps chooses its volunteers or how awards are given out, the HELP committee is where that debate needs to take place, not by the appropriators, without so much as a hearing. We have no idea what effect the restrictions in this legislation will have on AmeriCorps. We have not bothered to run them by the Corporation. Mr. President, we are failing in our oversight responsibilities.
The overwhelming support for AmeriCorps among the grassroots groups is clear. Recently, an event called Voices for AmeriCorps was staged. This 100-hour event featured 130 AmeriCorps Alumni and 51 Members of Congress. In all over 700 people, representing 47 states expressed their support for AmeriCorps. During the summer, letters were sent to the President urging him to support an emergency appropriation request for AmeriCorps. These letters were sent by a bipartisan group of 79 Senators, 228 members of the House of Representatives, 44 Governors and 148 Mayors. The list of supporters is not restricted to elected officials. 250 private sector leaders took out a full page ad in The New York Times expressing support. 1100 community organizations have shown their support. The support for AmeriCorps is clear. It is time that we acknowledge their efforts and not only fully fund the President's request but expand AmeriCorps to new levels.
This legislation also contains the funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The programs administered by HUD help our nation's families purchase their homes, helps many low-income families obtain affordable housing, combats discrimination in the housing market, assists in rehabilitating neighborhoods and helps our nation's most vulnerable-the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged-have access to safe and affordable housing
Unfortunately, this bill shifts money away from many critical housing and community programs by bypassing the appropriate competitive process and inserting earmarks and set-asides for special projects that received the attention of the Appropriations Committee. This is unfair to the many communities and families who do not have the good fortune of residing in a region of the country represented by a member of the Appropriations Committee.
In the report accompanying this bill, the Appropriators have taken two accounts, originally created as competitive grant programs to be administered by HUD, and earmarked close to 100% of those accounts. This bill funds the Economic Development Initiative at $140 million. However, the report lists 331 earmarks for that program, totaling over $136 million. Similarly, the committee funds the Neighborhood Initiatives program at $21 million, with report language listing 20 earmarks, totaling over $20 million. I am deeply concerned that once competitive programs have become nothing more than slush funds to fulfill influential members' parochial interests.
Some of the earmarks for special projects in this legislation include:
$1,000,000 for the Tongass Coast Aquarium in Ketchikan, AK for improvements;
$400,000 for Love, Inc. in Fairbanks, AK for a social service facility;
$250,000 for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage for improvements;
$1,000,000 for Fort Westernaire in Golden, CO for the expansion of the Westernaire museum;
$500,000 for Miami Dade County, FL for the construction of the Miami Dade County Performing Arts Center;
$500,000 for the Hawaii Nature Center in Wailuku, HI for the Maui Renovation Project;
$500,000 for the Field Museum in Chicago, IL;
$100,000 for the Iowa State Fair Board in DesMoines, IA for a statewide awareness and education/exhibit.
$280,000 for the City of Waterloo, IA for the John Deere brownfield and bio-based incubator project;
$500,000 for the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD for building renovations;
$187,500 for Heartland Corn Products in Winthrop, MN for construction of a new facility;
$100,000 for the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hateras, NC to complete construction;
$450,000 for the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center, Inc. in Ashland County, OH for construction of facilities;
$200,000 for Holt Hotel in Wichita Falls, TX for continued renovations to the Holt Hotel;
$250,000 for the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, WA for costs associated with its construction;
$500,000 for Appalachian Bible College in Beckley, WV to complete its library resource center; and
$1,000,000 for the Huntington Area Development Council in Huntington, WV for the construction of a business incubator.
This bill also funds the Environmental Protection Agency which provides resources to help state, local and tribal communities enhance capacity and infrastructure to better address their environmental needs.
Mr. President, the most egregious provision under the EPA section is the language that would significantly change states' authority under the Clean Air Act in order to protect an engine manufacturer in Missouri. This policy change has been advanced to serve the concerns of Briggs and Stratton, although its September 2003 filing to the SEC indicated that there would not be "a material effect on its financial condition or results of operations" and it has not been able to substantiate job loss claims. However, what has been substantiated by the many public health, state environmental departments, and environmental groups opposed to this are the detrimental effects it would have on air quality including ozone levels in many states, including my own. On behalf of the health of the citizens of our respective states, every Senator in this chamber should oppose this blatant and unacceptable change in national air pollution control policy which restricts every state's ability to make decisions that best serve the economic and environmental interests of the state.
I support directing more resources to communities that are most in need and facing serious public health and safety threats from environmental problems. Unfortunately, after a review of this year's bill for EPA programs, I do not believe that we are responding to the most urgent environmental needs. Our nation's key environmental laws are an empty promise of protection without adequate enforcement. I am gratified that Senator Lautenberg's amendment was accepted to bring essential enforcement activities at EPA to levels comparable to last year's appropriation. Enforcement actions have been declining significantly in conjunction with the Administration's enforcement budget cuts. We cannot allow this trend to continue and uphold our responsibility to protect human health and our vital natural resources under existing laws.
The funding priorities in this bill seem to be slanted toward satisfying parochial and institutional interests rather than providing for robust implementation of national environmental laws. Many of the earmarks provided for the EPA are targeted for consortiums, universities, or foundations. There are many environmental needs in communities back in my home state of Arizona, but these communities will be denied funding as long as we continue to tolerate earmarking that circumvents a regular merit-review process.
For example, some of the earmarks include:
An increase of $500,000 for the painting and coating assistance initiative through the University of Northern Iowa;
An increase of $500,000 for the Kenai River Center in Kenai, AK;
An increase of $1,000,000 for the University of South Alabama for the Center for Estuarine Research;
An increase of $250,000 for the Midwest Technology Assistance Center at the University of Illinois;
An increase of $400,00 for the County of Hawaii and the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board for community-based waste recycling and reuse system;
An increase of $425,000 for Southeastern Louisiana University for the Turtle Cove research station;
$1 million for the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, FL for continued construction of the Tri-County Biosolids Pelletization Facility;
$600,000 for the City of Jackson, TN for the Sandy Creek Sanitary Sewer Overflow Project;
$1 million for Washoe County, NV for the North Lemmon Valley Artificial Recharge Project;
$400,000 for Wright City, MO for the construction of an elevated water storage tank; and
$300,000 to the City of Lancaster to construct an advanced ultrafiltration membrane water treatment system in Lancaster County, PA.
While these projects may be important, why do they rank higher than other environmental priorities? It is also important to note that none of the earmarks for the EPA were even requested by the President's budget.
For independent agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, this bill also includes earmarks of money for locality-specific projects such as:
An increase of $2.5 million to Marshall University in Bridgeport, WV for the Hubble Telescope Project;
An increase of $2.5 million to the University of Mississippi for the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions;
An increase of $3 million for the University of Alaska for weather and ocean research;
An increase of $1 million to the Delaware Aerospace Education and Foundation in Kent County, DE;
An increase of $1.5 million for the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, TN for the Sudekum Planetarium;
An increase of $2 million to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX for equipment at the Experimental Sciences Building; and
An increase of $1 million to Utah State University in Logan, UT for the Intermountain Region Digital Image Archive and Processing Center.
I want to alert my colleagues to what I consider to be a very serious funding issue concerning the future of our space program.
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has authorizing jurisdiction over NASA, I am greatly concerned that we apparently have not learned from last February's tragic Columbia Space Shuttle accident. What I find to be particularly remarkable is that while the Appropriators were not able to fully fund NASA, somehow the accompanying report still earmarks $81.6 million worth of pork and unrequested items in NASA's Science, Aeronautics and Exploration Account. Clearly, now more than ever, we should be doing everything in our power to ensure we aren't short-changing NASA safety needs.
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), which was assigned to determine the cause of that accident and to prevent future accidents, describes NASA as, "An Agency Trying To Do Too Much With Too Little." The CAIB report, released in August, describes NASA's budget situation as follows:
Between 1993 and 2002, the government's discretionary spending grew in purchasing power by more than 25 percent, defense spending by 15 percent, and non-defense spending by 40 percent. NASA's budget, in comparison, showed little change, going from $14.31 billion in Fiscal Year 1993 to a low of $13.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2000, and increasing to $14.87 billion in Fiscal Year 2002. This represented a loss of 13 percent in purchasing power over the decade.
The report also raised very serious concerns regarding how earmarking has restricted NASA's ability to fund its priorities:
Pressure on NASA's budget has come not only from the White House, but also from the Congress. In recent years there has been an increasing tendency for the Congress to add "earmarks"-congressional additions to the NASA budget request that reflect targeted Members' interests. These earmarks come out of already-appropriated funds, reducing the amounts available for the original tasks.
Have we learned nothing from the Shuttle accident and the CAIB report findings? I am afraid not, since this bill does not provide the level of funding for NASA and its programs requested by the President, yet continues the disturbing trend of earmarking NASA's budget in ways that have nothing to do with fulfilling its mission and purpose. We must do better. As Admiral Gehman testified during one of the Senate Commerce Committee's hearings this year, when I asked him about the effects of the $167 million that was earmarked in last year's appropriations bill (FY 2003), he said "$100 million will buy a lot of safety engineers." Unfortunately, last year's earmarks did not allow for NASA to buy those needed safety engineers.
I am not alone in my concern over the earmarks envisioned in this bill. The Administration's Statement of Administrative Policy goes so far as to call out an earmark for an entity in Hampton, VA, to prepare a research budget as "one particularly troublesome earmark," stating that "[b]udget development is clearly the purview of the executive branch and the Congress and the proposed effort is redundant and unnecessary."
I think that it is important to know how we are spending the taxpayers' hard earned money, and have included a list of these earmarks at the end of my statement.
I would like to take a few moments to discuss the International Space Station (ISS). The bill provides $200 million less than the President's request at a time when a number of serious safety concerns have been raised about the Space Station.
For example, William F. Readdy, the NASA Associate Administrator at the Office of Space Flight, testified before the Commerce Committee that the Space Station onboard environmental monitoring system which, "provides very high accuracy information on atmospheric composition and presence of trace elements . . . is not operating at full capacity." He also testified that the crew health countermeasures, which include an onboard treadmill and associated resistive exercise devices, were "operating at various degrees of reduced capacity and needed to be repaired, upgraded or replaced."
Recent articles in the Washington Post paint an even more disturbing picture. An October 23, 2003, article describes:
The problems with monitoring environmental conditions aboard the space station have festered for more than a year, some NASA medical officials said. Space station astronauts have shown such symptoms as headaches, dizziness and "an inability to think clearly," according to a medical officer who asked not to be named. The onboard sensors designed to provide real-time analysis of the air, water and radiation levels have been broken for months, which has made it impossible to determine at any given time whether there is a buildup of trace amounts of dangerous chemical compounds that could sicken astronauts, or worse.
A November 9, 2003, Washington Post article reports that:
A recent NASA study found that the risk of fire aboard the station has grown because the crew is stowing large quantities of supplies, equipment and waste in front of or near 14 portals that would be crucial for detecting and extinguishing a fire in any of the station's various compartments. There is also concern that a portion of the station's water stores supplied by the Russians may have high levels of carbon tetrachloride, a toxic contaminant.
This article further stated that:
As far back as March, internal studies warned of a host of dangers for six separate systems, including the thermal controls that cool the station's computers and interiors, that would likely grow out of trying to run the station with limited supplies and a caretaker crew of two instead of the normal complement of three.
Before the recent launch of Expedition 8, the Chief of NASA's Habitability and Environmental Factors Office and NASA's Chief of Space Medicine signed a dissent to the "flight readiness certificate." The dissent declared that "the continued degradation in the environmental monitoring system, exercise countermeasures system, and the health maintenance system, coupled with a planned increment duration of greater than 6 months and extremely limited resupply, all combine to increase the risk to the crew to the point where initiation of [the mission] is not recommended.
These are very serious issues that cannot be ignored, yet here we are, about to approve more than $81 million for unrequested earmarks while underfunding more pressing needs. How will these cuts to the President's budget request affect the safety of the space station? Are we really willing to take any risks?
Furthermore, how do we explain to the public that we could not find the money to fully fund the International Space Station, but were able to earmark $81.6 million worth of pork barrel funding in NASA's Science, Aeronautics and Exploration Account? Again, this is the very type of earmarking that the CAIB report identified as serious cause for concern.
That this practice continues in the face of legitimate safety concerns is simply unacceptable given the tragedies experienced just this year. When one considers the importance of ensuring the safety of the astronauts aboard the Space Station, don't you have to question the funding priority for projects such as the ultra-long balloon program at New Mexico State University, and the Classroom of the Future at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia? These and other projects are the types of earmarks discussed by the CAIB.
The Statement of Administration Policy opposes this $200 million reduction, stating that: "After diligently rebuilding reserves to place the Station on sound financial ground, this reduction would deplete reserves deemed critical by independent cost estimates and limit the program's ability to address risks in FY 2004, including impacts from the Columbia accident." In addition, I have been informed that this reduction would place at risk actions that NASA is taking to address the Independent Management and Cost Evaluation (IMCE) Task Force recommendations to ensure a "credible" ISS Program.
This bill would also reduce funding for other NASA programs. For example, it would reduce funding for the Global Climate Change Research Initiative by $11 million, a decrease of 47 percent. This reduction would significantly impact the development of the Advanced Polarimeter Sensor, which is designed to measure methane, tropospheric ozone, aerosols and black carbon in the atmosphere. The proposed reduction would delay the purchase of "long-lead" item purchases, which could potentially delay the launch date of the satellite from 2007 to 2008.
The bill also would reduce funding for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) by $20 million. This reduction would disrupt and delay the formulation of the JIMO and its associated space nuclear power and propulsion technologies. It also would also reduce funding for the preparation of solicitations for the science community and science investigations. In addition, it would reduce funding for spacecraft studies by three competing industry teams, which would result in delayed, less efficient, and disrupted spacecraft conceptual design work. Most importantly, funding for the Department of Energy reactor studies and technology recapture activities would be reduced. The reactor is the "long-lead" component of JIMO, and any delay to the reactor could eventually delay the launch of the vehicle.
Finally, the bill would reduce funding for NASA's Earth Science Applications by $15 million a 20 percent decrease. This decrease would suspend or terminate projects in over 12 states that support the integration of Earth observations into decision support systems. The reduction would also suspend NASA's interagency commitments to establish best-practice solutions for the integration of Earth science research results into products and services for food and fiber production, coastal management, energy management, aviation safety, disaster management, and air quality forecasting.
It is important to note for all of these projects that further delays usually equate to greater cost.
I think it is important to comment on the fact that the administration has not provided any cost estimates for the space shuttle's return to flight, even though NASA has issued two versions of its Return To Flight plan. It is difficult to expect an appropriations bill to provide sufficient resources without the relevant information from NASA regarding the cost of these Shuttle operations, and I continue to request the administration provide this critical information to the Congress.
The CAIB has listed 15 recommendations that must be implemented before the Space Shuttle can return to flight. These recommendations vary in technical complexity, and include modifying the Memorandum of Agreement with the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to ensure that images are taken of each Shuttle while on orbit, and developing a comprehensive inspection plan using non-destructive inspection technology to determine the structural integrity of all Reinforced Carbon-Carbon system components. The CAIB also recommends that NASA prepare a detailed plan for establishing an independent Technical Engineering Authority, independent safety program, and reorganized Space Shuttle Integration Office. Some of these recommendations will potentially be expensive to implement, and the Congress needs to have an estimate of their cost soon. We cannot wait until the FY 2005 budget submission to find out how much Return To Flight activities will cost if the Shuttle is expected to fly again next fall.
I am also concerned about the Orbital Space Plane program, the development of which is estimated to cost the taxpayers upwards of $15 billion. This amount is already close to the original estimated development costs of $17.4 billion for the International Space Station. It is amazing that the escape vehicle for the station is about to cost as much as the Station was originally expected to cost.
We must ensure due diligence is taken to protect this public investment. NASA has limited the competition to two companies, yet it has not provided a sufficient explanation to the authorizing committees of jurisdiction as to the merits of such a decision. I am not convinced this will generate either the cost savings or the innovation necessary to make this a successful program.
Perhaps the more fundamental question is whether the OSP is the right approach in the first place. As the rush begins to develop this vehicle, many Members in both Houses are not sure how or if this project fits within the overall plans for the future of NASA. I share these concerns.
We do not want to make the same mistakes that we made on the ISS. Those mistakes cost the American taxpayers dearly as the development costs of the ISS sky-rocketed by more than 50 percent. Even today, we still do not know the final costs of the Station, because of the delay caused by the grounding of the Space Shuttle.
I believe it wise to wait for the results of the on-going inter-agency review of the nation's space program being undertaken by the administration before we dole out $15 billion that may be inconsistent with the future goals of the space program.
We need to make the safety of the astronauts on the space station a top priority. We cannot risk placing the earmarks for parochial interests above the critical need to fund legitimate safety concerns.