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Public Statements

Improving Government Accountability Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


IMPROVING GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY ACT -- (House of Representatives - October 03, 2007)

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Mr. COOPER. I would first like to thank the subcommittee chairman, my friend, Mr. Towns, for doing an outstanding job on this and other legislation. I want to thank the ranking member, Mr. Davis, who has been particularly accommodating in working on this bill to do a better job for the Federal taxpayer. That's what this is all about, making government work better. If there has ever been a good government measure, this is it.

I also want to thank the full committee chairman, Mr. Waxman, who was so helpful in so many ways, and the outstanding staff of this committee, the Government Reform Committee. There is none better on the Hill, perhaps in the history of the Hill, so we are very proud of their work.

Finally, let me thank my personal staff, my legislative director, Cicely Simpson. She has been a tireless champion of this bill, and even her predecessor, Anne Kim.

Sadly, this good government measure has taken years to come to the floor and to be passed by the House of Representatives, but now we're making progress, and the Federal taxpayer will benefit as a result.

Now, why do I say this is such a good government measure? There are some 58 IGs scattered throughout the Federal Government. They are the fiscal watchdogs for the taxpayer. They are the first line of defense against fraud, waste and mismanagement in Federal Government. These IGs and their staff save many, many times more money than their salary cost or their benefit cost. These are the folks who see the fraud first and catch it before it gets too big.

Let me give you an example. In today's Washington Post, there is a new GAO study that comes out and it says, Federal officials too often flying first and business class, GAO finds, their leg room and your tax dollars.

The GAO has found that $146 million was spent just in the last year for improper Federal first class and business travel. They could go through agency after agency naming executives who have abused the Federal credit card. This is an outrage. Now, by Federal standards, this is a relatively small outrage, but this is the sort of stuff that needs to be caught and caught early.

This is also why we need Inspector General independence, because they're not going to be popular when they point out to their agency head or other senior officials in Federal Government that they shouldn't have been flying first class. That endangers the IG's position because that is not a popular thing to do.

One of the folks here was caught flying his entire family of eight from Washington, D.C. to Eastern Europe first class. That's wrong. And I'm sure the Federal executive wanted to take his whole family first class, but these are Federal tax dollars at stake.

So this is a very important bill. It is very important to update the original IG legislation. It has been on the books since 1978. Problems have occurred since then, and now we will fix those problems.

Now, it has been noted here today by the ranking member, and I appreciate his courage in opposing the administration veto on this, the veto threat. A SAP has been issued, a Statement of Administration Policy, and in my opinion, at least, the grounds for this threatened veto are remarkably flimsy. So I hope that the Members listening back in their offices and their staff, particularly across the aisle, will pay close attention to the reasons that the administration says it objects to this reform legislation and to figure out whether those reasons are really valid.

There are two fundamental grounds. First of all, they object to ``for cause'' dismissal. I think perhaps the Bush administration feels this is somehow aimed at them. It's not. Everyone knows that by the time this legislation is fully administered, the next administration will be in place. This legislation is really designed to help all administrations, whatever their political stripe. So it's very important to realize that the ``for cause'' language that the administration objects to has already been removed at the urging of the ranking member, due to his excellent amendment in committee, for half of the IG agencies. It only remains for the Cabinet-level agencies. Why? Because those folks should have a 7-year term and have full political independence so that they can make the tough calls, even if it means denying a Cabinet Secretary first-class airfare to Europe. They need independence.

The second grounds that the administration has posed for objecting to this legislation is they shouldn't have separate budget submissions. Now, I was down eating lunch with one of my colleagues a few minutes ago, and he had the mistaken notion that somehow this would be an entire separate budget for the entire agency. That's not true. This is just the IG's own budget for the IG and his or her staff. So that's a very modest request, that the IG cannot be pressured by the agency head. So that, to me, also is a pretty flimsy ground for objecting to this legislation.

So, I would urge all Members to take a close look. This is good government legislation. This will save the taxpayer billions of dollars, according to the committee report. Just last year, IG recommendations saved $9.9 billion in audit recommendations and $6.8 billion in investigative recoveries. That's $15 billion-plus for the Federal taxpayer. We need to be saving much more money like this, and IGs and this bill can do it.

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Mr. COOPER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to congratulate my friend, the gentleman from North Carolina, because he has been an excellent Member of this body for some time and has worked on the Science Committee and has contributed greatly to the work of this body. I am particularly grateful for his work on the IG issue.

I want to make it crystal clear to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that the gentleman's amendment essentially makes it easier to fire IGs. I support that. I think the gentleman's reasoning is sound.

I also think it is very important that Members on the other side the aisle realize that this largely should eliminate the President's veto threat, because the primary grounds in this Statement of Administration Policy for opposing this bill is that IGs may be too hard to fire. Well, the gentleman's helpful amendment adds additional grounds that makes it easier to get rid of errant IGs if they knowingly violate the law, rule or regulation, if they are guilty of gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds or abuse of authority. So that should obviate the administration's objections to this bill.

Mr. Chairman, I hope by accepting the gentleman from North Carolina's amendment we cannot only promote the cause of good government, we can also get the folks at OMB and in the administration to relax and realize what a good bill this is. So I would urge a huge and bipartisan majority vote for this legislation thanks to the gentleman's amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. COOPER. Mr. Speaker, I speak as a Blue Dog Democrat, and I'm proud to see progressives and Blue Dogs, Democrats and Republicans coming together on this important good government cause. We've been working on it for 4 years now, and now it's about to pass. We're about to send it to the Senate, hopefully, with a huge vote, because Members on both sides of the aisle can agree that we need to cut out waste, fraud and abuse in government, and there's no better group to do it than our Inspectors General. That's what this bill does, empower Inspectors General. So I want to thank the chairman, Mr. Waxman, for his outstanding work with our ranking member. We've done a great job of moving this and other important legislation before Congress.

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