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Public Statements

Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (Senate - October 23, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I do want to make sure we have called up amendment No. 3387. I appreciate the chairman agreeing to this slight change in the purpose statement, not the legislative language.

This amendment is part of an effort to clear up what a lot of us have called the culture of corruption over the last several years. A lot of this has come from Americans connecting the dots between the earmarks that we give to our favorite causes back home and many of the campaign contributions and political support that we get back here in Congress. While motivations are generally good, at best the appearance of what is going on here has alarmed the American people.

My earmark amendment today addresses two specific earmarks in the appropriations bill that is in front of us. One of the earmarks provides $1.5 million for the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute and $2.2 million for the AFL-CIO Appalachian Council. These funds come in the form of what are referred to as noncompetitive grants, according to the text of the bill and the committee report--which means no one else can compete to deliver the services that are intended by the bill, that these are a specific earmark to divisions of the AFL-CIO.

These earmarks are problematic because they fund two organizations that are not competitive. They provide funds that could be better spent to achieve the mission of the Department of Labor set out by Congress in the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Rather than continuing to give these groups handouts without any competition, we should force them to compete with other organizations so Americans get the most value for their tax dollars. That is exactly what my amendment will do. It replaces these two earmarks that total $3.7 million with competitive grants.

Let me be clear. I am not taking the money out of the bill. The money is still there for the purposes for which it is intended, but it allows organizations to compete to deliver these services so that the taxpayers get the most for their money.

Let me say a few things about the performance of the AFL-CIO organization so my colleagues understand why there is such concern. The AFL-CIO Working for America Institute originally received grants under the Workforce Investment Act. The grants were given to national organizations for the purpose of providing technical assistance in setting up systems of local and State workforce investment boards for the purpose of helping unemployed workers get the training and the jobs they need.

After 3 years, these capacity-building services were no longer needed, and the grants were terminated. However, the Working for America Institute failed to complete its mission in 3 years, so the Department gave it a fourth year of funding. After the fourth year, the Department terminated its contract with the Working for America Institute and explained:

It is difficult to make the case that the AFL-CIO should receive yet a fifth year of funding for organizational purposes when the other national organizations were able to achieve their goals in 3 years. Additionally, given that there are so many workers seeking training or retraining opportunities, we believe the Department of Labor's emphasis is rightly placed on promoting employment and reemployment projects having measurable outcomes.

The Department believes the technical assistance given by the institute is duplicative and less effective than a similar program already funded in their Employment and Training Administration. It said:

We should focus limited financial resources on programs that deliver actual training services to workers, rather than pour additional funds into organizational infrastructure. After 4 years, the AFL-CIO should have developed sufficient ability to participate effectively in the Workforce Investment Act system.

Despite these failures, Congress overrode the Department and earmarked funds for $1.5 million in fiscal year 2005 in the appropriations bill in that year, and it continued the project through June of this year. Now this appropriations bill is trying to do the same thing again. This is a clear example of Congress interfering with agency decisions because of parochial or political interests. Congress should not fund a program that is duplicative and not a critical priority for an agency. It should have to compete for funds like every other organization.

Let me address the second earmark in this bill. The AFL-CIO Appalachian Council had a longstanding sole-source contract with the Department of Labor that spanned several decades. The purpose of the contract was to provide career technical training and career transition services at job placement centers in Pittsburgh, PA, Charleston, WV, and Batesville, MS. It is important to note that the council does not manage or run these three centers. It simply provides the training, placement, and transition services.

The Department of Labor reviewed the council's performance in 2004 in light of the new requirements of the Workforce Investment Act. The review resulted in the Department terminating the council's sole-source contract because it was no longer the only and unique provider of career transition services and because it experienced a steady decline in program performance over a 5-year period.

Despite these failures, Congress stepped in and earmarked $2.2 million for the council in fiscal year 2005, forcing the Department to continue the contract. Following this, the Department canceled the contract again, but Congress reversed the agency's decision a second time with another $2.2 million earmark in 2006.

After the second year came to a close, the Department reviewed the performance outcomes of the council. In 2006, the council placed 265 graduates in apprenticeship programs and 71 graduates in jobs matching their vocational training. With the earmark funded at $2.2 million, the cost of each of these graduates was $6,547. Each of the council's 21 staff members placed less than 2 students per month in a registered apprenticeship program. Despite being given a second chance by Congress, the Department terminated the contract again this year.

Unfortunately, the appropriations bill we are considering gives another earmark to the council to continue the services and designates it a noncompeting earmark, which means no one else can compete to do the service right. Here we have two examples of earmarks that circumvent the normal competitive process and abuse the American taxpayer.

The AFL-CIO has plenty of funds to continue these

programs. In 2006, the AFL-CIO reported $96 million in assets and $157.2 million in receipts. Their top five executive officers made from $179,000 to $291,000 a year, with 204 employees making more than $75,000 a year. Of their disbursements, about $30 million, or nearly 40 percent of their total receipts, went for political activities and lobbying.

The AFL-CIO should either fund the program itself or help the institute develop a competitive grant proposal, but these organizations should not get a handout. My amendment, as I said before, does not eliminate the funds, but it does require the AFL-CIO to compete based on real criteria and accountability to deliver the services for the American taxpayer.

I urge my colleagues to support my amendment to turn these noncompetitive grants into competitive grants so we accomplish the purpose in an accountable way. I ask my colleagues to vote for my amendment later on this morning. I appreciate their support.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I agree with all the purposes the Senator stated, all of the ideas of getting teenagers to work in Philadelphia. All of those things are good. I am not taking argument with any of them. If the AFL-CIO is the best source to deliver these services, there should not be any problem with this at all. All we are asking is to make this a competitive grant so that we can have criteria and accountability in a system so that what we want to accomplish will actually get accomplished. I yield back the remainder of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I want to make clear to my colleagues that my amendment does not remove any money from this bill for its intended purpose. In fact, the amendment addresses the Workforce Investment Act, money that goes to training and job placement in several places in the country. My amendment only changes the language from a sole-source noncompetitive grant, which we would refer to as a direct earmark, to a competitive grant.

We have all seen that the competitive grant system is a better way to deliver Federal money to specific causes that we support as a Senate because there are criteria, there are standards, and there is accountability. So we are not excluding the AFL-CIO as a provider of the services that we intend, but it opens it for competitive bids. And it is important to realize that the Department of Labor, after judging the performance of the AFL-CIO, has found the performance lacking and has discontinued the contracts.

So please open this for competitive bidding. Please vote no on the motion to table.

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