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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I want to spend a few minutes talking about what is occurring with the GSA conference waste that has been in the news of late. My criticisms are not mainly directed toward GSA.
Over 3 years ago, I started doing oversight on conferences by government agencies. Today I have an amendment, which will not be allowed to be considered, that will hold the agencies accountable in terms of their conferences. Through the years I have put out five reports on wasteful conference spending from the Department of Justice, where it spent $380 million over a 5-year period on conferences, to the Department of Agriculture, and to the Department of HHS in terms of sending thousands of people to one conference at a time. All of it went unheeded.
Now we have the GSA--with Members of the Senate and the House aghast at the waste that has been spent in terms of the GSA conference out West. Had we been doing our job--and there were multiple amendments I have offered over the last 6 years to control conference spending, which have been rejected on party-line votes, to try to bring some semblance of reasonableness and control to conference spending by the various Federal Government agencies.
So we have this problem with the GSA today, but not because of the GSA; it is because of ourselves. We refused to do the hard work of passing requirements that would hold Federal agencies accountable.
My hope is that we would, in one small step, accept an amendment on the postal bill that would allow us to start holding the agencies accountable. It makes for great press and great TV when we stand aghast at what is obviously wasteful spending by an agency, but that accomplishes nothing other than advancing the political careers of my colleagues. We can accomplish something with real legislation that has real teeth and holds the agencies accountable. It is my hope we can have a vote--I don't even think it would take a vote; I think it would be accepted by unanimous consent--that would force the agencies to now come into compliance both in terms of transparency and accountability in how they spend their money.
Every Federal Government agency today has the capability for teleconferencing. We don't have to send 1,000 people, at $2,000 apiece, to a conference to accomplish education and training. We all have it in our offices. The GAO has determined that most Federal employees see conferencing as one of the perks of their job, which is in one of their reports.
I invite the American constituency to look at my Web site, coburn.senate.gov, and go to the studies we put out and oversight reports on wasteful conference spending over the last 3 to 5 years and ask themselves a question: Why didn't Congress act on it? Why didn't they do something about it?
Now we claim we are insulted at the waste. We have had five different opportunities with amendments to do something about it, and we rejected them. We have seen oversight reports that are fully documented which show the waste. Yet we have not done anything.
If Americans are upset with the waste of the GSA conference, they need to be upset with Members of the Senate who have rejected time and again the ability to hold agencies accountable on conference spending. It is my hope that in a bipartisan manner we can address this issue--and not just for GSA but for every government agency so that now we can see transparency and accountability in how the hard-working American taxpayers' dollars are spent, not wasted, and they will know when money is spent on a conference, everybody will see it, and they are going to have to justify not only the expenditure but the reason they are sending people to vacation spots when they should be doing it through teleconferencing and bringing needed updates to Federal employees in a much more efficient and effective way.
With that, I yield the floor.
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