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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. DICKS. Madam Chair, I rise in support of the Fiscal Year 2013 Military Construction and Veterans Administration Appropriation bill. This bill continues the strong tradition of bipartisanship and finding common ground as members traditionally work together to fund construction of military facilities and strive to improve the quality of life and care afforded to our veterans and military families.

I want to associate myself with the remarks made by Chairman Rogers about Tim Peterson. He was and has been one of our outstanding clerks on the committee. I have had the pleasure of working with him throughout his entire career, and we're going to miss him, but wish him well in his future endeavors.

I also would say that this subcommittee has a very strong staff, and it's great to see the way Chairman Culberson and Ranking Member Sanford Bishop have worked together.

And I want to say also that Chairman Rogers is absolutely correct, we have to overcome this inability to get information between our military and veterans hospitals, and the private sector as well. We've got to do everything we can to improve the treatment of our troops.

I have previously stated my objection to the Majority's decision to renege on the bipartisan agreement that was reached less than a year ago in the Budget Control Act. I believe the reduced discretionary allocation in the Ryan budget threatens to stall economic growth and job creation, and in the near term it introduces uncertainty in our appropriations process that imperils our ability to produce these bills in a timely manner. Accordingly, it is my belief that we could save a considerable amount of time in the appropriations process if we simply returned to the agreement reached last August--the $1.047 trillion allocation level for this year--a level which even the Republican Senate leadership concedes is where we will eventually end up.

I am, however, encouraged that this bill fully funds the Department of Veterans Affairs discretionary budget request of $60.7 billion. It meets the overall budget request in all areas of administrative expenses, research, information technology and facilities. The recommendation contains $74.6 billion for the mandatory VA programs providing compensation and pensions, educational benefits, vocational rehabilitation, life insurance and housing loan programs.

I am particularly pleased that the Military Construction account includes $546.9 million for construction and replacement of Department of Defense Education Activity schools. A total of 10 schools will be refurbished with this funding--six in the United States and nine schools at overseas installations. Many of these schools are in exceedingly poor condition and these improvements are long overdue. I have been a strong advocate for the modernization of schools serving the children of our nation's service members and I commend the Chairman and Ranking Member on their commitment to this effort.

In addition, this bill continues to ensure that we are providing high-quality, safe, and healthy living accommodations for our single military members. Many of the older barracks in the military are at the end of their 30 to 50-year design life cycle and do not meet current design standards or current building codes. This bill includes $927 million for 21 barracks, dormitories, and bachelor enlisted quarters that will address substandard living conditions and boost morale among our troops. While this bill makes significant progress in addressing current deficiencies, it does not address all the housing shortfalls for our single service members. The quality of our installations is a measure of the nation's commitment to the troops who defend it, and we must continue to improve the substandard conditions of the military's barracks, dormitories, and bachelor quarters in the future. I encourage the Department of Defense to continue to replace these facilities in a timely manner.

There is one provision in the bill that concerns me. During full committee consideration, an amendment was passed that would restrict the use of Project Labor Agreements on military construction projects. Current policy gives the Defense Department the option to choose whether a PLA is appropriate for a particular project--whether it will save money or accelerate construction schedules at the government's convenience. An amendment will be offered on the floor later today to remove this harmful language and I encourage my colleagues to vote for it.

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Mr. DICKS. The distinguished chairman--who does a great job, and we're trying to work together--if we understand this, a non-union shop can be considered for work under a project labor agreement. You don't have to be a union shop. So a non-union company can do it. All they have to do is to agree to the terms that are part of the project labor agreement; in other words, that they will use the wages and other standards that the project labor agreement has. If they will abide by that, then they can be considered for work. So that doesn't mean that there aren't any.

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Mr. DICKS. Let's get back to some facts here. Under the CRS report that was referenced earlier, the National Labor Relations Act, as we know, gives most private sector workers the right to join or form a labor union and to bargain collectively.

A project labor agreement is a collective bargaining agreement that applies to a specific construction project and lasts only for the duration of that project. In February 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that encourages Federal Agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements on large-scale construction projects.

The EO describes a large-scale project as one where the total cost to the Federal Government is $25 million or more. The order States that Agencies are not required to use project labor agreements. Regulations implementing the executive order went into effect in May 2010.

Now, if that isn't neutrality, what is neutrality? I think this is a big to-do about nothing.

I mean, this amendment is not necessary. The President didn't mandate anybody to do anything. The Agencies decide if it is in the interests of the government to do this in a particular case. This administration has hardly done any project labor agreements as far as my understanding is, at least with the Department of Defense.

Again, I don't quite understand all of this concern, especially when nonunion contractors can be part of the agreement. They can bid, they can be part of the agreement as long as they will abide by the law, but with the prevailing wage agreements or things of that nature.

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Mr. DICKS. The Poe amendment states none of the funds made available by this act may be used for a director of a national cemetery who, after the date that is 180 days, whatever date, however he rephrased it.

According to the VA, compliance with this provision would be extremely disruptive to the NCA operations by requiring 20 percent of VA national cemetery directors to lose their current jobs for no other reason than that they are not a veteran. That is unfair.

The gentleman may have a grievance about one funeral director, but you can't take this out on the rest of these people who are doing a good job. So I would hope that we would defeat this ill-considered amendment.

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Mr. DICKS. Mr. Chairman, let me just clear up a couple of things, especially what the gentleman from Texas just had to say.

This may be something that will be hard for him to believe, but this is, as I understand it, from the Labor Department. A Davis-Bacon wage usually is not a union wage. The Davis-Bacon prevailing wage is based upon surveys of wages and benefits actually paid to various job classifications of construction workers--an example is iron workers--in the community without regard to union membership.

According to the Department of Labor, a whopping 72 percent of the prevailing wage rates issued in 2000 were based upon nonunion wage rates. A union wage prevails only if the DOL survey determines that the local wages are paid to more than 50 percent of the workers in the job classification. So 72 percent of these prevailing wages are nonunion. I'm sure the gentleman from Texas and the gentleman from Arizona are thrilled to hear that. Sometimes the facts are revealing.

Again, we've defeated this amendment over and over and over again. Mr. Chairman, I urge the House to defeat the Franks amendment this evening, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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