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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I would like to speak on an amendment to the pending bill--an amendment I will not be able to offer because I understand the majority filled the amendment tree so that we cannot make amendments pending at this time. So I would like to take some time, though, to inform Members about the importance of my amendment and why it ought to be included.

I think it is simply about smart government. It is about ensuring that taxpayers' dollars are spent wisely, while at the same time guaranteeing Federal law enforcement agencies that face challenges following Hurricane Sandy have the resources they need to get the job done.

On December 7, the White House Office of Management and Budget transmitted a legislative proposal to Congress seeking supplemental appropriations for disaster mitigation relating to Hurricane Sandy. By all accounts, this action was a normal response to a Federal disaster and one that nearly all Members have supported for various disasters that have occurred in our home States. However, this request was unusual in several respects. For example, a large portion of the funds included in the President's request are unrelated, or at least extremely remote to the damage caused by the storm. This includes funding for fisheries in Alaska, funding for increased Amtrak capacity, and funding to be spent years into the future. Further, the funding request sent up by the President does not include any recommendation whatsoever for offsetting the spending. So, long story short, this request means more deficit spending.

There is one part of the request that causes me particular concern--and the purpose of my amendment--because it relates to my work as the ranking member of the Committee on Judiciary. In the President's request, there are specific line items for repairing and replacing Federal vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Specifically, the Justice Department requested $4 million for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, $1 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration, $230,000 for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and $20,000 for vehicles for the Department of Justice inspector general. Among other things, these funds are largely to repair and replace Federal vehicles damaged by water from the storm.

The Department of Homeland Security requested $300,000 for the Secret Service, $855,000 for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Again, this funding is largely for repairing or replacing damaged motor vehicles. The President requested this funding in an effort to replace these damaged vehicles. He cited operational use of these vehicles by law enforcement agencies as the reason they need to be replaced.

Now, I understand that vehicles are a very important part of the work that these Federal law enforcement agencies undertake and are critical to ongoing operations in the field. However, I am concerned about simply providing funding for replacement vehicles in the field because the way the government operates, this funding will not reach the agencies immediately. Even when it does, it will take time for replacement vehicles to be located, purchased, and prepared for use. But given that this is an emergency spending bill, we can assume that these agencies need vehicles for immediate operational use.

As such, my amendment seeks to place these vehicles into the hands of the agents in the field as fast as possible. Instead of simply providing funding, my amendment requires that, within 7 days, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security identify and relocate vehicles based at the Washington, DC, headquarters of the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security that are used for nonoperational purposes. The vehicles identified will then be used to replace those damaged by Hurricane Sandy that are used by the FBI, DEA, ATF, ICE, and the Secret Service.

The amendment limits the funding provided for these vehicle purchases until a report is produced to Congress identifying the vehicle relocations. I think it is a very good government amendment and one that actually achieves the goal of replacing operational vehicles used by Federal law enforcement actually faster than in the underlying bill.

Since we are told this funding is absolutely necessary for these agencies--so necessary as to warrant emergency funding that is not offset with spending reductions--this amendment actually improves the bill by getting vehicles to law enforcement immediately.

The agencies who will likely oppose this will argue that this is unnecessary and that we should just write a check for the new cars. That is a ridiculous position to take, and we see the damage on television so you know there is a purpose for the underlying bill. But if this is an emergency for these vehicles, these agencies can spare some of the vehicles they have sitting around at their headquarters for nonoperational purposes.

These vehicles are given to employees in offices such as legislative affairs, budget, facility managers, and chief information officers and chief financial officers who may get cars to drive to and from work. Many may even sit unused for periods of time. Those are not operational needs.

Just last year, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal titled ``Free Ride Ends for Marshals,'' which addressed how 100 headquarters employees of the U.S. Marshals Service returned government-owned vehicles to the motor pool instead of using them to commute to and from work. The article described how in recent years the proliferation of take-home vehicles for headquarter employees had exploded.

While the article focused on reducing take-home cars at the Marshals Service, it is clear that the same argument can be made for reducing take-home cars at other agencies. In the case of this supplemental, if this is actually an emergency worthy of millions of taxpayer dollars, these agencies can inconvenience nonoperational personnel at headquarters to get these vehicles out to the fields and end the fringe benefits. In fact, according to inventory numbers provided to the Appropriations Committee, the Justice Department has 3,225 vehicles at the Washington, DC, headquarters of their agency alone. Surely, the Justice Department can find a handful of vehicles out of these 3,225 vehicles that could be sent to the field to replace the damaged vehicles--and get it done a heck of a lot faster than appropriating this money and going through a process that would not get them out there for a longer time.

On top of that, my amendment would allow the funds to replace these nonoperational vehicles after they are relocated. So my amendment would at most create a very small inconvenience for these nonoperational staff for a short time. This amendment makes sense by modifying a request that, quite honestly, doesn't make a lot of sense. If this is an emergency, as we are told, the agencies should have no problem doing what my amendment asks.

We owe it to the American taxpayers to spend their tax dollars wisely. This amendment doesn't go as far as we could, which would be to strike the provision outright. Instead, it gives the administration the benefit of the doubt that this is a true emergency and that these cars are needed. However, it forces the agencies to make a decision to temporarily inconvenience a few employees in Washington, DC, while ensuring the operational law enforcement elements in the field have the equipment they need.

So I urge my colleagues to support a commonsense, good-government amendment, and I hope it can be considered somewhere along the line before we pass this final legislation. If I could say just a few words on the issue as a whole, I would like to take that opportunity.

There is no doubt in my mind that every dollar that Sandy victims and local communities and infrastructure are entitled to, if it comes under existing law, they ought to have. Our country is always having disasters. That is a foregone conclusion. Throughout any year, there are always disasters to appropriate money for. Then, on a specific disaster, these problems go on for years after the money is appropriated--and it is years before some of the money is spent. All I have to do is look at Cedar Rapids, IA, and how they are fighting with FEMA after a 2008 flood to get some money as an example.

So let's just understand in this body, so that there is no mistake, that New York and surrounding areas will get their money because the principle of FEMA money--and probably other disaster money as well--is simply this: At the beginning of a year, you have some money in FEMA. You never know what the disasters are going to be throughout the next 12 months, but when a disaster is declared there is money there to flow. When that disaster money runs out, as far as I know it has always been replaced--whether there is an earthquake in California or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, or tornadoes like we have in the Midwest, and Sandy as the most recent example.

As far as I know, there has never been any dispute under the laws at that time--and those laws don't change very often--that they do get the money out to the people who need it. Then when that fund goes dry, it is replenished by Congress.

Unless somebody is seeking money in some way other than disasters that have been taken care of in this particular instance--and I don't know that they are, other than what has been pointed out that ought to be done through the appropriations process and not really an emergency. But for the emergency, I don't hear anybody wanting money for Sandy any different than any other emergency.

I hope nobody is saying that Sandy ought to be treated differently than an earthquake in California or a hurricane in the South or tornadoes in the Midwest or wherever they might happen. I haven't surmised that is what they are trying to do. But if they are, they shouldn't say that Sandy ought to be treated differently than another disaster because generally a disaster is a disaster--whether it is an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or Sandy.

So the money is going to be there, and it will be there on time. You don't know 1 month after a disaster exactly how much money is needed. In fact, they asked for $80 billion from the Governors of those States. The President sent up $64 billion. Some people of expertise on this in our caucus have said there are certain things that aren't authorized, so that shouldn't be expended.

Then I point out about some vehicles that can't be purchased right now to do the good they are supposed to do.

We ought to be comforted that there is an attitude in this Senate, over decades, that the Federal Government is an insurer of last resort for disasters, whatever kind of disaster you have, at least disasters as described by existing law. New York will get its money and it doesn't necessarily have to be the $64 million; it is just to make sure there is money there for what is needed tomorrow and the next day and the next day. But we are not going to have a final figure on this for a long time. So we ought to move with some money to make sure it is there for what can be spent right now.

I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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