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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. MIKULSKI. I say to the Senator, we have been advised that we will not be voice voting amendments tonight.

But I want to just comment that we support the Landrieu amendment No. 3415, which clarifies the intent of section 609(e) of the pending amendment to provide FEMA reimbursements for the first responders. This amendment clarifies the intent that first responders can be reimbursed for wages during a disaster response. But it does not change the conditions of reimbursement that already aid an effective disaster response.

We do want to reinforce that both the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs support this amendment.

At such time a vote is taken, I will urge a ``yes'' vote.

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Ms. MIKULSKI. Again, I wish to thank the Senator from Oklahoma for offering all those amendments.

I would like to comment on Coburn 3370, division 1 on the tax cheats. I certainly want to compliment him on that amendment. Every single Senator wants to prevent tax cheaters from receiving any funding in this bill. I am for all of those prohibitions on tax cheats. I carry a similar provision in my usual customary Commerce-Justice bill.

The Senator from Oklahoma also was very tentative about modifying it, but he still covers the tax cheats, and also dead people can't get Federal funds. The Senator modified it to cover funeral expenses. But we are also being told that this--by the Finance Committee--that this amendment is not a blue slip issue.

I support the Senator's amendment, and if it is agreeable with the Senator from Oklahoma, on this side, we would like to take his amendment tonight.

Mr. COBURN. I am happy to have you take it. I have no objection.

Ms. MIKULSKI. Now on the fisheries part, we don't take the fisheries part.

Mr. COBURN. I understand that.

Ms. MIKULSKI. I oppose the division 2, the fisheries amendment. I understand the Senator's intention, but his point is that he tries to say that fishery disaster funding should be for communities affected primarily by Stafford Act requirements. The Stafford Act covers FEMA-certified disasters. So in order to get help from FEMA, which is governed by the Stafford Act, it has to be certified by the President.

Fisheries are different because fisheries are covered under an agency called NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. It is under the Department of Commerce. So if you think you have a fisheries disaster, you take that to the Secretary of Commerce, who has an explicit criteria in order to qualify. You just can't say: Well, I don't have the fish I used to. Oh, my lobster pots are a little rusty. No. You have to have real criteria that you have been hit. Therefore, you cannot get fisheries assistance unless a fishery disaster has been declared by the Secretary of Commerce.

Fishery disasters are necessary and urgent. Coastal fisheries, our coastal communities--our fisheries are part of their identity, and they are certainly part of our economy. They certainly are in my State. And those are the disasters that are covered here. So I hope the amendment of the Senator from Oklahoma is defeated.

His other amendments, I could comment upon, but I didn't know if the gentlelady from Louisiana, who chairs the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, of which FEMA is a member--I presume she would want to comment on the Senator's amendment.

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Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I seek recognition to rebut the Coburn amendment and also to offer two amendments. But before I do, I just wish to thank my colleagues, particularly those who have amendments. I wish to thank them for their cooperation and being willing to offer them and speak tonight, on both sides of the aisle.

I would also note the Senator from New York and the Senator from Connecticut also wish to speak. Senators whose States have been very hard hit should have the opportunity to speak, and I am going to take my rebuttal of the Coburn amendments and just abbreviate them.

With the exception of being willing to accept the amendment where you cannot get emergency assistance if you are a tax cheater or if you passed away, with the exception of a funeral benefit, I object to the Coburn amendments. My objections have been so well articulated by the Senator from New York, Mr. Schumer, and by the Senator from New Jersey, Mr. Menendez.

Mr. President, I rise in opposition to the Coburn amendment No. 3369. This amendment makes no sense. It would require the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development to make public any grant announcement three days before either department announces the grant. In other words, do something three days before you are going to do it.

I understand the Senator's intent, which is to eliminate the ability of Members to have a brief advance notice of pending grant announcements. However, in trying to weaken Congress' legitimate oversight role, the amendment overreaches. More importantly, I don't agree with this effort to cede Congress' role in these notifications. Therefore, I ask my colleagues to vote against this amendment.

Mr. President, not everything in the Senator's amendment No. 3371 is objectionable. Unfortunately, it is loaded down with at least two provisions that make it impossible to support related to FEMA efforts to aid disaster victims and help communities rebuild.

First, returning funds appropriated in this bill that have not been obligated and spent within two years to the Treasury is unreasonable. FEMA will of course obligate the funds provided in this bill in less than two years. However, spending the funds to complete the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, police stations, surge barriers, floodgates, and levees will take longer. Communities will need time to do the proper planning, competently bid for projects, fulfill State action plans, do site selection and development, complete audits and then request for the federal government to reimburse the eligible costs in the right amount. To do this responsibly and within the bounds of proper oversight, it will take more than two years to reimburse the eligible expenditures.

On the one hand, the Senator wants FEMA to spend the money faster while on the other hand he imposes more restrictive and time consuming Federal standards for competition.

The second objectionable provision in this amendment is to cap FEMA's recovery assistance to States at 75 percent of the costs of damages. This ties the hands of the Nation to support the needs of the victims of the most severe disasters.

The Stafford Act currently requires that FEMA provide assistance at 75 percent of the cost of the recovery. However, in cases where damages have proven to be extremely severe FEMA can increase its share to 90 percent. The adjustment to 90 percent is based on an objective formula that considers per capita damage, which must reach over $131 per person. The threshold is difficult for states to reach unless they experience a severe event.

I oppose this amendment.

AMENDMENT NO. 3382

This amendment would require merit-based and competitive awards of disaster recovery contracts. This amendment would prohibit the use of any disaster funds for contracts not competitively awarded pursuant to the Federal Acquisition Regulation FAR. This would appear unnecessary, because the FAR already limits non-competitive contracts to one year, in general.

The amendment would also require a review of disaster recovery contracts that were awarded prior to enactment of the Supplemental that weren't competitively bid. For any contracts not competitively bid, agencies would be required to achieve cost savings or to award a new competitive contract, and discontinue the original contract.

The requirement for retroactive review of contracts that were awarded before the date of enactment for which other than competitive procedures were used for the purpose of determining if additional cost savings can be achieved or whether a new contract should be pursued would pose a significant burdensome and disruptive task.

The amendment would require hiring up additional contracting staff to handle the ``looking back review'' and potential ``re-competition'' envisioned in order for the current staff to contract for the supplies and services needed to respond to and recover from Hurricane Sandy. Since there is a limited number of contracting officers available to Federal agencies, complying with this provision, should it be enacted, has the very real potential to limit DHS's ability to meet ongoing mission requirements.

Furthermore, no date or parameters are established for conducting and completing these reviews, so agencies would not know how far back to review. One could assume the amendment means only those currently operating contracts, but it does not specify.

For those agencies in the midst of recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy, is the intent that they stop ongoing efforts (to include obligating those additional funds that are coming) to undertake such a review? How can the workforce still supporting the disaster be handling the ongoing efforts to support the disaster and at the same time be reviewing what they did in November?

Complying with this mandate, should it be enacted, has the very real potential to adversely impact the Government's ability to meet their ongoing disaster recovery missions.

This amendment requires agencies to terminate contracts if cost savings can be realized. The burden of the analysis alone would be daunting especially since no threshold is specified. This amendment would require agencies to review even purchase card orders. Terminating contracts for convenience is not inexpensive--there significant administrative costs, and it is labor-intensive.

This amendment would be onerous and costly and will hinder the recovery and repair effort. Therefore, Mr. President, I recommend that this amendment be opposed.

AMENDMENT NO. 3383

Mr. President, I rise in opposition to amendment No. 3383. The proviso that my friend proposes to strike authorizes projects for the Corps to construct that would reduce the impacts from flooding and provide storm damage reduction. I agree with my friend that the provision that he proposed to strike could be read as overly broad and authorized projects for construction that were not intended nor could they be constructed with the amount of funding that was provided.

Senators FEINSTEIN and BOXER have addressed the shortcoming of that provision by striking it with an earlier amendment--No. 3421 and replacing it with new text. This new text no longer authorizes an undefined set of projects. Rather, it directs funding to be utilized to construct projects in areas that suffered direct inundation impacts from Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac. This provides a defined scope for the work that the Corps can construct with the funds provided.

The provision requires that the projects to be undertaken must be cost effective, technically feasible and environmentally acceptable. I think my friend would agree that should be the goal of all of the Corps projects that we fund. Voting for this amendment would undo the defined requirements and scope for these projects that we previously voted for.

I urge my colleagues to vote against this amendment.

AMENDMENT NO. 3370

Mr. President, I oppose Division 2 of amendment No. 3370. Division 2 of this amendment tries to steer fishery disaster funding for communities only affected by Hurricane Sandy by citing Stafford Act requirements and limiting funding for area within 1/2 mile from shore.

But the Stafford Act overseas disasters on land. The Act has absolutely no bearing on fishery disasters, fishery disasters are declared by the Secretary of Commerce according to Federal Fishery and Commerce laws at the request of the State Governors.

Fishery disaster needs are necessary, urgent, unanticipated and these coastal fisheries are not bound by some arbitrary 1/2 mile boundary.

Under this amendment all federally declared fishery disasters would miss out on much needed financial assistance, even those communities affect by Hurricane Sandy. Fishery disaster funding is not just about fixing damaged boats and waterfronts. It is about rebuilding smarter fisheries so that businesses and coastal communities stand a better shot of avoiding future disasters. I strongly urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment.

Mr. President, in the interest of time, I think we all agree why the very intent to save money by adding delay and bureaucracy will cost money and will cost time, in terms of getting people back on their feet, both in their home and in their livelihood. Remember what we seek: helping people get their life back and helping them get their livelihood back. I think that has been very well articulated.

I would now also like to take the opportunity to call up and dispose of two amendments.

AMENDMENT NO. 3403

I call up, on behalf of Senator Leahy, amendment No. 3403.

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Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, this amendment simply provides authority to the State Department to transfer up to approximately $1 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds appropriated in Fiscal Year 2012 for operations. in Iraq, which are no longer needed in Iraq due to reduced operations there, and to use these funds for increased security at U.S. embassies and other overseas posts identified in the Department's security review after the Benghazi attack.

Making additional funds available for these purposes is one of the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board chaired by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen.

The amendment permits the transfer of funds between the Diplomatic and Consular Programs and Embassy Security Construction and Maintenance accounts, which would otherwise be precluded due to percentage limitations on such transfers.

According to CBO the amendment has no outlay scoring impact.

We all want to do what we can to prevent another tragedy like what occurred in Benghazi. The State Department has done a review, and these funds will be used to expedite construction of Marine security guard posts at overseas posts, and to build secure embassies in Beirut, Lebanon and Harare, Zimbabwe.

There is nothing controversial about this amendment. These are existing funds. There is no new appropriation. The amendment has no scoring impact. It is simply a matter of allowing unobligated, prior year funds to be used for a different purpose of higher priority--protecting our diplomats stationed in dangerous places around the world.

That amendment will be voted on tomorrow.

AMENDMENT NO. 3426 TO AMENDMENT NO. 3395

Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I have an amendment on behalf of Senator Harkin. I call up amendment No. 3426.

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Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, this amendment makes two very technical corrections that are necessary for proper implementing of funding for the Department of Health and Human Services in the supplemental. First, it deletes the term ``response activities for hurricane Sandy'' and replaces it with ``the purposes provided herein.'' That is a small verbal change but ``response activities'' has a limited meaning. This change does clarify that funds may also be used to cover additional recovery and related costs connected to Hurricane Sandy. Second, it adds the phrase ``to make grants'' to clarify that the Department of HHS has specific grant-making authority for renovating, repairing, and rebuilding non-Federal facilities involved in NIH research. For example, an academic center of excellence, well known for its work, particularly in cancer research, will have the opportunity to rebuild.

I recommend support of this amendment. Senator Shelby has signed off on it. I believe it is not controversial. CBO says it does not score at all, and I understand the minority staff on the Labor-HHS Appropriations Committee has also signed off on those changes.

Mr. President, that amendment, too, will be voted on tomorrow if not accepted. Tonight we are just not accepting amendments and we are not voice voting them.

I also want to note we have two Members on the floor whose States were hard hit. One is the Senator from New York about whom Senator Schumer has spoken. I know Senator Gillibrand wishes to speak. The order we will follow is Senator Gillibrand will speak for such time as she may consume to be followed by the Senator from Connecticut and such time as he may consume in speaking on behalf of the bill.

Before the Senator speaks, though, a word to the Senator from Connecticut. Connecticut has been hit twice--first by the hurricane and then by what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. For those of us who join with you, we just want the people of Connecticut to know they are not alone. As the Senator from New Jersey who spoke earlier said, you know we are the United States of America. Where there was a disaster in one State, we all have to respond as if it were a disaster in all States. The attack on one child in Connecticut--we have to protect all children, in Connecticut and in every single State in this Union. I hope, as we find those solutions, we do act as a union, the United States of America.

Once again, our sympathy and condolences, and I yield the floor to these very able Senators.

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