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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Madam President, this is a fairly straightforward amendment. It actually follows the guidelines of the recommendations of the Office of Management and Budget. The administration claims that during this sequestration period we will have to furlough essential workers, which will negatively impact the daily lives of the American people.

Despite dire warnings to cut TSA agents--by the way, Director Pistole thinks they will be just fine, which is totally opposite of what the rest of the administration has said. Air traffic controllers, food inspectors, and thousands of new Federal jobs have been posted since the sequester went into effect.

Let me spend a minute on this issue. Since the sequester has been in effect, the Department of Treasury is looking to hire a leadership development specialist with a salary of $182,000. The FDA advertised for a social media management service to streamline management of multiple social media platforms. There are 23 openings on the Federal jobs list for recreation, which includes: recreation aide, recreation specialist, and recreation assistant. The Air Force is looking to hire several full-time painters. There is a search to pay $165,000 for a director of history and museum policies and programs.

The list continues: The Department of Treasury is currently advertising for an outreach manager. The Department of Labor is looking for a staff assistant at $81,000 a year to answer the phone. There is a search for a policy coordinator for the Department of Health and Human Services to attend and facilitate meetings at $81,000 a year. There is an opening for a director for the Air Force history and museums policies and programs at $165,000 a year. There is another opening for an analyst for the Legislative Affairs Office at the Marine Corps for $90,000 a year. The Department of Agriculture is looking for a director of the government employee services at a range of $179,000 a year.

There is an opening for counsel for the Morris K. Udall Scholarship Foundation at $155,000 a year, an opening for an executive assistant at the Department of Agriculture Forest Service to prepare itineraries for travel plans, an opening for an executive staff officer for the Air Force to represent the director of staff at meetings to write draft reports and memos at $93,000.

These are all nonpriority hirings at a time when we are in sequester. What this amendment would do is simply implement OMB's guidance and freeze hiring for nonessential Federal positions during sequestration but still allow hiring of employees defined by the Office of Personnel Management as exempted or emergency personnel.

If this amendment does not freeze hiring of exempted or emergency employees as defined by OPM--and we all know what that means--there is also an exemption in here that gives agencies the flexibility to know which positions are critical to performing duties and allows their progression.

Right now the agencies are not following OMB's guidance. We hear about possible furloughs, but a good portion of those furloughs would never be necessary if, in fact, the agencies would follow OMB's guidance. The government is seeking to hire travel specialists, recreation aides, public affairs specialists, outreach managers, librarians, historians, administrative assistants, and many other nonessential positions.

The Department of Health and Human Services has posted a job opening for a travel specialist with a salary of $97,000 a year, and the job is to obtain domestic and international travel for HHS officials. It is not essential to their overall mission and actually facilitates more travel, which is one of the things also recommended by OMB in their guidance that they are not to do.

All we are saying is follow the OMB guidance in freezing nonessential new hiring and we could prevent furloughs to the government workers carrying out essential services and mission-critical duties today.

I have no question that some of these positions can be helpful to the agency which they have advertised for, but they are not necessary at this time until we get past this pothole in the road. Canceling job openings at the FAA of two community planners and four management program assistants would spare 1,000 air traffic controllers from furlough. Let me say that again. Just canceling and not hiring these four people at FAA could affect 1,000 Federal employees. Canceling just one job opening for a librarian at the Department of Agriculture could offset one furlough a day for as many as 750 entry-level workers at the Department of Agriculture.

What we are asking is simply for the agencies to follow the guidance that has already been out there, and we would mandate that as part of this continuing resolution omnibus appropriations bill.

With that, I yield the floor.

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Mr. COBURN. First of all, I am so excited with the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. I have to say, since I have been in the Senate, I have found these two individuals more than capable to work with and more than willing to work with me and I wish to congratulate them on bringing their bill to the floor.

I have to very adamantly disagree because I think the chairman of the committee has missed my point. Every American family over the last 5 years has been making tough decisions about priorities. By not hiring some of what most Americans--a wall can get painted 6 months later. It doesn't have to be painted today. As a matter of fact, if we go over to all the Senate and House office buildings, we see the Architect of the Capitol repainting all the walls, with wet signs out there, while we can't let the visitors into our buildings. There is something wrong with us in the way we are managing. We are painting walls that don't have to be painted at the same time we make citizens wait in line for an hour and a half to get into our buildings.

It is about priorities. The fact is, if we don't fill some of these superfluous positions that are not absolutely necessary right now, many Federal employees will not get furloughed. That is the point I am making. I can't believe we have to have a research librarian right now at the Air Force at a time when we don't have the money to put our pilots in the air to keep them trained.

So we are not talking about essential employees. By the way, essential and excepted employees are prison guards. Not one of them will be furloughed. So if we care about Federal employees, we do not want to spend money on positions that are truly not necessary right now, given the priorities, so the rest of the Federal workforce can be there.

Let me go back through this list again. Is it important to hire a lawyer for the Morris K. Udall Scholarship Foundation at a salary of $155,000 right now? Is that important? How many people in the Federal Government would that keep from being furloughed and the services continue if we don't fill that position? How about an executive assistant to the Department of Agriculture Forest Service to prepare itineraries and briefing and information material packages at $57,000.

What we don't get is all the rest of America is doing this already and now the OMB has recommended we do it and the agencies will not do it. We ought to tell them to do it for the benefit of the Federal employees who are working for us right now because they are the ones who are going to get furloughed. By not hiring these absolutely--I don't doubt they are positions we can use and are effective in many areas, but they are not a priority right now. I would think the priority right now would be having the people we have employed working.

How about a leadership development specialist at Treasury; is that really a priority right now, at $182,000 a year? That is a priority, while laying off IRS employees so people get their refund back? Tell me which one is more important. I would think the American taxpayers would rather get an answer than a busy signal when they call the IRS versus us hiring a leadership development specialist. There are 23 openings related to recreation at the FDA right now--for recreation. Is that truly a priority for us right now?

We have a 60-vote limit on this. I am fine with a 60-vote threshold. But America is going to vote 80 percent or 90 percent with what I am recommending. We have a 60-vote threshold so we can make sure it doesn't happen, so we don't apply priorities, so we don't apply common sense, and everybody knows that if this was at a 50-vote margin, it would fly through here. The reason it is 60 is so we can protect people politically and not do the best right thing for America.

This bill is going to go through here. We are going to pass it. The government isn't going to be shut down. We are going to conference it and get it worked out. Senator Shelby and Senator Mikulski will get that job done. We have absolute confidence in them.

This isn't a deal killer; this is common sense. This is what every business, every family in America is doing right now. They don't spend money they don't have on things that aren't absolutely necessary, and that is all this amendment does.

I yield the floor.

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