Mrs. FISCHER. Mr. President, a recent Washington Post headline has grabbed national attention. It reads: U.S. Government spends $890,000 on nothing.
It almost sounds like a bad joke, but this is no laughing matter. The Post reported:
This year, the government will spend at least $890,000 on service fees for bank accounts that are empty. At last count, Uncle Sam has 13,712 such accounts with a balance of zero.
The American people are no strangers to reports of excessive government waste, from robotic squirrel research to Moroccan pottery classes. This latest example, however, comes at a particularly frustrating moment, as thousands of Americans are stuck waiting for hours in airport terminals with delayed fights--the result of the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to furlough thousands of air traffic controllers due to sequestration. The Post astutely noted:
If you are a federal worker on furlough this week--or an airline passenger delayed by federal furloughs--you might want to save your blood pressure and go read another story.
Federal law requires the government to reduce overall spending by 5 percent in each agency, totaling $85 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year. While the $890,000 currently spent on unused bank accounts may seem like a drop in the bucket, it nonetheless proves there is plenty of fat to trim in Federal spending. We can do that, and we can do it without directly impacting essential government services and jobs.
The same holds true with the FAA. Similar to many Nebraskans, I remain concerned about the Federal Government's failure to effectively target these required but necessary budget cuts. Of particular concern is the FAA's complete mismanagement of the cost reductions which has resulted in unnecessary travel delays all across this Nation. Since 1996, the FAA's operations budget has grown by an astounding 109 percent, from $4.6 billion to $9.7 billion. A mere 5-percent budget cut would simply return the FAA to the 2010 funding levels.
Despite 2 years to prepare for these budget reductions, the FAA chose to provide Congress and the airline industry with less than 1 week's notice regarding its plans to furlough its workforce, showing complete disregard for the traveling public.
The FAA has insisted on targeting air traffic controllers, rather than solely focusing on lower priority personnel to ensure morale. I wonder if anyone has checked in with the folks waiting in airport terminals--and waiting in those terminals for hours--to determine their current morale. The FAA has 47,000 employees, of which 15,500 are air traffic controllers. While I appreciate the hard work of many Federal employees, air traffic controllers should be the last ones on the FAA's budgetary chopping block.
Rather than selectively ratcheting up the pain of Federal budget cuts on American citizens with these long delays, the FAA should, instead, focus on cutting its $500 million consultant slush fund or the $325 million spent on supplies and travel.
For months, the administration has argued it lacks the flexibility to target the required budget cuts in a smart, responsible manner--in a smart, responsible manner--that mitigates the impact on the public. To that end, I have cosponsored several legislative efforts to provide this administration with the tools to ensure that essential Federal employees continue to provide these vital services, such as our control tower operations.
Most recently I cosponsored the Essential Services Act, which would simply require each Federal agency head to identify and exempt essential employees from any furlough policies by using the same standards that were created by multiple administrations during previous government shutdowns.
Unfortunately, the President and my Democratic colleagues continue to oppose any of these measures to both achieve needed savings without tax hikes and preserve our important government functions.
Notably, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently testified at a Senate hearing that he does, in fact, have discretion to prioritize the spending cuts. If that is true, then it appears the FAA is more interested in scoring political points rather than cutting its $2.7 billion in nonpersonnel operation costs.
I am very disappointed in Administrator Huerta's lack of forthrightness with this Congress. When asked at the same hearing about the FAA's possible furlough strategy, Mr. Huerta provided only general statements. Hours later, FAA officials provided detailed furlough plans to airlines--a disturbing move to hide the ball from lawmakers, who were left without the opportunity to mitigate the impact of these extensive furloughs.
I stand here ready to work with the President and any of my colleagues who are committed to making these budget cuts in a smart, effective, and efficient manner, a manner that preserves essential government services.
I thank the chair. I yield the floor.
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