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Improving America's Security Act of 2007

Location: Washington, DC

IMPROVING AMERICA'S SECURITY ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - March 13, 2007)


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, it is a curious thing that when we have hearings in the Senate, we find out problems and then offer real solutions that have teeth--as Senator Carper just said, to put them under the gun. Nobody wants to put them under the gun.

This amendment on improper payments gives the Department of Homeland Security 18 months to comply before any State will see any harm from this. The fact is, the States are not without some responsibility because some of the improper payments go to some grants that go in the State.

The American people need to ask: Is the Congress really serious about controlling spending? They are not. This amendment is not going to pass. All we are saying is: Here is a law they were supposed to be in compliance with in 2004. It says: If you are not going to be in compliance with it--they have not, they have not, they have not--we are saying, to be accountable, you have to be transparent, you have to have results. The results are complying with the Improper Payments Act.

We also think there ought to be competition for some of the grants. There is not in this bill. There ought to be a priority set. There ought to be responsiveness. There ought to be spending discipline.

As this amendment goes down--and it will--the Senators are going to reject the very idea of having accountability, the very thing they talk about with earmarks. The reason they cannot give up earmarks is because they cannot let the administration and the agencies manage the money.

But here is a tool to force Homeland Security to manage its money, to hold them accountable and say in 18 months from now, if you have not done the work every other agency of this Government is supposed to have done, then we are going to hold you accountable by cutting off the money. That is tough love. It is putting them under the gun. That is exactly what we need to do.

Do you know what will happen if my amendment is accepted and it comes through? Homeland Security will report its improper payments. But if we do not, I want you to think about what happens when you reject this amendment. What is the consequence for every other agency of the Federal Government to now not comply with the Improper Payments Act? There is no cost in not complying with the Improper Payments Act.

According to the GAO, the following portions of Homeland Security do not meet anywhere close the Improper Payments Act. That is the Customs and Border Protection, that is the Office of Grants and Training. They have not done a thing to be in compliance with this money.

Now, we can look the other way and we can say we are not going to enforce the law, but the next thing I am going to do, as a Senator--if we are not going to enforce the improper payments law, then let's get rid of it. The American people deserve to have the law enforced. It is a good law. It helps us hold the agencies accountable, the very thing that the $26 to $27 billion worth of earmarks says we cannot do.

Now we have an opportunity to do it, and we are going to vote against it. Why? Because we may put something at risk. Well, quality and results depend on us putting this at risk, to force this agency, FEMA, to come into compliance with a law that is on the books with which they have refused to comply.

Senator Carper mentioned the $40 billion of improper payments. That only represents 40 percent of the Federal Government. There is at least $100 billion of our money--the taxpayers' money--which is being paid out which should not be paid out, and probably $20 billion of it is in the Pentagon. We know the Department of Health and Human Services has not complied with the Improper Payments Act on Medicaid, and that is estimated somewhere between $20 billion and $30 billion. So we know of at least $100 billion.

I want you to think for a minute when you vote against this amendment what you tell every other agency in the Federal Government: There is no consequence whatsoever to not meeting the Improper Payments Act of 2002. There will be no consequence even though we are going to say you have not done it. Here is a way to do it, to force Homeland Security to be accountable and to recognize they have an obligation under the law to report and look at the risk factors.

Now, what does the Improper Payments Act ask agencies to do? Everything we would want done with our own money:

Perform a risk assessment. Is there a risk for improper payments? Homeland Security hasn't even done that.

Develop a statistically valid estimate of improper payments. In other words, go look at it and do a study to see is there potential that money is going out the door that should not go out the door.

Develop a corrective action plan.

Report the results of these activities to us, the Congress, the people's representatives.

By voting against this amendment, you are telling Homeland Security they don't have to comply, that there is no teeth; it will never be done. Why would the Governors Association oppose this? Because they are the monied interest groups that are going to get the money. In fact, some of the problems with the money is the responsibility of the Governors. If I were a Governor, I would not want you checking on my money. It is natural for them to oppose it. But it is normal for us to protect the taxpayers by saying that every agency ought to apply and respond to the law under improper payments. It is simple. We should ask that Homeland Security follow the law.

When you vote against this amendment, what you are telling Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and all of the other departments is that they don't have to comply because now we are going to be toothless and say there are no consequences whatsoever.

Some will say this puts these grants at risk. There are no grants at risk. There is $4.8 billion sitting in the queue right now that won't be spent for 18 months. This bill authorizes another $3.2 billion to follow after that.

If they cannot comply in 18 months, we need to stop and take a timeout and ask: Why can't you tell us where you are spending money that you should not be spending? Why can't you comply with the very simple things this act asks? Why can't they do a risk assessment in 18 months, develop a statistically valid estimate of where the problems are? They cannot do that in 18 months, develop a corrective action plan? They cannot do that in 18 months? They cannot report to us in 18 months?

To oppose this amendment says we don't care about improper payments. It is going to be like a lot of other laws on the books: we don't have standing; I, as a Senator, don't have any standing to sue the Federal Government to make it comply. The reason we won't have standing is because we don't have the courage to do what is right for the American taxpayers.

The last election had a lot to do with spending. This is going to be a vote to say whether we really meant what we said when we said we were going to start taking better care of the American taxpayers' dollars; that we were going to make the Government more accountable, more transparent and efficient. We are going to see a vote against this amendment, and the American people are going to get shortchanged once again because we don't have the courage to go up against the monied interests that get the grants and say we ought to at least have transparency.

There is another tool coming back called the Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006, and the American taxpayers are going to know whether improper payments are made. We are not going to do our job.

I reserve the remainder of my time.


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