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Department of Defense Appropriations Act -- Conference Report

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Madam President, first of all, let me thank both the chairman of the committee and Senator Warner, as well as Senator McCain, for their work for the people who defend this country. I also would be remiss if I did not thank their staffs. They have been highly cooperative with my staff as we looked through several items.

This is a large bill. It is an important bill. I intend to vote for it. But I have some heartburn, and I want to spend a few minutes talking about it.

Last year, the Defense Department contracted out $110 billion without the first competitive bid on either contracts or grants. When we considered this bill in this body, we approved a competitive bid amendment that would say: We are going to have competition for all of these. We have $5.6 billion worth of earmarks in this bill, of which none are competitive; there is another $12 billion of add-ons, of which none are competitive--just in what we have done.

There is a difference of opinion among a few of us with a vast majority of the others in terms of whether the President--whoever the administration is--gets to direct priorities versus us directing priorities. I understand that, and that is a fair debate.

Our position is that sometimes we know better. That may, in fact, be the case. But this body passed an amendment that said we are going to use competition on all these earmarks so that, in fact, the American people get value, they get a better product at a lower price. That, unfortunately, was taken out in conference. Senator McCain wholeheartedly supported that amendment on this floor.

Now, why would we take that out? What is it that would say we don't want to get the best value for our taxpayers' dollars when it comes to $100 billion worth of spending? Why is that? Why would we do that?

We had a very simple process. We said: If you have an earmark and it is something that needs to be done right now, all competitive requirements for that are waived. It does not apply to anything in the past. But for any new spending we earmark, we say: If it is not urgent or unique, then we ought to spread it out to find out how we get the best value for our money. We agreed to that. Then, when we got to conference, we did not hold it.

Why did we not hold it? Why is it we do not want to have the winner of competition of grants and contracts to be involved in getting better value for the American people? Could it be we want to protect someone? Could it be we do not want sunlight? The real answer is going to be that yesterday the Accountability and Transparency Web site that we passed went on line, and all of America is going to find out where all this money is going. On this Web site, it shows if it was a directed earmark without any competition whatsoever.

So why would we deny the American taxpayers now the ability to get far greater value than what they are going to get because we want to direct something somewhere? If we truly think it is the best thing--and it is not urgent and it is not unique--and we want to say we want to do it, good and dandy, but why wouldn't we want to do it at the best value, at the best price for the American taxpayer? So we end up where the American taxpayer is going to lose about $10 billion to $15 billion this year through inefficiency and the lack of competitive bidding on grants and contracts in the Defense authorization bill.

When I met with Tina Jones, the Comptroller, what we found out was that what we label at $5.9 billion in this bill is really closer to $17 billion when you really work it all out. We started discovering this when we asked the Department of Transportation to tell us what was the impact of their earmarks.

The other amendment I have offered that has not been accepted by this body--but should--is to do a study of our earmarks to see if we really get value, if they really do turn something profitable. Do they really give us something our military needs? What happens is this $110 billion should have only cost us $90 billion.

Now, what does the difference mean? It means buying thousands more MRAPs. It means buying more F-22s. But because we do not competitively bid and because the conference committee did not keep this amendment, the American taxpayer loses, our children lose. But, most importantly, the warfighter loses because if we waste dollars that could have gone to help them better, we disadvantage them in the job we have asked them to do for us.

So I am going to keep offering this. I am going to make a big deal about competition for getting Government contracts in this country, based on quality and price. I am going to keep offering the fact that we ought to assess what the effect of our earmarks is. Now, people bristle at that. But if we are right that we know better than the Pentagon and we know better than the generals and we know better than the procurement officers, we at least ought to look at the results of how we know best and see ``Did it turn out?'' instead of blindly continuing to do the same thing without the knowledge of the effect of what we did.

There are all sorts of other issues connected with this--parochial issues, campaign issues, political issues--that are connected to earmarks. But the most important issue that ought to be considered is the warfighter. The second issue that ought to be considered is our children. The fact is, we are hurting our children when we are not efficient and proper with the American taxpayers' money.

I do intend to vote for this bill. It is very important for our warfighters.

I do appreciate the chairman. I admire so much his relationship with all those on the Armed Services Committee, the collegiality under which he has worked on this legislation.

My admiration is not limited to the Members of the Senate; there is the staff. They have been tremendously cooperative with us.

But this is a great question we need to ask. We fail to uphold our oath when we don't spend money wisely. We fail the next generation. We fail the principle of liberty that we have a Defense Department for in the first place when we waste money.

I know there are a lot of other areas we can work on within the Defense Department, but before we have any credibility about working on the other money we waste, we ought to be sure we are clean in terms of what we do. So the fact we are not going to look at what the results were of the money that we directed, and that we are not going to have true competition for about $150 billion this next year of grants and contracts within the Defense Department says we are going to let down the warfighter, says we are going to let down the next generation. To me, my hope is in the future, we will embrace this transparency, this idea that we ought to get the best value for every dollar we spend for our Defense Department, and we ought to do it in a way that is transparent so the American people can see what we are doing.

I thank the Senator from Virginia for giving me this time. I thank the majority leader for creating an opportunity for us to at least have some time to discuss this bill. Discussions such as these are important to the American public. My challenge is to the chairman of this committee: Next year, let's make up for this. Let's truly put competition first. Let's get great value for our children and for our warfighters. We can do it. We won't stop anything that is needed now. We won't stop anything that is unique. But those things that are not pertinent to the here and now, that are going to come in the future, we ought to get great value for. We know we don't. The IG report said we don't. There is tons of information we have that says we are not getting great value.

With that, I yield the floor and thank my colleagues for giving me the time.


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