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Public Statements

Energy And Water Development And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Let me first discuss the amendment No. 1895. The American people need to know what this is.

This is a way to say we are following the law on everything in terms of contracting except if it is an earmark. That is what this amendment does. It says we will follow all the laws on contracting except if we have an earmark that we want some company to get that might be a political friend or political donor or might be something we think is better than somebody else might think. Dorgan 1895 essentially guts transparency for this country in terms of when we buy, what we buy, and how we buy.

My amendment says anything we buy is going to be competitively bid. Senator Dorgan may have something he believes in strongly and believes should be done. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if it is authorized. But there is plenty wrong with saying who is going to get the benefit from that being done, which company, which firm, which special interest group. Most often earmarks are for the well heeled, the well connected in this body. When I bring an amendment to the floor that says we will have transparency, the American people will get value. Even if we do an earmark, at least we know we will buy that earmark at a competitive price compared to what we could have bought it for otherwise.

What the Dorgan amendment does is guts that. It says we will follow the law all the time, the Federal contracting statutes, except when we have earmarked something. So what it does, it allows them to vote to say they are following the law with the exclusion of all earmarks. Whereas my amendment says if you are going to earmark something, at least in these times of trillions of dollars of deficit, maybe the American taxpayer ought to get the benefit of having it competitively bid so that we get real value for it. It is not any more complicated than that.

What we say in my amendment is if it is out there, get good value for the American people, competitively bid it. Make sure it is online. Make sure we follow all the rules and regs. Today it is much more important than ever because government purchasing is more important to those people whose businesses are down-sliding. So we are having many more people interested in competing for the dollars on government work. Yet we have an amendment that is going to be voted on side by side for political cover only that sounds good. It sounds good. It says:

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used by the Department of Energy to enter into any Federal contract unless such contract is entered into in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act ..... or Chapter 137 of title 10, United States Code, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation, unless such contract is otherwise authorized by statute .....

That is code word for earmark, ``unless such contract is otherwise authorized by statute.''

If you vote for the Dorgan amendment, you want to continue to connect the well heeled, the well connected and you don't want transparency and you don't want competitive bid prices on what we as Americans pay through our tax dollars for what the government buys. It is as simple as that. What my amendment says is, each time, every time, unless it is in the interest of national security, we will, in fact, competitively bid. We may not all agree
where Senator Dorgan or I may want something done, but at least when we are doing it, we will buy it in a more efficient, more effective way and save money for the American taxpayer.

I ask for the yeas and nays on my amendment.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, throughout this appropriations bill, we have a lot of reports we are asking agencies to come up with. This is another amendment about transparency. I appreciate the fact that the chairman and ranking member will accept this amendment.

What this says is, if we get a report, the agency has to report it to the American people. In other words, they have to publish it. We get to see what the results of that report are. There are exceptions for national intelligence and the military, but in those areas where there is not a reason for the American people not to see it in terms of national defense or our own security, what this amendment says is the agencies have to release the reports and put them online and make them available to the American people. You paid for the report; you ought to be able to see the results. Far to often around here, we get reports but only certain people get the reports. Some of us never get reports. So what this says is, the reports that come out of here that are not related to national security or defense and otherwise are appropriate will be made available by the agency to the American public.

With that, I yield to the chairman.


Mr. COBURN. At the Department of Energy, one of its tasks in this country is to help us with energy efficiency, to help us with a lot of what we would expect to be within the Department of Energy. It is peculiar, however, when the Department of Energy has looked at themselves, they are highly inefficient, according to their own inspector general, with the utilization of energy.

They have 9,000 buildings. The inspector general said last year they wasted at least $13.8 million in energy costs--$13.8 million. There is $13.8 million they could have saved had they done some small, simple, straightforward things like they request every other agency in the Federal Government to do. Isn't it ironic that the very agency that is telling all the rest of the agencies to save money by becoming efficient with their computers, by becoming efficient with their heating and cooling systems, by becoming efficient with their utilization of lighting, does not even follow their rules they ask the rest of the agencies to follow.

This is a very simple amendment. We know at least $13.8 million was wasted last year. That is probably just the tip of the iceberg. This amendment says we are going to reduce their funds by $13.8 million. And I can tell them the steps tomorrow as to how they can save $13.8 million so it will have no net effect on the agency. So with what we do, the American taxpayers get $13.8 million, as a minimum, of energy savings out of the Department of Energy. That is as straightforward as I can say it.

Here is another one of those reports that nobody reads except our staff, and you see the IG is doing their actual work, and now we are bringing an amendment to the floor. It has not been agreed to. It has not been accepted. But it is absolute common sense. I do not understand why it is not accepted, when the IG has plainly listed out where you can save the money and how you can do it. Why would we not reduce their funding to force them to do that?

So it is a no-net-revenue-loss for them because they are going to save the $13.8 million as they reconfigure computers, as they follow their own regulations within the Department of Energy. I will not go on in detail. But this is the kind of commonsense amendment we need to be doing in the Senate to hold the agencies accountable to follow their own rules, as they force everybody else to follow the same set of rules. This is not ``do as I do.'' This is ``do what you see us doing.'' That is the model, and that is the example.


Mr. President, it is my understanding that amendment No. 1884 still needs to be called up. So at this time, I ask unanimous consent to set aside the pending amendment, call up amendment No. 1884, and then following its calling up, to set it aside and resume the present amendment.


Mr. COBURN. One last point I would like to make is that the Department of Energy is responsible for numerous private sector energy-efficient programs and for the enforcement of those programs. It makes sense that if they are going to be the enforcer and be responsible, they ought to follow those same energy efficiencies to regain the confidence of the very people they are saying they want change from. It is pretty hard to expect people to swallow making changes for energy efficiency in all the rest of the government agencies when the very agency that is telling you to do it does not follow its own rules. So this is straightforward.

I know the appropriators do not like somebody coming and cutting money, but this is a no-net-cost to the agency. All they have to do is about 15 small steps--very inconsequential in terms of cost--and they can save almost $14 million next year. Probably they will save $20 million or $25 million, and that is just based on the two IG reports we have from the fall of last year and the spring of this year. So this is not old data. This is brandnew data. These are brandnew reports from the IG.

I hope my colleagues would reconsider and accept this amendment because it is one of the ways we can save $13.8 million. It is an easy deal.

With that, I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the Senator would admit, would he not, that the President's request is what he requested, it is not what was actually spent last year? That is No. 1. What you have done is cut $8 million from actual expenditures in administration last year.

Mr. DORGAN. That is correct.

Mr. COBURN. So therefore would the Senator agree to accept my amendment to just adding $5.5 million to the $8 million you have already cut, because you are going to get it back in energy savings?

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, again, I agree that what we ought to be doing is encouraging the Department of Energy--all Departments--to be engaged in energy savings and efficiencies and so on. I will be glad to visit the Senator about cuts. But, as I said, we already made substantial cuts. I think the Senator from Oklahoma knows that the President's request, in the context of the broad range of budget requests for a broad group of Federal agencies, was what he felt he wanted and needed in order to have some sort of transformational energy future.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I enjoy my debates with the appropriators. I love you guys. I think it is great.

The one thing that was not mentioned is that in the stimulus bill the Department of Energy got an additional billion dollars. So there has been no net cut. There has actually been a massive increase in the Department of Energy when you count the stimulus bill.

No. 2 is, you have ramped up the FEMP the Federal Energy Management Program, by 50 percent, going from $22 million to $33 million, the very program that they are enforcing on everybody else. Yet they won't comply with it.

I also would say the Senate is going to get to decide this every time we have an appropriations bill as far as transparency in contracting. I may get smarter at the way I write it, but the American people deserve to have great value.

If you want to change the contracting law to say there are certain times we shouldn't do that in terms of highly specific scientific things, that is fine with me; but the fact is billions and billions and billions of dollars are well placed directly to businesses in this country at higher rates than they would have been otherwise had we had competitive bidding and open contracting. Nobody can deny that fact. Nobody can deny that fact. I am talking about all across the government.

So we are going to get a vote on competitive bidding on every appropriations bill that comes before the Senate. The American people get it. It is a great defense you are offering, but it isn't going to pass the smell test with the American people. They deserve the best value they can get on every penny we spend of their money, not our money.

I understand we think we have decided it. We are going to keep voting it; we are going to keep voting against it, and we are going to keep telling the American people we are still going to connect up with our buddies, we are still going to make sure these people who are well heeled and well connected are going to get the contracts.

I will grant to the chairman there are certain things that should be outside of this that are highly scientific, that are limited to very few potential bidders, and maybe even only one. But, remember, we have FutureGen going in Chicago now, a $2 billion earmark that is going to be a $4 billion earmark that is going to be a $6 billion earmark that we said only one person can do, and MIT says nobody can do it because the technology isn't finished. We have that going. That is a Department of Energy earmark. So it is not just hundreds of thousands of dollars; it is billions and billions and billions of dollars.

America should hear that what we are going to see is we have all the reasons in the world why we are not going to be competitively bid. We are going to give you all the reasons why we are not going to be efficient with your dollars, why now is not the time, why we shouldn't do this now. But the fact is that while we shouldn't be doing it, we are cutting the legs off of our children and grandchildren.


Mr. COBURN. The Senator from Utah mischaracterizes both the intent and the function of the amendment. If something is already contracted that has already been appropriated for, it won't be affected. It is new contracts and new bids. That is the intent.

The reason I come with this is because nothing ever changes here. If, in fact, we pass my amendment, you know what. We will have to change the contracting. How do we change contracting with everything that is coming across the floor? How do we get it through committee? We will never move it until we are forced to move it. That is why this amendment is written this way, because all of us know the great deal of difficulty to get anything done in this body.

So if, in fact--we are going to do three bills in the next 2 weeks: one on the transportation trust fund, one on unemployment insurance, and one on HUD that has to be done. They will get done. So the reason it is written this way is because it will have to get done and we will do it. We will never get it done the other way, and both of my colleagues recognize that there is truth in that statement.

I am going to insist we have a vote on the amendment. I thank the chairman and ranking member for their debate. I remind the American people that there is always an excuse in Washington not to have transparency, not to be efficient, and not to be effective. We will always find a way not to get good value for your money.

With that, I yield the floor.


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