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Public Statements

Department Of Interior Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, Senator Carper successfully offered an amendment to this act that would authorize the EPA to conduct a study on black carbon emissions to ``improve global and domestic public health'' and ``to mitigate the climate impacts of black carbon.''

A similar bill, S. 849, was also introduced by Senator Carper and approved recently by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

While I did not object to the purpose of the bill, I did object to the bill because the cost of the study--$2 million according to the Congressional Budget Office--was not offset.

As I wrote in a letter to Minority Leader McConnell and Senator Carper outlining my objections to this bill, ``At a time when our national debt is greater than $11.6 trillion, we cannot afford to add to this debt that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren. Even our best intentions need to be paid for with offsets from lower priorities or wasteful spending.''

I also requested the opportunity to modify this legislation if no offsets were made.

I intended to offer a second-degree amendment to offset the expected cost increase in spending as a result of the Carper amendment by capping the amount of funds EPA can spend on conference travel. According to EPA, $17.296 million was spent on conference travel in 2006--the last year for which we have records. This amendment would have capped conference travel spending at $15 million, thus assuring that the full cost of the study will be offset.

In the past couple of years, as Americans were tightening their belts and travelling less, EPA was growing its conference budget and travelling more. This is reflected in its annual costs for conference participation and related expenses, which increased from $10.781 million in fiscal year 2000 to $17.296 million in fiscal year 2006.

Conference attendance for Federal employees in many, if not most, cases is discretionary, meaning that it is up to Federal agencies to determine to what conferences agency employees should go and how many employees should go. Some conferences provide valuable educational or agency-related information in a format unavailable in a normal office setting. Many conferences, by the sponsors' design, are held in locations chosen to attract attendees.

That being said, it is the responsibility of the U.S. Congress and the managers within Federal agencies to exercise due diligence in performing oversight over an area of Federal spending that has cost taxpayers over $2 billion on conferences from 2000-2006. This spending has increased over 95 percent, from over $200 million a year in fiscal year 2000 to almost $400 million a year in fiscal year 2006. In addition to the financial cost of these trips, oversight hearings I held as the chair of the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee highlighted the lost productivity of government employees when they are out of the office on nonessential travel.

The EPA is just one among many Federal agencies that I believe has overspent on nonessential conferences and travel. In my research I found numerous instances where EPA showed questionable judgment in this regard.

In September 2006, EPA sent 23 employees to Paris, France, for the International Society of Exposure Analysis Meeting, at a cost of $56,000. This conference featured a gala dinner cruise on the River Seine and a cast of presenters that consisted primarily of Americans.

The agency's employees attended an annual National Beaches Conference in Niagara Falls, NY. The 2006 conference was attended by at least seven EPA employees, at a cost to taxpayers of $52,500.

One EPA employee attended a December 2006 GSA Small Business Conference in Palm Springs, CA, at a cost of $4,100, with his or her travel costs alone listed at $1,800.

A Cancun, Mexico, meeting attended by two EPA employees cost $4,200, with travel costs listed at $2,900.

A March 2007 Waste-to-Energy Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico cost taxpayers $48,000 for nine EPA employees and two taxpayer-funded nonemployees to attend.

A 2006 ``Beyond Translation Forum'' sponsored by the EPA in Texas to ``engage the Hispanic community in becoming environmental stewards'' costs $52,100 for the attendance of 20 EPA employees and 85 taxpayer-funded nonemployees.

Over 2 years, EPA also spent $2.6 million in grants and contracts and over $300,000 in travel and related expenses for brownfields conferences in Oregon and Missouri.

EPA spent $235,000 in grants and $25,000 in travel costs for the National Tank Conference in Memphis. Costs included events at BB King's and seeing the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team play.

EPA spent $355,000 in grants and contracts and $167,000 in travel costs for the Community Involvement Conference in Milwaukee.

In February of 2007, EPA spent $150,000 to sponsor the ``Measuring Program Results'' Conference, to which it sent one EPA employee and paid for the attendance of four nonemployees.

Instead of specifically capping the amount EPA could spend on conference travel, Senator Carper has graciously modified his amendment to transfer $2 million from the EPA's Environmental Programs and Management account to fund this study of black carbon emissions. This EPA account ``provides personnel compensation, benefits, and travel and other administrative expenses for all agency programs.''

It is my hope that this transfer in funds will help EPA better manage the funds it is entrusted with by Congress and limit questionable expenditures and unnecessary conference travel and related expenses.

I am pleased that the Senate has agreed to this offset and hope that Congress can begin to prioritize funds for its priorities with real offsets.

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