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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 - Continued

Location: Washington DC

June 23, 2004
Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, Senator Reed and I filed an amendment to ensure the soundness of our Nation's defense supply chains through the support of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, MEP, Centers. We would like to thank our colleagues, Senators Warner, Levin, Gregg, Hollings and McCain for accepting the modified amendment. Senator Reed and my amendment clarifies that the Department of Commerce has the ability to transfer and reprogram $21.8 million to the MEP Program in fiscal year 2004.
The vitality and viability of our Nation's small manufacturers has tremendous consequences for our Nation. Without a strong manufacturing base, we risk losing wealth for our Nation, we risk good jobs for our citizens, and we risk irreparably harming our Nation's defense supply base at a critical time.
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The MEP assists America's small manufacturers and helps boost productivity, sales, investment in modernization, and employment. I have a very simple, but vital, message to deliver-manufacturing matters-MEP matters. But I am worried that President Bush does not understand this simple message. This fiscal year 2004, the administration's budget slashed the MEP Program by 88 percent. Due to the efforts of Senators Gregg and Hollings, the Senate fiscal 2004 appropriations bill restored funding for the program to $106 million. However, the Omnibus Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2004 reduced that level to only $39.6 million.
As a Federal-State-private partnership, MEP is a network of over 60 centers with 400 locations across the country and Puerto Rico providing technical assistance and business support services to small manufacturers. These not-for-profit centers employ more than 2,000 professionals who work with manufacturers to help them adopt and use the latest and most efficient technologies, processes, and business practices. As a result, our small manufacturers are better able to compete with low wage countries, maintain jobs in America, and continue driving a higher standard of living in the U.S. In fiscal year 2002, MEP's clients reported sales of $2.8 billion, 35,000 new or retained workers, $681 million in cost savings, and $941 million invested in new plant and equipment as a direct result of their MEP projects.
However, funding constraints and budget cuts have forced every MEP Center in the country to downsize. According to a recent Modernization Forum survey, MEP Centers have closed 58 regional offices and reduced staffing by 15 percent, which will leave small manufacturers across the country without the invaluable technical and business assistance that helps them remain competitive edge in the global marketplace.
Senator Reed's and my amendment will help address this issue by clarifying that the Secretary of Commerce can reprogram $21.8 million to the MEP Program this year. Fifty-five Senators requested that the Secretary reprogram funding to the MEP Centers this year. Unfortunately, the Department refused this request; leaving the MEP Centers and small manufacturers without the resources they need. In a response to the Senate request for reprogramming, Secretary Evans implied that the Department of Commerce does not consider it worthwhile to reprogram funding to the MEP program because the appropriations act would only allow the transfer and reprogramming of $3.9 million. In discussions with the Appropriations Committee and the Congressional Research Service, however, this appears to be a very narrow reading of the statute by the Department of Commerce. The appropriate level of funding that can, and should, be transferred and reprogrammed is $21.8 million. This amendment clarifies that level of funding for transfer and reprogramming.
The administration needs to make resources available to help our Nation's small manufacturers. That is why I, along with my colleague Senator Reed, continue to call on the administration to reprogram $21.8 million to support the MEP Centers this year. And we call on the administration to send a Budget Amendment to Congress to support $106.9M for the MEP Program in fiscal 2005.

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