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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Chairman, as you know, the allocation provides $71.7 billion for the FY 2012 Milcon-VA bill, which is equal to the FY12 enacted bill. In my opinion, the allocation is what we could have expected if the Republicans would have stuck to the bipartisan agreement that established $1.047 as the committee's allocation.

I've stated at every step of this process that I strongly disagree with the path that the majority has chosen to take. I just want to point out that the $1.028 trillion allocation puts House Republicans at odds with House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the White House. In fact, the Statement of Administration Policy recommends a veto of this bill because the overall 302(a) allocation fails to stick to the framework established by the Budget Control Act. I believe the lower allocation does nothing but slow down the appropriations process, and if it stands, will stall economic growth and impede job creation.

With that being said, I'm pleased to join Chairman Culberson as the House takes up the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and related agencies. The Milcon-VA bill is critically important to the strength and the well-being of our military, our veterans, and the families who sacrifice so much to defend our country. In fact, Madam Chairman, I find it quite fitting that we're debating this bill after observing Memorial Day earlier in the week.

Working with Chairman Culberson and the members of the subcommittee, we've crafted a bill that will address the funding needs of military construction and family housing for our troops and their families, as well as other quality of life construction projects. In addition, it will provide funding for many important VA programs as well as agencies like the Veterans Court of Appeals and the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The bill before us today touches every soldier, sailor, marine, and airman. In addition, the bill will also impact military spouses, their children, and every veteran that participates in our VA programs.

I want to commend the chairman for his work. Together, we sat through numerous hearings, gaining valuable insight into the workings of all of the agencies under our subcommittee's jurisdiction. I would also like to thank all of our subcommittee members and recognize them for their hard work on the bill. We had a lot of contributions and a lot of input. I believe that the minority was treated fairly during this process, and I want to thank the chairman for ensuring this bipartisan result.

Chairman Culberson has already provided the funding highlights in the bill, and I won't repeat them all, but I would like to point out a few items that I think are very important.

DOD Schools. The bill before us today includes $546 billion for the renovation and replacement of 10 Department of Defense schools. Madam Chairman, I believe that providing the funds for DOD schools will help our servicemembers' children get a quality education in a safe facility, and it will give our servicemembers and their families some peace of mind.

Medical Center Replacement. I was pleased that in the bill we were able to include $127 million for the second increment for Medical Center Replacement in Germany. As you know, a large proportion of serious casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters are treated there, and I'm pleased to see that we're making this important investment in Landstuhl.

Veterans Affairs. For Veterans Affairs, I'm very pleased that the bill meets the discretionary budget request in all areas of administrative expenses, research, medical care, information technology, and facilities. The bill contains $54.4 billion in advance appropriations for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities at the VA, which is $1.9 billion above the amount included in FY12.

Madam Chairman, I strongly believe that advance funding provides timely and predictable funding for the veterans' health care system, and they don't have to worry about the exigencies of a budget not being agreed to or appropriations bills not being passed for their medical care.

Overall, the bill provides adequate funding for programs included in the bill. However, I'm especially troubled by one of them. Unfortunately, during the full committee markup an amendment was adopted that essentially nullifies the decisionmaking ability of the Department of Defense to use a project labor agreements business model. The sponsor of this language believes that it doesn't limit the Department from using PLAs. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I had the minority subcommittee staff check with the Department regarding this language. The Department confirmed that if this bill is enacted with the current PLA language included, it would prohibit the Department from soliciting bills for FY13-funded construction contracts where, as a condition of award, the awardee must negotiate a project labor agreement.

In addition, we do not know the effect this language could have on other agencies included in this bill. Using the Milcon-VA bill to address this issue is really the wrong place to do it. This language is purely an ideological and political provision that goes well beyond the scope of this bill. The Milcon-VA bill has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support and avoided divisive issues like this one, no matter which party held the gavel. I believe that including this language will only cause unnecessary complications and does nothing to help our servicemembers and our veterans.

Madam Chairman, please know that as we continue through the process I will work to address this issue because an item like this has no place in a bill that has always placed our troops, their families, and our veterans above ideology.

Before I close, Madam Chairman, I would like to recognize the staff for all of the hard work and the time that they have put into this bill. From the minority committee staff I would like to thank Matt Washington, Danny Cromer, as well as Michael Reed and Chris Chon from my personal office. From the majority committee staff I would like to thank Donna Shabazz, Sue Quantius, Sarah Young, and Tracey Russell.

I would also like to thank Mr. Dicks and Mr. Rogers, who serve as the distinguished ranking member and chairman of this committee and who set an extremely great example of how committees and ranking members and chairmen should work together. There's a collegial atmosphere, although we do have reasonable minds disagreeing on several of the issues. But we work together collegially, and I thank the chairman and the ranking member, Mr. Dicks and Mr. Rogers, for their example in doing so.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Madam Chairman, I agree with the gentleman that the Department of Defense should be doing all that it can to reduce energy costs and to help us be energy independent. The Energy Conservation Investment Program is a fairly small, but key, component of the Defense Department's energy strategy.

The goals are to improve supply resiliency, implement energy security plans, and alter energy consumption at individual installations. Investing in this small program helps the Department to reduce its energy costs and help meet its facility energy mandates.

The Department has been funding ECIP as far back as 2001, and the committee has seen great progress on energy savings. For example, at Fort Liggett, they are building a 1-megawatt solar grid which will help that installation ease its energy consumption.

ECIP is a cost-saving program I think all Members should be happy to support. Therefore, I urge all Members to vote ``yes'' on this amendment, and I'm delighted that the chairman has accepted it.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of this amendment.

The language included in the bill says that none of the funds made available by this act may be used by any government authority or agent thereof awarding a construction contract on behalf of the government, and any solicitations, bids, specifications, project agreements, or other controlling documents, to require or prohibit bidders, offerers, contractors, and subcontractors to enter into or adhere to agreements with one or more labor organizations. Language currently included essentially nullifies the decisionmaking ability of not only the Department of Defense, but also the Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and Arlington National Cemetery to use a PLA business model.

To put it another way, all of these agencies currently have two choices: yes, we want to use a PLA, or no, we don't want to use a PLA. Without this amendment, the agencies will no longer be able to make that yes or no choice. If this language is maintained, then every agency in this bill will literally not be able to make a decision on the business model that they want to use for their construction projects.

The language is a backdoor way to ensure that the project labor agreement business model is not available as an option for the Federal Government to even consider using on any of the construction projects in the bill.

Keeping this language would be a mistake since PLAs ensure that construction projects are built correctly the first time, on time, and as a result, on budget for the end-user. Furthermore, PLAs prevent costly delays that usually result from an unskilled workforce's lack of knowledge regarding the use of building materials or tools, as well as job site safety measures.

Furthermore, Mr. Chairman, we don't know the effect this language could have on VA projects. And I don't believe that this Congress should include any language that could further delay vital Veterans Affairs projects.

I find this language to be unclear and believe it will only add uncertainty and confusion to the construction process. I don't understand why we would take this option off the table. If a project labor agreement is good for Toyota, or Boeing, or Wal-Mart, why isn't it good enough for the Federal Government?

I urge all the Members to vote ``yes'' on the Grimm amendment. It's sound, and it will help us to get our construction done on time and on budget and safely.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, veteran-owned companies do two really important things: First, they create jobs and provide positive impact on our economy. And most importantly, veteran-owned small businesses provide a great venue for unemployed veterans to find work.

Mr. Chairman, I believe that the government has done poorly in reaching the 3 percent contracting goal for veterans. For example, agency contractor awards are below 1 percent from 2003 to 2006. The most recent figures for 2009 show agencies awarded only 1.98 percent to service-disabled veterans. Agencies need to do better, and I believe this amendment will help the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs do a better job.

I support this amendment, and I urge its adoption.


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, I have great empathy for the concerns that the gentleman from Texas has raised in his discussions about the amendment on hiring a national cemetery administration director, but I just want to address some of them because I don't think it's good policy, and I don't think it will make for the best management and operation of our national cemeteries.

Employees of the National Cemetery Administration are proud to serve veterans and to serve veterans' families in their time of need, and they do it with dignity and compassion. While the National Cemetery Administration has one of the highest percentages of veteran employees of any Federal agency--79 percent of the employees and 80 percent of its cemetery directors are veterans--the desire and the passion to serve our Nation's veterans is not limited to just veterans.

VA national cemeteries are nationally recognized for their commitment to excellence and top-rated customer satisfaction. Since 2001, the National Cemetery Administration has earned the American Customer Satisfaction Index's rating as a top-performing public or private organization in the country. This continues to be achieved by dedicated National Cemetery Administration employees, both veterans and nonveterans.

Who says a nonveteran cannot be patriotic and support the United States of America? If such an amendment passes, who would it impact? Most of our nonveteran cemetery directors have family ties with veterans. For example, one of our long-serving national cemetery directors had a father who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and saw combat in the Philippines, a brother who served as an Army infantryman in Vietnam, a husband who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and most recently a son-in-law in the Marines who served two tours overseas during Operation Desert Storm.

This bill will result in a child, a sibling, or a spouse of a veteran losing his or her job or being denied the opportunity for a promotion. These individuals supported their family members as they put their lives on the line for our Nation, and now they wish to continue to honor and care for the graves of veterans in their final resting place.

VA follows all Federal laws and OPM regulations requiring hiring preference for eligible veterans. This legislation would make VA vulnerable to litigation by the displaced cemetery directors through the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The NCA requires all new national cemetery directors to have completed a 1-year intensive internship program that provides comprehensive training in all aspects of cemetery operations and management. Even if qualified veterans could be hired within 180 days to fill these critical positions, they would be coming in without the specific knowledge and skills to effectively run a cemetery to meet the needs of our veterans and their grieving families.

I think this amendment is well-intentioned, but I don't think that it would accomplish what is desired, and I think ultimately it will end up with chaos in our personnel system regarding our national cemeteries. I urge that this amendment be defeated.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, reserving the right to object, is it not true that if we adopt this amendment for new hires, that it still restricts the option of getting the best possible manager for the cemetery?

Mr. POE of Texas. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. POE of Texas. It would require that the person be a veteran for all new hires of the director of a cemetery. You are correct.

Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. That's what I thought. Thank you.


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. I rise in opposition to the gentleman's amendment.

Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is intended to ensure that the environmental costs from the use of alternative fuels are at least no worse than the fuels in use today. It requires that the Federal Government do no more harm when it comes to global climate change than it does today through the use of unconventional fuels.

Section 526 precludes the use of fuels, such as coal-to-liquids, as well as unconventional petroleum fuels, such as tar sands and oil shale, unless advanced technologies, such as carbon sequestration, are used to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions. The corollary is that domestic production could be achieved with carbon sequestration. Further, the EIA predicts that these alternative fuels may well take decades to develop and that the additional fuel production capacity of these alternatives is unlikely to exceed 10 percent of the fuel supply by 2030.

A number of the reports have concluded that the potential adverse national security impacts of climate change, such as political unrest due to famines and droughts, may very well be severe. These consequences can outweigh the security benefits of the domestic production of these fuels.

The Department of Defense alone is the largest single energy consumer in the world. It consumes approximately as much energy as the nation of Nigeria. Its leadership in this area is critical to any credible approach to dealing with energy security issues in a way that will not result in dangerous global climate change. This prohibition provides an opportunity for the DOD to play a substantial role in spurring innovation to produce alternative fuels which will not worsen global climate change.

I urge Members to vote ``no'' on this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, this is a very ill-conceived amendment, and I must stand in opposition to it.

The Davis-Bacon Act requires that workers on federally funded construction projects be paid no less than the wages paid in the community for similar work. It requires that every contract for construction of which the Federal Government is a party in excess of $2,000 contain a provision defining the minimum wages paid to various classes of laborers and mechanics. This is a pretty simple concept, and it is a fair one. What the Davis-Bacon Act does is protect the government, as well as the workers, in carrying out the policy of paying decent wages on government contracts.

I would like to just mention quickly that Davis-Bacon has no effect on the total cost of construction. Study after study reveals productivity makes up for any additional labor costs, essentially eliminating any cost savings if the law were repealed. But this amendment seeks to prevent Federal agencies from administering these requirements in statute. Let me give you a few examples of how this poorly thought-out proposal could actually play out in the real world if it's enacted into law.

The amendment, as is written, could prevent Federal agencies that use funds through this legislation from monitoring, investigating, transmitting conformances, and providing compliance assistance to existing Davis-Bacon covered contracts that were awarded prior to this funding legislation. Contractors requesting H2B visas could conceivably request non-U.S. workers receive permits for employment at wage rates not in concert with the Davis-Bacon wage rates of that locality. Procurement agencies may not be able to proceed with the award of contracts that were solicited in the prior fiscal period but awarded under this funding legislation. During the period covered by this funding, bidders could use wages as a method of undercutting the locally established wage rates of that community that might promote the use of workers from different geographic areas. The amendment could prevent Federal agencies that use money from this appropriation from advising State, local, and other grant recipients of DBA application to federally assisted programs that would otherwise be subject to the DBA provisions.

This is not responsible legislation, and it's not responsible governing. I urge the defeat of this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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