Mr. President, I rise to alert my colleagues and the public to a secret effort by the White House to quash the rights and eliminate the jobs of thousands if not millions of federal workers.

Right now, the White House is actively working behind the scenes – in closed-door meetings – to reverse a bipartisan agreement that House and Senate appropriators reached just 12 days ago.

And I regret to say, the President’s operatives appear to be succeeding.

I rise to expose these backroom efforts because I believe all taxpayers should be made aware of the White House's efforts.

If the White House prevails in this scheme –

    Federal jobs could be contracted out even if it costs taxpayers more money;
  • Federal workers will have to compete to keep their jobs with their hands tied behind their backs; and
  • Federal workers will not be able to appeal a decision to contract out their job while private companies can appeal a decision that doesn't go their way.

If the White House gets everything it wants, federal workers could actually lose their jobs and see that work shipped overseas.

Mr. President, this Administration has sent enough good American jobs overseas. It is outrageous that this White House is now questioning our agreements which ensure that the work of the American government is done by workers here in America.

Mr. President, when it comes to allowing federal workers to compete to keep their jobs, the White House does not want a level playing-field –
  • That's why they're engaging in all these backroom deals,
  • And that's why the White House has seen to it that the bipartisan Transportation/Treasury conference report has never been filed.

Mr. President, what kind of federal workers am I talking about here? I am talking about:

  • People who protect our borders and keep terrorists off U.S. soil;
  • People who purchase and maintain equipment for our troops, both here and overseas;
  • People who help us get the Social Security checks, or price support payments, or unemployment insurance payments that we are eligible for;
  • People who make sure our food is safe;
  • And many, many others.

These are hard-working Americans that serve the taxpayer everyday and deserve a fair shot at keeping their jobs.

But, as my colleagues know, for some time the Bush Administration has been trying to eliminate federal jobs through what it calls "competitive sourcing."

This policy is highly controversial – and with good reason.

Just look at what happened to federal employees of the Defense Finance Accounting Service in Ohio:

  • Their work was contracted out to a company in Dallas, Texas in January 2002.
  • Then the Pentagon’s Inspector General found that the move saved no money and actually cost the taxpayer an additional $20 million.
  • And now that work is being shipped to yet another contractor.

So, this entire policy of contacting out federal work needs much more scrutiny and oversight.

But instead of allowing a balanced set of rules to be put in place to avoid the situation I just described, the Bush Administration is working to undermine it.

Let me review some of the recent events to show why this effort by the White House is so disturbing.

On May 29th of this year, the Bush Administration issued revisions to OMB's Circular A-76. This is the circular that dictates the terms and conditions through which executive agencies can privatize activities currently performed by federal employees.

These revisions were highly controversial and were designed in many ways to undermine the efforts of federal employees to keep their jobs.

The fairness of these revisions was questioned, and not just by Democrats and the federal employee unions.

Several House and Senate Republicans identified flaws – including the Chairman of the relevant authorizing committees and subcommittees.

When the Transportation, Treasury and General Government Appropriations bill was brought to the House Floor, Representative Van Hollen offered an amendment to address these flaws.

The Van Hollen Amendment was adopted on a bipartisan vote of 220-198.

The Van Hollen Amendment effectively suspended the President’s new OMB circular. It required any contracting out activities to be conducted according to the older A-76 rules.

Immediately, the White House threatened a veto, so the Senate took a different approach.

During Senate debate, we adopted an amendment offered by Senator Mikulski and Senator Collins, the authorizing Committee Chairman.

The Senate also adopted an amendment offered by Senator Thomas and Senator Voinovich, the authorizing Subcommittee Chairman.

The substance of both amendments centered on putting some basic fairness into the contracting out process – especially the process through which federal employees and private contactors submit bids to retain federal work and how those bids are compared.

In some cases, the amendments reflected language that the President had already signed into law or that the Congress had already adopted on the Department of Defense and Department of Interior Appropriations bills.

When the conference committee convened to reconcile these two very different bills, we all recognized that the Van Hollen amendment could not be included in the conference report because of the President veto threat –so we put together a thoughtful and fair compromise.

Our compromise was designed to provide a level playing-field between government contractors and federal employees.

Our compromise ensured fairness in five ways.

First, the compromise ensured that the rules pertaining to all the federal agencies would be the same.

Second, the compromise ensured that the Administration would have to demonstrate that there are real cost savings that would result from a privatization effort before federal employees lost their jobs to the private sector.

Third, the compromise ensured that federal employees – and not just private contractors – would have the opportunity to appeal a potentially wrongful decision to contract-out work.

Fourth, the compromise ensured that no jobs that are contracted out would be transferred overseas.

And fifth, the compromise ensured that government employees have the opportunity to put together their best and most efficient bid in order to compete to keep their jobs.

In other words, they do not just need to submit a bid based on the way they currently operate. They could propose new efficiencies to make their bid competitive so that all taxpayers benefit.

As I said, this was a thoughtful, carefully-crafted compromise in which neither side got everything it wanted.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that, at the conclusion of my remarks, the bill language reflecting this bipartisan compromise be included in the Record.

I am placing this language in the Record, Mr. President, because I have been given reason to believe that some very different language will appear in Omnibus Appropriations Act, once it is actually filed.

A lot of credit belongs to Chairman Istook, Chairman Stevens, and Chairman Shelby for allowing the conferees on the Transportation/Treasury bill to work through the issues and develop our original compromise.

When I left the Capitol building late in the evening of Wednesday, November 12th, all the conferees expected that compromise to be incorporated into the conference agreement on the Transportation/Treasury bill that was to be filed the next day.

Each and every Senator, Republican and Democrat, that participated in that conference agreement was content with the compromise and signed the conference report.

What has happened since then, Mr. President, has been one of the most astonishing and deplorable process that I have ever witnessed in my eleven years in the Senate.

When the Bush White House learned that the conferees decided to insist upon a level-playing field and some demonstration of taxpayer benefits for federal jobs to be contracted out, they began a quiet but relentless campaign to gut the compromise.

Despite the fact that the conference committee adjourned well over a week and a half ago, the White House has seen to it that the bipartisan conference agreement has not been filed in either the House or Senate while they work to emasculate the compromise.

The Administration's alternative language makes their true motives clear.

One language change that the Bush Administration has been promoting would effectively eliminate the requirement that the Administration demonstrate any cost savings before throwing federal employees out onto the unemployment line.

Indeed, the loophole language they are promoting would allow them to award federal work to private contractors even if the contractor's costs are considerably higher than letting federal employees keep the work.

Could it be that we are seeing yet another attempt by the Bush/Cheney Administration to use federally-appropriated resources to reward their friends?

I am told that the Administration has even voiced reservations about the language in our compromise prohibiting federal jobs from being shipped overseas!

Where does it stop, Mr. President?

This Administration seems to see no problem with senior citizens picking up a phone to call Social Security Administration and the phone being answered by federal contractor in India – and it could actually cost taxpayers more.

That's absurd.

On another provision, the Administration is objecting to language allowing federal employees to put forward their best and most efficient bid in order to keep their jobs.

Why? Because the Administration doesn't want federal employees to retain this work no matter what the benefit to the taxpayer.

Mr. President, this is the first year that I have served as the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing these government-wide procurement issues.

Over the course of this year, I have been increasingly appalled by the disrespect and disdain that the Bush Administration holds for the thousands of Americans that come to work for our government every day.

As of today, Mr. President, I regret to inform the Senate that the Bush Administration appears to be making meaningful progress in its campaign to gut the bipartisan compromise that was agreed to as part of the Transportation/Treasury conference.

My subcommittee staff was presented with language that was intended to be included in the Omnibus Appropriations bill.

That language guts our original compromise in three fundamental ways.

First, the rules included in the Transportation/Treasury bill will no longer apply to all federal agencies.

They will only apply to the agencies funded in the Transportation/Treasury bill. So these provisions will apply only to jobs being contracted out in –

  • The Department of Transportation,
  • The Treasury Department,
  • The General Services Administration,
  • The Office of Personnel Management,
  • And a few smaller, related agencies.

None of these protections will apply to the hundreds of thousands of employees in the other major federal civilian agencies like –

  • The State Department,
  • Commerce Department
  • Agriculture Department
  • Labor Department
  • Health and Human Services Department

There will be a distinctly different set of rules for jobs in the Department of Interior; and still different rules for jobs in the Department of Defense.

This makes a sham of our federal-contracting out policy, but the Bush Administration certainly doesn’t seem to care.

So, the first major change is in the scope of the agreement. Instead of applying to all civilian agencies, it would just apply to a few.

The second major change undermines the fairness of our agreement.

The language being slipped into the Omnibus bill would now deny federal employees the legal standing to appeal a wrongful decision to contract out their jobs.

Under current regulations, Mr. President, only contractors can appeal a decision that doesn’t go their way.

Federal employees – who are losing their jobs – have no such right.

The Administration obviously does not want its decision to ever face a truly fair appeal process.

The third major change effectively eliminates the requirement that there be any meaningful cost savings to the taxpayer before jobs are contracted out. That is a deplorable.

No wonder the Bush Administration will only push for these changes in back rooms.

Now Mr. President, I think that this result is bad enough.

However, I am now being told that the Administration has not given up on weakening our provision even further.

As I stand here today, the conference agreement on the Omnibus Appropriations bill, including the Transportation/Treasury section – has still not been filed.

The back-room dealing continues and the basic principle of fairness and respect for our federal employees continues to be under attack.

I have to say that in my many years in the Appropriations Committee, I have never witnessed such a cynical effort to undermine a fair and equitable conference agreement.

I want to emphasize that it is not the fault of -

  • Chairman Istook,
  • Chairman Shelby,
  • Chairman Stevens,
  • Chairman Young
  • or any of the other Members of the Transportation/Treasury Conference.

Those honorable gentlemen reached a deal at the conference room table and, I believe had every intention of standing by our compromise.

This attack on federal workers, on fairness and on taxpayers has only one source – the Administration of George Bush.

It is the White House that is keeping our compromise from being enacted – or even filed – so that the American public can read and understand it.

Next year, Mr. President, I hope that our Transportation/Treasury Subcommittee will hold hearings with the appropriate Administration officials so that they can explain to us why it is so important to them to deny federal employees even the most basic rights when competing to keep their jobs.

I hope they will explain why it is important to the Bush Administration that different federal workers be subjected to a hodgepodge of differing rules depending on where they work.

Perhaps they could also explain why they think it is appropriate that only contractors – and not federal employees – have the right to appeal a "contracting out" decision.

This issue will not go away, Mr. President.

I can guarantee you that efforts will be made on next year's Transportation/Treasury bill to rectify this situation and restore a government-wide policy based on fairness and savings for the taxpayer.

I only hope the Bush Administration will have the decency to articulate its position before the public – and on paper – rather than in the back rooms in the dark of night.