U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns, D-NY, today joined the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for its first meeting with President Barack Obama since he took office last month. Mr. Towns, who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was among a select group of CBC members who spoke at the meeting, and in his remarks Chairman Towns discussed key issues currently facing the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The CBC meeting is the second visit Chairman Towns made this week to the White House. On Monday, Chairman Towns participated in President Obama’s White House Fiscal Summit, which brought together select members of Congress, economists, unions, business leaders, lawmakers, and advocacy groups to discuss the most pressing issues currently facing our country.
Below are Chairman Towns’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
Remarks of Chairman Towns
High Risk Issues
Mr. President, thank you for meeting with us today. You have pledged to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t in government. I sent a letter in January to Secretary Gates requesting a meeting to discuss eight areas in DOD operations that are at high risk of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement according to the GAO. These risks cut across most areas of DOD’s operations and include DOD’s longstanding inability to deliver its major weapon system acquisitions on time and at promised costs and capabilities. With the country facing its most serious financial and economic problems in decades and fighting two wars, we cannot afford for the Department to get less than the maximum value from the resources the Congress and the American taxpayer provide it.
I will be asking for similar meetings from other Cabinet-level officials about projects within their area of responsibility that appear on GAO’s high risk list, including oversight of financial institutions and markets and food safety. Through this process I hope to help you fix some long standing problems that have lacked attention and have resulted in unnecessary government waste. I note that agency Inspectors General have made approximately 13,000 recommendations that have not been implemented. I would appreciate your support for these critically important meetings.
Oversight of the economic recovery package will be a major portion of the Committee’s work this Congress. In overseeing this spending, we will work closely your accountability board, as well as agency IG’s and GAO. However, I am concerned that the legislation will strain the ability of the current federal acquisition workforce to effectively manage the huge volume of spending in the bill. I am also concerned that the State and local IT infrastructure will not be up to the task of handling the data requirements for funding, transparency and accountability.
Small Disadvantaged Businesses
Mr. President, if the larger businesses community is sick, Small Disadvantaged Businesses are on life support. As Chairman of the House Committee with procurement jurisdiction, I can tell you that during the past 8 years much of the progress we have made in overcoming discrimination, and providing fair contracting opportunities for minority businesses has been lost. The bundling of federal contracts, which priced most DBE’s out of competition, became common administration practice. Sole contracts increased to favored businesses, like Haliburton, while sole source contracted awarded through the 8(a) program dried up. These practices, coupled with the current economic slow down, means that we may lose a generation of minority businesses if we do not work quickly.
Efforts were made to reverse these practices by including specific minority business language in the TARP funding bill. However, the results to date have been disappointing. Of the 14 prime contracts awarded by Treasury, none of the contracts have gone to minority businesses. While all 14 businesses have subcontracting plans that spell out plans to use minority businesses, my staff has been unable to get sufficient information to determine whether the prime contractors are meeting their subcontracting goals.
I think that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act presents a once in life time opportunity to assist the small disadvantaged business community. However, unless we develop the appropriate small business infrastructure, this opportunity will be missed. I would recommend the following steps: (1) I think you should direct each agency with contracting authority under the recovery legislation to identify those contracts and subcontracts that they anticipate could be preformed by Small Disadvantaged businesses, this should be done in consultation with SBA; (2) set appropriate contracting and subcontracting goals and (3) establish an oversight task force within OMB to track and to hold agencies accountable for meeting those goals. These steps are consistent with federal procurement laws and existing Executive orders.
Mr. President, I am deeply concerned that without some specific direction from you and your team, the current acquisition workforce will simply fall back on what they have been doing during the past 8 years, which is to have limited competition and award large contracts to favored majority contractors.
I have seen what effective procurement policy and Executive support can achieve. President Clinton made increased access for disadvantages businesses in Federal contracting an important priority for his administration by issuing Executive Order 13170. Unfortunately, we have lost most of the progress that was made during that time period.
You have a unique opportunity with the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to recapture that progress.
The Federal Workforce
Discrimination and the lack of opportunities for racial minorities continue to be central issues within the federal workforce, particularly at the senior levels. While we have made significant progress much more remains to be done. I would urge you to pay special attention to your sub cabinet level appointments, appointments to the Senior Executive Service and to look very carefully at any the potential for discrimination in any pay-for-performance system you may be considering.
Last September, an arbitrator ruled that the SES’s pay-for-performance system discriminated against African Americans. In addition, analysis of DOD’s National Security Personnel System indicates that African Americans are receiving significantly lower performance based pay than their white counterparts.
I would urge you to carefully balance your need for effective tools to attract and reward top talent, with the need to ensure that all employees are treated fairly in promotions and pay decisions.”
Mr. President, all of us are well aware that the 2010 Decennial Census is quickly approaching and that its results will have a deep and lasting impact on our communities.
As the Chairman of the House Committee that oversees the Census, I am committed to vigorous, bipartisan oversight of its implementation. I appreciate your respect for this Committee’s responsibility to conduct Census oversight and for making it clear that your administration will not interfere with our important work. The success of the 2010 Census, given its implications and magnitude, is one of the Oversight Committee’s highest priorities.
Mr. President, the success of the 2010 Census is a priority for all of us here today. Along with apportioning and redistricting Representatives in the House, it will determine the allocation of billions of dollars in federal assistance to state and local governments. The economic crisis has made certain that our communities, some of which may already be struggling, cannot afford to lose any of these critical dollars.
Unfortunately, your administration inherited a Census Bureau that has failed to demonstrate its constitutionally-mandated responsibility to successfully carry out the 2010 Census. We have already been warned by GAO that the 2010 Census is in serious trouble and has been placed on GAO’s list of programs at high risk. We still do not know if all of the Bureau’s operations and systems, particularly those that will be used for the first time in 2010, will work together under the pressure of the census. With less than eleven months to go until the launching of the 2010 Census, the Bureau has little time to improve its capabilities.
Certainly the $1 Billion in additional funding for the Census Bureau that was included in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help the Bureau as it prepares for 2010. But given the existing problems at the Census Bureau and a critical need for the Census to succeed, I urge you to provide ample funding for the Bureau in your budget proposal.
I am also deeply concerned with the current leadership void at the Census Bureau. We need to have a Bureau director nominated and confirmed as soon as possible. Then we can focus on the important work of organizing the Census Bureau and ensuring that it is prepared to support the activities of the 2010 Census.
During the weeks and months to come we will be working to put together press conferences and other Census-related events in our districts that will help educate and encourage the participation of our constituents. This effort will help in assuring our communities that information gathered by the Census Bureau is strictly confidential, and that their cooperation will help the government determine where vital resources such as increased food stamp assistance and funding for public housing are needed.
Mr. President, the stakes are too high for the 2010 Census to fail and I am asking you to support our efforts that will help guarantee its success. We need to have a Census Bureau director nominated and confirmed as soon as possible, ensure that proper resources are being directed to the Census Bureau, and we must work to educate our communities about the Census and encourage their participation.