Alexander: “Abolish Election Assistance Commission, Save Taxpayers $33 Million”

Says commission’s tasks have “either been completed or can be performed by more appropriate entities”; spends more on overhead than on programs

Posted on June 30, 2011

“Ronald Reagan once said that ‘a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.’ Shouldn’t we try using this opportunity to prove President Reagan wrong?” – Lamar Alexander  

WASHINGTON – At a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, and in a speech delivered on the Senate floor (click HERE for video), U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has seen its staff nearly triple in six years while its proposed budget spends $5.4 million to manage $3.4 million worth of programs, saying “when the cost of overhead and staff salaries exceed the amount of a program, clearly something is wrong.”

“Our government is borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, we have a terrific finance problem with the federal government, yet today we’re considering new appointments to a commission that should cease to exist,” Alexander said. “The average salary of the staff …is over $100,000.  Why is more staff needed, Mr. Chairman, for less work?”

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held its hearing Wednesday to receive testimony on the nominations of Gineen Bresso, Thomas Hicks, and Myrna Perez to be members of the Election Assistance Commission.

Below is transcript of Alexander’s remarks in the Rules Committee hearing:

“Mr. Chairman, with all due respect to the nominees before us, I think this hearing is premature.   Instead of considering new nominees, we ought to be abolishing this Commission.

“The Election Assistance Commission was constituted in 2003.  Since then, our Committee has not had a single oversight hearing on it. My predecessor here at the Committee, Senator Bennett, wrote in 2009 to ask for an oversight hearing, we did not have one. I wrote to suggest one.  We didn’t have one. Our government is borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, we have a terrific finance problem with the federal government, yet today were considering new appointments to a Commission that should cease to exist. Now here’s why I say that. This commission was created by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, the Election Assistance Commission was authorized for three years and given certain tasks. The primary task of the Commission was to distribute federal payments to the states to help them upgrade their voting systems.  $3.2 billion dollars was appropriated for these payments and it has been distributed.   Given our current fiscal situation it is very unlikely any more federal payments will be forthcoming.  The current Administration seems to agree with that. They’ve asked for no funds for this purpose in either of their last two budgets.

“The Commission was also directed to develop voluntary voting system guidelines and a testing and certification program for voting machines.  The actual work involved in this is performed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

“Finally, the Commission was to act as a clearinghouse to collect and distribute information on best practices.  Yet the intended beneficiaries of this service don’t seem to have much use for it.  The National Association of Secretaries of State, a bi-partisan organization, has twice voted in favor of a resolution calling for abolition of the Commission. So we have a situation where we’re saying we’re the government, we’re here to give you help that you don’t want.

“The tasks of the Commission have now either been completed or can be performed by more appropriate entities.  The Commission did its job and we should thank the Commission and its staff for their service. But if the completion of their appointed tasks isn’t enough of a reason to close it down, the Commission also appears to have serious management problems. Though its mission has dwindled, its staff has grown.  The Commission had 20 staff in 2004.  Last year it had 64 staff.  The average salary of the staff according to Congressman Greg Harper is over $100,000.  Why is more staff needed, Mr. Chairman, for less work? This year’s budget submission from the Commission proposes spending $5.4 million dollars to manage $3.4 million worth of programs.  Now does that make any sense?   When the cost of overhead and staff salaries exceed the amount of a program, clearly something is wrong.

“Finally, the Commission has an unfortunate history of hiring discrimination.  The Office of Special Counsel found that they engaged in illegal discrimination when, during the search for a general counsel, an employment offer was made and then withdrawn when the Democratic Commissioners discovered that the applicant was a Republican. This resulted in a substantial settlement being awarded to the applicant, forcing taxpayers to bear the cost. It’s been reported that in a subsequent interviews a similar thing has happened with inappropriate questions about military service. Now I recognize that the nominees before us are not to blame for these incidents, but that is beside the point. 

“Even if we are to assume that these nominees could right the ship and correct these problems, the questions would remain – where would this ship sail? And why make the trip?  Do we even need the Commission?  With its main job completed and with a big budget problem in Washington, why couldn’t its remaining duties be better performed somewhere else? 

“Can a government program, once created, ever be terminated?  

“Mr. Chairman, Ronald Reagan once said, “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”Shouldn’t we try using this opportunity to prove President Reagan wrong?

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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