Speeches & Floor Statements

Opening Statement: Alexander to EEOC Nominees: Encourage Better Health, Lower Costs With Clear Guidelines for Employee Wellness Programs

Posted on September 19, 2017

Today we will consider two nominations to be Commissioners on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC was established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and serves an important role in our nation’s workplaces. Under the leadership of five commissioners and a general counsel, EEOC is charged with protecting employees from discrimination at work through enforcement of equal employment opportunity laws.

The commission investigates allegations of discrimination and seeks to mediate cases, allowing lawsuits to go forward if settlements are unsuccessful. The general counsel pursues allegations of discrimination in court and has been deputized by the commission to initiate litigation in many instances. The commission also issues guidance to inform the public about how it believes employers should interpret and apply the laws.

Currently, the EEOC has three vacancies: two are vacant Commissioner seats, the third is for the agency’s General Counsel.

Today, we are considering the Commissioner nominees.

Mrs. Janet Dhillon has been nominated to serve as Commissioner and Chair. She has an impressive record of relevant experience.

She has served as General Counsel for three Fortune 500 companies - Burlington Stores, JC Penney, and US Airways.

After graduating from the UCLA School of Law, where she ranked first in her class, she spent thirteen years in private practice.

Mrs. Dhillon was nominated on June 29, 2017. On July 18, 2017, the committee received Mrs. Dhillon’s Office of Government Ethics paperwork, including her public financial disclosure and ethics agreement. Based on these documents, the OGE wrote to Chairman Alexander that Dhillon “is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest.” The Committee received Mrs. Dhillon’s HELP paperwork on July 27, 2017.

Dr. Daniel Gade is the second Commissioner nominee.

Dr. Gade is a decorated veteran who served in Iraq and was wounded in action. He has earned a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and an Army Commendation Medal for Valor.

Dr. Gade has become a national expert on disability policy and the challenges facing disabled veterans and all disabled people in this country.

He graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1997 and returned to West Point as a professor in 2011. He holds a Masters and Ph.D. in public administration and policy from the University of Georgia.

He served in the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush, was appointed to the National Council on Disability and has served on various advisory committees advising the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Gade was nominated on August 2, 2017. On August 8, 2017, the committee received Dr. Gade’s Office of Government Ethics paperwork, including his public financial disclosure and ethics agreement. Based on these documents, the OGE wrote to Chairman Alexander that Gade “is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest.” The Committee received Dr. Gade’s HELP paperwork on August 10, 2017.

For the last 7 years, Congress has been stuck in a partisan stalemate over health insurance – which is not the main issue we ought to be addressing. We should be focusing on the cost of health care, which has grown from consuming 9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2015, and a predicted 20 percent in 2025, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.

While there are many components to the cost of health care, there is a consensus that wellness and leading a healthier lifestyle reduce the need for health care and saves money and lives.

For example, the Cleveland Clinic has said if you achieve at least four “normal” measures of good health, such as a healthy body mass index and blood pressure, and you see a primary care physician regularly and keep immunizations up to date, you will avoid chronic disease about 80 percent of the time.

Congress agreed when it passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 by including a provision that allowed employers to discount health insurance premiums for healthy lifestyle choices like quitting smoking or maintaining a healthy cholesterol level. It was one of the few parts of the ACA that everybody agreed on.

The Obama Administration sought to implement the provision through three different agencies, but the EEOC issued regulations that limited the ability of the administration to do what Congress told it to do and reduced the discount employers could give for participation in a wellness program.

Roughly 60 percent of insured Americans get their health insurance on the job, and one of the most straightforward ways to encourage wellness is to give those employers clear guidelines.

As Commissioners, I hope you will create clear rules for employer-sponsored wellness programs.

I look forward to your testimony and thank you for your willingness to serve.

Carlos Muñiz has been nominated to serve as general counsel for the Department of Education.

If confirmed, his job will be to “provide legal assistance to the Secretary concerning the programs and policies of the Department.”

Mr. Muniz is currently an attorney and consultant at McGuireWoods.

Prior to that, he was Deputy Attorney General for the State of Florida and Chief of Staff to Attorney General Pam Bondi from January 2011 to January of 2014. He also was Deputy General Counsel for Florida Department of Financial Services and Deputy General Counsel for Governor Jeb Bush.

Mr. Muniz earned his law degree from Yale Law School.

Mr. Muniz was nominated on June 6, 2017. On July 11, 2017, the committee received his Office of Government Ethics paperwork, including his public financial disclosure and ethics agreement. Based on these documents, the OGE wrote to Chairman Alexander that Mr. Muniz “is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest.” The Committee received his HELP paperwork on July 11, 2017.

During the previous administration, I wondered sometimes if officials at the Department of Education had lost their copy of the Constitution where it says the Congress writes the laws.

So I hope that, as a lawyer, Mr. Muniz, you are as glad as I am that Secretary DeVos committed to Congress in January that she would implement laws as we wrote them. And that she is doing just that.

In the law fixing No Child Left Behind, Congress gave states the flexibility to decide how to best fix their lowest-performing schools, to decide how to use test results to hold schools accountable, and to determine goals for their students rather than taking dictates from Washington, DC.

Secretary DeVos has so far approved 14 state plans — 30 other states submitted their plans yesterday and 4 others are due shortly—and she is clearly giving states the flexibility that Congress authorized under the law.

I look forward to your testimony.