Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015—Motion to Proceed—Continuedby Senator Daniel Coats
Posted on 2016-03-01
COATS. Mr. President, I want to thank my colleague from
Minnesota. I am here to talk about opioid abuse as well, although I am
trying to combine two speeches. Since we are now talking about the
opioids abuse and drug addiction, I am more than happy to listen to the
Senator from Minnesota finish her speech. I thank her for the time, but
I want to make sure I am not also unduly holding my colleague back as I
flip through my weekly ``Waste of the Week'' because I can delay that,
Mr. President, I am joining my colleagues here. I believe all of us are deeply concerned about the drug addiction epidemic that is sweeping through our Nation. It is an epidemic for people of all ages, but it is most tragically an epidemic for our young people who feel a sense of immortality when they are young and often fall prey to the ``just try it, it is harmless, don't worry about the addiction.'' Obviously, that is not the case. We are talking about highly addictive drugs and heroin that is coming into our country, and we are talking about serious consequences of this.
In our States, as in every other State, it is a major crisis, and we are trying to do everything we can to address that. In one county alone, we have had an unprecedented rural HIV outbreak as a result of the sharing of needles to inject opioids. These needles that are providing the kind of drug addiction we read about every day.
It is clear the legislation before us is a comprehensive approach, and that is needed. As I have said, I think we have to have an all- hands-on-deck effort here, whether it is prevention, whether it is law enforcement to keep the drugs from coming in or whether it is treatment. It is all three, and it requires not only those three components but communities and community organizations, whether Federal, State, local, or volunteer organizations, such as the various charities that are operating and their volunteers who are stepping up. All of us need to get involved in all aspects of dealing with this.
I am pleased to cosponsor the bill Senators Portman and Whitehouse have worked on, CARA, which has been talked about on the Senate floor. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this bipartisan legislation. The legislation includes a provision Senator Blumenthal and I, on a bipartisan basis, have offered, which authorizes individuals who are authorized by the State to write prescriptions for controlled substances, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, to access State prescription drug monitoring programs--so-called PDMPs--to reduce drug abuse. I will not go into the details of that program, but it has been very successful in terms of providing the transparency and the information necessary so we can control prescriptions and the output of drugs [[Page S1127]] that are perhaps prescribed for legitimate purposes but are used for illegitimate reasons.
For all of that, I look forward to our being able to work through this legislation and to successfully pass this legislation and move it on through the Congress and to the President.
Wasteful Spending Mr. President, if I could also, ask for the indulgence of my colleague from Minnesota, to talk briefly about my waste of the week. I think this is the 35th or 36th week. I have almost lost track of the number of weeks I have been down here. Every week the Senate has been in session I have been down, with maybe one or two exceptions, talking about the waste of the week.
Waste of the weeks are simply issues documented, through a nonpartisan process, of waste, fraud, and abuse that occur through the irresponsible spending and oversight of our bureaucracies here in Washington. Today I am highlighting two policies that have occurred within the State Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Frankly, I could be talking about every agency in the Federal Government that has fallen prey to a lack of oversight. We have come to the point where we have identified over these ``Waste of the Week'' speeches well over $150 billion of documented waste, fraud, and abuse.
These are issues that have been raised through inspections and analysis by the Government Accountability Office by the inspectors general of various agencies whose job it is to delve in and find out how the taxpayer money is being spent--is it being spent for the legitimate purpose of providing the service that is needed or is there a problem either in mismanagement or through waste or are criminals and others taking advantage of the program? I have now documented, as I said, 35 of those cases totaling well over $150 billion.
Today we want to look at two agencies as examples of this. I can go through every agency, but we will take two today. One is the State Department. Let me note it is estimated that changing the policies here could save the taxpayers an estimated $295.6 million. That is not small change. Just addressing these two agencies $295-plus million it will save.
Let me go into a little bit of detail. State Department employees located overseas--those serving in embassies or consulates--have access to what is called a purchase card. The concept is OK. The idea is that rather than go through all the paperwork and processing and sending back to the United States, employees can say: Look, we need some office supplies. We didn't order enough initially. We need to pick up 100 Scotch tape containers or pens or who knows what. A purchase card is given to those employees who are responsible for providing those supplies to make what is called simple transactions.
To prevent the wasteful use or fraudulent use of these purchase cards, Federal law and State Department guidelines require all transactions meet certain eligibility criteria and be continually monitored. We know from experience that mistakes are made. We know from experience that fraud is committed. One of those key eligibility criteria is that all of the purchase receipts have to be retained for a minimum of 3 years. That is so inspectors general can go back and look at what the purchase is, look at the receipt, make sure everything is up to speed and done within the law.
However, a recent report by the State Department inspector general has revealed that overseas employees have been told they do not have to send any purchase documentation to their supervisors in Washington for further review. All they need to do is keep the receipts of the purchases for a 3-year period of time so that if those assessments are evaluated, when someone comes back and says ``We heard there is a problem here,'' they will have the receipts to verify whether the purchases were legitimate or not. That is the ``trust but verify'' that I think is important for dealing with these kind of situations.
When the State Department inspector general tried to access the documentation for purchase card transactions as required by the law and by State Department regulation, he found that many of the overseas offices didn't keep their transaction records. As an example, in fiscal year 2014, the inspector general found that more than half of overseas offices either didn't perform reviews of purchase card transactions as they are required to do or didn't even respond to the inspector general's request to produce the documentation. The report determined that during 2013 and 2014, there were $53.6 million in unaccounted purchases. That is unacceptable.
If you take a job, you are told: Here is your card. If you need to buy something locally and don't want to go through all the rigmarole of purchasing and sending documentation overseas and so forth, you can use this purchase card. But you have to keep the documents if you do this because you are going to be reviewed. Someone is going to come over here and say: Prove it.
Yet the State Department has basically said: Don't worry about it. You don't have to keep those--probably thinking that they will never come over and follow up on this. So that $53.6 million in unaccounted- for purchases at this rate, over a 10-year period of time, amounts to about $263 million in unknown and unverified purchases just within the State Department's overseas offices. Who knows what is going on here? Secondly, I want to talk about the Federal Aviation Administration because they have a similar situation that was inspected by their inspector general. He found that many employees do not comply with the guidelines, and the employees are not consistently held responsible for safeguarding their assigned equipment and supplies, such as digital cameras, laptops, and any other number items. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration IG, the Inspector General, found that there are nearly 15,000 pieces of equipment and material that employees may not be able to locate. The combined value of that missing property is over $32.5 million.
To make matters worse, the IG report states that the FAA division that essentially lost $32.5 million worth of equipment doesn't even have the authority to hold employees accountable. Not a bad job, right? It is as if they are saying don't worry: If you mess up, if you do something illegal, fraudulent, or you are just sloppy you're not responsible, if you don't know where the equipment is, if you don't keep track of it, you will not have to be accountable for that lost equipment.
No American business could function this way and stay solvent. But walk back an employee there and say: ``What happened to the new laptop that we gave you 6 months ago?'' They would say: ``I don't know. I don't know where it is. I need another one.'' ``That's fine. Don't worry. This happens all the time. We will give you a new one.'' On and on it goes. That division of the FAA essentially has lost $32.5 million worth of equipment, and, again, it doesn't even hold its employees accountable.
We have racked up nearly $19 trillion of debt in this country. No one can explain how large an amount of money that is. What we do know is that we are continuing to plunge into debt, and we are going to keep doing that. One of the ways we can be more accountable here is what I have just described.
I know my time is running out. With that, I am going to add this week to our accumulating waste $295.6 million for these unknown, unverified purchases, bringing our total now to $157.5 billion. It is time to put a stop to this. It is time to enforce these rules and regulations. It is time to be sensitive to the fact that we are wasting hard-earned taxpayers' dollars.
With that, keeping on schedule, I thank my colleague from Minnesota for the time which she has yielded, and I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.