Agencies Making Pitch for Funding

Posted March 14, 2007 at 6:45pm

The heads of four legislative branch agencies, whose combined funding requests for next year total close to three-quarters of a billion dollars, will go before Senate appropriators on Friday for their first budget hearings of the fiscal 2008 cycle.

Of the four agencies appearing, including the Government Printing Office, Government Accountability Office, Office of Compliance and Congressional Budget Office, the GAO is requesting by far the largest budget — $523.7 million — for fiscal 2008. But the GPO is requesting the biggest increase in funding by seeking a 48.6 percent hike in funds over current levels — $182 million, up from $122.4 million last year.

The GPO declined to comment on its budget request on Wednesday, but an agency spokeswoman said in February that one reason for the steep increase is the fact that the agency is printing the U.S. Code this year, an expensive process that takes place every six years.

The agency also is requesting funds for its Congressional Printing and Binding fund, which has been flat-funded for three years, and $10.5 million to complete its future digital system, which will digitize all federal documents.

Other requests include funds to fix GPO buildings, continue the agency’s retraining program and money for Internet Technology projects.

Testifying for the GPO on Friday will be acting Public Printer William Turri, who has overseen the agency since Public Printer Bruce James left the post in January.

The OOC is coming into Friday’s hearing with the second highest percent increase among legislative branch agencies, seeking $4.1 million in fiscal 2008. That request is a 31.9 percent increase over last year’s funding level.

OOC acting Executive Director Tamara Chrisler said Wednesday that a large portion of the increase in funding — about $280,000 — is being sought to monitor the abatement of health and safety hazards in the utility tunnels that deliver steam and chilled water throughout the Capitol complex. The ongoing problems in the utility tunnels came to the forefront of Congressional oversight last February after the OOC issued a citation against the Architect of the Capitol’s office for failing to fix the hazards after several years. Currently the OOC is in the final stages of a settlement negotiations with the AOC to come up with a plan to fix that system over the next few years.

With the scope of the problems in the five miles of underground tunnels, Chrisler said the OOC needs additional funding “for engineering expertise with respect to addressing asbestos, heat, structural issues and other hazards in the tunnels as well as a liaison to ensure that progress is being made and that we are following up with the commitment of the AOC.”

Chrisler said one new initiative for the OOC next year will be an effort to better educate Congressional offices on Occupational Safety and Health Act issues so violations can be recognized and caught on the front end before OOC inspections take place. During inspections in the 109th Congress, the OOC found more than 13,000 violations throughout legislative branch offices.

“We’re hoping to be able to review and analyze the safety and health plans of employing offices to assist them in identifying issues before they become hazards,” Chrisler said.

The OOC is asking for about $50,000 for that effort.

Also next year, the OOC will be responsible for inspecting about 700,000 square feet of additional space for health and safety violations when the new Capitol Visitor Center opens, an effort that will cost an additional $35,000, Chrisler said.

Testifying at his first legislative branch appropriations hearing as the newly installed head of the Congressional Budget Office will be Director Peter Orszag, who began his four-year term as leader of the 235-person agency on Jan. 18.

The CBO is asking for $38 million in fiscal 2008, up 7.1 percent from $35.5 million.

A CBO spokeswoman said this week that the agency’s relatively modest increase is to cover cost-of-living adjustments and generally bring the CBO back in line with spending levels that were frozen by the fiscal 2007 continuing resolution.

The GAO is seeking an 8.5 percent boost to $523.7 million, up from $482.4 million in fiscal 2007.

Comptroller General David Walker will testify at Friday’s hearing. The agency declined to comment Wednesday, deferring questions until after the hearing.

But the GAO’s budget request shows that the bulk of the money would go to personnel costs for the agency’s more than 3,000 employees.

The GAO has been under scrutiny in recent weeks for its personnel management. A unionization effort is under way at the GAO, with organizers citing a recent switch to a more market-based system in how the agency offers pay raises to its employees.

In fact, the agency’s “pay-for-performance” system was discussed at a March 8 hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal work force, postal service and the District of Columbia.

At the hearing, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) specifically asked witnesses about the new pay system and why employees reacted so negatively to it.

“GAO, who wasn’t unionized, but now gets unions or attempts to get a union as a result here — it does seem to me that that was not the result that this administration desired, and it has to be learned from,” Norton said.

Walker has maintained the system is fair and is a more effective way to pay employees.