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Budget hearing: Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee

March 13, 2008

Madam Chair and Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to appear before you to discuss the ongoing operational achievements of the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and to explain the Fiscal Year 2009 budget request for the CAO. I also would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all of you for your continuing support of the organization’s role. I look forward to working with you on these and other issues vital to the successful operations of the House.

Last year, I appeared before you to outline an array of important investments in our technology and facilities. I’d like to update you on two of last year’s highlights. In terms of facilities improvement, we focused on the House’s Child Care Center, and have successfully conducted an operational assessment of the facility and evaluated a child care assistance program. On the technology front, we have brought the new House financial and administrative system, Atlas, to the verge of what we are sure will be a seamless and productive rollout by the end of 2008.

For Fiscal Year 2009, we have placed a renewed emphasis on our people.

Improving House Employee Benefits

One year ago we set out to improve our processes and our systems. In order to maximize those investments, however, we also must invest in our employees, for whom these improvements were made.

We believe the employees of the House of Representatives are some of the most dedicated and committed in government, yet their benefits are simply not on par with many of their contemporaries working for other federal agencies (see attached). Those working for the Executive Branch, for example, enjoy an array of benefits our employees do not, including: a $10,000 annual student loan repayment program; tuition reimbursement; employer compensation for professional accreditation and dues; transit parking benefits; child care subsidies; and paychecks every two weeks.

Other governmental entities, like the Senate, the Library of Congress, the Architect of the Capitol, the United States Capitol Police and the Government Accountability Office also enjoy some of these benefits, while our employees do not.

Retaining and attracting talented employees fortifies institutional knowledge and ensures a capable workforce that can keep pace with the ever-increasing demands of this institution. Therefore, we are asking for $18.9 million to strengthen the House’s benefits package, making the House an employer that remains competitive in a robust and highly skilled job market.

Employing Our Wounded Warriors

That very job market can pose formidable challenges to wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many injured men and women returning from combat tours in those countries are challenged by the reentry into the civilian workforce. Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes the House of Representatives must take a leadership position as an employer that values not only the courageous sacrifices these soldiers made through their service to our country, but also the special skills and invaluable experience these brave men and women have to offer.

The Wounded Warrior program, which will cost approximately $5 million to implement in Fiscal Year 2009, will accomplish the Speaker’s goal.

I am pleased to introduce to you retired Master Gunnery Sergeant Patrice Orsini, who will be joining our staff to help direct the Speaker’s Wounded Warrior Program.

She will work to place other wounded veterans in positions throughout the House, developing skills and experience that they can, in turn, use in either a public or private sector career. Those selected for the program will be given the opportunity to rotate into various positions and, if a fit is found, transition into full time employment.

Hearing Room Modernization

Since Fiscal Year 2002, House committee rooms have been undergoing audio and video upgrades through the Committee Room Renovation Program.

However, in the digital era, Members and their constituents have come to expect higher broadcast and recording quality and digitalization of the House’s archiving and distribution technologies.

Beyond the obvious value the installation of modern equipment provides, the next phase of these improvements will afford another key benefit: by linking all rooms to the House Recording Studio an increased transparency of committee activities will be achieved.

This major capital upgrade, which is being undertaken at the direction of Speaker Pelosi, will maintain technological uniformity and House-wide systems compatibility. It will also require $20.2 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to upgrade and remodel the six remaining Main Hearing Rooms: Budget, Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform and Science. The appropriation will also fund linking all previously-upgraded committee rooms back to a central control room, where hearings can be converted into web-streams, broadcasts or archival digital video records.

New Member Office Initiative

The cost to successfully transition-in new Members in 2009 is a combination of several expenses, primarily the increase in staffing and support personnel needed to manage a transition of this size and our proposal to offer new Members some basic operational infrastructure within their Washington, D.C. and district offices without initially taxing their “MRAs.”

It is critical that new Members and their staffs “hit the ground running” operationally, without logistical and office start-up issues negatively affecting their legislative duties.

For obvious reasons, new Member offices must have a more intense level of support. They require computer cabling and server configuration of both their D.C. and district offices. Their staffs need to be trained and supported on how to use the House’s phone, financial, telephone and computer systems. This support requires the CAO to hire new staff.

The CAO also would like to afford new Members a basic “welcome” package, which would include supplies for their offices, as well as basic phone and server infrastructure.

Without this funding, which is $13.9 million, a new Member arriving on the Hill will absorb significant costs, reducing their MRA funds with startup expenses we believe should be the responsibility of the House.

Green the Capitol Initiative

Finally, we are asking you to continue to support the Green the Capitol Initiative with a commitment of $2 million.

The vision to make the Capitol more environmentally-friendly is no longer simply an initiative or an idea. Real progress has been made in just six months and even more significant changes are underway.

The goal of the Green the Capitol Initiative is to make the House carbon-neutral by the end of the 110th Congress with the support of this Subcommittee. The House is now purchasing wind power and converting to natural gas in the Capitol Power Plant. We have also bought carbon offsets and phased in an array of important energy-saving improvements.

Operationally, the House continues to make substantive changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that we hope will serve as an international model of governmental responsibility on green issues — changes that appropriately complement this Congress’ legislative attempts to reduce energy consumption and improve the environment on a national level (see attached).

We continue to evaluate every aspect of House operations to make this institution environmentally-friendly. The Green the Capitol team is continually assessing food services, transportation systems and procurement processes in an effort to use our resources wisely, save taxpayers money and improve the overall health and quality of our workplaces.

In just six months we have made significant inroads toward our goal of carbon neutrality and vastly improved energy efficiency. Based on our successes thus far, and with the help of our committed and environmentally-conscious employees and legislative branch partners, I am confident that goal is well within our grasp.

Closing Remarks

The CAO’s budget for Fiscal Year 2009 will ensure that we remain true to our stated mission: “solutions delivered,” which accurately conveys our level of commitment to providing the Members of the House with the level of service, support and business continuity they deserve.

But Fiscal Year 2009 is also about making the House a better place to work. Our proposed employee benefits package does more than “deliver a solution,” it also sends a message, inside and outside these walls: the House cares about its people.

And, lastly, we are working to make the House a more environmentally responsible workplace. Every day we strive to reduce the amount of carbon the House emits and, I am happy to report, we are emitting far less than we were when I came before you last year.

Again Madam Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to present the budget for the offices of the Chief Administrative Officer for Fiscal Year 2009.

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