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Audit The Bp Fund Act Of 2010

Rep. Michael E. McMahon

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Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 6016) to provide for a GAO investigation and audit of the operations of the fund created by BP to compensate persons affected by the Gulf oil spill, as amended.

The Clerk read the title of the bill.

The text of the bill is as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

This Act may be cited as the ``Audit the BP Fund Act of

(a) In General.--The Comptroller General shall conduct an ongoing independent investigation and audit of the operations of the fund and claims process created by BP to compensate persons affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico beginning on April 20, 2010, as those operations take place to determine their effectiveness, including the timeliness of claim payments and the accuracy of those operations in determining amounts of damages compensated. (b) Use of Subpoena Power.--The Comptroller General may use any investigative powers, including those of subpoena granted to the Comptroller General for the purposes of other investigations and audits, to conduct this investigation and audit. (c) Report to Congress.--Every 90 days during the operations, and once after all those operations are completed, the Comptroller General shall report to Congress on the effectiveness of those operations.

It is the sense of Congress that-- (1) BP should fully cooperate with the Comptroller General to assure that the BP relief fund is accurately, expediently, and efficiently compensating Gulf coast victims of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill for their losses; and (2) the costs incurred by the Comptroller General to carry out responsibilities under this Act should be reimbursed by

Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New York (Mr. McMahon) and the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. LoBiondo) each will control 20 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New York.

Rep. Michael E. McMahon

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Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks and to include extraneous material on H.R. 6016.

Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New York?

There was no objection.

Rep. Michael E. McMahon

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I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 6016 requires the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent investigation and audit of the operations of the fund and claims process created by BP in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

This fund and claims process, established by BP after negotiations with the Obama administration, was created to ensure that the lives and livelihoods of those adversely affected by this massive oil spill would be duly compensated for their losses. Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster caused immeasurable damage to both the livelihoods of the gulf coast population and to the gulf coast ecosystem.

From the outset, BP volunteered that it would compensate victims of the spill for their losses. However, as with any process for compensation, there is a need for transparency, for efficiency and for equity in compensation. This legislation can provide another avenue to ensure that these essential elements are included in any compensation paid out of the BP fund and claims process.

Specifically, this legislation directs the GAO to undertake an ``ongoing independent investigation and audit'' of the BP fund and claims process--specifically targeting the effectiveness of the fund and claims process, the efficiency in which the claims process operates, and the accuracy in accounting for and paying out of claims. The legislation authorizes GAO to use its underlying subpoena power, where necessary, to ensure the accuracy and completeness of its audit and investigation.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, this legislation requires the GAO to issue a report to Congress every 90 days during its audit and investigation, as well as a final report to Congress when the BP fund and claims process is completed. This information is essential for Congress to continue its ongoing oversight of the response and recovery of what is now likely the world's fifth largest oil spill in history.

I reserve the balance of my time.

Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo

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I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Brady).

Rep. Kevin Brady

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I thank my friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. LoBiondo), for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 6016, the Audit the BP Fund Act of 2010. I urge support for the bill that would provide for an ongoing independent Government Accountability Office investigation and audit of the operations of the compensation fund created by BP to reimburse those who were harmed by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico beginning on April 20, 2010.

The bill specifically determines the effectiveness, including the timeliness of claim payments and the accuracy of these operations in determining amounts of damages compensated.

I believe the BP fund was established to help make whole the economies along the gulf coast that were damaged or destroyed by the disaster. $20 billion, as we know, is a tremendous amount of money, and it can go a long way to compensate gulf coast victims of the spill.

We must ensure that compensation is done fairly, timely, and without bias, political pressure, or fraud.

We have heard complaints from State and local attorneys critical of the overly restrictive terms. Others have said there's not been enough time to assess the damages. Others are concerned that fraudsters will take money away from those honest people and families and businesses that are waiting for their dollars.

And thus far, the fund has paid out about $400 million to approximately 30,000 claimants. Obviously, that is about 2 percent of the fund. That is slow--we think a little too inefficient for those who have been damaged--and this is precisely why we need this bill, to ensure that the fund functions as it should.

With that, I urge support for H.R. 6016.

Rep. James L. Oberstar

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Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 6016, as amended, the ``Audit the BP Fund Act of 2010''. This legislation requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake an ongoing audit and investigation of the BP Oil Spill Victims Compensation Fund (Fund). This bill authorizes GAO to use its subpoena power to ensure that victims of the oil spill are provided with compensation in a timely manner, the claim amounts are determined accurately, and the operations process occurs effectively. GAO will be required to report its findings to Congress every 90 days until the operations of the Fund are completed, in approximately three years.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused immeasurable damage both to the livelihoods of the Gulf coast population and to the Gulf coast ecosystem. From the outset, BP volunteered that it would compensate victims of the spill. This summer, the White House secured a legally-binding commitment from BP to establish a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the spill. A central element of this Fund is that any fines and penalties that may be levied against BP and its partners shall remain wholly separate from the Fund itself. BP has also committed to honor any legitimate claims that would result in expenditures above and beyond the agreed-upon $20 billion.

The challenge with any victims compensation fund is determining who gets --what, and how much. The agreement brokered by the White House creates an entity known as the Independent Claims Facility (ICF) to establish and implement a process by which claims will be evaluated and distributed. The White House and BP agreed that Kenneth Feinberg would be appointed to run the ICF and oversee the claims process. Mr. Feinberg was the Special Master in charge of the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. His performance in that very difficult undertaking was widely praised. As a result--and based on his other professional experiences--Mr. Feinberg is certainly the logical choice to run the ICF fund.

While we do not doubt Mr. Feinberg's capacity and willingness for ensuring that the BP Oil Spill Victims Compensation Fund claims process occurs in an irreproachable manner, the BP spill was very much a matter of national interest and concern. This legislation will provide an oversight mechanism to ensure that the commitments of BP, negotiated by the White House, are fulfilled by all parties, and that--most importantly--those that have suffered financial misfortune are duly compensated.

GAO has a long history of auditing programs. As such, it is well-situated to bring its experience to bear and report its findings to Congress. This legislation requires that the Comptroller General report to Congress every 90 days. This reporting requirement will keep Congress abreast of the effective workings of the Fund--but will also not overburden GAO's resources.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 6016.

Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo

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I yield back the balance of my time.

Rep. Michael E. McMahon

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Mr. Speaker, I support this legislation, and I yield back the balance of my time.

Rep. Paul Tonko

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The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from New York (Mr. McMahon) that the House suspend the rules and pass the bill, H.R. 6016, as amended.

The question was taken; and (two-thirds being in the affirmative) the rules were suspended and the bill, as amended, was passed.

A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.