Capitol Words a project of the Sunlight Foundation

  • and

Federal Employees

Sen. Mark Warner

legislator photo

Mr. President, I thank my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I know we have been switching back and forth. As someone who has the opportunity to preside more often than not on these kind of days, I know they are anxious to speak as well. I will only take a couple moments. I appreciate their courtesy.

A little earlier today we passed a conference report that extended the payroll tax cut. While I am glad the payroll tax cut was extended, I voted against that conference report because, unfortunately, we did not pay for that tax cut. I believe we could have found ways to pay for it--a surcharge on millionaires, tying this to a means test so it could have been more coordinated. But also in that action for those parts of the legislation that we passed that we did pay for, things such as unemployment benefits, we once again targeted a group that I think for too many in Congress becomes the payer of first resort, not payer of last resort; that is, our Federal employees.

Over the last year and a half or so, I have continued a tradition that was started by a colleague, Senator Ted Kaufman from Delaware, where on an occasional basis I come down and recognize the service of Federal employees who, too often, again as we have seen in recent debates, receive the brunt of lots of comments when in reality they are good folks who keep the operations of our Government working, who patrol our streets, catch the terrorists, and in some cases just recently I recognized a Federal employee who actually helps keep the Senate operating on a regular basis.

As we think about how we get our debt and deficit under control and pay for the programs that we will continue to initiate, we need to make sure we have a shared burden approach, where we look both to programs that have outlived their usefulness and the revenue side. Yes, I know Federal employees will make their contribution as well, but as we have seen from their pay freeze, from the threat of repeated furloughs over the last year and a half, and now adding to their pension contribution for new Federal employees, that burden is not always shared with all.

I am continuing the tradition of recognizing great Federal employees.

Mr. President, today I am pleased to honor a recently retired great federal employee, Joseph Lawrence. He most recently served as the director of transition in the Office of Naval Research within the Department of Defense.

During his time there, he oversaw a $1 billion research and development portfolio responsible for developing science and technology solutions to problems discovered during war game exercises conducted by the Marine Corps and the Navy.

For example, Mr. Lawrence oversaw the development and delivery of a new type of dressing that can be applied to a battlefield wound to prevent bleeding during transportation to a hospital. This innovation is now found in every Marine's individual first aid kit, as well as products used by U.S. Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies.

Other innovations include a system that protects tactical wheeled vehicles against rocket-propelled grenade and a crane that better transfers containers between ships.

In December 2011, Mr. Lawrence retired after 45 year of service, which began at the U.S. Naval Research lab while he was in college. He has played an important role in the protection of our country and the well-being of our troops.

Dedicated civil servants such as Mr. Lawrence are the lifeblood of the federal government. I admire their patriotism which drives them in their daily work. Too often, their service to the success of the United States does not receive the proper recognition it deserves.

This has been recently exemplified in the systemic problems associated with processing necessary paperwork prior to the disbursement of retirement benefits to all federal employees. Earlier this month, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee investigated problems within the Office of Personnel Management surrounding the processing of retirement and survivor benefits. Too many of our recently retired federal employees--the current estimate is more than 62,000 people--are waiting for more than year to receive earned retirement benefits.

We are not holding up our end of the bargain with people who commit to public service to their country. To make matters worse, this is not the first time the Congress and OPM recognized the current processing system is broken. I am committed to helping resolve the issue with the current OPM system. But, frankly, the current OPM system, which doesn't have very good technology--when they have invested in technology resources, they have actually come up with goose eggs--is now currently processing these retirement requests with old-fashioned paper and pencil. It makes no sense.

As a matter of fact, there are a number of agencies--the Department of State and others--as they send over the retirement information on an employee to OPM, over 50 percent of the information they send over in terms of the case is not complete. So not only is this a problem at OPM, but this is a problem in terms of OPM being able to enforce the other 88 Federal agencies actually doing their job.

I believe we need to tackle and fix this problem to ensure that retired Federal employees, such as Mr. Lawrence, who have faithfully served this great Nation, are able to enter retirement and receive that for which they worked so hard.

I hope my colleagues will join me in honoring Mr. Lawrence for the excellent work he has done, and I hope they will join me in making sure that when Federal employees retire, they get their retirement benefits in a timely and efficient manner.

I yield the floor and thank my colleagues for their courtesy.

The Senator from South Dakota.

Sen. John Thune

legislator photo

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to enter into a colloquy with the Senator from Kansas for as much time as we may consume.

Without objection, it is so ordered.