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tv   Politics Public Policy Today  CSPAN  February 11, 2015 6:00pm-7:01pm EST

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you. >> i appreciate that. what about those, not the tax issue, but had substantial prior employment issues attendance issues, misrepresentation of what they were doing, if they were on the job. >> again as i say, the consolidation now, we have a personal security department that reviews every offer before it is made to make sure we've gone over all of that. some of that some personal activities are you didn't show up for work for two days. others are, you had a significant problem. we distinguish between those. and the opm rules are very clear about that that just because you had a performance issue in your file doesn't mean you can never work again for the irs. it depends on the nature and duration of the affair. but it's important for people, even though 80% of these people are temporaries and seasonals who don't necessarily work even for half the year. it is important for us to make
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sure -- >> it's very important. >> -- that we have the appropriate people working. i'm a big supporter of ig's, and we take it seriously. we have implemented their recommendations. we have a personal security group now that ensures before an offer goes out if you have violated 1203-b which are the two most serious issues you don't get hired. and if there are other conduct issues, not only are we going to follow the opm rules we're going to review those for appropriateness for employment at the irs. people need to be comfortable that we take it seriously. and people working for the irs ought to be tax compliant. >> i appreciate that. and i would like the information on those that are still employed that came under these 824. >> the 824 covers a large -- >> a lot of -- >> the gentleman's time is expired. i recognize the gentleman from alabama, mr. palmer, for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i want to give mr. koskanan a
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break here for a minute. >> i don't want you to think that's not appreciated. >> well that doesn't mean i won't come back to you. mr. lightfoot nasa's done a good job in making progress on getting off the high-risk list. there are still some issues -- i'm from alabama. nasa's a major presence in our state. there have been some issues with re-base lining costs and scheduling in management and technical issues. can you address that? on some of your projects? >> yes, sir. we have -- the process we go through where we review these projects on a routine basis, we've had some that have done really well. we continue to make progress on the last eight of the last nine. once we go through confirmation what we call confirmation of a
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project that moves it from formulation to development that's when we make a commitment for a certain cost and schedule. the process we have where we review those monthly, occasionally we have one that pops up, and it gives us an issue. we've had two of those. sustaining the system we have, and the project where we were required to go back and baseline. you go through a process of announcing alternatives, is there another way to get the particular mission accomplished. can you de-scope the existing mission. that's the process we go through. each one of those has lessons. one of the things we've been working on is the continuing to improve our process as we go forward with the rest of those projects. >> at a prior time in my life i worked for a couple of major engineering companies. and one of the things that drives a client crazy the one
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paying the bill is change orders. you've got some projects that i don't know if it's a result of design changes, or poor design to begin with that are running some substantial outruns on change orders. could you address that? >> yes, sir, i think the one you're talking about is the ground systems project that we had. this was the first time that we've actually applied the same project management methodology that we had for spacecraft we've been flying to a ground system. one of the things -- that's an upgrade to the ground networks that actually communicate with all the satellites we have in orbit. that system is basically becoming obsolete. what we did is we went out and tried to -- we knew we had a pretty large job in front of us. the techniques that we've been doing for spacecraft one of the things to the ground system. we learned a few lessons in that process. the first one is, we have to be
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very clear on our requirements. much to which you're talking about. and make sure we understand that the contractor that's doing that work understands those requirements as well. so we've gone back and forth with this in terms of trying to define better the expectations we have, per the contractor, and then managing that contractor. in this particular case we've changed out the entire contract management team. and the team we have in terms of our managing it. since we've done that, we have managed to stay -- from the value perspective, we stayed at the levels we expected. >> would you say this is the result of a design that -- of a project that the schedule dictated the design, or is this something where you're entering a new area and you're designing as you go? >> i think this is a case where we underestimated the type of work we needed to do to deal with the obsolescence issues we
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had in front of us, in terms of designing the software system we were putting in place with the new equipment. >> all right. i believe that's all i have. i yield the balance of my time. >> i recognize the gentleman from georgia for five minutes. >> thank you mr. chairman. and mr. koskanans, since you had a break, i thought it appropriate to come back and ask you a couple of questions on my mind in particular. based on previous testimony you made it clear that the ability of the irs to make progress in the areas that have been outlined by the gao have been largely hindered due to reductions in funding. and this is kind of a personal question to me, because of my involvement with nonprofit organizations. and the irs has spent millions of dollars to basically rewrite the governing rules for 501-c
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4s, or what have you, different nonprofit organizations, specifically potentially removing tax-exempt status that those organizations are involved in political activity. my question is multiple. it's rather amazing personally that there would be an issue of trying to hinder speech of americans. my specific question really comes down to how much money -- can you tell me how much money the irs has spent on writing and the attempt to rewrite that specific section of the 501-c-4 ruling. i know it was withdrawn, but my understanding is there is an attempt now to rewrite that. i'm curious how much money has been spent. >> the only money that's being spent is the lawyers that have been working on the drafting of this. and they haven't been spending full time so it's not a large
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amount. i could try to get an estimate of how many people worked on it. the first version was before i got there. if you'd like, we could try to figure out a rough estimate, in man-hours. but the only man spent is a relatively small number of lawyers who are working on it. but i would note the goal is not to hinder. as i said when i started and kind of inherited all of this, the goal is in fact to make clear what the rules are, in a way that is fair to everybody. all of the organizations. it's clear and easy to administer. right now, the role is you judge both the determination as to whether you're eligible, and whether you're performing under the statute by facts and circumstances. so that means anybody running an organization is running the risk looking over their shoulder saying, is somebody going to have a different view of the facts and circumstances. so my sense is we ought not to be hindering political speech. we ought not to be changing the way people act. what we ought to have -- the ig
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in his recommendation said the treasury department and irs should clear up what the standard is for what amount -- how much and what the definition is of the political activity you can engage in. and my sense is, it ought to be possible to have a rule that would be clearer easier for people in those organizations to understand, and fair to everyone. and that would not be hindering political speech. so it's not my intention, anyway, in looking at that, to do that. my sense and concern is, that the present system has over the last several years, via the ig's analysis, has turned out to be unworkable. i think it would be in our interests to make it clearer what the rules are, and the organizations are confident that no one will come in and second-guess them. >> we certainly need clarification in that. but i would also strongly urge a very clear understanding of the freedoms of americans.
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just because someone is a part of a nonprofit organization they have not waived the first amendment rights. and that is a tremendous threat that the irs has in my opinion no business interfering with. and that is a deep concern. >> i agree with you. and in fact, my sense is the rules that they are fair and clear to everyone will in fact create less of a constraint on people's right to free speech. then the present rules which are muddy and hard to interpret. >> one other question and i will yield my time. again, going back to the issue that the main problem has been lack of funding, the issues from the gao have come up with the irs for some 25 years, or close to it. it's been a long time that we've had issues. and yet a few years ago in 2010, the irs had more funding than they've ever had. and these problems, these issues have still not been addressed. >> that's not quite true. we did have more money in 2010
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by a long shot. as i noted in my testimony, in 2013 as a result of that spending on information technology, the information technology, business system modernization problem for the irs was taken off the high-risk list after having been there for 14 years. so it has been true and proven that certainly in the i.t. area, that if we have the funding, we can make significant progress. >> that's great for the i.t. area but there's many other areas that need to be addressed. and 25 years is far too long. it's time to put some teeth to it. sir, thank you. >> i now recognize the gentleman from florida. >> commissioner it was a year ago when the senior irs leadership learned that lois lerner's hard drive had crashed. there was an issue about getting her e-mails off backup tapes. you wrote a letter to senate finance in june of 2014 saying that there were problems with lerner's e-mails that the backup tapes had been destroyed. and then on june 20th, you
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testified before the ways and means committee that the irs went to, quote great lengths and made extraordinary efforts to recover lerner's e-mails. let me ask you this. after the irs became aware that lerner's hard drives had crashed, what specific steps did the irs take to locate any backup tapes, or disaster recovery tapes? >> the disaster recovery tapes that the irs are recorded over until they're no longer usable. there is no technique or capacity in the irs to actually retrieve e-mails off of those tapes. what we did do is go to everybody in the what's called the custodial list of about 80 different people that miss lerner would have been communicating with, because we were looking for all e-mails. we already produced all e-mails relevant to the determination process. we took every e-mail that was to or from lois lerner compared them against e-mails -- >> that would not be backup
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tapes, that was their hard drives. the backup tapes you made the judgment they simply were not going to be recoverable or did you actually have somebody investigate whether you could have backup tapes, or could find some backup tapes? >> our experts said there was no way, it was not recoverable. it's taken the ig six months working around the clock and he still hasn't gotten them produced. my position all along has been with the ig because we helped him find what the backup tapes were that had been recorded over from that time, is if he could find more e-mails that would be terrific. i actually mean that seriously because it would lend even more light than the 24000 we already produced into what were in those e-mails in that time frame. >> but why would the ig be able to find it when you couldn't find it? >> because the ig, when we discovered this and, in the spring, and we reported it in june, six weeks later within a couple weeks thereafter the ig
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started his investigation, so we had no more time. i will tell you today if we started today, it's taken the ig, and i don't know how many money they're spending, it's taken over six months to in fact recover whatever they're going to recover. >> let me ask you this. you don't have that capacity? did the irs ever collect any tapes or send any backup tapes to any forensic lab in your investigation, the people that you detailed to do this? was that -- were any tapes recovered, any tapes ever sent to a lab by the irs? >> no. >> okay. now, who told you that the backup tapes would not yield any e-mails from lois lerner's crashed har drive? >> i was told that by our technology department. >> do you know the basis for that statement? did you inquire as to how they could be sure of that? >> basically what they described to me is they had these disaster recovery tapes they're actual tapes. they keep them for six months, and when the six months is done, they simply reuse them and
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record over them. if you ever had tapes when you record over them in the normal process the data underneath them is gone. in fact, i was told that we had no capacity and no way you could actually recover those. in fact, they were not sure there was any way to recover them. >> has the irs communicated with lois lerner her attorneys about recovering the e-mails from any of her crashed hard drives? >> i've had no communication with lois lerner about this at all. i've never met her. >> let me ask you this. in the course of the irs's response to this committee's investigation, has the irs withheld any information or documents from congress on any other basis other than 6103? >> no. we've had some that we've asked the staff to review in camera because they're personal matters that have nothing to do with the investigation. but we've exercised no privilege. we aren't trying to keep anything from you. in fact we've continued to respond to requests and continue to provide any information we can find. >> and you would say that your
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responses to the request from this committee have been above and beyond what is required in this situation? >> i don't know about above and beyond. when you ask for information, we have an obligation to do the best to provide it. anytime you want -- >> extraordinary efforts aren't above and beyond? >> in fact, when we discovered the crash, then it was my decision and thought that we needed to do whatever we could to fill in that gap. and we did find 24000 e-mails we provided. my understanding fromis that the ig may be able to find another 9,000 or 10,000 lois lerner e-mails. >> the final question is, you made the effort you were not cavalier about this you made the effort to find what the committee wanted is that your testimony? >> that's my testimony. >> thank you. i yield back. >> i now recognize the distinguished gentleman from south carolina, mr. gaudy, for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. the book of ecclesiastes, you
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convinced me earlier this evening not to question mr. koskanin. he was here for gao related testimony and not irs. and i don't know whether he's prepared for the questions or not. we'll find out. i believe that you have agreed at some point he's going to come back before the committee. i was wondering if the chairman might engage in a colloquy with me to make sure that my chronology is correct. i thought the last time the commissioner was in front of us there was a robust discussion about the time period within which he was going to produce e-mails. and he had asked us to narrow the scope so that he could prioritize and get us those e-mails that we had asked for. and of course, as the chairman will recall, we need those e-mails, because the e-mails we do have from lois lerner contain
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such jewels as lamenting gop, celebrating democrat wins, forecasting gloom and doom, if the gop god forbid ever controlled the senate saying that we needed a plan to overcome citizens united. those were just some of the e-mails that i recall, mr. chairman. and if my chronology holds after the commissioner told us that he would priority the production of those e-mails, of course, they magically disappeared. and then the irs of course mr. chairman employed herculean efforts to recover those e-mails. they were not successful. but then after the election, they did appear at some point. and now we are reading that 500 of those e-mails will not be
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made available due to the invocation of a privilege. does the chairman know what privilege the white house is relying upon to not produce those documents to congress? >> i do not. >> do you think -- do you know whether the president has had an opportunity to review those 500 documents? >> good question. >> do you think there's a chance that his conclusion that not a smidgen of corruption exists in this investigation might be altered if he did have an opportunity to review what's in those documents? >> certainly. >> will you consider inviting mr. koskanin back to update us on this chronology? >> yes, indeed. >> all right. well commissioner, i'm not going to question you today. because i think the hearing title was something else. but i hope at some point we can go back to where we left off,
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which was an assurance from you that you were going to prioritize e-mail productions. and i hope at some point, mr. chairman, we can evaluate the refusal to turn over certain documents to congress the invocation of privilege. i hasten to add as the chairman remembers, because of his service on judiciary and oversight, this administration has invoked executive privilege before, only for us to then learn that that privilege was invoked to protect an e-mail that the attorney general sent to his wife. under what theory of executive privilege is that e-mail protected? so i hope that i live long enough to see the production of those e-mails. and i certainly hope i live long enough to see the commissioner come back before us. with that -- >> the gentleman yields. >> yes. >> can i just make one clarification? during the course of all of the document production, treasury department turned over all of its lois lerner e-mails and the
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white house made a representation they had no lois lerner e-mails. in terms of that process in fact this committee issued a report in december noting that in fact there was no evidence that anyone outside of the irs, whether the white house or treasury, had any impact or influence over the -- as the ig said improper use of the criteria for the c-4. so i don't know what the documents over there are. there's been litigation around the inspector general investigating communications. but that's not a case between us and the irs. the irs is not a party to that. >> that's in part why i directed my questions to the chairman and not to you. but if you would like us to have this conversation, i will ask you, do you understand why congress wants those e-mails? can you understand as a trained attorney why we might want access to all the documents? >> i can understand that. my understanding was that the white house some time ago
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certified there were no lois lerner e-mails. and treasury gave you all of their lois lerner e-mails. we'll come back and we'll have more occasions, i think this is my sixth appearance before this committee. i look forward to the seventh. i'll be delighted to give you an update, and i'll be delighted if the inspector general can ever complete his work to produce those e-mails. all of us will learn what was in them. i have been totally supportive of the ig. my view really is if there are e-mails that can be found and in the public press it's been said, they are able to find them, that's a step forward. >> i'm out of time. you can appreciate our cynicism and skepticism. because it appears as if sometimes the strategy is just to delay and obs fi indicate and wait and wait or until there's a new administration.
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i'm sure you can understand why we would like to have those documents sooner rather than later. >> i thoroughly understand that. >> i thank the gentleman. >> thank you. >> i'll now recognize myself for five minutes. i haven't had a chance to ask questions. and i'd like to remind my colleagues why we're here. the five of you are very presentable. you put a happy face on a difficult situation. but here's the reality. 25 years in a row, your agencies, these problems have come before congress. 25 years in a row. this is the all-star team of problems. that's the reality. you can try to put lipstick on this pig but the reality is, it's ugly. to get on this list, you have been to be engaged in waste, fraud and abuse in excess of $1 billion a year. now, to get off the list, granted, it's not eds but here are the criteria for getting off the list.
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leadership commitment agency capacity. you have to have an action plan. you've got to be monitoring efforts, and show progress. that seems like a reasonable five sets of criteria that you can accomplish. the scorecard according to gao, 25 years in a row you've failed to hit the criteria on those five. and consequently, that's why we're highlighting this. i think you're all well intentioned. i think you're all very talented individuals. but the mass of bureaucracy within the organizations that you represent here today, it's failing to meet these modest goals. and that's what's so frustrating. things are going to pop up. challenges are going to rise. but 25 years in a row, it's just not good enough. i heard that you were making
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measurable progress, good news to report. i'm sorry, you don't have good news to report. the bad news is, you're back again. we don't want to keep having these hearings. we want to show the progress. and i really do appreciate the good men and women who spend untold number of hours and literally years going through the details of what's happening within these departments and agencies. as a follow-up, i don't expect you to do this off the top of your head, one of my concerns is, who's held accountable? like, who actually is held account accountable? we asked, i think at the very beginning, one of our members asked a good question has anybody ever been fired? i think it was mr. hurd who asked it. anybody been fired or transferred because of not meeting these goals? we have thousands of good quality people who work for the federal government. these are employees who wake up they're patriotic, they work
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hard, trying to do their best, but somehow, some way, in these five areas it's totally fallen down. we're not achieving the goals. again, the criteria put forward by the gao doesn't say that you have to stall this. it says you're on the trajectory to actually getting it stalled. so part of the follow-up that we would appreciate is who's held accountable? what happens if you don't meet these goals? because some of these are astronomically large. i mean we're talking hundreds of billions of dollars. if you just take -- you want to wipe out the federal deficit you just look at the uncollected taxes, and the problems that we have in waste fraud and abuse going out the door, through hhs. that more than wipes out all the deficit just right there just those two things. it's not very easily done but the waste, the fraud, the abuse and you look at the people who work hard and pay their taxes and they're doing everything that they can, and then they
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hear hundreds of billions of dollars going out that's either not collected or going out erroneously, and the waste and fraud. they just throw up their hands, you know? their 2,500 bucks means something in their lives. yet the numbers here are so big. i do not understand why the five that are highlighted here, there's six programs, two with the department of defense why you can't hit those five goals. and according to the gao, like the medicare program, they've only met one of the five goals. four partially. on the two dod programs, met one of the five criteria. four are partially met. at the department of energy, one partially met, one fully met, three not met at all.
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so 25 years in a row. i don't want to come back and have this same hearing at the beginning of the next congress. i want you all to solve it. the committee would like to know, how are you going to do that? how are you going to do that? and again difficult for you to answer, but i'm telling you, y'all have painted a pretty picture, it ain't so pretty. but we want to see what it is you're actually doing. what is the action plan to create an action plan. that's the hope and goal. and that's my concern. and with that, i want to yield back. i think, if there are any members who wish to ask a second round of questions. the gentleman from ohio. >> i appreciate the chair's indulgence. if we could put up these two slides again. >> i think it was agreed by mr. gowdy and the chairman we'll come back and have a full hearing about this, that -- >> i fully expect that, yeah.
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>> but i'm happy to answer more questions, that's fine. >> that's the way it works. we're allowed to ask questions, because the american people want to know why the internal revenue service didn't comply. that's awful big of you. >> i'm just stating that we're going to have another hearing on this. but i'm happy to answer the questions. >> we still haven't got the truth, as evidenced by the headline yesterday. the mainstream press can't even get the documents -- >> that's not documents they're requesting from us. >> but they derive from your unlawful activity. that's the point. that's something you've got to understand. the guy who heads the agency with as much power as you do to have that kind of attitude, that's what frustrates not just members of this committee, but all kinds of americans. mr. chairman, that is the problem. let's go back to this. i want to know something. this is what you told me when i asked you, when did you learn you could not get all of her e-mails? you learned in april. all right?
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then you learned in april, and then let's put up the next slide. this is the letter you sent to senate finance telling them in june, you sent this letter. telling them you -- and you used the word confirmed, that no backup tapes -- that backup tapes no longer exist. so i want to know between april when you learned and june when you told the congress and the american people what you did to confirm that those tapes didn't exist, which we now know do exist. so what did you do to confirm that the tapes didn't exist mr. koskanin? >> i talked to the i.t. people who told me that when the tapes were finished with their six months, they were reused and then destroyed. and that as far as they were concerned, there was no way -- we had no capacity even if we knew where they were to extract
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e-mails from them. it's taken the ig six months and they still haven't completed the process. >> that's all you did? you asked your i.t. people? >> right. >> was it a long conversation? did you ask them one question? >> i asked them questions about how the backup disaster recovery process worked. >> so the word confirmed is based on one conversation you had with i.t. people? >> yes those are the experts that told me there was no way that those tapes could be found. if they were reused -- >> that's all you did? >> that's all i did. >> really? an issue where repeated lies from lois lerner false statements given by doug schulman, the unprecedented fashion in where you released the data ahead of the inspector general's report that you already tipped off the treasury and white house about, and all you do to confirm, you lost the most important document mgs from the most important person at the
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center of this scandal, all you do is ask a question of the i.t. people? >> we spent six weeks looking at documents for 82 people to produce 24,000 more lois lerner e-mails. >> who was this person this one conversation you had to confirm, you lost valuable documents from the central figure in this entire scandal who was this one person you asked this question to? can you give us a name? >> that would have been steve manning, who's the senior i.t. guy. i asked him, could we find with those tapes available, he said no. we decided what we could do is what we did do was we looked at the -- all of the e-mails to and from lois lerner from 80 people and produced for you 25,000 e-mails. >> i'm focused on the words you used, confirmed. >> yes. >> one conversation with one i.t. guy that turned out not to be true. here's the big picture. your chief counselor knew in february you had problems with lois lerner's e-mails. you learned in april, and you
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didn't tell us until june. from february to june you learned there was a big problem. and the only thing you do to confirm that there are big problems is one question to your i.t. guy? >> i knew in april -- >> about something where people's fundamental rights were violated. >> a lot of time to get 24,000 e-mails for you. at that time we thought the most we could do, the best we could do, in fact it was an extraordinary effort to go back through all of that to get the additional 24,000 e-mails. which apparently, you don't have much interest in them -- >> one conversation, mr. chairman, with an i.t. guy, and he writes the u.s. congress and tells the american people we've lost lois lerner's e-mails. and then one last question, if i could. when did you learn from tigda that they had actually found these tapes and could recover these e-mails? >> i haven't learned yet that they could recover them. they went through the system and our people helped them find by the early part of late july, early august they said they thought they had found the tapes from --
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>> whoa, whoa, this is an important point. literally a month after -- in july and early august, a month after you said we confirmed that backup tapes no longer exist tigda had the backup tapes? within a month they got the tapes that you confirmed didn't exist? >> that's exactly right. >> oh, my goodness. thank you very much, mr. chairman. >> recognize the ranking member. >> you know we can -- just sitting here and listening to all of this, i'm just trying to figure out how do we move forward. you all have been on the list for 25 years. that's a long time. administration after administration, and at some point we need to get off this merry-go-round. and one of the things that i've noticed after being here for 18
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years now, is that there's a tendency for i think it was mr. gowdy who said it folks waiting for another administration or another congress and then we recycle the same problems. i guess my question is very simple, to each of you. if you were -- if you had a magic wand and you could get this done, what would you do to get yourselves off the list? i mean what does it take -- if you were us what would you do to get you off the list? or to have a kind of accountability that the chairman talked about? because i've got to agree with him, we're better than this. and we're just going round and round and round. we're losing hundreds of
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billions of dollars. we're wasting a lot of time. and it's very frustrating. and i just believe -- i mean, is it that we are too big to have accountability? is it that we are too big to be able to say okay, this is how it's supposed to be done, and we're going to do it this way, and we're going to do it in an effective and efficient manner? i mean you all may feel that the questions are a bit unfair and tough. so i'm going to turn the table, and why don't you all tell us what you would -- if you were us, what would we have you do so that you get off the list? so that we can hold you
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accountable. we'll start with you, mr. williams, since you have such a wonderful smile. >> thank you for your question. first of all the point that i would make with respect to the department of energy. and to the chairman's comments is, we have made progress. but the gao is essentially focusing on a half a dozen large capital projects where we have had repeated problems. and we still do have problems. so there's no effort on our part to claim success on that. and we welcome your oversight. and the oversight of gao. what success we have had is in projects below 750. i won't dwell on those. but i will point out in the department -- in the msa, we're 27% below budget, and on time. and the national syncatron project has come in on budget.
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the large capital projects tend to be the nuclear projects which are the most complex projects in the world. what we're trying to focus on are structural changes so that they last past someone like me testifying before you for a couple of years, and that's why we've tried to create a much improved esap, a new project risk management committee. because that committee is meant to create enterprise-wide dialogue and challenge by all the project members from across the programs. so that we can avoid future problems like this, and hopefully get to the bottom of the problems that we have. the last thing i would just mention, sir is both of you talked about accountability. that has been a significant issue at the department of energy. when everybody's in charge of a project, nobody's in charge. and so that's why, as i mentioned earlier, we -- the secretary has mandated that for
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every project, we have to have a defined owner, to the chairman's question, so that that is the person who is accountable when things don't go correctly. >> i think we have a solution to this issue, and i tharng the chairman. >> the ranking member mr. cummings, and i have chatted. i think what we would like to do is to send each of you a letter. we would request that you would respond within the 30-day period. what is your plan? show us your game plan and what you need to do to accomplish that plan. does anybody have an objection to that? is that fair? >> no sir. >> does anybody have an objection to that? we can meet that 30-day timeline if we send you a letter this week? fair enough. this is -- this has been a long hearing. you've been very patient taking your time here. but that's what we'll do. we will send a bipartisan
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letter. we would ask you to respond within 30 days show us your game plan. and then that way i think we can go from here. we do appreciate your agencies. again, most of the people, they're good hard working patriotic people. but we're failing them. if we don't address it and put a plan in place, we will be back here again. and we don't ever want to do that. so with that, this committee will stand adjourned. thank you.
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veterans affair secretary testified earlier today before the house veterans affairs committee on the president's 2016 veterans affairs budget request. here's part of his exchange with colorado republican mike coughman who accused the secretary from failing to finish va projects in his district.
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>> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. secretary, in the budget submission, for the office of general counsel, you list as recent accomplishments, and this is a quote defend complex litigation such as the construction projects in orlando, and denver. end quote. how is that a success? you lost that case on every single point. for the hospital in my district. hundreds of millions of dollars overbudget, and years behind schedule. and the only way the construction could continue was that the general contractor demanded that the va construction management personnel be kicked och the project, and that the army corps of engineers come in and take over the project. and so i -- you know i think that that's just characteristic of your glossing over the
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extraordinary problems confronted by your department. this is a department meyered in bureaucratic incompetence and corruption. i think the public relations is great today, but there's no substance. there is no substance. >> i am highly offended by your comment -- >> let me finish. i fundamentally believe that it's unfortunate, that at the end of the day at the end of this president's term that you will not have made a difference in changing the culture of this organization, by virtue of the fact that you continue to gloss over its problem. >> i'm offended by your comment. actually, i've been here six months. you've been here longer than i have. if there's a problem in denver, i think you own it more than i do. i found it ironic that when i went out to l.a. to solve a 4-year-old lawsuit, you were busy calling for a hearing to
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discover to find out what happened five years ago. i'm working on the future, sir, and i'm going to correct the past, but i'm working on the future, because that's what our veterans want. >> for you to say you're going to the army corps of engineers to advise you as to how to correct the extraordinary problems -- let me tell you, i think what you need to do is focus on providing the health care benefits and the other benefits the veterans have earned and get out of that construction management business, and concede it to the army corps of engineers. >> that's your point of view. >> each major construction project is hundreds of millions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule. that's a problem. >> i think we work very closely with the corps of engineers. general boss wick is a good friend. he's also been very helpful. he has told us that he does not want total responsibility for all of the va's construction. we're going to work with him,
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we're going to find out the right balance of that. we're doing it in denver, as you know. and we appreciate your help to get that building finished. and get it finished for good value for taxpayers. >> all right. i hope you can make a difference. >> i would just say, maybe if you want i'll give you my cell phone tonight and you can answer some of the calls and see if i'm making a difference for veterans and see what they say. or go on the websites, see what the veterans are saying on the websites. ask the vsos in the next group. >> the fundamental challenge -- >> i run a large company, sir. >> the challenge is for this organization to reflect your values. and i'm not sure that that's going to happen. and i hope that it does. >> i want your help to do that. i need your help. >> see the full house veterans affairs committee hearing on the president's 2016 veterans affairs budget request tonight at 8:00 eastern on our cam pan onnetwork c-span2.
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president obama formally asked congress today for new military authority to fight islamic state militants. the proposed legislation would limit military action to three years, and allow only a limited use of ground troops in certain scenarios, such as rescue operations or intelligence gathering. the request was a major topic of discussion at today's white house briefing with press secretary josh earnest. other topics included the political unrest in yemen funding for the department of homeland security, the ukraine/russia conflict, and the death of former hostage and u.s. aid worker kayla mueller in syria. this runs about 1 hour 15 minutes. >> good afternoon, everybody. i don't have anything at the top, darlene. so we'll go straight to your questions if you're ready.
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>> thank you. two questions on kayla mueller. has the white house learned any details since yesterday, on the circumstances of her death? specifically timing and manner? >> i don't have any additional intelligence to share about this matter. >> is the u.s. still trying to figure out the circumstances of her death? or what exactly happened to her? >> there certainly continues to be ongoing work. but i don't have any results of that work to share at this point. >> there also were reports today that she was apparently while in captivity married off to an isis fighter. do you have anything on that? >> i have seen those reports as well, but i don't have anything to share on that matter. >> okay. moving on then -- >> i might have more to say about that. >> will the president request any additional spending to go along with that or is there any -- are there cost estimates associated with the request? >> at this point there are no specific cost requests that the
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administration is making of congress as it relates to our ongoing campaign against isil. you recall at the end of last year the president did make a specific request to congress, and we were gratified that that request for additional resources to execute our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy isil was supported in bipartisan fashion. we certainly welcomed that kind of support. i hope we'll continue to see that kind of bipartisanship as congress considers the appropriate role they shu play in support of the president's strategy. >> there were democrats expressing concern about the authority the president is asking for. john boehner said he doesn't think it gives the commanders enough authority to do what they need to do, in order to defeat isis. is there any reaction to comments from both parties on that, and how do you think it will affect the chances of this getting passed through congress? >> darlene the president has laid out the goal at the very beginning of this process.
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of wanting democrats and republicans to be able to support this authorization to use military force. so it's going to require democrats and republicans on capitol hill to do something that they have not done with a lot of success over the last several years, which is actually to work together to make progress on something that's pretty important for the country. so we are hopeful that democrats and republicans will be able to sit down and take a look. i think in some of these situations, democrats and republicans have a genuinely -- have a genuine difference of opinion about how to proceed. and those differences are understandable. i wouldn't want to leave you with the impression we consider them to be insignificant. we're talking about rather weighty matters of national security. but what we'll need is we'll need democrats and republicans in both the house and the senate to take seriously their responsibility to weigh in on these matters of national security. it was the founding fathers of our country who envisioned a
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legitimate role for congress to play when it comes to matters of national security like this. and we hope that congress will assume that responsibility and act assume that responsibility and act in bipartisan fashion to lend their support to the strategy that the president has laid out. after all, the president, our men and women uniform are certainly fulfilling their responsibility to keep the country safe. it's time for congress to step up to the plate and fulfill their responsibility to dot same thing. >> thank you. >> julia. >> thanks. in a buzzfeed interview that the president did he criticized staples for not -- for cutting hours and creating more part-time workers who wouldn't qualify for health care. since then the ceo ronald sargent has shot back and said their policy for part-time workers has been in place for over a decade and this had nothing to do with obamacare. does the president stand by his comments?
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>> well, julia we've often seen opponents of this law, republicans republicans, trying to cite the experience of some workers at companies like staples as evidence that the affordable care act was somehow bad for the economy and bad for job creation. so it sounds as if the -- i haven't seen the comments from this staples executive that you're citing, but i think it would be a pretty good indication that he disagrees with those republicans who indicate that the affordable care act is responsible for a large number of employees having their hours cut back. hs something we've seen m anecdotal evidence this is the case. republicans have tried to make the case this is widespread. but there has not been evidence of that. >> so when the president shamed staples for -- or and companies who would have cut back hours that's not necessarily -- if in
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fact they actually cut back hours independent of obamacare that would actually not be a criticism then of these companies? >> what i'm suggesting is the reason -- i suspect the reason the interviewer asked the president the question about staples is because he had note there'd were republicans who had criticized the affordable care act and had said it's having a negative impact on job creation and had cited the experience of staples and others as having to cut back on hour because of the affordable care act. so that's why you could imagine i'm in a position i'm feeling gratified that the executive at staples has come forward and said that the decisions that they're -- the policies that they're putting in place as it relates to the number of hours their employees are working is entirely independent of the affordable care act. that's consistent with the case we've been making for years now and undermines probably the chief republican criticism of the law.
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>> on yemen on the u.s. and uk closing their embassies there, is that going to change our counterterrorism strategy there? and what will remain of u.s. presence in yemen? >> julia i can tell you that our counterterrorism operations in yemen are ongoing. those operations continue to be coordinated with national security officials in yemen. as we have said since the beginning of this latest round of turmoil, that the united states would be focused on monitoring the security situation in yemen and in sanaa in particular. mindful of the need to protect u.s. personnel that are operating at the embassy there. and over the last several weeks the united states has taken steps to draw down the number of personnel that were operating at that facility in sanaa. overnight the united states did make the decision and carried
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out the decision to temporarily relocate american personnel out of the u.s. embassy in sanaa. i should note that we are certainly grateful to the government of oman that provided critically important assistance to ensure that temporary relocation was executed safely. and we are grateful to the oman government for stepping up and playing an important role in that effort. that said, there are -- there continue to be department of defense personnel, u.s. department of defense personnel on the ground in yemen that are coordinating with their counterparts. in yemen in the yemeni government. in continuing to carry out the kinds of actions counterterrorism actions that are necessary to protect the american people and our interests around the world. okay?
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>> back to the amf, because the president did lay out certain criteria where ground forces would be used in terms of what he's asking is the president going to be asking for more u.s. forces to be deployed to that theater? >> not at this point. >> not at this point. but that's possible? >> jim, we've been pretty clear. the president's been pretty clear about what he envisions for our strategy. and it is codified in the language that was submitted to congress today. it notes -- or places a limitation on the ability of the commander in chief to order enduring offensive ground combat operations in iraq and in syria. and in the cover letter that the president submitted to members of congress the president noted that that is consistent with the strategy that the president's pursued so far in that the president does not believe that making a long-term, large-scale commitment of u.s. ground combat
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troops into iraq or syria would be in our best interest. there are a variety of reasons for that. the first is we are still dealing with the consequences of that large-scale long-term commitment that was made by the previous administration when they were pursuing the previous strategy in iraq. those consequences some of them are fiscal, and some of them are human. and that is something our country will continue to deal with in years to come. in addition to that, the president believes that a more successful strategy will involve building up the capacity of local forces to take the fight to isil extremists on the ground in their own country. that's why there are american military personnel that are operating in iraq, that are training and equipping iraqi and kurdish security forces and offering them advice as they take the fight to isil on the ground. and we've seen that has been successful in blunting the
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offensive that isil had mounted in the middle of last year and even in some cases rolled back some of the offensive gains they had made. there is a similar strategy in place in syria to train syrian opposition fighters. that work is not as far along as the effort to support iraqi ground forces is. but it's ongoing. let me just say two other things about that. there are two other reasons why it is -- well, at least one other reason why -- two other reasons why this is important. the reason the president wants to pursue a different strategy is it's also consistent with the preferences of the central government in iraq. one of the reasons we saw that iraqi security forces had failed was because they weren't backed up by a unified central government that had succeeded in uniting that country to face the threat from isil. so to deploy a large-scale long-term commitment of u.s. ground troops in iraq would be contrary to the wishes of the very central government that we're trying to support. and finally -- and this is
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important too. and finally, it's also important to the cohesion of our international coalition. there are 60 countries that have made a substantial commitment alongside the united states to take the fight to isil. and many of those countries -- that includes countries in the region, and at least some of those countries would not be entirely comfortable with a large-scale long-term foreign military deployment in their neighborhood. >> but operations would be authorized for rescue missions taking out isis leaders, calling in air strikes and intelligence. how is that not mission creep? >> well, because jim, the president has been clear about this from the very beginning. that this kind of large-scale long-term commitment of u.s. ground troops is not a successful strategy. >> but short of a large-scale long-term operation you can expand the operation under this authorization. the language is fuzzy, is it not? >> intentionally so. and the intent is -- >> intentionally so? >> yes. >> the language is intentionally fuzzy? >> yes, jim because we believe
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it's important there aren't overly burdensome constraints placed on the commander in chief, who needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerge in a chaotic military conflict like this. sought fact of the matter is we do need the president of the united states and the commander in chief both this one and the next one to have atability to respond to specific contingencies, that if there is the need to order military action within these constraints but that is clearly in the best interests of the united states or the safety and security of our military personnel then the commander in chief needs to have the ability to order that military action and to do it quickly without seeking additional specific authorization from the congress. >> and the three-year time limit does tie the hands of his successor, does it not? >> how so? >> if a future president, if the next president wants to go longer than three years, than 2018, he's going to have to go back or she's going to have to go back to congress. >> well, it is true that this authorization to use military
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force would expire based on the way that this draft reads, would expire three years after congress passes it. and the president believes that is an appropriate period of time for our military to implement a strategy and for us to measure what kind of progress is being made and whether or not the national security interests of the united states are being appropriately advanced. and if after three years the strategy is continuing to succeed and we're seeing the results we'd like and we believe it is necessary for that strategy to continue to be implemented then yes then congress can take up additional legislation to approve the continued use of military force. and again, if the strategy is demonstrating continued progress and it is determined that that strategy needs to continue to be implemented in the same way,


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