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is an effective presentation. You certainly continue to exhibit some restraint. I like the reforms that you have implemented.
Let me also say that this office was extraordinarily helpful last spring when our State was hit with this disaster. They were quick to help us provide some mobile office space, and it was enormously helpful. And we appreciate that.
But you not only gave an effective presentation on the year 2000 issue, but I think that all of us take some heart in recommendations that hold the line on staffing and pretty much hold the line on salaries, with the exception of the COLA. We appreciate that kind of recommendation. And I think that you are making some much-needed improvements in the organization. And I do not have any tough, probing questions.
To the extent that I go through and find some additional inquiries, I would like to be able to send them to you. But, generally speaking, I am pleased and impressed with the work that your office has done.
Mr. CASEY. Thank you.
Senator BENNETT. We had a question last year. It is a tickytacky kind of question.
Mr. CASEY. It will come out. It will go to the GPO next week. (Laughter.)
It will be in the hands of everybody within 30 days. But all the current numbers are currently posted daily on Webster.
Senator BENNETT. OK. So that the record will be clear, I was indeed going to ask the question about the updated phone book. [Laughter.)
BEAUTY AND BARBER SHOPS
Another area that has attracted some attention, I think far beyond that which it deserves, in terms of the amount of money, but for some reason has attracted publicity. Will you comment on the consolidation of the beauty and barber shops?
Mr. CASEY. I would be glad to, Mr. Chairman.
At the direction of a number of individuals on the Rules Committee, we looked into trying to eliminate what had become a rather significant deficit. We had a couple of recommendations on how to proceed. One of them was to consolidate the operations, eliminating duplicative administrative staff, eliminating duplicative reception staff, combining the two shops basically into one shop, so that we could obtain some efficiencies in ordering product and scheduling customers, or going to an outsourcing.
It was determined by the Rules Committee that the proper way to go was to try to get the operation on a break-even basis or close to a break-even basis without outsourcing those services. We proceeded to do that. And on January 1, we switched over to the new process.
Now, although a couple of months does not a year make, we have seen the monthly deficit go from roughly $39,000 in the first month that we have figures, to about $9,000. So we have turned the corner on that, and I hope are still able to provide a high level of service.
Senator BENNETT. And you raised the prices, which I noted.
Mr. CASEY. We did a survey as to what our prices looked like compared to the private sector and found out that in not all segments, but in some segments we were low, and we raised the prices to a competitive basis.
Senator BENNETT. Well, I appreciate your attention to that. I know it can be a highly emotional issue for Members back home, who like to grandstand on their willingness to accept austerity. But many times they get carried away with campaign rhetoric and get away from reality. So I appreciate your willingness to focus on that and bring it to the competitive arena the way you have.
Now, I am going to raise a really small issue, but, nonetheless, it could be symptomatic of the challenges of running a bureaucracy, even as lean as you are running this bureaucracy. And I certainly compliment you on the direction and efficiencies that you have established. But this is the price you pay for responding to a public body like the Senate.
The Appropriations Committee –I cannot resist, sitting under the portrait of our chairman-recently received quotes for a Startac cellular phone. And the Senate Telecommunications Office provided a quotation of $800 for a Startac phone, with lithium battery, vibrate ring, two lines, and a 3-year warranty. And members of the Appropriations Committee got on the telephone, called around. Bell Atlantic Mobile quoted over the phone a price of $600 for an identical phone.
This is not the Pentagon, with a $700 toilet seat, but, nonetheless, this is the kind of thing that also gets into newspapers if it does not get addressed and dealt with. And I am giving you an opportunity to respond here.
You are familiar with this disparity?
Mr. CASEY. We are. You said a 3-year guarantee if I am not mistaken, there is also a 3-year signup charge to use it. No? He has an answer.
Senator BENNETT. OK, fine.
Mr. RAVENBERG. Yes, Senator. Usually there is a signup charge for these, depending upon the pricing. Companies do offer special pricing as an incentive for you to sign up for it. If there is not a minimum amount of time that you have to sign up for, there is usually a minimum billing amount for each month.
Other things that you do not get with the Bell Atlantic special, if you will, you do not get the ability to dial 5-digit numbers on the Senate and Hill with that. You also do not get the ability to dial O and get the Capitol operator or any of the other services that the Senate plan offers.
I can tell you that our people are constantly pressuring the vendors to get the prices down, so that there is a standard price. We do not offer specials, but the price you get through the Sergeant at Arms is the same price every single day.
Senator BENNETT. Well done.
Mr. CASEY. That was a guest appearance by Duane Ravenberg, Deputy Chief of Operations.
PROCUREMENT OPERATION I would also comment. One of the goals that we are charged with, under the strategic plan, is to develop a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge procurement operation. We have hired a procurement specialist, with about 20 years of practice in this area. We have found that we do have some outdated procurement policies and procedures—severely outdated. And we are in the process of rewriting those procurement processes such that when there is an opportunity for us to take advantage of lower costs or other alternatives, we will be able to move to that.
Right now, we simply cannot do it as easily as we would like. We recognize that. And one of the things we find out from our customers is while they may be happy with a lot of the service they get, once they buy the Startac, it is the entry into getting that product that is providing us some problems. So we are aware of that and trying to fix that on a broader scale.
DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS EQUIPMENT Senator BENNETT. Let us go to the other end of the equation, the disposal of items. What is the procedure for items to be surplused?
Mr. CASEY. That is a difficult situation. We have a number of computers that are beginning to back up now, and we have guidance, legislative guidance, to make sure that those go to educational institutions. It is vague as to how we are supposed to do that. And we are currently just storing them at the GSA pending a solution to that.
Mr. HARRIS. And we are currently in negotiations with GSA. There is an executive branch program for computers to schools. We are working out, with GSA, a process by which the Senate, in the legislation which Mr. Casey referred to, that we are meeting the spirit and the letter of that law.
One thing we did not want to do is replicate the administrative process, and bring on another responsibility, where we could leverage an asset within the executive branch.
Mr. CASEY. Simply speaking, we could give these to GSA, and they could go ahead and send them wherever they wanted to. What we would like to do is to have a little bit more specific control as to where these items go. There is a cost involved in moving them. And we would like to have a little more clarification of that. So that if there is some needy school in Utah, we would be able to excess them a little more specifically.
Senator BENNETT. I hesitate to burden you with personal experience, but I cannot resist. GSA is not the most efficient way of getting rid of surplus equipment. When I was in the Nixon administration, the Under Secretary in the Johnson administration of the Department of Transportation had a particular chair that he wanted. And he got GSA to buy it for him. It was a magnificent Herman-Miller piece of furniture. The then-Under Secretary, when I was serving, did not like the chair. He wanted something more traditional. And he disposed of it in the very efficient way of putting it in the hall.
Well, he got the kind of chair and desk that he wanted. I saw it, lusted after it, and asked if I could have it as my chair. I was told, absolutely, we want to get it out of the hall. And I wheeled it into my office and sat it in the glory for the 2 years that I served in the Nixon administration.
When I left, I was told no one else wanted this particular chair, because it was completely nonstandard of anything in Government, and I said, fine, let me buy it. No; it had to go to GSA. It had to be put in a warehouse. It had to be put up for bids. There had to be proposals all the way around it. And I was told that the chair will be worn out by the time you can get your hands on it, and the cost will be enormous.
I think, if you can stay out of the clutches of GSA when it comes to disposing of furniture or other items, you are going to be a lot better off.
Mr. CASEY. Could you describe the chair, Mr. Chairman? (Laughter.)
Senator BENNETT. I have done my best, Herman-Miller, leather and chrome. It was really wonderful.
One comment back on the disposal of the computers. Does this mean the schools are going to get computers that are not year 2000 compliant?
Mr. CASEY. If they are 386's and before; that is correct.
Senator BENNETT. So we are giving them something that will be good for about 12 months?
Mr. CASEY. Well, I would say that we have a lot of non-386's. Of course, there will probably be 486's that are noncompliant, too.
Senator BENNETT. OK.
Mr. CASEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Dorgan. I appreciate it.
ADDITIONAL COMMITTEE QUESTIONS Senator BENNETT. Once, again, Mr. Casey, we congratulate you on the job you and your staff are doing. And these are very good numbers, indeed.
Mr. CASEY. Thank you.
[The following questions were not asked at the hearing, but were submitted to the Department for response subsequent to the hearing:)
ADDITIONAL COMMITTEE QUESTIONS Question. When will the Senate be able to produce auditable financial statements?
Answer. The first auditable financial statements will be for fiscal year 2000. During fiscal year 1999, the Disbursing Office will install the new Senate general ledger and procurement systems, convert to obligation- and accrual-basis accounting, and conform back office policies and procedures as the first phase of FMIS. The next phase will incorporate other modules of an integrated system necessary to produce financial statements, such as a fixed asset module which will enable determination of the cost basis and depreciation schedule of assets to be capitalized on the balance sheet of the Senate.
Question. Please update the Committee on the status of the appointment of a new Comptroller General of the United States.
Answer. The Comptroller General is appointed to a 15-year term by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Because the General Accounting Office, which the Comptroller General heads, exists primarily to provide research, review, and analysis for Congress, the applicable statute, 31 U.S.C. 703, establishes a bicameral commission to recommend three or more individuals to the President for appointment. I am assisting the Majority Leader in his capacity as chairman of the commission. The commission has carefully reviewed the qualifications of a large field of candidates, and, on January 22, 1998, recommended three individuals to the President. All three are highly-qualified and are supported by a majority of the commission. To date, the President has not acted on the commission's recommendation.
Question. The Secretary's testimony indicates that some statutory changes may be required to modify the way in which expense categories for Senators are prepared in order to convert to an OMB object classification. Are there any other changes of this type which may be required in order to implement FMIS? When do you expect to submit recommendations?
Answer. At this point, the system design and requirements and the project plan for FMIS are not ready. When a draft project plan is ready, we will prepare a list of statutes and practices of the Senate that could be reviewed in connection with the FMIS implementation, whether to meet current federal financial accounting standards or to facilitate use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software. That list will be transmitted to your Committee and to the Committee on Rules and Administration. Close consultation with both Committees will lead to recommendations as to whether the Senate should consider changing existing statutes or practices, or should modify the project plan.
Question. In your testimony you mention that succession planning will be important for your office to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities in the future. Do you have a plan? Does your fiscal year 1999 budget request include any funds for your succession planning? If so, how much? What will this cost in future years?
Answer. The fiscal year 1999 budget request for the Office of the Secretary does not include any funds specifically for succession planning. We have, however, requested authorization for up to fifteen new positions, primarily in the Disbursing Office to implement FMIS, but partly to plan for succession in selected departments. To the extent possible, the costs of these new positions will be absorbed within the requested budget. The basic plan is to ensure that each department, and particularly the thirteen in which the department head is already eligible to retire, is staffed with one and preferably two individuals who have the institutional knowledge, skills, and abilities required to assume the responsibilities of the department head; in many cases, to acquire such knowledge, skills and abilities takes several years of on-the-job training and experience. To that end, we are promoting from within as much as possible, and we are selecting highly-qualified new hires who are committed to the Senate as a career. We are also studying other employee development and progression alternatives with a view toward developing generalists in the legislative departments who could be capable of succeeding more than one department head. Succession planning will impact future years' budgets in that staffing requirements in some departments will be determined by both the immediate workload and the need to ensure that one or two individuals are trained to assume the department head position.
Question. What is the status of S. 1508, the Visitor Center legislation? What is the House's position?
Answer. The Capitol Visitor Center Authorization Act has been introduced as H.R. 20 by Representative John Mica, and as S. 1508 by Majority Leader Trent Lott, Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle, and Chairman John Warner of the Committee on Rules and Administration. S. 1508 is now before the Rules Committee. H.R. 20 was the subject of a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Economic Development on May 22, 1997, at which witnesses from inside and outside Congress all agreed on the need for the visitor center.
While both the House and Senate bills contemplate that the capital construction costs (including the initial furnishing and equipping) will be provided by the existing Capitol Preservation Fund, and by additional private fund-raising overseen by the appropriate House and Senate committees, questions continue to be raised concerning the Capitol Visitor Center's follow-on costs, including care, maintenance, staffing, and educational programs. In the successful effort to eliminate the federal budget deficit, Congress has set the example by holding the line on Legislative Hranch appropriations. Accordingly, there may be some reluctance to proceed with the project if to do so would incur substantial operating expenses with long-term impact on the Legislative Branch budget. Both H.R. 20 and S. 1508 take this conporn into account by providing that the Capitol Visitor Center will not become a new