Labor-HHS Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2003



Chairman Harkin, Members of the Subcommittee:

My name is Colleen M. Kelley and I am the National President of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). NTEU represents more than l50,000 federal employees across 25 agencies and departments of the federal government, including employees in a number of HHS agencies.

NTEU represents employees in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Administration on Aging (AoA), Office of the Secretary (OS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Program Support Center (PSC) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). NTEU also represents employees in the Social Security Administration's Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA).

The tragic events of September ll showed the world that civil servants at every level of government are hard-working men and women committed to doing the best possible job in spite of often difficult circumstances. The need to hire and maintain a highly trained and skilled federal workforce has never been more clear. Yet, due to inadequate pay and benefits, the federal government often loses the battle for the best employees to state and local governments and private sector employers.

As the Chairman knows, for too long, too little attention and too few resources have been spent on the federal government and its employees. The human capital crisis the federal government faces will only be solved when we begin to treat federal employees as assets to be valued, not costs to be cut. Adequate and stable agency funding coupled with appropriate pay, benefits and incentives are key to ensuring that the government is able to attract and retain the federal employees it needs.

Unfortunately, funding has been severely constrained at most federal agencies for quite some time. Agencies have been left with inadequate resources to accomplish their missions and insufficient funding to reward their employees. They have been hamstrung by restrictive appropriations levels and forced to shuffle resources between competing priorities and from one account to another.

Fiscal Year 2003 will be no different. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), once funding for homeland security and defense is removed from the discretionary spending figures suggested in the President's FY 2003 budget, discretionary spending declines by l%. The funding levels suggested by the President will not even permit agencies to keep pace with inflation.

The Administration's FY 2003 budget request for program management at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is $l6l million, a reduction of $2 million from the FY 2002 funding level. HRSA's role is to insure equal access to quality health care, particularly for our low-income and uninsured populations as well as those with special needs. The essential services this agency provides are desperately in need of expansion, yet the agency faces a funding reduction of $2 million. HRSA cannot accomplish its mission with fewer employees and reduced resources.

The President's proposal for program management funds for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is $80 million. This figure represents a reduction of $l5 million and 28 full time equivalent employees from the agency's FY 2002 funding level. As the Chairman knows, SAMHSA's mission is to constantly improve the quality and availability of services to help those suffering from substance abuse and mental illness. This will not be accomplished by squeezing agency funding levels and NTEU hopes the Committee will restore this much needed funding.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is not slated to receive any funding increase over its FY 2002 level for program administration under the Administration's FY 2003 budget request. Given the array of programs this agency oversees to help strengthen families and develop supportive communities, it is difficult to understand the President's recommendation for no new funding. Funding restrictions in past years have already hampered ACF's ability to fulfill its complex and important mission. This is truly an agency that cannot continue to provide quality services to low-income families and individuals without additional resources.

NTEU is also troubled by proposals the Administration has made to shift the Head Start Program from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Education. The Head Start Program has a long tradition of delivering comprehensive family services - not just early learning experiences for young children, but an array of services that support the learning environment for low income families and parents. The Head Start Program's ability to address the range of issues often facing low-income children and their families is what has made Head Start the premiere program it is today. Proposals to transfer oversight for Head Start from HHS to the Department of Education ignore the comprehensive nature of the program. NTEU believes such proposals also risk destroying what most agree is one of the federal government's most successful programs. NTEU urges this Committee to reject proposals to move Head Start to the Department of Education.

For Fiscal Year 2003, the budget request for program administration at the Administration on Aging (AoA) is $l9 million, an amount identical to the agency's FY 2002 funding level. Helping older Americans remain independent and productive is one of the Administration on Aging's key goals. The agency operates nutrition programs, caregiver support programs and preventive health programs. There is little question that AoA will be called upon to continue and expand its work in the coming years; their funding level needs to reflect this reality.

NTEU also represents employees in the Office of the Secretary of HHS. The President's budget request for departmental management is $l3 million above the FY 2002 funding level, a reflection of the important work accomplished by the Office of the Secretary. Employees of the Office of the Secretary administer and oversee the organization, programs and activities of the entire Department of Health and Human Services. NTEU hopes the Committee will support this proposed increase.

The Administration's budget request for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for FY 2003 is $2 million above their FY 2002 funding level. As you know, HHS's Office of Civil Rights provides critical oversight in insuring that all individuals have equal access to the services and programs HHS provides. OCR employees are responsible for enforcing civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination in federal health and social services programs. In many years, OCR's funding level has not reflected the agency's critical mission and NTEU urges the maximum possible appropriation for the Office for Civil Rights.

For the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the Administration has requested a small increase over the agency's FY 2002 funding level. The work undertaken by NCHS employees is critical to assessing the effectiveness of health care programs and determining appropriate public health practice. It is shortsighted not to provide the NCHS with the funding necessary to accomplish their mission.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Program Support Center provides an array of support services to both HHS and other federal agencies. These services include human resource and financial management supports as well as a range of administrative services. For Fiscal Year 2003, the Administration has recommended an increase in appropriations, yet calls for a reduction of 5l full time equivalent employees. NTEU urges the Committee to question the Administration's plans for the PSC in the coming fiscal year and provide the highest possible funding level for the important work accomplished by this HHS division.

NTEU also represents employees in the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) of the Social Security Administration. As the Committee knows, OHA is charged with providing claimants who have been found ineligible for disability benefits with a fair and timely hearing of their cases. Today, the growing backlog of cases before OHA prevents a fair and timely hearing for these individuals. The fundamental problem is that OHA lacks sufficient decision makers to handle its rapidly growing workload.

Since the mid-l990's, SSA's disability program has been in crisis. In l995, SSA introduced a program called the Senior Attorney Program that was instrumental in reducing the backlog and improving processing times. In every respect, the Senior Attorney Program was a success. The agency's experienced staff attorneys were given the authority to decide and issue fully favorable decisions - without the time and expense of a full hearing - in those cases where the evidence clearly identified an individual as disabled. It materially improved both the quality and timeliness of service to the public. The OHA backlog fell from over 550,000 pending cases to a low of 3ll,000 at the end of FY 99.

Unfortunately, SSA chose to terminate this innovative program as it undertook its Hearing Process Improvement (HPI) plan, a plan even SSA now agrees was not successful. Once again, the backlog of cases before OHA has climbed to record numbers.

By March of 2002, the backlog stood at more than 486,000 pending cases and SSA projects that by the end of FY 2002, the backlog will rise to 546,000 cases.

The Senior Attorney Program benefitted more than just those claimants who received their disability benefits sooner than would have otherwise been the case. Administrative Law Judge time was more wisely spent on cases that required a hearing, thereby reducing processing times for those cases as well!

NTEU urges the Committee to closely review the original Senior Attorney Program. Not only was it a resounding success, it materially improved the quality of service to the public and resulted in administrative and program cost savings. With an inevitable increase in disability applications expected as the "baby boomers" age, the time to address the situation is now. The Senior Attorney Program worked. It did not consume additional resources, nor did it require the hiring of hundreds of new Administrative Law Judges. The Senior Attorney Program provides an answer with proven results. Its termination was short sighted and NTEU urges this Committee to carefully consider it as a potential solution to the growing backlogs facing the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for this opportunity to share our views on the Fiscal Year 2003 funding needs for the agencies within the jurisdiction of your Committee.