Harper: If We Can’t Eliminate the EAC, We Might as Well Pack Up and Go Home

Jun 21, 2011

Subcommittee on Elections Chairman Calls on Colleagues to Support H.R. 672; Says Measure Would Save Taxpayers at Least $33 Million Over Five Years

WASHINGTON – Subcommittee on Elections Chairman Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., tonight delivered the following remarks on the House floor urging his colleagues to support legislation eliminating the Election Assistance Commission (EAC):

“As we move forward on the difficult job of securing our nation’s financial future, the Congress will face many difficult decisions. Programs will have to be cut, and even eliminated. All of those programs are there because someone wants them. We have to look carefully at each one and decide whether the benefit it creates is worth the cost of maintaining it.

“After more than two years of hearings, investigations and oversight, the Committee on House Administration has identified not just a program, but a federal agency that we cannot justify to the taxpayers. That agency, the Election Assistance Commission, should be eliminated.

“Mr. Speaker, while the House is going to be making some very difficult spending decisions in the future, this is actually a clear and easy choice. The EAC was created in 2002 by the Help America Vote Act. HAVA passed the House with a large bipartisan majority. 172 Republicans voted for the bill that created the EAC. Its creation was a bipartisan choice, and so should be its termination. One of the primary reasons the EAC was created was to distribute money to states to update voting equipment and voter registration systems. The EAC has accomplished that, paying out over $3 billion to states for those purposes. With our deep debt and deficit, there almost certainly will be no more money for the EAC to distribute, meaning that function is completed.

“Another of the EAC’s main functions, conducting research on election issues, is also complete. The agency has completed all of 19 planned Election Management Guidelines as well as the 21 planned Quick Start Guides. It has completed four of the five studies required under HAVA, and the fifth is tied up in an interagency controversy making it unlikely ever to be finished.

“The EAC also maintains a clearinghouse for election officials to share experiences working with voting systems, and it operates a program to develop voluntary guidelines for voting systems, test voting systems against those guidelines, and certify that systems comply with the guidelines. 35 states and territories use the federal testing and certification system in some way to decide what voting systems their election officials can purchase and use. Unlike the grants and research programs that are now obsolete, the clearinghouse and the testing and certification programs provide continuing value for state and local election officials.

“Against that backdrop, we have to look at the reality of what has happened to the EAC. When it was created by HAVA, the EAC was a small agency authorized for three years to spend up to $10 million per year. That was nine years ago. The agency is still there, and its last full-year appropriation was for almost $18 million. Since a staff ceiling was removed in 2007, the agency has doubled in size. And this doubling came despite the fact that many of the EAC’s responsibilities were completed or diminished. The average salary at the EAC is over $100,000. It has an executive director, a chief operating officer, a chief financial officer, and an accounting director. In its budget request for 2012, the EAC proposed to spend 51.7% of its budget on management and administrative costs. Mr. Speaker, that bears repeating. The EAC planned to spend more than half of its budget on overhead. An agency with that plan is an agency we should eliminate.

“The need to eliminate the EAC is so great that the National Association of Secretaries of State, whose members have received the more than $3 billion dollars distributed by the EAC, has passed two resolutions calling for Congress to dissolve the agency. In 2005 and again in 2010, the secretaries of state asked us to do what I am asking this House to support today.

“Beyond simply being an agency with an increasing size and a dwindling purpose, the EAC has proven time and time again that what the agency knows how to do best is be reckless and irresponsible with taxpayer dollars. In the short time I have served on the Committee on House Administration, we have learned of two different cases where legal claims were filed against the EAC for discrimination against candidates for the position of general counsel. The first case involved discrimination based on the candidate’s political affiliation. The second involved discrimination based on the candidate’s service in the military. Political neutrality and assistance to military and overseas voters are values the EAC should promote, not undermine. On top of that, these cases are expensive for the taxpayers.

“In the development of this bill we have sought out and received a considerable amount of input from election officials and others, in hearings at the committee and other settings. That input has allowed us to improve the bill as we have moved forward. Perhaps most importantly, we added a Guidelines Review Board that gives election officials and others a formal seat at the table when voting system guidelines are developed. This board streamlines two existing boards into a single smaller one, but preserves the ability of state and local election officials to stay involved directly.

“Before I close, I would like to thank Chairman Hall from the Committee on Space, Science and Technology. He has worked closely with us as a partner in developing this bill. I appreciate his efforts to improve the bill and to bring it to the floor.

“This bill is a careful and thoughtful measure to close down a federal agency in a responsible way. To sustain an agency that has completed its assigned studies, dispersed its assigned grants, and fulfilled most of its mandate, is the definition of irresponsibility. We haven’t rushed through this process. We’ve held hearings. We’ve listened to numerous experts. We’ve kept and reassigned the programs that provide true value for election administrators. And now is simply the time to end the EAC and save American taxpayers at least $33 million dollars in the next five years.

“It doesn’t get any easier to find an example of wasteful spending. If we can’t do this, we might as well pack up and go home, because this is as obvious as it gets.”

If adopted, H.R. 672 would eliminate the EAC and transfer its remaining valuable service, its voting system testing and certification program, to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The legislation would also include a formal feedback mechanism for the development of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines by creating a Guidelines Review Board.