Prepared Floor Statement of Ranking Member Chuck Grassley on the Motion to Proceed to the USA PATRIOT Act Extension
Monday, May 23, 2011
Mr. President. We find ourselves again in the situation of extending key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. These three provisions, roving wiretaps, section 215 business record orders, and the lone wolf provision are important tools used to investigate and prevent terrorist attacks. They have been reauthorized a number of times, but it seems that in recent years we've been discussing only short term extensions of these critical tools.
That is why I will support the cloture petition on moving to S.1038 today. This legislation provides a four-year extension of the three expiring provisions without any substantive changes to the existing authorities.
Regardless of my support for today's cloture vote, I support a permanent extension of the three expiring provisions. Having this debate year after year offers little certainty to agents utilizing these provisions to combat terrorism. It also leads to operational uncertainty, jeopardizes collection of critical intelligence, and could lead to compliance and reporting problems if the reauthorization occurs too close to the expiration.
If we believe these tools are necessary, we need to provide some certainty as opposed to simply revisiting the law year after year. Given the indefinite threat we face from acts of terrorism, it is my view that we should permanently reauthorize these three expiring provisions.
This position is supported by the agents on the ground using these tools every day. I have letters of support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association supporting a permanent reauthorization of the three expiring provisions. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association also supports a permanent extension of the provisions.
In fact, a very important passage of that letter states, "Crime and terrorism will not "sunset" and are still targeting our nation and American citizens. Just like handcuffs, [the PATRIOT Act] should be a permanent part of the law enforcement arsenal." Another letter from the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation adds, "We urge Congress to reauthorize the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act permanently and without restrictions as the three expiring provisions are essential to the security of our country." Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to make these letters a part of the record.
In addition to the agents on the ground, we've heard strong support for extending the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act from members of the Bush and Obama administrations. We've heard testimony from the Director of the FBI, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence about the strong need to reauthorize these provisions. These same offices have recommended extending the provisions regardless of political ideology as both Republican and Democrat administrations have backed the extensions.
The four-year extension we are voting on today is a step in the right direction. Extending the three expiring provisions, without any substantive amendment that would restrict or curtail the use of these tools, is important given the recent actions that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Now is not the time to place new restrictions and heightened evidentiary standards on critical national security tools.
A lot has been said about these provisions and unfortunately most of what has been said is incorrect. Congress enacted these provisions and reauthorized them in 2005 following the 9/11 Commission report which criticized the way our agents failed to piece together clues. Since that time, the three expiring provisions have provided a great deal of information to agents that have helped thwart terrorist attacks.
For example, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Robert Litt, the General Counsel from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence testified that a section 215 order was used as part of the investigation by the FBI into Khalid Aldawasari who was arrested in Texas. It was later revealed in the criminal case that he was purchasing explosive chemicals and bomb making components online and had scouted targets in Texas.
Mr. Litt also testified that section 215 orders were utilized to obtain hotel records in a case where a suspected spy had arranged lodging for intelligence officers. He also discussed the roving wiretap provision and how it is used to help agents track foreign agents operating inside the United States who switch cellular phones frequently. These examples are limited not because the authorities aren't valuable, but because of how sensitive the investigations are that utilize these authorities.
While the need for keeping national security matters classified may prevent the open discussion of further examples in this setting, it is important to note that these provisions are constantly under strict scrutiny by the Inspector General at the Department of Justice and by congressional oversight. In fact, in a March 2008 report, the Justice Department Inspector General examined the FBI's use of section 215 orders and found, "We did not identify any illegal use of section 215 authority." Further, there are no reported abuses of the roving surveillance authority. And the "lone wolf" provision has not yet been utilized, so it is without abuse as well.
While I agree that these three provisions should be subject to strict scrutiny from inspectors general and Congress, that oversight authority already exists in the law and does not require amendment to these tools to achieve that goal. As such, it is important that Congress reauthorize these provisions quickly and without amendment.
I urge my colleagues to vote in support of the cloture petition on the motion to proceed on S.1038 because it provides a clean reauthorization of these vital tools for four-years without substantive changes. While four-years is a far cry from the permanence that I feel is necessary on these provisions, it does provide more certainty and predictability than continuing to pass short term extension after extension.
I yield the floor.
Prepared Hearing Statement of Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism
"Responding to the Prescription Drug Epidemic: Strategies for Reducing Abuse, Misuse, Diversion, and Fraud"
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Mr. Chairman, the abuse of prescription narcotics, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives, is currently the fastest growing drug abuse trend in the country.
Millions of Americans are prescribed controlled substances every year to treat a variety of symptoms due to injury, illness, and other conditions. Many legitimate users of these drugs often do not finish their prescriptions. As a result, these drugs remain in the family medicine cabinet for months or years, because people forget about them or do not know how to properly dispose of them. However, these drugs, when not properly used or administered, are just as addictive and deadly as street drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine.
Recent studies and reports show this growing trend of prescription drug abuse. According to the most recent National Survey of Drug Use and Health, nearly 7 million people have admitted to using controlled substances without a doctor's prescription. The most common group abusing these drugs is people between the ages of 12 and 25. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of Americans aged 12 and older currently abusing pain relievers have increased by 20 percent since 2002.
Sadly, more and more people are dying because of this abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the unintentional deaths involving prescription narcotics have increased 117 percent during the years 2001 to 2005. With young people being the most common group of prescription drug abusers, logic dictates that the numbers of young people dying is also increasing. These are statistics that cannot be ignored.
Iowa is not immune from this trend impacting the entire United States. A Des Moines Register article from February, 2009, reports of the death of a 14 year old Brody Middle School Student who was found dead at his home from an apparent overdose of prescription drugs. The same article reports that 85 percent of drug and alcohol overdoses at the children's emergency center at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines are from prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
In fact, according to the most recent Iowa Drug Control Strategy, prescription drug abuse is the newest, fastest growing form of substance abuse in the state. The Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Narcotics Enforcement reports the number of pharmaceutical cases opened in 2010 in Iowa surpassed the number of cases in 2009. Pain killers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are the most widely abused prescription drugs in Iowa. According to data from the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, these two drugs comprise over a third of all prescriptions in Iowa with 85 million doses prescribed in 2009. The State Poison Control Center states that calls concerning these drugs have skyrocketed 2,031 percent since 2002 indicating an increased amount of diversion.
According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, more than half of the people who abuse prescription narcotics reported that they obtained controlled substances from a friend or relative, or from the family medicine cabinet. As a result, most community anti-drug coalitions, public health officials, and law enforcement personnel have been encouraging people within their communities to dispose of old or unused medications in an effort to combat this growing trend.
National prescription drug take-back days have been sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, in coordination with local law enforcement, public health officials, and community anti-drug coalitions. These projects have yielded positive results. The first event, held in September 2010, resulted in 242,000 lbs. of old or unused prescriptions being turned in for proper disposal. The second event, held in April 2011, resulted in over 375,000 lbs. being turned in for disposal. In Iowa, residents turned in over 5,000 lbs. of medicine in the last take- back day. This was a threefold increase from the first event. Each time prescription drugs are discarded appropriately, it decreases the opportunity for the drug to be abused.
These prescription drug take-back events have helped remove dangerous substances from communities throughout the country; but more work needs to be done. Public awareness needs to be increased. The dangers of inappropriately using or sharing these drugs must be advertised. And we must continue to educate about the proper ways to dispose of old or unused medications.
I have participated in community town hall meetings devoted to raising awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. I have also cosponsored legislation, with Senators Klobuchar and Cornyn, which enables more communities and anti-drug organizations to collect old and unused medicine for disposal. This bill was signed into law last year and the Attorney General is in the process of developing guidelines for communities to become more active in removing these potential dangers. Despite this progress, I along with my colleagues will continue to look for ways to effectively combat this growing danger. This hearing is an effort to continue this process.
I am interested in learning other best practices from pharmaceutical companies, health care professionals and practitioners, and law enforcement personnel, to reduce the potential for diversion of prescription drugs to illegal and dangerous purposes. I want to know more about how health care practitioners can become better educated and trained to ensure patients are not over-prescribed medicine. And finally, I want to learn more about how the pharmaceutical industry can reduce the risk of opiate theft and how opiate manufacturers safeguard their supplies intended for the pharmaceutical industry I look forward to reviewing the testimony from the witnesses and working to reduce this dangerous epidemic.
Grassley seeks description of SEC outcome on referrals
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to describe how the agency resolved referrals involving the firm SAC Capital. Grassley has a record of conducting oversight of federal agencies and regularly tracks whether the SEC is doing its job to protect investors. The SEC's dealings with this firm are the latest example that could illustrate how the agency functions.
The text of Grassley's letter is available below. The signed copy is available here. The attachment of referrals is not included, at the request of the investigative agencies that it not be made public.
May 24, 2011
The Honorable Mary Schapiro
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Washington, DC 20549
Dear Chairman Schapiro:
One of Congress' most important jobs is to perform constitutionally designated oversight over the executive branch of government. Toward that end, I have had a longstanding interest in whether the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is properly policing and regulating our financial markets on behalf of pension holders with investments in securities and other investors. In order to continue this oversight, I recently wrote to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) seeking referrals from FINRA from January 1, 2000, to the present regarding SAC Capital, a firm that has been the subject of significant media coverage regarding allegations of insider trading.
While I am sensitive to the SEC's concerns about confirming or denying any ongoing investigations, Congress and the SEC seek information for fundamentally different purposes. As you know, Congress conducts fact-finding inquiries in order to shed light on problems and inform potential legislative solutions. The function of congressional investigations is not to establish whether any private firms have violated the law, but rather to examine particular facts and circumstances in order to assess how well the agencies created by Congress are executing the authorities granted to them. It helps us in Congress to ask questions in the context of specific cases rather than talk about general issues with the agency. Looking into specific examples is essential for Congress to understand how effectively the SEC pursues referrals such as these.
Therefore, in preparation for a briefing, please provide a written explanation as to: (1) how the SEC resolved each of these referrals, (2) how the number of referrals over this timeframe compares to similarly situated firms, (3) whether a Wells Notice was ever drafted with regard to SAC Capital related to any of these referrals or related to any other matter (if so, please provide a copy of any Draft or Final Wells Notice). Attached is a list of the referrals provided by FINRA, for your reference.
Thank you for your cooperation and attention in this matter. I would appreciate a response by June 7, 2011.
Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
Tax-owing stimulus contractors
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Billions of dollars in stimulus funds went to contractors and grantees who owed the government hundreds of millions of dollars in tax debts, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a requester of the report, made the following comment on the report, which is the subject of a hearing today of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Grassley is a senior member and former chairman and ranking member of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over tax policy.
"Many companies pay their taxes, so there's no reason for the government to deal with companies that don't. The businesses that should be excluded first from government business are those that have tax debts outstanding over several years and haven't done anything to try to pay off the debt. A substantial amount of the estimated unpaid federal taxes owed by stimulus program contractors are in this category. A government contract is something to be earned, not something to be taken for granted. The Administration has at least two rules in place to address this problem, but it's not clear whether the rules are being used. This problem has come up before. Congress needs to figure out how to fix it. The Senate Finance Committee has considered this. It's good that the committee with jurisdiction over government contracts is looking at it, too."
The full report is available here.
Here is a summary of the report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations:
Of the 63,000 contractors and grantees examined, 3,700 were found to owe $757 million in back taxes, but also received $24 billion in stimulus awards. This represents 5.9% of all awardees that GAO analyzed.
If all 80,000 awardees were examined and the same proportion held, 4,500 awardees owing $909 million would have received $29 billion in contracts. That would represent more than 10% of all stimulus money designated for contracts and grants ($275 billion).
The GAO study identified 15 cases of individual contractors or grantees involving "abusive or potentially criminal activity" and has referred those cases to the IRS for further investigation. GAO indicated that those 15 cases represent only a small number of the cases that it could have referred.
Although a federal levy program is in place to catch tax cheats that get federal payments, many awardees escaped this review because money was disbursed at the State and local level or by a prime contractor.
Approximately 35% of all unpaid taxes were for old debts incurred prior to 2003, indicating that many of the awardees were known tax cheats, and not persons with new debts.
The bulk of tax debts were from unpaid corporate and payroll taxes.
• Unpaid corporate taxes - $417 million (55%)
• Unpaid payroll taxes - $207 million (27%)
• Other unpaid taxes - $133 million (18%)
GAO uncovered several specific examples that were particularly egregious:
• One construction firm owed nearly $400,000 in back taxes, but received a contract worth more than $1 million.
• One engineering services firm had a $6 million delinquent tax debt and was called by the IRS an "extreme case of noncompliance." It got a stimulus contract worth over $100,000.
• One security firm owed $9 million and was repeatedly cited not only for being uncooperative with the IRS, but also had frequent labor violations. It received a stimulus contract worth more than $100,000.
• One non-profit organization owed more than $2 million from years of unpaid payroll taxes, while at the same time its CEO made numerous trips to a casino. This organization received more than $1 million in stimulus funds.