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Q&A: Pension Oversight

August 26, 2016
Senator Chuck Grassley , Dysart Reporter

Q: Why does our system of checks and balances matter?

A: Our Constitution establishes three branches of government to create a system of checks and balances. This system is fundamental to hold government accountable to the people and protect individual freedoms, such as the right to own property, pursue happiness and prosperity and speak, work and worship freely. The Constitution authorizes the legislative branch elected representatives of the people - with oversight responsibilities to help ensure the federal government properly conducts the people's business for the public interest. That's why I make it my business to stick my nose into the operations of the vast federal bureaucracy, especially when I get a whiff of wrongdoing. Throughout my years of public service, I've learned valuable lessons for leading effective oversight to help make government work for the people, not the other way around. First, don't ever give up. The federal bureaucracy too often circles the wagons or retaliates against whistleblowers rather than fixing mistakes or coming clean on misconduct. That's why it's especially important to keep improving transparency tools, such as strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), implementing whistleblower protections, and empowering internal watchdogs within the federal agencies. I've led important reforms for each of these critical prongs of oversight to rein in mismanagement, misspending and misconduct.

Whether it's bureaucratic inertia or bureaucratic mission creep, both sides of the spectrum can spoil a government created "of, by and for the people." Restoring the public trust starts by holding institutions of government responsible and accountable for the tax dollars collected and spent to provide public services. That requires transparency. Taxpayers are having a harder time than ever swallowing the adage: "You get what you pay for." With a growing $19 trillion debt looming on the horizon, taxpayers are fed up with overspending and misspending in Washington. For every dollar squandered by the Pentagon or Medicare, that's one less dollar spent as intended for national defense or health care. That's why I take my constitutional oversight responsibility so seriously. The bureaucracy's business is your business.

Q: How does your oversight work make a difference?

A: The federal government reaches further and further into our daily lives, affecting decisions big and small, from higher education to homeownership and retirement. Federal rules regulate the spectrum of everyday living, from food and transportation safety to veterans care and national security. Laws and court rulings shape American society and our way of life, arguably from cradle to grave. From the food we eat, to the taxes we pay, the cars we drive, the health insurance we buy and even the air we breathe, the scope and effectiveness of the federal government comes up at virtually every one of my town meetings. Mismanagement by the IRS, overreaching authority at the EPA and misconduct at the Veterans Health Administration affect real lives and constitutional freedoms of American citizens.

At a recent town meeting in Woodbine, a group of constituents shared their concerns about the security of their retirement benefits with the Central States Pension Fund. More than 400,000 workers and retirees, primarily truck drivers, have grave concerns about the impending insolvency of their retirement fund. The fund currently pays out $3 for every $1 it collects. That's unsustainable. Earlier this year I called for an investigation of the Department of Labor's stewardship of the troubled pension fund. The Government Accountability Office agreed to dig into the details to learn more. For more than three decades the Labor Department was tasked with keeping tabs on the governance and fiscal stewardship of the program. Unfunded liabilities pose real heartache and hardship for retirees who count on promised benefits for their retirement security. What's more, fiscal deficits facing the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's multiemployer guarantee program make matters more troublesome for these pension holders. The PBGC likely would not have enough funds to make full payments to plan beneficiaries. If the Department of Labor dropped the ball, we need to find out what went wrong and why. As Iowa's watchdog, I'll do whatever it takes, for as long it takes, to get answers and find solutions. My oversight work offers another valuable lesson for good government. When wrongdoing occurs in the federal bureaucracy, heads need to roll. Otherwise, problems get swept under the rug to return another day. And that culture doesn't work for taxpayers, truck drivers or veterans. That's why I work to make sure congressional oversight makes a difference for Iowans.



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