Errant ARRA Funds?

Could be that we need to work on some things before we achieve the desired restoration economy.

Purpose of ARRA (from Wikipedia):

To respond to the late-2000s recession, the primary objective for ARRA was to save and create jobs almost immediately. Secondary objectives were to provide temporary relief programs for those most impacted by the recession and invest in infrastructure, education, health, and ‘green’ energy.

Merkley to Forest Service: This Time, Hire Americans
Repeat of 2009 Foreign Hiring Would Be ‘Unacceptable Outrage’

From KTVZ.COM News Sources here.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sent a letter Friday to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, urging him to take steps to ensure Americans will be hired for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program projects announced Feb. 2 — and not repeat the 2009 “debacle” of foreign hiring for those jobs.

Merkley expressed dismay that unemployed Oregonians were passed over for forest thinning work in favor of foreign workers on H-2B visas.

“It will be an unacceptable outrage if American citizens are not hired under these contracts,” Merkley wrote. “It is your responsibility, in partnership with the Department of Labor, to do everything possible—before contracts are issued—to ensure this outcome.”

Last year, a report from the Department of Labor’s Inspector General revealed that millions of dollars in stimulus funds were used by contractors employing foreign workers to perform forest thinning work. On December 1, 2011 Merkley sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and then Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew proposing changes to the H-2B foreign worker visa program that would help prevent similar incidents in the future.

Last Friday, the Department of Labor released a final rule that will make some improvements to how the H-2B program is managed, including changes that should make it easier for U.S. workers to apply for job openings that otherwise would go to foreign workers.

However, Merkley said, the changes will not go far enough. Merkley has proposed that the Director of the State workforce agency certifies that every employer seeking to use H-2B foreign labor has complied with all recruitment requirements and that there are no American citizens qualified or available to complete the work.

Friday’s letter asks that the USFS take additional steps in its contracting process to ensure that the work funded by the new grants is performed by Americans.

The text of the letter is below.

February 17, 2012

Mr. Tom Tidwell

Chief, U.S. Forest Service

1400 Independence Ave., SW

Washington, DC 20250-0003

Dear Chief Tidwell:

I write to you regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) February 2, 2012 announcement of funding for the Fiscal Year 2012 Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (the Program) projects. In particular, I want to ensure that local labor is hired to perform the work funded by these grants and we do not have a repeat of the debacle in 2009 when unemployed Oregonians were passed over for forest thinning work in favor of foreign nationals on H-2B visas.

As you know, I strongly support the Program which funds priority forest restoration initiatives that reduce wildfire costs, improve forest health, and create jobs. These long-term and large-scale investments are critical for the future of our nation’s forests and I am pleased the USFS is moving quickly to fund this year’s initiatives.

As the USFS has long recognized, improving the health of our national forests is critical to improving the economic health of the surrounding communities. The forestry work funded through the Program will occur in areas that have very high unemployment rates, a deep history of work in the timber economy, and a labor force highly qualified for this type of work. Beyond the broader economic benefits, such as supporting recreational opportunities in the woods and protecting sources of clean drinking water for rural communities, these projects are expected to create or maintain 1,500 jobs.

When the national unemployment rate is above eight percent, and the unemployment rate in Oregon’s timber counties is much higher, it is simply unconscionable that those jobs in our forests might be outsourced. I continue to be outraged that past forest thinning and wildfire prevention work has been awarded by the USFS to contractors using foreign nationals employed through the H-2B Temporary non-Agricultural Work program. As documented in the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General report from October 17, 2011 (Number 17-12-001-03-321), millions of dollars in recent Recovery Act funding spent in Oregon was used to pay contractors to complete similar projects who did not hire any American citizens.

The current requirements designed to ensure American citizens have priority are obviously not working. The Inspector General’s report from October describes some the flaws with the Recovery Act projects:

1. The use of illegal job requirements when communicating with U.S. citizens interested in the work. For example, unemployed Oregonians were asked how old they were and whether they could speak another language;

2. The posting of job orders by contractors only in the state where the work crews were initially located. Large contractors who had multiple jobs with the USFS and started their crews in Washington or California made no effort to recruit workers in Oregon;

3. A complete lack of guidance on the part of the Department of Labor to state workforce agencies to ensure that they were communicating job openings to the affected communities;

4. Little to no validation on the part of the Department of Labor that the information provided by employers seeking to be certified to use H-2B labor was accurate. In fact, the Department of Labor certified two contractors without ever verifying they were real businesses or verifying that the paperwork they were submitting contained all the required information.

The result of these abuses was that $7,140,782 taxpayer dollars were spent for forestry work in Oregon and not one Oregonian was hired.

I want to know what changes in the process you are going to take, along with the Department of Labor, to make sure this does not happen again.

The USFS should carefully consider the hiring practices and community involvement of contractors bidding for these projects so the desired economic impact is fully realized. Moreover, the Program’s projects in Oregon are ideally suited for the awarding of stewardship contracts that provide greater flexibility to the regional USFS offices to use “best value” criteria in choosing businesses to complete this work. The best value criteria can, and should, include preferential treatment for businesses that hire locally and sell the recovered wood into local markets. This approach would align one of the Program’s primary objectives, maximizing the economic impact for affected communities, with the contracting process that is most likely to achieve that goal.

I’d also like to be helpful in ensuring these funds support the local communities. I am including an enclosure to this letter that has contact information for the local WorkSource Oregon offices, and I would encourage your staff from the USFS’s Pacific Northwest Region 6 office to communicate directly with these offices once the funds have been awarded.

I commend the USFS for its commitment to protecting and restoring our national forests. The Program continues to provide a unique opportunity for states, communities, tribes and other organizations to partner together to improve these treasured resources and our rural communities.

In closing, let me emphasize that it will be an unacceptable outrage if American citizens are not hired under these contracts. It is your responsibility, in partnership with the Department of Labor, to do everything possible—before contracts are issued—to ensure this outcome.

I and my team are available at any time to meet and discuss this very important issue. I look forward to your prompt response.

4 thoughts on “Errant ARRA Funds?”

  1. Hmm. So the neoliberals of Congress (composed of Dems and Repubs alike– demonstrating there is no meaningful opposition party) create (in bipartisan collaboration fashion) these so-called free trade agreements (such as NAFTA) with Mexico — which ultimately runs millions of small farmers off their land south of the border, because there is no way they can survive competing against giant multinational corporations getting a free ride from NAFTA and prospering by eliminating free trade “barriers” like environmental regulations, while employing advantages of economies of scale, and built to prosper in the race to the bottom…

    (I mean, NAFTA created the conditions by which Mexico — MEXICO –was forced to import corn to feed its own people! A nominal cultural understanding of this event should register on the equivalency scale of getting hit with a 2×4 upside the head.)

    So those desperate refugees of neoliberal’s NAFTA, ‘hafta’ travel north of the border taking whatever job becomes available in order to send their wages back to a struggling family (absent their fathers or brothers) back home suffering the worst effects of climate change.

    So then the other neoliberal chickens come home to roost in Amerika, leaving 20 million Americans without a job, and basic economic indicators of the “richest nation on earth” on a par with third world countries such as Bolivia — and then we get Dem indignant blowhards like Merkley, daring to play the refugee race card to appease his most economically desperate rural constituents by stridently singling out immigrant refugees and no doubt tickling the most extreme anti-immigrant elements of his “party” and “their” party to no end…

    Is ARRA Errant? Absolutely, and for VERY different flames than this post is fanning, which is the anti-immigrant flames of hyper nationalistic causes looking for a powerless scapegoat to exploit in order to distract attention away from the real causes of our dystopia.

    ARRA is absolutely errant because it is too little too late as America’s former economy circles the drain. ARRA is Errant because its biomass agenda is anything but “green”, and will condemn present and future generations of America to a climate hell; is absurdly unsustainable as a taxpayer subsidy-driven “stimulus” which will not be self sustaining — EVER. And ARRA is a fatally infected economic policy perpetuating the status-quo corporate welfare economic state.

    Mr. Merkley’s sense of political economy and political opportunism turns my stomach, and I look forward to Sharon’s explanation as to, where exactly, this post is intended to be going.

  2. David- your comments always make me feel metaphysical. This one reminds me of my yoga teacher once saying something like ” we transition from “you are different from me” to “in some ways you are like me” to “you are me.” Hope you don’t find this too offensive.

    Trade agreements almost always benefit some people in both countries, and cause losses to some people in both countries, otherwise they wouldn’t be negotiated. As I recall, some farmers in Florida lost out because with NAFTA Mexico could export more cheaply the same crops they were growing.

    I think the whole question of trade and when we should export our natural resources, and when we should import them is worthy of some further exploration.

    I have to be honest, David, I didn’t know what kind of people the ones hired were or what country the visa recipients may have been from. Both H2B and H!B visas, though, are non-immigrant visas so technically the people arent’ “immigrants” any more than the people working in the ski industry in the winter on visas are.

    My previous policy experience was with H1B visa programs for technical workers. These are usually not from Mexico, so not sure the racism/ NAFTA thing applies there. From my background in the science policy world though, I am used to the arguments there and some may hold for H2Bs. Check out wikepedia under H1b’s especially “criticisms of the program” here.

    The idea with H1B was that our own students aren’t good enough/don’t want to work in science and engineering so we need to get ones from other countries. Since the universities were the ones concerned, I always wondered why they didn’t just train ours better? But the rate of pay is certainly a question. I just think the whole thing is more complicated than can be easily put into a sound byte; and that people are milking this for partisan gain when there are real issues that people of good heart could mutually examine and potentially solve. As in the case of ESA, why solve the problem when we can use it to win elections?

    As for my post, my point is that if the ARRA funding was specifically about getting the jobless (in the US) jobs and improving our infrastructure then we should “walk the talk” and make sure that both happen with those funds. That is our role as executive branch agencies to carry out the will of Congress as expressed in statute.

    • “As for my post, my point is that if the ARRA funding was specifically about getting the jobless (in the US) jobs and improving our infrastructure then we should “walk the talk” and make sure that both happen with those funds.”

      That sounds admirable enough.

      As for my comments to your post Sharon, you might want to understand the “talk” first, then decide if you really want to champion walking it. (Or maybe you do.) The “talk” provides ARRA funds in this case, for corporate contractors paying for, as Merkley points out, “forest thinning and wildfire prevention work” — to workers at $8.41/hr.– one penny over the Oregon minimum wage.
      (the above link is where I found the wage quote, and not surprisingly coming from an anti-immigration blog, further underscoring an inescapably connected issue you’ve reduced to a hair-splitting technicality. Sorry Sharon, you can’t disappear its relevance here. )

      $8.41 an hour is certainly not a livable wage, but is certainly reflective of the state of contemporary neoliberal feudalism we are being plunged into. That in part, is what my stomach gets to turning over. But the most troubling part of your post is you already know this, pointing out, “But the rate of pay is certainly a question.”

      A question indeed Sharon. And if that’s your “question”, outrage is the only honest, ethical answer.

      The irony thickens within your post: Merkley is solidly on record as a progressive Dem, opposed to “Free Trade (sic) Agreements” and yet here, he is reduced to a progressive poster child championing the rights of US citizens to have access to slave wages for dangerous back-breaking work. This is but one of the many reasons why ARRA is errant. The problem is, it’s not among your problems with the legislation, its only among your “question”s.

      So I wouldn’t get too high-centered over your feelings that this concerns “science and engineering”–credentialed, fieldworkers. Rather, this is about, as I attempted to point out, outsourcing clauses written by, or on behalf of, the same multinational corporate interests which caused the unemployment problems to begin with, and for which ARRA will certainly not EVER address. Talk about monkey wrenching Keynesianism, which never had a real chance to work in the first place. Like I said, (or many economists said, long ago), “Too little, too late.”

      But as you’ve pointed out, (neoliberal)”Trade agreements almost always benefit some people in both countries, and cause losses to some people in both countries, otherwise they wouldn’t be negotiated.” We are clearly getting our news from different sources Sharon, but thanks for your CliffsNotes on multinational free trade agreements at the center your consciousness, but quite apart from the center of our collective dystopia.

      I have no idea what or how one can be made to, “feel metaphysical”, but if you say that’s what I make you feel like I’ll try not to feel offended. Mostly, your comments just make me feel sad, especially when your points continually resonate from the Fifth Column perspective.

  3. David, I was talking about H1B’s where the rate of pay is a question.see the wikipedia link to criticisms of H1B here under wage depression.

    What I meant about being metaphysical is that I agree with you on you concern for the unemployed and the poor. That our basic concerns are the same. I believe that people of good will by working together can make a difference, and can improve the situation. I think that optimism is a reflection of some combination of my brain chemistry and spiritual beliefs.

    As far as I’m concerned, immigration is another issue that people are unwilling to talk about with open minds and hearts because they can win more elections leaving it unsolved. But you associating me with anti-immigration forces because I question some aspects of the H1B program, and this specific use of ARRA funding, makes me sad, because it shows how far that discussion needs to go to really listen to each other.

    I had to go look up “Fifth Column” but I don’t think I’m trying to subversively bring down the country. I think I’m non-subversively trying to improve it, or at least the level of knowledge/discourse.

    I wasn’t getting my trade agreement news from different sources, I was just reflecting my experiences in working with people in the US that NAFTA was not good for. I assume that it must have been good for someone in the US or we wouldn’t have negotiated it. I also assume the same thing for Mexico.

    Finally, I think the free flow of trade, natural resources, and people provides us with many questions and challenges (like invasive species in wood), is complicated, and probably needs a great deal more thoughtful examination and charitable thinking.


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