Union: McCain Snubs Correctional Workers

The federal Bureau of Prisons is facing a budget crisis, and correctional officers working in the nation’s prisons are concerned that understaffing is jeopardizing the safety of inmates and employees. But despite these issues, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s campaign has so far declined to answer a questionnaire about bureau funding and staffing woes, according to a government employees union.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents approximately 15,000 federal correctional officers in Colorado and across the nation, recently sent out a three-question survey to McCain and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama asking for their views on understaffing and funding of prisons.

Only one candidate got back to them, and it wasn’t McCain.

Here were the questions:

a) If elected president, would you establish new budget priorities which recognize the need to end the underfunding and understaffing that is preventing America from delivering effective government services?

b) If elected President, what would you do to address the underfunding and understaffing that is endangering America’s federal prison correctional officers?

c) If elected President, what would you do to address the understaffing and consolidation problems in Department of Homeland Security?

When the union sent its members the Obama camp’s response via e-mail, they also sent a brief union summary on McCain’s voting record sans questionnaire answers:

John McCain:

Despite attempts to contact John McCain, AFGE never received a questionnaire back from him. Therefore, AFGE has used his voting record to give you a better understanding of where he stands on this issue.

Senator McCain voted against increasing funding for veterans health care in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. (Senate Vote 40, 3/10/2004; Senate Vote 55, 3/16/2005; Senate Vote 41, 3/14/2006; Senate Vote 126, 3/29/2007)

Senator McCain opposed an amendment that would have provided an assured funding stream for veterans health care that would take into account annual changes in veterans’ population and inflation. (Senate Vote 63, 3/16/2006)

Senator McCain voted against President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy in 2001. But in 2005, he flip-flopped — voting for an additional $58 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He also would “slash the corporate income-tax rate from 35% to 25% at a cost to the Treasury of $100 billion a year” and supports making permanent the 2001 tax cuts he originally opposed — despite massive deficits and critical underfunding and understaffing of virtually every government program. (Wall Street Journal, 3/03/08; Senate Vote 170, 5/26/01; Senate Vote 347, 11/18/05)

Barack Obama:

a) The Bush administration’s fiscal irresponsibility has put working families as well as our federal agencies in crisis. The human and monetary costs of a war than never should have been authorized and never should have been waged have only been exacerbated by this administration’s failure to plan for its true costs.

The VA is the most tragic example of the Bush administration’s failure to plan and the disastrous consequences that has had. My approach to fixing this crisis reflects how I will tackle the budget across agencies. The Bush administration has consistently underinvested in the health care for our heroic veterans. In 2005, a multi-billion dollar VA funding shortfall required Congress to step in and bail out the system. Currently veterans face delays and long wait-times in seeking VA health care appointments. Without assured funding year after year, our veterans are forced to make do with the VA they have rather than the VA they deserve. As president, I will fully fund the VA so it has all the resources it needs to serve the veterans who need it, when they need it.

As president, I will work to provide federal agencies the proper funding and planning resources they need to implement the tasks they have been directed to undertake. In order for government to work efficiently and uphold its commitments to the American people, we must ensure that our federal employees have the resources and guidance they need to effectively do their jobs. As president, I will work to ensure that all parts of my Administration are able to provide government services in a cost-effective, responsive and efficient manner.

b) The pressures that have been placed on our nation’s correctional officers have been tremendous. I am committed to addressing the overcrowding of our nation’s prisons – which starts by properly funding the BOP’s budget. The shortfall in BOP’s budget and the fact that correctional officer staffing hasn’t kept pace with the skyrocketing inmate population makes it harder for correctional officers to perform their jobs, to protect themselves from violence, and to ensure that riots and other violent outbreaks do not take place among inmates.

Moreover, we should also take steps to address the dramatic rise in incarceration that has occurred over the last two decades. It’s time for us to re-examine the wisdom of locking up some first-time, non-violent drug users for decades. These policies are a significant source of the overcrowding of our prisons. As president, I will work to reduce the blind and counterproductive warehousing of non-violent offenders – individuals who often have mental health and substance abuse problems. I will give first-time, non-violent offenders the opportunity to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior. And I will support Department of Justice programs that provide grants to state drug courts that supervise treatment programs, and will replicate those drug courts on the federal level.

c) Five years from its creation, it is clear that the Department of Homeland Security suffers from poor management that has resulted in poor service, failed missions, and chronically low morale in the agency’s workforce. As the nation witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this Administration promoted incompetent political cronies and allowed critical missions to suffer, failing to hold contractors accountable for waste, fraud and abuse.

I will begin by restoring full transparency to the contracting process, ensuring that contracts are put out for competitive bidding, and that political appointees are not steering contracts to former employers. No former lobbyist will be able to oversee contracts going to their private sector employer and no Obama Administration official will be allowed to lobby my Administration after they return to the private sector. I will also make it clear that private contracts will not be awarded if minimum wage and benefit standards are not met. I have lead (sic) on this issue in the Senate, where I was an original cosponsor of the bill to repeal the Bush Administration’s waiver of Davis-Bacon protections for contractors after Hurricane Katrina.

As the GAO found in a recent report, the agency suffers from severe management vacancies that will be exacerbated by the expected retirement of baby boomer career employees. To address this personnel crisis, I would hire qualified professionals for management positions and strive to attract young people to public service to fill the ranks of upcoming retirees. Our career civil servants deserve the resources they need to carry out both the service and enforcement duties related to our immigration laws. I will make sure they have those resources.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.