Here's an "only in Washington" story for you.
A handful of federal investigators have uncovered evidence of multiple crimes. In the last six years alone, these gangbusters have won 775 criminal convictions and the repayment of $70 million taken illegally from American workers. So how does Congress react? By moving to cut their budget next year.
That's right. Lawmakers have finally found a bureaucracy they don't want to expand. It's the Office of Labor-Management Standards, the arm (or, to be more precise, finger) of our federal government that investigates fraud by labor union leaders.
This year, OLMS had a budget of just under $48 million. For next year, the House of Representatives has appropriated $45.7 million, a $2 million cut and $11 million less than President Bush asked for.
The cut is strange, especially since OLMS is racking up convictions left and right. Consider some of its recent activity:
- In April, Jorge Aponte-Figueroa was convicted of 12 counts of embezzlement. A past president of the International Longshoreman's Association Local 1740 in Puerto Rico, he took part in a conspiracy to steal $1.9 million in union funds.
- In January, John T. Daley, former chief financial officer of the New York State Nurses Association, admitted to stealing more than $1.1 million in union funds. He'll spend at least three and a half years in prison.
- Last October, Cheryl Martin was sentenced to four years probation for her role in embezzling almost $4.6 million from the Washington Teachers' Union. She'll also pay restitution of $650,000.
The Office of Labor-Management Standards was involved in the investigations that led to these three arrests and hundreds more. Even more impressive is that OLMS is doing more with fewer people than it used to employ. It has just 351 employees today, down from 464 in 1985.
Perhaps this particular cut would be understandable if Congress had finally decided to slash spending across the board. But it hasn't. In fact, lawmakers seem to be specifically targeting OLMS. Because while its budget is being cut, House Democrats want to give the rest of the Labor Department a big boost -- more than $900 million more than the president asked for.
So why would lawmakers take on OLMS? Probably because union leaders don't like to be investigated, and they've got powerful allies on Capitol Hill. That's why lawmakers have already tilted the playing field toward unions.
Take the onerous accounting standards now imposed on companies under the Sarbanes-Oxley law. Businesses must file detailed quarterly reports with federal regulators, and the CEO must personally certify his company's bottom line each year.
Meanwhile, unions must file financial statements only once a year, don't have to have their audit certified and are rarely investigated by the government. That doesn't stop them from complaining, of course. As Labor Secretary Elaine Chao points out, the AFL-CIO claimed that it would have to spend "more than $1 million" to comply with OLMS's reasonable terms. "In fact," Chao points out, "filling out the new disclosure form cost the AFL-CIO $54,150." Quite a difference.
Unions control some $22 billion, a staggering amount of money. All of it comes from their members. These workers deserve to know what union leaders spend their hard-earned money on -- whether it's the $65 million the National Education Association gave Jesse Jackson's liberal pressure group in 2005 or the $130,000 salaries earned by 49 union leaders at AFL-CIO headquarters last year.
OLMS is clearly doing a job that needs to be done. Its hundreds of criminal convictions prove that. Union leaders and their political puppets may not appreciate its efforts, but the rank-and-file should be cheering its watchdog activities this Labor Day.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).