While many Americans spent time this week considering the negative consequences that the downgraded US credit rating will have on their lives, the press staff of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee spent time enjoying Hawaii.
Senator Akaka’s committee press staff has come to Maui to attend an oversight field hearing entitled “Strengthening Self-Sufficiency: Overcoming Barriers to Economic Development in Native Communities” on August 17th. But many of the staffers arrived a full week prior to the scheduled hearing. And they did so on taxpayer dollars.
Akaka is being criticized for hosting the hearing in Hawaii rather than in Washington, DC. Some say it is simply because Hawaii is Akaka’s home state. But this argument seems weak when the costs of the trip – particularly during the summer travel season – is considered in light of our current economic conditions, the decreasing value of the dollar, and our country’s massive debt.
A stronger argument in support of the taxpayer-funded trip might be made for the local link to Native issues, as Native Hawaiians should absolutely have a voice in a hearing related to “Native Communities”. However, sending the three Hawaii panelists to Washington, DC for the hearing rather than bringing the entire press staff to Hawaii for a week ahead of the hearing may have been a more financially responsible and cost-effective alternative. And in a time of economic crisis, financial responsibility and sacrifices should be top priorities.
Press staffers have declined to answer specific questions and failed to return calls from The Daily Caller, so it is unclear whether additional committee employees will also be enjoying the islands on our taxpayer dime. What is clear is that there is a level of disrespect felt by some citizens, and rightfully so. Rick Manning from Americans for Limited Government explained, ““It’s outrageous that Senate Democrats have so little respect for the American taxpayer that in the same month they buried our credit rating, they’re heading to Hawaii to celebrate”.
If Akaka’s office has a rational reason for holding the hearing here in Hawaii, his staff should share it with the rest of us who are wondering why we are paying for staffers to take a Hawaiian vacation, particularly at a time when cuts to federally-funded programs are being made and the national credit rating has been downgraded.
Akaka is reportedly the only Senator who will be in attendance at the hearing on Wednesday. If the committee is truly interested in having Native voices and issues heard, they could have stayed in DC where other Senators would have had the opportunity to attend the hearing.
Native issues are absolutely important and deserve the full attention of the committee. But a hearing to discuss these issues should not come at such a high cost to taxpayers. In fact, this seems to be in direct conflict with the economic theme of the hearing. If staffers want to visit Hawaii, perhaps they could consider putting money back into the economy and plan a self-funded vacation on their own time and dime.
The hearing is open to the public and will be held at 9 AM at the Maui Beach Hotel on Wednesday, August 17, 2011. For more information, visit the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs website.