DEBATE ON AMENDMENT NO. 47, TO NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2020

July 11, 2019
Floor Statements

   Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chair, I rise today in opposition to Amendment No. 47, which directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to reclassify public safety telecommunications officers, also called 911 dispatchers, as a protective service occupation in the U.S. Government's Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. This Amendment would have no direct effect on these workers' wages, benefits, or other resources; proponents of this reclassification have stated that ``the benefit of reclassification is recognition and respect.''

   The SOC classification system is a federal statistical standard used across agencies in data collection. According to OMB, ``[t]he SOC is designed exclusively for statistical purposes.'' Changes to the codes affect multiple data sources frequently used by policymakers, researchers, and employers, including the American Community Survey, the nation's largest household survey; the Current Population Survey (CPS), the key source of our monthly employment numbers; and the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), the authoritative source of employment and wage information by occupation.

   A standing committee at OMB, the SOC Policy Committee (SOCPC), is responsible maintaining the accuracy of these codes using well-defined principles. The SOCPC undertakes a routine revision of the codes roughly once per decade; the process spans multiple years and ``involves extensive background research, periods of public comment, review of comments, and implementation of revisions.'' During its latest revision, which began in early 2012 and was finalized in 2018, OMB specifically rejected comments requesting it reclassify 911 dispatchers as directed in Amendment No. 47. In its response to public comments presented in the May 2014 Federal Register, the Obama Administration's OMB explained it ``did not accept these recommendations based on Classification Principle 2, which states that workers are coded according to the work performed. The work performed is that of a dispatcher, not a first responder.'' In 2016, the previous administration's OMB declined a similar request for reclassification. Based on the principles OMB's policy committee applies to determine SOC codes, 911 telephone dispatchers are already properly and accurately classified.

   Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in a written communication with the Education and Labor Committee on April 26, 2019, reported that the change made by H.R. 1629, a bill identical to Amendment No. 47, would ``impact computer systems, training, documentation, and other processes'' and that ``[s]uch unplanned changes require time and resources to implement and could adversely affect other survey activities.'' Moreover, changes outside of the routine revision process would undermine the goal of data continuity, limiting data sources' usefulness for their key purpose of statistical analysis; create precedent for disrupting the standard SOC revision process; and undermine the SOCPC's authority as experts to apply the classification principles to determine what accuracy requires.

   Public safety telecommunications officers perform critical, challenging work. They deserve our honor and gratitude for their efforts. However, considering the many alternative ways policymakers could confer ``recognition and respect,'' as the proponents are seeking, there is little policy justification for this Amendment's approach to achieving that goal. In conclusion, mandating a change to a statistical code would not affect these workers' wages, benefits, or other resources--but it would disrupt data series continuity; require significant additional work for government agencies, researchers, employers, and others; and intervene in an official, routine government data-collection and statistical process.