Official response to @GovWaste ethics complaint about Senate calling itself a small business to dodge Obamacare.
(Washington, D.C.) – The Senate Ethics Committee has cavalierly dismissed a June 25, 2015 complaint from the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) and nine other signatories alleging that senators or Senate employees committed fraud and broke federal laws when they submitted applications to the Washington, D.C. Small Business Exchange, claiming status as a “small business.” As a result, rather than being subjected to the Obamacare healthcare exchange as individuals, senators and their staff were able to buy insurance and qualify for taxpayer-funded subsidies as employer and employees. The September 21, 2016 response from the committee stated that the allegations had been “carefully evaluated” and “that there had been no violation of Senate Rules.” The committee made clear that it would not reconsider its decision or take any further action.
“The Senate and Senate offices are plainly not small businesses. The falsified documents were a blatant attempt by senators to shield themselves from the harmful effects of Obamacare. This committee’s arbitrary and capricious decision is another sad example of why taxpayers have such contempt for their elected officials.”
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as ObamaCare, required members of Congress and their staff to enroll in individual plans through the new healthcare exchanges. As open enrollment approached in 2014, members and staff realized that by enrolling as individuals, they would no longer receive generous taxpayer-funded contributions to help pay their insurance premiums as they had for decades under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. They would instead only qualify for subsidies if their household income was less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, just like tens of millions of other Americans who had to purchase insurance in the individual market.
To get around this problem, senators from both sides of the aisle worked with the White House and the Office of Personnel Management to convince the agency to issue special guidance permitting them and their staff to enroll in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), which was also created under Obamacare. The applications that were submitted to the D.C. Small Business Exchange farcically claimed that the Senate and/or each Senate office is a small business with fewer than 50 employees. The employer was identified as “Twenty Congress,” and the statements were sworn to be true. Read the rest of this entry »
T. Becket Adams reports: “Right-wing radio” and “some cable news stations” are actively stoking racial fears among white Americans, President Obama warned Wednesday.
“I have been listening to the stuff for a while now,” he told a crowd of supporters in Elkhart, Ind. “I’m concerned when I watch the direction of our politics. We have been hearing this story for decades: Tales about welfare queens, talking about ‘takers,’ talking about the 47 percent.”
“It is the story that is broadcast every day on some cable news stations, on right-wing radio. It is pumped into cars and bars and VFW halls all across America,” he added.
When it was revealed that the video had been edited to remove those comments, the State Department quickly restored the entire video, and blamed the missing video on a ‘glitch.’
Pete Kasperowicz reports: The State Department admitted Wednesday that a 2013 press briefing video was purposefully altered to remove a portion of a discussion about the Iran nuclear talks, after an unknown State Department official asked that it be edited out.
“James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that.”
“The missing video clip was revealed more than three weeks ago, and it involves then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who was asked in 2013 whether officials ever lie to the public to protect national security interests.”
But Kirby said officials didn’t know who asked for the video to be edited, and said the department is unlikely to investigate further into who wanted the video to be edited.
Kirby said he asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look into the issue, and that officials “learned that a specific request was made to excise that portion of the briefing. We do not know who made the request to edit the video, or why it was made.”
Kirby insisted that the person who made the edit only remembers that he or she got a call from someone at the State Department, who was passing on a request from the departments’ Public Affairs Bureau. But he said the person who received the call didn’t remember who the caller was, and doesn’t know who in that bureau made the request. Read the rest of this entry »
David R. Sands reports: In the latest incident of aggressive Russian probing of American military assets, a Defense Department official said Wednesday that two Russian military jets engaged in an “aggressive” overflight maneuver of a U.S. Navy vessel sailing in international waters off the Russian coast.
The official, speaking on background, said the two jets flew uncomfortably close to a U.S. guided-missile destroyer in what the official called “simulated attack profiles” in Tuesday’s incident…(more)
Emails show the agency took dictation from green lobbies in possible violation of the law.
States and businesses are suing to stop the Obama Administration’s anticarbon Clean Power Plan, and now they have new evidence to seek a preliminary injunction.
“The emails, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, show that this trio and other environmentalists essentially wrote the rule. Their inside man was Michael Goo, who worked at the NRDC before becoming the EPA’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy.”
The Energy & Environment Legal Institute has obtained government emails that show the EPA secretly worked with environmental lobbyists to craft its Clean Power Plan regulating greenhouse gases. The emails show this secret alliance designed a standard that would be impossible or economically ruinous for existing coal plants to meet—in order to force their closure.
” The emails show intense 2011 communications between Mr. Goo and high-level officials at the NRDC, the Sierra Club and the Clean Air Task Force. Mr. Goo used a private Yahoo email account to send multiple drafts of his options memo to these outside groups, which returned them with draft instructions.”
The New York Timesfirst reported that in 2014 environmentalists Dan Lashof,David Doniger and David Hawkins—all with roots at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—drafted a “blueprint” that “influenced” the greenhouse gas rules. That wasn’t the half of it.
The Environmental Protection Agency in Washington D.C. PHOTO: UIG VIA GETTY IMAGES
The emails, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, show that this trio and other environmentalists essentially wrote the rule. Their inside man was Michael Goo, who worked at the NRDC before becoming the EPA’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy. The emails show intense 2011 communications between Mr. Goo and high-level officials at the NRDC, the Sierra Club and the Clean Air Task Force. Mr. Goo used a private Yahooemail account to send multiple drafts of his options memo to these outside groups, which returned them with draft instructions.
“I’ve been involved with EPA regulations for more than 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before. It is remarkable that a senior official would use a private email account to evade federal law and secretly give an outside group a seat at the table when regulations are being developed.”
— Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA assistant administrator in the Bush Administration
The communications show that Mr. Goo kept these outsiders apprised of internal EPA deliberations. For instance, Conrad Schneider, an official at the Clean Air Task Force, on May 11, 2011 asks Mr. Goo to send him the “latest unit efficiency concept” the agency is debating.
Mr. Schneider also provides Mr. Goo with his staff’s “reactions” to Mr. Goo’s “read out from the meeting from the Administrator”—meaning Mr. Goo was briefing outside groups on his discussions with then-EPA chief Lisa Jackson. The collaboration on standards and algorithms is so detailed that at one point Mr. Schneider chides Mr. Goo that he needs to keep his “units straight” since he is confusing concepts. Read the rest of this entry »
Predictable Catastrophe: Money Squandered as Confusing and Lenient Policies Encourage Border Crossings
Stephen Dinan reports: The U.S. government paid for a classroom full of computers in El Salvador, but the Salvadoran government never bothered to hire a teacher, investigators said Wednesday — one of a series of bungles in the Obama administration’s plan to flood Central America with U.S. money to try to stem another surge of illegal immigration.
“Carrying out ineffective campaigns could lead to higher levels of migration to the United States, which is not only potentially costly in terms of U.S. taxpayer resources but costly and dangerous to the migrants and their families.”
In an expansive report on last summer’s surge, the Government Accountability Office said confusing and lenient U.S. policies pushed illegal immigrants to make the crossing, and even cited administration officials who said President Obama’s 2012 deportation amnesty for so-called Dreamers did entice some of the surge.
President Barack Obama attempts to respond to Ju Hong (lower left), who began to heckle him about anti-deportation policies at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
“Initially officials blamed dangerous and economically depressed conditions in three key Central American nations for pushing illegal immigrants north, but eventually Homeland Security officials admitted that confusing and lenient policies — at least as far as illegal immigrants were concerned — were serving as a magnet to draw illegal immigrants.”
Trying to get a handle on the flood, Mr. Obama has requested hundreds of millions of dollars to try to bolster society in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the three countries chiefly responsible for the surge, but GAO investigators said corruption or incompetence among the Central American governments may hinder those efforts.
In the U.S., meanwhile, Homeland Security officials poured money into public relations campaigns to try to warn would-be crossers against attempting it, but the government has no idea if those efforts worked, the GAO said.
“The surge, which totaled nearly 70,000 children traveling without a parent in fiscal year 2014, plus more than 60,000 children and parents traveling together, overwhelmed the Obama administration, which was left struggling for answers.”
“Carrying out ineffective campaigns could lead to higher levels of migration to the United States, which is not only potentially costly in terms of U.S. taxpayer resources but costly and dangerous to the migrants and their families,” the GAO said in its report.
Both the State Department and Homeland Security admitted they need to do a better job collecting information and evaluating what they’re doing.
The report comes a year after the surge of illegal immigrant children and families reshaped the immigration debate, drawing attention to a still-porous border and helping sidetrack President Obama’s hopes of getting Congress to approve a bill legalizing illegal immigrants already in the country.
The surge, which totaled nearly 70,000 children traveling without a parent in fiscal year 2014, plus more than 60,000 children and parents traveling together, overwhelmed the Obama administration, which was left struggling for answers. Read the rest of this entry »
Pentagon Loses Track of $500 Million in Weapons, Equipment Given to Yemen
Craig Whitlock reports: The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen, amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.
With Yemen in turmoil and its government splintering, the Defense Department has lost its ability to monitor the whereabouts of small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the United States. The situation has grown worse since the United States closed its embassy in Sanaa, the capital, last month and withdrew many of its military advisers.
In recent weeks, members of Congress have held closed-door meetings with U.S. military officials to press for an accounting of the arms and equipment. Pentagon officials have said that they have little information to go on and that there is little they can do at this point to prevent the weapons and gear from falling into the wrong hands.
“We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
U.S. military officials declined to comment for the record. A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said there was no hard evidence that U.S. arms or equipment had been looted or confiscated. But the official acknowledged that the Pentagon had lost track of the items.
“Even in the best-case scenario in an unstable country, we never have 100 percent accountability,” the defense official said.
Yemen’s government was toppled in January by Shiite Houthi rebels who receive support from Iran and have strongly criticized U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. The Houthis have taken over many Yemeni military bases in the northern part of the country, including some in Sanaa that were home to U.S.-trained counterterrorism units. Other bases have been overrun by fighters from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Auditors with the Government Accountability Office found that Humvees donated to the Yemeni Interior Ministry sat idle or broken because the Defense Ministry refused to share spare parts. (Government Accountability Office)
As a result, the Defense Department has halted shipments to Yemen of about $125 million in military hardware that were scheduled for delivery this year, including unarmed ScanEagle drones, other types of aircraft and Jeeps. That equipment will be donated instead to other countries in the Middle East and Africa, the defense official said. Read the rest of this entry »
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal agencies set a new record for improper payments last year, shelling out $125 billion in questionable benefits after years of declines.
The payments included tax credits for families that didn’t qualify, Medicare payments for treatments that might not have been necessary, and unemployment benefits for people who were actually working.
“This taxpayer money was not spent securing our borders, it was not spent on national defense, and it was not spent contributing to a safety net for those in need.”
— Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Improper payments increased by $19 billion over the previous year, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. In addition to fraud, the errors included overpayments and underpayments, as well as payments made without proper documentation.
“This is a problem that is going to get worse year after year if we do not get a handle on it now.”
— Sen. Ron Johnson
While the errors were spread among 22 federal agencies, three programs stood out: Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Together, the three programs accounted for more than $93 billion in improper payments.
Tens of Thousands of Federal Workers on Extended Paid Leave
For The Washington Post, Lisa Rein reports: Tens of thousands of federal workers are being kept on paid leave for at least a month — and often for longer stretches that can reach a year or more — while they wait to be punished for misbehavior or cleared and allowed to return to work, government records show.
“It’s not authorized by any law. Bureaucrats are abusing it.”
— Sen. Charles E. Grassley
During a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 employees were sent home for a month or longer. The tab for these workers exceeded $775 million in salary alone.
“OPM has turned a blind eye to this, and it’s shameful. There’s no sense of urgency.”
— Debra Roth, general counsel for the Senior Executives Association
The extensive use of administrative leave continues despite government personnel rules that limit paid leave for employees facing discipline to “rare circumstances” in which the employee is considered a threat. The long-standing rules were written in an effort to curb waste and deal quickly with workers accused of misconduct.
While the employees stayed home, they not only collected paychecks but also built their pensions, vacation and sick days and moved up the federal pay scale.
And the comptroller general, the top federal official responsible for auditing government finances and practices, has repeatedly ruled that federal workers should not be sidelined for long periods for any reason.
“Six months went by, and we didn’t hear anything. You’re so anxious. You don’t know if you’ve got a job. You’re getting paid, but it’s no vacation.”
— Scott Balovich, who was put on administrative leave from his IT systems job at the NOAA in Alaska
But a report by the Government Accountability Office, first made public by The Washington Post on its Web site Monday, found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months during the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013. About 4,000 were idled for three months to a year and several hundred for one to three years. This is the first time the government has calculated the scope and cost of administrative leave.
Auditors found that supervisors used wide discretion in putting employees on leave, including for alleged violations of government rules and laws, whistleblowing, doubts about trustworthiness, and disputes with colleagues or bosses. Some employees remain on paid leave while they challenge demotions and other punishments.
“The Office of Personnel Management rule book lists dozens of reasons for allowing paid leave, such as donating an organ, house-hunting before a job transfer and attending the funeral of a relative in the military. Snow days also are permitted.”
While the employees stayed home, they not only collected paychecks but also built their pensions, vacation and sick days and moved up the federal pay scale. Read the rest of this entry »
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014, before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to examine the state of Veterans Affairs health care. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Paul Krugman, The New York Times columnist, has held up the VA as a model for the entire country. The Washington Monthly ran a famous article in 2005 arguing that the VA was leading the way for U.S. health care. The socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, is such a reflexive defender that in an instantly notorious interview on CNN he pooh-poohed the burgeoning scandal that may involve fatalities with the undeniable observation that “people die every day.”
The VA is an island of socialism in American health care. It generally provides adequate care — to a limited universe of people and for only certain conditions — but has been plagued by scandal for decades. It is perhaps the worst bureaucracy in the federal government. As with all such single-payer-type systems, the cost of the notionally free health care is in the rationing, in this case the wait times that have had desperately ill vets hung out to dry for months. Read the rest of this entry »
“My staff keeps telling me to take it easy, you know, well, this is one that gets me,” Holder told Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “There was this notion that we’ve taken — I think it was described as hundreds of personal trips. That was wrong. GAO counted flights, not round trips. And we looked at it and figured out from the time period that they were looking, we took not hundreds, but 27 personal, four combined — official and nonpersonal trips — and none of the trips that I took or that the [FBI] director took ever had an impact on the mission capability of those airplanes.”
“The problems with [optional practical training program] are extensive and serious. The report not only calls into question the department’s oversight of the program, but also whether such lack of oversight is a serious national security risk”
“The problems with OPT are extensive and serious. The report not only calls into question the department’s oversight of the program, but also whether such lack of oversight is a serious national security risk,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who released the report, said in a letter to Homeland Security SecretaryJeh Johnson.
Federal judges should copy this phrase and be ready to paste it into rulings — sometimes replacing “IRS” with “Health and Human Services” — as President Obama continues to act as legislator in chief, making and amending laws as he sees fit, separation of powers be damned.
In the same week Obama illegally delayed the employer mandate and out of thin air created a bizarre loyalty oath to administer to companies suffering from Obamacare, a federal court unanimously smacked down his IRS for executive overreach.
John Shiffman and Andrea Shalal-Esa – WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon repeatedly waived laws banning Chinese-built components on U.S. weapons in order to keep the $392 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program on track in 2012 and 2013, even as U.S. officials were voicing concern about China’s espionage and military buildup.
According to Pentagon documents reviewed by Reuters, chief U.S. arms buyer Frank Kendall allowed two F-35 suppliers, Northrop Grumman Corp and Honeywell International Inc, to use Chinese magnets for the new warplane’s radar system, landing gears and other hardware. Without the waivers, both companies could have faced sanctions for violating federal law and the F-35 program could have faced further delays.
“It was a pretty big deal and an unusual situation because there’s a prohibition on doing defense work in China, even if it’s inadvertent,” said Frank Kenlon, who recently retired as a senior Pentagon procurement official and now teaches at American University. “I’d never seen this happen before.”
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is examining three such cases involving the F-35, the U.S. military’s next generation fighter, the documents show.
The GAO report, due March 1, was ordered by U.S. lawmakers, who say they are concerned that Americans firms are being shut out of the specialty metals market, and that a U.S. weapon system may become dependent on parts made by a potential future adversary.
Joe Stephens and Mary Pat Flaherty report: Three years ago, the Progressive Policy Institute realized that a senior manager had quietly used unauthorized checks, credit-card charges and cash withdrawals to drain about $100,000 from the Democratic think tank’s accounts, pushing the nonprofit group to the edge of insolvency, interviews and documents show.
Officials at the institute didn’t call police and didn’t alert donors, said Lindsay Mark Lewis, now executive director of the Washington-based organization. Instead, they took what charity governance specialists call a distressingly common approach for a nonprofit group: They agreed to forgo legal action in exchange for restitution.
“We had an agreement that as long as the payments were made, that we would not pursue anything else,” Lewis said.
The institute declined to publicly identify the manager. Elizabeth Kennedy, who was executive director in 2010, left about the time of the discovery, and the institute’s financial records state that she has since “repaid” tens of thousands of dollars to the institute. She declined to discuss the institute’s loss and, asked whether she had embezzled the money, said, “No comment.”
The giant router funnels tax and income information to the new federal and state government websites designed to sell medical coverage; it is critical to the success of the HHS in attracting enough consumers – and the right mix of ages — to make the system financially feasible.
Beyond that, the Hub will be vital to the Internal Revenue Service as it assumes responsibility for administering a multitude of tax increases and tax credits and collecting and verifying data from employers and individuals to determine eligibility for federal subsidies. Read the rest of this entry »
MILLINOCKET, MAINE — The huge mills along the Penobscot River roared virtually nonstop for more than a century, turning the dense Maine forests into paper and lifting the thousands of men who did the hot and often backbreaking work into the middle class.
But the mills have struggled in recent years, shedding thousands of jobs. Now this area, whose well-paying jobs provided an economic foothold for generations of blue-collar workers, has become a place where an unusually large share of the unemployed are seeking economic shelter on federal disability rolls. Read the rest of this entry »
Michelle Malkin writes: Forget gun control. America needs government control. Have you noticed the common thread among several mass killings and homeland security incidents lately?
Time and again, it’s the control freaks in Washington who have fallen down on their jobs, allowing crazies, creeps and criminals to roam free and wreak havoc while ignoring rampant red flags. Let’s review:
Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis: Despite gun-grabbing Democrats’ best efforts to blame a nonexistent “AR-15″ for this week’s horrific Navy Yard massacre, the truth is seeping out about shooter Aaron Alexis. The 34-year-old Navy veteran had been treated since August by the Veterans Administration for a host of mental problems that plagued him for up to a decade. Read the rest of this entry »
Its unnecessary, ineffective, and expensive. And thats just for starters.
1. It’s unnecessary. In the months immediately following September 11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush initially resisted calls to create a new high-level bureaucracy that would be laid on top of current activities. He was right to recognize that coordinating existing agencies would have been smarter and better. Unfortunately, he caved in to pressure to create a massive new department.
2. It’s ineffective. To read the titles of Government Accountability Office (GAO) analyses of Homeland Security is to be reminded constantly that DHS is never quite on top of its game. Recent reports include “DHS Requires More Disciplined Investment Management to Help Meet Mission Needs,” “DHS Needs Better Project Information and Coordination Among Four Overlapping Grant Programs,” and “Agriculture Inspection Program Has Made Some Improvements, But Management Challenges Persist.”
Since it’s the holiday season, here’s a bonus reason to get rid of the Department of Homeland Security: It also runs the Transportation Security Administration, whose nasty reputation for manhandling innocent travelers is only slightly more annoying than its massive and undeserved growth in personnel and cost over the past decade.
Environmental Protection Agency officials are keeping mum today about a potential landmine of a lawsuit that claims senior executives there have used secret email accounts to conduct public business without being subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The suit was filed last week by the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s senior fellow, Christopher C. Horner, Hans Bader, CEI’s counsel for special projects, and Sam Kazman, the conservative think tank’s general counsel.
In the suit, CEI asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order EPA to produce “certain records pertaining to ‘secondary,’ non-public email accounts for EPA administrators, the existence of which accounts Plaintiff discovered in an Agency document obtained under a previous FOIA request.”
According to the CEI suit, the internal EPA memo, which was referenced in a Government Accountability Office report in 2008, described the secondary accounts as known only to “few EPA staff members, usually only high-level senior staff.”
Many such officials would be either presidential appointees or politically appointed members of the federal civil service system’s Senior Executive Service. The agency’s current boss, Administrator Lisa Jackson, was appointed by President Obama.
Federal law requires all government employees to use only official email accounts. If they do use a private account to do official business, however, they are required to make that available to their employing department or agency.
A spokesman for EPA declined to comment specifically on the CEI suit, offering only a statement on behalf of the agency: “EPA is strongly committed to transparency and strictly complies with open government laws such as the Freedom of Information Act. We will review this lawsuit closely and respond as appropriate.”
The think tank sued after filing three separate FOIA requests in May for documents related to the secret accounts. The agency has yet to produce any documents in response to the FOIAs…