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Project on Government Oversight

POGO 2009 Accomplishments

Here are some of the accomplishments POGO celebrated in 2009:

 

  • Killing the F-22 Fighter Jet. Long a target of POGO, the F-22 jet is a symbol of Pentagon excess. POGO supported the charge led by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) to halt the production of the F-22, and worked around the clock visiting Senators from both sides of the aisle to counter information put together by defense industry lobbyists who would put their profit margins over the needs of country. In the end, the Senate voted 58-40 to halt production of the F-22, leading the House to strip funds for jets that not even the Pentagon wanted.

 

  • Exposing "Lord of the Flies" Security Environment at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. POGO collaborated with whistleblowers to expose enormous deficiencies in contract oversight at the State Department relating to the contractor in charge of security at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.  POGO found that the embassy was guarded by a sleep-deprived guard force that struggled to communicate among themselves because of language barriers.  Worst of all, the force was demoralized by the inappropriate behavior of some guards and supervisors, who alienated unwilling participants in their mock military operations, lewd hazing exercises, and raucous parties.  In spite of these shortcomings — many of which the Department was aware of — the contractor, ArmorGroup continued to see its contract renewed. The Department finally elected not to renew the ArmorGroup contract three months after POGO sent a letter outlining the problems to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The government is now re-evaluating its use of private security contractors in combat zones.

 

  • The end of the Royalty-In-Kind Program. In a September 2008 report, POGO pointed out many problems with the Royalty-In-Kind (RIK) program, the government's flawed program to collect royalty payments from companies drilling for natural resources on federal lands. POGO saw one of its top recommendations implemented when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the end of the RIK program in September 2009. The announcement occurred virtually at the same time as POGO's Danielle Brian testified before the full House Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals Resources on this issue. Now we can move forward towards a better system of oil and gas royalty collection — the second largest source of revenue for the federal government.

 

  • Publishing Book on Congressional Oversight.  POGO published its first book in June of this year: The Art of Congressional Oversight: A User's Guide to Doing It Right. Emerging out of our work with the Congressional Oversight Training Series (COTS), the book is a compilation of tips, case studies, and best practices for congressional oversight.  POGO hopes the book will inspire a new generation of staffers to continue in the rich tradition of congressional oversight.

 

  • Whistleblower Reform Moves in the Senate. After nearly a decade-long effort (in which POGO played no small part), in July 2009, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs advanced whistleblower legislation, creating provisions such as allowing jury trials for whistleblowers suffering retaliation. Legislation will now move to the House, where it is expected to be strengthened.

 

  • Facilitating Monthly Oversight Training Series on the Hill. Now entering its fourth year, POGO's Congressional Oversight Training Series (COTS) continues to spark idea exchange, encourage collaboration, and hone the investigative skills of congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle.  Over 250 congressional staffers representing 110 Senate and House offices participated in at least one of our 12 seminars this year.

 

  • Collaborating with Congress to Oversee Conflicts of Interest at the Treasury Department. POGO sent a letter in May to Congress raising concerns about the serious potential for conflicts of interest involving bailout asset managers that have been hired by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department. In response, several Congressional offices contacted POGO with questions about how Congress could do a better job of overseeing these conflicts of interest. POGO also met with staff from the SIGTARP, the government watchdog monitoring the bailout, to discuss its concerns.

 

  • Organizing and Presenting Whistleblower Film Series. As part of the landmark, nine-year legislative effort to restore credible whistleblower rights for government employees and contractors, POGO conducted screenings of different whistleblower films every Thursday in October over on the Hill. Post-film discussions featured film directors, producers, Members of Congress, and often the whistleblowers themselves. The series culminated with the Washington, D.C. premiere of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and drew over 500 attendees.   

 

  • Releasing a Report on IG Accountability. In March 2009 POGO released Inspectors General: Accountability is a Balancing Act, a report examining the federal Inspector General (IG) system.  In the report, POGO urged the IGs to prioritize their workloads and treat whistleblowers with the attention and protection they deserve. POGO also recommended that the IGs ensure that operators answering whistleblower hotlines are appropriately trained and experienced. As a result, the Council of IGs launched a government-wide review of their hotlines.

 

  • Removing FDA Official. After pressure from POGO and others, in August 2009, Daniel Schultz — the head of the FDA center in charge of medical device safety — was forced to resign after reaching an agreement with FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that "stepping down at this time would be in the best interest of the center and the agency." In a February report, we raised concerns about Schultz's decision to disregard Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) regulation, which had resulted in a lower safety standard for certain medical devices.

 

  • Exposing Breaches in Cyber Security. POGO released a memo from the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) expressing concern over the theft of three computers from the home of a Los Alamos National Laboratory employee. The February 3rd NNSA letter expressed frustration at the lackadaisical response to the theft and the apparent lack of controls aimed at preventing such incidents in the first place. It noted that follow-up inquiries about the January incident revealed that as many as 67 Los Alamos computers were "missing" from the lab at the time, including 13 that are known to have been lost or stolen. POGO also brought to light a separate incident, in which a Los Alamos employee lost an official BlackBerry in a "sensitive" but undisclosed foreign nation.

  

  • Receiving the Sunshine Award. In August, the Society of Professional Journalists awarded POGO its national Sunshine Award for important contributions in the area of open government. The award recognized our work investigating the Minerals Management Service (and the aforementioned RIK program), our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, and our investigations showing wasteful spending of taxpayer funds by the Air Force.