Selected Impact and Accomplishments for 2014
Closed Revolving Door Loophole at the SEC. POGO released a report in 2013 showing that many Wall Street firms offer a "revolving door bonus" to executives who leave to go work for the government. POGO’s findings garnered attention from media such as The New York Times, Yahoo!, The Washington Examiner, and The Huffington Post. As a result of POGO’s findings ‘Public Citizen’ began exploring whether it has standing to bring a legal action under Title 18, Section 209 of the United States Code, which prohibits “any contribution" by private parties to members of the "executive branch of the United States Government”. There has been a rule change revoking the revolving door ethics exemption. It relates to enforcement because the exemption had allowed senior enforcement officials to represent clients before the agency as soon as they left. (We obtained documents showing that one former enforcement official represented Merrill Lynch before the SEC on enforcement cases just a few months after he left the agency: http://www.pogo.org/our-work/
The change in ethics rules—revoking a longstanding exemption for some SEC officials—was a rare stand against the revolving door at an agency that has long blurred the lines between regulator and regulated. POGO’s investigative work on this issue won an award from the Society of Professional Journalists Society Washington DC chapter in June 2014.
Increased Standards for Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian was elected the chair of the Civil Society sector of the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a Federal Advisory Committee composed of civil society, industry, and government members. In that role, POGO has helped organize outreach efforts to provide communities directly impacted by extractive industries a voice in the crafting of transparency commitments that have been presented to the international EITI board by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Under her leadership of the Civil Society sector, the EITI board approved the United States’ application for meeting the international standard.
In addition to the USEITI application to the Global Board being approved in 2014, POGO has helped expand how EITI will be implemented in the US with an eye toward having these reporting guidelines replicated throughout the world. The first USEITI report will take a detailed look at the communities most impacted by the oil, gas, and mining industries, including minerals, such as gold and copper. The report will provide county-level historical data going back ten years, showing the expenses communities must bare from extractive industries activity, such as increases in local infrastructure maintenance and costs for roads, sanitation, emergency services, water supplies and electrical grid buildup. It will also look at National Bureau of Labor Statistics data for employment numbers to measure job creation and job quality. Future USEITI reports will continue to provide detailed data on these local communities. All of these reporting methods are designed with an eye toward countering industry rhetoric that champions the extractive industry as a catalyst for local economic growth and development without a single mention of the increased costs to a community for their involvement.
Revealed Mass Misconduct by Federal Prosecutors. POGO obtained data through FOIA and DOJ’s Office of Personal Responsibility (OPR) reports that show that from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2013, hundreds of federal prosecutors and other Justice employees violated rules, laws, or ethical standards governing their work. In the majority of the matters—more than 400—OPR categorized the violations as being at the more severe end of the scale: recklessness or intentional misconduct. A bill proposed by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would overhaul how misconduct is investigated at the Justice Department. Currently, only OPR is allowed to look into ethics complaints, instead of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which is widely considered to be more independent.
Made $100 million Fraud by Northrop Grumman Public. POGO revealed a Defense Department IG report that showed that Northrop Grumman grossly overcharged the US government for labor costs between October 2007 through March 2013. For example, one employee billed $177,000 for 1,200 hours in just 12 days (12 days only has 288 hours). The contracting agency, the Army Contracting Command-Redstone Arsenal failed to conduct proper supervision of either hours billed nor personnel qualified to conduct the work. The report found that in one case the program manager who charged the government for $1.2 million of work lacked even the required Bachelor’s Degree.
Selected Impact and Accomplishments for 2013
POGO Wins Battle: Taxpayer Burden to Pay Executive Compensation reduced. In 2013, we finally achieved our goal of reducing the cap on excessive contractor compensation packages, which are funded with taxpayer dollars. For years, POGO had urged Congress and the White House to reduce the cap, and they finally listened. The contractor compensation cap is now set at $487,000. Government estimates have found that the reduced cap will save approximately $200 million taxpayer dollars per year. The new cap is about half of the previous cap announced by the Office of Management and Budget (outrageously set at $952,308).
Military Sexual Assault Victims and Whistleblowers Are Now Better Protected. Thanks to efforts led by POGO, a newly passed law will protect military whistleblowers and victims of sexual assault against retaliation. This law will help protect service members who make the difficult and brave decision to come forward and report sexual assault or other misconduct. POGO fought hard for passage of these reforms to upgrade the disgracefully broken whistleblower protections for our troops. That said, all the protections in the world won’t help if the people in charge aren’t likely to enforce them. And exactly this sort of person was put in charge of sexual assault prevention until POGO stepped in. A November 2013 POGO letter to Secretary Hagel asked for the removal of Major General Patton from his post as head of sexual assault prevention due to an investigation that found him guilty of violating the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The letter resulted in news coverage of the issue and over 2,500 letters to the DoD from POGO supporters. A mere four weeks after POGO’s letter, the Pentagon announced Major General Patton’s plan to retire. A congressional staffer close to the issue told POGO that the impetus for Patton’s retirement was the unwelcome attention from POGO.
Several Key Watchdog Vacancies Filled. In 2013 a number of important Inspector General vacancies were filled—including at the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and Department of State—after POGO highlighted the issue with its website tracking all IG vacancies, and advocated filling them through blog posts and meetings with policymakers. Our work also resulted in increased oversight by Members of Congress. Although we are pleased about the vacancies that have been filled, there are still agencies, such as the Department of the Interior, in need of a strong permanent Inspector General. POGO will continue working to ensure those vacancies are filled.
POGO Recommendations on Contracting Reform Featured in New York Times Editorial. In a harsh critique of federal contracting rules, The New York Times editorial board cited POGO’s recommendations as a solution to the current practice of contracting out vast swaths of government work indefinitely. This indefinite contracting out, which is done with little to no attempt to develop the needed technical and managerial expertise within the government or to enforce labor standards, has created a bloated federal-contractor sector in which the public good is often subservient to profit.
Selected Impact and Accomplishments for 2012
Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
A Navy and Marine Corps cover-up hid more than three decades of devastating water contamination at Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina—a toxic secret that affected as many as one million Marines, civilians, and family members stationed there. Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine who served as a drill sergeant at the base, doggedly worked to uncover the details of this contamination after his nine-year-old daughter died of leukemia. POGO was honored to help Master Sgt. Ensminger, breast-cancer survivor Mike Partain, and the other victims in their quest for truth in this disaster that spanned 1953-1987. We worked with filmmakers to bring attention to the documentary on Camp Lejeune, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, and also with bipartisan Members of Congress to pursue documentation of the contamination kept secret by the Navy and Marine Corps. Thousands of pages of documents were finally made public with the help of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other allies. That disclosure was followed by another milestone in the fight, as President Obama signed into law legislation, which POGO advocated for, that delivers long-overdue health care to the victims. Yet, unbelievably, the whole truth is still not known and information is still being withheld. We will continue to work to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs properly implements the new law, to expose the whole truth about what happened at Camp Lejeune, and to hold those responsible accountable.
America’s Shame: The Crisis of Modern Slavery
Modern slavery is a worldwide crisis, and one that our taxpayer dollars fuel. Billions of dollars in Pentagon and State Department contracts end up in the hands of federal contractors and subcontractors with deplorable labor practices. Foreign nationals, most of whom live in poverty back home, are lured to Iraq or Afghanistan by recruiters who promise a good paycheck and a better life for the workers and their families. Once in country, though, they find a life of forced labor, working for a small fraction of the pay they were promised, living in squalid conditions, being made to pay excessive fees to the recruiter, and being forced to stay because their travel documents were confiscated to prevent them from leaving the worksite. Those scenarios paint a picture of slavery and exploitation rather than of democracy and freedom.
POGO has been working to end this shameful practice. Last September, we finally saw government action towards a true zero-tolerance policy on such human trafficking: President Obama issued an Executive Order that orders contractors to stop misleading or fraudulent recruiting practices, charging recruiting fees, seizing or destroying employee identification documents, and failing to pay employees’ return transportation costs. Congress then passed a law that put the President’s order into statute and gave the enforcement some additional teeth. POGO worked with bipartisan congressional champions such us Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and Representatives James Lankford (R-OK) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) to advance the legislation. POGO also drew much-needed attention to the issue by testifying and reporting on abuses.
POGO is now working to ensure the agencies and contractors properly implement and enforce these tough new anti-trafficking laws.
Changing the Pentagon Spending Debate
Since its founding, POGO has fought to reduce wasteful spending at the Pentagon. This past year was no different, and POGO played a pivotal role in changing the debate over the Pentagon’s enormous budget. Through our efforts, and those of other like-minded groups and individuals, the previously sacrosanct Pentagon budget was kept on the table of areas that should be considered for cuts. We not only argued that wasteful spending should be curtailed, but also that there were specific cuts that could be made without adversely impacting national security.
Along with our partners at Taxpayers for Common Sense, we released recommendations for saving nearly $700 billion in taxpayer dollars at the Pentagon. And POGO’s investigations into the F-35, Littoral Combat Ship, top-heavy military officer corps, and high cost of service contracting helped change the national debate about Pentagon spending.
POGO also helped lead a coordinated campaign bringing together groups as diverse as Americans for Taxpayer Reform and Campaign for America’s Future—many of which have never joined together publicly before—urging President Obama and Congress to “Spend Less, and Spend Smarter at the Pentagon.”
Most importantly, all of this work helped pave the way for victories such as a vote in the House to freeze Pentagon spending and then, as a result of sequestration, the reduction of Pentagon spending by roughly $500 billion over the next ten years.
POGO will continue to work with our partners to more effectively and accountably meet national security needs and twenty-first century realities.
Improving Protections for Whistleblowers
Last year we achieved several hard-won victories for whistleblowers and taxpayers. After more than a decade of campaigning for enhanced whistleblower protections for the brave federal workers who safeguard our health, safety, security, and taxpayer dollars, they have finally been enacted. On November 27, 2012, President Obama signed the long-beleaguered Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) into law. The WPEA closes many loopholes and upgrades protections for federal workers who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality. POGO helped lead an unprecedented coalition of supporters from across the ideological spectrum which, along with the efforts of the committed co-sponsors of this legislation and their dedicated staff, made its passage possible.
Then, the President did what Congress did not in the WPEA and gave many national security and intelligence community whistleblowers protections for the first time. Though it doesn’t provide sufficient independence, due process, or enforcement, there finally is a framework for free-speech rights and some remedies for these whistleblowers.
POGO also helped get expanded whistleblower protections for federal contractors and grantees. Modeled on the excellent Recovery Act, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) championed strong enhancements to defense contractor protections and a four-year pilot program for government-wide protections enacted in the defense authorization bill.
But, while these are remarkable advances for whistleblowers and taxpayers, there also have been many threats initiated by the Obama Administration and some in Congress. We will be vigilant in addressing these and ensuring the progress made in law this year is properly put into practice.