Telecommunications Industry Influence
This quarter, we released two
investigations on the way the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) secures our telecommunications infrastructure. Here’s what you need to know:
We found that the FCC has repeatedly failed to fix a critical vulnerability in an important system that connects all of America’s phones. A lack of in-house technical expertise leaves the FCC relying on advice from the very companies it’s supposed to oversee.
Our second investigation examined an FCC advisory panel on telecom infrastructure security and found extensive industry influence: Over two-thirds of the 183 panel members represented industry. Our work prompted a Senator and Representative to launch a formal investigation.
Former Chemical Lobbyist Sidelined EPA Chemical Study
We released an analysis highlighting the fact that a former head of chemical policy at Koch Industries, David Dunlap, now helps run the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) main science office and made key decisions regarding which chemicals to evaluate for health dangers.
Ultimately, the EPA stopped a study on formaldehyde—one of the chemicals Dunlap dealt with at Koch industries—despite twenty years of preparation. The study reportedly contained information showing a link between formaldehyde and cancer—a conclusion that likely would have led to increased regulation and decreased sales of the chemical. In an attempt to appear to comply with ethics rules, Dunlap recused himself the day of the decision. And the EPA’s ethics officials allowed it.
Scrapped Instead of Sold: The Cost of Crushing Humvees
We found that the military is paying to crush tens of thousands of usable Humvees when it could legally donate or sell them—and the Pentagon itself estimates that it may have left at least $156 million on the table
in the first six years of the program. Our analysis finds that the total financial impact (which includes lost savings for the military) is far greater.
The vehicles are not only costly to produce but also costly to destroy. Yet the agency responsible for processing surplus military equipment states that federal regulations force it to destroy the Humvees instead of selling them to recover tax dollars.
House Appropriators Reject Proposal to Create Space Bureaucracy
Dan Grazier, POGO’s Jack Shanahan Military Fellow, testified before Congress this past month urging them to reject a proposal to add to the military bureaucracy by creating an independent Space Force.
Dan argued that “there are pressing military concerns in space, but space operations are a supporting function for the existing services.”
We see no need for a redundant force, especially since the existing services would have also maintained their own space assets under the proposal.
The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee agreed—it rejected the proposal to create a separate space bureaucracy.
Facial Recognition Report Gains Major Traction in Congress
We were encouraged when Representative Justin Amash (I-MI) asked questions that POGO recommended during a facial recognition hearing and found that the FBI does not currently use real-time facial recognition. Real-time facial recognition has especially high levels of misidentification, which could pose a threat for innocent individuals if law enforcement officials use real-time facial recognition to identify alleged criminals.
Not only did Congress use our questions, but Members recognized TCP’s groundbreaking work as so important that House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) entered our facial recognition report into the record during the hearing.
Congress also invited one of our facial recognition task force members to testify during the hearing.
Holding the Judicial Branch Accountable
Over the last several months, we’ve worked with advocacy partners and Members of Congress from across the political spectrum to explore ways to make the federal judiciary more ethical, accountable, and transparent.
Our sustained advocacy is paying off: Congress is interested in making changes. In June, the House Judiciary Courts Subcommittee held a hearing on developing a code of conduct for the Supreme Court, improving financial disclosure practices, and improving transparency on recusal decisions. We provided input about what specific problems the Committee should focus on and reforms it should consider.
New from TCP: Sidebar
In July, we launched Sidebar, the new digital newsletter for TCP. We’ve given a lot of thought to what would be new, exciting, and useful information to our supporters, policymakers, and advocates.
And so, every week, Sidebar features valuable and informative resources, our quick takes on today’s most pressing constitutional issues, and thought-provoking trivia and facts you can share. We will be brief, interesting, and occasionally amusing, and we think it will be worth your time (and space in your inbox).
To subscribe, visit www.pogo.org/subscribe
Money Talks, but POGO Has More to Say
This quarter, the House acted on several of our funding recommendations. In one of these victories, House Financial Services appropriators agreed to provide $1 million for oversight.gov, a central repository that enables the public to easily access nearly all the recent work from the 73 federal inspector general offices.
POGO analyst Sean Moulton recommended this when he testified before the Committee in March, and the House listened.
The House also agreed to fund its new whistleblower office after POGO advocated for creating and funding such an office. POGO believes that the $750,000 provided for the office will provide sufficient resources for it to succeed. Standardizing training and providing resources to help congressional staff better work with whistleblowers will greatly improve the likelihood that committees and personal offices can productively engage with individuals who have personal knowledge of waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government.
The House has also taken its first step in shining a light
on a secretive office at the Justice Department. The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) historically has not been required to publish its opinions—as a result, many influential legal opinions that bind the executive branch’s conduct have not been made public.
But POGO suggested (and the House adopted) language that would require OLC to provide Congress a list of all final opinions—with few exceptions—that are in effect, including the name of the person who signed the opinion and the date.
This is the first big step in promoting OLC transparency.
Federal Investigation of Icahn Trading
POGO alerted the SEC to potential abuses of power in the government this quarter when we called on the SEC to investigate Carl Icahn, a former White House adviser, for possible insider trading.
We specifically asked the SEC to look into whether Icahn was provided non-public, market-moving information by government officials. And now investigators are at work: News reports say the U.S. attorney’s office in New York is looking into this matter.