April - July 2021
Testified before Congress.
POGO staff have provided testimony to Congress 15 times on a wide variety of issues since the start of the year. Liz Hempowicz, Mandy Smithberger, Tim Stretton, and Melissa Wasser all provided testimony multiple times on a range of issues including inspectors general, whistleblower protections, oil and gas royalties, wasteful Pentagon spending, and the power of the purse. See a full list of our 2021 testimonies in the House and Senate at the end of this document.
POGO’s testimony is making a difference. Liz’s testimony on the power of the purse was featured heavily in the House Budget Committee’s Congressional report on the topic. Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) also tweeted a clip of Tim’s testimony on COVID-19 relief directed towards the oil and gas industry.
- On March 23, 2021, Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Center for Defense Information at POGO, provided testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommitee on Defense, on the future of the Overseas Contingency Operations account.
- On March 25, 2021, Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy, provided testimony before the Select Committee on Modernization of Congress on how to improve the oversight capacity of Congress.
- On April 15, 2021, Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Center for Defense Information at POGO, provided testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Military Personnel, on whether our inspector general system is serving the needs of Congress, the Department of Defense, service members, and the public.
- On April 16, 2021, Tim Stretton, Policy Analyst, provided testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, on the need to increase royalty rates and overall accountability and transparency for oil and gas royalty policy at the Department of the Interior.
- On April 20, 2021, Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy provided testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Government Operations on inspectors general.
- On April 21, 2021, Melissa Wasser, Policy Counsel, provided testimony to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on whistleblower reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- On April 28, Tim Stretton, Policy Analyst, provided testimony before the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress on how to reduce conflicts of interest in congressional fellowship programs and improve these programs’ transparency.
- On April 29, 2021, Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy, provided testimony before the House Budget Committee on the Congressional Power of the Purse Act.
- On May 3, 2021, Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy, provided testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on inspectors general, whistleblower protections, and the Vacancies Act.
- On May 7, 2021, Tim Stretton, Policy Analyst, provided testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations on the need to increase the accountability and transparency of the U.S. Capitol Police Office of Inspector General, as well as the need to increase the number of security clearances for congressional staff.
- On May 12, 2021, Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Center for Defense Information at POGO, provided testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on wasteful and endless Pentagon spending.
- On May 19, 2021, Melissa Wasser, Policy Counsel provided testimony
before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on the need to reform the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protections at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- On May 19, 2021, Tim Stretton, Policy Analyst, testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on the misuse of taxpayer dollars and corporate welfare in the oil and gas industry.
- On July 13, 2021, Jake Laperruque, Senior Counsel at the Constitution Project at POGO, provided testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, on correcting the misconceptions and planning effective safeguards on face recognition technology.
- On July 20, 2021, Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Center for Defense Information at POGO, testified before the House Armed Services Committee Pentagon spending cuts essential for reform.
Updated our COVID-19 federal relief spending tracker.
In early May, POGO’s updates went live. The site now captures just under 20 million spending transactions accounting for $1.9 trillion in assistance and contracts. The update also included an overhauled landing page map, data on PPP lenders and loan status, as well as quarterly unemployment data, and a per capita spending overlay for all states, counties, and zip codes.
The update also included additional enhancements including: the landing page was overhauled with a new legend and modified color scheme; the unemployment data in the map view displays a quarterly trend line, and a per capita spending overlay was included for all states, counties, and zip codes; newly disclosed transaction fields (e.g. lender, loan status) were added to the transaction details panel and; disaster assistance loans were made easier to find.
In June, POGO also integrated data on corporate accountability—obtained from the watchdog organization Good Jobs First—into the tracker. This integration allows users to see if a company that received a loan, contract, or other form of aid had previously paid any fines or penalties for violating government regulations. “Accountability Flags” appear for transactions that POGO was able to match with Good Jobs First’s data. These flags show penalties related to employment and contracting practices, environmental, health, and safety violations, as well as consumer protection, financial misconduct, and unfair competition. This new feature makes it far easier to scrutinize COVID-19 aid recipients and understand how much federal spending went toward companies with a history of misconduct.
Notably, the Congressional Research Service updated their "Resources for Tracking Federal COVID-19 Spending" document and again cited POGO’s tracker with an updated description.
Hosted a Town Hall with lawmakers on the Cost of Police Misconduct Act.
Representative Beyers (D-VA) and Senator Kaine (D-VA) asked POGO to host a panel with them discussing their legislation that would increase transparency and accountability of law enforcement agencies by requiring them to report misconduct allegations and related judgments or settlements to the Department of Justice. In addition to the lawmakers and POGO staff, the panel included experts from organizations such as the NAACP, Yale’s Center on Policing, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, and others. 104 people attended the event live, and an additional 30 have watched the recording.
Ended the Pentagon’s use of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
Following POGO’s meeting with the transition team on the topic, and our testimony
in March on the need to end the OCO, the new Biden Administration budget ended the account. While it was originally created to support emergency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the account became far disconnected from its original purpose, and acted as a “slush fund” with tens of billions of dollars each year not subjected to normal oversight processes.
Promoted our COVID-19 spending tracker with the press, policymakers, and data practitioners. "In May, POGO presented the tracker at the Data Foundation’s virtual annual symposium attended by over 250 people.
Following the event, POGO was contacted by Gaby Arcos, an Economist with the Analysis and Evaluation Division of the Office of Program Performance, Analysis and Evaluation within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Two days later, POGO conducted a training for the National Press Foundation's Accountability Fellows, demonstrating how the tracker can be used to investigate waste, fraud, and equity issues.
Finally, in June, POGO met with the Senior Advisor for Management at the Office of Management and Budget to discuss our work assessing the equity of pandemic relief spending
Built bipartisan support for inspectors general reform.
After POGO’s testimony in the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations subcommittee, the committee's Republican Ranking Member, Representative Jody Hice (R-GA), joined legislation that POGO testified in favor of—the Integrity Committee Transparency Act.
Built bipartisan support for whistleblower reform.
POGO's advocacy directly led to the addition of Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) as an original cosponsor to the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act, making the legislation bipartisan.
Continued research on COVID-19 relief spending.
POGO forged a partnership with The Daily Beast examining waste, fraud, and abuse within COVID-19 relief spending programs using our tracker as a research tool. The first piece, Congress Helped Their Businesses During the Pandemic. Then They Attacked the Capitol
was published in March.
Broke news on quashed government investigations.
In April, POGO revealed
that The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, appointed by then-President Trump, quashed two investigations involving the Secret Service that were recommended by the agency's career staff. The first investigation
would have scrutinized the Secret Service's use of force in Lafayette Square outside the White House during June 2020 protests of the killing of George Floyd. The second would have examined Secret Service policies handling the threat of COVID-19 to agents protecting high-level government officials. POGO’s reports were covered by the Washington Post and USAToday. In June, the Government Accountability Office published a report substantiating our findings.
Gained traction on audit reform.
POGO’s in-depth investigations and analysis on the need for audit industry reform and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) have gained new attention. In late May, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) cited POGO’s PCAOB stories in their letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calling to remove the sitting board members and appoint new, qualified individuals in order to restore the board's ability to serve as an effective watchdog and protect the economy. Politico also cited
POGO’s work in reporting on this effort.
The Revolving Door Project, which aims to scrutinize executive branch appointees to ensure they use their office to serve the public interest also highlighted
this work in an op-ed advocating for an overhaul of the PCAOB.
Finally, POGO published a letter to the Chair of the SEC calling on him to hold the PCAOB accountable for protecting the economy and reform the audit system. Following the letter, the SEC removed
the William Duhnke, the Trump-appointed chair of the PCAOB.
Bipartisan progress on ending wasteful Pentagon spending.
Following POGO testimony on the subject, Senators Grassley (R-IA), Sanders (I-VT), Wyden (D-OR), and Lee (R-UT) introduced
the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2021, which would require the Pentagon to pass a full independent audit each year, or face a financial penalty for failing to do so.
Helped address readiness failures in the F-35 joint strike fighter program.
Following POGO investigations, and pressure from Congress, the head of acquisition for the Pentagon announced they were shifting the focus of the F-35 program away from production in order to fix problems identified in testing. In April, POGO recommended halting additional production until the head of the Pentagon’s testing office declared the program was combat effective. Hearings in the House echoed our recommendations, and the Tactical Air and Land and Readiness subcommittees said they would oppose spending increases to the program until problems are addressed.
Cut down on “wish list” requests that inflate the Pentagon budget.
One of the drivers of ever-increasing Pentagon spending is the practice of military services and components submitting wish lists of items to Congress on top of their existing budget requests. During the Bush and Obama administration, these lists were curtailed by the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who required the services brief him on the submission of those requests. Following a coalition letter sent by POGO and the National Taxpayers Union, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed to resume this practice, and require services and components to brief him before submitting wish lists to Congress.
Built Congressional support for protecting the Naval Audit Service.
In March, POGO raised the alarm that the Navy was already making cuts to its Naval Audit Service, including halting ongoing work, and considered shutting down the audit service entirely. Multiple former Pentagon officials told POGO that the reductions in oversight would jeopardize the Navy’s shipbuilding plans and risk fraud, waste, and mismanagement. Following POGO’s investigation, Representatives Lynch (D-MA), Luria (D-VA), Jacobs (D-CA), and Peters (D-CA) cited POGO in a letter
they sent to the Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Harker requesting additional information and expressing concern about the cuts to the audit service.
Lawmakers introduced important surveillance reform legislation based on POGO recommendations.
A broad bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act. POGO worked extensively with Congressional offices in developing and promoting this legislation, which would prohibit the government from buying private data that requires a warrant to obtain directly (such as cell phone location data), and stop law enforcement from using services like Clearview AI that build face recognition databases from illicitly obtained photos.
DC-Area governments are ending the operation of the National Capital Region Facial Recognition System.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments announced the system would end no later than July 1, 2021. This was in part due to our advocacy, including a letter we helped organize in late April calling on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to halt the use of the system.
Biden Administration ends proposed biometric data collection rule for immigrants.
Following a public comment period, during which POGO submitted a comment opposing this data collection, the Biden Administration decided to end the proposal to require submission of biometric data at entry-exit points including DNA, eye scans, photographs for facial recognition, and voiceprints.
COI held two scheduled virtual trainings since April:
- April 9, 2021 – How to: Write a Request Letter. This was a new training with 70 participants attending live.
- May 14, 2021 – Making the Most of Your Resources: Working with GAO. 45 people attended this training live.
Provided a custom Boot Camp for the House Education and Labor Committee staff.
A key goal for COI in the next five years is for committees to request trainings on a regular basis for new and current staff. This is at least the second time COI has provided training for this committee; we were invited by a staffer who had attended a previous Boot Camp and who regularly referred to the Art of Congressional Oversight guide in conducting his work.
Advancing efforts in Michigan and Ohio.
POGO has focused on deepening our efforts in our two target states, Michigan and Ohio, through mentions in local radio, news, and podcast interviews, roundtables, and op-eds by POGO ambassadors in local media. These include 5 op-eds by POGO ambassadors, 3 radio, news, and podcast interviews of POGO staff in those states, and two op-eds by POGO staff on defense issues in the national media.
In April, we also held three roundtables connecting constituents lawmakers. We held one with Senator Peters’ (D-MI) office on anti-corruption reform. We held two with staff from Senator Portman’s (R-OH) office, one on anti-corruption reform, and one on defense reform. Both offices said that they found the conversations productive and would like to have further meetings with our supporters.
Advancing lawmaker support for F-35 program reforms.
Until this year, Representative Tlaib (D-MI) was the only Michigan representative to publicly oppose bringing the program to the state. This May, four additional representatives notably declined to sign a May letter urging the federal government to select the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan as an F-35 foreign sales training center. Additionally, Representative Slotkin (D-MI) publicly expressed support for trimming the F-35 program following POGO local radio engagement on the issue