POGO Grows to Meet New Challenges
POGO merged with The Constitution Project, a 20-year-old think tank dedicated to protecting constitutional rights and liberties. In the past, POGO has worked to make the legislative and executive branches more open and accountable. By joining forces with The Constitution Project, we can begin a new chapter in defending democracy by expanding our work to include the judiciary as well.
POGO also grew its staff to include experts on issues ranging from homeland security, surveillance, and federal spending, including Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter Mark Thompson.
Eleven-Year Investigation Helped Prompt a FEMA Nominee to Withdraw
Over the last 11 years, we have investigated Daniel Craig, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employee who awarded huge non-competitive contracts after Hurricane Katrina. In August 2006, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for any communications between Craig and four companies that each received a $500 million non-competitive contract. He had reportedly sought jobs at each of those companies. In 2017, our exhaustive investigation helped prompt him to withdraw from consideration as President Trump’s nominee for Deputy Administrator of FEMA.
Reported on a String Of Lawsuits Alleging Detention Companies Engage in Involuntary Servitude
POGO Investigator Mia Steinle reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees—who have not been convicted of any crime—work for a $1 per day, violating the 13th Amendment prohibition on involuntary servitude. In one incident at a private prison run by the CoreCivic company, guards threatened to punish detainees for not participating in the “voluntary” work program. POGO’s reporting made clear how ICE detention centers, often run by politically influential and secretive private prison companies, blur the line between detention centers and prisons.
Protected Whistleblower Rights on Multiple Fronts
To commemorate National Whistleblower Day, POGO created a new tool designed to provide current and future whistleblowers more information about their rights. Potential whistleblowers can use the tool, “Know Your Rights: Whistleblower Protections for Federal Sector Employees,” to learn about the legal protections and disclosure rights for various types of federal sector employees.
We reported that Christopher Sharpley, President Trump’s CIA Inspector General nominee, has three open whistleblower retaliation cases against him. If confirmed, he would have to enforce rules he is accused of breaking.Our story influenced the Senate to pause consideration of Sharpley until the whistleblower reprisal investigations are resolved.
We also helped win a small victory for whistleblower rights with the passage of the Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act. While the bill isn’t perfect, it requires agencies to punish supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers.
Held Contractors Accountable with Detailed Investigations and Reports
POGO detailed allegations that the contractor KGL, which helps support US troops serving in the Middle East, laundered money and defrauded investors. Our investigation highlighted why we need to reevaluate the military contracting system that has allowed a small number of companies to provide most US logistics support.
In another investigation, POGO revealed that the federal government's 100 largest contractors spent $289 million on political influence in FY2016, and received more than $262 billion in business with the government. To hold these contractors accountable, POGO has long proposed common-sense reforms like requiring contractors to publish their campaign contributions.
POGO continued to update its Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, a compilation of misconduct and alleged misconduct committed by the top federal government contractors since 1995.
Investigated Jeff Sessions' Potential Conflicts of Interest
A decade’s worth of Senate campaign contributions to Attorney General Jeff Sessions pose potential conflicts of interest now that he leads the Justice Department, according to a joint POGO and Mother Jones investigation. The Department is pursuing a case in which an executive at Drummond Coal, an Alabama coal company, and attorneys at Balch & Bingham, a law firm that represented Drummond, are accused of bribing a state lawmaker. While Sessions served in the Senate, political action committees for Drummond and Balch were among Sessions’ top donors. POGO has called on him to recuse himself from the Drummond case. And this is not the only example of a possible conflict for Sessions: POGO found that, at the time of his nomination, one-third of Sessions’ top donors had matters—from contracts to active investigations and lawsuits—pending with the Department.
Encouraged Concurrent Investigations into Russian Meddling in 2016 Presidential Election
Amid growing concerns about Russian influence in the 2016 election, POGO called for concurrent investigations by both Congress and a special counsel. POGO used historical case studies to create a report with best practices for Congressional investigations. Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director, testified before Congress on the importance of a bipartisan investigation so that the American people can have faith in the electoral system.
Helped Bring Accountability to the F-35 Program
POGO continued our fight to bring accountability to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Our reporting on F-35 “concurrency orphans”—planes built before the design is finalized and left un-upgraded—helped keep taxpayers from being stuck with $21-40 billion worth of fighter jets that can’t fight. POGO has advocated for a “fly before you buy” strategy to prevent taxpayers from buying untested products. Our reporting has made clear that the most expensive weapons program in history has not lived up to its cost, expectations, or promises.
Saved the Office of Congressional Ethics
In the very first days of 2017, POGO helped to save the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog that investigates misconduct and corruption in Congress. A proposed rule would have dismantled the ethics office by placing it under the control of the House Ethics Committee, essentially allowing Congress to oversee itself. After POGO received national press attention for “emphatically condemning” the proposal, around 300 POGO supporters nationwide flooded Congressional phone lines about the rule. POGO’s work ultimately helped convince Congressional leaders not to go ahead with the proposal, saving the office—for now.
- Written testimony of POGO's Peter Tyler on How Government Can and Should Learn from Previous Disasters, November 15, 2017
- Written testimony of POGO's Lydia Dennett on Testimony for Senate Hearing on Foreign Lobbying, July 26, 2017
- Testimony of POGO's Danielle Brian before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism on “Concurrent Congressional and Criminal Investigations: Lessons from History”, July 11, 2017
- Written testimony of POGO's Liz Hempowicz on VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, May 17, 2017
- Written testimony of POGO's Lydia Dennett jointly with civil society organizations, Groups Urge Congress for Foreign Lobbying Reform, May 1, 2017
- Testimony of POGO's Elizabeth Hempowicz before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations on Five Years Later: A Review of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, February 1, 2017