Holding the Government Accountable

17 of Our Favorite Stories from 2017

This has been a busy year for the Project On Government Oversight. In 2017, POGO stood on the front lines combating waste and corruption, recommending common sense solutions to seemingly intractable problems. We’ve confronted both new challenges and longstanding problems in our fight to make government more ethical, effective, accountable, and transparent. As we get ready to head home for the holidays, we wanted to share a sample of our most impactful work from the last year.

The F-35 Program Continues to Stumble

“The Joint Strike Fighter Program’s acknowledgement of the numerous issues are fine as far as it goes, but there’s no indication that the Office has any plan—including cost and schedule re-estimates—to fix those currently known problems without cutting corners." Dan Grazier

Congress Has Constitutional Mandate to Investigate

“Congress should fully exercise its power to oversee and investigate the executive branch. A properly conducted Congressional investigation can proceed concurrently with criminal investigations. Executive branch criminal investigations examine important issues that happened in the past. History shows us that Congress can examine a broader set of issues, including solutions that look to the future.” Tim Farnsworth

Read more about the importance of congressional investigations here:

Necessary and Proper: Best Practices for Congressional Investigations

Manafort Indictment Demonstrates How FARA Falls Short

“Hopefully the high-profile indictment of Manafort and Gates may serve as a warning that the days of lax enforcement of FARA are over. But it’s worrying that this is only becoming an issue because a specially appointed counsel is looking into a specific foreign influence issue.” Lydia Dennett

Previous Ethics Investigations Cause FEMA Nominee to Withdraw

“Twelve years ago, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf States, devastating New Orleans and other portions of Louisiana, as well as Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. While there were many mistakes and fingers pointed during the planning, rescue, and reconstruction operations, one issue that caused concerns was the sole source award of four half-billion-dollar assistance contracts for ‘critically needed services such as setting up Disaster Recovery Centers, the hauling and installing of temporary housing and other logistical and facilities management needs[.]’ Those contracts have been the subject of numerous reports of wasteful spending.” Scott Amey

Congress, FDA Poised to Loosen Oversight of Medical Devices

"When makers of medical devices learn that one of their products has malfunctioned in a way that could kill or seriously injure people, they are required to file a report with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The reports are meant to alert regulators that patients may be in danger. However, in the future, under a deal the FDA has negotiated with industry lobbyists, manufacturers could generally wait three months before reporting malfunctions, and they could report malfunctions in “summary” form, according to an FDA document." David Hilzenrath

CIA Inspector General Nominee Has Three Open Whistleblower Retaliation Cases Implicating Him

“One of the most important duties of an Inspector General is to enforce high professional and ethical standards in their agency. Yet in Sharpley’s case the White House has selected a leader of the CIA’s key watchdog division—which depends on whistleblowers to report waste, fraud, and other abuses—someone who has several unresolved allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers.” Adam Zagorin

At Least One-Third of Attorney General Nominee's Top Donors Have Matters Involving the Department Of Justice

“Senator Sessions would be only the fourth politician in the last fifty years who conducted recent fundraising activity before becoming Attorney General. In order to assure the public that the potential conflicts raised by the donations are being taken seriously, Senator Sessions should commit to a process for evaluating his campaign finance record and any resulting ethical issues in advance of taking his oath of office. He should agree to a bright-line recusal rule and to following clear ethical standards that will avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with previous financial supporters.” Daniel Van Schooten and Victoria Bassetti

Slave Labor Widespread at ICE Detention Centers, Lawyers Say

"A growing body of legal experts says paying detainees $1 per day not only violates state minimum wage laws, but also violates the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in all instances except as punishment for people convicted of crimes.” Mia Steinle

Justice Department's "Secret Law" Still Prevalent, Documents Show

“The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) is tasked with providing authoritative interpretations of law within the executive branch. These interpretations have immense influence on how the government operates, including setting boundaries on presidential power—and many of these legal opinions and memoranda are kept from the public. Some dub these OLC opinions ‘secret law.’” Daniel Van Schooten and Nick Schwellenbach

Will Trump Privatize the Afghanistan War?

“Is the Trump administration going to hand over US peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan to private mercenaries?

This is now the big question in national security policy circles. It follows last week’s New York Times report that Erik Prince, the founder of private security firm Blackwater, and Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire financier who owns defense contracting giant DynCorp International, have been lobbying the Pentagon to replace troops in Afghanistan with contractors.” Neil Gordon

Read more of Neil Gordon’s reporting on Afghanistan here:

Pentagon Nixes Release of Afghan Reconstruction Data—Again

The New Normal—America Needs to Up Its Game When Responding to Natural Disasters

“The last two months of U.S. disasters continues to stretch our response resources. Preparing for one major disaster is simply not good enough. The nation should assume multiple disasters within a short space of a few weeks or days is the new normal. If we don’t prepare now for more and larger-scale disasters, we simply will not be ready to act effectively when they happen.” Peter Tyler

What the Menendez Case Tells Us About the State of U.S. Public Corruption Law

“Our lawmakers in Congress are heavily dependent on campaign funding from corporate and other powerful interests, many of whom prefer a system where political donations and gifts translate into access and influence. Too often, it takes a scandal and the searing heat of public opinion to move Congress to act.” Nick Schwellenbach

Generally Concerning

Documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight name seven retired Marine Corps officers—including the Secretary of Defense and the President’s new Chief of Staff—who sought and obtained permission from the Marine Corps to be paid to work on behalf of foreign governments and companies after they retired. POGO acquired the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.” Mandy Smithberger

Hundreds of White House Emails Sent to Third Kushner Family Account

“Hundreds of emails have been sent since January from White House addresses to accounts on the Kushner family domain, these people said. Many of those emails went not to Kushner’s or Ivanka Trump’s personal addresses but to an account they both had access to and shared with their personal household staff for family scheduling.” Andrea Peterson

Read more of Andrea Peterson’s reporting with Politico here:

John Kelly's Personal Cellphone Was Compromised, White House Believes

White House Launches Probe of Private Email Accounts

Military Readiness from the Grunts’ Perspective

“Here’s some ground truth: The DNA of the military-industrial complex makes it exaggerate every threat, and propose a solution to wipe it out.” Mark Thompson

Opioid Investigation Shows the Swamp in Action

“Last week, The Washington Post and 60 Minutes unveiled a multi-part major investigation into how the federal government’s efforts to fight the widespread deadly epidemic of opioid addiction were stymied by the campaign finance system and the revolving door.” Nick Schwellenbach

Know Your Rights: Whistleblower Protections for Federal Sector Employees

To help federal sector employees know their rights, POGO built an interactive resource that helps clarify the confusing patchwork of whistleblower protections. While this quiz is not a legal resource, it is an excellent starting point for federal employees who want to disclose information about problems in their agencies.