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The Paper Trail: April 2, 2024

Spy Agencies Aim to Please; Key Bridge: Officials Didn’t Foresee Cargo Ship Strike Police Dark Money Slush Fund; and More.

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The Paper Trail


Better Prevention of Waste and Fraud in Emergency Spending: Lessons Learned from Pandemic Programs: POGO’s virtual training on how to work effectively with the media on oversight investigations will be Friday, April 5 at 12 noon. This event is only open to staff in Congress, GAO, and CRS. Register HERE.

Top stories for April 2, 2024

Spy agencies skewed intel to please Trump, and Obama too: A RAND Corporation study found that U.S. intelligence agencies skew their findings and forecasts to find favor with both Republican and Democratic policymakers. While some policymakers deride the intelligence community as a “deep state,” the study suggests they often have themselves to blame for pressuring the IC to reach conclusions in line with their political interests. (Ken Klippenstein and Daniel Boguslaw, The Intercept)

China’s advancing efforts to influence the U.S. election raise alarms: In an echo of Russia’s influence campaign before the 2016 election, China appears to be using fake social media accounts posing as Trump supporters to promote conspiracy theories, stoke domestic divisions, and attack President Biden ahead of the election. (Tiffany Hsu and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times)

Top women officials say there’s more work to do on gender balance in government tech: The number of women in the federal government’s top tech leadership positions is growing, but women still hold only 25% of federal IT management jobs and 31% of the government’s overall STEM workforce. (Nextgov/FCW)

Half of senior staffers in Congress are so fed up that they may quit: A recent report found that only about one in five senior congressional aides believe Congress is “functioning as a democratic legislature should,” about the same margin believe it is “an effective forum for debate” on key issues, and almost half are considering leaving the Hill because of “heated rhetoric from the other party.” (Paul Kane, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: A bipartisan congressional panel gets burned by partisan fury (Nahal Toosi, Politico Magazine)

The Feds want more oversight of scientific research. Universities are fighting back: Research universities and hospitals are pushing back against a Department of Health and Human Services proposal to boost oversight of investigations related to fraud and plagiarism, as some institutions face questions over the credibility of their scientists' work. (Melissa Korn and Nidhi Subbaraman, Wall Street Journal)

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

Baltimore ship accident has east coast ports scrambling to absorb cargo: “The ports on the East Coast can easily absorb the immediate aftermath on containerized trade,” according to one expert. “The longer-term aftermath will probably be more severe.” The local devastation will linger in the region for a few months, economists say. (Brendan Murray, Bloomberg)

Officials studied Baltimore bridge risks but didn’t prepare for ship strike: For 47 years, Maryland inspectors and safety officials spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars inspecting and protecting the Francis Scott Key Bridge. But they focused on terrorist bombs, not an errant 95,000-gross-ton container ship. (Michael Laris and Peter Hermann, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Hogan pressed for bigger ships, despite safety warnings (Lucy Dean Stockton and Helen Santoro, The Lever)

Big oil could help shipowner avoid liability for bridge collapse: The owner of the ship that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge can use a 173-year-old law to cap the damages it may have to pay. Big Oil and shipping interests successfully lobbied to block reforms to the law. (Katya Schwenk and Helen Santoro, The Lever)

Israel-Hamas War

U.S. weighs selling new fighter jets, missiles and guidance kits to Israel: News of the potentially pending agreements comes as critics inside and outside the government say President Biden has a responsibility to limit weapons sales to Israel as the death toll rises in Gaza. (Lara Seligman, Joe Gould, and Paul McLeary, Politico)


Trump’s promise to free Jan. 6 inmates in D.C. jail — almost all of them assaulted law enforcement officers: As of last month, the D.C. Department of Corrections had 29 January 6 defendants in its custody, all but two of whom were charged with assaulting law enforcement officers. (Tom Joscelyn, Fred Wertheimer, and Norman L. Eisen, Just Security)

From Pizzagate to the 2020 election: Forcing liars to pay or apologize: A small but growing cadre of lawyers are deploying defamation, one of the oldest areas of the law, as a weapon against a tide of political disinformation. (Elizabeth Williamson, New York Times)

Dobbs Aftermath

Florida Supreme Court hands down two key abortion decisions: The court upheld the state’s 15-week abortion ban but also approved a ballot measure that will protect abortion access if voters approve it in November. When the ban takes effect on May 1, Virginia will be the only state in the South that allows abortion beyond the first trimester. (Nathaniel Weixel, The Hill)

Russia-Ukraine War

Johnson says Ukraine aid will come up “right after” recess and will include some “innovations”: Speaker Johnson signaled that he intends to push through legislation that would provide funding for Ukraine, but he has yet to spell out exactly what that would look like. (Sarah Fortinsky, The Hill)

Inspectors General

Biden fires longtime railroad official after probe into toxic work environment: President Biden indicated on Friday that he’s firing Martin Dickman, the inspector general of the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, for creating a hostile work environment and engaging in abusive treatment of employees. (Alex Gangitano, The Hill)

Police Misconduct

The police have a dark money slush fund: Private donors including big-box stores, fossil fuel companies, and tech giants are giving hundreds of millions of dollars to law enforcement agencies and related foundations, allowing police to buy specialized weapons and technology with little public oversight. (Katya Schwenk, The Lever)

Lawsuits accuse 2 Michigan jails of banning family visits to increase revenue: An increasing number of jails across the country are banning in-person visits, providing a windfall for county governments and telecom companies. (Aimee Ortiz, New York Times)

Political Misbehavior

MSPB political firing case raises new questions on Schedule F: The Merit Systems Protection Board found that HUD improperly fired a probationary employee in 2017 over her past connections with Democratic Party politics, and that the firing was due in part to pressure from an industry group. (Erich Wagner, Government Executive)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

NBC rejects Trump voice but embraces war party: Former Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is out, but NBC still employs retired U.S. military brass who have undisclosed financial interests in their on-air opinions. (Ken Klippenstein, The Intercept)

Contractor crushed by T-38 jet suffered broken ribs, spinal fractures: The maintainer worked for M1 Support Services. The accident report noted that M1’s tendency to deviate from required maintenance guidance and procedures “substantially contributed” to the incident. (Courtney Mabeus-Brown, Military Times)

Business and Finance

College internships matter more than ever — but not everyone can get one: Internships have long been a coveted component of the college experience, but now the pressure to secure them — and to secure them earlier — is growing. However, since internships often pay little or no money and require interns to fund their own travel and housing, they aren’t universally accessible. (Nina Agrawal, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Proposed $248M settlement announced with multiple colleges over alleged deceptive financial aid tactics (Lexi Lonas, The Hill)


Thwarted supply-chain hack sets off alarm bells across D.C.: A foiled attempt to subvert a widely used software utility is raising questions about the vulnerability of the open-source supply chain. (John Sakellariadis, Politico)


Electric trucks get a boost from Biden, worrying trucking industry: A new EPA rule marks the first time in more than two decades that the government has cracked down on pollution from diesel trucks, but the rule doesn’t go as far as some environmental justice advocates would like. (Maxine Joselow, Washington Post)

Health Care

A biased test kept thousands of Black people from getting a kidney transplant. It’s finally changing: A widely used test overestimated how well Black people’s kidneys were functioning, making them look healthier than they really were — all because of an automated formula that calculated results for Black and non-Black patients differently. Hospitals are working to uncover which Black kidney candidates could have qualified for a new kidney sooner if not for the race-based test. (Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press)

For-profit companies open psychiatric hospitals in areas clamoring for care: The scarcity of inpatient psychiatric care is evident nationwide, especially in rural areas. For-profit psychiatric hospitals don’t necessarily provide inferior care, but they tend to be less transparent and more profit-driven. (Tony Leys, CBS News)

Algorithms are guiding senior home staffing. Managers say care is suffering: Brookdale Senior Living, the leading operator of assisted-living homes in the U.S., uses an algorithm-based system to set staffing at its properties. Building managers have repeatedly complained that the system underestimates the amount of labor needed to meet residents’ needs. (Douglas MacMillan and Christopher Rowland, Washington Post)


Immigration and Border Security:

El Paso judge orders release of migrants accused of “border riot”

Other News:

Trump posts $175 million bond thanks to billionaire Don Hankey

Texas federal court will not adopt policy against “judge shopping”

Data from 73 million AT&T accounts leaked to dark web, company says

Mnuchin’s plan to buy TikTok has some insiders bewildered

Russian nexus revealed during 60 Minutes Havana Syndrome investigation into potential attacks on U.S. officials

Timeline for banning menthol cigarettes slips again

For young offenders in Maine, justice varies with geography