The Paper Trail: February 16, 2024

HHS Not Safeguarding Migrant Children; Deadly Culture of Negligence at Federal Prisons; States With Highest/Lowest Long COVID Rates; and More.

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Join the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy on Monday, February 26, at 12:15 p.m. ET for a Zoom webinar presentation of Professor Jason MacDonald’s award-winning paper surveying 50 years of oversight investigations by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The presentation will be followed by discussion and Q&A.

Top stories for February 16, 2024

U.S. failed to safeguard many migrant children, review finds: An independent government watchdog found the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for sheltering migrant children when they arrive in the U.S. alone, repeatedly handed them over to adult sponsors without thorough vetting and sometimes failed to conduct timely safety checks on children once they were released. (Hannah Dreier, New York Times)

IG report finds deadly culture of negligence and staffing issues at federal prisons: A combination of negligence, operational failures, and a blundering workforce has contributed to hundreds of inmate deaths in federal custody (including high-profile inmates Jeffrey Epstein and Whitey Bulger), according to a new Justice Department inspector general report. (Perry Stein, Washington Post)

VA secretary says he “failed” in recognizing office harassment allegations: At a House hearing this week, VA Secretary Denis McDonough took the blame for the agency's slow response to sexual harassment allegations within its Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion. (Carten Cordell, Government Executive)

After promising to make government health care data more accessible, the Biden administration now wants to clamp down: Researchers fear a new proposal by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will increase fees and decrease access to data that has informed thousands of health care studies and influenced major public health reforms. (T. Christian Miller, ProPublica)

Analysis: Gold, silver and lithium mining on federal land doesn’t bring in any royalties to the U.S. Treasury – because of an 1872 law: Mining on public lands in the U.S. is still governed by the Mining Law of 1872, which lets companies mine valuable mineral deposits on federal lands without paying any royalties to the government. It also allows them to mine in areas that have sensitive ecosystems or contain important cultural resources. (Sam Kalen, The Conversation)

Classified Documents

Review of sensitive issues slows potential release of Biden transcript: While the White House has indicated it’s looking at releasing the material to support its assertions that special counsel Robert Hur’s characterization of Biden’s memory was inaccurate and driven by partisanship, it has made no commitment to do so and has offered no timetable. (Charlie Savage, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: White House clashed with Justice Dept. over special counsel report (Charlie Savage, New York Times)


The legal coup: New documents reveal how Trump lawyers sought “chaos” to force SCOTUS, or whoever else, to anoint Trump: Newly obtained documents reveal more details about the actions of Trump campaign lawyers following the 2020 election. Their devising ways to keep Trump in power went even further than previously known. (Josh Kovensky, Talking Points Memo)

Dobbs Aftermath

A company tracked visits to 600 Planned Parenthood locations for anti-abortion ads, senator says: A location data company allegedly tracked people’s visits to nearly 600 Planned Parenthood locations in 48 states and provided that data for a massive anti-abortion ad campaign, according to Sen. Ron Wyden. Wyden asked the SEC to investigate whether the company, Near Intelligence, collected this data without consent. (Alfred Ng, Politico)

The year after a denied abortion: Tennessee already had some of the worst outcomes in the nation when measuring maternal health, infant mortality, and child poverty. Lawmakers who paved the way for a new generation of post-Roe births did little to bolster the state’s meager safety net to support these babies and their families. (Stacy Kranitz and Kavitha Surana, ProPublica)


CDC plans to drop five-day COVID isolation guidelines: The agency is planning to loosen its isolation recommendations for the first time since 2021. CDC officials acknowledged that the COVID landscape has changed since 2020, with most people having developed immunity because of prior infection or vaccination, warranting a shift to a more practical approach. (Lena H. Sun, Washington Post)

First state-level look at long COVID reveals the seven hardest-hit states: The CDC found Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming had the highest prevalence of long COVID. New England states, Oregon, and Washington had the lowest prevalence rates. (Beth Mole, Ars Technica)

As pandemic aid winds down, states scramble to fill gaps: Schools, public transit, and childcare providers are facing fiscal cliffs as federal COVID funding dries up. State legislators, already grappling with shortfalls, are looking for solutions. (Liz Farmer, Government Executive)

Defense and Veteran Affairs

Biden slashes F-35 jet order 18% in 2025 budget request, sources say: Biden's overall defense and national security budget request is expected to be $895 billion, compelling deep cuts in a wide range of programs, delays to existing programs, and slowing efforts to build weapons stocks depleted by wars in Ukraine and Israel. However, the cuts will likely spark debate on Capitol Hill and lead to an increase in the national defense budget to over $900 billion for fiscal 2025. (Mike Stone, Reuters)

DOD “slow rolling” fair special pays for Guard, Reserve, advocates say: An organization representing National Guard members asked Congress to investigate the Defense Department’s alleged “slow rolling” of mandated reforms to special duty and incentive pay for part-time troops. (Davis Winkie, Military Times)


AI companies agree to limit election “deepfakes” but fall short of ban: The agreement, developed by Google, Microsoft, Meta, OpenAI, Adobe, and TikTok commits to developing tech to identify, label, and control AI-generated images, videos, and audio recordings that aim to deceive voters but doesn’t outright ban deceptive political AI content. (Gerrit De Vynck, Washington Post)

Musk’s X sold checkmarks to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, report says: A watchdog group found that terrorist group Hezbollah and other U.S.-sanctioned entities have accounts on X that come with premium services. (Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica)

Tesla worker killed in fiery crash may be first “Full Self-Driving” fatality: Since federal regulators began requiring automakers to report crashes involving driver-assistance systems in 2021, they have logged more than 900 in Teslas. Critics say features like Full Self-Driving give drivers a false sense of confidence about taking their eyes off the road or getting behind the wheel after drinking. (Trisha Thadani et al., Washington Post)

Health Care

FDA’s plan to ban hair relaxer chemical called too little, too late: The FDA’s recent notice that it would move to ban formaldehyde in hair-straightening products comes more than a decade after researchers raised alarms about health risks. In addition to being too late, critics say the proposed regulation will do too little. (Ronnie Cohen, Government Executive)

U.S. agencies open inquiry into generic drug shortages: HHS and FTC will examine the causes of generic drug shortages and the practices of powerful “opaque drug middlemen” that are involved in the supply chain. The inquiry will focus on whether concentration among these industry intermediaries has disincentivized suppliers from competing. (Christina Jewett, New York Times)

Some pregnant women and infants received the wrong RSV shots: There are two vaccines available to ward off RSV. Only one of them was approved for pregnant women, and neither was for children under age 2. The distinction apparently slipped by some clinicians and pharmacists. (Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times)


Immigration and Border Security:

ICE considers slashing detention capacity because of budget shortfall

Emails show Border Patrol’s widespread use of anti-immigrant slur

“There was a lot of anxiety”: Florida’s immigration crackdown is causing patients to skip care

Other News:

Trump wants to fire thousands of government workers. Liberals are preparing to fight back if he wins

Ex-FBI informant is charged with lying over Bidens’ role in Ukraine business

Jared Kushner defends his equity firm getting $2 billion from Saudis after he left White House

White House expands plans to cancel student debt

The bubonic plague is still around in 2024. How is that possible?

Because It’s Friday

AI-generated girlfriend helps ease loneliness of man with disability and millions more: Experts are concerned about the lack of a legal or ethical framework for apps that encourage deep bonds with AI-generated companions but are being driven by companies looking to make profits. (TheGrio)

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Whistleblowers: Disclosures and Retaliation Complaints to Pandemic Auditors. GAO-24-106655 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - DOD Intelligence: Actions Needed to Strengthen Program Oversight and Manage Risks. GAO-24-106190 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Puerto Rico Disasters: Progress Made, but the Recovery Continues to Face Challenges. GAO-24-105557 (PDF)