Newsletter

The Paper Trail: February 2, 2024

VA Response to LGBTQ Harassment Criticized; It Just Got More Expensive to Fight Corporate Abuse; Feds Put the Kibosh on Highway Sign Humor; and More. 

Delivered Tuesdays and Fridays, The Paper Trail is a curated collection of the government news you need to know. Sign up to get this newsletter delivered to your inbox.


The Paper Trail

Announcements

Working with the Media on Oversight & Investigations: POGO’s virtual training on how to work effectively with the media on oversight investigations will be TODAY @ noon. This event is only open to staff in Congress, GAO, and CRS. Register HERE.

Top stories for February 2, 2024

“I did not handle this right”: Austin apologizes over hospital secrecy: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed that there were “no gaps in authorities” during his cancer treatment. (Matt Berg and Lara Seligman, Politico)

It just got more expensive to fight corporate abuse: Millions of people are trapped in agreements that only allow them to challenge corporate abuse through a private system of arbitration rather than in a court of law. Now, the biggest player in that private system has posted new fees that could make it more difficult to hold companies accountable. (Freddy Brewster, The Lever)

Under Ken Paxton, Texas’ elite civil Medicaid fraud unit is falling apart: Nearly two-thirds of the lawyers for Texas’ Civil Medicaid Fraud Division have quit under Attorney General Ken Paxton, which former staffers say will leave the unit less equipped to weed out fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system. (Vianna Davila, ProPublica)

Students are making a “surprising” rebound from pandemic closures. But some may never catch up: Elementary and middle-school students have made up significant ground since the 2020 shutdown, but they are nowhere close to being fully caught up, and the gap between students from rich and poor communities has widened. (Claire Cain Miller, Sarah Mervosh, and Francesca Paris, New York Times)

Analysis: Justice Department must reveal the real scope of domestic terrorism: The DOJ has been publishing incomplete and conflicting data regarding its use of counterterrorism resources to target domestic terrorism, thwarting effective policymaking and accountability. (Michael German and Faiza Patel, Brennan Center for Justice)

Israel-Hamas War

Biden imposes sanctions on violent West Bank settlers in reprimand to Israel: The order comes as Biden is under growing pressure to be tougher on Israel as critics say its military campaign against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is a disproportionate reaction to the Hamas attack of October 7. (Nahal Toosi and Alexander Ward, Politico)

Insurrection

Trump stays on ballot in Illinois, state board rules: The Illinois State Board of Elections determined unanimously that it doesn’t have the authority to disqualify Donald Trump from the state’s primary ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. However, two Republican officials who heard the case said they believed Trump had engaged in insurrection. (Mitch Smith, New York Times)

“People just don’t want to remember”: Congress blows past deadline for Jan. 6 plaque: Congress missed the March 2023 deadline to install a plaque honoring police for their courage on January 6, and lawmakers are staying silent on the reason for the delay. (Megan Mineiro and Justin Papp, Roll Call)

Dobbs Aftermath

For first OTC birth control pill, price a major question mark: HHS hasn’t made any decisions yet on how best to ensure insurance coverage of and access to the first over-the-counter birth control pill. There’s growing concern that, without action, a patchwork of state policies could blunt its potential benefits. (Nathaniel Weixel, The Hill)

Russia-Ukraine War

Precision equipment for Russian arms makers came from U.S.-allied Taiwan: Despite an expansive, U.S.-led regime of global restrictions, Russia’s defense industry has remained robust due to loopholes and lax enforcement. (Dalton Bennett et al., Washington Post)

Defense and Veteran Affairs

Army eyes privatized barracks as it struggles to find a solution to poor living conditions for soldiers: The Army is hoping privatization can fix rampant mold and other problems at its barracks. The service is facing an estimated $7.5 billion price tag for simply catching up on maintenance for the buildings. (Steve Beynon, Military.com)

Advocates criticize VA response after LGBTQ harassment incidents: Critics accuse the VA of a lackluster response to a growing number of anti-LGBTQ incidents within the department. (Leo Shane III, Military Times)

Veterans advocate claims “smoking gun” records prove toxic exposure at military base: Nearly two decades after U.S. troops left Karshi-Khanabad air base in Uzbekistan, known as “K2,” the government hasn’t confirmed that toxic material at the base made service members sick. However, newly uncovered records describe multiple hazards at the base, including “enriched radioactive material” and “severe subsurface soil fuel contamination.” (Catherine Herridge and Rachel Bailey, CBS News)

Business and Finance

Over 500 journalists were laid off in January 2024 alone: The layoffs reflect the grim state of the print, broadcast, and digital news business, which shed over 3,000 jobs last year. (Kierra Frazier, Politico)

Lawsuit: Citibank refused to reimburse scam victims who lost “life savings”: New York’s attorney general claims Citibank has illegally refused to reimburse victims who lost money due partly to Citibank’s poor online security practices. (Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica)

Tech

Meta rejected efforts to improve children’s safety, documents show: Hours before Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, was set to testify on Wednesday about child safety online, lawmakers released internal documents showing how his company had rejected calls to bulk up on resources to combat the problem. (Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: Silicon Valley battles states over new online safety laws for children (Natasha Singer, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: Cops bogged down by flood of fake AI child sex images, report says (Ashley Belanger, Ars Technica)

Infrastructure

Early testing suggests highway guardrails not built for heavy EVs: Preliminary testing found the nation’s metal traffic guardrails aren’t strong enough for heavy electric vehicles, which weigh thousands of pounds more than gas-powered vehicles. (Lauren Irwin, The Hill)

FBI: China seeks to “wreak havoc” by targeting U.S. water, electricity: Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told lawmakers “the technology underpinning our critical infrastructure is inherently insecure because of decades of software developers not being held liable for defective technology that has led to incentives where features and speed to market have been prioritized against security.” (Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill)

Health Care

The broken promises of the NFL concussion settlement: The landmark settlement promised payouts for suffering players. But strict guidelines, aggressive reviews, and a healthcare network beset by systemic breakdowns have led to denials of hundreds of claims. (Will Hobson, Washington Post)

U.S. syphilis numbers are at their highest since the 1950s, CDC report says: The spike was caused by several factors, including decreased condom use, rising substance abuse, and a lack of funding dedicated to tackling the STD. (Kelly Kasulis Cho, Washington Post)

FDA warns public against unapproved copycat eyedrops: The FDA warned the public that South Moon, Rebright, and FivFivGo eyedrops can be easily mistaken for other, FDA-approved eyedrop brands and urged consumers to only buy eye products from reputable retailers such as state-licensed pharmacies. (Andrew Jeong, Washington Post)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Impeachment case against Mayorkas ignores government’s immigration powers

Texas border city on edge as Gov. Abbott dials up battle with Biden

House passes bill strengthening ability to block immigrants for DUIs

Other News:

Trump spent more than $55 million in donor money on legal fees last year, filings show

Justice Department investigating Rep. Cori Bush for misuse of funds

Congress confronts security risks as it seeks to expand Hill’s AI use

MedStar agrees to pay in federal suit alleging disability discrimination

Biogen to cease production of controversial Alzheimer’s drug

“Shame on us”: How Maine struggles to handle troubled youth

Because It’s Friday

Federal officials issue new guidelines in an effort to pump the brakes on catchy highway signs: A new federal guideline for highway signs says “states should avoid the use of humor and pop culture references because it may confuse or distract drivers.” But state officials contend these friendly, humorous reminders have a positive impact on motorists. (Kris Van Cleave and Analisa Novak, CBS News)

House Republican reported for doing pull-ups at the top of Capitol dome: The Capitol Visitor Center reported Rep. Rich McCormick to the House sergeant at arms, accusing him of “unsafe actions” while on a tour of the Capitol dome Tuesday, including doing pull-ups on a crossbar suspended hundreds of feet above the ground. (Katherine Tully-McManus, Politico)

Upcoming Events

📌 The State of American Aviation and the Federal Aviation Administration. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Subcommittee on Aviation. Tuesday, February 6, 10:00 a.m., 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.

📌 Foreign Influence in the United States: Reviewing Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, M. Klein and Company, and Teneo’s Compliance With Congressional Subpoenas. Tuesday, February 6, 3:30 p.m., 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

📌 Webinar: Pulling Back the Curtain on Who is Targeting State Supreme Courts to Limit Our Freedoms. Democracy Alliance, Tuesday, February 13, 3:00 p.m.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 House Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds: 2023 Annual Report. January 2024(PDF)

🔥📃 House Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds: Best Practices for Working with Whistleblowers: 2024 Training Manual. (available via HouseNet)

🔥📃 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction: Quarterly Report to Congress. February 1, 2024(PDF)

🔥📃 POPVOX Foundation: Congressional Casework in the Afghanistan Withdrawal. February 2024(PDF)

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Rose E. Jenkins - Judge, United States Tax Court
  • Adam B. Landy - Judge, United States Tax Court
  • Kashi Way - Judge, United States Tax Court