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The Paper Trail: January 12, 2024

How Boeing Bought Washington; $1B in Military Aid for Ukraine Improperly Tracked; U.S. Verges on Vaccination Tipping Point; and More. 

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Announcements

Applications are now open for a two-day intensive virtual Boot Camp on the art and practice of oversight and investigations hosted by POGO, the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, and The Lugar Center. This training is only open to staff in Congress. Apply at THIS LINK by January 26.

Top stories for January 12, 2024

FAA to investigate Boeing after door plug falls off Alaska Airlines plane midair: The investigation will look into whether Boeing “failed to ensure completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.” (Minyvonne Burke and Jay Blackman, NBC News)

🔎 See Also: How Boeing bought Washington (Katya Schwenk, Freddy Brewster, and Lucy Dean Stockton, The Lever)

Austin’s undisclosed hospitalization draws new internal investigation: The DOD inspector general will scrutinize how the White House and other key officials were left unaware for days that the secretary of defense was in intensive care. (Dan Lamothe, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: “This can’t happen again”: How the White House reacted to Austin’s stunning news (Eugene Daniels et al., Politico)

Biden warned to stop bringing big donors to Oval Office: President Biden was advised last year by the White House Counsel office that giving big-dollar donors tours of the Oval Office might raise legal issues. He has since stopped the practice, although exclusive briefings and meals with donors inside the White House continue. (Hans Nichols and Alex Thompson, Axios)

For IRS, backlogs and identity theft problems remain, but there is “cautious optimism” watchdog says: The IRS is still too slow in processing amended tax returns, answering taxpayer phone calls, and resolving identity theft cases, according to an independent watchdog within the agency. (Fatima Hussein, Associated Press)

Budget fight threatens poor families with cuts to housing aid, evictions: The budget uncertainty reflects the high stakes for millions of cash-strapped Americans who rely on Washington to purchase food, obtain housing, attend college, and receive medical care. Without a resolution in Congress, roughly one-fifth of the government would close after January 19, jeopardizing a vast collection of federal nutrition, water, energy, and transportation programs. (Tony Romm, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Food assistance for mothers and children faces funding shortfall (Madeleine Ngo, New York Times)

Intelligence agencies need to make SCIFs more accessible for employees with disabilities, GAO says: The GAO found that federal agencies using special facilities handling classified materials have not consistently addressed how to make them more accessible for employees with disabilities. It also found an ODNI database meant to catalog the thousands of these facilities in use by the Intelligence Community is incomplete and lacking consistent detail. (Carten Cordell, Government Executive)

Israel-Hamas War

77 groups worldwide back genocide lawsuit against Biden in U.S. court: Dozens of legal and civil society organizations from around the world filed an amicus brief in a federal lawsuit accusing President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin of failing to “prevent an unfolding genocide” in Gaza. (Prem Thakker, The Intercept)

Insurrection

Maryland Elections Board member arrested on Jan. 6 riot charges resigns: Carlos Ayala, nominated to Maryland’s top election board last year, was arrested this week on multiple charges stemming from his involvement in the insurrection. (Erin Cox, Washington Post)

Russia-Ukraine War

Pentagon watchdog says $1B in military aid for Ukraine improperly tracked: Of a total of $1.69 billion worth of missiles, drones, and other weapons and equipment the U.S. sent to Ukraine, a little more than $1 billion are not fully accounted for, according to the DOD inspector general. (Ellen Mitchell, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: Pentagon renews push to build more weapons (Doug Cameron, Wall Street Journal)

White House throws support behind seizing frozen Russian assets: The White House is backing legislation that would let it seize some of $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to help pay for reconstruction of Ukraine. Biden’s support for the move emerges as Republicans in Congress have blocked more than $60 billion in funding for Ukraine. (Daniel Flatley, Bloomberg)

COVID-19

COVID kills nearly 10,000 in a month as holidays fuel spread, WHO says: Worldwide, almost 10,000 COVID deaths were reported in December. In the U.S., hospitalizations and COVID wastewater levels are rising. (Jennifer Hassan, Washington Post)

“It was a mirage”: States face budget woes as huge infusions of federal cash run out: State budgets swelled by roughly 30% over a three-year span as the country grappled with fallout from the pandemic and Congress handed out federal funds to governments across the country. Now, states are facing falling revenues or lower-than-projected tax receipts for the first time since 2020. (Paul Demko, Politico)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Army sees sharp decline in white recruits: The shift in demographics for incoming recruits coincides with an overall shortfall of about 10,000 Army recruits in 2023. That deficit is straining the force as it has ramped up its presence in the Pacific and Europe. (Steve Beynon, Military.com)

USS Sioux City Boondoggle: How a flawed concept turned into the Navy’s wishful thinking and a $100 billion waste of taxpayer dollars: The Navy hailed the littoral combat ship (LCS) as a transformational, 21st century platform to meet future defense challenges. But recently, it began mothballing the “little crappy ship” that will cost taxpayers $100 billion. (Mark Hyman and Larry Deal, The National Desk)

House subpoenas VA over sexual harassment allegations: A House panel voted overwhelmingly to subpoena the VA for documents related to allegations of sexual harassment at the top ranks of its harassment prevention office, saying the scope and speed of the agency’s internal probe are inadequate. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

How the VA fails veterans on mental health: An analysis of hundreds of studies conducted by the VA inspector general in recent years found hospitals and clinics in the VA’s sprawling health care network have fallen short when it comes to treating people with mental illness. (Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi, ProPublica)

Business and Finance

SEC makes it easier to trade bitcoin in landmark decision: The SEC voted Wednesday to allow Wall Street firms to offer easier ways to buy and sell bitcoin on financial markets. The industry is still rife with scams, and bitcoin is often used by criminals seeking to move money without being blocked by governments. (Gerrit De Vynck and Aaron Gregg, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Actor paid to pose as crypto CEO “deeply sorry” about $1.3 billion scam (Ashley Belanger, Ars Technica)

Health Care

In emails, a contractor tries to orchestrate a new federal transplant policy: As HHS restructures the contract that gives the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) control of the country’s organ transplant system, newly unsealed court documents raise questions about HHS’s ability to effectively oversee its transplant contractors. (Malena Carollo, Government Executive)

“Gas-station heroin” sold as dietary supplement alarms health officials: Tianeptine, found in products sold at convenience stores, smoke shops, and online, can mimic an opioid. It’s among a growing class of potentially addictive substances that are difficult to control. (Jan Hoffman, New York Times)

U.S. verges on vaccination tipping point, faces thousands of needless deaths: The FDA warned that the country may be heading to a “dangerous vaccination tipping point,” with immunization rates falling so low that population-level immunity is now at risk and thousands of needless deaths this respiratory virus season may occur. (Beth Mole, Ars Technica)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Texas blocks federal border agents from processing migrants in Eagle Pass public park

How Texas officials stymied nonprofits' efforts to help migrants they bused to northern cities

Other News:

TSA found a record number of guns at airport security checkpoints in 2023. Almost all of them were loaded

Gallery owner reveals new details about Hunter Biden art sales

How many of your state’s lawmakers are women? If you live in the Southeast, it could be just 1 in 5

eBay to pay $3 million after couple became the target of harassment, stalking

Here’s what you’re really swallowing when you drink bottled water

Because It’s Friday

Scientists scramble to keep dog aging project alive: The Dog Aging Project, an ambitious study of health and longevity in dogs that could also offer insights into human health, will see its federal funding expire in a few months. “The data are just coming fast and furious,” said one of the lead researchers. “It’s the worst possible time to be slowing things down.” (Emily Anthes, New York Times)

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Discretionary Transportation Grants: DOT Should Improve Transparency in the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Program. GAO-24-106378 (PDF)

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Amir H. Ali - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia
  • Nelson W. Cunningham - Deputy United States Trade Representative
  • Melissa R. DuBose - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island
  • Sunil R. Harjani - Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
  • James R. Ives - Inspector General, Department of the Treasury
  • Rebecca S. Kanter - Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of California
  • Leonardo Martinez-Diaz - United States Executive Director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development
  • Stephen Ravas - Inspector General, Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Anne Marie Wagner - Member, Federal Labor Relations Authority
  • Robert J. White - Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
  • Jasmine H. Yoon - Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia