Newsletter

The Paper Trail: March 15, 2024

DHS Facing Sexual Harassment Claim; Federal Courts Aim to Curb Judge Shopping; For-Profit Nursing Homes: A Race to the Bottom; and More. 

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The Paper Trail

Announcements

  • How to: Conduct Oversight from a Minority Office: 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.
  • The Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds will have a pop-up tabling event in the Rayburn Cafeteria, Thursday, March 21 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. House staff can stop by to learn more about the Office and pick up copies of their latest resources. For more information, please contact Charmise Jackson at [email protected].
  • On Monday, March 25 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy is sponsoring a bipartisan workshop for House and Senate committee clerks and administrative personnel handling oversight investigations, hearings, and reports. To share oversight tips and network with peers, please RSVP by sending an email to [email protected].

Top stories for March 15, 2024

Federal agent accuses DHS of failing to protect her from sexual misconduct: DHS, which has the largest law enforcement workforce in the government and the lowest share of female officers, faces criticism over its response to sexual harassment. (Maria Sacchetti, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Protecting the predators at DHS: How a federal watchdog suppresses findings of sexual harassment and domestic violence (Adam Zagorin and Nick Schwellenbach, Project On Government Oversight)

Lawmakers debate the role of an overworked and under-resourced FEMA: FEMA in recent years has deployed to natural disaster sites, wildfires, the U.S.-Mexico border, in support of the resettling of Afghan evacuees, and for pandemic assistance — all while dealing with a staff 6,000 workers short of the agency’s goal. Lawmakers are questioning whether the agency has bitten off more than it can chew. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Federal courts aim to curb judge shopping with new policy: The issue of “judge shopping” has repeatedly come up in Texas in recent years, where Republican attorneys general and conservative litigants have filed challenges to Biden administration actions in divisions where a single conservative-leaning judge is automatically assigned all cases. (Jacqueline Thomsen and Lydia Wheeler, Bloomberg Law)

Watchdog dings EPA over clean water fund oversight: The EPA’s inspector general found the agency hasn’t consistently fulfilled its responsibility to ensure proper use of federal funds for wastewater and pollution control projects, making the money more susceptible to misuse or fraud. (Miranda Willson, E&E News)

Federal investigators say Boeing doesn’t know who worked on Alaska Airlines door: The NTSB still doesn’t know which employees worked on the door plug that blew out on the Alaska Airlines flight — because Boeing has no records of the work that was performed. Security camera footage that would have helped answer the question had been “overwritten.” (Oriana Pawlyk, Politico)

Inside the blunders that plunged the college admission season into disarray: Three years ago, Congress ordered the Education Department to revamp the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to make it easier and more accessible. It’s been anything but. (Erica L. Green and Zach Montague, New York Times)

Analysis: TikTok’s security threats go beyond the scope of House legislation: In the four years this battle has gone on, it has become clear that the security threat posed by TikTok has far less to do with who owns it than who writes its code and algorithms that guide how TikTok watches its 170 million American users. (David E. Sanger, New York Times)

Israel-Hamas War

U.S. sanctions three Israeli West Bank settlers and their outposts for violence against Palestinians: The immediate impact of the sanctions isn’t clear as it’s uncertain if any of the settlers or their farms have assets in U.S. jurisdictions. Currently, nine people and their properties have been sanctioned. (Fatima Hussein, Matthew Lee, and Julia Frankel, Associated Press)

Civil liberties organizations sue Columbia University over suspension of pro-Palestinian groups: The lawsuit is the latest chapter in how unrest on college campuses is playing out across the U.S. following Hamas’ October 7 attack and the ensuing war in Gaza. Columbia is also among the institutions under investigation over discrimination complaints. (Madina Touré, Politico)

Insurrection

Ga. judge dismisses six charges in Trump election interference case: Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee dismissed six counts in the 41-count criminal racketeering indictment against Donald Trump and five co-defendants but declined to dismiss the case. Trump now faces 10 charges instead of 13. (Holly Bailey, Washington Post)

Trump supporter charged with firing gun during Jan. 6 attack ordered detained: John Banuelos is among a small fraction of January 6 defendants — roughly two dozen — who are currently being detained pre-trial due to the danger they pose to the community or their risk of fleeing. (Ryan J. Reilly, NBC News)

Russia-Ukraine War

Biden admin announces new weapons package for Ukraine following months of warnings there was no money left: The $300 million in military aid became available as a result of savings made in weapons contracts. The package will only provide Ukraine enough ammunition to last a few weeks. (Oren Liebermann, Haley Britzky, and Natasha Bertrand, CNN)

Why the U.S. put a $1 million bounty on a Russian yacht’s alleged manager: The reward offer reflects the latest stage in the evolution of the West’s broader financial war against Russia two years into the war in Ukraine, as the U.S. and its allies increasingly target intermediaries accused of enabling Russia to circumvent sanctions. (Jeff Stein and Catherine Belton, Washington Post)

Police Misconduct

A police officer took a teen for a rape kit. Then he assaulted her, too: Hundreds of law enforcement officers have been accused of sexually abusing children over the past two decades. Agencies across the country have failed to take steps to prevent these crimes. (Jessica Contrera, Jenn Abelson, and John D. Harden, Washington Post)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Services were slow to process COVID vaccine exemptions, watchdog finds: While the service branches largely followed policy when considering waivers, the Army and Air Force routinely overran deadlines, according to an inspector general report. The review also found a range of discharge types and reentry codes for service members involuntarily separated after vaccine refusal, leaving some troops with full benefits after being kicked out, while others received partial benefits. (Meghann Myers, Military Times)

Opinion: The fight against veteran homelessness demands a concerted effort: The increase of 7.4% in the homeless veteran population in 2023 is a stark reminder that veteran homelessness remains a national tragedy requiring a concerted effort at all levels of government. (Michael Embrich, Government Executive)

Business and Finance

What’s missing from railroad safety data? Dead workers and severed limbs: Thanks to loopholes, rail companies haven’t been scrutinized by the Federal Railroad Administration for alleged worker injuries and deaths. The FRA’s porous reporting policies provide opportunities for companies to hide these incidents. (Topher Sanders et al., ProPublica)

Gangsters, money and murder: How Chinese organized crime is dominating America’s illegal marijuana market: From California to Maine, Chinese organized crime has come to dominate much of the nation’s illicit marijuana trade. Among the victims are thousands of Chinese immigrants, many of them smuggled across the Mexican border to toil in often abusive conditions. (Sebastian Rotella et al., ProPublica)

Cable TV providers will have to show total cost of subscriptions, FCC says: “Charges and fees for video programming provided by cable and DBS (direct broadcast satellite) providers are often obscured in misleading promotional materials and bills, which causes significant and costly confusion for consumers,” according to the FCC. (Kate Gibson, CBS News)

Tech

Civil Rights commission digs into government use of facial recognition: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is working on a report on federal agencies' use of facial recognition. “While the technology offers potential benefits,” commission chair Rochelle Garza said at a recent briefing, “it also possesses serious threats to our fundamental rights.” (Natalie Alms, Government Executive)

On popular online platforms, predatory groups coerce children into self-harm: An emerging international network of online groups are targeting children with a sadistic form of social media terror. Unlike typical “sextortion” schemes that seek money or graphic images, these perpetrators are chasing notoriety in a community that glorifies cruelty. (Shawn Boburg, Pranshu Verma, and Chris Dehghanpoor, Washington Post)

Health Care

Investigation finds for-profit nursing homes cut corners on safety and drain resources with financial shenanigans: Infinity Healthcare Management and other for-profit nursing home chains dominate an industry long known for cutting corners in pursuit of profits. But this race to the bottom is accelerating despite demands by government officials, health care experts, and advocacy groups. (Sean Campbell, Government Executive)

UnitedHealth cyberattack “one of the most stressful things we’ve gone through,” doctor says: Last month’s ransomware attack on Change Healthcare is still leaving hospitals, pharmacies, and medical practices in a cash crunch. (Nicole Sganga, CBS News)

HIV prevention drugs known as PrEP are highly effective, but many at risk don’t know about them: Despite highly effective HIV prevention drugs on the market, only a fraction of those at risk in the U.S. are taking them or even know they’re an option. (Sara Moniuszko and Leigh Ann Winick, CBS News)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Migrant children sell candy on the subway. New York has no solutions

Visas for Afghans who helped U.S. military running low amid congressional gridlock

Biden administration discussing using Guantanamo Bay to process possible influx of Haitian migrants

Other News:

Sierra Club sues SEC over climate reporting rule

Why a Native American nation is challenging the U.S. over a 1794 treaty

In states with laws targeting LGBTQ issues, school hate crimes quadrupled

Because It’s Friday

NASA sending “message in a bottle” to possible alien life hiding on Jupiter’s moon Europa: The Europa Clipper, following NASA’s tradition of sending inspirational messages into space, will be covered with etchings, including a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón and a portrait of one of the founders of planetary science, Ron Greeley. (Katherine Donlevy, New York Post)

🔎 See Also: Pentagon report finds no evidence of alien visits, hidden spacecraft (Shane Harris and Dan Lamothe, Washington Post)

Upcoming Events

📌 An Assessment of the Biden Administration’s Withdrawal from Afghanistan by America’s Generals. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Tuesday, March 19, 1:00 p.m., 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Freedom of Information Act: Additional Guidance and Reliable Data Can Help Address Agency Backlogs. GAO-24-106535(PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Ukraine: DOD Should Improve Data for Both Defense Article Delivery and End-Use Monitoring. GAO-24-106289(PDF)

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Kelly Adams-Smith - Ambassador, Moldova
  • Jennifer Lynn Homendy - Chair and Member, National Transportation Safety Board
  • Peter W. Lord - Ambassador, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau
  • Jeremey Neitzke - Ambassador, Lesotho