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The Paper Trail: March 22, 2024

Ritzy Retreats Host Federal Judges; Violations in Social Security Fraud Program; National Parks Going Cashless Sparks Protest; 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

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 22, 2024

Lawmakers see rise in threatening messages as TikTok users swarm Congress: As Congress considers legislation that could ban TikTok in the U.S., lawmakers are receiving a surge of threatening messages connected to the video app. (Cristiano Lima-Strong, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Tech official pushing TikTok ban could reap windfall from U.S.-China cold war (Sam Biddle, The Intercept)

Inside the ritzy retreats hosting right-wing judges: A nonprofit called the Judicial Education Institute is using large donations from Charles Koch’s network to send conservative federal judges on lavish working vacations. (Molly Redden, HuffPost)

Key senator calls for pause to DeJoy’s changes at USPS: Sen. Gary Peters called on the Postal Service to pause its overhaul of nationwide operational reforms, rejecting the agency’s assertions that it has provided transparency or shown that the changes won’t negatively impact mail service. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Natural gas exports have lax oversight that experts say could lead to a devastating explosion. It’s happened before: Federal safety regulations and oversight of liquefied natural gas (LNG) haven’t been updated since 1980 and haven’t kept pace with the industry’s surge. (Ella Nilsen, CNN)

U.S. Park Service says to leave your cash at home, but some object: The National Park Service is continuing to convert tourist sites to places that only accept cashless payments, drawing complaints and a lawsuit. (Christine Hauser, New York Times)

Insurrection

Jan. 6 rioter nabbed in Bumble dating app sting pleads guilty to assaulting officers: A Bumble user used the dating app to try to elicit confessions from Trump supporters who took part in the insurrection. This week, one of the Bumble users she turned in to the FBI pleaded guilty to January 6 charges. At least two J6 defendants have been arrested thanks to Bumble users. (Ryan J. Reilly, NBC News)

Inspectors General

Social Security program failed to properly notify people of huge fines, report finds: The Social Security Administration’s inspector general office failed to properly notify some poor and disabled Americans before levying huge fines on them for alleged disability benefit fraud. A probe found stark due process violations starting in 2018. (Lisa Rein, Washington Post)

House committee leaders want Biden to oust the acting Commerce IG: Lawmakers from both parties urged President Biden to replace acting Commerce Department Inspector General Roderick Anderson over allegations that most of the office’s senior leaders were “entangled” in the scandal leading to the previous IG’s ouster in January. (Erich Wagner, Government Executive)

Police Misconduct

After a handcuffed ride in the back of a police van, a man was left paralyzed and needed his legs amputated, lawsuit alleges: The incident is known as a “rough ride” or “nickel ride,” when police put a detainee in the back of a vehicle without a seatbelt and then drive erratically. The terms came to prominence in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (Eric Levenson and Rebekah Riess, CNN)

Lack of buses keeps Los Angeles jail inmates from court appearances and contributes to overcrowding: Thousands of inmates in L.A. County jails can’t get to their court appearances because of a shortage of functioning buses. The breakdown of the inmate transportation system has kept jails overcrowded. (Associated Press)

COVID-19

Large grocers took advantage of pandemic supply chain disruptions, FTC finds: The FTC found large grocery retailers “accelerated and distorted” the effects of pandemic supply chain disruptions to beat out smaller rivals and protect profits. “Some firms seem to have used rising costs as an opportunity to further hike prices to increase their profits, and profits remain elevated even as supply chain pressures have eased,” according to the FTC. (Madeleine Ngo, New York Times)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

“Fundamental mistake”: Top former generals say Afghanistan evacuation order came too late: Retired Gens. Mark Milley and Kenneth McKenzie told the House Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 was ordered too late, and they blamed delayed decision-making by the State Department. (Svetlana Shkolnikova, Stars and Stripes)

🔎 See Also: U.N. has flown more than $2.9 billion in cash to Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power, diverting U.S. funds (T. Christian Miller, ProPublica)

Congress wants U.S. Air Force to better explain reorganization plans: Lawmakers say a summary of the compromise version of the fiscal 2024 Defense Appropriations Act doesn’t adequately explain why the Air Force’s biggest reorganization in decades is necessary, how the service would implement it, and what budget is required. (Stephen Losey, Military Times)

To combat bullying and extremism, Air Force Academy turns to social media sleuthing: An Air Force contract to monitor the social media of Air Force Academy cadets, staffers, and anyone else around the campus for hate speech, cyber bullying, sexual harassment, and extremism is raising privacy concerns. (Will Carless, USA Today)

Medical care shortfalls for U.S. personnel in Japan trigger push from lawmakers for improvements: The move comes amid ongoing concern that the lack of access to care is forcing service members and civilian employees to leave the country. (Patricia Kime, Military.com)

Business and Finance

A massive baseball-gambling scandal is brewing. But sports betting has already exploded — and Congress couldn’t care less: Sports gambling in 2024 is easy and almost everywhere: a $120-billion industry embraced by every major sports league and millions of fans. A new scandal allegedly involving baseball player Shohei Ohtani may test professional and amateur sports leagues’ cozy relationships with gambling and Congress’ hands-off approach to the industry. (Keith O’Brien, Politico)

National plan to look into homeowners insurers hits a hurdle: A sweeping effort by state regulators to find out why homeowners insurance is so expensive and hard to secure is already facing challenges, as some crucial states say they may opt out of the call for data. (Emily Flitter, New York Times)

A Mexican drug cartel’s new target? Seniors and their timeshares: One of Mexico’s most violent criminal groups, Jalisco New Generation, runs call centers that offer to buy American retirees’ vacation properties then empty the victims’ bank accounts. The scheme has netted the cartel hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade. (Maria Abi-Habib, New York Times)

Taxpayers were overcharged for patient meds. Then came the lawyers: The Centene Medicaid overbilling settlement in 2021 is just one example in a thriving industry that allows private lawyers to partner with state attorneys general and temporarily gain powers usually reserved for the government. (Shalina Chatlani, New York Times)

Tech

Justice Department, states accuse Apple of holding a smartphone monopoly: The DOJ and 16 attorneys general allege Apple has illegally wielded a monopoly over the smartphone market by cutting off developers and stifling competitors with punitive restrictions. (Cristiano Lima-Strong and Perry Stein, Washington Post)

Women are getting off birth control amid misinformation explosion: Search for birth control on TikTok or Instagram and a cascade of misleading videos vilifying hormonal contraception appear. Physicians say they’re seeing an explosion of birth-control misinformation online. (Lauren Weber and Sabrina Malhi, Washington Post)

Infrastructure

Biden administration warns states of cyberattack threat to water, wastewater systems: The Biden administration warned governors that disabling cyberattacks are targeting drinking water and wastewater systems throughout the country and urged them to help identify and address vulnerabilities. (Julia Shapero, The Hill)

Health Care

Study finds racial disparities in online patient portal responses: The study found Black patients were nearly 4% less likely to receive a response through an online portal from an attending physician and about 3% more likely to receive a response from a registered nurse. Similar, but smaller, differences were observed for Asian and Hispanic patients. (Sara Moniuszko, CBS News)

Medicare plans can cover Wegovy for patients with heart conditions: The high cost of the popular weight-loss drug has made some insurers and employers reluctant to cover it, and Medicare plans may wrestle with the same considerations. (Daniel Gilbert, Washington Post)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

See how Texas is testing the limits of state-run border control

Inspired by Texas, Republicans in other states eye immigration bills

Sanders sending Arkansas National Guard troops to U.S. border with Mexico

DeSantis says he might send any Haitian immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard

Other News:

How the U.S. waged a global campaign against baby formula regulation

Most cable news segments on anti-trans legislation in 2023 did not include the voices of trans people

Conservative nonprofit didn’t disclose some political spending, filings show

Congress’s disaster recovery plan needs a constitutional fix

Digitizing democracy: Bridging the gap between Congress and higher education through AI and modernization

Because It’s Friday

How many dogs have government jobs? What about sea lions?: Federal spending data show agencies have thousands of animals on its books. The more than 5,000 dogs employed by the federal government are examined in a report from the GAO, which apparently is taking its role as government watchdog literally. (Andrew Van Dam, Washington Post)

Upcoming Events

📌 Zoom Webinar: The Pentagon Papers and the Ongoing Threats to Freedom of the Press. Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy. Wednesday, March 27, 7:00 p.m. ET.

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Rahkel Bouchet - Judge, District of Columbia Superior Court
  • Christopher T. Hanson - Member and Chair, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Brian E. Murphy - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
  • Rebecca L. Pennell - Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington
  • Kevin G. Ritz - Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Detra Shaw-Wilder - Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
  • Michael Sulmeyer - Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy
  • John Cuong Truong - Judge, District of Columbia Superior Court
  • Jeannette Vargas - Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
  • Bobby Jack Woods - United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Kentucky