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The Paper Trail: March 29, 2024

Baltimore Bridge Collapse; U.S. Troops Not Getting Enough Sleep; Trump’s Globe-Trotting “Envoy”; 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

Better Prevention of Waste and Fraud in Emergency Spending: Lessons Learned from Pandemic Programs: POGO’s virtual training on how to work effectively with the media on oversight investigations will be Friday, April 5 at 12 noon. This event is only open to staff in Congress, GAO, and CRS. Register HERE.

Top stories for March 29, 2024

“Shortcuts everywhere”: How Boeing favored speed over quality: Aviation safety experts and current and former employees paint a worrying picture of Boeing. The experience level of Boeing’s work force has dropped, the inspection process has been weakened, and suppliers struggle to adhere to quality standards. (Niraj Chokshi, Sydney Ember, and Santul Nerkar, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: 4 takeaways about Boeing’s quality problems (Niraj Chokshi Sydney Ember, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: Suicide mission: What Boeing did to all the guys who remember how to build a plane (Maureen Tkacik, The American Prospect)

Trump calls his globe-trotting ex-diplomat “my envoy.” Neither is in office: Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence under President Trump, has been acting as a kind of shadow secretary of state, meeting with far-right leaders and movements, pledging Trump’s support and, at times, working against the Biden administration’s policies. (Beth Reinhard, Jon Swaine, and Aaron Schaffer, Washington Post)

House Dems push for hearing on Kushner business deals: Reps. Jamie Raskin and Robert Garcia sent a letter asking leading Republicans on the House Oversight Committee to hold a hearing on Jared Kushner in light of new reporting on Kushner seeking overseas business deals as his father-in-law campaigns to take back the White House. (Jordain Carney, Politico)

Congress can’t get anything done. Except on foreign aid: A proposed bill will push USAID to distribute more funds to local groups in the countries where it works. Currently, the bulk of aid is going to a small group of very large contractors that are insulated from evaluation and tend toward bloated programs. (Dylan Matthews, Vox)

Senate approves bills to boost oversight and security for federal buildings: In 2022, the Federal Protective Service and GAO told Congress that agencies frequently ignore recommendations to improve safety at federal facilities. Lawmakers are concerned about unaddressed security shortfalls in light of the recent wave of threats against employees at various agencies. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

U.S. gives Maryland $60 million in relief to rebuild Baltimore bridge: Federal officials say it could cost up to $2 billion to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge. (Filip Timotija, The Hill)

🔎 See Also:Rebuilding the collapsed Baltimore bridge “will not be quick or easy or cheap,” Buttigieg says (Jacob Fischler, Government Executive)

🔎See Also: Tensions rising in Congress over how to fund rebuilding of Baltimore’s collapsed bridge (Anthony Adragna, Politico)

See how the Key Bridge collapse will disrupt the supply of cars, coal and tofu: The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge cut off access to much of the city’s port, causing a suspension of vessel traffic that will disrupt a key trade lane and threaten to further tangle already-stressed supply chains. (Rachel Lerman et al., Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Outmoded bridge design likely contributed to catastrophic loss in Baltimore (Tanya Snyder, Politico)

Feds recently hit cargo giant in Baltimore disaster for silencing whistleblowers: Maersk Line Limited, the company that chartered the cargo ship that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Labor for preventing employees from directly reporting safety concerns to the U.S. Coast Guard, in violation of a whistleblower protection law. (David Sirota et al., The Lever)

Misinformation runs rampant after Baltimore bridge collapse: The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse drove a surge in online conspiracy theories, many of them promoted by “verified” X accounts with huge followings. (Zachary Basu and Sara Fischer, Axios)

Israel-Hamas War

DOD in early talks to fund a peacekeeping force in Gaza: The Biden administration is in preliminary “conversations” about options for stabilizing post-war Gaza, including a proposal for the Pentagon to help fund either a multinational force or a Palestinian peacekeeping team. The options being considered wouldn't involve U.S. troops on the ground. (Alexander Ward, Lara Seligman, and Joseph Gedeon, Politico)

Insurrection

Judge rules John Eastman should be disbarred over efforts to overturn 2020 election: A California judge recommended that John Eastman be barred from practicing law in the state and fined $10,000 for his false and misleading statements about purported election fraud and his role in provoking the insurrection. (Ella Lee and Zach Schonfeld, The Hill)

These 50 companies have donated over $23 million to election deniers since January 6, 2021: Since January 6, 2021, 50 large corporations — including AT&T, Comcast, Walmart, and Microsoft — have donated $23.27 million to the campaigns and political committees of federal and state officials and candidates who have endorsed Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. (Rebecca Crosby and Judd Legum, Popular Information)

Fretting about election-year deep fakes, states roll out new rules for A.I. content: Over 100 bills in 40 states seek to combat attempts to mislead voters during the 2024 election, amid several cases of “deep-fake” video technology and computer-generated avatars and voices being used in political campaigns and advertisements. (Neil Vigdor, New York Times)

Russia-Ukraine War

Russia amps up online campaign against Ukraine before U.S. elections: Russia has intensified online efforts to derail Western military funding for Ukraine, largely by using harder-to-trace technologies to amplify arguments for isolationism and support candidates who oppose aiding Ukraine. (Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, New York Times)

Ukraine secretly acquired American Black Hawks. No one knows how it happened: Ukraine’s intelligence service is operating at least two American-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Western governments have not directly supplied NATO helicopters to Ukraine, meaning Kyiv acquired them privately. (Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics)

Police Misconduct

California law enforcement agencies have hindered transparency efforts in use-of-force cases: While California is widely considered one of the most progressive states in the nation, local law enforcement officers for decades have had their activities veiled by some of the strongest privacy protections in the country. (Tyler Dedrick, Associated Press)

COVID-19

IRS criminal investigation says COVID-related fraud totaled nearly $9 billion: Since 2020, the IRS has investigated 1,644 pandemic-related tax and money laundering cases potentially totaling $8.9 billion. (Kelly Phillips Erb, Forbes)

Why school absences have “exploded” almost everywhere: In the four years since the pandemic closed schools, U.S. education has struggled to recover on several fronts, including learning loss, enrollment, and student behavior. But perhaps no issue has been as stubborn and pervasive as the sharp increase in student absenteeism. (Sarah Mervosh and Francesca Paris, New York Times)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

“I could kill someone”: Most U.S. troops aren’t getting enough sleep, report warns: The GAO found a sizable majority of service members are getting less than the minimum seven hours of sleep recommended by the DOD. “When service members don’t get enough sleep, it can affect their performance. Fatigue has led to fatal accidents and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to ships, vehicles, and aircraft,” according to the GAO. (Ben Wolfgang, Washington Times)

Army investigating Nazi imagery on Special Forces patch posted online: The Army is investigating an incident in which a 20th Special Forces Group unit posted on Instagram a photo showing a soldier wearing a patch containing what appears to be Nazi symbology. (Patty Nieberg, Task & Purpose)

Pentagon ignores law calling for report on how it trained so many African coup leaders: Under the bill that authorizes the 2024 defense budget, the DOD is required to provide a briefing to Congress no later than 90 days after the bill’s December 2023 passage on coups carried out by U.S.-trained African partners. A week after the deadline, Congress is still waiting for a briefing. (Nick Turse, The Intercept)

Opinion: Show us the receipts for the F-35 production decision: After more than two decades of development, the F-35 fighter jet has been greenlighted for full-rate production. But don’t let the Pentagon’s rubber stamp fool you: If you read between the lines in its press release, it’s clear that the jet hasn’t fully overcome the litany of issues that have faced the program since its inception. (Dan Grazier, The Hill)

Business and Finance

Mnuchin tried to force a sale of TikTok. Now he’s a possible bidder: Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s interest in purchasing TikTok is raising ethical alarms as Congress considers a forced sale. In his former role, Mnuchin had access to nonpublic information about the company, potentially offering him a critical advantage in a future sale. (Tony Romm, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: FTC investigating TikTok over privacy and security (Brian Fung and Samantha Delouya, CNN)

Qatari royal invested about $50 million in pro-Trump network Newsmax: A member of the Qatari royal family invested $50 million in Newsmax during the Trump administration, when Qatar was facing intense diplomatic pressure from its neighbors and seeking allies in the U.S. Before and after the investment, Newsmax’s top brass allegedly urged staff to soften coverage of Qatar. (David Kenner, Sarah Ellison, and Jonathan O'Connell, Washington Post)

America made a huge bet on sports gambling. The backlash is here: Less than six years after the Supreme Court opened the door for states to embrace sports betting, major U.S. sports leagues are confronting the darker sides of gambling. At the heart of the problems is the population whose ability to bet on sports is the most severely curbed: the athletes. (Joshua Robinson, Jared Diamond, and Robert O’Connell, Wall Street Journal)

Tech

VP Harris announces new requirements for how federal agencies use AI technology: The Biden administration is grappling with technology that can help unlock new cures for disease or improve railroad safety yet could just as easily be abused to target minorities or develop biological weapons. (Brian Fung and Sam Fossum, CNN)

AI hustlers stole women’s faces to put in ads. The law can’t help them: With just a few seconds of footage, scammers can combine video and audio using AI tools to steal people’s identities and use them to peddle offensive products and ideas. (Nitasha Tiku and Pranshu Verma, Washington Post)

State Department warns employees of fraud scheme targeting payroll systems: Federal login data has repeatedly been a target of malicious actors. (David DiMolfetta, Government Executive)

Infrastructure

Biden promised to install thousands of EV charging stations. Only 7 have been built: More than two years after Congress allocated $7.5 billion to build electric vehicle charging stations, only seven are operational across four states. (Shannon Osaka, Washington Post)

Health Care

U.S. sees surge in measles cases as health experts plead for more vaccinations: Measles cases in the U.S. are rising, as major health organizations plead for increased vaccination rates and experts fear the virus will spread among unvaccinated populations. (Melody Schreiber, The Guardian)

Biden to roll back Trump’s expansion of short-term health insurance plans: The White House calls the short-term health insurance plans “junk insurance” that can leave consumers with big medical bills. (Tami Luhby, CNN)

A state-sanctioned hospital monopoly raises concerns: Two dozen states have passed laws waiving anti-monopoly laws and allowing rival hospitals to merge, often resulting in higher prices, lower quality, and reduced access. (Brett Kelman and Samantha Liss, Washington Post)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Appeals court keeps controversial Texas immigration law on hold

Other News:

FTX fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried sentenced to 25 years in prison

How Justice Thomas’s “nearly adopted daughter” became his law clerk

Biden restores some, but not all, ESA protections

Federal government changes how it collects data on race

Smithsonian’s Latino museum settles with affirmative action foe

Inside the historic suit that the gun industry and Republicans are on the verge of killing

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Veterans Health Care: Improvements Needed in Patient Tracking for Non-Biological Implantable Medical Devices. GAO-24-106621(PDF)

🔥📃 Congressional Management Foundation: State of the Congress 2024: An Assessment of the Civility, Functionality, and Capacity of the 118th Congress by Senior Congressional Staff. March 27, 2024(PDF)