Newsletter

The Paper Trail: May 3, 2024

Spotty Disclosure of Judicial Luxury Trips; Extremist Groups Reorganizing on Facebook; Hospitals Not Ready for Avian Flu Outbreak; and More. 

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The Paper Trail

Top stories for May 3, 2024

Road to reprisal: U.S. agency fired Congo whistleblower: This 2023 firing of an analyst who raised concerns about a $100 million development project in Africa is one of several recent alleged or confirmed instances of reprisal at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. At DFC, a rush to cut deals abroad is fueling tension inside the agency and threatening to undermine protections for the overseas communities the agency is supposed to uplift. (Nick Schwellenbach, Project On Government Oversight)

Analysis: Whistleblower laws that protect lawbreakers: Whistleblower protection laws are mostly uniform across industries except in aviation, where a law called AIR 21 creates byzantine procedures, vests adjudication power in an outgunned federal agency, and gives whistleblowers a narrow chance of success. (Maureen Tkacik, The American Prospect)

🔎 See Also: Whistleblower Josh Dean of Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems has died (Dominic Gates and Lauren Rosenblatt, Seattle Times)

When judges get free trips to luxury resorts, disclosure is spotty: Many federal judges receive free lodging, meals, and travel to luxury resorts around the world for judicial conferences and seminars but don’t fully disclose those perks due to weaknesses in the reporting system. (Tom Dreisbach and Carrie Johnson, NPR)

Disclosures of U.S. identities in spy reports nearly tripled last year: The number of instances of unmasking, in which redacted information regarding American individuals or corporations is revealed to other federal agencies, appeared to be the highest recorded since U.S. spy agencies began annually publishing details about their surveillance practices a decade ago. (Dustin Volz, Wall Street Journal)

Group says CBP official drank while carrying firearm, retaliated against whistleblower: The Government Accountability Project sent a letter to Congress, DHS, and others alleging Dr. Alexander Eastman, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s acting chief medical officer, consumed alcohol while carrying an agency-issued firearm and retaliated against the employee who reported him. Eastman was earlier accused of creating a hostile work environment and other misconduct. (Sean Newhouse, Government Executive)

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

Rebuilding Baltimore’s Key Bridge expected to cost up to $1.9 billion: Maryland officials estimate the Francis Scott Key Bridge rebuild will be completed by fall 2028 and cost between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion. (Michael Laris and Erin Cox, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Insurer to make $350 million payout in Baltimore bridge collapse (Jean Eaglesham, Wall Street Journal)

Israel-Hamas War

Amid campus unrest, Republicans vow to use House powers to protect Jewish students: Speaker Mike Johnson and other top House Republicans vowed to use their oversight powers and the power of the purse to put pressure on universities to protect their Jewish students and crack down on “radical activity” that has disrupted college campuses nationwide. (Scott Wong, NBC News)

White House considers welcoming some Palestinians from war-torn Gaza as refugees: In recent weeks, senior officials across several agencies have discussed the practicality of different options to resettle Palestinians from Gaza who have immediate family members who are American citizens or permanent residents. (Camilo Montoya-Galvez, CBS News)

Amid Israel-Hamas war, colleges draw lines on faculty free speech: Colleges and universities are struggling to strike a balance between defending free speech and punishing hate speech. And as protests continue to grow on campuses, faculty are becoming more visible, joining protests or issuing statements critical of administrators’ responses. (Michael Burke and Corey Mitchell, Center for Public Integrity)

🔎 See Also: Endowment secrecy complicates campus “divestment” demands (Dan Primack, Axios)

Insurrection

Extremist militias are coordinating in more than 100 Facebook groups: After lying low for years in the aftermath of January 6, militia extremist groups have been quietly reorganizing and ramping up recruitment and rhetoric on Facebook. (Tess Owen, Wired)

They staffed the Jan. 6 committee. Threats still follow them: Staff on the now-disbanded panel say their work exposed them to threats, raised doubts about their safety, and required additional safety precautions. (Chris Marquette and Michael Macagnone, Roll Call)

January 6 rioter Derrick Evans could return to the Capitol—as a congressman: Evans’ campaign has the potential to put Congress in a difficult position: If he wins, Congress will have to decide whether to respect the will of the voters of West Virginia or enforce the Constitution’s insurrection clause. (Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones)

Workers at far-right site Gateway Pundit feared credibility issues, filing shows: Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, two Georgia election workers suing the website Gateway Pundit for defamation, have evidence that employees of the site, which played a key role in spreading lies about the 2020 election, had concerns about credibility and plagiarism. (Sam Levine, The Guardian)

Dobbs Aftermath

“Our patients are screwed”: Florida’s ban cuts off abortion access in the South: Florida’s six-week abortion ban makes the procedure nearly impossible to access for many would-be patients throughout most of the South and is guaranteed to strain reproductive health care services in other places. (Liz Crampton and Alice Miranda Ollstein, Politico)

Inspectors General

Biden to replace embattled acting Commerce IG: President Biden on Wednesday informed Congress he would replace Acting Commerce Inspector General Roderick Anderson, following a preliminary investigation of his role in a whistleblower retaliation scandal that led to the ouster of his predecessor. (Erich Wagner, Government Executive)

COVID-19

Thousands believe COVID vaccines harmed them. Is anyone listening?: People who say they were injured by COVID vaccines believe their cases are being ignored. (Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

U.S. military admits that airstrike killed civilian in Syria last year: U.S. Central Command acknowledged that the military mistakenly killed a civilian man in an airstrike in Syria last year after misidentifying him as a senior al Qaeda leader. The investigation was completed in November, but CENTCOM didn’t publicly disclose its findings until yesterday. (Natasha Bertrand and Oren Liebermann, CNN)

Business and Finance

UnitedHealth Group CEO blames hack on aged technology systems: Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee this week, UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty blamed outdated technology for a hack that exposed the health care information of millions of people and crippled claims processing for thousands of providers for several weeks. (Jessie Hellmann, Roll Call)

Criminal schemes targeting U.S. seniors account for $3.4 billion in reported losses, FBI says: The FBI warned that investment scams in which victims are enticed into transferring money to fraudulent financial institutions are the costliest to Americans over 60. (Robert Legare and Nicole Sganga, CBS News)

Tech

War zone surveillance technology is hitting American streets: Federal and state Homeland Security grants allow local law enforcement agencies to surveil American citizens with technology more commonly found in war zones and foreign espionage operations. The technology is particularly showing up on the streets of American cities near the U.S.-Mexico border. (Byron Tau, NOTUS)

House panel requests FTC investigate if TikTok violated child protection act: The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party asked the FTC to investigate whether TikTok violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act when it urged users to contact Congress in an effort to stop the U.S. from banning the app. (Lauren Irwin, The Hill)

Graham reveals Schumer impersonation hack attempt as members warned on phishing: A week that began with a warning to Senate offices about attempted phishing schemes came to a close with Sen. Lindsey Graham revealing someone targeted him with a hack pretending to be Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. (Katherine Tully-McManus and Anthony Adragna, Politico)

Health Care

Hospitals “just not ready” for an avian flu outbreak: Hospital officials say the U.S. health system won’t be ready if the avian flu that’s infected dairy cattle becomes widespread among humans. (Daniel Payne, Politico)

🔎 See Also: The U.S. may be missing human cases of bird flu, scientists say (Will Stone, NPR)

Senate Finance Committee introduces legislation aimed at fixing drug shortages: Last month, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists recorded the highest number of domestic drug shortages since it began tracking this metric in 2001. Sen. Ron Wyden blames “monopolistic middlemen.” (Joseph Choi, The Hill)

Senior homes refuse to pick up fallen residents, dial 911. “Why are they calling us?”: “Lift-assist” calls to 911 from senior facilities have spiked in recent years, frustrating first responders who say these calls — which involve a resident who fell and isn’t injured but can’t get up — unfairly burden them and the taxpayers. (Todd C. Frankel, Washington Post)

Senators, Halle Berry unveil $275 million bill to boost menopause care: The legislation is an effort to boost services and support for menopause, a condition for which many physicians say they receive little training. (Dan Diamond, Washington Post)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Border Patrol agents joked about killing migrant children, records show

GA governor signs immigration enforcement bill pushed following Laken Riley’s killing

Biden extends Obamacare access to “dreamers” lacking health care

Other News:

How far Trump would go: Donald Trump on what his second term would look like

Attorneys general mount a new attack on the EPA’s use of civil rights law

Republicans in Congress are trying to reshape election maps by excluding noncitizens

Military documents contradict Rep. Troy Nehls’ military record claims

Judge declares mistrial after jury deadlocks in suit by former Abu Ghraib prisoners

 

Upcoming Events

📌 SEC Enforcement: Balancing Deterrence with Due Process. House Committee on Financial Services. Tuesday, May 7, 10:00 a.m., 2128 Rayburn House Office Building.

📌 The Cost of the Border Crisis. House Budget Committee. Wednesday, May 8, 10:00 a.m., 210 Cannon House Office Building.

📌 Zoom Webinar: Using Oversight to Encourage, Not Hinder, User-Friendly Government Efforts in the Digital Age. Levin Center for Legislative Oversight and Democracy. Friday, May 10, 1:00 p.m.

📌 Zoom Webinar: Improving User Experience with Government Programs While Fighting Fraud. Levin Center for Legislative Oversight and Democracy. Monday, May 13, 12:00 noon.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Ukraine: Status and Challenges of DOD Weapon Replacement Efforts. GAO-24-106649(PDF)

🔥📃 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction: Quarterly Report to Congress. April 30, 2024(PDF)

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Ronald L. Batory - Member, AMTRAK Board of Directors
  • Elaine Marie Clegg - Member, AMTRAK Board of Directors
  • Abigail L. Dressel - Ambassador, Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe
  • Marcus D. Graham - Member, Farm Credit Administration
  • James Holtsnider - Ambassador, Samoa
  • Matthew Kaplan - Federal Cochairperson, Great Lakes Authority
  • Tonya P. Wilkerson - Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security

Appointments

  • Donna Hayashi Smith - White House Curator