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The Paper Trail: November 14, 2023

SCOTUS Adopts Ethics Code; Strip Clubs, Lewd Photos and a Boozy Hotel at FDIC; Chess, Cards and Catnaps at Los Alamos; 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

House Staff: Join experts from the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds for the Lunch & Learn: Practice Working with Whistleblowers. Get hands-on experience with a fictional whistleblower case study, from intake through oversight. The event will take place on November 28th from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in 2060 Rayburn. Lunch will be served, but seating is limited. House staff can RSVP here.

Top stories for November 14, 2023

Supreme Court adopts ethics code after reports of undisclosed gifts and travel: The code doesn’t specify how the rules would be enforced or by whom, and it doesn’t place specific restrictions on justices’ gifts, travel, or real estate deals. (Abbie VanSickle and Adam Liptak, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: A guide to the friends and patrons of Clarence and Ginni Thomas (Shawn Boburg, Washington Post)

“Buying influence”: Top U.S. nuclear board advisers are tied to arms business: Nine of 12 members of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States (CCSPUS), which advises the government on nuclear weapons strategy, have financial ties to companies that stand to benefit from the panel’s advice. (Eli Clifton and Ben Freeman, The Guardian)

Chess, cards and catnaps in the heart of America’s nuclear weapons complex: At the Los Alamos National Laboratory — currently undergoing an expansion that’s billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule — some workers sit idle for days, weeks, or even months at a time. (Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico)

Strip clubs, lewd photos and a boozy hotel: The toxic atmosphere at bank regulator FDIC: A toxic work environment at the FDIC has for years caused employees to flee from an agency they say enabled and failed to punish workplace sexism and sexual harassment. (Rebecca Ballhaus, Wall Street Journal)

FEC commissioner calls out her GOP colleagues in brutal 5-sentence takedown: FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub accused her Republican colleagues of putting former President Trump “in [a] category by himself” by refusing to investigate at least 28 instances where agency staff determined that Trump or his family likely violated election regulations. (Mark Alfred, Daily Beast)

Air traffic controller fatigue a factor in airport near misses, Senate panel told: The U.S. saw 23 serious close calls at airports in the past year, the highest number in more than a decade. Witnesses told a Senate panel last week the rise is partly linked to overworked air traffic controllers. (Ian Duncan, Washington Post)

Union coalition throws support behind OPM’s anti-Schedule F rules: The proposed rule will create new guardrails when federal agencies seek to convert their workforces out of the competitive service and rescind civil service protections, hindering a future revival of former President Trump’s controversial Schedule F policy. The OPM is accepting public comments on the proposed rule until Friday. (Erich Wagner, Government Executive)

Scientific federal agencies have restaffed to pre-Trump levels: Several key federal agencies have returned to their 2016 STEM staffing levels, according to a new analysis, although in some cases they are failing to diversify their workforces. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Israel-Hamas War

More than 400 U.S. officials sign letter Protesting Biden’s Israel policy: More than 400 political appointees and staff members representing some 40 government agencies sent a letter to President Biden on Tuesday protesting his support of Israel in its war in Gaza. It’s the latest of several protest letters from within the administration. (Maria Abi-Habib, Michael Crowley, and Edward Wong, New York Times)

Colleges could lose federal funding if they don’t curb antisemitism and Islamophobia: Many Jewish students feel unsafe; many Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab students say they’re also being targeted. The Department of Education notified schools that they must condemn and take aggressive action to address antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents or else lose federal funding. (Tovia Smith, NPR)

🔎 See Also: After antisemitic attacks, colleges debate what kind of speech is out of bounds (Anemona Hartocollis and Stephanie Saul, New York Times)

Pentagon pauses support for congressional travel to Israel: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo that pauses Pentagon support for congressional travel to Israel and restricts visits by defense and military leaders. (Eleanor Watson, CBS News)

Classified Documents

What the woodworker saw: Trump documents trial may put resort workers on witness stand, sources say: Currently, the trial in the Florida classified document mishandling case is set to begin in May, but Judge Aileen Cannon is considering postponing it until after the election. Potential trial witnesses are the types of workers rarely noticed by Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy guests. (Katelyn Polantz and Paula Reid, CNN)

Insurrection

Jan. 6 suspect Gregory Yetman surrenders to police after widespread manhunt, FBI says: More than 1,200 people have been arrested in connection with the insurrection, but the total number of people who could be charged is more than 3,000. The FBI has identified roughly 1,000 suspects who have not been arrested. The statute of limitations on most of the crimes committed on January 6, 2021, expires in 2026. (Aaron Katersky, ABC News)

🔎 See Also: Tennessee man admits to conspiring with Jan. 6 defendant to kill FBI agents (Ryan J. Reilly, NBC News)

🔎 See Also: Jan. 6 rioter dubbed “QAnon Shaman” plans to run for U.S. Congress (Rebecca Falconer, Axios)

Envelopes with fentanyl or other substances were sent to several elections offices: The letters were sent to elections offices in the presidential battlegrounds of Georgia and Nevada, as well as California, Oregon, and Washington. Many election offices across the country have taken steps to increase security amid an onslaught of harassment and threats following the 2020 election. (NPR)

Minnesota Supreme Court dismisses effort to block Trump from state’s primary ballot: The court did not address the larger question of whether Trump is eligible to be placed on the general election ballot, leaving the door open for future challenges to his eligibility should he win the primary. (Zoë Richards and Daniel Barnes, NBC News)

Russia-Ukraine War

The Pentagon is buying fuel made with Russian oil: Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon has awarded nearly $1 billion in contracts to Motor Oil Hellas, a Greek oil company that has been importing Russian fuel oils through Turkey in an arrangement seemingly intended to evade sanctions. It puts the U.S. in an awkward position: On one hand, it’s sending billions of dollars of weaponry to Ukraine to defend against Russia; on the other, it’s likely helping to support Russia’s war machine. (Jason Paladino, Project On Government Oversight)

Police Misconduct

Justice Dept.’s watchdog describes unsanitary conditions at Florida prison: The inspector general found moldy and rotting food, rodent droppings, and leaky roofs at a federal women’s prison in Tallahassee, Florida. The findings are emblematic of the worsening crisis at the federal Bureau of Prisons. (Glenn Thrush, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: Colorado banned forced prison labor 5 years ago. Prisoners say it’s still happening (Meg Anderson, NPR)

Oregon police obsessively spied on activists for years, even after pipeline fight ended: A new trove of internal Medford Police Department emails reveals ongoing intrusive and overreaching surveillance practices used against social justice and environmental activists. (Natasha Lennard, The Intercept)

COVID-19

Businessman allegedly stole nearly $8 million in COVID relief aid to buy a private island in Florida, oil fields in Texas: Fraudsters are estimated to have stolen more than $280 billion in federal COVID aid; another $123 billion was wasted or misspent. Nearly 3,200 people have been charged with fraud, and only about $1.4 billion in stolen funds have been recovered. (CBS News)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Biden expands veterans’ health care coverage: President Biden also announced a new campaign and task force called Veteran Scam and Fraud Evasion (VSAFE), aimed at protecting veterans and their families from scams, which the administration said cost the military and veterans more than $414 million last year. (Brad Dress, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: Head of VA prosthetics department in Colorado canceled veterans’ orders to eliminate backlog, ex-employees allege (Rebecca Kheel, Military.com)

National Guardsmen fight to get injury claims approved and disability benefits: About 30% of injury claims recommended by local commanders are determined not to qualify by the Air National Guard. Service members question whether correct policies and procedures are being followed. (Catherine Herridge, CBS News)

Army ammunition plant is tied to mass shootings across the U.S.: The Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri was built to supply the U.S. military, but its commercial sales have been booming lately with little accountability. Its rounds have been used in mass shootings and other crimes. (Ben Dooley, New York Times)

Senate panel will move resolution Tuesday to break Tuberville’s hold on military nominees: It remains an open question whether Schumer will get enough Republican support for the resolution, which would change Senate procedure for confirming nonpolitical military promotions for the rest of the 118th Congress. (Alexander Bolton, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: Pentagon abortion policy at center of senate fight expected to cost just $1 million a year, analysis says (Rebecca Kheel, Military.com)

Business and Finance

Federal regulators take a bite out of meat monopolies: For decades, independent farmers have complained about the effects of the rapid consolidation of the meat industry — something that a new USDA rule aims to reverse. (Saul Elbein, The Hill)

Ransomware attack on China’s biggest bank may have hit U.S. Treasury market: A U.S. unit of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was hit by a ransomware attack last week that disrupted some of its systems and may have contributed to a brief market sell-off on Thursday. (Juliana Liu, CNN)

At SpaceX, worker injuries soar in Elon Musk’s rush to Mars: With at least 600 previously unreported workplace injuries, SpaceX employees say they’re paying the price for Elon Musk’s push to colonize space. (By Marisa Taylor, Reuters)

Tech

Data broker’s “staggering” sale of sensitive info exposed in unsealed FTC filing: One of the world's largest mobile data brokers, Kochava, lost its battle to stop the FTC from revealing what it alleges is a widespread pattern of unfair use and sale of sensitive data without consent from hundreds of millions of people. (Ashley Belanger, Ars Technica)

Fake reviews are rampant online. Can a crackdown end them? Fake reviews are as old as the internet itself, and they are illegal and banned by online platforms. Experts say the problem may be insurmountable. (Stuart A. Thompson, New York Times)

Infrastructure

Nation at risk of winter blackouts as power grid remains under strain: A sweeping portion of the U.S. extending from Texas to the Canadian border is not adequately equipped for tough winter conditions, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation warned recently. (Evan Halper, Washington Post)

U.S. bets on small nuclear reactors to help fix a huge climate problem: As the U.S. looks to transition away from fossil fuels, nuclear power is getting renewed interest and billions of federal dollars. But the push to expand nuclear power faces enormous hurdles. (Brad Plumer and Ivan Penn, New York Times)

Health Care

You have a right to know why a health insurer denied your claim. Some insurers still won’t tell you: Federal law and regulations require insurers to promptly hand over records to patients facing claim denials. Some insurers aren’t turning files over as required or send inaccurate or incomplete information. (Maya Miller and Ash Ngu, ProPublica)

🔎 See Also: Find out why your health insurer denied your claim (ProPublica)

Program to get doctors to high-need areas falling short, study says: The federal Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) program, a decades-old initiative that offers doctors incentives to practice in disadvantaged communities, has had little effect on physician density or patient mortality. (Erin Blakemore, Washington Post)

Biden’s limit on drug industry middlemen backfires, pharmacists say: Pharmacists say the Biden administration’s effort to impose limits on the pharmacy benefit managers who act as the drug industry’s price negotiators is backfiring. Instead, they say it's adding to the woes of the independent drugstores it was supposed to help. (Arthur Allen, CBS News)

"A monster”: Super meth and other drugs push crisis beyond opioids: Millions of drug users are now addicted to several substances, not just opioids. The shift is making treatment far more difficult and confounding local, state, and federal governments. (Jan Hoffman, New York Times)

Amazon links One Medical primary care to Prime memberships: Amazon will offer cheaper health care to Prime members via One Medical. Privacy experts are concerned about health data privacy rights members might be required to waive in order to use the service. (Caroline O’Donovan, Washington Post)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Border wall falls leave migrants with devastating — and costly — injuries

Sweeping raids, giant camps and mass deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 immigration plans

Other News:

Climate change’s $150 billion hit to the U.S. economy

What does the U.S. Space Force actually do?

“You're telling me that thing is forged?”: The inside story of how Trump’s “body guy” tried and failed to order a massive military withdrawal

Army clears Buffalo Soldiers’ century-old convictions, blames racism

3 charged with running prostitution service used by politicians, military officers, executives, government contractors

School vaccination exemptions now highest on record among kindergartners, CDC reports

Upcoming Events

📌 Examining Federal COVID-Era Spending and Preventing Future Fraud. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight. Tuesday, November 14, 2:45 p.m., 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

📌 Military Nominations. Senate Committee on Rules & Administration. Tuesday, November 14, 3:00 p.m., 301 Russell Senate Office Building.

📌 The Court Whisperer: Leonard Leo’s Path to Power and His Ambitions Beyond the Court. ProPublica. Thursday, November 16, 4:00 p.m.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 DHS OIG: Major Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security. OIG-24-05(PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Department of Homeland Security: Reporting on Border Security Metrics Could Be Improved. GAO-24-106277(PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Veterans Health Care: VA Has Taken Steps to Improve Its Appointment Scheduling Process, but Additional Actions Are Needed. GAO-24-107112(PDF)

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Dafna Hochman Rand - Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  • Corey Anne Tellez - Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Department of the Treasury