The Paper Trail: November 17, 2023

Pentagon Still Can’t Pass an Audit; Another Setback for Trump Disqualification;A Smurf-tastic Day on Capitol Hill;and More. 

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Editor’s Note

The Paper Trail is taking a break. We'll return on Tuesday, November 28. Have a happy Thanksgiving!


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 17, 2023

"This was not a surprise": Pentagon again fails annual audit of $3.8 trillion in military assets: The Defense Department again failed its independent annual audit, mainly because it couldn't provide auditors with enough information to form a full accounting evaluation. The Pentagon has never passed its yearly audit. (Doug G. Ware, Stars and Stripes)

Experts to FAA: Understaffing, outdated technology is eroding safety: An increasing reliance on overtime to staff air traffic control facilities and outdated technology is putting aviation safety at risk, a panel of experts assembled by the FAA warned in a report. (Ian Duncan, Washington Post)

FDIC scraps meeting at last minute amid scrutiny of workplace culture: FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg is facing a firestorm following reports of sexual misconduct by FDIC employees and other incidents that contributed to a hostile work environment. (Katy O'Donnell et al., Politico)

Watchdog dings Biden admin over fraud risks in student debt relief program: The GAO found the Education Department failed to make sure their process for catching ineligible borrowers was working properly before they approved millions of applications. It also found the department didn't verify borrowers' self-reported income information before approving them for relief. (Michael Stratford, Politico)

Labor Department calls on states to reevaluate unemployment benefit accessibility: In 2022, only about a quarter of unemployed people applied for benefits. About half of those who didn't opted not to because they didn't think they were eligible; others didn't apply at all because of barriers. Among those that did apply, slightly over half received the benefit. Disparities also exist between demographic groups. (Natalie Alms, Nextgov/FCW)

Login-dot-gov is "fraudulent," says House Republican gunning to defund 18F: was thrust into the spotlight in 2022 when the IRS signaled it would use the service for digital credentialing after facing criticism over its use of facial recognition to access online accounts. Since then, the service has been embroiled in controversy. (Natalie Alms, Government Executive)

FBI, CDC ignored concerns over California-based Chinese biolab containing deadly pathogens: The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party found the FBI and CDC neglected to thoroughly investigate a California biolab containing deadly transmissible pathogens. (Shawn Fleetwood, The Federalist)

Israel-Hamas War

Pentagon won't say where it's sending U.S. troops — to avoid embarrassing host nations: The U.S. military has deployed thousands of troops to the Middle East since Hamas's October 7 attack but refuses to disclose the military bases or even host nations of the deployments — not for security reasons, but to spare the host nations embarrassment. (Ken Klippenstein, The Intercept)

FBI ramps up investigations of Hamas: The FBI has received "a large number of tips and leads related specifically to Hamas and radicalization and recruitment," FBI director Christopher Wray told Congress this week. "We are urgently running down every tip and lead." (Adam Goldman and Eileen Sullivan, New York Times)

Cornell, Columbia and UPenn among 7 schools facing Education Dept. probe over allegations of antisemitism and Islamophobia: The investigations include five antisemitism cases and two Islamophobia cases involving a K-12 school in Kansas and six colleges. (Rene Marsh and Katie Lobosco, CNN)

Some young Americans on TikTok say they sympathize with Osama bin Laden: Dozens of young Americans posted videos on TikTok this week expressing sympathy with Osama bin Laden for a 2002 letter he wrote criticizing the U.S.'s support of Israel and justifying the killing of American civilians. (Donie O'Sullivan, Catherine Thorbecke, and Allison Gordon, CNN)

Supreme Court Ethics

Supreme Court ethics code doesn't satisfy Democratic appetite for legislation: Lawmakers and outside advocates will continue pushing legislation to impose recusal standards, an ethics complaint review process, and enforcement mechanisms — none of which are in the court's new ethics code. (Michael Macagnone, Roll Call)


Nevada attorney general is investigating false electors who aided Trump in 2020: The probe is the latest sign of potential legal jeopardy for the people who posed as Trump electors in states that Biden won. False electors in Georgia and Michigan are already facing criminal charges, and an investigation is underway in Arizona. (Betsy Woodruff Swan, Politico)

Trump can stay on GOP primary ballot in Michigan, judge rules: A Michigan state judge partly rejected an effort to disqualify Donald Trump from running for president in the state, ruling that he can remain on the ballot in the Republican primary and that the state's top elections official doesn't have the authority alone to exclude him from the ballot. The judge left the door open for a future battle over Trump's eligibility as a candidate in the general election. (Chris Cameron, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: Opinion: Why Trump might not be disqualified until Jan. 6, 2025 (Hayes Brown, MSNBC)

Dobbs Aftermath

20 women are now suing Texas, saying state abortion laws endangered them: Seven more women joined an ongoing lawsuit claiming the Texas abortion ban's exception for when a patient's life is in danger is too narrow and vague, endangering them during complicated pregnancies. (Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR)


Can't think, can't remember: More Americans say they're in a cognitive fog: There are more Americans who say they have serious cognitive problems than at any time in the last 15 years, according to Census Bureau data. The increase started with the pandemic. (Francesca Paris, New York Times)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

VA officials reassigned following a House Committee's investigation into harassment allegations: The VA transferred multiple leaders of its Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion to other parts of the agency following an investigation into sexual harassment claims. The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs received whistleblower claims alleging sexual harassment and misconduct by senior leadership within the office. (Carten Cordell, Government Executive)

VA veterans crisis line to face new investigation by congressional watchdog agency: The GAO will investigate whistleblower allegations of gross mismanagement at the veterans crisis line. The whistleblowers claim the unit that handles callers with complex needs is severely understaffed and undertrained. (Jennifer Shutt, Rhode Island Current)

Key study of Camp Lejeune cancers in limbo as cases go to court: With the first Camp Lejeune water contamination exposure cases to be heard soon in court, the public has yet to see the results of a landmark study of cancers among those exposed to tainted water at the Marine Corps base despite the study wrapping up months ago. The delay could affect thousands of pending administrative claims and civil lawsuits seeking compensation. (Mike Magner, Roll Call)

🔎 See Also: First Camp Lejeune settlements reached, U.S. government to pay $850,000 (Diana Novak Jones, Reuters)

Business and Finance

"Do your job." How the railroad industry intimidates employees into putting speed before safety: Railroad companies penalize workers for taking the time to make needed repairs and have created a culture in which supervisors threaten and fire the very people hired to keep trains running safely. Regulators say they can't stop this. (Topher Sanders et al., ProPublica)

Prison phone company leaked 600K users' data and didn't notify them, FTC says: Prison phone company Global Tel*Link settled claims that it leaked the personal information of nearly 650,000 users and failed to notify most of them. The settlement with the FTC requires the company to change its security practices and offer free credit monitoring and identity protection to affected users, but it doesn't include a fine. (Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica)


Meta allows ads claiming rigged 2020 election on Facebook, Instagram: Facebook and Instagram are allowing political ads that question the legitimacy of the 2020 election, but not ads that question the legitimacy of ongoing and upcoming elections. (Salvador Rodriguez, Wall Street Journal)

🔎 See Also: Meta says vetting teens' ages should fall on app stores, parents (Cristiano Lima and Naomi Nix, Washington Post)

FTC cracks down on food industry for paid dietitian "influencer" posts: The FTC issued a warning to two major food and beverage industry groups and a dozen nutrition influencers over social media posts that it said failed to clearly disclose who was paying the influencers to promote industry-friendly messages. (Caitlin Gilbert, Sasha Chavkin, and Anahad O'Connor, Washington Post)


Storms, rising seas and salty drinking water threaten lower Louisiana: In communities across America, particularly in the South, extreme weather exacerbated by climate change has emerged as a threat to safe drinking water. (Jacey Fortin, New York Times)

Health Care

Lung cancer survival rates have risen, but data show racial inequality: Lung cancer survival rates in the U.S. have increased over the past five years, but serious disparities remain among Black and Latino communities. (Sabrina Malhi, Washington Post)

Facing financial ruin as costs soar for elder care: Millions of families face daunting life choices and potential financial ruin as the escalating costs of in-home care, assisted-living facilities, and nursing homes devour the savings and incomes of older Americans and their relatives. (Reed Abelson and Jordan Rau, New York Times)

A home birth midwife faces scrutiny after a baby dies. It's not the first time: A patchwork of inconsistent laws and limited accountability make it difficult for expectant parents considering a home birth to evaluate a midwife's record and make an informed decision. (Amy Brittain, Washington Post)

CTE study finds that young football players are getting the disease: The first major study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in athletes who died before turning 30 found that even the young are susceptible to the degenerative brain disease, and that it's a risk in football, hockey, soccer, and wrestling. (Kassie Bracken et al., New York Times)


Immigration and Border Security:

More migrants on terrorism watch list crossed U.S. border

Other News:

Santos won't seek re-election after House panel finds evidence of crimes

The toll of climate disasters is rising. But a U.S. report has good news, too

Terror on repeat: A rare look at the devastation caused by AR-15 shootings

The hidden biases at play in the U.S. Senate

Opinion: Our national debt crisis remains unsolved

Because It’s Friday

Fight club: Three shocking moments from a wild day on Capitol Hill: Tuesday saw three noteworthy altercations on Capitol Hill: First, Rep. Kevin McCarthy elbowed Rep. Tim Burchett in the back in the hallway. Then, Sen. Markwayne Mullin stood up during a hearing and prepared to fight a witness. Then, Reps. James Comer and Jared Moskowitz had a testy exchange during which Comer said Moskowitz looked like a Smurf. (Julia Johnson, Washington Examiner)

U.S. Navy seeks to raise allowed number of accidental whale collisions: The number of permitted collisions is currently set at three through 2025 — the Navy has already reached that number. The Navy says it takes steps to ensure the protection of marine mammals, including posting trained lookouts on ships and implementing annual marine species awareness training, but environmental groups remain concerned. (Jonathan Lehrfeld, Navy Times)

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Coast Guard: Asset, Workforce, and Technology Challenges Continue to Affect Law Enforcement Missions. GAO-24-107144 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - COVID-19: Insights from Fraud Schemes and Federal Response Efforts. GAO-24-106353 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - COVID-19: Insights and Actions for Fraud Prevention. GAO-24-107157 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Federal Spending Transparency: Opportunities Exist to Improve COVID-19 and Other Grant Subaward Data on GAO-24-106237 (PDF)

🔥📃 House Committee on Ethics: In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative George Santos. November 16, 2023

Nominations & Appointments


  • Amy M. Baggio - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Oregon
  • Sherri Beatty-Arthur - Judge, District of Columbia Superior Court
  • Nicole G. Berner - Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • Cristal C. Brisco - Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana
  • Gretchen S. Lund - Judge, District of Columbia Superior Court
  • Julie S. Sneed - Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana
  • Adeel A. Mangi - Judge, District of Columbia Superior Court
  • Ray D. McKenzie - Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana


  • Mary Ann Walker Aguirre - Member, President's Advisory Committee on the Arts
  • Randa Elias Arabo - Member, President's Advisory Committee on the Arts
  • Shakuntla L. Bhaya - Member, Council of the Administrative Conference of the United States
  • Nancy Duff Campbell - Member, Board of Visitors to the United States Coast Guard Academy
  • Andrew N. Cedar - Member, Commission on Presidential Scholars
  • Joyce M. Johnson - Member, Board of Visitors to the United States Coast Guard Academy
  • Neil H. MacBride - Member, Council of the Administrative Conference of the United States
  • Peter V. Neffenger - Member, Board of Visitors to the United States Coast Guard Academy
  • David E. Price - Member, J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board
  • Maritza Sáenz Ryan - Member, Board of Visitors to the United States Coast Guard Academy
  • Peter A. Selfridge - Member, Commission on Presidential Scholars
  • Leland Ware - Member, Commission on Presidential Scholars
  • Christine M. Warnke - Member, President's Advisory Committee on the Arts