The Paper Trail: September 12, 2023

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.


Working with Whistleblowers on Oversight and Investigations: POGO’s virtual training on how to work safely and effectively with whistleblowers will be Friday, September 22 at 12 noon. This event is only open to staff in Congress, GAO, and CRS. Register HERE.

Top stories for September 12, 2023

Top Commerce watchdog exposed a whistleblower’s identity: Department of Commerce Inspector General Peggy Gustafson, who has a special obligation to protect whistleblower confidentiality, sent around a letter containing the name of an employee who accused her of reprisal. The episode raises questions about how well federal IGs protect the identities of whistleblowers. (Julienne McClure and Nick Schwellenbach, Project On Government Oversight)

IRS wants to go after more millionaires with unpaid tax bills, if it can find the staff: The IRS planned to bring on 3,833 revenue agents in fiscal 2023, but as of March it had recruited just 34. Staffing decreased by 8% between 2019 and 2023. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Interior officials expressed alarm early about Zinke’s ethics: Newly released documents show that Interior Department staffers raised questions early in the Trump administration about then-Secretary Ryan Zinke’s commingling of his public and private lives — nearly two years before his alleged conflicts of interest helped push him out of the Cabinet. (Corbin Hiar, E&E News)

Top U.S. spies meet with privacy experts over surveillance “crown jewel”: Privacy and civil liberties advocates in attendance at last week’s meeting with intelligence officials say one of their chief objectives was warning the intelligence community that, without significant privacy reforms, any effort to reauthorize the use of the government’s most powerful surveillance weapon — Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — will be a doomed undertaking. (Dell Cameron, Wired)

FAA spells out needed fixes for SpaceX’s starship rocket: The next giant Starship rocket from Elon Musk’s SpaceX is standing on the launching pad in Texas. The FAA said the company must undertake dozens of corrective actions before it would issue a launch license for the flight. (Kenneth Chang, Washington Post)

Supreme Court Ethics

What Ginni Thomas and Leonard Leo wrought: How a justice’s wife and a key activist started a movement: Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, a flood of so-called “dark money” was about to be released. The conservative legal movement seized the moment with greater success than any other group, and the consequences have shaped American jurisprudence and politics in dramatic ways. (Heidi Przybyla, Politico)


Georgia special grand jury recommended charging Lindsey Graham in Trump case: The Fulton County grand jury investigating the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election also recommended charging 37 other people including Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump campaign attorney Cleta Mitchell, Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, attorney L. Lin Wood, and former senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. (Holly Bailey, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Meadows urges federal appeals court to intervene in failed bid to move Fulton County criminal case to federal court (Devan Cole, CNN)

State election chiefs look to courts to deal with Trump ballot challenges: State election officers have a near-unified message about the possibility of challenges to Donald Trump’s eligibility for the ballot in 2024: We want nothing to do with this. (Nnamdi Egwuonwu and Emma Barnett, NBC News)

Marine sentenced to community service, probation for Capitol riot: Dodge Hellonen was one of three active-duty Marines who stormed the Capitol on January 6. More than 600 people have been sentenced for Capitol riot-related crimes. Over 100 of them served in the military. (Michael Kunzelman, Military Times)

Russia-Ukraine War

In Ukraine, a U.S. arms dealer is making a fortune and testing limits: The Biden administration has sent Ukraine more than $40 billion in security aid, heavily relying on little-known arms dealers who operate in a shadowy arms trade made even more opaque as Ukraine rolled back years of anticorruption rules. (Justin Scheck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, New York Times)

Elizabeth Warren demands probes of Elon Musk, SpaceX after Ukraine revelations: “The Congress needs to investigate what’s happened here and whether we have adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire,” said Sen. Warren after Musk admitted that he had blocked Ukraine from using his company’s satellite network for an attack on Russia. (Steven T. Dennis, Bloomberg)


FDA greenlights updated mRNA COVID vaccines: A CDC advisory committee will meet today to discuss endorsing and deciding who should receive the updated shots. Makers of the shots said they’re prepared to deliver them in the coming weeks. (Katherine Ellen Foley, Politico)

Threads blocks searches related to COVID and vaccines as cases rise: Meta acknowledged that its social media platform Threads is intentionally blocking searches for “COVID,” “coronavirus,” “vaccines,” and “vaccination.” The company said it will allow searches for those terms “once we are confident in the quality of the results.” (Taylor Lorenz, Washington Post)

U.S.-funded hunt for rare viruses halted amid risk concerns: The Biden administration halted funding for DEEP VZN, a controversial virus-hunting program that opponents say raised the risk of an accidental outbreak. (Joby Warrick, Washington Post)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Pentagon misled Congress about U.S. bases in Africa: Observers say that Gen. Michael Langley, the chief of U.S. Africa Command, misled Congress about the size and scope of the U.S. footprint in Africa. (Nick Turse, The Intercept)

The Navy is drowning in data it doesn’t know what to do with: Chris Cleary, the Navy’s principal cyber advisor, said the Navy is struggling with making best use of the data it collects and transmitting it while at sea. (Lauren C. Williams, Government Executive)

Business and Finance

Regulators blast Union Pacific for running unsafe trains: Union Pacific, the nation’s largest freight railroad carrier, received a blistering letter from federal regulators who criticized the company for poorly maintaining its fleet, furloughing workers who perform train maintenance, and allowing managers to pressure inspectors to stop their efforts in order to keep freight moving. (Topher Sanders, ProPublica)

Financial fraud should be tracked in a national registry, regulator says: CFTC Commissioner Christy Goldsmith Romero didn’t suggest a home for the registry. The commissioner will solicit feedback on the idea on Capitol Hill, among federal agencies, and from outside groups. (Tory Newmyer, Washington Post)

PwC to limit consulting services it offers to U.S. audit clients: PricewaterhouseCoopers and the other Big Four accounting firms are facing increased regulatory scrutiny over their relationships with the businesses they audit and possible threats to their auditors’ objectivity. (Mark Maurer, Wall Street Journal)

Banks load up on $1.2 trillion risky “hot” deposits: Brokered deposits are a double-edged sword. They can be a quick and easy way for a bank to shore up its balance sheet, but they are also a type of “hot” money that is prone to disappear when banks hit a rough patch. (Gina Heeb, Wall Street Journal)


Communication breaks down as grid attacks surge: Attacks on the U.S. power grid are on the rise, but a lack of communication between law enforcement and officials charged with keeping the lights on has left state and federal regulators largely unaware of the full extent of the threat. (Arianna Skibell, Politico)

Electric cars have a road trip problem, even for the secretary of energy: The auto industry, under immense pressure to tackle its contribution to climate change, is undertaking a switch to electric vehicles — but it’s not necessarily going to be a smooth transition. (Camila Domonoske, NPR)

Health Care

“Life and death situations”: Lawmakers battle Wall Street over health care: A wall of debt is coming due for private equity-owned hospitals and nursing homes that threatens to undermine care for some of the most vulnerable Americans. (Sam Sutton, Politico)

Generic drugs should be cheap, but insurers are charging thousands of dollars for them: Once the patent on an expensive medicine runs out, lower-priced copies go on sale, promising significant savings. But certain generic drugs — for cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other complicated diseases — are still costing thousands of dollars monthly. (Joseph Walker, Wall Street Journal)

For “silver tsunami” with HIV new hope for healthy aging: Americans with HIV are achieving the once unthinkable: old age. But many older people living with the virus face a host of health problems, from heart disease and diabetes to social isolation and cognitive decline, and lack access to high-quality health care. (Benjamin Ryan, New York Times)

Kroger grocery chain to pay $1.2 billion to settle opioid lawsuits: The settlement adds to more than $50 billion in settlements obtained by state and local governments suing industry players alleged to have flooded the U.S. with addictive pills, despite red flags that they were being diverted to the black market. (David Ovalle, Washington Post)

Teen’s death after eating a single chip highlights risks of ultra-spicy foods: The death of Harris Wolobah spotlights a sparse but concerning crop of medical reports that suggest the pursuit of ever-spicier hot peppers is getting more dangerous, potentially nearing a lethal limit. (Beth Mole, Ars Technica)


Immigration and Border Security:

DHS has lost track of 177,000 migrants inside the U.S.

Pattern of impunity increases migrants’ risk of abuse by U.S. agents, report says

Other News:

Fraudulent sober homes exploited Native Americans, say authorities

Trump’s post-presidential office is hiding in plain sight

Prosecutors drop foreign-agent case against Trump transition adviser

Student loan forgiveness scams are surging

Red Cross declares blood shortage, blaming weather, busy travel season

U.S. sets record for billion-dollar weather disasters in 1 year

Upcoming Events

📌 Department of Veterans Affairs Implementation of the Electronic Health Record Modernization Initiative. House Committee on Appropriations; Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. Wednesday, September 13, 9:30 a.m., 2362A Rayburn House Office Building.

📌 Unsuitable Litigation: Oversight of Third-Party Litigation Funding. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. Wednesday, September 13, 10:00 a.m., 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

📌 Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Senate Judiciary Committee. Wednesday, September 13, 216 Hart Senate Office Building Room.

📌 The PGA Tour-LIV Deal: Examining the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund’s Investments in the United States. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Wednesday, September 13, 11:00 a.m., 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 DHS OIG: DHS Does Not Have Assurance That All Migrants Can be Located Once Released into the United States (REDACTED). OIG-23-47 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Security of Taxpayer Information: IRS Needs to Address Critical Safeguard Weaknesses. GAO-23-105395 (PDF)

🔥📃 Project On Government Oversight: Dollars and Demographics: How Census Data Shapes Federal Funding Distribution. September 11, 2023

Nominations & Appointments


  • Thomas G. Day - Commissioner, Postal Regulatory Commission
  • Basil Ivanhoe Gooden - Under Secretary of Rural Development, Department of Agriculture
  • Colleen Duffy Kiko - Member, Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Patrice J. Robinson - Member, Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors


  • Maura Healey - Council of Governors
  • Brad Little - Council of Governors
  • Henry McMaster - Council of Governors


  • Jeffrey Matthew Marootian - Assistant Secretary of Energy (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)