The Paper Trail: September 22, 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 TODAY at 12 noon. This event is only open to staff in Congress, GAO, and CRS. Register HERE.

Top stories for September 22, 2023

The anti-vaccine movement is on the rise. The White House is at a loss over what to do about it: The Biden administration, which vowed to restore Americans’ faith in public health, has grown increasingly paralyzed over how to combat the resurgence in vaccine skepticism. (Adam Cancryn, Politico)

🔎 See Also: “I can’t believe we’re talking about polio in 2023” (Megan Messerly, Politico)

Their babies died when Camp Lejeune’s water was poisoned. But justice has been hard to find: Women at Camp Lejeune quietly suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects during the time when the base’s drinking water was contaminated, but many said their losses were often dismissed. Today, as they continue seeking justice under a new law, their cases have fallen under intense scrutiny and left them feeling as dismissed as they felt decades ago. (Anna Schecter, Cynthia McFadden, and Melissa Chan, NBC News)

Senate confirms Army and Marine chiefs, but Tuberville’s blockade drags on: The Senate confirmed Gen. Randy George of the Army and Gen. Eric Smith of the Marines as the chiefs of staff of their respective services and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Over 300 senior officer nominees are still in limbo. (Karoun Demirjian, New York Times)

Maine’s U.S. senators among stock-holding members of Congress, financial disclosures show: No allegations have been made of improper conduct by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, but government watchdogs, and even some lawmakers, consider Congress’ personal finance rules overly permissive and are pushing to ban members from owning stakes in individual companies. (Jacob Fischler, Source NM)

🔎 See Also: Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee shouldn’t buy stock in defense contractors (Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner)

White House directs agencies to account for climate change in budgets: The directive would, for the first time, have federal agencies consider the economic damage caused by climate change when deciding what kinds of vehicles, equipment, and goods to buy. But the directive doesn’t carry the force of law, and in some cases agencies could be prevented by existing laws from following it. (Coral Davenport, New York Times)

Supreme Court Ethics

Clarence Thomas secretly participated in Koch Network donor events: Thomas has attended at least two donor summits sponsored by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch, putting Thomas in close contact with a political network that has brought multiple cases before the Supreme Court. (Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski, ProPublica)

Russia-Ukraine War

Pentagon watchdog establishes new team in Ukraine to monitor U.S. aid: The Pentagon’s inspector general established a team in Ukraine to monitor ongoing U.S. security assistance, which has grown to over $43 billion since the start of the Biden administration. (Oren Liebermann, CNN)

🔎 See Also: Press Release: Selection of Robert Storch as the lead inspector general for Operation Atlantic Resolve (Department of Defense Office of Inspector General)

🔎 See Also: Biden announces $325 million in Ukraine aid during Zelensky visit (Megan Lebowitz et al., NBC News)


U.S. will resume offering free at-home COVID tests: Free at-home COVID tests have been harder to come by for many Americans now that private insurers are no longer required to cover up to eight tests per month. (Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times)

New COVID vaccine campaign off to a bumpy start: Concerns over supply and demand coincide with reports of insured Americans being stuck with a nearly $200 bill for shots. (Joseph Choi, The Hill)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Poor oversight leaves military barracks in dire condition, report says: The GAO found that haphazard planning and shoddy oversight has subjected thousands of service members to dirty and dangerous living conditions in military barracks. (Jaime Moore-Carrillo, Military Times)

Pentagon to review cases of LGBTQ+ veterans denied honorable discharges under “don’t ask, don’t tell”: Thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans who were kicked out of the military because of their sexuality could see their honor restored under a new initiative announced Wednesday. (Jessica Kegu, Jim Axelrod, and Sheena Samu, CBS News)

Anti-affirmative action group sues West Point over admissions policy: Military academies were exempted from the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down race-conscious admissions. The group that was the driving force behind that case is trying to expand that ruling. (Anemona Hartocollis, New York Times)

1 in 3 PACT Act claims have received a 0% disability rating, prompting a VA review: The VA has approved nearly 80% of the 570,000 claims filed under the PACT Act, distributing more than $2.2 billion in disability compensation to veterans or survivors. Over one-third of those claims received a 0% disability rating, meaning the recipient had at least one service-connected condition that is not disabling. (Patricia Kime,

“We’ve got to do better”: Senators plead for improved response to veterans suicides after report reveals hotline failure: Wait times to see mental health specialists are too long, and too few veterans at risk for suicide are actively in the VA's health care system, the senators said. (Corey Dickstein, Stars and Stripes)


Afghans who recently arrived in U.S. get temporary legal status from Biden administration: DHS is giving Temporary Protected Status to roughly 14,600 Afghans who arrived after March 15, 2022, and before September 20, 2023. (Rebecca Santana, Associated Press)

🔎 See Also: U.S. will allow nearly 500,000 Venezuelan migrants to work legally (Nicholas Fandos, New York Times)

Business and Finance

Justice Department probe scrutinizes Elon Musk perks at Tesla going back years: Federal prosecutors are scrutinizing personal benefits Tesla may have provided CEO Elon Musk since 2017 — longer than previously known. They are also probing transactions between Tesla and other entities connected to Musk. (Rebecca Elliott, Emily Glazer, and Kirsten Grind, Wall Street Journal)

Feds sue anesthesiology giant over alleged scheme to hike prices: The FTC sued U.S. Anesthesia Partners, the nation’s largest provider of anesthesiology services, alleging a decade-long scheme to drive up prices by buying up more than a dozen practices to monopolize the Texas market and setting prices with other firms. (Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post)


2 Black TikTok workers claim discrimination: Both were fired after complaining to HR: The lawsuit claims TikTok has a practice of downplaying complaints of racial discrimination and then retaliating against people who speak out. The tech sector has long had an issue with race discrimination. (Dara Kerr, NPR)

🔎 See Also: The billionaire keeping TikTok on phones in the U.S. (John D. McKinnon and Stu Woo, Wall Street Journal)

“Game of Thrones” creator and other authors sue ChatGPT-maker OpenAI for copyright infringement: John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, and George R.R. Martin are among the latest wave of writers suing OpenAI for using their copyrighted works without permission. (Hillel Italie, Associated Press)


Billions to connect everyone to high-speed internet could still fall short: The Biden administration promised to provide every American access to reliable high-speed internet by 2030. But state officials and industry analysts remain wary and have raised concerns about whether the funds will achieve all of the administration’s goals. (Madeleine Ngo, New York Times)

A saltwater wedge climbing the Mississippi River threatens drinking water: For the second year in a row, drought has severely weakened the flow of the Mississippi River, allowing a mass of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to force its way dozens of miles inland and threaten the area’s drinking water supplies and agriculture. (Brady Dennis, Washington Post)

Health Care

She has Medicare and Medicaid. So why should it take 18 months to get a wheelchair?: About 12 million Americans are known as “dual eligibles” because they qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, and they often face relentless red tape accessing health care. (Leslie Walker and Dan Gorenstein, NPR)

🔎 See Also: Nearly 500,000 in U.S. will regain health insurance after state errors (Noah Weiland, New York Times)

“Nobody really knows” where to find the right care after a sexual assault: Specially trained sexual assault nurses are scarce, and the federal government is ignoring a 2022 law requiring a national directory listing them. (Ileana Garnand, Center for Public Integrity)

FDA refuses to okay first nasal spray for allergic reactions, firm says: Critics say the FDA is holding the manufacturer to a higher standard than comparable products. The FDA cited uncertainty surrounding the product because of a lack of clinical data. (Laurie McGinley and Daniel Gilbert, Washington Post)


Immigration and Border Security:

Migrant crossings soar to near-record levels, testing Biden’s border strategy

U.S. wants to keep migrants away from the border by moving it south

ICE didn’t accurately report how it disrupted transnational criminals, OIG says

Bodies of 2 migrants, including 3-year-old boy, found in Rio Grande

What I saw at the Texas border shocked me

Inside the Manhattan hotel that is the new Ellis Island

Other News:

Witness testimony disputes IRS whistleblower allegations in Hunter Biden probe as Republicans begin impeachment inquiry

Former federal prosecutor who resigned from Trump-Russia probe says she left over concerns with Barr

Biden administration to ban medical debt from Americans’ credit scores

Is the census taking steps to count the millions of LGBTQ+ Americans overlooked?

Biden appoints disaster coordinator for recovery efforts in Ohio train derailment

In three southern states, a legal battle over political maps

Book bans are rising sharply in public libraries

Because It’s Friday

Pentagon’s budget is so bloated that it needs an AI program to navigate it: An artificial intelligence program codenamed “GAMECHANGER” helps the military make sense of its own byzantine and tedious bureaucracy. (Ken Klippenstein, The Intercept)

Senate Republicans urge Schumer to enforce more formal dress code: After joking the new dress code would allow for shorts and bikinis, Senate Republicans signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asking him to continue enforcing the Senate’s previous, more formal unwritten dress code. (Morgan Rimmer and Shania Shelton, CNN)

Upcoming Events

📌 Webinar: Dollars and Demographics - How Census Data Shapes Federal Funding Distribution. Project On Government Oversight / Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Tuesday, September 26, 2 p.m.

📌 Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission. House Committee on Financial Services. Wednesday, September 27, 10:00 a.m., 2128 Rayburn House Office Building.

📌Bankers & Bombs: How Venture Capital and Private Equity are Feeding the Military Industrial Complex. Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Wednesday, September 27, 11:00 a.m.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 DHS OIG: ICE Did Not Accurately Measure and Report Its Progress in Disrupting or Dismantling Transnational Criminal Organizations. OIG-23-52(PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - F-35 Aircraft: DOD and the Military Services Need to Reassess the Future Sustainment Strategy. GAO-23-105341(PDF)

🔥📃 VA OIG: Manufacturers Failed to Make Some Drugs Available to Government Agencies at a Discount as Required. 22-01624-143(PDF)