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The Paper Trail: September 29, 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.


Top stories for September 29, 2023

Menendez indictment looks like Egypt recruiting intelligence source, say former CIA officials: The indictment’s reference to Egyptian intelligence officials and Menendez’s disclosure of “highly sensitive” and “non-public” information to Egyptian officials suggest that, more than a garden-variety corruption case, there may be an intelligence element to the charges. (Ken Klippenstein and Daniel Boguslaw, The Intercept)

🔎 See Also: Menendez single-handedly blocked a bipartisan effort to strengthen the law regulating foreign influence in Washington (Ken Dilanian and Frank Thorp V, NBC News)

Privacy watchdog fractures over 702 opinion: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board urged Congress to impose significant new constraints on a controversial foreign surveillance program before it expires later this year. But it’s unlikely to settle an increasingly bitter debate between the White House and different factions on the Hill about how the law should be amended to protect Americans' privacy. (John Sakellariadis and Jordain Carney, Politico)

Chinese hackers stole 60,000 State Dept. emails in breach reported in July: Hackers who gained access to the Microsoft-based email accounts of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and other government officials this year stole 60,000 emails from the State Department alone, according to a briefing Senate staff members received on Wednesday. (Karoun Demirjian, New York Times)

OIG: Interior Department backdated discrimination determinations and applied incorrect standards: An IG review found that officials at Interior’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights backdated multiple discrimination decisions, potentially affecting the complainants’ right to appeal, and applied an incorrect legal interpretation when evaluating discrimination claims. (Carten Cordell, Government Executive)

New bill would beef up accessibility reporting requirements for agencies: The Justice Department found that 14% of agencies’ web pages aren’t accessible for people with disabilities. Inside the agencies, the conformance rate of intranet pages was an even more dismal 41%. (Natalie Alms, Government Executive)

New data on ultra-rich tax cheats: According to the IRS, nearly 1,000 tax filers who earn more than $1 million per year still haven’t filed federal tax returns for at least one year from 2017 to 2020, and the 2,000 people who represent the highest-income non-filers in one or more of those years owe a total of more than $900 million in federal taxes. (Greg Sargent, Washington Post)

Opinion: Sen. Rick Scott can protect Floridians — and their tax dollars — from fraud: The Justice Department’s $7.7 million settlement with Florida-based companies that defrauded the Small Business Administration illustrates the need for better protections for whistleblowers who work for U.S. government contractors. (Tom Devine and Joe Spielberger, Miami Herald)

Government Shutdown

FEMA delays $2.8 billion in disaster aid to keep from running out of money: With a government shutdown looming, the Biden administration started to ration federal disaster aid, delaying the delivery of about $2.8 billion in grants so the money is available in the event of a crisis. The last-minute move has disrupted longer-term recovery projects in Florida, Puerto Rico, and other communities hit by past calamities. (Tony Romm, Washington Post)

Education Department confirms student loans will restart even if government closes: Interest began accruing again on September 1, and about 28 million borrowers will be expected to make a payment in October. But the situation presents new challenges for the Education Department. (Michael Stratford, Politico)

How a government shutdown would affect Medicare, Medicaid benefits: CMS’s ability to provide oversight on many health benefit programs will be hampered. Administrative tasks, such as issuing replacement Medicare cards and benefit verification services, would be temporarily halted, and hospitals and medical providers might experience delays in receiving payment. (Sabrina Malhi, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Federal shutdown could disrupt patient care at safety-net clinics across U.S. (Sarah Boden, NPR)

Other Government Shutdown News:

A federal worker’s shutdown survival guide

What federal employees and contractors need to know about the shutdown

What happens to government devices during a shutdown?

National parks will close if government shuts down

How a government shutdown could affect your travel plans

Insurrection

5 things to know about the 14th Amendment effort to block Trump from the presidency: More about the little-known provision of the U.S. Constitution at the center of a growing debate about Donald Trump’s eligibility for the 2024 election: how it’s been used before, why it’s so divisive, and what might happen next. (Rachel Treisman, NPR)

Russia-Ukraine War

Analysis: How to make Russia pay to rebuild Ukraine: President Biden has the authority to compel the transfer of seized Russian property to Ukraine in times of international emergency. It’s the same legal authority President George H.W. Bush invoked to transfer Iraq’s frozen U.S. assets to victims of Iraqi aggression. (Laurence H. Tribe and Raymond P. Tolentino, Time)

Police Misconduct

Google user data has become a favorite police shortcut: Investigators increasingly use warrants to obtain location and search data from Google, even for nonviolent cases and for people who had nothing to do with the crime. (Julia Love and Davey Alba, Bloomberg)

U.S. Marshals settle decades-old claims of racism by hundreds of employees: The EEOC preliminarily approved a $15 million settlement that will include hundreds of current and former Black deputy marshals and detention enforcement officers, and thousands of Black job applicants. (María Luisa Paúl and Hannah Knowles, Washington Post)

COVID-19

As COVID infections rise, nursing homes are still waiting for vaccines: Many nursing homes will not begin inoculations until well into October or even November, though infections among this vulnerable population are rising. (Jordan Rau and Tony Leys, New York Times)

Access to new coronavirus vaccine frustrates providers, parents.: Pharmacies are canceling vaccination appointments, and pediatricians are feeling squeezed by demand from families and foot-dragging from insurance companies. (Jenna Portnoy, Washington Post)

Nearly 18M adults in U.S. have struggled with long COVID: According to a CDC survey, 6.9% of adults reported they had experienced long COVID, and about 3.4% reported they were currently suffering from it. Women were more likely than men to report currently having or ever having had long COVID, as were Hispanic adults and people between the ages of 35 and 49. (Sarah Fortinsky, The Hill)

A silver lining from the pandemic: A surge in start-ups: The pandemic hurt the U.S. economy in many ways, but it might have also broken the country out of a decades-long entrepreneurial slump. (Jim Tankersley, New York Times)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Pentagon says it will not restrict gun access to prevent suicide despite recommendations: The Pentagon won’t take any action to limit service members’ access to firearms as part of its suicide prevention efforts, despite an advisory panel’s recommendations. (Konstantin Toropin, Military.com)

Marine Corps leaders struggle with how to train female infantry officers amid worries about standards: The Corps is struggling with finding the right balance between ensuring equality and appropriate safety. (Shawn Snow, Military.com)

Navy issues written reprimands for fuel spill that sickened 6,000 people at Pearl Harbor base: The Navy reprimanded three now-retired rear admirals for their roles in the spill of jet fuel into Honolulu’s drinking water in 2021 but did not fire, suspend, dock the pay, or reduce the rank of anyone for the incident. (Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press)

Rogers calls for Pentagon IG probe of Space Command basing decision: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and other lawmakers claim the Biden administration’s decision to base U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs was influenced by politics and included “striking irregularities.” (Courtney Albon, Military Times)

Afghanistan

GOP senators rough up Pentagon nominee over Afghanistan evacuation: Republican senators on Thursday tore into Derek Chollet, President Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s policy chief, over the role he played in the Afghanistan evacuation when he was a State Department official. (Lara Seligman, Politico)

Business and Finance

Disaster recovery work can be toxic labor: A warming planet is creating a booming and loosely regulated disaster restoration industry in the U.S. fueled by immigrant workers, who are exposed to lethal toxins making them sick long after the cleanup. (Janelle Retka et al., Center for Public Integrity)

U.S., 17 states sue Amazon alleging monopolistic practices led to higher prices: The FTC and state attorneys general allege Amazon engages in illegal behavior in its online shopping marketplace and in the services it offers to third-party sellers, allowing it to extract “monopoly rents from everyone within its reach.” (Cat Zakrzewski and Will Oremus, Washington Post)

Target to close 9 stores, including 3 in the San Francisco Bay Area, citing safety concerns: While the closings account for just a fraction of Target’s U.S. stores, the move underscores the challenges retailers face in reducing theft and organized crime, protecting their workers and customers, and maintaining locations in areas with few shopping alternatives. (Anne D’Innocenzio, Associated Press)

JPMorgan agrees to $75M settlement in U.S. Virgin Islands Epstein case: The settlement, which didn’t include any admission of guilt or liability, includes $30 million to support charitable organizations in the U.S. Virgin Islands and $25 million to support efforts to combat human trafficking in the territory. The bank also settled claims against its former executive Jes Staley, who was accused of shielding Jeffrey Epstein from losing access to his accounts. (Sam Sutton, Politico)

Health Care

Disability groups win fight to be included in health equity research: The NIH’s designation of disabled people as a “health disparity population” will dramatically expand access to funding and resources for studying the health equity barriers disabled people face. (Amanda Morris, Washington Post)

New cars are supposed to be getting safer. So why are fatalities on the rise? Roadway deaths in the U.S. are mounting despite government test data showing vehicles have been getting safer. While the number of car-related fatalities has trended upward over the last decade, pedestrians and cyclists have seen the sharpest rise. (Travis Loller, Associated Press)

Medicaid rolls are being cut. Few are finding refuge in ACA plans: More than 2 million Americans have been dropped from Medicaid since the pandemic ended. Surprisingly few have turned to the ACA’s insurance marketplaces for low-cost private plans. (Amy Goldstein, Washington Post)

She received chemo in two states. Why did it cost so much more in Alaska?: In the U.S., the price for the same medical service can vary widely based on where it’s received. For those living in remote areas like Alaska, the price difference can put care further out of reach. (Arielle Zionts, NPR)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Biden officials kept immigration jails despite internal cost concerns

Turmoil over migrants at U.S.-Mexico border is straining trade flows

4 more charged in Texas human smuggling incident in which 53 migrants died

Other News:

Judge rules Trump committed fraud, stripping control of key properties

Supreme Court won’t let Alabama use disputed House map for 2024

Biden impeachment hearing gets off to sputtering start

FEMA is being sued for making flood insurance too expensive—and too cheap

Granholm’s EV trip draws House GOP investigation

Warming oceans are fueling destructive hurricanes earlier, study finds

Because It’s Friday

Commander Biden bites another Secret Service agent, the 11th known incident: The two-year-old German Shepherd’s additional training and leashing protocols don’t seem to be working. (Betsy Klein, CNN)

Upcoming Events

📌 VA Accountability and Transparency: A Cornerstone of Quality Care and Benefits for Veterans. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Wednesday, October 4, 3:00 p.m., 418 Russell Senate Office Building.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 DHS OIG: ICE Should Improve Controls Over Its Transportation Services Contracts. OIG-23-59(PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Military Housing: Strengthened Oversight Needed to Make and Sustain Improvements to Living Conditions. GAO-23-107038(PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Hanford Cleanup: Alternative Approaches Could Save Tens of Billions of Dollars. GAO-23-106880(PDF)

🔥📃 VA OIG: Oversight Could Be Strengthened for Non-VA Healthcare Providers Who Prescribe Opioids to Veterans. 22-00414-113(PDF)

🔥📃 VA OIG: VA Should Strengthen Enterprise Cloud Security and Privacy Controls. 22-03525-195(PDF)