Category Archives: Federal

A Troubled Accreditor’s Long-Term Outlook

Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, April 13, 2018

A national accreditor at the center of the collapse of two for-profit college chains got another lease on life after a court ruling kicked back to the Department of Education a 2016 decision withdrawing federal recognition and, later, the Trump administration restored that recognition pending further review. Even with another shot at restoring federal recognition, though, the long-term outlook for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools remains murky. … But some higher education observers believe that even if the department ultimately restores the accreditor’s recognition, it won’t be around for the long haul. That skepticism is due to the number of colleges that have already made moves to depart ACICS and to the damage the accreditor’s brand has sustained as regulators have scrutinized its failures in oversight. …

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DeVos Restores Recognition of For-Profit Accreditor Terminated by Obama Administration
Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, April 4, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a signed order Tuesday that she was restoring the federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the for-profit accreditor that had waged a fight for reinstatement since the Obama administration withdrew its recognition in 2016. DeVos took the action in response to a federal district court judge’s ruling last month that former secretary John King failed to consider key evidence before terminating the recognition of ACICS. The ruling kicked back to the department final consideration of the accreditor’s fate. But it left unclear whether the department would review the original 2016 petition or the appeal filed by ACICS in 2017. That latter scenario would involve a more strenuous process for the accreditor as a body no longer recognized by the federal government. …

Court Win For Students Over Predatory For-Profit Colleges
Source: David Halperin, Huffington Post, February 21, 2017

Minutes ago, United States District Judge Reggie Walton denied a motion filed by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the U.S. Department of Education from proceeding with the de-recognition of the organization. ACICS needs Department recognition in order for the colleges it accredits to be eligible for federal student grants and loans. Judge Walton said in open court that ACICS had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits of the case, particularly because then-Secretary of Education John King determined in December that ACICS was in substantial noncompliance with the rules governing accreditor performance. … There were rumblings before the hearing that the new Trump-Betsy Devos Department of Education might back down and somehow try to reverse Secretary King’s decision, as lobbyists for predatory for-profit colleges have been openly and aggressively urging. It’s not at all clear how the Department could simply dump King’s decision; from the regulations it appears that ACICS would have to start all over again and re-apply. For today, at least, the Department of Justice, which represented the Secretary of Education in case, diligently and skillfully opposed ACICS’s motion. … ACICS has been the accreditor for some 240 institutions exclusively or primarily, and most of those are for-profit colleges. $4.76 billion in taxpayer dollars went from the Department of Education to ACICS schools in 2015.But ACICS has been the asleep-at-the-switch accreditor of some of the most notorious bad actors in the for-profit college sector, including Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech, Kaplan, EDMC (the Art Institutes), Career Education Corporation (Sanford-Brown), Alta Colleges (Westwood), Globe, FastTrain, and Daymar. …

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Labor Dept. to Relax Obama Pay Bias Policy, Hand Reins to Businesses

Source: Ben Penn and Porter Wells, Bloomberg Law, April 19, 2018
 
The Trump administration plans to ease the way it reviews federal contractors for pay discrimination by letting businesses help shape those investigations, two sources with knowledge of the plans told Bloomberg Law. The Labor Department will rescind an Obama-era policy as soon as tomorrow, instructing investigators to analyze pay rates among groups of workers at a particular business based on job categories set by the companies. The DOL currently audits federal contractors for salary bias by determining for itself whether certain workers should be considered to be doing the same job. The change could have significant consequences for companies—and their workers—that do business with the federal government. It would allow businesses to shape the random Labor Department audits by determining which workers investigators should be comparing for possible pay bias. …

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Federal Contractors Face Broader OFCCP Pay Probes
Source: Kevin McGowan, BNA, Daily Labor Report, 147 DLR C-2, July 31, 2015
(Subscription Required)

Federal contractors must prepare for Labor Department compliance reviews in which all forms of employee compensation, not just base pay, will be subject to federal agency audits seeking evidence of sex- and race-based disparities, management lawyer Mickey Silberman said July 30. Speaking at the National Industry Liaison Group’s annual conference in New York, Silberman said the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has four new tools at its disposal to pursue the administration’s objective of closing the gender pay gap by collecting more data and conducting more comprehensive reviews of federal contractors’ compensation practices. ….

Trump Moves to Gut the Post Office

Source: David Dayen, American Prospect, April 16, 2018
 
Some may be inclined to think that Donald Trump’s executive order Thursday night establishing a task force to recommend reforms for the U.S. Postal Service reflects another salvo in the president’s war against Amazon. Trump’s attack on Amazon, a clear byproduct of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s ownership of The Washington Post, included the suggestion that the online retailer was “ripping off the post office” by securing a special deal for the USPS to ship packages the last mile. By reviewing the finances of the post office, Trump’s task force could demand increases to that shipping contract, possibly costing Amazon billions of dollars. … But these issues have almost nothing to do with the Trump executive order. The Amazon spat is a cover for the formal unveiling of a long-wished right-wing project to destroy the post office and have private industry take over its infrastructure, which taxpayers funded long ago. All the executive order really does is create a report; it would take a willing Congress to deliver the final hammer blow. …

Inviting Private Sector to Build Roads Raises Wage Questions

Source: Chris Opfer and Jasmine Ye Han, Daily Labor Report, April 13, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
The Trump administration wants the private sector to take the wheel on many U.S. road and other upgrades, raising questions about whether construction workers will still get the compensation required under federal contracts. The Davis-Bacon Act obligates contractors to pay workers on federally funded construction projects a local prevailing wage and certain benefits set by the Labor Department. The law is meant to ensure that the government doesn’t shortchange workers. But some Republican lawmakers, businesses, and conservative advocacy groups say “prevailing wages” exceed market rates and bloat taxpayer-funded construction projects as a handout to labor unions. Although the law isn’t likely to be scrapped anytime soon, lobbyists have stayed busy pushing to get Davis-Bacon provisions explicitly included in new spending legislation. That activity ticked up following a post-recession infrastructure spending binge and kept the questions coming about which projects require prevailing wages. …

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Trump’s Davis-Bacon Quote Turns Construction Industry Heads
Source: Elliot T Dube, Bloomberg BNA, April 14, 2017
 
Construction industry stakeholders got a jolt when President Donald Trump recently approached what a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official called a “third rail issue” for building trades unions: changes to the Davis-Bacon Act. Trump said in a New York Times interview published April 5 that he was “going to make an announcement in two weeks” regarding Davis-Bacon. The law requires contractors on federally funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages for a given area. …

Trump’s promised announcement on labor law unnerves unions
Source: Lindsay Wise, McClatchy, April 10, 2017
 
President Donald Trump shocked organized labor by saying he would soon have an announcement to make about a law that guarantees wage levels for workers on most federally funded construction projects. And since then, the White House has declined to reveal his position publicly.  But behind closed doors, the Trump team appears to be scrambling in recent days to calm nerves among the very unions whose workers helped power the president’s Election Day victory. After a meeting with White House staff on Monday, Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, said he was confident the president was misquoted or misspoke when he told The New York Times he would make an announcement about the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act. … Signed by President Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression, the Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors hired by the federal government for public works and building projects to pay certain classes of laborers and mechanics at prevailing wage rates. The Department of Labor calculates the rates by county, based on data it collects on similar projects in the area. Conservatives in Trump’s own Republican Party would be delighted if the president announced plans to repeal or replace the law. They say it artificially drives up costs for taxpayers and gives a competitive advantage to unions. Unions are anxious to protect Davis-Bacon, and ensure its wage protections are enshrined in Trump’s promised trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Any move by the president that threatens the law could jeopardize their support for a Trump infrastructure bill, and thwart its prospects for winning votes from congressional Democrats, the unions’ traditional allies. …

Trump Says He May Use His $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan as a Political Incentive
Source: Reuters, April 5, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was considering packaging a $1 trillion infrastructure plan with either health care or tax reform legislation as an incentive to get support from lawmakers, especially Democrats. Trump also said in an interview with the New York Times he may move up the unveiling of a plan to rebuild the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges and tunnels, which had been expected later this year. … Some of the infrastructure projects may be built through public-private partnerships, Trump said, declining to say how the total spending would split between public and private sources. But he also said that with interest rates low, the government may be better off financing the projects itself. … Trump said he would make an announcement in two weeks about whether he would seek changes to a wage law for federal projects blamed by conservative groups for inflating costs, though he declined to say what the announcement would be. Conservative groups have pressured the White House on the law, known as the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federal projects to pay local prevailing wages – a measure backed by labor unions and Democrats. …

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Escapes, Riots and Beatings. But States Can’t Seem to Ditch Private Prisons.

Source: Timothy Williams and Richard A. Oppel Jr, New York Times, April 10, 2018
 
In Arizona in 2015, a riot broke out in a private prison where previously three inmates had escaped and murdered a vacationing couple. After order was restored, the state revoked the contract of Management & Training Corporation and hired another private prison firm, the GEO Group. Three years earlier, the GEO Group had surrendered its contract to run a Mississippi prison after a federal judge ruled that the inmates had not been protected from gang violence. The replacement: Management & Training Corporation. The staying power of the two companies shows how private prisons maintain their hold on the nation’s criminal justice system despite large-scale failures. The field is dominated by a handful of companies who have swallowed the competition and entrenched their positions through aggressive lawyering, intricate financial arrangements and in some cases, according to lawsuits by the Mississippi attorney general, bribery and kickbacks. Though a federal review found private prisons are more dangerous than government-run prisons for both guards and inmates, the Trump administration indicated earlier this year that it will expand their use. …

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Private Prisons Boost Lobbying as Federal Detention Needs Grow
Source: Dean DeChlaro, Roll Call, October 25, 2017
 
One of the country’s largest private prison companies is spending record amounts on lobbying amid efforts by the Trump administration to detain more undocumented immigrants, federal records show.  The GEO Group, which has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Prisons and the Marshals Service, has spent nearly $1.3 million on lobbying from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, according to new lobbying records filed with Congress. That tops $1 million spent last year. The firm spent at least $400,000 on seven lobbying firms in the third quarter alone, the disclosures show.   GEO’s increased spending comes as ICE is seeking proposals for five new immigrant detention facilities and the Homeland Security Department is asking Congress to fund more than 51,000 beds, up from the current 34,000. ICE is the Florida-based prison company’s biggest customer, according to its 2016 annual report. …

Immigrants Are Dying in U.S. Detention Centers. And It Could Get Worse.
Source: Brendan O’Boyle, Americas Quarterly, July 17, 2017

… Trump’s policies are already increasing the number of people held in detention centers, further straining the system. … The administration has signaled its commitment to private prison companies, which also operate immigrant detention centers. This alarms detainee advocates, since five out of the seven detainees who died this year were being held by privately operated providers, and multiple investigations have found privately operated prisons to be more dangerous for inmates. … As it pushes for more detentions, the Trump administration also reportedly has plans to weaken protections for immigrant detainees. …

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Trump infrastructure policy adviser to leave White House

Source: Mallory Shelbourne, The Hill, April 3, 2018
 
DJ Gribbin, President Trump’s infrastructure policy adviser, is departing the White House as the administration’s rebuilding plan appears to have hit a wall in Congress. Gribbin, who led the Trump administration’s push for an infrastructure proposal that was released in February, is “moving on to new opportunities,” according to a White House official. …

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Trump embraces piecemeal approach on infrastructure plan to Ohio workers
Source: Alexander Mallin, ABC News, March 29, 2018
 
After five days with no public appearances on his schedule, President Donald Trump arrived in Richfield, Ohio, Thursday to speak with local workers and make a renewed public relations push for his administration’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. “We will transform our roads and bridges from a source of endless frustration into a source of absolutely incredible pride,” Trump said to members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18. “There is no better place to begin this campaign than right here in Ohio, at this state-of-the-art training site — they’ve done a fantastic job right in this building — where the awesome skills of the American worker are forged and refined.” Acknowledging the legislative reality that Congress may not have the appetite for a bulk overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure, President Trump told the crowd he would be open to a more piecemeal approach.

White House Tempers Hopes on Quick Infrastructure Action
Source: Ted Mann and Louise Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2018
 
As President Donald Trump prepares to pitch his plans for overhauling the country’s infrastructure in a Midwest swing this week, the president’s advisers are tempering hopes that they can pass a comprehensive legislative package before the midterm elections this fall. Mr. Trump will head to Richfield, Ohio, on Thursday to promote his administration’s plan, which would spend $200 billion over a decade, largely on incentives for states and cities to raise their own funds to construct and repair roads, bridges, dams and railroads. But the timeline on the president’s infrastructure push—once slated for delivery early in his first year in office—continues to slip. …

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Editorial: The Student Loan Industry Finds Friends in Washington

Source: Editorial Board, New York Times, March 18, 2018
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made clear even before taking office last year that she was more interested in protecting the companies that are paid by the government to collect federal student loan payments than in helping borrowers who have been driven into financial ruin by those same companies. Ms. DeVos’ eagerness to shill for those corporate interests is apparent in a craven new policy statement from the Education Department. The document claims that the federal government can pre-empt state laws that rein in student loan servicing companies if such a law “undermines uniform administration of’’ the student loan program. …

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Banks Look to Break Government’s Hold on Student-Loan Market
Source: Josh Mitchell and AnnaMaria Andriotis, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2018
 
Private lenders are pushing to break up the government’s near monopoly in the $100 billion-a-year student-loan market. The banking industry’s main lobbying group, the Consumer Bankers Association, is pressing for the government to instate caps on how much individual graduate students and parents of undergraduates can borrow from the government to cover tuition. That would force many families to turn to private lenders to cover portions of their bills. While that could mean lower interest rates for some, it could constrain funding to households with blemished credit histories. A group of investors also is lobbying for legislation to provide a clearer legal framework for “income-share agreements,” under which private investors provide money upfront to cover tuition in exchange for a portion of a student’s income after school. …

DeVos drops plan to overhaul student loan servicing
Source: Michael Stratford, Politico, August 1, 2017
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday abandoned her plan to overhaul how the federal government collects payments from the nation’s more than 42 million student loan borrowers after it faced growing resistance from congressional Republicans and Democrats.  The Trump administration announced that it was scrapping plans to award a massive contract to a single company to manage the monthly payments of all student loan borrowers, and said it would come up with a new proposal aimed at improving customer service for student loan payments. …

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FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

Source: Patricia Mazzei and Agustin Armendariz, New York Times, February 6, 2018
 
The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.  For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help. … By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.” …

Veterans Journal: VA revises regulations for vets’ emergency treatment reimbursement

Source: George W. Reilly, Providence Journal, January 21, 2018

… The nation’s largest federal union, the American Federation of Government Employees, sent a letter on Jan. 9 to the U.S. House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs leadership calling for an investigation into the two main contractors running the controversial Choice program that allegedly have defrauded taxpayers by nearly $90 million. The Veterans Choice Program allows eligible veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling over a distance to a VA facility. … In a September memo by the VA Office of Inspector General, titled “Accuracy and Timeliness of Payments Made Under the Choice Program Authorized by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act,” it was found that at least two third-party administrators of the VA Choice Program had led to $90 million in improper charges to the American taxpayer. … The revelations of overcharging by third-party administrators is just the latest controversy plaguing the Choice program, which allows veterans to obtain quicker, local medical appointments than at a VA facility. Last month, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted along party lines to pass H.R. 4242 — VA Care in the Community Act — which would continue to funnel funding away from veterans’ first and best choice for health care at VA facilities, and sticking them in the back of the line at unaccountable, private, for-profit providers. …

Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria Contract Spending Revisited

Source: Project on Government Oversight, January 8, 2018

Back in October, the Project On Government Oversight did a top-level analysis of federal government spending on Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria recovery contracts, as reported by the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). The FPDS spreadsheets contain a wealth of data that allow the public to track billions of dollars in federal contract expenditures in precise detail: the agency awarding the money, the amount, the purpose, and the recipient. At that time, the government had spent a total of $1.65 billion on contracts. However, FPDS imposes a 90-day delay on the release of Department of Defense (DoD) data, so we were missing a big piece of the spending puzzle. Now, DoD numbers are starting to trickle in and we are getting a more complete picture of federal contracting outlays for the recovery efforts in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The federal contract award total now stands at $3.3 billion: $1.2 billion for Harvey$726 million for Irma, and $1.4 billion for Maria. … Federal expenditures on Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria contracts have now surpassed the $3 billion spent for Hurricane Sandy and are steadily approaching the $20 billion total for Hurricane Katrina. As the total grows, so too will the misuse of those funds. To that end, POGO plans to release a database that will track all federal spending relating to Hurricane Harvey. …