Category Archives: Federal

Shovels Down: White House Drives Dagger Into Infrastructure Bill

Source: John T. Bennett, Roll Call, May 25, 2018
 
The White House formally drove a dagger into the passage this year of the kind of massive infrastructure package called for by President Donald Trump. What is on the White House’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year includes another tax package, a farm bill, more federal judiciary nominations — and possibly immigration legislation. White House legislative affairs chief Marc Short told reporters Friday that infrastructure will slide into 2019. He blamed election-year politics, saying Democrats have signaled in recent conversations they are uninterested in handing Trump a victory ahead of the midterm elections. …

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Opinion: Rebuilding Schools, Bridges—and Lives
Source: Richard Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2018

As unions, businesses, engineers and policy makers celebrate Infrastructure Week from May 14-21, we’re reflecting on the investments that add value to America. For every dollar a country spends on public infrastructure, it gets back nearly $3, according to a 2014 study from the International Monetary Fund. Keep this in mind when you hear that the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, has called for $2 trillion to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems. On top of that, another $2 trillion could make America the global leader in the infrastructure technologies of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities. … When you see that the ASCE’s infrastructure report card gives the nation overall a D+, don’t hang your head. The U.S. can get that grade up. But it won’t happen with a plan like President Trump’s , which would cut Washington’s contribution to infrastructure projects from 80% to 20%, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states. The true way forward is to do the opposite: Put the federal government back in the business of building America’s future. …

States That Raise Tolls and Taxes Will Have an Edge in Getting DOT Funds 
Source: Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2018

States and cities that raise taxes and tolls will have a better chance at winning federal money for roads and bridges, part of a Trump administration strategy to have states carry a bigger portion of infrastructure spending. The move is a result of a Transportation Department overhaul to a popular infrastructure grant program, giving it a new name and tweaking the criteria that will determine which project applications will win federal funding. Under the overhaul, which was launched last week, applicants for grants this year will be judged in part on whether they can show that they have generated “new, non-Federal revenue” to help cover project costs, according to a DOT document. That will mean local agencies that raise taxes or tolls to pay for bridges, transit lines or road improvements will be more likely to win some of the $1.5 billion pool of funding authorized for the program this year. …

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These U.S. Workers Are Being Paid Like It’s the 1980s

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg, May 25, 2018
 
Thanks to a web of loopholes and limits, the federal government has been green-lighting hourly pay of just $7.25 for some construction workers laboring on taxpayer-funded projects, despite decades-old laws that promise them the “prevailing wage.” Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Labor has formally given approval for contractors to pay $7.25 for specific government-funded projects in six Texas counties, according to letters reviewed by Bloomberg. Those counties are among dozens around the nation where the government-calculated prevailing wage listed for certain work—such as by some carpenters in North Carolina, bulldozer operators in Kansas and cement masons in Nebraska—is just the minimum wage. …

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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. …

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. …

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Congress OKs Trump bid to widen private care at besieged VA

Source: Hope Yen, Associated Press, May 23, 2018
 
Congress delivered a victory to President Donald Trump by expanding private care for veterans as an alternative to the troubled Veterans Affairs health system. The Senate cleared the bill on a 92-5 vote Wednesday, also averting a disastrous shutdown of its Choice private-sector program. The program is slated to run out of money as early as next week, causing disruptions in care. The sweeping measure would allow veterans to see private doctors when they do not receive the treatment they expected, with the approval of a Department of Veterans Affairs health provider. Veterans could access private care when they have endured lengthy wait times or VA medical centers do not offer the services they need. …

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House Passes Sweeping Bill to Overhaul VA-Funded Private Care, Shutter Facilities
Source: Eric Katz, Government Executive, May 16, 2018
 
The House on Wednesday passed 347-70 a major overhaul to veterans health care, voting to expand their access to private sector care on the government’s dime and to bring the Veterans Affairs Department through a process that would close some of its federally run facilities. The Veterans Affairs Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act won widespread support in the lower chamber and will now head to the Senate, where it already has bipartisan backing.

Ronny Jackson Withdraws As VA Nominee
Source: Jessica Taylor, NPR 26, 2018

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, has withdrawn from consideration for the post amid allegations he had fostered a hostile work environment and behaved improperly while serving as the top doctor leading the White House medical unit. …

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Huge federal contractor ‘failed’ to pay workers $100 million in wages, union says

Source: Danielle Paquette, Washington Post, April 23, 2018
 
One of the country’s largest federal contractors has been accused of underpaying about 10,000 workers who run help hotlines for public health insurance programs, including the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, by up to $100 million over the past five years, according to four complaints filed Monday to the Labor Department.  The complaint brought by the Communications Workers of America alleges that General Dynamics Information Technology misclassified employees at call centers in Kentucky, Florida, Arizona and Texas to suppress their wages.  The union, which does not represent the workers, said the contractor hired or promoted workers into roles that require special training but paid them below government-set rates for the jobs they performed. The complaint covers the period since 2013, when GDIT started a $4 billion, 10-year contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. …

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Contractor that handles public’s Medicare queries will do same for Affordable Care Act
Source: Susan Jaffe, Washington Post, June 20, 2013

Within days, the company that handles a daily average of more than 60,000 calls about Medicare will be deluged by new inquiries about health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The six Medicare call centers run by Vangent, a company based in Arlington County, will answer questions about the health-care law from the 34 states that opted out of running their own online health insurance marketplaces or decided to operate them jointly with the federal government. ….. Running the 800-Medicare call centers may provide valuable experience, but Vangent’s track record reveals that it was slow to adapt when changes in the Medicare program caused dramatic spikes in demand. ….. Vangent, a subsidiary of General Dynamics Information Technology, will run both Medicare and the federal health exchange call centers under a contract worth $530 million in its first year.

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. …

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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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.” …