Category Archives: Federal

POGO Identifies Defense Contractors Recently Sanctioned for Human Trafficking Abuses

Source: Neil Gordon, Project on Government Oversight, August 21, 2018

POGO has identified two companies that were recently sanctioned by the government for violating U.S. restrictions on human trafficking. An official in the Pentagon’s watchdog told POGO that Tamimi Global Company and Texas Gulf Global General Trading & Contracting Company were the two of the companies referred to, although not by name, in a recent State Department report. The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2018 released in June reported: [The Department of Justice] and other federal law enforcement agencies continued to investigate allegations of debt bondage and excessive recruitment fees required of third-country nationals working on certain U.S. government contracts abroad, but no federal criminal prosecutions of employers or labor contractors resulted from these investigations in FY 2017. [The Department of Defense] took action against noncompliant employers or labor contractors from U.S. programs resulting in 22 suspensions, six debarments, one job termination, and one compliance agreement. …

Children poisoned by lead on U.S. Army bases as hazards go ignored

Source: Reuters, August 16, 2018

Like most family housing on U.S. bases today, the home wasn’t owned and operated by the military. It was managed by Villages of Benning, a partnership between two private companies and the U.S. Army, whose website beckons families to “enjoy the luxuries of on-post living.” … The results: At least 113 spots in the home had lead paint, including several peeling or crumbling patches, requiring $26,150 in lead abatement. Villages of Benning moved the Browns into another old house next door. The heavy metal had stunted JC’s brain, medical records reviewed by Reuters show. At age two, he was diagnosed with a developmental disorder caused by lead. Now eight, JC has undergone years of costly therapy. … The Browns’ story and others, told publicly for the first time here, reveal a toxic scourge inside homes on military bases. Previously undisclosed military and state health records, and testing by Reuters for lead in soldiers’ homes, show problems at some of America’s largest military installations.

… Reuters tested five homes at Benning, using a methodology designed with a Columbia University geochemist. All five contained hazardous levels of deteriorating lead paint within reach of children, in one case exceeding the federal threshold by a factor of 58. Testing turned up problems elsewhere as well. At West Point, New York, home of the United States Military Academy, paint chips falling from a family’s front door contained lead at 19 times the federal threshold. At Kentucky’s Fort Knox, whose vaults hold much of America’s gold reserves, Reuters found paint peeling from a covered porch where small kids play. It contained 50 percent lead by weight, or 100 times the threshold. … These homes put military kids at risk. Reuters obtained medical data from the Army showing that at least 31 small children tested high for lead at a Fort Benning hospital over a recent six-year period. …

The $1.4 Billion Transit Fund the U.S. Government Won’t Release

Source: Laura Bliss, CityLab, August 15, 2018 

Like a nasty pothole, Trump’s unkept promises on road-and-rail dollars have given transportation fans a mild case of whiplash. But there may be worse harm in another infrastructure lapse on the part of this administration, this one more basic: $1.4 billion promised to transit projects across the U.S., still unallocated by the Federal Transit Administration for no clear reason. From New York to Los Angeles, El Paso to Minneapolis, 17 rail and rapid bus projects are awaiting grants promised by the federal appropriations bill signed into law by Trump in March 2018. But the funds have still not been delivered nearly five months later. Make that 144 days, 20 hours, and 15 minutes later, as of this writing, according to a splashy countdown clock built by Transportation For America, a progressive transportation policy organization. …

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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. …

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. …

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Labor Dept. Wants Religious Freedom Focus in Bias Probes

Source: Ben Penn, Bloomberg Law, August 10, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
The Trump administration is expanding the circumstances in which federal contractors can use religious beliefs as a defense against job discrimination charges, a move likely targeting the Obama Labor Department’s ban on bias against gay and transgender workers.  The DOL’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs issued a new enforcement directive Aug. 10 calling for investigators to factor in recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and White House executive orders that protect religious freedom. Lawmakers, administrative agencies, and courts have grappled with drawing a line between religious liberty and unlawful discrimination. …

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“We just get by check to check”: Workers cheated as federal contractors prosper
Source: Talia Buford and Maryam Jameel, Salon, April 6, 2017
 
… But each year, thousands of contractors enriched by tax dollars skirt federal labor laws and shortchange workers. In fact, U.S. Department of Labor data show that upwards of 70 percent of all cases lodged against federal contractors and investigated by the department since 2012 yielded substantive violations. … The Center for Public Integrity examined a subset of 1,154 egregious violators — those with the biggest fines, highest number of violations or most employees impacted — included in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division enforcement database and cross-referenced them with more than 300,000 contract records from the Treasury Department. The Center found that between January 2015 and July 2016:

  • Federal agencies modified or granted contracts worth a total of $18 billion to 68 contractors with proven wage violations. Among them: health-care provider Sterling Medical Associates, Cornell University and Corrections Corporation of America
  • Of all agencies, the U.S. Department of Defense employed the most wage violators – 49, which collectively owed $4.7 million in back pay to almost 6,200 workers. The department paid those 49 contractors a combined $15 billion
  • Violations by the 68 contractors affected some 11,000 workers around the country — about the same number of people who moved to D.C. in 2016.

…The Labor Department tried to address the problem in 2016 with a rule that would have required federal contractors to disclose wage and safety violations and come into compliance with the law if they wanted to keep doing business with the government. Invoking a statute rarely used prior to the Trump administration, however, Congress voted to undo the regulation — already on hold because of a legal challenge — and Trump sealed its fate with his signature. …

Trump’s Courageous, Valiant Decision to Gut Government Worker Safety
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 5, 2017
 
As he gets ready to put Americans to work on big-league federal projects, President Trump seeks to cut “burdensome red tape” for federal contractors. But that might mean cutting a few fingers and toes, too. That’s because Trump has repealed an Obama administration executive order ensuring fair pay and safety standards for workers contracted for government projects. So the workers Trump wants to supposedly rebuild bridges and highways will be working under a regulatory regime that’s now more likely to ease up on abusive employers in “public-private partnerships.” …

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How Trump Radicalized ICE

Source: Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, September 2018

… Since its official designation, in 2003, as a successor to INS, ice has grown at a remarkable clip for a peacetime bureaucracy. By the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term, immigration had become one of the highest priorities of federal law enforcement: Half of all federal prosecutions were for immigration-related crimes. … ICE quickly built a sprawling, logistically intricate infrastructure comprising detention facilities, an international-transit arm, and monitoring technology. This apparatus relies heavily on private contractors. Created at the height of the federal government’s outsourcing mania, DHS employs more outside contractors than actual federal employees. Last year, these companies—which include the Geo Group and CoreCivic—spent at least $3 million on lobbying and influence peddling. To take one small example: Owners of ICE’s private detention facilities were generous donors to Trump’s inauguration, contributing $500,000 for the occasion. … An organization devoted to enforcing immigration laws will always be reflexively and perhaps unfairly cast as a villain. … Still, ICE, as currently conceived, represents a profound deviation in the long history of American immigration. …

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For-profit prison company threatens anti-ICE group with lawsuit for telling world what they do
Source: Alan Pyke, ThinkProgress, August 6, 2018
 
A protest campaign targeting for-profit detention company GEO Group with numerous nationwide actions at facilities connected to President Donald Trump’s ramped-up deportations has been threatened with legal action by the company’s high-powered litigators. …

Why It’s Hard To Hold Contractors Accountable For The Suffering Of Immigrant Children
Source: Susan M. Sterett The Conversation, August 2, 2018
 
….Although federal detention is a government policy, the federal government does not directly run most of the facilities where families are detained or kids end up on their own. Instead, it hands nonprofit groups, for-profit businesses and local governments US$1 billion a year or more to house nearly 12,000 children. This money is dispensed through government contracts that do not always gain much public attention.  But now, amid protests and other forms of public pressure, some contractors are severing their ties to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. This is a new development as oversight by government officials and watchdog groups has historically centered largely on costs, fraud or whether contractors broke laws – not whether there was something inherently wrong with the contracts themselves.  Having studied the politics of accountability for many years, I would argue that the responsibility for these unpopular immigration policies largely lies with the federal government, not its contractors…..

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The State Lawsuit That Could Set a Precedent for Nationwide Student-Loan Refunds

Source: Natalia Abrams and Senya Merchant, The Nation, August 9, 2018
 
Lawsuits against one of the largest servicers of federal student loans, Navient, have garnered headlines in recent weeks. Following the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the company in 2017, four additional states have followed suit, including California, in an effort to enforce state consumer laws and protect student-loan borrowers from unscrupulous business practices. Navient, a publicly traded company hired by the Department of Education to service over $100 billion in federal student loans, is the most criticized company in consumer finance. Now, one of the most consumer-friendly states in America is taking the company to court. Should California Attorney General Xavier Becerra prove successful, attorneys general around the country willing to take a stand against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her efforts to decimate state-level student-loan protections would be able to use this as a model to check abusive student-loan companies. …

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Have a student loan? There are some lawsuits you need to watch
Source: Michelle Singletary, Winston Salem Journal, July 8, 2018

If you have a student loan, there are some lawsuits you need to watch. Navient, the country’s largest servicer of student loans, is facing several lawsuits by state attorneys general accusing the company of, among other things, steering borrowers to payment options that cost them more money. Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against Navient and two of its subsidiaries, Pioneer and General Revenue Corp., alleging misconduct that included misrepresenting the order in which the company would apply extra loan payments and failing to properly discharge federal student debt for borrowers with a total and permanent disability. …

Former Rep. Kline Continues Shilling for For-Profit Education
Source: David Halperin, Republic Report, June 20, 2018

Rep. John Kline (R-MN) defended and protected for-profit higher education businesses while chairing the House education committee, even after many companies in the industry were caught engaging in widespread predatory and deceptive practices. Now that he’s retired, Kline is cashing in, serving on the board of Education Corporation of America (ECA), which operates poorly-performing for-profit colleges, and, in a new op-ed in The Hill, arguing that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should drop a lawsuit charging giant student loan company Navient with deceiving and cheating borrowers across the country. …

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US government failing millions by paying below $15 an hour, study finds

Source: Mike Elk, The Guardian, August 10, 2018
 
The federal government employs more workers making less than $15 an hour than any other employer in the US, a new report has revealed.  The study, compiled by pro-union group Good Jobs Nation, analyzed federal data and showed that the government spends more than $1.6tn on federal contractors employing more than 12.5 million people with 4.5 million of those workers making below $15 an hour.  Many of these workers are employed by contractors as janitors, cafeteria workers, call center workers, administrative assistants and healthcare aides, and union campaigners say they are being kept on poverty wages. …

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Trump’s Postal Task Force Has Recommendations Ready for the President

Source: Eric Katz, Government Executive, August 8, 2018
 
A task force commissioned by President Trump to recommend steps to put the U.S. Postal Service on firmer financial footing has finished drafting a report, according to an administration official, and is preparing to brief the president on it when he returns to Washington, D.C.  The executive order that created the task force, which Trump signed in April, gave the group four months to deliver its recommendations. That deadline was set for Aug. 10. The task force plans to deliver the report to the White House this week, a Treasury Department spokesperson told Government Executive, and will provide the president with a briefing next week when he is expected to return from New Jersey. …

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Opinion: Trump’s Privatization Plan Would Destroy the Postal Service
Source: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post, August 7, 2018
 
This week, a task force created following an April executive order from Trump, is scheduled to deliver its recommendations for an overhaul of the Postal Service. Led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, the task force is expected to endorse the privatization proposal buried in the White House’s plan to reorganize the federal government — a radical assault on the administrative state. …

Trump’s Postal Privatization Plan Met With Bipartisan Rebuke in Congress
Source: Eric Katz, Government Executive, June 26, 2018
 
The White House’s proposal to privatize the U.S. Postal Service is unlikely to find much traction in Congress, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticizing the suggested fundamental overhaul of the mailing agency.  Lawmakers across the ideological spectrum who have expressed an interest in postal issues showed little interest in Trump’s transformation, defending the Postal Service as an essential government service. They pointed instead to reform proposals they have themselves put forward and refined after years of tense negotiations among an array of stakeholders. …

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Millions Flow to Pentagon’s Banned Contractors Via a Back Door

Source: Sam Skolnik, Bloomberg Government, August 6, 2018
 
Some of the world’s largest companies have benefited from a little-known law that lets the Defense Department override decisions barring contractors accused or convicted of bribery, fraud, theft, and other crimes from doing business with the government.  International Business Machines Corp., Boeing Co., BP Plc, and several other contractors have received special dispensation to fulfill multimillion-dollar government contracts through “compelling reason determinations.” That process allows the Defense Department in rare cases to determine that the need to fulfill certain contracts justifies doing business with companies that have been suspended from government work.  The 22 determinations were released by the General Services Administration at the request of Bloomberg Government, allowing for the first collective examination of the cases and the system that allowed them. …

… The determinations, also referred to as waivers or overrides, included contracts to provide food services for Defense Department personnel at an Army base in Afghanistan, “vital” web-hosting services for an agency that serves the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community, and aviation fuel sold to the Defense Logistics Agency. In some instances, contracting officials said the overrides were matters of life or death. Companies receiving waivers included some accused or convicted of major fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, ethical bidding violations, and in the case of fuel-seller BP, an overall “lack of business integrity.” In the most recent waiver case—issued just several weeks ago—an affiliate of one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates was suspended for allegedly bribing an Army contracting official and another man to deliver a $420 million contract involving expansion of a U.S. base south of Seoul. …

Insurers Fall Short In Catching And Reporting Medicaid Fraud, Inspectors Find

Source: Chad Terhune, Kaiser Health News, July 12, 2018

Despite receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer money, Medicaid insurers are lax in ferreting out fraud and neglect to tell states about unscrupulous medical providers, according to a federal report released Thursday. The U.S. Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office said a third of the health plans it examined had referred fewer than 10 cases each of suspected fraud or abuse to state Medicaid officials in 2015 for further investigation. Two insurers in the program, which serves low-income Americans, didn’t identify a single case all year, the report found. Some health plans terminated providers from their networks for fraud but didn’t inform the state. The inspectors said that could allow those doctors or providers to defraud other Medicaid insurers or other government programs in the same state. In addition, some insurance companies failed to recover millions of dollars in overpayments made to doctors, home health agencies or other providers. The inspector general said insurers stood to benefit financially from this because higher costs can justify increased Medicaid rates in the future. (The report didn’t name specific insurers or states.) …

…Health insurers serve about 55 million Medicaid patients across 38 states, and play an increasingly vital role in running the giant public insurance program. … One in 5 Americans is on Medicaid and enrollment is poised to rise even further as more states consider expansion under the Affordable Care Act. About 75 percent of Medicaid patients are part of a privatized system in which managed-care companies are paid fixed fees per patient to coordinate their care. Big, publicly traded companies such as UnitedHealth, Anthem and Centene dominate the business. In some states like California, evidence shows the funding often flows to the plans with little oversight, sometimes regardless of their performance. These companies tout their expertise at spotting suspicious billing patterns and chasing down criminals using sophisticated data mining, but the inspector general found that their fraud-fighting results don’t always match the rhetoric. …

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