Category Archives: Federal

The Oil and Gas Industry’s Latest Scheme Would All but Privatize Public Lands

Source: Jimmy Tobias, Pacific Standard, September 11, 2017

Having failed to turn over control of federal lands to state governments and private interests, anti-conservationists in Congress are at work on their next scheme: partially privatizing the public domain by allowing states to take charge of energy development on vast swaths of land owned by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This agenda was on full display at a Capitol Hill hearing last week when the House Natural Resources Committee convened a forum on the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2017, a bill that has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with avarice. The bill would allow industry-dominated state governments like Wyoming and Utah and Oklahoma to manage the leasing, permitting, and regulating of oil, gas, and other fossil fuel production on national lands. It would allow states to have near-total dominion over huge accumulations of federally owned mineral resources. And it would effectively exempt oil and gas drillers from the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws meant to protect public resources from pollution and destruction at the hands of commercial enterprise. For its right-wing proponents, the Federal Land Freedom Act is a solid step toward full disposal of some federal lands.

… According to the Wilderness Society, a land conservation non-profit, the Federal Land Freedom Act represents just “the latest push in a broader anti-public lands movement that has exploded into prominence in the last few years at the state, congressional, and administrative levels.” It is just the latest “land seizure” scheme, as the Center for Western Priorities calls it, to emerge from the muck of Washington, D.C. But what a shameless and telling scheme it is: An extremely powerful industry dominates state governments and hopes to dominate the federal government too. It essentially hires elected officials to do its bidding, and those officials deliver a proposed law that would allow said industry to have its way with millions of acres of land that rightfully belong to all Americans. They deliver a bill that would gut public interest laws and eliminate conservation protections in the name of corporate profits and private gain. …

ICE Wants to Destroy Its Records of In-Custody Deaths, Sexual Assault, and Other Detainee Files

Source: John Washington, The Nation, September 13, 2017

In July, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)—the agency charged with maintaining records produced by the federal government—published a request made by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to begin destroying detainee records, including those related to in-custody deaths, sexual assault, and the use of solitary confinement. The request has been preliminarily approved. … Immigration advocates worry that ICE’s request, made public at a time of expanding operations (the original request, which went through multiple revisions, was made in 2015), is a further turn towards obfuscation for the notoriously opaque agency. … Just since January, with ICE’s expanding charge, it has been accused of a host of ongoing and heightened abuses, including the stripping away of due process, contracting out detention services to increasingly deadly private companies, racially profiling as it collaborates with local police departments, targeting women suffering from domestic abuse, doctoring documents in order to arrest immigrants with protected status, and using children as bait to arrest immigrant parents. ..

Fleecing America’s builders

Source: Maryam Jameel, Center for Public Integrity, August 21, 2017

… The Wage and Hour Division must enforce at least 14 statutes across the nation’s 29 million businesses with a team of only 929 investigators as of the end of June. Federal agencies, which spent more than $470 billion on contracts during the 2016 fiscal year, are saddled with a flawed system to vet contractors and monitor their compliance with those laws. As a result, contractors’ violations rarely show up in government databases. Subcontractors, which often employ most of the workers on construction projects, get even less scrutiny.

Last year, the federal government spent more than $40 billion on contracts covered by Davis-Bacon. But a Center investigation found that about 70 percent of the businesses caught violating the law in 2016 don’t appear in federal databases designed to track companies’ contracting records. Weak oversight allows subcontractors in particular to shortchange workers on government projects with little fear of being caught or barred from future contracts. Meanwhile, their overseers often maintain clean labor records and continue to win government business. This fiscal year, federal agencies have spent more than $425 million on contractors found to have violated Davis-Bacon in 2016, according to U.S. Treasury and Labor Department records analyzed by the Center. The top spenders: The U.S. Department of Defense and the GSA. …

ICE transfers immigrants held in detention around the country to keep beds filled. Then it releases them, with no help getting home.

Source: Libby Rainey, Denver Post, September 17, 2017

… Cruz is one of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers who are picked up in one part of the country and transferred to other parts of the far-flung network of more than 200 detention centers every year. The transfers often result in people being released on the streets of unfamiliar communities far from family, support and legal representation. … Each month, ICE shuffles thousands of detainees throughout the web of privately contracted centers, county jails and other facilities to keep beds filled. ICE has no obligation to return detainees to the areas where they were picked up. These transfers prioritize finances over the well-being of people being moved, immigrants rights advocates say. … Transfers allow ICE to keep beds filled in detention centers around the country and consolidate detainees near immigration courts with faster dockets and transportation, he said. A congressional mandate requires ICE to maintain at least 34,000 detention beds a day. … Detainees are regularly released without much notice, advocates say. Detention facilities typically have phones that those inside can use, but once detainees are released, ICE doesn’t help them transition into the outside world. “There’s a lot of shuffling of people that takes place to fill beds,” said Megan Hope, a social worker with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. “It’s very burdensome for somebody to get out in a community they’re not from.” …

Labor Unions, Civil Rights, Progressive Groups Unite To Oppose ATC Privatization

Source: Aero News Network, September 13, 2017
 
The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), AFL-CIO, along with 36 other unions, civil rights groups and progressive associations representing thousands of employees across the country, united to send a strongly-worded letter to lawmakers on Capitol Hill late last week opposing any efforts to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system. In addition to PASS, the letter was signed by the NAACP, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Steelworkers (USW), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and many more. …

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Trump’s Dire Air-Traffic Claim Contradicted by Government Report
Source: Alan Levin, Bloomberg, September 7, 2017

Efforts to upgrade the U.S. air-traffic system are on budget and steadily improving flight efficiency, a government watchdog found, contradicting assertions by President Donald Trump and airline executives. Just as the House is set to debate a bill that would separate the air-traffic system from the Federal Aviation Administration, a Government Accountability Office report requested by lawmakers shows that the existing system is performing well, undercutting one of the chief arguments by proponents of the change. …

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Unions representing air traffic controllers, flight attendants support House bill to reauthorize FAA
Source: Kim Riley, Transportation Today, August 29, 2017
 
Two of Capitol Hill’s prominent aviation-related labor unions have found more than one thing to support in the House proposal that aims to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Specifically, one of the main thrusts of the 21st Century AIRR (Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization) Act, H.R. 2997, would be to transfer air traffic control (ATC) operations currently overseen by the FAA into a private, separate, not-for-profit corporation. The bill also would reauthorize FAA funding and other programs. …

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Proposed EEOC Merger Gets Another Nail in Coffin From Congress

Source: Jay-Anne B. Casuga and Tyrone Richardson, Daily Labor Report, September 13, 2017 (subscription required)
 
The House late Sept. 12 approved an amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to merge the EEOC and the Labor Department’s contractor compliance office. The amendment to spending legislation (H.R. 3358) that would fund the DOL and other government agencies, offered by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), was adopted by voice vote. The House is scheduled to vote on the “minibus” appropriations bill by the end of the week. The proposal to merge the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is “a total mess,” said Scott, the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. …

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Trump administration plans to minimize civil rights efforts in agencies
Source: Juliet Eilperin, Emma Brown, and Darryl Fears, Washington Post, May 29, 2017

The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights. As outlined in Labor’s fiscal 2018 plan, the move would fold the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, now home to 600 employees, into another government agency in the name of cost-cutting. The proposal to dismantle the compliance office comes at a time when the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices. …

Merger of EEOC, Contractor Watchdog ‘Under Consideration’
Source: Jay-Anne B. Casuga, BNA Bloomberg, May 11, 2017
 
A potential merger between the EEOC and a Labor Department subagency that enforces affirmative action and nondiscrimination requirements on government contractors is under “active consideration” by the Trump administration, according to practitioners. … The recommendation comes from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research think tank in Washington. The foundation previously called for the outright elimination of the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, arguing that the agency is “redundant” given the existence of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. … Merging the two enforcement agencies isn’t a popular idea among stakeholders, practitioners said. … A merger would also give the EEOC an “incredible amount of authority over contractors,” which might not necessarily be in the best interest of employers, David Cohen said, also an institute co-chair as well as president of DCI Consulting in Washington. Civil rights groups, such as the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity , have also opposed arguments that the OFCCP is redundant because of the EEOC. …

Opinion: Trump’s infrastructure order falls far short of his campaign promises

Source: David A. Super, The Hill, September 9, 2017

… With congressional Republicans allergic to finding new resources from anywhere except cutting programs for the poor and his own political influence flagging, the president has effectively abandoned his infrastructure plan without a fight. Indeed, his proposed budget would further starve already underfunded domestic programs — necessitating still more deferred maintenance — to fund a defense build-up and a ludicrously expensive border wall. Among the big losers would be wastewater treatment programs, the highway trust fund, and maintenance in our national parks.

Rather than press Congress for the infrastructure funding he has admitted we need, President Trump has shifted to blaming environmental regulations such as the Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard that limits building in areas likely to become flooded. Wildly exaggerating the role environmental reviews play in delaying critical infrastructure projects, his executive order would short-circuit environmental reviews of projects that could leave communities excessively vulnerable to natural disasters, destroy cherished recreational opportunities, or expose children in nearby communities to toxic chemicals. …

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Trump Wants States and Cities to Pay More for Infrastructure
Source: Daniel C. Vock, Governing, August 31, 2017

The White House envisions that a long-promised infrastructure package would streamline the federal approval process for major projects and also require states and localities to shoulder more of the financial burden for building them. It’s a shift in focus from the Obama administration, which had pledged to increase infrastructure funding but never came up with a long-term solution. … Mulvaney not only said they wanted to reduce Washington’s role in state and local projects but also offer new “incentives” to help them complete projects. “We’re trying to figure out how to use a little bit of [federal] money to generate a lot of money, to give state and locals the incentives to do stuff you might not otherwise do,” he said. …

Rebuilding Our Country Should Boost Good Jobs, Not Privatization Schemes
Source: Roxana Tynan, HuffPost, August 23, 2017
 
We’ve seen a decline in infrastructure spending the last several years, and The New York Times reports that “In 34 states, spending on government construction projects was lower last year than in 2007, adjusting for inflation. The trend has continued this year. Public construction spending in June was 9.5 percent lower than during the same month last year.”  As state budgets are cut, projects are halted. So where will this outpouring of money come from? Private investors will step in, with the promise of big tax incentives.  Companies will undoubtedly focus on projects that are the most profitable, keeping labor and supply costs down in the process, rather than on building the infrastructure that is most needed. …

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Trump and DeVos fuel a for-profit college comeback

Source: Michael Stratford, Politico, August 31, 2017
 
For-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.  More than seven months into the Trump administration, DeVos has: Moved to gut two major Obama-era regulations reviled by the industry that would have cut off funding to low-performing programs and made it easier for defrauded students to wipe out their loans; Appointed a former for-profit college official, Julian Schmoke Jr., to lead the team charged with policing fraud in higher education — one of a slew of industry insiders installed in key positions. …. Stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. The Education Department has a backlog of more than 65,000 applications from students seeking to have their loans forgiven on the grounds they were defrauded, some of which date to the previous administration. …

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Trump changes higher ed with rollback of Obama-era consumer protections
Source: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post, July 9, 2017
 
Step by step, the Trump administration is walking back policies and rules in higher education that its predecessor said were needed to protect students who rely on federal funding to pursue a degree. … Through the first half of the year, the department led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has withdrawn, delayed or announced plans to revamp more than a half dozen Obama-era measures involving federal student aid. …

Betsy DeVos delays 2 Obama-era rules designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges
Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, June 14, 2017
 
The Trump administration is suspending two key rules from the Obama administration that were intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges, saying it will soon start the process to write its own regulations.  The move made Wednesday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a victory for Republican lawmakers and for-profit colleges that had lobbied against the rules. Critics denounced it, accusing the administration of essentially selling out students to help for-profit colleges stay in business.

Trump’s Administration Is Making It Easier for For-Profit Colleges to Screw Over More Students
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, March 31, 2017
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s controversial pick for a special assistant—for-profit college corporate lawyer Robert Eitel, may be a portent. As counsel for Bridgepoint, the parent company of the now-tainted brands of Ashford University and University of the Rockies, was forced by the Obama administration last year to refund $24 million in tuition and debt costs to students, plus civil damages, after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that its heavy marketing scheme for its online programs, and “deceived its students into taking out loans that cost more than advertised.” …

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Why America’s biggest government contractors balked at criticizing Trump

Source: Aaron Gregg and Jena McGregor, Washington Post, August 17, 2017

The swift end of President Trump’s corporate advisory groups on Wednesday was remarkable for the way some executives publicly criticized the president.  But the four government contractors on the president’s advisory councils — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Harris Corp. and United Technologies — waited until after the councils had disbanded to publicly weigh in, if they did at all. Even then, several stopped short of singling out the president for blaming “both sides” for the violence at a white supremacist rally this past weekend in Charlottesville. … In many ways, contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin are more dependent on government decision-making than other companies that took part in the councils. Trump’s promises to boost defense spending and strip away regulations have helped make the companies some of the biggest beneficiaries of the stock market’s rally in the first eight months of his presidency. … But it has been a precarious relationship. …

Nuclear Negligence

Source: Center for Public Integrity, August 1, 2017

Nuclear Negligence examines safety weaknesses at U.S. nuclear weapon sites operated by corporate contractors. The Center’s probe, based on contractor and government reports and officials involved in bomb-related work, revealed unpublicized accidents at nuclear weapons facilities, including some that caused avoidable radiation exposures. It also discovered that the penalties imposed by the government for these errors were typically small, relative to the tens of millions of dollars the NNSA gives to each of the contractors annually in pure profit.

  1. A near-disaster at a federal nuclear weapons laboratory takes a hidden toll on America’s arsenal: Repeated safety lapses hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s work on the cores of U.S. nuclear warheads
  2. Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production: A facility that handles the cores of U.S. nuclear weapons has been mostly closed since 2013 over its inability to control worker safety risks
  3. Light penalties and lax oversight encourage weak safety culture at nuclear weapons labs: Explosions, fires, and radioactive exposures are among the workplace hazards that fail to make a serious dent in private contractor profits
  4. More than 30 nuclear experts inhale uranium after radiation alarms at a weapons site are switched off: Most were not told about it until months later, and other mishaps at the Nevada nuclear test site followed
  5. Repeated radiation warnings go unheeded at sensitive Idaho nuclear plant: The inhalation of plutonium by 16 workers is preceded and followed by other contamination incidents but the private contractor in charge suffers only a light penalty
  6. Nuclear weapons contractors repeatedly violate shipping rules for dangerous materials: Los Alamos laboratory’s recent mistakes in shipping plutonium were among dozens of incidents involving mislabeled or wrongly shipped materials associated with the nuclear weapons program