Category Archives: Federal

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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Unhealthy Skepticism

Source: Suzanne Gordon and Jasper Craven, Washington Monthly, July/August 2018

The Department of Veterans Affairs was back in the news this spring—and, as usual, the news wasn’t good. … But here’s a different story about the VA, from the exact same time period, that major media outlets didn’t bother to report: In March, researchers at the nonprofit research organization RAND published a study revealing the gross inadequacies of New York State’s health care system to effectively treat veteran patients. A month later, RAND found that the quality of VA care was generally better than private health care. These were just the latest of scores of studies that have come to the same conclusion for nearly two decades now. … As the U.S. continues to debate what to do about its unsustainable health care system—and as conservatives continue to push for “free market” solutions, including privatizing the VA itself—the fact that a government-owned and -operated system is outperforming the private sector should be a major story. If VA care is as good or better than the alternative, how would pushing vets into private-sector care make them better off? But that question rarely gets asked, because too many people are unaware that the premise guiding these policies—that the private sector inevitably outperforms government—is false.

… The point is not that the VA has no problems; it does. The point is that by failing to compare it to other health care systems, journalists can present a distorted impression that plays into ongoing efforts to privatize an agency that outperforms the rest of the U.S. health care system on most metrics. … Most recently, with bipartisan support, Congress passed the VA Mission Act, a “reform” package that could massively divert more veterans’ care from the VA to private-sector providers—which, in turn, would likely force the closing of many VA hospitals. Meanwhile, the Trump administration would clearly like nothing better than to be able to outsource lucrative contracts for VA care to its friends in the private sector. If the press doesn’t get this story right soon, America’s biggest and most successful example of government-provided health care will soon pass into history.

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For the first time, a senator is opposing the VA secretary nominee
Leo Shane III, Military Times, July 11, 2018

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee members on Tuesday voted to advance the nomination of Robert Wilkie to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs, but the move came with a symbolic and historic opposition vote against the move. The panel by voice vote sent Wilkie’s nomination to the Senate floor, but with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., opposing the move. … Sanders, the former chairman of the committee, said he also intends to vote against Wilkie when his nomination comes to the full Senate for a vote. … “This has less to do with Mr. Wilkie than President Trump,” Sanders said following the vote. “Trump has been very clear about his desire to move to the privatization of the VA, and I suspect any of his appointees will try and move the agency in that direction.”

VA nominee pledges to oppose privatization
Source: Nahaniel Weixel, The Hill, June 27, 2018

President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday said he doesn’t believe in privatizing the agency and pledged to oppose privatization efforts. “My commitment to you is I will oppose efforts to privatize,” even if it runs counter to the White House agenda, Robert Wilkie told a Senate panel. Under questioning from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Wilkie said he would keep the VA “central” to the care of veterans, but indicated there can be a balance. Democrats and some veterans service organizations believe the White House is being influenced by Charles and David Koch, conservative billionaires who back the group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), which is pushing to loosen current restrictions on veterans receiving private-sector care. …

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Trump Administration Backs Off Reshuffling of Student Debt Collection

Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, July 9, 2018

The Department of Education planned this month to begin reshaping the role of private debt collection firms in handling student loans by pulling defaulted borrower accounts from a handful of large private contractors. Lawmakers who control the department’s budget had other ideas. After a recent Senate spending package warned the department against dropping the debt collectors, the plan is on hold. And it’s not clear how those companies will figure into the Trump administration’s proposed overhaul of student loan servicing. Private loan servicers handle payments from borrowers on their student loans and provide information on payment plan options. … The tactics and performance of debt collectors have come under attack from Democrats and consumer advocates. And the Education Department has been involved in a years-long legal dispute over contract awards for the collectors. But the Trump administration, in a resolution of that legal fight, in May said it planned to cancel the entire debt collection solicitation. … Members of Congress, who have already expressed concerns about aspects of the department’s so-called NextGen loan servicing system, warned in separate appropriations bills against the move. … The week after Senate appropriators voted the bill out of committee, and just before it planned to start reassigning borrower accounts, the department notified collections firms it was postponing that step. …

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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. …

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. …

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State, federal lawsuits pin defective DC Metro concrete on contractor

Source: Kim Slowey, Construction Dive, July 13, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Commonwealth of Virginia have filed suit against Universal Concrete Products Corp., the manufacturer of concrete panels for the Washington, D.C., Metro’s $5.8 billion Silver Line project, alleging violations of the False Claims Act and Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, as well as unjust enrichment and payment by mistake, according to court documents. Universal was working on the project under a $6 million purchase order contract with design-builder Capital Rail Constructors (Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure South). In the July 9 action against Universal and co-defendants Donald Faust Jr., company president and co-owner, and Andrew Nolan, former quality control manager, the Justice Department and Virginia authorities claim that Universal knowingly provided panels that did not have the required air content for use on the Silver Line project and falsified documents so that it would appear the panels met the project specifications. …

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Contractor botches Silver Line concrete
Source: Associated Press, April 25, 2018

Concrete panels installed in the $2.6 billion project extending the D.C. region’s Metrorail Silver Line to Dulles International Airport are not as durable as they should be. Thousands of areas along the extension will need to be dealt with. And some of the concrete will need to be completely thrown out, despite being already installed. Charles Stark, director of the Silver Line project, said the concrete is supposed to last 100 years but was not mixed properly by a subcontractor. …