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Hi! Thanks for visiting the Watchdog Blog. We've started blogging more regularly at CitizenVox.org, so please check out the latest news over there. Thanks!

About the Battle Between Small Donors And Big Spenders

Great post on The Wonk Room from guest blogger Lisa Gilbert, a Democracy Advocate for U.S. PIRG, on the Supreme Court's overreach in the Citizens United case, which may roll back a century of limits on corporate campaing spending. Visit DontGetRolled.org to learn more and Pledge to Protest on September 9th!

Don't Get Rolled!

On September 9th, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could roll back a century of limits on corporate campaign spending. Visit DontGetRolled.org  to learn more and Pledge to Protest on September 9th!

Whistleblower Rights Advance

After many months of advocacy and negotiations, yesterday the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bipartisan bill that will dramatically strengthen and modernize protections for federal government whistleblowers.

Finally, this bill would allow many federal workers to bring their claims of retaliation for whistleblowing before a jury of their peers should the administrative agency fail to rule within a reasonable amount of time. Federal scientists and transportation security workers get much-needed specific protections. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009 (S. 372) also closes several loopholes in the current law, including what qualifies as a protected disclosure.

While there is room for improvement in the bill, it is far and away a stronger bill than was passed last year in the Senate, and much closer to the House version, H.R. 1507. Public Citizen would like to see full access to jury trials, without qualifiers or sunset provisions, as well as coverage for all federal contractors. Work also must be done to ensure that if there is a board reviewing claims by intelligence workers, that it is truly independent and functional. We are encouraged that there will be opportunities to address some of these key reforms which are still needed as the legislation continues to move through the House and Senate.

Members of the committee, their staff, and White House liaisons worked with us in the whistleblower and taxpayer rights community to forge a bill with strong bipartisan support. They are to be commended, as are the members of the committee for their votes today--but none more than the lead co-sponsors Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and their diligent staff for pursuing a bill that we expect will pass the Senate without objection soon.

The federal system for whistleblowing has been broken for a long time, causing countless workers to suffer in silence after witnessing waste, fraud or abuse in government. Today there is more hope than ever that the system soon will be fixed to truly protect whistleblowers and taxpayers.

To help us get it done, please visit here or www.WhistleblowerAction.org.

Live online town hall on Fair Elections

Tune in to watch a live online town hall with Representative John Larson today (Thursday, July 30) at 2:00 pm (EST). Congressman Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut, will answer questions about the Fair Elections Now Act, which he introduced to curb the influence of corporate and special-interest money in the legislative process. We've set up a page where you can find out where your Representative stands on this critical bill and take action to take big money out of politics.

Defensive Medicine: Rhetoric Meets Reality

by Kiren Gopal

In his July 24th piece in the Washington Post, columnist Charles Krauthammer rails against “jackpot justice” and defensive medicine, which he calls “the greatest waste” in our health care system.  He contends that “doctors order [tests] for no good reason other than to protect themselves from lawsuits.”  But his self-righteous claims are more than suspect, considering that overwhelming evidence shows that so-called “defensive medicine” is not a meaningful cause of rising health care costs.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which Krauthammer himself cites in his column to argue that not enough is being done to reduce Medicare spending, has concluded that the link between liability and defensive medicine is “weak or inconclusive” and “at best ambiguous.”  

A reader’s letter responding to Krauthammer’s exaggerated rhetoric presents an additional factor that contributes to health care costs, which he calls “offensive medicine.”  That is, doctors perform more tests and recommend more procedures, primarily because under the reigning fee-for-service model they benefit financially from each test and procedure ordered rather than on patient outcomes.  This and other incentives that the present system engenders have been estimated to cost $700 billion a year – a number that former CBO director Peter Orszag, has discussed often.   

Continue reading "Defensive Medicine: Rhetoric Meets Reality" »

More Money for Mine Safety

by Kiren Gopal

On Tuesday, Public Citizen sent letters to members of Congress and the President, urging more funding to address a startling backlog of cases at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.  The commission is an independent adjudicative agency that decides disputes involving the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), mine operators, and employees.  Since the 2006 mine tragedies in West Virginia and Kentucky, and Congress’ response in the form of the MINER Act, the mining industry has disputed safety violations and civil penalties at an unprecedented rate.  Most of the public’s focus on improving mine safety has remained on MSHA, the enforcement agency.  The commission has not received the requisite attention - and now is experiencing a build up of 13,000 cases, which is expected to balloon to nearly 20,000 by the end of 2010.  

The commission is in desperate need of more administrative law judges and staff, yet the current chairman, a former attorney for the National Mining Association, has failed to request the funding necessary to carry out the agency’s duties.  By way of comparison, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, which has a similar function, has $2.5 million more in current funding while the mine safety commission has 20 times the number of cases.  In the meantime, as thousands of these cases languish, mine operators are off the hook from paying their penalties for maybe years, until their cases are decided.  By contesting and thus avoiding penalties due to the unprecedented delays, mine operators have less of an incentive to take extra safety measures. 

The relatively small amount of money necessary to get the commission functioning properly would be money well spent.  Common sense regulations and fines keep the industry accountable and ensure the workplace safety of America’s miners.  Congress should increase funding for the commission and President Obama should appoint a new chairman to get the agency back on track.  

Enact the Consumer Financial Protection Agency

Our friends at Consumer Federation of America have put together a video to support the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Check it out below.

Amendment Goes Down the Hatch

by Kiren Gopal

In a resounding defeat of Senator Hatch’s medical liability amendment, the Senate H.E.L.P. Committee voted 13-10 yesterday against imposing an arbitrary cap on damages.  This is an important signal to the Finance Committee that restrictive limits on medical liability will not address our rising health care costs or incentivize a reduction in avoidable medical errors.  The amendment would have also imposed contingency fee limits, restrictive statutes of limitations, and raised the burden of proof.  Measures like these do nothing to combat the very real problem of medical malpractice.  “Between three and seven Americans die from medical errors for every one who receives a payment for any malpractice claim,” according to Public Citizen’s latest study.  Given these staggering statistics, limiting negligent provider accountability is not a sensible solution.   

Time to Put an End to the Paper Chase

Though presumably most senators (or their campaign staff) now use computers, they continue to file their campaign contribution forms on paper -- preventing us from learning quickly and easily how their campaign coffers are being filled and by whom.  The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 482) would require Senate candidates to submit their campaign finance forms electronically, as House candidates already do. 

The bill could finally be up for a vote this week or next.  But, in spite of strong public support for the measure, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has taken up the mantle from (recently embarrassed) Sen. Ensign (R-Nev.) to try and kill it by attaching an irrelevant and unconstitutional amendment.  Unbelievably, the Ensign/Roberts amendment would force nonprofit organizations to expose their donors when they file ethics complaints against senators.  We can't imagine which senators would vote for that one, but I suppose it could be interesting to find out. 

Please call your senators today and let them know the Roberts amendment is unconscionable and it's time to pass S. 482.  If you have another minute, you also may want to call Sen. Majority Leader Reid's office and ask that he bring this bill to the floor for a vote:  202-224-3542.

from Angela Canterbury and Glenn Simpson

Ignoring Patient Safety = $1 Trillion Waste

Former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill identified a simple but crucial element that should be front and center in the health care reform debate and legislation: improving patient safety, which would, in turn, reduce health care costs.

O’Neill rhetorically asked in this New York Times op-ed piece:

  • Which of the reform proposals will eliminate the millions of infections acquired at hospitals every year?
  • Which of the proposals will eliminate the annual toll of 300 million medication errors? 
  • Which of the proposals will eliminate pneumonia caused by ventilators?
  • Which of the proposals will eliminate falls that injure hospital patients?
  • Which of the proposals will capture even a fraction of the roughly $1 trillion of annual “waste” that is associated with the kinds of process failures that these questions imply?

“So far,” O’Neill wrote, “The answer to each question is ‘none.’”

O’Neill calls it waste – that is, the unnecessary harms done to patients on a daily basis and, he estimates, a trillion dollars in annual costs to address those harms. He said that hospitals themselves can adopt simple processes, such as hand-washing and proper preparation of surgical sites, to cut down on costly injuries and deaths. He also suggested that members of Congress seek more information on the dire problem of hospital-acquired infections, provider errors and other similar “waste indictors.”  To sum up, he said: “(A)ny health care reform that does not address the pervasive waste and the associated burden of needless suffering for patients and staff alike will give us little to celebrate.”

Congress should heed O’Neill’s call. 

Misplaced Malpractice Reform

by Kiren Gopal

According to President Obama, health care reform should control costs, expand coverage, improve care, and guarantee choice.  As Congress works to find politically palatable solutions to achieve those goals and health care interests continue to lobby – to the tune of $1.4 million daily – some legislators instead choose to offer proposals to limit medical liability.

These proposals are based in part on the theory that frivolous malpractice claims are epidemic and represent a significant component of health care costs.  But according to the latest Public Citizen study of the National Practitioner Data Bank, nearly two-thirds of the individuals who were compensated in 2008 suffered an injury that resulted in “significant permanent injury, major permanent injury, quadriplegia, brain damage or the need for lifelong care, or death.” These claims can hardly be described as frivolous. Perhaps the most telling point from the NPDB study is that the medical malpractice liability system accounts for just 0.6 percent of national health care costs. Reducing accountability for medical malpractice is clearly an unsuitable focal point for reducing unnecessary costs. 

Continue reading "Misplaced Malpractice Reform" »

Sorry Works: Change We Can Believe In?

by Kiren Gopal

At a recent speech before the American Medical Association, President Obama expressed a concern for medical malpractice lawsuits and said that “we need to explore a range of ideas” to tackle the issue. However, the president hasn’t offered much in the way of clarification of his position on medical liability reform.  The only indication was a reported comment of a White House spokeswoman who “pointed to his support as a senator for a mediation program known as ‘Sorry Works.’”

In 2006, then-Senators Obama and Clinton introduced MEDiC (National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation).  They wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that the program would provide grant money to health care providers to “implement programs for disclosure and compensation.”  In practice, this means that health care providers would disclose medical errors to the patient, offer an apology, and then try to negotiate compensation.  Additionally, the data yielded from the program would be analyzed to determine best practices.  The potential benefits of such a program are manifold: improved quality of care, more effective doctor-patient communication, and lower administrative and legal costs.

Continue reading "Sorry Works: Change We Can Believe In?" »

Testifying on Behalf of More Accountability and Transparency

On May 14 at 10:00 AM, Congress Watch Advocacy Director Angela Canterbury testifies in support of the the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009 before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. We believe that as our country faces challenges of historic proportions, one reform can save billions of taxpayer dollars and help fulfill the imperative for more transparency and accountability:  authentic whistleblower protections for all federal employees. Learn more about whistleblower protections, watch her testify live online and read her written testimony, then take action.

Poll: Americans Oppose Forced Arbitration, Demand Corporations Be Held Accountable

Wide support exists across party lines for Arbitration Fairness Act; consumers, employees from around U.S. lobby lawmakers today

Washington, DC – Americans widely oppose corporations using mandatory binding arbitration clauses in the fine print of consumer and employment contracts, according to national polling of likely voters conducted by Lake Research Partners.

Forced arbitration clauses are hidden in the fine print of everything from cell phone, home, credit card and retirement account terms of agreement to employment and nursing home contracts. Just by taking a job or buying a product or service, consumers and employees are forced to give up their right to take their case to court if they are harmed by a corporation.

Continue reading "Poll: Americans Oppose Forced Arbitration, Demand Corporations Be Held Accountable" »

The President Indicates Support for Whistleblowers

At the beginning of April, we asked President Obama clarify his position on government employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse.  We were confused because Obama the candidate, as well as Obama the senator and Obama the young attorney, strongly supported whistleblower protections.  And yet, his first official statement as president regarding whistleblowers sent a mixed signal. 

Congress passed, as part of an omnibus appropriations bill, a whistleblower and accountability-friendly provision to deny pay to any federal officer or employee who interferes with or prohibits certain communications from federal employees to members of Congress.  The president unnecessarily qualified this provision in his signing statement, which could have a chilling effect on the expose of wrongdoing.

We found this puzzling and troubling.  But finally, the president has reaffirmed his support for strengthening whistleblower protections.   In his weekly radio address on April 18, President Obama had this to say about efforts to reform spending and government waste:

That starts with the painstaking work of examining every program, every entitlement, every dollar of government spending and asking ourselves: Is this program really essential?  Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth?  Can we accomplish our goals more efficiently or effectively some other way? 

It’s a process we have already begun, scouring our budget line by line for programs that don’t work so we can cut them to make room for ones that do.  That means ending tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas; stopping the fraud and abuse in our Medicare program; and reforming our health care system to cut costs for families and businesses.  It means strengthening whisteblower protections for government employees who step forward to report wasteful spending.

Yes.  It's time to ensure meaningful protections for the government workers who guard the public trust and money, including access to a jury trial, as President Obama has supported in past statementsLet's get it done soon  - and not waste another tax dollar - or put another career at risk.

Insider Trading: How Congress Can Make Big Bucks at Our Expense

It has been a difficult start for the financial services sector thus far in 2009 - yet it may be even more difficult to excuse the multitude of bad decisions made by Wall Street already (refusing to release information about bailout spending, Bank of America's $10 million super bowl ads, obscenely large bonuses for AIG executives...the list goes on).  Thankfully, it looks like Congress and the federal government are finally getting more serious about oversight of Wall Street and the financial sector.

Now also would be a good time to put an end to secret spending and insider trading immunity for government officials. 

A recent piece of legislation proposes to do just that.  Introduced by Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the “Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act” (H.R. 682) would ensure that those with access to privileged "non-public information" gathered through oversight proceedings would not be able to use that information for personal benefit in securities and commodities trading.

Specifically, H.R. 682 would negate a little-known loophole in the law which could allow members of Congress as well as executive staffers and government officials to practice insider trading in order to enrich themselves as well as their associates.  Of course,  this type of insider trading would be wholly illegal for citizens like you and me.

The act would also be effective in combating corrupt lobbying practices, since lobbyists and stock traders ("political intelligence consultants") who haunt the halls of Congress precisely in order to glean insider tips from staff would also be banned from insider trading.

The legislation would require members of Congress and their staff to disclose stock transactions of $1,000 or more within 90 days, and require “political intelligence consultants” to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and disclose their financial activities.

The time to pass this legislation is now, before our tax dollars pay for any more lucrative insider investments.

Posted by Craig Holman

Arb Study Points Out System's Lack of Checks and Balances

Opponents of the Arbitration Fairness Act strained to see a glass half full in a new study on consumer arbitrations administered by the American Arbitration Association, but they didn’t realize that the tonic contained a poison pill.

The study – released Wednesday by the Searle Center, a conservative Northwestern University think tank – found that consumers received an award in 53 percent of the cases they initiated and received about 52 percent of the amount they sought in those cases. Businesses received an award in 84 percent of cases they brought and won 93 percent of what they ask for in those cases. This means that businesses got roughly 78 percent of what they sought compared to 28 percent for consumers.

Continue reading "Arb Study Points Out System's Lack of Checks and Balances" »

Time to Blow the Whistle on Washington

Beginning on Sunday, an important assembly will convene to urge Congress to take the next step forward in strengthening accountability and transparency in government. The 2009 National Whistleblower Assembly is a gathering of whistleblowers and advocates organized by the Make It Safe Coalition. Over the course of four days, the assembly will lobby members of Congress, share stories, and educate the public. The event takes place in Washington D.C. from Sunday, March 8th - Wednesday, March 11th. 

As we've said over and over again, whistleblowers ensure real accountability, protect our tax dollars in the stimulus and other government spending, and are indispensable to a healthy, non-corrupt government. It's a disgrace that speaking out about government fraud, misconduct, waste and corruption is still such a risky endeavor, especially in these times, after countless studies have verified that whistleblowers are the most effective weapon against fraud.

If you can, please join us in D.C. and take a stand for government accountability and civil servant rights.  But if you can't make it to Washington, you can still help. You can join those making the rounds to members of Congress from home.

For more information about this event and whistleblower and taxpayer rights, visit us here.

Guns, Votes and DC

On last Thursday, the Senate finally approved at least one vote in Congress for the long-disenfranchised citizens of the nation's capital.  That was the hand that giveth . . .

The other hand promptly took away the common-sense gun control laws put into place by the locally-elected government of Washington, D.C.

Senator John Ensign (R-NV) offered an amendment to the D.C. House Voting Rights Act (61-37) that - if it should become law - could make D.C. one of the most free-wheeling-gun-toting places in the country.  It passed by 62-36.  That's right - more guns got one vote more than democracy.

First of all, what business does Congress have removing safeguards on selling and possessing firearms that meet the standards set by the highest court?  The D.C. City Council recently amended its local gun laws to comply with a Supreme Court ruling.  There is no sound reason for Congress to use extraordinary powers to preempt the democratic will of the people of D.C. - especially to make the city less safe. 

This gun measure is more than symbolism, or politics:  It's about public safety.  Specifically, the gun amendment would undermine federal anti-trafficking laws, repeal D.C.’s ban on military-style weapons, allow teenagers to possess semiautomatic assault rifles, and prohibit D.C. from passing laws that could “discourage” gun possession or use, by anyone - even children or felons.

And exactly what do gun laws have to do with the right to vote?  House leadership should not consider this or any other non-germane proposal with this civil and voting rights bill.  This is about righting a historic wrong and bringing more democracy to the so-called capital of the free world.  

It seems some in Congress think it is within their power to rule over the more than half a million people who live in the District of Columbia, even if those people have no democratic representation in Congress. This has got to change. It's time to tell members of the House that We the People are more powerful than the gun lobby who are pushing to have their interests imposed upon District residents. 

The House likely will vote on the bill on Wednesday, March 4.  Hopefully, they will walk our nation's democratic talk and do right by the people of D.C. by restoring their voting representation in the House AND rejecting any attempts to undermine their local democratic government.  If they succeed, members of the House will then need to negotiate with the Senate for the removal of the dangerous and unnecessary gun amendment.  President Obama should not have to consider whether to sign a divisive gun measure into law at the same time he acts to return voting rights to the citizens of the District.

If you live outside of Washington, D.C., please feel enfranchised to give your rep. a nudge to take a stand for more democracy now.  District residents can thank their non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, for tirelessly fighting for their rights.

Victory! Lobbyist No Longer Up for DOJ Nod

The news is in:  Mark Gitenstein is no longer being considered as a candidate to head the DOJ's Office of Legal Policy, according to the Huffington Post, Roll Call, and several other sources.  The concerns about this longtime corporate lobbyist that we first raised on February 2 and reported in yesterday's post apparently have been heeded. 

According to Roll Call, this decision has been confirmed by an administration official.

It's encouraging to see the Obama Administration standing by its ethics policy.

Ian Millhiser deftly captured the significance of this decision in his Huffington Post article:

Hopefully, this decision will serve as a cautionary tale to other ambitious and talented individuals who, despite a long career of progressive accomplishments, are tempted to work in support of practices as abusive as binding mandatory arbitration.

Our sentiments exactly.

Likely DOJ Nominee Has Long History of Lobbying Against Consumer Rights

We've been keeping a close watch over the Obama Administration's potential nominees to ensure that members of the new administration will be advocates for consumer and taxpayer rights.

We recently issued an investigative report on Mark Gitenstein, a longtime corporate lobbyist, who may get the nod to head the DOJ's Office of Legal Policy.

Gitenstein's long list of corporate lobbying activities appear to directly violate President Obama's ethics policy prohibiting executive branch employees from becoming appointed to "issue areas" in which they have acted as lobbyists within the last two years.  A closer look at Gitenstein's lobbying reveals that he has sought to weaken or eliminate vital consumer protections, including the False Claims Act, which has saved billions of taxpayer dollars, and access to court to hold corporations accountable for bad behavior.

Gitenstein's past actions seem to be in stark contradiction with Obama's executive order governing conflicts of interest, and clash with Obama's regular calls for more accountability for government and corporations alike.

Public Citizen sent a letter to Obama raising concerns about Gitenstein's long history of corporate lobbying activities, and suggesting that the possible nomination be reconsidered.  We also joined forces with the Project on Government Oversight, Government Accountability Project, and other noteworthy organizations to make the Senate Judiciary Committee aware that this potential candidate does not have our endorsement.

Deputy AG-Nominee is "a big believer in whistleblowers"

This just in from Steven Aftergood's "Secrey News" blog with the Federation of American Scientists:

David W. Ogden, who has been nominated to be the next Deputy Attorney General, last week expressed strong support for government whistleblowers who help to expose corruption or malfeasance.

“I am a big believer in whistleblowers,” he said at his February 5 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “and in the need to make sure that people feel comfortable coming forward to make complaints.”

“I think what we need is a process that encourages whistleblowing in this administration and any other administration going forward. The business of making sure that we’re doing the right thing is an ongoing business,” Mr. Ogden said in response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

He said he would work with the Attorney General “to fashion an appropriate process that encourages whistleblowers to raise issues that need to be addressed.”

Mr. Ogden also indicated a willingness to consider public disclosure of certain legal opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Sen. Ron Wyden noted that “there are a lot of important rulings that go to the meaning of surveillance law, and I think that a lot of those kinds of judgments really could be redacted and declassified so that the country could be brought in in a more informed, a more complete way to these national-security debates.”

“I absolutely will commit to take a fresh look at this issue if I’m confirmed,” Mr. Ogden said.

FIS Court opinions that interpret surveillance law were one of several categories of “secret law” that were identified (pdf) in an April 30, 2008 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject.

Original post available here.

A personal letter from Bunny Greenhouse

Bbunny_greenhouseelow is an important letter from Bunnatine Greenhouse who spoke up regarding the approval of a highly improper muti-billion dollar no bid contract to Halliburton for the reconstruction of Iraq. In retaliation for her courage she was removed from her position as the highest-ranking civilian contracting official at the Army Corps of Engineers.

My name is Bunny Greenhouse. I am the former Procurement Executive and highest-ranking Army Corps of Engineers civilian procurement official.

Today I am asking you to contact your Senators and Representatives to demand, in the strongest possible terms, that employees who disclose fraud in federal contracting are fully and properly protected in the 800 billion dollar stimulus package that Congress is currently debating. Here's why.

Shortly before the Iraq War commenced, I blew the whistle on improper contracting concerning the award of a multi-billion dollar no-bid, cost plus contract to Halliburton/KBR for the reconstruction of Iraq.

I was concerned that improper contracting activity would cost the taxpayers billions – and it did. The contract should not have been awarded. From my inside prospective, it was clear that the “fix was in” – the contract was going to be awarded to Halliburton no matter what I said or did.

Those who should have protested the contract remained silent. And their silence is not surprising because, as federal employees, we have no meaningful whistleblower protection! We can be fired for reporting fraud. We can lose our careers simply for doing our job and trying to protect the taxpayer.
I know this is true. It happened to me. The top brass demanded that I drop my protests. I refused. The top brass – many of whom had longstanding relations with government contractors – retaliated. They removed me from the Senior Executive Service and from anything having to do with contract oversight. When I went to federal court to demand protection the judge dismissed my case because as a federal employee I had no protection.

The bottom line is that without access to independent courts, real judges and juries, whistleblowers don’t stand a chance, and fairness and transparency will not see the light day.

Only Congress can fix this. The House of Representatives has already acted decisively by adding H.R. 985 to the stimulus bill, by a unanimous voice vote (now called H.R. 1, Section IV). President Obama's presidential campaign is on record as supporting the same whistleblower protections now found in House version of the stimulus bill.

So, the buck stops with the Senate. I urge you to contact your Senators and let them know that whistleblower protection is a critical part of the stimulus package for protection of the public trust. I urge you to contact your Representatives and tell them to hold strong -- and refuse to cut whistleblower protections from the bill. Federal employees, like me, who risk their careers to protect taxpayer money need to be protected.

Please act now! Pass this letter to your friends! Pass this letter to your co-workers! Pass this letter to your family! Send a letter to your Senator Now!

Billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake and it is up to the Senate to do the right thing.

Very truly yours,

Bunnatine H. Greenhouse
Former Procurement Executive
Army Corps of Engineers

Post Editorial Misses Mark on Whistleblowers: Protections in Stimulus Bill Help Workers Hold Government Accountable

Today our whistleblower coalition responded to the Washington Post's outrageous editorial from February 2, 2009.
A Joint Statement from a Coalition of Public Interest Groups

Monday’s Washington Post editorial, Wrong Way to Protect, did a disservice to its readers and the taxpayers when it opposed provisions in the economic stimulus bill that are designed to empower federal whistleblowers.

The editorial argues that the reform should be pursued through ordinary legislative channels rather than included in the stimulus, stating “This is not the way it’s supposed to work.”  This is exactly how it is supposed to work: Federal whistleblower protection legislation has had the benefit of hearings, and has been vetted in both chambers for several years.  This is not an extraneous measure, as the editorial suggests.  In both chambers, the original stimulus bills included whistleblower protections for state and local employees.  Members of the House had the good sense to recognize that the massive stimulus package creates an urgent need for federal employees, who are the taxpayers’ first line of defense against waste and fraud, to be given the same protections afforded state and local employees.  

Continue reading "Post Editorial Misses Mark on Whistleblowers: Protections in Stimulus Bill Help Workers Hold Government Accountable" »

Public Citizen Applauds House Vote to Encourage Federal Workers to Watchdog Spending of Taxpayer Dollars

We applaud the House of Representatives for answering the call on Wednesday for more meaningful transparency and accountability in the federal spending bill. House lawmakers passed a critical, bipartisan whistleblower protection amendment offered by Reps. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that will strengthen and expand protections for federal workers and contractors who report waste, fraud and abuse. We strongly urge the Senate to include the same commonsense whistleblower protections in its stimulus spending legislation.

This is a true victory for taxpayers who will be well-served if the final stimulus bill empowers hard-working federal employees and contractors who are uniquely positioned to observe and report if funds are mishandled. Workplace retaliation for reporting wrongdoing is real and ruthless. That’s why we have long fought for these critical protections. 

Continue reading "Public Citizen Applauds House Vote to Encourage Federal Workers to Watchdog Spending of Taxpayer Dollars" »

Deadline tonight: Tell your reps to vote for accountability in government

Seenoevil President Obama has asked Congress for a federal spending bill to get the economy moving again. Billions of tax dollars are already being spent in the bailout and billions more are needed to begin to dig us out of this financial crisis. But before we agree to this massive spending bill, we must know that someone will be watching the store. We must ensure that federal employees can blow the whistle waste, fraud or abuse - without fear of retaliation or reprisals!

We now have a chance to protect whistleblowers and make sure there is real accountability in the economic stimulus package! But we have to act quickly!

Two champions of accountability, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Todd Platts (R-PA), have offered an amendment to the stimulus bill that would restore and strengthen protections for federal workers who blow the whistle. This is the same bill that we have long supported and that passed the House with overwhelming support in 2007.

Congress is voting this evening on whether the economic stimulus should include protections for federal workers who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse.

We need you to call your representative now and ask for support for federal government employees! You can find your member of the House here, or simply call the Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121and ask for your representative.

Please tell your member of Congress to support federal employee whistleblower rights and vote yes on the Platts/Van Hollen Amendment today!

We’ve been fighting for these whistleblower protections for a long time. Passing the stimulus bill passes with these protections in place would be an outstanding victory for all of us who have fought for government accountability over the years. Please call your member of Congress today!

Let us know your thoughts on how your call went! Email us at [email protected].

Obama’s Swift Actions Will Hold Government Accountable

Today, Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook lauded President Obama for swift actions to hold the government accountable. The statement follows:

President Obama campaigned with the promise of change, a commitment to government openness and a pledge to uphold high ethical standards. On his first full day in office, the new president showed a willingness to turn rhetoric into action.

After eight years of government in the shadows and preferential treatment of corporate lobbyists under his predecessor, President Obama’s directives and executive orders on presidential records, the Freedom of Information Act, transparency and open government, and ethics are not only important in restoring public access to critical information and holding government accountable, but they serve to reaffirm the hope our nation has in his presidency. By issuing strict rules on the future lobbying activities of his administration, President Obama slowed the revolving door that has allowed so many high-ranking government officials to enrich themselves at the public’s expense. And by emphasizing the openness of government records, the orders help to ensure that abuses of power will not go unnoticed and uncorrected.

Continue reading "Obama’s Swift Actions Will Hold Government Accountable" »

Update on Consumer and Civil Justice News

Happy holidays. With so many people on hiatus from last week until January 5, we thought a brief recap of some recent consumer and civil justice news might be useful:

  • CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen responded to an absurd proposal from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to President-elect Obama: the way to get the country back on track economically is to exempt companies from legal liability. Cohen analogized this selfish and short-sighted appeal to "child who kills his parents and then begs for mercy because he is an orphan." I like to think of it as a drunk driver who gets pulled over and then suggests to the police that the best way to resolve the situation would be to give him his keys back and look the other way while he drives himself home. Cohen recognizes this shameless argument for what it is: nonsense.
  • Following the Fed 's recent enactment of new credit card rules, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called on lenders to comply with the reforms ASAP, rather than by the July 2010, date required by the rules. Other lawmakers have pledged to act quickly for more timely and comprehensive reforms. Last weekend, the New York Times editorialized that "promptly passing a credit card reform package" should be a priority for the next Congress.
  • Class action lawsuits have been useful to consumers challenging baseless early termination fees (ETFs) in cellular telephone contracts. A recent story in the Times reported on efforts by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) to investigate rate setting for cell phone text messaging plans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those rates appear to be as baseless as ETFs. In another similarity to ETFs, consumers have begun filing class actions over text messaging rates.
  • New America Foundation's blog has been following an old but infuriating story about a shady student lending practice in which lenders, like Ohio-based Key Bank, partner with unlicensed and unaccredited trade schools, disburse student loan money to the schools, and then refuse to discharge students of their debts when the schools go out of business. There is an FTC rule designed to protect students in these situations. One way that Key Bank has been evading the rule and other charges of unfairness over its practices is by including Binding Mandatory Arbitration clauses in the promissory notes. Key Bank insists that these are old cases, and it has ceased student loan operations (for the time being), but Key also received $2.5 billion from U.S. taxpayers (via the U.S. Treasury) as part of the bailout package.

Meanwhile, we must wait until after the New Year for word on a potential economic stimulus bill. Until this week, all signs seemed to indicate that authority for judges to modify mortgages would be included as part of the package. Now that congressional Republicans have indicated a willingness to drag their feet, the question appears to be not only whether the provision will be included in the stimulus, but also when the stimulus will be enacted.  Stay tuned.

Happy new year to all!