Archives for May 2012

U.S. News & World Report: Federal Budget Office Asks All Agencies to Cut Conference, Travel Costs

Federal Budget Office Asks All Agencies to Cut Conference, Travel Costs

May 14, 2012

Since news of the General Services Administration’s $820,000 party in Las Vegas broke, the White House announced its putting the kibosh on the good times that have previously rolled on the taxpayers’ dime.

“One of the Federal government’s most fundamental responsibilities is to serve as a careful steward of taxpayer dollars to make sure that every dollar is well spent and directed toward areas of high returns,” says a memo released by the Office of Management and Budget. [Washington Whispers: GSA Heads Slammed During Congressional Hearing]

The OMB is asking government agencies to cut travel expenses by 30 percent before 2013, part of the plan which it estimates will save the government $1.2 billion.

The new guidelines also outline additional safeguards to protect against wasteful spending. Within each agency, the deputy secretary is now required to scrutinize budgets for conferences in which an agency anticipates to spend more than $100,000.

“I think it is clear that this is a direct response to the GSA,” says Dan Epstein, the Executive Director of Cause of Action, a group committed to tracking government spending and abuses, “It outlines conferences and travel…It is rather telling.”

The OMB’s new restrictions also prohibit federal agencies from spending more than $500,000 on conferences unless the head of the agency approves it, a safeguard that may have prevented the GSA abuses.

During congressional oversight hearings on the GSA incident, former GSA Chief Martha Johnson, who resigned over the incident, says she wasn’t aware of the excessive spending underway until after the lavish gifts and dinners were already purchased.


Limited Government: The Fading American Norm

In an April 24, 2012 New York Times Magazine article entitled, “Earth to Ben Bernanke”  Paul Krugman writes, “Bernanke’s big retreat from F.D.R.-like resolve happened way back in 2003, less than a year after he arrived at the Fed. That month, a Fed staff report rejected many of the ideas Bernanke previously supported — and ever since, Bernanke has spoken only of limited responses to the problem of the zero lower bound.”  By “problem of the zero lower bound” Krugman means:

‘Right now, the Fed believes that it’s facing a weak economy and subdued inflation, a situation in which it would ordinarily cut interest rates. The problem is that rates can’t be cut further. When the recession began in 2007, the Fed started slashing short-term interest rates until November 2008, when they bottomed out near zero, where they remain to this day. And that was as far as the Fed could go, because (some narrow technical exceptions aside) interest rates can’t go lower. Investors won’t buy bonds if they can get a better return simply by putting a bunch of $100 bills in a safe. In other words, the Fed hit what’s known in economic jargon as the zero lower bound (or, alternatively, became stuck in a liquidity trap). The tool the Fed usually fights recessions with had reached the limits of its usefulness.’

Krugman’s solution, it appears, is to cut short-term interest rates and print money in the hope of stimulating private borrowing and spending.  And Krugman believes that such intervention requires F.D.R.-like resolve.  According to the Italian philosopher Georgio Agamben, writing on the concept of the state of exception, “from the constitutional standpoint, the New Deal was realized by delegating to the president (through a series of statutes culminating in the National Recovery Act of June 16, 1933) an unlimited power to regulate and control every aspect of the economic life of the country – a fact that is in perfect conformity with the already mentioned parallelism between military and economic emergencies that characterizes the politics of the twentieth century.”  In other words, from a philosophical standpoint, Krugman’s argument is one in which Bernanke should execute the same kind of authority in fixing the economy that a commander-in-chief would exercise in times of war.  Independent of whether Krugman’s solution is ideal from an economic standpoint, from a legal standpoint, Krugman’s rhetoric signals a mentality in which wide-scale economic regulation no longer becomes the kind of executive action taken in exceptional cases but instead the norm of economic policy.

But regulation does not occur in a vacuum;  implicit within, say, the Affordable Care Act is a concomitant institutional aggrandizement of the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Internal Revenue Service, both of which gain more authority in spending, rulemaking and enforcement.  Indeed the Dodd-Frank regulations entailed the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The Troubled Asset Relief Program entailed an Inspector General office and congressional appropriations that funded investigations (the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission) and, eventually, spending (the Stimulus plan).  Economic intervention through regulation no longer takes place at the margin, or in the exceptional case, but instead has become the norm – one synonymous with administrative aggrandizement and the expansion of executive power. This has enormous consequences for transparency and accountability of the Executive Branch as the bureaucrats of the Federal Reserve or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are unelected and any check on their spending comes after-the-fact, when policies and regulations have passed and any form of oversight will fail to retroactively remedy the damage regulatory regimes have done to job creation and capital formation in the market.  The American founders conceived of the normal state of American constitutionalism to be one of limited government.  Now this notion has become an exception relegated to the norm of administrative aggrandizement and, worse, overreach in the form of interventionist, enforcement-based (as opposed to cooperative) regulatory schemes and spending buttressed by an unchecked, unaccountable bureaucracy. Such executive power in the United States has been traditionally justified in times of war where martial law becomes a necessity for purposes both exceptional and expedient.  Constitutional rights to due process, habeas review, and the Third Amendment prohibition against the quartering of soldiers in “any house, without the consent of the owner” were seen as permanent limits against executive aggrandizement during times of war where national defense may need to subrogate other rights.  And yet now the bureaucrats and their regulations have become quartered within our savings and wealth.  And without our consent.


By Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action

Dan Epstein on Occupy’s Public Safety Threat Ignored by DOJ

Read the full story here. Breitbart

“On November 9, 2011, Cause of Action asked DOJ Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar to investigate the status of the DOJ’s response to the letter Rep. Jason Chaffetz had sent to Eric Holder in March of 2011. On December 28, 2011, the DOJ OIG declined our request, refusing to look into the request from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) to Attorney General Eric Holder to clear threats to the safety of Americans presented months earlier…”

FOIA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is in violation of the No FEAR Act of 2002

From MSPB Watch:

“Last week, fellow advocate site made a FOIA request to the Department of Health and Human Services and all of its operating divisions, seeking all No FEAR Act annual reports to Congress since the law’s passage in 2002, as required by section 203 of that law. Now, the following response came back from HHS’ Office of Inspector General, claiming that no such reports can be found:

HHS FOIA 12-0404

Which means that HHS is in violation of the No FEAR Act, and the public won’t get to know how much litigation damages and attorney fees HHS has spent reimbursing meritorious whistleblowers and victims of discrimination.”

Legislation Look: Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act Introduced in Senate

Currently being considered in the U.S. Senate is a piece of legislation called the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 which claims to:


“…strengthen the rights of and protections for federal whistleblowers so that they can more effectively help root out waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. Whistleblowers play a critical role in keeping our government honest and efficient. Moreover, in a post-9/11 world, we must do our utmost to ensure that those with knowledge of problems at our nation’s airports, borders, law enforcement agencies, and nuclear facilities are able to reveal those problems without fear of retaliation or harassment. Unfortunately, federal whistleblowers have seen their protections diminish in recent years, largely as a result of a series of decisions by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over many cases brought under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).”


Legislation related to promoting the exposure of waste, fraud, and abuse within the federal government began most prominently in 1978 with the Civil Service Reform Act.  This law created the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to help encourage disclosure of waste and fraud, as well as the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to handle causes related to prohibited personnel practices.  This legislation was deemed largely ineffective as individuals still feared retaliation for whistleblower behavior, so Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) in 1989, which prohibited reprisal against employees who reveal waste, fraud, mismanagement, etc.  The WPA was amended in 1994.


And now, 17 years later, Congress wants to amend it again.


The proposed Whistleblower Enhancement Protection Act, which would cost $24 million to implement over the next five years, was introduced to Congress on April 6, 2011 by 14 Senators: Akaka, Collins, Grassley, Lieberman, Levin, Carper, Leahy, Harkin, Pryor, Landrieu, McCaskill, Tester, Begich, and Cardin.


There are 20 principle amendments proposed in the new version of the Act aimed at bringing clarification and enhancement of protection and rights for whistleblowers.  Among these are revised penalties for retaliatory investigations, as well as a proposal for whistleblowers to have the right to a full hearing.  The legislation would also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and MSPB to annually report to Congress the number of whistleblower cases and the outcome of each.  The bill would close the potential loophole that previously designated certain entire agencies exempt from the WPA and would revise previous regulations about the exclusive subject matter of the Federal Circuit.  Additionally, there is a change to the current law which requires the existence of “irrefragable proof” to claim that a public official has violated a law; the new bill states that only “reasonable belief” is needed.  The bill also aims to implement education initiatives to teach employees about their rights against retaliation as well as establish an ombudsman in each OIG office to act as an intermediary between the agency and its employees.



The full text of the bill can be found here.