Archives for February 2013

Morning News for Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From The Washington Times:

Four hundred U.S. Postal Service executives are heading to San Francisco next month for workshops, meetings — and a dance party. And a golf tournament. And a dinner event.

From the LA Times:

The Anaheim company behind the $110,000 Karma plug-in hybrid sports car has previously said it needs about $500 million to launch a second, less expensive model, which would be made at a factory in Wilmington, Del. Fisker ran into a cash crunch after the federal government froze a Department of Energy loan to the company and its battery maker went bankrupt.

SF Bay:

A last gasp effort in Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s epic legal battle to stay open will take place this Thursday, when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals takes up owner Kevin Lunny’s final appeal… However, oyster prices are already inching up, demand isn’t slowing down and there is already a shortage of oysters on the West Coast.

Morning News for Monday, February 18, 2013

Money left behind by passengers at airport checkpoints ends up being used by TSA. NBC News reports:

TSA makes “every effort to reunite passengers with items left at security checkpoints,” said agency spokesperson Nico Melendez. But all those nickels, dimes, quarters – and a smattering of poker chips and crumpled bills – usually end up getting counted, forwarded to the TSA financial office and then spent on general security operations. Congress approved that TSA expenditure in 2005, but some lawmakers and passengers rights groups are unhappy TSA gets to keep the change.

Foreign governments are paying for Congressional staffers to take lavish trips according to this story in The Washington Post:

More and more foreign governments are sponsoring such excursions for lawmakers and their staffs, though an overhaul of ethics rules adopted by Congress five years ago banned them from going on most other types of free trips. This overseas travel is often arranged by lobbyists for foreign governments, though lobbyists were barred from organizing other types of congressional trips out of concern that the trips could be used to buy favor.

As the fight for Drakes Bay Oyster Company continues, local businesses worry the price of oysters will significantly increase if the farm is forced to close. Read more from the Marin Independent Journal:

The Drakes Bay Oysters Co. is making its final legal bid to stay open and there is fear if it fails oyster prices will rise and the bivalve business in the region won’t be the same…If it does not grant the injunction, Drakes Bay will have to close operations by March 15, a move many believe will lead to higher oyster prices in the region.

Dan Epstein on Radio America

Check out this short clip from a Radio America interview with COA Executive Director Dan Epstein.

Innovative Investigations — How a Watchdog Group Uses the FOIA Process to Push the Limits of Transparency

NOTE: This post, written by our own Mary Beth Hutchins, was first published on Sunlight Foundation’s Blog. We look forward to working with them again.


The need for government transparency has never been greater than it is right now and at Cause of Action, we’re working to make sure it happens.

As a nonprofit government accountability organization, Cause of Action works to expose cronyism, waste, fraud and mismanagement in the federal government through a combination of investigations, education and litigation.

With our staff of investigators, lawyers and communications professionals committed to government transparency, Cause of Action frequently uses Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to shed light on otherwise opaque facets of the Federal Government.

By law, Americans have the right to access a broad array of information from the federal government through FOIA requests. However, roadblocks do arise when federal agencies put up obstacles and this is where Cause of Action’s combination of litigation with investigation can really sink teeth into the transparency debate.

One of our recent investigations took us through one such roadblock put up by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA is in possession of the documents that contributed to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s (FCIC) report on the 2008 financial crisis and therefore, we argue, is subject to FOIA. In October 2011, Cause of Action submitted a FOIA request to NARA for “all documents, including email communications, memoranda, draft reports and other relevant information and/or data contained in the records transfer of Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission documents stored at NARA.”

NARA denied our request one month later on the grounds that FCIC records are not “agency records.” Their claim is that since the FCIC was a commission created by Congress, FCIC records are congressional records, which are not subject to FOIA. However, Congress and the FCIC turned over these records to NARA and for Congress to access them, they themselves must consult NARA. It raises a question of control: Does NARA’s control of these documents subject them to FOIA? We believe it does and we believe the law will back us up. So, after our appeal was denied, Cause of Action made the decision to pursue legal action and subsequently filed a lawsuit against NARA for the release of FCIC documents. It is our firm belief that American taxpayers deserve to know what information contributed to the FCIC’s findings on the financial crisis.

While on the surface this lawsuit may look fairly simple (we want records and NARA is refusing to give them), if we dig a bit deeper into the issues at hand, the real implications are astounding. If NARA wins, an avenue for obfuscation and withholding of documents emerges. One needn’t look further than a 2009 memo from President Obama that states, “All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA and to usher in a new era of open Government,” to see guidance that is going ignored, in this case by NARA.

Though the NARA case highlights some of the opacity within the federal government, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Luckily, Cause of Action, just like the Sunlight Foundation, remains committed to bringing transparency and accountability to all aspects of the federal government.

To learn more about Cause of Action, visit us on the web at, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Morning News for Friday, February 15, 2013

The GAO released its biennial report of the agencies at the highest risk for waste, fraud and abuse. The Washington Guardian has the latest:

Congress’ main investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, has released its latest list of government programs at high-risk of waste, fraud and abuse, continuing a tradition of providing lawmakers with the report every two years at the start of a new Congress. And most on this year’s list are long-time, repeat offenders.

DOE Loan Recipient Tesla Motors attempts to defend its name after the NY Times piece doubted the car’s capabilities. Daily Caller has this coverage:

The New York Times is under attack from electronic-car maker Tesla, whose chairman and CEO on Wednesday posted a full-page, data-filled refutation of claims made by Times reporter John Broder that its Model S failed spectacularly during a test drive. The CEO, Elon Musk, flatly accuses the reporter of both lying in his story and repeatedly attempting to sabotage the car. “We assumed that the reporter would be fair and impartial, as has been our experience with The New York Times, an organization that prides itself on journalistic integrity,” wrote Musk, in a post on Tesla’s website called “A Most Peculiar Test Drive.”

President Obama continues to claim that his administration is leading the charge in terms of transparency despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The Washington Free Beacon has this story:

President Obama once again claimed his administration is the “most transparent in history” Thursday, despite lengthy record of failed reform and increased secrecy. Obama was answering questions during a Google hangout when a woman questioned him on his promises of greater government transparency, noting things “feels a lot less transparent.  “This is the most transparent administration in history,” Obama assured the woman. “I can document that this is the case.”

Morning News for Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Energy Dept. funded a battery company that has yet to begin production. The Washington Post reports:

The Energy Department gave $150 million in economic Recovery Act funds to a battery company, LG Chem Michigan, which has yet to manufacture cells used in any vehicles sold to the public and whose workers passed time watching movies, playing board, card and video games, or volunteering for animal shelters and community groups. Those are the conclusions of a report released Wednesday by Energy Department Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman, who said the grant to a subsidiary of South Korean giant LG “had not been managed effectively.”

Coverage of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company continues. Read more from Bay City News:

The owners of the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm announced last week they are appealing a ruling in which a federal trial judge declined to block the closure of the decades-old farm at Point Reyes National Seashore. In a statement released by his lawyers, co-owner Kevin Lunny said, “We continue to be grateful for the outpouring of support from our community. We have had time to weigh our options carefully, and have decided to appeal the judge’s decision.”

From The New York Times: President Obama resubmits appointees for the NLRB.

Despite opposition from nearly all Senate Republicans, President Obama asked the Senate on Wednesday to confirm two Democrats whose recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court last month. The two, Sharon Block, a former labor counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and Richard Griffin, former general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers, have been serving on the board since January 2012, appointed by the president during a Senate break after Republicans blocked their confirmations.

Morning News for Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The future of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be discussed in a press conference today. The Republican reports:

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., will join Democratic colleagues from the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday in a press conference discussing the future of an agency she holds close to her heart- the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren, who helped create the bureau and was passed over as its first chief due to staunch Republican opposition, will now get the chance to defend it in the Senate.

The Dept. of Energy reconsiders loan guarantee for a wind farm. Read more from The Boston Herald:

Cape Wind is back in line for a big loan from the Obama administration, over the objections of project opponents and Republican congressmen who are sounding the alarm about investing taxpayer cash in another potential Solyndra. The U.S. Department of Energy shelved the offshore wind developer’s request for $2 billion in federal aid in 2011 because of a lack of progress, but recently reconsidered the application — although reportedly for a smaller amount.

From The Washington Examiner: Dept. of Veterans Affairs accuracy in reports questioned.

Accuracy reports have been manipulated by the Department of Veterans Affairs to make it appear employees make fewer mistakes on claims for disability payments than they actually do, The Washington Examiner has found. Audits of individual case files by the agency’s inspector general consistently show error rates on disability claims much higher than those claimed in official reports.