COA Internal Audit Finds No Wrongdoing

INTERNAL AUDIT FINDS NO WRONGDOING

Federal Agency Spending on Commemorative and Promotional Items Accurately Represented

WASHINGTON —Government accountability group, Cause of Action, released on Friday a report that outlines its own internal review following statements made by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General.

 Analysis of the internal review found that the original report, “Coin for Coins,” remained an accurate and true picture of federal spending on promotional and commemorative items at the nine federal agencies that are highlighted. This analysis was reached based on two findings:

  1. Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General did, indeed, spend money on promotional items during the fiscal years under review.
  2. That this information, including information about cash awards to employees, was reported to Cause of Action by the FOIA office at DHS OIG to Cause of Action, during an interim FOIA production.

 Despite attempts to the contrary, the fact remains that the DHS OIG did indeed purchase promotional and commemorative items during the time period in question.

 “The DHS OIG accused Cause of Action of misrepresentation, claimed our report was misleading and erroneous, and stated our reporting was shoddy – in addition to attacking the credibility of Fox News and Government Executive,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action.

“Not only has DHS OIG failed to show any factual inaccuracies in Cause of Action’s work product, DHS OIG has been deceptive in its statements – failing to publicly disclose that DHS OIG spent tax dollars on trinkets, including paperweights, plaques, shadow boxes, mugs, Nike crush ball sleeves, zippered leather portfolios, rollerball pens, curved tumblers, and clocks. Furthermore, our review revealed DHS OIG gave commemorative items given to U.S. Attorneys, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Department of Justice, federal special agents, the FBI, a staffer at the U.S. House of Representatives, and to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. One wonders why the IG is providing tokens to federal investigators when top officials within the inspector general’s headquarters have been placed on administrative leave or transferred outside the agency as a result of a grand jury probe. Among those on leave are the inspector general’s top criminal investigator, Thomas M. Frost and a deputy, John Ryan. Instead of investigating the processes and procedures of the OIG FOIA office or disclosing DHS OIG’s commemorative item spending – or actually fully producing the documents owed to Cause of Action under FOIA, the taxpayer-funded IG decided to spend his time going after a taxpayer watchdog group.”

Highlights of the 95-page report include:

  • Pages 13-23: CoA’s April 4, 2012 FOIA request to DHS OIG on promotional items
  • Pages 25-27: Letter from Katherine Gallo at DHS OIG producing only an “interim response” to CoA’s request “seeking records pertaining to commemorative items.”
  • Pages 41-42: E-mails between Nikki Gramian and CoA staff where Nikki Gramian suggests producing cash awards to CoA.
  • Pages 45-47 & 77-86: DOJ OIG Commemorative Item Award Spending from 2009-2012
  • Pages 91-95: E-mail communications between DHS OIG and Cause of Action concerning the report.

 As always, Cause of Action remains committed to informing the public on issues of government accountability and transparency, which is why CoA conducted a thorough internal audit to ensure that no wrong had been done by the organization or its staff.

 About Cause of Action:

Cause of Action is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that uses investigative, legal, and communications tools to educate the public on how government accountability and transparency protects taxpayer interests and economic opportunity. For more information, visit www.causeofaction.org.

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The report can be seen here.

Coin for Coins: Cause of Action Finds Federal Agencies in Violation of Executive Order on Spending

Coin for Coins: Cause of Action Finds Federal Agencies in Violation of Executive Order on Spending

Taxpayer Dollars Purchased iPods, Plaques, Yo-Yos and Coins 

WASHINGTON – Federal government accountability group Cause of Action (CoA) today released findings of direct violations of President Obama’s order for agencies to limit spending on promotional items. A six month investigation reveals a pattern of wasteful spending across nine specific federal agency offices that are catalogued in Coin for Coins: Federal Agency Spending on Promotional and Commemorative Items, a report released today.

In November 2011, President Obama advised federal agencies through the Executive Order on Promoting Efficient Spending (EO 13589) that “[a]gencies should limit the purchase of promotional items (e.g., plaques, clothing and commemorative items), in particular where they are not cost-effective.”

Some of the most egregious examples of spending include:

  • One United States Department of Agriculture office spent $38,870 on GPS systems, Nook 3G digital readers, Apple iPods, and Nikon Coolpix cameras for staff.
  • Department of Justice COPS spent over $12,000 on commemorative items for a single conference.
  • Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service spent over $86,000 on commemorative items between 2009 and 2012.

Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, highlights how this pattern of spending is a symptom of a larger problem in Washington:

Our investigation shows that a federal government culture of waste, fraud and mismanagement remains an unchecked liability throughout federal agencies. A cavalier attitude toward the efficient use of tax dollars permeates the executive branch. While some agencies track their spending, revealing patterns of waste, others don’t even bother to document it. The Department of Defense, with one of the largest budgets, informed Cause of Action that it has no means of tracking promotional spending, rendering accountability impossible. Just in the past year we’ve seen reports of the Government Services Administration and Veterans Affairs conference spending scandals, Secretary Sebelius’s Hatch Act violations, and conflict of interest violations by NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon.  It is clear that those in the current Administration with the responsibility to steward taxpayer dollars, the President included, are not taking their jobs, nor a commitment to ethics and transparency, seriously.

Following the April, 2012 GSA spending scandal report from the GSA Inspector General, CoA submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to 32 federal agency offices demanding production of information concerning commemorative awards that have been paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Coin for Coins: Federal Agency Spending on Promotional and Commemorative Items analyzes spending from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), OIG, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), United States Department of the Interior (DOI), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service (FS) Alaska Region, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service (FS) Southwestern Region, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Rural Development (RD), Department of Energy (DOE), OIG, and the United States Department of Defense.

About Cause of Action:

Cause of Action is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that uses investigative, legal, and communications tools to educate the public on how government accountability and transparency protects taxpayer interests and economic opportunity. For more information, visit www.causeofaction.org

This release was updated on October 11, 2012. The following sentences that appeared in the original release have been removed:

“CoA’s initial investigation into nine agency offices documents $1,123,118 spent on items such as yo-yos, water bottles, pens, trophies, and other awards.”

“Department of Homeland Security OIG offices spent nearly $700,000 on awards in fiscal year 2010.”

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Cause of Action Sues IRS for President Obama’s Tax Record Requests

CAUSE OF ACTION SUES IRS FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA’S TAX RECORD REQUESTS

Where’s the transparency? IRS refuses to reveal information on whose taxes the President has requested

 

WASHINGTON – Federal government accountability group Cause of Action (CoA) today filed a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for refusing to release documents that would identify the names of individuals and businesses of which President Obama has requested tax records.

 

“Hiding behind a claim of privacy that does not stand up when you consider the commitment to transparency made by this Administration, the IRS has no grounds for refusing our request,” stated Karen Groen, Chief Oversight Counsel at Cause of Action. “American taxpayers deserve to know if the President has requested to see their tax information. I’d like to know if he wanted to see my tax returns, wouldn’t you?”

 

CoA filed a FOIA request in April for communications between President Obama and the IRS requesting the tax returns of either individuals or businesses. The IRS denied CoA’s request for the names of those taxpayers, obstructing the path to transparency that will help taxpayers know what is happening in Washington. Today, CoA filed suit against the IRS demanding the production of this request.

 

The complaint filed today, along with our exhibits, can be found here.

 

 

CoA Memo on NLRB’s Lafe Solomon & Conflict of Interest Law

Following the NLRB Office of Inspector General’s report on General Counsel Lafe Solomon’s conflict of interest in a matter before the board, Cause of Action is providing the following legal analysis for public education.

Cause of Action Memo on NLRB OIG Report Re: Lafe Solomon Conflict of Interest

Cause of Action Memo on Sec. Sebelius’ Hatch Act Violations

120914 Cause of Action Memo on Sebelius Hatch Act Violations

CoA Calls On Pres. Obama to Fire HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius

The Office of Special Counsel reported findings today that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act in February when she called for re-electing President Obama during an official department appearance. Cause of Action is calling on President Obama to fire Kathleen Sebelius for this clear violation of federal law.

Statement from Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein:

“This is the most high profile example of a Hatch Act violation since the Act was passed in 1939.   Never before has a member of the President’s Cabinet been found to have committed a Hatch Act violation.  President Obama should immediately fire HHS Secretary Sebelius for her violation of federal law. Additionally, the Justice Department should begin an investigation into any potential election crimes the Secretary may have committed through her then-taxpayer funded comments on February 25, 2012. The American public deserves a President committed to the law and committed to a Cabinet that understands the difference between politics and public service.”

Cause of Action Demands Answers From NLRB On Ex Parte Communications

 

CAUSE OF ACTION DEMANDS ANSWERS FROM NLRB ON EX PARTE COMMUNICATIONS

Inspector General at NLRB May Have Ignored Evidence Against Lafe Solomon and Wilma Liebman

WASHINGTON – Cause of Action (CoA), a government accountability group, sent a letter on Monday to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Inspector General David Berry (IG Berry) requesting documents and communications about alleged ex parte communications by NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon and former NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman first revealed by CoA in November of 2011.

On November 22, 2011, CoA requested that IG Berry open an investigation to determine whether Wilma Liebman engaged in ex parte communications with Lafe Solomon. CoA submitted several emails evidencing communications between Solomon and Liebman concerning strategies surrounding the pending litigation by the NLRB against the Boeing company. Despite this evidence, deposition transcripts from March 15, 2012 related to the NLRB’s investigation into Terence Flynn reveal that IG Berry denied any other instances of ex parte communications, stating “If I have evidence other people are engaging in this type of conduct, we would look at other individuals.” While Inspector General Berry has not confirmed whether an investigation has begun, CoA is concerned that Berry may have delayed investigating CoA’s allegations until after the OIG’s two investigations into two Republicans at the NLRB: Board member Brian Hayes and then-Chief Counsel Terence Flynn.

CoA’s Executive Director, Dan Epstein, is concerned about IG Berry’s apparent failure to promptly investigate allegations of improper communications:

“In November 2011, Cause of Action provided IG Berry with internal NLRB emails evidencing potential ex parte communications between Lafe Solomon and Wilma Liebman during Lafe Solomon’s litigation against Boeing in 2011. These alleged ex parte communications were shown to have occurred even after Lafe Solomon filed the complaint against Boeing in April 20, 2011. The allegedly improper communications by Terence Flynn occurred starting in September 2011; the alleged improper communications from Member Hayes occurred between September and November 30, 2011. And yet investigations of Hayes and Flynn occurred even though the alleged improper activities by Wilma Liebman and Lafe Solomon occurred months before. As CoA states in its letter to IG Berry, ‘we are particularly troubled that a decision, if any, to investigate the allegations of ex parte communications by Wilma Liebman and Lafe Solomon after substantial delay may be arbitrary and capricious, if not politically charged.’ This is why we are requesting any documents from the NLRB that would verify that IG Berry is in fact investigating based upon the evidence Cause of Action submitted to him nearly 10 months ago.”

CoA’s letter, a Freedom of Information Act request, asks for the following:
1) All records, including e-mails, referring or relating to Cause of Action’s November 22, 2011 request for an NLRB OIG investigation.

2) All records referring to or related to Congressman Kline’s letter of April 13, 2012.

3) Any and all investigative reports or documents submitted to Congress regarding the substance of Chairman Kline’s April 13, 2012 letter.

4) All records referring to or related to allegations of ex parte communications from officials of the NLRB pertaining to the Boeing matter referenced above.

5) All records pertaining to concluded investigations or determinations made regarding Cause of Action’s November 22, 2011 request for investigation.

6) All records of any concluded investigations, both criminal and administrative, into NLRB ex parte communications regarding the Boeing matter referenced above.

7) All records referring or relating to why investigative reports such as Reports concerning OIG-I-467 and OIG-I-468 are not publicly posted by the NLRB OIG.

8) All documents referring or relating to the procedures used by the NLRB OIG to determine whether information or allegations are sufficiently “credible” to warrant the launching of an investigation.

9) Any and all records concerning referrals by the NLRB OIG to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The full letter can be found here.

Previous requests and findings by CoA concerning ex parte communications at the NLRB can be found here.

About Cause of Action:
Cause of Action is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that uses investigative, legal, and communications tools to educate the public on how government accountability and transparency protects taxpayer interests and economic opportunity. For more information, visit www.causeofaction.org.