Civic News & Info
OLSON’S OBSERVATIONS PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Steven Olson   
Monday, 20 February 2012 15:37

 
Accountability Needed in Law Enforcement Body Armor Programs PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 20 February 2012 14:41

Prepared Statement of Ranking Member Chuck Grassley of Iowa

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Hearing on “Protecting Those Who Protect Us: The Bulletproof Vest

Partnership Grant Program”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s hearing.  Law enforcement officers across the country risk their lives every day to ensure that our neighborhoods and communities are safe.  Unfortunately, the tragic reality is that law enforcement officers are often placed in situations confronting dangerous criminals that are intent on harming anyone who tries to stop them.  Last year alone 164 law enforcement officers were lost in the line of duty, there were another 162 officers lost in 2010.  We owe these men and women, and their families, a debt of gratitude.

This hearing is to discuss the reauthorization of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program at the Justice Department.  The program was created by Congress in 1998 and was designed to provide federal matching funds to law enforcement agencies across the country to purchase body armor.

By many measures, the program has been successful in getting body armor to state and local agencies that request the matching funds.  The program has reimbursed law enforcement agencies with nearly $247 million that has purchased nearly 1 million vests.  This is important because these vests save lives, not just from bullets, but from other injuries, such as car accidents and assaults that occur in the line of duty.

Any program that helps save lives of law enforcement officers is important and should be reauthorized.  However, that does not mean that we should simply write a blank check on the taxpayers dime without determining what is and what isn’t working in the program.

For example, one of the biggest concerns with purchasing body armor has been ensuring that the vests purchased are actually worn by the officers on the street.  We can authorize as much funding as we want, buy as many vests as the taxpayers can afford, but if the vests aren’t on at the moment they are needed, those purchases don’t matter.  For this very reason, the Bureau of Justice Assistance has a mandatory wear policy on vests that are procured through the program.

This is an important provision and one that makes sense, but according to testimony we’ll hear from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this mandatory wear policy only applies to vests funded under the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program.  It does not apply to body armor purchased through other programs like the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program.  This is an inconsistency that needs to be addressed to ensure that officer safety is a priority when federal funds are used to purchase body armor.

In addition to reviewing the program to ensure vests are worn, we also need to take a look at how this program is being managed by the Justice Department.  According to GAO’s testimony, and a report released today in conjunction with the hearing, the Department’s management of this program needs to be improved.

Specifically, multiple grant programs can be used to purchase body armor with federal funds, yet the programs have differing requirements on matching funds, wear policies, and standards for purchasing approved body armor.  These inconsistencies should be fixed to ensure that minimum standards for both programs are uniform.

GAO also found that the Justice Department needs to address the financial bookkeeping of this program.  GAO found that the Department has consistently failed to deobligate expired money in the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program for over a decade.  Some of these funds trace back to Fiscal Year 2002 and have not been expended.  All in all, GAO found that there is $27 million in balances from grants awarded from FY2002-FY2009.

Further, GAO found that in 2009, there was an additional $14 million in funds from the program that were officially deobligated and used to pay down a recession in the Department’s budget.  So, according to GAO, funds Congress specifically appropriated for the program to purchase body armor were never used to actually purchase vests.  This is a serious matter and one that needs to be addressed immediately.

Unfortunately, according to GAO, the Department has said that they don’t yet know what they’ll do with the $27 million available for de-obligation and they may not know what to do with it until September 2012.  Any reauthorization of the program should ensure that the Department uses these funds to buy more vests, or pay down the national debt, not just sit on them for another decade.

Officer safety is paramount and we should do all we can to make sure officers on the street have body armor.  However, we must also ensure that taxpayer dollars are monitored and managed effectively by the Justice Department.  We can and must do both.  Reauthorizing this program affords us that opportunity.

I look forward to working on this reauthorization and to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.  I thank all the witnesses for being here today.  I also want to thank the GAO for expediting the release of their report so that we could discuss it here today.

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USDA Grants Support Local Efforts to Fight Hunger and Food Insecurity PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by USDA Communications   
Monday, 20 February 2012 14:32

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2012–The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today 27 grants to local organizations to build community food systems and fight hunger and food insecurity. The awards were made by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through its Community Food Projects program. The new projects, totaling $4.8 million in funding, include a teen-run community kitchen incubator, faith-based community food assessments, a program to help indigenous people return to healthful eating, and a youth-led food security movement. Community Food Projects have been funded in nearly 350 communities in 48 states in the program's 15-year history.

"Hunger remains an important issue in the United States. Last year, 17.2 million households faced food insecurity—meaning they lacked consistent access to adequate food," said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. "The grants supported by the Community Food Projects empower local organizations to respond to food and nutrition needs in their own communities."

The primary goals of the Community Food Projects program are to (1) meet the food needs of low-income individuals; (2) increase the food self-reliance of low-income communities; (3) promote comprehensive responses to local food, farm and nutrition issues; and (4) meet specific state, local or neighborhood food and agricultural needs, including needs relating to infrastructure improvement and development, planning for long-term solutions and the creation of innovative marketing activities that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers.

Fiscal Year 2011 awards include:

  • Juneau Cooperative Christian Ministry, Juneau, Alaska, $93,825
  • International Sonoran Desert Alliance, Ajo, Ariz., $163,807
  • Developing Innovations in Navajo Education, Inc., Flagstaff, Ariz., $116,863
  • Uncommon Good, Claremont, Calif., $300,000
  • North Oxnard United Methodist Church, Oxnard, Calif., $24,884
  • Urban Tilth, Richmond, Calif., $300,000
  • North Coast Opportunities, Inc., Ukiah, Calif.; $300,000
  • Las Animas Helping Hands, Las Animas, Colo, $25,000
  • Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, Honolulu, Hawaii, $25, 000
  • Matthew 25 Ministry Hub, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, $25,000
  • Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, Kansas City, Kansas, $124,587
  • Good Shepherd Food-Bank, Auburn, Maine, $25,000
  • Cultivating Community, Portland, Maine, $300,000
  • United Teen Equality Center, Lowell, Mass., $297,767
  • Regional Environmental Council, Worcester, Mass., $300,000
  • Youth Farm and Market Project, Minneapolis, Minn., $299,660
  • Rio Puerco Alliance, Santa Fe, N.M., $25,000
  • Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant History, Brooklyn, N.Y., $197,500
  • PathStone Community Improvement of Newburgh, Newburgh, N.Y., $25,000
  • Why Hunger, New York City, N.Y., $250,000
  • Community Food Security Coalition, Portland, Ore, $250,000
  • Friends of Zenger Farm, Portland, Ore., $187,860
  • Urban Tree Connection, Philadelphia, Pa., $300,000
  • Women's Community Revitalization Project, Philadelphia, Pa., $269,317
  • Staunton Creative Community Fund, Inc., Staunton, Va., $25,000
  • Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Community Center, Madison, Wis., $298,930
  • Growing Power, Milwaukee, Wis., $250,000

USDA's Household Food Security in the United States, 2010 report found that the percentage of very low food security declined from 5.7 percent of households in 2009 to 5.4 percent in 2010. The USDA study indicates that in 2010, 17.2 million households in America had difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of resources. The number of food insecure households in 2010 was relatively consistent with statistics released in 2008 and 2009.

The report also indicates that 59 percent of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest nutrition assistance programs near the time of the survey. In fiscal year 2010, these programs provided much needed food assistance to millions of individuals, children and families in need:

In an average month of fiscal year 2011, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided benefits to 44.7 million people in the United States.

In fiscal year 2011, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provided meals to an average of 31.8 million children each school day.

In fiscal year 2011, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) served an average 9 million participants.

Food insecurity rates were substantially higher than the national average for households with incomes near or below the current federal poverty line ($22,350 for a family of four), households with children headed by single women or single men, and black and Hispanic households. Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas and other outlying areas around large cities. The media briefing kit can be obtained at http://www.ers.usda.gov/Features/HouseholdFoodSecurity2010/.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.

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Iowa's State and Local Governments Fall Short on Transparency Test PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Sunshine Review   
Monday, 13 February 2012 14:45
Alexandria, Va.— Today, Sunshine Review, a nonprofit, pro-transparency organization, released its state transparency analysis for Iowa’s government websites. Graded on a 10-point transparency checklist, Iowa scored in the bottom three states analyzed by Sunshine Review with an overall score of a “C.”

“Iowa’s failure to provide information on taxpayer funded lobbying is a major fault in their goal to be a transparent government.  In addition, their county and school district websites failed to disclose vital information which brought down their transparency grade even farther,” said Sunshine Review’s President Michael Barnhart. “Transparency should be a priority to every elected official and voter in this country. Citizens in Iowa and around the nation deserve to have the information they need to hold their government accountable.”

Sunshine Review’s state rankings are based on content available on government websites against what should be provided. The checklist seeks information on items such as budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes.

The Iowa state website earned a "C" grade, accounting for half of Iowa’s overall grade. Sunshine Review also analyzed the websites of the five largest counties which averaged a "C+.” The five largest cities earned a "B-" and the ten largest school districts also earned a "C" average.

Out of the 24 states analyzed by Sunshine Review, Iowa ranked 22nd in transparency. Iowa’s state website failed to make public information on taxpayer-funded lobbying. In addition, a majority of the city and county websites do not disclose any information on lobbying or contracts awarded. Of the school district grades, Davenport community schools received a disappointing “D-“ while Des Moines public schools received a “B.”

Information on the individual cities, counties, and schools can be found by clicking on the below links.

Counties
Cities
School Districts:

Sunshine Review is a nonprofit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency. Sunshine Review collaborates with individuals and organizations throughout America in the cause of an informed citizenry and a transparent government. Since its inception in 2008, Sunshine Review has analyzed the websites of all 50 states and more than 6,000 state and local entities.

To schedule an interview with Sunshine Review’s President please contact Meghan Tisinger at Meghan@TKOCommunicationsLLC.com or (703) 965-1145.
For more information, visit www.sunshinereview.org.
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Governor Quinn Proposes Lincoln Amendment to Strengthen Ethics Standards PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by n   
Monday, 13 February 2012 14:41

Measure Empowers Citizens to Enact Ethics Laws for Public Officials Through Popular Initiative and Referendum

CHICAGO – February 12, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today proposed an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would allow state voters to enact ethics reforms through popular initiative and referendum. As Illinois today observes the 203rd anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, Governor Quinn called for the passage of the Lincoln Amendment to give voters the power to directly implement stronger ethics laws for the first time in state history. This proposed amendment follows Governor Quinn’s successful 2010 push for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution allowing for the recall of corrupt governors.

“There is no greater force than every day people banding together for a cause they believe in,” Governor Quinn said. “Our citizens must always have a role in keeping our government honest and ethical.”

Sponsored by Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago), the amendment gives citizens the power to enact fundamental ethics reforms to local governments, school districts, and the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government by gathering 8 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. The Lincoln Amendment would be limited to changes that establish and enforce ethical standards, including campaign finance reform, conflict-of-interest voting, pay-to-pay abuses, patronage abuse and misuse of taxpayer funds.

Currently, voters may only propose, by popular initiative, amendments to the Illinois constitution that deal with the structure and procedure of the General Assembly. If the Lincoln Amendment is approved this spring by the General Assembly, voters would have the opportunity to enact through referendum a permanent change in the Illinois Constitution during the November 2012 general election. Once approved by three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election, the Lincoln Amendment would become law, giving voters more power than ever before to improve honesty and integrity in government.

“As elected officials, we are accountable to the people we represent, and it is vital that their voices be heard,” said Sen. Collins. “I am proud to sponsor this amendment, which will allow people to be even more involved in their government, and I would like to thank Governor Quinn for his support of ethics in government.”

Since taking office, Governor Quinn has signed landmark campaign finance reform that instituted Illinois’ first-ever limits on campaign contributions from candidates, political parties and political action committees. Governor Quinn also launched Appointments.Illinois.Gov, Accountability.Illinois.Gov and Data.Illinois.Gov to bring more transparency to state appointments, contracts and salary information and public data collected by state and federal agencies.

 

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