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Government-sponsored travel promotion agency raises concerns PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 18 June 2012 13:03

Friday, June 15, 2012

 

Grassley, Colleagues Seek Answers on Spending, Other Practices

of Government-sponsored Travel Promotion Agency

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is among six senators who are asking for information about troubling spending and practices by a government-sponsored travel promotion agency called Brand USA.   Besides Grassley, signers of a letter to the Commerce Department secretary were Sens. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), and Mike Lee (Utah).

Brand USA is a government-sponsored travel promotion agency, created to boost tourism in the United States.  It was formerly known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion, which was created by Congress in 2009.

In order to pay for Brand USA’s funding, Congress levied a $10 tax on foreign tourists.  To date, $25 million incurred from the tourist tax has been distributed to Brand USA.  Brand USA has come under scrutiny for holding lavish parties in London, subsidizing travel corporations’ advertising budgets, a misguided ad campaign, and struggling to meet federal matching funds requirements.

The full text of the letter follows.


June 14, 2012

Via Electronic Transmission

The Honorable John Edgar Bryson                                                    
Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce                                              
Herbert Clark Hoover Building                                 
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW                                
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Bryson:

Recent media reports raised serious concerns about the direction and management of the promotional campaign directed by the Corporation for Travel Promotion (Brand USA/Corporation), a public/private entity formed to promote U.S. tourism abroad.  We are concerned about reports of potentially significant waste and misuse of funds at the Corporation.

Congress passed the Travel Promotion Act (Act) in 2010 to “increase international travel to the United States … thereby creating jobs and stimulating economic growth.”  The Act sunsets in 2014 when funding for the Corporation would be provided by industry contribution only.  The Corporation is responsible for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote America abroad and must ensure that the highest standards of performance and accountability are met.  Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that the Corporation is allegedly not meeting those high standards.

It is our understanding that in November 2011, the entire Corporation Board traveled to London to attend the World Travel Market, a trade show for the travel industry.  While there, the Board held a meeting in London to discuss marketing strategies and efforts to lobby Congress. Despite the fact that board members traveled all the way to London for the meeting, it was a brief event, beginning at 1:30pm UK time and ended at 3:30pm UK Time.

A related video (https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=2210089064112) shows members of the Corporation Board enjoying themselves at a Brand USA Launch party held at the British National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. The video, also available on the Brand USA website, shows it was a high-end affair held at the Maritime Museum covered in light art projections displaying the Brand USA logo.  Brand USA also provided guests, over 500 VIPs, sushi, champagne and petit fours.

We want to ensure that the Corporation’s administrative and financial matters are fully transparent.  It is our understanding that the Corporation awarded a media consultant, JWT of New York City, an initial ninety day contract.  According to a recent GAO report,[1] the Corporation negotiated a subsequent Master Service Agreement with JWT without first going through the bidding process.  Moreover, the Corporation’s first substantive annual report, due out on May 15th, has yet to be released to the public even though the Department of Commerce (Department) has been reviewing it for weeks.  For a company spending tens of millions in federal funds it is vital that such this information be made available to the public and Congress immediately.

In an effort to gain a clearer understanding of the operations of the corporation and its oversight by the Department, please provide the following:

1) All documents associated with the production of the Launch Party held at the British National Maritime Museum, including all costs associated with the event, menus, transportation, swag given to guests, invoices from contractors, and museum rental charges.

2) A comprehensive list of all Brand USA employees and Board members who attended the World Travel Market and Brand Launch Party at the British National Maritime Museum in London.

3) The salaries and benefits of the top five most highly compensated individuals employed by the Corporation.

4) An itemized listing of all expenses incurred by the Corporation since its founding current through the date of this letter.

5) An itemization of all cash and in-kind contributions made to the corporation current to the date of this letter.

6) Copies of all in-kind advertising contributions made to the corporation including the claimed value for the contribution by the Corporation.

7) In correspondence  dated December 20, 2011, March 2, 2012, March 15, 2012, and May 1, 2012 from Mr. Scott Quehl  at the Department of Commerce to Ms. Lauren Carrico or Ms. Wanda Fischer at the Department of Treasury, Mr. Quehl states, “the Department of Commerce has reviewed the CTP’s request for payment of … and associated documentation received …”  Please provide copies of all documentation referenced in those letters.

8) On March 2, 2012 Ms. Laura Carrico at the Department of Treasury received a letter from Mr. Scott Quehl at the Department of Commerce stating “the Department of Commerce has reviewed the CTP’s request for payment of $15,718,112 and associated documentation received February 1.   Our review concludes that the CTP has received qualifying amounts from nonfederal sources totaling $2,476,884. The Department of Commerce therefore recommends the transfer of $4,953,768 to the CTP. “ Please provide all documentation associated with the review of this request for payment and an explanation of the rationale for the reduction in authorized payments.

9) The number of webpage hits to www.discoveramerica.com identified by country of origin.

10) A detailed and itemized breakdown of all the costs associated with the contract with JWT, including costs associated with retaining talent, the production of videos, and other multimedia items.

11) Copies of print advertisement’s placed overseas by Brand USA and a listing of the publications in which the advertisements were placed or location of outdoor advertising placement.

12) For items 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 10 please provide a short justification for the expenses and detail what results you expect from the expenditures and what metrics you will use to measure the success of the expenditures.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to these matters. I would appreciate receiving a response by no later than June 27, 2012. Whenever possible please provide documents and materials electronically.  Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact our offices.

Sincerely,

Jim DeMint
Tom Coburn
Rand Paul
Jeff Sessions
Mike Lee
Charles Grassley

 
Governor Quinn Signs Law to Strengthen Mail Carrier Safety PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Nafia Khan   
Friday, 15 June 2012 13:56

New Law Increases Penalties for Crimes Against Mail Carriers

ROCKFORD ­– June 15, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today signed a new law that will protect postal workers and letter carriers by allowing judges to consider harsher penalties for violent crimes against employees of the United States Postal Service. The Governor signed the law at Illinois State Association of Letter Carriers’ annual convention in Rockford.

“The hard-working men and women of the United States Postal Service deserve our gratitude,” Governor Quinn said. “This law will help make sure that they are able to continue doing their jobs safely.”

Senate Bill 3665, sponsored by Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) and Rep. Jerry Costello III (D-Sparta), allows judges to consider a victim’s employment in the United States Postal Service (USPS) as an aggravating factor in violent crimes like assault, battery and robbery. Upon conviction, a judge could impose more severe sentences on the offender.

This law is an initiative of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which is working with the USPS to inform postal workers in Illinois about the appropriate steps to take in the event of a crime being committed against them or in their vicinity.

As U.S. government employees, USPS workers are already protected by federal law; however, in the event federal prosecutors don’t pursue cases involving crimes against postal workers, this law will allow state courts to consider USPS employment in their proceedings.

The new law goes into effect January 1, 2013.

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Slavery Still Thrives on 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Friday, 15 June 2012 12:35
U.S. History Should Compel Americans to Action against
Human Trafficking, Expert Says

This year marks the century-and-a-half anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln set the date of freedom for the nation’s 3 million slaves.

“As many of us know, slavery did not die when America abolished it in the 1800s,” says Lucia Mann, author of Rented Silence (www.luciamann.com), which explores British Colonial slavery in South Africa, and the victims who survived the institutional brutality.

“The opening statement of the Declaration of Independence is, ‘We believe these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Almost 100 years later, in 1865, the 13th Amendment extended this belief to ‘Negroes.’ To this day, involuntary servitude is outlawed, and yet, it still exists!”

Mann has a personal interest in slavery. Her Sicilian mother was a sex slave and a World War II concentration camp survivor. As a child, Mann was forced to live with her father, who was also her mother’s master, in South Africa.

“According to the United Nations, there are more than 27 million slaves worldwide, which is more than twice the number of those who were enslaved over the 400 years that transatlantic slavers trafficked humans to work in the Americas,” Mann says.

Many slaves today are forced into prostitution while others are used as unpaid laborers to manufacture goods bought in the United States, she says.

“It’s almost impossible to buy clothes or goods anymore without inadvertently supporting the slave trade,” she says.

Mann, a Canadian and British citizen who considers herself an “American at heart,” says Americans should dedicate themselves to opposing modern human trafficking, both worldwide and within U.S. borders, since the nation was largely built on the backs of slaves.

Human trafficking has become the second fastest growing criminal industry worldwide, behind drug trafficking, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s a $32 billion industry, and half of those trafficked are children. Half of the billions spent come from industrialized nations, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

So, what should be done when a U.S. citizen suspects a case of human trafficking? Mann says the following organizations are a good start:

• Catholic Sisters congregations, 888-373-7888: Grand events, like this year’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, are reportedly hot spots for prostitution rings involving trafficked slaves. The same was true for the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, which is why nuns throughout the Midwest collaborated in an awareness campaign, which ultimately led to training cab drivers and hotel staff to recognize signs of modern slavery and how to report it.

• Victims hotline and on-line tips reporting: The Modern-Day Slavery Reporting Centre, created by Mann, is the first hotline – 1 (800) 610-7035, Ext. 227 -- in the United States and Canada for victims. It also provides volunteer translators (including Mann) for victims who don’t speak English. The website, www.mdsrc.org, includes a section that makes it easy for third parties to report suspicious activity by clicking “File a Report.” This section allows visitors to volunteer information.

• Federal Bureau of Investigation – report human trafficking, 1-888-428-7581: This number can be used 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST to report concerns to the FBI, which also offers plenty of information about human trafficking on its website.

• Various easy-to-find anti-trafficking organizations: Type in “human trafficking” on any online search engine and several sites will appear promoting various methods of combating modern slavery, Mann says. The important part is following through on an interest to help, she says.

“I have a firsthand account of dealing with national prejudice and human slavery, but I think many people are compelled to help victims of human trafficking because freedom is a universal desire,” Mann says. “Any individual can make a difference in someone’s life. That is the motive behind my books; I want victims to know that, like me, their tragedy can become their triumph.”

About Lucia Mann

Lucia Mann was born in British colonial South Africa in the wake of World War II and lives in West Covina, Calif., and British Columbia, Canada. She retired from freelance journalism in 1998 and wrote three books to give voice to those who suffered brutalities and captivity decades ago, and today.

 
Branstad announces retirement of Larry Noble as Department of Public Safety commissioner PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Office of the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad   
Friday, 15 June 2012 10:29
June 15, 2012

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad today accepted the retirement of Larry Noble as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), effective on July 5 of this year. Branstad announced his appointment of Noble prior to taking office on January 14, 2011, and Noble has served in this position in the 17 months since.

“It is with regret that I accept Larry’s resignation, as he was an exemplary commissioner, and will be missed by all who served with him,” said Branstad. “Larry has been a partner in effectively managing the safety needs of Iowans. I am thankful to Larry for his service and dedication to this very consuming job.”

Noble announced his retirement to staff members at DPS this morning.

“I have reached a point where I want to spend more time with my family, and balancing the needs of a 7-day-a-week job with personal responsibilities makes that very difficult,” said Noble. “This position is in service to all Iowans, and I believe someone else should have the opportunity to balance the rigors of this position. This was not a decision I made lightly, but it is the right decision for both my family and the people of Iowa.”

Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds noted the many accomplishments of Noble as DPS commissioner, including:

• Identifying and managing efficiencies while still offering premier performance from the department;
• Improving and strengthening child protection laws;
• Worked with the administration to retain 45 troopers, and working toward ensuring every county has a trooper;
• Offering stricter guidelines and punishment to combat synthetic drugs such as K2 and bath salts,
• Improving the visibility and knowledge of the department throughout the state.

“We are disappointed to see Larry go,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. “Without question, the state of Iowa is a better place thanks to his service. Iowa is seeing the departure of a great public servant, but his family is gaining the benefit of more of his time and attention, which we can all wholly understand.

Branstad announced that Steve Ponsetto will serve as the interim commissioner while a search for Noble’s replacement takes place.

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THE QUAD CITY WOLFPACK FOOTBALL GAME IS HELPING HOMELESS CHILDREN. PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Anne McVey   
Friday, 15 June 2012 10:15
The Quad City Wolfpack semipro football team is playing at the Brady Street Stadium this Saturday, June 16th at
5pm. It is their first home game of the season.

The Quad City Wofpacks are generously donating a portion of their ticket sales to help King’s Harvest keep their
doors open. The money raised will help pay for the fire sprinkler system required by the City of Davenport. King’s
Harvest must raise $57,000 for a fire sprinkler system or shut their doors.

Anne McVey, Fundraising Coordinator for King’s Harvest Ministries stated “It is a fun event for the whole
community. People can attend the football game with their friends and family and help save King’s Harvest and their
Shelter for Homeless Mothers with Children.”

If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Matt McClean, owner and
General Manager of the Quad City Wolfpacks, please call 563-590-3985. If you would like more information on
King’s Harvest please call Anne McVey, Fundraising Coordinator, 563-508-4170.

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