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Keeping Government Accountable PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Friday, 05 October 2012 13:50

by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Civics 101 teaches students about the three branches of the federal government.  Representing Iowans in the United States Senate, I enjoy meeting with students during my annual meetings in Iowa’s 99 counties or when youth groups make a trip to Washington, D.C.

Students ask informed questions.  They understand that Congress writes legislation and holds the tax-and-spending powers of the federal government.  They know the President is America’s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military and has the authority to sign legislation into the law of the land or send it back to Congress with a veto.  But one key function of Congress doesn’t usually register as much attention.  And that is congressional oversight.

Oversight is an essential function of the legislative branch authorized by the Constitution to help keep the federal government accountable to the people.  It requires vigilance and stewardship to keep tabs on a federal bureaucracy that has grown to roughly 500 departments, agencies, administrations, and authorities.  While the President, as chief executive, is ultimately responsible for managing the federal bureaucracy, Congress holds sway through its funding, lawmaking and oversight duties.

The federal government is reaching into more Americans’ lives, especially as social safety nets capture a greater share of the population in our aging society.  The President’s health care law that was steamrolled through Congress in 2010 has cast an even wider federal entitlement net across the country.  Its rulemaking and regulatory policies also impact the hiring decisions of businesses from Main Street to Wall Street.  From administering tax laws to implementing immigration policies, managing food, drug and aviation safety, setting school lunch guidelines, enforcing nursing home standards, and defending national security, Uncle Sam wears a lot of hats in the 21st century.

I made a commitment long ago to keep up a crusade on behalf of taxpayers to bring more transparency, accountability and efficiency to the federal bureaucracy.  It can be a lonely battle, and resolution often takes a long time.

Consider my decade-long effort to secure better management controls for government-issued charge cards used by federal workers.  With oversight work over the years, I exposed fraudulent, wasteful purchases made on Uncle Sam’s tab, from jewelry to gambling to cruises.  Spending abuses occurred within the Department of Defense, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Aviation Administration, and elsewhere.  This year, the reform bill sent to the President’s desk in September strengthens measures to thwart misuse of government-issued cards and penalize those who do, including loss of their jobs.

As a fighter for whistleblowers and independent watchdogs within the federal bureaucracy, I continue to shine a bright light on wrongdoing in Washington.  Tragically, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Consider my two-year investigation into a botched gun-walking operation that exposed what can happen when the federal bureaucracy puts itself above the law.  A U.S. border patrol agent’s murder at the U.S.-Mexico border was linked to guns sold illegally under the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” program.  Stonewalling and denial by the Attorney General, the nation’s top law enforcement official, reflects poorly on the administration’s allegiance to upholding the public trust and thumbing its nose at the rule of law.

There’s more.  This time the questionable use of tax dollars is occurring at the Department of Health and Human Services.  Revelations of expenses for a public relations firm in California indicate the administration has the audacity to pay Hollywood to promote the controversial 2010 health care law on network television.  I’ve called upon the Department of Health and Human Services to account for the $1 billion awarded to states to establish the new health care exchanges across the country.

Congressional oversight is a vitally important responsibility of the legislative branch of government in our system of checks and balances.  It helps to uphold the public trust and unlock mismanagement in the executive branch of our government, which has become massive in scale and scope.

Friday, October 5, 2012

 
Morthland Legislation Streamlines FOID Card Process PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Rep. Rich Morthland   
Thursday, 04 October 2012 14:49

Springfield, IL… State Rep. Rich Morthland (R-Cordova) filed legislation Monday aimed to simplify FOID card procedures in Illinois.

“The bill allows card holders to update their Driver's License or State ID to include their FOID number and expiration date, thus allowing them to be in compliance with state statute and while only requiring them to have one card,” explained Morthland.

House Bill 6232 is a response to an Auditor General report last spring that found the Illinois State Police Firearms Services Bureau’s faulty reporting resulted in ineligible people obtaining FOID cards. The audit also cited lengthy certification delays.

“This is the beginning of our work with the Illinois State Police in the streamlining of the FOID process. I will continue to work with ISP in changing overly burdensome regulation and allowing them to focus on our public safety."

The bill does include provisions to counter abuse by requiring the State Police to notify the Secretary of State when a FOID card holder becomes ineligible and requires the Secretary to confiscate the invalid identification card. Records showed that nearly 20,000 FOID cards were revoked in 2008 and 2010, but the Illinois State Police recovered only 30 percent.

“Allowing the Secretary of State to confiscate revoked cards would strengthen the system and put less risk on the general public,” said Morthland. “I think anytime we can simplify citizens interaction with government is a good thing. It is a smart bill and in the end will save taxpayers and the state money and make it better for Illinois residents who chose to own firearms.”

 
Ready your costumes for Galena's 34th Annual Halloween Parade & Festival PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Celestino Ruffini   
Thursday, 04 October 2012 14:45

October 27 event features one of the largest nighttime parades in the Midwest

GALENA, Ill. – Ghosts and goblins of all ages will converge on Galena, Illinois for the 34th annual Halloween Parade & Festival. The Galena Area Chamber of Commerce serves as the host of this one-day event in downtown Galena on Saturday, October 27, with festivities taking place from noon until 8:30 p.m.

The nearly two-hour long Halloween parade literally lights up Galena’s historic Main Street. The popular event features spectacular floats, local marching bands, costumed participants and plenty of sweet treats. Making a return to this year’s parade will be several hot air balloons that will light up the night sky, as well as provide a fleeting moment of warmth, as they make their way through the parade. The parade begins promptly at 6:30 p.m. near the intersection of Green and Main Streets and continues north until reaching the intersection of Franklin and Main Streets.

A new addition to this year’s events will be the Halloween Festival taking place from noon until 8:30 p.m. at Washington and Perry Streets. Swing by the festival for food and entertainment while you wait for the parade to get started. Local chamber members will be offering several tasty treats for visitors to enjoy. Confirmed festival vendors are Gobbie’s Sports Pub & Eatery/Log Cabin Steakhouse, Galena Arts and Recreation Center, Galena Elks Lodge, Tammy’s Piggly Wiggly, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Culver’s.

To accommodate the high volume of parade goers, there will be three shuttle buses operating between 4:00 - 9:00 p.m., excluding parade times between 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Shuttle parking and pickup, all in Galena, will take place at Walmart (10000 Bartell Blvd.), Signcraft (100 A.J. Harle Dr.), Recreation Park (Field St.) and at the Old Train Depot (99 Bouthillier St.) parking lots.

For further event information or to register an entry into the parade, visit www.galenachamber.com, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 815.777.9050. Additional area offerings and visitor information may be found at the Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.galena.org or by calling 877.464.2536. While in town, visit the CVB’s Old Train Depot Visitor Information Center at 101 Bouthillier St. (corner of Park Avenue) for on-site assistance and countywide information.

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October 20th-November 6th Annual International Prayer and Fasting Campaign PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Christian Newswire   
Wednesday, 03 October 2012 13:00
Prayer and Fasting Movement Gains Speed as Elections Near and Global Tensions Escalate

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- The International Week of Prayer and Fasting (IWPF), a Catholic global movement, is launching its 20th annual campaign to pray for the conversion of nations, the building of a culture of life and the promotion of peace throughout the world. The Coalition is asking for people to participate as individuals, families and parishes during this 18 day period (two back-to-back nine day novena prayers): the first novena is to petition God's mercy and the second novena is in thanksgiving for answered prayers.

The campaign begins with an all-day Eucharistic Prayer Vigil at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., from 9am-4pm on Saturday, October 20th. Speakers include Dr. Richard Russell, an established international relations scholar; Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel; Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter in Washington D.C.; Bishop George Nkuo, Bishop of Kumbo Cameroon, Africa; Fr. Chad Partain, founder of the St. Philomena Youth for Purity Program; and Ted Flynn, popular author and speaker.

Pope John Paul II backed IWPF when he said in a message given on October 1, 2001: "As a pledge of an abundance of Divine Blessings upon you and yours, I paternally impart to all participants of the International Week of Prayer and Fasting my most heartfelt apostolic blessing."

The coalition received support from Mother Teresa in its early days. She said, "You must do this, God wants this, prayer is the answer to the world's problems." Blessed Mother Teresa also said "I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace in the world is abortion...the fruit of abortion is nuclear war."

Coalition chairperson Maureen Flynn says, "Many news, political and religious commentators speak today about our global financial crisis, but few speak about our rapid spiritual and moral decline. Many people believe that America is now under God's judgment. In addition to the concern over whales stranded on the beach and other unfortunate animal tragedies, there should be outrage and sorrow over the daily destruction of over 4000 unborn babies in America through abortion. Since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, there have been more than 50 million unborn children that have been destroyed by abortion. We must remember, Our Lord is a God of Mercy and He responds to our repentance and prayers. As individuals, as families and as nations we much pray and fast for a global culture of life and peace."

For information or to register for the free prayer vigil at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, please visit our website www.iwopf.org or contact us at 1-888-478-PRAY / 703-707-0799 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
GRASSLEY, AYOTTE QUESTION ADMINISTRATION’S WARN ACT GUIDANCE PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 02 October 2012 13:32

Senators ask White House to explain legal basis for covering lawsuit costs after instructing employers to disregard labor law

 

WASHINGTON – Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) are requesting information from the White House about new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that says the government will pay for legal costs related to lawsuits resulting from private-sector employers failing to give employees notice of possible layoffs due to sequestration.  The Department of Labor told federal contractors this summer not to worry about complying with the federal labor law that requires notification.

 

The senators’ inquiry involves the 1988 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, known as the WARN Act, which requires large employers to send written notice to employees 60 days in advance of potential layoffs or plant closings.

 

In July, the Department of Labor issued guidance which said federal contractors potentially impacted by the budget sequestration scheduled to take effect on January 2, 2013, need not abide by the WARN Act requirement.  Despite sequestration being the law of the land, the Department of Labor suggests the WARN Act doesn’t apply because of uncertainty about whether sequestration will occur and how it would impact contracts.  To date, the administration has failed to be transparent about the impact of sequestration.

 

Despite the message from the Department of Labor, federal contractors have considered providing notices in order to comply with the law.  According to a news report last month, Lockheed Martin had said it might send notices to all 123,000 employees, for example.  Under the WARN Act, if notice isn’t provided, an employer is liable for paying back pay, benefits and attorneys’ fees.  If sent, notices would reach workers days before the presidential election in November.

 

On Friday, the OMB issued a memo that goes beyond the letter from the Department of Labor by apparently promising government payments for any lawsuits brought against employers who don’t give WARN Act notices per the Department of Labor’s instructions.  After the OMB memo was released, Lockheed Martin said it won’t send notices.  Other contractors have not yet indicated what they will do.

 

“What the administration has done raises serious questions,” Grassley said.  “In our letter of inquiry, we’re asking what authority the administration is using to say it is okay to disregard the law and commit to pay for monetary judgments and other expenses resulting from lawsuits.  If workers aren’t given the notice they’re due, the costs could amount to billions of dollars for taxpayers.  The public deserves answers and accountability without any delay.”

 

“The President has prohibited the Pentagon from planning for defense sequestration and now cites this lack of specifics as the reason employers should ignore the WARN Act requirement.  The Administration’s new guidance tells employers to willfully ignore the law and stay silent about looming layoffs until after the election – and promises them a taxpayer funded bailout for their legal expenses if they do so,” Ayotte said.  “The Administration must explain its legal basis for this interpretation of the WARN Act that leaves taxpayers on the hook, American workers in the dark, and our national security in jeopardy.”

 

Below is the text of the senators’ October 1 letter to Jeffrey Zients, the Acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.  Click here to see the letter.

October 1, 2012

The Honorable Jeffrey Zients

Acting Director

Executive Office of the President

Office of Management and Budget

Washington, DC  20503

 

Dear Mr. Zients:

 

We write regarding the Memorandum for the Chief Financial Officers and Senior Procurement Executives of Executive Departments and Agencies issued by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on September 28, 2012.  The OMB memorandum purports to provide “guidance on allowable contracting costs with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.”

 

In general, the WARN Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2101 et seq., requires employers with at least 100 employees to provide written notice to employees 60 days before ordering certain plant closings or mass layoffs.  Failure to provide this notice, subject to very limited exceptions, triggers civil liability for the employer.  Under the WARN Act, each aggrieved employee may sue their employer and may be awarded back pay, benefits and attorneys’ fees.

As the OMB memorandum explains, on July 30, 2012, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 3-12, which examined the WARN Act's requirements in the context of the sequestration (budget cuts) scheduled to take place on January 2, 2013.  The DOL opined that it was neither necessary nor appropriate for federal contractors to issue WARN Act notices to employees 60 days in advance of the potential sequestration because of uncertainty about whether sequestration will occur and, if it did, what effect it would have on particular contracts.

The DOL's speculation about the applicability of the WARN Act notwithstanding, some contractors indicated that they were still considering issuing notices.  Those notices would be received by employees and their families days before the Presidential election in November.   For example, according to a news report, Lockheed Martin initially indicated that it might send notices to all of its 123,000 employees.[1]

On the afternoon of Friday, September 28, the White House’s OMB issued its memorandum.  In relevant part, that memorandum states:

To further minimize the potential for waste and disruption associated with the issuance of unwarranted layoff notices, this memorandum provides guidance regarding the allowability of certain liability and litigation costs associated with WARN Act compliance.  Specifically, if (1) sequestration occurs and an agency terminates or modifies a contract that necessitates that the contractor order a plant closing or mass layoff of a type subject to WARN Act requirements, and (2) that contractor has followed a course of action consistent with DOL guidance; then any resulting employee compensation costs for WARN Act liability as determined by a court, as well as attorneys' fees and other litigation costs (irrespective of litigation outcome), would qualify as allowable costs and be covered by the contracting agency, if otherwise reasonable and allocable.

The OMB memorandum concludes by stating that its representations do “not alter existing rights, responsibilities, obligations, or limitations under individual contract provisions or the governing cost principles set forth in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and other applicable law.”  Thus, “agencies may treat as allowable other costs potentially associated with sequestration, including WARN Act-related costs arising under circumstances not specified in th[e memorandum], based on the usual cost principles of allocability, allowability, and reasonableness as set forth in the FAR.”

According to one news report, the OMB memorandum tells contractors that “they would be compensated for legal costs if layoffs occur due to contract cancellations under sequestration – but only if the contractors follow the [DOL’s] guidance [from July].”[2] As noted above, the DOL has advised contractors not to provide their employees with notices under the WARN Act.

In reliance on the promises in the OMB memorandum, Lockheed Martin has now indicated that it will not send out the notices.[3] Other contractors have yet to indicate whether they will send out the WARN Act notices to their employees, in light of the Administration’s promises.

We are seriously concerned about the OMB’s memorandum and the DOL’s letter.  In particular, we are concerned about the authority of the Executive Branch to instruct private employers not to comply with federal law and to promise to pay the monetary judgments and litigation costs that arise out of the lawsuits that may follow.  Although the precise amounts of the judgments and costs are unknown, they could potentially reach tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, all of which would be paid for with taxpayers’ dollars.

Accordingly, respond to the following questions and requests for information:

1.         Identify the legal authority for the DOL to instruct federal contractors that they are not required to provide WARN Act notices to their employees in light of the pending sequestration.

2.         Identify the legal authority for the OMB to instruct federal contractors that they are not required to provide WARN Act notices to their employees in light of the pending sequestration.

3.         Identify the legal authority for the OMB to promise to pay the monetary judgments and litigation costs that arise out of the lawsuits that could follow from employers’ failure to comply with the WARN Act.

4.         Set forth the analysis and supporting legal authority for the representation in the OMB’s memorandum that “any resulting employee compensation costs for WARN Act liability as determined by a court, as well as attorneys' fees and other litigation costs (irrespective of litigation outcome), would qualify as allowable costs and be covered by the contracting agency, if otherwise reasonable and allocable.”

5.         Explain in detail why you maintain that the Obama Administration did not have to first obtain approval from Congress before committing to pay tens or hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions of dollars) in judgments, settlements and/or attorneys’ fees that may be incurred by private employers.

6.         Identify in detail the costs that the OMB’s memorandum represents the Administration will “cover” for contractors who are sued based on their failure to provide notices under the WARN Act.  For example, do the “costs” include reimbursing the contractors for the attorneys’ fees they incur from defending themselves in WARN Act lawsuits?  What other “costs” will be “covered”?

7.         How many millions or billions of dollars has the OMB’s memorandum obligated the federal government to pay, if WARN Act notices are not provided and layoffs and lawsuits do occur?

8.         What will be the source of the funds used to pay the monetary judgments and litigation costs that arise out of the lawsuits that follow from employers’ failure to comply with the WARN Act?  Does the Administration maintain that these funds have already been appropriated by Congress?

9.         Before the release of OMB’s memorandum, was any analysis done to determine how much the federal government would have to pay to “cover” the costs of these lawsuits, including potential attorneys’ fees?  If so, provide that analysis and provide copies of all documents related to that analysis.

10.     Provide copies of any and all written analyses that were done in connection with the OMB’s memorandum.

11.     According to the DOL’s July 30, 2012 letter, if contractors provide WARN Act notices, it “would be inconsistent with the purpose of the WARN Act.”  By contrast, 29 U.S.C. § 2106 (the WARN Act) provides that “[i]t is the sense of Congress that an employer who is not required to comply with the notice requirements of section 2102 of this title should, to the extent possible, provide notice to its employees about a proposal to close a plant or permanently reduce its workforce.”  How does OMB justify DOL’s statement in light of the plain language of section 2106 of the WARN Act?

12.     According to the OMB’s memorandum, “some [contractors] have inquired about' whether Federal contracting agencies would cover WARN Act-related costs in connection with the potential sequestration.”  Identify each of those contractors and produce all documents related to communications between the White House, DOL or any other federal agency and the contractors regarding this issue.

13.     Does the Administration maintain that the OMB’s memorandum constitutes a binding legal promise to contractors that the federal government will fully indemnify them for any and all liability and legal defense fees that they incur as a result of their not providing WARN Act notices?  If not, explain in detail whether the OMB’s memorandum makes any binding commitments and if it does, describe those commitments in detail.

14.     Were any other federal agencies consulted prior to the issuance of the OMB memorandum?  If so, identify each agency consulted and indicate whether any agency disagreed about whether the legal authority exists for the Administration to promise to pay the costs and legal fees associated with the failure to issue WARN Act notices.

If the OMB or any other office in the White House possesses documents relating to the subject matter of any of the foregoing questions, provide copies of those documents.

 

We ask that you provide written answers and documents by October 8, 2012.

 

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Grassley                       Kelly Ayotte

Ranking Member                         Member

Senate Judiciary Committee                      Senate Armed Services Committee

 



[1] Jeremy Herb, “Obama administration tells contractors again: Don’t issue layoff notices,” The Hill (Sept. 28, 2012).

[2] Id.  

[3] Jeremy Herb, “After Obama guidance, Lockheed won’t issue layoff notices this year,” The Hill (Oct. 1, 2012).

 
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