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Grassley works for transparency regarding water contamination at Camp Lejeune PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Friday, 20 July 2012 14:09
WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley said that transparency about water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is long overdue, as Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy today released more than 8,500 documents from the Department of Defense.  The documents were produced in response to a request made last month by Leahy and Grassley.

 

The Department of Defense had refused to produce documents in response to a similar request made in March.  That request stemmed from complaints to members of Congress about the Navy’s refusal to disclose documents needed for scientific studies of the contamination at the base.

 

“Congressional offices had received complaints that the Navy was improperly citing exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents related to the contamination,” Grassley said, expressing frustration that the Obama administration has not been more forthcoming despite memos issued by the President and pledges to be the “most transparent administration ever.”

 

The drinking water contamination that took place over several decades at the base was one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.  A registry exists for individuals who lived or worked at the base before 1987 to receive notifications about the contamination.  It includes the names of 1,121 Iowans.  It is estimated that more than 750,000 people may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals at the base.

 

Grassley cosponsored the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which was introduced by Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina in 2011.  A version of the bill passed the Senate yesterday with unanimous approval.  The legislation would help to provide medical treatment and care for service members and their families who lived at the camp and were injured by this chemical contamination.

 

Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Water Contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

Thursday, July 19, 2012

 

Mr. President,

 

I’m pleased that Chairman Leahy and I were able to help with the effort to look at the issue of water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  In particular, in June, we sent a letter to the Department of Defense, which has resulted in it producing more than 8,500 documents to the Judiciary Committee.

 

I know that Senator Burr and others have been leaders with the effort to look into the situation at Camp Lejeune.

 

Every member of the Senate should be aware of the situation at Camp Lejeune.

 

The drinking water contamination that took place over several decades at the base was one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.

 

Camp Lejeune was designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1988 after inspections confirmed contamination of the ground water due to the migration of hazardous chemicals from outside the base and inadequate procedures to contain and dispose of hazardous chemicals on the base.

 

Residents of every State, who previously lived or worked at the base, have been impacted by the contamination.

 

Indeed, more than 180,000 current and former members of the armed services and employees at the base have signed up for the Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water Registry.  By registering, individuals who lived or worked at the base before 1987 receive notifications about the contamination.

 

The Camp Lejeune registry includes residents from all 50 States.  1,121 Iowans are among them.  It’s estimated that more than 750,000 people may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals at the base.

 

The numbers don’t fully reflect the impact of the disaster at the base.  There are real people behind those numbers.

 

In March, as part of the Judiciary Committee’s annual oversight hearing on the Freedom of Information Act, we heard the testimony of retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger.  He was stationed at Camp Lejeune with his family and told us of the battle his daughter, Janey, fought with leukemia for two-and-a-half years, before she died at the age of nine.  He also told us of the difficulties that he and others were having getting information from the Department of Defense.

 

The men and women of the armed services protect us every day.  We should never take them or the sacrifices that they and their families make for granted.

 

We in Congress have an obligation to do everything that we can to support them in their mission.

 

That’s why I’m a cosponsor of the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which was introduced by Senator Burr in 2011.  That bill, a version of which passed by unanimous consent in the Senate yesterday, will help to provide medical treatment and care for service members and their families, who lived at the camp and were injured by the chemical contamination.

 

Unfortunately, the Department of Defense has not been forthcoming with information about the contamination at Camp Lejeune.

 

That’s troubling, especially coming from the administration that proclaims itself to be the “most transparent administration ever.”

 

As we all recall, on his first full day in office, President Obama declared openness and transparency to be touchstones of his administration, and ordered agencies to make it easier for the public to get information about the government.

 

Specifically, he issued two memoranda written in grand language and purportedly designed to usher in a “new era of open government.”

 

Based on my experience in trying to pry information out of the Executive Branch and based on investigations I’ve conducted, and inquiries by the media, I’m disappointed to report that President Obama’s statements in memos about transparency are not being put into practice.

 

There’s a complete disconnect between the President’s grand pronouncements about transparency and the actions of his political appointees.

 

The situation with the Camp Lejeune documents is just another example of that disconnect.  The documents should have been produced long ago.

 

The recent letter that Chairman Leahy and I sent from the Judiciary Committee had to be sent because the Defense Department refused to produce documents in response to a March letter signed by six senators and three members of the House of Representatives.  Chairman Leahy and I had also signed that March letter.

 

The March letter had to be sent because of complaints that Congressional offices had received about the Navy’s refusal to disclose documents needed for scientific studies of the contamination at Camp Lejeune.  It was also needed because of claims that the Navy is improperly citing exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents related to the contamination.

 

So, while I’m pleased that there was a bipartisan effort to obtain these documents, I’m disappointed by the stonewalling and by the hurdles that were put up by the administration.

Transparency and open government must be more than just pleasant sounding words found in memos.  They are essential to the functioning of a democratic government.

 

Transparency is about basic good government and accountability—not party politics or ideology.

 

Throughout my career I have actively conducted oversight of the Executive Branch regardless of who controls the Congress or the White House.

 

I’ll continue doing what I can to hold this administration’s feet to the fire with Camp Lejeune and where ever else I find stonewalling and secrecy.

 

Thank you.  I yield the floor.

 
Braley Joins Center for Plain Language to Unveil First-Ever “Plain Language Report Card” PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Jeff Giertz   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:58

Braley requests Oversight Committee hearing on implementation of Plain Writing Act

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) joined the Center for Plain Language today to unveil the Center’s first-ever “Plain Language Report Card,” a letter-grading of federal agencies’ implementation of the Plain Writing Act.

The Plain Writing Act, authored by Braley and signed into law by President Obama in 2010, requires government agencies to write forms and other public documents in simple, easy-to-understand language.   The law set October 13th, 2011, as the deadline for agencies to write all new or substantially revised documents in plain writing.

“Unless federal agencies are held accountable, they won’t implement the changes required by the Plain Writing Act,” Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) said.  “The mixed results of the first-ever Plain Language Report Card show that we still have a long way to go to make government forms and documents simpler and easier for taxpayers to understand.  Some federal agencies have embraced the Plain Writing Act, and others haven’t.  Until these grades are all A-plus, we’re going to keep holding bureaucrats’ feet to the fire.

“That’s why in conjunction with this report, I’m asking the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to hold a hearing into the progress of implementing the Plain Writing Act.”

The Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit organization dedicated to clear communication in government, business, nonprofits, and universities, graded federal agencies on (1) how well they are following the specific requirements of the Plain Writing Act and (2) how well agencies are undertaking a variety of supporting activities addressing the “spirit” of the Act.

The US Department of Agriculture won the highest marks for implementation of the Plain Writing Act; the Veterans Administration earned the lowest, though just yesterday, Allison Hickey, Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits, testified at a House hearing that changing a disability benefits letter to plain language helped increase the number of claims processed by 30,000 in four months.

Federal Agency

Grade: Plain Writing Act requirements

Grade: following “spirit” of Plain Writing Act

National Archives and Records Administration

B

C

Department of Agriculture

A

B

Department of Defense

B

D

Department of Health and Human Services

C

B

Department of Homeland Security

D

D

Department of Justice

C

D

Department of Labor

B

F

Department of Transportation

C

F

Department of Veterans Affairs

F

F

Environmental Protection Agency

C

F

Social Security Administration

C

C

Small Business Administration

C

C

 

In January, Braley introduced the Plain Regulations Act, an effort to streamline confusing federal regulations into simple, easy-to-understand language.

More information on the Center for Plain Language and the report card can be found at the following link: http://centerforplainlanguage.org/

Braley’s letter to the House Oversight Committee asking for a hearing into the implementation of the Plain Writing Act follows:

--

July 19, 2012

The Honorable Darrell Issa                          

Chairman                      

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform                        

B3540-A, Rayburn HOB                           

Washington, DC  20515                         

 

The Honorable Elijah Cummings

Ranking Member

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

2471 Rayburn HOB

Washington, DC  20515

 

Dear Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings:

As you may know, on October 13, 2010, the President signed the Plain Writing Act into law.  This legislation will simplify burdensome and confusing documents, such as tax forms or social security information, that go to American businesses and millions of individual Americans.  The law has the potential to significantly reduce the burden imposed on small businesses and individuals by confusing, government red tape.

It is vitally important for this law to be correctly executed by the Obama Administration.  Given the significance of this law, I ask that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hold a hearing focusing on the implementation of the Plain Writing Act.  Since the Oversight Committee has direct jurisdiction over the law, it clearly makes sense for our Committee to conduct this important hearing.

A report card was released today which grades each government agency on their performance in complying with this law.  While the grades vary based on each agency, it is clear that improvement is needed in implementation.  I wrote the Plain Writing Act to ensure that the government communicates in clear and easy to understand language.  Correct execution of the law will cut burdensome red-tape for small businesses, save taxpayers money, and help all Americans understand government forms and documents.

I urge the House Oversight Committee to hold a hearing on the implementation of my Plain Writing Act. Please feel free to contact me if I can answer any questions or provide further assistance.  Thank you for your attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Bruce L. Braley

# # #

 
Executive committee meeting statement PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:57

Thursday, July 19, 2012

 

Before we turn to the agenda, I want to say a few words about yesterday’s hearing on forensics and a letter I sent to the Attorney General on Tuesday.  We heard from experts yesterday about the current state of forensic science in the courts.  One of the topics of discussion was the recent reports by The Washington Post regarding “sloppy” and “unreliable” work at the FBI crime lab that may have led to innocent people being convicted.

The Post also detailed a 2004 review conducted by the Justice Department to identify cases where flawed work by the FBI crime lab may have been involved.  By all accounts, that review was poorly done and it appears that defense attorneys may not have been notified about cases where problems existed.

These are stunning developments given my work with Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, a former FBI Agent who blew the whistle on problems with the FBI Crime lab in the 1990s.  Dr. Whitehurst’s disclosures came at a great cost to him personally as he faced retaliation from the FBI.  However, his disclosures led to an Inspector General report that led to many reforms that have strengthened the FBI crime lab.

Given the recent reports by The Washington Post, Chairman Leahy and I sent a letter on May 21 seeking information from the FBI Director.  Unfortunately, that letter has gone unanswered for over 60 days.

So, on Tuesday, prior to the hearing, I sent a new letter to the Attorney General seeking information about the 2004 review and problems with notifying defendants.  Hopefully, the Attorney General will respond to this letter faster than the FBI has to the letter the Chairman and I sent back in May.

Given this committee’s past work with whistleblowers like Dr. Whitehurst and the discussion on improving forensic science, the Justice Department and FBI should provide us answers immediately.

Turning to the Committee’s agenda, on S.285, the private relief bill sponsored by Senator Levin, I will offer an amendment.  If that amendment is adopted, our side would be willing to voice vote the bill and report it out.

With regard to S.3276, the FAA Sunsets Extension Act, we’re prepared to vote on a straight extension of the law today.  This is an important bill that reauthorizes the FISA Amendments Act, a program vital to our national security.

This bill was reported out of the Intelligence Committee without amendment extending the program through 2017.  The House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee have both reported a similar bill without amendment.

The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence have written to us stating that this reauthorization is “the highest legislative priority for the Intelligence Community” this congress.  Further, they added, “Our first priority, however, is reauthorization of these authorities in their current form.  We look forward to working with you to ensure the speedy enactment of legislation reauthorizing Title VII, without amendment, to avoid any interruption in our use of these authorities to protect the American people.”

I agree with the Administration, the House Judiciary Committee, and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that we should reauthorize this program as soon as possible without amendment.

However, the Chairman has a substitute amendment opening the bill to amendment, so our side will have some amendments to offer as well.

This debate is similar to last year’s reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act.  There the Administration sought a clean extension given the urgent need for the tools.  However, this committee made unnecessary changes to the law that held up passage of it on the floor.

Here, we have a bill proposed by the Administration simply reauthorizing the tools without amendment that passed by the Intelligence Committee without amendment, and now some are seeking to make changes.

I understand that the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee is prepared to support the changes the Chairman is proposing.  I’m not sure what’s changed in the eyes of the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee since she wrote to members on June 19, 2012, supporting her bill without amendment.

In that letter, she stated, “The Select Committee on Intelligence has conducted careful oversight of Title VII.”  She then informed us that the Intelligence Committee proposed extending the sunset to June 2017, in accordance with the Administration proposal.  Now, I’m told she supports a 2015 sunset.  This is problematic as the timing will line up the foreign surveillance provisions of the FAA Amendments Act with the domestic provisions of the PATRIOT Act.

Undoubtedly, this will cause confusion and potentially jeopardize reauthorization of two critical national security programs.

So, we’re prepared to address this bill today, along with some other important national security matters that should be voted on in Committee.

On the nominations, we are prepared to move forward with all the nominations on the agenda.  Unless someone requests otherwise, we should be able to move these nominations by voice vote.  Thank you.

 
Grassley, Issa Seek Clarification of ATF Acting Director’s Message to Employees on Reporting Agency Concerns PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:38
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa today urged the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to clarify his remarks to employees about reporting concerns within the agency.  Grassley and Issa expressed concern that the remarks are likely to chill whistleblowers from reporting legitimate problems and undermine a necessary function for making improvements.  The concern is significant because whistleblowers recently put their careers on the line to expose the operational tactics in Operation Fast and Furious that might have led to the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

In a video message released to ATF staff on July 9, 2012, ATF Acting Director Todd Jones says, “… if you make poor choices, that if you don’t abide by the rules, that if you don't respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences. …”

Grassley and Issa wrote to Jones, stating that the essence of whistleblowing is reporting problems outside of an employee’s chain of command, and whistleblowers were instrumental in exposing the shortcomings of the government’s botched gun-walking operation, Fast and Furious.  Grassley and Issa wrote to Jones, “Your ominous message – which could be interpreted as a threat – is likely to have a major chilling effect on ATF employees exercising their rights to contact Congress.  Therefore, it needs to be clarified.”

Grassley and Issa also wrote, “On numerous occasions, we have stressed to ATF and the Department of Justice the importance of protecting whistleblower disclosures and preventing retaliation against whistleblowers.”

The context for Jones’ remarks and the intent behind them are unclear.  Grassley and Issa asked for a response by July 25.  The text of their letter is available here.  The video is available here.

 

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Governor Quinn Takes Bill Action Wednesday, July 18, 2012 PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Nafia Khan   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:31

CHICAGO – July 18, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today took action on the following bills:

 

Bill No.: SB 3514

An Act Concerning: Government

The law amends the Illinois Medical District Act to expand the authority of the Illinois Medical District Commission in order to generate and maintain revenue, and requires the commission to be audited by the Auditor General.

Action: Signed                        

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: SB 3621

An Act Concerning: State Government

The law amends the language of the Department of State Police Law of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois to bring it into compliance with federal regulation.

Action: Signed                        

Effective Date:  Immediately

 

 

 

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