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Grassley, Issa Seek Independent Review of FDA’s Monitoring of “FDA Nine” PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 20 February 2012 14:59

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa today asked the independent U.S. Office of Special Counsel to investigate the Food and Drug Administration’s monitoring of personal email accounts used by nine employees to communicate safety concerns about medical devices to Congress.

“The law is intended to prevent exactly what this agency is accused of doing,” Grassley said.  “A federal agency can’t interfere with an employee’s communications with Congress.  An agency can’t retaliate against employees for communicating with Congress.  And an agency’s right to access an employee’s personal email without a subpoena is limited to messages transmitted through or accessed from a government computer. An independent review is necessary to determine how much of the agency’s conduct was legal and how much was illegal.”

“FDA owes its employees and the public a full explanation of how and why it accessed personal email accounts of employees who were whistleblowers about potential concerns they had regarding FDA operations and public safety,” Issa said. “FDA must explain why its managers potentially broke the law by conducting illicit surveillance of protected communications between whistleblowers, Congress, and the Office of Special Counsel.”

Three years ago, the Food and Drug Administration scientists and researchers raised concerns with Congress and the White House about the safety and effectiveness of certain medical devices used to detect diseases including breast and colon cancers.  The agency is under fire for monitoring the employees’ email accounts for communications with Congress and to the extent it retaliated against the employees for the communications.  Such communications between agency whistleblowers and Congress are expressly protected by law.

Six of the nine employees have filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the FDA relied on information it collected through secret surveillance to “fire, harass or pass over for promotion at least six doctors and scientists who communicated with Congress.”

The FDA also is reported to have monitored emails between the employees and the Office of Special Counsel.  Employee communications with the Office of Special Counsel are legally protected as confidential.

The duration, extent, and technical details of the agency’s monitoring of the emails are unclear.  Whether the agency’s interception and collection of personal emails was lawful depends on when, why, and precisely how the agency obtained the emails.

The agency was quoted as saying it did not begin the targeted monitoring of the employees’ email until April 2010.  However, an internal memo from the FDA about the lack of trustworthiness of one of the employees contains an email from the employee’s personal account to Congress from January 2009.

Grassley and Issa asked the Office of Special Counsel “to examine (1) whether the monitoring occurred in retaliation for protected whistleblowing activities and thus may constitute a prohibited personnel practice, and (2) whether the monitoring may have violated any other  law, including the Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 2701 - 2712) as an unauthorized access of stored electronic communications or as a failure to provide notice to the subscriber of court-approved access.”

Grassley sent a letter to the FDA commissioner last month, asking for an accounting of the email monitoring and the intentions behind it.  Issa sent a separate letter earlier this month.

Today’s Grassley-Issa letter to Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner is available here.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency.  Its “primary mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing,” according to its website.

Grassley is Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with jurisdiction over computer privacy statutes, and a longtime advocate for whistleblowers who has conducted extensive oversight of FDA processes.  Issa is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

 

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The Integrity of Immigration Benefits Adjudication PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 20 February 2012 14:57

Prepared Statement for the Record of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

House Committee on the Judiciary

Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement

"Safeguarding the Integrity of the Immigration Benefits Adjudication Process"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Congressional oversight is often an overlooked function for members of Congress.  It’s not always glamorous and it’s a lot of hard work.  However, it’s an important responsibility for the legislative branch that helps our government work more efficiently for the American people.

I commend the House Judiciary Committee for having a hearing today to discuss the shortcomings of our immigration benefits adjudication process. Oversight of this process is crucial to ensuring that our immigration system works for all people, including foreign nationals who wish to live and work in the United States.

The Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security issued a report in January of this year entitled, “The Effects of USCIS Adjudication Procedures and Policies on Fraud Detection by Immigration Services Officers.”  The report provides an insightful look through the eyes of agents on the line.  The Inspector General issued this report after I expressed concern about fraud detection efforts by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While I have long been interested in fraud prevention and rooting out abuse in many visa programs, I jumped into the benefits adjudication process in the fall of 2010.  Immigration officers in the field reported to me that they were being subject to pressure to approve applications and petitions because that was the message of managers in headquarters.  Many officers felt intimidated and pressured.  Some were being relocated.  Some were being demoted.  The stories were similar, and it appeared that people in Washington were preaching a “get to yes” philosophy when it was apparent that the answer should have been “no.”

In September of 2010, I wrote a letter to USCIS Director Mayorkas.  I was unsatisfied with his response to issues that whistleblowers brought up to me.  Since he refused to answer the allegations, I took the issue to the Secretary and the Inspector General.  I told the Secretary that, after many interviews, the evidence suggested that Director Mayorkas was fostering an environment that pressures employees to approve as many applications as possible.

According to several USCIS employees, Director Mayorkas was less concerned about fraud and more about making sure officers were looking at petitions from the perspective of the customer. Some said that USCIS leadership expressed a goal of “zero complaints” from “customers,” implying that approvals were the means to such an end.  The Department of Homeland Security conducted a human capital survey where USCIS scored low because employees felt pressured by upper management to approve applications. Many said that USCIS leadership “cultivated a culture of fear and disrespect.”

So, the Inspector General agreed to investigate.  He said that the “integrity of the benefit issuance process is vital,” inappropriate pressure on the adjudications process must be avoided.  Nearly 52 percent of respondents in their survey said that USCIS policy is too heavily weighted toward promoting immigration.  The fact that a quarter of the immigration service officers surveyed felt pressure to approve questionable applications is alarming.  There are all kinds of pressure, including from supervisors and outside attorneys.  There’s also pressure to approve in order to meet agency performance goals.

It’s no secret that USCIS officers have been judged on quantity, not quality of their work.  For many years, adjudicators have felt pressure to approve so many cases in an hour or a day.  Moreover, according to the Inspector General, 90 percent of respondents felt they didn’t have sufficient time to complete interviews of those who seek benefits.  The Inspector General said that “the speed at which immigration service officers must process cases leaves ample opportunities for critical information to be overlooked.”  Adjudicators are more apt to approve a petition because it takes less time, and they fear getting behind if they have to put a lot of effort into a case.

I applaud the Director for initiating new performance measures so that there’s more focus on fraud and security.  However, like the Inspector General noted, many employees will continue to feel as though their work hinges on numbers.  Despite the new measures, immigration service officers and supervisors are concerned that production remains the focus.  They feel this way because of “the perception that USCIS strives to satisfy benefit requesters in a way that could affect national security and fraud detection priorities.”  The new performance measures may not be perfect.  They may need to be massaged.  I hope the Director takes comments of agents into consideration as this issue evolves.

Unfortunately, however, I am concerned that the agency is not taking seriously the Inspector General’s recommendation to develop standards to permit more time for review of case files.  In fact, USCIS did not concur with this recommendation and said that additional time is not the solution to addressing national security and fraud concerns.  Director Mayorkas should reconsider the department’s initial response to this recommendation and create an environment that ensures a thorough and complete analysis of all applications.

The Inspector General also recommended that USCIS develop a policy to establish limitations for managers and attorneys when they intervene in the adjudication of specific cases.   This recommendation was made because it appeared that certain high-ranking employees at USCIS headquarters were inserting themselves into specific cases, and in one case, putting pressure on adjudicators to approve an application when the individual clearly wasn’t eligible.    The report also discusses how private attorneys and other parties contacted USCIS managers or attorneys to request a review of a case that an immigration service officer had denied.  The perception for many officers was that outside attorneys had too much influence in the process.  While the Director of USCIS does not support special treatment for complainants, it’s concerning that the agency did not fully concur with the recommendation to issue a policy that ends any informal appeals process and the special review of denied cases.

Overall, this report is eye-opening.  The Inspector General discussed the adjudications process with many officers in the field, and brought these issues to light.  He made many thoughtful and serious recommendations that should not be ignored.

Unfortunately, despite what the Inspector General has reported, there are still nay-sayers.  People within the agency want to discredit the research and findings of the Inspector General.  I’m told that some aren’t taking this report seriously.  That’s why leadership on this issue is crucial to enacting any true reform.

In 2008, I was glad to hear the president-elect talk about making this the most transparent government ever.  Unfortunately, up to this point, this administration has been far from transparent.

And, it's clear that for the current administration, the rule of law is more about perception than reality.  They've circled the wagons, made denials and generally been non-responsive to constitutionally proper inquiries by members of Congress.

Since the founding of our country, our immigration laws have been a source of discussion.  We were born a nation of immigrants.  We have welcomed men and women of diverse countries and provided protection to many who flee from persecution.

We have been a generous nation.  Yet, we have seen our country face many challenges.  During these struggles, it is important for lawmakers to bear in mind that the policies we make should benefit our country over the long term and that we must be fair to current and future generations.

People in foreign lands yearn to be free.  They go to great lengths to be a part of the United States.  It's a privilege that people love our country and want to become Americans.  At the same time, however, we must not forget one great principle that our country was founded on.  That is the rule of law.  We want to welcome new Americans, but we need to live by the rules that we've made.  We cannot let our welcome mat be trampled on and we cannot allow our system of laws to be undermined.

For years, USCIS has seen themselves as a service-oriented agency.  They strive to make their customers happy.  Unfortunately, this “get to yes” culture is a direct contradiction to our number one priority of protecting the homeland.  USCIS must do more to ensure that fraud, abuse, and national security are a higher priority than appeasing its customers.  It is going to take a strong-willed and determined leader to change this culture.

Reform shouldn’t be a bad word.  It should be embraced so that immigrants continue to feel welcomed in America and receive the best service possible when trying to navigate the bureaucratic process.

Again, I commend the committee for discussing the integrity of our immigration system, including our benefits adjudication process.  With constant vigilance, we can root out fraud and abuse, and enact reforms that will be meaningful for future generations of new immigrants.

 

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FCC withdraws preliminary approval of LightSquared PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 20 February 2012 14:42

Since last April, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for documents related to the agency’s decision to fast-track the LightSquared broadband wireless project, despite concerns of widespread interference with global-positioning system devices.  The agency has refused to provide any documents.  Now, the FCC is withdrawing the preliminary approval it gave to LightSquared because of interference with GPS devices.  Grassley made the following comment on his inquiry.

“The FCC’s action seems to acknowledge the point I’ve been making since April.  Prematurely granting a conditional waiver in a rushed process is not the way to get the right result.  Now that the interference issue is settled, we need to find out more than ever why the FCC did what it did.  The agency put this project on a fast track for approval with what appears to have been completely inadequate technical research.  After all of this time and expense, still, no one outside of the agency knows why.  That’s not the way the people’s government should work.  The public’s business ought to be public.  Now that the FCC has backtracked on LightSquared, I’d like to see my Senate colleagues join my document request, especially the chairman of the only Senate committee that the FCC is willing to answer.  If we don’t find out how and why the FCC failed to avoid this controversy, then it will keep operating as a closed shop instead of the open, publicly accountable agency it should be.”

 
Region 6 Homeland Security Board and Safeguard Iowa Partnership Announce Week 2 of “20 Weeks to Preparedness Program” PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Ross E. Bergen   
Monday, 20 February 2012 14:40
Release Date: February 20, 2012
Release Number: 3

Welcome to Week 2 of the 20 Weeks to Preparedness Program brought to you by the Region 6 Homeland
Security Board and Safeguard Iowa Partnership. This program will help to better prepare you and your
family, a little at a time, over a 20 week period. Each week new preparedness information will be shared
in this publication including a list of items to gather or purchase for your disaster supply kit. Sign up at
www.safeguardiowa.org/subscribe-to-be-prepared to receive weekly reminders and announcements related to
the 20 Weeks to Preparedness program.

Use this program to gather items for your kit in small steps over a five month period. Remember to change
and replace perishable items by the expiration date. Purchasing the food suggested by this program would last
approximately 3-5 days.

Place in storage bin:

One gallon of water per person per day
First Aid Kit, or gather Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, nitrile latex gloves and gauze pads
One package of toilet paper
Dried fruit and/or nuts

Personalized Item (if applicable):

Baby food

To do:

Find natural gas and water shut-offs. Place appropriate wrench near valves.

Additional assistance is available by contacting the Scott County Emergency Management Coordinator at 484-
3050 or visiting the website at www.iascema.com.
Visit Safeguard Iowa Partnership at www.safeguardiowa.org, on twitter @safeguardiowa or Facebook at
www.facebook.com/safeguardiowa.

The Region 6 Homeland Security Board is comprised of fourteen counties in eastern Iowa that coordinate homeland security planning,
training, exercise, response, and recovery. The counties included are Benton, Black Hawk, Buchanan, Cedar, Clayton, Clinton,
Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Linn, and Scott.

The Safeguard Iowa Partnership is a voluntary coalition of the state's business and government leaders, who share a commitment to
working together to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters in Iowa.

 
Governor Quinn Celebrated Valentine’s Day by Announcing Growth at Mars’ Chicago Chocolate Factory and Visiting Children at Shriners Hospital PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Leslie Wertheimer   
Monday, 20 February 2012 08:36

CHICAGO – February 14, 2012. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Governor Pat Quinn visited the Mars, Inc. Chicago candy factory to announce the company’s recent growth in Illinois. The facility, which has added 65 new jobs, also donated candy to children at the nearby Shriners Hospital for Children. After touring Mars’ facility, the Governor visited children at the hospital and hand-delivered Mars candy valentines.

 

“I want to thank Mars for their continued commitment to growing and creating jobs in Illinois,” Governor Quinn said. “Right here in Illinois, Mars is manufacturing Snickers, Milky Way and 3 Musketeers and it is only fitting that we celebrate this Valentine’s Day with Mars.”

 

Mars recently invested $48 million in its Chicago-based factory to create a new line of products and hire 65 employees to work on a new manufacturing line. The factory has been in full production since 1929, and this recent investment extends the company’s commitment to another 100 years of growth in Illinois. Mars Chicago-based factory employs about 250 associates and manufactures about 25 million candy bars a day.

 

Governor Quinn toured the factory’s new line where employees help produce Mars’ world-famous products like 3 Musketeers, Mars Bars, Milky Way and Snickers.

 

After the tour, Governor Quinn visited the nearby Shriners Hospital for Children, which is one of busiest hospitals in the Shriners network. The hospital treats children with orthopedic and neuromusculoskeletal conditions. Patients can also receive treatment for spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate. Shriners Hospitals for Children provide specialty healthcare for children around the country, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Governor Quinn visited children at the hospital today to deliver Valentine’s Day candy donated by Mars.

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