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Judiciary Exec: Gimmicks in President's Justice Dept. Budget PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 20 February 2012 15:40

Prepared Opening Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Executive Business Meeting

Thursday, February 16, 2012

 

Mr. Chairman,

 

We have a request to hold over the Hurwitz nomination.  We can voice vote out the remaining nominees – Baker, Lee, Tharp and Russell.

 

Before we vote on the nominations, I’d like to say a few words about the release of the President’s fiscal 2013 budget that was released earlier this week.  Specifically, I want to talk about the Department of Justice budget which this committee has a distinct interest in reviewing.

 

The Justice Department budget, like the rest of the President’s fiscal 2013 budget, is loaded full of budgetary gimmicks and sleight of hand.

 

While the budget claims to be nearly $1.8 billion below the fiscal 2012 appropriations, many of the savings achieved in this budget are one-time recessions from existing balances that remain in Justice Department accounts.  These one-time recessions are more than just deceiving, they are actually harmful to the long-term viability of the federal government’s budget.

 

For example, those who attended yesterday’s hearing heard from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about how the Justice Department has been carrying over a balance in the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program dating back as far as fiscal 1999.  According to GAO, those funds include $27 million sitting in an account that could be deobligated and used to offset future appropriations.  This is the same tactic being used by the department throughout the rest of its budget.

 

Now, using unspent or unallocated funds is a good thing—and the department shouldn’t be carrying over significant balances—otherwise, we’ll need to cut down future appropriations.  However, this becomes a problem when these one-time recessions are used to offset base-line spending increases—as the department’s fiscal 2013 budget does.

 

These one-time recessions are used to mask spending increases for a variety of Justice Department accounts.  For instance, the Marshals Service has a net increase of $29 million, but it only appears to be a $12 million increase to the baseline when offset with $17 million in one-time recessions from construction and salary funds.  The FBI appears to be reduced by $48 million, but in reality the FBI sees a net budget increase of $114 million, offset by a one-time recession of $162 million.

 

Same story with the Drug Enforcement Administration budget where they show a net increase of only $10 million, when in fact the baseline increase is $25 million offset by $15 million in recessions.  The list goes on and on throughout the rest of the budget.

 

Perhaps the most concerning part of the department’s budget is the fact that many of the spending increases will be paid for out of the Crime Victims Fund.  This fund was created in 1984 by the Victims of Crime Act.  It is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders, not from tax dollars.  The funds in the account are to be used for victim’s services and assistance.

 

For years, the fund has had an administrative cap placed on it by the Appropriations Committee.  This arbitrary cap limits the amount of funds that go to help victims, creating an additional funding stream for appropriators to pay for programs they want to fund.

 

The fiscal 2013 budget does manage to increase this cap from $705 million, to just over $1 billion.  This should be good news for victims, but it is not.

 

Instead of providing this money to victims, the department’s budget, in the department’s own words, “proposes to preserve important OVW and OJP grant programs that directly or indirectly assist victims of crime by funding them through [Crime Victims Fund] receipts…rather than with discretionary budget authority.”  So, instead of asking Congress to fund grant programs, the department is asking to use Crime Victims Fund money to pay for programs that “indirectly assist victims”.

 

This is a significant change and one that allows the Justice Department to continue to increase funding for bureaucratic components like the Criminal Division, Civil Division, Tax Division, and law enforcement components like the FBI, DEA, and Marshals, while decreasing net expenditures.

 

What this does is essentially allow the Justice Department to increase the size of the bureaucracy, without looking like they’re spending more money.  Instead, the crime victims fund takes the hit.

 

This is not a budget that seeks to lead for the future.  It is not a budget that faces the reality that the federal government is too big already.  It is an election year ploy to say they are cutting the budget while using gimmicks to pay for it.

 

The only solace is that Majority Leader Reid has already signaled that he has no intention of bringing such a dead on arrival budget to the Senate floor.

 

So, keeping with the practice that the Senate Majority has followed for more than 1,000 days, we don’t really need to worry about voting for the gimmicks in the department’s budget.  However, we’ll need to keep an eye out so that these gimmicks don’t find their way into an appropriations bill.

 

Thank you.

 
Broadway to Campaign Trail, Mormon’s the Buzz PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Monday, 20 February 2012 15:12
From Romney and Huntsman’s Polygamist Ancestor to Christian Critics, Expert Shares Insights

For a religion many Americans still describe as “cultish” and “secretive,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gained a lot of mainstream clout in the past couple of years.

On Broadway, the irreverent musical satire “The Book of Mormon” was the hands-down favorite of 2011, winning nine Tony Awards. On television, “Big Love,” a fictional HBO series about a Mormon polygamist, enjoyed a five-year run ending last March. And on the GOP presidential campaign trail, front-runner Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are both Mormons with deep roots in the 181-year-old church.

Los Angeles attorney Robert P. DesJardins studied the religion and its history for his newest novel, Land of the Saints (http://robertpdesjardins.authorsxpress.com/). He found a history that provided him not only with plenty of mystery and intrigue for his fiction, but also gave him insights into the religion’s role in contemporary America.

Did you know?

• Former governors Romney and Huntsman share a common ancestor: Parley Pratt. An original apostle of the church founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Pratt was Romney’s great-great grandfather and Huntsman’s great-great-great grandfather, DesJardins says. Pratt was said to have had 12 wives in the years before polygamy was banned by the church in 1890. (Current members practicing plural marriage are excommunicated.) Pratt was killed in 1857 by the estranged husband of a woman with whom he’d become involved.

• Romney and Huntsman are not the first church members to run for president. Joseph Smith, who founded the church in 1830, began his run for president on Jan. 29, 1844. It ended with his assassination five months later on June 27.

• Contrary to popular belief, the church’s growth has slowed dramatically since 1999. From 1974 to 1994, it was said to be the fastest-growing American-made religion, but the numbers started dropping in 1999, DesJardins says. There are now about 14 million Mormons worldwide and they comprise just 2 percent of the U.S. population, which is interesting, DesJardins notes, since they comprise 28 percent of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

• One issue that surfaces in heavily evangelical Christian states such as Iowa and South Carolina is whether Mormons are Christians. “Mormons believe in God the father, Jesus the son and the Holy Ghost. They believe in Jesus as our savior and Messiah,” DesJardins says. “So how why would anyone say they’re not Christians? The difference is, they do not believe the three gods are one. And they believe in human deification – that humans can become gods. Those are two fundamental reasons why some Christians say Mormons do not share their faith.”

• The Latter-day Saints is well-known as the keeper of the largest genealogical library in the world, with more than 2.4 million rolls of records on microfilm, and a database with names of 600 million dear departed. Why all the data on non-church members? Mormons can assure ancestors are together for all eternity through baptism of the dead; living church members stand inn as proxies.

The church has long been regarded with suspicion, and even outright violence. Despite its growing prominence in American culture, those attitudes still prevail, DesJardins says.

“The church itself hired two ad agencies in 2009 to research public perception and was disappointed to find Americans still describe it as ‘cultish,’ ‘secretive’ and ‘sexist,’’’ DesJardins says. “It set about to change that with a multi-million-dollar TV, billboard and Internet campaign in 2010.”

The campaign expanded in 2011.

DesJardins expects it will do little to help a religion that still idolizes its authoritarian founder, carefully guards secrets and ceremonies, and reserves positions of power within the church for men.

About Robert P. DesJardins

A successful Los Angeles lawyer for more than 35 years, DesJardins is now a lecturer, private judge and judge pro tempore for the California Superior Court - in addition to being a novelist. In Land of the Saints, his third book, his main character is an attorney who finds himself drawn into the mysterious and dangerous world of Mormon spirituality after a friend is charged with murder. DesJardins is also the author of "The Mistral and A Darker Shade of Orange."

 
DAVENPORT MAN WINS $10,000 LOTTERY PRIZE PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Amy Garringer   
Monday, 20 February 2012 15:07

DES MOINES, Iowa – A Davenport man won the first top prize of $10,000 playing the lottery’s “PAC-MAN™” instant-scratch game.

Frank Reyes claimed his prize Monday at the Iowa Lottery’s regional office in Cedar Rapids. He purchased his winning ticket at Casey’s, 222 Front St. in Buffalo.

PAC-MAN™ is a $2 scratch game. Players scratch each play. If “PAC-MAN™” goes from start to finish without meeting a “ghost,” players win the prize shown. If they find a “cherry” symbol, they win $10 instantly. If they find the “strawberry” symbol, they win $50 instantly. Overall odds for winning in the game are 1 in 3.94.

Twelve top prizes of $10,000 are still up for grabs in PAC-MAN™, as well as 880 prizes of $100.

Players can enter eligible non-winning scratch tickets online to earn “Points For Prizes™” points. The point value will be revealed to the player on the website upon successful submission of each eligible valid ticket. There is a limit of 30 ticket entries per day. To participate in Points For Prizes™, a player must register for a free account at ialottery.com. Registration is a one-time process. Merchandise that can be ordered by using points will be listed on the website in the Points For Prizes™ online store. Players can choose from items in categories such as apparel, automotive, jewelry, sporting, tools and more.

Since the lottery’s start in 1985, its players have won more than $2.8 billion in prizes while the lottery has raised more than $1.3 billion for the state programs that benefit all Iowans.

Today, lottery proceeds in Iowa have three main purposes: They provide support for veterans, help for a variety of significant projects through the state General Fund, and backing for the Vision Iowa program, which was implemented to create tourism destinations and community attractions in the state and build and repair schools.

 

PAC-MAN™ & ©NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. 

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Grassley, Issa Seek Independent Review of FDA’s Monitoring of “FDA Nine” PDF Print E-mail
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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
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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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