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Grassley Encourages More Bite from Defense Watchdog PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 19 March 2012 14:32
WASHINGTON – March 14, 2012 - Calling the audit work of the Defense Department’s inspector general a mission of the highest importance, Senator Chuck Grassley today urged auditors to double down on improvements to their work with stronger recommendations, a greater focus on fraud and appropriate criminal referrals, timeliness, and follow-up efforts that result in accountability and recovery of improper payments.


Grassley made his remarks as he released his third report card assessing the audit work of the Inspector General’s office.  Grassley’s latest review awarded a grade of C, up from last year’s D-minus.


“There’s nothing more important to the taxpayers than having an aggressive team of auditors watch-dogging how the taxpayers’ money is spent,” Grassley said.  “The good news is that in response to the feedback from these report cards and a productive ongoing dialogue, audit quality appears to be improving.”


The senator said he began assessing this audit work three years ago based on a tip about mismanagement and no benefit to taxpayers or program integrity despite a cost of $100 million a year for the auditing operation.


Grassley said that the work he first examined was little more than policy and compliance reviews, with no real attempt to scrutinize the dollar impact of misguided efforts.  “If we’re going to have accountability with valuable defense dollars, we need hard-core, fraud-busting contract audits,” Grassley said.


Earlier this month, Grassley asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to examine audit recommendations and pursue reforms.  Today, Grassley said he appreciates the interest of Acting Inspector General Lynne M. Halbrooks in making the audit work more aggressive and effective.  Grassley shared his review with Halbrooks in a detailed 25-page document.  Grassley’s floor statement about his continuing effort is below.


The Iowa senator has a long history of defense oversight and legislative reform work.  During the 1980s, he led a vigorous campaign for military procurement reform.  Grassley helped to expose the gross overpricing of spare parts and won passage in May 1985 of an amendment that froze the defense budget and ended the Reagan military budget build up.  In working to reduce waste, fraud and abuse of defense dollars, Grassley took on the iron triangle of congressional committees, the Pentagon and special interest groups.  He has been a leader in drawing attention to egregious practices of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services, the agency which manages payments for the Department of Defense, and offered a series of reform amendments to annual spending bills for the Department of Defense, while also ramping up pressure on auditors for the Inspector General to conduct aggressive and meaningful reviews of accounting practices.  Over many years, Grassley has worked to empower watchdogs and whistleblowers to speak up regarding defense spending abuses and to hold accountable inspectors general responsible for oversight of defense dollars.



Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Audit Oversight Review and Report Cards for 2009-2011

The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Defense

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Mr. President, I come to the floor today to report on the latest results of my ongoing audit oversight review.


This work examines audits issued by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Defense.

After receiving anonymous letters in early 2009 alleging mismanagement of audit resources, my staff initiated an in-depth oversight review. This is my third report in the series. Its goal is to assess audit quality in 2011 and make recommendations for improvement.

I am doing this work for one important reason.

Like investigations, audits are a primary oversight tool. In fact, audits may be the most important tool. That is because the auditors’ core mission is to watch-dog how the taxpayers’ money is being spent. That puts them on the “money trail” 24/7. If fraud is occurring, that’s where it will happen. That’s where they need to be, and hopefully they find it.

These audits cost the taxpayers $100 million a year. Are they getting the job done? Are they rooting out waste and fraud and saving money?

My first report, which was published on September 7, 2010, clearly indicated that the audit oversight capabilities of the Inspector General’s office were seriously degraded.

The Inspector General at the time, Gordon Heddell, responded to my first report in a very constructive way. He promptly approved a transformation plan designed to improve audit quality.

In order to assess progress on reforms, I issued a second report on June 1, 2011. I called this one a Report Card. It evaluated and graded 113 reports issued during fiscal year 2010.

I awarded those 113 reports a grade of D Minus.

The low overall score was driven by the very same deficiencies pinpointed in my first report.

Instead of being hard-core, fraud-busting contract audits, most reports were policy and compliance reviews. There was little or no attempt to even verify the exact dollar impact of the misguided policies examined. Such reports offered zero benefit to the taxpayers, though many were mandated by Congress.

I identified 27 good reports that involved commendable and credible -- and in some cases -- nitty gritty audit work. Were it not for their long completion times, all those reports would have earned top scores.

At the conclusion of the second report, my staff presented a list of the “Top Nine Audit Roadblocks” standing in the way of reform.

After the second report was issued, Inspector General Heddell issued a sharp rebuttal.

He complained that I did not give sufficient credit for 18 audits that identified $4.2 billion in potential monetary benefits.

I addressed Inspector General Heddell’s criticism on the floor on two separate occasions -- July 5th and July 28th, 2011. At that time, I admitted that he had a legitimate gripe about my report. My staff reviewed the matter and upped the scores on 12 of the 18 reports, but those adjustments did not move the overall score for 113 reports out of the D range.

Today, I am issuing my third audit oversight report. This one examines the latest batch of reports -- the 121 reports issued between October 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011. They are known as the fiscal year 2011 audits.

I am giving those reports an overall score of 3.51 or C.

As my report clearly indicates, there was across-the-board improvement in every category except one – timeliness.

I am very happy to report to my colleagues that audit quality appears to be improving.

The best possible indicator of improvement is the doubling of top-rated reports. Those numbers jumped from 27 reports, or 25% of total production in 2010, to 70 reports, or 58% of total production in 2011. That’s better than a two-fold increase.

The auditors have achieved a breakthrough. The apparent progress is promising.

The most important area of improvement in audit quality was in the strength of recommendations. There was a surge in this key area. It was propelled by calls for accountability and recovery of wasted money. Though modest and limited in number, these initiatives had force. Recommendations are the business end of an audit, and these recommendations were based on rock-solid findings.

At least 50 reports arrived at findings that documented flagrant mismanagement, waste, negligence, fraud, and even potential theft. Sixteen of those reports recommended that responsible officials be considered for administrative review. A comparable number contained recommendations for the recovery of improper payments. And 10 reports – largely those on “Stimulus” projects – recommended that wasteful projects be terminated.

These reports jumped out at me. They are quite remarkable. But 50 reports with rock-solid findings should generate 50 – not just 16 -- sets of hard-hitting recommendations.

These 50 reports add up to a good beginning, but they don’t confer world-class status on the Inspector General’s Audit Office.  Within the grand totality of the 121 reports published in 2011, they are a drop in the bucket.

The vast majority of reports still offer weak recommendations.

Most reports merely instruct audit targets to do what they are already required to do under law and regulation. In my opinion, that’s a waste of ink and paper.

There are still four distinct trouble spots needing intense management attention.

The biggest problem continues to be the number of unsatisfactory reports. While I can no longer say that most reports were poor, at 42%, the proportion of low scoring reports remains unacceptably high.

Those reports continue to suffer from the same deficiencies identified in a report commissioned by Inspector General Heddell in response to my first report. This report was produced by two independent consulting firms and dated October 7, 2010. It is known as the Qwest Report. Their conclusions, which matched my own, were as follows:

“We do not believe Audit is selecting the best audits to detect fraud, waste and abuse. The organization does not audit what truly needs to be done. Some audits hold little value in the end.”

As I have said many times, far too many audits offer little or no benefit to the taxpayers. This was still true in 2011.

Long audit production times remain another big problem. Old reports offer stale information that weakens the power and relevance of audit reports.

Between 2010 and 2011, the average time needed to complete reports jumped from 13 to 16 months, and, as I understand it, those numbers don’t tell the full story.

They do not include the extra weeks or months reportedly needed for the planning and approval process that occurs before audit work begins. Add those numbers together, and you are really looking at two years to publish an audit.

Stale information reduces audit impact to zero over time.

The Qwest Report pinpointed the root cause of this problem: “it is apparent that in the planning phase of audit selection, audits are written to fit a team, as opposed to a team established to conduct a needed audit.”

Such organizational inflexibility drives long completion times. It also leads to the publication of audits having objectives that are so narrow and limited in scope that they are virtually worthless.

Audit teams need to be organized to support more challenging and more relevant audit tasks, and Mr. Blair indicated recently that he was moving in this direction.

There are two other outstanding problems.

Far too few reports - just 9 in all -- verified actual payments, using primary source accounting records.

Failing to nail down exact dollar amounts of waste and mismanagement, including those resulting from misguided policies, undermines the credibility and completeness of audit reports.

For example, using invoices or contracts to estimate payments would not appear to meet the most stringent audit standards. A more acceptable procedure is essential because of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s long-standing track record of making erroneous and unauthorized payments. In the face of such sloppy accounting practices, verification of payments should be mandatory.

Lastly, referral rates to the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) are still far too low. Only 5 reports generated potential criminal referrals, which appears to point to a lack of concern about fraud. Surely there was enough grist in the 50 reports, which documented egregious waste and misconduct, to warrant additional referrals to DCIS and/or the Justice Department.

A number of audits standout as candidates for further review and possible prosecution.

I have urged Secretary Panetta and the Acting Inspector General to reexamine some of these issues.

Acting IG Halbrooks has put the public spotlight on disgraceful and scandalous waste and alleged misconduct that demands accountability.

Unfortunately, unless the recommendations in those hard-hitting audits are somehow converted to concrete action, all this good work will amount to nothing more than a bunch of auditors “howling in the wilderness.”  It will simply “fall through the cracks.”

Converting tough recommendations into concrete action takes determination and relentless follow-up. The key is making sure agencies do what they agreed to do at the conclusion of an audit. However, all indications suggest that corrective actions proposed in 16 hard-hitting reports have run into some serious flak in the Pentagon bureaucracy.

Without high-level intervention, most, if not all, accountability and savings measures could be slowly and quietly quashed in bureaucracy. A recent report from the Navy clearly indicates that this fate awaits at least one of the reports and probably all the others, as well.

In order to assist in the audit resolution process, I have asked Secretary Panetta to conduct a top-level review of all the allegations contained in the 16 most disturbing reports.

I urged him to establish a reasonable path forward on all unresolved recommendations.

Until there are meaningful consequences and real penalties for such gross waste and misconduct, the culture of the organizations involved will not change.

Without accountability, there will be no positive results. Good audit value will go down the drain. Unabated waste of the taxpayers’ money will continue.

Clearly, significant progress was achieved in 2010-11. But the Inspector General’s audit capabilities are not yet out of the woods. Much more work remains to be done. Management needs to build on the strengths exemplified by the 50 reports containing rock-solid findings and 16 sets of hard-hitting recommendations. Those reports could be used as models for improving audit quality in the future.

In order to start producing more top quality reports, management needs to consider the following suggestions:

·         bring report recommendations into balance with findings;

·         increase calls for accountability and recovery of improper payments;

·         verify all payments using primary source accounting records;

·         organize audit teams to match more complex and challenging tasks;

·         pick-up the pace of fraud referrals to the Defense Criminal Investigative Service;

·         develop a more effective audit follow-up strategy;

·         follow-up to ensure that prosecution occurs where warranted or necessary;

These adjustments should be achieved using available resources.

Correct these problems, and top quality reports will be the norm. All these goals are within easy reach. Once accomplished, audits will be fully aligned with the core mission.

In closing, I want all the auditors in the Inspector General’s office to know that I consider their oversight mission to be of the highest importance. There is nothing more important to the taxpayers than having an aggressive team of auditors watch-dogging how the taxpayers’ money is being spent. I know there has been a concerted effort over the past few years to improve the quality of their work. I deeply respect, appreciate, and support these efforts. They are starting to pay off.  I can see results of all the hard work. I encourage all the auditors to keep moving ahead until the job is finished. And I urge Mr. Blair to unleash the auditors. I want them to be tigers. Encourage them to call waste what it is – WASTE. Let them follow their instincts and the guidance in their audit manuals that instructs them to: “Think fraud and plan audits to provide a reasonable assurance of detecting fraud.”


Mr. President, I yield the floor.

News Releases - General Info
Written by Amy Garringer   
Monday, 19 March 2012 14:02

Mary Jo Schweda Wins Top Prize of $50,000 Playing “Super Crossword” Scratch Game


DES MOINES, Iowa – A Davenport woman ran an errand for her daughter and it led to her winning a top prize of $50,000 playing the lottery’s “Super Crossword” instant-scratch game.

Mary Jo Schweda, 54, said she was visiting her daughter at work when her daughter asked Schweda to buy her a soda. Schweda decided to go across the street to QC Mart, 2843 East 53rd St. in Davenport to get one.

“I asked the girl the difference between the two Crosswords and I said, ‘Oh, I’ll take the five,’” Schweda said. “The next day I scratched it and I was sitting there thinking I had won $5,000.”

Schweda scratched the ticket while on a break from work at the Rock Island Arsenal, so she asked some coworkers to help her check her ticket.

“I had three of my friends check the ticket and make sure I didn’t do it wrong, and then we realized I had ten words!” she said. “We all just started screaming. I was thrilled with five!”

Schweda said she doesn’t play scratch tickets very often, but she chose the Super Crossword ticket because she liked the idea of having three ways to win.

“I thought, ‘Oh, what the heck.’ Of course, my daughter takes full credit for this,” Schweda said with a laugh as she claimed her prize Friday at the Iowa Lottery’s regional office in Cedar Rapids.

Schweda said she hadn’t made any plans for her winnings.

“I’m just going to calm down and then think about it,” she said.

Super Crossword is a $5 scratch game. Players win a prize by scratching the "your letters" then scratching the corresponding letters found in Puzzles 1 and 2 and the "bonus word." If players have scratched at least three complete words in Puzzle 1 or 2, they win the corresponding prize shown in the prize legend for that puzzle. If players uncover all six letters in the "bonus word" by scratching the letters that match the "your letters" they win the prize shown in the prize box.

Four top prizes of $50,000 are still up for grabs in Super Crossword, as well as five prizes of $5,000, 61 prizes of $500 and more than 465 prizes of $100.

Players can enter eligible nonwinning 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 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.


To Ensure a Bright Future, Your Teen Needs to be Reading PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Monday, 19 March 2012 13:59
Author Offers Tips for Getting Adolescents to Turn the Page

Being able to read well is more important than ever for young adults to achieve economic success. But more than 60 percent of middle and high school students score below “proficient” in reading achievement, according to a December 2011 report by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“Teen literacy is a huge problem in the United States – its 15-year-olds rank 14th among developed nations in reading – behind Poland, Estonia and Iceland,” says Rhiannon Paille, 27, an advocate for teen literacy whose new fantasy novel, Flame of Surrender ( targets young adults. (South Korea, Finland and Canada rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd.)

“Kids need strong reading skills if they hope to graduate from high school AND they really need to plan for college – 59 percent of U.S. jobs today require some postsecondary education, compared to 28 percent in 1973.”

The best thing parents can do to help boost their 12- to 18-year-olds’ literacy is to get them reading – anything.

She offers these suggestions:

• Buy them comic books. Boys persistently lag behind girls in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Paille says. If your son isn’t a reader, try getting him hooked on comic books. “Stephen King started off reading comics, ‘Tales from the Crypt.’ Hey, if it was good enough for him …!’’ From comic books, they may move into graphic novels, a popular young adult genre. As long as they’re reading, they’re building comprehension skills and vocabulary, so it needn’t be “War and Peace.”

• Look for book-to-film novels. Chances are, if it was a great movie, they saw it, and that’s often enough to get a non-reader curious. This is another especially good hook for boys, Paille says.

• Tune into what they’re interested in. What kinds of video games do they play? Some popular games have spawned novels, including Halo, EverQuest, ElfQuest and Gears of War. Even gaming guides, which players read to unlock new clues to advancing in the game, can motivate a teen to crack a book.

• Read the same book your teen is reading. Book clubs are popular because people like talking to others who’ve read the same book. Your teen may not be ready for an evening of petit fours and grape juice while discussing the pacing of “Hunger Games,” but it can make for some interesting conversation on the way to soccer practice. And you can always nudge them along with comments like, “Oh, you haven’t gotten to that part yet? It’s really good!”

“People tend to think their young adults aren’t reading if they’re not reading novels,” Paille says. “But novels aren’t for everyone, and whether it’s a comic book or a gaming guide, all reading helps build comprehension skills and vocabulary.”

Good magazines, with shorter articles suited for distractible adolescents, might include Sports Illustrated, People, Seventeen or Mad.

“When you’re out shopping, think about what they’re interested in and pick up something just for them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as putting the right reading materials right into their hands.”

About Rhiannon Paille

Rhiannon Paille is an active advocate for youth literacy and an avid reader of young adult novels. Her first book, the non-fiction Integrated Intuition: A Comprehensive Guide to Psychic Development, remains a popular seller on Paille is the founder of the Canadian Metaphysical Foundation. She’s married and the mother of two children.

FOIA Compliance Lacking in Executive Branch PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 19 March 2012 12:37

Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary

“The Freedom of Information Act:  Safeguarding Critical Infrastructure

Information and the Public’s Right to Know.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing during Sunshine Week.


Open government and transparency are essential to maintaining our democratic form of government.  Our Founding Fathers knew this, as James Madison once said -- “a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”


The Freedom of Information Act codifies this fundamental principle which our Founders valued so dearly.  So it’s important to talk about the Act and the need for American citizens to be able to obtain information about how their government is operating.


Although it’s Sunshine Week, I’m sorry to report that contrary to President Obama’s proclamations when he took office, after three years, the sun still isn’t shining in Washington, D.C.


Based on my experience in trying to pry information out of the executive branch, I’m disappointed to report that agencies under the control of President Obama’s political appointees have been more aggressive than ever in withholding information from the public and from Congress.


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


On his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act.  In it, he instructed executive agencies to

“adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.”


Unfortunately, it appears that in the eyes of the President’s political appointees, his proclamations about open government and transparency -- are merely words, which can be ignored.


Indeed, FOIA requestors appear to have reached the same conclusion. For example, when recently asked about President Obama and FOIA, Katherine Meyer, an attorney who’s been filing FOIA cases since 1978, said, that the Obama administration

“is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it… This administration is raising one barrier after another. … It’s gotten to the point where I’m stunned — I’m really stunned.”


The problem is more than just a matter of backlogs with answering FOIA requests.  Based on investigative reports, we’ve learned of inappropriate actions by the President’s political appointees.


In March of last year, two weeks after this committee held a hearing on FOIA, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a 153-page report on its investigation of the political vetting of FOIA requests by the Department of Homeland Security.  The committee reviewed thousands of pages of internal emails and memoranda and conducted six transcribed witness interviews.


The committee, under Chairman Issa, learned that political staff under Secretary Napolitano corrupted the agency’s FOIA compliance procedures, exerted pressure on FOIA compliance officers, and undermined the federal government’s accountability to the American people.  The report’s findings are disturbing.  I’ll just summarize four of them.


First, the report finds that by the end of September 2009, copies of all significant FOIA requests had to be forwarded to Secretary Napolitano’s political staff for review.  The career staff in the FOIA office weren’t permitted to release responses to these requests without approval from political staff.


Second, career FOIA professionals were burdened by an intrusive political staff and blamed for delays, mistakes, and inefficiencies for which the Secretary’s political staff was responsible.  The Chief Privacy Officer, herself a political appointee, did not adequately support and defend career staff.  To the contrary, in one of her emails, she referred to her career staff as “idiots.”


Third, political appointees displayed hostility toward the career staff. In one email, political staff referred to a senior career FOIA employee as a “lunatic” and wrote of attending a FOIA training session organized by the career staffer for the “comic relief.”  Moreover, three of the four career staff interviewed by the committee have been transferred, demoted, or relieved of certain responsibilities.


Finally, the report finds that the Secretary’s office and the General Counsel’s office can still withhold and delay significant responses. Although the FOIA office no longer needs an affirmative statement of approval, the Secretary’s political staff retains the ability to halt the release of FOIA responses.


The conduct of the political appointees at Homeland Security involved the politically motivated withholding of information about the very conduct of our government from our citizens.  In particular, it was the withholding of information about the administration’s controversial policies and about its mistakes.  This was a direct violation of the President’s orders.


I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more coverage of Chairman Issa’s report and the inappropriate conduct by political appointees at Homeland Security.  I’m also disappointed that the Justice Department hasn’t conducted an investigation of this scandal.

I have to say that I’m a bit surprised that some open government and privacy groups appear to be accepting the dramatic regulatory power that Homeland Security and Secretary Napolitano will have under the Lieberman-Collins’ cybersecurity bill and under President Obama’s proposal.  Given the FOIA scandal at Homeland Security, I’d have thought that they’d have more reservations.


I’m also sorry to say that the Department of Homeland Security isn’t alone when it comes to questionable actions.  Recently, the National Security Archive gave its annual Rosemary Award to the Department of Justice for the worst open government performance in 2011.


The charges the Archive makes against the Justice Department include:

(1)               proposing regulations that would allow the government to lie about the existence of records sought by FOIA requesters, and that would further limit requestors ability to obtain information;

(2)               using recycled legal arguments for greater secrecy, including questionable arguments before the Supreme Court in 2011 in direct contradiction to President Obama’s presumption of openness; and

(3)               backsliding on the key indicator of the most discretionary FOIA exemption, Exemption 5 for deliberative process.  In 2011, the Justice Department cited Exemption 5 to withhold information 1,500 times.  That’s up from 1,231 times in 2010.

According to the Archive, the Justice Department edged out a crowded field of contending agencies that seem to be in “practical rebellion” against President Obama's open-government orders.

So there’s a disturbing contradiction between President Obama’s grand pronouncements and the actions of his political appointees.  The Obama administration doesn’t understand that open government and transparency must be about more than just pleasant sounding words in memos.  Ultimately, the President is responsible for the conduct of his political appointees, especially after three years in office.  Both he and Attorney General Holder certainly know what’s been going on.


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


Open government isn’t a Republican or a Democrat issue.  It has to be a bipartisan issue.  It’s about basic good government and accountability—not party politics or ideology.


I started out my remarks by quoting James Madison, the Founding Father who is one of the inspirations for Sunshine Week.  Madison understood the danger posed by the type of conduct we’re seeing from President Obama’s political appointees.  He explained that --- “[a] popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”


So I’m looking forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.  Their experiences and expertise should be helpful.  I want to thank all of the witnesses for coming in and for taking the time to prepare their testimony.


I also want to thank Sargent Ensminger for his service to our country.  I’m very sorry about the loss of your daughter.  I’m a cosponsor of the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which was introduced by Senator Burr.  That bill 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.


Thank you.

Q&A: Sunshine and Accountability with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Sen. Chuck Grassley   
Monday, 19 March 2012 12:31

Q:        What is Sunshine Week?

A:        In 2005, a group of advocates, including journalists, launched a national initiative to encourage individuals to play an active role in their government at all levels and to work to give them access to information about their government.  Sunshine Week is scheduled each year to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution.   The observance promotes a dialogue about open government in honor of Madison’s founding principle that government gets its limited powers by “consent of the governed.”  Transparency and the accountability that results strengthen our system of self-government.


Q:        What’s the role of transparency and open government?

A:        Letting the sun shine in and making information public is basic to accountability.  James Madison wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  As a U.S. senator, I’ve championed the public’s right to know with oversight and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act, fighting for disclosure by federal agencies of the people’s business, and pushing for measures to protect watchdogs and whistleblowers.

For many years, I’ve worked to keep the people’s business open for public consumption by shedding light on information from federal agencies.  The taxpaying public pays the bills and deserves to know how its government operates.  Bureaucratic stonewalling harms public confidence in our system of government.  Accountability is needed to safeguard the integrity of the rule of law.  These principles are at stake in my current oversight of the Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious gun walking fiasco that allowed the illegal sale of thousands of weapons in the United States which then often flowed to Mexico, for example.  They are why I’m standing up to the Federal Communications Commission to release information about a fast-tracked licensing agreement.  Responsible stewardship of public programs is on the line when the Department of Housing and Urban Development fails to oversee how federal dollars are grossly misused, and I want to make sure the problems are fixed.  My scrutiny of reports from Inspectors General about Defense Department spending also is drawing attention to egregious waste and misconduct.  With $500 billion in controversial defense budget cuts proposed, the waste described in the reports is the perfect place for the Pentagon to begin its belt-tightening.  To curb fraud and overpayments with health care dollars, I seek greater disclosure and oversight of where Medicare and Medicaid dollars are spent.  The judicial branch should be open to the public, as well, and I’m making progress on my legislative effort to allow broadcast coverage of the federal courts and the Supreme Court.

The sunshine effort has no better friend than whistleblowers.  Private citizens and government employees who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing and cover-ups risk their livelihoods to expose misconduct.  The value of whistleblowers is the reason I continue to challenge the bureaucracy and Congress to support them.  As one whistleblower said famously, they “commit truth.”  Over the years, I’ve worked for enactment of several whistleblower initiatives to protect and empower these patriots.  Whistleblowers have made a positive difference by standing up to defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies, for example.  They’ve helped hold accountable the Defense Department, the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.  Currently, I’m seeking to update the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Act that I first authored in 1989, so that it continues to protect from retaliation whistleblowers inside the federal government, including those involved in homeland security.  This latest bill has been approved by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and awaits action by the Senate and House.

Q:        In addition to an informed citizenry, how does our system of government establish accountability?

A:        Congress plays a major part in a system of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches of our government, and restoring some of the checks and balances that have eroded is an important challenge for Congress, where the people have a voice through their elected representatives.  The Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress yet, year after year, Congress passes legislation that delegates more power to the executive branch without really assessing the full impact of those laws and how that power is used.  Federal agencies are increasingly bypassing Congress by imposing new regulations that Congress never intended.  This year, in addition to a focus on major regulations handed down from the executive branch, fundamentally important protests have been made over the President’s effort to put the executive branch above the other branches of government with unprecedented appointments to high-level government positions.  The President purportedly exercised his temporary recess appointment power, despite the fact that Congress was not in a prolonged recess.  What’s happened is both unconstitutional and counter-productive.  It’s an approach that Americans rejected 235 years ago.  And, working to finding common ground with the elected representatives of Congress would be more productive than trying to govern by edict from the Oval Office.

As an elected representative, I’m committed to cultivating the freedoms and responsibilities of all Americans.  And, as James Madison wrote, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

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