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Protecting the Whistleblowers PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 23 July 2012 12:33

Protecting Whistleblowers

Friday, July 20, 2012

The value of whistleblowers to the public good, and the need to protect whistleblowers, is clear as ever.  Whistleblowers within federal government agencies have courageously and patriotically stepped forward to point out waste, fraud and abuse of tax dollars.  A famous whistleblower decades ago said whistleblowers are guilty of "committing truth."  We're all better off for the truth whistleblowers commit, and they deserve our respect and support.

Click here for audio.

Here is the text of the address:

The value of whistleblowers to the public good, and the need to protect whistleblowers, is clear as ever.

Without whistleblowers, the public probably never would have known about the operational tactics in the federal government's Fast and Furious program that might have led to the murder of United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.  That's why Congressman Darrell Issa and I have asked the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to clarify his remarks to employees about reporting concerns within the agency.  His ominous comments are likely to chill whistleblowers from reporting legitimate problems and undermine very necessary efforts to make improvements in the agency.    The message sent by the acting director of the ATF is unacceptable.

Another federal agency - the Food and Drug Administration - is also demonstrating the kind of intense retaliation whistleblowers can face.  The FDA started an aggressive campaign more than two years ago to spy on protected, personal email messages of certain agency employees.  Then the FDA retaliated against these agency whistleblowers after they raised concerns to Congress about the safety of drugs and devices approved by the FDA.

What the FDA has done has serious implications for the right of federal employees to make valuable protected disclosures about waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, or public safety to Congress or anyone else.  This kind of communication is protected for good reason.  The scope and tone of the surveillance effort reveals an agency more concerned about protecting itself than protecting the public, which ironically is the agency's mission.  I will continue to dig in and pursue information and accountability from the FDA.

Finally, this week the Judiciary Committee, where I serve as Ranking Member, held a hearing on improving forensic science in the criminal justice system.  I renewed my request for information from the FBI about the scientific integrity of its crime lab, and from the Department of Justice about its review of past prosecutions.

The Department of Justice is conducting an expansive review of criminal cases where defendants may have been wrongly convicted because of flawed forensic work in the FBI crime lab following investigative reporting by The Washington Post that indicated that "sloppy" and "unreliable" work may have led to the incarceration of hundreds of innocent people.  This review needs to avoid mistakes made by a previous task force, so that the forensic science system in this country is as good as it can be.

Today's problems in the FBI crime lab follow improvements made 15 years ago, after a crime lab scientist named Dr. Frederic Whitehurst risked his career to come forward with allegations about wrongdoing in the FBI crime lab.  At that time, the scientific integrity of the lab and thousands of prosecutions that relied on evidence it processed were in question.  Dr. Whitehurst was retaliated against by the FBI, as well.  Ultimately, after a lengthy fight, Dr. Whitehurst's disclosures resulted in an independent investigation that recommended lab changes, including accreditation by an outside body.  Today, again, work needs to be done to safeguard the integrity of the FBI lab.

I stand up for whistleblowers through legislation to empower and protect them, and through congressional oversight of the federal agencies they legitimately, and importantly challenge.  A famous whistleblower decades ago said whistleblowers are guilty of committing "truth."  We're all better off for the truth they commit, and they deserve our respect and support.

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Gun Viiolence PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Simmons   
Friday, 20 July 2012 14:52
All of us are shocked and saddened by the terrible events we have seen unfold today in Aurora, Colorado.

One can only imagine the pain the victims and their families are going through and the heartbreak they will experience in the days ahead. The commitment you and I have made to make sure reckless gun violence doesn’t impact more people’s lives has special meaning today.

Let's carry forward mindful of the profound human consequences of our work together.

Sincerely,

Ginny Simmons, Second Chance

 
H.R. 1639 Reaches 210 Cosponsors Only Eight More to Reach a Majority PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Kyle Whalen   
Friday, 20 July 2012 14:51

Washington, DC-With the addition of Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC-11) and Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY-19), the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2011 (H.R. 1639) now boasts the strength of 210 Representatives behind it. The bill, along with its sister bill in the Senate (S. 1461), seeks to curtail proposed FDA regulation of premium cigars.

Representative Shuler, a former NFL quarterback, as well as Representative Hayworth, a doctor, ophthalmologist, and assistant clinical professor, both knows the effects of tobacco and why premium cigars, which are only made with whole tobacco leaf, are vastly different from cigarettes and other tobacco products.

With the FDA’s proposed new jurisdiction, they would have the ability to completely alter the way premium cigars are blended, produced and sold, even going as far as having the ability to take the word “cigar” out of advertisements and ban walk-in humidors. This, in the opinion of the IPCPR, is the demonization of completely legal and non-addictive product and could seriously harm the industry.

“The FDA has the potential to take away a choice that is completely my own. The level of control that the FDA could dictate would have a devastating impact on the way brick and mortar cigar stores sell their celebratory products. Small business and the jobs we provide are the backbone of America and more regulations from FDA on the products we sell benefit no one,” said Craig Cass, owner of Tinder Box and Tobacco Trader in Charlotte, North Carolina as well as the 2nd Vice President of the IPCPR.

Rob Roth, owner of Nice Ash Cigars & Lounge in New York and a member of the New York Tobacconist Association as well as an IPCPR board member had this to add “As we continue our outreach, more and more congressmen and women are realizing the effect that this legislation would have on small mom-and-pop tobacconists all throughout this country. These bills in the House and Senate are simply standing up for small businesses.”

Deliberations in the House and Senate continue. To get involved, go to www.ipcpr.org.

This article was written by Kyle Whalen. Kyle is the Public Relations Manager for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . More information can be found online at www.ipcpr.org.

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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

# # #

 
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