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.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today made the following comment on the President's forthcoming announcement of a new trade case against China over export restrictions on key materials used to manufacture hybrid car batteries, flat-screen televisions and other high-tech goods.  Last week, the Administration initiated a case against India on poultry products.  A few weeks earlier, the President announced plans to create a new Interagency Trade Enforcement Center within the office of the United States Trade Representative.

 

"The President is right to bring cases against U.S. trading partners that violate their obligations.  Every member of the World Trade Organization has to follow the same rules.  But this case and last week's case against India on poultry products undermine the need for the President's planned Interagency Trade Enforcement Center.  The cases show the United States is already capable of bringing enforcement actions without a new layer of government.  It's not clear whether a new office would lead to more cases or just create redundancy."

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley made the following statement after the Office of Management and Budget cleared the comprehensive BSE rule and the Department of Agriculture released the rule for public comment.

Grassley, along with Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, led a bipartisan group of senators pressing the administration to issue the comprehensive BSE rule.  The rule had been in the works for several years, but was stalled within the Office of Management and Budget.  The letter to the Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Jeffrey Zients and Animal Plant Health and Inspection Services Administrator, Dr. Gregory Parham, can be found here.

"Beef producers have been waiting years for the Department of Agriculture to issue the BSE comprehensive rule.  Without the rule, our trade negotiators face real challenges when they are pushing other countries to adopt science-based approaches to beef imports.  Just as we got close to having this rule issued, OMB held it up for reasons that still aren't clear.  It looks like we finally shook the rule loose after our bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Acting Director Zients pressing him to quickly act.  I will continue to follow the progress of this rule as it moves through the public comment process, and I look forward to seeing new openings for our beef markets."

Friday, March 9, 2012

 

Grassley Asks Justice Department for Details on its "Thousands" of Cases Brought on Mortgage Fraud

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, today asked the Department of Justice for detailed information about the "thousands" of mortgage fraud cases the department has brought forward and about the claim that the department has "secured numerous convictions against CEOs, CFOs, board members, presidents and other executives of Wall Street firms and banks for financial crimes."

Grassley's letter to Attorney General Eric Holder follows a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday about lending foreclosure abuse in relation to the housing crisis.  In a follow-up article in the Blog of Legal Times, a spokesperson from the Justice Department stated, "The Department of Justice, through our U.S. Attorneys' Offices and litigating divisions, has brought thousands of mortgage fraud cases over the past three years, and secured numerous convictions against CEOs, CFOs, board members, presidents and other executives of Wall Street firms and banks for financial crimes."

At the Judiciary Committee hearing, Grassley noted that the Criminal Division in the Justice Department, headed by Lanny Breuer, failed to bring criminal charges against the former Countrywide CEO who was accused of lying about the risks of Countrywide's loans.

Grassley said in his opening statement at the hearing that, "The department's message is that crime does pay.  Light settlements and no prosecutions not only do not deter.  They invite crimes of this sort to occur against similar future victims. How are the department's enormous resources being used?"

Here is a copy of the text of Grassley's letter.  A signed copy can be found here.

 

March 9, 2012

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Attorney General of the United States

Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC  20530

 

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

At a March 7, 2012 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I stated , "The Justice Department has brought no criminal cases against any of the major Wall Street banks or executives who are responsible for the financial crisis" (emphasis added).  In response, the Justice Department issued the following statement: "The Department of Justice, through our U.S. Attorneys' Offices and litigating divisions, has brought thousands of mortgage fraud cases over the past three years, and secured numerous convictions against CEOs, CFOs, board members, presidents and other executives of Wall Street firms and banks for financial crimes."

In light of the Department's statement, please provide for each of the thousands of mortgage fraud cases, the caption of those cases, the crimes for which convictions were sought and obtained, the outcome of the case, including any penalties of imprisonment and/or fines, and please indicate which of these convictions were obtained against CEOs, CFOs, board members, presidents and other executives of Wall Street firms and banks that were responsible for the financial crisis.

Please provide this response by March 31, 2012.

Thank you.                          

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

WASHINGTON - Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin are raising concerns about potential changes being made to the L visa program that would further encourage companies to use the L-1B visa program to import foreign workers and evade restrictions of the H-1B visa program, and putting American workers at a disadvantage.

 

The L-1B visa program allows companies to transfer employees with "specialized knowledge" from the foreign facilities to their U.S. offices for up to seven years.  "Specialized knowledge" as defined by Congress is "special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or ... an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures for the company."

 

Grassley and Durbin wrote in a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas that they "are concerned about attempts by unscrupulous petitioners to obtain L-1B status for workers who do not truly possess specialized knowledge relating to the petitioning company."

 

The senators also wrote that both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Administrative Appeals Office have considered the term "specialized knowledge" when adjudicating these visas, and encouraged U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to adopt the clear standards and reasoning provided by the State Department and the Administrative Appeals Office.

 

Grassley and Durbin are leading the effort to reform the H-1B and L visa programs and are planning to introduce legislation later this year.

 

Here's a copy of the text of the letter.  A signed copy of the letter can be found here.

 

March 7, 2012

 

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Director

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

20 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20529

 

Dear Director Mayorkas:

 

It has come to our attention that you are planning to issue new guidance on the L-1B "specialized knowledge" standard in the near future.  We write today to urge you not to propose changes that would undermine the L visa program.

 

As you know, the L-1B visa program allows companies to transfer employees with "specialized knowledge" from their foreign facilities to their U.S. offices for up to seven years.  We are concerned that the L-1B program is harming American workers because some employers, especially foreign outsourcing companies, use L-1B visas to evade restrictions on the H-1B visa program.  For example, the L-1 program does not have an annual cap and does not include even the minimal labor protections of the H-1B program.

 

Congress defined L-1B "specialized knowledge" in the Immigration and Nationality Act as "special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or ... an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures for the company."  We are concerned about attempts by unscrupulous petitioners to obtain L-1B status for workers who do not truly possess specialized knowledge relating to the petitioning company.

 

As you know, on January 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of State issued new guidance to consular officers on how to adjudicate visas under the specialized knowledge category.  According to the guidelines issued by the Department of State to consular officers around the world, posts should use certain criteria to assist in making an L-1B adjudication.  The criteria include : 1) the proprietary nature of the knowledge possessed by the visa applicant; 2) whether the visa applicant is "key" or normal personnel; and 3) whether the applicant possesses more skills or knowledge than an "ordinary" employee.

 

In July 2008, USCIS's Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) considered the definition of "specialized knowledge" and concluded that a specialized knowledge employee is "an elevated class of workers within a company and not an ordinary or average employee."  In its decision, the AAO said that "'specialized knowledge' is used to describe the nature of a person's employment and that the term is listed among the higher levels of the employment hierarchy with 'managerial' and 'executive' employees."  The AAO also describes congressional intent regarding the L-1 visa program, indicating that "the original drafters intended the class of aliens eligible for the L-1 classification would be 'narrowly drawn' and 'carefully regulated and monitored' by USCIS," and that "[t]his legislative history has been widely viewed as supporting a narrow reading of the definition of specialized knowledge and the L-1 visa classification in general".

 

We agree with the AAO that "specialized knowledge" employees should possess "special" knowledge of a company product and its application in international markets or an "advanced" level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company.  A comparison to the knowledge held by workers in the company's industry generally would be unacceptable and only undermine the specialized knowledge standard established by Congress.

 

We believe that USCIS guidance regarding the definition of specialized knowledge should adopt the standards and reasoning articulated in the January 2011 State Department guidance and the July 2008 AAO decision.  We are concerned that any weakening of the standard would create additional incentives for some employers to use the L-1B visa program in order to circumvent even the minimal wage and other labor protections for American workers in the H-1B visa program.

 

Please provide us with an update on USCIS's activity with regard to the "specialized knowledge" standard.  A prompt response to our concerns would be appreciated.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

________________________________                    ________________________________

Charles E. Grassley                       Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator

United States Senator

WASHINGTON - A Senate Foster Youth Caucus speakers' series started by Senators Chuck Grassley and Mary Landrieu continues tomorrow morning with a discussion on the sexual trafficking of girls in the foster care system.

 

Landrieu and Grassley will host the March 8 event, and panelists will include survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse, a placement service specialist, a legal advocate for foster youth, a prevention specialist, and a child and family services agency leader.

 

The event is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. (ET) in SVC-209 of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center.

 

The senators created the Caucus to educate policy makers about issues facing older children in the foster care system and in the early years after those young people age out of the system.  The Caucus is committed to providing a platform for those who grew up in the foster care system to describe their experiences, identify problems and suggest solutions.

 

Here is more information about the panel speakers.

 

Tanee Hobson is a Survivor Mentor and Group Facilitator with My Life My Choice.  A survivor of sexual exploitation who had been in Massachusetts Department of Children and Families custody since the age of two, Hobson is a former client of My Life My Choice who uses her life experience to help reach other exploited and high risk girls.  Hobson is a frequent presenter at public speaking events, and has represented My Life My Choice in panels at the Germaine Lawrence School and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's hearing for human trafficking legislation.  Currently studying Human Services at Northern Essex Community College, Hobson plans to continue working with exploited girls in the future and become a national leader in the movement to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Withlema "T" Ortiz is a survivor leader and advocate.  She entered the foster care system as an infant and endured more than 14 different placements while in foster care.  During those years, Ortiz also survived being subject to commercial sexual exploitation.  Ortiz now uses her lived experiences to teach, lead, and educate on needed reforms to the child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems.  Ortiz has lectured at Alameda County and Georgetown Law.  She has testified before members of Congress and shared her story on a national level as one of Glamour magazine's 2011 Women of the Year.  Ortiz currently serves on Casey's National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council and is a Young Woman Leader with the Human Rights Project for Girls.  She is also a mentor to other girls who have been similarly forced into the modern day form of slavery.

Michelle Guymon is currently the Director of Placement Administrative Services with Los Angeles County Probation Department.  Guymon graduated from California State University, San Bernardino where she received her master's degree in social work.  Various positions and/or assignments throughout Guymon's tenure include Deputy Probation Officer Treatment and Counselor at Dorothy Kirby Center, Mental Health Consultant for Probation, and Director of Camp Kenyon Scudder, an all-female probation camp, which serves about 300 girls a year.  Guymon is a frequent presenter and trainer regarding child abuse issues and strategies for working with youth in the probation system.  She is an advocate for children at risk and is currently a member of the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Committee, as well as a Probation Department representative with the Innocence Lost Los Angeles Task Force.  Most recently, Guymon has been designated as the Project Manager for the newly created Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking program within the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

 

Teresa Lowry has worked for more than 25 years on behalf of abused, neglected, and vulnerable children.  She began her career investigating the physical and sexual abuse of children for the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services.  After graduating law school she maintained her focus on ensuring justice for children and joined the Special Victims Unit in the Criminal Prosecution Division of the Clark County District Attorney's Office.  There she secured convictions for murder, sexual assault, child abuse, pandering, kidnapping, use of a minor in the production of pornography, and statutory sexual seduction.  She then was promoted to Chief of the Juvenile Division where she worked collaboratively with the juvenile court judge, probation and the public defender's office to create a specialized court responding to sexually exploited girls victimized through human trafficking.  She is currently the Chair of the Policy Governing Board of the Children's Advocacy Center which oversees the multidisciplinary protocols to respond to sexual abuse.  Five years ago, in order to respond to the need for a new way to treat child victims of human trafficking, she and other juvenile justice partners and university researchers established the nonprofit Protecting Sexually Exploited Children-Nevada, PSEC-NV.  The mission is to create programs and services for high risk youth as well as a safe house for sexually exploited teens.  As the current administrator over the Family Support Division, Lowry acts as sponsor for employment opportunities and mentor for former foster youth.

 

Lisa Goldblatt Grace is the Co-founder and Director of My Life My Choice.  Since 2002, My Life My Choice has offered the only comprehensive prevention curriculum aimed at reaching girls most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. Further, My Life My Choice offers a unique continuum of services including prevention groups, training, survivor mentoring, and program consultation.  Goldblatt Grace has been working with vulnerable young people in a variety of capacities for more than 20 years.  Her professional experience includes running a long-term shelter for homeless teen parents, developing a diversion program for violent youth offenders, and working in outpatient mental health, health promotion, and residential treatment settings.  Goldblatt Grace has served as a consultant to the Massachusetts Administrative Office of the Trial Court's "Redesigning the Court's Response to Prostitution" project and as a primary researcher on the 2007 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study of programs serving human trafficking victims.  In addition, Goldblatt Grace has written in a variety of publications regarding commercial sexual exploitation and offered training on the subject nationally. She is an Adjunct Faculty member at the Boston University School of Social Work and a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, and she holds masters degrees in both social work and public health.

 

Joyce Capelle has been the Chief Executive Officer of Crittenton Services of Children and Families in Southern California since 1998.  Prior to joining the agency in 1997, she worked as an administrator in public education and in hospital management for a total of more than 35 years in the human services field.  She holds a Master's degree in Public Administration with a Public Policy focus from California State University, Long Beach and a Juris Doctorate degree from Pacific West College of Law.  She has also served on a number of local, state and national committees on child and family welfare issues. Capelle currently serves on the Board of Directors for the California Alliance for Child and Family Services.

 

-30-

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

 

In January, staff for Sen. Chuck Grassley on separate occasions asked the Federal Communications Commission chairman to make two senior staff members available to discuss the LightSquared wireless project.   The first staff member was Paul de Sa, who was described as the "father" of the LightSquared project, before he left the agency.  When Grassley staff asked to meet with de Sa, the FCC's legislative affairs director responded that he was "not available."  The second staff member was Joshua Gottheimer, who, according to media reports and FCC materials, has been named the FCC chairman's senior counselor with a special responsibility toward implementing President Obama's National Broadband Plan.  The broadband plan recommended a particular spectrum band that primarily would have benefited LightSquared.  Gottheimer previously worked for a public relations firm that serves LightSquared.  When Grassley sent his Jan. 30 letter requesting a meeting with his staff and Gottheimer, the FCC asked his office to keep the letter confidential while the agency decided how it would respond to the request.   Grassley's staff waited one month and did not hear from the agency.  Grassley's staff called the FCC, and the FCC refused to provide access to Gottheimer.

 

Grassley made the following comment on the FCC's refusal to make senior staff available to discuss LightSquared.

 

"The FCC chairman wrote to me last October that he would 'continue to make staff available to discuss this matter further' with me or my staff at our 'convenience.'  That turned out to be an empty offer.  The FCC has refused to allow access to two staff members who likely would be able to shed some light on the FCC's questionable decision to give the green light to the LightSquared project.  It's unfortunate that this agency operates as a closed shop when the public's business ought to be public.  It adds insult to injury to promise openness and fail to fulfill the offer.  The good news is a key House committee is trying to shed light on the FCC's thinking on LightSquared.  Some transparency might be required of the agency after all."

The text of Grassley's letters to Genachowksi requesting access to staff members is available here and here.  The chairman's letter from last October offering to make staff available is available here.

 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

WASHINGTON - The Senate Tuesday night unanimously approved a bill authored by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to increase penalties for trafficking counterfeit drugs.  The legislation responds to recommendations made by the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator and the administration's Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Inter-agency Working Group.

 

The Counterfeit Drug Penalty Enhancement Act will increase penalties for the trafficking of counterfeit drugs to reflect the severity of the crime and the harm to the public.  While it is currently illegal to introduce counterfeit drugs into interstate commerce, the penalties are no different than those for the trafficking of other products, such as electronics or clothing.  The Counterfeit Drug Penalty Enhancement Act will target violators that knowingly manufacture, sell or traffic counterfeit medicines to the United States.

 

"We cannot allow the counterfeiting of life-saving medicine to be just one more low-risk venture from which international organized criminals can profit," said Leahy.  "While we should not expect that enactment of this or any legislation will completely deter the serious problem of counterfeit medication entering the American supply chain, it is an important step in the fight.  I urge the House of Representatives to act quickly on this legislation."

 

"Worldwide counterfeit medicines are a multi-billion dollar industry, and growing at an alarming pace, especially over the internet.  These medicines pose a serious threat to the health and safety of unsuspecting Americans," Grassley said.  "The House should act as quickly as possible to ensure that counterfeit drug traffickers are punished accordingly for putting people's lives at risk with this serious crime.  "

 

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Robert Casey (D-Pa.).  Companion legislation in the House of Representatives was introduced last year by Representatives Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.).

 

It has been reported that counterfeit drugs result in 100,000 fatalities globally each year, and account for an estimated $75 billion in annual revenue for criminal enterprises.

 

# # # # #

Request Comes in Wake of Investigation into Monitoring of Communications Between "FDA Nine" Whistleblowers and Congress

 

Agency may have intercepted passwords to personal accounts to search those accounts, which would be illegal

 

(WASHINGTON)–Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have requested that the Obama Administration conduct a complete assessment of federal agency guidelines for the monitoring of employee's personal email accounts.  Grassley and Issa are conducting investigations into Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actions against nine employees who were whistleblowers to Congress about inappropriate actions they witnessed inside the agency.

 

In a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Jeffrey D. Zients, Grassley and Issa noted that the "FDA may have intercepted passwords to the personal email accounts of its employees for the purpose of logging in to search for archived messages to and from Congress and the Office of Special Counsel." Although the FDA admitted monitoring the accounts, it also obtained confidential email between the whistleblowers and Congress sent prior to the time that the monitoring allegedly occurred, which raises questions about how the FDA obtained the prior emails.

 

"The FDA specifically targeted these employees for monitoring after they contacted the Presidential transition team and Congress to blow the whistle.  Therefore, the FDA's purpose for conducting surveillance was unlawful, because retaliation against individuals who engaged in protected forms of whistleblowing is illegal," Grassley and Issa added.

 

Grassley and Issa wrote to Zients saying that their investigation of FDA's surveillance of whistleblowers had given rise to a broader question about the policies and practices for electronic surveillance at all federal agencies.  They asked OMB to address a series of questions regarding parameters for such searches.

 

A complete copy of the letter and a full list of questions is here.

 

# # #

Sen. Chuck Grassley today made the following comment on the Taiwanese government announcement that Taiwan plans to set an allowance level for U.S. beef that contains the feed additive ractopamine but not set a similar level for U.S. pork.  Ractopamine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is used by many U.S. beef and pork producers as a feed additive.

"I'm encouraged that the Taiwanese government may allow some U.S. beef that contains traces of ractopamine into Taiwan, but the announcement falls far short of resolving this issue.  The Taiwanese government has not set any allowable level of this additive for U.S. pork imports.  As I've said before, Taiwan must treat U.S. agricultural products fairly, in accordance with scientific evidence, and in keeping with its trade obligations, if it expects to maintain its status as a strong economic partner with the United States.  There is no scientific reason for Taiwan to set residual levels of a certain additive for beef but not pork.  I hope Taiwan's announcement was just a first step in the right direction toward more removal of the trade barriers hurting U.S. farmers."

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