Tag Archive: GAO

Investigation of GWB lane closures may extend to U.S. Congress

Pulling this back up top for a while, since I posted it at nearly 3am and people might not have seen it. In addition to the new possibility that Congress may get involved, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation may enter this investigation. Below, video recap: Sen. Weinberg on @Maddow – Rosi

On Rachel Maddow tonight last night, Sen. Loretta Weinberg said she will ask the U.S. Congress – which passed the legislation that created the Port Authority itself – to investigate whether the sudden GWB lane closures were politically-motivated. Port Authority was already under the microscope of the federal General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. In August the GAO submitted a report to the U.S. Senate with a  stinging criticism of PA’s 2011 process in jacking up tolls, recommending both better transparency and more oversight of its workings.

Ironically, that report was released to the public on September 13, the same day PA ED Patrick Foye learned of the lane closures and ordered the Christie appointees to reopen them immediately (see NJ.com’s timeline). Failures of transparency, and inadequate oversight. Add that it’s also a highly politicized agency. It isn’t hard to see how it might have been possible for political hacks answerable to a governor or his consiglieri might assume they could get away with ordering career professionals around, telling them they had to reverse years of safety procedure and eff up Fort Lee for the better part of a week. And keep their traps shut about it, or risk their jobs. Not hard to see how big-salaried dirty tricksters with more political loyalty than brains might have every reason to think they’d get away with it. Be insulated. Be rewarded. Run roughshod over the sober and responsible people who also work at the Authority.

Weinberg will introduce a resolution Thursday that asks Congress to investigate the Port Authority. My own thinking all along is that this should be in the province of investigations on any and every level that is productive – legislative, journalistic, and legal if warranted. And if there’s nothing politically rotten here that goes higher than it already has, and the only guys playing shenanigans with the 300,000 people who use that bridge every day are the disgraced David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, well then the governor should have no reason to oppose congressional inquiry.

Short ad. Then Maddow.

How do we make public health as sexy to media as terrorism?

chemicals

We all get mighty riled up when a couple of malcontents pack sharps into a pressure cooker at a famous sporting event. Completely understandable, particularly here on the east coast; that’s a fear we feel in our bones here, the way Boston feels it now.

But while America was glued to the Boston manhunt after the pressure cooker bombs, by comparison the media barely registered the town-leveling explosion in West, Texas – with much larger loss of life – ditto what the failures of its regulation signify for American workplace safety around chemicals, ditto the  fact that some members of the smaller-government faction that want federal dollars spent on the damage from what may be a company’s negligence, while displaced Sandy victims are beneath their concern.

Chemicals, and our everyday life with them, in our work, in our bodies, should be a sexy topic for the media. It’s not. Public health defenders should be hailed as rock stars. They’re not.

But that’s why I’m glad there are some grownups in Congress, though right now everything grownups do there seems like an uphill climb. Senators Lautenberg and Kirsten Gillibrand of NY got some decent news today from a report just released by the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO’s report finds, essentially, that the EPA doesn’t have the ammunition it needs to protect us from toxic chemicals, because current law is flawed, which Lautenberg has said for a long time. Lautenberg and Gillibrand’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 would beef up the law and give EPA the tools it needs to collect health and safety information, screen chemicals for safety, and require risk management when chemicals cannot be proven safe.  

We’re talking the stuff of your everyday life here – car seats, non-breakable plates for toddlers, detergents, your furniture, food packaging, electronics, vinyl products, non-stick cookware. What you’re touching, and breathing around right now. Testing by the CDC has found more than 212 industrial chemicals inside Americans’ bodies, including at least 6 known carcinogens and dozens linked to cancer, birth defects, other diseases.

Right now, EPA is severely limited in its ability to require safety testing for chemicals or limit harmful uses of toxic chemicals. They can require testing for only about 200 chemicals registered in the U.S. There are 84,000. Only 5 dangerous substances have been banned since the law was enacted – 37 years ago. In the chemical corridor that is New Jersey, that’s scary as hell.

 

Menendez unveils GAO report on failure of Bush Pakistan policy

Senators Menendez and Harkin of Iowa released a new Government Accountability Office report they requested yesterday revealing a failure in U.S efforts to root out terrorists in Pakistan’s border region through the end of the Bush administration. The full report is 61 pages, but the Senators offered this summary:

Despite more than $12.3 billion in U.S. assistance to Pakistan since 9/11, almost $8.7 billion of which was in reimbursements for Pakistani military operations, the independent GAO found the following over the course of 2008:

  • The United States had not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas];

  • The United States lacked a comprehensive plan to meet those goals that included all elements of national power – diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support – called for by various national security strategies and Congress, as well as key components we have previously reported as being needed to improve the effectiveness of plans involving multiple departments; and

  • Increased oversight and accountability was needed over Pakistan’s reimbursement claims for Coalition Support Funds (CSF). [Pg. 2]

    The GAO cites some efforts last year within the Department of Defense and the State Department to increase coordination of U.S. agencies with respect to Pakistan and within the Department of Defense to increase oversight of military reimbursements, but still raises questions as to the effectiveness and scope of those efforts.

  • Menendez had this to say about the conclusions:

    “By just about every measure that matters – falling short of national security goals, inefficient use of taxpayer money and failure to adapt – it’s clear that the strategy in place over the past seven years must be rethought if we are to improve our security,” said Senator Menendez. “Without a doubt, this involves complicated issues in a volatile region, but results are what matter, and the result of the previous policy is that our nation’s top enemy is revitalized. As the chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee in charge of international assistance programs, I look forward to working on a policy that focuses assistance on institutions that help ensure long-term stability and minimize the threat in Pakistan.”

    Its a pretty damning report criticizing just about every aspect of the policy.  I definitely like that my Senator is trying to get answers on this important problem we’re facing.  It’s one thing to spend the money, but another to spend it wisely. It’s good to see them doing the oversight we need because the only way to get the policy right is to continue monitoring its effectiveness. We can’t really afford to get this one wrong.

    GAO sides with Port Authority against auction of flight slots

    Here’s a victory for the NY/NJ Port Authority, who fought the federal government’s plan to auction off flight space.  The Government Accounting Office offered this opinion after it was requested by lawmakers opposed to a test run utilizing Newark Liberty Airport:

    “We conclude that FAA may not auction slots under its property disposition authority, user fee authority, or any other authority, and thus also may not retain or use proceeds of any such auctions,” GAO general counsel Gary Kepplinger wrote to lawmakers who had sought the legal opinion.

    The GAO’s top lawyer concluded that for the first time in 40 years, the FAA claims it may assign airspace as its “property,” but the laws covering the FAA were never written to include such a definition of property.

    The transportation department isn’t ready to give up on the idea it seems and says that the GAO just doesn’t understand:

    Transportation Department spokesman Brian Turmail said the GAO was unfamiliar with aviation law, and had little time to study it before reaching its conclusion.

    “Should Congress give the agency an opportunity to conduct a more thorough review, we are confident that GAO will better understand both the validity and the effectiveness of our approach,” Turmail said in a statement.

    Turmail went on to say that the FAA’s own board had approved the auction idea prompting this reaction from Senator Lautenberg:

    “Not only is this Bush Administration plan for Newark Airport wrong for fliers and New Jersey residents – this report shows it is completely illegal,” Sen. Lautenberg said in a statement. He called on the administration to abandon the planned auction and work with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on a separate plan to relieve congestion.

    It’s amazing that any time someone opposes an administration policy, they just don’t have enough information to fully understand.  Maybe it’s actually the administration that’s wrong and doesn’t understand.

    GAO will investigate Fort Monmount closing process

    Following a recent report by the Asbury Park Press which concluded the cost of closing Fort Monmouth has nearly doubled to almost $1.5 million saying…

    key information casting doubt on the need to close defense research facilities such as Fort Monmouth was missing from a report used by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to justify the base consolidation.

    and a formal letter requesting an investigtion by U.S. Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone and U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez which said…

    “It is evident that faulty assumptions based upon flawed data led to a damaging decision for the military and the people of New Jersey,” the letter reads.

    The Government Accountability Office has agreed to look into the process that resulted in the 2005 decision to close Fort Monmouth.  I wonder who benefited the most from the closure of Fort Monmouth that key information was withheld?  To be continued…