Project on Government Oversight Exposing Corruption. Exploring Solutions. www.POGO.org March 2012: Vol. 16, Issue 1
POGO’s New Un-Do Influence Campaign
t POGO, we’ve spent 30 years exposing the failings of our system and advocating the kinds of reforms that strengthen and repair our democracy. So our new “Un-Do Influence” Campaign is less a new step for POGO than a way to highlight our work throughout the year fighting undue influence. We launched the Un-Do Influence Campaign in January with its own Facebook Page (https://www.facebook. com/UnDoInfluenceCampaign), and regularly feature it on POGO’s blog. As part of the campaign, every two weeks, we take a moment to recognize those Washington insiders who, through their actions (or inactions), have us all shaking our heads in frustration. We’ve even devised a rating system to recognize these folks—the Facepalm. Our Facepalm ratings are intended to shine a light on the people who through their conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and trips through the revolving door are doing their part to undermine our faith in government. We’ve reserved the not-so-coveted fourFacepalm rating for those stupefying examples of everything that’s wrong with the system.
A facepalm (sometimes also face-palm or face palm) is the physical gesture of placing one’s hand flat across one’s face or lowering one’s face into one’s hand or hands. The gesture is found in many cultures as a display of frustration, embarrassment, shock, or surprise. Wikipedia definition.
Consider the ratings a way to not only express our frustration with the system but also as a way to build momentum for reform through our Un-Do Influence Campaign. So when Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) finds himself under an ethics investigation for insider trading or when former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) goes to work for the movie industry and threatens to cut off campaign contributions to lawmakers unless they support the industry’s agenda, it’s time for us to award those folks Facepalms. In the end, our aim is to not only expose conflicts of interest, influence-peddling, and revolving door hires, but also to do something about it. That’s why, for instance, we started a citizens’ letter-writing campaign to your Members of Congress asking them to oppose a bill that would gut important protections for financial sector whistleblowers. Despite its misleading title, the Whistleblower Improvement Act sponsored by Representative Michael Grimm (R-NY) does more to protect Wall Street than it does to encourage whistleblowing. And thousands of you responded by signing letters to your Members of Congress. By supporting actions such as this, and by joining our Un-Do Influence Campaign, you can help hold Washington accountable to the people and together we can make a difference. ■
In This Issue: 1 Un-Do Influence 2 Director’s Letter 3 Major F-35 Issues 3 Unneeded
Nuclear Building to Cost up to $6B 4 DOE Integrity Rules Need Strengthening 4 FDA Conflicts of Interest 5 Marine Base’s Toxic Contamination 5 Tracking IG Vacancies 6 POGO Wins Award for Website
Staff Danielle Brian, Executive Director Scott Amey, General Counsel Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy Paul Chassy, Ph.D., J.D., Investigator Danni Downing, Editor & COTS Director Abby Evans, Development Associate
Letter from the Executive Director
Ned Feder, M.D., Staff Scientist Andre Francisco, Online Producer Ben Freeman, Investigator Neil Gordon, Investigator Julie Koh, Finance Manager Terry Lee, Acquisition Counsel Johanna Mingos, Data Specialist Joe Newman, Director of Communications Chris Pabon, Director of Development Bryan Rahija, Blog Editor Keith Rutter, Chief Operations Officer & CFO Pam Rutter, Web Manager Nick Schwellenbach,
Director of Investigations Michael Smallberg, Investigator Mia Steinle, Investigator Peter Stockton, Senior Investigator Jake Wiens, Investigator Adam Zagorin, Journalist-in-Residence Dahna Black, Intern Lydia Dennett, Intern Suzie Dershowitz, Public Policy Fellow Dana Liebelson, Beth Daley Impact Fellow Andrew Wyner, Intern
Board of Directors David Hunter, Chair Lisa Baumgartner Bonds, Vice Chair Dina Rasor, Treasurer Ryan Alexander Henry Banta David Burnham Michael Cavallo Stacy Donohue (Observer) Charles Hamel Janine Jaquet Morton Mintz
Dear Friends, During a breakfast conversation with some friends of POGO, they pointed out that we seem to spend more time talking about the failures of government contractors than we do about the federal employees who allow those failures to happen. The distinction is of course two sides of the same coin, but it’s an important distinction to think about. You have read in past editions of this newsletter about Interior Department employees going unpunished for taking money and gifts, rigging bids, and—literally—being in bed with the oil industry; the Army failing to pursue refunds from Boeing after the Pentagon Inspector General found the contractor had overcharged the Army by millions of dollars; the State Department refusing to recover the $132 million the Inspector General found First Kuwaiti owed taxpayers for their deficiencies in building the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad—and even allowing the contractor to continue charging the government more money. And in this issue, you will read about the FDA’s failure to disclose the conflict of interest by an academic who had been paid by the manufacturer of a drug known to cause unnecessary deaths and who sat on an FDA advisory committee evaluating the safety of that drug. In these examples, the private sector is benefitting, and inappropriately. But can you blame them? While it’s no excuse for wrongdoing, let’s be honest: The business of business is to make money. But the business of government is to protect the public’s interests. When the government fails to maintain its own integrity, it enables wrongdoing. Yet, government officials who fail to do their jobs of holding erring contractors accountable rarely face repercussions. Holding those people accountable whose job it is to protect the public good is the only way to change this culture of impunity. Unfortunately the public conversation has been focused in the wrong direction, on size of the federal workforce. No. That’s an easy target for a political debate, but it ignores the real problems of the government failing to spend our money wisely and the lack of accountability when federal employees fail to act as good stewards of our tax dollars. POGO expects more from our federal government and will continue to work to make it more effective, open, ethical, and accountable.
Nithi Vivatrat Anne Zill
2 ■ Vol. 16, Issue 1
Danielle Brian, POGO Executive Director
Pentagon Review Criticizes F-35 Acquisition Plan
Although the Quick Look Review (QLR) team did not identify any “fundamental design risks sufficient to preclude further production,” thirteen major issues were found, such as problems with the F-35 carrier variant’s landing system and with the aircraft’s helmet mounted display. The QLR team also believes, given that the F-35 is in an early stage of flight testing, it is likely more problems will come to light.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
he F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program faces a bevy of serious issues that have the potential to further drive up costs and to significantly add to delays of the program, according to the findings of a high-level Pentagon review completed in November 2011. The report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Concurrency Quick Look Review, was obtained by POGO, which first made the report available to the public.
The F-35, already behind schedule and over budget, may suffer more delays and cost increases.
These problems threaten to exacerbate the spiraling delays and costs of the F-35, which has already been set back by years of delays and double-digit cost growth. The F-35 is the world’s most expensive weapons program, currently estimated to cost some $385 billion for development and production, and about $1 trillion to maintain and operate over decades.
The review also called into question the fact that, built into the F-35 program, there was large amount of “concurrency,” the practice of procuring some quantity of a weapon system before it’s been fully developed and tested. “Concurrency is present to some degree in virtually all DoD programs, though not to the extent that it is on the F-35,” the report notes, adding that “the F-35 program began procurement in FY07 before flying the first developmental aircraft (BF-1) in FY08.” The large amount of concurrency means that, when problems are discovered, the relatively large number of already-procured planes have to undergo costly retrofits. POGO has long argued that excessive concurrency is a bad deal for taxpayers and has advocated that the U.S. fly before it buys. ■
Un-needed Los Alamos Nuclear Lab Building Will Cost Billions
his January, POGO released its report, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Energy Department Plans to Waste Billions of Dollars on Unneeded Los Alamos Lab Facility. First conceived over a decade ago, the planned Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) is part of a complex of two new research buildings that were supposed to cost a total of $375 million. However, by 2011, CMRR-NF still wasn’t built and its estimated cost had skyrocketed to $3.7 billion to $5.9 billion for that one building alone. In addition, the project had morphed into a behemoth that would enable the U.S. to dramatically increase its production of plutonium pits—the primary components of nuclear weapons—at a time the U.S. nuclear strategy calls for a reduction in the number of weapons. POGO urged the DOE, the President, and Congress to cancel the project immediately. As POGO’s report shows, the DOE has a history of mismanaged projects and has been on the Government Accountability Office’s list of “high risk” agencies for years. As of 2011, only 45 percent of the design of CMRR-NF had been completed, and the facility was not expected to be fully functional until 2023. What’s more, POGO’s report revealed that CMRR-NF is a project without a cause. In 2008, the House Appropriations Committee remarked that the project had “no coherent mission,” and leading experts in nuclear weapons and defense policy have said for years that CMRR-NF is unnecessary to fulfill the U.S. nuclear mission. POGO pointed to existing facilities that could absorb the planned missions at CMRR-NF, at a substantial savings to taxpayers. For instance, DOE’s Pantex Plant in Texas has a stockpile of plutonium pits—some 14,000—which means that the United States already has thousands more pits than it needs for the weapons it would be allowed to deploy under the New START agreement with Russia. Simply put, CMRR-NF smacks of a Cold War-era policy that ignores today’s strategic and economic realities. A month after POGO released its report, the President called a halt to funding for the project for at least five years, effectively canceling CMRR-NF. ■ Vol. 16, Issue 1 ■
Department of Energy Scientific Integrity Rules Need Strengthening
his past December, POGO submitted a letter to the Department of Energy (DOE) urging the Department to strengthen its scientific integrity policies, make documents relating to allegations of scientific misconduct available to the public, and improve oversight of contractors’ investigations of alleged misconduct by establishing an Office of Research Integrity. As POGO noted in its letter, because most DOE scientific research is conducted at privately operated institutions, allegations of research misconduct are often investigated internally by the contractor, with little to no oversight by DOE. This self-policing creates a conflict of interest that can hurt the integrity of the research. POGO’s letter pointed to a case where an anonymous peer reviewer accused a prominent scientist at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) of fabricating data in a paper submitted to Nature Physics. The contractor running ORNL initiated an investigation into the matter, and concluded the data simply had errors. As POGO noted, there is substantial evidence that this taxpayer-funded investigation was not reviewed carefully by DOE. Even more troublesome, when a Nature journalist attempted to investigate the matter through a FOIA request for the report of the ORNL investigation, DOE denied the request. A judge agreed with DOE, finding that the report was not a government record—despite being paid for with tax dollars—and therefore not subject to FOIA. Because of cases like this, and in light of President Obama’s 2009 memorandum calling for greater agency transparency, POGO urged DOE to follow the lead of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): ORI oversees investigations of wrongdoings, makes their findings public, and reviews all actions by the HHS. President Obama said in his 2009 memorandum, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration.” Strengthening scientific integrity at the agency level is a first step to ensuring that policy decisions have a strong basis. ■
Is the FDA Blind to Conflicts of Interest?
e all rely on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect us from unsafe pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The FDA does this best when it operates with the utmost transparency. Unfortunately, that’s not how a recent FDA advisory committee operated when evaluating the risks of Yaz and Yasmin. The drugs are two of the most popular oral contraceptives on the market, but are known to increase the risk of unnecessary deaths. Earlier this year, POGO learned that four members of the committee had ties to Bayer, the manufacturer of Yaz and Yasmin, or to the maker of generic versions of the drugs. POGO was told that in all four cases the members had informed the FDA about the relevant industry ties. However, the FDA did not disclose this information to the public or to the other committee members. Ultimately, the committee voted 15-11 that the benefits of the drugs outweighed the risks, with the four committee members who had industry ties all voting in favor of the drugs. POGO wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and asked the agency to assemble a new committee to evaluate the drugs’ safety and take steps to disclose possible conflicts of interest to the public in the future. POGO also called on its readers to take action: we launched an online campaign that led thousands of concerned citizens to contact Commissioner Hamburg about the issue. With such high stakes, the FDA should have disclosed to the rest of the committee and to the public the potential conflicts of interest held by the four committee members. But it still has a chance to do the right thing and convene a new committee to assess the drugs’ risks—and better yet, strengthen reforms to its current conflict of interest policy so that the public isn’t left in the dark again. You can help: make your voice heard and write Commissioner Hamburg today by visiting getinvolved.pogo.org/yaz. ■
Vol. 16, Issue 1 ■
he Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina will likely go down in history as the location of one of the worst toxic contaminations in the country—and one of the most shameful cover-ups by the Marine Corps. Between 1957 and 1987, as many as one million Marines and civilians and their family members stationed there used and ingested water contaminated by extremely toxic organic compounds. After years of secrecy by the Department of Navy and Marine Corps about the water contamination, evidence reveals that the cover up continues. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) recently Col. Toby Hammer, 934th Airlift Wing inspector acquiesced to pressure by the Navy to redact key information in a report general, takes a drink from one of the base detailing the water contamination at Camp Lejeune: both cited security fountains. concerns, labeled the information “critical infrastructure information,” and used dubious legal justifications. In a letter to the ATSDR Director obtained by POGO, the report’s author wrote that these redactions compromised the scientific integrity of the study, and that ATSDR Administrator Dr. Thomas Frieden gave Members of Congress “false and misleading” statements regarding the scientific content of the report and its redactions.
Air Force photo. Senior Airman Noah Johnson
Cover-Up of Contamination Continues at Camp Lejeune
We also learned the Navy and Marine Corps have been labeling Camp Lejeune contamination documents with the bogus “For Official Use Only” designation—despite the fact that the Obama Administration did away with this and other vague pseudo-classifications in Executive Order 12958. POGO, with over 25 allies, wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees ATSDR) and to Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking them to come clean about the water contamination and follow the law. POGO has been working with Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine who lived at Camp Lejeune and lost his young daughter to leukemia, to shed more light on the cover-up. Mr. Ensminger’s story was recently featured in the Academy Awards shortlisted film, Semper Fi: Always Faithful. ■
POGO Tracks IG Vacancies
n February, POGO created a new webpage called “Where Are All the Watchdogs?” (getinvolved.pogo.org/watchdogs), which continually tracks the overall number of Inspector General (IG) vacancies, the length of those vacancies, and whose responsibility it is to fill the positions. IGs are independent watchdogs within federal agencies who conduct audits and investigations that uncover waste, fraud, and other sorts of government misconduct. Strong IGs are, in other words, essential to good government. But it is only when IG offices are led by a permanent IG, rather than an acting IG or no IG at all, that they are in the best position to succeed. Permanent IGs undergo significant vetting before taking their positions, a process that helps instill confidence among Members of Congress and the public that the IG is truly independent and that the Office’s investigations and audits are accurate and credible. Furthermore, permanent IGs have the ability to provide leadership and set long-term priorities, something acting IG’s don’t have. At the time of publication, POGO’s tracker showed that 12 of the 73 statutory IG positions were vacant, and 7 of those positions had been vacant for longer than a year. The most alarming vacancy is at the State Department, where the position has been empty (at time of press) for a staggering 1519 days—more than four years! Other important agencies, such as Interior and Justice, aren’t far behind. Over the course of President Obama’s term in office, POGO and Members of Congress have repeatedly pointed to the high number of open IG positions. IG vacancies can exist for a variety of reasons: In some cases, because the President has simply failed to nominate a candidate; in other cases, because the Senate has rejected a candidate—sometimes on legitimate grounds and sometimes not. You can help push the Administration to fill the longest IG vacancy by asking President Obama to nominate a credible, independent IG for the State Department. Visit getinvolved.pogo.org/stateig. ■ Vol. 16, Issue 1 ■
POGO Wins Web Design Award In February, POGO had the pleasure of learning it had won an award for excellence in web design! The Interactive Media Council recognized POGO with its Interactive Media Award for Outstanding Achievement in web design in the nonprofit organizations category. You might recall that POGO launched a new website in May last year. But that was only the beginning: we’re planning several exciting updates this year to make POGO.org more engaging and easier to navigate. If you haven’t been to POGO.org lately, make sure to stop by and check us out—and keep checking back for more updates!
Mission Statement The Project On Government Oversight is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.
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Feature Article: POGO's New Un-Do Influence Campaign