Cathryn Poff’s Articles

Federal News Digest — August 10, 2010

Washington Post

Obama Speech Ties U.S. Need for More College Graduates to the Economic Recovery – Michael D. Shear reports that President Obama, during a speech at the University of Texas at Austin, tied the American economic recovery to goal of more college graduates; to achieve that goal, Obama pledged to make college more affordable

Plaintiff Who Challenged FBI’s National Security Letters Reveals Concerns – Ellen Nakashima reports the gag order on “John Doe,” the first person to file a court challenge to the FBI’s ability to obtain personal data on Americans without judicial approval, has been partially lifted; Nicholas Merrill, or “Doe,” is having a hard time adjusting to finally being able to speak about his case

FBI Will Conduct Autopsies on 6 American Aid Workers Slain in Afghanistan – David Nakamura reports the FBI is flying the bodies of six American aid workers who were ambushed and killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan back to America to perform autopsies on them as part of investigations into the incident

Pentagon to Cut Thousands of Jobs, Defense Secretary Says – Craig Whitlock reports that in an effort to streamline operations and reduce defense spending, the Pentagon will cut thousands of jobs, including a substantial chunk of its private contractors and a major military command based in Norfolk

2010 Census Was $1.6 Billion Under Budget – Ed O’Keefe reports the 2010 Census, which was allotted $14.7 billion, finished operations $1.6 billion under budget; the surplus will go back to the government

New York Times

Fed Will Meet With Concerns on Deflation Rising – Sewell Chan reports the Federal Reserve is trying to decide its focus — the prospect of inflation or the potential for the economy to slip into a deflationary spiral of declining demand, prices and wages

Pay Practices in Health Care Are Investigated – Robert Pear reports the Labor Department has hired 250 new investigators – a staff increase of one-third — to look into hospitals and nursing homes around the country that do not properly pay overtime to nurses and other employees who work more than 40 hours a week

Wall Street Journal

Incomes Fall in Metro Areas – Conor Dougherty reports that Commerce Department research showed personal incomes fell in most areas of the U.S., except in cities with strong concentration of federal government workers; private sector compensation fell

U.S., BP Near Deal on Fund – Monica Langley reports the government and BP are close to a deal to use future revenues from the oil company’s Gulf of Mexico operations to guarantee its $20 billion cleanup and compensation fund; while this deal would establish a much-needed fund, it could make the administration and BP partners of sorts in developing Gulf resources

Federal News Digest — August 9, 2010

Washington Post

Guantanamo Prisoners Moved Early than Disclosed – Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo report that four of the nation’s most highly valued terrorism prisoners were secretly moved to Guantanamo Bay in 2003 — years earlier than has been disclosed — and then were taken back into overseas prisons before the Supreme Court could give them access to lawyers

Obama Nominates David Buckley as CIA Inspector General – AP reports President Obama has nominated David B. Buckley, a senior manager with a consulting firm, to be the next CIA inspector general, a position that has been vacant for more than a year

With Well Under Control, Administration Focus Shifts – Michael Leahy reports that while the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is closer to being under control, the Obama administration is focusing on BP’s legal responsibilities for the spill, and on operational lessons for the oil industry

In Weak Economy, More People Are Filing Early for Social Security – Matt Sedensky reports that Social Security is facing a shortfall this year, as 2.74 million people filed for it this year before their full retirement age, and high unemployment levels has reduced tax collections

Renewed Effort to Lure Doctors to Rural Areas Faces Obstacles – Darryl Fears reports that the National Health Services Corps, which  brings young doctors to rural, underserved areas and relieves them of their student loan debt, is facing major retention problems

Financial Crisis Commission’s Report to Bring Book Advance, Cut of Profit – Jason Horowitz reports the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, tasked with writing a public report to expose the causes of the financial crisis, is keeping the structure of its publishing deal with Little, Brown and Co. private until the contract is finalized; the government is poised to receive an advance from the publishing company

New York Times

Students Spared Amid an Increase in Deportations – Julia Preston reports the Obama administration is delaying deportation for students who came to the U.S. without papers when they were children; the Immigration and Customs Enforcement says they are more interested in illegal immigrants who are committing crimes

Obama to Call for Better Graduation Rates – Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports President Obama will renew his call for the U.S. to lead the world in college graduation rates by 2010

Wall Street Journal

Former Treasury Chiefs Wary of More Stimulus Plans – Michael R. Crittenden and Janet Adamy report that former Clinton and Bush Treasury secretaries are touting financial plans that include deficit-reduction measures and an overhaul of the tax code as the best solutions for bolstering the economy, not increased federal stimulus

Regulators Plan First Steps on Credit Rating – Michael R. Crittenden reports the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, the Federal Reserve and other federal banking agencies are taking the first steps to replace private credit ratings in their review of bank capital levels

U.S. to Sell F-15s to Saudis – Adam Entous reports the Obama administration is in negotiations for a $30 billion, 10-year arms package to sell advanced F-15 fighter jets — without long-range weapon systems — to Saudi Arabia

Federal News Digest — August 6, 2010

Washington Post

Obama Administration Awards $159.1 Million for Training Geriatric-Care Workers – N.C. Aizenman reports the Obama administration awarded $159.1 million in grants –  as part of the new health-care overhaul — to fund education programs that train nurses and geriatric specialists and those that recruit and support students from underrepresented minority groups

Pentagon Demands that WikiLeaks Give Back Leaked Reports and Not Post Others – Craig Whitlock reports the Pentagon is asking WikiLeaks, through the media, to return the classified U.S. field reports from the Afghanistan war

Medicare Funds to Last 12 Years Longer than Earlier Forecast, Report Says – Amy Goldstein reports the Obama administration’s health-care overhaul allows Medicare to last 12 years longer than expected; Social Security has been more damaged by the recession, will pay out more than it will take in through payroll taxes in 2010 and 2011

U.S. Charges 14 with Giving Support to Somali Insurgent Group – Greg Miller reports that federal employees unsealed terrorism-related charges against 14 people accused of providing funding and recruits to a militant group in Somalia with ties to al-Qaeda; this was the first time the Justice Department has publicly revealed criminal charges against two U.S. citizens who have risen through al-Shabab’s ranks to become important field commanders for the organization

GAO: 15 For-Profit Colleges Used Deceptive Recruiting Tactics – Daniel de Vise and Paul Kane report that the Government Accountability Office found 15 for-profit colleges used recruiters who allegedly encouraged investigators, posing as prospective students, to commit fraud on financial aid applications or misled them about such matters as tuition costs and potential salaries after graduation

Postal Service Lost $3.5 Billion in Third Quarter – Lisa Rein reports the Postal Service lost $3.5 billion in the third quarter of the year and may have trouble making payments for health benefits for future retirees

New York Times

Top Obama Adviser on Economics to Step Down – Jackie Calmes reports Christina D. Romer is stepping down as the chairwoman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, the second member this summer to leave an economic team that has soldiered through the recession

Wall Street Journal

U.S. Ends Private Talks on Web Rules – Amy Schatz reports that talks between the U.S. and Internet and telecommunications giants — to determine how far the government can go in dictating how Internet providers manage traffic on networks — were called off because they couldn’t reach an agreement

OSHA Won’t Ban ‘Unsafe’ Procedure – Rebecca Smith reports the Occupational Safety and Health Administration won’t forbid the use of flammable natural gas to clear pipes, despite a finding that the practice caused a deadly explosion at a Connecticut power plant

Methane Monitors at Center of Mine-Explosion Probe – Kris Maher reports the Mine Safety and Health Administration is focusing on alleged maintenance lapses of critical safety devices that monitor explosive gas levels, in its investigation of the Massey explosion

Senate Rejects Fed Nominee – Michael R. Crittenden and Corey Boles report the Senate rejected Obama’s nomination of Peter Diamond, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to join the Federal Reserve

Federal News Digest — August 5, 2010

Washington Post

Scientists Question Government Team’s Report of Shrinking Gulf Oil Spill – David A. Fahrenthold reports that scientists are skeptical of the government’s assessment that only 26% of the oil spilled in the Gulf remains.

Karzai Calls for Probe of U.S.-backed Anti-Corruption Task Force – Joshua Partlow and Greg Miller report that in the wake of arrests of several senior Afghan officials, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for an investigation into the Major Crimes Task Force, which was launched last year and has U.S. and British law enforcement officials overseeing the work of Afghan police and intelligence officials.

Honor Restored for General Blamed After Nixon Denied Authorizing Vietnam Bombing – Craig Whitlock reports that honor has been restored to Air Force Gen. John D. Lavelle, who was charged with carrying out unauthorized bombing missions in North Vietnam and then tried to cover them up; biographers unearthed sources that prove President Nixon ordered the bombings.

Agriculture Secretary Announces Broadband Projects – Lisa Rein reports the government has pledged $1.2 billion dollars of stimulus money (plus $117 million in private investments) to bring broadband service to rural residents in 38 states and Native American tribal areas.

GAO Says Social Security Wrongly Paid Disability to 1,500 Federal Workers – Ed O’Keefe reports that almost 1,500 federal workers might have received fraudulent Social Security payments between October 2006 and December 2008, with extra payments totaling about $1.7 million each month.

Obama Freezes Bonuses to Federal Appointees – Scott Wilson reports that Obama’s decision to suspend bonuses for appointed employees should affect about 2,900 employees and should save the government $1.9 million per year.

New York Times

Sorry, No Cake for the President’s 49th Birthday – Peter Baker reports that while President Obama’s 49th birthday was kind of a bummer — his wife and children were away, and the Secret Service nixed his birthday cake — he does plan to travel home to Chicago to spend time with friends.

Lawyers Win Right to Aid U.S. Target – the Times reports the Treasury Department granted permission to a group of human rights lawyers who want to file a lawsuit on behalf of a radical Muslim cleric thought to be hiding in Yemen.

Wall Street Journal

U.S., Hanoi in Nuclear Talks – Jay Solomon reports the State Department is in advanced negotiations to share nuclear fuel and technology with Vietnam, in a deal that would allow Hanoi to enrich its own uranium; critics say the deal’s terms undercut harsh demands the U.S. has been making of its partners in the Middle East.

No Specific Timeline for Ending Drilling Ban, Regulator Says – Stephen Power reports that Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, says he won’t make recommendations about lifting the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling until at least mid-September, despite major pressure from Louisiana politicians.

Obama Seeks to Reassure Labor of Support – Melanie Trottman reports that President Obama promises labor leaders he’ll push for stronger organizing rights, try to convince businesses that they’re stronger when workers receive good pay and benefits, and push for enforcement of trade laws as part of his administration’s effort to rebuild the middle class.

Federal News Digest — August 4, 2010

Washington Post

White House May End Ban on Deepwater Drilling Early – Juliet Eilperin reports that the Interior Department will hold a series of public forums in Alaska and the Gulf Coast to determine whether to lift the drilling moratorium before its Nov. 30 expiration date

FTC Says it Has Settled Intel Antitrust Case – Jia Lynn Yang reports that the Federal Trade Commission has settled its antitrust lawsuit with Intel. The FTC had charged that Intel illegally used its dominance in the chip market to strong-arm computer makers into using Intel microprocessors rather than those made by competitors

U.S. Savings Rate at Highest Level in a Year, Data Show – Ylan Q. Mui reports that Commerce Department data shows the savings rate jumped to 6.4% in June, the highest rate since the same time one year ago; during the spending boom, Americans reported saving less than one percent of their paychecks

Postal Service to Freeze Administrative-Level Hiring, Promotions, to Cut Losses – Ed O’Keefe reports the Postal Service’s decision to freeze hiring and promotions for all administrative positions at post offices, field offices and its Washington headquarters affects about 8,000 positions and 2,000 vacancies for postmasters who manage post offices

New York Times

New Rules Stress G.I.s’ Limits in Afghan Fighting – Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Rod Nordland report U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan face new restrictions on artillery strikes and aerial bombardment; the new guidelines were enacted to win trust while on the ground

Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials – Denise Grady reports a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that obesity rates have reached 30% or more in nine states last year, up from only three states in 2007; the total obese in America is now 72.5 million, or 26.7% of the population

Wall Street Journal

Secret Drone Program at Issue in Lawsuit – Evan Perez reports the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit against the Obama administration, challenging what they say is a requirement that lawyers get government permission to represent certain terror suspects; the suit is considered a proxy challenge to the government’s “targeted killing” program

Obama Courts Labor Support for Trade Deal – Elizabeth Williamson and Melanie Trottman report that in an effort to win the support of labor unions for a new free-trade agreement, the Obama administration has promised to enforce a range of worker protections; Obama has made the new agreement the centerpiece to his efforts to boost U.S. exports and job growth

Foreclosed On—By the U.S. – Serena Ng and Carrick Mollenkamp report the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is facing the prospect of foreclosing on a number of properties in the coming months, which presents it with both a reputational and political risk; the Federal Reserve Bank is also trying to avoid selling problem assets at discounted prices, which could disrupt markets and hurt banks

Another ‘BP Squad’ should investigate dispersants

The Obama administration has deployed the ‘BP Squad’ of federal investigators to the Gulf to probe whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of government regulators or private companies related to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

As Peter Henning points out in The New York Times, the criminal probe focuses mostly on (more…)

GSA announces first “Chief Greening Officer”

Poaching from the private sector, the General Services Administration has named its first “Chief Greening Officer” to aggressively pursue “innovative sustainable practices within GSA’s large portfolio of government-owned and leased buildings.” Eleni Reed has moved over from real estate giant Cushman and Wakefield to lead the GSA in “greening” the nearly ten thousand government-owned or -leased buildings in its portfolio.

It’s a positive step, and a move toward (more…)

Federal News Digest – June 10, 2010

Washington Post

Increase in inspectors hasn’t kept pace with boom in offshore U.S. oil rigs and projects – Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report that number of deepwater offshore drilling operations far outpaced number of Minerals Management Service inspectors, making complex monitoring nearly impossible; agency had asked Congress for more resources; many agency shortcomings come to light in congressional hearing

Millions forced to endure long wait for food stamps – Justin Juozapavicius and Michelle Roberts report on overwhelmed food stamp program as one in eight Americans now seek assistance

SEC’s regional offices present managerial problems, become an obstacle to reform – Zachary A. Goldfarb reviews Inspector General’s report that shows SEC regional office managers were more interested in boosting office profile with larger number of “easy” investigations, ignoring large, complicated fraud cases highlighted by employees

Bernanke warns U.S. of “unsustainable’ debt level – Jia Lynn Yang covers Fed Chairman’s warnings about long-term deficit

Obama orders cuts in federal building costs, could affect thousands of leases – Ed O’Keefe and Jonathan O’Connell report President is ordering agencies to cut $8 billion in building costs by end of 2012; inventory initiated under previous administration found government pays for thousands of vacant and underused buildings

White House seeks increase in green card fees – AP reports the administration wants to increase the cost of green cards for foreigners to work in U.S.; fees cover processing costs ofCitizenship and Immigration Service

New York Times

Coast Guard toughens oversight of BP effort – Henry Fountain and Clifford Krauss report the Coast Guard told BP to come up with “continuous” oil clean-up plan, including plan to reduce flow during hurricanes

A clash in Texas over air pollution – James C. McKinley, Jr. reports the administration is cracking down on lax enforcement of pollution regulation in Texas as EPA regional director takes on Texas’s “flexible permitting” process, bars state from issuing permit to refinery

Efforts to limit flow of spill news – Jeremy W. Peters reports on BP and Coast Guard’s denial of media access to spill sites

Safety features planned for radiation machines – Walt Bogdanich reports on Food and Drug Administration conference at which radiation machine manufacturers say “fail-safe” mechanisms will be in future equipment

Where’s the Senate on this one? Times Editorial Board urges Senate to reject resolution to overturn EPA finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health

Wall Street Journal

Salazar defends deepwater moratorium – Siobhan Hughes and Corey Boles report on Interior Secretary’s defense of “pause” in deepwater drilling to angry Senators from oil-drilling Gulf states who are concerned about effect on local economies; Salazar says BP will pay laid-off oil service workers; NJ Senator urges greater limits on drilling

U.S. faces ‘severe’ AIG losses, says panel – Serena Ng looks at report of congressional panel overseeing TARP, says it’s unclear if government will ever recoup all funds paid to bail out insurance giant AIG; Fed Chairman reached different conclusion

-compiled by Marci Greenstein

Oregon bumps up against Mining Law of 1872

There are still rivers in the U.S. that are relatively pristine. The Chetco River, which flows from Siskiyou Mountains and into the Pacific Ocean in southern Oregon, is one of those. The conservation group American Rivers recently listed The Chetco River as one of the 10 most endangered rivers in America, because a developer is proposing to mine for gold in the Chetco’s waters. Gold mining is never pretty, and often leaves behind an environmental disaster. (more…)

Is the EPA responsible to BP or to the public?

BP’s containment dome didn’t work to stop the Deepwater Horizon’s oil geyser, which is spewing anywhere from 210,000 to 2.5 million gallons of oil per day. Yesterday the EPA announced that it has approved further use by BP of chemical dispersants, both on the surface and underwater, even though the agency notes that

“The effects of underwater dispersant use on the environment are still widely unknown, which is why we are testing to determine its effectiveness first and foremost. If it is determined that the use of this dispersant underwater is effective and that BP may continue its use,the Federal government will require regular analysis of its impact on the environment, water and air quality, and human health. We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits.”

It’s not Dawn dish soap, no matter how BP and the government spin it. “Testing” on a grand scale in the biologically diverse and important Gulf of Mexico and then deciding over time if the negative impacts might outweigh the benefits?   (more…)