Entries in Government (9)


Facebook, Microsoft Release Data on Info Handed Over to Government

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When reports of the National Security Agency’s alleged program to gain “direct access” to large amounts of Internet communications (code-named PRISM) was first reported last week, the technology companies tied to the reports all denied participation in the surveillance program – but they also urged the government to allow for more transparency regarding the requests they do receive.

On Friday evening, after reaching an agreement with the FBI and Department of Justice, Facebook and Microsoft were the first companies to release transparency reports. Facebook revealed that the company received between 9,000 and 10,000 data requests from local, state and federal governments in the last six months of 2012. Within those, access to or information about 18,000 to 19,000 individual Facebook accounts were requested. During that same period, Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 requests for access to a total of 31,000 to 32,000 accounts.

“As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range,” Facebook General Counsel Ted Ullyot wrote in a Facebook blog post. “This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds.

“These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat,” Ullyot wrote.

Ullyot reminded readers Facebook has more than 1 billion users, maintaining that “a tiny fraction of 1 percent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests) in the past six months.”

Microsoft’s deputy general counsel, John Frank, made similar points in a post of his own: “This only impacts a tiny fraction of Microsoft’s global customer base.”

Facebook and Microsoft agreed that the numbers were a step toward providing greater transparency, but because of the nature of the classified and sensitive information, the government has not allowed for more to be disclosed.

“We continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues,” Frank wrote.

Earlier this week, Facebook, Google and Microsoft petitioned the government to allow them to share more about the scope and size of the user-data requests.

Google, however, doesn’t think Facebook and Microsoft’s approach is helpful and is instead looking to just reveal the numbers of the requests national security requests on its own.

“We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests,” Google said in a statement on Friday night. “We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


US Consumers Refrain from Further Spending

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Because of limited job growth in America, consumers have cut back in spending reports Bloomberg.

In the second quarter, state and local governments have also slashed budgets. With looming U.S. tax changes and the European debt crisis in effect, the American economy is in a weary state.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Federal Government Pay Tops Businesses: CBO Report

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It pays to work for the government. Compared with private sector employees, federal workers are paid about 16 percent more when benefits including health insurance, retirement plans and paid vacation are taken into account, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office.

While wages are fairly equal, on average, between public and private employees, the benefit packages for government workers far outpace those of their counterparts in private businesses. Federal employee benefits cost about 48 percent more than benefits for private employees from 2005 to 2010, the CBO report shows.

“The differences in compensation, the issue is are you taking your compensation up front or are you taking it over your lifetime in terms of a better pension,” said Linda Barrington, managing director of our Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University.

The federal government spent about $200 billion on employee salaries and benefits in fiscal year 2011, according to the CBO. And at a time when the federal deficit is set to exceed $1 trillion for the fourth year running, that taxpayer-funded compensation is a prime target for many budget-cutters.

Two GOP presidential candidates -- Mitt Romney and Ron Paul -- have vowed to shrink the federal workforce by 10 percent.

“Public servants shouldn’t get a better deal than the taxpayers they work for,” Romney said at the Americans for Prosperity conference in November. “The American people are increasingly working to support the government. It ought to be the other way around.”

Paul calls for the immediate elimination of five entire departments: Interior (70,000 employees), Commerce (56,800 employees), Energy (16,000 employees), Education (4,400 employees) and Housing and Urban Development (9,500 employees). Together these departments employed about 156,700 people in 2010, according to Census data.

Romney said he will chop the public payrolls through attrition, not layoffs.

But the size of the federal workforce is already shrinking. Public sector employment has decreased in 18 of the past 24 months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while private sector employment has increased in all but two of those months.

“Shrinking federal government deficit by laying people off, that may be the right thing in long run but it is having a contractionary effect on the labor market,” Barrington said. “In the short run we need to acknowledge that it may be pushing the number in the wrong direction.”

From 2008 to 2010 the federal workforce, not counting postal employees, shrunk by 20,000 people, according to Census data.

Federal salaries, on the other hand, went up by nearly $4,000, on average, over the same time period, despite a federal pay freeze that’s been in place for the past two years.

One explanation for why federal workers are more expensive than their private sector counterparts is that they are often “older, more educated, and more concentrated in professional occupations,” CBO director Douglas Elmendorf wrote in a blog post explaining the study.

Government employees are, on average, about four years older than private employees. More than half of federal employees -- 51 percent -- have at least a bachelor’s degree compared with 31 percent of non-government workers.

People without a college degree are better off working for the government, while people with advanced degrees tend to make more in the private sector.

Public employees with at most a high school diploma earned, on average, $4 per hour more than comparable private sector employees.

Government workers with advanced degrees, like a graduate degree or Ph.D, on the other hand, earned about $15 per hour less working for the federal government than their counterparts in private businesses.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Home Depot Accused of Violating 'Buy American Act'

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Home Depot is the target of a lawsuit for allegedly selling goods manufactured in China and other prohibited countries to U.S. government agencies in violation of the Buy American Act, according to court documents.

The suit was filed in 2008 by two employees of another government contractor and alleges that "Home Depot had major sourcing operations in China for many years," as well as India, and that the company knew that certain brands and products were to be excluded from sale to U.S. government agencies because they were not compliant with the Trade Agreements Act.

The suit also says, "Home Depot affirmatively misrepresented to federal government customers that its GSA-scheduled contract 'covered everything in our store.'"

GSA is the federal General Services Administration, which supplies products for U.S. government offices.

The Buy American Act and Trade Agreements Act work together to promote the purchase of U.S. goods or goods manufactured in countries when it serves the nation's economic interest.

The Atlanta-based home improvement retailer, with more than 2,200 locations in four countries (including China), denies the allegations.

"We would never knowingly sell prohibited goods under any circumstances, and we have been cooperating with the government to provide requested information," Home Depot spokesman Ron wrote in a statement.  "We believe the plaintiffs have an inaccurate view of the facts, so we look forward to presenting our side of this case as the process moves forward."

The plaintiffs' attorney, Paul D. Scott, said, "We're looking forward to having our day in court and having a jury of American citizens decide what they think of this case."

The U.S. Department of Justice had no comment about the allegations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Chrysler Returns $7 Billion in Government Loans

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images(STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich.) -- Chrysler on Tuesday celebrated the payback of the $7.6 billion dollar loan the automaker received from taxpayers to help keep the company afloat.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and White House advisor on manufacturing Ron Bloom made the announcement during a visit to a Sterling Heights, Mich., auto plant Tuesday.

Just two years ago, the automaker was forced to file for bankruptcy.  But last week, Chrysler entered into a loan and bond deal with private banks making it possible for the company to repay taxpayers sooner than expected.

In a statement, President Obama hailed the company's payback as a "significant milestone for the turnaround of Chrysler and the countless communities and families who rely on the American auto industry."

"This announcement comes six years ahead of schedule and just two years after emerging from bankruptcy, allowing Chrysler to build on its progress and continue to grow as the economy recovers," the president said.

"While there is more work to be done, we are starting to see stronger sales, additional shifts at plants and signs of strength in the auto industry and our economy, a true testament to the resolve and determination of American workers across the nation."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Billions in Stimulus Funds Paid to Tax Delinquent Contractors

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Critics of the $800 billion in taxpayer money that made up the Obama administration's so-called stimulus package have more ammunition, as it has been revealed the federal government awarded $24 billion in Recovery Act funds to contractors and vendors who owe hundreds of millions in unpaid taxes. This, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The nonpartisan watchdog agency reported Tuesday that at least 3,700 recipients owed more than $750 million combined in unpaid federal taxes as of Sept. 30, 2009.  They represent 5 percent of all recipients of the so-called stimulus funds.

"For many years now, we've known that a small percentage of federal contractors and grantees who get paid with taxpayer dollars shirk their responsibility to pay their taxes," said Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. "Now the executive branch should get on with it and actually debar the worst of the tax cheats from the contractor workforce."

Levin, who chairs the Senate Permanent Investigations Committee, was to hold a hearing on the report Tuesday.

The GAO said their report likely underestimates the total amount of unpaid taxes owed by stimulus recipients.  Federal law does not require government agencies to check the tax compliance of prospective grantees.

When pushing for the Recovery Act, President Obama promised the taxpayers' money would be watched carefully, even deputizing Vice President Joe Biden with overseeing the stimulus operation, because, as Obama put it, "nobody messes with Joe."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Payrolls Add 244,000 Jobs in April; Unemployment Back at 9%

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The nation’s employers increased payrolls by 244,000 during the month of April, beating economists’ expectations, a government report showed Friday.

The private sector, which factors out government layoffs and hiring, saw 268,000 workers added to payrolls -- the best monthly jobs growth from the private sector since February 2006.

The nation’s unemployment rate jumped, however, from 8.8 to 9 percent.

"The reason you get that," said economist Hugh Johnson, "is even though you get a very strong increase in the number of jobs, you get a much bigger increase in the labor force," or the number of those who are actively pursuing work.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DOT Forces More Disclosure by Regional Airlines

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government is cracking down on airlines and third-party ticketing sites that make it difficult for travelers to decipher who is really flying their plane.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Aviation Enforcement Office announced Monday it is giving airlines and online ticket agents 60 days to modify websites to make it easier for travelers to learn if their flight is being flown by a large airline like Continental or Delta or a smaller regional airline operating under the mainline carrier's banner.

Under code-sharing, an airline sells tickets on flights that use the airline's code, but are actually operated by a different carrier. Longstanding DOT rules require airlines to disclose code-sharing arrangements to consumers before they book a flight, but legislation adopted in August 2010 has also clarified the requirements for Internet websites that sell airline tickets.

"When passengers buy an airline ticket, they have the right to know which airline will be operating their flight," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "For years we've required airlines to inform consumers about code-sharing arrangements, and we'll be monitoring the industry closely to make sure they comply with the provisions of the new legislation."

Federal law requires airlines and independent booking sites to disclose upfront when a flight is operated by somebody else, like a regional airline. But many sites never disclose the name of the actual airline or require several clicks to learn the identity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fiji Water Closes Fiji Facility

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Fiji Water has announced it will be closing its facility in Fiji due to an increase in taxes.

The company made the announcement on Monday, saying that the government’s new 15-cent-per-liter tax was untenable, and as a result the company has no other choice but to close the facility. The Fiji government will impose the tax on bottled water locations where more than 3.5 million liters are extracted per month. Fiji Water falls in that category. Currently, the company pays one-third of one percent tax per liter of water.

Fiji Water issued the following statement: “We are saddened that we have been forced to make a business decision that will result in hardship to hundreds of Fijians who will now be without work.”

The company says as a result, it will be forced to cancel several large construction projects in Fiji and will have to cancel all ongoing purchases from local suppliers.

Company officials say the government’s action sends the message that the country is unstable and is becoming a risky place in which to invest.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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