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Entries in Government (33)

Saturday
Feb232013

DC Government ‘Reviewing’ Firefighters’ Appearance with Obama

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The District of Columbia’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services says there are no plans to punish first responders for their participation in an economic speech by President Obama, but are still reviewing the event.

Earlier this week, Obama surrounded himself with police and other first responders during remarks regarding the real world impact of the across-the-board package of federal spending cuts known as sequestration, looming in March should Congress fail to reach a deficit reduction agreement. But Washington’s fire and EMS chief told a local TV station the appearance of three firefighters at the event may have violated department regulations.

“I didn’t know about it, the deputy mayor didn’t know about it, the mayor didn’t know about it,” Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said. “There should be protocol followed anytime one of our employees representing the District of Columbia appears at a public event.”

Ellerbe told a local TV station that the employees had been ordered to file special testimonies on how they became guests of the White House event and who authorized it. The news report prompted a statement from the city government Friday.

“Contrary to reports in local media, the DC Fire and EMS Department is not considering any disciplinary action against uniformed personnel for appearing alongside President Obama,” reads the Friday-night release, adding “DC FEMS is simply reviewing its internal protocols for such appearances to ensure that both the Department and its employees are fully informed.”

“We fully support the efforts of President to highlight the essential and life saving work that our first-responders do every single day, and welcome his invitation for our members to participate,” the statement said. “We’re exceedingly proud of the men and women that wear the DC FEMS uniform, and thank the President for his support.”

An after-hours inquiry to the department was unanswered as of press time.

Capt. Ed Smith, president of the DC Firefighters Association Local 36, said it is not likely the department will actively discipline the members who participated in the Obama event, but he remains cautious over the broader implications of the review. The association president told ABC News the officers involved were off duty and that firefighters had routinely attended similar public events in the past without incident. The invitation came from the White House through Local 36′s parent organization, the International Association of Firefighters.

“If it led to discipline later it would be taken as retaliatory,” he said, adding he knew of no protocol breached by appearing in-uniform. “There is a pattern of retaliation with the chief and the department and that is a concern of mine.”

Smith said he has seen such measures first-hand. In October an independent arbitrator ruled in favor of the captain’s claim that he was involuntarily transferred due to his union activities.

The emergency services of the nation’s capital have historically gone to good lengths attempting to appear neutral to the national politics embedded there. For example, the police and fire departments generally refuse to divulge crowd counts for the city’s many protests and demonstrations. Any estimate given would likely be targeted as politically motivated.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec062012

New Report: Zombies Partly to Blame for Government Waste?

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- When it comes to the dilemma of government spending, a zombie apocalypse hasn’t been a part of the discussion – until now.

In his latest report on government waste, “Safety at Any Price,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., argued that Homeland Security funds allocated after 9/11 to shore up the U.S. anti-terrorism defense are being misused.  He pointed to a five-day counter-terrorism summit that included a “zombie apocalypse” demonstration.

According to Coburn’s report, the HALO 2012 Counterterrorism Summit was attended by law enforcement officials from around the country who were allowed to use DHS-awarded grant funds to pay the $1,000 entry fee.

Organizers of the conference at Paradise Point Resort & Spa outside San Diego say the skit was solely to add levity to an otherwise serious meeting on protecting the homeland. Proponents within the federal government have touted the “zombie apocalypse” campaign as an attention-grabbing way to get people to focus on being prepared for real-world disasters.

Coburn on the other hand, said it is just one more example of an estimated $7 billion in questionable homeland spending every year.

“That is $7 billion that your kids and my kids are going to pay back is something that we got no increased security for,” Coburn said.  "I don’t care if you use zombie apocalypse, what is the metric that said this was an effective use of the money.”

Coburn’s report is the result of a year-long probe by his office into one of the largest terror-prevention grant programs at the DHS – the Urban Area Security Initiative.  While the program’s original intention was to make U.S. cities less vulnerable to terrorist attacks, Coburn cites example after example of what he said are questionable uses of federal tax dollars.

There’s the $30,000 underwater robot that was purchased by the city of Columbus, Ohio, for bridge and train overpass inspection as well as search and rescue; the $69,000 hovercraft for Indianapolis; and the $2,700 teleprompter purchased by officials in Ascension Parish, La., to meet “the national priority to expand regional collaboration.”

No matter the price tag, the report questions whether federal funds intended to deter terrorism are being put to optimum use.

The sleepy town of Keene, N.H., for example, obtained a military grade BearCat armored vehicle early this year with DHS grant funds, citing the need to secure its annual pumpkin festival. Price tag: $285,933. The town has had only two murders in the past 15 years.

And while Fargo, N.D., also boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the country, it received more than $8 million in Homeland Security grants and used $256,643 of them to buy its own armored truck.

Small towns across America – like Keene, Fargo, Syracuse, Manchester and Clovis – are now prime targets for the manufacturer of the BearCat, Lenco, which now includes an eight-page guide on grant writing on its website.

The Department of Homeland Security declined an interview with ABC News, but wrote in a statement that it “fundamentally disagrees with the report’s position on the value of homeland security grants” that “make our communities safer places to live.”

But Coburn said there’s too much waste. He says it’s “all over the government, everywhere you look – waste, incompetence, and stupidity.”

But then again, can you ever be too prepared for the zombie apocalypse?

 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar192012

Political Corruption: 8 States Earn Failing Grades

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- From pay-to-play politics to dismal campaign disclosure requirements, America’s fifty state governments have been weighed, measured and found wanting when it comes to ethical lawmaking.

Not a single state earned an "A" grade for ethics in the State Integrity Investigation, an analysis of states’ transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms released Monday by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

Eight states -- Georgia, Michigan, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming -- got failing grades. Only five earned "B's":  New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska.

Despite extensive laws limiting campaign donations, lobbyist influence and revolving-door politics, Georgia ranked dead last in the integrity survey. Southern lawmakers in the Peach State are experts at dodging these ethics laws and taking full advantage of the plethora of loopholes, said the analysis, especially when it comes to accepting gifts from state vendors.

From 2007 to 2008 more than 650 Georgia officials “accepted sports tickets, speaking fees, fancy meals and other gratuities,” according to the study. Yet it has been more than a decade since the state fined a vendor for failing to disclose such gifts.

It was much the same story in Michigan, where the report said abysmal election finance transparency or lobbyist spending disclosure requirements have let special interests shovel big money into state elections with little or no oversight or reporting requirements.

And in the rural plains of North Dakota, which has a statewide population of about 684,000, there is a belief that ethics are self-policed because of the neighborly nature of the state’s politics.  The state has no ethics commission, no limits on how much individuals can donate to campaigns and no disclosure requirements for how that campaign cash is spent.

In contrast, the survey said, New Jersey has implemented a take-no-prisoners, iron-fist approach to political integrity. After years of political wheeling and dealing left New Jersey with a dismal reputation for political corruption, recent reforms and strict anti-bribery laws have made it the No. 1 state for political ethics.

But the state still earned a "B" for failures in campaign finance disclosure requirements.

As Heather Taylor, a spokeswoman for the good-government group Citizens Campaign, told the State Integrity Investigation, “There’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb072012

Americans' Frustration Still High: Nearly 90 Percent Say Economy Is in 'Bad Shape'

AbleStock.com/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Public frustration regarding the government and the state of the U.S. economy has eased slightly from summer and fall levels -- but it’s still plenty hot in the kitchen. 

The ABC News Frustration Index stands at 68 on its scale of 0 to 100, cooling just slightly from readings of 72 in July and November.

The change reflects slight gains in presidential approval, a slight easing of anti-incumbent sentiment and a small dip in dissatisfaction with the government overall.

While those shifts are based on less bad economic indicators, most believe the economy is still struggling: 89 percent of Americans say it’s in bad shape, which has remained steady in recent months. But fewer say the economy is in “poor” shape, that is 42 percent now vs. 50 percent in back in July.

The Frustration Index, based on these gauges, is a measure of political and economic discontent, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates. It’s been as high as 80, in the fall of 2008, and as low as 39 in 1998.

At 68, the ABC News Frustration Index has moved a bit below where it was in August 1992, at 73, shortly before the first President Bush lost his re-election.

The index has improved chiefly among groups loyal to President Obama -- a likely sign his supporters are circling the wagons around the embattled incumbent, regardless of the economic reality.  Among Democrats, it’s gone from 60 in July to 50 now. Among liberals, it’s gone from 61 in November, to 57 now. And merging those groups, among liberal Democrats, it’s gone from 55 in November to 47.  Among non-whites, another generally pro-Obama group, it’s gone from 69 in November to 53 now.

There’s been little movement elsewhere.  The Frustration Index jumps to 74 among independents and to 84 among Republicans, about as high as it’s been lately in both groups.  It’s 75 among conservatives, 84 among conservative Republicans and 73 among whites.

Of the individual components of the index, the president’s approval rating is now 50 percent, up from a career low of 42 percent in October.  As many as 75 percent of Americans are dissatisfied or even angry with the way the federal government is working, a slight decrease from 80 percent in July and November; and 53 percent say they’re inclined to look around for someone new to support for Congress next fall, down from a record 69 percent in August.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov212011

Supercommittee Poised for 'Disappointing' End?

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Absent any last-minute deals, the supercommittee on Monday will issue a statement announcing its failure to reach a deal to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit.

“I wouldn’t be optimistic” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Monday morning on Fox News. “I don’t want to create any false hope here...there will be an announcement by the two co-chairs towards the end of the day as to what the result was either way.”

Aides to the supercommittee members continue to half-heartedly insist that there are still conversations taking place between members of the 12-person committee, but the prospects are grim and the senators appear defeated.

A paper statement will be released late Monday, likely after the markets close, by co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-TX., announcing the committee is over.

“It’s disappointing,” Kyl said during an interview with CNN.  Earlier this year, Kyl announced his retirement; Monday morning he said the result of the supercommittee is one of the biggest disappointments of his career.

“This was Congress’ responsibility,” Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a member of the supercommittee said on CNN on Monday. “Frankly the only reason we don’t have an agreement is not because we weren’t willing to make reductions to Medicare, health care, do things we needed to do to make the system stronger, to protect it going forward. The reason is we are stuck on this insistence of making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent. I think the American people will judge that to be insane.”

“Our democratic friends had a different idea,” Kyl said on CNBC. “Their ideas was this the opportunity to raise taxes. And it didn’t matter what we proposed.”

Kyl said that Republicans believe there were “several incentives” for Democrats not to agree to a deal.

“They get to cut their favorite program, namely our national defense through the sequester program, namely our national defense though the sequester process,” Kyl said. “The president gets to keep his message that there is a dysfunctional congress and therefore he has somebody to blame for the bad economy.”

This criticism is also coming from outside of Capitol Hill. Some conservatives, like broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, called the entire supercommittee a farce, and claimed Democrats deliberately prevented the group from reaching an agreement so President Obama could blame the Republicans and a "do-nothing Congress" for the country's economic woes while stumping for reelection.

Talk of overturning the sequester -- the trigger of automatic across-the-board cuts – has already started.

“There will be opportunities to amend the effects of this across-the-board sequestration, on the defense side,” Kyl said on CNBC. “There will be efforts to find offsets or other ways to reduce spending so that those cuts in defense spending don’t occur.”

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the proposed cuts would be "devastating" to the U.S. military.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov152011

Rick Perry Vows to ‘Uproot’ Three Branches of Government

Alex Wong/Getty Images(BETTENDORF, Iowa) -- Before a crowd of Scott County Republicans Monday night, Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed to “uproot” the three branches of government and “dismantle” the status quo in Washington, D.C., with a plan he said he will make public Tuesday morning.

“Tomorrow I’m going to unveil a plan to uproot all three branches of government and overhaul Washington.  It touches every branch of government because they each contributed to the demise of America,”  Perry said at the Scott County GOP’s Ronald Reagan Dinner.

While offering no details of his government reform speech set for Tuesday morning at a Bettendorf, Iowa manufacturing facility, Perry said he would address the lifelong appointments of federal judges, who he said aim to “arrogantly rewrite our laws from the bench”; upend the “permanent bureaucracy of the executive branch, which thwarts the will of the American people to advance a big government agenda”; and reform a Congress that “not only spends too much, but is in Washington too much.”

“Washington doesn’t need a new coat of paint.  It needs a complete overhaul,” Perry said.

Perry railed against lawmakers and lobbyists in Washington, D.C, who he argued have not felt the economic hardships ringing across America.

“America remains mired in the ruins of this Washington out-of-touch big government economic policies, and when you go into Washington, D.C., though and that surrounding area, they’re doing just fine,” Perry said.  “Washington metro area is now the most affluent metropolitan area in the country, and that’s because all of those lobbyists, that’s because all of those overpaid czars and bureaucrats haven’t suffered one bit while we’ve been going through one of the worst economies that this country has ever seen.  Main Street’s windows might be getting boarded up, but the cash continues to flow to those Wall Street financiers, those Beltway profiteers.”

Perry, who is on his eighth trip to the Hawkeye state, appealed to Iowans to look past his flaws and examine his commitment as a principled candidate.

“The question facing Iowans in 50 days isn’t whether to embrace change but to decide for them Iowans to decide who is the most credible messenger of that change,” Perry said.  “I’m the first to admit I’m not the most polished candidate out there, but let me tell you one thing, I stick to my principles.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct122011

Americans Elect Aims to Bypass Parties With Online Presidential Nomination

AmericansElect.org(WASHINGTON) -- For the 68 percent of Americans who said in an ABC/Washington Post poll released Wednesday that they had a negative view of government, the possibility of having a presidential candidate free of the currently gridlocked political parties could be just a few clicks away.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Americans Elect movement has collected petition signatures -- millions of them -- in all 50 states to put a “candidate of the people” on the ballot in November 2012. This candidate would be selected through an online draft and nomination process instead of through the traditional Republican and Democratic parties primary and caucus schedule.

“We are creating competition for all these folks who are politically homeless,” said Elliot Ackerman, Americans Elect’s chief operating officer. “A lot of the folks that engage with us are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and those people don’t really have a voice in our political system right now. What we’re doing is really creating an incentive structure so that those individuals will be competed for.”

So far, the group has secured a spot on the ballot in six states, has collected the required number of signatures in four states and has about half the necessary signatures in four others. Americans Elect spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel said the group would  begin the petition process in seven more states within the week.

In California, organizers collected and submitted 1.6 million signatures last week, more than have been collected for any one initiative in the state’s history. California has until Nov. 2 to verify those signatures and grant or deny Americans Elect a third-party spot on the ballot.

Ackerman insisted his group is not a “third party” but a ”second way” to nominate a president. Any registered voter can sign up online to be a delegate. Delegates will then draft candidates and vote for their nominee in May and June.

The eventual nominee can be a member of either party or an independent but must chose a vice presidential running mate who is from a different party. Ackerman said he expected many of the losing GOP presidential candidates to move into the Americans Elect primary process after Republicans chose their nominee.

But Jonathan Ladd, an assistant government professor at Georgetown University, said he was “a bit skeptical” that ”high-quality” candidates would chose to buck their party and run under Americans Elect.

“The problem is there are a lot of benefits to being in a party,” Ladd said. “If you run as an independent it will make it harder to run for any office in your party.”

 Because the Americans Elect route carries “a lot of cost” and a “pretty low” probability of actually winning, the group will probably have a hard time getting qualified candidates to accept their nomination, Ladd said.

“High-quality candidates who are ambitious see the incentive to channel their ambitions through the party structure,” he said.

 Perhaps for this reason, the Republican Party, at least, is not too worried that an Americans Elect candidate will pose a threat to the eventual Republican nominee.

“After 32 months of unemployment exceeding 8 percent, Americans are tired of President Obama’s failed policies, and we welcome anyone interested in making Obama a one-term president,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.

The Democratic National Committee did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Ackerman said “a number” of potential candidates had “expressed interest” in the Americans Elect online nominating convention, but he would not disclose who or how many.

Ackerman stressed that there was plenty of time for an additional candidate to jump into the race, because with an online primary, potential candidates would not have to do time-intensive early-primary state campaigning.

This online nominating convention gives each state an equal say in choosing the eventual nominee.

Votes cast in a state such as California, which comes so late in the Republican primary schedule that the nominee is often already chosen, will carry the same weight as votes cast in Iowa, which as the first-in-the-nation state sets the momentum for the entire primary season.

“[Americans Elect] creates this open nominating process, so it takes the power away from the parties and gives it back to the people so the people are driving the process,” Wachtel said.

The way the calendar is currently set up, presidential hopefuls have to edge toward the extremes of their party in order to capture these vital early states, where voters tend to be more socially conservative.

“In the primaries you have to go far to the right or far to the left and tickets are having a hard time tacking back to the center,” he said. “Americans Elect allows a ticket to run authentically without having to go to extremes in the primary.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep282011

Too Much Democracy? A Modest Proposal From NC Gov. Bev Perdue

Comstock/Thinkstock(CARY, N.C.) -- North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue caused a bit of a stir this week when she suggested that maybe Americans should call off a round or two of elections and let politicians focus on government instead of getting elected.

It’s not going to happen, of course -- the United States has held elections through the Civil War and World Wars and the Great Depression -- but it speaks to the general frustration many Americans have with partisanship and gridlock in Washington.

“You have to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things,” Perdue said, speaking at the Rotary Club in Cary, N.C., Tuesday. “I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover....You want people who don’t worry about the next election.”

Her office suggested that the comments were some sort of hyperbolic joke, although she sounds serious on audio posted online.

Frustration with partisanship is not new and it is not isolated. Sixty-nine percent of Americans have a negative view of government, according to the most recent ABC News-Washington Post poll.

But Perdue’s suggestion to call off the 2012 general election has been coupled with a recent essay by Peter Orzsag, President Obama’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget and a key figure in the passage of Democrats’ health law, and held up by conservative bloggers as part of a so-called democratic assault on democracy.

Orzsag, in an article titled “Too Much of a Good Thing: Why We Need Less Democracy,” said his stint working for the president convinced him that the country’s “political polarization was growing worse -- harming Washington’s ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing.”

“So what to do?” Orzsag asked in the article, published by the New Republic Sept. 14.

“To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.”

He endorsed a more progressive tax system and Fed-style bodies to deal with everything from tax policy to infrastructure funding.

The idea that politicians need the ability to govern without so much concentration on politics runs against the whole idea of the U.S. system of government, according to Matthew Spalding, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“We need to get directions from the American people,” he said of elections.

And the government, he said, should not operate exactly like a business. “It was designed so that it wouldn’t react immediately to things. One of the things you want to filter out is the passions of the moment. You don’t want an immediate negative reaction lead to a policy change of great magnitude. It needs to be deliberative. But it's still decisive,” Spalding said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep062011

Double Standard? Romney, Perry Grew State Payrolls as Governors

Steve Cole/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The two leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- have cast themselves as foot soldiers in the war against government workers.

Romney has criticized President Obama for presiding over an “unparalleled” expansion of the federal workforce that he would see rolled back, while Perry has insisted altogether that it’s not the place of government to create jobs.

Yet both men presided over substantial additions to state government payrolls at taxpayer expense during their gubernatorial tenures, a review of historical employment data found.

When Romney took office in January 2003, the Massachusetts state government employed 112,000 workers, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Four years later, the ranks of Massachusetts state employees had grown by 3,000, a 2.6 percent increase.  (Over the same period, nonfarm employment grew just 1.2 percent.)

During Perry’s decade-long tenure in Texas, the state workforce has also blossomed, climbing from 328,800 in December 2000 to more than 377,600 in July 2011, a net gain of 48,800 state government jobs, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

The more than 14 percent expansion of Texas state government employment under Perry far outpaces the private sector job growth of 9.7 percent in the state over the same period.

As for Obama, the ranks of the federal government have swelled during his administration, though not by significantly more than they did under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Between January 2009, when Obama took office, and August 2011, the federal government has added a net 137,000 jobs,  a 6.6 percent expansion of the workforce.  During Bush’s second term, the ranks grew by 114,000 jobs, or 5.8 percent.

More than 2.2 million Americans worked for the federal government as of August 2011, excluding postal workers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Aug302011

FEMA Funding: Napolitano Warns Against ‘Political Gridlock’

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Could federal disaster relief become the next battleground over the federal deficit?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said over the weekend that because of the string of natural disasters in the past year, its disaster relief fund had dwindled to about $900 million.  The agency said it might have to restrict recovery spending for other, recent natural disasters if Congress did not approve additional funds — a stark warning after the estimated multibillion dollars in damage caused by Hurricane Irene.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday urged Congress to avoid “political gridlock” and move quickly to approve more federal disaster funding in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

Political gridlock “should not be the first concern of the Congress,” Napolitano said. “I think the first concern of the Congress is what do we need to protect the health and safety of the people that we’re all privileged to represent. Congress knows that this is historically the way disaster relief has been funded.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Republicans would approve more disaster relief only if spending cuts were made elsewhere in the federal budget to make up the difference. Napolitano and others fear that disaster relief could become the latest political football in the emotionally-charged debate over the federal deficit.

“At the beginning of the fiscal year, they don’t give you a crystal ball,” Napolitano told reporters Tuesday. “So the way they do the [Disaster Relief Fund] is they get the three-year rolling average. And then if you need more, then at the end of the year there’s a supplemental” bill passed by Congress and money is held up until more funding is provided.  She said Congress should continue to play by the established rules.

While calling for more funding, Napolitano said it was too early to tell just how much Hurricane Irene was going to cost.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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