266 posts categorized "Government"

08/07/2012

Fast and Furious whistleblower resolves retaliation claim with government

GunsAn ATF agent turned whistleblower on the Fast and Furious scandal has resolved a retaliation claim with the government through a mediation program, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

Peter Forcelli, one of the employees at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who blew the whistle on Operation “Fast and Furious” testified before the Congress’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last June. Forcelli was assigned to the Phoenix field office, the center of the scandal that allowed guns to be sold in the hopes of making a bigger case.

Forcelli told Congress that ATF agents allowed weapons to be “provided to individuals whom they knew would traffic them to members of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).  They did so by failing to lawfully interdict weapons that they knew were going to be delivered to members of DTOs, and they did so by encouraging federal firearms licensees to continue selling weapons that were destined for delivery to members of the DTOs where no interdiction efforts were planned."AG Holder

Forcelli believed the operation endangered the American public.

“Allowing firearms to be trafficked to criminals is a dangerous and deadly strategy.  The thought that the techniques used in the “Fast and Furious” investigation would result in “taking down a cartel” ... is, in my opinion, delusional.”

Under OSC’s mediation program, all mediation communications are confidential.  A spokeswoman for the special counsel office said she could not disclose any terms of the settlement.

“I commend Mr. Forcelli for his courage in coming forward, and I applaud both him and ATF for their good faith efforts to reach resolution of these issues,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. “This is a testament to the ability of mediation to resolve complex cases.”

Forcelli has been an ATF agent law enforcement agent for more than a quarter century. His testimony before Congress can be found here.

-- Darren Barbee 

 

08/02/2012

Texas MDs, nurses evaded millions in taxes, still pocket $6.6 billion in tax dollars

Maybe the rich don't always get richer, but it helps if you're a health care provider Cash or Caduceus who can skip multiple tax bills and still get everyone else's tax dollars. 

Medical professionals in Texas, Florida and New York rang up at least $791 million in unpaid federal taxes from 2009 and earlier, but still drank deeply from (and probably splashed around in) the magic federal money geyser. (Unrelated to his post, feel free to look up the definition of this random word.)

About 7,000 tax evaders/Medicaid providers raked in $6.6 billion in Medicaid reimbursements — just in 2009, according to this audit by the Government Accountability Office.

Dr. Al CaponeTheir unpaid taxes are likely understated because it doesn’t include medicos who didn’t file tax returns at all or under report their income. (Typical tax evading MD, Dr. A. Capone, left)

(Fine print: The $791 million doesn't include another $59 million in taxes the medicos ducked during 2010 and 2011, according to the audit.)

The GAO report did not break down state by state information or identify providers, which included doctors, nurses, dentists, hospitals, medical transport companies and others.

Before you think "maybe these medical types are just hard up for cash," consider “Case 14,” an unidentified dentist who took in $300,000 in Medicaid money and owes the IRS $200,000. Dr. Case 14 apparently owned waterfront property and luxury motor vehicles. Isn't it nice to know your money went for something nice?

Another dentist, (what is it with dentists?) received $100,000 in Medicaid money, owed $100,000 in taxes and while saddled with this debt blew money on fine dining, trips, spas, shopping and wine. Drip drip drip

Of the providers reviewed, 40 received $235 million in Medicaid reimbursements in 2009 and had unpaid federal taxes of about $26 million through 2010. (The delinquent taxes ranged from $100,000 to up to $6 million.)

In some instances, providers entered into (and defaulted on) installment agreements with IRS numerous times or sent the IRS bad checks.

Luckily, for the providers, federal law does not prohibit people with unpaid federal taxes from enrolling in or receiving payments from Medicaid. 

The audit did not take into account medical peeps with unpaid federal taxes from the 2010 and 2011 tax periods, and recipients with total unpaid federal taxes of $100 or less.

Still, the nation’s 2009-2010 Medicaid bill was $744 billion. What's a piffling $7 billion here and there? 

-- Darren Barbee

Slow mo: Delayed Texas technology projects took an extra 10 years to finish

WaitingTexas agencies can’t blame budget cuts for this snafu: Of 15 information projects analyzed by the State Auditor’s Office, 10 (67 percent) fell far behind, stalling important projects by a cumulative 9.7 years.

The agencies had the money to do the projects. They just didn’t get them done. The result: overruns cost you an extra $11.7 million.

The top sloth prize goes to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which Sloth developed an e-Business Information System to allow better accounting, fiscal control and elimination of deficiencies within their old financial system.

Oh, the irony! The project meant to keep better track of money was supposed to cost $1.6 million, but delays pumped the bill up 211 percent to $4.9 million. Supposed to finish in 2008, the project crawled to the finish line in October 2010, nearly 26 months late.

Old computersRunner-up was the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, which set out to implement websites and web applications for people with disabilities. DADS may be “committed to providing equal access” to folks, but, hey, it didn’t say when. DADS $5.5 million project mushroomed to $7.7 million and took an additional 21 months to finish.

By the way, getting the job done early does makes a difference. The Department of Family and Protective Services created a database that was delivered about two months early. That saved $1.1 million.

The SAO reported that projects were delayed and costs went wild for several reasons, including forgetting to report state staff salaries and benefits in a major information resources project’s initial cost estimate and subsequent reports.   

See chart below for overruns.

-- Darren Barbee

Agency Original Budget Final Budget Overruns Additional months needed
Commission on Environmental Quality $550,800 $1,173,105 $622,305 4.27
Commission on Environmental Quality $1,107,839 $2,027,216 $919,377 8.42
Department of Aging and Disability Services $5,500,000 $7,698,000 $2,198,000 21.24
Department of Family and Protective Services $1,511,966 $1,244,633 ($267,333) 4.96
Department of Family and Protective Services $2,575,963 $1,468,120 ($1,107,843) -2.37
Department of Transportation $1,986,000 $2,109,505 $123,505 2.99
Department of Transportation $864,250 $920,463 $56,213 10
Health and Human Services Commission $2,636,001 $2,004,881 ($631,120) -11.28
Office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts $7,747,019 $12,531,175 $4,784,156 0
Office of Court Administration $3,500,000 $4,126,053 $626,053 19.04
Texas Education Agency $3,852,000 $4,514,259 $662,259 0
Texas Education Agency $3,852,000 $3,647,796 ($204,204) 0
Parks and Wildlife Department $1,590,041 $4,945,547 $3,355,506 25.91
Texas Workforce Commission $2,281,828 $2,543,445 $261,617 6.05
Texas Workforce Commission $3,203,466 $3,499,474 $296,008 27.92
      $11,694,499 117.15

 

08/01/2012

Army helmet sensors to monitor traumatic brain pounding -- in the NFL

Football helmetsThe U.S. Army uses helmet sensors to measure the impact to a soldier’s head after a concussive event, like an explosion.

So, it's only natural the National Football League wants in on Solider helmet that action.

While gridiron warriors aren’t actually engaged in combat with firearms (for the most part; Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain was recently sentenced for holding a gun to man’s head and firing a shot by his ear) the NFL wants the technology in its player’s helmets.

The helmets would use sensors that evaluate concussive events that could lead to traumatic brain injury, the Armed With Science blog for the Department of Defense reports.

Apparently, the NFL and the Army meet occasionally to swap information on brain injuries and treatment tactics. Lt. Col. Frank Lozano, product manager of soldier protection said head injuries suffered by football players are similar to those suffered by soldiers.

Steve Young concussion 1999What took us by surprise was this quote: “A lot of soldiers are football fans and a lot of football players and teams in the NFL are large supporters of the armed forces,” he said. “So it’s kind of a natural fit.”

Really? That’s the rationale? If only the National Dodgeball League (apparently real) were more on people’s radars, who knows what kind of help those elite players could receive when getting smacked in the noggin by a red ball.

The blog also reports that 58 percent of the more than 2,000 documented cases of brain injuries are Simulated rescue Army soldiers. So far, 45,000 sensor helmets have been ordered for troops, but only about 10,000 helmets have been delivered to troops. (Note: Photo (right) is a simulated rescue operation.)

Just to be clear, as George Carlin pointed out in his classic routine about football vs. baseball, the pigskin is an instrument of war:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!

Finally, your downer of the day: The clip (below) from an NFL exhibition game that left Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed. He died in 2007.

-- Darren Barbee

 

07/31/2012

Federal cyber security: Giving a hand up to nation's hackers, not so much to you

Government securityPeople "needlessly" spend about $3.5 billion a year on identity theft protection, according to Consumer Reports. Needless, that is, unless you happen to give your personal information to the federal government.

A new federal report highlights weaknesses in government agencies’ shoddy information security programs. In non-geek speak, that means they're pathetic and/or incompetent. 

Illustration: In 2010, federal agencies reported 13,017 security incidents involving personal information. A single incident can involve thousands of people.

Last year, that number climbed to 15,560, a 19 percent increase, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office.

Some examples of federal, state and private company data intrusions follow. Tums Alert: This list may Tums
induce nausea:

In May 2012, 123,000 participants of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has personal info access, including 46,587

individuals’ names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

• In April 2012, hackers breached a server at the Utah Department of

Health to access thousands of Medicaid records. About 280,000 people had their Social Security  numbers exposed.

• In March 2012, the Facebook account of the senior commander of the NATO was hacked, with in an attempt to spy on potentially sensitive information.

• In March 2012, it was reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee paid $1.5 million to settle with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over potential violations stemming from the theft of unencrypted computer hard drives containing protected health information of more than 1 million people.

The feds are hit too: Federal operations, assets and people have been put at risk as security breaches placed sensitive information at risk. In 2006, there were 5,503 such incidents. In 2011, the number rose to 42,887, an increase of a MERE 680 percent

Your elected congressmenAs usual, the government ignores its own advice. Over the past several years, investigators have continued to warn that federal agency systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks and the potential to compromise personally identifiable information.

With luck, someone will hack the GAO’s computers and send a copy of the old reports to Congress.

 

-- Darren Barbee

07/26/2012

Childcare company fine with kids, not so much the pregnant employee, feds say

Good babyAn Oklahoma childcare company effectively told a pregnant woman to “get back in Pregnant thumbs down the kitchen,” but don’t fret, it was an employee, not a costumer, according to a federal complaint.

This week, Kids R Us, which owns child care facilities in Sooner country, agreed to pay
$75,000 to settle a pregnancy bias and retaliation suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The employee was an assistant facility director in 2010 when she informed an owner she was pregnant.

Later that month, the woman was demoted from her full-time position to part-time cook because, she
was told, she had “decided to get pregnant,” according to the suit. An attorney for Kids said her change to part-time status was at her request. The company denied all of the accusations.

Scullery(See typical modern woman, left)

After the woman filed a charge with the EEOC, Kids transferred her to a facility far enough away that it required to her to resign, the suit said. The company then fired her sister and cousin, who also worked at the company, without explanation.

“We hope this settlement will serve as an example to all employers that this agency takes seriously the right of people to complain about illegal job discrimination and that we will vigorously enforce the prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination,” said Barbara Seely, a regional attorney for EEOC.

This company has employed several women while they were pregnant, including some (pregnant) more than once," said Elaine R. Turner, an Oklahoma City attorney for the company.

Court documents say the settlement is not a judgment on the merits of the suit or an admission of liability by Kids R Us. The settlement was made to save litigation costs, Turner said.

"This was a financial decision, and that's all it was," she said.

Kids R US LLC is not related to the defunct clothing stores previously operated by Toys R Us.

-- Darren Barbee

07/18/2012

Audit: Texas agency repeatedly busted deadlines, overspent on IT project

Texas has another black eye for an IT project, this one at the agency that helps the blind and provides rehabilitation services. It wanted a web-based case management system and said $2.4 million in federal funds would do the trick. The "ReHabWorks" system was supposed to be up and running by August 2007.

Five years and many millions of dollars later, the system still doesn't work, a state audit found. Now, the agency says the system will be completed by April 2013, at a cost of $18.3 million.

DARSbannerWhy did it take the state so long to notice? Maybe because the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services reported in August 2010 that the project was complete. By reporting that, the agency no longer had to file quarterly monitoring reports on the project's status and costs. But the audit says that only one of six critical components was actually completed then. And the system lacked more than 80 functions that previous systems had and among the missing pieces was a function that could cause the system to crash. 

Meanwhile, the agency tapped other federal funds to cover mounting costs and chalked up to "maintenance" other capital expenses beyond what was authorized. It couldn't even keep track of all the costs - and failed to mention to the state $10.9 million in associated costs for personnel to actually work on the system, the auditors reported. 

In the auditors' words, "The Department exceeded the budget and time line for the development of the ReHabWorks System primarily because the development effort lacked sufficient planning, change control monitoring, and project documentation. Weaknesses in the process to establish system requirements resulted in insufficient development of the project scope, budget, and time lines."

If this sounds familiar, recall efforts to get an integrated system for public assistance programs. It had cost more than a half billion in taxpayer money by 2007 and was riddled with deficiencies, according to an inspector general report. Or consider the Texas debacle with IBM for a data center partnership. Busted deadlines, server crashes, lost information forced the governor to shut it down for a while. - Lois Norder

07/16/2012

Join Treasury, collect gifts, enjoy free golf outings

U.S. TreasuryTrue or false: Federal employees with the U.S. Treasury Department:

1. Golfed with bank employees during bank examinations

2. Socialized with contractors and accepted gifts from them.

3. Got a loan from a bank that the employee regulated

4. Used federal travel card to pay for hotel encounters with prostitutes

5. Steered contracts to favored firms and had sex in a stairwell

1. True: From 2006-2008, when banks were up to the eyeballs in risky investments, a national bank examiner for the Comptroller of the Currency in Florida spent office hours golfing with employees of a bank, accepting golf fees or food and reporting on his time card that he was working. The golf outings took place during bank examinations. That's what Treasury watchdog investigators found, according to documents obtained by Governmentattic.org. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Georgia decided not to take action, the documents show.   

2. True: A comptroller employee involved in selecting a contractor didn't disclose that her husband could benefit. An employee also took gifts that exceeded the annual limit. And a couple OCC employees socialized with contractors, exchanging gifts such as flowers, a limousine ride and meals. Then they lied about it to investigators, despite photographic evidence contradicting them. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland declined civil or criminal prosecution.

3. Also true: A national bank examiner accepted a loan from an institution for which he had oversight. A U.S. Attorney's Office in New York declined prosecution on that one.

4. And this is true, too: A human resources specialist for Treasury's Office of Thrift Supervision misused resources for sexual encounters with prostitutes advertising on Craigslist. He paid for hotel rooms with his OTS-issued travel card on at least three occasions, investigators reported. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia declined to take that case.

5. Not true (apparently): A director in the Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency hires his BFF for a headquarters job. An architectural contractor got blackballed for an OCC contract because of a 40-year-old dispute. Two employees had sex in an office stairwell. At least the Treasury couldn't find evidence to substantiate these concerns, according to the heavily redacted documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. 

How did you score? Probably not as well as federal employees who avoided criminal charges.

 

 

$43,000 embezzled out from under nose of FBI

Fbi-seal-plaque20l-2Not everybody can be a paid snitch for the FBI. First, the case agent proposing to operate a confidential informant must complete an Initial Suitability Report and Recommendation addressing 17 different factors, such as the person's motivation and truthfulness. To make sure the FBI is getting its money's worth, it also tracks the "statistical accomplishments" of snitches - such things as the number of indictments, convictions and search warrants for which they get credit. Finally, when an FBI agent pays a snitch, another agent is supposed to go along to sign a receipt.

At least, that's how you do it by the books.

So the FBI might have some explaining to do, after a special agent in Oklahoma managed to carry on an embezzlement scheme for four years, taking more than $43,000 from the agency's confidential informant fund. On Friday, Special Agent Timothy Klotz pleaded guilty, the Justice Department reports. He worked in classified counterintelligence, the Oklahoman reports.

You might have seen this one coming, though. After all, 87 percent of the confidential informant files examined by the inspector general for the FBI failed to meet the agency's guidelines, according to a 2005 report. Among the failures, information corroborating the extent to which the informant's help would be relevant was missing from a number of files. And Congress was told in 2007 that there was potential for abuses in the program.

In Klotz's case, he submitted 66 false confidential informant payment receipts on which he forged the signature of either FBI special agents or the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  The U.S. Attorney's Office for North Texas handled the investigation after auditors discovered discrepancies. - Lois Norder  Download F.B.I.

 

07/13/2012

Texas pensions threatened with dreaded 'intensive review'

If any of Texas' 360 public pension plan are in dire straits, don't count on the state's watchdog agency to know. The Pension Review board gets too little information and too late, warns a new report by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. Perry scoldingBesides, even if the board spots problems that put taxpayers and plan members at risk, its only power is public shaming. The board provides what Sunset calls the oxymoron of "non-regulatory oversight" - all talk, no action.   

But Sunset doesn't recommend that Texas lawmakers fix that. Its remedy is to require Texas public pensions to provide information when it is due and to turn over to the board audited financial reports and experience studies - if the pension chooses to perform those studies.  

Then, if the board detects threats that could imperil benefits to the millions of public employees and retirees or leave taxpayers on the hook, the board can really swing into action. It can conduct the dreaded "intensive review" to assess the situation and "make the system and its sponsoring entity aware of any problems." Talk about over regulation.