Thursday, January 31, 2008

Program that can recover billions of dollars for Medicare/Medicaid neglected by Congress

The Citizens Against Government Waste newsletter E-News from CAGW reports on a new way to audit and recover billions of dollars per year for Social Security. Unfortunately, the ways of Washington haven't given it the consideration American taxpayers must demand from them.


CAGW reiterated support for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) efforts to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in improper payments made to hospitals and healthcare providers using the Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) Program. RACs, which are private-sector auditing companies that specialize in uncovering improper payments, have offered a commonsense solution to the leakage of billions of dollars in overpayments and underpayments to federal healthcare contractors. Audits being conducted in three states (California, Florida, and New York) as part of a CMS demonstration project launched in 2005 have exposed $299.5 million in improper payments, and CMS recently announced that the payment error rate has dropped significantly, translating into $11 billion that the government has retained instead of seeing it paid to healthcare providers who billed for it erroneously. Nonetheless, parochial interests are prompting some politicians to line up to gut the program before it rolls out nationwide. “This program is reducing billing errors, fraud, and abuse, and now it is being undermined by the very people who were elected to protect taxpayers,” declared CAGW President Tom Schatz. Read more about efforts to stymie Medicare provider audits.

Egregious "emergency" spending corrupts the federal budget process

Taxpayers for Common Sense' Weekly Wastebasket newsletter features an article on the federal budget process undergone each fiscal year in Washington. Much of the "emergency" spending in the GWOT isn't actually for emergencies, as urgent as they might seem. This extraordinary budgetary procedure is being used far too often, and causes large inaccuracies in the final budget deficit numbers.

Of the nearly $700 billion Congress has approved for GWOT activities--including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--since 2001, 90 percent have come from “off budget” supplemental emergency spending bills. This is viewed by the Pentagon as free money. Annual war costs have more than doubled in recent years, helped in large measure by a 2006 Pentagon directive that allowed supplemental requests to include anything related to GWOT and equipment lost in combat to be replaced by not-yet-ready-for-primetime weapons still in development. These fiscal feeding frenzies also have a tendency to pick up pork as they roll through Congress – producing war spending with side orders of whiz-bang gadgetry, sugar beet subsidies and ewe lamb replacement.

We have long argued that emergency spending bills should meet the government’s own definition of emergency: sudden, temporary, unforeseen and urgent. After several years, war funding isn’t sudden, temporary or unforeseen, even if it is urgent. But supplementals are attractive because they are not subject to the same caps as other sources of discretionary spending. This means DoD can pile emergency funding on top of their nearly $500 billion regular budget, allowing unnecessary programs and weapons to snowball. Worse, the omission of war costs also allows the White House to produce rosier deficit projections by ignoring a whole column of expenses.

No “emergency” – especially one that is six years old with no end in sight – should allow a government to evade budgeting for the future. The President and the Defense Department aren’t fooling anyone by conducting this war off the balance sheet. They owe it to every American citizen to come clean.

Consumer Product Safety Commission unresponsive to dangerous and defective company product reports

Public Citizen has released a report on the lax public notifications of product defects by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission). This is yet another example of an administration that has politicized its public service. Based upon similar backass services from a host of Executive branch agencies, I must assume that politicization is endemic throughout the system under Bush's watch.

Here is Public Citizen's description of its newest report on consumer product safety issues and the federal government:

U.S. Consumer Protection Officials Wait Months to Notify Public of Dangerous, Defective Products, Public Citizen Study Finds

Despite a law requiring manufacturers to provide the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) with “immediate” notification of dangerous products, the agency typically delays nearly seven months after learning of dangerous, defective products before telling the public. A new Public Citizen study, Hazardous Waits: CPSC Lets Crucial Time Pass Before Warning Public About Dangerous Products, reveals that companies fined for tardy reporting took an average of 993 days – 2.7 years – between learning of a safety defect in their products and notifying the CPSC. Perhaps as shocking, the CPSC then took an average of 209 additional days before disclosing the information to the public – even though each case concerned a product defect so dangerous that the item was recalled.


President Bush signs bill then ignores crucial amendments of it

POGO (Project on Government Oversight), a federal government contracting watchdog, has reported that President Bush has actually struck out of a bill certain parts it proactively supported during the bill's Congressional legislation. President Bush feels that he has the power to sign a bill and then ignore certain parts of it through a "signing statement", a very controversial action. I provide the full text of their post on this important and critical finding:

Crucial Amendments Fall Prey to Presidential Signing Statement

In an outrageous but all-too-familiar move, President Bush has declared in a signing statement that he is entitled to ignore certain provisions of the FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill, which he signed into law yesterday. One of these provisions would establish an independent, bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting; another would extend whistleblower protections to employees of defense contractors.

POGO strongly supported both of these provisions (see here and here), and we’re dismayed to learn that the White House now considers them to be optional.

According to the White House press release, the burdensome provisions “purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the President’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations...The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President.”

As many reporters have pointed out, the use of presidential signing statements has increased at an alarming rate under the current administration. But should the president be allowed to selectively disregard any part of a bill that he signs into law? Senator Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CQ Today that “the courts have ruled that the president cannot pick and choose provisions of appropriations bills that [he wants] to comply with.” A blue-ribbon American Bar Association task force also found that these signing statements “undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.”

-- Michael Smallberg

How each presidential candidate proposes to spend your taxes

NTU (National Taxpayers Union) has prepared a report on the spending proposals of each of the leading candidates for president. A data and graphical breakdown for each candidate is included.

Yes, there are many considerations for choosing your next president. This report on where more or less of your money will go starting next year may, however, be a major factor in your voting decision.

Many townhouses near the Capitol are owned by lobbyists for fundraising purposes

USA Today newspaper has a special graphical webpage of lobbyist-hosted fundraisers at town houses and offices near the U.S. Capitol.

In the last decade, 18 lobbying organizations have purchased town houses or leased office space near the U.S. Capitol, joining more than a dozen others that had operated there for years. At least 214 members of Congress held fundraisers at these properties last year through November, often for free or at cut-rate prices. Events listed here benefited lawmakers' candidate committees or political action committees they head, or both. This is a partial list, since many events are not reflected in federal campaign records.

If a lawmaker has a bill coming up for a vote, and the bill concerns a lobbyist hosting that lawmaker's campaign fundraiser, that would be a conflict of interest, no?

Let we, the people finance our next president's candidacy

I have just submitted a letter to the editor to my local newspaper, the Abilene (TX) Reporter-News. It's about Clean Elections-- public financing in light of super duper Tuesday primaries coming next week. I don't know if they'll publish it in time, as it's only several days away.

Super Duper Tuesday will include presidential primaries for 20 states on February 5th. It will require a large coffer of funds from each of the remaining candidates in order to reach all of the voters across the widely dispersed states that include California and New York. The best way to handle this is Clean Elections-- public financing of elections supplies a central fund provided by the U.S. taxpayer. It will not give amounts in favor of some candidates over others, thus leaving the issues the main focus of the campaign trail. Wouldn't it be nice to keep special interest money out of the campaign of our future leader? Clean elections leave the candidates free for speaking openly, and not for begging for dollars.

The Bush administration is stonewalling efforts to find its public emails

CREW, a public advocacy organization, was interviewed on January 17, 2008 by Aimee Allison of KPFA San Francisco about the current scandal of missing emails of the Bush administration. According to a January 16, 2008 CREW post,

The deletion of millions of email beginning in March 2003 coupled with the White House’s destruction of back-up copies of those deleted email mean that there are no back-up copies of emails deleted during the period March 2003 through October 2003. The significance of this time-period cannot be overstated: the U.S. went to war with Iraq, top White House officials leaked the covert identity of Valerie Plame Wilson and the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into their actions.

Lawsuits by CREW and others against the administration in pursuit of any backup copies during the time George W Bush has been in office are ongoing.

Bush regulators break law to avoid mine safety violations

TPMmuckraker from Talking Points Memo has a posted a note about the lack of action by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The Bush administration’s federal mine safety regulators have violated federal law by allowing thousands of health and safety violations to go unpunished. In just the past six years, The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration failed to act upon approximately 4,000 violations. One of those violations was partially responsible for the 2005 death of a Kentucky miner. (Charleston Gazette)

U.S. House leadership: start cooperating with law enforcement agencies!

CREW, a public advocacy organization, has posted information about a letter sent today to Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Boehner asking that the House leaders start cooperating with law enforcement authorities pursuing legitimate criminal investigations involving members of Congress.

Leaders of the House have been improperly shielding members of Congress – including former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) -- from criminal investigation and prosecution through an expansive and aggressive interpretation of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.

Members of Congress, like all other citizens, can hire attorneys to ensure that their constitutional rights are protected; this is not, however, the job of the House general counsel, hired at taxpayer expense.

U.S. Department of Justice is accused of blocking Alberto R Gonzales probe

CREW, a public advocacy organization, has posted a Los Angeles Times article entitled "Justice Department Accused of Blocking Gonzales Probe."

The government agency that enforces one of the principal laws aimed at keeping politics out of the civil service has accused the Justice Department of blocking its investigation into alleged politicizing of the department under former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.

Scott J. Bloch, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, wrote Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey last week that the department had repeatedly "impeded" his investigation by refusing to share documents and provide answers to written questions, according to a copy of Bloch's letter obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Right wing power grabs for the Civil Rights Commission

CREW, a public advocacy organization, has issued a press release concerning the Bush legacy of politicizing civil rights-- the Civil Rights Commission is stacked with partisans.

Washington, DC – This morning, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) hosted a press conference call with the NAACP and MALDEF to demand that U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey rescind a Bush legal memo that authorized deceptive appointments of exclusively partisan Republicans to the bipartisan Civil Rights Commission.

The letter, signed by LCCR, CREW, NAACP, MALDEF, National Women’s Law Center, National Partnership for Women & Families, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Congress of American Indians and the ACLU is online:

http://www.civilrights.org/library/advocacy-letters/usccr-letter.html

In order to circumvent the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Bush Justice Department wrote a memo allowing Republican members of the Commission to switch their party affiliation to “independent.” That allowed the president to appoint more Republicans to the bipartisan eight person commission under the guise that they were somehow “independent,” allowing the Bush administration to circumvent the law requiring that no more than four members of any party serve on the commission.

During his confirmation hearing, Mukasey pledged to review “significant” decisions of the Office of Legal Counsel to ensure that such decisions were “sound, soundly reasoned, soundly based.” Allowing this deception in the appointment process was neither sound, soundly reasoned or soundly based and is a continuation of the Bush administration's legacy of undermining the credibility and subverting Congress' intent to retain the commission's independence and bipartisan membership

Mukasey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Presidential candidate John McCain receiving many lobbyist bundlers to finance his campaign

Public Citizen has issued a press release on the rise of the unethical practice of lobbyist bundlers supporting presidential candidates. There are already more of them than in all of 2004, the last presidential election year. Perhaps more striking is the fact that the leading candidate receiving this questionable campaign finance help is none other than U.S. Senator John McCain (Repub.).

McCain has often been on the front lines of reform in Congress, as an author or co-author of campaign finance-related bills. And now, as the second leading presidential candidate in lobbyist bundling receipts, former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani (Repub.) is likely to end his candidacy and endorse McCain later today; the senator may subsequently receive even more lobbyist bundlers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Hampshire primary ballot counting problems

The BRAD BLOG has been closely following the recounts occurring in New Hampshire, our first in the nation primary. They are reporting on poor conditions in its vote ballot "chain of custody"-- the process of counting ballots from the polling places to the signing off of the actual count. Watch the video, supplied by BlackBoxVoting.org, and see for yourself the lack of integrity in the ballot counting management, of course led by the New Hampshire Secretary of State.

BRAD BLOG will continue covering the state's ballot recount effort as it happens. For additional New Hampshire primary video please go to BlackBoxVoting.org.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Where do the presidential candidates stand on fiscal policy? A quick rundown.

The HeraldTribune.com news site from southwest florida has a report on the basic fiscal policy issues of each of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Although All Things Reform does not endorse any one candidate, it is hoped this quick rundown of each candidate's stands on the federal budget will be of assistance in making your own voting decision.

This large newspaper doesn't include the fiscal platforms of minor and independent presidential candidates, so I must ask you to visit their respective campaign websites for those. Here are just a few third party websites that include candidates running for their nominations:

Friday, January 25, 2008

Check the directions for your state's presidential primaries

NASS (National Association of Secretaries of State) has a 2008 Presidential Primary Info webpage, listing each state's primary dates and caucus/primary, open/closed, voter registration deadline, early voting info, delegate allocation and polling hours. Check your state out right now, to make sure you're prepared to go to the polls on your primary day (if it hasn't occurred yet).

$219 billion federal budget deficit projected by the CBO for FY2008

The Gov Docs Guy blog reports that an increase in the federal budget deficit for 2008 is projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO):

The [CBO] projects that “after three years of declining budget deficits, a slowing economy this year will contribute to an increase in the deficit,” according to its new report, The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2008 to 2018 (pdf, 1.9mb).

“Under an assumption that current laws and policies do not change, CBO projects that the budget deficit will rise to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2008 from 1.2 percent in 2007,” the report said. That translates to an increase in the deficit from $163 billion last year to $219 billion in 2008 (see Summary Table 1). In addition, “[e]nactment of legislation to provide economic stimulus or additional funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could further increase the deficit for this year,” the report said.

$55 billion in improper HHS payments in 2007

According to The Swine Line, the blog of Citizens Against Government Waste, work has begun in Washington to calculate the improper payments made by its various federal agencies:

The GAO just released its most recent report on estimated improper payments made by federal agencies. Overall 2007 estimates for improper payments (overpayments or underpayments, but guess which one is most prevalent?) were $55 billion. The most vulnerable federal program was the Medicaid fee-for-service program, which had an estimated $13 billion in improper payments and that was only for its fee-for-service program and only for six months worth of claims. Government Executive Magazine reports that:

HHS is not the only agency still working to develop improper payment estimates. GAO reported that the fiscal 2007 estimate did not include data from 14 risk-susceptible programs with outlays of $170 billion. Nine of these fall under the Homeland Security Department and were only recently identified as risk-susceptible. GAO considered the identification of programs as an important step toward proper reporting and prevention of improper payments. Twelve of the 14 programs that did not report estimates aim to do so for 2008. The other two did not report target implementation dates.

The League of Women Voters Presidential Candidates Questionnaire

The League of Women Voters has a presidential primaries voter's guide in pdf format (free Adobe Reader required). It gives basic facts about the presidential office, and short biographies and issue positions of the leading Republican and Democratic candidates for president.

Where do the Republican presidential candidates stand?

All of the Democratic candidates for president support public financing of elections. We see Republicans supporting public financing in Congress and state legislatures all over the country. How about the Republican presidential candidates?

The presidential "bully pulpit" can move Congress on issues, especially in the new president's first months in office. Let's ask those Republicans still in the primaries where they stand. Public Citizen, a public interest organization promoting Clean Elections, is running a campaign to do just that:

The Republican candidates talk about changing Washington but have refused -- so far -- to support policies that bite the hands that feed their campaigns.

Tell the GOP presidential candidates that real change means supporting policies that put voters ahead of big money in presidential and congressional elections.

After we collect signatures on this petition, we'll fax each of the Republican presidential candidates a letter on February 4th, the day before Super Tuesday on February 5th, to urge them to support public financing.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New wiki helps make bills easier to read

Readable Laws wiki subtitle is "Legislation in plain English". It focuses on only several Congressional bills active right now, as it is still fairly new. They are always looking for contributors to this wiki form of public collaboration, to increase its number of bills.

This site is a project of NewAssignment.Net, a project in open-source, pro-am journalism. It will prove to be very helpful to the vast majority of the general public (including me!) wanting to find out what interesting bills in legislation actually say.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Concord Coalition: Make financial stimulus package near-term to avoid long-term deficit abuse

According to the January 23rd press release of the Concord Coalition, a federal budget reform organization, under reasonable assumptions about spending and tax policies budget deficits could easily exceed $6 trillion over the coming decade. Given that a fiscal stimulus package would further expand the deficit, Concord urged that any such legislation be carefully designed to have its maximum effect in the very near future, minimize costs in later years, and provide the greatest stimulus for the amount of spending or tax relief.

Presently, the White House and Congressional leaders are developing a financial stimulus package to help ward off an economic recession in the U.S.
And there appears to be a political consensus around fiscal stimulus that is 'targeted, temporary and timely.' If those criteria are scrupulously followed, a fiscal stimulus bill would not present long-term concerns.

We must never lose sight of the larger picture, however; that is, the long-term fiscal condition of our nation. Read the Concord Coalition press release for further insights on expected budget deficits for the coming decade and later.

Watchdog Open Debates reforms the Commission on Presidential Debates

Open Debates, a nonprofit reform group for the quadrennial presidential debates, has issued its first newsletter for 2008.

The CPD, or Commission on Presidential Debates, still is the sole organizer of the debates that happen the fall of every presidential election year. Run in cooperation of the Republican and Democratic Parties, these debates are self-regulated and exclusive of popular independent and third party candidates who don't pass the Commission's difficult admissions requirements. Open Debates is a watchdog for this monopolistic debate organization.

Here is the Open Debates letter in full:

Dear Open Debates Supporters,

It’s 2008, and we’re back!

1. Twenty-six primary debates have been held this election season, and they have shown that presidential debates can be enhanced by allowing multiple candidates to participate. They have also shown that the exclusion of viable candidates before a single vote has been cast is fundamentally undemocratic. Read our press release condemning the exclusion of Dennis Kucinich from a primary debate that he was actually invited to: http://www.opendebates.org/news/pressreleases/primarydebate.html

2. Unremarkably, in November 2007, the CPD announced that it will sponsor four presidential debates in September. However, two things were remarkable about that announcement. First, in response to our criticism of previously restrictive formats, the CPD declared that -- for the first time ever -- participants would ask each other questions during the debates. This improvement should be applauded. Second, in response to our criticism, the CPD announced that it will no longer allow the major party candidates to dictate how the debates will be structured. This one is hard to believe. The CPD exists for the exclusive purpose of sponsoring presidential debates that are controlled by the Republican and Democratic campaigns – that is why the CPD seized control of the debates from the League of Women Voters in 1988; that is why the CPD has implemented secret contracts jointly drafted by the major party campaigns; and that is why the CPD has been run by former chairs of the Repub
lican and Democratic parties for the last 20 years.

3. We are already seeing evidence that the CPD will continue to do the Republican and Democratic parties’ bidding in 2008. First and foremost, the CPD re-issued candidate selection criteria that no third-party candidate has ever met; a candidate must reach 15 percent in national polls to qualify for any of the debates. This antidemocratic criterion could prevent the inclusion of candidates that most Americans want to see, and it is three times higher than the threshold candidates must reach to qualify for taxpayers’ funds. In other words, taxpayers can subsidize candidates that they can’t watch debate.

Moreover, the CPD rejected New Orleans as a presidential debate site, despite overwhelming evidence that the city has adequate facilities. Unconfirmed allegations abound that the CPD struck a deal with the RNC, in which the CPD agreed not to host a debate in New Orleans, a symbol of President Bush’s incompetence, and the RNC agreed to a debate in New York City. Read the New York Times editorial criticizing the CPD for its rejection of New Orleans: http://www.opendebates.org/news/relatedarticles/bigeasy.html. Meanwhile, for the fourth consecutive year, the CPD selected Washington University in St. Louis as a debate site, in large part because Anheuser Busch will foot the bill and because the chairman of the university’s board of trustees is the brother of CPD board member John Danforth. Anheuser Busch will transform the debate area into a corporate carnival, with scantily clad Busch-girls distributing pamphlets denouncing beer taxes to reporters and campaign staff.

Though the debates are more than nine months away, it is already clear that the nation is in need of a new, genuinely nonpartisan presidential debate sponsor that will ensure our most sacred public forums serve the public interest.

Thank you for your support!

George Farah
Executive Director
Open Debates
http://www.OpenDebates.org/


Ross Perot is back with his charts!

Newsweek's Jan. 16, 2008 article "Ross Perot Slams McCain" is the first major media interview by the former 1992 and 1996 Presidential candidate in several years. Although much of the article touches on his disputes with current Republican Presidential candidate John McCain over the plight of Vietnamese POWs, and of his endorsement of Republican Pres. candidate Mitt Romney, he also shares his thoughts on the America of today. He considers the shape of our great nation much worse than when he was rallying grassroots America as a candidate.

Perot offers no easy solutions, instead emphasizing "a strong moral and ethical base, strong homes and the finest schools." He says he's disappointed that big textbook companies successfully lobbied in the Texas state legislature to reverse his landmark school reforms.

The pint-size Texan with the funny voice and the big ears isn't planning to run for president again, but says he will launch a Web site next month with plenty of the charts and graphs he made famous when explaining the deficit in 1992.

Before hanging up, Perot asked me to read the books he recommended on live POWs. I promised him I would.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lies, lies and more lies-- the U.S. Executive branch leading to the Iraq War

The Associated Press reports on a study done by the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism. It collected and analysed false statements made by many leaders of the U.S. Executive branch for the two years following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, leading up to the war with Iraq.

Named in the study along with Bush were top officials of the administration during the period studied: Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.

Bush led with 259 false statements, 231 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 28 about Iraq's links to al-Qaida, the study found. That was second only to Powell's 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq and al-Qaida.

The center said the study was based on a database created with public statements over the two years beginning on Sept. 11, 2001, and information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches and interviews.


UPDATE: Check out the CPI report, which includes a database.


Make Voting Work initiative brings millions of dollars to electoral reforms

A large, private foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, is financially supporting election system reforms. Although the Help America Vote Act of 2002 was a major overhaul of electoral machines and other system problems in the aftermath of the 2000 Presidential elections, this is an effort to focus on additional problems. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts:

The Pew Center on the States’ Make Voting Work initiative and the JEHT Foundation today are joining with election experts and state and local officials across the country to address the most pressing problems facing voters during the 2008 elections. In partnership with the JEHT Foundation, Pew is awarding $2.5 million in funding to 16 projects that advance innovative solutions to critical flaws in our elections system and improve accuracy, convenience, efficiency and security for voters. An additional $1 million in funding will be awarded over the next six months. The projects were selected from 183 proposals submitted to Pew in 2007 from state and local governments and election experts.
Make Voting Work selected the 16 projects, which focus their work on five distinct areas where major failings have been identified and improvements are being debated and implemented by election officials, but where additional expertise is desired and necessary to shape and evaluate these efforts. These areas include:

Voter Registration System Assessment ($669,000)
Successful voter registration systems enable eligible citizens to vote without undue burden, secure our elections from those ineligible to participate and facilitate communication with voters. Yet, registration rolls are created from piecemeal data collected by local election officials, state motor vehicle agencies and other nonpartisan and partisan get-out-the-vote campaigns. As a result, rolls fail to keep pace with a mobile society and are often inaccurate and costly to maintain. ...

Vote Centers ($568,000)
States are increasingly grappling with the problem of overcrowded, inconveniently located and poorly designed polling places. In response, some states are experimenting with vote centers that replace neighborhood precincts and allow voters to cast ballots at large, centralized polling places anywhere in their city or county—near their work, school, shopping center or other destination. ...

Audits of Elections ($467,000)
With concerns about the accuracy of voting systems continuing to rise, post-election audit requirements have been adopted by states seeking to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. Still, state requirements vary dramatically and there are no generally accepted standards for how to verify an election outcome. Make Voting Work seeks to fill that void by funding the testing of multiple techniques for measuring the validity and accuracy of vote counts on various voting systems. In addition, Make Voting Work is supporting efforts to broaden the definition of an election audit, seeking to identify other elements—beyond vote counts—that should be audited, such as pre-election preparations and poll worker performance. ...

Online Training for Poll Workers ($318,000)
Volunteer poll workers are the foot soldiers of democracy, but, as recently documented by Pew’s electionline.org, their enthusiasm needs to be joined with proper training—particularly essential as voting systems and rules take on greater complexity. ...

Election Performance Assessment ($465,000)
To further help election officials, policy makers and the public assess the true impact of changes in policies, practices and technologies, Make Voting Work aspires to identify means that can be consistently applied to measure accuracy, convenience, efficiency and security. ...


Monday, January 21, 2008

Vote for 2007 Porker of the Year

Swineline blog from Citizens Against Government Waste has opened an online poll for 2007 "Porker of the Year". Yes, now you can have your say on who was the most egregious earmark spender among the U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators in our hallowed halls of Congress! Vote now!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tell the U.S. House Republican Steering Committee to place Rep. Flake on the Appropriations Cmte.

Citizens Against Government Waste is asking us to help put U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake onto the important House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Flake has been a tireless leader against corruption in Congress, including the unethical earmarks being spent by the billions of dollars each year. If you agree, please write the Republican Steering Committee and urge them to place Rep. Jeff Flake on the House Appropriations Committee.

CAGW has this to say about the dire need to equip this spending committee with fiscally responsible representatives:

Dear __,
Right now, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is seeking to be placed on the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Flake has been the House’s leading champion for smaller, less wasteful government and has helped spearhead the drive to restore fiscal discipline in Washington.
I urge you, before you do anything else today, to write the Republican Steering Committee and urge them to place Rep. Jeff Flake on the House Appropriations Committee! Rep. Flake has an unblemished record on congressional earmarks, having never requested a single pork-barrel project, and has been a tireless advocate on behalf of all taxpayers. The explosion of earmarks over the 12 years of Republican leadership corresponded with a collapse of fiscal restraint and personal ethics in Congress. While some have argued that the cost of earmarks represents an
insignificant portion of total federal spending, they ignore the outsized role earmarks play as the “currency of corruption” in Washington. They also ignore - at their own peril - how "Bridges to Nowhere" and other poster children for pork undermine the public’s image of Congress.
If Republicans wish to restore fiscal discipline and end the culture of corruption that has consumed Washington, Rep. Flake boasts the credentials to help lead the way. If appointed to the Appropriations Committee, he will help restore integrity to the
appropriations process and refocus Congress’s role on issues of national importance, not on parochial concerns better left to state and local governments, such as bike paths, teapot museums, and peanut festivals.
Time is of the essence. Please tell the Republican Steering Committee to place Rep. Flake on the House Appropriations Committee today!
Sincerely,
Thomas A. Schatz, President

Today's government reform notes from around the web

Check out Jan. 16th government reform notes here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tell Senator Ensign to drop his objection to bill S223

According to OpentheGovernment.org:

S.223, "The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act," has bipartisan
support from 40 co-sponsors, but John Ensign (R-NV) continues to block passage
with a hold. Watch an informational video from the Sunlight Foundation
about efforts to require Senators to file campaign finance contribution reports
electronically, then call Sen. Ensign's office to tell him to drop his objection
to the bill: (202) 224-6244.

If you agree, please call Sen. Enign's office and leave your message.

Today's government reform notes from around the web

Check out Jan. 15th government reform notes here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Many Congressional websites get failing grades

The Gate blog from National Journal has news on the effectiveness of Congress's websites. The news is not good. As the internet grows in importance to citizens finding out about their government, the quality of Congress's websites must follow suit. Here's the post:

January 14, 2008
New Report Gives Congressional Web Sites Flunking Grades
A number of congressional Web sites received flunking marks from the Congressional Management Foundation in a report released Monday.
The report, which evaluated 618 congressional Web sites, gave 18.8 percent of these sites an F, while 22.8 percent received a D. Only 16.8 percent of the sites received an A from the group. The foundation said Web sites were evaluated on how well they incorporate the following factors: "audience, content, usability, interactivity, and innovation."
The analysis -- funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation --seeks to recognize congressional Web sites that successfully use the Internet and to provide practical guidance to all offices on how to improve their Web sites.
The foundation found that "the Senate continues to outperform the House of Representatives on the Web." The number of "substandard or failing committee sites increased to 44 percent, and the percentage of House and Senate committee (both majority and minority) Web sites scoring an 'F' doubled between 2006 and 2007," the group also found.
The report further held that a third of congressional sites do not have a functional search engine, and 57 percent do not contain information about legislative issues of interest to the state.
-WINTER CASEY, National Journal

Add your name to the verifiable paper trail voting cause

Common Cause has a fun way to show citizens' support for verifiable paper ballots for election day. Many states use electronic machines without the receipt, leaving no way to recount the "ballots". Take action here and leave your name, address, photo and short message on a U.S. map, and contribute with many others who feel the same way. Let's put "democracy" back into our electoral system!

Call U.S. Senator Feingold on illegal lobbying by the U.S. Dept. of Justice

.gov Watch blog alerts us to an illegal operation presently taking place at the U.S. Department of Justice. In violation of U.S. Code Title 18 Section 1913, the Executive branch department is using Congressionally-appropriated money to lobby Congress on a bill.

Titled "LifeandLiberty.gov", USDOJ asks our legislators to pass the Protect America Act. This Congress-subsidized lobbying effort is apparently illegal, from the justice department no less.

Thanks goes to .gov Watch for the alert; they recommend we call Senator Russ Feingold at (202) 224-5323 and let him (his staff) know about the illegal lobbying effort of LifeandLiberty.gov by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Tell your Senators to vote YES on improved government transparency

.gov Watch blog reports a new government transparency bill: S2321, titled the "E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007". It updates an earlier Act, and makes government wesites easier to search on search engines like Google. If you agree, please contact both of your U.S. Senators and tell them to vote YES on the bill.

.gov Watch says the following about this improvement in government searchability on the web:

Government information is about to become easier to find. By some estimates, 50% of all Government web pages on the Internet are invisible to search engines. By searching on Google, Yahoo, or MSN you are missing half of what your Government is posting online. Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs sent the E-Gov Reauthorization Act to the Floor. Besides renewing the original E-Gov Act for 5 years, it requires that "publicly available online Federal Government information and services are made more accessible to external search capabilities".

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tell your Congressmen YES to "plain language" government documents

Josh Tauberer writes in Legislative Analysis Community Blog at GovTrack that there's a bill in both houses of Congress mandating "plain language" government documents. The U.S. House bill is HR3548; the U.S. Senate's is S2291. If you agree with this legislation, please contact your Representative and two Senators and ask them to vote YES on the "Plain Language in Communications Act of 2007".

Here is what Mr. Tauberer says about this important bill for improved government openness and transparency:

We all know that government documents can be hard to understand. Tax forms and legalese befuddle the best of us. Finally, Congress is poised to pass good legislation to outlaw government gobbledygook.
The Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007 (HR3548/S2291) will require government agencies to write many future documents in plain language: language that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
Specifically, it mandates plain language for new government documents related to:
Government requirements
Government programs
Obtaining government benefits
Obtaining government services

Friday, January 11, 2008

Today's government reform notes from around the web

Check out today's government reform notes here.

United States rating may lower in the next decade

Government Bytes blog from National Taxpayers Union reports the United States debt rating may be lowered in the next decade. This, from Moody's rating service, is because of the increasing burden on the federal budget from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Currently, the U.S. rating for it's bonds is triple-A, the highest Moody's gives for bond issuers. If our rating does fall, interest rates on these investments will likely increase to cover the increased risk for bond purchasers.

Freedom of Information Act passes-- requesting info from federal government now easier

Watchdog blog from Public Citizen reports on the legislative history of the recent FOIA bill signed into law by President Bush on December 31st.

For more than 40 years, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has been the
pillar of the framework for transparent government – the primary advocacy
instrument for deterring and exposing unchecked executive power. However,
since 9/11, FOIA has been hobbled by a doctrine of secrecy executed with
administrative delays and ploys to keep government records “in the shadows.”
The OPEN Government Act, signed into law on December 31, is the
first legislative update to FOIA since 1996 and a reassertion of checks and
balances. Now it will be easier for people to get information from their
government. The law provides for an online tracking system for requesters,
a government-wide office to deal with disputes and concerns, penalties for
offices that take too long to respond, a limit to agency “search” and
“duplication” fees, and reimbursement of attorney fees in some situations where
requesters must go to court.

All Things Reform has FOIA databases for your reference in the left-hand column.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tips for contacting your elected officials

I've added to the left-hand column a list of things to remember when contacting your representatives:

1) Use their website feedback form to get replies
2) Be polite, and respect their elected office
3) Include the bill number and title, if there is one
4) In a short letter, ask them to vote yes or no, and say why
5) Give your phone number if you want to be available to them
6) If they vote very soon, call their office, instead

Direct contact is the most powerful way to communicate your message; they prefer to reach their own district's constituents, so a letter to them on their website may get you an email reply.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Go mobile with THOMAS legislative mobile info

USA.gov, the internet portal of the federal government, has a page of THOMAS legislative info for mobile phone users. Vital voting and other congressional news, updated around the clock, is now as close as your mobile devise.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Ask your Congressional candidates to endorse Independent America's electoral reform platform

Independent America Political Action Committee has a 10-point electoral reform platform. The planks are:

Uniform Ballot Access
Loosen Third Party Ballot Restrictions
Universal Voter Registration
Election Day Holiday
Equal Media Access/Debate Inclusion
Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)
Secure Voting Machines
Public Campaign Financing
Direct Popular Vote Election of the President
DC Congressional Representation

These are all well-known among party activists, especially those supporting third party and independent candidates. And each plank has a long history of struggle with the powers-that-be in the state and national legislatures.

Independent America asks all to contact their congressional candidates for U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator for this election year and ask them to endorse this reform platform. It will strengthen our democratic system and make it more fair and equitable for all candidates, and, ultimately, for the American voter.