Tag Archives: Government secrecy

Key Intel Whistleblower Official Fired as Spy Agencies Face Oversight Crisis

Standard

Whistle Blower

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)” 

“The firing of Dan Meyer, who led the Whistleblowing and Source Protection Program at the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General, or IC IG, may have wide repercussions.

 It’s now not clear who, if anyone, is doing his job.”


“The lead staffer dedicated to protecting Intelligence Community employees who internally report misconduct was terminated earlier this month, despite protests from Senators and the whistleblower advocacy community, Government Executive reported last week.

He was forced out of the pivotal job at a time when whistleblowers may already be wary of trusting that their jobs will be safe due to allegations of misconduct involving the handling of whistleblower complaints by inspectors general in other intelligence agencies. It’s now not clear who, if anyone, is doing his job.

The exact cause of Meyer’s ouster remains murky. For years, he led outreach and education campaigns highlighting proper disclosure channels and whistleblower protections to employees across U.S. intelligence agencies under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or ODNI—a complicated gig in a covert world paranoid about leaks. In fact, Meyer even lodged his own complaint at one point, alleging he was punished for disclosing misconduct earlier in his career while working at the Defense Department Office of Inspector General.

By last fall, trouble was brewing for Meyer again.

He was essentially banned from actually doing his job, Foreign Policy reported in October:

Meyer, whose job is to talk to intelligence community whistleblowers, can no longer talk to whistleblowers. He has been barred from communicating with whistleblowers, the main responsibility of his job as the executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing and source protection. He is currently working on an instructional pamphlet for whistleblowers, and he will have no duties to perform after he’s completed that work.

He can also no longer brief the agencies or the congressional committees on his work as he’s done in the past, send out his whistleblower newsletter, or conduct outreach. And he has no deputy or staff.

Then in November, Meyer was suspended and escorted out of the building while his office was “sealed off with crime-scene tape,” according to Government Executive. 

Meyer maintains this was retaliation against him for blowing the whistle again. In a January statement, Meyer said that he had received a poor performance review and was accused of “security infractions” after raising concerns about a “systematic failure” to implement whistleblower protections required by an Obama-era presidential policy directive.

However, Meyer said, even he ultimately remains unclear on the exact claims against him.  “Unfortunately, during the three months of hearings and appeals regarding my case, I was not permitted to see the materials serving as a basis for termination,” Meyer told POGO in an emailed statement.

His position was left without key protections against retaliation because he remained categorized as a probationary employee due to an error by the previous management of the office, Meyer told POGO. “No whistleblowing advocate managing a program with integrity can serve in such a status, especially if it handles internal and external allegations against senior officials,” he said.

In a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats—whose office houses the Intelligence Community Inspector General—earlier this month, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) stated that Meyer “was terminated in a process marked by procedural irregularities and serious conflicts of interest” while the agency’s acting leadership “demonstrated a lack of support for the critical whistleblower protection mission of the office.”

The Senators asked that Meyer’s termination be stayed pending the confirmation of Michael Atkinson, the IC IG nominee who is awaiting action by the full Senate. The Project On Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project also weighed in with a letter asking that a final decision on Meyer’s employment wait until after Atkinson’s confirmation process.

Last week, Grassley went on the Congressional Record with his intent to hold up the Administration’s pick for ODNI General Counsel until the agency answers questions about Meyer’s situation. Grassley previously threatened the hold in a November letter. The letter requested the agency preserve and secure potentially sensitive information about ongoing whistleblower retaliation investigations left in Meyer’s office when he was put on leave and to provide Grassley’s staff with all documents about the personnel action against Meyer. The agency never responded to Grassley’s requests, according to the Senator’s statement last week.

In response to inquiries about Meyer, an ODNI spokesperson told Government Executive that the agency does not comment on personnel matters but that “ODNI and the IC IG adhere to all applicable laws and policy in all personnel decisions. Any allegations to the contrary are false.”

In an emailed statement to POGO, IC IG spokesperson Monica Tullos said that the watchdog agency “recognizes the value and accountability strong whistleblowing programs bring to good governance.” However, Tullos would not comment on who is currently leading the Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection Program.

The gap left by Meyer’s ouster is particularly troubling because whistleblower retaliation concerns are so pervasive in the U.S. intelligence community that they even have infected the offices that are supposed to be a safe haven for those who report abuse.

In 2016, POGO first reported that the National Security Agency’s then-Inspector General, George Ellard, was placed on leave after a review panel composed of three inspectors general determined he had retaliated against a whistleblower. (Another review found Ellard did not retaliate; he still works at NSA in a different role.) In another case, the acting CIA Inspector General appears to have misled Congress about pending reprisals claims against him in his own confirmation hearing; news of those claims was initially reported by POGO. The Inspector General Office at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military’s primary spy shop, is also reportedly in chaos.

An internal review by the IC IG, first reported by POGO last year, found widespread problems with how IGs within the intelligence world respond to complaints about whistleblower reprisal and retaliation. That analysis was quashed, The Daily Beastrecently reported, after leadership discovered that one of the investigators working on it was himself a CIA whistleblower suing the agency for retaliating against him

In a January confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Atkinson faced stiff questions about what he would do to protect whistleblowers in the role—and he appeared to acknowledge there was plenty of work to do.

“My first objective as Inspector General, if confirmed, will be to make sure the IC IG’s house is in order,” Atkinson told the Committee. “This will involve making sure the right people are in the IC IG, with the proper values, discipline, and work ethic. A natural corollary will be to get any of the wrong people out of the IC IG. I am confident there are right people for the IC IG already there, and I hope they stay.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2018/03/key-intel-whistleblower-official-fired-as-spy-agencies-face-oversight-crisis.html

 

 

 

 

Revolving Door Between Pentagon And Contractors Spins Faster

Standard

 

“BLOOMBERG GOVEERNMENT”

“The former principal undersecretary of the Air Force for acquisition left her job in 2003 to work for Boeing, after the Air Force announced it had awarded Boeing a 10-year tanker lease.

Soon after, she pleaded guilty to inflating the price of the contract – while she was in negotiations for her $250,000-per year Boeing job. For his role in hiring Druyun, Boeing’s then-chief financial officer Michael Sears was fired and in 2005 was sentenced to four months in prison.”


“Ties between the Pentagon and the defense industry have deepened under President Donald Trump, prompting renewed concern about conflicts of interest that could result in favoritism toward top military contractors.

More than 80 percent of top Defense Department officials under Trump have defense contractor work experience – in many cases extensive – compared with roughly half of those President Barack Obama appointed to the same jobs, a Bloomberg Government analysis found.

Defense industry supporters say contractor work experience is a highly valuable asset for Pentagon officials, especially those who are part of the acquisition process.

But key senators of both parties worry about the ethics problems that could arise by putting these former corporate executives in the highest Defense Department posts where they oversee the awarding of billions of dollars of contracts.

Corporate Conflicts

“The Defense Department’s job is to protect our national interests, not the financial interests of defense contractors,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, told Bloomberg Government in a written statement.

Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) echoed those concerns during the confirmation hearings of a number of Pentagon nominees, including Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing Co. senior vice president for supply chain and operations, who left after 31 years with the company.

Over the course of his Boeing career, Shanahan oversaw several noteworthy military projects, including Army helicopters, a ground-based missile defense program, and the V-22 Osprey aircraft.

During Shanahan’s June 20 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said that 90 percent of defense spending “is in the hands of five corporations, of which you represent one. I have to have confidence that the fox is not going to be put back into the henhouse.”

Shanahan promised to divest “all ties” with Boeing, with the exception of his executive retirement savings. “For the duration, if I’m confirmed, I will not deal with any matters regarding Boeing unless cleared by the office of ethics,” he said. Shanahan also committed to make public any recusal waivers he may seek.

Of the 17 top, Senate-confirmed Pentagon posts, including those overseeing defense acquisition, 14 are filled with Trump picks who have worked for defense contractors. By contrast, Obama’s first confirmed picks for the same posts included nine with industry backgrounds, or 56 percent, and seven without. There were 16 comparable positions under Obama at the time, as the acquisition, technology and logistics undersecretary position had yet to be split into two jobs.

By the end of Obama’s second term, a total of only 16 of 35 of Obama’s confirmed appointees for the same jobs, or 46 percent, had direct experience working for contractors before moving to the Pentagon.

The revolving door is working both ways as 19 of 35 of Obama’s top DOD officials have joined or rejoined the defense industry, including taking seats on contractor boards of directors.

During three contentious confirmation hearings last year, McCain and Warren took issue with the nominees’ “rotating back and forth between government” and several of the “big five” largest-grossing defense contractors – Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co., and Northrop Grumman Corp.

“I will not vote to confirm nominees from industry who do not recuse themselves from matters involving their former employers for the duration required by their ethics agreements,” Warren said, “without waiver and without exception.”

Eisenhower Warning

Worries about too-cozy ties between the military and defense contracting giants aren’t new.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex,” President Dwight Eisenhower, himself a retired general, warned just before leaving office in 1961. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

There remain few ironclad protections against conflict-related abuses, government watchdogs say. The Trump White House prohibits senior officials hired into the Pentagon and other agencies from working on matters involving their former employers for two years – but officials can ask for recusal waivers, and such discussions, including whether the waivers have been granted, are kept secret.

“It’s clear that this administration values the experience of business executives over that of career civil servants,” Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project for the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington nonprofit group, told Bloomberg Government.

The shift has spurred an increased risk of abuse, Smithberger said. “The lack of transparency is a real concern,” she said. Without proper management of conflicts of interest, unfair competition can result, she said.

Worst-case scenarios could include everything from awarding contracts worth billions of dollars to a former employer, to not properly overseeing a program, to failing to account for cost overruns, she said. When contractors fail to deliver a promised system, or deliver an ineffective plane or ship that doesn’t meet national security needs, significant sums would be wasted.

Defense Secretary James Mattis – who was elected to a board seat with General Dynamics in 2013, and received at least $276,000 in fees from the company since then – has taken several steps to avoid actual and perceived conflicts.

Mattis stepped down from his board seat as a condition of confirmation. In his government ethics agreement made public a year ago, he also agreed to recuse himself, for a year, from participating “personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know General Dynamics is a party or represents a party,” unless otherwise authorized to participate.

Shanahan set up a unique system to try to avoid conflicts, Bloomberg News reported last August. He signed a so-called “screening arrangement” to notify Mattis of issues involving Boeing.

The conflict alert system was set up to instruct both Mattis and Shanahan’s staff to refer “certain matters to another official” for decisions, the Bloomberg story said.

McCain pressed the conflict issue during November 2017 hearings for John Rood, the nominee for defense undersecretary for policy who previously worked as senior vice president with Lockheed Martin International, and Mark Esper, the Army secretary nominee who was Raytheon’s top lobbyist in Washington from 2010-17, earning more than $1.5 million from the company in his last year there, according to news reports.

Warren asked Rood if he would commit to forgo seeking a waiver from his two-year White House recusal pledge regarding Lockheed projects. McCain followed up, telling Rood, “You should not be making decisions that are related to your previous employment, or would affect the fortunes of one of them. So, I don’t like your answers. Most of us don’t like your answers.”

On Jan. 3, the Senate confirmed Rood by an 81-7 margin. McCain, who has been battling brain cancer, missed the vote. Warren voted no.

Valuable Expertise

Many Pentagon and contractor officials say the main benefit of drawing talent from industry is clear: contractor officials have direct experience designing and building weapons systems and related services.

“Just as it’s good to have former military personnel in Congress providing oversight over the military, it’s good to have former industry people in government providing oversight over industry,” John Luddy, the Aerospace Industries Association’s vice president for national security policy, told Bloomberg Government in a written statement. “They have the experience to know what is and is not reasonable in industry offerings. They know which questions to ask.”

The AIA includes as members the big five defense contractors, each of which declined to comment for this story.

Such experience allows officials to better calculate and manage risk, and realistically assess weapons project schedules, Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an interview.

Industry expertise is difficult to replicate in the other fields presidents often draw from when looking for defense leadership, such as think tanks, Capitol Hill staff and military officers and civilian staff, Hunter said.

Exit to Industry

Since Trump took office, several Obama-appointed defense officials have taken a time-honored path. They’re now working for the contractors whose weapons programs the Pentagon oversaw under their watch.

Former deputy secretary of defense Robert Work was elected to Raytheon’s board of directors about a month after leaving the Pentagon. Work praised Raytheon in December 2016 as a company that boasts “the best missileers in the world,” Defense News reported.

Frank Kendall, former undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, was appointed to defense contractor Leidos’s board.

Former undersecretary for intelligence Marcel Lettre II is now vice president, national security, for Lockheed Martin.

Deborah Lee James, the former Air Force Secretary, joined Textron Systems’ board of directors.

Most recently, former assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition Sean Stackley became a corporate vice president for L3 Technologies.

Former senior defense officials are subject to a range of restrictions involving working or lobbying on programs that they, or others within their company, handled while in the government.

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 115-91) further tightened the rules for high-ranking former military officers and counterpart civilian Pentagon officials. Under the new defense authorization, former Executive Schedule III officials and higher – who include Work, Kendall, Lettre, and James – are subject to a two-year “cooling off” period, during which they can’t lobby Pentagon officials regarding any department projects.

In the wake of the Druyun case, the Pentagon made several regulatory and policy changes, Defense Department spokesman Patrick Evans told Bloomberg Government in a written statement. Among the changes: a requirement that all public financial disclosure filers certify annually to confirm their review and understanding of the federal post-government employment laws, and a mandate that post-government employment be included annual ethics training.

Senate-confirmed appointees must sign a White House ethics pledge, enter into an Office of Government Ethics-approved agreement that outlines steps taken to avoid conflicts, and divest of any Pentagon contractor stock, Evans said.

Mattis has instructed Pentagon leaders “to engage and work collaboratively with private industry – in a fair and open manner – to find ways to maintain the competitive advantage needed to fight and win the next war, as well as be good stewards of the money entrusted to us by U.S. taxpayers,” Evans said.”

https://about.bgov.com/blog/revolving-door-trump-pentagon-contractors-spins-faster/

 

 

Secrecy Language Dropped from National Defense Authorization Act

Standard

Image:  “The Disorder of Things”

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

“After a big push from a broad group of nonprofit organizations, journalists, and individuals, the Senate and House Armed Services Committees removed a secrecy provision. 

The language could have been used to conceal information about the military’s interrogation and treatment of prisoners, handling of sexual assault complaints, oversight of contractors, drone program, and other matters of compelling public interest.

Notably DoD had asked for a special exemption separate from government-wide reforms in the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, recently passed and signed into law this July.

The provision included in the Senate’s version of the bill in a closed markup, Section 1054, largely mirrored language proposed by the Defense Department and would allow the DoD to withhold unclassified information related to its operations.

Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led efforts to remove the provision in the Senate, arguing that such a broad exemption to FOIA should go through the committee of jurisdiction over the law.

While the provision was included in the Senate’s final version of the NDAA, it was removed in conference with the House, as reported by Bloomberg. This was thanks in large part to Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

As some question the future of public and press access to information, this is an important stand by Congress to defend the public’s right to know about the spending and operations of the Pentagon.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/11/ndaa-conferees-drop-secrecy-language.html

 

 

Taxpayer-Funded Research Now Available Free at New Web Site

Standard

congressional_research_service

“POGO”

“Through ” EveryCRSReport.com,” the public can access Congressional Research Service Reports.

The public can access the same unbiased and unredacted research and analysis that Members of Congress read. As a resource, it is a great boon for journalists, students, and any taxpayer seeking insight on issues of public debate.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) acts as an arm of the legislative branch, researching and reporting on topics of interest to Congress. Its work, funded by the taxpayers, is high quality non-partisan research and analysis, but has never been readily available to the public.

Through the site EveryCRSReport.com, the public can access the same unbiased and unredacted research and analysis that Members of Congress read. As a resource, it is a great boon for journalists, students, and any taxpayer seeking insight on issues of public debate. The site has over 8,200 downloadable and searchable reports, and shares its code through GitHub. By becoming open source, the site increases access to developers that can build in more features and help make CRS reports even more accessible.

EveryCRSReport.com sorts everything into 31 subjects, and each subject has an RSS feed that will update anyone interested in following specific policy research published by the Congressional think tank.

The push to get CRS itself to release the reports isn’t over. This year, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced bipartisan bicameral legislation as the most recent Congressional effort to grant public access to these reports.

In the meantime, EveryCRSReport.com may send visitors on a deep dive into US relations with Venezuela or on a coding spree to help improve access and add features to the site. For the bipartisan coalition of groups that advocated for this public release and online access, it may send us into a victory dance to culminate over 20 years of advocating for free taxpayer access to CRS reports. The most important reaction, though, should be to take advantage of the same unredacted high-quality research that has been informing Members of Congress for decades.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/10/CRS-taxpayer-funded-research-available-to-public.html

 

Industry-Paid Fellowships Infiltrate Congress

Standard

corporate-secret-money_960

“POGO

“The U.S. Congress allows Members to staff their offices with Fellows who are paid by corporations, foundations, universities, non-profits, and other outside private entities.

Fellowship program far too often flies under the conflict of interest radar.


Recommendations:

Require disclosure in the House of Representatives

The House Rules committee should introduce language into the Code of Official Conduct that would require Representatives to report when their office employs an individual who is compensated by any source outside of the United States Government. Such a report should include the identity of the source of the compensation and the amount or rate of compensation.

More oversight in the Senate

Senate reporting of Fellows who are paid by corporations, foundations, universities, non-profits, and other outside private entities is falling short.  The Senate Ethics Committee needs to increase its oversight over the Congressional Fellows reporting requirements, actively checking with Member offices to make sure they don’t have any Fellows employed for years they don’t report any. The Senate Ethics Committee should also increase training for Member offices on what they are required to report, at the start of each Congress it should hold a series of trainings for all Member offices.

Both Chambers should require electronic filing of these disclosures, in a publically accessible format

The Senate, and House as it begins to require reporting on Fellows, should transition to an electronic filing system that can be accessed by the public. This will allow for more uniform participation by Member offices and more public oversight over the Congressional Fellowship programs.

In January 2001, Peter Winokur began working as a Fellow in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office. He would ultimately spend almost four years there, specializing in energy policy and eventually becoming the Senator’s Energy & Transportation Advisor. He wrote legislation, offered advice, wrote memos for the Senator, met with lobbyists and public interest groups, and attended meetings on press and policy strategy, according to reports on his work. He was, for all intents and purposes, a Senate staffer. There was one major distinction: his $120,000-per-year salary was paid by the IEEE-USA, an industry group that is an “organizational unit” of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and whose stated goal is to “recommend policies and implement programs specifically intended to serve and benefit the members.”

Many of Winokur’s long hours in the Senate were spent working on the Energy Policy Act of 2002. It was a big bill, combining policy on energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, energy production, and even some amendments to state programs. “My basic workday is from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM. Throw in 2 hours on the Metro where I read as much as I can, and it’s a 7:00 AM to 7:30 PM day. Then I get home to read my Sandia and IEEE e-mail,” he wrote on his time in the Senate.

Winokur felt he would fit in well at Senator Reid’s office because Reid was the Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. Winokur stated, “The Senator is committed to making renewable energy technologies a priority. And so am I.” And so is IEEE-USA. Their policy position statements on Energy and Environment from the time are not so different from some of the text of the Energy Policy Act of 2002 introduced in the Senate. Winokur’s Energy Department bio states, “As Energy and Transportation Advisor, crafted energy policy that included tax legislation for renewable energy, resulting in billions in economic development and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.” This work for the Senate while being paid by industry gives the appearance of—and the incentive structure for—a conflict of interest.

Winokur had the kind of access most industry professionals can only dream about. He found that “people have a tendency to return phone calls from a Senate office, whether it’s the Attorney General of a state, the chief counsel of the FCC, or the COO of a California utility,” Winokur wrote in his report.

Regardless of whether there was an identifiable legislative outcome from Winokur’s position (the Energy Policy Act of 2002 never made it out of conference to become a law), it’s fairly easy to see how beneficial it could be for IEEE-USA, or any industry, to have someone on their payroll in a Congressional office, with the ear of a powerful Senator, every day. And the fellowship proved beneficial to Winokur as well. The Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) review of this and hundreds of other similar fellowships found that most fellowship positions last only a year, and most fellows earned far less than permanent staffers. But Winokur was there for almost four, making $120,000 a year–which was close to the maximum amountSenate staff could be paid at the time.

This kind of arrangement, with fellows working in Congress but paid by an outside source, is legal, and more common than one might think. But are the Members of Congress and their staffs actually following the rules that are supposed to keep a check on conflicts of interest? And how often do fellowship programs end up furthering industry goals over Congressional priorities?

Fellowships Bring Congress and Industry Closer Together

The Fellows are required to abide by all the laws, rules, and standards governing permanent Congressional staff members. Indeed, they are often indistinguishable from permanent staff members. They work on writing legislation and Floor speeches, and represent the Member in meetings with other offices and constituents.

There are additional rules governing fellows. Congressional offices must make sure that fellows have no conflicts of interest and that the arrangement gives no undue advantage to special interest groups. “The participant may not work on issues related to the interest of the individual company or industry providing such funding. Conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts between the participant’s duties to the Senate and his or her responsibilities to the private sponsor must be avoided,” the Senate Ethics Manual states. It is the duty of the Senator to monitor the activities of the fellow to ensure that no potential conflict of interest arises during the course of their work. A similar statement can be found in the House Ethics Manual: “an intern or fellow should not be assigned duties that will result in any direct or indirect benefit to the sponsoring organization or anyone else with which the individual is affiliated (including the employer or fellow), other than broadening the individual’s knowledge.”

On the Senate side, the supervisor of the fellow is required by a Senate rule to report to the Ethics Committee “the identity of the source of the compensation received by such individual and the amount or rate of compensation paid by such source.” The House does not have a similar rule and does not require fellows or their supervisors to disclose their compensation details.

This program is often used for the educational benefit of these fellows and is generally intended to be a temporary placement before the fellows return to their organization. On the House side, “A Member or House office may accept the temporary services of an intern participating in a program … which is primarily of educational benefit to the participant. … Similarly, a Member or House office may accept the temporary services of a fellow participating in a mid-career education program … while the individual receives compensation from his or her employer,” the Ethics Manual states. Many of the organizations sponsoring these fellowships tout how valuable it is for their participants to learn about Congress and the legislative process while Congress benefits from knowledgeable experts. “The objective of the David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship is to provide a unique opportunity to learn about the political system through direct exposure to public and private sector roles in health policy development,” one brochure states.

Congressional Fellows are in significant demand. They come to an office looking like a year’s worth of free work from some very competent people.

“Approximately 50% of Fellows begin or return to careers in academia following the Fellowship, with strengthened credentials in policy-relevant research and an ability to teach students about the complex issues involved in bridging science and policy,” the Society for Research in Child Development writes about their fellowship. For Congressional Members, it’s understandable why they would look for outside support. “While federal spending and the executive branch have ballooned, Congress has downsized its research and analytical support staff by about one-third over the past 40 years,” former Congressional Research Service analyst Kevin Kosar wrote for National Affairs. Another study by the Sunlight Foundation pointed to low pay and turnover as undermining Congress’s ability to attract and retain talented staff.

Or as one fellow put it, “Congressional Fellows are in significant demand. They come to an office looking like a year’s worth of free work from some very competent people.” These fellowships, funded by outside entities, offer the opportunity for access to experts these offices might not otherwise be able to afford.

Of course the intended purpose of these fellowship programs makes good sense and can be beneficial to all parties, but using these experts could pose a problem.

POGO reviewed 2,014 publicly available reports on Senate fellows and found several examples of the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that Senators did not consistently disclose fellows whose salary was paid by a third party. The House does not maintain records on Congressional Fellows at all.

On the Senate side, fellows and their supervisors are required to file reports detailing when they began their fellowship, how much money they’re making, what entity is paying their salary, and how many hours they’ve worked. Senate rules mandate that new fellows file their “Agreement to Comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct,” known as form 41.4, at the beginning of their fellowship, at the end of each calendar quarter, and at the end of the fellowship. The fellow’s supervisor must file a “Report on Individuals Who Perform Senate Services,” known as form 41.6, which is often signed by the Senator. While these forms are available to the public, they are not electronically available and anyone interested in seeing them must visit the Senate Office of Public Records during business hours.

While these forms offer fascinating insight into which industries and Senators are utilizing the fellowship program, they also demonstrate how much we don’t know. POGO examined all of the 2,014 publicly available forms on file at the Senate Office of Public Records as of April 22, 2016, to determine the extent of compliance with the law. In our review, we found that approximately 27 percent were missing data on the source of the fellow’s compensation, and approximately 24 percent were missing data on how much the fellow was being paid. We also discovered instances where Senators employed fellows but failed to file the appropriate forms.

On the House side, there was no disclosure at all and no records to be reviewed. According to the House Ethics Manual, the fellows are required to comply with the Code of Official Conduct, but there are no rules requiring reporting and no forms collected by the House Office of the Clerk. The ethics manual also states: “[W]hile internship and fellowship programs are often sponsored by educational institutions, other public or private organizations may act as sponsors, provided the arrangement does not give undue advantage to special interests.” How the House ensures compliance with this requirement is a mystery.

The Appearance of a Conflict of Interest

The rules governing the Senate program are fairly simple: Both the Senator and the Fellow must avoid all conflicts of interest, including the appearance of a conflict. But in POGO’s review, we were able to find several examples of Fellows working on projects that were directly related to the industry paying their salaries. Below are just a few of those examples.

Department of Energy’s National Laboratories

The Department of Energy is responsible for a network of 17 National Laboratories conducting all kinds of scientific research. Three of these labs, Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, have multi-billion dollar budgets and focus on ensuring the US nuclear stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable. The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration manages the labs by hiring contractors to run them—contractors who have a large financial stake in ensuring their work continues and have long worked to influence Congress in any way possible. In recent years they have focused on gaining support for a $1 trillion nuclear modernization effort. “A White House official … described the labs to me as being among ‘the biggest rogue elements in the U.S. government,’” former Energy Department senior policy advisorRobert Alvarez wrote.

Stephanie Teich-McGoldrick was a 2015-2016 Congressional Fellow from Sandia National Laboratories, working on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Sandia is one of the largest national labs in the United States and works mainly to ensure the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. Sandia Corporation, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, manages and operates the lab with an annual budget of $2.9 billion. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has authorizing jurisdiction over the Department of Energy Labs, which means it has jurisdiction for any policy changes impacting the labs. According to the Congressional record, Teich-McGoldrick worked on legislation directly affecting the labs while receiving a salary of $124,000 paid by Sandia. In April 2016, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) thanked Teich-McGoldrick by name for her work on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016. This bill, which was re-named the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2016, passed both the House and the Senate, and includes several references to work done by the national labs. Though neither the House nor Senate versions of the bill mention Sandia National Lab specifically, it’s clear the legislation would affect its work. Indeed, both versions include language on modernizing and increasing the security of the U.S. power grid, an area in which Sandia describes itself as playing “a key role.” It’s impossible for the public to know if Teich-McGoldrick worked on parts of the legislation that would have affected the labs—it is a huge bill and she may well have steered clear of anything to do with Sandia’s work. But there’s no doubt that her position gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Fellows in the House are not required to disclose their information.

Teich-McGoldrick is only one of many Sandia-sponsored Congressional Fellows. In 2009 another former Sandia Congressional Fellow named Matthew Allen wrote a report on his time in the House Committee on Homeland Security called Working at Congress: A Sandian’s Experience in which he details what Fellows do. The report also serves to demonstrate how valuable the experience can be, not just for the Fellow but for Sandia as well. One of the reasons Sandia sends people to Congress, Allen wrote, was “the benefit the lab receives in having an employee that can translate the political landscape into opportunities for the lab.” There is, of course, no public record of Allen’s time on the Hill, as Fellows in the House are not required to disclose their information.

Sandia Lab has placed two dozen Fellows over the last 25 years. According to Sandia Lab spokesman Jim Danneskiold, the Lab only sponsors fellows at the request of congressional committees or members of Congress. “Fellows provide unbiased technical assistance, but they never work on specific programs or issues that affect the labs and follow strict requirements that prevent conflicts of interest. Sandia does not seek out Congressional Fellow positions, and only responds when requested,” he told POGO. The other two labs, Livermore National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab, are also no strangers to the Congressional Fellowship program. For example, Kory Sylvester was a 2007-2008 Fellow for Pete Domenici (R-NM) then-Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. Sylvester’s Fellowship was sponsored by Los Alamos National Security, the managing and operating contractor of the lab and a consortium of big-name contractors including Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, and URS Energy and Construction. Senator Domenici was known as “Saint Pete” by the nuclear labs for all the money he brought to them. At that time the Los Alamos Lab’s annual budget was $2.7 billion. While Sylvester was working on the committee that decides and appropriates funds for the lab, he was paid $127,000 by the contractor running it. According to Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, Sylvester also completed another Congressional Fellowship at the House Committee on Homeland Security.

A Congressional Fellow sponsored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows how even when the Fellowship forms are filled out, they may not tell the whole story. Robert Perret was a 1996-1999 Fellow in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office. Perret’s paperwork indicates his salary was paid by the University of California Regents, a governing board for the University of California network. However, in a September 2000 statement, Senator Reid thanks Perret for his “exceptional work,” stating he actually came from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Livermore lab was managed by the University of California at the time and the address on Perret’s forms is a post office box from Livermore, CA.

It’s not just the National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories that take advantage of this program. POGO found the managing contractor of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT-Battelle, has sponsored at least six Congressional Fellows. Since 2006 they have had at least one Fellow in Senator Alexander’s (R-TN) office every year, some Fellowships lasting longer than a year. This is an advantageous move for the company since in 2011 Senator Alexander became Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which decides how much money will go to Oak Ridge National Lab every year. In 2015 he became the Chairman.

These committees decide a lot more than just annual funding. In 2014, Congress passed a bipartisan law called the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). Lawmakers were concerned when industry experts found that approximately $20 billion is misused or wasted on duplicative information technology (IT) projects every year. FITARA was meant to increase transparency on how IT funds are spent across the federal government. But the Energy Department laboratories didn’t like this added oversight and accountability, and in 2015 they launched a campaign to secure an exemption from its requirements.

It was Senator Alexander who led the charge in getting the labs the exemption they so desperately wanted. Despite the fact that IT experts across the government as well as the Government Accountability Office were strongly against the exemption, it was included in the appropriations bill crafted by the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. John Rivard was the UT-Battelle Fellow in Senator Alexander’s office at the time, with an annual salary of $168,000. According to Rivard’s LinkedIn profile, which indicates he’s still working in Senator Alexander’s office, he “co-writes legislation, speeches, and op-eds regarding science, energy, competitiveness, and space policy.” Rivard’s place in Senator Alexander’s office and his stated activities give the appearance of a real conflict of interest, and a potential violation of Senate ethics rules.

IEEE-USA

IEEE-USA also has a long history of placing Fellows in Congressional offices (as well as in executive branch offices). The organization has been placing Fellows in Congressional offices since 1974 and keeps a publicly available record of fellowship alumni.

If a Fellow is working on legislation that will directly fund their industry or the company that’s paying their salary, there’s a clear conflict of interest.

One recent IEEE-USA Fellow demonstrates exactly how these Fellows can use their positions to influence policy to be beneficial toward their industry. Robert Bartolo was a 2014-2015 IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Robert Casey’s (D-PA) office. When Bartolo became a Fellow in September 2014, he had already earned his Ph.D. and worked at the University of Maryland and the Naval Research Laboratory for several years. “One motivation for applying for the Fellowship was out of a concern for the serious implications of climate change and the current lack of a workable and effective plan to actually minimize carbon emissions in the years ahead. This was a policy topic I definitely wanted to work on,” Bartolo wrote in a report about his placement in Senator Casey’s office.

Bartolo got his wish and was able to work on several energy and environment policies, some of which were directly in line with IEEE-USA’s policy goals. In Bartolo’s report, he describes several projects he was personally involved in. During Bartolo’s Fellowship, Senator Casey introduced legislation to promote the development of clean energy fueling infrastructure called the Clean Vehicles Corridors Act (CVC Act). The bill established clean vehicle areas along interstate highways where the infrastructure necessary to refuel clean vehicles, including electric charging and biofuels, would be made available. In his final report to IEEE-USA, Bartolo said he worked with the Environment and Public Works Committee to incorporate aspects of the CVC Act into the Drive Act, a highway reauthorization bill, but the Drive Act didn’t make it out of Committee during Bartolo’s time in Congress. Bartolo stated, “I expended some effort to try and introduce aspects of the CVC Act that would be germane to [the Energy and Natural Resources Committee]. For instance encouraging the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide grants on a cost sharing basis for clean fueling infrastructure.”

This work was directly in line with IEEE-USA’s publicly stated policy goals for this time period. IEEE-USA’s 2014 National Energy Policy Recommendations includes a section on “Transforming Transportation by Diversifying Energy Sources.” These recommendations are remarkably similar to the legislation developed and introduced by Senator Casey. For example, IEEE-USA recommends, “Promoting the development of battery charging infrastructure, and its development by cities, states, and businesses, and along the interstate highway system with the support of the federal government.” IEEE-USA further recommends the development of alternative transportation fuels including, “promoting the use of biofuels.”

Indeed, Bartolo makes no effort to hide that he directly worked on issues related to the interests of IEEE-USA. On his LinkedIn profile, Bartolo lists the issue areas he worked on during his Congressional Fellowship, including Energy and Climate Policy, Renewable Energy Tax Policy, Zero Emission Vehicles, and Energy Efficiency, all of which coincide with information and recommendations in IEEE-USA’s 2014 National Energy Policy Recommendations.

Senator Casey’s office maintains that potential conflicts of interest are strictly monitored. “The vast majority of our office’s congressional fellows were detailed from other government agencies, and any fellow detailed from an organization outside of government was prohibited from working on any issue that could conflict with the organization,” the Senator’s Communications Director, John Rizzo, told POGO.

But Bartolo’s Fellowship seemed to violate Senate rules that require Congressional Fellows to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. It also raises questions about whether Bartolo’s Fellowship was primarily for his educational benefit.

To make matters worse, there is no official record of Bartolo’s time in the Senator’s office, as they never filed the required forms with the Senate Office of Public Records. Senator Casey did file forms for three other Fellows in 2008 and 2009, indicating that at that time his office is familiar with the rule requiring the filing. Yet the only record of Bartolo’s time in the Senator’s office are his reports on the IEEE-USA alumni list and his own LinkedIn page, which circumvents the transparency and accountability purposes of the rule.

These examples are just a small handful of those that clearly demonstrate a failure to comply with the conflict of interest terms of the rule. Some might ask why this is important. After all, why have a Fellow with a wealth of knowledge if they can’t work on developing policy for that field? But conflicts of interest tend to result in policy that benefits powerful special interests at the expense of taxpayers’ interests. That is why the Senate ethics manual requires each Fellowship to be “analyzed on a case-by-case” basis. If a Fellow is working on legislation that will directly fund their industry or the company that’s paying their salary, there’s a clear conflict of interest.

That’s not to say that Congressional offices shouldn’t have Fellows or that the program should be abolished. It’s a valuable resource for both Members of Congress and industry professionals who want to understand the legislative process better. But more scrutiny of potential conflicts of interests is necessary.

It’s important to note that the public only knows about these conflicts because in most cases the Senators and their Fellows followed the rules and filed their agreement and reporting forms as required. They made an effort to be transparent. POGO’s review of this Fellowship program found evidence to suggest that lack of standardized reporting, or in some cases of reporting at all, is a widespread problem.

A Lack of Compliance

The Senate rule was created to provide important transparency of how this Fellowship program is used both by industry and by the Senators themselves. Lack of compliance with the rule significantly undermines its intent. Despite the fact that the reporting forms are required to be filed every quarter, POGO found Fellows or their sponsors frequently failed to comply. As a result it is difficult to know just how many Senate offices are using this program without disclosure. The total lack of disclosure on the House side makes it impossible to know how those Fellowships are being used.

“We’re concerned about both real and perceived conflicts of interest. We think that’s really important…because it impacts the integrity of the fellowship programs.”

One way of getting an idea of how many Fellows have flown under the radar is to analyze the publicly available Fellowship alumni records posted by some sponsoring organizations. These alumni records provide an excellent glimpse into how many Senators have had Fellows but never had them file forms with the Senate Office of Public Records. As noted above, IEEE-USA has a publicly available list of their 87 Congressional Fellowship alumni dating back to 1974. A little under 50 percent of the listed Fellows were in Senate offices, and of those, 76 percent did not file any documentation with the Senate Office of Public Records.

POGO conducted a similar analysis of the Brookings Institution’s Legis Congressional Fellowship, which provides government and corporate applicants the opportunity to work in Congress. But they’re not required to disclose to the public which government or corporate entity they come from. This Fellowship is intended to provide a comprehensive understanding of how Congress works and to help Fellows create a network of contacts on the Hill. One past Legis Fellow states, “I’m not a lawyer, but I fit in very well. I wrote legislation. I wrote speeches. I wrote floor statements. I analyzed bills. Legis makes us better at what we do.” While Brookings does not have a publicly available list of Fellowship alumni, there is an abbreviated list of some of the Congressional and Committee offices where the Institution has successfully placed Fellows in the past. Of the 17 Senators listed, 7 did not have any kind of records for any Fellows filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

In addition to a total lack of filing, there are several examples of Senators with gaps in their record keeping or no records before a certain date. For example, Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) office filed 82 forms from 1997 until 2000. But between 2001 and 2011 there’s a gap without records for a single Fellow. Through Fellowship alumni lists, like those kept by the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s clear that Senator Wyden’s office was familiar with rule at one time and did have Fellows during this period, despite the lack of records. Kenneth Lutz was an IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Wyden’s office in 2009. Although there are no records for Lutz’s time there, he stated in a report about his time as a Fellow in Wyden’s office: “Senator Wyden’s office has had many Fellows, and the staff knows how to ease Fellows into legislative work. I was given quite a lot of responsibility by the legislative staff member with whom I worked.”

Similarly, some Senators do not have records for older dates, perhaps indicating they weren’t aware of the requirement at the time. One example of this may be Amanda Clinton, the 2014-2015 APA’s Congressional Fellow in Senator Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) office. While forms were never filed for Clinton’s Fellowship, it appears Murphy filed for other Fellows beginning in early 2016.

There is also a clear lack of standardization in how the forms are filled out. For example, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) facilitates Fellowships from a number of different Fellowship sponsors including the American Chemical Society, APA, IEEE-USA, and the AAAS themselves. These organizations are responsible for recruiting, choosing, and sponsoring their fellows while AAAS helps them find placements in Congressional offices. Cynthia Robinson, Director of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, told POGO that potential conflicts of interest are taken very seriously. “They have to be free agents and the sponsoring organizations can’t take any role in dictating what they do throughout the year,” Robinson said. “We’re concerned about both real and perceived conflicts of interest. We think that’s really important…because it impacts the integrity of the fellowship programs.”

But it’s up to the fellows and their supervisors to decide how they disclosure their sponsors on the Senate disclosure forms. Some Fellows cite the AAAS as the source of compensation, while others cite the underlying sponsoring organization. For example, John Cederquist was an IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) office from 2010-2011. On his forms he listed AAAS as the source of compensation though the Fellowship was technically sponsored by IEEE-USA. And, as we mentioned above, Senator Reid’s Fellow Robert Perret listed the University of California Regents instead of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as his sponsor. While these simple misrepresentations may not seem relevant, they serve to make analysis of the records more difficult and can undercut the transparency intent of the rule.

A lack of strict compliance with the Senate rule abounds and would appear to indicate a lack of education about what, exactly, is required. For instance, former Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) filed records for four Fellows from 1989 to 2012. Yet the source of compensation for each is listed as Senator Kohl, indicating either that all the forms spanning 20 years were filled out incorrectly or Senator Kohl was asking all Fellows to fill out disclosure forms, even if they weren’t being paid by a third party. It appears that at least two of the employees listed as Fellows, Arlene Branca and Theodore Bronstein, were full-time staff and would not have been required to fill out the forms.

Senator Michael Bennet’s (D-CO) Fellowship records show a similar pattern. According to records from the Senate Office of Public Records, Jonathan Davidson was a Fellow in the Senator’s office from 2011-2016, though his source of compensation is listed as “Michael Bennet.” A press release from Bennet’s office states Davidson was named Senator Bennet’s Chief of Staff in January 2011, which indicates there was no need for him to file these disclosure forms at all.

Senator Bennet’s records also feature several Fellows with listed compensation as executive branch government offices, including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the State Department. Fellows from the executive branch, or detailees, are not required to file out the same form as the Congressional Fellows. While they are required to file an agreement to comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct, the form is called a 41.3 and is not available for public viewing. Detailees are also prohibited from working on projects that may be considered a conflict of interest. Over 60 of the 2,014 records reviewed by POGO—forms 41.4 and 41.6—list executive branch offices as the source of compensation.

These kinds of gaps, misfilings, and inconsistencies seem to be the result of a lack of education about exactly what this rule requires. Although the Senate Ethics Committee requires all new Senate personnel to complete a training program on the Code of Official Conduct, neither this rule nor its requirements are directly mentioned in the training documents. Though the Senate Ethics staff told POGO that Senators and their staff would be familiar with the requirement as it would be covered in training on the Ethics Manual, it appears that a more direct inclusion of the rule and its requirements should be adopted to increase compliance. It’s important to consider the fact that while some Members will provide more than enough information to be safe, as is the case with Senators Kohl and Bennet, it seems just as likely that the opposite will happen.

This Fellowship program can be a valuable resource for both Congress and non-government professionals across disciplines. But too often the program is misused. Fellows remain in offices for years, their salaries are often much higher than the typical staffer, and far too often they’re in a position to affect legislative changes that can directly benefit the industry paying their salary. The kind of access this Fellowship program provides is invaluable for these industries. It is yet another way that corporations, foundations, and other outside entities affect the legislative process.”

http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/congress/2016/the-insidious-and-totally-legal-way-industry-infiltrated-congress.html

 

 

 

National Defense Planning Moving “Under Wraps”

Standard

“DEFENSE NEWS”

“National Military Strategy, produced by the senior uniformed leadership of the department, will return to being a classified document.

Follows a period of publicly available installments since the late 1990s.

The move will probably be lauded by Washington’s defense intelligentsia, where the prevalent opinion seems to be that meaningfulness can only be ascribed to documents kept from public inspection.

It goes without saying, of course, that certain information must be kept secret. But, one could argue, there is good reason to keep the big-picture stuff, where broad contexts and big ideas are presented – however lofty and inconsequential they may seem to the initiated – accessible for everyone.

That is especially the case for the new military strategy, which was the topic of a talk given at last week’s AUSA conference by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One key theme, his speech suggested, is articulating a military stance on a problem epitomized by Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014: Sorting out, exactly, what is a peace-like situation anymore and what is war – or rather, let’s say, war-ish.
Dunford seems to be particularly concerned about two war-like scenarios happening at the same time, initiated by any of the “4+1” actors, namely Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and the phenomenon of terrorism.

The reason for returning to a classified NMS is “to frame these problems I just spoke about and provide a framework within which we can integrate the joint force from the very beginning,” Dunford said.

A spokesman for the Joint Staff said a classified document would “make it more difficult for adversaries to develop counter-strategies and also enable the Chairman to give best military advice to the President and Secretary of Defense.”

It would be foolish to argue that giving away the nitty-gritty of force development to America’s would-be enemies is a good idea. But there are plenty of other avenues to sort through those particulars.

What should not be lost is that openly communicating America’s top-level military and security interests to the world is a vehicle for reassuring allies and deterring those that need deterring. In that context, keeping under wraps the Pentagon’s new definition of war and peace may not be such a good idea.

Admittedly, none of this may matter much in the end anyway.

There’s a running joke amid defense strategists that most of their predictions will turn out to be wrong. But, they argue, it makes sense to keep trying.

Still, reverting a key US strategy document to classified status, however insignificant and meaningless the step may ultimately turn out to be in practical terms, has a symbolism to it, both for an international audience and a domestic one.
Argues Steven Aftergood, an open-government advocate at the Federation of American Scientists: “In my opinion, DoD should continue to provide the public with at least as much strategy-related information as in the past, and preferably more.”

 

 

 

Secretive Private Intelligence Contractors Need Better Oversight

Standard

truthliesdeceptioncoverups.info

“DEFENSE ONE”

“A Washington Post investigation in 2010 identified almost 2,000 companies working on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence. The Office of Management and Budget revealed in 2014 that more than 5.1 million people — including over a million contractors — held security clearances.

Intelligence agencies entered into secret agreements with private companies to illegally obtain customers’ communications, and weaken encryption standards. that protect the internet from hackers and cybercriminals. When whistleblowers exposed the telecommunications companies’ role in these illegal schemes in violation Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, the Justice Department failed to prosecute and Congress passed a statute immunizing them from private lawsuits.

The possibility of waste, fraud, and abuse exists in any government program. We minimize this risk through transparency, independent oversight and public accountability.

Secret intelligence programs, however, are a different story. Not only do secret programs suffer from an obvious lack of transparency, but since 9/11, the United States has drastically expanded and changed the way it conducts intelligence, defense and homeland security operations. That growth, without transparency, threatens not just the American taxpayers’ bottom line, but ultimately our national security.

Nowhere is this risk more apparent than in the government’s outsourcing of sensitive national security and intelligence operations to private contractors, whose share of the intelligence budget has reached up to 70 percent.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan watchdog organization, recently articulated the risks this outsourcing poses to public accountability, civil rights and democratic control over national security programs:

“You now have…millions of people who are getting clearances that are not working for the federal government. And they are working for entities whose purpose is not the public interest but the bottom line,” Brian said.

“The capacity for secrecy is even deeper in the private sector,” she said, where contractors are not subject to public tools like the Freedom of Information Act, and independent watchdogs, like POGO, cannot evaluate contractor job performance. “So, what’s already mostly secret in the government is that much more secret when it’s in the private sector.” That, Brian argued, causes a conflict between profit motives, such as the data collected by telecommunications companies, and the real intelligence value of that data deemed valid for national security gathering despite privacy concerns.

As Brian suggests, giving profit-motivated companies access to incredibly valuable and sensitive information held by the intelligence agencies poses a number of grave risks.

The first and most obvious is the risk of misuse of the volumes of sensitive information the intelligence agencies collect. Intelligence officials’ claims that their agencies closely guard these databases were belied by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks. That his intent was to expose these secrets to journalists as a public service, rather than sell them, is what makes his case stand out. But several cases of espionage demonstrate that his access to sensitive information and ability to abscond with it was not unique.

That the companies that engaged in intelligence and surveillance operations also provided campaign contributions to the members of Congress charged with overseeing these intelligence activities only raised more public skepticism about integrity in government.

Without the legal tools to uncover these secret deals, it is impossible for watchdog groups like POGO to hold intelligence agencies, contractors and our elected representatives accountable, absent whistleblowers willing to risk their freedom.

Waste, fraud, and abuse in defense programs raise serious security concerns as well. Clark Kent Ervin served on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which issued a 2011 report identifying between $31 and $60 billion in U.S. taxpayer money lost to waste and fraud. In an interview, Ervin made the startling connection between ill-spent money paid to contractors in Iraq and the fall of the Iraq army at the hands of ISIS.

The U.S. government has long claimed that stopping the flow of money to terrorist groups is one of its highest priorities. It has aggressively targeted American Muslim charities, often without public charges or due process, chilling the provision of humanitarian aid to conflict zones around the world and the free exercise of religion. Yet the second largest source of income for Afghan insurgents, behind only drug dealing, wasn’t diverted charity, it was U.S. tax dollars contractors paid for protection. The Commission concluded these funds posed a direct threat to the U.S. war effort.

As the U.S. renews its military engagement in Iraq, and initiates a new one in Syria, it will again heavily rely on contractors. Ensuring our tax dollars aren’t funding our enemies should be among our highest priorities. It can only be accomplished with rigorous oversight and public accountability.”

http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2015/01/secretive-private-intelligence-contractors-need-better-oversight/102522/?oref=d_brief_nl