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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Day Before Hack Announced, OPM Released 'Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination' Guide

     The day before the Office of Personnel Management first announced a massive data breach of personal information, now former OPM director Katherine Archuleta's attention was focused elsewhere. Archuleta published a blog post on June 3 entitled "Celebrating Every Member of Our Federal Family" in recognition of "LGBT Pride Month." The White House reposted Archuleta's article the same day.
     In her post, Archuleta announced the release of an updated guide called "Addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employment Rights, Protections, and Responsibilities."
 

As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, I want to proudly reinforce my continued commitment to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of our federal family, and recognize the incredible contributions this community has made in service to the American people...

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that the Office of Personnel Management is joining our partners at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Merit System Protections Board, and the Office of Special Counsel to release an updated guide titled “Addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employment Rights, Protections, and Responsibilities.” This informative resource will help LGBT federal employees make more informed choices about how best to pursue their individual claims when they believe they have suffered from discrimination.
    On the OPM website, the agency has seven "top priorities" listed. The first two are "Honoring the Workforce" and "Build a More Diverse and Engaged Workforce". Number four on the list is "IT Improvement" to "streamline and update IT systems" and number five is "Background Investigations" to "lead efforts to strengthen the background investigations program across government." The priorities list does not include any direct references to "security."
    When reporters questioned White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on June 17 about calls for Archuleta's resignation over the data breach, Earnest said that Archuleta had made cyber security a priority and that the president had "confidence" in her to do the job:
[T]his is an issue that they’ve been working on for some time; that Director Archuleta, in one of her first priorities that she identified after taking that job, was to upgrade the OPM computer network, particularly their cyber defenses.  And this is obviously an ongoing process, and the President does have confidence that she is the right person for the job...
OPM, under the leadership of Director Archuleta, recognizes that this does need to be a priority and that there is significant and important work that needs to be done to make sure that they’re fulfilling their responsibility to protect the data of federal workers... 
[A] number of senior White House officials have been in touch with the senior leadership at OPM.
     As further information came to light that the OPM breach was far worse than first revealed, Director Archuleta initially said she had no intention of resigning (via Federal Times):
"When I took office in late 2013, one of my priorities was to upgrade OPM's antiquated legacy systems," she said during a call with reporters Thursday. "It is because of the efforts of OPM and its staff that we've been able to identify the breaches."
      Friday, however, news broke of Archuleta's resignation.



Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hillary Contest 'Winner' Hand-Picked for 'Views, Backgrounds, and Interests'

     Hillary Clinton is offering a chance for one lucky person and a guest to join her for dinner. The campaign is inviting supporters to "chip in" to be automatically entered in the contest, although no contribution is required:


     However, it's not all luck and "chance." In the end, the Hillary for America (the "Sponsor") campaign will hand-pick the winner from a pool of 100 "potential winners" based on "views, backgrounds, and interests." A look at the contest fine print (which in reality is not that fine, but must be accessed on a separate webpage) reveals the following paragraph:
One hundred (100) potential winners will be selected by a random drawing from all eligible entries received during the Promotion Period to be held at Hillary for America Headquarters no later than August 3, 2015...  Sponsor will, in its sole discretion, then select one winner from the list of eligible potential winners from the Promotion Period on the basis of criteria determined and applied by Sponsor to provide for an appropriate range of views, backgrounds, and interests among the winners selected.
     It is unclear from the rules how the campaign will determine what the "views, backgrounds, and interests" of the potential winners are. The rules do, however, allow for a background check on potential winners, although that check presumably has more to do with security than anything else:
Sponsor may, at its option, conduct a background check on each potential winner. Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify any potential winner from receiving any prize based on such background check if Sponsor determines, in its sole discretion that awarding any prize to such potential winner could result in a safety or security risk to any person or persons or could result in the disruption of any event associated with the Promotion... Winner must then identify potential guest to Sponsor, and Sponsor may, at its option, conduct the same background check and process applicable to potential winners.
     The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for an explanation of the process to determine the "views, backgrounds, and interests" of the potential winners.



Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Clintons' Caribbean Vacation Cost Taxpayers At Least $211K

     Bill and Hillary Clinton vacationed in the Dominican Republic around New Years, visiting at least two exclusive resorts, Punta Cana and the Casa de Campo. The once-and-possibly-future first couple spent the week, of course, under the watchful eye of the U.S. Secret Service, but the security required for the trip didn't come cheap. Five contracts for the Secret Service for lodging and vehicles totaled more than $211,000, not including food or transportation to and from the island for the agents on duty.
    The trip was first reported by THE WEEKLY STANDARD in April, but since that time more contracts have come to light, one as recently as June. The initial contract for hotels rooms for SS agents was $104,093, as shown in this composite screenshot of contract details:


     However, a second contract was subsequently posted, this one for $87,786.  This contract specifically mentions the hotel at Punta Cana, one of the resorts where the Clintons stayed:


     Besides the hotel contracts, there were three separate contracts for vehicles, one for $1,430, a second for $5,530, and a third for $12,560, bringing the vehicle total to $19,520. The description for each of the vehicle contracts reads "VEHICLE RENTAL FOR US SECRET SERVICE (FPOTUS/ FFLOTUS CLINTON)". Total hotel and vehicle costs came to $211,399.
     The Clintons each appeared in some photos during the trip, Mrs. Clinton at Punta Cana and Mr. Clinton at Casa de Campo:



     Mrs. Clinton reportedly discussed her decision to run for president during the Clintons' Caribbean vacation during a meal with sugar tycoons the Fanjul brothers and businessman Rolando Bunster, friends of the Clintons and participants (Alonso Fanjul and Bunster) in the Clinton Foundation’s Future of the Americas conference in New York in December 2014.


Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Feds Spend $150K to 'Embed' Russian Journalists in U.S. Newsrooms

     Even as diplomatic relations between the US and Russia remain decidedly chilly over the Ukrainian conflict, the State Department is reaching out to "up-and-coming" Russian journalists. A recent $150,000 grant offering from the US Embassy in Moscow seeks to establish a program to give Russian journalists an "intensive professional exchange experience in American newsrooms," plus "cultural experiences that allow them to learn more about the United States in general."
     Although the program is tentatively named the "Russian Journalist Exchange Program," it involves only the placement of Russian journalists in American newsrooms and not vice versa. Although the State Department wishes to focus on relatively new journalists who are "showing promise" in their careers, grant recipients are reminded that "[e]very effort should be made to attract a large and diverse participant pool, including persons with disabilities, minorities, a balanced mix of male and female participants, etc." Grant recipients will carry out recruitment, but the US Embassy in Moscow reserves the right of final approval of all participants, as well as approval of the US newsrooms where the visiting journalists will be working.
     In addition to being "embedded" for a minimum a two-weeks in "reputable American newsrooms," participants are to be housed with American families to enhance their cultural experiences. While the Russians are expected to "work alongside American reporters" and interact with host families to get "a first-hand view of American family life with all its diversity," the State Department doesn't want the visitors to get too comfortable. Grant recipients are reminded they are not only responsible for arranging an American work, cultural, and family-life experience for the journalists, but also for "ensuring their return to Russia." All participating journalists must "[c]ommit to returning to Russian Federation after completion of the program."
     However, the State Department has plans for a continuing relationship with the Russian journalists who participate in the program. One of the elements required of grant recipients is to "plan for post-program participant engagement that includes an outline of any proposed follow-on activities or initiatives and an articulated plan for utilizing Department of State and other alumni tools and social media outlets to provide continued support to program alumni." [emphasis added] A post-program evaluation is also desired using a now-familiar State Department metric: "The more that outcomes are “SMART” (specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and placed in a reasonable timeframe, the easier it will be to conduct the evaluation."
     Development of the program, recruitment of participants (both Russian journalists and American news organizations), and selection of host families is expected to take until March 2016. The actual exchange experiences are then to take place from March through August 2016.



Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Friday, June 19, 2015

D.C. Officials Stole $110K From Children's Program To Fund 2009 Presidential Inaugural Ball

     Neil S. Rodgers, a former D.C. government official, was sentenced Tuesday for his role in the misappropriation of $110,000 earmarked for D.C.'s Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund to cover a deficit for the 51st State Inaugural Ball for President Obama's inauguration in 2009. Rodgers, found guilty of fraud in March, was sentenced to 36 days (served on weekends) plus two years of probation. Rodgers must also repay the entire $110,000 as restitution for his crime.
     In 2008, as arrangements were underway for inauguration celebrations, the Washington City Paper reported on former Council Member Harry Thomas, Jr.'s early plans for the 51st State Inaugural Ball, noting that "there would have to be a plan to raise funds for the event, and security and cleanup concerns would also have to dealt with. Thomas says all that will be taken care of; he says he plans to seek private donations to cover the difference between the event's cost and the revenues raised by the $51 ticket cost." Donations, however, came up short. Justice Department officials described Rodgers's role in the misappropriation scheme in a Tuesday press release:
            “Neil Rodgers worked with former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas to perpetrate a fraud that diverted money from at-risk children to throw a black-tie ball for adults,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen. “His conviction at trial brings to seven the number of people convicted as part of Harry Thomas’s chronic abuse of the public trust.  Neil Rodgers refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong in the cavalier way that he and Harry Thomas stole from a program for children. He now will be required to pay back every penny he stole from the children of the District. Those children, who were most harmed by this, deserve better from our public officials.” 
            “Today, Mr. Rodgers accepted his penalty for illegally steering money meant to fund District of Columbia government programs to pay for a Presidential inauguration party,” said Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “The FBI and our partners at the IRS have worked countless hours to investigate the trail of money that was intended to help youth in the District and how the corrupt actions of a public servant resulted in a loss to the community he served.”
          Thomas and Rodgers mischaracterized the ball as a youth event to convince the private-public partnership organization in charge of funding the ball to cover the approximate $100,000 shortfall. That organization used the Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund to pay off creditors. The conspirators used "multiple copies of budgets and supporting narratives" to fool the organization into approving use of that fund to pay the remaining bills.
     Six others have already pled guilty in cases involving the activities of Thomas, who himself pled guilty to misuse of $375,000 in taxpayer dollars intended for arts and youth programs. Thomas was forced to resign his seat and served 38-months in prison.
     According to the Washington City Paper, Thomas said of the ball's location at the John A. Wilson Building, the D.C. government seat, "Why not use the people's building for a people's purpose?" But in the end, both Thomas and Rodgers used the people's money for their own purposes, a decision that ultimately landed both men in jail.


Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Clinton Campaign Wants Your Couch: Seeking Housing for Supporters

     The Hillary Clinton campaign is looking for some Everyday Americans willing to open up their homes to strangers. On a webpage entitled "Host a Hillary for America Volunteer", the campaign asks for name, email address, phone number and home address for those willing to host a fellow Clinton supporter.
     The site asks, "Got a spare room (or couch!) that another supporter could sleep on for a few days? Sign up today and an organizer will be in touch."



     Those who sign up receive an email inviting them to become volunteers as well:



     There are no other details regarding how the arrangements are made, if any payment or reimbursement is involved, or how hosts and guests are vetted. An email to the campaign seeking comment was not immediately returned.


Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Clinton Foundation Meeting in Morocco Last Month Cost Taxpayers $21K

   Bill Clinton, no stranger to controversy, raised eyebrows again with a Clinton Global Initiative gathering earlier in May, as ABC News put it, "at a five-star luxury hotel in Morocco [hosted] by one of the world's most controversial mining companies, criticized for 'serious human rights violations' by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice." And as is the case with every trip a former president takes (and President Clinton takes a lot of trips), the U.S. taxpayer is on the hook for security expenses. For the Morocco trip, the hotel costs alone for the Secret Service came to $21,165:


     Other expenses related to the Morocco trip could not be located on the government spending website, but vehicle expenses likely ran into the thousands of dollars. Last Christmas/New Years, as THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported, a vacation for the Clintons in the Dominican Republic cost the taxpayers over $104,000 in hotel costs alone for the Secret Service. Three contracts discovered after that article was published show that vehicles for the Secret Service for the Clintons' Dominican vacation cost almost $20,000.


Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.