Category Archives: Transparency

ProPublica: State Department Finally Releases List of ‘Special Government Employees’

– by Justin Elliott and Liz Day ProPublica, Jan. 30, 2014, 1:22 p.m.

Last year, Politico reported that former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had a special arrangement under which she simultaneously worked for the State Department and a corporate consulting firm.

Watchdogs and others raised questions about Abedin’s status blurring the line between private and public sector employment. She responded that the dual employment did not pose any conflict of interest, and there is no evidence Abedin used her public position to help private clients.

Soon after, we asked the State Department for a list of any other such employees. Now, after a six-month delay, the department has given us the names.

The list suggests that the status is mostly used for its intended purpose: to allow outside experts to consult or work for the government on a temporary basis.

But at least one person on the list appears to have had an arrangement similar to Abedin’s.

Caitlin Klevorick received two one-year appointments as a special government employee beginning in January 2012.

During that time, online listings show she had a private consulting firm, CBK Strategies, which advises government and corporate clients on communication and policy:

Work with diverse range of clients from Government to Fortune 100 companies to high profile individuals advising them on a range of issues including: overall strategic vision, crisis management, policy and political advising, communications, corporate social responsibility and partnerships.

“There is a very high potential for actual conflicts of interest in this case, and there is certainly every appearance of conflicts of interest,” said Craig Holman of the ethics watchdog Public Citizen.

Klevorick did not respond to our requests for comment about what outside work she did during the period she was a special employee.

Asked about the case, a State Department official said: “All of our employees that are allowed to work for non-Department of State entities are doing so with permission of the bureaus they are working with and provided their outside work does not pose a conflict of interest.”

Before joining the State Department, Klevorick had worked as a consultant to former President Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation.

Klevorick joined the State Department in 2009, as “Special Assistant for the Counselor of the Department in the Office of the Secretary.”

When she became a special government employee three years later, she “provided expert knowledge and advice to the Counselor and Chief of Staff & other Department Officials on a variety of important foreign policy issues,” according to the State Department.

Klevorick’s boss was Cheryl Mills, a longtime Clinton adviser who was also a special government employee, reportedly working on Haiti issues.

The list of special government employees also includes many lifelong civil servants and the occasional celebrity, such as Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan. She was appointed in 2012 a senior adviser for public diplomacy.

There are also scientists such as a physicist from Los Alamos National Laboratory who did not draw a salary for his work for the State Department.

Others on the list have ties to Democratic politics but their work did not appear to raise any potential conflict of interest.

Longtime pollster Jeremy Rosner, for example, was made a special government employee in 2011. He moved to Pakistan temporarily to serve as a public affairs consultant to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad providing “expert level advice to the Chief of Mission on how best to exploit new media tools by all agencies at Mission Pakistan,” according to the State Department.

Here is the full list from the State Department.

And here is a list of special government employees from other agencies.

Republished from ProPublica via
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Filed under Appointments, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, Public Service, Realities of the FS, Secretary of State, State Department, Transparency

Ding! Ding! Ding! We can use whatever definition of “transparent” we want? Please, nooooo….

– By Domani Spero

The State Department’s Daily Press Briefing remains the best reality show online, hands down.  Today, we bring you, Marie Harf, State’s Deputy Spokesperson and Matt Lee, the Associated Press correspondent at the State Department for over six years. The two sparred over the word “transparent.”  Ms. Harf says that “we” can use  “whatever definition of transparent we want.”  Mr. Lee disagreed pointing out that he thinks that word only has one definition. Reminds us of the utter confusion  and rhetorical gymnastics employed on whether or not there was a coup d’état in Egypt last July.  Sounds bad to our ears, you, too?

 

 

Below is an excerpt from the DPB transcript:

QUESTION: So then my last one is: When this current President came into office, he and his first Secretary of State spent a lot of time doing what they said was trying to repair what they said was damage done to the U.S. image and reputation abroad during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. Are you concerned at all that the weight of these revelations, coming as they are with increasing – seemingly increasing frequency, is negating the – that effort to improve your – the image of the United States abroad? Because it certainly appears that many countries, whether they’re warranted and are justified in feeling this or not, are looking at the United States now as some kind of Orwellian big brother-type outfit.

MS. HARF: Well, I think I’d make a few points. The first is that whether it’s on these alleged intelligence activities, on counterterrorism operations, on a number of issues, this Administration has taken steps to increase the transparency, not as much as I’m sure everybody would like in this room, but certainly whether it’s the President giving speeches about counterterrorism, giving speeches just recently about our intelligence gathering and how we’re reviewing that. We’ve actually taken steps to be more transparent, both to our people but to other countries around the world. So I think that people do look at that as a positive step in the right direction.

But when it comes to specific intelligence matters, we also, I would underscore here, share intelligence with a number of our partners and allies. Intelligence is collected, broadly speaking, to protect our citizens, to protect their citizens as well. So people understand the value of intelligence gathering around the world, right? It’s where the balance lies between privacy and security, and those are the conversations we’re having right now.

QUESTION: Yeah, but people don’t like – when you say that you’re being more transparent, people don’t like what they see when they are being – so just being more – coming out and saying –

MS. HARF: Well, I would disagree a little bit with your notion there. I think people appreciate when the President or the Secretary or other folks come out and say: I know there have been a lot of allegations out there. Here’s what we can say we’re doing, here’s how we’re looking at it. And when we have a path forward, we’ll let you know that as well.

QUESTION: Okay. But you claim to be being more transparent, but in fact you’re not. You’re not at all being transparent. You’re saying that –

MS. HARF: Well, I would take issue with your characterization.

QUESTION: Oh, really? Well, you’re not confirming any of these reports, whether they’re true or not.

MS. HARF: That –

QUESTION: How is that transparent?

MS. HARF: Well, I think we can use whatever definition of transparent we want –

QUESTION: I think there’s only one definition.

MS. HARF: What I would say is that the President has gotten – has stood up. Whether it’s on counterterrorism, he stood at the National Defense University and said: I’m going to talk to you about how we make decisions on counterterrorism operations –

QUESTION: Yeah, but –

MS. HARF: — for the first time.

QUESTION: — it’s either transparent or it’s not. It’s either transparent or it’s opaque.

MS. HARF: Matt, that’s –

QUESTION: Right?

MS. HARF: No, this isn’t a black-and-white issue.

QUESTION: You can’t have –

MS. HARF: That’s not – that’s absolutely not the case.

 

Perhaps Ms. Harf is referring to the use of “transparent” in computing, where it means  “(of a process or interface) functioning without the user being aware of its presence.” Which actually kind of fits given the subject of the tussle.

We’re filing this in our  “Huh? News” folder as It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News.

👀

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Functional Bureaus, Funnies, Huh? News, Media, Quotes, State Department, Transparency

Dear State Dept OIG – Please Stop Playing Hide and Seek with Your Reports!

Harold W. Geisel, Deputy Inspector General, Term of Appointment: 06/02/2008 to present

It used to be that we could check the “Featured Items” in the OIG website and get the newest reports straight from the oven.

Sometime back, we’ve noticed that the newest reports were no longer consistently popping up in that section, but are filed in the regional sections of the reports. Which ensures that the reader had to do some digging before they get to read what they’re looking for. Here is what the OIG says about its reports:

Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports are posted on OIG’s Web sites in accordance with section 8L of The Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.), as amended. All reports are reviewed, and redacted when appropriate, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552), and related statues/regulations, plus the President’s memorandum on “Transparency and Open Government”, dated January 21, 2009, and the Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines dated March 19, 2009.

**NOTE: The dates on OIG reports represent the dates the publications were issued/published, not when they were posted to the Web site.

For example, and this is not the first one, we just don’t feel like digging around today — take its “latest” report of its inspection of the US Embassy in the Bahamas. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 13 and 28, 2011; in Nassau,
The Bahamas, between September 29 and October 12, 2011; and in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, on October 2, 2011. The report is dated January 2012. And it is now posted in the OIG’s WHA section and the Featured Items section, but we have no idea when it actually went up online.

Here is the Featured Items section:

Well, I thought, I’d be damn, I am going blind! How could I have missed that report on The Bahamas when it is right there, there sandwiched between Algeria and the Bureau of Administration/GIS?

And then I saw this tweet from the State Department OIG on February 23, 2012 at 9:38 am.  Oooh, I am not going blind, after all!


I hate it when Transparency and Open Government plays tricks with me, I mean, don’t you?  So here is a quick note for the Inspector General of the Department of State:

Dear State Department OIG — Folks, you really need to indicate the dates when you put up your reports online, and stop making us play hide and seek with you. You have posted a note that says “The dates on OIG reports represent the dates the publications were issued/published, not when they were posted to the Web site.” Well, that’s no good, because you got redundant dates there that have no other function except potential confusion.

Let me help you, it’s really quick and easy. See the red circle below? That should be your posted date. Why? Because your OIG reports are only dated by month and year. The report on The Bahamas says: Inspection of Embassy Nassau, The Bahamas Report Number ISP-I-12-08A, January 2012. See? It did not/not say 1/31/12.  So where did that date come from, I’d like to know. And see the red rectangular-ish below? That’s the month and date indicated in the OIG reports.

Do we really need two dates there to confused us?  And I really hate to think of the possibility that these reports are accidentally “slipped” quietly into the queue.

Yes, we really do want to know when these reports are posted for public consumption.  You are very welcome!
Domani Spero

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Filed under Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, State Department, Transparency

On Performance Pay Awards and Why No HR Seniors to Rat-Tat-Tat-Kaboom Posts?

It’s not everyday that the State Department’s Human Resources Office is called “as opaque as the black hole of Calcutta on a moonless winter night.” Which sounds almost poetic and all, but not in any way something you want to brag about. Below is from this post at WhirledView by Patricia Kushlis. Excerpts below:   

As I noted in previous posts, ambassadorships have gone overwhelmingly to HR insiders over those who have put their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latest — and most appalling — examples? The most recent Director General and his Deputy — both having spent their two-year tenures pushing their State colleagues off to war zones — are going where? To Iraq or Afghanistan? Not a chance. They are both enjoying agreeable posts in the South Pacific.

Nor has the situation regarding bonus pay for senior foreign and civil service improved. HR insiders dot the lists as they have for years. As an example on the Civil Service side, a current senior HR official and a former senior HR official (now at the Department’s training institute) have received either SES (Senior Executive Service) Performance Awards or Presidential Rank Awards every year for at least the last five years — including 2009. Whether the awards lists are long or short — these two women are on them.


HR is a support function at the Department — not a line function. The several hundred SES employees in the State Department do complicated, high-profile work on the front lines of diplomacy; many of these people are ignored at awards time. It is difficult to imagine how these HR employees (who after all, have run a Bureau unable to put together six-person meetings on a regular basis) manage to snag the US government’s top honors year after year. It certainly calls into question the integrity of the awards process — from the selection of the boards that grant the awards — to the choice of award recipients themselves.

I repeat my suggestion to Hillary and her people — revise the regulations to bar any one senior employee (Civil or Foreign Service) from getting an award more than once in three years.

Not a new post but still relevant. Active links added above. Continue reading The Broom’s April Check Up.
 
OPM has an August 2010 order to freeze discretionary awards, bonuses, and similar payments for federal employees.  But wait – the directive has the following exception:

Although Foreign Service Officers and career members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS) appointed under section 302(a)(1) of the Foreign Service Act receive PAS appointments, they are not political appointees and are not subject to the freeze.  Also, SFS members with PAS or PA appointments who elect to retain eligibility for SFS performance awards under section 302(b) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 are not political appointees and are not subject to the freeze.  

So – I guess you better be in the lookout for the next performance pay cable.  Unfortunately, none of those cables seem to be available anywhere in the public domain. Wonder why that is, ward off the evil eye?  But isn’t that taxpayer money?  You can look those up for comparison year to year if you are inside the firewall at State.  It now seems amusing to watch folks get all contorted over political ambassadorships when right in the front inside of the yard — well …

Anyhow, Patricia’s suggestion that the revised regs should only allow senior employees in the Civil or Foreign Service to receive performance pay awards once every three years sounds extremely reasonable given our current budget pains.   

In the same spirit, shouldn’t senior officials serving in the HR Bureau ought to have a “cooling off” period after serving in that bureau before being considered for career ambassadorships? I mean, if I’m the boss/next bosses of the bureau that puts together the names of the next ambassadors and my name is in it, too — well, wouldn’t you think that smells Epoisses cheesy? Unless, of course — I’m going to one of the two, wait three, no – five war zones, two of them undeclared.

I do think that the next Director General of the Foreign Service ought to have experience not just in hardship posts but real on the ground experience from one of our increasingly rat-tat-tat kaboom posts, that now includes Pakistan and Mexico (although they’re not listed as such anywhere).  Why? Because why not? The DG is the most senior HR person at the State Department. His/Her office is the arm twister, excuse me, the carrot dangler for all those folks who are volunteering to serve in the rat-tat-tat place.  One old friend could not get hold of anyone during the bidding season, that is, apparently, no one was reading the old friend’s multiple emails until there was nothing left on the bidlist. In this case, the carrot was hidden not dangled.  When the old friend finally got a response, well, all the options in that short list says Iraq.  But she’s the small fry!

As far as we are aware, one senior official at State went directly from an HR tour to a warzone tour.  That’s Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, now of the US Embassy in Slovenia. He was the Director of Human Resources/Entry-Level CDA at the U.S. Department of State for a year prior to deploying to the US Embassy in Kabul as Assistant Chief of Mission, then went on become ambassador to Ljubljana.  Yay for Ambassador Mussomeli!

But other senior HR folks seems to have skipped the warzone tours before proceeding to ambassadorial appointments.  HR’s top recruitment guy went on to an ambassadorship in Europe. Another director of HR’s Entry-Level Career Development and Assignments went on to an ambassadorship in Europe. Two former top HR officials, went on to ambassadorships in Asia. And one senior advisor to the Office of Performance Evaluation went on to a lovely island in the South Pacific.  

But if these are important enough foreign policy engagements that the HR bureau cajole colleagues every year to volunteer to go, shouldn’t the HR seniors’ names be on that volunteer list, too?  Because that’s probably the best recruitment tool for the warzones …

Everybody would finally come around to thinking — hey, things must be really serious … the boss who’s asking me to go to the rat-tat-tat kaboom place, is also going to the rat-tat-tat kaboom place…

Note: The term “rat-tat-tat kaboom” to describe posts in war zones was absolutely originally coined by one of our favorite bloggers, Dakota of The Afghan Plan.
The rat-tat-tat-kaboom posts in our book includes all posts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Mexico.
 

Related item:
3 FAM 2870 | Senior Foreign Service Performance Pay and Presidential Awards 

 

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Awards, Foreign Service, FSOs, Leadership and Management, Transparency

Web abuzz with possible nightmare at C Street

Not good news — 260,000 classified diplomaticc cables allegedly sent to Wikileaks.

In case you’ve missed this troubling news.  Yep, that’s 260,000 classified cables the news outlets are reporting and buzzing the internets in the last few days.

Here is CNN blog’s take: Dept. of State, embassies anxious about cable link claims

Officials at Foggy Bottom and diplomats at U.S. embassies around the world are biting their nails as they await an investigation into claims by an Army intelligence analyst that he downloaded 260,000 classified State Department diplomatic cables and gave them to the whistleblower site Wikileaks.
[...]
“Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public, he reportedly told Lamo, who then turned Manning into authorities. He is currently under arrest in Kuwait.
[...]
If posted online, the cables could also reveal details about State Department operations, according to the department’s spokesman.

“It has particular impact in terms of potentially revealing what we call ‘sources and methods,’  you know, compromising our ability to, you know, provide government leaders with the kind of analysis that they need to make informed decisions,” a State Department spokesman said last week.

Because the documents pertain more to human intelligence, rather than intelligence systems, there is more angst at State and among embassies about the potential diplomatic fallout than there is serious concern that major intelligence was compromised. But the bottom lineis, out of 260,000 documents, officials recognize there is bound to be something with a decent degree of sensitivity in some of them.

One silver lining for officials  is that because there is an investigation which could lead to possible criminal prosecution, the State Department doesn’t expect the documents will be posted.

For its part, Wikileaks said on its Twitter page that it had not been sent the cables.

“Allegations in Wired that we have been sent 260,000 classified US embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect,” Wikileaks posted on its Twitter page earlier this week.

The Daily Beast’s Philip Shenon, a former investigative reporter at The New York Times, writes about The State Department’s Worst Nightmare last week:

The State Department and American embassies around the world are bracing for what officials fear could be the massive, unauthorized release of secret diplomatic cables in which U.S. diplomats harshly evaluate foreign leaders and reveal the inner-workings of American foreign policy.
[...]
“If he really had access to these cables, we’ve got a terrible situation on our hands,” said an American diplomat. “We’re still trying to figure out what he had access to. A lot of my colleagues overseas are sweating this out, given what those cables may contain.”

He said Manning apparently had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East regarding the workings of Arab governments and their leaders.

The cables, which date back over several years, went out over interagency computer networks available to the Army and contained information related to American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, the diplomat said.

He added that the State Department and law-enforcement agencies are trying to determine whether, and how, to approach Wikileaks to urge the site not to publish the cables, given the damage they could do to diplomatic efforts involving the United States and its allies.

On June 10th, Shenon had a follow up post entitled, Pentagon Manhunt.  Excerpt:

Pentagon investigators are trying to determine the whereabouts of the Australian-born founder of the secretive website Wikileaks for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified State Department cables that, if made public, could do serious damage to national security, government officials tell The Daily Beast. The officials acknowledge that even if they found the website founder, Julian Assange, it is not clear what they could do to block publication of the cables on Wikileaks, which is nominally based on a server in Sweden and bills itself as a champion of whistleblowers.

Active links added above. Raffi Khatchadourian also has an interesting profile of Julian Assange in a recent issue of The New Yorker (read No Secrets |Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency).

We noted that Wikileak posted the following in Twitter, “Allegations in Wired that we have been sent 260,000 classified US embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect.”  However, over in the wikileaks website are two items reportedly from US Embassy Iceland — a classified cable with a declassification date of 01/13/2020 and a confidential/noforn profiles of Icelandic government officials.

Does that mean something’s up or just mere coincidence?

It does look like there’s a lot of headline baiting going around right now ….   


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Filed under Current Stuff, Foreign Affairs, State Department, Technology and Work, Transparency

New Visa Fees Take Effect Today

The new visa fees take effect today, June 4, according to the interim final rule published in the Federal Register.

(22 CFR Part 22 | [Public Notice: 7018] RIN 1400–AC57
Schedule of Fees for Consular Services Department of State and Overseas Embassies and Consulates
AGENCY: Bureau of Consular Affairs, State.
ACTION: Interim final rule.

To summarize quickly:

  • Most NIVs and adult BCCs: $140
  • Petition-based NIVs (H,L,O,P,Q,R): $150
  • K category: $350
  • E category: $390

Read more below, it’s quite interesting for nerdy bits like me:

According to the published rule, the Department contracted for an independent cost of service study (CoSS), which used an activity-based costing model from August 2007 through June 2009 to provide the basis for updating the Schedule. The results of that study are the foundation of the current changes to the Schedule. The CoSS concluded that the average cost to the U.S. Government of accepting, processing, adjudicating, and
issuing a non-petition-based MRV application, including an application for a BCC, is approximately $136.93 for Fiscal Year 2010.

I understand that interested folks are still looking for that Cost of Service Study (CoSS) document which has not been released publicly. I think this is exactly the kind of stuff that means something in terms of transparency when shared with the public, especially during the public comment period.

Check out the official Fees for Visa page at travel.state.gov at
http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1263.html


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Filed under Consular Work, ScribD, State Department, Transparency

Were there complaints about those publicly available OIG reports?

Just curious.  One day, not too long ago this popped up in the OIG website:

“NOTE: The dates on OIG reports represent the dates the publications were issued/published, not when they were posted to the Web site.”

More recently, the following notation has been added:

Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports are posted on OIG’s Web sites in accordance with section 8L of The Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.), as amended. All reports are reviewed, and redacted when appropriate, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552), and related statues/regulations, plus the President’s memorandum on “Transparency and Open Government”, dated January 21, 2009, and the Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines dated March 19, 2009.

If you have time in your hands and are looking for a report on your post or prospective post that is unavailable or has yet to be released publicly, you can file a FOIA request: 

The OIG Library contains reports and publications that have been determined to be publicly releasable. Unclassified summaries of OIG reports are presented in the Inspector General’s Semiannual Report to the Congress, as well as Report Highlights. Classified reports are distributed on a strict need to know basis. Many unclassified audit reports are available in .pdf format. Unclassified audit reports that are not yet available online may be requested by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to:

FOIA Office
Department of State
Office of Inspector General
Office of Counsel
2121 Virginia Ave, Room 8100 (SA-3)
Washington, DC 20037
Fax: (202) 663-0390
Phone: (202) 663-0389 or (202) 663-0383
E-mail: oigfoia@state.gov
All requests should be sent by mail or fax.

On a related note – is your spouse holding three jobs, in danger of a burnout and you barely get to see him although he’s not in a warzone? Are you conducting 200 interviews a day with no relief in sight?  Are you being sent to do public outreach without training that you have nightmares about it?  Is the CLO doing only morale stuff but has not covered employment support for spouses? Are you absolutely not tickled with eServices? Is your housing board functioning kind of hinky? Does your local HR’s hiring policy make language an unnecessary hurdle for spouses who need to work?  Does your boss need one of Bob Sutton’s books?  Does your Front Office have a deputy challenge?  Make a note.
When your post gets an IG visit, do make time to talk to the inspectors. They look at waste, fraud and mismanagement.  I heard that in some posts, overburdened officers in places in the far orbit of the galaxy are actually praying for the OIG to show up at their doorsteps.  If you can’t wait for that visit and must talk to the OIG, here is the hotline email:oighotline@state.gov; hotline numbers: Washington D.C., Metropolitan Area: (202)-647-3320; Elsewhere, Toll Free: 1-800-409-9926. See more here: http://oig.state.gov/contact/index.htm.


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Filed under Govt Reports/Documents, Realities of the FS, Transparency

MAPLight.org shines bright lights on politics, money and influence

The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C..Image via Wikipedia

This being a big weekend for health care vote on the Hill, I thought I’d post something about a group that’s doing a lot to shine some bright lights on politics, money and influence in Washington, D.C. 

MAPLight.org, a groundbreaking public database, with offices located in Berkeley, California, illuminates the connection between campaign donations and legislative votes in unprecedented ways. Elected United States officials collect large sums of money to run their campaigns, and they often pay back campaign contributors with special access and favorable laws.

This common practice is contrary to the public interest, yet legal. MAPLight.org makes money/vote connections transparent, to help citizens hold their legislators accountable.

Last week, during Sunshine Week, the group launched an all-new version of its website shining a light on money and influence in Congress. The new site here includes new tools to analyze (filter) legislator money/votes by:

  • Political party
  • State
  • Committee membership
  • How they voted
  • Voted with or against their donors
  • Any ad-hoc/custom group of legislators
Each amendment and each bill text now has its own support and opposition interests. This important change reflects that amendments often have different supporting and opposing interests than the bill being amended. This improvement will help surface more interesting findings with more specific connections between money, votes and policy outcomes. This change required extensive research and programming work including:
  • Created new internal data model to track any vote, not just “on-passage” final votes on bills—including amendment votes and voice votes.
  • Created information design and user interface to support working with this new data model.
  • Revised scripts to import Congressional legislative data from GovTrack.us.
MAPLight.org combines three data sets:
  • Bill texts and legislative voting records
  • Supporting and opposing interests for each bill
  • Campaign contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics

MAPLight.org
, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is nonpartisan. Contributions to MAPLight.org are tax-deductible as provided by law.

Click here to see a video tour.

Below is a brief newsclip about MAPLight.org’s project for my video of the week.


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Filed under Congress, Politics, Technology, Transparency, Video of the Week

Your job or your blog, er op-ed

Seal of the United States Congressional Resear...Image via Wikipedia

Newsweek’s Declassified blog had an item on December 3 about a top Congressional Research Service (CRS) official who was “fired from his job after publishing a newspaper op-ed criticizing the Obama administration’s recent decision about bringing Guantánamo detainees to trial.”

The blog post says in part:

“But another CRS official (who asked not to be identified because of the issue’s sensitivity) confirms Davis’s firing and says it reflects persistent tensions between Mulhollan and some members of his staff over how far they can go in making public comments or publishing articles that might prove controversial with members of Congress. Another CRS researcher got into a similar dispute and was transferred to another job after publishing a newspaper op-ed criticizing congressional oversight of the Iraq War, the official notes.”

“The director has a paranoid fear that somebody somewhere is going to say something” that draws criticism from members of Congress, says the CRS official. “The director is very strict about us giving out our personal views or taking a position on issues.”

I have the links below on the items that reportedly got Morris Davis canned:

Here is Morris Davis’ November 10, 2009 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: Justice and Guantanamo Bay.

Read his WaPo letter to the editor here on Michael Mukasey for publicly criticizing Holder for trying any detainees at all in federal court.

Neither piece mentions his association with the CRS. Read the rest of Top Congressional Researcher on Afghanistan Fired here.

If the director indeed has a healthy “paranoid fear that somebody somewhere is going to say something–” well, hey! don’t you think that’s a rather nice coincidence? Maybe he ought to have a powwow with the folks in Foggy Bottom responsible for the disappearance of Madam le Consul’s blog. Maybe they can share their “best practices” on transparency and open.gov without attracting too much media attention?

And if they’re smart – let’s say they are, they could sweep it all under the “matters of official concern” rug, so no insider would even dare blog or speak about it above that nice Madison rug. takbole Then everybody can sleep snug as a bug at night.


Related Items:

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Filed under Dissent, FS Blogs, Lessons, Transparency

Western Sahara: A fight over independence

Lobbying Expenses: Algeria – $416,000; Morocco – $3.4 million

The following is excerpted from Opening the Window on Foreign Lobbying by Anupama Narayanswamy and Luke Rosiak, Sunlight Foundation and Jennifer LaFleur, ProPublica. Reprinted here under Creative Commons.

The Western Sahara [14] is an inhospitable patch of desert about the size of Colorado on Africa’s Atlantic coast, with a population of about 400,000, a GDP of only $900 million, and an economy based on nomadic herding, fishing and phosphorous mining. It is also one of the last colonies in the world — Morocco [15] annexed it a few years after Spain granted it independence in 1975 — and the subject of 34 U.N. Security Council resolutions on the territory since 1999.

In late 2007 and 2008, the desert region was a top priority for Morocco’s hired lobbyists. At issue was Western Sahara’s autonomy, but the story also shows how, in a foreign lobbying arms race, the side with the biggest arsenal can come out on top.

The government of Morocco sought the support of Congress in this lengthy territorial dispute. The region has long demanded independence. An indigenous insurgent group, the Polisario Front [16], waged a guerrilla war against the Moroccan military until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991.

Part of the terms of that deal included holding a referendum to determine the territory’s final status, but no vote has been held. In 2007, Morocco issued a proposal to grant Western Sahara autonomy within sovereign Morocco. The U.S. initially welcomed the proposal, and direct talks began between Morocco and the Polisario with the involvement of Algeria, which supports self-determination for the Sahrawi tribes from the area.

Toby Moffett, a lobbyist for Morocco who served as a Democratic congressman from Connecticut in the 1970s and ’80s, wrote an op-ed for the April 8, 2007, edition of The Los Angeles Times, explaining how he presented Morocco’s position to an unnamed member of Congress: “Morocco has a good story to tell,” he wrote. “It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the Western Sahara must be resolved.

“We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area,” he wrote. “Algeria and the Polisario recently hired lobbyists, too, so we’ll have our hands full.”

Indeed, records show the Algerian government’s lobbyists had 36 contacts with members of Congress and staff promoting self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. The Algerians paid a modest $416,000 in lobbying fees.

By comparison, lobbyists for the government of Morocco had 305 contacts with members of Congress and their staff. Morocco paid $3.4 million in lobbying expenses — putting it among the top foreign government spenders for FARA filings in the period.

The intense campaign won converts. A bipartisan group of some 173 House members signed on to a statement supporting Morocco’s offer of autonomy for the region without formal independence. President Bush also expressed support [17] for Morocco’s plan in summer of 2008. And this April, 229 representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to back Morocco.

Until Obama reversed Bush’s stance [18] last month, Morocco’s investment worked.

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The Foreign Lobbyist Influence Tracker is a joint project of ProPublica and the Sunlight Foundation. It digitizes information that representatives of foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities must disclose to the U.S. Justice Department when they seek to influence U.S. policy. Filings under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) provide details on how lobbyists interact with government officials than those required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act; they contain information on efforts by foreign governments and organizations to influence U.S. policy on trade, taxation, foreign aid, appropriations, human rights and national security.

You may query the database by member of Congress contacted, country, client or lobbying firm. You can also search by “contact issues” as reported by lobbyists.

Read more on Western Sahara here.

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