Here's another arena in which a little bit of transparency (as a means to oversight) would go a really long way. In what looks like a really terrific book -- Fooling Some of the People All of the Time: A Long Short Story -- investor David Einhorn tells the story of corporate malfeasance and government looking the other way. (Wonder why? Read the book but I suspect this might have something to do with it.
The story you are about to read exposes the grim realities of unchecked corporate misconduct by a bad company and the failures of proper regulatory oversight. . . . The story I am telling is one that has been surprising and unexpected - even to me. I think it is important and needs to be told. This book reveals some serious problems in the regulatory landscape that I am in a unique place to discuss. I care that the SEC and other regulators seem to have stopped enforcing laws against corporate malfeasance. I care that company officials can lie with impunity on public conference calls. And I have been appalled that the government officials overseeing the lending programs that Allied has defrauded are so indifferent and unwilling to act even when presented with clear evidence of abuse. The overall lack of law enforcement is startling.Continue reading
From Danielle at POGO:
Breaking news: the House has just passed H.R. 3033 (the "Contractor and Federal Spending Accountability Act"). The bill, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would essentially formalize POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database by establishing a government database with centralized information on federal contractors who have broken the law and violated federal regulations. As of now, there are almost no safeguards in place to prevent irresponsible contractors from receiving future taxpayer dollars. The proposed database would allow procurement officials to become more informed about a company's corporate history before making contracting decisions.This is a huge victory for taxpayers that will improve contractor accountability. POGO strongly supported Rep. Maloney's legislation, which now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has already introduced a companion bill.
From Jacob Wiens at POGO:
This week, the state of Alaska launched a website that tracks every state expenditure of over one thousand dollars, as reported on today's NPR Morning Edition. This makes Alaska the tenth state government to provide such a service to its taxpayers. On a side note, Alaska also has the lowest individual tax burden of any state in the U.S.
Alaska calls its website "Checkbook Online." According to the state, this service "...is part of a national trend for governments to develop websites that allow constituents to view financial information in searchable formats. Such websites are widely considered to improve transparency into the financial operations of government."
Three watchdog groups have sent a letter to House appropriators urging more oversight of the oil and gas royalties owed to the federal government. Friends of the Earth (FOE), Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) sent the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations a letter calling on the appropriators to set aside additional funding to hire auditors to oversee what they called the Department of the Interior's (DOI) troubled oil and gas royalty programs.
DOI made two increases to the offshore royalty rates over the past year. Those rate increases are ridiculous the groups say if effective auditing and enforcement functions are not in place to keep the oil companies honest, who over the past decade have been forced to pay almost $600 million in settlements for shortchanging the government in royalty payments. Since 2000, DOI has cut the number of auditors by 45 or 15.7 percent (from 287 to 242). As the groups say in their letter, "With fewer watchdogs minding the store, oil and gas companies have fewer incentives to pay up."Continue reading
Two new reports shine light on waste, corruption and the buying of influence in Washington.
Earlier this week, U.S. PIRG released a report showing how the federal government continues to waste tens of billions in the process of outsourcing work to private companies. "Forgiving Fraud And Failure: Profiles In Federal Contracting" reports on how the feds continue to work with companies that did shoddy work and or were found to have committed fraud.
Last year, the federal government spent $422 billion outsourcing work to private companies, a 100 percent increase since 2000, all with precious little oversight. U.S. PIRG reports that loose rules, lack of competition, and limited accountability are the problems. PIRG's suggestions: increase the disclosure of contract information; increasing competition among multiple bidders; and strengthening the screening of bad actors.
Our friends at POGO have been refining their "Federal Contractor Misconduct Database", a valuable tool for investigative journalists and citizens who want to see the rap sheets on companies our government hires. The fact that these contractors are also large campaign donors just rounds out the equation.Continue reading
During the build up to World War II and throughout the war, Harry Truman built a reputation investigating overspending and profiteering involving defense contracts. Truman found that favoritism and not merit was the basis for the awarding of huge arms contracts, with the biggest companies with the political influence getting all the contracts. Truman visited military bases and armament plants, finding gross mismanagement of defense dollars. He enlisted other senators to go on tour with him, and this ad hoc watchdog effort soon led to a formal investigation. Becoming known informally as the Truman Committee, the investigation exposed waste and corruption throughout the war effort, saving the country $15 billion.
Matt Taibbi, writing for Rolling Stone, looks like a one-man Truman Committee, exposing in graphic terms what can only be described as the shocking corruption, sleaze and criminal mismanagement by private American companies contracting with the federal government to do work in Iraq. "How is it done?" Taibbi asks. "How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini?" He proceeds to show how sleazy yet politically connected contractors wasted what they didn't steal of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars meant to supply the troops and rebuild Iraq. Politically connected con men "went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight," Taibbi writes. Contractor fraud in Iraq has been in the headlines since the early days of the war, but Taibbi's expose is especially graphic.Continue reading
As we recently reported, MAPLight.org and OpenCongress.org recently launched widgets to make it easy for anyone to keep track of the presidential money race, current bills and legislative issues on their site or blog. What good is political information if it's relegated to to just one Web site? As John wrote on the Open House Project blog, widgets and other new forms of data visualization help spread the information further and faster.
There's clear interest in adopting these widgets to surface information about the federal government in new ways and we love some of these early adopters. TechRepublican just recently incorporated the MAPLight.org presidential fundraising widget on its site and NTEN is planning on using
using MAPLight.org's new API.
The crazy-smart folks at the Participatory Politics Foundation who do all the hard work at OpenCongress.org are ready to show off two new 'widgets.' One is for tracking bills and the second lets you track issues in Congress. The bill tracking widget allows you to display the status of any bill in the Congressional pipeline, as well as link to news and blog coverage of that bill.
The issue widget lets you select from one of more than 4,000 different issue areas, and display either the most recent bills or the most-viewed bills in that issue area for your community. We figure this ought to be pretty useful to folks who follow issues, rather than specific pieces of legislation.