At Least 5 Marines Are Expected to Be Charged in Haditha Deaths
"At least five marines are expected to be charged, possibly as early as Wednesday, with the killing of 24 Iraqis, many of them unarmed women and children, in the village of Haditha in November 2005, according to a Marine official and a lawyer involved in the case.
"The charges are expected to range from negligent homicide to murder, said a senior Pentagon official familiar with the militaryâs nearly nine-month investigation into the episode. Several marines from the Third Platoon of Company K, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, are accused of killing the villagers after a roadside explosion killed one of their comrades." (NY Times)
FEMA Appeals Katrina Housing Order
"The Bush administration is challenging a court order requiring it to make housing payments to thousands of families whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said last week that confusing, often contradictory letters to hurricane victims from the Federal Emergency Management Agency didn't explain why housing funding was cut. He said that violated the Constitution, and he ordered the agency to restart the program immediately.
"FEMA said Tuesday it would appeal that ruling." (AP)
NIH Scientist Charged with Conflict
"Federal prosecutors on Monday charged a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health with conflict of interest for taking $285,000 in fees from a drug company that was involved with his government research.
"Dr. P. Trey Sunderland III is the first official in 14 years to be prosecuted for conflict of interest at the NIH, an agency rocked in recent years by revelations of widespread financial ties to the drug industry. Sunderland accepted the fees from 1998 to 2003 from Pfizer Inc." (LA Times)
"Smuggling, Theft, Bribery at Agency
"Aside from patrolling the nation's borders and guarding against terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security also is battling fraud, theft, bribery, smuggling and other crimes by American citizens â with some of the most disturbing examples coming from the sprawling agency's own employees.
"A semiannual report filed to Congress by the department's inspector general showed a sharp jump in arrests in the six months ended Sept. 30, with many stemming from schemes by members of the public to bilk the agency of emergency relief funds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"But the report, released this week, also highlights a litany of staff misconduct: immigration officials demanding sex in exchange for visas, airport screeners stealing money from tourists' luggage, federal air marshals smuggling drugs, and employees from various DHS agencies committing sex crimes â including indecent exposure and distributing child pornography." (LA Times)
Members Shun Glitzy Junkets
"In any other year, dozens of lawmakers and staffers would spend the days after New Yearâs packing for a week in Las Vegas that mixes business and top-flight luxury at the annual Consumer Electronics Show.
"But this year, as new Democratic majorities in both chambers prepare to push sweeping lobbying and ethics reforms, a proposed ban on privately funded travel is sapping interest in the trip and many others like it, aides and lobbyists said.
"The event â the worldâs largest trade show for consumer technology â gives Congressional policymakers a chance to survey the latest gadgets, talk to executives from leading tech companies and listen in on panel discussions about trends in the industry. It also gives them a chance to jet out of wintry Washington, D.C., soak up some sun at a first-class hotel and enjoy lavish dining and parties all on the tab of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group behind the show that also lobbies for industry priorities on Capitol Hill.
"With lawmakers and staff canceling plans to participate in such trips even in advance of the ethics changes, the development could spell the end of what has become in recent years an increasingly popular and effective tool in the corporate lobbying arsenal: the junket." (Roll Call)
Reformers Try to Set Standard for Ethics Bill
"As Democratic leaders in both chambers ponder the details of their proposed lobbying and ethics overhauls, a bipartisan group of leading Congressional reformers on Tuesday signaled their intention to set a high bar in the debate by introducing their own package on the first day of the 110th Congress.
"The bicameral group â consisting of Sens. John McCain [R-AZ], Susan Collins [R-ME], Joe Lieberman [D-CT], Russ Feingold [D-WI] and Reps. Christopher Shays [R-CT] and Marty Meehan [D-MA] â said that in addition to sweeping new rules for lawmakers and lobbyists, the bill would include a provision to create an independent Office of Public Integrity that accepts ethics complaints and investigates them.
"That provision is the top reform priority for Congressional watchdog groups. Though House Democrats appear increasingly likely to include the provision in their version, it is not yet apparent if it will make the cut in the Senate, or whether it will survive challenges from other lawmakers as the bills wend their way to a floor vote." (Roll Call, USA Today)
"The Bush administration's new privacy guidelines fail to protect the rights of Americans, and the board created to guarantee those rights lacks the independence to do the job, civil libertarians told the White House privacy board yesterday at its first public forum.
"The guidelines, released Monday, are intended to protect the personal privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens as the government attempts to strengthen its intelligence-sharing to fight terrorism.
"But, said privacy advocate Marc Rotenberg, the guidelines pale in comparison to protections offered under the Privacy Act of 1974....
"The new guidelines, issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, direct agencies to develop procedures to ensure that information on 'U.S. persons' is lawfully obtained, is shared only if it relates to terrorism or law enforcement, and that data errors are corrected. They do not require the people affected to be notified." (WaPo)
Report Finds New Problems in FEMA Aid Distribution
"The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of an estimated $1 billion in fraudulent or unjustified payments it distributed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a new report by Congressional investigators says.
"At the same time, the agency continued to wrongly send out millions of dollars of new aid this year, including $17 million in rental assistance to families living rent-free in FEMA trailers, the Government Accountability Office report says." (NY Times)
Memo: Administration Tried to Cut Payouts to Nuke Workers
"The Bush administration repeatedly sought ways to limit payouts to nuclear weapons workers sickened by radiation and toxic material, according to a memo written by congressional investigators and obtained by USA TODAY.
"The investigation focuses on a federal program created in 2000 to compensate people with cancers and other illnesses tied to their work at government and contractor-owned facilities involved in Cold War nuclear weapons production. About 98,000 cases have been filed under the program, and the Labor Department has approved compensation in about 24,000 of those cases. However, program records show that not all of those approved claims have been paid.
"Since 2002, 'there is a continuous stream of (administration) communications â¦ strategizing on minimizing payouts,' according to the Nov. 30 memo by staff for the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims. The memo, prepared for the panel's chairman, Rep. John Hostettler [R-IN] summarizes and quotes from thousands of pages of records reviewed by the subcommittee in its probe." (USA Today)
Trio From Hill Ask GSA Head Not to Shift Audit Burden
"Three federal lawmakers yesterday called on the new administrator of the General Services Administration to halt her plan to replace government auditors in the agency's inspector general's office with private auditors, saying in a letter that the change could lead to less oversight of contractors.
"The letter to GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan followed a report in The Washington Post on Saturday that described Doan's plans to cut $5 million in spending on audits and shift responsibility for contract reviews to small, private contractors.
"Doan, a former government contractor, recently compared GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller and his staff to terrorists, according to notes of a meeting taken by GSA officials. Doan has said vendors and government workers reported that Miller's investigators and auditors exerted 'undue pressure' on them.
"Yesterday, Reps. Henry A. Waxman [D-CA] and James L. Oberstar [D-MN] and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) asked Doan to provide a description of her plans and a 'detailed analysis of its potential effects' before she moves forward with any changes or budget cuts that would affect the inspector general's work." (WaPo)
Katrina Struck District, Scandal Struck Dem
" None of the nation's other 434 congressional districts has put up with as much adversity as the 2nd District of Louisiana, where entire neighborhoods have been razed after Hurricane Katrina 15 months ago.
Now weary voters in the district must decide whether to re-elect a member of Congress after the FBI found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer.
"Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat, has denied wrongdoing, and he has not been charged with a crime. In an open primary election last month, he placed first with 30% of the vote. None of the 13 candidates got a majority, so he faces Democratic state Rep. Karen Carter in a runoff election Saturday." (USA Today)
Suit: Anti-Terror Unit Filled with Hate
"A celebrated police anti-terrorism cyber unit became a beehive of anti-Muslim rhetoric after a city consultant unleashed hundreds of hateful e-mails saying Muslims and Arabs were all potential terrorists, a unit member said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
"The Department of Correction lieutenant, listed as John Doe Anti-Terrorism Officer on the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, said he was subjected to a hostile work environment, great emotional anguish, public humiliation and illegal retaliation.
"The Egyptian-born man asked for unspecified damages, saying he had suffered severe emotional distress, mental anguish, depression, physical injuries, illness, loss of pay and benefits and loss of advancement opportunities as a member of the elite anti-terror unit." (AP)