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GreyhoundFan

We have enough money for his idiotic "space force", but can't take care of military families.

 

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I’ve been tasked with editing all the web pages in my department to change all Trump’s political appointees and add the word ‘Former’. It is a huge job but I don’t care. Hell I’d work over time for fr

I love how Pete trolls the former guy!

If people think this coup is over, I hope they ask themselves how many bosses immediately seat new employees in their last week.  

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CTRLZero
28 minutes ago, GreyhoundFan said:

We have enough money for his idiotic "space force", but can't take care of military families.

As some of you may remember, we are military retirees (courtesy of my husband).   We had difficulty getting good care from off-base systems using our TriCare, so in the past year or so we transferred to on-base (military treatment facility).  So far, so good, but now I'm guessing we are going to no longer be accommodated.  I absolutely understand priority going to active duty, but it's not so easy getting care in the other medical systems off-base.  Here we go again...

I'm so looking forward to aging into Medicare.  My husband has greater success pairing his TriCare For Life and Medicare, so he should do well.  What's that, you say?  Trump's cutting Medicare next?  Maybe it's time to look into essential oils.  🙄 

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fraurosena
28 minutes ago, CTRLZero said:

What's that, you say?  Trump's cutting Medicare next?  Maybe it's time to look into essential oils.  🙄 

Essential oils? Reliable sources say plexus is the way to go. Smile.

 

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GreyhoundFan

He'll stop at nothing to screw over federal employees and retirees: "Federal employee retirement benefits would be cut under Trump’s budget"

Spoiler

President Trump has again proposed reducing the value of federal retirement benefits while requiring most federal employees to pay more toward those benefits.

In some cases, the benefits would be reduced only for future retirees, but in other cases, those already retired would face a cut, as well.

The proposals, outlined in Trump’s budget released Monday, would require changes in law. They are likely to face opposition from Democrats in Congress and federal employee organizations that have thwarted them in prior years.

The budget also proposes a 1 percent pay increase for federal employees while recommending 3 percent for military personnel.

Trump had recommended pay freezes in his prior two budgets, though he ultimately agreed to an average 1.9 percent raise for 2019 and an average 3.1 percent raise for 2020, with some variation by locality. In 2017, he had recommended a 1.9 percent average raise for 2018, which Congress accepted.

Legislation already has been introduced in the House and Senate by several Democrats for an average 2021 raise of 3.5 percent.

Trump’s proposals would “align federal compensation with the private sector,” a budget book says, referring to a 2017 Congressional Budget Office study that found salary to be comparable on average between the two sectors. But the study also found the federal benefits package to be superior, resulting in a “total compensation” advantage of 17 percent for federal workers.

“The disparity — which varies significantly by education level — is overwhelmingly attributable to benefits,” the budget proposal says. “CBO found that, in comparison to the private sector, the Federal Government continues to offer a very generous package of retirement benefits, even when controlling for certain characteristics of workers.”

An annual comparison by a federal salary advisory council that does not take benefits into account finds that federal employees are substantially underpaid — by 27 percent on average in the most recent report.

The two reports use different methods and different sets of data, however. The CBO report further cautioned that comparisons of benefits are difficult, especially regarding retirement.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement, “For the fourth year in a row, President Trump’s budget proposal would starve federal agencies to the point of paralysis, pick the pockets of middle-class federal workers and their families, weaken our nation’s nonpartisan, merit-based civil service, and deprive Americans of the basic services and protections they expect from their government.”

The budget plan, for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, again calls for requiring employees covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System to increase the amount they must pay toward their retirement benefits.

The required amount would increase by one percentage point per year until the employer and employee contributions are equal.

For most employees, that would mean an increase of about six percentage points. Employees hired since 2012 already pay at somewhat higher rates, so the increase would not be as large for them.

That proposal would not affect those under the Civil Service Retirement System, who were hired before 1984 and who now account for less than a tenth of federal workers.

The budget also would eliminate a supplemental payment that applies only in the FERS for those who retire before age 62. That payment is roughly equal to what they will receive in Social Security benefits and is paid until they reach age 62 and can start receiving those benefits.

Prior versions of that proposal have specified that it would apply only to those retiring after a future date.

Another proposal that would apply only to future retirees would base their annuity calculations on their highest five consecutive years of salary rather than the currently used three years.

Yet another would apply to annual cost-of-living adjustments to retirement benefits under both retirement programs. It would eliminate the inflation adjustment for those receiving annuities under the FERS while lowering the CSRS adjustment by half a percentage point.

The budget projects that changing inflation adjustments as proposed would reduce their value to current and future retirees by $53.6 billion over the next 10 years.

Eliminating the annuity supplement and changing the annuity calculation formula would reduce their value to future retirees by $19.9 billion and $8 billion over that time, while the increase in required contributions toward retirement would cost employees $87.4 billion, it said.

A final proposal would reduce the interest rate paid in the Government Securities G Fund of the Thrift Savings Plan, the 401(k)-style retirement savings program for federal employees. That fund consists of special Treasury Department securities that in recent years have paid about a 2 percent interest rate.

The proposal would reduce that rate to a small fraction of 1 percent, reducing the return to investors by a projected $10.5 billion over 10 years.

“We oppose a change to the G Fund interest rate as it would make the G Fund inadequate and ineffective for TSP investors and would meaningfully impact the retirement savings of millions of Thrift Savings Plan participants,” TSP spokeswoman Kim Weaver said in an email.

Of the $633 billion in the TSP as of year-end 2019, about 40 percent was in the G Fund. That fund is especially popular among retirees and those close to retirement because of its stability.

 

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GreyhoundFan

This is what you get when you put a nasty asshole like Cuccinelli in charge of USCIS: "This latest trick from the Trump administration is one of the most despicable yet"

Spoiler

SAN FRANCISCO — After Yolanda was raped, she ran.

She ran from the basement where her attacker had trapped her for three hours. She ran until she found her way to a police station, a place that people such as Yolanda usually avoid at all costs.

Yolanda, a Guatemalan in her 40s, is undocumented. She’s been living in the shadows for more than a decade. But Congress created a program intended to encourage immigrants like her to come forward about heinous crimes like this one: the U-visa, for crime victims who assist law enforcement.

Even so, for several months after her assault, she still agonized about whether to apply, which would requiring turning over information not just to local police but to the Trump administration. But lawyers said she had a slam-dunk case.

Then, unexpectedly, the feds rejected her application. Why? Because … her youngest son doesn’t have a middle name.

If that sounds arbitrary and irrelevant, that’s probably by design. Over the past few months, the Trump administration has quietly been rolling out a Kafkaesque new processing policy for select categories of visas: If any fields on a form are left blank, it will automatically be rejected. Even if it makes no sense for the applicant to fill out that field.

For example, if “Apt. Number” is left blank because the immigrant lives in a house: rejected. Or if the field for a middle name is left blank because no middle name exists: rejected, too.

It’s not clear what problem this new policy was intended to solve. In response to a detailed list of questions about the purpose behind the processing change, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sent only a vague statement saying applicants “must provide the specific information requested and answer all the questions asked.” It’s hard not to see this as a preposterous new layer of red tape designed to deny visas to legally eligible applicants such as Yolanda.

The policy change, at first affecting just asylum applicants, was announced without fanfare on the USCIS website sometime in the fall.

“We will not accept your [application] if you leave any fields blank,” reads a note you wouldn’t know existed unless someone told you where to find it. “You must provide a response to all questions on the form, even if the response is ‘none,’ ‘unknown’ or ‘n/a.’ ”

Then, days before the New Year, USCIS added a similar notice for U-visa applications. In both cases the processing changes were effective immediately — even if documents had been mailed in before the policy was announced.

Such was the case for Yolanda. (Yolanda is her middle name, which I am using to protect her privacy.)

Yolanda’s lawyer mailed her application as soon as he received all the required paperwork, including a certification from police proving Yolanda’s assistance. It went out Dec. 28 and arrived at the USCIS service center on Dec. 30. That’s the same day the new policy was announced online, so some faceless bureaucrat decided to reject her.

To be clear, the absence of a son’s middle name wasn’t the only blank on her application. As many attorneys told me has always been common practice, she also left other fields unfilled if they didn’t apply.

For example, she checked the boxes saying each of her sons is “single.” A subsequent section says: “If your family member was previously married, list the names of your family member’s prior spouses and the dates his or her marriages were terminated.” Because no “prior spouses” exist, she didn’t enter anything; USCIS cited this, too, among the reasons for rejection.

Yolanda is hardly the only victim of maliciously persnickety bureaucrats. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has collected 140 other examples of allegedly “incomplete” forms: an 8-year-old child who listed “none” for employment history but left the dates of employment field blank. An applicant who entered names of three siblings, but the form has spaces for four.

Immigration attorneys told me that they will start writing “none” or “N/A” in every field, on every form. But even that could cause problems.

“There’s going to be just hundreds of people processed under the Trump administration who will legally have the middle name ‘N/A,’ ” said Jessica Farb, an attorney with the Immigration Center for Women and Children, the nonprofit that represents Yolanda.

Besides, many immigrants (including most asylum seekers) are unable to hire attorneys and might not learn about the bizarre no-blanks policy until it’s too late.

Some of the time, immigrants can resubmit their applications amended with superfluous “nones” and “N/As.” But the resulting delays can lead required documents to expire or cause immigrants to lose their eligibility.

That’s what happened to Yolanda’s oldest son, whom the U-visa program allowed her to include as part of her application. He turned 21 between the time the application was originally filed (late December) and when her rejection arrived in the mail (last week). He has now aged out of eligibility. Yolanda’s attorneys have asked USCIS officials to recognize the original receipt date.

“I ask God that’s how they see it,” says Yolanda, who is terrified of being separated from her children. “I ask God.”

 

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GreyhoundFan

Another unqualified sycophantic donor put in a position of importance: "Trump to name Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany, as acting head of intelligence"

Spoiler

President Trump on Wednesday named Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, as the next acting director of national intelligence, placing a fiercely loyal ally atop an intelligence structure he has frequently railed against.

It is unclear whether Trump intends to nominate Grenell to fill the top intelligence post on a permanent basis, which would require Senate confirmation.

The appointment took many in Washington, including on Capitol Hill, by surprise.

Grenell, a former State Department official and communications executive, has been a Trump confidant and ad hoc adviser on issues beyond his ambassadorial work in Berlin.

He is a conservative foreign policy hawk and sometime media critic, as well as a vocal supporter of Trump on social media. He has sparked controversy in his diplomatic role, but also won praise in Germany and elsewhere for taking on issues such as gay rights in Eastern Europe and the long-running tensions between Kosovo and Serbia.

Grenell would be the first openly gay member of the Trump Cabinet. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump was being pushed by some in the intelligence community to nominate the current acting intelligence director, Joseph Maguire, to take the job permanently, but the president has been fixated on appointing people he believes are loyal to him, according to White House officials who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

In recent weeks, he has asked aides which employees are “bad” or “leakers” and deserve to be fired, aides said.

In a statement, Maguire said “it has been an honor to work alongside the men and women of the intelligence community” as acting director of national intelligence, and that he was “committed to leading [them] until Ambassador Grenell assumes the role.”

Maguire, who was scheduled to meet with White House officials Thursday afternoon, was blindsided by the news, said a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive situation.

The New York Times first reported Grenell’s expected appointment.

Grenell’s loyalty to the president extends beyond his public statements. In 2018, internal documents from the Trump International Hotel in Washington listed Grenell as a “Gold” level member of the Trump Organization’s “Trump Card” loyalty program.

This is the second time that Trump has given a prominent post to a high-level Trump Card member. Kelly Craft, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, also had gold status, according to the 2018 documents — “VIP Arrivals” lists that the hotel used to alert employees to important guests. The lists were obtained by The Washington Post.

Grenell’s appointment is likely to exacerbate tensions between the president and members of the intelligence community, who have been frequent targets of Trump’s ire.

Current and former officials questioned Grenell’s qualifications to lead the intelligence agencies and said his loyalty to Trump appeared to be the reason for his appointment.

“Nothing in Grenell’s background suggests that he has the skill set or the experience to be an effective leader of the intelligence community,” said Nicholas J. Rasmussen, who was the director of the National Counterterrorism Center under Trump and President Barack Obama and who has known and worked with Maguire for over a decade.

“His chief attribute seems to be that President Trump views him as unfailingly loyal — hardly sufficient to make someone qualified to perform the duties of the DNI.”

Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA official, questioned why the White House had again chosen not to nominate a permanent intelligence director.

“How are both sides of the aisle not outraged by yet another ‘acting’ role?” he said. “We are in need of the DNI designate to provide his thoughts on the whistleblower statute, the intelligence community plan to thwart potential Russian interference in the 2020 elections, possible Iranian retaliation for the Qasem Soleimani strike and other key national security challenges.”

Grenell inspired controversy almost from the moment he became ambassador in 2018. In a tweet he posted hours after Trump said the United States would exit the Iran nuclear deal, Grenell wrote that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”

Germany and other key U.S. allies said they intended to remain in the agreement and the perceived ultimatum angered some officials in Berlin. Grenell has also focused on NATO and the shortfall in German defense spending, an issue Trump mentions frequently.

Grenell also drew criticism from diplomats and foreign officials for an interview with the right-wing Breitbart news site, in which he said he wanted to “empower” conservatives in Europe.

One U.S. official familiar with the decision said Grenell is expected to take up his new post quickly.

 

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GreyhoundFan

I'm pleasantly surprised by Kennedy: "Trump’s DHS head has a brutal exchange on coronavirus — courtesy of a GOP senator"

Spoiler

The Department of Homeland Security is coordinating the U.S. government’s response to the increasing threat of the novel coronavirus. The agency has also been under the control of acting head Chad Wolf for more than four months, with no full-time replacement selected.

And Wolf’s testimony Tuesday morning wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring — particularly for one GOP senator.

Appearing in front of a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Wolf was on the receiving end of a brutal line of questioning from Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.). Throughout the exchange, Wolf struggled to produce basic facts and projections about the disease. Perhaps most strikingly, the hearing came at a time of heightened fears about the disease, with the stock market plunging over new estimates about its spread into the United States. It’s a moment in which you’d expect such things to be top of mind for someone in Wolf’s position.

Wolf got started on the wrong foot almost immediately, when Kennedy asked him how many cases of the coronavirus there were in the United States. Wolf stated there were 14 but was uncertain about how many cases had been repatriated back to the United States from cruise ships, placing the number at “20- or 30-some-odd.”

Asked how many DHS was anticipating, Wolf didn’t have an answer and suggested this was the Department of Health and Human Services’ territory. “We do anticipate the number will grow; I don’t have an exact figure for you, though,” Wolf said.

“You’re head of Homeland Security, and your job is to keep us safe,” Kennedy responded, asking him again what the estimates might be. Wolf talked around the question, which led Kennedy to say, “Don’t you think you ought to check on that, as the head of Homeland Security?”

“We will,” Wolf responded. He referred to a task force that is working on that issue.

“I’m all for committees and task forces,” Kennedy said. “I think you ought to know that answer.”

Things didn’t get much better from there.

Kennedy then asked Wolf how the coronavirus was transmitted, to which Wolf responded that there were “a variety of ways” including “human to human.” That, though, wasn’t what Kennedy was asking; he was asking how it was transmitted between humans.

“How is it transmitted?” Kennedy cut in, making clear he wanted specifics.

“A variety of different ways,” Wolf again responded.

“Tell me what they are,” Kennedy quizzed him, clearly skeptical that Wolf knew the answer.

When Wolf again referred to “human-to-human” transmissions, Kennedy cut in. “Well, obviously human to human,” Kennedy said. “How?”

Wolf could muster only that it was “being in the same vicinity” and “physical contact.”

Kennedy then sought to compare mortality rates for the coronavirus — which is about 2 percent — and for influenza “over the last 10 years in America.” Wolf, who was clearly on his heels, responded somewhat haltingly that the flu was “also right around that percentage, as well” — referring to the 2 percent.

“You sure of that?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes, sir,” Wolf said.

The mortality rate for influenza in the United States is significantly lower than that — only around 0.1 percent, according to the CDC, with some differences depending on how you define an influenza-related death. In other words, while about 1 in 50 people are dying from the coronavirus, only about 1 in 1,000 Americans die of the flu. Wolf may have been referring to the worldwide flu mortality rate, which is indeed significantly higher than in the United States. He began answering the question as Kennedy was saying “America.”

It was more of the same from there. Kennedy asked whether we have enough respirators, and Wolf again wasn’t totally sure. “To my knowledge, we do.” Kennedy responded the committee had been told that wasn’t the case. Wolf seemed to think Kennedy was asking only about equipment for DHS officials and not the broader public.

A similar exchange occurred on masks. Wolf then tried to push back, noting Kennedy was asking him about “a number of medical questions.”

“I’m asking you questions because you’re the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” Kennedy shot back, “and you’re supposed to keep us safe. And you need to know the answers to these questions.”

Kennedy then asked when a vaccine for the disease might be ready, and Wolf said “several months.” Kennedy again said that conflicted with what the committee had been told elsewhere.

“Your numbers aren’t the same as CDC’s,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy concluded by again begging Wolf to have answers to these questions. But as Wolf tried to respond, Kennedy was apparently finished with the whole thing, and he instead yielded his time back.

The scene was jarring, but it wasn’t without precedent from Kennedy. The Louisiana senator has occasionally sent a message to the Trump administration by lighting into the president’s judicial picks — including in 2017 and last year. He also told administration officials during a hearing on the opioid crisis two months ago, “I don’t speak B.S.”

Tuesday was particularly striking, though, given who Wolf is. President Trump has left acting officials in charge of major departments and in other Cabinet-level jobs for months and months without picking successors that people like Kennedy would vote to confirm. The downside of that is the people in charge haven’t been vetted as closely for situations such as a potential outbreak of a disease. (DHS has actually been under acting control for more than 10 months now.)

Whether any one of Kennedy’s individual questions was fair or not, Wolf’s exchange with Kennedy suggested someone who was wasn’t terribly plugged in to what’s going on. That’s not a great sign.

 

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GreyhoundFan

Jeez, this is what you get when you place loyalty to Dear Leader over experience: "A new senior leader at the White House personnel office: A college senior"

Spoiler

The White House has hired a college senior to be one of the top officials in its powerful Presidential Personnel Office, according to three administration officials familiar with the matter.

James Bacon, 23, is acting as one of the right-hand men to new PPO director John McEntee, according to the officials. Bacon, a senior at George Washington University pursuing a bachelor’s degree, comes from the Department of Transportation, where he briefly worked in the policy shop. Prior to that role, while still taking classes, he worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was a White House liaison, according to two other officials. At HUD, he distinguished himself as Secretary Ben Carson’s confidential assistant, according to two other administration officials.

Bacon worked for McEntee on the Trump campaign’s earliest days and also did some work on the advance team. He later did operations on the Trump transition. Bacon would have graduated on time if he had not taken time off from school to work on the campaign, an official said.

Bacon will be PPO’s director of operations overseeing paperwork and will assist on vetting. The role was previously filled by Katja Bullock, who is in her late 70s and was a veteran of the office in both Bush administrations, as well as the Reagan administration.

The White House has not yet sent around any formal internal notice of Bacon’s new role. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

McEntee replaced Sean Doocey, who is heading to the State Department.

McEntee, 29, held a meeting in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building last Thursday with White House liaisons of Cabinet departments where he asked officials to find Trump appointees who may be anti-Trump, according to an administration official familiar with the meeting. McEntee also told them that PPO was going to take a look at all appointees at some point and re-vet them to see if they’ve been disloyal in any way.

More dramatic changes are likely to be delayed until after November but the agency liaisons have been told to stop moving around officials who are viewed as anti-Trump to other agencies. (Axios first reported the details of the meeting.)

Another administration official described the meeting as “very positive” and McEntee reassured colleagues that there won’t be delays even though some PPO officials are leaving.

At least during his transition into the office, McEntee has for now kept on Michael Burley, who is associate director of presidential personnel and a special assistant to the president, but Burley is trying to figure out his next steps if he decides to leave.

After his acquittal, the president — emboldened and increasingly skeptical of anyone not a part of his original team — has relied on people like McEntee to act on his unofficial edict to fill the White House with loyalists and get rid of anyone feared to be part of the “deep state.”

McEntee worked on the Trump campaign in 2016 as the president’s body man, and in his role at the White House had constant access to the president, flying with him on Marine One and Air Force One, and at the president’s side to assist with any needs. He was fired from his role in 2018 by former chief of staff John Kelly because of security concerns tied to gambling allegations.

But McEntee wanted to return to the White House and is trusted by Trump, his family, and senior staff, was brought back earlier this year as the president is about to head into a reelection year and personnel changes are expected at the White House.

Despite having the trust of the president, McEntee’s lack of experience has raised concerns among some White House staff about his ability to run a critical White House office. One White House official pointed out that loyalty, in this case, trumped age and experience.

“He will do a great job because he has trust with POTUS,” said one former White House official.

The PPO office has been the subject of complaints and finger-pointing by some in the administration over its “frat-house” reputation, but serves an important function for vetting and hiring appointees. With McEntee at the helm of the office, however, it’s expected the president will take a more direct role than he has before.

“After three years of allowing others to control who would be around him and have power, he’s trying to take back some of the power and have a say in the staffing in the White House and administration,” a person close to the White House said. “A lot of the people in there weren’t actual allies of Trump, and didn’t actually support his agenda but had significant roles in his administration.”

 

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fraurosena

Meanwhile, he's been put on the corona taskforce, because why not?

Ken Cuccinelli’s appointment to top immigration job was unlawful, court rules, invalidating policy memos he signed

Quote

A federal judge ruled Sunday that President Trump’s appointment last year of Ken Cuccinelli to be head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was a violation of federal vacancy laws, and that Cuccinelli lacked the authority to issue policy directives tightening asylum rules.

U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss, an Obama appointee, said the administration violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 when it placed Cuccinelli, a conservative activist and former attorney general of Virginia, in charge of the agency that runs the nation’s legal immigration system.

The ruling amounts to a rebuke of Trump’s stated preference for filling top administration jobs with officials serving in an “acting” capacity. The president has said he prefers having top officials in an acting role because he thinks it makes them easier to remove than those with Senate confirmation.

USCIS officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Trump administration is expected to appeal the decision.

Immigrant advocacy groups sued the administration last year on behalf of five Honduran asylum seekers — two adults and three children — who challenged the legality of the new restrictions on multiple grounds. Moss’s ruling addressed the first of their claims: that Cuccinelli lacked the authority to change U.S. asylum policies in the first place.

Moss agreed, writing that the vacancy rules require a federal agency’s “first assistant” to assume leadership when the top job is open.

“Cuccinelli’s appointment fails to comply with the (law) for a more fundamental and clear-cut reason: he never did and never will serve in a subordinate role — that is, as an ‘assistant’ — to any other USCIS official,” Moss wrote.

The administration’s move to place Cuccinelli in charge was therefore unlawful, he wrote, and the policy memos he signed should be “set aside.”

Those include measures in July to reduce the amount of time afforded to asylum seekers to seek legal counsel after crossing the border and to restrict the ability of U.S. asylum officers to grant applicants extensions.

The implications of the judge’s ruling were unclear Sunday for other policy moves and administrative decisions made by Cuccinelli since Trump installed him in June. Cuccinelli remains in the top job at USCIS, and he is serving as the second-ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security, where he has been appointed to the White House’s coronavirus task force.

Senior staffers at DHS and USCIS have repeatedly expressed doubts about the legality of Cuccinelli’s authority, with several unclear about where he actually works.

According to his official biography page online, his title is senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and he is also the senior official performing the duties of the director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

 

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JMarie

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-says-rep-mark-meadows-will-take-over-as-white-house-chief-of-staff/ar-BB10R1bL?ocid=spartanntp

Quote

President Trump is replacing Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff of 14 months, with Rep. Mark Meadows, a longtime ally and frequent defender of his on Capitol Hill, Mr. Trump said late Friday.

Mr. Meadows will be the fourth person to serve as Mr. Trump’s chief of staff.

“I have long known and worked with Mark, and the relationship is a very good one,” Mr. Trump tweeted from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, on Friday. He thanked Mr. Mulvaney “for having served the administration so well” and said Mr. Mulvaney would serve as U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland. 

Quote

White House officials said the move wasn’t a surprise, but the timing was unexpected on Friday night and officials struggled to explain the reason for the move. “Who knows?” one senior official said.

One Republican close to the White House said Mr. Meadows had a deal in place for weeks to become chief of staff, but was only waiting on the president to announce it. “We all sort of knew…but you never know till you know,” said a GOP aide who said the deal has been seriously discussed over the past week.

 

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GreyhoundFan

"OPM chief Dale Cabaniss abruptly resigns"

Spoiler

Dale Cabaniss, the director of the government’s Office of Personnel Management, resigned abruptly on Tuesday, effective immediately.

Cabaniss stepped down because of, what two people familiar with the matter said, was poor treatment from the 29-year-old head of the Presidential Personnel Office, John McEntee, and a powerful appointee at OPM, Paul Dans, the new White House liaison and senior adviser to the director of OPM.

OPM Deputy Director Michael Rigas is now acting director of OPM, according to an OPM spokesperson.

Cabaniss had been at the agency only since September.

The departure casts a cloud of uncertainty over the federal workforce as it struggles to decide how to handle the coronavirus outbreak, with growing questions about the Trump administration's decision to keep most government offices open and how it is handling remote work.

OPM is the human resources management policy shop for the federal government’s civil service, and it deals with health benefits and retirement, among other issues. Cabaniss is a former Republican staff director of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on financial services and general government and was chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority in the Bush administration. Cabaniss didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

McEntee's return to the White House has roiled the administration with some officials criticizing the former Trump campaign staffer for what they see as an effort to stock the administration with his friends, including at least three college seniors. McEntee has not responded to questions on stories touching on the hires.

Within the past week, Jonathan Blyth is also no longer chief of staff at OPM and has moved back to OPM’s congressional affairs shop, which he now heads, according to two people familiar with his move, one of which said it reflects McEntee’s growing clout within the administration.

Adding to the tension: The White House has hired a third college senior to be an administration official in a sensitive post, according to four people familiar with the matter.

As some prominent Democrats call for the military to help out more with the response to the coronavirus crisis, John Troup Hemenway has been hired on a 30-day detail to help the deputy director of the Presidential Personnel Office, Michael Burley, with paperwork for Defense Department political appointees, according to one of the people. Hemenway is expected to graduate from the University of Virginia in December.

Hemenway, who is in his 20s and started last week, is the third college senior to be hired in short order by the White House. One administration official praised him by saying he’s “really good at what he does.”

James Bacon, 23 and a senior at George Washington University, was hired to be one of McEntee’s righthand men as he tries to fill the Trump administration with loyalists and fire anyone who they suspect of disloyalty.

Anthony Labruna, who is expected to graduate from Iowa State University in May but was dismissed from the Trump campaign in February, was also recently named deputy White House liaison at the Department of Commerce.

Hemenway, who worked on the Trump campaign in 2016, got his start in the Trump administration when he was on the “beachhead” transition team at the Department of Defense and then worked in Department of Defense's White House liaison's office, according to an administration official. At various points during his time at the Defense Department, Hemenway was working to finish his degree, according to two administration officials. He has also worked for Michael Griffin, under secretary of Defense for research and engineering. Hemenway didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Some officials see the hiring of Dans — a lawyer who previously worked in New York and recently started at the agency, according to two people familiar with the matter — as yet another affront. The job of White House liaison generally entails matching qualified people with political vacancies at an agency and moving appointees in and out of positions when needed.

Dans has “clearly come with some kind of agenda,” said a person familiar with his hiring, who noted Dans doesn’t appear to have much of a background in Title V of the U.S. code, which deals with how the government is organized and how the federal civil service operates. Dans didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In his first weeks on the job, Dans has been meeting with various program offices to get a handle on what they all do. He previously was at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was senior adviser in the Office of Community Planning & Development.

Dans began his legal career as an associate at two New York white-shoe law firms LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae and Debevoise & Plimpton. The American Lawyer reported that when he was working at a lesser-known law firm in 2009, he didn’t get a partnership, which led him to be offered work for the small Miami law firm Rivero Mestre to help out a lawyer for Chevron who had been indicted by Ecuador with a conspiracy to violate environmental rules. Once there, he played a significant role in the legal strategy of the Chevron-Ecuador case, which was one of the biggest civil litigations in history.

Dans is married to Mary Helen Bowers, a former New York ballet dancer who has also trained celebrities, including Natalie Portman for “Black Swan” and Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst and Miranda Kerr.

Dans is still going through the suitability background check but already is making some people nervous in his new agency, according to the person familiar with Dans’ hiring.

“He’s upsetting all kinds of apple carts without any basis of knowledge,” this person said.

 

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GreyhoundFan

Of course: "DHS inspector general’s office nearly dormant under Trump as reports and audits plummet"

Spoiler

The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog division has been so weakened under the Trump administration that it is failing to provide basic oversight of the government’s third-largest federal agency, according to whistleblowers and lawmakers from both parties.

DHS’s Office of the Inspector General is on pace to publish fewer than 40 audits and reports this fiscal year, the smallest number since 2003 and one-quarter of the agency’s output in 2016, when it published 143, records show. The audits and reports cover everything from contracts and spending to allegations of waste and misconduct.

At a time w hen DHS has morphed into an instrument for some of President Trump’s most ambitious domestic policies, the inspector general’s role calls for the office to exert rigorous oversight of the department’s $70 billion budget and 240,000 employees, Democratic and Republican lawmakers say.

But the agency’s authority and productivity have withered, and in the weeks before the coronavirus outbreak, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari ducked requests to appear on Capitol Hill for routine testimony, a decision congressional staffers describe as unprecedented.

Adding to the turmoil, the office’s second-in-command and former acting director, Jennifer Costello, was placed on administrative leave last month for alleged ethical violations, three current DHS officials said. An attorney for Costello said her client was not given a reason for her removal, but Costello believes she has been retaliated against for trying to denounce Cuffari’s mismanagement and wrongdoing.

Cuffari, who previously worked as an aide to former Arizona governor Jan Brewer (R), was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in July. He declined a request for an interview through the office’s spokeswoman, Erica Paulson.

Paulson declined to answer questions sent in writing, and she said Costello was not authorized to speak publicly about the inspector general’s office.

“The Office of Inspector General respectfully declines to comment,” Paulson wrote in an email.

The inspector general’s headquarters were often empty on weekdays long before the coronavirus outbreak sent some federal workers home, according to one frustrated senior staffer. He described coming to work in recent months and regularly finding the lights off because no one else was there.

Established in 2002 after the creation of DHS in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the inspector general was tasked with providing “independent oversight and promote excellence, integrity, and accountability” within the department. While the inspector general reports to the DHS secretary, the agency is designed to work closely with congressional oversight committees to preserve independence.

Since October, the office has published 17 audits and reports, many of which are routine reviews of Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to states and municipalities. Lawmakers have also raised concerns about the quality as well as the quantity of the office’s work.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has joined other lawmakers pressing for Cuffari to explain what is happening at his agency.

“Particularly in these times, we need a DHS Inspector General who can and will be a vigilant and thorough watchdog,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post, noting that he has invited the inspector general to testify at a hearing later this month and expects him to appear, as all other previous inspectors general have. “It is deeply troubling that the office is not releasing reports at the rate it has done in the past, and that the work that is being released is not up to standard. This clearly cannot continue.”

Members of both parties have written to the inspector general to share their worries about chronic dysfunction. In a Dec. 6 letter, the top Republican and Democratic officials on the Senate and House homeland security committees wrote to Cuffari to raise “serious concern about the cumulative effect of long-standing management and operational challenges” at his office.

“Allegations have come to our attention that the office has been plagued by ongoing bureaucratic infighting and competing allegations of misconduct that threaten OIG’s ability to conduct effective oversight,” the lawmakers wrote, telling Cuffari that under his watch “problems have apparently persisted and in some cases worsened.”

The letter noted that morale at the inspector general’s office was low and slipping further, citing annual federal employee viewpoint surveys. It was signed by Thompson, as well as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the committee’s ranking Democrat; and Rep. Mike D. Rogers (Ala.) the top GOP member on the House committee.

The lawmakers’ letter asked Cuffari to provide detailed records of his agency’s staffing levels, its recent hires, budget expenditures, employee complaints and other records for the past five years. Congressional staffers say Cuffari’s staff has provided partial responses.

In a Dec. 10 staff email obtained by The Post, Cuffari told agency employees that the office would fully comply with the request from lawmakers.

“I take the well-being of our workforce seriously and want you to know I am dedicated to improving our collective workplace experience,” Cuffari wrote. “It will take time and commitment from each of us, and I am confident we will get there, together.”

Cuffari told employees that he had hired a veteran federal prosecutor, Lynn Mattucci, as a special assistant, responsible for reducing backlogs and improving efficiency.

Congressional staffers and administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss staffing at the inspector general’s office said Cuffari had gotten off to a slow start in part because he was blindsided by Costello’s move to fill several top positions before his takeover. The lawmakers told Cuffari in their letter that the hiring moves “deprived you of the opportunity to install lasting and coherent leadership” and might have contributed to budget shortfalls.

Costello, who served as acting inspector general before Cuffari was sworn in, had clashes with other senior staff, according to current and former DHS officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss staffing disputes. Paulson did not respond to questions about Costello’s status or her hiring decisions.

Eden Brown Gaines, a personal attorney for Costello, depicted her client as being a victim of dysfunction and retaliation. Costello has discussed whistleblower complaints with members of Congress, Brown Gaines said in a statement, and told lawmakers the inspector general had “suppressed a report concerning family separations at the border.”

Brown Gaines said Costello also denounced Cuffari for withholding reports and said he “made misrepresentations to Congress and mismanaged the budget.”

“Ms. Costello is a well-respected member of the IG community, having served for 20 years,” Brown Gaines said.

The DHS inspector general’s office has operated under a cloud in recent years amid various investigations of its conduct. On March 6, a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted former inspector general Charles Edwards and an aide for allegedly conspiring to steal proprietary software and confidential databases from the government.

According to the allegations in the indictment, from October 2014 to April 2017, Edwards and his alleged co-conspirators tried to defraud the government by stealing software along with sensitive databases containing the personal information of DHS and Postal Service employees.

Last year, then-acting inspector general John V. Kelly retired after The Post reported he told staff to whitewash audits of the government’s response to disasters. Investigators found that Kelly praised the work ethic of federal emergency responders to show “FEMA at her best,” while instructing supervisors to focus on what the agency had done well, not its mistakes.

 

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Because we don't want competent professionals... "The Trump administration adds to its purge of professionals"

Spoiler

The Trump administration is continuing its shake-up of the intelligence community with a potentially disruptive change of leadership at the National Counterterrorism Center, the agency that coordinates government efforts to guard the homeland.

The White House announced its plan to nominate as NCTC director Christopher Miller, a former Army Special Forces officer who had overseen counterterrorism efforts in the Trump White House before moving to a similar position at the Pentagon.

Miller gets solid marks from former colleagues, but the move has increased fears within the intelligence community that the administration has embarked on a politically motivated campaign against career professionals.

The move came hours after I reported that Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, had begun a “review” of the NCTC and was weighing staff cuts there and in other parts of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Congress created both in 2003 as part of its effort to coordinate intelligence activities after the failure to “connect the dots” that allowed the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Miller, if confirmed, would take over from Russell Travers, who has been acting director since the departure of Joseph Maguire last August to become acting DNI. Travers, a widely respected career intelligence officer, was told that he could remain as Miller’s deputy, according to a Senate source who had been briefed by the ODNI leadership.

The timing of the proposed change was surprising, since it came as President Trump and most of the country were focused on the coronavirus threat that has preoccupied the world. But Grenell and the new team overseeing intelligence apparently couldn’t wait. An intelligence source told me that Miller received a call about 10 p.m. Tuesday from the White House, asking if he would take the job.

Travers didn’t learn about the move until Wednesday morning, when he was briefed by an aide, the intelligence source said. Despite Travers’s long record of service, Grenell apparently didn’t notify him personally in advance that the White House had selected someone else for the top job. This treatment of a career officer will grate among his colleagues.

The move will add to concerns within the U.S. intelligence community, and among its partners abroad, that Trump is continuing a purge of what he views as disloyal subordinates at the ODNI, FBI and other spy agencies. This housecleaning began last July with the departure of DNI Daniel Coats; that was followed by the resignation in August of his deputy, Sue Gordon, after she was passed over for the top job. Then came the ouster last month of Maguire and his senior deputy, Andrew Hallman.

“People in the intelligence community are very nervous because of the uncertainty,” said the intelligence source. The political churn is especially upsetting because it comes at a time when there are so many serious global economic and public health issues that require attention. It’s no time, in other words, for political vendettas.

 

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GreyhoundFan

With this sham administration, the cruelty is always the goal:

 

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I agree that the pompous one is on track to be the worst Secretary of State ever: "Pompeo’s pandemic performance ensures his place among the worst secretaries of state ever"

Spoiler

Let’s recall how the U.S. secretary of state has historically behaved at a time of grave international crisis: circling the globe (at least telephonically); formulating a coherent multilateral response; and lining up nations behind it — starting with America’s closest allies.

Now, consider how Mike Pompeo spent his time last week, as cases of covid-19 soared in the United States and numerous other countries. He kicked off Monday by indulging in a pointless war of words with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whom he accused of lying about the country’s grave coronavirus outbreak.

Then he flew off to Afghanistan, where, after a brief and failed attempt to persuade President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah to put aside their deep-seated differences, thereby facilitating the pre-election troop withdrawal President Trump wants, he resorted to the administration’s favorite foreign policy tool: abruptly cutting off aid.

On Wednesday, Pompeo had an opportunity to lead when foreign ministers of the Group of Seven convened by telephone. James A. Baker III, George Shultz or Madeleine Albright would have emerged with a clear statement of purpose by the world’s leading democracies — perhaps a commitment to aiding the poor nations and refugees that face devastation by the new disease.

Instead, Pompeo blocked the G-7 from issuing any communique after the other ministers sensibly refused to go along with his petty insistence that it refer to the “Wuhan virus.” The message he sent was clear: Scoring a rhetorical point against Beijing is more important to this U.S. administration than forging a consensus with Britain, France, Germany and other close allies.

On Thursday came a video summit of the Group of 20, a larger group of nations, currently chaired by Saudi Arabia. Pompeo called that regime’s leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ahead of the virtual gathering to ask that he “rise to the occasion and reassure global energy and financial markets.” Translation: Saudi Arabia should stop the oil price war it is waging with Russia, which has caused global prices to tank and contributed to the plunge of U.S. stocks.

No dice, apparently. Though he has enjoyed endless pampering by the Trump administration, up to and including forgiveness for murder, the crown prince made no move to comply with Pompeo’s appeal — and the virtual summit produced nothing of substance.

Has any secretary of state been worse in an emergency? It’s impossible to think of a more feckless performance since World War II. Pompeo’s dreadful week followed a month in which he has been all but invisible on the coronavirus issue, apart from one appearance at Trump’s daily press conference-cum-reality show.

While more responsible leaders have struggled to contain the pandemic, Pompeo has pursued pet causes as if nothing else were happening. That’s especially true of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which he, more than any other official, has promoted. The Islamic republic is staggering under one of the highest rates of infection in the world, with more than 38,000 reported cases as of Sunday; mass graves have been dug for the more than 2,600 dead.

Even close U.S. allies, such as Britain, are calling on the Trump administration to ease sanctions that are inhibiting shipment of medical supplies and humanitarian aid to Iran’s 80 million people. Yet Pompeo appears to view the epidemic as a handy means to compound “maximum pressure.” To what end? Regime change, which the secretary of state has made clear he favors, is hardly likely to be the result. More probable is wholesale death of innocent people, and the further discrediting of America’s claim to humanitarianism.

Pompeo’s crusade against China is even more senseless. He has dedicated himself to affixing blame to Beijing for the epidemic, seemingly in an attempt to counter growing Chinese efforts to aid other nations — initiatives that the Trump administration has failed to match. “The Chinese Communist Party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus clearly has demonstrated,” Pompeo proclaimed after the G-7 meeting, denouncing China for “claiming that they are now the white hat.”

Such overheated rhetoric will mean little to Italians and other Europeans who have welcomed Chinese supplies of medical equipment, while getting nothing from Washington. The head of Italy’s Institute of International Affairs told The Post that “it is going to change for good the perception of who is leading in the world, and it’s not the United States.”

If so, Pompeo won’t be solely at fault. Much of what he did last week was no doubt aimed to please his boss, the prime promoter of “America First.” That doesn’t change how this secretary of state will be regarded by history: Pompeo’s pandemic performance will ensure his place among the worst ever.

 

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GreyhoundFan

Because damaging the environment during a pandemic is such a great way to get back at Obama /sarcasm: "Trump administration to finalize weaker mileage standards, dealing a blow to Obama-era climate policy"

Spoiler

The Trump administration is set as soon as Tuesday to undercut President Barack Obama’s most significant effort to combat climate change, finalizing a rule that would weaken the federal government’s gas mileage standards for the nation’s cars and pickup trucks, according to two federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the rule was not yet public.

The rule will require U.S. cars, pickup trucks and SUVs to improve average fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent per year between model years 2021 and 2026, compared to a nearly 5 percent annual increase put in place under the Obama administration.

“They’re doing a rule to damage public health,” said Chester France, a former senior career official at the Environmental Protection Agency who helped oversee the Obama-era mileage standards and now works as a consultant for the Environmental Defense Fund. “In this crisis that we’re having, it’s unconscionable.”

Asked about the change, known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said in an email that she could not comment on specifics because it is still under review.

“This rule when finalized will benefit all Americans by improving the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, reducing air pollution, making new vehicles more affordable for all Americans and save lives,” she said.

The revised mileage standards will affect drivers across the country, partly by lowering the sticker price of new vehicles but also by causing fuel costs to rise over the long term. It also would release an additional 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the air over five years, according to an analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund — equivalent to the pollution released by 68 coal plants operating during that time.

The Trump administration has argued that forcing automakers to increase the fuel economy of their fleets to Obama-era standards would make new vehicles more expensive and encourage people to drive older, less safe cars and trucks. By contrast, the new rule — part of a joint effort between the Transportation Department and the EPA — estimates there will be fewer accident-related deaths over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2021 and 2029 as more people trade older cars for newer, safer ones.

However, the government’s own estimates say more Americans will die as a result of increased air pollution during that same period than if the existing standards remained in place, according to two people briefed on the rule who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not yet public.

This week’s finalization of the federal fuel-efficiency standards began nearly two years ago, when the Trump administration first proposed weakening the 2009 requirements. The Obama administration argued that higher fuel-efficiency standards would improve public health, combat climate change and save consumers money without compromising safety.

The Trump administration’s move follows its attempt to revoke California’s long-standing ability to set its own, more stringent tailpipe standards — and have other states follow its lead. California, joined by nearly two dozen states, is suing the administration for the right to set its own fuel efficiency standards.

The new rule has also caused a rift within the auto industry, as a handful of companies have forged a deal with California to abide by tougher mileage standards, while other automakers have sided with the White House in the ongoing legal tug-of-war.

“The auto industry has consistently called for year-over-year fuel economy and [greenhouse gas] improvements,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance of Automotive Innovation, an industry group.

Still, he said, the standards developed a decade ago under the Obama administration made assumptions that “aren’t supported by the data today.” Fuel prices have remained low, and buyers have gravitated to SUVs and pickup trucks in far larger numbers than smaller, more efficient cars.

“The standards that were originally developed are no longer appropriate in light of shifting market conditions and consumer preferences,” Bozzella said.

The new mileage rule is just one in a suite of efforts officials are undertaking to ease environmental protections in the last months of President Trump’s first term, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, for example, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management finalized an environmental analysis that marks a key step in building a private mining road through the wilds of Alaska.

The administration is pursuing other rollbacks, including increasing offshore drilling and altering a regulation that limited mercury and other pollutants from power plants. The White House has yet to finalize an overhaul of how it conducts environmental reviews of major federal decisions, as well as another effort to relax an Obama-era regulation on methane emissions.

Agencies within the Interior Department are moving ahead with plans to expand development on public land. While environmental groups have called on the government to cancel federal oil and gas auctions altogether — or at least extend comment periods for them — the Bureau of Land Management recently raised about $3.5 million by selling off the right to drill on a total of about 87,000 acres in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Administration officials have changed at least one policy on how the public can comment on rule changes during the pandemic.

BLM’s New Mexico office said last week it would allow those who oppose an oil and gas lease sale scheduled for May to submit formal complaints online, instead of by mail or in person.

On Thursday, the EPA issued a memo instructing petrochemical plants, power companies and other major industries that they could monitor their own pollution levels during the virus outbreak.

Cynthia Giles, who headed EPA’s enforcement division during Obama’s second term, said in an interview that the new memo failed to emphasize that facilities need to keep complying with existing pollution rules.

EPA spokeswoman Andrea Woods, however, said the new policy only states that companies will not be held liable “for routine compliance monitoring and reporting. It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.”

“During this extraordinary time, EPA believes that it is more important for facilities to ensure that their pollution control equipment remains up and running and the facilities are operating safely, than to carry out routine sampling and reporting,” she added. The agency added that the policy is “temporary and will be lifted as soon as normal operations can resume.”

The expected rollback this week of federal fuel-efficiency standards brought a wave of criticism from environmental advocates and vows of legal action on Monday, even before it was made official.

“In the middle of a national crisis, the Trump administration is moving forward with a legally flawed, environmentally damaging rollback that will unleash regulatory uncertainty and mire the automotive industry in more economic disarray,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.

Even if the rule gives many automakers a measure of regulatory certainty for the moment, Bozzella said the industry is now awash in a moment of massive uncertainty due to the coronavirus.

“We’re facing a demand shock. People are not buying cars, understandably,” he said. “Frankly, the biggest uncertainty we’re facing right now is what will the industry look like? How long will this market uncertainty be with us?”

 

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GreyhoundFan

More of this sham administration using a pandemic to mask their crap:

 

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fraurosena

For those of you who though we were done with all those Russian connections, think again.

 

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GreyhoundFan

Sigh. "Trump Interior official helped clear way for payments to ex-employer"

Spoiler

A high-ranking Interior Department official is under fire over her role in securing access to billions of dollars in coronavirus aid for a handful of wealthy Alaska corporations, including one that previously employed her as a lobbyist and top executive.

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney is among a small group of Interior officials advising the Treasury Department on how to distribute $8 billion in rescue funding Congress earmarked for Native American tribes — an allocation that some lawmakers now say they intended solely for the 574 federally recognized tribes hit hard by the economic shutdown.

But the Trump administration indicated this week that it also plans to include more than 200 for-profit Alaska Native corporations among the eligible recipients based on a strict reading of language included in its $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package — including corporations that rank among the largest businesses in the state. That’s outraged many tribal leaders who say the decision could divert nearly half the funding away from tribes and into the coffers of the corporations.

Sweeney’s role has since come under intense scrutiny, with Democrats and several tribal organizations seizing on the financial interest she retains as a shareholder of former employer, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, according to financial disclosure forms.

“Tara Sweeney is diverting funds for tribal governments during coronavirus to for-profit Alaska Native Corporations,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted on Thursday. “Sweeney used to be an exec for an ANC, and she wants to profit!”

At least one tribal organization this week called for her resignation over the issue, telling Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that “she has lost the confidence of Indian tribes.”

“Sweeney must be removed because she cannot be trusted to advise Treasury on Alaska Native Corporations,” the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, which represents 16 Midwestern tribes, wrote in a letter on Tuesday.

Sweeney fired back at Schumer on Thursday afternoon, calling his accusation “an ignorant and despicably low attack that could not be further from the truth” and emphasizing that the administration is following the language passed by Congress.

The Interior Department also defended Sweeney’s work on the fund, saying in a statement that “to suggest she has personal motives or that she is attempting to divert funds away from American Indians is completely false.”

Alaska Native corporations were created by Congress as part of a 1970s settlement of Alaska Native land and financial claims, with Alaska Native villagers given stock in the businesses. But they are separate from tribal governments in the state, and over the past several decades a handful of regional corporations have become massive entities — ranking among the nation’s largest government contractors, and wielding outsize influence on Capitol Hill compared with tribal governments.

That includes Arctic Slope Regional, a conglomerate whose businesses includes government contracting and operations across several sectors, including the energy and construction industries. It’s now the largest locally owned and operated corporation in Alaska.

Arctic Slope Regional declined to comment for this article.

Sweeney — a former top lobbyist for Arctic Slope Regional — in recent weeks participated in multiple meetings with tribal leaders about the fund and its application process. That included leading one session held solely for Alaska Native villages and corporations, according to two people with knowledge of the call and meeting notes obtained by POLITICO.

Administration officials in a separate call with Hill staff characterized Sweeney as directly involved in work with Treasury on the fund — a role that including thinking through how best to distribute the money, one person familiar with the call said.

In a federal ethics agreement signed after her 2018 nomination to the Interior Department, Sweeney pledged not to “participate substantially in any particular matter in which I know that I have a financial interest directly and predictably affected by the matter” without first obtaining a waiver.

The agreement also prohibited Sweeney from working on issues affecting Arctic Slope for two years. That period expired last month. Still, during her May 2018 Senate confirmation hearing, Sweeney vowed repeatedly to stay away from anything related to Arctic Slope’s interests.

“I would have done that regardless of the pledge,” she told Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), referring to her ethics agreement. “Because it is the right thing to do.”

Yet Sweeney has been closely involved in discussions with tribal governments about the $8 billion in coronavirus aid, and led a team of Interior officials tasked with advising Treasury on how to allocate the funding, five people with knowledge of the process said.

Native publication Indianz.com first reported on that meeting, and the administration’s plans to include Alaska Native corporations among the funding recipients.

An Interior spokesperson said Sweeney has complied with all laws and regulations, and that “career officials determined that there are no statutory or regulatory prohibitions” that would limit her from work on the fund that the department characterized as “policy guidance.” The department also noted that she took part in individual calls with other tribal groups, including the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association.

Officials with the Treasury and Interior departments contend that the decision to grant Alaska Native corporations eligibility is rooted in language Congress passed as part of its $2.2 trillion coronavirus package, which made the $8 billion available to “Indian tribes” based on a definition of the term that included nongovernmental entities like Alaska Native corporations.

“Treasury must follow the law and provisions that were prescribed and passed by Congress, and mandated to the administration,” an Interior Department spokesperson said.

Several Republicans have thrown their support behind the inclusion of Alaska Native corporations, arguing that Democrats and Republicans alike signed off on the language.

“Congress directed this — it’s clear as day,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said in an interview, calling Schumer’s attack on Sweeney a “bunch of bullshit” and an attempt at character assassination. “It’s going to be a little embarrassing when he finds out he signed off on that definition.”

Still, some Capitol Hill staffers have since told POLITICO the provision was sloppily worded, and in late March several House lawmakers submitted official statements seeking to clarify that the money should go to cover budget shortfalls faced by tribal governments.

“This fund would be used by tribal governments to offset the dramatic losses they are facing at this time,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who co-chairs the House’s Native American Caucus, wrote in a colloquy entered into the Congressional Record.

A spokesperson for Cole said Thursday a bipartisan group is working to clarify that the fund was intended solely for tribal and Alaska Native governments.

Udall, the top Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, also wrote to Mnuchin and Bernhardt on Tuesday that the funds were “intended for Tribal governments and should not be diverted.”

Yet a Treasury form distributed to tribes and tribal organizations this week gives applicants the option to list their total shareholders, according to a copy obtained by POLITICO. The form also asks for information on applicants’ employee base and land ownership — factors that tribal leaders say could skew funding toward Alaskan corporations that together control nearly as much acreage as every tribe in the lower 48 states combined.

At one point during the Monday call with Alaska Native tribes and corporations, Sweeney told an executive for Bering Straits Native Corporation that she would seek guidance from Treasury on the corporation’s behalf on whether applicants could include subsurface land — such as the company’s mineral rights — in that land ownership calculation, according to the meeting notes obtained by POLITICO.

Bering Straits did not respond to a request for comment. But the company's CEO, Gail Schubert, was among four Alaska Native corporation executives to express support for Sweeney and the administration's decision in a Thursday op-ed.

That's pitted the corporations and administration against many organizations representing tribes in the lower 48 states.

“It frankly is a cash grab by state-chartered Alaskan corporations,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., whose tribe is one of several that has lobbied in recent to exclude the for-profit businesses. “They’re going to use a massive, massive land base and they’re going to use shareholder information to make their case for a disproportionate amount of those funds.”

Hoskin would not go as far as to call for Sweeney’s resignation, saying he still hopes the decision is reversed. And an Interior spokesperson on Thursday pointed to a defense of Sweeney mounted by Louisiana’s Tunica-Biloxi tribe.

But other tribes now say they’ve now lost faith in her over the funding decision, and that giving Alaska Native corporations access to the fund could raise other thorny dilemmas, including that Alaska Natives could be double-counted due to their status as shareholders and members of separate Alaska Native villages. If so, it would further tilt distributions in favor of a single state’s entities.

The Alaska Native corporations, meanwhile, are also eligible to apply for federal funds through a separate program meant to aid small businesses that excludes tribal governments.

“Both of these situations could not have been the intent of Congress,” the National Congress of American Indians wrote in a letter to Mnuchin.

Tribal leaders and organizations are now rushing to lobby the administration to reverse itself, while pressuring Congress to explore a potential fix. But several representatives said they’re also wary of further delaying delivery of whatever aid they will receive, and that the suggestion Alaska Native corporations could qualify for the $8 billion fund blindsided them.

There was no discussion by Treasury or Interior officials across two initial hourslong sessions with tribes about whether corporations would be included, according to representatives on the call and a transcript reviewed by POLITICO.

“If this was the decision of the department, that their interpretation was that this was eligible for Alaska Native corporations, I don’t think they were very up front,” said one tribal representative. “It’s not a slush fund. This is real.”

 

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GreyhoundFan

This is infuriating.

 

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