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President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night didn't include significant mentions of food or agriculture, but what he did bring up regarding the inadequate structure of government agencies, or Regulatory Chaos
as we like to call it, has major play in the areas FIC serves.
From Obama's speech
We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.
The example of how salmon regulation is split up sounds very familiar to those involved in food policy. The inconsistencies between USDA and FDA regulations are quite ridiculous, with spinach and other produce waiting years for an FDA inspection, while meat and poultry plants have USDA visits on a daily basis. And that's just a little glimpse of the seemingly random set-up of our food system maintenance.
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Amid themes of innovation and change, President Obama dedicated a few moments during the State of the Union address to comment on government reform. He called for increased transparency from members of Congress regarding special interests, and highlighted measures aimed at bolstering government accountability:
In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.
A follow-up fact sheet circulated by the White House elaborated on the point of making more data available online, stating that a new website would “let taxpayers know how their taxes are spent across 20-25 categories of federal spending, including Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, education, foreign aid, and other programs.” In addition, members of Congress are being asked to develop a system for disclosing meetings with lobbyists similar to the one that already exists to track visits to the White House.
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Washingtonian: Indictment Continues Obama Administration’s War on Leaks
Photo by Daniel R. Blume
This in-depth article explores how previously undisclosed information regarding the prosecution of Thomas Drake, the NSA whistleblower who has been indicted under the Espionage Act, is shedding light on the Justice Department’s “evolving legal strategy for combating press leaks.”
A draft indictment revealed that the government initially sought to prosecute Drake for disclosing classified information to the press. The final indictment, however, charges Drake solely with retaining national security information – a case that legal experts say is easier to prove. This strategy suggests that federal prosecutors are willing to drop more significant charges in exchange for a greater assurance of victory in court.
Click here to read more on Thomas Drake, and to sign the petition urging President Obama to end the retaliation against him.
Forbes: Obama Pushes For Lobbying Transparency in State of the Union Address
President Obama dedicated a small portion of the State of the Union Address to government transparency, calling on Congress to make detailed information regarding government spending and elected officials’ schedules available online. Such a system would allow the public to see how tax dollars are being spent, as well as how much time lawmakers dedicate to meeting with lobbyists.
The website may emulate one that already exists to track visits to the White House.
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Recent news coverage of prosecutor William Welch's leadership of the Justice Department's war on whistleblowers reveals that his overzealous and shady tactics were not restricted to his handling of the botched prosecution of late-Senator Ted Stevens, a case that landed Welch and his team in a pile of -- still ongoing -- criminal investigations.
Welch's tactics, at best idiosyncratic and ineffective and at worst unethical, expose the government's retaliatory motive in pursuing criminal convictions for whistleblowers, and betray weaknesses in the government's cases.
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Canadian Press: Darling of Development World, Stung by Corruption Problems, Says Others in Worse Shape The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – a $21.7 billion health fund backed by prominent celebrities – is responding to allegations that the fund has lost up to $34 million to corruption in several African nations.
The fund stated that its new investigative unit is examining the problems, while calling attention to several bigger development agencies’ lack of transparency and unwillingness to internally investigate corruption.
Key Quote: The Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based non-profit law firm, says its defense of whistleblowers at the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations shows those institutions are failing to take on corruption.
"The investigative function at these institutions has broken down," said Bea Edwards, the firm's international program director. "There's very little accountability at these institutions because the departments that should enforce it are compromised themselves."
St. Louis Beacon: Feds Take Unusual Step of Subpoenaing Sterling's Lawyer
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The lawyer representing Jeffrey Sterling – the former CIA officer charged with leaking national security secrets to the press – was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in order to discuss Sterling’s case.
Federal prosecutors questioned the lawyer about Sterling’s motives for leaking, as well as the third party contacts he made on Sterling’s behalf. One source said that the testimony regarding third party contacts violated attorney-client privilege.
Key Quote: Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project, strongly criticized the prosecutors and questioned whether the prosecutors' line of questioning was entirely outside of attorney-client privilege. "This is just another example of government overkill," she said in a telephone interview. "As a legal ethicist, I am quite troubled by this."
Washington Post: Lawyer for Bradley Manning, Army Figure in WikiLeaks Case, Alleges Prison Mistreatment
The lawyer for Bradley Manning – the Army private who is being held at Quantico for allegedly leaking classified information to WikiLeaks – is accusing the Army of subjecting Manning to “unlawful pretrial punishment.” This week, Quantico’s forensic psychiatrist filed a complaint against the jail, stating that a brig commander put Manning on suicide watch against the psychiatrist’s recommendation. Under suicide watch, Manning was stripped to his underwear and denied any personal items.
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Last week, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) ordered the National Park Service to reinstate whistleblower Teresa Chambers as Chief of the U.S. Park Police
, as well as to reimburse her for back pay and legal costs. Her case garnered national attention when she was removed by the Bush administration in 2004 after telling the Washington Post
that "traffic accidents had increased along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway because two, rather than the recommended four, officers were on patrol," as well as that more officers were needed to safeguard the country's national monuments and memorials.
The fifty-three page ruling
by the MSPB is a tremendous victory, and is precedent-setting for other federal employee whistleblowers. From the Washington Post
The case also sends an important message that legal safeguards apply to top officials who expose problems, not just to middle- and low-ranking ones.
However, Chambers' ultimate victory does not eclipse the struggles faced during her seven-year legal battle. Chambers and her husband engaged in an all-out campaign -- often working 18-20 hours a day (see video below) -- to build a case, with the aid of public interest lawyers and a web of public support. The case suggests that success resulted not only from the slivers of protections afforded under the Whistleblower Protection Act, but also from the Chambers’ own determination, hard work, and network of advocates. Yet, many whistleblowers are unable to dedicate such time and money to their cases, and thus, fall through the cracks.