Welcome to our new blog, "The Watchdog," which will keep a close eye on regulatory agencies and how their actions impact the lives of everyday Americans. Though the rules and regulations they write -- from determining how much arsenic is allowable in your drinking water to whether your favorite TV show can drop the F-bomb in primetime -- affect all of us, their deliberations and the way that lobbyists influence their decisions receives very little coverage.
To make sense of these debates, follow the implementation of health care reform and financial reform and decipher the minutia of the Federal Register, "The Watchdog" is on the case. If you have any tips or suggestions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
02/16/2011 5:33 PM EST
Issa's First Subpoena: BofA's Countrywide VIP Docs
UPDATE: New House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) just issued his first subpoena for documents from Bank of America related to Countrywide's VIP program involving favorable mortgages for friends of former CEO Angelo Mozillo.
A spokesman for Bank of America emphasized that, "Upon acquiring Countrywide in July 2008, Bank of America immediately discontinued Countrywide's "VIP Loan Program." Bank of America has never had such a program." He added: "While we place the highest priority on keeping customer data confidential, we are obliged by Congress to respond to this subpoena."
Here is some of Issa's press release:
“Countrywide orchestrated a deliberate and calculated effort to use relationships with people in high places in order to manipulate public policy and further their bottom line to the detriment of the American taxpayers even at the expense of its own lending standards,” said Issa. “This subpoena will allow us to obtain the information needed to answer the outstanding public interest questions regarding the full size and scope of the VIP program. The American people have a right to know the totality of who participated in the Countrywide’s VIP program and what they did in return for access to it. Our role is to get all of the facts so that the American people can judge for themselves who should be held responsible and accountable.”
The subpoena compels Bank of America to produce the following by noon on March 7, 2011:
All documents, including emails, related to covered borrowers serviced by Countrywide Financial through the Branch 850 and/or VIP and/or Friends of Angelo program.
All documents, including e-mails, transmitted by Countrywide officials notifying a covered borrower of membership in the VIP and/or Friends of Angelo program.
All documents, including e-mails, transmitted between and among Countrywide officials discussing the purposes and goals of the VIP and/or Friends of Angelo program.
Documents sufficient to show the number of persons enrolled in the VIP and/or Friends of Angelo program for each of calendar years 1996-2008, and the city and state of residence of such persons who were covered borrowers.
The term "covered borrowers" means at the time of the loan the borrower, or their spouse, was:
A current or former officer or employee of a federal agency
A current or former Member, officer, or employee of the U.S. Congress
A current or former officer or employee of a government-sponsored enterprise
A current or former officer or employee of a state or local government
02/16/2011 3:03 PM EST
Missouri Lawmaker Seeks To 'Modify' Child Labor Laws
In a move that is raising plenty of eyebrows, Missouri state Senator Jane Cunningham has proposed a bill that would "modify" child labor laws, eliminating the prohibition on employment of children under 14. The proposal has sparked an outcry in the state but Cunningham defends the bill, saying that it's important to cultivate a work ethic in young people and emphasizing that kids are still prohibited from working in dangerous professions.
"It's kind of a common sense thing," she tells The Huffington Post. "Right now, it's so over the top with regulations -- what businesses have to do, schools have to do. Parents should be in charge, deciding on the work ethic of their children."
Cunningham says that children are still protected by law from working in "dangerous jobs, like coal mines, with animals, with blades or involving dangerous stunts." She says that her bill simply loosens an overly broad prohibition on child labor and would allow kids to work at movie theaters, to babysit or to cut lawns, blaming the hysteria on union "misinformation" and politics.
Here is the language in her bill (SB22):
This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.
Even Jay Leno had some fun with the proposal, quipping last night:
"And in Missouri, Republican state Sen. Jane Cunningham has introduced a bill that would eliminate her state's child labor laws. Well, yeah, I mean, why should the 10-year-olds in China be getting all the good factory jobs?"
02/16/2011 2:46 PM EST
Is FDA's Press Office Muzzling The Media?
The workings of the media may not always be clear, but one long-standing practice - especially among medical journals - is to apply an embargo on information before publication. Lately, however, this has become controversial as a growing number of journals and institutions are adding various requirements, notably barring journalists from seeking expert comment prior to the moment an embargo is lifted.
The issue has gained considerable traction thanks, in part, to coverage provided by a relatively new blog called Embargo Watch. And the discussion picked up steam recently when the FDA adopted the same approach as new policies for approving medical devices were announced. And so the Association of Health Care Journalists has written the agency for clarification.
“The restriction imposed on the medical-device announcement rewrote a longstanding compact between reporters and various public and scientific organizations. It also hampered or delayed reporters’ ability to fully inform the public about what the FDA is doing with taxpayers’ money. The early reports on the medical device approval process were brief and uninformative as a result,” wrote Charles Ornstein and Felice Freyer of the AHCJ (full disclosure: we are a long-standing member).
02/16/2011 11:06 AM EST
Obama Increases Budget For OSHA Plus Whistleblower Programs
President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget includes a small ($24 million) increase for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which includes a $6 million increase for the agency’s 21 whistleblower programs.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program aims to protect private sector workers from retaliation for reporting wrongdoing.
In addition, the $384 million budget request for the Mine Safety and Health Administration represents a nearly $27 million increase over the FY 2010 enacted level of $357 million.
02/16/2011 10:44 AM EST
Interior's Management Of Oil And Gas Is 'High-Risk' Program: GAO
Since 1990, the Government Accountability Office has compiled a list of federal programs and operations that it says are high-risk due to their greater vulnerability to fraud, waste and mismanagement. Of the 50 areas it designated that year, one-third have been removed due to progress they've made to address the GAO's recommendations.
This year, GAO is adding one program to the list -- Interior's Management of Federal Oil and Gas Resources. Per its new report:
Interior does not have reasonable assurance that it is collecting its share of billions of dollars of revenue from oil and gas produced on federal lands and it continues to experience problems in hiring, training, and retaining sufficient staff to provide oversight and management of oil and gas operations on federal lands and waters. Further, Interior recently began restructuring its oil and gas program, which is inherently challenging, and there are many open questions about whether Interior has the capacity to undertake this reorganization while carrying out its range of responsibilities, especially in a constrained resource environment.
Many of the problems at DOI were first brought to attention by the Project on Government Oversight, which has thoroughly probed the agency's mismanagement of oil and gas resources.
The new chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who won kudos for his early warnings of trouble at DOI's former Minerals Management Service, will be holding a press conference this afternoon to discuss the report's findings. As to the GAO's criticism of the Interior Department, Issa stated:
“In 2006, the Department of the Interior’s own Inspector General Earl Devaney told the Oversight Committee that ‘short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.’ It’s better late than never, but it shouldn’t have taken the worst ecological disaster in history for GAO to place this program onto the high risk list.”
02/16/2011 10:24 AM EST
The Wake-Up Call: New Credit Card Rules Helped Consumers, Says Study
- Study: New credit card rules helped consumers without raising rates
- Watch live the House Commerce subcommittee debate net neutrality and regulation of the Internet
- Top regulator: Swaps trading venues, a centerpiece of legislation overhauling derivatives, may need to be phased in later than planned because many will miss an October 15 deadline for meeting self-policing requirements.
- One of the best ledes for a story about developments in the regulation of complex derivatives: "A top U.S. financial regulator rejected fears that new derivatives rules will hurt businesses trying to hedge their costs, saying the price of a six-pack of beer won't skyrocket because of the reforms."