House lawmakers create a mess by skipping swearing-in ceremony

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A number of votes cast by two Republicans who skipped Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony were nullified on Friday, helping to straighten out a procedural mess caused by their absence. Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas) were at a reception on late-Wednesday during the administration of the oath by Speaker John Boehner on the House floor.

The men took the oath watching the House ceremony on TV at the Capital Visitor Center, while attending a reception for several hundred of Fitzpatrick supporters. The Constitution requires that all members swear to the oath before taking office.

When House leaders learned that the two men had skipped the swearing-in ceremony to attend a reception organized by Fitzpatrick supporters elsewhere in the Capital, they were uncertain whether the motions the men voted on were invalid. House rules require the oath be administered in person by the Speaker.

A cleanup resolution was passed on Friday, 257-159, largely along party lines. It acknowledges the men were not sworn in according to the Constitution and House rules and nullifies their first five votes. Session’s work in a meeting of the Rules Committee, where he is the second highest member, was ratified.

On Friday, Fitzpatrick and Sessions sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, expressing their regret over the incident.

“We are deeply committed to fulfilling our role in our constitutional democracy by maintaining the integrity of the People’s House. Our absence on the House floor during the oath-of-office ceremony for the 112th Congress – while not intentional – fell short of this standard by creating uncertainty regarding our standing in this body,” said the letter.

One group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said they would ask the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into the reception organized by Fitzpatrick, saying that it was a fundraiser, and violated laws against campaign fundraising on federal property.

Participants at the reception paid $30 for a round-trip bus ride from Pennsylvania to D.C., and the form which they filled out listed the amount as a “contribution.” The form asks that checks be made out to Fitzpatrick’s campaign committee.

Fitzpatrick spokesman Darren Smith said the reception was free, and open to everyone, including those who drown down from Pennsylvania on their own. “The $30 was for the cost of the bus, that’s it,” he wrote in an email.

Others in Washington are taking it far more seriously. Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center said she believes that Fitzpatrick seems to have broken campaign finance laws. She said the House ethics committee should look at the reception and determine what type of events lawmakers are permitted on federal property.

“I don’t look at this and say, ‘My God, how venal,'” she said. “I say, ‘Here’s a guy who misses his own swearing-in and then goes and reads the Constitution.’ How ironic. It does show how much the money system has become wrapped up in being a member of Congress.”

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Proposed bill would reduce union activity in federal workplace being subsidized by taxpayers

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A bill in introduced on Wednesday by Rep. Phil Gingrey, (R-Ga.), would repeal two sections of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act that permits federal employees to conduct union business during paid working hours.

The 2011 Federal Employee Accountability Act (H.R. 122) would limit the amount of time union members can participate in collective bargaining and arbitration of grievances, while on the job. Data provided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management  showed that federal employees used 2.9 million hours of official work time for union activities, costing taxpayers $121 million in 2008, up from $113 in 2007.

Limiting official union activities while on the taxpayer’s clock could save $600 million over five years, according to Gingrey.

“We have seen an increase in union activity on official time lead to a more inefficient workforce, and it is time to stop subsidizing this problem,” Gingrey wrote in an email to colleagues. “While families all over the nation are tightening their belts and cutting their own spending, it should not be the practice of the federal government to increase the size and spending of its budget and federal agencies.”

Colleen Kelly, president of the National Treasury Employees Union said the bill would be a “significant step backward in the effective functioning of a taxpayer-centered labor-management relations system in the federal government.”

Matt Biggs, legislative and political director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, called the information “misleading and downright inaccurate.”

“Make no mistake about it though, these will be serious attacks on federal workers and it is critically important that we not only work against them here in Washington, but also that we significantly build our membership internally to levels that will make us even more successful,” Biggs wrote in an e-mail.

The group Citizens Against Government Waste issued a spending cut alert saying “Union activity, which consistently causes disruptions and inefficiencies in the workplace, should not be subsidized by taxpayers,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “At a time when the private sector is expected to do more with less, the federal government should be following this model and making sure they can be as efficient as possible; one way to do this is bar union activity on taxpayer time.”

Government Executive

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New U.S. congressman scrambles to cover trail on unreported loans and criminal investigations

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Freshman congressman, David Rivera, from Florida’s 25th district, was sworn in this week amid an unfolding controversy regarding previously undisclosed loans from a company controlled by his mother and godmother, which is under investigation by the state attorney’s office, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Rivera’s troubles are connected to a consulting contract that he secured in 2006 while a  member of Florida’s House of Representatives. The company, Millennium Marketing, owned by his mother, Daisy Magarino, and godmother, Ileana Medina, is at the center of the criminal investigation. Authorities are trying to determine if Rivera illegally received monies from the company.

Rivera orchestrated a marketing campaign to help the Flagler Dog Track and other pari-mutuel venues in Miami-Dade County win voter approval for Las Vegas-style slot machines. Rivera allegedly convinced Flagler to enter into a contract with Millennium Marketing, a company then-owned by Medina, and formed just weeks before the contract was executed in October 2006.

The contract between Flagler and Millennium required that Rivera render substantial services, as outlined in detail in the agreement.

Rivera repeatedly denied receiving any compensation from the deal, which ultimately yielded $510,000 for Millennium Marketing. Rivera’s state-required financial disclosure forms filed during the period showed no compensation other than the $30,000 received as a member of the state House.

On Dec. 16, Rivera filed new financial disclosure forms with the U.S. House of Representatives showing that he received loans totaling $132,000 from Millennium between 2007 and 2010. The filing of the forms, he says, were made “out of an abundance of caution” and just became public earlier this week.

Prior to the Nov. 1 congressional election, Rivera amended his financial disclosure forms for the previous seven years, to remove the listing of the U.S. Agency for International Development as an employer, after the agency told media that Rivera never worked there.

On Monday, Rivera filed amended disclosure forms again, this time with the Florida Commission on Ethics, showing the Millennium loans for the first time.

Although both federal and state election laws required financial disclosure of loans and liabilities, Rivera claimed that he didn’t feel that he was required to disclosure the loans on his earlier financial disclosure filings.

Rivera claimed that the loans were were exempt from standard disclosure requirements, because they were contingent on him going to work for Millennium after he left the state legislature.  Once he decided to run for Congress, the loans became due, he said.

Rivera claims that the loans were paid in full on Nov. 2, but refused to provide documentation or details of the repayment.

On Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported the latest development in the matter, saying that around the time that Rivera claimed to have paid off the loans with Millennium, he sold his Miami condominium to Millennium. The deed for the sale was recorded on December 22 and did not not indicate whether any money changed hands in the transaction. According to tax rolls, the condo was assessed at $89,000 last year. The documentary transfer tax stamp on the transaction indicated the value of the sale as $100.

The condominium is in the same building where Rivera’s mother and godmother reside.

While all the amended filings may bring Rivera in compliance with election and public office disclosure requirements, questions still remain about the flow of monies that Rivera might have received from Millennium. Rivera has refused to answer direct questions about the transaction.

“He was able to achieve the objective of concealing the loan and where it came from during the election, when it matters most to the voters and the press,” said Craig Holman, with the Washington-based Public Citizen watchdog group. “At least he declared it, but it’s something that should have been declared right away.”

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Congressman asks for citizens help in identifying wasteful and inappropriate science grants

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Rep. Adrian Smith has posted this video on YouTube, asking for help from ordinary citizens in eliminating government programs or grants that are not in the best interests of taxpayers.

According to Smith (R-Neb.), a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, some of the over 10,000 annual grants made by the National Science Foundation are questionable.

One such grant of $750,000 was awarded to University Academics to study the on-field contribution of soccer players. Another grant, for $1.2 million, was given to a group of scientists to model sound effects used in Hollywood’s video game and motion picture industries.

Perhaps this is a good opportunity to rat out your neighbor who’s getting that big government science grant to study the mating habits sowbugs.

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U.S. Rep.-elect David Rivera discloses $137,000 loan from dog track campaign after previous denials

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David Rivera, set to be sworn in on Jan 5. as the new member of Congress representing Florida’s 25th district, admitted yesterday that he took $137,000 in loans from a company that is co-owned by his mother and godmother, which is currently under investigation by the Miami-Dade Attorney’s Office.

Rep.-elect David Rivera is heading to Congress with controversy following him over unreported loans in potential violation of federal and state election laws.

The new information was included on a disclosure form that he filed on Monday with the U.S. House of Representatives, just before heading to Washington D.C. to begin his first term in Congress.

The Miami-Herald reported in mid-December Rivera’s involvement in a marketing campaign to help the Flagler Dog Track and other pari-mutuel venues in Miami-Dade County win voter approval for slot machines. Rivera allegedly convinced Flagler to enter into a contract with Millennium Marketing, a company then-owned by his godmother Ileana Medina, and formed just weeks before the contract was executed in October 2006.

Although the contract was executed by both Rivera and Medina, and Rivera’s substantial duties were spelled out in the contract, Rivera said he never received any of the $510,000 ultimately paid to the company.

Financial disclosure forms filed with Florida election officials only showed his $30,000 salary he received as a part-time member of the State’s House of Representatives. In the same disclosure forms, Rivera also reported that he worked as a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development, but amended the document after the agency confirmed Rivera never worked there.

Tuesday’s story in the Miami-Herald says that Rivera has now admitted to receiving four loans from Millennium between 2007 and 2010, although he claims that they have all been fully repaid. Even though all federal candidates must report all loans in excess of $10,000, except those secured by a home, car or furniture and appliances, Rivera failed to do so, saying the loans were secured by unspecified “personal assets.”

While serving as a state representative, Rivera was also required to disclose all debts in excess of $1,000, except those for taxes or contingent liabilities, such as a potential lawsuit. Rivera is now claiming the $137,000 loan was a contingent liability, subject to whether he took a job at Millennium after his stint with the state legislature, or ran again for office.

Rivera would not provide a copy of the disclosure for to the Miami-Herald, but said he provided a copy to the AP for review.

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Incoming House Oversight head announces corruption investigations

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Incoming Republican leaders of the House announced Monday, their intentions to launch a series of six major investigations into waste and fraud in the first three months of the year. On Sunday, the head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), promised to closely examine actions of the White House and Democratic-controlled Congress and expose bloated bureaucracy and waste.

Included on the list is the “impact on government hyperregulation on job creation,” the release of classified cables by WikiLeaks, recalls at the Food and Drug Administration, the failure of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to identify the catalyst of the economic crisis, the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the mortgage meltdown crisis, and business regulations and corruption in Afghanistan.

“I’ve always been fond of the saying that when it comes to oversight and reform, the federal government does two things well: nothing and overreact,” Issa said Monday. “Too often, a problem is allowed to fester until it reaches a crisis point. . ..and the American people are left asking the question: what went wrong and why?”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is expected to be yet another distraction for the Obama administration, because of its ability to subpoena records it feels are needed to investigate wrongdoing. Most of its initial actions are directed at economic issues, although some committee members have said they plan to investigate the radicalization of Muslims in the U.S., and homeland security issues at airports, shipping container ports and chemical plants.

Issa’s Democrat counterpart on the committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), said he was concerned that Issa has already jumped to conclusions about the administration, even before having any facts to back up his claims. Cummings will be the chief person on the committee to defend the Obama administration from attacks by the GOP.

Cummings also singled out a statement made a few months ago by Issa, saying that the Obama administration was “one of the most corrupt in modern history.”

“Corruption basically says people are criminals, and I think that’s a pretty strong statement having not one scintilla of evidence, having not heard one hearing or had one testimony,” said Cummings. “I think that if we have concerns, then what we should do is in a bipartisan way bring witnesses before our committee, depose them and hear what they have to say, and then draw conclusions.”

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Incoming House oversight head pledges to cut $200 billion in waste and bureaucracy

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In a series of television appearances on Sunday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the incoming head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that the Obama administration has “played fast and loose with the money Congress gave them,” and pledged to use his subpoena power to investigate a number of alleged financial scandals.

Although Issa commented last fall to radio host Rush Limbaugh that the Obama White House was “one of the most corrupt in modern history”, he stopped short of accusing the administration of misconduct.

When asked on Sunday about reports that the administration was staffing up on lawyers in advance of oversight hearings he said, “They’re going to need more accountants. It’s more about the inspector generals than it is about lawyers in the White House. And the sooner the administration figures out that the enemy is the bureaucracy and the wasteful spending, the better off we’ll be.”

Issa’s committee will focus on issues of waste, fraud and abuse. He was critical of the cost of the national health care initiative and called the Troubled Asset Relief Program “$800 billion worth of walking-around money.”

One of the areas that Issa intends to investigate is Medicare fraud. “We can save $125 billion in simply not giving out money to Medicare recipients that don’t exist for procedures that didn’t happen,” Issa told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “These are real dollars. Ten percent of the deficit goes out in wasted money – money that doesn’t get one person health care in Medicare.”

Issa also took aim at Attorney General Eric Holder, saying the country’s chief prosecutor didn’t properly handle the investigation into the WikiLeaks scandal that resulted in the release of thousands of classified diplomatic cables. Issa said that Holder should prosecute WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange as a criminal.

On Fox News Issa said, “He isn’t doing enough. He’s hurting the administration. If you’re hurting the administration, either stop hurting the administration or leave. I think [Holder] needs to realize that, for example, WikiLeaks, if the President says ‘I can’t deal with this guy as a terrorist,’ then he needs to be able to deal with him as a criminal. Otherwise the world is laughing at this paper tiger we’ve become.”

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