Silver Screen Feds returns this week with an in-depth look at a major character from this year’s best new TV show: the Cold War spy drama “The Americans.” I’ve enjoyed watching the gifted, flawed FBI counterintelligence agent Stan Beeman unfold over this show’s premiere season. And after watching its May Day finale, I decided that Beeman is too complicated to shoehorn into a narrow “best” or “worst” category, so I’m going to examine both sides of his character. MAJOR SPOILERS for the first season follow.
“The Americans” primarily focuses on Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two KGB agents who have been living undercover in Northern Virginia for decades, posing as husband and wife and raising two children while spying for the Soviet Union. As the show begins, right after President Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, Beeman and his estranged family move in next door to the Jenningses.
Beeman (played by Noah Emmerich, who we previously profiled as the CDC scientist in “The Walking Dead”) is extraordinarily good at the spy game, often thinking three moves ahead of his adversaries. Early on, he catches a Soviet embassy clerk named Nina selling Russian caviar to the black market, and uses that information to turn her into a double agent. Beeman’s new mole begins feeding him valuable information on what is going on inside the rezidentura, allowing him to identify hidden Soviet spies and a sleeper cell of collaborating Americans.
Kathleen McGrade was a contract specialist inside the State Department, but prosecutors say she didn’t live like one.
Steering tens of millions of dollars in work to a company controlled by her husband, McGrade bought a yacht, penthouse condo and lots of jewelry, according to charges unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Virginia.
McGrade, 64, and her husband, Brian C. Collinsworth, 46, both of Fredericksburg, Va., face up to 20 years in prison on charges stemming from what authorities called a “secret scheme” by the couple to steer more than $60 million to a company they controlled.
Authorities said McGrade was a private contract employee assigned to work as a contract specialist inside the State Department. Though she kept the relationship with her husband a secret from colleagues, she signed off on payments to her husband’s company, authorities said.
In forfeiture papers filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on April 2, prosecutors also said McGrade was “involved in nearly every stage” of the contracting process. They say the scheme lasted from December to 2007 until August 2011.
Prosecutors are seeking three properties tied to the scheme along with a Steinway piano, a yacht, artwork and jewelry that includes a matching sapphire and diamond necklace and bracelet set that cost $136,500.
A phone number listed for McGrade in Virginia was disconnected, and attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.
Welcome back to Silver Screen Feds! This week, Andy Medici brings us the most dashing federal volcanologist to ever be awarded a GS grade: Pierce Brosnan in “Dante’s Peak.” And Stephen Losey explains why our worst fed of the week IS AN EFF … BEE … EYE … AGENT!
BEST FEDS: Harry Dalton, U.S. Geological Survey, “Dante’s Peak” (Andy Medici)
Deadly volcano? Check. Acid water, poisonous ash clouds and earthquakes? Check.
One federal employee willing to risk it all to save the lives of others? You know it.
In the 1997 film “Dante’s Peak,” Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) is a highly experienced and knowledgeable volcanologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who just happens to be the one person you would ever want with you in case your town’s long dormant volcano suddenly erupts into a firestorm of ash and deadly lava. The small town of Dante’s Peak — nestled ominously under a volcano of the same name — has just been named the second most livable city in America. But right away there are warning signs of volcanic activity and James Bond — I mean Harry Dalton — is dispatched to see what is going on.
My name is Andy and if you haven’t guessed it yet, I am one of the reporters here at the Federal Times. For the last few weeks we have had a new feature on our blog, “Silver Screen Feds,” where we look at famous federal employees in cinema and television. This week my partner-in-crime and colleague Steve Losey is spending time with his family, so instead of doing all the work myself, you guys get a clip-show version of everything we have done so far.
Below are each of our entries in the ongoing series, so feel free to read and enjoy them. Post your own suggestions in the comments and let us know what you think.
In our first entry I took a look at the postal workers who save the day in the 1947 classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” And Stephen examined the tragic flaws that brought down the Environmental Protection Agency’s Walter Peck in 1984′s “Ghostbusters.”
Next, we examined a far less-honorable mailman — Newman from “Seinfeld” — and the surprising heroism of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”
In our third entry we picked two federal employees who couldn’t be any more different: Dr. Edwin Jenner, the doomed researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the zombie apocalypse show “The Walking Dead,” and Ranger Smith, the hapless National Park Service ranger who can’t stop Yogi Bear from stealing them pic-a-nic baskets.
In our fourth entry we took a trip back to the Roaring Twenties and the lawless days of Prohibition, to look at the best and worst Treasury agents who ever busted up a still on-screen: Legendary lawman Eliot Ness from the 1987 film “The Untouchables,” and deeply disturbed Agent Nelson Van Alden from HBO’s series “Boardwalk Empire.”
And in our latest entry I took a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.
We began our new feature Silver Screen Feds last week with a look at the heroic postal workers in “Miracle on 34th Street” and the smug Environmental Protection Agency agent from “Ghostbusters.” This week, we examine a far less-honorable mailman — Newman from “Seinfeld” — and the surprising heroism of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”
BEST FEDS: Hank Schrader, DEA, “Breaking Bad” (Stephen Losey)
The main character of the dark crime drama “Breaking Bad” is Walter White, a once-milquetoast high school chemistry teacher who uses his genius and cunning to cook crystal methamphetamine after learning that he has terminal lung cancer. But season after season, as the increasingly amoral Walter transformed into his criminal alter ego Heisenberg, the true hero of “Breaking Bad” has become his brother-in-law — DEA agent Hank Schrader. [Spoilers for the entire show follow.]
Hank’s character has changed almost as much as Walter. When the show debuted five years ago, Hank was a boorish, casually racist loudmouth, fond of humming “Ride of the Valkyries” while descending on a meth lab. But his character soon developed surprising facets. After narrowly surviving a parking lot ambush by The Cousins, a pair of chilling cartel assassins (link contains graphic violence), the temporarily-paralyzed Hank was forced to hone his detective skills as he hunted the shadowy, mythical Heisenberg. In the process, he became a far more effective cop than he ever had been, and closed the net on unassuming fried chicken restauranteur and philanthropist Gus Fring’s hidden drug empire.
Three men were handed down prison sentences this week for participating in a scheme to defraud the government of more than $20 million through Army Corps of Engineers contracts, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Harold Babb, the former director of contracts at Eyak Technology LLC, was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison on federal charges of bribery and unlawful kickbacks, according to a news release.
Babb admitted that he paid Army Corps of Engineers program manager Kerry Khan in return for Khan’s approval on contracts and subcontracts to EyakTek and Big Surf Construction Management, an EyakTek subcontractor, the release said.
James Miller, the owner of Big Surf Construction Management LLC, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison, the release said.
Khan also allegedly approved fictitious and fraudulently inflated invoices worth $850,000 submitted by Alpha Technology Group, company president Robert McKinney told the Justice Department. Alpha Technology kept about $246,000, and the rest allegedly was passed on to Khan directly and through a company controlled by one of Khan’s family members, the release said.
McKinney was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison.
Upon completion of their prison terms, Babb, McKinney and Miller will be under supervision for three years.
Twelve people, including Khan, have pled guilty to charges related to the fraudulent use of Army Corps of Engineers contracts, and the investigation is continuing, the release said. Army Corps of Engineers program director Michael Alexander, who also allegedly took bribes from contractors in exchange for access to government contracts, was sentenced in September 2012 to a six-year prison term. The other defendants are awaiting sentencing, the Justice Department said.
The Justice Department is adding a whistleblower ombudsman to its team to better support those who report wasteful government spending and mismanagement, agency officials announced Wednesday.
Robert Storch, counselor to the inspector general, will train and educate Justice Department employees about the role and importance of whistleblowers, as well as their legal rights and protections against retaliation, according to an agency news release.
Storch will ensure that whistleblower complaints are reviewed and addressed by the Justice Department inspector general’s office promptly, tell whistleblowers about the status and resolution of their complaints and monitor inspector general investigations of retaliation claims.
Storch will also work with other agencies with whistleblower responsibilities, such as the Office of Special Counsel, and non-governmental whistleblower advocacy groups.
Storch, who has worked with the Justice Department for 25 years, will act as the whistleblower ombudsman in addition to his duties as counselor to the inspector general. Before joining the IG’s office in July, Storch was deputy criminal chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.
In one of the least-likely team-ups imaginable, heavy metal band Metallica is working with the FBI to solve a murder. The FBI today launched a multimedia campaign — including a video PSA with Metallica singer James Hetfield — to try to find the suspected killer of Virginia Tech student and aspiring teacher Morgan Harrington.
Harrington disappeared after attending an October 2009 Metallica concert at the University of Virginia. She was last seen trying to hitch a ride after the show, and her Pantera t-shirt was found nearly a month later, the FBI said. Harrington’s skeletal remains were found in a Virginia farm in January 2010.
The FBI says DNA evidence links Harrington’s suspected murderer to a sexual assault in Fairfax, Va., and released composite sketches of the alleged assaulter. A group called the Jefferson Area Crime Stoppers is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Harrington’s killer, and Metallica has kicked in another $50,000.
Hetfield’s PSA video is below, and after the jump find a recording of Metallica’s 1988 song “…And Justice For All,” which seems oddly appropriate for this story.
2011 was not the best year for federal construction projects (i.e. the worst?) across the country. Accounts were slashed, budgets cut and accounts slashed – I count that one twice – in an effort to cut government spending. So what may be left by the wayside as we move into 2012?
3: Justice Department: The Los Angeles Courthouse
This $399 million, 650,000-square-foot project is supposed to house the overflow of federal justices in the Los Angeles Area. While the money for this project has already been appropriated, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on public buildings have asked the General Services Administration to block the project.
The Civilian Property Realignment Act which is working its way through Congress – would require GSA to sell the land on which plans to build the Los Angeles courthouse.
2: Department of Commerce: Herbert Hoover Building
Remaining Tab: $453 million
When the Herbert Clark Hoover building (it was named later) was finished in 1932 it was pretty awesome. It’s an eight acre, steel-framed 1.8 million square foot structure. It has six internal courtyards for ventilation, Indiana limestone with granite accents and 24 fluted Doric columns flanking the center section. But then again things like treated bronze doors don’t provide federal employees with contemporary IT infrastructure, modern office space or increased security.
Which is pretty important, I’ve been told.
So in 2008 the General Services Administration began an eight-phase renovation (yes, eight) to renovate the interior and exterior of the building. The total cost is estimated to be about $750 million and will be finished around 2021, and GSA has allocated about $256 million so far for the project. After the recession gave GSA a bargaining boost (saving $40 million in costs) the agency is left with a hole of about $453 million to fill.
For those of you following along at home, $453 million is enough money to purchase 453 million items from your local dollar menu (not counting taxes).
Its final budget for non-courthouse renovations: $260 million. That sounds like a lot until you realize that’s for the thousands of buildings GSA owns across the country and not just the Hoover-plex.
1. The DHS headquarters consolidation at St. Elizabeths
Remaining tab: $3.6 billion (and climbing).
Originally designed as the best way to house more than 14,000 federal employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the project would encompass more than 50 buildings over more than 4 million square feet and 168 acres. It was a chance to give the Coast Guard a brand new headquarters and bring all of its headquarters operation workers into one location.
When finished, the campus would serve as the operational headquarters of the entire agency.
But now the same project will cost at least $3.96 billion and take until the end of fiscal 2021 to complete – delaying the relocation of more than 10,000 federal workers by up to five years, according to agency estimates.
And that’s if Congress fully funds the project starting in fiscal year 2013.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves today issued subpoenas to four federal agencies seeking answers for why they refuse to put senior leadership in charge of small business contracting activities, a committee spokesman said.
The Treasury, State, Justice and Agriculture departments have said they believe they are in compliance with the spirit of a law that requires agencies to put their Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization in direct contact with the agency’s secretary or deputy secretary.
Each agency is required to have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) under the Small Business Act to ensure contracts are written with small business participation in mind.
The Government Accountability Office reported in June that the seven departments did not comply with the requirements. Some agencies name top level officials as OSDBU directors but have less senior administrators do day-to-day activities. Others have the OSDBU director report to officials other than the secretary or deputy secretary.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce, sent letters to the noncompliant agencies in August asking them to reorganize their OSDBU offices so that the offices reported to senior leadership. The Interior Department and Social Security Administration responded by reorganizing their small business offices.
But the Treasury, State, Justice and Agriculture departments told Mulvaney they believe they are in compliance with the spirit of the law and will not change.
The subpoenas issued today require the deputy secretaries of those four unchanged agencies to explain their reasons at a full House Small Business Committee hearing on Nov. 1.