Federal Times Blogs
Whatever the federal government’s pluses and minuses, it is usually pretty good at avoiding language that will offend a particular group’s sensibilities.
So some Federal Register readers may find it jarring to find two agencies using the term, “mental defective,” in notices set for publication this week. The term, considered useless and derogatory by advocates for the mentally ill, surfaces in a Justice Department filing seeking to clarify definitions of people prohibited from “receiving, possessing, shipping or transporting firearms” under the 1968 Gun Control Act.
“The Department recognizes that the term ‘mental defective’ is outdated, but it is included in the statute and cannot be amended by regulation,” the notice of proposed rulemaking says.
The label also turns up in a Health and Human Services Department notice on the background check system for would-be gun buyers. Both can be found on a website that provides an advance look at Federal Register notices. They are scheduled for publication Tuesday.
The issue is not new; at a May 2007 congressional hearing, a top official with the National Alliance on Mental Illness called use of “mental defective” stigmatizing and incompatible with modern terminology employed in diagnosing and treating the mentally ill.
“We have received emails and other communications in the last few weeks from people who are incredulous that such a term would still be used in federal law,” Ronald Honberg, the alliance’s director of policy and legal affairs, said in prepared testimony at the hearing.
However defective the language may be, it remains on the federal lawbooks almost seven years later.
The two notices can be found here: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.
Remember the 1997 movie, “Donnie Brasco,” based on the true-life tale of an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the mob?
Now try to imagine the film if Donnie (played by Johnny Depp) had to give hitman Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino) written notice of his right to record their every encounter as the investigation proceeded. Chances are pretty good that this climactic bust (parental discretion advised) wouldn’t have happened:
That, in essence, is the alarm being sounded by prosecutors over a House-passed bill that would require federal officials to advise people of their right to record phone conversations and in-person meetings under certain conditions–such as when they are the target of a criminal investigation. For the record, here’s the actual text:
“A notice of an individual’s right to record conversations with [federal] employees shall be included in any written material provided by an Executive agency to the individual concerning an audit, investigation, inspection, or enforcement action that could result in the imposition of a fine, forfeiture of property, civil monetary penalty, or criminal penalty against, or the collection of an unpaid tax, fine, or penalty from, such individual or a business owned or operated by such individual.”
In its original form, the bill by Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., contained an exemption for federal criminal probes. By the time it passed the House last week as part of the “Stop Government Abuse Act,” the exemption was gone.
Should the bill become law, the advance notice requirement “would virtually undermine all undercover criminal investigations” by “announcing the existence of the investigation and blowing the cover,” Robert Guthrie, president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA), warned last week in a letter to House members before the bill passed.
In an emailed response to FedLine this week, Jenkins said the amended version of her bill “seeks to strike that delicate balance between government accountability and law enforcement. While the right to record would apply to undercover investigations, nothing in the bill would require law enforcement officials to notify the specific individuals of that opportunity.”
NAAUSA’s concerns remain, Bruce Moyer, the group’s counsel, said in a phone interview yesterday.
The sparring over the measure is probably academic. As passed by the House, the Stop Government Abuse Act bundled Jenkins’ bill with two others that would limit employee bonuses during a sequester and make it easier to fire Senior Executive Service members accused of serious wrongdoing. The combined legislation is given little chance of passing the Senate.
In addition to the standard two forms of identification, offer letter and contact information, new hires at the U.S. Department of Education are required to bring along a certificate of completion for cybersecurity training course.
A recent internal investigation shows why that training is probably a pretty good idea.
In a previously undisclosed probe into a 2011 “spear phishing” campaign, hackers targeted senior staff and managed to break through the department’s security protections to steal data from the department.
Much about the incident, which was described in documents released through a Freedom of Information Act request by Federal Times, remains classified, including how much data and what sort of information hackers took.
One of the hackers used an email address — arne.duncan[at]ymail.com – to infiltrate the department’s security protections.
You can read for yourself the summary of the investigation by the technology crimes division of the department’s Inspector General, which passed along its findings to the FBI. That memo can be found here.
Federal Times recently reported on the incident, but the Education Department declined to comment. Still, there’s a lesson in all of this. Even if the name on an email address seems familiar, government employees ought to make sure the sender’s address is legitimate.
And call the IT department if you’re unsure.
President Obama’s choice of James Comey to head the FBI has been welcomed by two groups representing key elements of the bureau’s workforce.
The FBI Agents Association had previously backed a former special agent—House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.—for the job. But in a Friday statement issued shortly after Obama formally nominated Comey, the association’s president, Konrad Motyka, said the former Justice Department official has an “outstanding reputation” among agents.
“We believe that Mr. Comey understands the centrality of the special agent to the bureau’s mission of protecting our country from criminal and terrorist threats,” Motyka said. “We look forward to meeting with him soon and working with him on the wide array of challenges facing our country.”
Also reacting favorably was the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association. While the association does not make endorsements, “we deeply admire his [Comey's] moral courage, vigorous defense of the Constitution, and unqualified belief that ‘intelligence under law is the only sustainable intelligence in the country,’” the organization, whose president is Daniel O’Donnell, said in a release today. “Mr. Comey also demonstrated his unwavering dedication to protecting the American people during the implementation of the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act (IRTPA) in his previous role as deputy attorney general.”
If confirmed by the Senate as the next FBI director, Comey would replace Robert Mueller, who is retiring.
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.