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News Briefs: Aug. 20, 2012

Aug. 19, 2012 - 01:19PM   |  
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Former union leader indicted for wire fraud

Terence J. “TJ” Bonner, former president of the union representing Border Patrol agents, was indicted Aug. 16 on 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Bonner, who was president of the National Border Patrol Council, allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds for his own use, the U.S. Attorney for Southern California said.

According to prosecutors and the grand jury indictment, Bonner:

• Sought and obtained payment for supposed union-related work and travel that was actually personal — taking vacations, going to hockey games and other sporting events, and visiting family members or his mistress in Chicago.

• Used his power as union president to enact policies that benefited him and other union officials, such as reimbursement for clothing expenses and up to $800 a year — from union funds — to buy gifts and meals for relatives and others.

• Submitted false “lost wages” claims for times when he wasn’t working but downloading, viewing and archiving pornography.

Bonner did not return a phone call and pager message requesting comment. If convicted on all charges, he faces a maximum 225 years in jail.

In a statement posted online, the National Border Patrol Council, part of the American Federation of Government Employees, said its executive committee first learned about the investigation in April 2010, and soon afterwards asked Bonner to step down while the grand jury investigation was underway.

The union said Bonner refused to step down, and unsuccessfully fought his removal.

“Clearly, this is a black eye for the NBPC, and the executive committee apologizes to all of our members for not being able to discuss this matter earlier due to the U.S. Attorney’s investigation,” the council said. “The NBPC is confident that justice will be served and hopes to recover any funds misappropriated by Bonner.”

Former GSA Region 8 commissioner disputes firing

Paul Prouty, a former General Services Administration official who was fired for his role in a conference spending scandal, is challenging his removal, Federal News Radio reported last week.

Prouty, who was Region 8 commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service, was one of the officials who helped plan the 2010 $823,000 Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas.

That conference became a symbol of government waste after an April 2 inspector general report detailed its lavish parties, mind readers and parody skits. Prouty received an $11,690 bonus last year, even while the IG investigation was ongoing.

Federal News Radio reported Aug. 15 that Prouty filed an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board June 28.

AFGE elects new leader

The American Federation of Government Employees elected J. David Cox its new national president last week at its convention in Las Vegas.

Cox received 52 percent of the vote to defeat three other candidates.

Cox served two terms as national secretary-treasurer, AFGE’s second-highest ranking officer. Former president John Gage announced in June that he would not run for a fourth term.

Senators urge debarment of Pratt & Whitney Canada

Two senators have asked the Defense Department to consider barring jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney Canada, a United Technologies Corp. subsidiary, from defense contracts.

Pratt & Whitney Canada pleaded guilty on June 28 to crimes related to the illegal export of software that U.S. officials say was used by China to develop its first modern military attack helicopter.

Also, under agreements with the State and Justice departments, United Technologies Corp. and another subsidiary avoided prosecution for illegal false statements and late reporting of administrative violations, Sens. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and ranking member John McCain said in an Aug. 6 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The State Department has partially debarred Pratt & Whitney Canada from some licensing privileges, and DoD should evaluate the case for suspension or debarment to deter similar action by other contractors, the senators wrote.

A United Technologies Corp. spokesman said the company has invested more than $30 million to improve its export controls and has improved its compliance and ethics programs.

“We have reviewed these actions with our DoD customers and re-affirmed our commitment to excellence,” said John Moran, public relations director.

USDA IG: Only one intern hired under $2M program

After successfully petitioning Congress for an extra $22 million to beef up computer security, the Agriculture Department used about $2 million of that funding for an internship program under which it hired only one intern full-time, the agency’s inspector general has found.

The intern program, intended to develop a skilled information technology workforce, “did little to further the more pressing objective of improving USDA’s IT security,” the report said. Despite some progress, the IG found the department’s computer systems remain at risk.

USDA’s chief information officer has since prioritized projects to ensure that the most needed take precedence, the report said.

Male ICE agent claims bias; chief of staff takes leave

Suzanne Barr, chief of staff for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has voluntarily gone on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations that she and other senior ICE managers discriminated and retaliated against a male agent, an agency spokesman said last week.

In a lawsuit filed against DHS in May, James Hayes, who had been ICE’s director of detention and removal operations but now heads its New York field office, accused Barr of creating a “frat-house type atmosphere,” with such tactics as moving the entire office contents of three male employees into the men’s room at ICE headquarters in Washington.

Justice Department attorneys representing the agency dispute Hayes’ account; in a filing last week, they asked a judge to dismiss the suit.

ICE officials have meanwhile referred the allegations to the DHS inspector general and the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility for review, spokesman Brian Hale said in a statement.

Analysis: This Congress is least productive since 1947

Just 61 bills have become law to date in 2012 out of 3,914 bills that have been introduced by lawmakers, or less than 2 percent of all proposed laws, according to a USA Today analysis of records since 1947 kept by the House Clerk’s office.

In 2011, after Republicans took control of the House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995.

These statistics make the 112th Congress, covering 2011-12, the least productive two-year gathering on Capitol Hill since the end of World War II. Not even the 80th Congress, which President Truman called the “do-nothing Congress” in 1948, passed as few laws as the current one.

Doug Heye, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., defended the chamber, citing over 30 economic measures the House has passed that have fizzled in the Democratic-run Senate.

Senator urges presidential action on cybersecurity

A top Democratic senator is calling on the president to use executive branch authorities to better secure the electric grid and other critical systems against cyber attacks.

In an Aug. 13 letter to President Obama, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia urged the president to “explore and employ every lever of executive power that you possess to protect this country from the cyber threat.”

Rockefeller co-sponsored the Cybersecurity Act, S 3414, which failed passage in the Senate this month. The bill would have set voluntary standards for companies operating critical infrastructure, such as the electric grid, water treatment facilities and transportation systems.

Rockefeller said many portions of the bill, including the voluntary program, could be implemented via executive order, regulation or Homeland Security Act authorities.

This month, John Brennan, Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said the administration is considering using executive branch authority to counter the threats.

IG cites security weaknesses at DFAS

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service risks unauthorized access to online and paper payroll data at two of its four Indianapolis civilian pay operations, according to a new audit by the Defense Department’s inspector general.

DFAS failed to equip those offices with cipher locks, which are opened with programmable keypads, the IG said. The audit, released last week, marked the third time since 2008 that the IG has flagged DFAS for failing to meet Defense Department security requirements.

DFAS is now working with the General Services Administration, which owns the Indianapolis building housing the payroll operations, to provide lockable space in all areas by the end of September, the audit said.

Forbes spotlights Navy’s business sense

Business execs could stand to learn from the Navy, especially when it comes to passing along institutional memory, according to a report by Forbes.

One thing the Navy is good at, according to the report, is making sure knowledge isn’t lost when someone leaves the service. That creates multiple generations worth of knowledge to inform a new sailor’s actions.

The Forbes piece — written by Craig Malloy, CEO of software company Bloomfire and a former Navy officer — highlights five Navy best practices: detailed lessons-learned reviews, qualification boards that require certain knowledge before earning a promotion, constant learning via short assignments, up-to-date training and practicing skills until they’re second nature.

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