On a Mission: Educate voters about the American Political System
I have been away a few days from posting at NowPublic. I have gotten real serious about trying to make a difference in the political space of the American System of Government. Albert Milliron gave me a break to join him to cover the beat here in Washington DC.
My focus now is defining and describing the jobs of being Senators and Congressmen. With that, I will produce job models, derive qualifications criteria, and contribute to evaluating candidates. For Americans, your job is to reconstruct government because your performance at that has been dismal of late.
I am launching the series with a story based on firsthand knowledge about the good old process. Now, we need something new and improved.
By James A. George, American Political System Columnist
On February 12th, 2012, it will be two years since Congressman Jack Murtha’s passing. Much has happened since he died as a result of complications and infection from a gall bladder operation at Virginia Hospital Center.
Congressman Murtha was a master at earmarking for the benefit of his impoverished District 12 in Western Pennsylvania. He received strong support from non-profit organizations and small and large businesses that would participate in performing work that created jobs in his district.
Studying Jack Murtha is a study in how the era of earmarking worked. The Congressman had seniority that earned his chairmanship of powerful committees. He had friends who were the chairs of other powerful committees. Together, they collaborated to help one another in supporting businesses that proposed to perform work for the Department of Defense and other agencies where the Congressman and his cohorts had leverage. (Collaboration included Republicans and Democrats working together with incentive to help their districts.)
They would embed into legislation programs and projects so tightly defined that few, except contractors with inside knowledge, could bid successfully for the work by incorporating a workforce from the Congressman’s district. In all cases, there had to be a government customer who needed the work performed and who would cooperate in the intent to procure the work from the favored district and contractors.
The lead contractor had to have past performance qualifications and therein sometimes a large contractor would be called upon to prime the work. They would engage small businesses as subcontractors.
There were organizations involved in this process that included Political Action Committees and lobbyists and lawyers who would shepherd the earmarks and ultimately guide the procurements. This was a testy process, intended to be legal, but obviously walking a thin line with fairness on one side of the line and cheating the system on the other.
In the end, government work got done to customers’ satisfaction and an otherwise poor district employed a significant number of people in highly skilled jobs.
When PA District 12 lost Congressman Murtha, the replacement was his former District Director, Mark Critz. Being a new Congressman, a Democrat in a Republican-led House of Representatives, Critz has no leverage. Furthermore, whatever good will he may have had as a carryover evaporated when the President and bipartisan members of Congress killed earmarks.
At the one year mark of Murtha’s death there was talk about a statue.
“It has been a year since the passing of our congressman, John Murtha, yet the air is still filled with controversy and praise centered on his 36 years of service.
The latest issue is a memorial statue.
Where should it be placed? Is it worth the time, the cost, and, more importantly, is he worthy of it? My question: What would Jack say about it?
I would probably hear him say at a meeting: “My dear friends, I believe I was put on this earth to make a difference. I first came to provide you a clean, shiny car.
“Later you choose me to be your representative from the 12th district for 36 years.
“With the steel mills shutting down and the coal mines closing, I tried to and did bring back life to Johnstown in the way of research development, a federally subsidized defense industry second to none, projects for our health and life in the future, and other things – too many to mention.
“But simply, I did my job and you honored me many times by your vote.
“A statue would be nice, but it would only come to be tarnished by the sun and weather, a collection point for the leaves of the fall, and a roost for our pigeons.
“Honor me, my friends, Democrats and Republicans alike, by just building on the foundations I’ve set in place.
“God bless you all and good-bye.”
Andy Dobrota Johnstown”
Via the Johnstown Tribune Democrat
“Lawmaker: Shut NDIC
— Johnstown’s National Drug Intelligence Center is under attack, with one lawmaker calling for its abolition while another proposes a big funding cut.
The strongest language came from California-based Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who called the Washington Street center a “24-carat boondoggle” as she introduced a bill that would shut the facility.
“It should never have been opened in the first place, and it has never – at any time in its sordid 20-year history – lived up to its promise or potential,” Bono Mack said. “It’s time to shutter the place for good and transfer its responsibilities to other federal facilities.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johns-town, responded by pointing out that Bono Mack cited NDIC’s primary product – the National Drug Threat Assessment – in a bill she introduced in 2009 to combat gang violence.
“This is exactly what the American people are upset about – the hypocrisy in politics,” Critz said. “On one hand she calls NDIC a ‘boondoggle,’ and on the other hand she validates its worth by using the resources NDIC provides.”
It is the latest battle over the future of the center, which the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha brought to his district in the early 1990s. Critics – including the administration of former President George W. Bush – have argued that NDIC is wasteful and duplicative.
After years of battles between Murtha and the Bush White House, the center seemed more secure when President Barack Obama shifted its funding source from the Defense Department to the Justice Department for fiscal year 2010.
Lately, though, the situation again appears tenuous. Though Obama’s proposed fiscal 2012 budget is not due until next week, reports have indicated that there may be a $17 million funding cut for NDIC.
The center has been operating on an approximately $44 million annual budget.
Then came this week’s developments. First, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who serves as House Appropriations Committee chairman, released a partial list of proposed spending cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year.
Rogers said the upcoming Continuing Resolution bill will include cuts of more than $74 billion, including an $11 million reduction for NDIC.
“While making these cuts is hard, we have a unique opportunity to right our fiscal ship and begin to reduce our massive deficits and debt,” Rogers said.
While such a cut likely would severely curtail NDIC’s operations, Bono Mack goes further by calling for the center’s closure.
Her bill prohibits the Justice and Defense departments from spending any money on NDIC.
Bono Mack – the widow of former congressman and entertainer Sonny Bono – said the center is “the poster child for government inefficiency” and is one of the government’s “dirty little secrets.”
She acknowledges that the center’s mission is to “provide strategic drug-related intelligence” for law enforcement and policymakers.
“That’s a pretty tall order for a center with a miserable turnover rate of analysts and not-so-conveniently located in a renovated department store in the heart of Johnstown, Pennsylvania – some 2,000 miles from the Mexican border and 1,400 miles from the Florida Keys, both important drug-interdiction points,” Bono Mack said.
“This isn’t meant to be a knock on the good people of Johns-town,” she added. “Rather, it’s a reflection of a Washington culture that’s always looking for creative ways to jam a square peg in a round hole.”
There is, however, an error in Bono Mack’s arguments. She repeatedly claims that NDIC gets its funding from the Defense Department but is administered by the Justice Department, using that as an example of an illogical and inefficient setup.
But that has not been the case since the fiscal 2010 budget took effect.
Ken Johnson, a senior adviser to Bono Mack, acknowledged the mistake. But he said the congresswoman’s argument still stands.
“Whether it’s the Justice Department or the Defense Department, the money all tracks back to the taxpayer,” Johnson said.
He added that Bono Mack introduced her bill “after examining the pros and cons of keeping the center open.
“Our own district in California is struggling with 14 percent unemployment, so we are empathetic with the people of the Johnstown area,” Johnson said.
“But our nation simply cannot afford to keep doing ‘business as usual.’ ”
So it appears that NDIC backers are in for a fight. Critz and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey last month authored a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, arguing that the center performs unique and valuable functions.
“The National Drug Intelligence Center is an asset to our nation’s strategic fight against drugs and the criminal and terrorist networks they represent,” the lawmakers wrote.”
Via the Johnstown Tribune Democrat
Like the leaves of a dying tree, they fall one by one.
This is the time of year when contractors used to post Christmas Trees in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Johnstown PA in a “beauty” contest of sorts. I wonder if the trees will be there this year?”
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