Transparency News 2/20/14

Thursday, February 20, 2014
State and Local Stories


A DMV employee accepting bribes, a volunteer fire department chief using department money for personal expenses, a school employee stealing from student activity funds. All are examples of public corruption and the FBI’s Washington Field Office wants the public’s help to identify other acts like this. FBI officials this week announced a campaign aimed at cracking down on public corruption in Northern Virginia. “The idea behind this is public awareness,” Tim Gallagher, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field, office said Tuesday at an event announcing the public awareness campaign.

A House subcommittee on ethics on Wednesday grappled with a proposal by Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, meant to address the root of the gifts scandal surrounding former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. He says the measure could be a fail-safe should the pending ethics reform package fail. The Watkins proposal would require the governor and attorney general to disclose gifts to the members of their immediate families by appending additional information to their statements of economic interests. It would not overhaul other ethics laws.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell will ask a federal judge to dismiss the corruption charges filed against him last month. McDonnell's lawyers served notice Tuesday that they would formally ask for a dismissal within the next five weeks. The notice did not outline the grounds on which the former governor would seek the dismissal, but his earlier motions before the court say federal prosecutors are stretching the law that bars public officials from profiting from their office.
Daily Press

Though they agreed last week to table their bills addressing police collection of license plate data, two Northern Virginia state legislators this week launched the Ben Franklin Liberty Caucus to “protect the privacy and liberty of Virginians against unnecessary intrusion by government agencies and law enforcement.” Del. Rich Anderson (R-Prince William) and Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) are leading the bipartisan group, which also brings together typically disparate members such as Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) and Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond). They all agree that, as Petersen said, “some law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia seem willing to ignore the Data Practices Act, or at least the spirit of the law, and are continuing to collect and store personal data that has no relevance to any current criminal investigation or situation involving public safety.”
Washington Post

Buzzes and dings from mobile devices fill the air, but the Fairfax County school system’s mobile app is still struggling to make itself heard. The Fairfax County school system introduced a free mobile app on Sept. 28 to connect the community with school information. The app was downloaded just 9,431 times on Apple and Android devices by the end of the year, according to a report released this week. With more than 180,000 students in county schools, the app’s limited reach so far met with surprise and disappointment from Superintendent Karen Garza and several School Board members.
Fairfax Times

National Stories

The Homeland Security Department abruptly reversed course Wednesday and dropped plans to ask a private company to give the government access to a nationwide database of license plate tracking information. Secretary Jeh Johnson directed that a contract proposal issued last week be canceled.
USA Today

With an effective date about a month away, some doctor groups are cautious about how a new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services policy on the release of Medicare payment data will impact members. “We'll have to wait to see how CMS uses this new authority,” Reid Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told Bloomberg BNA. “Our hope is that researchers use this data to understand and improve how health care dollars are spent.”
Bloomberg BNA

A release of 27,000 emails and hundreds of court documents on Wednesday portrays Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican from Wisconsin, as having presided over an office where aides used personal computers and email to conceal that they were mixing government and campaign business. The conduct of campaign work on government time led to the criminal convictions of two aides and several others. Mr. Walker, who has for years denied wrongdoing, was never charged.
New York Times

A data breach at the University of Maryland has left some 300,000 staff members and former and present students exposed, with their personal information — including Social Security numbers — stolen and floating around unknown locations. “Computer forensic investigators are examining the breached files and logs to determine how our sophisticated, multilayered security defenses were bypassed,” said university President Wallace Loh in a letter reported by the New York Daily News. “Further, we are initiating steps to ensure there is no repeat of this breach.”
Washington Times

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules to encourage equal access to the web, by pushing Internet providers to keep their pipelines free and open. The proposal on so-called net neutrality, to be introduced by Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the commission, will prohibit broadband companies from blocking any sites or services from consumers.
New York Times

Following the leaks of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the U.S. government has released a treasure trove of classified documents in a bid to quell public dissent. But answers to key questions about NSA surveillance have been blacked out from these thousands of pages of once-secret documents, as shown in this WIRED photo gallery.


Nonpartisan redistricting for General Assembly and Congressional districts — long needed in Virginia — could finally be possible. On Tuesday a new nonprofit announced a sound strategy for ending the political slicing and dicing that has plagued the Commonwealth’s redistricting for decades. OneVirginia2021 aims to convince the public, who in turn could help convince the House of Delegates, which has little interest in endangering safe seats. With extremes, compromise becomes near impossible. Without compromise, governance reflects not the will of the people but the priorities of a few.
News Leader

Buckingham School Division, in Central Virginia, refused yesterday to take my contact information over the phone for a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request from the public body. The reason given was that the Buckingham County School Board has a policy that states in what form requests will be accepted.
Mark Brooks, The Next Shoe