Panel Urges Deep Changes at Secret Service

“An independent panel Thursday recommended sweeping changes at the Secret Service, saying the elite protective agency is ‘starved for leadership’ and calling for a new director, hundreds of new agents and officers and a higher fence around the White House,” the Washington Post reports.

“The panel, created in October after a series of highly publicized security failures, said the fence protecting the executive mansion should be raised at least four feet to make it less vulnerable to jumpers. Panel members were reacting to a Sept. 19 incident in which a man scaled the fence and ran far into the White House through an unlocked front door.”

“The four-person body also urged intensified training for agents, saying they should run crisis response scenarios that could use a mock White House. The report especially targeted the Secret Service’s highly insular culture, calling for a new director from outside the agency, a suggestion sure to rankle some in the service’s old guard.”

How Productive are Lame Duck Congresses?

Pew Research
: “Our analysis found that lame duck sessions are shouldering more of the legislative workload than they used to. The last Congress’ lame duck, which stretched from November 2012 past New Year’s Day 2013, passed only 87 public laws, but that was 30.7% of the Congress’ entire two-year output and 31.3% of its substantive output (that is, excluding post-office renamings, National “fill-in-the-blank” Week designations and other purely ceremonial legislation). In 2010, the 99 public laws passed during the 111th Congress’ lame duck session accounted for 25.8% of all that Congress’ laws (and 29.2% of its substantive laws).”

“Those figures are up compared with recent history. Looking at the eight full lame duck sessions that were held between 1974 and 2008, on average they accounted for about 18% of the legislative output of their respective Congresses. (The sessions themselves averaged 30.25 calendar days, or 4% of a two-year congressional term, though legislative business wasn’t transacted on every day.)”

How Policy is Made in the State of the Union Address

For the latest episode of the Political Wire podcast, we spoke to speechwriters from the last three administrations about how the president’s State of the Union address comes together.

White House policy aides see the speech — often the president’s biggest of the year — as a huge opportunity to push their ideas.

As President George W. Bush’s speechwriter David Frum told us, “Every part of the government is struggling to get its ideas into the presidential address. When the president says something, it becomes policy.”

Michael Waldman says that President Bill Clinton started the process by consulting “outside advisers and thinkers. We would before Christmas compile a thick book of readings for him. He would get memos and advice and drafts from Cabinet members and there would be an ongoing process where the policy staff and policy aides were developing the initiatives that would go into the speech.”

He added: “We would produce draft after draft – it would go up through 10, 15, 20 drafts… And as he was rehearsing at the podium, he would keep writing. So that by the time he delivered it, he knew every inch of his government and every particle of the policies he was putting forward.”

For President Obama, Jon Favreau says the process actually starts “sometime around Thanksgiving. Usually we meet with the President and his top policy and senior advisers and talk about themes for the State of the Union: ‘What is the theme going to be this year?’ … And then what are the big policy initiatives the President is interested in pursuing. From there, all the policy councils in the White House get together and they reach out to the agencies and they come up with a list of various policies and initiatives that the President might pursue in the State of the Union.”

It’s a fascinating process. Listen to the interviews here:

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Lawmakers’ Shift to Constituent Services: Good Politics But Bad Policy

With their ability to legislate stunted by seemingly intractable partisan divisions, many lawmakers are seeking new ways to represent their constituents.

According to the National Journal, “dozens of freshman lawmakers have shifted resources out of the nation’s capital, swapping policy staffers for constituent-facing district office workers who have a better chance of affecting voters than any of their colleagues in Washington.”

“Indeed, at the start of 2014, 46 percent of all House members’ staffers now operate outside the capital [and] 52 percent of [freshman lawmakers’] staff members work back in the district.”

“That means a historically large share of staff aides are dedicated to constituent services, helping district residents navigate federal bureaucracy—stuff like getting new passports, recovering wrongly denied government benefits, advocating in a dispute with the IRS, or contacting endangered family members abroad.”

A decline in substantive legislative activity may not be good policy, but the shift toward the “boots-on-the-ground” focus of constituent services has been politically popular:

“Polling has consistently shown that people are happier with their own representatives than with Congress as a whole, a trend that has held even during the latest public-opinion swoon.”

Lobbyists Minting Money From Surge in Regulations

Thanks to a flood of new government regulations, lobbyists are “minting money,” reports The Hill.

“Top K Street officials say their regulatory work has accelerated in recent years thanks to the sprawling rule-making from the healthcare and financial reform laws.”

“While revenue from traditional lobbying work has flatlined, K Street firms say their regulatory practices are thriving. Several lobbyists said federal agencies are increasingly ‘where all the action is.’”

“With so much money at stake, there has been a realization among lobbyists at law firms that they need to incorporate regulatory expertise into their repertoire.”

White House Deliberately Postponed Critical Policy Decisions

In their in-depth report, The Washington Post reveals that the Obama administration deliberately postponed critical policy decisions to avoid political controversy ahead of the 2012 election.

“The delays meant that rules were postponed or never issued. The stalled regulations included crucial elements of the Affordable Care Act, what bodies of water deserved federal protection, pollution controls for industrial boilers and limits on dangerous silica exposure in the workplace.”

Although the White House claims the delays are purely coincidental, “seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.”

“Ronald White, [of the] Center for Effective Government, said the ‘overt manipulation of the regulatory review process by a small White House office’ raises questions about how the government writes regulations. He said the amount of time it took the White House to review proposed rules was ‘particularly egregious over the past two years.’”

'Growing Crisis' in Federal Prisons

Andrew Cohen provides an in-depth analysis of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General annual report that focuses on the DOJ’s top management and performance challenges.

A main focus of the report is on the “growing crisis” in the nation’s federal prisons:

“The first part of the prison crisis is financial: the number of federal inmates has increased dramatically over the past few years while the government funding available to safely house those federal inmates has decreased.”

Second: “the lack of workable ideas offered up so far to ease the crisis by reforming the system.”

Third: “poor management. The Bureau of Prisons, and thus the Justice Department, are not adequately ‘managing and leveraging’ existing programs.”

Finally: “The OIG reveals that the Justice Department has failed or refused for a number of years to adequately implement the [‘compassionate release’] program [(in which inmates who don’t impose a security threat are released)], revising its policies on the same day that the OIG issued a report critical of those very policies.”

Other areas focused on in the report include: national security (v civil rights and liberties), mismanagement at the DOJ, cybersecurity, and effective and efficient law enforcement.