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Evidence Supports Medicare Actuary's Claims

Since Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster broke his silence about being warned not to reveal his higher price tag for the prescription drug benefit bill, new evidence has surfaced to supports his claim. A House Democratic health policy aide received a fax dated June 11, 2003, that pegged the cost of the legislation at $551.5 billion over 10 years, The New York Times reported. The aide, Cybele Bjorkland, said she doesn't know who sent the fax, but she had been trying to obtain Foster's estimate, which was substantially higher than $400 billion Congress had figured. Foster refused to give up his numbers and said he could be fired if he did so, Bjorkland said. She confronted Foster's boss, Thomas Scully, who told her, "I'll fire him so fast his head will spin," if Foster gave her what she wanted, Bjorkland recounted to the Times.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) printed a copy of an e-mail to Foster that warned he could be "accused of insubordination" if he shared information with Congress about the legislation without authorization from his politically appointed bosses.

Posted 03-18-2004 5:51 PM EDT

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War on Terror Trumps Public Access

Since 9/11, the Bush administration has expanded the number of officials who can hide records from public view, part of what experts are calling the most expansive assault on open government in the nation's history, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The newspaper also cited several examples of government secrecy that appear to be outside the scope of national security, including the Federal Aviation Administration's removal from the Internet of records involving enforcement actions taken against airlines, pilots and mechanics.

The White House has used the Sept. 11 attacks "as an excuse to close the doors of government," Rick Blum of OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that monitors government regulatory activity, told the Journal-Constitution. And corporations are following the Bush administration's lead, trying to shield potentially embarrassing information from the public, he said.

Posted 03-16-2004 1:27 PM EDT

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Official Told to Withhold Medicare Costs

Bush administration officials threatened to fire a chief analyst of Medicare costs last year if he told lawmakers that the prescription drug bill favored by the White House would be more expensive than Congress was led to believe, The Washington Post reported. Richard Foster, a nonpartisan Department of Health and Human Services official who has served as Medicare's chief actuary for nine years, told the Post he nearly resigned in protest because he thought the White House was harming the public interest by keeping cost information secret. "Certainly, Congress did not have all the information they might have wanted, or that we had," Foster said.

Then-HHS Administrator Thomas Scully told Foster last spring and summer that he would be fired if he complied with requests from Republican and Democratic lawmakers to provide them with cost estimates related to the prescription drug benefit bill, Foster said. Congressional Democrats have called for an ethics investigation.

Posted 03-15-2004 6:04 PM EDT

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Bush May Allow Longer 9/11 Interview

The White House said President Bush would submit to questioning by the commission investigating 9/11 for more than the hour he earlier agreed to, Reuters reported. Although the interview is only scheduled to last one hour, "the president of course is going to answer all the questions they want to raise," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. Bush was criticized for refusing to submit to more than an hour of questioning, especially after his campaign used 9/11 images in TV ads.

After recently obtaining a requested two-month extension, the commission is due to complete its inquiry in July.

Posted 03-15-2004 4:41 PM EDT

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Government Will Keep Key Industry Data Secret

Government officials have cut a deal with businesses: Tell us where you're vulnerable and we'll keep it under Uncle Sam's hat. Starting tomorrow, companies critical to the nation's infrastructure, such as chemical companies, electric utilities and railroads, can send the Department of Homeland Security information about their vulnerabilities to terrorism without fear that it will be disclosed publicly, The Washington Post reported. The Homeland Security Act gives the department authority to keep data voluntarily provided by businesses secret.

Some environmental and open-records advocates are concerned that corporations will use the rules to evade federal enforcement of health and safety rules, the Post said. "It's naive to think that we won't have bad actors in industry" who take advantage of the protections, Sean Moulton of OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that monitors government regulatory activity, told the Post.

Posted 02-19-2004 11:19 AM EDT

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Is Pentagon Keeping Lid on Military Suicides?

The Defense Department acknowledged last month that the suicide rate among soldiers serving in Iraq is about 20 percent higher than average. Twenty-two soldiers have committed suicide, but that number might be higher, The Washington Post reported. The Pentagon sent investigators to Iraq last fall to check the mental health of its troops. Their findings haven't be released yet. A Defense Department official pegged the number of suicides at 13.5 per 100,000 troops. But that number doesn't include cases that are under investigation or suicides committed by troops who have returned to the United States from Iraq. Two soldiers reportedly killed themselves while undergoing treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Stephen Robinson, head of a nonprofit advocacy group for veterans and soldiers, visits the hospital on a regular basis. He told the Post that the Pentagon is keeping a lid on the suicides. "They just covered it up," he said.

Posted 02-19-2004 10:46 AM EDT

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9/11 Panel's Deal Angers Some Members, Victims' Families

The independent commission investigating 9/11 won't subpoena the White House to gain access to intelligence documents. Instead, in a move that angered some members of the panel and victims' families, the commission agreed to accept only a 17-page summary of the presidential briefing documents it had sought, The Washington Post reported. Also under terms of the deal, only four representatives of the 10-member panel were allowed to sift through the documents.

"You either say you didn't have warning prior to 9/11 and you let us see the documents, or you shouldn't claim that," Democratic commission member Timothy J. Roemer told the Post.

Posted 02-11-2004 12:12 PM EDT

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Bush Reverses Course on 9/11 Probe

In a departure from earlier statements, President Bush endorsed giving the commission investigating 9/11 more time to finish its work, the Associated Press reported. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was established by Congress to study the nation's preparedness before Sept. 11, 2001, and the government's response to the attacks, and to make recommendations for guarding against similar disasters. The panel was scheduled to complete its report by May 27, but panel members asked Congress for a two-month extension.

Bush had resisted that request for months. White House aides feared that delaying the commission's final report would result in a potentially damaging assessment of the administration's handling of pre-attack intelligence in the heat of a presidential campaign, the AP said.


Posted 02-04-2004 5:00 PM EDT

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White House Wants 9/11 Panel to Wrap up Probe

The commission investigating 9/11 has requested more time to finish its work, but the Bush administration wants the panel to wrap up its probe before the presidential campaign begins in earnest, The Washington Post reported. The panel, which is required to issue its complete report by May 27, is requesting at least two more months. That has opened the White House to charges that it is playing political games instead of assisting the commission. Earlier this week the panel released information about missed opportunities to stop the highjackings by U.S. border authorities. The White House also hasn't agreed to the panel's request to directly question President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney about 9/11.

Sen. John McCain told the Post that he will sponsor legislation that will extend the commission's deadline to January 2005.

Posted 01-30-2004 3:46 PM EDT

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No Sunshine for Texas Democrats

The Justice Department has refused to release an internal memo about a Republican redistricting plan in Texas, The Washington Post reported. In the U.S. House of Representatives the Texas delegation is split evenly at 16 seats apiece. Republicans are likely to gain control of seven more House seats after redistricting. Texas Democrats in the House have sought access to the Justice Department's legal opinion approving the GOP plan. The Justice Department told Texas lawmakers last week that it would not release the documents because they contain "predecisional deliberative material" that officials argue is exempt from public information laws. The lead attorney for the Democrats appealed the department's decision, alleging that officials don't want to release the documents because career attorneys recommended the department reject the redistricting plan. Democrats contend that the plan violates a federal voting rights law because it eliminates two districts in which minorities make up a majority of the voters.

Posted 01-22-2004 4:50 PM EDT

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