A new government agency is going to take over the process of performing background checks of existing and potential government employees. The news comes about six months after it was revealed that hackers had broken into the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) computers and stolen the sensitive personal information of nearly 22 million past and current federal employees, a scandal that cost former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta her job.
"This is primarily about recognizing the evolving threats and national security importance of the background investigation systems and data," Samuel J. Schumach, OPM's press secretary, told the New York Times. "Utilizing what DOD can provide—a large and trained cybersecurity work force to protect against and respond to cyberintrusions, and a strong focus on national security—is the right step to take."
The new agency will be called the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), according to Federal New Radio, and it will take over the Federal Investigative Services, a bureau of the personnel agency that has been responsible for running most background checks.The Department of Defense will design and build the new agency's information technology and cybersecurity systems, Federal News Radio reports, and will also operate the data storage and security of the system. The NBIB and its staff will still work within the Office of Personnel Management, but a presidential appointee will run it, notes Engadget. It's unclear when the agency will get off the ground, but work on the project will begin this year.
The new agency is the result of a 90-day review of the government's information security policies and practices that President Barack Obama ordered in July. The president will ask for an additional $95 million in his 2017 budget to pay for the new agency.
This is the second time Obama has addressedproblems associated with the government's background clearance process. Afteran IT contractor killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard office complex in September 2013, Obama called for a complete evaluation of the security screening procedures of contract employees. In March 2014, the administration announced it had accepted 13 recommendations of an interagency review, which included ongoing reviews of workers and contractors rather than sporadic checks, better access to state and local information for federal background checks, and consistent background requirements for federal employees and contractors.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was unimpressed, according to Federal Times. He said the new agency won't solve problems inherent in the federal government's human resources department.
"Protecting this information should be a core competency of OPM," said Chaffetz, the chair of the House Oversight Committee. "[This announcement] seems aimed at only solving a perception problem rather than tackling the reforms needed to fix a broken security clearance process."
With seven days remaining before the Iowa caucuses, the three Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Des Moines for a "town hall" forum hosted by Drake University and the Iowa Democratic Party. The town hall format isn't a debate. The candidates were never on stage at the same time; instead, they responded to questions asked by voters and CNN moderator Chris Cuomo. The event offered Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders the opportunity to persuade voters that he was electable, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley the chance to explain why he was not irrelevant, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the occasion to demonstrate that her experience makes her the obvious choice to be president.
The event took place as Clinton's lead over Sanders in Iowa narrowed, and Sanders remained ahead in the polls in New Hampshire, where the first primary will be held a week after the Iowa caucuses. In the past week, Clinton picked up endorsements from the Des Moines Register, the Boston Globe, and the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. But as Sanders' poll numbers surge, Clinton has become increasingly negative, pointing to Sanders' record on guns, his alleged un-electability, his support of single-payer health care, and the fact that he's a self-proclaimed socialist. Sanders has responded with his own negative attacks, focusing on Clinton's cozy relationship with Wall Street and her resistance to campaign finance reform. But at the town hall, the candidates were less confrontational as they attempted to engage directly with Iowa voters.
Here are some of the highlights:
Bernie Sanders says he's going to raise taxes.
CNN's Chris Cuomo pressed Sanders on how he planned to pay for free college education and universal health care.
"The criticism is to pay for this, what you're really asking for is one of the biggest tax hikes in history," Cuomo said.
"But Chris, that is an unfair criticism," Sanders replied.
"But just to be clear," Cuomo continued, "you are going to raise taxes to do this?"
Then Sanders said something that politicians usually avoid: "Yes. We will raise taxes, yes we will. But also let us be clear, Chris, because there's a little bit of disingenuity out there. We may raise taxes, but we are also going to eliminate private health insurance premiums for individuals and for businesses." Here's his whole statement.
Sanders gets unusually personal.
After having interviewed Sanders' brother, Cuomo asked the Vermont senator to describe his athletic prowess—his Brooklyn basketball team apparently won a citywide championship—and to say what his parents would have thought of his candidacy. Watch Sanders' emotional response as he talks about his father.
Sanders says Clinton's experience is good, "but judgment is also important."
Sanders was asked to watch and respond to one of Clinton's ads, which portrayed her as the most experienced presidential hopeful and more prepared to lead the country. Sanders said he respects Clinton but questions her judgment, citing her vote in authorizing war in Iraq (which he opposed) and her pandering to Wall Street. He drew a contrast between her experience and his good judgment.
Sanders' closing argument: Economic inequality and money in politics are the key problems facing America.
Sanders got a chance to make a 30-second pitch to Iowa voters, explaining why they should support him, and, not surprisingly, he stated his familiar talking points on economic inequality, campaign finance reform, and returning power to the people. He concluded, "That great government belongs to us, not just to a few." Here are the rest of his remarks:
O'Malley has trailed throughout the campaign, but during the town hall he attempted to take advantage of having the stage all to himself for half an hour. So far during the presidential contest, he has not had to say much about his controversial record on policing issues when he was mayor of Baltimore. But the first question from audience Monday night, asked by Iowa State University student Joi Latson, forced O'Malley to answer for his zero-tolerance crime enforcement policy. "How were you planning to ensure racial equality," she asked, "when your history in office contradicts your current platform to fight structural racism." Here's how he responded:
O'Malley uses a climate change question to highlight the fact that he is a lot younger than his two rivals.
It's no secret that 74-year-old Sanders and 68-year-old Clinton are much older than 53-year-old O'Malley. So when asked about climate change, O'Malley seized on that generational divide as a key difference between him and his opponents in their approaches to addressing climate change.
O'Malley's closing argument: Iowa voters can turn an underdog into a winner.
O'Malley was given 30 seconds to make the case as to why his poor showing in the polls should not discourage Iowa voters from supporting him. O'Malley said, "Iowa has found a way to sort through the noise and sort through the national polls and to lift up a new leader for our country at times when that was critical and essential."
Hillary Clinton deftly handles a direct question about the enthusiasm gap and her perceived dishonesty among young voters.
Clinton has been dogged with a so-called "enthusiasm gap" among younger voters, and Taylor Gipple asked her directly to respond to the problem.
"It feels like there's a lot of young people like myself who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders, and I just don't see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you," he asked. "In fact, I've heard from quite a few people my age that they think you're dishonest. But I'd like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn't there."
"Well I think it really depends upon who you're seeing and talking to," Clinton said, adding that she sees young people working for her all the time. Nonetheless, she praised young people for being involved, no matter whom they are supporting, and stressed the importance of their participation in November. As for being perceived as dishonest, that's just politics, she said: "People have thrown all sorts of stuff at me, and I'm still standing."
Clinton cites her foreign policy chops, despite her vote in support of the war in Iraq.
Sanders repeatedly criticized Clinton for voting in 2002 to permit the US invasion of Iraq. After answering a question about foreign policy by saying that diplomacy is always her first approach, Clinton acknowledged once again she had made an error: "First of all, I have a much longer history than one vote, which I've said was a mistake because of the way that that was done and how the Bush administration handled it."
Clinton says she'd give her Republican opponents in Congress "bear hugs" once she's president and find a way to work together.
Clinton knows she's had political enemies for decades, and on Monday night she talked about how political campaigns can bring out the worst in people. But, she said, when she's president, she'll do her best to work with everyone. She would even give Republicans in Congress "bear hugs." Watch here:
Clinton takes a strong stand against the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Donald Trump.
A Muslim woman, Erum Tariq-Munir, whom CNN identified as a US Air Force veteran, asked Clinton how she could make sure the United States was the best place to raise her family. Clinton thanked her for her service and took a strong stand against the anti-Muslim rhetoric expressed by Trump and others in the Republican primary.
Asked which previous president has inspired her most, Clinton chooses not to name Barack Obama or her husband.
"Sorry, President Obama; sorry, Bill," she said, "Abraham Lincoln." In what served as her closing statement, Clinton cited Lincoln's presidency as she made her case that she is the most prepared candidate and the one most able to bring people together, work with political enemies, and focus on several issues at once.
The national push to reform the criminal justice system saw two significant moves Wednesday, one from the law enforcement community and another from the activists who helped launch the conversation in Ferguson, Missouri, when Michael Brown was gunned down in August 2014.
On Wednesday, an organization known as Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration—which includes more than 160 police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, federal prosecutors and attorneys general—sent a letter signed by more than 70 of its members to House and Senate leadership in support of legislation that would address sentencing guidelines. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences for some gun and drug crimes, and would make it possible for federal prisoners to earn credits for completing rehabilitative programs while incarcerated and reduce their time behind bars. A similar measure sponsored in the House by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) also addresses some of these problems.
"Common sense might suggest that more punishment keeps down crime," the group wrote. "But research has shown that arbitrarily increasing time served in prison does not necessarily translate into increased public safety gains…In fact, excessive incarceration can actually increase crime in some cases."
The group noted that half of all federal prisoners are drug offenders (compared with just 7 percent who are convicted of violent crimes), so current sentencing approaches and prosecution efforts waste money and resources. The federal inmate population has grown more than 400 percent over the past 30 years, they wrote, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons is 39 percent over capacity and consumes a quarter of the Justice Department's budget, in part because of tough-on-crime, mandatory minimum sentencing programs.
"These taxpayer dollars should instead target the country's most dangerous and serious offenders, those who pose the most risk to public safety," they wrote. (See the full letter below.)
Policies "often fail to include common-sense limits on police use of force," the group noted.For example, in many police departments, life preservation is not the primary objective, and many do not require officers to deescalate situations where possible. Policies often permit officers to "choke or strangle civilians," and many do not require officers to intervene and stop the use of excessive force. Many of the police departments reviewed by the grouplacked transparency in their use of force policies, did not provide public data on police shootings, did not keep tabs on incidents where force was used, and, in some cases, provided access to the names of those shot by the police.
In the statement announcing the use-of-force project, the group said police policies often don't match their publicly stated values.
"Our analysis…shows that while many police departments have adopted value statements claiming to prioritize the preservation of life, their actual use of force policies do not reflect this commitment," the group wrote.
The survey is an ongoing process, and Campaign Zero asked community members to get to know police policies in order to become more engaged in police reform efforts.
"In the coming weeks, we will be forming a collective of legal scholars, academics, and activists to continue analyzing police use of force policies in the nation's largest 100 cities, as we work to develop a model use of force policy that is fair and in the interest of the public good," it wrote.
(See the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration below):
"If for some reason…he beats the rest of the field, I already know the Democrats are going to be bringing a suit," Trump said. "You have a big lawsuit over your head while you're running. And if you become the nominee, who the hell knows if you can even serve in office?"
As it turns out, Trump's concerns over a lawsuit weren't unwarranted. In fact, one was filed that same day by Houston lawyer Newton Boris Schwartz Sr. The suit asks a federal judge to define the "(1) status (2) qualifications and (3) eligibility or ineligibility of defendant for election to the office of the President and vice President of the United States." In the poorly written, 28-page complaint, Schwartz noted that this question is "now ripe for decision," and then invoked the so-called birther arguments used against President Barack Obama (see the full complaint below):
If all that was and is required for Defendant's eligibility for the election to the office of the President and Vice President of the United States is that one of his biological parents be a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth in Canada outside the 50 United States...then why have the "birthers" or "doubters" and questioners of the place of birth of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama have persisted to this date and prior to his 2008 elections in 2008 and 2012? When undisputedly: (1) he was born in the U.S. state of Hawaii after its admission on August 21, 1959 and is documented by his birth records..."
It's unclear what will come of this complaint, but this isn't the only birther action that Cruz is contending with. Also on Thursday, the Arizona Republic reported that Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Republican state legislator from the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, is "circulating a measure at the Arizona legislature that would call a U.S. constitutional convention to outline what it means to be a natural-born citizen." The paper notes that Townsend hopes to get her Legislature on board before reaching out to other states, since, after all, "it will take 34 states to convene such a meeting, something that hasn't happened since 1787."
This legislative effort—like the lawsuit—appears quixotic. But Trump has ensured this question of his natural-born citizenship status will dog him. As seen in last night's debate, Trump's questioning of Cruz's eligibility has marked a turning point in relations between the two candidates, who have previously refrained from attacking each other throughout the campaign. But, as Trump told CNN's Dana Bash after Thursday's debate, "I guess the bromance is over."
Of all of Jeb Bush's frustrations in his disappointing presidential run, his inability to get a line over on Donald Trump has to rank near the top. In debate after debate, the real estate mogul has shut down the former Florida governor and derided him for being weak and boring. But in Thursday night's debate, Bush finally got the better of Trump in his most successful put-down.
The subject was Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from coming to the US. "This policy is a policy that makes it impossible to build the coalition necessary to take out ISIS," Bush said. "The Kurds are our strongest allies. They're Muslim. You're not going to even allow them to come to our country? The other Arab countries have a role to play in this."
Bush suggested that instead of a blanket ban, there should be more stringent screening of refugees. "We don't have to have refugees come to our country, but all Muslims?" he said. "Seriously?"
The exchange might not be enough to pull Bush out of the campaign doldrums, but it drew thunderous applause that the crowd had previously reserved for the likes of Trump and Ted Cruz. For Bush, that's worth something.