Policy and News Updates for February 14, 2006

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Policy Updates

[updated] Washington corruption spurs proposals for reform
Congressional Democratic and Republican leaders rushed to propose fixes to Washington’s corruption scandals after super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty to conspiracy, tax and fraud charges. The lobbying reform proposals offered by members of the House and Senate, such as Sen. McCain’s (AZ) bill (S. 2128), address some key issues, like privately funded travel and gifts from lobbyists but overlook others, like access to congressional documents.
Status: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), led by Sens. Collins (ME) and Lieberman (CT), led a hearing to address lobbying reform on January 25.
Sources: OMB Watch’s Government Reform Resource Center; Links to bills and member floor statements [moresoftmoneyhardlaw.com]; Lobbying Hearing: Witness testimony and member statements [HSGAC]

[updated] Secret spying heats up
Secrecy limited oversight and debate over controversial National Security Agency (NSA) plans to spy on Americans without a court order. The secrecy forced employees uneasy about the program’s legality to do the only thing they could: let the public know. The Senate Judiciary Committee is attempting to determine the legality of the program and whether congressional action is necessary.
Status: Several groups filed lawsuits with the NSA and the Justice Department. The Senate Judiciary Committee began its investigation with questioning of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on February 6.
Sources: Key articles and statements (collected by CDT); Congressional Agency Questions Legality of Wiretaps [Washington Post]; Two groups sue over NSA wiretap program [CNN]; Gonzales Defends Surveillance [Washington Post]

[updated] PATRIOT Act: Key Senators reach compromise with White House
On December 30, President Bush signed S. 2167, a five-week extension of the PATRIOT Act in a last-minute compromise. The new reauthorization bill, in a compromise with the White House, offers a few improvements, such as making explicit the right to counsel, but does not change many of the problems, such as the standard for issuing orders without probable cause under Section 215.
Status: The 16 expiring provisions were extended another 5 weeks, through March 10. On February 9, officials for several Senate Republicans who are key to the extension announced they had reached a compromise with the White House.
Sources: Bush Assails Democrats Over Patriot Act; Bush signs extension of Patriot Act [CNN]; S. 2167; H.R. 3199; S. 1389; H.R 4659; Senate, White House complete Patriot Act deal [USA Today]; American Library Association summary

[updated] Whistleblower protections stalled in Congress
Last year, House and Senate committees approved legislation (S. 494 and H.R. 1317) to protect whistleblowers. The legislation will restore the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA), strengthening the free speech rights of whistleblowers and assuring many other protections. The bill does not protect whistleblowers in national security and intelligence agencies.
Status: S. 494 and H.R. 1317 passed through committee and are awaiting an "up or down" vote. On Tuesday, Feb. 14, The House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations will hold a hearing titled "National Security Whistleblowers in the post-9/11 Era: Lost in a Labyrinth and Facing Retaliation by Security Clearance Revocation"
Sources: S.494; H.R. 1317 ; Government Accountability Project
Alert: Free the Whistleblower Protection Act!

News from Coalition Partners and Others

[new] Americans support consitutional freedoms, polls show
A new Zogby Interactive poll indicates that support for surveillance measures and government secrecy has dropped since the aftermath of September 11th. See the report here. The American Bar Association commissioned a poll which showed that the majority of Americans think the President should not suspend constitutional freedoms without a court order. See the press release here.

[updated] Sunshine Week: Are We Safer in the Dark?
On Monday, March 13, 2006 a panel of experts from around the country will kick off a lively discussion about open government and secrecy. A panel discussion will start in Washington, DC and link via satellite to locally hosted discussions in communities across the country. Civic organizations, libraries, universities and other groups can participate by becoming host sites or local sponsors. Register as a host site by February 15 and save $50! Find out more here!