Project On Government Oversight
|Type||501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization|
The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), founded in 1981, is an independent non-profit organization in the United States which investigates and seeks to expose corruption and other misconduct. POGO assists whistleblowers and investigates federal agencies, Congress, and government contractors. POGO is currently led by executive director Danielle Brian.
Scope and methods
POGO’s range of investigations includes national defense and homeland security, nuclear security issues, abuse in government contracting, excessive secrecy that fails to consider the public interest, and the revolving door phenomenon in Congress and across government agencies. POGO uses investigative journalism techniques to shed light on the government's activities, including working with whistleblowers and anonymous sources and accessing information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database is often used by investigative journalists and others who are interested in contractor misconduct.
Corporate whistleblowers and government insiders bring POGO many of its investigative topics. POGO informs the public of its findings, mainly through reports that contain extensive documentation and recommendations for how to solve the problems identified. Once a report has been released, more insiders usually approach POGO to provide further documentation and information.
In 2006, POGO launched its Congressional Oversight Training Series (later renamed Congressional Oversight Initiative), which consists of monthly seminars on Capitol Hill for Congressional staffers and employees of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and Government Accountability Office (GAO). The seminars focus on how to conduct oversight of government contractors and various federal agencies. POGO also provides two-day intensive "boot camp" trainings covering the congressional oversight process.
While working for the National Taxpayers Legal Fund, Dina Rasor led its investigation into the C-5A transport aircraft. In February 1981 Rasor started "Project on Military Procurement", as an arm of the Fund. The organization was intended as a watchdog group to perform oversight of the military. Early interests included the M1 Abrams tank. The Project first gained wide attention in the mid-1980s uncovering Pentagon waste and fraud by publishing reports, provided by whistleblowers, exposing $640 toilet seats, $7,600 coffee makers, $436 hammers and other overpriced spare parts used by the military. The group was renamed Project on Government Oversight in the late 1990s.
POGO currently has a staff of around 25 people, including investigators, journalists, and administrative and communications personnel, and is located in downtown Washington, D.C. It is funded through grants from a wide variety of foundations, as well as private donations. In order to maintain its independence, POGO does not accept government grants or corporate funding.
Whistleblower award incident
In the 1990s POGO investigated the Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service's collection of oil royalties. POGO and other plaintiffs sued the 14 largest oil and gas companies for defrauding the government by underpaying royalties owed for drilling on Federal lands, under the False Claims Act. In 1998 POGO shared proceeds of the settlement of that lawsuit with two whistleblowers, federal employees, in the amount of $383,600 each for their assistance leading up to the lawsuit. This resulted in a preliminary investigation and report in 2000 which alleged that POGO's payments were for influence on Department of the Interior actions and policies. While calling the payments "a mistake", committee member U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman disputed any claims of influence, citing the timeline of events. POGO did not hand over phone records relating to the incident, and was threatened by Rep. Don Young with Contempt of Congress, which he withdrew, lacking the votes for passage. The report, hearings, and contempt threat were described by Martin Lobel, an attorney involved in the dispute, as being driven by "oil company congressional lapdogs" bent on hounding oil industry enemies and derailing regulatory reform.
In 2003 the United States Department of Justice, under George W. Bush, filed a civil action against POGO and one of the employees, and moved for summary judgment for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 209(a) (Restriction on Supplementation of Salary). This was granted in 2004, appealed, reversed in 2006, and went to trial in 2008, where the jury found that a violation had occurred. The court imposed penalties of the original dollar amount on the employee and $120,000 on POGO, which submitted a sworn declaration that the organization will not issue any future settlement payments to Government employees.
On August 3, 2010, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the District Court judge’s jury instructions which had prevented POGO from defending itself in the civil suit. The Court struck down the DOJ’s position that POGO’s intent was not relevant – a position that had prevented POGO from using the word “whistleblower” in its defense. Accordingly, the jury verdict was vacated by the Court.
The Art of Anonymous Activism
In 2002 the watchdog groups POGO, Government Accountability Project, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, co-published the book The Art of Anonymous Activism: Serving the Public while Surviving Public Service. It is described as a "how-to guide" for government employees who wish to expose corruption or misconduct in their organization without endangering their careers.
In 2009, POGO received the Society of Professional Journalists' Sunshine Award for its work uncovering wasteful spending in the Air Force, investigating the Minerals Management Service (MMS) at the Department of the Interior, and compiling the Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.
Program areas and impact
Program areas include: Arm's Length Negotiations, Competition in Federal Contracting, Contract Auditing, Contractor Accountability, Cost Accounting Standards, Earmarks, Federal Contracting Resources, Federal Contractor Misconduct, Federal Grants, Government Privatization, Human Trafficking, Hurricane Katrina Contracting, Iraq & Afghanistan Reconstruction Contracts, Lead System Integrators, Risky Contract Vehicles, Small Business Contractors, Third-Party Financing, Transparency in Contracting
Much of POGO's work is devoted to tracking the actions of government contractors, particularly in regards to wasteful spending. In September 2011, POGO released a report on the costs of using service contractors, which, it says, are almost twice that of having federal employees doing the same work. The organization also maintains the Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, an aggregation of data on the U.S. government's 100 largest contractors, how much is spent on them per year, their instances of misconduct since 1995, and the total cost of that misconduct, according to POGO. Eventually, the federal government adopted a similar database through the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. This provision was spearheaded by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and other senators and representatives.
In September 2009, POGO conducted an investigation into Armorgroup, a private security contractor in charge of protecting the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and uncovered and released documents, photos, and videos depicting drunken behavior, nudity, and hazing among the guards. This led to the dismissal of several managers and eight guards, the resignation of an additional two guards, and ultimately the cancellation of the United States military's contract with Armorgroup.
POGO has pushed for stronger oversight of the financial bailout and stimulus package. In 2009, POGO helped uncover payments totaling approximately $1.2 billion paid to at least 30 companies that had violated the law through the stimulus package. POGO also wrote a letter to Congress calling for strong oversight of financial industry representatives that give the government advice on the bailout and stimulus packages, citing this as a potential conflict of interest that could lead to pro-industry policies that do not help the taxpayer.
POGO has also worked to expose former employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission who have gone through the revolving door—in other words, who have ended up working for private sector companies overseen by the SEC. In a May 2011 report on this issue, POGO argued that the presence of a "revolver" at a client company creates a conflict of interest and can lead to bias in SEC oversight. Concurrently with the release of the report, POGO launched its SEC Revolving Door Database, which lists "revolvers" and where they are currently working.
In 2009, POGO sent a letter to Congress criticizing the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to implement more than half of the recommendations made to it by its Inspector General According to POGO, in the past 2 years, the SEC had taken no action on 27 out of 52 recommended reforms suggested in Inspector General reports, and still had a "pending" status on 197 of the 312 recommendations made in audit reports. Some of these recommendations included imposing disciplinary action on SEC employees who receive improper gifts or other favors from financial companies and investigating and reporting the causes of the failures to detect the Madoff ponzi scheme.
POGO made several recommendations that were ultimately included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including promoting stronger whistleblower protections and rewards for financial industry employees, giving the Government Accountability Office the power to audit the Federal Reserve, creating a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and giving inspector generals more independence.
POGO regularly releases recommendations for good government reforms to both Congress and, in 2008, to the presidential transition teams. Recommendations have ranged from strengthening federal whistleblower protections to disclosing conflicts of interest in federally funded scientific research to released unclassified version of inspector general reports to the public.
In late 2011 and early 2012, POGO conducted an investigation into conflicts of interest on an advisory committee at the Food and Drug Administration that was reviewing the Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills. Four members of the committee had ties to either the maker of the pills or the maker of a generic version but did not announce them before endorsing the drugs, leading to questions of whether or not the pills are actually safe. (Both Yaz and Yasmin have been linked to fatal blood clots in some users.) Investigations into further conflicts of interest at the FDA are ongoing.
POGO has also spoken out strongly against conflicts of interest on federal advisory and Congressional committees. In 2010, the organization advocated prohibiting federally registered lobbyists from sitting on advisory committees, boards, or commissions; the next year, a new federal policy was put in place to this effect.
Program areas include: Bailout Oversight, Congressional Oversight, Election Integrity, Executive Privilege, Inspector General Investigations, Intelligence Agency Oversight, Stimulus Oversight
POGO has traditionally been critical of policies at intelligence agencies directed at potential leaks that, it says, could negatively affect whistleblowers. In April 2011, POGO sent a letter to the U.S. Senate opposing a section in the Intelligence Authorization Bill that would have allowed intelligence agency heads to deprive employees suspected of violating non-disclosure agreements of their pensions; partially due to POGO's work, this language was scrapped from the final version of the bill. POGO has also spoken out against the increased use of polygraphs at intelligence agencies. Using polygraphs to attempt to catch leaks, it claims, could lead to whistleblower intimidation and the possible loss of jobs by innocent people due to faulty tests.
POGO has encouraged more oversight of the federal government from Congress itself. Its Congressional Oversight Training Series consists of monthly sessions for Congressional staffers and others in the government on tips and resources for conducting oversight. In 2009, POGO published The Art of Congressional Oversight: A User's Guide to Doing It Right, which details Congress' oversight powers and includes anecdotes from current and former staffers on oversight investigations.
POGO frequently uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to conduct investigations and has pushed to strengthen it. In 2011, POGO worked with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) to amend a defense budget bill that would have applied more secrecy to FOIA requests at the Department of Defense. The bill was amended to require that information withheld under a FOIA exemption to pass a "public interest balancing test."
In 2004, POGO filed a lawsuit against then-Attorney General John Ashcroft for illegally retroactively classifying documents critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The classification came to light after Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator, discovered that intercepted memos relevant to the September 11 terrorist attacks had been ignored due to poor translation. POGO ultimately won the lawsuit.
POGO has advocated for increased transparency at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2006, the organization worked with other open government advocates to pass a law making DHS more accountable with regard to how it applies secrecy classification to documents. Previously, DHS had designated many documents "sensitive" that, POGO alleged, were not crucial to national security and exposed instances of inefficiency and negligence. The year prior, DHS had abandoned its policy of making employees sign oaths not to disclose information labeled as "sensitive" but unclassified.
In July 2012, a POGO investigation into mortgage enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac revealed that they had refused to turn over documents to Federal Housing Finance Agency Inspector General Steve Linick, claiming that he was exceeding his authority. In POGO's view, the fact that Fannie and Freddie are now government sponsored enterprises central to the U.S. housing market increases the need for oversight.
Program areas include: A-10 Warthog Aircraft, B-1 and B-2 Bombers, Ballistic Missile Defense, Black Hawk Helicopter, Boeing Tanker Lease Deal, C-130J Transport Aircraft, C-17 Airlifter, Comanche Helicopter, Crusader Howitzer, CSAR-X, Defense Contractor Mergers, Defense and the National Interest Blog, FA-22 Fighter Aircraft, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft, Future Combat Systems, Growler ITV, Intelligence, Littoral Combat Ship, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles(MRAPs), Patriot Missile, Predator UAV, Spare Parts, Stryker Armored Vehicle, V-22 Osprey Aircraft, Wasteful Defense Spending
POGO investigates military weapons to "expose" what it sees as improper influence by some defense contractors on Pentagon decision making. For example, POGO has claimed that members of the United States Congress ardently support weapons systems built or maintained in their districts, regardless of effectiveness or even Pentagon requests for these weapons. POGO believes that this behavior leads to misspending on military weapons programs, placing tax dollars and national defense at risk.
However, the OpenSecrets' website's listing of top organizations contributing donations to politicians indicates that defense companies are well down the list. Lockheed Martin, the country's largest defense contractor, is 33rd, at $22,398,020 in total contributions to politicians from 1989 to 2012. General Electric is 35th at $21,947,727. Other defense contractors are even further down the list: Boeing is 51st, with total political contributions at barely $17,884,942. Northrop Grumman is 58th, at $15,598,484. General Dynamics is 70th, at $13,894,518. The 10 top contributors are: ActBlue at $69,829,402; the American Fdn of State, County, and Municipal Employees at $61,440,473; AT&T at $49,435,290; the National Association of Realtors at $44,032,938; the NEA at $43,613,263; the SEIU at $41,809,666; Goldman Sachs at $39,830,663; the American Association for Justice at $36,480,728; the Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers" at $35,994,170; and the American Federation of Teachers at $34,698,466. From 1989 to 2012, ActBlue, a pro-Democrat group, contributed almost as much to politicians as the top 4 defense contractors combined.
POGO has a history of investigating and actively opposing the production of weapons that it believes to be wasteful or inefficient, even if the DOD's top military and civilian leadership deems them needed and crucial, or if these weapon systems are necessary to fill a requirement. Some of the most prominent weapons systems that POGO has investigated and opposed include the ''Freedom'' Class Littoral Combat Ship, FA-22 Fighter Aircraft, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft, and the Black Hawk Helicopter. On the other hand, POGO has supported the production of the A-10 Warthog Aircraft for its relative effectiveness and inexpensiveness compared to what POGO considers more wasteful weapons.
In 1994, POGO released a report criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to require the aerosol industry to warn the public about their use of "bug bombs," or insecticide foggers, which are highly flammable and potentially dangerous to its users. By 1999, the EPA had passed a rule stating that insecticide foggers must be properly labeled to alert consumers to their dangers.
POGO investigated the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service, which manages natural resources on the nation's outer continental shelf. Their 2008 report documented corruption and mismanagement in the MMS's royalty-in-kind program, including inadequate royalty accounting and provision of sex, drugs, and other favors to MMS officials by oil company representatives in exchange for favorable business deals. Following this report and others by oversight groups including the Government Accountability Office, the royalty in-kind program was terminated and MMS was split into three different bureaus.
Nuclear security & safety
Program areas include: Department of Defense Nuclear Weapons, Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada Test Site, Nuclear Power Plants, Nuclear Weapons Complex, Pantex, Sandia National Laboratories, Y-12/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
In 2006, POGO published a report detailing its investigation of the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory security complexes. The report claimed that the complexes were "at high risk, and [could] not meet the government's security standards." It also claimed that a terrorist with an improvised nuclear device at either site could kill more than 60,000 people in the area.
POGO has conducted numerous investigations into the Los Alamos National Laboratory. LANL has been the subject of several controversies in the past, including employees charging personal expenses to government accounts, lost equipment or documents (including hundreds of computers containing classified information), and a memorandum to employees to "be careful what they say" to safety and security inspectors. In 2009, 69 computers disappeared, although plant officials insisted that the computers did not contain the most highly classified information. 2009 also saw a scare in which 2.2 pounds of missing plutonium prompted a Department of Energy investigation into the plant. The investigation found that the "missing plutonium" was a result of miscalculation by LANL's statisticians and did not actually exist, but the investigation did lead to heavy criticism of the plant by the DOE for security flaws and weaknesses that the DOE claimed to have found.
POGO has also opposed the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos, citing that the project is unnecessary given its high price tag and already existing facilities' capabilities. Moreover, the facility could be susceptible to an earthquake, which could lead to a release of radioactivity.
POGO has advocated for openness regarding toxic water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. From the late 1950s until at least 1985, U.S. Marines and their families had used tap water that contained carcinogens and other harmful chemicals leaking from a nearby dump site for radioactive material. POGO, working with whistleblower retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, has claimed that the Navy and Marine Corps have hidden information about the nature and extent of the contamination, citing a report released by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that was redacted by the Navy. Recently, the U.S. Senate has approved healthcare for those who lived at Camp Lejeune and suffered health problems.
In February 2009, POGO released a report on the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), which oversees the safety of medical devices. According to POGO, the CDRH decided in 2006 to ignore the Good Laboratory Practice Regulation, thereby allowing manufacturers to monitor their own compliance for safety regulations. In compiling its letters to then-director of CDRH Daniel Schultz, POGO worked closely with several CDRH whistleblowers who were subjected to threatened or actual employment termination or inappropriate performance reviews for speaking out. Schultz resigned in August 2009.
In 2007, POGO and 12 other nonprofits sent a letter to Congress calling on senators to oppose a provision in the FY 2008 Transportation-HUD Appropriations Bill, which would have limited oversight of the Department of Transportation's budgeting process. The provision was not passed.
POGO, along with several other public interest groups, has been involved in the investigation and trial of Scott Bloch, ex-head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Bloch was accused by former OSC employees of ignoring and dismissing hundreds of whistleblower complaints, removing language guaranteeing protection against sexual orientation discrimination from OSC's website and official documents, and "relocating" several of his own employees who came forward with these allegations. When these accusations led to a Congressional Investigation of Bloch, Bloch allegedly hired a technology company, Geeks On Call, to conduct a 7-layer memory wipe of his computer and several other OSC laptops in order to hide key evidence from the investigators; Bloch initially claimed that he ordered this as protection against a virus that had infected his computer, but he later admitted he was trying to withhold information. Bloch ultimately resigned his position as head of the OSC and pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress.
Over the years, POGO has worked to protect the rights of several specific whistleblowers—including Franz Gayl, who criticized military leaders' decision to not deliver protective MRAPs to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, who challenged military leaders' depictions of the "rosy" situation on the ground in Afghanistan—by sending letters to Congress and the agencies involved expressing solidarity.
September 13, 2011: Bad Business: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted on Hiring Contractors
May 20, 2010: Contract Spending: Escaping the Dark Ages
March 20, 2009: Inspectors General: Accountability is a Balancing Act
February 18, 2009: The FDA's Deadly Gamble with the Safety of Medical Devices
September 18, 2008: Drilling the Taxpayer: Department of Interior's Royalty-In-Kind Program
February 26, 2008: Inspectors General: Many Lack Essential Tools for Independence
November 13, 2007: Rescue At Risk: Crucial Helicopter Requirement Weakened
August 28, 2006: Federal Contracting: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina
July 25, 2006: Preying On The Taxpayer: The F-22A Raptor
March 31, 2006: The Politics of Contracting: Bajagua's No-Bid Deal
March 15, 2005: Taxpayers Carry The Load: The C-130J Cargo Plane Does Not
June 29, 2004: The Politics of Contracting
March 11, 2004: Federal Contracting and Iraq Reconstruction
February 10, 2003: Congressional Research Service Products: Taxpayers Should Have Easy Access
September 12, 2002: Nuclear Power Plant Security: Voices from Inside the Fences
October 1, 2001: U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security At Risk
August 2, 2001: Is the Air Force Spending Itself Into Unilateral Disarmament?
March 28, 2001: At The Federal Election Commission Things Don't Add Up
August 10, 2000: F-22: Fact or Fiction?
September 1, 1999: Defense Waste & Fraud Camouflaged As Reinventing Government
September 1, 1996: Who the Hell is Regulating Who? The NRC's Abdication of Responsibility
January 1, 1993: The Superconducting Super Collider's Super Excesses
July 1, 1992: High Tech Weapons In Desert Storm: Hype or Reality?
January 1, 1990: The Army's M1 Tank: Has It Lived Up To Expectations?
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- POGO and Allies Ask for Full Release of Crucial Information Regarding Camp Lejeune Project On Government Oversight. January 24, 2012.
- Closer Than Ever to Justice for Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Victims Project On Government Oversight. July 19, 2012.
- The FDA's Deady Gamble with the Safety of Medical Devices Project On Government Oversight. February 18, 2009.
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- Official website
- Government Accountability Office website
- Federal Contractor Misconduct Database
- Defense and the National Interest website