Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Politics in Action: H.R. 1994 – VA Accountability Act of 2015


STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 1994 – VA Accountability Act of 2015
(Rep. Jeff Miller, R-FL, and 98 cosponsors) 
  
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1994, as amended by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  While the Administration believes strongly that Federal employees must be held accountable for their performance and actions, H.R. 1994 fails to provide tools to further that goal, and in fact would be counterproductive for the reasons expressed below.

The bill compiles a number of separate personnel policy bills aimed solely at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) workforce, creating a disparity in the treatment of one group of career civil servants.  The centerpiece of the bill is a provision that allows a VA employee to be removed from Federal service or demoted without the opportunity to appeal that decision to the full Merit Systems Protection Board.  An employee who has been removed or demoted under this provision is instead subject to an abbreviated review process before an administrative law judge that may in some cases deprive employees of any appellate review whatsoever.  These provisions remove important rights, protections, and incentives which are available to the vast majority of Federal employees in other agencies across the Government and are essential to ensure that Federal employees are afforded due process.  Other provisions of the bill, such as those that would mandate rotation of VA Senior Executive employees every five years or impose arbitrary restrictions on performance ratings provided to VA Senior Executives, would also be disruptive and would hinder VA’s ability to function effectively on behalf of veterans.

Under current law, Federal employees, including VA employees, may be terminated for a variety of reasons, ranging from absence without leave and inability to maintain performance standards to serious offenses such as falsification of records, misuse of government property, or sexual harassment.  While VA supports authority permitting efficient removal of employees who have engaged in misconduct, this bill will have unintended consequences.  It would make conditions of employment in VA significantly less attractive than in other Federal agencies or in the private sector, and as a result, would discourage outstanding VA employees from remaining in VA and dramatically impair VA’s ability to recruit top talent, including veterans.  Currently, VA’s Office of the Inspector General, Office of the Medical Inspector, and the newly established Office of Accountability Review provide strong oversight independent of its field organizations.

The legislation raises serious concerns under the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  It could also raise concerns under the Due Process Clause depending upon its application.  The bill could have a significant impact on VA’s ability to retain and recruit qualified professionals and may result in a loss of qualified and capable staff to other government agencies or the private sector.

If the President were presented with H.R. 1994, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

Source: Office of Management and Budget

As Excessive Heat Grips New York, Governor Urges Caution


Governor Andrew Cuomo today urged New Yorkers to take precautions as high temperatures and humidity are being predicted throughout New York State this week. Temperatures are expected to top 90 degrees over the next few days in communities across the state.

“Temperatures are expected to climb significantly across the state this week, and it’s important for New Yorkers to take appropriate precautions,” Governor Cuomo said. “I encourage everyone to remain indoors when possible, stay hydrated, and check on any neighbors who may need assistance. Together, we can make sure that everyone stays safe during the period of extreme heat.”

Excessive heat is the leading cause of preventable, weather-related deaths each year, particularly among the elderly. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat causes more than 650 preventable deaths in the United States each year. In most years, excessive heat causes more deaths than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service statistics, there have been more than 80 deaths directly attributable to heat in New York State since 2006.

The expected high temperatures are prompting the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) to offer New Yorkers tips to help them stay safe.

“Although excessive heat and humidity may seem like a normal part of summer, it needs to be taken very seriously, particularly for older individuals, infants and young children, and those participating in outdoor activities," said DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses so you know what to do if you or someone you know experiences heat-related health issues.”

“Basic precautions can be taken to stay cool during hot weather, such as wearing light-colored clothing, drinking plenty of fluids, and staying in an air-conditioned environment,” said DHSES Commissioner John Melville. “Also check on neighbors and friends or family who may be at risk.”

To help New Yorkers stay safe during excessive heat, DOH and DHSES offer this advice:

Minimize, if possible, strenuous activity and exercise, especially during the sun's peak hours 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
 
Exercise during early morning hours or in the evening, when the temperatures tend to be lower.
 
Drink at least 2-4 glasses of water per hour during extreme heat, even if you do not feel thirsty.

Avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.
 
If possible, stay out of the sun and seek air-conditioned settings. The sun heats the inner core of your body, which may result in dehydration. If air-conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine, or go to a building with air conditioning (such as libraries, malls, supermarkets, or friends’ homes).

If you must go outdoors, wear sunscreen with a high sun protector factor (SPF) rating of at least 15 and a hat to protect your face and head. When outdoors, wear loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothing. Cover as much skin as possible to avoid sunburn and over-warming effects of sunlight on your body.
 
Never leave children, pets or those who require special care in a parked car or other vehicles during periods of intense summer heat. Temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach over 140 degrees Fahrenheit quickly. Exposure to such high temperatures can kill within a matter of minutes.
 
Make an effort to check on your neighbors during a heat wave, especially the elderly, infants and young children, or others with special needs.
 
Make sure there is enough water and food for pets and limit their exercise during periods of extreme temperatures.

Individuals who are often at greatest risk during periods of excessive heat include: 

Elderly persons, infants and small children 

Persons with weight or alcohol problems 

Persons on certain medications or drugs 

HEAT HEALTH HAZARDS

Heat Stroke: Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke can be life threatening. Body temperature can rise and cause brain damage; death may result if the individual is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red, and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse, and shallow breathing. A cold bath or sponge can provide relief and lower body temperature.

Heat Exhaustion: While less dangerous than heat stroke, heat exhaustion poses health concerns and it most often occurs when people exercise too heavily or work in warm, humid places where body fluids are lost. Signals include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness and exhaustion. If symptoms occur, move the victim out of sun, and apply cool, wet cloths.

Sunburn: Sunburn slows the skin's ability to cool itself. Signals include redness and pain; in severe cases, swelling of skin, blisters, fever, and headaches can occur. Ointments can be a relief for pain in mild cases. A physician should see serious cases. To protect yourself, wear sunscreen with a high sun protector factor rating (SPF) of at least 15. Always re-apply sunscreen after periods of heavy sweating or swimming.

Heat Cramps: Muscular pains and spasms are often caused by heavy exertion. Loss of water and salt from sweating causes cramping. Signals are abdominal and leg muscle pain. Relief can be firm pressure on cramping muscles, or gentle massages to relieve cramping. Remember to hydrate often while exercising or working outdoors.

Heat Rash: Skin irritation that looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. Try to move the person to a cool place, keep the affected area dry, and have the person use talcum powder to increase comfort.

BE ENERGY SMART
 

Power outages are more likely to occur during warm weather, when utility usage is at its peak. To avoid putting a strain on the power grid, conserve energy to help prevent power disruptions. 

Set your air conditioner thermostat no lower than 78 degrees.

Only use the air conditioner when you are home.

Turn non-essential appliances off. 

Only use appliances that have heavy electrical loads early in the morning or very late at night.

For more information, visit: http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/emergency/weather/hot,
or http://www.dhses.ny.gov/oem/safety-info/publicsafety/heataware.cfm.

For information on New York City, including city cooling centers, visit:
http://www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/get_prepared/beat_the_heat/beattheheat.html.

To find cooling centers in a specific county, visit:
http://www.nysacho.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3713

Source: Press Office, Governor Andrew Cuomo

President Obama's Address to the African Union


Video link: African Union Address

Source: C-Span

Cabinet Secretaries on Iran Nuclear Agreement

 Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Iran nuclear agreement and its enforcement.


Source: C-Span 

Federal Communications Commission Oversight




Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai testified before the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee about the agency's priorities.  

Video link: FCC Oversight

Source: C-Span

Former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Dies


Statement by President Obama

On behalf of the American people, I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the people of India on the passing of former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.  A scientist and statesman, Dr. Kalam rose from humble beginnings to become one of India’s most accomplished leaders, earning esteem at home and abroad.  An advocate for stronger U.S.-India relations, Dr. Kalam worked to deepen our space cooperation, forging links with NASA during a 1962 visit to the United States.  His tenure as India’s 11th president witnessed unprecedented growth in U.S.-India ties.   Suitably named “the People’s President,” Dr. Kalam’s humility and dedication to public service served as an inspiration to millions of Indians and admirers around the world.  

Source: The White House Press Office

The Power of the Pen: H.R. 2499 Signed into Law


Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 2499

On Tuesday, July 28, 2015, the President signed into law:

H.R. 2499, the "Veterans Entrepreneurship Act of 2015," which prohibits the Small Business Administration (SBA) from collecting a guarantee fee in connection with an express loan made under its 7(a) Loan Program to a veteran or spouse of a veteran; and increases lending authority for SBA's 7(a) Loan Program for FY 2015 from $18.75 billion to $23.5 billion.

Source: The White House Press Office

Cuomo Honored by NYS Laborers, Pipefitters and Plumbers at Annual Meeting

Governor Signs Legislation to Protect Workers and Homeowners Involved in Mold Assessment, Remediation and Abatement

Governor Andrew Cuomo today was honored by the NYS Laborers and the NYS Pipefitters and Plumbers at their respective events in Warren County. The Governor was presented with the “Champion of Organized Labor” award by the Laborers and the “NY Builder” award by the Pipefitters and Plumbers. These awards come on the heels of the Governor’s presentation of a comprehensive vision to transform LaGuardia airport.

Additionally, the Governor also signed legislation to protect workers who are involved in the cleanup of mold from harm. The law modifies and improves upon a new licensing requirement for contractors and workers engaged in the assessment, remediation and abatement of mold.

“New York is New York because we dared to do what people said was impossible – and today, we are doing it again,” said Governor Cuomo. “From building a new Tappan Zee Bridge to fundamentally reimagining LaGuardia airport, we are taking on big, visionary projects in New York. It’s not easy, but together with our brothers and sisters in organized labor we are getting it done and we are building a new future for this state – and I am proud to be a partner in that effort.” 

Dr. Jim Melius, Administrator, NYS Laborers Health and Safety Trust Fund, said, “Governor Cuomo has proven himself as a true champion for working class people and organized labor, and he's been that way since day one of taking office. You’re seeing the proof of it all across the state – from the resurgence of building projects in Buffalo to the new Tappan Zee Bridge that is rising over the Hudson, and yesterdays' announcement of a new LaGuardia, our union and our state are better off because of Andrew Cuomo. That is why today, we are pleased to honor Governor Cuomo, a true champion and advocate for organized labor, across the board with the "Champion of Organized Labor" award.”

Jim Cahill, International Representative for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters and President of the NYS Building Trades, said, “Governor Cuomo is doing what no other Governor in the nation is doing right now, which is tackling big infrastructure projects with the next century in mind. In fact, thanks to Governor Cuomo, New York State is spending more money on capital construction projects than under any other Governor in history. That's the leadership we need in state government, and I am proud to honor Governor Cuomo with the “NY Builder” award for his dramatic and effective efforts to rebuild New York State.”

In addition to receiving these awards, the Governor signed legislation to protect workers and homeowners involved in mold remediation efforts. The law modifies and improves upon a new licensing requirement for contractors and workers engaged in the assessment, remediation and abatement of mold.

“This is a great step in the right direction for our workers in the city who deal with mold assessments and remediation,” said New York State Senator Diane J. Savino. “Thanks to Governor Cuomo and this new legislation, we will be able to ensure that all New York City contractors, as well as our average New Yorkers, are adequately equipped and trained to deal with these various jobs dealing with mold.”

“Many Superstorm Sandy victims unfortunately found that those who claimed to fix their mold problem were actually unqualified scammers who took their money and left their homes in dangerous condition,” said Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky. “Thanks to this bill, and Governor Cuomo, such an occurrence will not happen again. This bill establishes that those who are given licenses for mold inspection and remediation will be duly qualified to preform those tasks. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this important piece of legislation and for his concern for the many storm victims across my district.”

The new license will be issued by the State Department of Labor following the completion of the applicable state approved training program. The new licensing and training scheme protects consumers by requiring contractors to obtain appropriate training prior to performing mold assessment, remediation or abatement services. Contractors would be banned from advertising and performing these actions without this license, with limited exceptions such as home or business owners performing work on their own properties. In order to receive a license, contractors must meet certain minimum standards including being at least 18 years old and having the necessary training, insurance and workers compensation coverage.

The licensing scheme provides for the authorization of new minimum work standards for mold assessments and remediation activities by licensed professionals, including: 

Protection against fraud by prohibiting the performance of both the assessment and remediation on the same property by the same individual;

Protection against fraud by requiring an independent mold assessment to define the scope of the remediation work;

Identification of disinfectant products, consistent with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards;
 
Provision of personal protection equipment to employees, as necessary;
 
Posted notice of the project and the contractor’s licenses; and
 
Completion of a post-remediation assessment.  

Finally, violations of the law will be civil penalties in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. Prior to any license denial or revocation, or issuance of a fine, the Department of Labor would be required to notify the applicant or licensee of the action and provide an opportunity for a hearing on the action. All actions would be subject to judicial review.

Source: Press Office, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo  

The President and Prime Minister of Ethiopia hold a Joint Press Conference


President Obama and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia hold a joint press conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Life Facing Bars: A Gang Prevention Documentary


Meghan McCarthy on the Affordable Care Act

 

Meghan McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief of Morning Consult, talked legislative and legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act following the Supreme Court’s decision in King v Burwell. She also discussed efforts to expand Medicaid under the law.

Video link: The Affordable Care Act 

Source: C-Span

Interview with Lincoln Chafee


Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (D), a contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, is interviewed as part of a C-SPAN series of conversations with candidates.

Video link: Lincoln Chafee

Source: C-Span 

Hearing on Heroin Abuse Among Teens


Witnesses testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the growing trend in heroin abuse and discussed possible solutions to this problem.

Video link: Heroin Abuse Among Teens 

Source: C-Span

Flood Warnings, Wildfires Cause Turmoil Across US


ABC News' Ginger Zee and Matt Gutman track the latest weather news from across the country.

Inspiring 8-Year-Old Starts Non-Profit to Help Sick Kids


Martand Bhagavatula started Kids and Smiles with a mission to bring joy to children in the hospital.

Trailblazers in Black History: George Washington Carver


A short biography of George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery in 1861 near Diamond Grove, Mo and left when he was 10 to acquire an education. After becoming the Tuskegee Normal institute's director of agricultural research in 1896, he devoted his time to research projects aimed at helping Southern farmers improve their economic situation.