Airline Received $73M in Federal Funds, But Can’t Secure Its Data
January 30, 2023
Regional airline company Champlain Enterprises, specifically its subsidiary CommuteAir, recently suffered a data breach, where a Swiss hacker gained access to the federal Terrorist Screening Database and “no-fly” list. This is after Champlain Enterprises received more than $73 million in financial assistance from the U.S. Treasury.
The sensitive data was held on an unsecured server in an unencrypted Excel sheet, making it easy for the hacker to gain access to the 1.5 million names — including aliases — that the U.S. government has put on a “no-fly list” due to suspicion or concern over terrorism, according to Fox Business. The breach also revealed company data, including private information on almost 1,000 CommuteAir employees.
CommuteAir contracts with major airlines like United to help them cover shorter regional routes. Over the course of the pandemic, its parent company received more than $73 million in assistance from the federal government as part of its Payroll Support Program, which was meant to help airlines keep its workers on the payroll, and was distributed over three rounds in 2020 and 2021.
Despite $73 million in federal assistance, the airline company was unable to keep its sensitive data secure or encrypted. Companies that take federal money and are trusted with sensitive public data like no-fly lists should at least be able to ensure that data is secure.
Illinois Lawmakers Give Themselves $12K Raise
January 31, 2023
As Illinoisans have fled the state in droves thanks to rising crime, high taxes, and poor public education, Illinois legislators gave themselves a $12,000 pay raise.
Illinois lost 110,000 residents in 2022, and saw its debt increase by $10 billion to $140 billion in 2022.
Despite these failures, state legislators passed many spending bills in late December. This included $850 million for the state’s rainy day fund, $400 million to attract businesses, and pay raises for members of the state General Assembly, Senate, and executive agencies.
State lawmakers saw their pay increase 18% and now make $85,000 per year, with an additional $12,000 in stipends for “extra duties,” making them the 4th highestpaid state legislators in the nation. The last pay raise for Illinois legislators came in 2008.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker also secured pay raises for his cabinet and executive agency directors, who will see about a 10% pay bump. The Illinois lieutenant governor, comptroller, and treasurer will now make $160,900. The attorney general and secretary of state will now make $183,300. The chiefs of eight executive agencies can now earn up to $200,000.
While the billionaire Pritzker doesn’t take a salary, the governor’s salary also increased to $205,700, from $190,700.
Illinois Democrats defended the pay raises, with Gov. Pritzker telling ABC7 that, “People are willing to take a discounted salary off of what they might get in the private sector to come to public service, but you really have to be somewhat competitive.”
With a possible recession, many in the private sector are faced with pay cuts and layoffs, while government officials boost their bank accounts with taxpayer money.
Maine Irish Heritage Center Gets $3M for Renovations
February 1, 2023
Among the over $16 billion worth of earmarks included in the $1.7 trillion omnibusspending bill passed late last year, was $3 million for the Maine Irish Heritage Center.
Allocated by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the funds will pay to refurbish the organization’s building, constructed in the 1890s. Formerly St. Dominic’s Church, the building has withstood “more than 120 years worth of salty, sea-driven winter storms off Casco Bay,” corroding slate roof tiles and iron pins, according to an article from the Bangor Daily News.
The federal funds will pay for replacing the existing slate shingle pins with new stainless-steel pins, to better hold up ceiling shingles, as well as “repointing every mile of mortar holding the building’s impressive brick edifice together.”
Any money left over after these improvements will go toward restoring stained glass windows and plaster details, and constructing more display space for artifact collections.
In addition to $3 million for the Irish Heritage Center, Collins, along with Sen. Angus King, secured a total of $299 million in earmarks for projects in Maine. Other earmarks for Maine include $4.4 million for a “Pond and Park reclamation project,” $1.5 million for restoration of the Augusta Colonial Theater, and $1.5 million each for the Bangor and the Old Town Orono YMCAs.
While the Maine Irish Heritage Center may be in need of repair, there are a variety of funding streams that could have been used instead of federal money. In fact, the Center has already financed projects with individual donations, grants from local governments, and even financial assistance from the Irish government, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Throwback Thursday: Air Force Brass Flew in Posh Private Jet
February 2, 2023
In 1983, the Health Care Financing Administration, now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, wasted $45 million — $134.5 million in 2023 dollars — by adopting a policy that allowed Medicare to foot the bill for cutting toenails.
Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave the agency his Golden Fleece Award for this costly and wasteful policy.
According to Proxmire, “Medicare does not usually pay for routine footcare such as cutting toenails. But if patients have a fungus infection around that toenail, then Medicare will pay for a procedure called debridement of mycotic toenails – in other words, cutting [or removing] infected toenails.”
Proxmire cited an Inspector General report that found “significant overutilization” of this procedure, as well as “solid indications that some podiatrists … are misdiagnosing the medical condition of beneficiaries in order to obtain Medicare reimbursement for routine toenail cutting.” The report cited that these misdiagnoses cost approximately $45 million per year.
A study by the Inspector General detailed the scheme in Virginia. Podiatrists billed Medicare $791,000, with more than 70% of those cases being for debridements. This procedure should take about 15 minutes to complete, but some podiatrists billed for between 50 and 116 debridements in one day’s work, impossible to perform in a single day.
To fix this abuse, Proxmire suggested two simple solutions: limit reimbursements for debridements to once every 60 days, and require doctors to diagnose these infections, not podiatrists. Though simple, those two fixes could have saved taxpayers $45 million in 1983.
Proxmire reminds us that solutions to these problems need not be complicated in order to save taxpayer money.
Joe Manchin’s Wife’s Commission Received $200M from Omnibus Bill
February 3, 2023
Included in the $1.7 trillion omnibus package supported by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was a provision to give $200 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission, an agency headed by Manchin’s wife, Gayle.
The Appalachian Regional Commission operates as an economic development partnership between the federal government and 13 Appalachian states, distributing infrastructure grants in those states.
Its head, Gayle Manchin, makes $160,000 in her role as its federal co-chair, according to a Fox News report. She was confirmed by the Senate in 2021.
The $200 million in funding is a $5 million increase from last year.
“The West Virginia senator previously helped craft earlier legislation, following his wife's 2021 appointment, that allocated $1 billion in funding over five years for the ARC,” Fox reported. Sen. Manchin was a key Democratic negotiator of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which doubled the commission's funding level.
Gayle Manchin defended the spending increase in 2021, claiming this funding is necessary to, “more adequately meet the overwhelming needs of communities impacted by job losses resulting from the decline in the coal industry. These grants will be instrumental to the long-term diversification and economic growth in Appalachia.”
This isn’t the only instance of federal money being sent to a family member in the omnibus bill. Rep. Jim Cooper sent $2.7 million to Metro Nashville, where his brother John Cooper is mayor. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan secured $152 million for his home state of New Mexico, where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a distant relative.
Funneling money to an agency headed by a spouse isn’t illegal, but it does present a clear conflict of interest that erodes trust between people and their governments.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.