April 21, 2017
Thanks for the Feedback
We’ve received lots of feedback about Behind the Curtain which we greatly appreciate. We think it’s a concerning but important list to maintain and share. Now that President Trump is filling Undersecretary and Deputy Secretary positions across the Administration, the entries will grow and become even tougher for my small but capable staff to keep up with. If you come across anything you think belongs on this list, let us know. Many of our readers are on the frontlines of health care and transportation and education and immigration and so much more. You may encounter something — a change in federal policy or a program elimination — that’s worth highlighting. Let us know if we miss something. And now, on to this week’s entries:
Behind the Curtain — More House and Trump Administration Actions You Don’t Want to Miss
Here are this week’s additions. If you need to catch up or share with friends, you can find the full list here.
- In January the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order defining the parameters under which former lobbyists could work for the Administration and what restrictions they would be subject to upon leaving government service. The Executive Order weakens the rules President Obama put in place and are significantly less reform minded than the Trump campaign’s own “Drain the Swamp” Five Point Plan for Ethics Reform. While Trump Administration officials will face a 5-year ban on lobbying the agency they worked for, they will be free to lobby any other part of government after they leave. The Trump Executive Order also reduces to 1 year the previous 2-year ban on Administration officials contacting their former agencies. During the campaign, Trump promised to expand the definition of lobbyist because too many people today evade lobbying restrictions by calling themselves consultants or advisors. Breaking his own campaign promise, Trump’s Executive Order is limited to registered lobbyists. Obama and Trump both retained the ability to waive their lobbying bans on a case-by-case basis, but Trump has removed the requirement to report these waivers annually to the public. Since that January EO, some individuals have been hired to advise on issues for which they clearly lobbied past Administrations. By removing this public reporting requirement, the public does not know how many or to whom waivers have been granted.
- On April 14, 2017 the Trump Administration announced it would no longer make White House visitor logs public. This reverses an Obama Administration policy of sharing with the public who is entering the White House as well as whom they are meeting with. The current Administration’s reversal on this shows a stunning lack of transparency.
- On April 17, 2017 President Trump appointed former Congressman Scott Garrett to lead the Export Import Bank (Ex Im Bank). Garrett was one of the most vocal critics of this independent federal agency and in fact voted twice (in 2012 and in 2015) against renewing the bank’s charter. So is this a case of letting the fox inside the henhouse OR will this fox change his position as Trump claims to have done and now support the Ex Im Bank? This agency helps companies compete globally by giving them access to financing when private sector funding is not readily available. Eliminating or weakening the Ex Im Bank places American companies at a significant disadvantage when trading overseas which has an impact on jobs. Every other major country, including China, has a comparable institution.
- On April 17, 2017 the Administration indefinitely delayed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation limiting worker exposure to silica. This is a mineral commonly found at construction sites – for example, in concrete, granite or sand. Silica dust can cause lung cancer. Delaying this rule impacts worker safety.
- On April 18, 2017 we learned that the Chinese government approved trademarks for Ivanka Trump’s company, awarding monopoly rights to sell her brand of jewelry, bags and spa services in China, the world’s second largest economy. The trademarks were approved the day after she sat next to the Chinese Prime Minister at dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Ivanka’s company has also applied for at least 9 new trademarks in the Philippines, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. This is one more in a long line of conflict of interest issues raised by the Trumps' global businesses and their role as First Family. The Trump family has an advantage that no other business in this country can compete with.
Just How Thorough is the Refugee Vetting Process?
As you are aware, President Trump has suspended the Refugee Assistance Program, insisting that it must be strengthened. We thought it would be useful to detail for you just how thorough that process already is. It starts with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) where documentation and biographical information of refugee applicants is analyzed. Refugee status is granted only after the UNHCR verifies the information. This makes the individual eligible for a resettlement referral to the United States.
The vetting process then moves to the Department of State when the UN application is sent to a Resettlement Support Center (RSC). Applicants are interviewed at an RSC and all their information is entered into the Worldwide Refugees Admission Processing System (WRAPS). This allows officials to determine the veracity of all information provided and to check it with information given to other relevant agencies. All data collected is then sent to six separate agencies for further review and background checks, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. The intelligence community also initiates a background check. Officials are searching for possible security threats and links to individuals who are already under scrutiny or known to officials because of past troubling activities. Refugee applicants are vetted for any history of immigration violations or criminal activity as well. Applicants from Syria undergo a more extensive review process.
All agencies involved in screening refugees share their findings with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for further review. At this point in the process officials will meet with potential refugees in their host country to interview them and collect biometric data. The Department of Homeland Security reviews the new information collected and compares it with all the other information available to identify inconsistencies. If any are found, the vetting process is suspended while additional security checks are conducted.
The fingerprints of refugee candidates are run through three biometric databases: the FBI, DHS and the Department of Defense. If any issues are identified with the fingerprint analysis, the refugee application is terminated.
If everything has checked out, applicants will then attend a class to learn about American culture and be subject to a thorough medical screening. Once all this has been completed, representatives from the 9 domestic resettlement agencies meet to place the refugee. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) makes all travel arrangements and the refugee applicant is then subject to a final security check. This is conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program. If the refugee applicant does not pass this final check, their application is terminated.
This is a lengthy process that can take two years. While there is always room for improvement in any system, the current refugee vetting process is fairly extensive. I am curious to learn where and how the Trump Administration will recommend improvements.
What’s Up Next
The next House votes will take place on Tuesday April 25th. The House is expected to consider legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, 2017. It is also possible that the House will consider new legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act.