Smart Growth Boomerangs On Clintons' Hometown

Editor's Note: This is about the same policy and federal mandates from HUD, DOT?and EPA, which have required Yellowstone County officials' endorsement in order to qualify for federal grants.

New York's Westchester County boasts antebellum mansions and castles and residents include former President Bill Clinton, Michael Douglas, Ralph Lauren, David Letterman, Michael Bloom- berg and the Rockefellers.

You wouldn't think a place like that would even need to ask the U.S. Housing and Urban Development for help in providing infrastructure to its poor. But county lawmakers have done exactly that since 1976, and they're discovering too late that it's a deal with the devil.

Read more: Smart Growth Boomerangs On Clintons' Hometown

No More Backdoor?

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon wants to ban the practice of requiring tech companies to integrate back doors into their devices, allowing the federal government to snoop on Americans.

In a bill titled the Secure Data Act, Wyden lays out the case for scrapping government requirements for companies who produce cell phones and computers to include capabilities for law enforcement and federal agencies to secretly access user data.

Read more: No More Backdoor?

SBA Fee Relief Continues

 

The U.S Small Business Administration has announced that fee relief on 7(a) loans of $150,000 or less implemented last year and originally slated to expire on Sept. 30, will be extended through fiscal year 2015. SBA has also announced that fee relief measures for SBA Veterans Advantage will also be renewed as well as enhanced. Both the extension of the fee relief for 7(a) loans $150,000 and under, and the extension and enhancement of the fee relief for SBA Veterans Advantage loans will become effective today, October 1st, and will remain in effect through Sept. 30, 2015.

Read more: SBA Fee Relief Continues

NLRB Grants Unions Access to Private Addresses

Labor unions got an early Christmas present from the National Labor Relations Board: access to non-union workers' email address and phone numbers.

The NLRB earlier this month issued new rules for how and when union organizing elections can take place within workplaces. Under the new rules, unions will have access to employees' private information as they make their sales pitch, and employers will have less time to respond to workers' demands before a unionization election can take place.

Geoff Burr, vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a national trade association for non-union construction companies, said the new rules "will lead to the unsolicited distribution of employees' personal contact information."

Read more: NLRB Grants Unions Access to Private Addresses

Taxpayers Fund Union "Official Time"

Unionized federal employees spent 2.48 million hours working for their labor unions while getting paid by taxpayers during 2013, and more than 360 workers who are on the federal payroll spent 100 percent of their time working for their union.

Under federal rules, employees who are members of a labor union are entitled to so-called "official time," where they are dismissed from their duties as a government employee to engage in labor union organizing activities. A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows the use of official time has increased over the past several years as the size of the federal workforce has grown.

And it's costing taxpayers plenty. According to the Office of Personnel Management, which tracks federal employees' time, federal employees were paid more than $157 million during 2012 while doing work for labor unions.

The GAO says the price tag may be even higher, since some federal agencies are not adequately tracking their employees' official time.

"Since agencies are most often managing the use of official time using an approach that has no specified number of hours, they could be at greater risk for abuse," auditors warned in the report, released last week.

During fiscal year 2013, more than 10,500 federal employees clocked at least one hour of official time, according to the GAO, which examined only the 10 largest agencies of the federal government.

A total of 2.48 million hours were devoted to union work by those employees. That's up from 1.9 million hours of official time used in 2006, a 25 percent increase since the previous time the GAO examined the issue.

Part of the reason for the increase is an overall increase in the size of government — there are 150,000 more employees in the 10 agencies covered by the report today than there were in 2006.

The largest increase in official time is in the Department of Homeland Security, the newest large bureaucracy in Washington. The number of employees in the department has nearly tripled since 2006, while the increase in using official time has jumped by 177 percent.

In 2013, DHS officials clocked more than 272,000 hours doing work for unions and getting paid by taxpayers.

That total is dwarfed by the 488 employees at the Veterans Association, who rang up more than 1 million hours of official time during 2013 — the largest total of an department the GAO examined.

"With veterans literally dying waiting to see a doctor, VA staff should be focused on fulfilling the promises made to America's heroes rather than on performing union duties to secure greater benefits for themselves," U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told the Federal Times, a newspaper that covers issues affecting federal employees.

The amount of official time allotted to a federal employee is determined by collective-bargaining agreements and differs from agency to agency and bargaining unit to bargaining unit. Because federal employee labor unions do not employ their own paid union business managers to represent employees, the use of official time was put into law in 1978 to allow labor union members to conduct labor union business while still getting paid by taxpayers.

Official time also is seen as a trade-off because federal employees are not allowed, by law, to go on strike.

But there are at least 360 employees of the federal government who work full-time for their unions while collecting a government paycheck, according to the GAO.

That's a tiny sliver of the federal workforce, but enough to make some question why taxpayers are footing the bill.

Though there have been congressional efforts to limit how much "official time" federal employees can use, they have been unsuccessful.

Coburn was one of 14 Republican senators who introduced a bill earlier this year to reduce what types of activities could count as "official time." A similar bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., in the U.S. House.

The Federal Workers Alliance opposed that bill. The FWA maintains official time is essential to government workers' collective-bargaining rights and should continue to be paid for by taxpayers.

Those proposals and others haven't advanced past the committee hearing stage, even in the Republican-controlled House. U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who authored a bill to require more disclosure of employees' official time, told Washington Examiner in February that House GOP leaders were unwilling to take on the powerful federal employee unions.

Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota,

Nominate a Business!

The US Small Business Administration is encouraging business leaders and organizations to nominate successful small business entrepreneurs for the 2015 SBA Small Business Awards.

To be announced next spring, the awards will be made to Small Business Person of the Year, Small Business Exporter, Veteran-owned Small Business, Woman –owned Small Business, Minority-owned Small Business, Millenial Entrepreneur and Encore Entrepreneur (started business after age 50).

Nominations are due by December 23, 2014. Full nomination instructions and guidelines can be found at www.sba.gov/mt.

First Up in Congress

 

One of the first bills expected in the next Congress is a bill redefining a full-time employee as an individual working 40 hours/week instead of 30 hours, as newly-defined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Under the current definition, many employees are being hurt by lost wages and hours as employers restructure their workforce by reducing employees' hours to alleviate the burden of the employer mandate under the PPACA.

Read more: First Up in Congress

Clorox Subject of Venezuelan Executive Edict

In the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, threatened by anti-business regulations and the collapse of their companies, scores of prosperous business owners abandoned their fortunes and went into hiding. John Galt, the central character, persuaded them to relocate to a region where their efforts would be rewarded, leaving the rest of society to their fate.

Now, it seems Galt is in Venezuela.

Clorox, the manufacturer of home cleaning products, recently closed its doors and joined the list of companies that have left the South American country to escape the crackdown of the heavy-handed Venezuelan government.

Since the populist regime decided to freeze prices three years ago, the company has operated at a loss. In response, the firm shut down operations and laid off all 447 of its employees.

Soon after the closure, the Venezuelan government ordered the company to restart operations and put the jobless back to work. When Clorox refused, the government seized the plant in what it called a "temporary occupation."

Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza has begun a criminal investigation and intends to throw the book at the company for abandoning ship and leaving its 447 workers jobless. He also sternly warned other firms this type of behavior "violates human rights and won't be tolerated."

In a country where the president himself refers to big business as "bourgeois parasites," it's no surprise companies want to get out and find a friendlier place to hawk their wares. Add to the hostile business climate, rigid price and currency controls, which have led to skyrocketing inflation, and you have the perfect conditions for a mass exodus.

Imagine a world where a few bunches of carrots will run you $19, a Big Mac over $14, and a pair of sneakers upwards of $1,200.

According to Reuters, shortages and hyperinflation are the norm in this Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries nation.

As Venezuelans come to grips with the unintended consequences of their government's decisions, it's worth remembering that whether it's Caracas or Detroit, 'profit' isn't a dirty word. Where ever there's profit, there is value added. Where ever there isn't profit, there is deficit. In Clorox's case, deficit looks like 447 jobs gone forever.

Editor's Note: The Grand Experiment of "sharing the wealth" has been tried in the past and continues to be tried in many places. This report is indicative of the universal results.

DOT Rules Requiring New Rail Cars Will Drive up Transportation Costs

Proposed Department of Transportation safety rules that require phasing out older rail tanker cars that carry Bakken crude oil in two years will drive up costs and put the US energy revival at risk, a leading industry group said.

Instead, the American Petroleum Institute (API) proposed allowing DOT-111 cars to remain in service for at least four years. Changing out the cars is part of a series of safety proposals made by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration.

Read more: DOT Rules Requiring New Rail Cars Will Drive up Transportation Costs

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