Extra Extra : March 2010

Over 51,000 hired after state imposed hiring freeze

Using electronic payroll records, Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y) reporter Delen Goldberg found that New York state officials hired 51,000 people at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1 billion in salaries since Gov. David Paterson ordered a “hard” hiring freeze in state government nearly two years ago. Former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll earns $155,000 annually in an environmental job the governor created for him. Paterson hired an executive assistant at a salary of $178,000, a special assistant at $135,000 a year and a scheduler at $105,000 a year. A man responsible for blogging and ... Read more ...

Identity revealed in fatality at CIA secret prison

The name of the only known fatality from a secret prison network that the CIA operated overseas after the 9/11 attacks is finally known, due to an Associated Press investigation of his imprisonment and death. Gul Rahman, a suspected militant imprisoned in a CIA compound code-named the Salt Pit near Kabul, was found dead in his cell in 2002. AP writers Adam Goldman, Kathy Gannon, Robert H. Reid and investigative researcher Randy Herschaft teamed up in the investigation.

Personnel law in North Carolina shrouds records in secrecy

Keeping Secrets, a three-part series by The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)  for Sunshine Week, found North Carolina's 35-year-old personnel law is among the most secretive in the nation, barring access to disciplinary actions, hiring decisions and employment histories. The series had plenty of examples showing how this secrecy is preventing the public from learning about all kinds of governmental abuses — predatory teachers and cops, patronage hires and payroll padding. It also included an electronic survey of state lawmakers on the issue, maps that showed how North Carolina compared to other states, and an internal investigation into patronage at one ... Read more ...

Special probabtion protects dangerous drivers

Joe Mahr and Gerry Smith of the Chicago Tribune did a computer analysis of state police speeding tickets and driving records. They found that nearly two-thirds of the time, people caught going 100 mph or faster were given a special kind of probation that kept the tickets off their driving records. That included those triple-digit speeders cited for also weaving through traffic and those who wove around the highway that fast while drunk. One chronic speeder, given the deal once for going 100 mph plus, got the deal again after going even faster.

Nanomaterials may pose serious health risk

Once confined to cutting-edge labs, nanotechnology has an increasingly pervasive place in everyday life. Its ultra-tiny engineered particles are  now in as many as 10,000 products. A series by Andrew Schneider of AOL News shows a growing body of research suggests these nanomaterials pose significant and potentially fatal health risks including lung, heart and brain damage, cancer and birth defects. The federal government has done very little to address this emerging threat or regulate the use of nanomaterials.

Some Massachusetts companies abused job creation tax breaks

Todd Wallack of The Boston Globe reports on the misuse of the Massachusetts' Economic Development Incentive Program which provides tax incentives to companies that invest and create jobs in the state. A review of records shows that hundreds of projects created fewer jobs than promised while others actually reduce employment while still collecting the tax breaks.  In other cases, companies received subsidies for projects that were already planned or underway without the incentives.

Stimulus funds for special-education diverted for other uses

An investigation by Shannon Mullen of the Asbury (N.J.) Park Press shows that special-education stimulus funds have been diverted to other costs in Monmouth and Ocean counties, including legal fees and teacher benefits. "The redirection of funds was possible thanks to a previously little-used provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal statute that guarantees children with disabilities the right to a 'free and appropriate' education. The law allows districts to use up to half of any annual increase in such federal aid to replace local tax dollars earmarked for special education, freeing up those funds for ... Read more ...

Nominee's links to TSA contractors raise ethics concerns

Last week, President Obama nominated Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding to head the Transportation Security Administration, but Harding's ties to several TSA contractors via Harding Security, a firm he founded in 2003, have raised ethics concerns.   "A review of Harding Security's business activities by CongressDaily showed that of 21 companies listed on the firm's Web site as its 'clients and partners,' several firms, including Lockheed Martin Corp., L-3 Communications, SAIC, CACI, QinetiQ and General Dynamics Corp., have done business with TSA."

U.S changes rules for holding Afgan detainees

A month after an investigation by CNN's Abbie Boudreau and Scott Zamost, the U.S. military has changed a controversial policy in Afghanistan that soldiers claimed put them at risk . The policy, known as the 96-hour rule, required that detainees be released or turned to Afghan authorities within four days. The new rule, announced by Gen. David Petraeus, extends the amount of time to 14 days or longer in some cases. Sen. Lindsey Graham credited CNN's story with revealing the problems with the 96-hour rule.