FEMA’s plan underestimated Puerto Rican hurricane

The federal government significantly underestimated the potential damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria and relied too heavily on local officials and private-sector entities to handle the cleanup, according to a POLITICO review of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s plan for the disaster.

The plan, which was developed by a FEMA contractor in 2014 in anticipation of a catastrophic storm and utilized by FEMA when Maria hit last September, prepared for a Category 4 hurricane and projected that the island would shift from response to recovery mode after roughly 30 days. In fact, Hurricane Maria was a “high-end” Category 4 storm with different locations on the island experiencing Category 5 winds. More than six month after Maria made landfall, the island is just beginning to shift to recovery mode.

More significantly, according to a half-dozen disaster-recovery experts who reviewed the document at POLITICO’s request, FEMA did not anticipate having to Continue reading “FEMA’s plan underestimated Puerto Rican hurricane”

5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

This week’s Washington whirlwind started with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg being grilled by Congress, escalated to President Donald Trump threatening to bomb Syria and House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing his departure—and that was all by Wednesday morning, before James Comey’s memoir landed in the news and Trump slammed his former FBI director as a “slime ball.”

Beneath all that top-level commotion, though, the Trump administration made a number of important policy changes, including a controversial effort to streamline infrastructure projects, and some important changes to Obamacare. In addition, a more subtle version of Trump’s trade crackdown continued. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

1. Trump looks to streamline environmental reviews
One of candidate Trump’s big promises was to rebuild America’s infrastructure with a $1 trillion plan that, in theory, could have been a big bipartisan win. But now that he’s been in office for 15 months, his infrastructure Continue reading “5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”

3 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

This week was almost quiet in Washington, as President Donald Trump fired just one senior official—Veteran Affairs’ Secretary David Shulkin—and implemented only a couple of controversial policies, including adding a question on citizenship to the 2020 census. He also announced a trade deal with South Korea—before almost immediately threatening to delay signing the deal on Thursday. By Friday morning, he was on the golf course in Florida.

Across the federal government, it was quiet as well. But Trump officials still made a few important announcements, especially relating to immigration. And the Food and Drug Administration continued to take a very different approach to Obama-era policies than the rest of the Trump administration. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

1. Trump ends deportation relief for Liberians
The Trump administration’s immigration policies have largely focused on cracking down on undocumented immigrants. But less noticed have been Trump’s moves to remove immigrants Continue reading “3 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”

How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — As Hurricane Maria unleashed its fury on Puerto Rico in mid-September, knocking out the island’s electrical system and damaging hundreds of thousands of homes, disaster recovery experts expected that only one man could handle the enormity of the task ahead: Mike Byrne.

But Byrne, a widely acknowledged star of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, remained in Houston, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey less than a month earlier.

Today, disaster recovery experts still express shock that FEMA kept Byrne in an already-stabilizing Texas and didn’t send him to Puerto Rico for three more weeks. But now, the decision strikes many as emblematic of a double standard within the Trump administration. A POLITICO review of public documents, newly obtained FEMA records and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response indicates that the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far Continue reading “How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico”

5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

A political week that began with the chaotic TV interview spree of Sam Nunberg, former aide to President Donald Trump, ended with the bombshell that Trump had decided to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un face-to-face. In the middle came Trump’s new tariffs on imported aluminum and steel and the resignation of Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser.

Unlike most of Trump’s headline pronouncements, the tariff announcement was a real policy change, and one that makes a lot of Republicans unhappy. But they’ll be far more pleased with the rest of what the Trump administration did this week—actions that didn’t garner such big headlines, but helped continue its steady shift away from Obama-era policies, including a DOJ lawsuit over California’s sanctuary city laws and a new, business-friendly approach to enforcing wage-and-hour rules at the Labor Department. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

1. The DOJ sues America’s largest Continue reading “5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”

Trump’s strange plan to issue a rule that he already repealed

As the GOP Congress scrambled last year to roll back as many Obama-era regulations as possible, one target was a Department of Labor rule on worker drug testing. The rule they rolled back wasn’t exactly a liberal employee protection: In fact it gave states permission to drug test certain workers receiving unemployment insurance, though it set limits around which workers.

On March 31, President Donald Trump signed the bill that officially eliminated the rule.

Now, less than a year later, Trump’s Department of Labor is planning to reissue a similar regulation—once again allowing states to drug test certain workers, only broadening it so that it applies to an even larger population.

The planned rulemaking, which the DOL expects to begin later this year, has raised fears among the left that the department will enable states to drug test many more workers. But it also may set up a deeper conflict Continue reading “Trump’s strange plan to issue a rule that he already repealed”

5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union was only a few days old when it was overshadowed by The Memo, a short Congressional document purportedly showing FBI bias against Trump. The week ended in a political free-for-all between Republicans and Democrats, the president and his own FBI, all while another deadline to fund the government looms next week.

Beneath all that noise and political theater, the Trump administration continued to make important policy changes—especially on immigration, where the Department of Homeland Security made two big moves. Elsewhere, workers’ advocates got a rare victory from the U.S.Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency continued its rapid reversal of Obama’s environmental legacy. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

1. Refugees welcome—with new security measures
While Trump’s travel ban has faced sharp pushback in the courts, he has found much more luck on another major campaign goal: stopping Continue reading “5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”

How Trump’s war on government could hit a roadblock

The words arrived 26 minutes into President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, and when they came, they sounded vague: Trump asked Congress “to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.” He also mentioned a new law making it easier for the Department of Veteran Affairs to fire employees.

The lines weren’t widely noted. But in a few places, sudden alarm bells went off: “Trump looks to expand VA’s firing authority government-wide,” ran a headline in FCW, a publication on government technology. The New Yorker dangled the prospect that Trump might be hinting at firing members of the FBI. Slate bit down harder: “Donald Trump Just Asked Congress to End the Rule of Law,” blared a headline.

His plan might not be that extreme, but Trump’s words did lay down a marker that could have repercussions Continue reading “How Trump’s war on government could hit a roadblock”

5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

The government shutdown that began on Saturday lasted just three days, leaving Washington without a spending deal and with a slight pause in its immigration wars. President Donald Trump and many of his officials jetted off to Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum, where he held bilateral meetings and denied a bombshell New York Times report that he’d ordered his top lawyer to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last summer.

Back in Washington, behind those headlines, his agencies were hard at work as soon as the government reopened, overturning decades-long environmental policies and imposing a Trumpian stamp on government. His administration made long-awaited moves on trade, attempted to crack down on sanctuary cities and green-lighted a controversial 12-mile road that has been under review for three decades. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

1. The Justice Department continues its attack on sanctuary cities
During his presidential campaign, Continue reading “5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”

Why the government shutdown actually costs money

The government shutdown that began on Saturday is likely to slow the economy, inconvenience millions of Americans and leave both President Donald Trump and Congress with a political black eye. But at least shuttering the government for a while will save taxpayers some money, right?

Actually, no.

Shutdowns end up being more expensive than just keeping the government open—and this one, if it’s like past shutdowns, will likely cost tens of millions of dollars a day. Maybe more. And it’s a mystery even to experts just how much.

A shutdown seems at first like it would lead to some quick and dramatic savings. Non-essential employees are furloughed, the government stops writing checks for huge swaths of programs and even essential employees come to work without getting paid.

But in reality it doesn’t quite work like that. Budget experts and past analyses by the White House budget office have found that Continue reading “Why the government shutdown actually costs money”

Trump’s war on regulations is real. But is it working?

In December, standing aside giant stacks of paper representing the morass of federal rules, President Donald Trump literally cut a line of red tape and declared victory in the war on government regulation. His administration, he announced, had repealed 22 regulations for each new rule issued, and cut regulatory costs by $8.1 billion—a headline number for what former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon called the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

But a closer look at that state during Trump’s first year in office reveals a slightly different story. The vast majority of that $8.1 billion in savings came from the repeal of a single federal contracting rule. The dramatic sounding “22-to-1” statistic is an apples-and-oranges comparison, weighing all deregulatory actions against just a small subset of new rules. And much of the deregulation was done not by Trump himself, but with the help of Congress, which Continue reading “Trump’s war on regulations is real. But is it working?”

3 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

The government shutdown loomed large over Washington this week, as Congress returned to confront an immigration impasse that threatens to derail talks over a crucial stopgap spending bill. As the clock ticks toward a midnight deadline, finger-pointing is rampant, and President Donald Trump continues to deal with the fallout from his alleged “shithole” comment.

We’ve been running this series for 31 weeks, and typically this is where we tell you that, behind all the headlines and political furor, federal agencies made a number of key policy changes behind the scenes—except this week that’s not really true. Maybe it was the holiday weekend, maybe the impending shutdown, but agencies made very few noteworthy policy moves this week. And if the government does shut down, there won’t be much next week either: A significant percentage of the federal workforce will be forced to stay home from work. But that doesn’t mean nothing Continue reading “3 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”

Is the GOP tax law already working?

The ink was barely dry on the $1.5 trillion tax cut Congress passed last month when President Donald Trump began crowing about its successes. Last week, he bragged at both the American Farm Bureau annual convention and a Cabinet meeting about companies that had already paid their workers bonuses because of it. “Nobody thought about it,” he said last Wednesday. “We just knew a lot of good things were going to happen.”

Congressional Republicans have taken their own victory laps. Last Thursday, just minutes after Wal-Mart announced that it was raising its hourly wage from $10 to $11 per hour, Speaker Paul Ryan’s office blasted out a press release promoting the news; House Republicans launched a website, titled “Tax Reform Works,” tracking new wage hikes and investments.

Democrats, meanwhile, have already declared the whole thing a failure, pointing to recent corporate stock buybacks as evidence that most Continue reading “Is the GOP tax law already working?”

5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

A relatively quiet week in Washington exploded on Thursday after The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump referred to “shithole countries” in a meeting with lawmakers, suggesting that the U.S. should take in more people from Norway. The comment provoked an immediate backlash at a moment when the administration was trying to sustain its political momentum after getting a major tax-reform law signed. On Capitol Hill, Congress made little progress toward a budget deal, as lawmakers stare down yet another government shutdown deadline next week.

Beneath the firestorm over the president’s language, the Trump administration made a number of real policy moves—including a big one on immigration. Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to rescind Barack Obama’s legacy and enact a new conservative agenda, including one of the most radical Medicaid reforms in the program’s history. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

1. Trump ends Continue reading “5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”

In one big week, Trump delivers for conservatives

President Donald Trump’s first week of 2018 was a big policy gift to his conservative base, wrapped with a bow.

Most of Trump’s administration has been defined by the huge gulf between its political theatrics and its real-world impact—a reality-show White House that occupies the headlines without really driving policy, while a serious but less-heralded conservative agenda marches forward behind the scenes at federal agencies.

Not this week. With three huge moves—tightening up marijuana law, opening new waters for oil-and-gas drilling, suspending aid to Pakistan—Trump handed big victories to red-meat conservatives, the kind of wins that GOP voters might have expected from far more conventional candidates.

Strategically the moves were a mixed bag for the GOP: As many commentators have noted, Republicans trying to hold onto their seats in blue-ish states in 2018 are going to have to toe a narrow line, distancing themselves from an administration whose approval rating Continue reading “In one big week, Trump delivers for conservatives”

The Real Future of Work

In 2013, Diana Borland and 129 of her colleagues filed into an auditorium at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Borland had worked there for the past 13 years as a medical transcriptionist, typing up doctors’ audio recordings into written reports. The hospital occasionally held meetings in the auditorium, so it seemed like any other morning.

The news she heard came as a shock: A UPMC representative stood in front of the group and told them their jobs were being outsourced to a contractor in Massachusetts. The representative told them it wouldn’t be a big change, since the contractor, a firm called Nuance Communications, would rehire them all for the exact same position and the same hourly pay. There would just be a different name on their paychecks.

Borland soon learned that this wasn’t quite true. Nuance would pay her the same hourly rate—but only for the first three months. Continue reading “The Real Future of Work”

138 things Trump did this year while you weren’t looking

In Donald Trump’s first act as president, he signed a high-profile executive order intended to dismantle Obamacare, instructing federal agencies to take any measures they could to roll back the Affordable Care Act. In retrospect, the vaguely worded directive was only symbolic. The Trump administration did eventually make moves to obstruct the law, but they took months and another executive order to implement. For all the theater, it’s hard to say whether that order had any effect at all.

Less noticed on Inauguration Day was a surprise move by the Federal Housing Administration to scratch a planned reduction in mortgage insurance premiums. That change helped shore up the financial health of the FHA’s mortgage insurance fund—but came at a real cost to homeowners, who would have saved an average of $500 a year if the Obama-era plan had stayed in place.

If you didn’t hear about the $500 you may Continue reading “138 things Trump did this year while you weren’t looking”

138 things Trump did this year while you weren’t looking

In Donald Trump’s first act as president, he signed a high-profile executive order intended to dismantle Obamacare, instructing federal agencies to take any measures they could to roll back the Affordable Care Act. In retrospect, the vaguely worded directive was only symbolic. The Trump administration did eventually make moves to obstruct the law, but they took months and another executive order to implement. For all the theater, it’s hard to say whether that order had any effect at all.

Less noticed on Inauguration Day was a surprise move by the Federal Housing Administration to scratch a planned reduction in mortgage insurance premiums. That change helped shore up the financial health of the FHA’s mortgage insurance fund—but came at a real cost to homeowners, who would have saved an average of $500 a year if the Obama-era plan had stayed in place.

If you didn’t hear about the $500 you may Continue reading “138 things Trump did this year while you weren’t looking”

What Congress actually did in 2017

April 4, 2017, wasn’t an especially notable day for news. But it was a big day for America’s meteorologists.

That Tuesday afternoon, the House of Representatives quietly passed legislation to overhaul the nation’s weather forecasting system, sending to President Donald Trump’s desk the first big revamp of that critical piece of national infrastructure in more than two decades. The 98-page bill authorized more than $170 million worth of investment, including innovative projects like a set of microsatellites to watch for severe weather events and track space weather. The upgrades not only affect meteorologists but are expected to help save lives through better storm planning, smarter disaster response and more reliable weather predictions weeks or even months in advance.

In Washington, it’s fair to say almost nobody noticed the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act. The headlines, instead, were Neil Gorsuch’s nomination moving through the Senate, and the repeated White House Continue reading “What Congress actually did in 2017”

5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking

A frenetic, noisy year in Washington came to an end this week as Republicans successfully passed their first major legislation of the term, an overhaul of the tax code. President Donald Trump cheered its passage, and Congress escaped town on Thursday after barely avoiding a government shutdown, ending the year on a rare quiet note.

With 2018 approaching, many of Trump’s senior White House aides are reportedly getting ready to pack up their desks. But elsewhere in his federal agencies, political officials are still just getting started: they’re reviewing Obama-era rules and actively implementing a new conservative agenda across the government. This week, quiet as it seemed, was no exception. From the withdrawal of new housing rules to better prepare for climate change to the EPA’s approval of a controversial herbicide, here’s how Trump’s administration changed policy this week:

1. HUD abandons Obama-era rules on floods
In October 2016, the Continue reading “5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking”