Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Federal Government’ Category

U.S. report: more guns, less murder; loopholes, laissez-faire

by December 18th, 2012

As public concern begins to crest after the latest U.S. mass murders involving high-capacity semi-automatic weapons, pressure is growing on Congress to take more decisive action to help prevent such tragedies in the future. Exactly one month before the heinous killings on December 14 of 26 school children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a 118-page study from the Congressional Research Service was released that is likely to play a large role in framing the accelerating debate. It reported the rates of U.S. murders and firearms murders have declined markedly in the last 18 years, even as the national stock of firearms held by citizens has grown by half or more. But at the same time, according to the policy research arm of Congress, data reporting failures have continued to undermine background checks of gun-buyers mandated under the Brady Act; while a large loophole remains in requirements for background checks; and a federal ban on semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity ammo feeders which expired in 2004 still hasn’t been renewed.

Feds: unions keep losing ground even in pro-union states

by December 14th, 2012

Even in the most pro-union U.S. states, where payment of basic union dues for negotiating work is compulsory for represented members of a collective bargaining unit, the actual percentage of all employees covered under contracts between organized labor and management in 2011 was just 17 percent. But only 15.8 percent of workers in such “union security” states in 2011 were actually union members; because under federal law they can still decline that classification and decline to be charged additional dues for political lobbying. In so-called right-to-work states, where payment of basic union dues by represented workers isn’t mandatory, the drop-off was the exact same in 2011, 1.2 percent. Some 6.9 percent of workers were covered by union contracts in RTW states and 5.7 percent were union members. Across all 50 states, union membership has declined from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 11.8 percent in 2011. In union security states the decline was from 24.3 percent to 15.8 percent over the same 28-year stretch, and in right-to-work states it dropped from 11.6 percent to 5.7 percent. All this and more is highlighted in a new report from the Congressional Research Service titled “Right to Work Laws: Legislative Background and Empirical Research.”

Fossil fuels will still dominate U.S. energy usage in 2040

by December 6th, 2012

In 2040 almost four-fifths of the energy the United States uses will be from the fossil fuels of oil, coal or natural gas. That’s just a bit less than last year but natural gas – seen by some as greener than oil or coal – will play a larger role in that mix, and coal and oil less. And by 2040 more than a tenth of the nation’s energy supply will come from renewables such as hydropower, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal power, and wave motion. That would be a good dollop more than the eight percent share for renewables in 2011.

These are some of recent facts and future projections in the baseline or “reference case” case scenario for the Annual Energy Outlook 2013 Early Release presented in a a Washington, D.C. briefing yesterday by Adam Sieminski, the head of the U.S. Energy Department’s data and forecasting unit, called the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

U.S. report: Montana, Oregon in top tier for underage drinking

by December 3rd, 2012

A survey by the U.S. government on drug use and health shows that from 2008 through 2010, both Oregon and Montana ranked in the top quintile nationally in self-reported underage use of alcohol as a percent of state population age 12 to 20. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health over those three years interviewed 93,700 representative respondents aged 12-20, in their homes across the U.S. to develop projected statewide rates. The resulting report, “State Estimates of Underage Alcohol Use and Self-Purchase of Alcohol: 2008 to 2010,” showed that nationwide on average 26.6 percent of the respondents – all under the legal drinking age of 21 in all 50 state – reported having drank alcohol in the last 30 days. Among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Montana ranked fourth at 34.84 percent and Oregon seventh at 32.15 percent. More than in any other state except one, Oregon underage drinkers are not themselves purchasing the alcohol they drink, according to the report; only 2.57 percent did so.

Washington in bottom third in on-time high school grad rates

by November 30th, 2012

New rankings that the U.S. Department of Education says are for the first time solidly comparable between states, show that in the 2010-2011 school year Washington ranked in the bottom third nationally in its rate of on-time high school graduation, within four years of 9th grade. Washington was tied with several other states for the 14th lowest rate, of 76 percent, out of 47 states plus the District of Columbia and the nationwide Bureau of Indian Education, for which data were available. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement, “By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed. Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.” Making increased K-12 spending effective is certainly an issue in Washington, one which independent state policy analysts continue to probe.

Up to $106M more in military contracts OKd for WA firms

by November 28th, 2012

The U.S. Marine Corps and Army will be getting up to $32.9 million worth of top-of-the-line powdered eggs through early 2018 under a contract announced this week between the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency and a Lacey, Wash. company named Nutriom. National sales manager Ed Hernandez says the family-owned firm was formed in the early 2000s and had been supplying the military previously just as a subcontractor, so this is a big step forward. Meanwhile, earlier this month, Kent, Wash.-based Sysco Seattle Inc. won two one-year contract extensions worth up to $73 million for food service supplies and distribution to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Northwest companies other than military giant Boeing continue to win U.S. defense contracts for a wide range of deliverables, including food supplies, medical technology, construction services, surveillance systems, water filtration devices and even ocean research vessels.

But up to $33 million for a whole lot of powdered eggs? Given its almost universally-poor reputation with diners, and far higher expectations these days for institutional food, is this really a smart purchase by the U.S. government? Hernandez, of Nutriom, says the company’s research and development process has yielded a line of powdered egg products which actually taste good and are virtually indistinguishable from fresh-cooked eggs. The product to be purchased by the Defense Logistics Agency is a boil-in-bag version of its trademarked “OvaEasy” dehydrated egg crystals, with butter flavoring added.

KING-5 took the OvaEasy product for a test drive with the help of the morning grill cook at the Seattle breakfast spot Beth’s Cafe on Aurora Ave. North, home of the legendary 12-egg omelet. Perhaps unexpectedly, there were thumbs-up from the chef and KING 5’s no-pushover reviewer.

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A bright future for Mom ‘n Pop pot shops in Washington?

by November 14th, 2012

It’s entirely possible the U.S. will just chillax on possible prosecutions for marijuana use allowed in states now to include Washington, where voters last week approved medicinal or recreational adult use of an ounce or less starting in a few weeks, and levying a 25 percent tax on authorized sales once rules are adopted. But anything much like a big industrial marijuana sales operation with a state’s OK is likely to get the gimlet eye from federal prosecutors. These are among the key suggestions in a new report from the Congressional Research Service issued late last week after Washington and Colorado voters liberalized their state marijuana laws.

Officially, it’s not clear yet what the federal response will be to Washington’s Initiative 502, which passed by an 11-point margin. As the Seattle Times reported last week, options include contesting individual usage under U.S. law, or challenging the very concept of licensed sales, which will ensue from state guidelines issued a year from now. But the CRS report, which is national in scope and accents key U.S. Justice Department documents, quietly suggests the feds may be looking for a nuanced middle ground in states such as Washington.