Meet the reformer: Danielle Brian, a dean of the watchdogs
Danielle Brian is executive director of the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates corruption, misconduct and conflicts of interest in the federal government. A South Florida native and National FOIA Hall of Fame member, Brian has testified before Congress more than 40 times in the 27 years she's been leading the organization, which goes by the memorable acronym POGO. She returned to the group and took the reins in 1993 after interning there a decade earlier. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's the tweet-length description of your organization?
@POGOBlog is a nonpartisan watchdog that fights to fix the federal government. We investigate corruption, abuse of power and when the government silences whistleblowers. We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
During my internship for my member of Congress, I persuaded him to change a vote. I thought it was because of the power of my arguments but learned later from the legislative director that it was the passion with which I made my case that won him over.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
Working with whistleblowers, we helped to expose a massive fraud against taxpayers by the oil and gas industry. When we sued the 15 biggest oil companies, they fought back hard and got their friends in Congress to go after us for them. After years of battles that might have destroyed the organization, we not only emerged stronger, but we forced the companies to pay nearly $500 million back to the taxpayers, helped break up the Minerals Management Service into three separate agencies at the Interior Department and caused the regulations to change so that companies couldn't commit that fraud again in the future.
And your most disappointing setback?
Not getting intelligence community whistleblower protections into the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act when we helped get it passed in 2012. (But maybe now we will!)
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
Being an independent, I'm liberated from feeling the pain of partisan hypocrisy.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
When it comes to working in Washington, it's a combination of "Put not your trust in princes" and Stephen Stills' "Love the one you're with." I have learned to work with a person I agree with on an issue, but I don't assume we will agree on anything else.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
"Exposing Cocoa-ruption": nuts partially covered in chocolate in a swirling base of strawberry and blueberry.
What's your favorite political movie or TV show?
I can't decide between West Wing and House of Cards. It depends on my mood.
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Check to see if either of my adult kids or my mom has texted.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I worked for Geraldo Rivera!
- House passes bill to speed an end to inspector general vacancies ... ›
- Closing the door on advice - The Fulcrum ›
Efforts to fend off election hackers in 2020 and beyond have revolved around protecting ballot equipment and the databases of registered voters. Little attention has been focused on the vendors and their employees.
But the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice is proposing that the vendors who make election equipment and related systems be subjected to heightened oversight and vetting, much like defense contractors or others involved in national security.
"There is almost no federal regulation of the vendors that design and maintain the systems that allow us to determine who can vote, how they vote, or how their votes are counted and reported," according to a new report from the nonpartisan policy institute.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has a message for corporations: The country is in trouble, so get off your butt.
The foundation made its pitch to the business community in a newly published white paper chronicling the sorry state of civics education, the role that corporations can play in healing a divided country and why it should all matter to businesses.
The health of civics education is "quite bleak," foundation President Carolyn Cawley said in an introduction to the paper, which she called "the first step in our efforts to make the business case for civics."
With the support and buy-in of the private sector, the foundation believes, the country stands a better chance at improving civic education and engagement, which in turn could heal the in-fighting, distrust and misinformation undermining the health of the country and well-being of corporate America.