Watchdog files suit against DOT; FHWA for blocking records on controversial highway memo

Transportation has been reluctant to release records surrounding the December 2021 memo discouraging states from spending funds on expanding roads

October 6, 2022

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) announced transparency litigation against the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for failing to release records surrounding a December 2021 FHWA memo asking states to use funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) for bike lanes and climate resilience instead of maximizing investment in highway expansion and new bridges.

In November 2021, Congress passed the BIL, a whopping $1.2 trillion funding bill that was sold to the public as an investment in America’s infrastructure. However, on December 16, 2021, the FHWA released a memo laying out “guidance” for states on how to spend the funds they would receive from the BIL, calling it an “overarching framework to prioritize the use of BIL resources on projects that will Build a Better America.” The guidance encouraged states to spend funds on climate projects and bike lanes rather than the traditional infrastructure that had been a primary selling point of trillion dollar bill. The memo came during the height of the nation’s supply chain crisis when support for investment in new infrastructure was at its peak. The catalyst for the memo and the influence of special interests on its development remain open questions that FGI is seeking to identify through its FOIA request.

Environmental special interests’ backroom involvement in decisions about how to allocate funds provided in the administration’s massive spending legislation – specifically the America Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Inflation Reduction Act – has been an ongoing concern for outside watchdogs over the past year and a half.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“Trillions of taxpayer dollars have been doled out over the past 20 months with little to show for it but higher inflation and a drained strategic petroleum reserve. Whether it’s the pandemic, crumbling infrastructure, or runaway inflation, it’s unclear how Americans’ tax dollars are being spent or whether they are being used consistent with the promises made while attempting to sell the legislation to the nation and during the public relations celebrations following passage. Americans deserve to know who on the inside is making these decisions and why they are opting to spend taxpayer dollars towards the goals of special interest groups rather than investing in what Americans need.”


Interior Department Demands Thousands Of Dollars To Release Records On Critical Mine Cancellation

By Tristan Justice (The Federalist)

May 2, 2022

The U.S. Department of the Interior is stonewalling a request for public records made through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with claims that the disclosure of documents related to a critical minerals project is irrelevant to agency decision-making.

In March, the Functional Government Initiative (FGI), a nonprofit transparency group based in Washington D.C., filed a FOIA request compelling the release of internal records related to the Interior Department’s lease cancellation for the Twin Metals project in Minnesota. The proposed nickel and cobalt mine in the Superior National Forest would be one of the largest in the nation, putting critical minerals on the market currently dominated by China. President Joe Biden’s Department of the Interior, however, blocked approval for the project in January despite the minerals’ importance in electric car batteries.

“You have asked us to waive the fees for processing your request,” wrote Department of the Interior Deputy FOIA Officer Leah Fairman in an April response reviewed by The Federalist, outlining the criteria for approval. Such a request must be “in the public interest because it is likely to contribute to public understanding of government operations or activities, and not primarily in your commercial interest.”

Continue Reading…

FGI criticizes Biden administration’s ‘perplexing’ move to invoke Defense Production Act

By Bob Martin (Keystone Today)

April 15, 2022

With gas prices the highest they have been since 2008 and inflation at the highest it’s been since 1981, the Biden administration recently announced that it will invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA).

The decision comes as the administration is trying to ease potential supply chain concerns for electric vehicle parts, according to the Functional Government Initiative website.

The move is another way for the Biden administration to move the public away from gasoline and toward electric vehicles, FGI reported. The order reportedly will move funds to private projects surrounding the extraction of minerals used for building electric car batteries. This includes lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese.

Continue Reading…

Interior: Release of Twin Metals records to FGI not in public interest

Interior places obstacles to release of Twin Metals records in formal response letter to FOIA request

April 28, 2022

(Washington, DC) – This past week, the Department of the Interior (DOI) responded to the Functional Government Initiative regarding our investigation into the cancellation of the Twin Metals leases near the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. DOI determined that FGI’s request for records surrounding the cancellation would not enhance the public’s understanding of the agency’s controversial decision.

The stunning claim came in the context of a request for a fee waiver under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under FOIA, government agencies are not allowed to charge fees when the release of documents is “in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities.” This past week, Interior determined that releasing documents related to Twin Metals to FGI does not qualify, opening the door for Interior to hide the documents from the American people unless FGI agrees to pay ransom in the form of exorbitant fees.

The current Administration has made no secret of the fact that fighting climate change is one of their top priorities. However, they remain extremely inconsistent in their policy decisions surrounding the issue. One day they are handing out billions in new taxpayer loans and subsidies for electric vehicles (EV) and restricting federal approval of new pipelines, but the next day they are tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and calling hostile foreign dictators to establish new lines of oil delivery. The shortage of critical minerals necessary to build wind turbines, solar panels, and EV batteries for the “great transition” has been well-publicized. It’s also well-established that we are overly reliant on China for many of these minerals.

Enter Twin Metals, one of the largest critical minerals mines in the country. If allowed to be developed, the mine could greatly reduce America’s long-term shortage of critical minerals and further the Administration’s renewable energy goals. The site sits on an estimated 95 percent of America’s nickel reserves and 88 percent of its cobalt reserves.

By canceling these leases, as the Department of the Interior did earlier this year, the government is forcing domestic EV companies to rely on China for the extraction of these essential minerals. China currently controls an estimated 85 percent of the global supply of these minerals. In light of the President’s recent invoking of the Defense Production Act to aid domestic production and ostensibly advance just this type of project, it is mystifying why Secretary Haaland and senior leaders at Interior and USDA have made the decisions they did. The bottom line is that with consequences as detrimental as these, allowing the public to review the records on the Interior Department’s actions on the Twin Metals mine is most certainly in the public’s interest.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“Interior’s suggestion that releasing the records surrounding the cancellation of the Twin Metals leases to FGI is not in the public’s interest is extremely concerning given the magnitude of Secretary Haaland’s decision. By seeking to impose fees for documents produced by public servants, on public time, and with public resources, the agency is throwing up unjustified barriers to the public learning which special interests stopped the domestic production of much-needed critical minerals. In the meantime, China seems to be the primary beneficiary. FGI is appealing this decision and will notify the public as we actively fight for transparency.”


Critical Minerals Order Continues “Great Transition” Approach; Ignores Pain at Pump

The Federal government reiterates that the only way to lower gas prices is not to use gas at all.

April 7, 2022

(Washington, DC) – Last Thursday, President Biden announced that the Administration would be invoking the Defense Production Act in an attempt to ease potential supply chain issues for electric vehicle components. This order will move funds to private projects for feasibility studies surrounding the extraction of minerals that are essential to building electric vehicle batteries such as lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese. The invocation of this act is the latest attempt from the Administration to move the American public away from gasoline and towards electric vehicles.

This decision comes as the United States is experiencing the highest gas prices in history for the second month in a row. While the Administration continues to point the finger at Russia and the invasion of Ukraine, inflation and rising gas prices preceded Russian tanks rolling toward Kyiv. If the Administration’s effort to encourage more supply of essential minerals is successful, it could reduce America’s reliance on China, but it remains uncertain how this move would ease any inflation concerns or alleviate energy prices in the short-term.

FGI has repeatedly expressed concerns over the federal government’s perplexing response and actions taken attempting to reduce gas prices. Opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and calls to hostile dictators have formed the crux of their approach while requests to reconsider opposition to pipeline infrastructure and oil and gas leases and financing have repeatedly been rejected. The question of which special interests are influencing the government’s anti-fossil fuel policy amid an energy crisis remains the focus of several of FGI’s ongoing investigations and requests for government records. This latest effort only confirms the public interest in finding more answers about how the Administration is functioning.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“Exploring the expansion of domestic extraction of minerals is a good step because it may create jobs for the next generation of American workers, but it does not tackle the current fuel crisis. We are on month two of ‘we will do everything we can to lower gas prices,’” yet nothing of substance has been done to accomplish that – as you can see every time you fill up your tank. Either the Administration is hoping the problem will fix itself or that Americans will surrender to astronomically high gas prices. Neither scenario appears plausible. Along with inflation in general, energy prices are crushing the American dream. FGI will continue its investigation of which special interests are dictating the government’s handling of this energy crisis.”


Think Infrastructure Funds Were for Roads and Bridges? April Fools!

Department of Transportation fools Americans, attempts to divert highway funding to projects that do nothing to expand highway capacity

April 1, 2022

(Washington, DC) – Happy April Fools’ Day! The $1.2 trillion (with a “t”) Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in November, was sold to the American people as a commitment to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges.

And for those who believed that: April Fools! A Department of Transportation policy memo released in December prioritizes BIL funds for bike lanes and climate resiliency instead of maximizing investment in highway expansion and new bridges.

This memo contradicts what its supporters initially promised Americans when promoting the bill. While the memo allows for use of funds for the repair of infrastructure, it sets priorities for such things as projects “that maximize the existing right-of-way for accommodation of non-motorized modes.” It does not, for example, prioritize funds for new infrastructure needed in states where people are flocking to escape high crime and COVID lockdowns. The memo directs staff of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to promote “construction of bicycle and pedestrian lanes, paths, and facilities” by pointing out that those projects can be completed more quickly due to exclusions under environmental regulations. DOT’s policy also prioritizes projects that “help combat the climate crisis” and accommodate technologies such as electric vehicle charging stations and renewable energy generation.

The surprising memo comes during our nation’s ongoing supply chain crisis. Many grocery store shelves are devoid of food, packages take weeks to be delivered, and essential everyday items are nowhere to be found. It makes one wonder: why does the federal government not maximize the infrastructure funds for actual infrastructure? The Functional Government Initiative is announcing an investigation into this policy to uncover the answers.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“The federal government appears to have pulled a bait-and-switch on Americans when it promised funding for roads and bridges but gave them bike paths instead. We find it alarming that instead of expanding highways that would help fix the growing supply chain crisis Americans face, the government is prioritizing funds to projects that do not address this crisis. FGI is determined to investigate this bait-and-switch and help make sure we don’t get fooled again.”