Press Releases

FGI Announces an Investigation into Postal Service Operations

One of the most visible symbols of government, USPS is experiencing substantial challenges

February 17, 2022

(Washington, DC) – The Functional Government Initiative released the first batch of documents today received in response to its investigation into the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) – one of the most visible aspects of the federal government in Americans’ daily life. This is part of a series of inquiries into how our government is meeting its legal obligations, serving the public’s interest, and minimizing the dysfunction that appears endemic to large bureaucracies. Other inquiries have focused on the changing norms of independent agencies and the other major organ of the government familiar to almost all Americans – the Internal Revenue Service.

While “checking the mail” has been one of the most ingrained relationships between the American public and the U.S. government, it is also one of the fastest deteriorating relationships. In pursuit of our investigation, FGI submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to better understand how the Postal Service and its federal partners are handling competition from technology and the private sector, efforts to reduce contraband from exploiting the USPS delivery system, and the increasing burden of retiree health costs.

The first to reply with documents was the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), which is responsible for transparency and oversight of USPS operations. While USPS’ handling of mail-in ballots has received substantial media attention, less so has been the increasingly cozy relationship between those responsible for overseeing the USPS and those who appear to be benefiting the most from its services – a coalition of package companies such as Amazon and eBay (known as the “Package Coalition”) that have relied on the Postal Service to reduce one of their largest operating costs. Unsurprisingly, records show extensive communications between lobbyists for the Package Coalition, PRC regulators, and staff on the congressional committees with oversight over postal issues.

Throughout the released records, the PRC’s regulatory staff appear to be deeply tied to the messaging and legislative interests of the so-called “Package Coalition.” Some of the communications reveal an unusual display of agency deliberations and frankness with a lobbyist representing an interested party. Taken together, the frequent behind-the-scenes communications raise concern about the objectivity and potential for arbitrary decision-making being undertaken at the PRC.

As additional documents become available on this and other aspects affecting USPS operations and potential taxpayer obligations, FGI will release the records and our unvarnished analysis.


FGI Seeks Records on Government’s Covid Response

Did federal actions undermine trust in institutions?

February 11, 2022

(Washington, DC) – The Functional Government Initiative (FGI) announced a broad investigation of the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and how that response impacts government operations and the lives of American citizens. FGI seeks to determine the foundation of decisions that have changed the operating posture of the government and, in some cases, may have weakened trust in some of its most important institutions.

The pandemic of the last two years has been the most profound event in the lives of nearly every American. The world is a far different place than it was prior. Did we “follow the science”? Will we emerge weaker or stronger?

After two years, the debates continue to rage – at times with even more passion. COVID mitigation measures have sparked tremendous public controversy and questions over their scientific underpinnings and ultimate efficacy. Mask recommendations from federal agencies have seen wide swings over the course of the pandemic with seemingly little connection to changing science. Airline industry leaders question the need for masks on airplanes. Governors across the political spectrum are relaxing mask mandates in schools and elsewhere. While at the same time the White House and CDC continue to recommend or require masks in schools and on public transportation. What data and studies underpin these recommendations?

The post-pandemic landscape for the federal workforce is almost certainly destined for change. How did two years of telework affect productivity and attendance at federal agencies? This information is necessary to determine whether the federal government is functioning properly and efficiently using taxpayer resources.

As the nation is poised to move from pandemic to endemic, the question arises, what does that really mean? If, as some assert, the government was too slow in responding at the beginning of the pandemic, is it also responding too slowly to its end? What evidence are these decisions based upon? A functional government is one that avoids arbitrary actions governed by political calculations and makes policy with an eye toward balancing public health with individual freedoms and prosperity. FGI, through an array of Freedom of Information Act requests, intends to seek answers to these questions and more.


FGI Seeks Records into IRS Abuses and Efforts to Expand Authority

On heels of political targeting and ongoing release of taxpayer data, the nation’s tax collector is asking for a bigger role in Americans’ lives

February 4, 2022

(Washington, DC) – The Functional Government Initiative (FGI) is seeking a range of records from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and related agencies as the nation’s tax collector is requesting a significant expansion of taxing and enforcement authority through its budget and personnel. The full analysis and economic reasoning behind the agency’s recent proposals remain hidden from public view, and it is unclear whether it would yield the benefits claimed by senior officials.

The Tea Party scandal involving Lois Lerner shook Americans’ confidence in the powerful IRS, yet several years passed and a change of Administration came before the IRS would admit to wrongdoing. The two senior officials at the center of the scandal denied wrongdoing while also claiming that their deposition testimony would so anger the public that records should remain sealed. Unfortunately for taxpayers and transparency, these records have been kept from the public. This ongoing secrecy leaves many questions unanswered regarding what exactly occurred and whether agency practices that enabled the misconduct were ever truly addressed.

Last year’s unauthorized leak of sensitive financial information of wealthy American citizens to ProPublica again raised questions around the integrity and controls in place to prevent abuses at the Service. Similar to the Tea Party scandal, there appears to be little effort to identify those responsible for the leaks or implement new systems to prevent future abuses. Against this backdrop, the agency sought to dramatically expand its budget, personnel, and authority to peer into citizens’ bank accounts – encompassing accounts with as little as $600 in transactions per year. Though the proposal received strong pushback, transparency into its foundation – and even adjusted proposals that have set that target at $10,000 per year – has been minimal at best.

For years, the Internal Revenue Service has been one of the most powerful and mysterious agencies of the U.S. government. Unfortunately, the Tea Party targeting scandal confirmed what many Americans feared – the agency felt it was above the law. Then last year’s ProPublica leak of taxpayer data occurred – again without any apparent accountability by IRS employees – and it left the public even more skeptical about whether a core piece of its government was functioning properly. Combined with a legislative proposal to dramatically expand its power and budget, many Americans are right to be concerned about what’s going on behind the scenes. The Functional Government Initiative exists to do exactly this. We will report back what we find out.


Functional Government Initiative: Investigating an Attempted “Hostile Takeover” of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

Trust in one of the United States’ banking regulators should not be threatened by political influence.

January 21, 2022

(Washington, DC) – The Functional Government Initiative today requested records from four federal agencies that will provide transparency into actions by senior banking regulators that raise questions over the future of independent agencies. FDIC board member and director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Rohit Chopra was among the leading voices supporting what former FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams called an attempted “hostile takeover.” The FDIC is responsible for insuring deposits and promoting the stability of the nation’s banking system. Its chairman is appointed to a five-year term, meant to insulate the agency from quickly changing policy agendas after presidential elections. By the FDIC’s longstanding policies and practices, the FDIC chairman sets the agenda of the agency and supervises its staff as CEO.
The requested documents will help the public understand what happened, who may have been involved, and whether ethics rules were followed. If allegations of the former Chairman are true, the FDIC’s status as an independent regulator may be in jeopardy. It may also have implications for other independent federal agencies if this is seen as a move toward prioritizing Administration policy priorities over adhering to long-standing institutional norms. The recent controversy comes in the wake of mass firings of qualified individuals appointed by the former Administration to advisory committees, typically understood to be free from political interference.
In this case, in spite of this traditional deference to the agency chairman, recent reports allege that Mr. Chopra sought to circulate a proposal relating to bank mergers that, according to Chairman McWilliams, “was filled with omissions, misrepresentations and technical inaccuracies.” Chopra and other FDIC board members attempted to move forward with it anyway. Since that time, Chairman McWilliams has announced her resignation from the FDIC.
In order to shine a light on what really happened at the FDIC, FGI is seeking records from the FDIC, CFPB, Department of Justice, and Department of Treasury. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Chopra asked for a legal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel. The public should know what precedents and existing legal policy Mr. Chopra wants to change as part of his efforts to counter the authority of the FDIC chairman. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen refused Chairman McWilliams’ request to support the independence of the FDIC.