TIME technology

Why a Plan to Give You More Cell Phone Options Could Backfire

circle of friends with smartphones
Tim Robberts—Getty Images

It could make AT&T and Verizon even stronger.

When the federal government auctions off a huge swath of airwaves early next year, it aims to give wireless carriers more capacity and also increase competition in an industry that is now firmly in the grips of AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

It will likely deliver on the first goal, but analysts suspect it won’t on the second.

On July 16, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on exactly how the auction for so-called low-band spectrum will play out. The airwaves, in the 600 megahertz range, are highly coveted because they travel long distances and penetrate buildings, characteristics needed to build a nearly seamless nationwide wireless network.

AT&T and Verizon, the nation’s two largest carriers, already own 73 percent of low-band spectrum, so they provide much more coverage than Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile Inc., which own a negligible amount. More coverage has allowed AT&T and Verizon to sign up about two-thirds of all wireless customers nationwide.

Sprint and T-Mobile say they need more low-band spectrum to better compete, and the upcoming auction, scheduled for the first quarter of 2016, may be their last chance for decades to get a big chunk of it at one time. That’s why they asked the FCC to create a reserve of spectrum that only they and other smaller carriers can bid on.

AT&T and Verizon said no limits should be placed on the auction.

The four companies spent tens of millions of dollars trying to convince Congress and the FCC to see things their way. They paid not only for traditional lobbying but also for academic studies, Astroturf public relations campaigns and opinion articles by hired experts to influence lawmakers, regulators and the public, according to a Center for Public Integrityinvestigation. AT&T and Verizon vastly outspent their smaller rivals.

The rules the FCC will consider Thursday set aside 30 megahertz that can only be bid on by carriers that don’t have a dominant presence in any given market.

That typically will rule out AT&T and Verizon from bidding on most of the airwaves in the reserve — but not all. The reserve represents 42 percent of the 70 megahertz of low-band spectrum many analysts expect will become available. The auction, however, depends on television stations agreeing to sell spectrum they hold licenses for, and more could be available if a larger number of broadcasters choose to sell.

Some analysts say the 30 megahertz reserve may not be enough to ensure more competition.

“Ideally it should be more,” William Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures in Reston, Virginia, said in an interview.

The spectrum comes from frequencies currently controlled by television broadcasters, which are voluntarily selling their licenses.

If the buying power of AT&T and Verizon is limited too much, Ho said, broadcasters may avoid selling their spectrum because they believe they won’t get a premium price. That would depress the amount of money the FCC collects from the auction.

Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group in Washington that supported a larger reserve, said the set aside “isn’t aggressive enough.”

Feld said carriers need to buy spectrum in 20 megahertz chunks in a market to support the amount of traffic traveling on their advanced networks. A 30 megahertz reserve will therefore only help T-Mobile or Sprint, not both. With AT&T and Verizon likely being able to purchase 20 megahertz blocks of non-reserved spectrum, the auction may end up benefiting just three carriers. The FCC and the Justice Department, when it blocked AT&T’s purchase of T-Mobile in 2011, said it takes at least four companies to keep the wireless industry minimally competitive.

The smaller carriers won’t be able to match AT&T’s and Verizon’s buying power for the remaining spectrum, analysts predict.

“We have had a strong commitment to having four-firm competition, which is why we have done things like keeping T-Mobile and Sprint from merging,” Feld said in an interview. “But these [auction] rules actually support just three-firm competition, not four. Why?”

The Justice Department, in an FCC filing last month, lobbied the FCC to set aside more spectrum for small carriers. The FCC should “give considerable weight in determining the amount of spectrum included in the reserve to protecting and promoting competition,” wrote William Baer, assistant attorney general for the department’s Antitrust Division.

The Justice Department also said it is concerned that AT&T and Verizon will buy up spectrum even if it has no intention of using it just to keep it out of the hands of Sprint and T-Mobile, and reduce competition.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the reserve last month, calling it “a revolutionary decision” that the agency has never before committed to.

“The important thing is that it exists,” Wheeler said. “That there exists, for the first time, a set aside, a reserve, to make sure that there is the capacity for a quality of competition among wireless carriers. That’s the key point.”

In the end, the question of how large a reserve there should be will become moot if the FCC can convince a large number of broadcasters to sell their airwaves, especially in the largest markets, said Reed Hundt, FCC chairman in the Clinton administration. He believes more than 70 megahertz will be available.

As much as 120 megahertz could go up for sale, he said, which will give T-Mobile and Sprint the opportunity to buy more spectrum. With that much spectrum on the market, AT&T and Verizon likely will find it hard to buy it all up, Hundt said in an interview.

“There are a number ways the FCC can get to that number,” he said “At that point, the problem disappears.”

TIME 2016 Election

GOP Congresswomen Have Some Advice for Their Party’s 2016 Candidates

Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., right, and Mimi Walters, R-Calif., are pictured during the election for Speaker before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor, January 6, 2015.
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc. Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., right, and Mimi Walters, R-Calif., are pictured during the election for Speaker before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor, January 6, 2015.

House Republican women have some advice for the largely male field of 2016 would be GOP presidential nominees hoping to take on Hillary Clinton: listen to us before you speak.

“Women are the majority!” exclaimed Rep. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, referring to the fact that America is 52% female. “We really have to watch our language when we’re talking about some of these issues. … The language just turns women off because we come off as the party of just cold, lack of compassion.”

McSally cited an exit poll in the 2012 presidential election that showed that 81.2% of voters felt President Obama “cared about people like me,” compared to just 17.6% of voters for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Romney lost the election in large part because he lost women by 12 percentage points to President Obama. And though Republicans in 2014 won back the Senate and made gains in the House, they only incrementally added women: a net of two in the House and one in the Senate. And they net lost one female governor.

Pundits often talk about GOP demographic challenges with minorities and young voters, but since the so-called War on Women petered out after 2012— after Republicans figured out how to stop saying egregiously insulting things about rape, little has been said about the GOP’s biggest demographic challenge: women. “We have a problem,” said Mimi Walters, a California Republican and the freshman representative on the House leadership team, “and we’re working to address it.”

The conservative National Review magazine and Google gathered five Republican Congresswomen—McSally, Walters, Missouri’s Ann Wagner, McSally, Walters, Virginia’s Barbara Comstock and New York’s Elise Stefanik—on Tuesday to talk about the challenges their party faces with women. All agreed that the GOP candidates needed to be consulting them, especially when the eventual nominee will likely be running against a woman: Hillary Clinton. “I will tell you: we will fail, and these men will fail, if they try and package [Clinton] as someone who’s stupid and doesn’t know her job, hasn’t done her job, and isn’t real, isn’t strong,” said Wagner, who is the sophomore class’ leadership representative. “They need us at the table to remind them of the words to use, the words not to use.”

All of the women said they had heard from one or more of the campaigns and were consulting with them and/or the Republican National Committee. They also spoke of their own efforts to find and elect more women to Congress, though they acknowledged that that effort was hamstrung by the limited number of competitive races given how gerrymandered congressional districts have become.

On the presidential level, Comstock said it was important that the campaigns hire senior women to run them, which could be a challenge because women don’t like to take risky jobs that may not lead to permanent employment should their candidate lose, Comstock said. So, she said, the campaigns had to be proactive and seek women out.

“One of the things I’ve asked them is: where am I at the table? Who do you have on staff?” Comstock said. “The reality is if there are women at the top they recruit other women and bring them in and that is also something I have been demanding of the candidates.”

So far the candidates don’t seem to be listening too closely. Only one major candidate has a female campaign manager: Mike Huckabee’s daughter Sarah is running her dad’s bid. A quick search reveals that of the top 16 GOP candidates, only Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have set up “Women for…” pages on Facebook.

That said, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina—one of the 13 without a dedicated page for women—has spent a lot of time courting the women’s vote. “I hope she makes the top 10, I think she’s been very effective in going after Hillary Clinton,” said Wagner, referring to the debate cutoff of the top 10 candidates in polling. “I think she’s done it in a way that’s responds with women.”

In the latest round of surveys, Fiorina broke into the top 10 for the first time, with 3% of the vote.

TIME justice

Obama Calls for Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms in NAACP Speech

President Barack Obama speaks during the NAACP's 106th National Convention in Philadelphia on July 14, 2015.
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during the NAACP's 106th National Convention in Philadelphia on July 14, 2015.

President Obama outlined an ambitious roadmap for criminal justice reform during an address at the NAACP convention Tuesday.

In a 45-minute speech, Obama called for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, reviewing the use of the solitary confinement and barring employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history, among other things.

“Any system that allows us to turn a blind-eye to hopelessness and despair, that’s not a justice system, that’s an injustice system,” Obama said Tuesday. “Justice is not only the absence of oppression, it’s the presence of opportunity.”

While Obama has touched on many of the individual policy ideas in the past, the speech was the first in recent memory to tie them all together into a blueprint for action. The speech likely presages a series of upcoming executive actions on criminal justice reform.

The speech varied, with Obama at times speaking passionately about the need for reform, and at other times delving into statistics to make his case.

Obama’s remarks included a litany of daunting statistics: that America is home to 5% of world’s population but 25% of world’s prisons, that African Americans and Latinos make up 30% of the U.S. population, but 60% of American inmates. But Obama said he’s found hope in the fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken up the issue.

MORE: Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Back in in Washington, a bipartisan group of Senators gathered on Tuesday to discuss getting criminal justice reform passed this legislative year. In the House, a group of lawmakers formed a caucus focused on criminal justice reform.

“We’re at a moment when some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, and folks all across the country are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter. To make it work better and I’m determined to do my part, wherever I can,” Obama said in a video posted to Facebook on Monday.

At the NAACP convention in Philadelphia, Obama noted the “strange bedfellows” that efforts to reform the criminal justice system have created, among them the Koch brothers and the NAACP. At one point, he even quoted Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, drawing a mixed response from the crowd.

Obama told the crowd early on that he wasn’t going to sing, but the commander-in-chief did some preaching on a topic that has been a focus of his second term agenda. Initiatives including the Department of Justice’s Smart on Crime program aimed at reducing the impact of our nation’s dated drug laws, My Brother’s Keeper, and the Clemency Project have all been Obama-led initiatives to reform the criminal justice system.

MORE: Watch President Obama Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at Slain Pastor’s Funeral

The initiatives have not been without criticism, however—lawmakers have long called for more action on policies that reduce sentences and provide more opportunities to communities that are more often impacted by tough sentencing laws.

The speech came at the start of a week marked by hefty achievements by the Obama administration on the criminal justice front. On Monday, Obama reduced the sentences of 46 federal inmates who had been incarcerated for committing non-violent, low-level drug offenses over the past two decades. The new round of commutations brings Obama’s total issued up to 89—more than any U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson. The commutations were the latest in the administration’s effort to rollback some of the damage caused by the nation’s drug laws.

On Thursday, Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison when he travels to Federal Correctional Institution El Reno. Obama is expected to meet with inmates during the prison stop, and on Tuesday he said he met with four—one Latino, one white, and two black—before jumping on stage at the convention.

“While people in our prisons have made some mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes. They are also Americans and we have to make sure that as they do their time that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around,” Obama said. “Justice and redemption go hand in hand.”

Read Next: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

TIME

Martin O’Malley Pledges to Go Further Than Obama on Immigration

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley delivers remarks before U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage at a Costco store January 29, 2014 in Lanham, Maryland.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley delivers remarks before U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage at a Costco store January 29, 2014 in Lanham, Maryland.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday called for a broad sweep of executive actions to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation and detention, touting his work as governor of Maryland and saying he would go further than President Obama as he seeks to attract the support of Hispanic voters.

Speaking at a roundtable in downtown Manhattan and surrounded by a group of immigration activists, O’Malley condemned current immigration laws and said reform was necessary for “making the economy work for all of us.”

“We are, and always have been, a nation of immigrants and our immigration laws must reflect our values,” he said. “The enduring symbol of our nation is the Statue of Liberty, not a barbed wire fence.”

O’Malley said that he would go beyond Obama’s executive actions in securing relief to undocumented immigrants. “I believe that every president moves the ball down the field as much as they can,” O’Malley said. “I would move it farther.”

Obama’s executive actions, however, have been stopped up in federal courts, and it’s unclear whether further executive actions would be effective.

The two-term Maryland governor called for deferred action to provide immediate deportation relief to all individuals covered by the Senate’s immigration reform bill, which was halted by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

He also called for expanding healthcare coverage to undocumented parents and children who are already protected from deportation, limiting detention of illegal immigrants, providing legal advice immigrants threatened with deportation and creating an independent agency to advise eligibility for immigration to the United States.

O’Malley said in a statement that he was confident that his proposed actions would be deemed legal, despite the challenges in federal courts to President Obama’s immigration executive action. “Legal experts almost universally agree” that Obama’s actions will be upheld, O’Malley claimed.

Some of O’Malley’s proposals delved into the deeper complexities of immigration law, in line with the governor’s wonky approach to policy proposals which the campaign has prided itself on.

For example, many immigrants who have legal status must return to their home countries to obtain an a green card, but if they previously lived in the United States as undocumented immigrants, they are barred from reentering for 3 or 10 years. O’Malley said he would grant broad waivers to those immigrants.

The policies, O’Malley said, are not about “identity politics” or appealing to any particular demographic of voters. “It’s really about us,” O’Malley said repeating a common refrain he has used on the campaign trail. “U-dot-S. The U.S.”

“When we have national election for president, it’s more than filling a job, it’s an opportunity to forge a new consensus,” O’Malley said.

As governor, O’Malley signed a laws making it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses and pay in-state tuition rates at college.

O’Malley’s comments won early approval from some immigration activists like the Dream Act Coalition. Jorge Ramos, the widely influential Univision news anchor, tweeted in Spanish, “Governor Martin O’Malley today proposed the most ambitious immigration plan among all candidates (with health insurance).”

Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Act Coalition, praised the plan for being detailed.

“Unlike other candidates of both parties, Governor O’Malley’s immigration platform is bold and has concrete details, particularly that he will commit to executive action first year of office,” he said in a statement.

TIME Innovation

How Splitting the Euro Will Save It

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. It’s time to split the euro in two.

By Frida Ghitis at CNN

2. Can we fix our broken Congress by bringing back earmarks?

By Jonathan Allen in Vox

3. When peer pressure is a good thing.

By Philip Hoy in Zócalo Public Square

4. You can’t monetize a digital community.

By Rachel Happe in Social Media Today

5. How to build better passwords.

By Julia Angwin in ProPublica

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Congress

House Drops Plan to Vote on Displaying Confederate Flag in Federal Cemeteries

The cancellation coincided with South Carolina vote to remove Confederate Flag from state capitol

(WASHINGTON) — The Republican-controlled House has scrapped plans to vote on approving the display of the Confederate flag at Park Service-run cemeteries in the wake of furious protests from Democrats.

Officials said Thursday the legislation that included the issue would be pulled from the floor for the time being.

The decision came as Democrats accused Republicans of wanting to approve the display of a painful reminder of a racist past.

It also coincided with a vote in the South Carolina Legislature to remove the Confederate Flag from a pole outside the state capitol.

TIME Congress

House Passes Overhauled No Child Left Behind Bill

It gives states and school districts more control

(WASHINGTON) — The House narrowly passed a Republican-led rewrite of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law on Wednesday, voting to dramatically lessen the federal role in education policy for the nation’s public schools.

The bill, sponsored by Minnesota Rep. John Kline, gives states and local school districts more control over assessing the performance of schools, teachers and their students. It also prohibits the federal government from requiring or encouraging specific sets of academic standards, such as Common Core, and allows federal money to follow low-income children to public schools of their choice, an issue known as portability.

The 218-213 vote came five months after conservatives forced GOP leaders to pull a similar bill just before a scheduled vote. This time around, conservatives had indicated they would support the legislation if they had the chance to offer amendments.

The House passed its legislation as the Senate rejected a proposal to turn federal aid for poor students over to the states, which could then let parents choose to spend the money in the public or private school they deem best for their child. The vote was 45-52, short of a majority and 15 shy of the 60 required.

Under current law, the money goes to school districts and generally stays in schools in the neighborhoods where the children live.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the proposed change would “solve inequality in America by giving children the opportunity to attend a better school.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who co-sponsored the bill, countered that the change would “retreat on our fundamental commitment to make sure that every child has access to a quality education.”

Earlier in the House, some Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat a conservative-led attempt to let states completely opt out of No Child requirements without forfeiting federal money. That vote was 235-195.

Much like the House bill, the Senate measure also would whittle away the federal government’s involvement in public schools.

Both would retain the annual reading and math tests outlined in No Child, but instead would let states — rather than the Department of Education — decide how to use the required assessments to measure school and teacher performance.

Alexander told reporters Wednesday that the House and Senate bills aren’t that different, and the goal is to get legislation to President Barack Obama for his signature.

“We’re not here to make a political speech. We’re here to get a result and fix NCLB,” he said.

No Child Left Behind, which expired in 2007, mandated annual testing in reading and math for students in grades three through eight and again in high school. Schools had to show student growth or face consequences. But critics complained that the law was rigid and overly ambitious and punitive, and said there was too much testing.

In 2012, the Obama administration began granting states waivers from meeting some of the requirements of the law after it began clear they would not be met. Forty-two states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers.

TIME Lobbying

How a Federal Lab Lobbied With Taxpayer Dollars

The exterior of the Center for National Security and Arms Control at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. in Aug. 1997.
Eric Drape—AP The exterior of the Center for National Security and Arms Control at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. in Aug. 1997.

The Energy Department’s Inspector General said this was a violation of federal law.

Top officials at one of the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories secretly drew up a careful list of targets in 2009. But these were not Russian missile silos or Chinese leadership targets. The officials’ aim was instead to hit a small group of policymakers in Washington with enough political pressure to ensure that the laboratory’s managers could get a lucrative new, 7-year federal contract.

To ensure victory – which to the corporation controlling the lab meant avoiding a messy competition with any other corporations – those at the helm of Sandia National Laboratories devised what they called a “capture strategy” for senior Obama administration officials, according to a laboratory internal document. In part, it entailed hiring three high-priced consultants, at a total expense to taxpayers of up to half a million dollars, who helped craft the target list.

Those on the list were in many cases the usual suspects — members of Congress who served on key committees, their staffs, top Department of Energy officials, a governor of New Mexico and a retired senator. Meetings were held, emails were sent, letters were written, and Washington-based corporate staff was enlisted, all with the aim of keeping the Lockheed Martin Corporation in control at Sandia.

This was, Sandia said in one of its position papers, not merely in the corporation’s best interest, but in the country’s. “We believe,” one of the lab officials said at one point, “it is best for LM [Lockheed Martin], Sandia, and the nation to work together towards influencing DOE to retain this team.” Another message was blunt: “It is in the taxpayer’s best interest to not compete for competition’s sake, but to use the regulatory processes already available” to keep the existing contractor.

While this might seem predictable – after all, what federal contractor would not be eager to keep the federal monies coming in? – it is nonetheless noteworthy for one reason in particular: The analyzing, the strategizing, and the lobbying to get a new contract were all funded by the existing federal contract, according to the Energy Department’s Inspector General, who said this was a violation of federal law, not to mention Sandia’s contract language.

“We recognize that LMC [Lockheed Martin Corporation], as a for-profit entity, has a corporate interest in the future of the Sandia Corporation contract,” said Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman in his Nov. 7, 2014 “Official Use Only” report, which was released to the Center for Public Integrity under a Freedom of Information Act request. “However, the use of Federal funds to advance that interest through actions designed to result in a noncompetitive contract extension was, in our view, prohibited by Sandia Corporation’s contract and Federal law and regulations.”

“Given the specific prohibitions against such activity, we could not comprehend the logic of using Federal funds for the development of a plan to influence members of Congress and federal officials to, in essence, prevent competition,” Friedman said in the report.

Sandia did not see it that way. Its officials told Friedman’s investigators they were merely trying to inform officials in Washington about the work they were doing, an explanation Friedman said was contradicted by the lab’s internal documents.

At stake in the three-year effort was the Lockheed Martin Corporation’s proposal for a 7-year contract extension, with the option for a 5-year renewal after that. While the company’s prospective revenues were not stated in the report, the existing contract called for spending, on average, about $2.4 billion a year. So the total revenues might have exceeded $16 billion.

“Sandia National Laboratories has cooperated fully with the government’s review of this matter,” Heather Clark, a spokeswoman for Sandia National Laboratory, said in language that resembled a statement she issued when a truncated summary of Friedman’s report was first released by the Energy Department last November. “We will continue to work closely with the Inspector General’s office, the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration to address all the IG’s recommendations. We are hopeful this matter will soon be resolved.”

In 2009, the report explains, Sandia Corp. hired a consulting firm headed by former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-New Mexico, and two unnamed former employees of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, at least one of whom previously had oversight authority at the lab. Wilson’s company, Heather Wilson, LLC, provided explicit directions about how to influence the most crucial decision-makers in the contract-award process, according to the IG report.

“Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile,” Wilson’s firm advised, according to notes from a meeting obtained during the investigation.

The notes showed that Wilson’s firm instructed Lockheed Martin to “work key influencers” by targeting then Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s staff — as well as his family, friends, and even his former colleagues at another Energy Department laboratory — and by enlisting former members of Congress to endorse extending Lockheed Martin’s contract without competition.

Wilson has publicly denied that she personally took part in the interactions between her firm and Lockheed Martin involving the Sandia contract. Reached by phone, she declined to answer questions and promised a statement, which did not arrive before the deadline for this publication. Sandia Corp. has said it already repaid the Energy Department $226,378 for the federal money that it spent with Wilson’s firm.

But Friedman went further: He urged the department to determine whether it should recover the money spent by Sandia on the other two consultants, and on the salaries of Sandia officials and employees who worked on the new contract “capture strategy.” Asked if anyone at the department had pursued this effort, a spokeswoman for the National Nuclear Security Administration — which oversees Sandia’s work — did not reply before the deadline for publication.

A Justice Department spokesman, asked if a federal investigation was under way into what Friedman depicted as a violation of federal laws, similarly did not reply before the deadline for this publication.

The copy of Friedman’s report that was released to CPI was heavily redacted to withhold names. But it made clear that Sandia’s push for a long-range, no-bid contract extension under the present administration was not the first attempt to lobby public officials at taxpayers’ expense. “Perhaps [Sandia National Laboratories] felt empowered because it had improperly directed Federal funds to similar activities in the past,” the Inspector General’s report said, in a phrase that did not appear in the November public summary.

A Department of Energy official in 2009 warned lab leaders that their actions “crossed the line” when reports to Congress recommended funding levels for particular programs and policy positions, actions the officials compared to illegal lobbying, according to the report. But in a 2010 email, one of Sandia’s officials – whose name was redacted – said that using federally funded laboratory staff for purposes of pursuing contract extensions was not a big deal, because it had been done before.

“We used operating costs in the same way in securing the extensions in [1998] and 2003,” the lab official wrote.

Lockheed Martin has received a series of one-year contract extensions since 2012, but its push to lock in a longer-term contract failed. Currently, the management and operation contract for Sandia National Laboratory is up for competitive bid – the precise result that Sandia and Lockheed worked to block. The corporation’s existing contract expires April 30, 2017.

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. To read more of their work on national security, go here or follow them on Twitter.

TIME Education

Congress Considers Changes to No Child Left Behind

The U.S. Capitol dome is covered in scaffolding during restoration, July 1, 2015.
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc. UNITED STATES - JULY 1: The U.S. Capitol dome is covered in scaffolding during restoration, July 1, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The revisions would reduce federal oversight

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is making another run at rewriting the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law, even as the White House urges changes that the administration says would ensure that schools be held accountable when their students are seriously lagging their peers in other better-performing elementary and middle schools.

The Senate opened debate Tuesday on an update to the 2002 law, with the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., calling it “the most effective path toward higher standards, better teaching and real accountability.”

The annual reading and math tests outlined in No Child would continue to be a part of the law. But the so-called “Every Child Achieves Act” whittles away at the federal role in education policy and instead shifts to the states decisions about how to use the required reading and math assessments to measure school and teacher performance.

The measure also would expressly prohibit the federal government from requiring or encouraging any specific set of academic standards. That’s a reference to the Common Core standards, which were drafted by the states with the support of the administration but have become a rallying point for those who want a reduced federal role in education.

As the Senate began its debate, the White House issued a statement strongly urging revisions to “strengthen school accountability to close troubling achievement and opportunity gaps, including by requiring interventions and supports in the lowest-performing five percent of schools, in other schools where subgroups of students are not achieving, and in high schools where too many students do not graduate.”

It added: “Parents, families, and communities deserve to know that when children fall behind, their schools will take action to improve.”

As the Obama administration pressed for stronger accountability provisions, Republicans are expected to use the floor debate to urge more flexibility for the states.

Alexander previewed the debate, saying it will be contentious at times and that “this isn’t an issue-free piece of legislation.”

The House this week is also taking up its own version of an education bill, sponsored by Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The legislation gives the states more control over accountability and includes a school choice provision that would allow public money to follow low-income children to different public schools — something Democrats don’t support.

The House abruptly canceled a vote on the Kline bill in February when it became clear that it didn’t have enough support from conservatives to pass. The White House has said Obama would veto it.

Seeking to close significant gaps in the achievement of poor and minority students and their more affluent peers, No Child Left Behind mandated annual testing in reading and math for students in grades three to eight and again in high school. Schools had to show student growth or face consequences. But critics complained the law was rigid, overly ambitious and punitive, and there was too much testing.

Anticipating that No Child’s goal that all students should be able to read and do math at grade level by 2014 could not be met, the Obama administration has been granting states waivers around some of the law’s more stringent requirements. In return, schools agreed to certain conditions, like using college- and career-ready standards such as Common Core. The administration has granted waivers to 42 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

TIME Congress

Congress Goes Back to Work With a Busy Agenda—and a Deadline

Pennsylvania Avenue at dusk
Getty Images

A government funding fight is shaping up as another big partisan brawl

(WASHINGTON)—After July Fourth fireworks and parades, members of Congress return to work Tuesday facing a daunting summer workload and a pending deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown in the fall.

The funding fight is shaping up as a major partisan brawl against the backdrop of an intensifying campaign season. Republicans are eager to avoid another Capitol Hill mess as they struggle to hang onto control of Congress and try to take back the White House next year.

Already they are deep into the blame game with Democrats over who would be responsible if a shutdown does happen. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has denounced Democrats’ “dangerously misguided strategy” while House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California accuses Boehner and his Republicans of pursuing “manufactured crises.”

The funding deadline does not even arrive until Sept. 30, but lawmakers face more immediate tests. Near the top of the list is renewing highway funding before the government loses authority July 31 to send much-needed transportation money to the states right in the middle of summer driving season.

The highway bill probably also will be the way lawmakers try to renew the disputed federal Export-Import Bank, which makes and underwrites loans to help foreign companies buy U.S. products. The bank’s charter expired June 30 due to congressional inaction, a defeat for business and a victory for conservative activists who turned killing the obscure agency into an anti-government cause celebre.

Depending on the progress of the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, lawmakers could also face debate on that issue. Leading Republicans have made clear that they are prepared to reject any deal the administration comes up with.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Sunday that Iran “should have faced a simple choice: they dismantle their nuclear program entirely, or they face economic devastation and military destruction of their nuclear facilities.”

“It was actually both the fact of sanctions in 2013 and the threat of even tighter sanctions that drove them to the negotiating table,” Cotton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“That’s why we shouldn’t have let up those sanctions,” he added. “We should have insisted on the very simple terms that President Obama himself proposed at the outset of this process. Iran dismantles its nuclear program entirely and then they will get sanctions relief.”

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said any agreement with Tehran must be “comprehensive.”

“It’s got to prevent Iran from any steps towards producing a nuclear weapons,” said Cardin, also appearing on ABC. “That means you have to have full inspections, you have to have inspections in the military sites. You have to be able to determine if they can use covert activities in order to try to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Beyond the issue of Iran, the Senate opens its legislative session with consideration of a major bipartisan education overhaul bill that rewrites the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law by shifting responsibility from the federal government to the states for public school standards.

“We’re seven years overdue” for a rewrite, said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the bill’s chief sponsor.

The House also is moving forward with its own, Republican-written education overhaul bill, revived after leadership had to pull it earlier this year when conservatives revolted.

Even if both bills pass, though, it’s uncertain whether Congress will be able to agree on a combined version to send to President Barack Obama. Indeed the prospects for any major legislative accomplishments arriving on Obama’s desk in the remainder of the year look slim, though there’s talk of the Senate following the House and moving forward on cybersecurity legislation.

That means that even though Obama was so buoyed when Congress sent him a major trade bill last month that he declared “This is so much fun, we should do it again,” he may not get his wish.

But all issues are likely to be overshadowed by the government funding fight and suspense over how — or if — a shutdown can be avoided.

Democrats are pledging to oppose the annual spending bills to fund government agencies unless Republicans sit down with them to negotiate higher spending levels for domestic agencies. Republicans, who want more spending for the military but not domestic agencies, have so far refused. If there’s no resolution by Sept. 30, the government will enter a partial shutdown.

It’s an outcome all involved say they want to avoid. Yet Democrats who watched Republicans pay a steep political price for forcing a partial shutdown over Obama’s health care law in 2013 — and come within hours of partially shutting down the Department of Homeland Security this year — claim confidence they have the upper hand.

“Given that a Democratic president needs to sign anything and you need Democratic votes in both chambers, the writing is on the wall here,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

Republicans insist Democrats are running a risk by opposing spending bills for priorities like troop funding — but are not yet discussing how they will proceed if Democrats don’t back down.

As a result it looks likely current funding levels could be temporarily extended beyond Sept. 30 to allow more time to negotiate a solution.

And it’s not the only consequential deadline this fall. The government’s borrowing limit will also need to be raised sometime before the end of the year, another issue that’s ripe for brinkmanship. Some popular expiring tax breaks will also need to be extended, and the Federal Aviation Administration must be renewed. An industry-friendly FAA bill was delayed in the House recently although aides said that was unrelated to the Justice Department’s newly disclosed investigation of airline pricing.

In the meantime, the presence of several presidential candidates in the Senate make action in that chamber unpredictable, Congress will be out for another recess during the month of August — and in September Pope Francis will visit Capitol Hill for a first-ever papal address to Congress.

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