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Another Keystone XL setback: environmental review ordered
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Another Keystone XL setback: environmental review ordered

Another Keystone XL setback: environmental review ordered
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
FILE - In this March 24, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, flanked by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, left, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, is seen in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, during the announcing of the approval of a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, clearing the way for the $8 billion project.A federal judge in Montana has blocked construction of the $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline to allow more time to study the project's potential environmental impact. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris' order on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, came as Calgary-based TransCanada was preparing to build the first stages of the oil pipeline in northern Montana. Environmental groups had sued TransCanada and The U.S. Department of State in federal court in Great Falls. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Another Keystone XL setback: environmental review ordered

In a setback for the Trump administration, a federal judge has blocked a permit for construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada and ordered officials to conduct a new environmental review.

Environmentalists and tribal groups cheered the ruling by a U.S. district judge in Montana, while President Donald Trump called it "a political decision" and "a disgrace."

The 1,184-mile (1,900 kilometer) pipeline would begin in Alberta and shuttle as much as 830,000 barrels a day of crude through a half dozen states to terminals on the Gulf Coast.

Trump has touted the $8 billion pipeline as part of his pledge to achieve North American "energy dominance" and has contrasted his administration's quick approval of the project with years of delay under President Barack Obama.

The Trump administration has not said whether it would appeal the new ruling. The State Department said it was reviewing the decision, but declined further comment, citing ongoing litigation.

The pipeline was first proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada in 2008. It has become the focal point of a decade-long dispute that pits Democrats, environmental groups and Native American tribes who warn of pollution and increased greenhouse gas emissions against business groups and Republicans who cheer the project's jobs and potential energy production.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris put a hold on the project late Thursday, ruling that the State Department had not fully considered potential oil spills and other impacts as required by federal law. He ordered the department to complete a new review that addresses issues that have emerged since the last environmental review was completed in 2014.

New topics include the cumulative effects of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions of Keystone XL and a related pipeline that brings oil from Canada; the effects of current oil prices on the pipeline's viability; updated modeling of potential oil spills; and the project's effect on cultural resources of native tribes and other groups along the pipeline's route.

The review could take up to a year to complete.

Environmentalists and Native American groups had sued to stop the project, citing property rights and possible spills.

Becky Mitchell, chairwoman of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a plaintiff in the case, said her organization is thrilled with the ruling.

"This decision sends TransCanada back to the drawing board," Mitchell said, calling the ruling "the results of grassroots democracy in action, winning for water and people."

TransCanada said in a statement that it was reviewing the judge's 54-page decision. "We remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project," TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said.

Environmental groups declared victory and predicted the long-delayed project will never be built.

The court ruling "makes it clear once and for all that it's time for TransCanada to give up on their Keystone XL pipe dream," said Doug Hayes, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, the nation's largest environmental group.

The fight over the project has spanned several presidencies and involved standoffs between protesters and law enforcement.

After years of legal wrangling, Obama rejected a permit for the pipeline in 2015. The company responded by seeking $15 billion in damages.

Trump signed executive actions to again advance construction of the project in 2017.

TransCanada had recently announced plans to start construction next year, after a State Department review ordered by Morris concluded that major environmental damage from a leak is unlikely and could quickly be mitigated. Morris said that review was inadequate.

TransCanada has promised continuous monitoring and says automatic shut-off valves would help officials quickly identify a leak or rupture.

Tom Goldtooth, executive director for the Indigenous Environmental Network, a Minnesota-based advocacy group that also is a plaintiff in the case, said the ruling was a win for tribes, water "and for the sacredness of Mother Earth."

He called the pipeline "the enemy of the people, the climate and life as we know it. It must be stopped."

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  • One of the nation's largest student loan servicing companies may have driven tens of thousands of borrowers struggling with their debts into higher-cost repayment plans. That's the finding of a Department of Education audit of practices at Navient Corp., the nation's third-largest student loan servicing company. The conclusions of the 2017 audit, which until now have been kept from the public and were obtained by The Associated Press, appear to support federal and state lawsuits that accuse Navient of boosting its profits by steering some borrowers into the high-cost plans without discussing options that would have been less costly in the long run. The education department has not shared the audit's findings with the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. In fact, even while knowing of its conclusions, the department repeatedly argued that state and other federal authorities do not have jurisdiction over Navient's business practices. 'The existence of this audit makes the Department of Education's position (on the Navient lawsuits) all the more disturbing,' said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, who worked for the Department of Education under President Barack Obama. The AP received a copy of the audit and other documents from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has been a vocal critic of Navient and has publicly supported the lawsuits against the company as well as questioning the policies of the Department of Education, currently run by President Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Warren is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2020. Navient disputed the audit's conclusions in its response to the Department of Education and has denied the allegations in the lawsuits. One point the company makes in its defense is that its contract with the education department doesn't require its customer service representatives to mention all options available to the borrower. However, the five states suing Navient — Illinois, Pennsylvania, Washington, California and Mississippi — say the behavior breaks their laws regarding consumer protection. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says in its own lawsuit the practices are unfair, deceptive and abusive and break federal consumer protection laws. Of the five states that filed lawsuits against Navient, only Illinois and Pennsylvania were even aware of the audit, and they said they did not receive their copies from the Department of Education. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau declined to comment on whether it had a copy of the report. The Department of Education said withholding the report was intentional, repeating the argument it has made in court and in public that only it has jurisdiction over student loan servicing issues, through its Federal Student Aid division, or FSA, which oversees student loans. 'FSA performed the review as part of its own contract oversight, not for the benefit of other agencies,' said Liz Hill, a Department of Education spokeswoman. When student borrowers run into difficulties making payments, they can be offered forbearance, which allows them to delay payments for a set period of time. But under a forbearance plan, in most instances, the loan continues to accumulate interest and becomes a more expensive option in the long run. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleges in its lawsuit against Navient that between 2010 and 2015 Navient's behavior added nearly $4 billion in interest to student borrowers' loans through the overuse of forbearance. It is a figure that Navient disputes. A 2017 study by the Government Accountability Office estimates that a typical borrower of a $30,000 student loan who places their loan into forbearance for three years — the maximum allowed for economic-hardship forbearance — would pay an additional $6,742 in interest on that loan. 'This finding is both tragic and infuriating, and the findings appear to validate the allegations that Navient boosted its profits by unfairly steering student borrowers into forbearance when that was often the worst financial option for them,' Warren said in a letter to Navient last week. As part of their inquiry, DoE auditors listened in on about 2,400 randomly selected calls to borrowers from 2014 to 2017 out of a batch of 219,000. On nearly one out of 10 of the calls examined, the Navient representative did not mention other options, including one type of plan that estimates the size of a monthly payment the borrower can afford based on their income. Auditors wrote that many customer service representatives failed to ask questions to determine if such a plan, known as an income-driven repayment plan, might be more beneficial to the borrower. There is no public record of how many struggling borrowers serviced by Navient may have been impacted by these practices. In its most recent annual report, Navient says it services 6 million student loan borrowers, of which 12.7 percent are more than 30 days past due. That would be roughly 762,000 customers who are struggling in some fashion to pay their student loans. If one out of every 10 of those customers were pushed into forbearance instead of an income-driven repayment plan, as the department's audit found, that would be 76,200 of Navient's borrowers. The DoE report contains recommendations for how Navient could fix its practices but makes no mention of firm requirements or sanctions. The education department's Federal Student Aid division decided to do a review of Navient's forbearance practices after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed its lawsuit against the company in January 2017, department spokeswoman Hill said, to see if there were any compliance issues. She said DoE officials came to the conclusion that Navient was not improperly steering borrowers. 'Nothing in the report indicates forbearances were applied inappropriately — the observations noted focused on suggested improvements regarding how to best counsel' a small minority of borrowers, she said. In response to questions over the 2017 audit, Navient pointed to the fact that nine out of every 10 borrowers on the calls were offered all their options and that this audit is just one piece of a broader story. 'This (audit), when viewed as a whole, as well as dozens of other audits and reviews, show that Navient overwhelmingly performs in accordance with program rules while consistently helping borrowers choose the right options for their circumstances,' said Paul Hartwick, a company spokesman. Navient, formerly known as Sallie Mae, is a publicly traded company. In calls and presentations with investors, Navient has said a company priority is to lower the its operational costs. As a student loan servicing company, Navient has one primary operating cost: its employees, including the hundreds of customer-service agents who man Navient's telephones every day. The fewer customer-service agents Navient employs, the more money Navient puts in its pocket. Doing calls to determine whether a borrower should be in an income-driven repayment plan takes longer, student loan industry experts say. In fact, that is exactly what Navient said in its response to the Department of Education's audit. 'We (are not) aware of any requirement that borrowers receive all of their repayment options ... on each and every call,' the company said, adding that if the Department of Education chose to require all servicers to discuss income-driven repayment plans with all borrowers, the Department of Education needs to redo its contract with Navient. Seth Frotman, who was the highest-ranking government official in charge of student loans until he quit in August in protest over how the Trump-controlled Department of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were handling the issue of student loans, said Navient's response was outrageous. 'In short, Navient, when confronted with evidence of its bad practices, is telling the government, 'Pay us more money or take a hike.' And It looks like the Department of Education took a hike,' Frotman said. ___ Ken Sweet covers banks and consumer financial issues for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @kensweet.
  • If you're planning on purchasing gift cards this holiday season, then there are some important policy changes that you'll need to know about.  Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced nationwide gift card policy changes at a news conference Tuesday.  Three major retailers Walmart, Target and Best Buy have all agreed to new restrictions. There will be reductions in gift card limits, as well as restrictions on using gift cards to buy other gift cards. There also will be more employee training for people who work in the stores to help recognize scams when they are happening. >> Read more trending news  Shapiro said gift card scams have quadrupled in recent years.  Check back for more on this developing story, or click here.
  • With Black Friday just hours away, here is a look at some of the best deals of the 2018 holiday shopping season. Computers Apple iPad 2018 with 32GB for $249 – Jet  Apple iPad 2018, 128GB: $329 – Best Buy Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch 2018 for $1,150 – Best Buy Acer Aspire with the latest Core i5-8400 processor for $399.99 – BJ’s Acer 24-inch FHD FreeSync gaming monitor for $100 – Newegg  Dell Inspiron Chromebook 11 for $199.99 - Dell Dell G3 15.6-inch gaming laptop for $899 - Office Depot  Dell Inspiron 15.6-inch laptop for $319 – Dell  Dell Inspiron Small Desktop for $249.99 – Dell Dell Inspiron tower with Core i5 for $399.99 – Dell Dell XPS 13 for $1,500 – Costco Google Pixelbook laptop for $699 – Google Store HP 15.6-inch laptop for $349 – Office Depot  HP 1.6-inch Chromebook for $119.99  - Target HP Pavilion x360 14-inch with Intel Core i5 for $549 – Best Buy HP Pavilion 15 for $499 - Staples Lenovo Ideapad 330 Core i5 1TB HDD for $450 – Costco Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8-inch model for $129.99 – BJ’s Samsung Chromebook 3 for $99 – Walmart Surface Go base model for $399 – Microsoft Store Home technology Amazon Echo for $69 - Kohl’s Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones for $90 - Target Bose SoundSport wireless headphones for $99 - Walmart Canon imageClass MF244DW laser printer for $99 – Staples Fire HD 10 for $99.99 - Amazon Fire TV Cube 4K for $59.99 - Amazon Google Home Hub for $99 – Jet  Nest Hello Smart Doorbell for $129 – Google Store Ring Doorbell 2 +amazon Echo Dot 3rd gen for $140 – Best Buy Home goods 60 percent off select office chairs – Office Depot Keurig K-Mini single-serve coffee maker for $49.99 - Target KitchenAid Artisan 5-quart stand mixer for $279.99 - J.C. Penney Twin sheet sets for $5.99 - Macy’s Bath towels for $2.99 each - J.C. Penney Kenmore French door 26.1 cubic foot refrigerator for $889.99 – Sears  Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Gen (matching Target) for $119 (was $199) iRobot Roomba 670 robot vacuum for $194.99 – Jet Televisions Element 55-inch smart UHD TV for $199.99 - Target 65-inch TCL 65S4 4K Roku TV for $398 - Walmart Samsung 32-inch Smart LED HD TV for $175 – eBay Samsung 75-inch 4K UHD TV and Xbox One S for $1,279 – Sam’s Club LG 70-inch 4K UHD Smart TV for $869 plus a $100 gift card – Sam’s Club LG 65-inch 4K UHD Smart TV for $599  - Sam’s Club Watches Apple Watch Series 3 (32mm) for $229 – Best Buy Fitbit Versa smartwatch for $149 - Target Samsung Galaxy Watch for $254.99 – eBay Miscellaneous Canon T6 DSLR Camera Bundle for $399 – Sam’s Club Potensic GPS FPV RC Drone, D80 with 1080P Camera Live Video and GPS Return Home for $199.99 – Amazon  Get select doorbusters free after mail-in rebate - Macy’s Want to check out the Black Friday ads? Here are some links: Amazon Bass Pro Shop Best Buy Belk BJ's Wholesale Costco Dell Dick’s Sporting Goods eBay GameStop Google Store Groupon JCPenney’s Jet Kmart Kohl’s Lenovo Macy’s Microsoft Store Meijer’s Nintendo Newegg Office Depot/OfficeMax Overstock Sam’s Club Samsung Sears Sony Staples Target T-Mobile Verizon Walmart Also see: >> Which restaurants are open on Thanksgiving? Here’s a list >> Which grocery stores are open on Thanksgiving Day 2018? >> Black Friday 2018: Walmart ad features deals on iPhones, TVs, laptops and more >> Oprah announces her 2018 favorite things; here’s what made the cut, where to buy  >> Black Friday 2018: Target, Kohl’s, Costco leak ads promising deals for the day after Thanksgiving
  • “Friendship and money: oil and water.” >> Read more trending news  Michael Corleone told that to a priest in the 1990 movie “The Godfather: Part III” when the prelate confessed that he trusted friends with the Vatican Bank’s money, and it had a disturbing ring of familiarity to a South Dakota woman who was victimized in a lottery scam by a friend that cost her more than $600,000 over a 16-year period. A California woman who won $5.2 million in a 1989 lottery pleaded guilty in a South Dakota federal court last week for scamming six people -- including her friend, Kelly Lhotak -- out of more than $1 million, the Rapid City Journal reported. Judy Carroll, 59, of El Cajon, and her husband won the California lottery in 1989. According to court documents, Carroll scammed Lhotak and five other people out of money in part by telling them the IRS had frozen her assets. Carroll pleaded guilty at the federal courthouse in Rapid City on four counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion, the Journal reported. Carroll was originally charged with 35 counts of wire fraud, but that indictment was dropped as part of her plea deal, the newspaper reported.  Each of Carroll's wire-fraud counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while the tax-evasion charge has a maximum of five years in prison. As part of the plea deal, Carroll must pay $1.55 million in restitution. Of that total, $622,236.01 must be paid back to Lhotak, who loaned her the money over a 16-year period, the Journal reported.  It was the classic case  “It’s been a long time coming, and she deserves punishment for what she did for several victims,” Lhotak, who was Carroll’s neighbor in California during the mid-1990s and moved to South Dakota in 2002, told the newspaper. “My heart is broken. I have had the worst betrayal of a friendship that anyone can ever experience.”Lhotak loaned Carroll money beginning in November 2000 through October 2016, according to court documents obtained by the Journal.  Carroll told Lhotak the IRS froze all her assets and she owed the agency money, according to court documents. However, the IRS only froze assets and levied Carroll’s accounts once during that time, in 2007-2008, the Journal reported. She also told Lhotak she needed money, falsely claiming he was a victim of identity theft. Lhotak said she didn't doubt Carroll's stories until she called the IRS in October 2016 to ask if her friend owed tax liens, the Journal reported. When the IRS said it had not, the agency launched an investigation. 'I did it because I loved her with all my heart,' Lhotak told the newspaper.
  • Ohio police officials have released the chilling 911 call made by the sister of a disgraced former Cuyahoga County judge Saturday, in which she reported her brother stabbed his ex-wife to death in his driveway. Lance Mason, 51, of Shaker Heights, was removed from the bench in 2014 after he viciously beat his then-estranged wife, elementary schoolteacher Aisha Fraser, in front of the couple’s two children.  Fraser, 44, died in a pool of blood Saturday morning as her children, Audrey, 11, and Ava, 8, screamed and sobbed inside their father’s Chagrin Boulevard home. The older girl has Down syndrome. As of Tuesday morning, Mason had been charged with felonious assault on suspicion of striking a police officer with his vehicle as he tried to flee the scene. Charges had not been filed in Fraser’s death.  The former state legislator and common pleas court judge, who allegedly tried to kill himself after the fatal stabbing, remains in the hospital. He is being held without bond.  Related story: Ohio judge removed from bench for beating wife in 2014 accused of stabbing her to death The audio released by Shaker Heights authorities begins with Mason’s distraught sister, Lynn Mason, telling her nieces to “come here.” The 911 dispatcher asks about her emergency. “I need the police immediately,” Lynn Mason says. “My brother is attacking his ex-wife.” She gives the dispatcher her brother’s address on Chagrin Boulevard before tearfully telling her they will also need an ambulance.  The dispatcher asks if both Lance Mason and Fraser are still there. “They’re outside. I… I… I don’t know. I heard her screaming,” Lynn Mason says.  “OK, are there any guns or knives involved?” the dispatcher asks.  “I don’t know. I think there might be,” Lynn Mason says. “Please hurry.” Listen to Lynn Mason’s 911 call below, courtesy of WKYC in Cleveland. Warning: The call may be too disturbing for some listeners. The dispatcher asks the caller to stay on the phone and relay to her what is happening. Lynn Mason says she can’t tell what is going on because she is inside the house with the couple’s children.  “I’m inside with the daughter. I don’t want her to see anything,” she says.  The dispatcher tells her to keep the girl inside and try to stay calm so the girl doesn’t get upset. “I’m going to get my guys started out that way, OK, so just stay on the phone with me,” the dispatcher says.  After a few moments, Lynn Mason can be heard telling her niece to stay where she is while she goes and checks outside to see what’s going on. The dispatcher can be heard relaying information to responding officers while Mason’s sister checks on Fraser and her brother.  “Ma’am? Ma’am,” Lynn Mason says upon her return. “Yes ma’am?” the dispatcher says. “He stabbed her and he said she’s dead,” Lynn Mason says.  “Oh my gosh,” the dispatcher responds.  The dispatcher relays information of a “possible stabbing and DOA” to responding Shaker Heights police officers. There are several moments in which the dispatcher and officers talk back and forth about the logistics of the police response. After a while, Lance Mason is heard coming back into the house. The dispatcher gets a description of his clothes from his sister and asks if he still has the knife or if he left it outside.  “I don’t know. He walked in and there’s blood everywhere,” Lynn Mason says as at least one of her nieces wails in the background. Lance Mason walks out again and the audio consists for a while of the dispatcher talking to officers, the back and forth punctuated by the shriek of sirens.  “Oh my God,” Lynn Mason whispers to herself at one point.  Lance Mason comes back inside the house as officers start to pull up to the scene. The dispatcher relays that information to the officers.  “Ten-four, we know,” an officer says.  “OK, are my officers there?” the dispatcher asks him.  An officer comes on and says there is a female down at the scene.  “She does look like she’s been stabbed,” the officer says.  A little while later, another officer comes on the audio. “Radio, send a squad to my location. The guy rammed me from behind,” says the officer, who was later identified by Shaker Heights police officials as Officer Adam Flynt. News 5 in Cleveland reported Monday that the officer suffered serious injuries to his legs and ribs. Court records obtained by Fox 8 in Cleveland indicated Mason was driving “fast enough to cause multiple airbag deployments and disabling damage to both vehicles.” Flynt and Lance Mason were both hospitalized.  The dispatcher asks Lynn Mason if she knows where her brother is. “He’s walking around,” she responds. “He’s walking around. I think he wants to die to, so…” The dispatcher asks Lynn Mason where she and the girls are in the house because three officers, plus a detective, are about to enter. She tells the woman they are in the living room, facing the street out front.  Lance Mason paces around the kitchen for a while before going into the living room with his sister and daughters. An officer comes over the radio and says Fraser is down and not breathing. The dispatcher tells him paramedics are on the way.  A few seconds later, officers can be heard yelling as they get inside the house.  The children can be heard crying. One girl is talking to her aunt, though WKYC edited the audio to remove things the children said during the call. News 5 reported that the girl, sobbing, said, “He killed her.”  “I know, baby. I’m so sorry,” Lynn Mason responds.  A former babysitter for Fraser and her ex-husband told Cleveland.com Monday that the little girls were Frazer’s life. She also loved her job at Woodbury Elementary School, where a candlelight vigil was held Monday evening to remember the longtime teacher.  The Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association organized the vigil and established a GoFundMe page for Fraser’s children. As of Tuesday morning, the fundraising page had raised nearly $110,000.  “We are in deep mourning,” read a post on the association’s Facebook page. “Aisha exemplified the best of Shaker Heights teachers: smart, amazingly caring of her students and her colleagues, active in her profession and in our association. She is loved by many.” Hundreds of people gathered Monday night to remember Fraser, whose photo was displayed at the school’s entrance as family members, colleagues, students and friends recalled her spirit. Cleveland.com reported that Woodbury Principal Danny Young remembered her kindness, compassion and love, as well as her sense of humor. “We have lost an angel, as well as a phenomenal educator,” Young said.  Fraser’s pastor, Chip Freed, of Garfield Memorial Church, told the crowd they have all been left with questions about why her life was ended.  “Aisha’s light is now shining on another shore,” Freed said. “As for the rest of us, we can either curse the darkness, or we can light candles.” WKYC reported that Mason was removed from the bench about a month after an Aug. 2, 2014, assault on Fraser, in which he punched Fraser about 20 times and slammed her head repeatedly against the dashboard of his SUV. He also bit her and choked her as he drove, Cleveland.com reported.  The estranged couple were driving back from a family member’s funeral with their daughters. According to a 911 call Fraser made, which was obtained in 2014 by Cleveland.com, Mason kicked her out of the SUV and, after beating her some more outside of the vehicle, drove away with the children.  Fraser, who feared for the safety of her daughters, begged dispatchers to find her children.  “I’m afraid he’s going to hurt my daughters,” a frantic-sounding Fraser said. “Please find my kids!” Click here to listen to Aisha Fraser’s 2014 911 call, courtesy of Cleveland.com. It may be too graphic for some listeners.  Mason was arrested at his home, where officers found smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles, more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a sword, Cleveland.com reported.  After serving nine months of a two-year prison sentence for the beating, which left Fraser needing surgery to repair a fractured eye socket, Mason was hired last year by Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, who named Mason the city’s minority business development administrator.  Jackson issued a statement Saturday in which he said city officials were aware of Mason’s arrest and that the former judge had been terminated, effective immediately. City officials were cooperating with Shaker Heights investigators in the homicide case.  “I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Ms. Aisha Fraser, especially to her children,” Jackson said.  Fox 8 reported Monday that Jackson stood by his hiring of Mason following his prison stint, saying he had no way to predict the future. He also stood by his policy of giving people second chances.  “We’re gonna look at it as a policy. Our policy is second chances unless there is something that would prevent us from doing it,” Jackson told the news station. “For example, you wouldn’t hire a convicted felon and put them around children. You wouldn’t hire an embezzler and put them in the finance department.”
  • At the end of every fiscal year, a spending spree of billions of federal tax dollars occurs in a matter of days. But not all of that money goes to essential items. We found examples of federal purchases for wine, snowboards, pianos, guitars and fancy gym equipment. We dug through thousands of federal contracts for September, the last month of the fiscal year. In just one month, the U.S. government spent more than $6.2 million dollars on gym equipment. That includes millions spent on CrossFit equipment, one of the country’s hottest fitness trends. The State Department specified in a contract for jump ropes that they specifically needed the brand endorsed by CrossFit star Rich Froning. We also found orders for music equipment, like a $20,000 grand piano, Fender guitars and saxophones. Other contracts included $10,000 for snowboards and dozens of iPads. >> Read more trending news  The end-of-year spending is part of a practice called “Use it or Lose it” budgeting. Federal agencies worry they will not receive as much money in the next year’s budget if they don’t spend every penny they currently have. One out of every nine dollars spent by the federal government occurs in just the last seven days of the fiscal year, according to Adam Andrzejewski of Openthebooks.com, a government watchdog group. “When the bureaucrats cannot even spend all the money that Congress is sending them, there's a problem,” Andrzejewski said. We looked at spending in the nearly two months since the fiscal year ended. So far in October and November, only two contracts were issued for gym equipment, totaling $20,000. That is compared to the more than $6.2 million dollars spent the month before. Openthebooks.com has been tracking government purchases as well. They placed an ad in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal listing more than one hundred examples of wasteful federal spending. Last year, they found thousands of dollars in year-end spending specifically on fidget spinners, liquor and wine. “We identified in the last fiscal year that $50 billion dollars of contract spending went out the door in the last 7 days of the fiscal year,” Andrzejewski said. Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, introduced a bill that would award bonuses to federal employees who cut budgets. We first reported on that legislation two years ago, and so far it has gone nowhere. We asked the Defense Department why they needed these purchases in a short period of time, and they referred us to individual branches of service. The Army, the largest spender among the military, has not yet responded to our questions.