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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner received the following response from NASA to his November 18th letter, seeking answers on the agency’s contracting practices: 

Dear Congressman Sensenbrenner:

Thank you for your letter dated November 18, 2015, regarding open competition under the NASA Integrated Communications Services (NICS) contract. In 2011, NASA competitively awarded the NICS contract to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to manage, maintain, and positively transform NASA’s communications services. NASA is currently in the midst of this ten-year contract with SAIC. NASA has conducted a thorough review of the issues raised in your letter, providing the following answers to the specific questions posed in the letter.

Your letter requests a copy of a June 17, 2015, presentation regarding the External Border Protection (EBPro) project. The purpose of the EBPro project is to improve the security of NASA’s networks and information technology (IT) infrastructure. SAIC has informed NASA that it continues to conduct product selections for several elements of the EBPro solution, as the NICS contract requires, and that two more key elements are still undergoing requirements validation and product testing. At this time, NASA is unable to release the requested presentation since it was created as part of a planned product selection process and contains competition sensitive information. Additionally, the presentation contains highly sensitive information affecting the Agency’s ability to provide a safe and secure environment for persons and property as well as NASA’s critical infrastructure information. 

Your letter also requests “An explanation of whether and why the NICS Approved Product List (APL) includes the products of only one manufacturer for its LAN wired and wireless network approved product line.” In fact, the NICS APL for Local Area Network (LAN) wireless contains two vendors, and the NICS APL for LAN wired contains one vendor. In order to efficiently meet the communications architecture that NASA has established in the NICS contract, SAIC has defined internal engineering processes such as the APL and standard design guides to achieve standardization. Through the APL process, SAIC defines system requirements to meet NASA’s target architecture and service requirements, then conducts market research and selects vendor products that best meet NASA’s needs. NASA is then able to concur in SAIC’s product recommendations. Under the NICS contract, SAIC determines when it is in NASA’s best interest to either conduct a competitive selection process for a product or proceed with only one vendor’s product on the APL (Supported by a business case). In reaching this determination, SAIC compares numerous products and considers many relevant factors, such as: product cost, cost of maintenance and operations, standardization efficiencies, financial viability of the manufacturer, independent product ratings (such as Gartner of Forrester), support staff training, supply chain management, and total cost of ownership to NASA. 

Your letter requests “An explanation of NASA’s role in the development and modification of the NICS APL.” Pursuant to the terms of the NICS contract, NASA’s Communications Services Office (CSO) Service Element Manager reviews all APL product recommendations, the rationale for selection, and provides concurrence. SAIC then briefs the NASA Communications Services Board on the APL product selection, rational and alignment with the target architecture. For NICS Fixed-Price reimbursement, letter, or time & materials subcontracts, SAIC is required to present its produce selection to the NASA Contracting Officer (CO), along with the business case analysis and rationale for product selection. The NASA CO, along with a CSO technical representative, reviews the product selection process and the rationale for the selected product, and provides SAIC with consent to proceed. The NASA CO also periodically reviews and provides input on subcontracting procurements under $500K.

Your letter also asks the following questions:

1. Does NASA support only one manufacturer being listed on the NICS LAN wired and wireless network APL?
2. Does NASA support the inclusion of multiple qualified manufactures on this list?

As stated above, the NICS APL for LAN wireless contains to vendors, and the NICS APL for LAN wired contains one vendor. While NASA supports the inclusion of multiple qualified manufactures on the APL through a competitive product selection process as provided under the terms of the NICS contract, the NICS contract does not require all APL products to be competed. In certain instances, and as allowed under the terms of the NICS contract, NASA has accepted SAIC’s recommendations for the continuation of one product on an APL when SAIC’s recommendations have been supported by a strong business case and rationale. Also, these APL items may be selected for a product competition in the future when the products reach end of life or meet other criteria. 

NASA has conducted a thorough review of the issues raised your letter and determined that nay issues that NICS subcontractors (or alternate vendors) have regarding product selections are a contractual matter between those entities and SAIC, the NICS prime contractor. NASA recommends that if any subcontractors have further concerns, they should be addressed directly to SAIC.

We appreciate your interest in this matter and trust this information will be useful. 


L. Seth Statler
Associate Administrator 
For Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs
Through the first five years of his presidency, Barack Obama added 11,327 pages to the Code of Federal Regulations. No one knows how many criminal laws are contained in the compendium of legal rules and regulations promulgated by executive departments and administrative agencies. When I asked the Congressional Research Service to investigate, they said they didn’t have the resources to answer.

One thing is certain, though: No matter how many laws there are, Americans are subject to them all. As John Baker, a retired law professor at Louisiana State University told the Journal in 2011, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime.”

The result is a minefield for individuals and businesses at risk of violating obscure laws or rules. Increasingly, staying out of prison and avoiding fines and legal fees depends on the arbitrary whims of a bureaucrat.

For example, the Capo family in Virginia was fined $535 in 2011 after their young daughter Skylar rescued a woodpecker. The government deemed her effort to save the bird to be taking or transporting a protected species—an illegal act according to the Federal Migratory Bird Act. The fine was later rescinded, but not before it was assessed.

Lawrence Lewis, of Washington, D.C., also felt the weight of the federal criminal code when he was charged with a felony for accidentally violating the Clean Water Act in 2007 by diverting sewage pipes to a local storm drain, which, unknown to him, emptied into the Potomac River. Mr. Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Then there was Abner Schoenwetter, who spent six years in federal prison after being found guilty in 2000 of packaging lobsters with plastic, rather than cardboard—a violation of an obscure Honduran regulation. Under the Lacey Act in the U.S., it is illegal for an American citizen to violate any fish or wildlife regulation of another nation.

In 2013-14, I was the chairman of a congressional task force on over-criminalization. One of the biggest takeaways from both Republicans and Democrats on the panel was the need for a default mens rea rule. Historically, a crime has encompassed two parts—a guilty act and some awareness that the act is wrong. This awareness of wrongdoing is mens rea, literally “guilty mind” in Latin. However, the federal government increasingly imposes criminal penalties for what are known as strict-liability crimes, laws that do not require any knowledge of wrongdoing by a person who breaks them.

Many Americans and small businesses are justifiably nervous that they can get into trouble despite making every effort to do the right thing. These are precisely the law-abiding citizens that I intended to help when I introduced the Criminal Code Improvement Act in late 2015. Under the bill, if a law or regulation doesn’t require demonstrated criminal intent and the conduct at issue is not conduct that a reasonable person would deem as wrong, then the government must prove that a defendant knew the act was illegal.

Congress and federal agencies can still create strict-liability crimes, but they must do so explicitly. For example, legislatures might decide that selling alcohol to minors is a strict-liability crime, so that the onus of ensuring compliance is on those who sell alcohol. Nothing in this proposed law will prevent them from doing so. A default mens rea rule will serve as a defense against arcane regulations prohibiting conduct that no reasonable person would think was wrong—such as the foreign environmental laws incorporated into the U.S. regulatory code by the Lacey Act.

Yet President Obama opposes the reform, threatening to stop progress on broader criminal-justice-reform efforts if Congress insists on the inclusion of a default mens rea rule. The administration has characterized the measure as a Republican attempt to protect corporations and white-collar criminals. Yet the White House hasn’t showed how mens rea reform would benefit corporate actors—who, unlike ordinary citizens, have legal departments that are more likely to know the law. The administration’s real motive is to protect the Justice Department, which wants to preserve its ability to secure easy convictions.

Many in Congress recognize that this isn’t a partisan issue—and maybe that is why the Criminal Code Improvement Act is earning support from prominent Democrats such as Reps. John Conyers Jr., Sheila Jackson Lee and Bobby Scott. For decades, the size of government has grown to create regulatory and criminal systems that can ensnare innocent people who have no intent to break any law. Now comes an opportunity to discourage such government overreach. It is vital that Congress not back down.

View this piece online here.

A Victory for Judicial Redress

February 12, 2016

Congress has taken major steps forward this week to continue rebuilding America’s bruised relationships with European allies while keeping lines of communications open between international law enforcement agencies. 

For many years, the United States and European Union have worked together to secure data protection for their citizens under agreements known as Safe Harbor. However, after the European Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling invalidating the agreement because of privacy concerns, the future of the relationship became uncertain.  

Last year, I introduced the Judicial Redress Act of 2015 – a bill that provides our allies with limited remedies relative to data they share with the United States —similar to those American citizens enjoy under the Privacy Act. It is a way to support our foreign allies and ensure the continued sharing of law enforcement data. Specifically, the bill will give citizens of covered countries the ability to correct flawed information in their records and access to U.S. courts if the U.S. government unlawfully discloses their personal information.

America’s colleagues in Europe emphasized that the passage of the Judicial Redress Act would be critical to negotiating a new agreement, central to their willingness to continue sharing law enforcement data with the United States, and necessary to improving relations between nations. 

I’m proud to say that this week, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Judicial Redress Act and it now heads to President Obama’s desk. I’m optimistic that the bill will be signed into law, completing a critical agreement with our allies and securing a safer future for the United States.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner sent the following letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen, asking him to account for the additional funds appropriated by Congress for better taxpayer service: 

Dear Commissioner Koskinen: 

I am writing about a matter of great concern to me and the taxpayers of my district. As you know, in December of last year, an additional $290 million was provided to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for taxpayer services in the FY16 Consolidated Appropriations Act. I remain concerned that many of the problems that plagued the agency’s taxpayer service in 2015 will continue in 2016.  The IRS recently told Congress and taxpayers to again expect wait times before people can get through, “since the additional funding is still less than needed.”

During testimony last year, you admitted that your agency reallocated millions of dollars from taxpayer services to fund your role in implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). All this while many honest taxpayers were struggling to find assistance with their tax questions, particularly over the phone. In fact, last year only 38 percent of taxpayers who wanted to speak with an IRS assistor were able to reach one, and those lucky enough to get through had to wait for 30 minutes on the phone. Unfortunately, service over the phone was not the only service lacking. Your agency also struggled with providing timely walk-in assistance, correspondence overage rates, and online customer service security. In all, 2015 was a customer service nightmare for taxpayers.

Given your agency’s history of reallocating funds, I am requesting a full accounting of the extra funds appropriated to your agency this year for taxpayer services. With tax season in full swing, I expect a plan has been laid out and implementation is in progress. It is critical that the IRS share its plan with Congress about what it intends to do to improve various categories of customer service, and how it intends to spend its money to address these issues.  

I remind you, the IRS exists to “provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.” I expect the money appropriated for customer service be spent accordingly. We owe it to taxpayers to assist them in fulfilling their obligation to file their taxes correctly and on time. Please provide a full accounting of how you intend to spend the additional funds by March 3, 2016.

Thank you for your prompt response to this matter.


F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. 
Member of Congress
THESE days, it’s practically unheard-of for those on the left to embrace ideas promoted by the likes of the Koch brothers and the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it would be a shame if partisan distrust kept Democrats from supporting a proposal favored by the right: a measure that would bolster the idea that a criminal conviction should require proof of what lawyers call “mens rea” — literally, a guilty mind. That’s because it can be harnessed to aid some of those who are especially ill treated by the criminal justice system: the poor and racial minorities.

As a legal principle, mens rea means that causing harm should not be enough to constitute a crime; knowingly causing harm should be. Walking away from the baggage carousel with a suitcase you mistook for your own isn’t theft; it’s theft only if you knew you didn’t own it. Ordinary citizens may assume that this common-sense requirement is already the law of the land. And indeed law students are taught that prosecutors must prove not just that a defendant did something bad, but also that his frame of mind made him culpable when he did it.

But over the years, exceptions to the principle have become common because mens rea requirements have not been consistently detailed in laws. In one often-cited case, the president of a company that mistakenly shipped mislabeled drugs was convicted of a crime even though he had no way of knowing that the labels were incorrect. In another, a truck driver crossing the Canadian border into Washington to deliver cases of beer was convicted of drug trafficking even though prosecutors produced no evidence that he knew or should have known that the truck had a secret compartment filled with drugs. In these cases and many more like them, the prosecution secured conviction without showing that the defendant had a guilty mind.

Congress is now considering a measure sponsored by Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, that would require that mens rea be proven in many more cases. For instance, a law making it a crime to mislabel drugs would automatically be interpreted as criminalizing knowing mislabeling. The measure would not affect statutes that make clear that no mental state need be shown for guilt — for example, laws criminalizing sex with minors.

The provision is part of a sweeping criminal justice bill that includes important reforms sought by liberals, including reduced sentences for minor crimes. Democrats, however, oppose the mens rea provision on the ground that it would weaken efforts to prosecute corporate executives whose companies have caused harm. Their opposition is a major stumbling block to passage of the larger bill. But suspicions about Republican motivations should not turn liberals against these changes, because strengthening mens rea requirements will also help poor and minority people.

Consider a New York law banning “gravity knives” — folding knives that open with a flick of the wrist — that lacks mens rea protections. The statute does not require proof that a defendant knew her knife was a gravity knife, much less that gravity knives are banned in the state. As a result, the law has been used by the police in New York City to pick up thousands of people, most of them minorities, even if they had the knives for innocent purposes. And in Baltimore, Freddie Gray died in a police van after being arrested for violating a very similar statute that also lacked a mens rea requirement.

The Justice Department opposes the proposed mens rea measure on the ground that it would have prevented convictions of corporate executives whose products caused harm. But it is entirely possible that the government could have proven mens rea had it been required to try. Furthermore, criminal conviction is not the only way to make corporations pay for their harms: Tort liabilities and civil penalties are not constrained by mens rea requirements.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, opposes strengthening mens rea requirements across the board, arguing that each problematic statute should be revised individually. But it would take years to revamp thousands of laws. The history of New York’s effort to revise its gravity-knife ban underscores the problem: A proposal to require proof of “unlawful intent” in gravity-knife cases passed the New York State Assembly in 2015 but stalled in the State Senate.

The greatest impact of the federal legislation might be in encouraging changes at the state level, where poor and minority defendants are most frequently prosecuted. Ohio and Michigan have already passed mens rea reform laws. And in the wake of federal legislation, other states, including New York, would likely follow their lead.

Democrats should push for even more sweeping changes to unjust “felony murder” laws, which permit murder convictions for anyone participating in a felony in which someone dies, even if no one involved could have been expected to foresee that happening. We know that adolescents are far less aware than adults of the risks their conduct involves, but since felony murder does not require proof of mens rea, adolescent defendants can’t offer evidence of their distorted perceptions of risk.

For liberals, the right’s proposal offers a chance to strike a blow for justice for ordinary people. No one should be convicted of a crime — or even stopped by the police — without evidence of a criminal state of mind.

View this piece online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement congratulating the Senate Judiciary Committee on the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA):

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The Senate Judiciary Committee’s passage of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act brings us one step closer to achieving serious, life-changing legislation that will address the devastating heroin and opioid epidemic in this country. This bill will help individuals, families, and entire communities as they fight against addiction, and remain a critical piece of our overall efforts to reform our broken criminal justice system.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the passage of the Judicial Redress Act in the House of Representatives: 

Congressman Sensenbrenner:
 “Yesterday’s passage of the Judicial Redress Act in the Senate, and its passage tonight in the House of Representatives, is a clear indication of the importance of this smart, bipartisan legislation. As this bill heads to President Obama’s desk, I’m optimistic that it will be signed into law, completing a critical agreement with our allies and securing a safer future for the United States."
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the Senate’s passage of the Judicial Redress Act:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The passage of the Judicial Redress Act in the Senate brings us one step closer toward completing an important agreement between the United States and our European allies, allowing the exchange of critical information and rebuilding trust between nations. The ability to transfer data between international law enforcement agencies is paramount to our nation’s safety, and I applaud my colleagues in the Senate for passing this crucial legislation." 
When it comes to business, most companies will choose their bottom lines over patriotism — it is simply the reality of today's economic environment. Global competitiveness, economic prosperity and smart money management are prioritized over paying a premium for an American Zip code, which is why we continue to see corporate giants relocating to greener economic pastures without a second thought.

Inversions — simply stated — take place when businesses relocate their headquarters outside of the United States through an acquisition. They allow companies to pay the corporate tax rates of their new home country, potentially saving them millions of dollars.

Unfortunately for us, the most recent example of this corporate maneuver is happening in our own backyard.

Johnson Controls — our state's largest public company — has called southeastern Wisconsin home for more than 130 years. But recently the company announced its acquisition of Tyco International, and subsequent relocation to Ireland. The company will presumably take hundreds of jobs and certainly millions of tax dollars along with it — putting a significant dent in the national economy and dealing a huge blow to our local and state economies.

Although Johnson Controls has publicly stated that the merger's production of an estimated $500 million in annual savings is the main reason for the acquisition and relocation, it's impossible to ignore the massive tax savings of the decision and naïve to think it had no bearing on the company's final decision.

The situation playing out in Wisconsin isn't unique. Over the past few years, American companies have increasingly sought refuge from our burdensome corporate tax code. So much so, in fact, that the United States Department of the Treasury released new rules in late 2014 to curtail inversions and keep tax dollars flowing. However, the measure did little to prevent companies from relocating to foreign tax havens. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the Johnson Controls-Tyco deal is at least the 12th inversion pursued by American companies" since the Department of the Treasury implemented the new rules.

Despite the negative effects the departures of these companies are having on the American economy, it is difficult to blame corporate leaders when you crunch the numbers. The current rate paid by American companies is 35% — the highest corporate tax rate among developed countries. Plainly stated, this is unacceptable and is causing serious problems for this nation.

Looking specifically at the Johnson Controls-Tyco merger, Johnson Controls will stand to adopt Ireland's 12.5% tax rate upon relocation. As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, the company would save "at least $150 million a year on taxes over the first three years." It is difficult to argue against massive savings such as these, which is why it's urgent that Congress take on serious and comprehensive tax reform.

The discrepancy between our corporate tax rate and those of competing countries is alarming. In a competitive global economy, the United States cannot afford to lose American-built businesses due to our overwhelming and burdensome tax code.

We must simplify the tax code, close loopholes, and cut tax rates — that is the only way to be competitive in the international market and keep our businesses here in America. Additionally, a simpler, more efficient tax code also may entice foreign companies to relocate here, turning the tables on our competitors and enhancing our local and national economies.

Over the past few decades, our tax code has been increasingly used as a political tool, making real reform a difficult proposition in Washington. However, with the economic prosperity of our nation hanging in the balance, it is imperative we turn our attention to finding serious solutions that will not only help our businesses, but also individual citizens.

Reforming the tax code is necessary for the continued success of our nation. We've seen the consequences of kicking the can down the road, and here in Wisconsin we're experiencing the devastating effects of out-of-control tax rates. Although we cannot prevent Johnson Controls from leaving, through true reform we can avoid losing additional companies to competing nations.

We must take swift action and protect our economy, our jobs and America's long-term economic prosperity.

You can view this online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement in response to President Obama’s final budget proposal: 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: 
“Our national debt is approaching $20 trillion, but that did not deter President Obama from advocating for billions of dollars to expand government and fund his liberal agenda in his 2017 budget proposal. Rather than giving Americans in need a hand up, the President is quick to offer hand-outs, which will lead to greater debt, a weaker American economy, and increased government dependence. Rather than seizing his last opportunity to put forth a serious, fiscally solvent budget proposal, the President defaulted once again to playing politics at the expense of the taxpayer.”