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Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today sent oversight letters to the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and to the Acting Director of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, requesting information on each agency’s participation in the Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture program, specifically their processes for administrative review of property seizures.  The letters request answers to the following questions:

• How many petitions does the DEA/ICE receive for the administrative pardon of property?
• How many petitions for the administrative pardon of property are granted?
• How many petitions does the DEA/ICE receive from individuals (as oppose to business or financial institutions) for the administrative pardon of property?
• How many of the petitions from individuals are granted?
• Please describe the methodology and procedures used by DEA/ICE to adjudicate civil forfeitures.
• Allowing attorneys for DEA/ICE to adjudicate the conduct of its own agents to determine whether money should flow directly to the coffers of DEA/ICE would seem to present inherent conflicts of interests.  DEA/ICE leadership will have an interest in seeing the petitions denied because it increases their budget.  Meanwhile, agents will see denials as a condemnation of their conduct in the field.  Given these inherent conflicts, what procedures and protections exist to ensure fair adjudications of the claims and to protect against conflicts of interests? 
In November, 2013 Congressman Sensenbrenner, along with 11 of his House colleagues including Congressmen Duffy, Petri and Ribble, sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) encouraging it to focus on critical issues like disease outbreaks.  The CDC had recently launched a campaign to pressure states to adopt motorcycle helmet laws.  The CDC has also spent money to study seatbelt use, bike lanes and farmer’s markets.  

In response, the CDC equated motorcycle safety with its other priorities, writing, “CDC approaches motorcycle safety in the same manner as other public health issues, such as heart disease, cancer, and asthma.”  

Congressman Sensenbrenner:  “In times of crisis, we see how the cost of mission creep and government expansion can be measured in lives as well as money.  Last year, I urged the CDC to focus on its core priorities instead of ancillary issues like seatbelt use, motorcycle safety, bike lanes and farmer’s markets.

“The CDC has just now released protocols for healthcare workers to minimize the risk of infection from communicable diseases.  This should have been done years ago—before two healthcare workers were infected with Ebola.  It is past time for the CDC to prioritize its mission and spending.”

Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Menomonee Falls) reminds those who are interested in attending the United States Naval, Military, Air Force, or Merchant Marine Academies that his nomination application deadline is October 15, 2014. 

Eligible individuals must be legal U.S. citizens; live within Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District; and be at least 17 years old, but not past their 23rd birthday as of July 1, 2015.  Once the deadline has passed, a member of the Congressman’s Academy Selection Committee will interview the applicant, and make nomination recommendations to the Congressman based on the applicant’s ability to meet the academic and physical standards set by the Academies.

“I will accept applications for a nomination to the U.S. Service Academies through close of business on Wednesday, October 15, 2014.  Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted,” said Sensenbrenner.  “I encourage students to contact the Academies they are interested in to open a candidate file, and then follow up with my office in Brookfield to make me aware of their interest in a nomination.”

Information about the nomination process can be obtained by contacting Congressman Sensenbrenner’s District Office at 120 Bishops Way, Room 154, Brookfield, WI 53005, or by phone at (262) 784-1111.

The National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s leading small business association, today named U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-5) a Guardian of Small Business for his outstanding voting record on behalf of America’s small-business owners in the 113th Congress.

NFIB President and CEO Dan Danner praised Rep. Sensenbrenner for “standing up for small business.” In presenting the group’s coveted Guardian of Small Business Award, Danner said, “Small-business owners are very politically active – paying close attention to how their lawmakers vote on key business issues and stand by those who stand for them.”

“The record shows that Rep. Sensenbrenner is a true champion of small business, supporting the votes that matter in the 113th Congress,” said Danner. “This award reflects our members’ appreciation for supporting the NFIB pro-growth agenda for small business.”

NFIB’s “How Congress Voted,” which serves as a report card for members of Congress, was also unveiled this week. The report presents key small-business votes and voting percentages for each lawmaker. Those voting favorably on key small-business issues at least 70 percent of the time during the 113th Congress are eligible for the Guardian award.

In all, NFIB will present Guardian awards to 232 Representatives who stood up for small business.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today introduced the ATF Elimination Act, which would dissolve the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and merge its exclusive duties into existing federal agencies. The legislation also calls for an immediate hiring freeze at the ATF and requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to (1) eliminate and reduce duplicative functions and waste to the maximum extent possible, and (2) report to Congress with a detailed plan on how the transition will take place.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Washington should be responsible stewards of the American taxpayers’ money. While all too often that is not the case, this is a good government bill to streamline agency activity at DOJ—increasing effectiveness while decreasing cost. The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership. For decades it has been branded by high profile failures. There is also significant overlap with other agencies. At a time when we are approaching $18 trillion in debt, waste and redundancy within our federal agencies must be addressed. Without a doubt, we can fulfill the role of the ATF more efficiently.”

The ATF Elimination Act would transfer enforcement of firearms, explosives and arson laws to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products would be transferred to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). No later than 180 days after enactment, the DEA and FBI must submit to the Congress a plan for winding up the affairs of the ATF. Field offices and other buildings/assets of the ATF will be transferred to the FBI and it will have one year to report excess property to the General Services Administration (GSA).

A top Republican House member on Wednesday proposed eliminating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, writing a bill that would freeze all hiring at the troubled agency and require the Justice Department to come up with a plan for transferring its duties to other agencies.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who wrote the bill, called it both a chance to streamline government and to clean up an agency that’s been criticized from the right and the left for botched gun-running operations.

“The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership,” said Mr. Sensenbrenner, who is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

ATF came under heat for the Fast & Furious operation that saw agents knowingly let guns get into the hands of cartels who trafficked them across the border into Mexico, where they were used in a number of crimes. Weapons from the operation also turned up at the scene where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.

Congress is still investigating that operation, as well as another ATF sting operation that used storefronts to try to catch gun traffickers — but which ended up losing weapons and targeting mentally challenged individuals for prosecutions.

Mr. Sensenbrenner’s ATF Elimination Act would transfer firearms enforcement to the FBI, and send alcohol and tobacco duties to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

View online, here.
Before Members of Congress leave town to do battle in this fall’s election, the Senate should pass the USA Freedom Act.  This bill would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (or FISA) to end one of the NSA’s most controversial intelligence collection programs: the dragnet collection of U.S. citizens’ phone call records.

The House passed a version of this bill last May.  But privacy advocates, who initially championed the bill, withdrew their support after amendments that undermined the bill’s privacy safeguards were added before passage.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill. His bill beefs up the privacy protections by ensuring that data collection is targeted.  Unlike the House bill, which would allow the government to collect records by broad categories that could return large swaths of data unrelated to the target of an investigation, the Leahy bill would limit the government’s queries of data to “specific selection terms.”

The Leahy bill has bipartisan support in the Senate and the backing of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who sponsored the bill in the House.  Sensenbrenner’s support is significant.  He has a long history of backing expansive intelligence collection authorities and was the principal architect of the PATRIOT Act, which included the “business records” provision that the government relies on for the bulk collection program.

As was reported last year, the government uses the bulk collection program to develop “contact chains” in an effort to discover associations and communications between known and suspected terrorists.  Until recently, the government had argued that it needed all call records in order to determine which ones were useful.  But a program that amasses this information about everyone, including law-abiding citizens, also creates significant privacy risks.

Although metadata do not reveal the contents of communications, when aggregated and mined with sophisticated algorithms, they can expose sensitive information about our social, political, and religious associations and activities.  Call patterns, for instance, can reveal intimate relationships, medical and psychiatric help that someone seeks, the identity of whistleblowers, and more.

The administration eventually acknowledged that the bulk collection program creates privacy risks.  And it has conceded that the Intelligence Community could achieve its objectives through a less intrusive program.  In a speech at the Department of Justice last January, the President announced that the administration would end the program and would seek alternative intelligence collection methods.

President Obama can change how his administration operates this program, but only Congress can change the law.  If Congress does not act, a future administration could seek to use FISA to collect not just bulk phone records, but also other kinds of digital “metadata,” such as location information that our phones transmit and other types of transactional records.

The data that will be potentially available to the government is staggering.  According to the International Data Corporation, the amount of digital information that people generate doubles every two years, with 7.9 zettabytes – an amount equal to 18 million times the amount of information in the Library of Congress – expected by 2015.  What’s more, we are at the dawn of the “Internet of Things,” a new era of connectivity where appliances in our homes and offices, our cars, medical and fitness devices we use, and even our clothing will be equipped with sensors and connected to the Internet.

As data storage capacity increases and analytical tools improve, the government will be tempted to collect and analyze more data in the hopes of discovering new ways to predict threats to our national security.  But just because the government has the technical capability to collect and analyze unprecedented amounts of personal information does not mean it should.  We must be vigilant in protecting national security, but we also must ensure that our government’s use of new technological tools does not erode the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens.  

The Leahy bill will ensure that our government’s surveillance efforts are targeted and effective.  The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence made that clear earlier this month when they voiced support for the bill, calling it a “reasonable compromise” and stating that it “preserves essential Intelligence Community capabilities.”  Privacy advocates, too, strongly support the bill, as do technology companies.

All of the relevant stakeholders are at the table.  They are in full agreement that the Leahy bill strikes the right balance in protecting national security and civil liberties.  It is time for the Senate to act.

View online, here.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent the following letter to Senators Reid and McConnell today, urging them to move the USA FREEDOM Act:

Dear Senators Reid and McConnell,

As you know, Senator Leahy and I introduced the USA FREEDOM Act to reform the National Security Agency and strengthen Congressional oversight of the intelligence community.  These reforms are a necessary response to NSA overreach and the unnecessary intrusion into the lives of innocent Americans.

While Senator Leahy and I both hold sacred the personal liberties afforded by the Constitution, neither of us are naïve to the threats we face as a nation.  In my view, drafting and negotiating the FREEDOM Act has been less about balancing freedom and security than about recognizing that neither freedom nor security should be compromised.  The FREEDOM Act is a legislative solution that recognizes this truth.

That we succeeded is evident from the bill’s supporters.  The FREEDOM Act is backed by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.  More importantly, it has the support of both the intelligence community and the country’s staunchest privacy advocates.  In a letter to Senator Leahy, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder wrote, “the Intelligence Community believes that [the FREEDOM Act] preserves essential Intelligence Community capabilities; and the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence support your bill and believe that it is a reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency.” 

Senator Leahy’s most recent draft, which I fully endorse, has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and countless other privacy advocates and technology companies. 

This coming together of the intelligence community and privacy advocates is historic.

It would be a critical mistake not to take advantage of this coalition.  Without Congressional action, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act will sunset next June.  Many privacy advocates believe they will have increased leverage next year as the sunset approaches.  Some of their proposed reforms, however, are redlines for the Administration.  As a result, there is no guarantee that the coalition we built can be rebuilt.  The cost could be losing privacy protections, improved transparency, and important intelligence gathering tools.  

The House has already passed the USA FREEDOM Act.  I urge the Senate to follow suit.  It is past time to secure the Constitutional rights of American citizens and restore the country’s faith in its intelligence community. 

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) had the following response to President Barack Obama’s speech on ISIS:

“It is now abundantly clear that ISIS is far more than part of a JV-level threat. It is a highly-structured and well-funded terrorist network that threatens everything we value. President Obama’s weak-kneed response has allowed ISIS to wreak havoc across the Middle East, rapidly expanding across the region. I agree that we must carefully consider our available options, but as the world’s super power equipped with the strongest military in the world, we cannot lead from behind. The world is watching.  

“The longer we take to destroy ISIS, the more America and its allies are at risk. Iraqi security forces and Syrian opposition are incapable of neutralizing this threat. A Joint Session of Congress is necessary so we can have a vigorous debate on how to ensure ISIS is annihilated. Not only must we address the danger it poses in the Middle East, but also vulnerabilities at home. ISIS is well-armed with sophisticated weapons—much more so than Al Qaeda 13 years ago. Unless President Obama changes course, our porous borders provide ISIS the opportunity to infiltrate our country. I was glad to see the President finally commit to defeating ISIS, but I am afraid his plan doesn’t go far enough. We must do everything in our power to protect Americans.”
Each year on Labor Day we honor the hardworking Americans who form the backbone of our economy. Last week at Milwaukee’s Laborfest, President Obama touted that over 200,000 new jobs have been created each month over the past six months. But it appears the President spoke too soon.

Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy added only 142,000 jobs in August, significantly less than the 200,000 jobs the President flaunted days earlier. In fact, August marks the lowest level of jobs added this year.

It is time to pursue sustainable ways to boost our economy without deterring employers from hiring.

Burdening job creators with high taxes and red tape is not the solution. In an annual survey, Wisconsin business owners were asked what would improve Wisconsin’s business climate and 23 percent said tax cuts, while 18 percent said regulatory relief. In the same survey, 33 percent said “economic slowdown” was the top business concern facing their companies. To keep unelected bureaucrats from stalling economic growth, Washington should promote business-friendly reforms and get Americans back to work.

The Wisconsin economy relies heavily on the manufacturing and agriculture industries. The manufacturing industry currently accounts for one-fifth of Wisconsin’s economy. Its 9,400 manufacturers employ over 450,000 people, making up 17 percent of the state’s workforce. We were ranked fifth in the nation for manufacturing job creation from 2009-2012. We should support educating a skilled workforce to allow employees to expand their careers and climb the ladder while giving employers the flexibility to grow their businesses.

The agriculture industry generates another 10 percent of our state’s workforce. Over 354,000 Wisconsinites rely directly on agriculture for their jobs. Farming generates over $59 billion annually for our state and the Fifth District alone has over 3,400 farms that contribute over $600 million to Wisconsin’s economy. Most of Wisconsin farms are family-owned and the number of farms in Wisconsin decreased by more than 10 percent from 2007-2012. Washington should adopt pro-growth policies that expand export opportunities and allow farmers to keep more of their hard earned money so they are able to make critical investments in their operations to stay competitive.  

Increasing costs and regulations for businesses is not the right solution for our economy. Despite the President’s shortsighted fiscal strategy, we must protect incentives to work hard while creating solutions that create economic stability and reduce the tax burden on American businesses and families.