- - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ALASKA

Obama implements plan for energy development

ANCHORAGE — President Obama on Tuesday signed an executive order creating an interagency working group to coordinate energy development in Alaska.

Interior Department Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes will chair the high-level group.

Mr. Hayes says on the White House blog that the group will include senior officials from the Defense, Commerce, Agriculture, Energy and Homeland Security departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the federal coordinator for an Alaska natural gas pipeline.

Mr. Hayes says the group will simplify decision-making processes by collaborating as permits are evaluated.

Sen. Mark Begich, Alaksa Democrat, earlier this year introduced legislation to create a federal coordinator for Arctic outer continental shelf drilling.

He says the interagency working group recognizes the importance of Alaska’s oil and gas to the nation’s economic and energy security.

MONTANA

Deal struck to protect imperiled plants, animals

BILLINGS — The Obama administration Tuesday struck a new deal with wildlife advocates that would require the Interior Department to consider greater protections for hundreds of imperiled animals and plants.

The agreement was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by attorneys from the government and the Center for Biological Diversity.

If approved by a judge, the deal would set a 2018 deadline for the administration to decide whether Endangered Species Act protections are needed for species as diverse as the wolverine, Pacific walrus and Miami blue butterfly.

A similar agreement in May with the group WildEarth Guardians excluded some species including the wolverine and walrus, prompting the Center for Biological Diversity to negotiate for a more comprehensive deal.

Some of the plants and animals in the agreement were first proposed for protection soon after the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Instead, they languished for decades on a list of candidate species the government could not afford to help.

The deal covers 258 of those candidate species and another 499 plants and animals for which the Center for Biological Diversity has filed court petitions seeking greater protections, said the group’s executive director, Kieran Suckling.

FLORIDA

Report: Systems to catch Medicaid fraud inadequate

MIAMI — The federal government’s systems for analyzing Medicare and Medicaid data for possible fraud are inadequate and underused, making it more difficult to detect the billions of dollars in fraudulent claims paid out each year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office report said the systems don’t even include Medicaid data. Furthermore, 639 analysts were supposed to have been trained to use the system - yet only 41 have been so far, it said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - which administer the taxpayer-funded health care programs for the elderly, poor and disabled - lacks plans to finish the systems projected to save $21 billion. The technology is crucial to making a dent in the $60 billion to $90 billion in fraudulent claims paid out each year.

“I’m looking forward to hearing, someday, about major fraud scams discovered as a direct result of this integrated repository and the use of creative pattern recognition techniques implemented on top of it. Until we hear that story, the public is not getting value for money from these investments,” said Malcolm Sparrow, a health care fraud expert at Harvard University.

The current antiquated database is a piecemeal system with data stored in disparate systems, meaning employees don’t have access to all data from all programs.

WISCONSIN

Fake Democrats on ballot force primaries in recalls

MADISON — Primary elections in six Wisconsin Senate races Tuesday pitted fake Democrats against candidates supported by the party, with the winners advancing to take on Republican incumbents targeted for recall.

The state Republican Party orchestrated the placement of the fake Democrats on the ballot, thereby delaying the general election until Aug. 9 and giving the incumbents an additional month to campaign.

Tuesday’s primaries marked the first of four elections in the next five weeks related to the targeting of nine senators for recall based on their actions related to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal taking away collective bargaining rights from most public employees. The Republicans voted for it and the Democrats fled to Illinois for three weeks to delay a vote.

Six Republicans and three Democrats face recall. If the Democrats gain three seats, they will take majority control away from the Republicans and be in a position to stop Mr. Walker and the GOP’s agenda.

Republicans can vote in the Democratic races because Wisconsin has an open primary, raising the possibility of further mischief in the elections. State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said he was concerned Republicans would attempt to vote for the fake Democrats on Tuesday, but he was confident the real ones would prevail.

The winners of Tuesday’s primaries will advance to take on the six Republican incumbents in the Aug. 9 general election.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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