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Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2003 / 2 Adar I, 5763

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mobray
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Consumer Reports


State Department's idea of a "traitor"


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | After news broke that the State Department was brokering a deal to give up to $345 billion-or more-in Social Security benefits to illegal aliens from Mexico (through what's known as a "Totalization Agreement"), Consular Affairs (CA) chief Maura Harty was furious. Not that the my story was inaccurate-it wasn't-but that such sensitive details of the agreement made their way into public view.

Harty lashed out at CA staff members, declaring that the "leak" at State was a "traitor." (It is important to note that I may or may not have had a State Department source, and the story itself did not indicate one way or the other.) After reminding them that "leaks" could see their salaries cut or jobs disappear, Harty instructed CA staffers to read State's "Mission Statement." (http://travel.state.gov/mission.html) But State's "Mission Statement," if anything, justifies the leaking of documents that expose secretive negotiations designed to deceive the White House and transfer hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to illegal aliens from Mexico.

Looking at the principles that comprise State's mission, it is not clear why Harty believes a potential "leak" at State would be a "traitor." Of the mission's five core values-loyalty, character, service, accountability, and community-State would seem to have violated at least two key ones in its underhanded dealings with the Mexican government on the Totalization Agreement. Take loyalty, for starters. "Loyalty" is defined as "Commitment to the United States and the American people." How is a deal to divert $345 billion over the next two decades away from Social Security and into the pockets of illegal aliens from just one country-Mexico-an act of "commitment to the United States and the American people"?

When White House officials learned that the scope of the Totalization Agreement-"totalization" is government-speak for combining or "totalizing" the Social Security taxes paid by individuals into the U.S.'s and a foreign country's respective systems to create a single, harmonized retirement payment-the eye-popping price tag caught many off-guard. Explains one senior GOP Congressional staffer, "The White House thought this was a low-cost favor to get in Vicente Fox's good graces." And according to people familiar with the negotiations, officials at State knew that illegal aliens would be covered by the deal-and they also knew that the White House didn't know. Which brings us to the value of "character," which State's mission statement defines as "Maintenance of high ethical standards and integrity."

Harty's temper on the issue could be driven in large part by the suddenly cloudy prospects for enactment of the Totalization Agreement-at least as it was structured earlier this month. Government investigators and number-crunchers are already researching the implications of any potential accord-and one group is looking into why officials at State and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have consistently mischaracterized and understated the progress of talks with Mexico.

At the request of the House Budget Committee, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is going to calculate the true costs of a Totalization Agreement with Mexico-with and without illegal aliens. If the agreement is modeled after the 20 already in place with mostly European nations, then only those people legally residing and working in the United States would be covered-meaning the cost would be relatively low. But if illegal aliens are included-there are anywhere from 7 to 11 million in the U.S., about half of which are from Mexico-then the deal's price tag skyrockets to hundreds of billions of dollars.

What may have Harty more nervous, though, is the investigation underway at the General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO study-requested by the Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, Clay Shaw-will examine a whole host of issues, including the true status of negotiations and what caused the accord with Mexico to be so different from the other agreements on the question of covering illegals. GAO investigators are providing Chairman Shaw's staff monthly updates, and the next one is due by the end of February. Their investigation may take awhile. When Chairman Shaw's staff requested the data and any other material used to justify the original, low-cost estimates, SSA officials could not provide any documents or work product to substantiate the figures.

Assuming State and SSA stick to their original timeline on the Totalization Agreement, CBO and GAO officials will be working against the clock. An internal SSA memo shows that officials there believed that negotiations could be completely finalized by February, which would bring the process to the final step of State submitting the accord to Congress. But that's where the tricky part arises: Congress doesn't have to approve the Totalization Agreement for it to take effect; as long as it does not affirmatively vote it down, the Totalization Agreement becomes the law of the land. But according to sources familiar with the sentiments at State, SSA, and the White House, many officials are starting to get cold feet.

If the Totalization Agreement with Mexico is derailed, then the biggest loser may be Harty. A senior State official notes, "Maura badly wanted a 'deliverable' here-something she could give the White House to curry favor with Karl Rove and company while she was still new on the job. But it looks like that really is not going to happen now."

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© 2002, Joel Mowbray.