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Should the Office of Special Counsel Have More Hatch Act Enforcement Power?



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Recently the Office of Special Counsel revealed that several members of the Trump administration violated the Hatch Act. It happens in every administration, if not to that extent. The law prevents political activity by appointed and career federal employees while on the job. Bob Tobias, a professor in the Key Executive Leadership program at American University, says the Office of Special Counsel should have greater statutory authority to go after Hatch Act violators. He spoke to the  Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript: 

Tom Temin: Recently, the Office of Special Counsel revealed that several members of the Trump administration had violated the Hatch Act. It happens in every administration but maybe not to that extent. The law prevents political activity by appointed and career federal employees while on the job. Our next guest says the Office of Special Counsel should have greater statutory authority to go after Hatch Act violators. Bob Tobias is professor in the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University. And he joins me now. And Bob, it’s safe to say that Hatch Act violations really get to the heart of what can go wrong or or harm civil service, doesn’t it?

Bob Tobias: It does. I mean, the Hatch Act, which was, you know, enacted in 1939, forbids federal employees from quote, “interfering with an election or affecting the result,” close quote. And as you indicated, the Office of Special Counsel found two former departmental secretaries and 11 other high level political appointees from the Trump administration to have violated the Hatch Act. However, they didn’t suffer any penalty.

Tom Temin: That amounts to almost wholesale violation with that many people in a given administration. I mean, there’s always one or two each time around, but it seems more systemic that time.

Bob Tobias: Well, yes. And if they were not Senate confirmed, or high level political appointees, the Office of Special Counsel could have administered penalties up to an including discharge. But with respect to Senate confirmed and high level political appointees. The Office of Special Counsel is prohibited from taking action and has to refer the cases to the sitting president. And although former President Trump had more people in his administration who committed Hatch Act violations than any prior administration, no action was taken by the president against any of those who violated the Hatch Act. But President Trump is in very good company. The fact is no prior president has ever taken action against a person in his administration who violated the Hatch Act.

Tom Temin: Yeah. So we often see reports from the Office of Special Counsel detailing what happened to regular federal career employees when they violated the Hatch Act. They pay fines, they have suspensions, and in some cases are let go. And so we know what’s possible for them. But for the political ones, then they kind of get off with just the embarrassment of having it revealed.

Bob Tobias: Yeah, they get to escape. And if you look at the congressional goal of the Hatch Act when it was enacted, it was to prevent the creation, quote, of a powerful, invincible and perhaps corrupt political machine within the federal government who might interfere or affect the result of an election. Now, I think, Tom, we can say pretty clearly that this goal is no less important today than it was in 1939.

Tom Temin: Well, in some ways, maybe it’s more important, because I don’t know how polarized things were back in 1939. Probably pretty bad. I mean, Roosevelt did engender strong reactions on both sides. But I think it’s safe to say that since the Civil War, the country’s never been more divided politically than it is right now.

Bob Tobias: Yeah, I think that’s right. And departmental secretaries and high level political appointees have the greatest power to create a political machine within the federal government. And I don’t believe they should be able to violate the law with impunity.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Bob Tobias. He is a professor at the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University. And there are things that perhaps federal career managers can do, maybe advise politicals, “hey, you know, not a great idea.” In fact, I knew a political appointee in the Bush administration who wanted to do some campaign work. So he used vacation time, and got out of dodge and did it on his personal time, which I believe is allowed. But he had heard from some people there that no, you can’t do this kind of thing while you’re on the job.

Bob Tobias: Well, you have to want to comply with the Hatch Act, then you ask questions or you listen to what people have to say. There was a quote in the report about Mark Meadows, who was the White House chief of staff, who said that the Hatch Act is really only important to people inside the beltway. And I think that that is wrong. I think it’s dead wrong. And the special counsel needs to be able to enforce actions against hash check violators.

Tom Temin: Yes, because all employees but certainly, most visibly, the cabinet level employees do take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. They don’t take an oath to protect and defend the candidacy of the person that appointed them.

Bob Tobias: You know, I think that’s really right on the mark, Tom, and often overlooked. All federal employees take the same oath of office. All should be treated in the same manner, when they violate the Hatch Act. Some shouldn’t be able to get off because they’re Senate confirmed or high level political appointees.

Tom Temin: Alright. So then the law does not provide for that. So that would be then Congress’s job to change that?

Bob Tobias: It would, and I really believe that Congress ought amend the Hatch Act to enable the Office of Special Counsel to initiate action against any federal employee who violates the Hatch Act, including Senate confirmed and high level political appointees,

Tom Temin: And there probably would not be a constitutional issue there because the Office of Special Counsel exists within the executive branch.

Bob Tobias: Absolutely.

Tom Temin: And Bob, just to switch gears while we have you, the President’s management agenda came out days ago, or what they call the vision for the management agenda. And it’s less detailed in some ways than earlier management agendas, which went after information technology and very arcane parts of what the government should be doing. This was a much broader brush picture. What’s your assessment of it?

Bob Tobias: Well, I think that in order to really measure performance, the plan needs to be more specific. I think that members of the public really want to know how well government performs. And the only way that that can happen is if performance is measured and it’s put on a website, and people can see it, and people can comment on it. But in order to make that happen, it has to be sufficiently specific to be measured.

Tom Temin: And the other issue is it does do a lot of good in terms of elevating the federal job situation — that is, federal job should be good jobs, federal employees should be supported in every way possible, so they can be enabled to do great jobs. And nobody could disagree with that. The prior administration put a lot of emphasis on accountability of individuals, making it easier, they hope to, they only partially succeeded in being able to fire people more quickly. And this latest PMA from the Biden administration makes no mention of that. Somehow that seems to call for some balance, I think. You don’t want to have it a totally negative management agenda saying how we want to get rid of the fast ones, and that’s our agenda. But on the other hand, you don’t want to say let’s elevate everybody, but yet leave out the accountability part. Seems like there should be a middle ground there.

Bob Tobias: Well, I think, if indeed agencies are held to improving performance, that concomitantly they’re going to be holding people accountable for their individual performance that contributes to the overall goal. So I think it’s there. But it has to be more clearly articulated.

Tom Temin: Because it does reference the engagement scores of government and the perception of government by the public, which tend to lag the private sector. And one of the issues that comes up in the engagement scores every year is that federal employees don’t feel like the poor performers are dealt with sufficiently.

Bob Tobias: Well, that’s correct. And I think that needs to be attended to. I don’t think it’s right to say, well, others don’t know who we’re focused on and so forth. But people know when others are held accountable. And it has to be attended to. And it has to be attended to at every single level. If I’m a supervisor, and I’m not accurately evaluating you and just passing you on, I too am not being held accountable. So this accountability issue is something that goes from the top to the bottom.

Tom Temin: Alright, Bob Tobias is a professor in the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University. As always, good to have you on.

Bob Tobias: Thank you very much Tom.


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IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card Review (2022)



Hotel credit cards are incredibly underrated. Even if you don’t spend much money on them, they can offer huge perks, including elite status and free night certificates. When you combine these two factors, a lot of these cards offer outsized value.

In this post, I wanted to take a closer look at a hotel credit card that I think just about everyone should have, for the anniversary free night certificate if nothing else. This is an especially good time to get the card, as the current welcome bonus is excellent.

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card Basics For January 2022

The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is the premium Chase and IHG co-branded credit card. Even if you don’t plan on putting much spending on the card, this card can be worth having for the anniversary free night certificate, fourth night free on award redemptions, and more.

For those of you not familiar with IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), the group owns InterContinental, Six Senses, Regent, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, and more.

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about this card.

Welcome Bonus Of 125,000 Points & Free Night

At the moment the IHG Premier Card is offering an excellent two-part welcome bonus, which is earned after spending $3,000 within the first three months:

Receive 125,000 IHG Rewards pointsReceive a free night award valid at a property costing up to 40,000 points

Personally I value IHG points at 0.5 cents each, so the 125,000 points are worth ~$625 to me, while the free night certificate can be worth up to ~$200.

Card Eligibility

The welcome bonus on the IHG Premier Card isn’t available to those who currently have this specific card, or those who have received a new cardmember bonus on this card in the past 24 months. You’re eligible for the IHG Premier Card even if you have the no annual fee IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card (review).

Furthermore, you’re eligible for the IHG Premier Card even if you have IHG’s previous co-branded credit card. These cards are even great complements to one another.

While you can get multiple cards, note that Chase also typically lets you product change between personal cards, assuming you’ve had a card for at least 12 months. You’ll need to phone up the number on the back of your card to find out more.

Chase’s 5/24 Rule

Chase has what’s known as the 5/24 rule. This means that if you’ve opened five or more new card accounts in the past 24 months you typically won’t be approved for this card. So if you do apply for this card, make sure you’re under that limit. Chase’s other general application restrictions apply.

$89 Annual Fee

The IHG Premier Card has an $89 annual fee. You can add additional cardmembers to your account at no extra cost. As I’ll explain below, the annual fee is well worth it even if you don’t spend money on the card, since you get an anniversary free night certificate.

Earning Points With The IHG Premier Card

The IHG Premier Card offers some bonus categories, though in general this isn’t a card that I would put much spending on, given the relatively low value of IHG Rewards points.

10x Points At IHG Properties

If you have the IHG Premier Card then you can earn a total of 25x IHG Rewards points per dollar spent at IHG properties. However, in reality, not all of those points are coming from the credit card as such. Here’s how this breaks down:

You earn 10x points from IHG for being an IHG Rewards memberYou earn 5x points from IHG with Platinum status, which is a benefit of this cardYou earn 10x points for paying with your IHG Premier CardEarn 10x points for stays at IHG properties

2x Points At Gas Stations, Grocery Stores, And Restaurants

The IHG Premier Card offers 2x points for purchases made at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. Given my fairly low valuation of IHG points, that translates to a return of about one cent per dollar spent.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend spending money in these categories with this card, since there are much better options out there.

Earn 1x Points On Other Purchases

For categories in which you can’t earn 2-10x points, the card offers one IHG Rewards point per dollar spent. I would highly recommend against spending money on the card at that rate, since you can do better with other cards.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

The IHG Premier Credit Card has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s a good card for purchases abroad. That’s especially true when staying at IHG properties abroad, as well as for dining and commuting outside the United States.

IHG Premier Credit Card Benefits

What truly makes the IHG Premier Card exceptional is the benefits and perks that it offers, which in my opinion more than offset the annual fee on the card.

Anniversary Free Night

Every year on your account anniversary you get a free night certificate, valid at any property costing up to 40,000 points per night. This will be issued shortly after your anniversary and is valid for 12 months. This is in addition to the free night certificate currently being offered as part of the welcome bonus.

This covers a vast majority of IHG properties worldwide, and I’ve consistently gotten outsized value with this. For example, I’ve now three times in a row redeemed it at hotels that would have cost $250+ for one night if paying cash.

I’ve used a free night certificate at the Kimpton EPIC Miami

Fourth Night Free On Award Redemptions

Just for having the IHG Premier Card you get a fourth night free on award redemptions. When you stay four consecutive nights on an award redemption then you only have to redeem points for the first three nights.

This is an awesome perk, since it can be used an unlimited number of times (you can even use it to book multiple rooms at the same hotel). If you usually redeem points for stays in increments of four nights, this is like getting 25% off all your redemptions.

Get a fourth night free on an award at the InterContinental Maldives

IHG Rewards Platinum Status

You receive IHG Rewards Platinum status for as long as you have the card. While IHG isn’t the richest program in terms of elite benefits, this more than does the trick for those who only occasionally stay with IHG.

Among other things, IHG Rewards Platinum members receive:

Complimentary room upgrades, subject to availability50% bonus pointsLate check-out, subject to availabilityPriority check-inComplimentary internetWelcome amenityGet room upgrades as an IHG Rewards Platinum member

Global Entry Or TSA Pre-Check Credit

The IHG Premier Card offers a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit once every four years. Just charge the membership fee of up to $100 to your card, and it will automatically be reimbursed. It doesn’t matter who the fee is being paid for, as long as you charge it to your eligible card.

Chase Offers

One of the great features of Chase cards is access to Chase Offers, which provides savings on purchases with all kinds of retailers. The program wasn’t launched that long ago, but has already saved me a significant amount of money.

Secondary Car Rental Coverage

The IHG Premier Card offers auto rental collision damage waiver coverage. Decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card.

Coverage is provided for theft and collision damage for most cars in the United States and abroad. Do note that domestically the coverage is secondary to your personal insurance, though.

Protection With Trip Delays, Lost Luggage, And More

The IHG Premier Card offers a variety of other protection when traveling. Among these features is:

Trip Cancellation & Trip Interruption Insurance — be reimbursed up to $5,000 per trip when your trip is canceled or cut short due to sickness, severe weather, etc.Lost Luggage Reimbursement — be reimbursed up to $3,000 per passenger if you or your immediate family member check or carry on luggage that is damaged or lost by an airlineBaggage Delay Insurance — be reimbursed up to $100 per day for three days for essential purchases when your bag is delayed by over six hours

Make sure you check your cardmember agreement for all of the details, since there are terms & conditions.

Is The IHG Premier Credit Card Worth It?

I think the IHG Premier Card is absolutely worth having. While this isn’t a card I would put much spending on, the card is worth the $89 annual fee for the incredible perks that it offers. The card offers an anniversary free night certificate, a fourth night free on award redemptions, IHG Rewards Platinum status, a Global Entry fee credit, and more.

Everyone in my family has an IHG Card, if for no other reason than that we consistently redeem the free night certificates at hotels that would cost $250+ when paying cash.

IHG isn’t my favorite hotel group, but there are 5,000+ locations, and I inevitably end up staying at IHG hotels several times per year, because the brand often has the best options.

Let’s discuss a few other aspects of the card, though…

Quick Comparison: IHG Premier Vs. IHG Traveler Card

Above I’ve written about the $89 annual fee IHG Premier Card, though there’s also the no annual fee IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card (review). The Premier Card is absolutely worth the annual fee. Why?

The Premier Card offers an anniversary free night, while the Traveler Card doesn’tThe Premier Card offers IHG Platinum status, while the Traveler Card offers IHG Gold statusThe Premier Card offers a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit, while the Traveler Card doesn’tThe Premier Card offers a huge welcome bonus

Like I said, the single best benefit of the Premier Card is the anniversary free night certificate, and that’s worth way more than its annual year.

Other Options For Earning IHG Points

The IHG Premier Card doesn’t actually offer great points earning rates when you factor in the fairly low per point value of IHG Rewards.

Do keep in mind that IHG is transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you could transfer points at a 1:1 ratio. For example:

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review) offers 3x points on dining and travelThe Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (review) offers 3x points on dining, online groceries, and streaming services, and 2x points on travelThe Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (review) offers 3x points on the first $150,000 spent annually on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search enginesThe Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review), in conjunction with one of the above cards, earns 3x points on dining and drugstores, and 1.5x points on all purchasesThe Chase Freedom FlexSM (review), in conjunction with one of the above cards, earns 3x points on dining and drugstores, and 5x points in rotating quarterly categories

That being said, in general I absolutely wouldn’t recommend transferring Chase points to IHG. As I said, I value IHG points at ~0.5 cents each, while you can instead transfer points at the same ratio to programs like World of Hyatt, where I value the points at ~1.5 cents each (three times as much).

Sometimes it can make sense to buy IHG points when the program has a sale. IHG Rewards sometimes sells points with a 100% bonus, which brings down the cost per purchased points to 0.5 cents each. When you stack that with the fourth night free offered by this card and the Platinum perks you’ll receive, that could be well worth it.

Have The IHG Select Card?

Back in the day, there was the IHG Select Card, which is no longer open to new applicants. If you have that card, then you should absolutely hold onto it and then also apply for this card, as you’re eligible for both. Why? Because you can stack the benefits on both cards:

Both cards offer an anniversary free night certificate, so you could earn two of those each year, and use them for back-to-back staysThe old card offers a 10% refund on redeemed points (up to 100,000 refunded points per year), while the new card offers a fourth night free on award redemptions, and you could stack those benefits; in other words, if you make a four night stay at a hotel costing 70,000 points per night you’d end up paying 210,000 points, and then would get 21,000 points back, for a total cost of 189,000 points, which is over 30% off

Bottom Line

The IHG Premier Card is a card that I highly recommend getting. Not because it makes sense to put a lot of spending on the card long term, but because the anniversary free night certificate can be worth way more than the $89 annual fee.

Add in the IHG Platinum status, fourth night free on award redemptions, Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check credit, and more, and this card is a no-brainer. The card even has a top notch bonus right now, getting cardmembers even more value.

I know some people are opposed to having a lot of credit cards, but often it can make sense to have some cards just for the perks they offer, even if they’re not worth spending much money on. This is one of those cards.

If you want to learn more about the IHG Premier Credit Card or apply, follow this link.

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Commentary: “Hockey Day” Was a Rousing Success



FITCHBURG — Money aside, it’s safe to say Saturday’s “Hockey Day in the Burg” was a success.

That’s not to say the thousands of people who entered the Wallace Civic Center didn’t raise a boatload of money for the Thibeault Family Rehabilitation Trust. They certainly did.

But the smile that was pasted on Jake Thibeault’s face — clearly visible at all times, even with a mask on — was proof that the event was successful. That happiness, the escape it brought even temporarily, was worth more than any amount of money.

Thibeault was greeted by friends, teammates and coaches. In a way, it was akin to a family reunion for the teen.

He was welcomed back to his hometown rink as rock star, posing for photos, chatting with each and every person who came up to say hello. Turn and look at any 10 people and at least one would be wearing one of the “TBOTOUGH” T-shirts that were being sold.

What a boost that must be for Thibeault, who arrived back to his home in Fitchburg Friday for the first time since a hit during a September hockey game left him without sensation from the waist down. Until then, it had been all hospital time in Boston, working hard in rehab to hopefully someday walk again.

If any of that was on Thibeault’s mind throughout Saturday’s three hockey games, you wouldn’t know it. He was back with teammates, embraced by coaches. When I mused that it would be a long day for him, Thibeault smiled and said “yeah, but it’ll be a great day.”

If you haven’t had a chance to talk to Jake Thibeault, here’s a primer on what you pick up on immediately. He’s polite. Thoughtful. Wise beyond his years. Engaging. Determined.

His positivity is contagious. Inspiring. The road ahead of Jake Thibeault is a long one that will be filled with challenges, but it’s one he’s meeting with the mindset of a hockey player: he’s going to grind it out every day and he’s going to win.

“Every day is a new day with ups and downs, but I try to minimize the bad days and just have bad moments,” he told me. His focus is on the good.

Want a glimpse at what kind of young man Jake Thibeault is?

He’s not worried about living a fulfilling life; he knows he’s going to no matter what obstacles are ahead. And his biggest concern? Letting people know how grateful he is for the support he’s received.

“I have so many people that I have to repay and I don’t know how I will,” he said.

Humble. Determined. Full of respect and love for those who have shown the exact same thing to him.

It’s been an incredibly tough few months for the Thibeault family, but Mike and Tracy — Jake’s parents — know they’ve raised a remarkable young man. He didn’t become that way because of a tragic accident on the ice; he’s been that way for a long time.

Whether or not he walks again doesn’t change that one bit. Jake Thibeault off the ice is what he’s always been on the ice to teammates and coaches; a dedicated and determined leader who works hard and is the kind of kid you root for.

And using Saturday’s showing at the Wallace Civic Center as a clear indication, he still has a lot of people rooting for him.

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Large Scale Renovation Plans for Richford Arms Soon to Be Unveiled



A large scale plan to renovate one apartment building in Downtown Erie is close to being unveiled.

The owner of Richford Arms, the apartment building located on State Street, has reportedly planned what they’re calling a “kick off event” for January 24th.

Beacon Communities has already begun the work on the north side of the apartment building.

Plans to renovate Richford Arms set to be unveiled in “Kickoff Event” next week

The project has been priced at 27 million dollars and will include major updates inside and outside of the 100 unit building.

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According to Beacon, the changes will include a two story addition and six new fully-accessible units.

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