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tv   Q A  CSPAN  September 7, 2014 11:00pm-12:01am EDT

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the house of comments. live coverage at 11 a.m. on c-span. >> this week on "q&a," our guest is "washington post" national reporter david fahrenthold. he talked about his front page article involving medicare and other investigative pieces. >> david fahrenthold, on august 17, front page, sunday the headline "medicare scheme that just kept rolling along."
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what is the story? >> it is about something that lasted a long time. this is something that took me a little while to understand. the power wheelchairs scam. it was a scheme where people will submit false claims for a power wheelchair. it is a very expensive device. they will get a patient who could walk and did not need a wheelchair and send it to medicare and medicare would pay them back. each one of these chairs cost $5,000. medicare would pay $5,000. sometimes it cost the supplier only about $1000 wholesale. they made $3000 or $4000 profit. it is started in the mid-1990's and did not end until last year. >> your article is in los angeles, why? >> i wanted to see where you can see the government explain to prosecute a power wheelchair case.
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i went to see the case of a woman from nigeria who lived in l.a. who have run a scam for six or seven years and ended up getting over $4 million from at the government. they prescribed more than 1000 wheelchairs. it was fascinating. they brought in some of the people who had been her patients and they walked in. it was the first sign that were not legitimate patients. they described the scheme. they were corrupted. it made $3000 or $4000. >> what happened to her? >> she was convicted on nine counts. it was a pretty lopsided case. the government put in the case and she had no case. she has not been sentenced yet. >> how often has this type of trial happened? >> there has been a lot of these trials.
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some where the total take was $10 million or more over the life of the scheme. one of the interesting things was the scale of the actual problem, the government has prosecuted dozens and dozens of these people but did there are many more involved. what to the government ended up doing was prosecuting only the biggest schemes and more blatant. the easiest wanted to catch them. if you had a little bit of caution or modesty and your scheming, you can stay below the radar. >> i want to put up a quote that says -- why? >> it was amazing to me. a lot of the story is medicare's inability in detecting fraudulent bills. medicare guess so many bills
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every day that it pays most of them and goes back to figure if they were fraudulent. and so as a result, when medicare goes back and looks at wheelchairs and find 80% were improper, they should not have been paid. probably, it was an innocent mistake and someone off. -- left off some paperwork or misspelled something. in some cases it is from. when the government goes to look back, it is such a mess. so many erroneous claims that it'd already paid, it is not found a way to detect how many were fraudulent. >> i want to show a television ad and get you to put in context and the story that you wrote. >> i fear being placed into a nursing home. thinking about it brought tears to my eyes. this wheelchair gives me my independence back. >> no broken bones. i have my dignity.
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>> enabling seniors to live in their homes greatly improves the quality of life and reduces health care spending. our nation's prescribes wheelchairs because they know the loss of possibility leads to premature expensive nursing homes. it brings mobility to those in need. it has restored pride and dignity to a generation of americans who help to build and protect our nation. this is medicare and america and its best. >> i have my freedom and independence and right now that is my american dream. >> somebody has to call the number on the screen and what would happen? >> nothing. the company does not exist. the scooter score -- store
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closed down last year. it had been under investigation for a long time by federal authorities who were trying to see if it's was bending the rules. to get around the medicare safeguards about who should get a wheelchair. a couple of years ago, a similar investigation when the scooter store settled a lawsuit and paid $4 million. this time last year, 150 federal agents raided. medicare cut off its funding and stopped paying the scooter store bills. >> can you still get a scooter from someone else? >> of course. there are a number of people in the scooter business and they say the crackdown has made it harder for the legitimate people who need it. the way that the rules were written about power wheelchairs. they said it is not just for somebody who has difficulty walking or who would like more ease.
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it is supposed to be for someone who cannot walk and cannot use a cane or walker or regular wheelchair. they are so disabled that they cannot get around any other way. so often, during the life of this, some of which was fraudulent, originally they were prescribed for things like -- very serious conditions. parkinson's, paralysis. as time went on became more prevalent, you saw more diagnoses like arthritis. more vague and less debilitating. we see commercial and they talk about i need mobility. in theory, medicare should only give to folks who cannot get around. >> let me put up a another quote.
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it says -- they called me i could have it, so i took it. >> it is a great quote describing the beginning. it is started in miami. it is the place where all great medicare schemes start from. it has criminals and old people. that is a thorough ground. it came out of miami. the way these things often work is they was sent somebody out, they will call them a recruiter. they go to your house and say are you a medicare beneficiary. they say the government is giving away power wheelchairs. you have to act now. they say you may never have
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another chance. the person says i can walk. and they say what if you need in the future? the patient knows they are part of a scam. a lot of these schemes including the one in l.a., bringing in innocent people. they do not know. they are saying i'm from the government and they are giving away free chairs, don't you want one? >> how long did you sit in the trial? >> tuesday through friday. >> were there visitors? >> basically empty. >> what about the woman being tried? >> i left before the sentence was handed down so i do not see her reaction. it was obvious it was a strong case.
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they authorities have found this person's office manager and she basically kept a paper log of the scam. every single patient they recruited which is illegal and every recruiter they paid a kickback to and every person deliver to a doctor. all of it was a mapped out. the manager kept it. the authorities got it. it is a running diary of a fraud. knowing the authorities and this person was in deep trouble legally. she remained very stoic. >> you have a chart in the paper and i want to ask you to break it down. it had to do with the amount of money involved in all of this. on the right is said medicare, $5,000 and you go down the list. medical supplier, patient. explain.
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>> medicare paid a much more for these chairs. they paid up to 5000 dollars. often the actual wholesale price was $8,000. that is the interesting thing. medicare paid so much to you, the scammer, could actually buy the chair and give it and still make a lot of money. a lot of scammers did that. if you did not deliver the chair, somebody may feel ripped off. you promised them something. they might call the authorities. often, it was better to deliver the chair for the person who did not need it. because medicare paid so much, you could still make a lot of money. >> break it down. medicare is headquartered where? >> baltimore. >> is there a section that deals with chairs? >> they are given to regional contractors. handle billing there are 4 around the country. >> where does it start? >> let's start from the scammer's end.
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okay, the scammer has basically -- standard medical supplier is somebody who waits for you to go to the doctor and get a prescription and say i need a wheelchair. the scammer starts with a prescription and goes looking for a doctor and patient. what the scammer does is they pay somebody to recruit a patient. patient recruiters. they go out in the community and find people -- often these are folks that goes to an apartment complex with a lot of elderly people. they find a beneficiary and they will pay them off and trick them and confuse them somehow and get the dirt medicare beneficiary number. this a little cleaner way to do it. pay for the number. then it you take the patient to
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a doctor. usually the doctor is on the scam. the patient recruiter, once they are in the system, they are gone. >> do they pay the patient? >> sometimes. they get paid the least of anybody. the recruiter does their payment and they go off to somebody. the recruited patient goes to the corrupted doctor. in l.a., there was a doctor that the suppliers knew. in some cases, the doctors are paid a retainer and sometimes per patient. the doctor is told, only one prescription and diagnosis you can gift even if the person can while. you have to certify they cannot walk. in the cases we talked to and i saw in l.a., some of them walked up the stairs to see the doctor and he was sign and prescription. >> did any doctors taken to trial on this and indicted? what kind of doctor would do this? >> some doctors have. medicare feels one of the things they have not done is go after doctors. they have to have medical licenses and there's a limited supply.
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the type of doctors who do it -- talking to prosecutors, they say people who have trouble with their medical practice and cannot get enough patients. sometimes people who are very old and have lost a lot. it is a scheme you can work one day a week. and immigrants who have trouble building a customer base here. often, they find doctors. it is hard to think of doctors in dire financial straits. but they find doctors who are not succeeding in the business of doctoring.
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>> go back to the whole scheme. the patient recruiter and they recruited the patient and you have one example where they put a bunch in the same van? >> this is from that trial. the recruiter goes to a guy and say are you a medicare beneficiary. and she will come back with a van. he doesn't need it. he can walk just fine. she said it is a limited time offer. she comes with the van. they take them to the doctor at once. it is the guy who had to walk to the second floor. >> what does the doctor do from that moment? >> the doctor's role is to sign off. the doctor will get a kickback or maybe a retainer per week. once the doctor signs off on the bogus diagnosis, they take their money and go away. the supplier has the patient's number and a diagnosis. and those are the things you need to bill medicare. you do not have to send the diagnosis sheet they may ask later. once you get the patient to the doctor and they are diagnosed, the scam can proceed. >> and how much -- somebody is sitting over here in baltimore and gets it in the mail, what do they do? >> medicare gets millions and millions of claims a day. 4 million. they go to regional contractors.
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>> are they not in government? >> they are private companies. they get these claims. they put them through some level of analysis to make sure it is a patient number and doctor's number and they pay. it gets reviewed by a human before they are paid to make sure -- this person is getting a power wheelchair. it matches up with previous diagnosis. it might warrant a wheelchair. a fraction of claims that visit their review is small. it is less than 3%. in most cases, if you legitimate number, medicare paid the claim. they send you the money.
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>> how much money do they send? >> what they decide is the cost of the item. typically $5,000 for this. in theory, the beneficiary pays the 25% co-pay. the scammer waives it. >> 80% of what the check is? >> whatever the value is in it goes back to the scammer. >> like how did the scooter store get into it? >> it's a much more complicated question. i described blatant fraud. it started in miami. the scooter store, what the
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government thinks the scooter store did was basically -- people would call them and say i want a scooter. what you are supposed to do is say well, can you walk? can you get around? and people say, no, not really. i would like it to go to the store or beach or on vacation. in theory, you are supposed to say you cannot have a power wheelchair. what the government allege that they did was coercing and telling them to go to the doctor and tell them about your worst of times. allegedly, the scooter store would bring people -- if your doctor says no, they would have doctors. >> who has an incentive to say no? >> in theory, medicare. but medicare -- you have to understand what a gigantic system it is. it is huge.
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$8 billion or something. it -- it is small potatoes. they have an incentive and would like the system to work a better. they are overwhelmed by their own bills. they are looking for things, trying to find it the highest dollar.
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>> do they have to live within a budget? >> medicare has a trust fund. yes, they have to live within it the budget. >> is there something in the trust fund? >> yes. when they talk about the budget, it is not like it will run out this year or some day >> this story has been going on for a long day. your story is on the conviction of someone. a little bit of a cbs story. >> last year, former employee said the company's main goal is not to help patients but to bulldoze doctors into writing prescriptions. >> so people can get the wheelchairs. even if they don't need them? >> yes. >> medicare rarely verifies if the chairs are necessary and the problem is crystallized when the inspector general released this report finding that 80% of medicare payments for wheelchairs are made in error. most are for people do not need them. from 2009-2012, the scooter store overbilled medicare by as much as $108 million. >> they went to 2011, why wouldn't there be an immediate tightening? >> that is a good question. the problem with medicare is it has a high error rate in a lot of things.
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wheelchairs are very expensive. a high error rate. >> let me put on the screen something you wrote. $50 billion? >> medicare's response was that most were innocent mistakes. they do not actually know. imagine that kind of error rate with a credit card company. paying $50 billion worth of bills. that it was not sure with accurate. >> should be done by a business operation -- is there any way to put a check and balance on this? somebody in this audience worked for medicare and said you have not got it right. >> they think they have gotten a lot of better. what was surprising to me -- i
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am glad we got to write about the scam to see what it took for medicare to end of the scheme. it has been on the radar since 1998. they have known the details. it took them on to last you can clamp down. it took them prepayment review. we will pay you later. ask the medicare first and we will look at everything and decide. >> i have to pull up another
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quote in your article. it is a long article. you got a lot copy in there. >> it was great. how long did you have been written before it was published? >> probably a couple of weeks before it was published. >> you got two pages in "washington post." a race? >> that is how bad it got in some places. the scam bloomed in houston and spread out. baton rouge and places around texas. it got to where people had to these things. they had no obvious use for them, so they were racing them.
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at the peak of this, how blatant it was. >> why did they shut down the scooter store and not other operations? >> the scooter store was really big and it was on the radar for a long time. before the 2007 case, federal agents and inspector general had been looking and scooter store because it was such a big operator in the space and they had commercials. the point of power wheelchairs was it had to be prescribed by your doctor and something where you cannot walk. the commercials seem to invite people as a matter of convenience and better living that medical necessity. that's got to them interested. that is why they focus on the scooter store. >> one of more of their ads. we found it on youtube. let's watch another scooter store ad.
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>> if you are living with limited mobility, call scooter store. for 15 years, we have showed you how it provides freedom. i am doug harrison. my wife and i started the the scooter store because we believe everyone has the right to enjoy freedom. how it can help make you mobile again. you have the right to know if you qualify for medicare and your secondary insurance might cover the entire cost of the scooter. call the scooter store and let our experts help you reclaim your right to independence. if we pre-approve you and your claim is denied, the school store will give you your power chair for free. regain your mobility and improve your life. call it now. >> once again, people should not call that number. he said we have a right to enjoy life to the fullest. and they will give you one in
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case you do not qualify. >> that was the confidence that you would qualify. that does not happen very often. >> what happened to doug harrison and his wife susan? >> i talked to him. he is fighting to clear his name and make people think it is not an illegal business. federal agents raided the scooter store it last year and seized all of the documents and they still have not brought charges. they are trying to make sense of the giant pile of paper. what is next would be a criminal trial where harrison would have a chance to clear his night or have a day in court. >> what was his reaction when you called him?
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>> he called me. he believes there were scammers. there was a lot of scamming. the scamming he is talking about is the kind i described where the recruit the patients on the streets was that he believes the scooter store was doing was legitimate. this is helping people. >> go back to the scooter itself. how much would actually cost wholesale from the main factor?
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-- manufacturer. >> there's a difference between the scooter and power chair. scooters are cheaper but power wheelchairs, you can get them for about $940. >> how does medicare go to $5,000? >> it depends on medicare -- on the manufacturer's suggestion. there were a lot of studies along the way on federal watchdogs saying other people do not pay as much. the v.a. does not pay as much. medicare continued to pay so much. they were very slow to respond. now competitive bidding has brought the price down and they changed it that medicare bought it up front and now it is rent to own. >> you see all kinds of agencies they get into it. health and human services, fbi, homeland security must be in it some way. who -- is there anybody really looking at this? >> the people who do the best job is health and human services and ig have been down the desk for a long time. inspector general. they have been making a lot of the cases. most doctors only prescribe this amount in a year and this one has done 1000. they look for the anomaly. and the justice department. they started a task force.
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they started in miami. it desperate out to a bunch of different cities. they are frustrated. they are behind. we talk about the power wheelchair scam. they spend all of the money trying to beat it. a bunch of other scams use a different use of equipment or brace or insole for adult diapers. those are growing up around them. >> a quote from the article -- >> that is right. >> pay and chase. >> if you think about the beginnings of medicare, the idea was -- it is a system for paying doctors and who can you trust more to your doctor? they can operate on your heart or prescribe medicine, we will trust them to bill us correctly. the system has grown so much assisted then that fundamental trust-based section -- system, it is an honor system. it makes people dishonorable. we talk about this in the story. that is why the equipment scam was so good.
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you did not need a medical license to get in. you can be a corrupt doctor but you have to go to medical school first. the medical supplier and anybody off the street could become a
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medical supplier and you would be afforded that same kind of trust. >> have you found anybody along the way who did not get their money? meaning the doctor or patient recruiter or supplier or patient and they started ratting? >> let me think about that -- no. there were a couple cases where the whistleblower got a share and was not expecting it. sometimes they will steal your number and deliver a chair and you would have no idea where it came from. >> what about the dead doctors? >> sometimes they would find out. basically -- for a long time, medicare was pretty bad. bad at determining when people are dead. the government does a pretty poor job and medicare was one of the people who was taken for a ride. somebody would die. social security keeps up. medicare may not realize that doctor was dead for years. the scammer would call and say i am the doctor and i have moved. i need to move my office's location to x and given the address to the scammer. the medicare will send in mail to someone else.
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as long as one piece has to be medicare number, that is all you need. they would revive dead doctors. over the years, millions and millions of dollars were built to medicare. medicare said they are better. it is recently that they stopped the loophole. >> i want to read the last paragraph of your story. >> that gives you a signal. a clamp down on power wheelchairs but there are so many ways to steal from medicare. prosthetic limbs are very expensive. medicare gets a lot of money. you would think they want to know if the patient had a record of amputation. let's check their medical history. they later counted up of the anomalies. a lot of people were getting their arm and leg amputated in one day. it brought the authorities. >> you said the woman convicted was from nigeria? >> that is right. >> how often did you find it was people from other countries? were they illegal? >> it began in a cuban community
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and it jumped. in houston, it was run by nigerians. it is spread to l.a. in light of the biggest cases in l.a. have been nigerian pastors. the pastor of the church would use the organization to defraud medicare. and the armenian mob. they do with a little differently but they are part of the same scam. one fascinating thing i saw in another trial. the armenians' role was to package for thought they would do all of the work. find the patient and take them to the doctor and get a prescription. what they would have a ready is all the paperwork ready. you pay them as a full-service operation. they would only sell a certain number of these things to any given scammer. they knew they sold too many medicare would start paying attention and the schemer might get busted. a nigerian in l.a. and these armenians and they knew he was billing too many things and causing too much. they cut him off. they say you can only have 10 in a month. it turned out he took so much money in fact they got greedy and let him how more then they meant to. he got paid twice as much.
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they said you got more than your quota. he got caught and they got caught. >> we have other things and other articles to talk about. tell me if i am wrong. you have been at the post since 2000? >> yes. >> harvard? >> yes, history.
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i grew up in houston. >> got married in 2005. children? >> one little girl. alexandra. today is her second day of preschool. hopefully she is doing ok. >> i want to show a video you made. the title is "sinkhole of the bureaucracy." you did it for "washington post." let's watch it. >> one of the strangest tales of the washington bureaucracy in downtown washington. a longtime federal employee puts
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in her paperwork to retire. before she gets her full pension check, her paperwork must go on to a long journey. they must come here. a small town in western virginia. they operate an operating center. 200 feet underground in the caverns of an old mine. it is one of the most epic glitches. everyone retirement application from every federal employee is filed and processed on paper. here is how it works. when someone retires, it is printed and shipped across the country. old records from the same employee already on file must be retrieved. some are taken from more than 28,000 file cabinets and others are printed out. if any document is missing, it must be hunted down. and added to the file. this process can take days or weeks. it's then put back into a computer. it is digital again. right now, the average case takes 60 days. that is faster than what it was a few years ago. it is still the same as 1977. at last count, there are more than 23,500 cases pending.
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they have spent more than $100 million to automate and modernize and digitize. each one fails. the return to the old way of processing retirement papers. with a backlog mountain, the personnel has turned to a more certain -- and they hired 40 people.
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>> how did you get into this? >> it was earlier this year. i was talking to someone who worked for the federal government. a very high up person. he said i heard rumors that it is all done in underground salt mine in pennsylvania. it was a limestone of mine. the rest was right. the idea that federal paperwork as passed by hand 250 feet under the ground. it is where everybody's papers goes. so few people know it exists. or it runs like it does. such an old-fashioned way. >> i noticed in the video, the original forms are mailed. is it sent by fedex, ups, or united states mail? >> most agencies send by fedex or ups. the postal service sends its own employees by postal service. >> did he figure out how much it cost? >> we cannot figure it out. >> when you went in there, one agency said you could go into their but could not quote anyone directly? >> that is right. we got a tour. we cannot quote anybody. i quoted one woman i met underground, the union rep and she is allowed to speak. >> bonnie? >> that is correct. >> that was an incredible
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process. it is started at in the beginning with the paperwork coming in the mine. we saw the giant carved out cavern. people sit at these desks inside of a cave and call others to get the missing forms from 1985 to complete the form. all of that work ends on the desk of someone else. she pulled at the computer program and her job is to take the information on paper and put it on the computer one line at a time. screen after screen all of which has little blanks to answer questions. what were the three highest year of pay? all of these small little gradations. all seemed like a good idea. but now, they have not to build a system that can automatically search so someone has to enter by hand in the computer spits out the payment. >> what seems the simplest and least expensive way to do this? >> the things you would have to do in other states has done this is to do it digitally. the thing he would have to do -- >> states have done it? >> states have systems. teple of
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days. >> $100 million have been spent on this and is gone with no
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results? >> it was a terrible parallel. people were working and working and no one in government really understood the system that was being built for them well enough to know if all the pieces would work together. they did not test until too late in the game that it would fail and they will basically give up and go to the old paper system. to make it work additionally, you would have to have all the information come in a standardized way. from the postal service and gsa. everybody kept their work in the same way and the computer could read it more easily. not impossible. they never managed to make it work. take all of this disparate kind of paper and meld them together. >> it is 640 people who work there now. they work 8:00-5:00. they get plenty of overtime. >> they like it. it is a steady job. it is a strange place to work.
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you go down under the ground into sort of -- you can tell you are in the cave. the roof is a jagged rock. there's no cooking down there. all of the food is brought in. >> what did you mean the food is brought in? >> a couple of people have concessions to bring food. no one can cook. there's a pizza guy who was the mayor of the town. and another guy who brings a mozzarella sticks. a couple of things. they truck it in. >> is he on contract with the government? >> yes. the other guy drives it to down and you call him up. it is kind of congealed, not to the best food for the not the best way to eat food. to get out of the mine to your car is a lot of trouble. >> how long have they been underground? >> they started in 1960. it was more like a giant file cabinet. it was not meant to be a place where they process. there were not a lot of opportunities in boyars, pennsylvania.
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you did not have to teach a bunch of new people. they shifted more the process of from d.c. to there. >> where is it? >> it is near -- you can go to pittsburgh, north an hour. >> are there really 28,000 file cabinets? >> yes. they carved the caverns. it is just -- imagine two football fields of cabinets. possibly half a football field wide. spooky enough. people talked about ghosts. >> how do they define your job at "washington post?" >> i work on the political desk.
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half on more standard politics stories. i have done profiles. midterm election coverage this year. the other half is writing about the federal bureaucracy. last year, i wrote about things that the government spends money on that we did not need. an airport that nobody used. things we do not need.
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this is year about systems we need but problems built into them to make them run slow and waste time. and described where the breaking point came from. >> do you get tips? >> sometimes. a lot of the cases are things i find on my own. the best idea was the boyer's story. >> you were talking about another subject. [video clip] >> the headline. one thing it pays them way too much money. what is going on? >> you would think is one the simpler tasks of government to figure out if people are alive and deserving of benefits or dead. the dead rarely qualify for benefits. we are seeing a system who is meant to track who is dead or not is broken. money is sent to people who are dead and a lot of people who are alive are mistaken as dead. >> did they let you have at the social security administration and where is it? >> i think it is in baltimore and no. these people who had been declared dead and no amount of
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presenting themselves in person with her driver's license could get them off of the role of the dead. it took a governor to undead them. >> what happens when you call and say this is david fahrenthold? >> i have not gotten a lot of hostility. it is a lot of stories about what the government does not do. people are generally good about talking to me about what they have and to the problems they have. i am not the first person to find at the problem. somebody has found it before and it has not made it a lot of news. i'm not the first want to bring it to their attention. the medicare folks were good about letting me. i came back to them again and again to get a good data and data that show the rise and fall
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of the power wheelchairs scam. they gave me data that really helped. >> does anybody ever react after the stories are printed by saying they are outraged? >> the people i am writing about? >> just anybody. >> they do. there are people outraged. in a lot of cases, a lot of watchdog groups who have been writing about it for years and nobody have paid that much attention as they are glad to have someone bring it to light. one of the stories i wrote about the v.a. right after the big v.a. blowup. there have been reports over the years that they broke the system that were supposed to alert the leaders when something was wrong. that idea had been out there for a long time. the watchdogs are glad that people are taking the information and bring to get to the public. >> i have another story you wrote here. headline --
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cartersville, georgia. if we went today, what will we find? >> you would not find this plane. the u.s. government for a long time had been trying to broadcast tv signals into cuba to provide either propaganda or free news or uncensored news. the problem is in cuba, it is fine for radio broadcasting. it is too far way to send tv signals. miami and havana are too far apart. and so for a long time, we tried to blitz. we would hand over florida. it would jam the signal into the parts of the island that could get it. they moved to a plane. they outfitted with a tv signal and had in fly in circles over international waters.
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c-130, a military plane which is very expensive. and a private jet plane. and so, the thing to remember is it did not work. --made us feel good that it we were doing something that was designed to undermine the castro's but it did not work. people in cuba could not see it. totally u.s. government-funded. it did not work.
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your role is to enlighten the cuban people and they cannot send it. they kept doing it. to stop flying the ineffective a plane would seem like surrendering. sequester came and they had to cut money someplace. they did not get rid of the play but they stopped flying. at the time, the government agency that ran it, tv marquee, u.s. funded station in cuba. they were unwilling to part with it because they thought congress might have them fly it again. i learned the plane is gone. we are no longer paying the money. >> one of the lines was congress preserved the money. from october to may, the administration spent over $750,000 on a plane that clearly was not worth the money. i have to go back. you are telling us that this plane would take off every day. it would fly over the keys and track a signal into cuba that was not a receivable. and we kept doing it because member of congress said it was
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necessary? >> we do not want to admit that we were blocked and we were giving up. >> who try to stop the spending? anybody? >> i forget the u.s. congressman. people tried. it is a contention of strong anti-castro lawmakers who protected it saying it is not that much money and the grand scheme of things and we do not want to concede defeat. >> i looked up and try to get an overall figure of how much was spent all year. the only figure i saw was $26 million a year. did you find a figure? >> radio marquee, i do not know -- it works and people can get it in cuba. the amount of money spent on the plane and tv broadcast over the years, it was the many millions leading up to the point i was writing about. >> why did it happen? >> to me, the interesting thing about all of these stories is seeing how for so long there was not really any sense that money was limited. there were things we would spend money on to solve a political problem.
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to keep up the appearance that we were challenging castro. or we would spend money to solve some political problem in congress and keep spending along after the problem had gone away. oftentimes, people saw because it was in the budget as untouchable. it took a long time to get people to realize we have to cut something. >> how did you get into this? the journalism business? you went to harvard. how did you get there? >> it started out of "the post" as an intern thinking i would go to law school. journalism is wonderful. it is so hard to give up once you started. such an interesting job. i would cover the night time. whatever crime. you get a view into the city life. it shortens your attention span that it is hard to do anything else. i cover the night city desk for a long time.
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the d.c. police for stuff i worked on the environment for a long time. chesapeake bay. and the last new england bureau chief. >> where did you get to the interest? >> in college, i worked on the college paper and got hooked. i worked on internships before i graduated and loved it. >> how long will we have a newspaper like "washington post?" how many thousands of words were
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in the story? how long do you think it will last? >> i will tell you what my answer would of been a couple of years ago. we have been bought by jeff bezos who put a lot of money into it. he wants people to read us. people see us as indispensable in their lives. these stories tell you something you do not know. something they cannot get anywhere else. for us, it is part of our business model. people make fun of buzz feed for this short attention span. even they do long takeouts. espn has done some of this stuff. these long, involving stories that people get so much more than a short story. and offer a product that is useful for everybody. >> when you ran the big wheelchair story, what kind of reaction did you get? >> it got a lot of clicks. it got a lot a shares on social media which is a good way of seeing how people are interacting with it. and a lot of a notes from people. e-mails saying i had no idea. like a federal prosecutor. when it was just a print paper, you had to wait for somebody to
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write a letter. now you get instant feedback to know people are reading. >> how often on the stories you have done is that somebody does something about it? >> generally, not very often. i was writing about these things, spending that did not need to happen. a surprising amount of results may be because of those things were small enough that people, people could see. people saw a way to make a change. i told you about the usda's rules about a magician evacuating rabbits in the case of an emergency. i wrote about a magician who had a rabbit and talked about the absurdity of it. it went online and in a couple of hours, the usda got rid of the rule. >> who started it?
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>> fascinating about how regulation start. they wanted to regulate zoos and medical facilities that had huge amounts of animals. congress wrote the law loosely. the usda, without a budget, they started saying if you were exhibiting one animal, the magician had one a rabbit and he is exhibiting an animal.
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they required him to get the same license you would have to get for a zoo or circuits. he has the license -- it is a funny story. he was doing his magic show at a library in missouri and a usda inspector came out of the crowd and said where is your license for the rabbit. he had a license and he thought it was the end of it. they required him to have a disaster plan. >> david fahrenthold of "washington post." we are out of time. we will do it again one day. >> thank you. >> for free transcripts or to give us your comments, visit us at "q&a" programs are also available as c-span podcasts. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by ational captioning institute]
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> monday night on "the communicators, robert mcdowell and michael copps, former f.c.c. commissioners. >> basically getting hammer locked. this is something we as a democracy rely spon to govern ourselves. >> the adoption of smartphones is faster in nordic communities than it is in affluent white communities. that is fantastic news for america. you are seeing the developing world adopsu


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