Swamp Tales: Unaccountable Federal Agency Uses Tax Dollars to Astroturf Crowds and Force Airborne Wheelchairs

An obscure federal agency immune from executive branch oversight and managed by a director who was barely in the office half the time last year is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to design plans to compel airlines to mandate in-flight wheelchair accommodation and to generate astroturf crowds of activists at public events.

Formed in 1973 to ensure that federal buildings were accessible to the handicapped, the Access Board has grown into a little known corner of the swamp where rules, plans, and studies are developed to expand the reach of the federal government far beyond the agency’s original mission.

The story of the Access Board provides a case study about how it is nearly impossible to drain the swamp, no matter how committed President Trump may be.

Simply, highly paid Washington bureaucrats have become unmoored from the electorate, and are operating as self-perpetuating pods of taxpayer-funded experts imposing their vision and desires on the rest of the country.

The Access Board has thirty federal employees and a budget of $8,400,000. Want to trim their power and budget? Good luck. Few Americans even know the Access Board exists.

The Access Board is one of a swarm of “independent” federal agencies not answerable to any elected branch of government. The Access Board is a poster child for the rise of the administrative state. The Board’s $8.4 million budget may seem small by Washington, D.C. standards, but it is one of a giant web of small agencies that operate free from executive branch oversight and even free from the oversight of any inspector general.

As we shall see in this series of columns, an intricate network of federal mutual performance review protocols has the heads of these obscure agencies conducting crisscrossed annual performance reviews for each other, resulting in the awarding of millions of dollars in annual performance bonuses to federal bureaucrats.

In one instance, a leftist career employee at the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has performance review authority over the Access Board staff. The Access Board continues to hide the size of cash bonuses awarded to top staff despite Freedom of Information Act requests.

Board members who ostensibly govern the Access Board are themselves running businesses or organizations that are impacted by agency decisions. It appears from the work they do that they stand ready to benefit financially from an expansion of the Access Board’s powers and reach.  Some are “accessibility consultants” who may provide advice to entities affected by decisions of the Board. Others are officials in organizations that are situated to influence board decisions and benefit from expansive exercise of board powers.

The Access Board is run by executive director David Capozzi. His 2018 annual salary was $174,500. That doesn't include his bonuses.

Records obtained by PJ Media show that from March 28, 2018, through August 31, 2018, Capozzi spent the day in the Access Board’s F Street office in Washington barely half the number of possible working days.

(David Capozzi, U.S. Senate photo)

Logs show Capozzi taking extensive leave or working from home during this time, including three separate days out of the office for “car repairs” in just one summer month. Capozzi also fled back to his house instead of going to the office after getting “soaked” in a rainstorm on August 6, 2018, according to records of his time out of the office. In all, Capozzi was out of the office, taking leave, or working from home 57 out of 111 possible workdays during this period.

Try that working at Jack’s Muffler Shop in Fairmont, West Virginia.

The Access Board has public meetings around the country and in Washington, D.C. If you decide to attend, make sure you aren’t wearing Coco Mademoiselle.

The Access Board is leading the fight to create a fragrance-free world. Perfume and cologne are next on the chopping block after Betsy Ross flags, public crosses, and gender.

“Meetings are held at the Board’s conference space at 1331 F Street NW, Suite 800, in downtown Washington, D.C. For the comfort of all participants and to promote a fragrance-free environment, attendees are requested not to use perfume, cologne, or other fragrance.”

When the Access Board’s War On Scent is won, I’ll wager body odor will be the winning smell.

As long as they aren’t wearing any scents, the Access Board loves a crowd, so much so that the Board pays thousands to astroturf one.

Every year the Access Board travels to a city to hold a meeting, and every year the Access Board pays an outside consultant to generate an audience of disability activists.

On May 23, 2018, the Access Board held a town hall in Phoenix, Arizona. As she had in previous years, outside consultant and former employee Kathleen Roy Johnson received a no-bid contract to make sure the room was full of activists.

When nobody knows what you do, sometimes you have to buy an audience.

Johnson wanted to be paid $3,000 to stir up local activist interest in the meeting, but there was one problem: $2,500 is the threshold where public contracts must be let out for competitive bid. So Johnson lowered her ask to $2,500 in documents obtained by PJ Media.

What did the taxpayers get for that $2,500?

Johnson “assisted with save the date flyers/emails,” developed a database of disability activists in Phoenix and “made calls to assure [sic] that the meeting was well attended.” Johnson kindly “assisted David Capozzi with drafting the Thank You notes for the Phoenix trip.”

The year before, Johnson also helped ensure that local disability activists were mobilized for the Access Board meeting in Seattle. For that work, she also charged just under the threshold to federal taxpayers through another no-bid contract.

At the Access Board town hall in Phoenix, participants were warned of “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” and the dangers posed by “fluorescent lighting, cell phones and utility meters.”  No word whether speakers prescribed tin foil to block out the energy rays.

If you think all of this is small potatoes, think again. The Access Board is a conduit for large grants to study ways to expand federal power into new areas pertaining to disability rights. The thirty employees manage large pass-through grants to academics to devise new federal powers over businesses and American lives all in the name of disability rights. It’s the classic civil rights activist model paid for by you, the taxpayers.

Just recently, the Access Board was tapped to receive an $800,000 grant from the Department of Transportation. Federal tax dollars, all. The Access Board will, in turn, funnel this cash to academics to devise ways to mandate that airlines provide functional wheelchairs aboard planes, reconfigure seating to allow passenger wheelchairs, and take space in the passenger cabin to provide storage racks for wheelchairs.  Naturally, the nearly million dollars tax-funded study will explain why this is a great idea.

The end consumers? The Department of Transportation, which has the power to mandate changes on airplanes, and also the Department of Justice Disability Rights Section that provides the muscle for any airline shakedown.

This is how Washington works. Your tax dollars move through unaccountable federal agencies with highly paid federal employees who funnel your hard-earned money to consultants to devise ways to transform the nation and impose federal mandates. That most of you probably never heard of the Access Board before reading this article only shows how it is nearly impossible to do anything about it.

In the next column, we’ll learn how activist holdover Obama lawyers inside the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division have a peculiar and probably inappropriate oversight function at the Access Board, and how this bunch of unaccountable federal agencies is really really lucrative places to work.