Revealing the machinery and mysteries of government. Curated by @singernews and @USATODAY. Follow @HowGovtWorks on Twitter.

The firefighter who comes to your rescue may not have health insurance

For counties with volunteer fire and rescue companies, this is a big deal — the Treasury Dept. ruled that they do not have to provide health insurance for volunteer emergency responders. The counties argued that taking on health insurance costs for these folks would be a huge financial burden and would likely force a lot of small/ rural firehouses to close.

The flip side, of course, is that these folks are not getting health care benefits despite providing care for their neighbors… kind of ironic.

U.S. Marines train Dubai’s special forces unit

The Marines are providing $150 million worth of training to the “Presidential Guard” of the United Arab Emirates — which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

According to, the Presidential guard is a recently constructed elite fighting force made up of the various branches of the Emirates’ military.

The Presidential Guard was said to have been born out of the merger of several UAE Armed Forces units brought together under one command and one flag, which operates on land, sea and air. It is unclear whether the “Presidential Guard” designation is simply intended to reflect the elite status of the unit, or whether it also performs regime defense functions as well, but in truth it is probably a bit of both. It is, however, clearly a combat formation, and in no sense simply the Emirati counterpart of the American Secret Service.

According to the announcement, “The proposed sale will provide the continuation of U.S. Marine Corps training of the UAE’s Presidential Guard for counterterrorism, counter-piracy, critical infrastructure protection, and national defense. “

The photo comes from the UAE Presidential Guard website, which is worth checking out but mostly in Arabic.

The News Chapter of the Drone Wars has begun

A newspaper used a camera mounted on a radio-controlled helicopter to film the annual New Year’s Day tradition of foolish people diving into ice-cold waters.

Which inspires a debate about whether it is legal to use a “drone” to record news video.

A Nebraska professor who is said to be an expert in drone journalism says “It’s not so simple to say drones for commercial use are banned, but any news organization that uses them for news should expect a legal conflict with the FAA,”  The journalism site noted that other drone journalism projects have been shut down by the FAA, which “largely bans the use of unmanned aircraft systems for commercial purposes.”

This debate opens a fascinating First Amendment issue, as technology again races ahead of our legal structures.

(Image from the The [Spokane, Wash.] Spokesman-Review)

Setting the migrant farm worker minimum wage

The U.S. Department of Labor is setting this year’s minimum wage for “temporary or seasonal nonimmigrant foreign [agricultural] workers”

The point of this wage rule is to prevent employers from underpaying foreign workers and screwing up the curve for other local employees. These minimums are “ wage rates the Department has determined must be offered and paid by employers to H-2A workers and workers in corresponding employment for a particular occupation and area so that the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers will not be adversely affected.”

Some interesting things to note — the federal minimum wage for other employment is still $7.25/hr. States have their own minimum wage laws that apply where federal law does not — so in Georgia, for example, the minimum wage is $5.15/hr. 

But these farm wages range from a low of $9.87 in Arkansas, Louisiana and a few other states to a high of $13.41 in Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas. In Georgia, the minimum wage for foreign farm workers for 2014 is $10 even.

The H2-A program is described by the Govt thusly: 

The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes a means for agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can approve an employer’s petition for such workers, the employer must file an application with the Department stating that there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available, and that the employment of aliens will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

(Getty image of Mexican workers on a California farm)

Paul Singer

Hey, buddy - is that your buoy?

The National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a dramatic change in rules for fishing buoys in Alaska fishing zones.

Buoys are currently required to be marked with the name of the boat and the fishing permit number. The new rule “would eliminate the requirement that hook-and-line, longline pot, and pot-and-line buoys be marked with the vessel’s name.”

The NMFS explains that “While one vessel may share the same name as another vessel, vessel identification numbers are exclusive and unique to the recipient vessel. Therefore, the proposed rule would eliminate the requirement in § 679.24(a) to mark buoys with the vessel’s name, but maintain the requirement for marking buoys with either the vessel’s [permit] number. The proposed action should reduce costs to vessel owners by reducing the labor and materials needed to mark buoys.”

You can read the entire ten page proposal here ; note that the Govt is accepting comments on this rules change for the next 30 days.

(image from, which appears to be a good place to buy a buoy.)

They do know people don’t drink out of these things, right?

Congress has put the kaibosh on a new EPA rule that would have mandated lower lead in fire hydrants. Municipalities have argued that the new rules would have cost “tens of millions of dollars” to implement.”

Sen Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has led the charge against the EPA rule that was to go into effect Jan. 4

If the EPA regulation isn’t rolled back, an estimated 1,300 spare hydrants and hydrant parts valued at more than $1 million in New York City alone would be unavailable for use, Schumer said.

(AP photo)

Govt asks: How much to you like trees?

The Forest Service wants to survey 1,200 Atlanta residents to ask how they feel about trees.

One of the Forest Service “strategic goals” is to “engage urban America with Forest Service Programs,” and to “develop partnerships with nontraditional partners to engage urban and underserved audiences.” And President Obama has a “Great Outdoors Initiative” designed to - well, get people outdoors.

So the service plans to conduct a survey to gather “data on people’s interest in, and their understanding of, city trees in Atlanta.”

Nap rules for truck drivers are exceedingly complex.

Here the Department of Transportation issues rules clarifying that a short haul truck driver who is exempt from rest break requirements does not violate the rule if the planned trip ends up taking longer than expected AS LONG AS  the driver takes a rest break as soon as possible once it becomes clear the short trip will become long.

Got that?

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