The Department of Justice announced the unsealing of a federal indictment charging Haji Najibullah, a/k/a “Najibullah Naim,” a/k/a “Abu Tayeb,” a/k/a “Atiqullah” with six counts related to the 2008 kidnapping of an American journalist and two Afghan nationals. Najibullah, 44, was arrested and transferred to the United States from Ukraine to face the charges in the indictment. Najibullah will be presented today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla.
“Najibullah is charged with taking an American journalist and others hostage in Afghanistan in November 2008. Journalists risk their lives bringing us news from conflict zones, and no matter how much time may pass, our resolve to find and hold accountable those who target and harm them and other Americans will never wane,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “The defendant, like many others before and surely others to come, will now face justice in an American courtroom.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Nearly 12 years ago, the defendant arranged to kidnap at gunpoint an American journalist and two other men, and held them hostage for more than seven months,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss. “The prosecution of Haji Najibullah shows that law enforcement will never stop in our mission to hold accountable those who commit violent crimes against American citizens.”
“Whether someone commits a violent act against an American citizen here at home or overseas, we’ll never stop aggressively pursuing charges against them and, when necessary, seeking their transfer to U.S. custody,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI William F. Sweeney Jr. “Najibullah’s reprehensible actions over a decade ago earned him a flight to the U.S. yesterday. Today he arrived in U.S. federal court to face our justice system.”
“The FBI, along with our partners, continue to work tirelessly in the pursuit of justice and to hold accountable those who are responsible for the kidnapping and hostage taking of U.S. citizens abroad,” said Assistant Director Jill Sanborn of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “We remain steadfast in our obligation to see justice served, regardless of the how long it may take or where those individuals are located. This investigation and resulting indictment reflects the FBI’s perseverance and commitment to the victims of these heinous acts – We never forget, and we never give up.”
“Haji Najibullah’s alleged kidnapping of a United States journalist and two Afghan nationals was a crime against America, a crime against the freedom of the press, and against the integral work of shining a light on important international affairs,” said Police Commissioner Shea. “While today’s federal indictment reflects events that occurred a dozen years ago, it shows once again that the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force and all of our law enforcement partners will wait as long and go as far as it takes to bring justice.”
According to the Indictment:
On or about Nov. 10, 2008, Najibullah and his co-conspirators, armed with machineguns, kidnapped an American journalist (Victim-1) and two Afghan nationals who were assisting Victim-1 (Victim-2 and Victim-3) at gunpoint in Afghanistan. Approximately five days later, on or about Nov. 15, 2008, Najibullah and his co-conspirators forced the three hostages to hike across the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where Najibullah and his co-conspirators detained the hostages. For the next seven months, Najibullah and his co-conspirators held the hostages captive in Pakistan.
During their captivity, Najibullah and his co-conspirators forced the victims to make numerous calls and videos seeking help. For example, on or about Nov. 19, 2008, while in Pakistan, Najibullah and a co-conspirator (CC-1) directed Victim-1 to call his wife in New York. In addition, Najibullah and his co-conspirators made the victims create at least three videos in which they begged for help while surrounded by masked guards armed with machineguns. In one of the videos, Victim-1 — the American journalist — was forced to beg for his life while a guard pointed a machinegun at Victim-1’s face.
Najibullah, 44, of Afghanistan is charged with hostage taking, conspiracy to commit hostage taking, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and two counts of using and possessing a machinegun in furtherance of crimes of violence. Each of the six counts of the indictment carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge.
Ms. Strauss and Mr. Demers praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force. They also thanked the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police, the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, the Legal Attaché Office/U.S. Embassy Kyiv and the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division for its assistance with this investigation, as well as the Ukrainian authorities and the Office of International Affairs of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division for their assistance in the extradition.
This prosecution is being handled by the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg, Sidhardha Kamaraju, and Michael Kim Krouse are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Jennifer Burke of the Counterterrorism Section.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
 As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment and the description of the Indictment set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.
- Military Personnel: DOD Has Taken Steps to Address Servicemembers’ Financial Needs, but Additional Effort Is WarrantedBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The finances of servicemembers and their families have been an ongoing concern of Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD), especially in light of more frequent deployments to support conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Adverse effects that may result when servicemembers experience financial problems include loss of security clearances, criminal or nonjudicial sanctions, adverse personnel actions, or adverse impacts on unit readiness. To decrease the likelihood that servicemembers will experience financial problems, DOD has requested and Congress has granted annual increases in military basic pay for all active duty servicemembers and increases in special pays and allowances for deployed servicemembers. The military has also developed personal financial management (PFM) programs to help avoid or mitigate adverse effects associated with personal financial problems. However, studies published in 2002 showed that servicemembers continue to report financial problems. This testimony provides a summary of GAO's prior work examining (1) the extent to which deployments have affected the financial conditions of active duty servicemembers and their families, and (2) steps that DOD has taken to assist servicemembers with their financial needs.DOD data suggests that deployment status does not affect the financial condition of active duty servicemembers, although some deployed servicemembers faced certain problems. Data from a 2003 DOD-wide survey suggests that servicemembers who were deployed for at least 30 days reported similar levels of financial health or problems as those who had not deployed. For example, of junior enlisted personnel, 3 percent of the deployed group and 2 percent of the nondeployed group indicated that they were in "over their heads" financially; and 13 percent of the deployed group and 15 percent of the nondeployed group responded that they found it "tough to make ends meet but keeping your head above water" financially. However, problems receiving family separation allowance and communicating with creditors may result in financial difficulties for some deployed servicemembers. Based on DOD pay data for January 2005, almost 6,000 of 71,000 deployed servicemembers who had dependents did not obtain their family separation allowance in a timely manner. Furthermore, problems communicating with creditors--caused by limited Internet access, few telephones and high fees, and delays in receiving ground mail--can affect deployed servicemembers' abilities to resolve financial issues. Additionally, some financial products marketed to servicemembers may negatively affect their financial condition. DOD has taken a number of steps to assist servicemembers with their financial needs, although some of this assistance has been underutilized. These steps include PFM training for servicemembers, which is required by all four military services. DOD also provides free legal assistance on purchase contracts for large items and other financial documents. However, according to the attorneys and other personnel, servicemembers do not make full use of available legal services because they may not take the time to visit the attorney's office or they fear information about a financial problem would get back to the command and limit their career progression. In addition, each service has a relief or aid society designed to provide financial assistance through counseling and education as well as financial relief through grants or no-interest loans. Some servicemembers in our focus groups stated that they would not use relief from a service society because they take too long, are intrusive, require too much in-depth financial information, or may be career limiting if the command found out. Servicemembers may use non-DOD resources if they do not want the command to be aware of their financial conditions or they need products or support not offered through DOD, the services, or the installation. Although DOD has taken these steps to assist servicemembers with their financial needs, it does not have the results-oriented departmentwide data needed to assess the effectiveness of its PFM programs and provide necessary oversight. Without an oversight framework requiring evaluation and a reporting relationship between DOD and the services, DOD and Congress do not have the visibility or oversight needed to assess the effectiveness of DOD's financial management training and assistance to servicemembers.[Read More…]
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- Federal Advisory Committees: Actions Needed to Enhance Decision-Making Transparency and Cost Data AccuracyBy Sam NewsSeptember 10, 2020GAO reviewed 11 selected committees covered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) that serve the Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury. GAO found that these committees met many, but not all, selected transparency requirements established by FACA, General Services Administration (GSA) FACA regulations, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). FACA committees GAO reviewed published timely notices for 70 of 76 meetings and solicited public comments for all open meetings held by the committees. However, four of the 11 committees did not follow one or more selected requirements to renew charters, decide on proposed recommendations during open meetings, or compile minutes. Five FACA committees GAO reviewed did not always follow requirements in OMB Circular A-130 for federal agencies to make public documents accessible online. GSA encourages agencies to post committee documents online consistent with OMB requirements. However, according to GSA's Office of the General Counsel, GSA's authority under FACA is not broad enough to require agencies to fulfill the OMB requirements. Eight of the nine selected FACA committees in our original sample that make recommendations to agencies attempt to track the agencies' responses to and implementation status of recommendations. However, many committees do not make this information fully available to the public online. Improved public reporting could enhance congressional and public visibility into the status of agencies' responses to committee recommendations. Selected Requirements for Advisory Committees Covered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) The selected agencies and FACA committees reported that they implemented a range of practices to help ensure agency officials do not exert inappropriate influence on committees' decisions. These practices include limiting committee members' interactions with agency officials outside committee meetings. GAO also found that about 29 percent of the 11 selected committees' cost data elements in GSA's FACA database for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 were inconsistent with corresponding cost data from selected agency and committee records and systems. In the absence of reliable cost data, Congress is unable to fully rely on these data to inform decisions about funding FACA committees. FACA requires federal agencies to ensure that federal advisory committees make decisions that are independent and transparent. In fiscal year 2019, nearly 960 committees under FACA played a key role in informing public policy and government regulations. GAO was asked to review the transparency and independence of FACA committees and data collected in GSA's FACA database. This report examines (1) selected agencies' and committees' adherence to transparency requirements; (2) their practices to help ensure that agency officials do not exert inappropriate influence on committee decision-making; and (3) the extent to which GSA's FACA database contained accurate, complete, and useful cost information for these committees. GAO selected a non-generalizable sample of 11 FACA committees serving three agencies, based in part on costs incurred and numbers of recommendations made. GAO analyzed documents and interviewed agency officials and committee members. GAO also reviewed FACA database cost data for the 11 committees. Congress should consider requiring online posting of FACA committees' documents. GAO is also making nine recommendations to agencies to improve FACA committee transparency and data accuracy. Agencies agreed with six recommendations, and GSA described steps to address recommendations to it. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or SagerM@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of JusticeBy Sam NewsJuly 7, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 18 priority recommendations for the Department of Justice (DOJ). Since then, DOJ has implemented nine of those recommendations by, among other things, improving the accuracy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) face recognition capabilities and the public's understanding of how the FBI uses and protects personal information, assessing its progress in its efforts to more efficiently handle FBI whistleblower retaliation complaints, developing better ways to assess its ability to combat illicit opioids, better addressing immigration judge staffing needs, and overseeing implementation of an electronic-filing system for immigration courts. In June 2021, GAO identified three additional priority recommendations for DOJ, bringing the total number to 12. The 12 recommendations fall into the following areas: Efforts to combat illicit opioid abuse. Federal prison system. FBI whistleblower retaliation complaints. Immigration courts. Cybersecurity. Improper payments. DOJ's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015, GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Charles M. Johnson, Jr. at (202) 512-8777 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Waste Management: DOD Needs to Fully Assess the Health Risks of Burn PitsBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found GAO reported in September 2016 that the effects from exposing individuals to burn pit emissions were not well understood, and the Department of Defense (DOD) had not fully assessed the health risks associated with the use of burn pits. Burn pits—shallow excavations or surface features with berms used to conduct open-air burning—were often chosen as a method of waste disposal during recent contingency operations in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, which extends from the Middle East to Central Asia and includes Iraq and Afghanistan. According to DOD Instruction 6055.01, DOD Safety and Occupational Health (SOH) Program , DOD should apply risk-management strategies to eliminate occupational injury or illness and loss of mission capability or resources. The instruction also requires all DOD components to establish procedures to ensure that risk-acceptance decisions were documented, archived, and reevaluated on a recurring basis. Furthermore, DOD Instruction 6055.05, Occupational and Environmental Health (OEH), requires that hazards be identified and risk evaluated as early as possible, including the consideration of exposure patterns, duration, and rates. While DOD has guidance that applies to burn pit emissions among other health hazards, DOD had not fully assessed the health risks of use of burn pits, according to DOD officials. According to DOD officials, DOD's ability to assess these risks was limited by a lack of adequate information on (1) the levels of exposure to burn pit emissions and (2) the health impacts these exposures had on individuals. With respect to information on exposure levels, DOD had not collected data from emissions or monitored exposures from burn pits as required by its own guidance. Given the potential use of burn pits near installations and during future contingency operations, establishing processes to monitor burn pit emissions for unacceptable exposures would better position DOD and combatant commanders to collect data that could help assess exposure to risks. GAO recommended that the Secretary of Defense (1) take steps to ensure CENTCOM and other geographic combatant commands, as appropriate, establish processes to consistently monitor burn pit emissions for unacceptable exposures; and (2) in coordination with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, specifically examine the relationship between direct, individual, burn pit exposure and potential long-term health-related issues. DOD concurred with the first recommendation and partially concurred with the second. In a May 2018 status update regarding these recommendations, DOD outlined a series of steps it had implemented as well as steps that it intends to implement. The department believes these efforts will further enhance its ability to better monitor burn-pit emissions and examine the relationship between direct, individual, burn pit exposure and potential long-term health related issues. GAO believes the steps DOD is taking are appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study Burn pits help base commanders manage waste generated by U.S. forces overseas, but they also produce harmful emissions that military and other health professionals believe may result in chronic health effects for those exposed. This statement provides information on the extent to which DOD has assessed any health risks of burn pit use. This statement is based on a GAO report issued in September 2016 (GAO-16-781). The report was conducted in response to section 313 of the Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. Specifically, GAO assessed the methodology DOD used in conducting a review of the compliance of the military departments and combatant commands with DOD instructions governing the use of burn pits in contingency operations and the adequacy of a DOD report for the defense committees. GAO also obtained updates from DOD on actions taken to assess health risks from burn pits since September 2016.[Read More…]
- Homelessness: Better HUD Oversight of Data Collection Could Improve Estimates of Homeless PopulationBy Sam NewsAugust 13, 2020Data collected through the Point-in-Time (PIT) count—a count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night—have limitations for measuring homelessness. The PIT count is conducted each January by Continuums of Care (CoC)—local homelessness planning bodies that apply for grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and coordinate homelessness services. The 2019 PIT count estimated that nearly 568,000 people (0.2 percent of the U.S. population) were homeless, a decline from the 2012 count of about 621,500 but a slight increase over the period's low of about 550,000 in 2016. While HUD has taken steps to improve data quality, the data likely underestimate the size of the homeless population because identifying people experiencing homelessness is inherently difficult. Some CoCs' total and unsheltered PIT counts have large year-over-year fluctuations, which raise questions about data accuracy. GAO found that HUD does not closely examine CoCs' methodologies for collecting data to ensure they meet HUD's standards. HUD's instructions to CoCs on probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness were incomplete. Some CoC representatives also said that the assistance HUD provides on data collection does not always meet their needs. By strengthening its oversight and guidance in these areas, HUD could further improve the quality of homelessness data. To understand factors associated with homelessness in recent years, GAO used PIT count data to conduct an econometric analysis, which found that rental prices were associated with homelessness. To mitigate data limitations, GAO used data from years with improved data quality and took other analytical steps to increase confidence in the results. CoC representatives GAO interviewed also identified rental prices and other factors such as job loss as contributing to homelessness. Estimated Homelessness Rates and Household Median Rent in the 20 Largest Continuums of Care (CoC), 2018 Note: This map shows the 20 largest Point-in-Time counts by CoC in 2018. GAO estimated 2018 homelessness rates because the U.S. Census Bureau data used to calculate these rates were available up to 2018 at the time of analysis. GAO used 2017 median rents (in 2018 dollars) across all unit sizes and types. Policymakers have raised concerns about the extent to which recent increases in homelessness are associated with the availability of affordable housing. Moreover, counting the homeless population is a longstanding challenge. GAO was asked to review the current state of homelessness in the United States. This report examines (1) efforts to measure homelessness and HUD's oversight of these efforts and (2) factors associated with recent changes in homelessness. GAO analyzed three HUD data sources on homelessness and developed an econometric model of the factors influencing changes in homelessness. GAO also conducted structured interviews with 12 researchers and representatives of 21 CoCs and four focus groups with a total of 34 CoC representatives responsible for collecting and maintaining homelessness data. CoCs were selected for interviews and focus groups to achieve diversity in size and geography. GAO also visited three major cities that experienced recent increases in homelessness. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct quality checks on CoCs' data-collection methodologies, (2) improve its instructions for using probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness, and (3) assess and enhance the assistance it provides to CoCs on data collection. HUD concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Retirement Security: Debt Increased for Older Americans over Time, but the Implications Vary by Debt TypeBy Sam NewsMay 18, 2021What GAO Found Americans age 50 or older had significantly more debt in 2016 than in 1989, according to GAO's analysis of Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) data. Debt. The share of older households with debt was 71 percent in 2016 compared to 58 percent in 1989 (see figure). The median debt amount for older households with debt was about three times higher in 2016 ($55,300) than in 1989 ($18,900 in real 2016 dollars) and the share of older households with home, credit card, and student loan debt was significantly higher in 2016 than in 1989. Debt stress. The median ratio of debt to assets—known as the leverage ratio, a measure of debt stress—for older households was twice as high in 2016 than in 1989. Adverse debt outcomes. Measures of older individuals' adverse debt outcomes, including their share of mortgage and credit card debt that was late by at least 90 days, generally followed economic trends, peaking after the Great Recession of 2007-2009, according to GAO's analysis of Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) data from 2003 to 2019. However, the share of student loan debt that was late was significantly higher for older individuals in 2019 than in 2003. These trends in debt, debt stress, and adverse debt outcomes varied by older Americans' demographic and economic characteristics, including their age, credit score, and state of residence. For example, from 2003 to 2019, individuals in their late 70s often had higher shares of credit card and student loan debt that was late than those aged 50-74. In addition, older individuals with credit scores below 720—including those with subprime, fair, or good credit—had median student loan debt amounts that were more than twice as high in 2019 as in 2003. Further, older individuals in the Southeast and West had much higher median mortgage and student loan debt, as well as student loan delinquency rates, in 2019 than in 2003. Percent of Households Age 50 or Older with Any Debt (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio (Right) for These Households, 1989 to 2016 Note: The bars above and below the lines represent the bounds of 95 percent confidence intervals. While older Americans' overall debt and debt stress decreased as they aged, those in low-income households experienced greater debt stress according to GAO's analysis of Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data, a nationally representative survey that follows the same individuals over time. The share of older households in this cohort that had debt continuously decreased as they aged, from about 66 percent of households in 1992 to 38 percent in 2016, and the median leverage ratio declined from about 19 to 13 percent over this period (see figure). However, low-income households in this cohort consistently had greater levels of debt stress than high-income households. This disparity in debt stress increased as these households aged. Estimated Percent of Households with Any Debt for Those Born in 1931-1941 (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio for Those Households from 1992-2016 (Right) Notes: The lines overlapping the bars represent 95 percent confidence intervals. According to experts GAO interviewed, differences in debt type (that is, credit card versus housing debt) and debt stress levels will have varying effects on the retirement security of different groups. For example, experts noted that credit card debt has negative implications for older Americans' retirement security because credit cards often have high, variable interest rates and are not secured by any assets. In contrast, an increase in mortgage debt may have positive effects on retirement security because a home is generally a wealth-building asset. Experts also said that older individuals with lower incomes and unexpected health expenses are likely to experience greater debt stress, which can negatively affect retirement security. Similarly, experts noted that the increased debt stress faced by low-income households is also faced by non-White households. Further, GAO's analysis of data from the Survey of Consumer Finances found that in 2016, debt stress levels were about two times higher for Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Other/multiple-race households than for White households. Experts GAO interviewed noted it is too early to evaluate the retirement security implications of the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because CARES Act provisions suspend or forbear certain debt payments. However, as with past recessions, the COVID-19-related recession may reveal any economic fragility among older Americans who, for example, lost jobs or cannot work because of the pandemic. Why GAO Did This Study GAO reported in 2019 that an estimated 20 percent of older American households aged 55 or older had less than $22,000 in income in 2016 and GAO reported in 2015 that about 29 percent of older households had neither retirement savings accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) nor a defined benefit plan in 2013. Older Americans held nearly half of the total outstanding debt in 2020—and these debts may affect retirement security. The Census Bureau projects the number of older Americans will increase. GAO was asked to report on debt held by older Americans. This report examines (1) how the types, levels, and outcomes of debt changed for older Americans over time, including for different demographic and economic groups; (2) how the types and levels of debt held by the same older Americans changed as they aged, including for those in different demographic groups; and (3) the implications of these debt trends for the general retirement security of older Americans and their families. GAO analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys–the SCF (1989 through 2016 data) and the HRS (1992 through 2016 longitudinal data)–and nationally representative administrative data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's CCP (2003 through 2019). These datasets were the most recent available at the time of GAO's analyses. GAO also reviewed studies and interviewed experts that GAO identified from these studies to further analyze the relationship between debt and retirement security. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen, (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- COVID-19: Federal Efforts Could Be Strengthened by Timely and Concerted ActionsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2020In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses. However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges. GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible. GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response: Medical Supply Chain The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies. However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations: HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain. HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure). Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine Note: See figure 5 in the report. As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. COVID-19 Data Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations. In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices. Economic Impact Payments The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP. Coronavirus Relief Fund The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation. Guidance for K-12 Schools State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation. Tracking Contract Obligations Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential. Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen’s Video Statement on the Seizure of the U.S. CapitolBy Sam NewsJanuary 13, 2021Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen delivered the following video statement on the seizure of the U.S. Capitol:[Read More…]
- Owner of Medical Laboratory Sentenced to Prison for Filing False Tax ReturnsBy Sam NewsOctober 2, 2020A Shreveport, Louisiana, business owner was sentenced to 40 months in prison on Sept. 30, 2020, for filing false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Alexander C. Van Hook.[Read More…]
- Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Opening Remarks at the 2020 Life Sciences WorkshopBy Sam NewsSeptember 25, 2020“Light My Fire”: [Read More…]
- VA Health Care: Preliminary Findings on the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Budget Formulation for Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006By Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021This report documents the information we provided to Congress in a briefing on February 2, 2006, in response to a request concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) internal budget formulation process. This includes information that VA develops for its budget submission to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but it does not include information on subsequent interactions that occur between VA and OMB. We will do additional work to incorporate information from OMB and complete our analysis in a report to be issued at a later date. Congress requested information on VA's budget formulation process because of its interest in ensuring that VA's budget forecasts are accurate and based on valid patient estimates. In response to the request for information on VA's internal budget formulation process, this report provides the following for fiscal years 2005 and 2006: (1) a description of VA's process for developing its budget submission to OMB for its medical programs, and the role of VA's actuarial model; (2) a description of the medical program activities cited by VA as needing additional funding, and how VA identified these activities; and (3) key factors in VA's budget formulation process that contributed to the requests for additional funding.VA's internal process for formulating the medical programs funding requests was informed by, but not driven by, projected demand. VA projected costs based on projected demand for medical care under current policy. Throughout the process, VA compared projected costs to its anticipated request level for the OMB submission and made adjustments to address the difference. VA officials stated that this was done in two ways: through cost-saving policy proposals, such as assessing an annual health care enrollment fee, and management efficiencies. After making adjustments to address the difference between projected costs and its anticipated request level, VA developed its budget submission for OMB. VA later cited a number of activities as needing additional funding based on programmatic priorities and an analysis of expenditure data. Among the activities that were cited for fiscal year 2005 was $273 million for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; $226 million for long-term care; and almost $400 million for increases in the number of patients, as well as increases in both utilization and intensity of care. For the fiscal year 2006 budget, VA cited $677 million to cover a 2 percent increase in the number of patients, $600 million to correct VA's estimate for long-term care costs, $400 million for an unexpected 1.2 percent increase in average cost per patient, and $300 million to replace funds VA planned to carry over from fiscal year 2005 to fiscal year 2006. VA officials said that they chose to highlight activities that were of high programmatic priority and could be supported by workload and expenditure data (e.g. veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan). They also reviewed spending and workload trends to determine whether spending trends were on target or whether adjustments were needed. An unrealistic assumption, errors in estimation, and insufficient data were key factors in VA's budget formulation process that contributed to the requests for additional funding. According to VA, an unrealistic assumption about the speed with which VA could implement a policy to reduce nursing home patient workload in VA-operated nursing homes for fiscal year 2005 led to a need for additional funds. VA officials told us that errors in estimating the effect of a nursing home policy to reduce workload in all three of its nursing home settings--VA-operated nursing homes, community nursing homes, and state veterans' nursing homes--accounted for a request for additional funding for fiscal year 2006. VA officials said that the error resulted from calculations being made in haste during the OMB appeal process. Finally, VA officials told us that insufficient data on certain activities contributed to the requests for additional funds for both years. For example, inadequate data on veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in an underestimate in the initial funding request.[Read More…]