Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Capital Conversations Speech Highlighting Department of Justice Policy Accomplishments

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Dean, for inviting me.  I am honored to be here and to be part of the Capital Conversations series.

It has been a true privilege to have led the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice these past three-and-half years.  For those of you who don’t know about our office, OLP is tasked with being the principal office to research, plan and develop the Department’s major policy initiatives.  This process often involves components across the Department that have special expertise in the policies being considered.  OLP coordinates that effort and advises the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General on the path forward.

Additionally, as this audience may know, we are responsible for vetting and shepherding the President’s judicial nominations for the federal courts.

I’ve sometimes remarked that, with so much going on in our jobs and so much happening in a single day, it’s easy to lose track of time.  But over these years, there has been an incredible amount of good work that has been accomplished.  And so today, I’d like to focus on some of the good news, which I think too often goes under-reported.

Judicial confirmations. First, in the course of this period, we have confirmed 220 new Article III federal judges, including 2 on the Court of International Trade, 162 on the federal district courts, 53 on the courts of appeal, and of course three Supreme Court justices — including our newest Justice, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.  Those numbers do not even account for the many other federal judges the President has appointed to specialty courts.  This has been no easy task, and has required an incredible amount of work from the White House, my office, and of course the Senate.  But it is a credit first and foremost to those individuals who are willing to serve their country for lifetime appointments, and endure a judicial confirmation process that is incredibly taxing, both for themselves and their families.

As I have said before, the pace of nominations has not come at the expense of qualifications.  One liberal commentator has acknowledged that “Based solely on objective legal credentials, the average Trump appointee has a far more impressive resume than any past president’s nominees.”  And even though the group has been hostile and in some cases unfair to certain nominees, that same conclusion is largely reflected in ratings from the American Bar Association, which has rated President Trump’s judicial appointments as among the most qualified in recent history.  But I can tell you, having worked closely with these judges throughout the nominations process, I didn’t need the ABA’s assessment to tell me how extraordinary they are.  These confirmed judges are men and women of character and patriotism, stepping forward to choose a lifetime of service to our country.  They are some of the very best of our profession. 

And what makes them so extraordinary is neither their number nor their credentials; nor even their historically well-qualified ratings.  What makes them extraordinary is the principles they share.   

These judges come from all across the country, from many ethnic backgrounds and all walks of life.  Before becoming judges, they were prosecutors and professors, immigrants and trailblazers, veterans and public servants.  But what they share in common — the principle that binds them — is the unwavering commitment to exercise neither force nor will, but only judgment.  By binding themselves to the Constitution, these judges will help ensure that our judiciary is the least dangerous branch, as Hamilton expected.

I know that many people have been uplifted by the confirmation hearings for now-Justice Barrett.  Those who watched the hearings saw two things: first, a woman of incredible integrity and intelligence who is enormously well-qualified for the position to which she had been nominated.  Few could deny that if Justice Barrett’s nomination had occurred in 1986 or 1993, her confirmation would be unanimous, or near-so.

Second, the American people saw, over four days of confirmation hearings, a debate in the spirit of the best traditions of this Society.  They saw some Senators affirm that it is the duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.  They heard Justice Barrett say, repeatedly, that she would put any personal views aside and judge according to the law.   And they heard her say that she would approach each case with an open mind, that she harbors no agenda or hostility.

On the other side, the argument was made clearly that there is little difference between law and policy — that preferred policy outcomes should play a paramount role in deciding cases.  And it was suggested, in a profoundly pessimistic view of a judge’s role, that it is a fallacy to believe that any judge can rule without his or her personal views factoring in.

There could hardly be a starker debate.  But what this should reaffirm for everyone listening is that when there is free speech, open debate, and fair time accorded for real discussion, the American people will be able to make up their own minds.  Ideas matter.   Those who are confident in the strength of their arguments, who have the courage of their convictions, do not shy away from free speech, and they do not try to silence opposing views.

***

While judicial nominations have certainly taken a good deal of our attention, I’d also like to talk for a moment about some crucial policy achievements that we have secured.

Regulatory Reform.  First, under the leadership of Attorney General William Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rosen, and before them, Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, the Department has taken significant steps to improve the regulatory process, making it more lawful, more accountable, and more transparent.

We started by stating unequivocally that guidance documents are just that — guidance — and do not have the force of law.  The Department of Justice no longer writes letters or issues guidance documents that purport to create rights or obligations binding on persons or entities outside the Executive Branch.

Next, under the Brand memo, issued by then-Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Department made clear that it will not use its enforcement authority to effectively convert agency guidance documents into binding rules.  And Department litigators may not use noncompliance with guidance documents as a basis for proving violations of law in affirmative civil enforcement actions.

The principles underlying these actions served as the basis for government-wide reform, as reflected in Executive Orders 13891 and 13892.  And I am happy to report that they are no longer just memos; they are now Department of Justice regulations, ensuring that the principles of lawful regulation — regulation that accords with the Administrative Procedures Act — are carried forward.

Because insight into agency thinking should not be limited to the well-connected or only to those who can afford Washington lawyers, our new regulations also required the posting of every guidance document on the Department’s public Guidance Portal.  If a guidance document is not posted on the portal, the Department will not be able to claim judicial deference to interpretations contained in that document.

What does this mean for the American people?  A more lawful regulatory process, an agency that abides by its rules, and a process where the public has input into the regulations that govern them.

Good Government.  In a similar effort toward more honest, transparent government practices, the Department has ended the practice of pay-outs to third-party groups as part of government settlements.  As Attorney General Sessions said at the time, “When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people.”  Third-party organizations who are neither victims nor parties to the lawsuit are not entitled to compensation as a result of government action.  This is a basic principle of responsible government litigation.

In another step for good government, we have worked to shed light on the serious legal deficiencies of unlawful nationwide injunctions.  It has been the legal position of the Department across administrations to oppose such injunctions.  But their increasing number — issued by districts coast to coast — has reached a crescendo over the last few years.  The separation of powers imbalance they engender is real.  In September 2018, the Attorney General issued a memorandum with litigation guidelines for handling these cases when plaintiffs seek this broad relief.  There are signs that these efforts are finally having results, with some appellate courts limiting their scope.  But it is unlikely the issue will be fully resolved until it finally percolates up to the Supreme Court for resolution.

Religious Liberty.  The Department has also taken important steps to protect religious liberty.  In 2017, Attorney General Sessions acted pursuant to an Executive Order by President Trump to issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law in order to guide agencies in complying with that law.  The guidance interprets existing protections for religious liberty, identifying twenty high-level principles that administrative agencies and executive departments can put to practical use to ensure the religious freedoms of Americans are lawfully protected.  I’ve been pleased to serve as the co-vice chair of the Religious Liberty Task Force, which assists in coordinating the Department’s implementation of the Attorney General’s Religious Liberty Memo.

The Supreme Court has been very clear, first in the Trinity Lutheran case, and more recently in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, that the Free Exercise Clause “protects religious observers against unequal treatment” and against “laws that impose special disabilities on the basis of religious status.”  To put it succinctly, while governments may limit funding for religious use, they may not limit funding to religious people.  We have worked to make sure that the Government’s policies reflect that basic principle.   Early this year, the Department and eight other agencies proposed rules that would ensure equal treatment for faith-based organizations that participate in federal programs.  Once final, the rules will significantly enhance the ability of Faith Based Organizations to participate in government programs without sacrificing their religious identity or mission.

OLP also worked closely with the Office of Justice Programs and other Department components to issue guidance this past July to make clear that recipients of Department of Justice grant funding would not be discriminated against on the basis of their faith.  The guidance is an important affirmation of the Department’s commitment to ensure that individuals and organizations driven by faith to serve the community are not subject to unequal treatment by virtue of their religious identity.  In tandem with this guidance, the Office of Justice Programs launched a new web portal to receive reports of possible violations of grantees’ and beneficiaries’ civil liberties. 

And we have been leading the charge in the fight to combat anti-Semitism.  After the troubling rise in crimes against Jewish communities and synagogues, Attorney General Barr personally visited Brooklyn to meet with leaders of the Jewish community there and issued a directive to all United States Attorneys to initiate or reinvigorate contacts with the Jewish community in their respective districts to reassure them of the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting Jewish citizens.  During the spring of 2020, United States Attorneys across the country met with Jewish clergy, local non-profits, and branches of national Jewish organizations.  Since January 2017, the Department has charged more than 80 defendants with anti-Semitic hate crimes and related conduct, and has obtained convictions of more than 65 defendants for the same.

Through this and other work, the Department is protecting Americans from discrimination and ensuring that they enjoy the religious freedoms that federal law guarantees to them.

Cybersecurity.   With regard to cyber issues, the Department’s Cyber-Digital Task Force has produced some excellent and important work.  The initial Task Force Report issued in July 2018 addressed many crucial aspects of the Department’s response to malicious, cyber-enabled threats.  One central focus was the response to the threat posed by foreign operations that seek to divide our society or undermine our democratic institutions.

The Report also sets out important steps the Department has taken and will continue to take to protect the integrity of our elections by working with other executive departments to identify and share threats and vulnerabilities with local election officials, political organizations, and other potential targets to help them detect and thwart attacks.

Earlier this month, the Cyber-Digital Task Force released a white paper on cryptocurrency.  OLP was privileged to coordinate the drafting and development of this ambitious framework, which sets out how cryptocurrency technology is used and how criminals misuse it to harm users, exchanges, and investors, as well as to facilitate a broad range of crimes from child exploitation to terrorism.  The framework identified the partners and resources we use to combat growing criminal and national security threats involving cryptocurrency, and identified ways to address these threats.

Vulnerable Victims.  Finally, there is no more important role for law enforcement than protecting our most vulnerable members of society.  That’s why the Department has made it a priority to protect children from online exploitation, to seek justice for victims of human trafficking, and to combat elder fraud and abuse.   Attorney General Barr issued a directive to all federal prosecutors to continue to use their strongest efforts to identify and prosecute individuals involved in sex trafficking, including — importantly — those who fuel the demand for trafficking and ensure that victims receive restitution for the harms they suffered.

Recently, we also published proposed regulations providing a clear and comprehensive statement of sex offenders’ registration obligations under the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. These regulations will better protect the public by enhancing the enforcement of registration and notification across the country and ensuring that information about sex offenders in the community is available to law enforcement.

And, with regard to elder justice, the Department recently conducted the single largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, with over 400 defendants charged for causing more than $1 billion in losses.   It also launched the National Nursing Home Initiative, designed to investigate and prosecute nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care to their residents.

***

As you can see, there has been a lot of good work and good news to report over the past three-and-a-half years, and I have touched on only some of it.  I appreciate the opportunity to share it with you today.   So with that, let me pause.  And I am happy to take questions.

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    A D.C. tax return preparer was sentenced to 24 months in prison today following her guilty plea in February 2020 for aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • Nevada Woman Charged with COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Nevada woman was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday with fraudulently seeking over $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada.
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  • Private Health Coverage: Results of Covert Testing for Selected Offerings
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO performed 31 covert tests to selected sales representatives and stated that we had pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, and we requested coverage for these conditions to see if the sales representative directed GAO's undercover agents to a comprehensive Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)-compliant plan, or a PPACA-exempt plan that does not cover what we requested. As part of these tests, GAO gauged whether sales representatives engaged in potentially deceptive practices, such as making false or misleading statements about coverage or omitting material information about coverage. The results of the covert tests ranged from sales representatives appropriately explaining to GAO's undercover agents that a PPACA-exempt plan would not cover the pre-existing condition the undercover agents stated that they had, to engaging in potentially deceptive marketing practices that misrepresented or omitted information about the products they were selling. Specifically, in 21 of 31 covert tests, the sales representative appropriately referred undercover agents to a PPACA-compliant plan. In two of 31 covert tests, the sales representatives did not appear to engage in deceptive marketing practices but were not always consistent or clear in their explanation of the type of coverage and plans they were selling. In the remaining eight of 31 covert tests, the sales representatives engaged in potentially deceptive marketing practices, such as claiming the pre-existing condition was covered when the health plan documents GAO received after purchase said otherwise. GAO plans to refer these eight cases of potential deceptive marketing practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and corresponding state insurance commissioners' offices for follow-up as appropriate. Millions of Americans obtain health insurance coverage in the individual market, which consists mainly of private plans sold directly to consumers without access to group coverage. While generally regulated by states, starting in 2014, PPACA established a number of new federal requirements for the individual health insurance market. For example, PPACA prohibited insurers from excluding coverage or charging higher premiums for pre-existing conditions and required that individual market plans cover a set of essential health benefits, including coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorder services, prescription drugs, and maternity and newborn care. Certain types of health coverage arrangements that can be sold directly to consumers do not have to comply with some or all of PPACA's individual market requirements and, as a result, may be less expensive, but also offer more limited benefits compared to PPACA-compliant plans. Recent changes to federal law and regulations could result in the increased use of PPACA-exempt health coverage arrangements as alternatives to PPACA-compliant plans in the individual market. For example, in 2018, federal regulations expanded the availability of short term, limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans, a type of PPACA-exempt arrangement. In addition, starting January 1, 2019, individuals who fail to maintain "minimum essential coverage," as required by PPACA, no longer face a tax penalty. Further, the devastating economic effects of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic could create additional demand for affordable health coverage, including PPACA-exempt plans.  With these changes, and because of their lower relative costs, PPACA-exempt health coverage arrangements may be attractive to consumers, particularly those who find it difficult to afford PPACA-compliant plans. However, such arrangements generally do not need to follow PPACA's requirement that plans in the individual market be presented to consumers in defined categories outlining the extent to which they are expected to cover medical care. As a result, depending on how they are marketed and sold, PPACA-exempt arrangements could present risks for consumers, if, for example, they buy them mistakenly believing that coverage is as comprehensive as for PPACA-compliant plans. GAO was asked to obtain insights on the marketing and sales practices of insurance sales representatives who sell PPACA-exempt plans. In this report, GAO describes the results of covert tests we conducted involving selected sales representatives, when contacted by individuals stating that they had pre-existing conditions. In this regard, GAO agents performed a number of covert tests (i.e., undercover phone calls) from November 2019 through January 2020 posing as individuals needing to purchase health insurance to cover pre-existing conditions. GAO also discussed the marketing and oversight of PPACA-exempt arrangements with senior officials from federal agencies, including the FTC, and Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)5. GAO provided a draft of this product to FTC, HHS, and NAIC for review and comment. FTC, HHS, and NAIC provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. HHS provided additional written comments on a draft of this report. For more information, contact Seto Bagdoyan at (202)-6722 or bagdoyans@gao.gov.
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  • The United States Imposes Sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong Persons for Activities Related to Supporting the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines
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  • South Carolina Man Sentenced for Making a Bomb Threat to a Clinic and Lying to the FBI
    In Crime News
    Rodney Allen, 43, of Beaufort, South Carolina, was sentenced today in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida, to 24 months in prison. Allen previously pleaded guilty to one count of intimidating and interfering with the employees of an abortion clinic by making a bomb threat and one count of making false statements to a Special Agent with the FBI.
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  • Drug Safety: FDA’s Future Inspection Plans Need to Address Issues Presented by COVID-19 Backlog
    In U.S GAO News
    Fiscal year 2015 was the first time that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted more inspections of foreign drug manufacturers than domestic manufacturers, with the majority conducted in China and India. However, in June 2020, GAO reported that from fiscal year 2016 through fiscal year 2018, both foreign and domestic inspections decreased, in part due to staffing vacancies. While foreign inspections increased in 2019, since March 2020, FDA has largely paused foreign and domestic inspections due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, conducting only those deemed mission critical. In January 2021, GAO reported that FDA conducted three foreign inspections in fiscal year 2020 following the pause—significantly less than in recent years. Number of FDA-Conducted Foreign Drug Manufacturing Establishment Inspections, Fiscal Years 2019–2020, by Month FDA has used alternative inspection tools to maintain some oversight of drug manufacturing quality while inspections are paused. These tools include relying on inspections conducted by foreign regulators, requesting and reviewing records and other information, and sampling and testing drugs. FDA has determined that inspections conducted by certain European regulators are equivalent to and can be substituted for an FDA inspection. Other tools provide useful information but are not equivalent. In addition, FDA was unable to complete more than 1,000 of its planned fiscal year 2020 inspections and will likely face a backlog of inspections in future years. In January 2021, GAO recommended that FDA ensure that inspection plans for future fiscal years respond to the issues presented by the backlog and that FDA fully assess the agency's alternative inspection tools. FDA concurred with both recommendations. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, FDA faced persistent challenges conducting foreign inspections. GAO found in December 2019 that there continued to be vacancies among the investigators who conduct foreign inspections. GAO further found that FDA's practice of preannouncing foreign inspections up to 12 weeks in advance could give manufacturers the opportunity to fix problems ahead of the inspection and raised questions about their equivalence to domestic inspections. In light of COVID-19, FDA is now preannouncing both foreign and domestic inspections for the safety of its staff and manufacturers. GAO also found that language barriers can create challenges during foreign inspections as FDA generally relies on the establishment for translation services. The outbreak of COVID-19 has called greater attention to the United States' reliance on foreign drug manufacturers. FDA reports that 74 percent of establishments manufacturing active ingredients and 54 percent of establishments manufacturing finished drugs for the U.S. market were located overseas, as of May 2020. FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and effectiveness of all drugs marketed in the United States, regardless of where they are produced, and it conducts inspections of both foreign and domestic manufacturing establishments. GAO has had long-standing concerns about FDA's ability to oversee the increasingly global pharmaceutical supply chain, an issue highlighted in GAO's High Risk Series since 2009. This statement is largely based on GAO's Drug Manufacturing Inspections enclosure in its January 2021 CARES Act report, as well as GAO's December 2019 and June 2020 testimonies. Specifically, it discusses (1) the number of FDA's foreign inspections, (2) FDA's response to the COVID-19 pandemic pause in inspections, and (3) persistent foreign inspection challenges. For that work, GAO examined FDA data from fiscal years 2012 through 2020, interviewed FDA investigators, and reviewed documents related to drug oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov.
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  • Judiciary Seeks New Judgeships, Reaffirms Need for Enhanced Security
    In U.S Courts
    The Judicial Conference of the United States, the Judiciary’s policy-making body, today addressed two of its most pressing issues – a proposal to add 79 new judgeships for courts across the country and initiatives to improve both personal and courthouse security.
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  • Justice Department Files Enforcement Action Against Bain& Company As Part of Its Investigation Into Visa Inc’s Proposed Acquisition of Plaid Inc
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to enforce Bain & Company’s compliance with the department’s Civil Investigative Demand (CID).  
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  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination by Architect and Owners of 15 Complexes in Four States
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced the filing today of a lawsuit against J. Randolph Parry Architects, P.C. and eight owners of multifamily properties designed by the architectural firm.
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  • Justice Department And Indian Authorities Announce Enforcement Actions Against Technical-Support Fraud Scheme Targeting Seniors
    In Crime News
    A federal court has ordered an individual and 5 companies to stop engaging in a technical-support fraud scheme that is alleged to have defrauded hundreds of elderly and vulnerable U.S. victims, the Department of Justice announced today. 
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  • The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Information on the Spending and Revenue Implications of Potential Debt Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated major federal spending to respond to the national public health emergency and resulting economic turmoil. This response and the severe economic contraction from the pandemic have led to increased federal debt. Once the COVID-19 pandemic abates and the economy has substantially recovered, Congress and the administration will need to address the federal government’s fiscal challenges. To help change the long-term fiscal path, in September 2020 GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a long-term fiscal plan that includes fiscal rules and targets, such as a debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) target. In this report, GAO analyzed the changes in spending and revenue needed to reach six potential debt-to-GDP targets at the end of a 30-year period (2020-2049). To reach any of the targets, policymakers will need to cut program spending, increase revenue, or, most likely, a combination of both (see table). Illustrative Examples of Changes Needed to Achieve Debt-to-GDP Targets Debt target, percent of GDP (end of 30 years) Spending and revenue: total change over 30 years Program spending alone: Immediate and permanent decrease needed in annual projected program spendinga Revenue alone: Immediate and permanent increase needed in annual projected revenue Percent Dollars, trillions Percent Percent 140 25.4 13.8 18.5 120 31.2 16.9 22.8 100 37 20 27 80 42.8 23.1 31.2 60 48.5 26.3 35.4 0 (paying off all debt) 65.9 35.7 48.1 Source: GAO simulation. | GAO-21-211. Note: The simulation used for this analysis generally reflect historical trends, such as the extension of tax provisions scheduled to expire. It does not account for potential macroeconomic effects of fiscal policy changes over time. aProgram spending consists of all spending except interest payments on debt held by the public. When considering the spending and revenue changes needed to achieve various debt-to-GDP targets, policymakers may also consider how changes in assumptions about key variables—such as discretionary spending, revenue, and GDP—affect these fiscal outcomes. For example, if GDP growth is greater than expected, policymakers may have to make smaller spending cuts or revenue increases to reach a selected debt-to-GDP target than those that would be needed based on GAO’s standard assumptions. GAO created an interactive web tool accompanying this report to allow users to enter different assumptions for each of these variables. This tool illustrates how these changes would affect the different debt-to-GDP targets over time, as well as the changes in spending and revenue needed to achieve various targets. This tool can be found at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-211. Even before the fiscal and economic effects resulting from COVID-19, an imbalance between federal revenue and spending that is built into current law and policy was contributing to the growing federal debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2023 federal debt held by the public will reach 107 percent of GDP, its highest point in U.S. history. This situation—in which federal debt grows faster than GDP—means that our nation is on an unsustainable fiscal path. GAO was asked to review issues related to fiscal rules and targets and the federal fiscal condition. In response to this request, in September 2020, GAO issued a report (GAO-20-561) on key considerations for the design, implementation, and enforcement of fiscal rules and targets. This report supplements that work and describes how changes in assumptions of future spending and revenue affect the federal government’s projected fiscal condition. GAO updated its long-term simulations of federal revenue and spending to (1) analyze six potential debt-to-GDP targets and (2) measure the fiscal gap—the policy change needed to reach a given debt-to-GDP fiscal target from the start to the end of 30-years. GAO also analyzed how changes in key variables affected the debt-to-GDP targets and the fiscal gap. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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  • Agricultural Developer Agrees to Pay Clean Water Act Fines, Mitigate Impacts to Sensitive Streams and Wetlands
    In Crime News
    A California agricultural developer has agreed to pay a civil penalty, preserve streams and wetlands, effect mitigation, and be subject to a prohibitory injunction to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) on property near the Sacramento River located in Tehama County, California, the Justice Department announced today.
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  • Defendant Was Convicted of Multiple Counts of Sex and Drug Trafficking, Several Firearm Offenses and Other Offenses, Including Witness Tampering
    In Crime News
    Prince Bixler, 41, of Lexington, Kentucky, was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Wier to 36 years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $333,100 in restitution to three sex trafficking victims.
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  • USDA Market Facilitation Program: Information on Payments for 2019
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) distributed about $14.4 billion in 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments to farming operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. According to USDA, these payments were intended to offset the effects of trade disruptions and tariffs targeting a variety of U.S. agricultural products. FSA distributed these payments to 643,965 farming operations. The average MFP payment per farming operation for 2019 was $22,312 but varied by county, ranging from $44 to $295,299. MFP payments for 2019 also varied by type of commodity. Three types of commodities were eligible for 2019 MFP payments: (1) nonspecialty crops (including grains and oilseeds, such as corn and soybeans); (2) specialty crops (including nuts and fruits, such as pecans and cranberries); and (3) dairy and hogs. Most of the 2019 MFP payments went to farming operations that produced nonspecialty crops. Less than 10 percent went to farming operations that produced specialty crops or dairy and hogs. USDA made approximately $519 million in additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 because of increases in payment limits—the cap on payments that members of farming operations can receive. FSA distributed these additional MFP payments to about 10,000 farming operations across 39 states. The amount of additional MFP payments that FSA distributed for 2019 varied by location. Farming operations in five states—Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota—received almost half of all additional payments. In May 2019, USDA announced it would distribute up to $14.5 billion in direct payments to farming operations that were affected by trade disruptions, following the approximately $8.6 billion USDA announced it had distributed for 2018. USDA referred to these 2018 and 2019 payments as the MFP. In comparison with 2018, USDA changed the 2019 payment structure for the three types of commodities that were eligible for payments. For example, USDA increased the payment limit for each of these three types. GAO was asked to review the distribution of MFP payments for 2019. This report examines, among other things, MFP payments for 2019 and how they varied by location, farming operation, and type of commodity, as well as additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 that resulted from increased payment limits. To accomplish these objectives, GAO analyzed data from USDA and interviewed agency officials knowledgeable about the data. For more information, contact Steve Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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