Associate Deputy Attorney General Sujit Raman Delivers Remarks at the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)/Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)  Facial Recognition Technology Forum

“Five Principles That Inform the Justice Department’s  Use of Facial Recognition Technology”

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

As the Nation’s primary federal law enforcement agency, the U.S. Department of Justice enforces and defends the laws of the United States; protects public safety against foreign and domestic threats; and provides national and international leadership in preventing and investigating crime.  Technological innovation has created new opportunities for our law enforcement officers to effectively and efficiently tackle these important missions.  At the same time, such innovation poses new challenges for ensuring that technology is used in a manner consistent with our laws and our values—and equally important, with the support and trust of the American people.

Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) is at the forefront of these developments.  For law enforcement, facial recognition promises a number of benefits, many of which — like providing leads for crime-solving, and reuniting missing children with their families — have been discussed throughout this forum.  When Facial Recognition Technology is used according to professional standards and within appropriate limitations, it can enable law enforcement to react quickly and effectively to emerging threats, and to conduct more efficient investigations.  It can also have hugely impactful health, business, and commercial applications, though I will not focus on those non-law enforcement uses today.

And yet, it is undisputed that certain applications of FRT raise legitimate questions about the extent to which the use of new technology can remain consistent with our society’s commitment to privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.

I would like to use my time with you to discuss how the U.S. Department of Justice, particularly the FBI, uses Facial Recognition Technology.  While the details are important, what really matter are the underlying principles that inform our use of this technology.  The Justice Department began funding face detection and recognition research nearly a quarter-century ago.[1]  We remain committed to the federal government’s broader investment in building better algorithms, especially by capitalizing on the rapid advance of machine learning tools in the past few years.  But even as we support the cutting edge of research — and even as we embrace new capabilities that will assist us in fulfilling our duty to protect the American people — our use of Facial Recognition Technology remains fundamentally conservative.  The FBI does not, for example, use FRT for real-time identification or surveillance.  Neither does it use this technology as a means of positive identification without corroborating evidence.  A trained human being is always in the loop; the FBI uses the technology to produce investigative leads, but nothing more.

The key is trust.  And while it might seem counterintuitive in connection with dazzling, fast-moving technologies like FRT, trust often finds a refuge in the gray, bureaucratic prose of privacy impact assessments, training manuals, work logs, and compliance audits — that is, in the everyday grammar of the accountability and transparency structures that we, as a free people, demand of our government in order to preserve our liberty, ensure we are treated equitably, and promote the rule of law.  It is those structures, and the principles that give them the spark of life, that I will discuss with you today.

I.

Facial Recognition Technology raises a number of novel questions implicating public safety, individual privacy, and technological change.  But this is not the first time our society has grappled with these types of questions.  Our Nation’s history is replete with examples where our government, our courts, and our civil society have explored how our expectations of privacy evolve along with technological innovation.

Over the past fifty years in particular, our courts have confronted a number of cases involving law enforcement’s novel use of technology to advance criminal investigations.[2]

Of course, before many of these questions came before the courts, they had been debated in State and local lawmaking bodies, as well as in the U.S. Congress.  FRT is no different.  Some State and local lawmakers already have taken steps to begin addressing this issue, and several bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress.  Thus, while the use of Facial Recognition Technology may eventually come before the courts as a constitutional question, as citizens in a self-governing society we have an important duty to confront and to debate the complex questions that this technology raises, in the first instance.

Thanks to facial recognition, tasks that would take countless hours — like combing through large databases of photos, biometric data, or other personally identifiable information already in the government’s lawful possession — can be accomplished in a fraction of that time, at much lower cost.  It goes without saying how such advancements can assist law enforcement.  At the same time, fears of inaccuracy, the potential for unintended performance differentials reflecting gender, ethnicity, or racial characteristics, and concerns about mass surveillance have led many calls for strict regulatory action.  State and local governments across the country are in the process of determining for themselves how best to address law enforcement use of facial recognition.  Some governmental entities, including in San Francisco, Boston, Oakland, and — just last week — Portland, have gone so far as to ban local agencies’ use of the technology.

The use (or, more accurately, the misuse) of Facial Recognition Technology in other parts of the world has no doubt exacerbated concerns here in the United States.  Numerous public reports suggest, for instance, that the Chinese Communist Party takes advantage of facial recognition to assist in its oppression of the Chinese people.  Chinese officials use facial recognition in public spaces to identify and track dissidents, activists, and other individuals who are of political interest to the regime.  The Chinese government is also reportedly using FRT to suppress minorities, such as the Uyghur and Tibetan populations, in the name of “national security.”  Moreover, the use of Facial Recognition Technology by authoritarian nations like China and Russia to enforce quarantines shows how these governments justify dragnet surveillance even outside of the purported “law enforcement” and “national security” contexts, and raises important questions about the persistence of such all-encompassing surveillance measures once the pandemic has subsided.

Europe is in the midst of an intense debate about these issues.  Recently, for example, the data protection authority in Sweden fined a school for deploying Facial Recognition Technology to streamline students’ access to school facilities and monitor their attendance.  According to the data protection authority, under European privacy law, students lacked the capacity to consent to such monitoring.  Shortly thereafter, however, the same data protection authority approved police’s use of FRT to identify criminal suspects.  In France, a court similarly ruled against schools’ use of facial recognition technology — rendering this judgment against a background where the French government had announced that FRT would be the only way that its citizens could enroll in a mandatory national digital identity program to securely access public services.  (That program is currently on hold.)  Meanwhile, reports suggest that Germany is considering using live, automated FRT in train stations and airports throughout the country for security purposes, even as, just last month, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales struck down a local police force’s use of that technology, which it had openly deployed around fifty times over two years at a variety of large public events.[3]  The court’s judgment focused mostly on process errors, however, which the police force has stated it plans to fix.

Some in the European Union have called for a total ban on facial recognition technology, while others have advocated for its substantially increased deployment, in both commercial and public safety applications.  Perhaps reflecting the deep and unresolved complexities of the public policy debate concerning this technology, the European Commission’s recently-published White Paper on Artificial Intelligence makes virtually no mention of Facial Recognition Technology at all, apart from calling for “a broad European debate on the specific circumstances, if any, which might justify [its] use, and on common safeguards”[4] — a remarkable turnabout from an initial draft of the white paper, which had proposed an outright ban on the technology for between three-to-five years.

In India, the Supreme Court has struck down portions of the Aadhaar national identity system, which incorporates facial recognition among numerous other biometric ID technologies.  The court upheld the mandatory use of the system for tax purposes, but prohibited its mandatory use by commercial entities in certain contexts where privacy and security risks were involved.  Meanwhile, a widely-publicized press report from 2018 stated that the Delhi Police traced nearly 3,000 missing children in the span of a mere four days, thanks to a trial use of FRT.[5]

These are just a few examples of the varied discussions going on around the globe, and around our Nation, regarding the proper role of Facial Recognition Technology in society.  The Department of Justice recognizes the value of these discussions, and we understand the significant concerns giving rise to them.

We also strongly believe that adopting outright bans or moratoriums on the use of FRT by law enforcement in the United States is not a useful approach.  Not only do such bans deprive the American public of the clear benefits of this technology in the short term, but they also disrupt the development of better and safer ways for facial recognition to be developed, tested, and deployed in the future.  It is a false dichotomy to think we have to choose between embracing this emerging technology and abandoning our moral compass.  To the contrary, “[w]e can advance emerging technology in a way that reflects our values of freedom, human rights, and respect for human dignity.”[6]  The United States should be a leader in FRT and the issues surrounding it precisely so that we can help establish the norms and standards that will shape this technology in the decades ahead.  Otherwise, nations and entities that share neither our values nor our constraints will happily, and aggressively, fill the void.

But this is not to say that we should blindly move forward with widespread adoption of Facial Recognition Technology without proper consideration for the risks involved.  A careful, incremental approach that appropriately balances costs and benefits is the best way forward.

II.

Our government already has embarked on this path.  Consistent with the President’s Executive Order titled Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,[7] and the Office of Management and Budget’s proposed, first-of-their-kind principles regarding the regulation and oversight of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications developed and deployed outside of the federal government,[8] our Nation’s strategy on achieving leadership in AI technologies can be realized only by ensuring public engagement, limiting regulatory overreach, and promoting trustworthy technology.

At the Department of Justice, five core principles guide our approach to Facial Recognition Technology.  These non-exhaustive principles help ensure that we appropriately and responsibly implement FRT specifically — and AI technologies more broadly — consistent with our obligations to protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.

First, the Department will develop and use Facial Recognition Technology only pursuant to, and in accordance with, constitutional protections, applicable federal laws, and Department policy.  When considering the U.S. government’s use of facial recognition, it is important to note the significant requirements imposed by existing laws and policies, particularly with regard to the protection of individual privacy.  These laws and policies set us apart from other entities that are struggling with the implementation of FRT, and are an essential part of any analysis of the costs and benefits of its use by federal law enforcement.

For instance, the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended,[9] regulates the collection, use, maintenance, and dissemination of personal information by federal executive branch agencies.  “Broadly stated, the purpose of the Privacy Act is to balance the government’s need to maintain information about individuals with the rights of individuals to be protected against unwarranted invasions of their privacy stemming from federal agencies’ collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information about them.”[10]  The Privacy Act ensures transparency by requiring federal agencies to describe to the public how they secure and maintain lawfully collected biometric images (like palm prints, facial images, and iris images) for criminal, civil, and/or national security purposes.

In addition, Section 208 of the E-Government Act of 2002 requires federal agencies to conduct Privacy Impact Assessments that describe the risks and benefits of information technologies, and detail how the agencies appropriately mitigate privacy risks when using them. 

The FBI’s Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) Services’ use of Facial Recognition Technology provides a useful example of how existing laws and policies can help strike the right balance.[11]  FACE Services employees support FBI investigators “by comparing the facial images of persons associated with open assessments and investigations against facial images available in [S]tate and federal face recognition systems.”[12]  This point bears repeating: the FBI investigator can provide FACE Services a photograph (called a “probe” photo) only of persons who are subjects of, or are relevant to, an already-open “assessment,” “preliminary investigation,” or “full investigation,” as those terms have long been defined in the publicly-available Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations.[13]  Moreover, the probe photos themselves must have been collected “pursuant to applicable legal authorities as part of an authorized [FBI] investigation.”[14]  For instance, FBI policy prohibits the submission of photos of individuals exercising rights guaranteed by the First Amendment (like lawful assembly or free exercise of religion), unless those actions are pertinent to, and within the scope of, authorized law enforcement activity.

Upon receipt of the probe photo, FACE Services employees “use[ ] face recognition software to compare the probe photo against photos contained within government systems, such as FBI databases . . . , other federal databases . . . , and [S]tate photo repositories,”[15] under the terms of an applicable Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with each State or federal agency.  The FBI does not have direct access to these photos repositories, and a written MOU or other type of agreement must be in place with the relevant federal or State agency (such as a Division of Motor Vehicles) prior to requesting a search.

After comparison and evaluation, which includes “both automated face recognition software and manual review by a trained biometric images specialist,” FACE Services may identify photos that are likely matches to the probe photo.[16]  (In many cases, there will not be any likely matches.)  The “likely match” photos are called “candidate photos.”[17]  Candidate photos serve only as investigative leads; unlike fingerprints, the FBI’s face recognition results do not constitute positive identification of an individual.

The candidate photos are then sent to the FBI investigator, who is prohibited from relying solely upon them to conduct law enforcement action.  Instead, he or she must perform additional investigation to determine if the person in the candidate photo is the same person as in the probe photo.

All of these protections, along with advanced training requirements and robust auditing capabilities, enhance the accountability of the system.[18]  This, in turn, increases the likelihood of success stories—of which there are many.  I can publicly discuss one notable example.  In 2017, the FBI identified and arrested an MS-13 gang member and murderer who had evaded authorities for over six years, thereby earning a place on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.  FACE Services played a critical role in helping agents track the fugitive killer down, as photos that he and a woman he was associated with had posted on social media yielded matches that, in turn, provided investigators with a physical location to surveil.  There, agents confronted the killer and apprehended him without incident.  Last year, he pled guilty to his crimes, and was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.[19]

As with any other investigatory technique, the FBI’s use of Facial Recognition Technology during the course of an investigation must have a valid purpose consistent with The Attorney General’s Guidelines, and must comply with the U.S. Constitution, and with all applicable statutes, executive orders, and Department of Justice regulations and policies.  Moreover, the information technologies used by FACE Services are properly documented in publicly-available Privacy Impact Assessments, which spell out in considerable detail the privacy risks associated with FACE Services’ use of FRT, and describes the practices and controls the FBI has implemented in order to mitigate those risks so the public can benefit from the technology’s use.[20]

It bears emphasizing again that federal law enforcement will not use Facial Recognition Technology to unlawfully monitor people for their political views, or based solely on a person’s exercise of First Amendment rights.  This is expressly prohibited by the Privacy Act and by the FBI’s internal policies, as well as by a number of other laws governing the systems of records created by federal agencies.

Finally, we regularly test, evaluate, and improve the relevant policies and procedures as technology continues to evolve, and as new use cases emerge.  Notably, an audit revealed that, through December 2018, FACE Services employees had performed nearly 400,000 searches on a variety of databases.[21]  Each of these searches was made “in support of active FBI investigations,” with “no findings of civil liberties violations or evidence of system misuse.”[22]

Second, in making its Facial Recognition Technology resources available to other law enforcement agencies, the Department will insist those agencies use these resources at a similarly high standard, with appropriate safeguards.  The Department of Justice sets a high bar in its use of FRT, and we share a large number of resources in common with our law enforcement partners around the Nation.  In making our resources available to other agencies, we will require those agencies to use these resources at a similarly high level of responsibility and accountability.

The FBI’s management of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) Interstate Photo System (IPS) is a prime example.  The NGI System “serves as the FBI’s biometric identity and criminal history records system and maintains the fingerprints and associated identity information of individuals submitted to the FBI for authorized criminal justice, national security, and civil purposes.”[23]  This System features a capability by which over 43 million photos are available for facial recognition searching by law enforcement agencies around the Nation.  State, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement can submit and enroll photos of arrestees, based upon probable cause and supported by ten-print fingerprints, into the NGI IPS.[24]  These agencies can access the facial recognition search capability that the FBI provides, thereby leveraging the cutting-edge algorithm that the FBI employs — but only if they comply with policy regarding use of the system that the FBI requires of its own employees.[25]  This includes the requirement that candidate photos serve only as investigative leads, and not as a means of positive identification, as well as the rule that the FBI does not retain any of the probe photos that are searched against the NGI IPS, to ensure that “only those photos collected pursuant to a probable cause standard and positively associated with ten-print fingerprints would be available for searching.”[26]

In addition, the FBI imposes training requirements in line with national scientific guidelines before users can conduct searches on the System, and requires jurisdictions to meet rigorous technical standards before they can access it.  To date, fifteen States, the District of Columbia, and two federal agencies have the technical capability to conduct facial recognition searches on the NGI IPS.[27]

All federal law enforcement agencies, including those outside of the Department of Justice, are authorized to enroll and search photos in the NGI IPS for legally authorized purposes.  Currently, only two federal entities perform facial recognition searches on the System.  Those agencies are the FBI’s FACE Services and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) National Targeting Center (NTC).[28]  The NTC accesses the NGI IPS to conduct facial recognition searches using its screening rules to determine on an individualized basis which travelers are reasonably suspected to pose a risk to border security or public safety; who may be a terrorist or suspected terrorist; who may be inadmissible to the United States; or who may otherwise be engaged in illegal activity under federal criminal law.[29]  “As with all [NGI IPS] users, the candidate photos returned to the NTC are for lead purposes only, cannot be used for positive identification, and the NTC must perform additional research to resolve the identities of the subjects before taking any action.”[30] 

Overall, like FACE Services’ use of FRT, law enforcement use of the NGI IPS System should give the American people confidence.  An audit revealed that, from fiscal year 2017 through April 2019, authorized law enforcement users made over 150,000 facial recognition search requests of the NGI IPS repository.  “During that time, there [were] no findings of civil liberties violations or evidence of system misuse.”[31]

Third, the Department will ensure that Facial Recognition Technology is developed and used in a manner that minimizes inaccuracy and unfair biases.  Improper discrimination has no place in our society, let alone in our law enforcement function.  It is unlikely we can achieve perfection in any endeavor in which imperfect human beings play a role.  Perfection is probably unattainable even for machines; after all, “[f]acial recognition, like many AI technologies, typically have some rate of error even when they operate in an unbiased way.”[32]  But we must do everything in our power to employ mitigation techniques so that any errors or demographic differentials are minimized and addressed.  In the FRT context, this effort is already well underway throughout the U.S. government.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), for instance, has developed a number of reports from its Face Recognition Vendor Test Program[33] that focus on issues like the accuracy of vendor-tested facial recognition models.  Notably, NIST’s work covers demographic differentials.  Its most recent report on this topic, published late last year, states:

Contemporary face recognition algorithms exhibit demographic differentials of various magnitudes . . . [F]alse positive differentials are much larger than those related to false negatives and exist broadly, across many, but not all, algorithms tested . . . Operational implementations usually employ a single face recognition algorithm.  Given algorithm-specific variation, it is incumbent upon the system owner to know their algorithm . . . Since different algorithms perform better or worse in processing images of individuals in various demographics, policy makers, face recognition system developers, and end users should be aware of these differences and use them to make decisions and to improve future performance . . .  Reporting of demographic effects often has been incomplete in academic papers and in media coverage.  In particular, accuracy is discussed without stating the quantity of interest be it false negatives, false positives or failure to enroll.  As most systems are configured with a fixed threshold, it is necessary to report both false negative and false positive rates for each demographic group at that threshold.  This is rarely done—most reports are concerned only with false negatives.[34]

We have a moral obligation to study demographic differentials in connection with Facial Recognition Technology.  We must approach this issue honestly, and with due regard for evidence-based reviews.  We in the federal government will continue to ensure that demographic differentials and inaccuracies are constantly being tested, quantified, and mitigated using an evidence-based approach.  In fact, it is precisely that approach that led to the progress reflected in the 2018 NIST Face Recognition Vendor Test, in which top algorithms experienced a failure (i.e., a false positive or a false negative match) on NIST-provided data inputs only 0.2% of the time, compared with a 4% failure rate in 2014 — an improvement by a factor of 20 in only four years.[35]  Through its partnership with NIST, the FBI in 2019 upgraded its NGI IPS algorithm; the selected vendor’s facial recognition algorithm performs at an accuracy rate that exceeds 99%.[36]  Going forward, the FBI plans, in collaboration with NIST, to test its NGI IPS facial recognition technology annually.  Much work remains to be done.  But the remarkable progress we have seen in the accuracy of FRT in just a few years is cause for optimism.

Fourth, the Department will continue to ensure human involvement in areas where technology is used in a manner that impacts fundamental rights and civil liberties.  As I’ve said, our view is that Facial Recognition Technology assists, but does not replace, the work conducted by our law enforcement investigators and national security personnel.  Accordingly, we believe that a human being should be involved before any actions are taken that could deprive a person of his or her civil rights or civil liberties, based on any outputs produced by facial recognition (or any similarly advanced) technology.  Of course, the fact that a human is involved is not enough; that person needs to be properly trained, and needs to function within a broader institutional culture where the state serves its citizens rather than the other way around.  But human involvement is a prerequisite to any law enforcement or national security use of FRT that claims to advance the cause of freedom.

Finally, the Department will prioritize the security and quality of the data it uses in connection with Facial Recognition Technology.  The data involved in FRT, especially in the law enforcement context, can be highly sensitive.  The FBI imposes strict access requirements to the relevant databases, and complies with all applicable laws and regulations concerning the storage and retention of this data.  In addition, it provides a secure transport mechanism for all the criminal history record information and biometric-related information it handles.  “Transmission hardware for [the relevant telecommunications infrastructure] is configured by FBI personnel; transmission data to and from [the FBI] is encrypted; and firewalls are mandated and in place.”[37]  The Department will prioritize securing its face image (and associated) data from unauthorized access.  State and local law enforcement partners, as well as commercial firms, should do the same.  The American people, too, should be cautious about the products they use, and with whom they share their biometric data.  Any mobile application—even a free, “fun,” seemingly harmless one that entertains you—developed in a nation that does not share our rule of law values could be a potential counterintelligence threat, based on the data that the app collects, its privacy and terms of use policies, and the legal mechanisms available to the host nation to access data within its borders.  As Americans, we must never forget that our critical AI technologies—as well as our citizens’ personal data—are under constant attack from strategic competitors, adversarial nations, and malicious non-state cyber actors.

III.

Thank you for participating in this important discussion on the future of law enforcement’s use of Facial Recognition Technology.  There are many complex and important questions that need to be resolved as technology continues rapidly to advance around us.  At the U.S. Department of Justice, we firmly believe the best way to answer these questions is through principled action; through an honest evaluation (and constant re-evaluation) of benefits and costs; and through active engagement with impacted stakeholders.  Only then can we ensure that the manner in which the government uses technology best serves the American people.

 


[2] For representative U.S. Supreme Court cases, see, e.g., Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) (use of electronic listening device to monitor private telephone conversations); Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979) (installation and use of pen register); United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276 (1983) (monitoring of electronic beeper on public roads); United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984) (monitoring of electronic beeper within private residence); California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986) (aerial surveillance of private home and backyard); Kyollo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001) (use of thermal imaging device not in general use to explore interior details of home); Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. 435 (2013) (DNA swab of arrestee’s cheek for identification purposes); Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014) (search of arrestee’s cell phone); Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___ (2018) (collection of historical cell-site location information).

[9] 5 U.S.C. § 552(a) (2018).

[11] The FBI’s FACE Services are located within the Investigative Services Support Unit of the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division’s Biometric Services Section.  

[14] FACE Services PIA, supra note 12.

[15] Id.  Federal photo repositories include “the criminal mugshots in the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, the visa and passport photos maintained by the Department of State (DOS), and photos in the Department of Defense’s biometric system.  State photo repositories include drivers’ licenses, identification cards, and criminal photos maintained in Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and similar [S]tate agencies.”  Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Privacy Impact Assessment for the Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) Phase II System” [hereinafter “FACE Services Phase II PIA”], at 2, July 9, 2018, available at: https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/pia-face-phase-2-system.pdf/view (last accessed September 12, 2020).

[16] FACE Services PIA, supra note 12.

[18] For example, FACE Services securely maintains a manual work log that contains each FRT search request, “which generally include[s] the name of the requesting FBI agent/analyst, the case number, and some biographic information related to the subject of the probe photo, such as name and date of birth.”  FACE Services Phase II PIA, supra note 15, at 2.  While the work log “documents the details of all work transactions,” it retains only the probe photo and limited biographic information about the relevant subjects.  Id.

[19] See Ryan Lucas, “How A Tip—And Facial Recognition Technology—Helped The FBI Catch A Killer,” NPR All Things Considered, Aug. 21, 2019, available at: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/21/752484720/how-a-tip-and-facial-recognition-technology-helped-the-fbi-catch-a-killer (last accessed September 12, 2020); Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, “MS-13 Member Apprehended after Being Placed on FBI’s 10 Most-Wanted Fugitives List Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison,” July 31, 2019, available at: https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/pr/ms-13-member-apprehended-after-being-placed-fbi-s-10-most-wanted-fugitives-list-sentenced (last accessed September 12, 2020).

[20] See generally FACE Services PIA, supra note 12; FACE Services Phase II PIA, supra note 15.

[28] The Department of Homeland Security’s use of Facial Recognition Technology falls generally outside of the scope of these remarks, but CBP’s and TSA’s use of FRT is detailed in a recent report published by the U.S. General Accountability Office.  See U.S. General Accountability Office, “Facial Recognition: CBP and TSA are Taking Steps to Implement Programs, but CBP Should Address Privacy and System Performance Issues,” Sept. 2020, available at: https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/709107.pdf (last accessed September 12, 2020).

[29] NGI IPS PIA, supra note 23, at 3.

[31] Del Greco Statement, supra note 21.

[35] See “History of NIJ Support for Face Recognition Technology,” supra note 1.

[36] Del Greco Statement, supra note 21.

[37] NGI IPS PIA, supra note 23, at 13.

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    From fiscal years 2014 through 2018, veterans left federal government jobs at a higher rate than non-veterans, according to GAO analysis of Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data. After controlling for key demographic and employment factors, GAO estimated that on average, 6.7 percent of veterans left the federal government compared to 5 percent of similar non-veterans. While veterans primarily left to retire, veterans resigned from federal service at 1.6 times the rate of similar non-veterans. GAO also estimated that 18.7 percent of veterans resigned within their first 5 years of federal service compared to 11.1 percent of similar non-veterans. Each of the 24 Chief Financial Officer Act agencies experienced higher rates of attrition among veteran employees than similar non-veteran employees. GAO identified six workplace factors associated with veterans' intentions to leave federal service. These factors—or drivers of retention—are based on an analysis of data from the OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (OPM FEVS), a tool for collecting employees' perceptions of their federal work experiences. Key Workplace Factors Associated with Veterans Considering Leaving Federal Service More than half of both veterans and non-veterans reported being satisfied with five of the six factors. More than half of both veterans and non-veterans reported not being satisfied with opportunities for advancement at their agencies. Overall we found that veterans were slightly less satisfied with these factors than non-veterans, which could in part explain the higher attrition rates for veterans. Improvements in employee satisfaction in these areas may lead to higher retention rates. Performing analyses similar to those in this report could help agencies identify and strengthen strategies for improving veteran retention. However, challenges exist for agencies using OPM FEVS data on their own to identify drivers of retention among their workforces. OPM could help agencies with these analyses so they could use data to address veteran retention issues and other workforce challenges. Approximately 200,000 servicemembers transition from military service to civilian life each year, according to the Department of Defense. A 2009 executive order created a government-wide initiative to increase veteran federal employment. While veteran hiring has increased since 2009, OPM has raised concerns about retention and job satisfaction of newly hired veterans. GAO was asked to analyze veteran federal employment data. This report analyzes (1) recent trends in attrition for veterans and non-veterans, and (2) key factors that may affect a veteran employee's decision to leave federal employment. GAO conducted a statistical analysis comparing attrition for veterans and similar non-veterans for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 (the most current data available). GAO conducted a literature review to identify potential drivers of retention and used regression methods to analyze OPM FEVS data to identify key drivers for veterans and non-veterans. GAO also interviewed OPM officials and veteran service organizations. GAO recommends that OPM assist the 24 CFO Act agencies by using OPM FEVS data to analyze the key drivers of veterans' retention. OPM partially concurred with the recommendation because of concerns about its scope and, in response, we modified it. For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-2717 or jonesy@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Navy's schedule for constructing the first submarine of the new Columbia class is threatened by continuing challenges with the computer-aided software tool that Electric Boat, the lead shipbuilder, is using to design the submarine. These challenges will likely impede construction because the shipbuilder is late in completing design products used for building the submarine. To ensure construction begins on schedule, the Navy modified its design contract with Electric Boat to include an option for constructing the first two submarines and requested sufficient authority from Congress for fiscal year 2021 to exercise it. Navy officials stated, however, that the Navy's budget request is lower than its current cost estimate, and it is not informed by an independent cost assessment. As a result, the program will likely need more funding to reflect the increased estimate. Quality problems with supplier materials caused delays during early construction. These quality problems included missile tubes (depicted below) with defective welds. As the shipbuilders expand outsourcing to suppliers, quality assurance oversight at supplier facilities will be critical for avoiding further delays. Quad Pack of Four Submarine Missile Tubes However, the Navy has not comprehensively reassessed when to seek additional inspections at supplier facilities that could better position it to identify quality problems early enough to limit delays. The Navy plans to invest about $128 billion in 12 Columbia class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The shipbuilders will construct the Columbia class at the same time as the Virginia class attack submarines. They plan to rely on materials produced by a supplier base that is roughly 70 percent smaller than in previous shipbuilding booms. Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to examine the program's status. This report assesses the Navy's efforts to complete the design for the lead Columbia class submarine and actions the shipbuilders and the Navy have taken to prepare for construction and ensure the lead submarine is delivered according to schedule and quality expectations. GAO assessed Navy and shipbuilder design progress against cost and schedule estimates, reviewed documents, and interviewed officials about supplier readiness and quality assurance. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in November 2020. Information that the Department of Defense (DOD) deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO recommends that the Navy (1) provide Congress with updated cost information, (2) include information on supplier readiness in its annual report to Congress, and (3) reassess when to seek additional inspections at supplier facilities. DOD concurred with the recommendations but disagreed with some of the report's details. GAO incorporated DOD's comments as appropriate and maintains the validity of the findings, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or oakleys@gao.gov.
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  • Information Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Take Urgent Action to Manage Supply Chain Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    Few of the 23 civilian Chief Financial Officers Act agencies had implemented seven selected foundational practices for managing information and communications technology (ICT) supply chain risks. Supply chain risk management (SCRM) is the process of identifying, assessing, and mitigating the risks associated with the global and distributed nature of ICT product and service supply chains. Many of the manufacturing inputs for these ICT products and services originate from a variety of sources throughout the world. (See figure 1.) Figure 1: Examples of Locations of Manufacturers or Suppliers of Information and Communications Technology Products and Services None of the 23 agencies fully implemented all of the SCRM practices and 14 of the 23 agencies had not implemented any of the practices. The practice with the highest rate of implementation was implemented by only six agencies. Conversely, none of the other practices were implemented by more than three agencies. Moreover, one practice had not been implemented by any of the agencies. (See figure 2.) Figure 2: Extent to Which the 23 Civilian Chief Financial Officers Act Agencies Implemented Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Practices As a result of these weaknesses, these agencies are at a greater risk that malicious actors could exploit vulnerabilities in the ICT supply chain causing disruption to mission operations, harm to individuals, or theft of intellectual property. For example, without establishing executive oversight of SCRM activities, agencies are limited in their ability to make risk decisions across the organization about how to most effectively secure their ICT product and service supply chains. Moreover, agencies lack the ability to understand and manage risk and reduce the likelihood that adverse events will occur without reasonable visibility and traceability into supply chains. Officials from the 23 agencies cited various factors that limited their implementation of the foundational practices for managing supply chain risks. The most commonly cited factor was the lack of federal SCRM guidance. For example, several agencies reported that they were waiting for federal guidance to be issued from the Federal Acquisition Security Council—a cross-agency group responsible for providing direction and guidance to executive agencies to reduce their supply chain risks—before implementing one or more of the foundational practices. According to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials, the council expects to complete this effort by December 2020. While the additional direction and guidance from the council could further assist agencies with the implementation of these practices, federal agencies currently have guidance to assist with managing their ICT supply chain risks. Specifically, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued ICT SCRM-specific guidance in 2015 and OMB has required agencies to implement ICT SCRM since 2016. Until agencies implement all of the foundational ICT SCRM practices, they will be limited in their ability to address supply chain risks across their organizations effectively. Federal agencies rely extensively on ICT products and services (e.g., computing systems, software, and networks) to carry out their operations. However, agencies face numerous ICT supply chain risks, including threats posed by counterfeiters who may exploit vulnerabilities in the supply chain and, thus, compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an organization's systems and the information they contain. For example, in September 2019, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reported that federal agencies faced approximately 180 different ICT supply chain-related threats. To address threats such as these, agencies must make risk-based ICT supply chain decisions about how to secure their systems. GAO was asked to conduct a review of federal agencies' ICT SCRM practices. The specific objective was to determine the extent to which federal agencies have implemented foundational ICT SCRM practices. To do so, GAO identified seven practices from NIST guidance that are foundational for an organization-wide approach to ICT SCRM and compared them to policies, procedures, and other documentation from the 23 civilian Chief Financial Officers Act agencies. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in October 2020. Information that agencies deemed sensitive was omitted and GAO substituted numeric identifiers that were randomly assigned for the names of the agencies due to sensitivity concerns. The foundational practices comprising ICT SCRM are: establishing executive oversight of ICT activities, including designating responsibility for leading agency-wide SCRM activities; developing an agency-wide ICT SCRM strategy for providing the organizational context in which risk-based decisions will be made; establishing an approach to identify and document agency ICT supply chain(s); establishing a process to conduct agency-wide assessments of ICT supply chain risks that identify, aggregate, and prioritize ICT supply chain risks that are present across the organization; establishing a process to conduct a SCRM review of a potential supplier that may include reviews of the processes used by suppliers to design, develop, test, implement, verify, deliver, and support ICT products and services; developing organizational ICT SCRM requirements for suppliers to ensure that suppliers are adequately addressing risks associated with ICT products and services; and developing organizational procedures to detect counterfeit and compromised ICT products prior to their deployment. GAO also interviewed relevant agency officials. In the sensitive report, GAO made a total of 145 recommendations to the 23 agencies to fully implement foundational practices in their organization-wide approaches to ICT SCRM. Of the 23 agencies, 17 agreed with all of the recommendations made to them; two agencies agreed with most, but not all of the recommendations; one agency disagreed with all of the recommendations; two agencies neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations, but stated they would address them; and one agency had no comments. GAO continues to believe that all of the recommendations are warranted, as discussed in the sensitive report. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harrisCC@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    Federal law provides certain tax benefits for transactions involving genuine insurance products, including insurance products held offshore. While taxpayers may lawfully hold offshore insurance products, they contain features that make them vulnerable for use in abusive tax schemes. For example, offshore insurance products can be highly technical and individualized, making enforcement challenging, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials. Furthermore, insurance is not defined by federal statute, potentially making a determination of what constitutes genuine insurance for federal tax purposes unclear. Offshore micro-captive insurance products, which are made by small insurance companies owned by the businesses they insure, may be abused if the corporate taxpayer improperly claims deductions for payments made to a micro-captive for federal tax purposes. Courts have applied certain considerations to determine whether these deductions can be claimed. For example, one consideration is whether the insurance legitimately distributes risk across participating entities. IRS officials said they expend significant resources reviewing these schemes because of the varied ways insurance companies may work. Offshore variable life insurance products, which are insurance policies with investment components over which the insured has certain control, may be abused if the individual taxpayer fails to meet IRS reporting requirements or pay appropriate federal income taxes. Federal regulations require that taxpayers with certain foreign life insurance accounts report this information to IRS and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The structure of life insurance products may vary and taxpayers are required to pay taxes based on the underlying type of financial product the policy represents. The figure below shows how noncompliance may occur when taxpayers use life insurance and micro-captive insurance in abusive tax schemes. Abusive Use of Micro-captive and Life Insurance When structured in abusive ways, insurance products held offshore can be designed to aid in unlawful tax evasion by U.S. taxpayers. Two products that IRS has recently warned have the potential for such abuse include micro-captive insurance and variable life insurance policies. GAO was asked to review how taxpayers may abuse offshore insurance products. This report describes (1) how offshore insurance tax shelters provide opportunities for income tax abuse; (2) how offshore micro-captive insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes; and (3) how offshore variable life insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes. GAO reviewed IRS tax and information return forms, relevant U.S. case law and IRS guidance, academic and trade publications, and applicable statutes and regulations. GAO also interviewed IRS officials and professionals in the tax preparation and insurance industries. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or LucasJudyJ@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) is closer to being able to use military code (M-code)—a stronger, more secure signal for the Global Positioning System (GPS) designed to meet military needs. However, due to the complexity of the technology, M-code remains years away from being widely fielded across DOD. M-code-capable receiver equipment includes different components, and the development and manufacture of each is key to the modernization effort. These include: special M-code application-specific integrated circuit chips, special M-code receiver cards, being developed under the Air Force Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) programs, and the next generation of GPS receivers capable of using M-code signals from GPS satellites. DOD will need to integrate all of these components into different types of weapon systems (see figure for notional depiction of integration for one system). Integration across DOD will be a considerable effort involving hundreds of different weapon systems, including some with complex and unique integration needs or configurations. Global Positioning System User Equipment Integration The Air Force is almost finished—approximately one year behind schedule—developing and testing one M-code card for testing on the Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Army Stryker vehicle. However, one card intended for use in aircraft and ships is significantly delayed and missed key program deadlines. The Air Force is revising its schedule for testing this card. The M-code card development delays have had ripple effects on GPS receiver modernization efforts and the weapon systems that intend to use them. For example, an Air Force receiver modernization effort that depends on the new technology will likely breach its schedule and incur additional costs because of the delay. In turn, DOD planned to incorporate that receiver into its F/A-18 fighter aircraft, AV-8B strike aircraft, and the MH-53E helicopter, but it no longer plans to do so because of the delay. DOD has not yet determined the full extent of the development effort to widely integrate and field M-code receivers across the department. The amount of additional development and integration work is expected to vary for each weapon system and could range from a few weeks to several years. DOD is taking steps to enable fielding modernized receivers that use M-code cards by working to identify integration and production challenges. DOD has been developing the capability to use its more jam-resistant military-specific GPS signal for 2 decades. The Air Force launched the first GPS satellite capable of broadcasting the M-code signal in 2005, but is only now completing development of the software and other equipment needed to use it. The GPS modernization effort spans DOD and the military services, but an Air Force program office is developing M-code cards for eventual production and integration into weapon systems. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a provision that the Air Force provide quarterly reports to GAO on next-generation GPS acquisition programs, and that GAO brief congressional defense committees. Since 2016, GAO has provided briefings and reported on various aspects of GPS. This report discusses DOD's progress and challenges (1) developing M-code receiver cards, and (2) developing receivers and taking other steps to make M-code-capable receivers available for fielding. GAO reviewed schedules and cost estimates for the Air Force's MGUE programs; military service and DOD M-code implementation data; and test and integration plans for aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles. GAO also reviewed strategies for continued access to microelectronics and interviewed officials from the MGUE programs, military services, and DOD, and representatives from microelectronics developers. For more information, contact Jon Ludwigson at (202) 512-4841 or ludwigsonj@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data for 2017 through 2019, over 50 helicopter operators conducted approximately 88,000 helicopter flights within 30 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (D.C. area), though limited data on noise from these flights exist. According to operators, these flights supported various missions (see table below). While the number of flights has decreased slightly over the 3 years reviewed, it is unknown whether there has been a change in helicopter noise in the area. For example, most stakeholders do not collect noise data, and existing studies of helicopter noise in the area are limited. D.C. area airspace constraints—such as lower maximum altitudes near urban areas—combined with proximity to frequently traveled helicopter routes and operational factors may affect the noise heard by residents. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-Reported Helicopter Flights Conducted in the Washington, D.C. Area by Operator Mission, 2017–2019 Operator mission Number of flights Military 32,890 (37.4 percent) Air medical 18,322 (20.9 percent) Other aviation activity 13,977 (15.9 percent)a State and local law enforcement 12,861 (14.6 percent) Federal law enforcement and emergency support 5,497 (6.3 percent) News 4,298 (4.9 percent) Source: GAO analysis of FAA data. | GAO-21-200 Note: In this table, we refer to the Washington, D.C. area as including the area within 30 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. aIncludes 666 flights for which FAA could not identify an operator or mission based on available historical records. FAA and operators reported taking steps to address public concerns about helicopter noise in the D.C. area. FAA receives and responds to complaints on helicopter noise from the public through its Noise Ombudsman and has recently developed online forms that improve FAA's ability to identify and respond to helicopter noise issues. Operators reported using FAA-recommended practices, such as flying at maximum altitudes and limiting night flights, to address helicopter noise in the D.C. area, but such practices are likely not feasible for operators with military, law enforcement, or air medical evacuation missions. FAA's and operators' approach to addressing these issues in the D.C. area is impeded because they do not consistently or fully share the information needed to do so. According to nearly all the operators we interviewed, FAA has not communicated with operators about helicopter noise or forwarded complaints to them. Similarly, operators often receive noise complaints from the public—some complaints are not directed to the correct operator—but do not typically share these complaints with FAA. As a result, operators have not consistently responded to residents' inquiries about helicopter noise and activity. By developing a mechanism for FAA and operators to share information, FAA could help improve responses to individual helicopter noise concerns and determine what additional strategies, if any, are needed to further address helicopter noise. Helicopter noise can potentially expose members of the public to a variety of negative effects, ranging from annoyance to more serious medical issues. FAA is responsible for managing navigable U.S. airspace and regulating noise from civil helicopter operations. Residents of the D.C. area have raised concerns about the number of helicopter flights and the resulting noise. GAO was asked to review issues related to helicopter flights and noise within the D.C. area. Among its objectives, this report examines: (1) what is known about helicopter flights and noise from flights in the D.C. area, and (2) the extent to which FAA and helicopter operators have taken action to address helicopter noise in the D.C. area. GAO reviewed statutes, regulations, policies, and documents on helicopter noise. GAO analyzed (1) available data on helicopter operations and noise in the D.C. area for 2017 through 2019, and (2) FAA's approach to responding to helicopter complaints. GAO also interviewed FAA officials; representatives from 18 D.C. area helicopter operators, selected based on operator type and number of flights; and 10 local communities, selected based on factors including geography and stakeholder recommendations. GAO recommends that FAA develop a mechanism to exchange helicopter noise information with operators in the D.C. area. FAA agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Education (Education), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) manage six key federal grant programs that can support drug prevention activities in schools. The flexibility of these grants supports a variety of drug prevention education programs. The agencies generally monitor grantees' compliance with grant requirements through periodic reporting. The aim of the National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy) is to reduce drug misuse, but HHS, and ONDCP have not fully defined how several key grant programs support the Strategy. ONDCP's guidance directs agencies to report, for each grant program, performance measures that relate to the Strategy's goals. However, some performance measures for several programs did not relate to drug prevention, did not link directly to the Strategy's prevention goals, or were not reported at all. For example: A $372 million set-aside for HHS's Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program must be used on drug prevention, but HHS did not link the program's performance measures to the Strategy's prevention education goal.   ONDCP did not report on any performance measures in the Strategy or document how its $100 million Drug-Free Communities Support program contributes to achieving specific goals in the Strategy. GAO also found that the approximately $10 million grants to states component of Education's School Climate Transformation Grant program could more fully provide performance information related to the Strategy's prevention education goal. Fully understanding these programs' contributions to the goals of the National Drug Control Strategy could help Congress and the public better understand and assess how the nation's significant investments in drug prevention education programs help address the drug crisis. Most people who develop a substance use disorder begin using substances as adolescents. To reach adolescents, drug prevention programs are frequently provided in schools. Education, HHS, and ONDCP manage most federal programs that support school-based drug prevention activities. This report (1) describes how Education, HHS, and ONDCP support drug prevention activities in schools, and monitor those efforts and (2) examines the extent to which these agencies identify how their prevention activities support the National Drug Control Strategy. GAO reviewed agency documentation, the 2019 and 2020 National Drug Control Strategy documents which ONDCP identified as being most relevant to our review including the fiscal year 2019 drug control budget, ONDCP guidance, relevant federal laws, and GAO's prior work on attributes of successful performance measures that can help achieve agency goals. GAO also interviewed federal and state officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that Education, HHS, and ONDCP clarify how grants that can include drug prevention education programs support related goals of the National Drug Control Strategy. HHS and ONCP agreed with the recommendation and Education partially concurred, saying it would explore collecting and reporting related performance data. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Larry O’Connor of the Larry O’Connor Show/WMAL
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Briefing With State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott W. Busby
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Scott Busby, Deputy [Read More…]
  • 2020 U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Former Raytheon Engineer Sentenced for Exporting Sensitive Military Related Technology to China
    In Crime News
    Today, Wei Sun, 49, a Chinese national and naturalized citizen of the United States, was sentenced to 38 months in prison by District Court Judge Rosemary Marquez. Sun previously pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).
    [Read More…]
  • Virginia Tax Preparer Sentenced to More Than Two Years in Prison for Preparing False Returns
    In Crime News
    A Newport News, Virginia, tax return preparer was sentenced to 27 months in prison for preparing false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia.
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  • Benin Travel Advisory
    In Travel
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  • Determination of the Secretary of State on Atrocities in Xinjiang
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Iraq Travel Advisory
    In Travel
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  • Owner of Food Service Firm Operating in Government Buildings Throughout the D.C. Area Sentenced to Prison for Payroll Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Potomac, Maryland, owner of companies providing food services in government buildings was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment for not paying more than $10 million in employment and sales tax, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin for the District of Columbia.
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  • VA Vet Centers: Evaluations Needed of Expectations for Counselor Productivity and Centers’ Staffing
    In U.S GAO News
    The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) provides counseling through 300 Vet Centers, which can be found in community settings and are separate from other VHA facilities. RCS has set expectations for counselor productivity at Vet Centers. For example, one expectation is for counselors to achieve an average of 1.5 visits for each hour they provide direct services. However, RCS officials told GAO that they have not conducted, and do not have plans to conduct, an evaluation of the expectations. VA Vet Center Productivity Expectations for Counselors Although most counselors met the productivity expectations in fiscal year 2019, counselors GAO spoke with said the expectations led them to change work practices in ways that could negatively affect client care. For example, counselors at one Vet Center told GAO that, to meet productivity expectations, they spend less time with each client to fit more clients into their schedules. Without an evaluation of its productivity expectations, RCS lacks reasonable assurance that it is identifying any unintended or potentially negative effects of the expectations on counselor practices and client care. RCS officials told GAO that by the start of fiscal year 2021 they plan to implement a staffing model to identify criteria for determining staffing needs at Vet Centers. The model incorporates data on counselors' productivity (work hours and number of visits), and total clients to determine criteria for adding or removing a counselor position from a Vet Center. However, the model does not fully address key practices in staffing model design GAO identified in previous work. For example, the model does not include the input of Vet Center counselors, or client data associated with directors, who also provide counseling. As a result, RCS is at risk of making decisions about Vet Center staffing that may not be responsive to changing client needs. Shortages of mental health staff within VHA coupled with the increasing veteran demand for mental health services highlight the critical importance of ensuring appropriate Vet Center staffing. VHA's RCS provided counseling (individual, group, marriage, and family) and outreach services through Vet Centers to more than 300,000 veterans and their families in fiscal year 2019. In 2017, RCS implemented changes to expectations that it uses to assess Vet Center counselor productivity, setting expectations for counselors' percentage of time with clients and number of client visits. GAO was asked to review Vet Center productivity expectations for counselors and staffing. Among other issues, this report examines the extent to which VHA (1) evaluates its productivity expectations; and (2) assesses Vet Centers' staffing needs. To do this work, GAO reviewed RCS documentation regarding counselors' productivity expectations and analyzed RCS data on counselor productivity expectations and staffing, for fiscal year 2019. GAO interviewed RCS leadership, including district directors, and directors and counselors from 12 Vet Centers, selected for variation in geographic location and total number of clients, among other factors. GAO is making four recommendations, including that VHA (1) evaluate Vet Center productivity expectations for counselors; and (2) develop and implement a staffing model that incorporates key practices. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations and identified actions VHA is taking to implement them. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]