Cameroonian Citizen Extradited from Romania to Face Covid-19-Related Fraud Charges

A citizen of Cameroon was extradited to the U.S. yesterday to face federal charges for his alleged involvement in a fraud scheme perpetrated against American consumers.

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    In U.S GAO News
    The Departments of Justice (DOJ), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Interior (Interior), and Education (Education) administered at least 38 grant programs from fiscal years 2015 through 2018 that could have helped prevent or address delinquency among Native American youth. These agencies made about $1.9 billion in awards to grantees through these programs during this period. These agencies incorporated almost all of the leading practices GAO identified for performance measurement or program evaluation when assessing the performance of selected grant programs. For example, HHS's Administration for Children and Families (ACF) incorporated 13 of the 14 leading practices for performance measurement but did not fully assess grantee data reliability for one of its programs. By developing a process to assess the reliability of grantee data contained in the annual performance reports that tribal recipients submit, ACF could obtain further assurance that it has an accurate representation of grantee performance. GAO also found that Interior's Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) did not conduct formal data reliability checks on performance data that grantees report and did not always collect performance reports from grantees in a timely manner for one of its programs. By developing a process to assess the reliability of a sample of grantee performance data and taking steps to alert grantees when they are late in submitting performance reports, BIE could better ensure that grantees are complying with the terms and conditions of the grant program and better understand how the program and its grantees are performing. Officials in all 12 interviews with tribes or tribal consortia GAO interviewed cited risk factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency in their communities. Number of Interviews in Which Tribal Officials Cited Risk Factors Contributing to Juvenile Delinquency Note: The figure includes the most common risk factors tribal officials cited for juvenile delinquency. While tribal officials cited restrictions placed on federal grant funding, difficulty communicating with program staff, and challenges hiring and retaining staff as barriers to implementing federal programs, they also identified promising practices, such as executing culturally relevant programs, for preventing or addressing juvenile delinquency. Federal and other studies have noted that exposure to violence and substance abuse make Native American youth susceptible to becoming involved with the justice system. GAO was asked to examine federal and tribal efforts to address juvenile delinquency and the barriers tribes face in doing so. This report examines (1) federal financial assistance targeting tribes that could prevent or address juvenile delinquency; (2) the extent to which federal agencies assess the performance of selected grant programs and incorporate leading practices; and (3) the juvenile delinquency challenges tribes report facing. GAO identified relevant grant programs during fiscal years 2015 through 2018—the most recent data available when GAO began the review. GAO analyzed documents and interviewed agency officials to determine how they assessed grant program performance and conducted interviews with 10 tribes and two tribal consortia to discuss challenges with delinquency. GAO is making three recommendations, including that relevant HHS and Interior offices develop a process to assess the reliability of tribal grantee performance information and that an Interior office take steps to alert grantees that are late in submitting progress reports. Interior concurred with the two recommendations. HHS disagreed with GAO's recommendation. GAO clarified the recommendation to HHS and continues to believe it is warranted. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin, (202) 512-8777, or GoodwinG@gao.gov.
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  • Disaster Recovery: HUD Should Take Additional Action to Assess Community Development Block Grant Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO identified four categories of fraud risks facing the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) from 2007 to 2020, including risks from contractors, disaster recovery applicants, grantees, and others, as shown below. In total, we identified 78 cases from Department of Justice (DOJ) public announcements and 110 HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG) enforcement cases. For example, in 2012 following Hurricane Sandy, a New Jersey couple applied for disaster assistance and fraudulently received $79,000 in CDBG-DR funds, according to HUD OIG records. The couple was convicted of conspiracy, falsification, and theft and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. The funding was for a seaside property they fraudulently claimed was their primary residence, but was later determined to be a summer vacation home that was ineligible for assistance. GAO also found that the CDBG-DR operates in a decentralized risk environment that may make it vulnerable to fraud since CDBG-DR funds flow through a number of entities before reaching their intended beneficiaries. In addition, the risk environment in which CDBG-DR operates may contribute to negative financial impacts, such as improper payments. Fraud can have nonfinancial impacts as well, such as fraudulent contractors obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing other businesses from obtaining contracts. Fraud Risks of Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) HUD has taken some steps to assess fraud risks agency-wide. For example, HUD conducts an agency-wide assessment of risks through a Front-End Risk Assessment, which also considers fraud risks. In 2020, HUD redesigned its agency-level approach to evaluate fraud risks through its Fraud Risk Management Maturity Model. While HUD has taken some steps to assess fraud risks agency-wide, GAO found that HUD has not conducted a comprehensive fraud risk assessment of CDBG-DR, as called for in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Further, HUD's current fraud risk approach does not involve relevant stakeholders such as grantees. Leading practices include tailoring the fraud risk assessment to the program and also involving relevant stakeholders responsible for the design and implementation of the program's fraud controls in the assessment process. Ensuring that a fraud risk assessment is completed specifically for CDBG-DR may provide greater assurance that HUD addresses CDBG-DR fraud risks, including ones identified in this report. Why GAO Did This Study In response to a historic string of natural disasters, Congress appropriated approximately $39.5 billion in CDBG-DR grant funds in 2017 through 2019, with most of the funding designated for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, accompanying this unprecedented amount of funding is an increased vulnerability to fraud given that CDBG-DR involves multiple factors. GAO was asked to review a range of disaster recovery issues following the 2017 disaster season. This report addresses: (1) the fraud risks and risk environment of CDBG-DR and their impacts; and (2) the steps HUD has taken to assess fraud risk agency-wide, and specifically for CDBG-DR, in alignment with leading practices. GAO reviewed DOJ public announcements and HUD OIG enforcement cases to identify CDBG-DR fraud risks. GAO assessed HUD's procedures against leading practices in the Fraud Risk Framework. GAO interviewed HUD officials responsible for CDBG-DR and fraud risk assessment; and conducted site visits to Florida and Texas, selected partly for the amount of CDBG-DR funds they received, among other factors.
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  • Lead Paint in Housing: HUD Has Not Identified High-Risk Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties
    In U.S GAO News
    During fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) obligated about $421 million through two grant programs to state and local governments to help identify and control lead paint hazards in housing for low-income households. HUD also issued guidelines for evaluating and controlling lead paint hazards, generally encouraging abatement (such as replacing building components containing lead) as the preferred long-term solution. HUD has supported research on lead paint hazard control and provided education and outreach to public housing agencies, property owners, and the public through publications and training events. HUD monitors lead paint-related risks in its Project-Based Rental Assistance Program, one of HUD's three largest rental assistance programs, through management reviews and periodic physical inspections, but has not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment to identify properties posing the greatest risk to children under the age of 6. HUD's management reviews include assessing property owners' compliance with lead paint regulations—such as by reviewing lead disclosure forms, records of lead inspections, and plans to address lead paint hazards. Inspectors from HUD's Real Estate Assessment Center also assess the physical condition of properties, including identifying damaged paint that could indicate lead paint risks. According to HUD officials, they have not conducted risk assessments in project-based rental assistance housing because they believe the program has relatively few older and potentially riskier properties. However, GAO's analysis of HUD data found that 21 percent of project-based rental assistance properties have at least one building constructed before 1978 (when lead paint was banned in homes) and house over 138,000 children under the age of 6. If HUD used available program data to inform periodic risk assessments, HUD could identify which of the properties pose the greatest risk of exposure to lead paint hazards for children under the age of 6. Unless HUD develops a strategy for managing the risks associated with lead paint and lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing, it may miss the opportunity to prevent children under the age of 6 from being inadvertently exposed to lead paint in those properties. Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties with at Least One Building Built before 1978 and That House Children under Age 6, as of December 31, 2019 Note: Children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk of lead exposure because they have frequent hand-to-mouth contact, often crawl on the floor, and ingest nonfood items. Lead paint exposure in children under the age of 6 can cause brain damage, slowed development, and learning and behavioral problems. Exposure to lead paint hazards can cause serious harm to children under 6 years old. HUD is required by law to reduce the risk of lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted rental housing—including project-based rental assistance (subsidies to make privately owned multifamily properties affordable to low-income households). The 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act Joint Explanatory Statement includes a provision for GAO to review, among other things, HUD's oversight of lead paint and related hazards in affordable rental housing. This report (1) describes how HUD programs and guidance address lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted and other low-income rental housing, and (2) examines HUD's oversight procedures for assessing risk for lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing. GAO reviewed HUD and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead paint regulations and documents on lead programs and methods for addressing lead paint hazards. GAO reviewed HUD oversight policies and procedures and analyzed HUD data on building and tenant age. GAO interviewed staff at HUD, EPA, and organizations that advocate for safe affordable housing. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct periodic risk assessments for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Program and (2) develop and implement plans to proactively manage identified lead paint risks. HUD agreed to conduct periodic risk assessments and develop and implement a plan to proactively manage risks. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Consumer electronics contain critical materials whose supplies are limited, including gold, platinum, and rare earth metals. Domestic recycling of consumer electronics could extend the supply and reduce the current U.S. reliance on imports. New technologies are becoming available, but electronics recycling is complex and faces challenges, such as narrow profit margins. The Technology What is it? Recycling of consumer electronics—including smartphones, televisions, and computers—generally involves separating high-value metals from plastics and other low-value materials. Precious metals and rare earth metals are the economic driving force for consumer electronic recycling technology. These metals have high market values and limited supplies, and they can be reused across many industries, including the defense and energy sectors. Consumer electronic devices can also contain personally identifiable information (PII), including medical and financial data, which could be improperly disclosed if they are not destroyed prior to recycling. According to a study of selected consumer electronics, about 2.8 million tons were disposed of in the U.S. in 2017, of which about 36 percent was recycled. Figure 1. Selected valuable, hazardous, and digital materials contained within consumer electronics that can be recovered, disposed, or destroyed There is no federal standard requiring consumer electronics recycling. Some states have enacted electronics recycling laws requiring electronics producers to pay fees or contract with businesses to ensure electronic waste is collected for recycling. The U.S. recycles electronics domestically and also exports electronics for recycling abroad. How does it work? The high concentration of valuable material in certain consumer electronics is key to the economic viability of recycling these products. Cell phones, as one example, have more precious metal by weight than raw ore does. According to the EPA, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered from a million recycled cell phones. Based on commodity market prices on August 12, 2020, these weights of metals are worth approximately $100,000, $290,000, and $2.1 million for copper, silver, and gold, respectively. In contrast, cathode ray tube (CRT) displays in older televisions and computer monitors have little recycling value, but they contain leaded glass and may be considered hazardous waste. In addition, recovery of certain valuable materials from consumer electronics is limited due to the high costs of technology and processing. Electronics recycling companies disassemble devices by shredding, which also destroys PII, or by hand. These companies then separate valuable materials for reuse (including gold, silver, platinum, and rare earth metals) from toxic materials for disposal (including brominated materials and lead). Traditional methods include burning to remove non-metal parts and separation using strong acids. New separation technologies are being used or piloted to recover precious and rare earth metals. For example, robotic disassembly uses machine learning and computer vision to more rapidly pick and sort items. Another new technology uses ultrasound to speed up the chemical removal of gold from cell phone SIM cards. Figure 2. Emerging separation technologies for recycled electronics Other technologies are emerging, like biometallurgy, which uses microorganisms to separate high-value metals from other materials, such as plastics, glass, and glue. For example, naturally occurring bacteria can oxidize gold in acidic solutions, making it soluble and thus easier to separate from other materials. Other advanced techniques, such as magnetic or electrochemical separation, are showing promise in the laboratory with existing technology. For example, in one study, researchers used ultrasound to dissolve nickel and gold within a SIM card. They then used a magnetic field to separate the dissolved nickel, which is magnetic, from the gold, which is not. Similarly, other techniques use electric fields to separate dissolved metals based on their weight and electric charge. How mature is it? Recycling technology is well established for some traditional single-stream processes, such as aluminum recycling. However, electronic devices are more complex and require disassembly and separation. At least one consumer electronics manufacturer is piloting robotic disassembly for its products. Emerging separation technologies such as ultrasound have come to market in the past decade and are being used. Manual disassembly and shredding are decades old. Biometallurgy is being tested in pilot plants, and new microorganisms are being developed in laboratories to treat electronic waste. Opportunities Increase supply and reduce imports. Recycling could increase the domestic supply of precious and rare earth metals and reduce the current U.S. reliance on overseas sources. Grow the green economy. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Reduce hazardous practices. A significant amount of recycling currently occurs in the developing world, where methods include open-pit burning. New technology could reduce the use of such methods, which are hazardous to the environment and human health. Lessen environmental impacts. Developing advanced recycling technologies could reduce the environmental impacts of raw ore mining and landfill disposal of hazardous materials such as lead and brominated materials. Challenges Market challenges. Markets for recovered materials may be limited, and the value of recovered materials may not be enough to cover the costs of equipment for collection, sorting, disassembly, and separation. Secure destruction of personal information. Many electronic devices contain PII. Shredding them may effectively destroy PII but may also make high-value material harder to recover. Counterfeit electronic parts. Exported used electronics may serve as a source of counterfeit electronic parts, which, as GAO previously reported, could disrupt parts of the Department of Defense supply chain and threaten the reliability of weapons systems. (See GAO-16-236, linked below.) Rapid technological development. As consumer electronics made with new materials get smaller, new technologies for separation may be needed to recycle valuable materials. Policy Context and Questions With the volume of electronic waste expected to grow, questions include: How can programs to support technological innovation, economic development, and advanced manufacturing be leveraged to promote a more robust domestic electronics recycling industry? What efforts can the federal government, states, and others make to incentivize recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of such policies? What strategies can the public and private sectors implement to address the risk that exports of used electronics will contribute to unsafe recycling practices, disclosure of PII, and counterfeit electronics? How can reductions in exports bolster job growth? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress implementing initiatives to enhance capabilities that are used to identify friendly force locations during close air support (CAS) missions, but GAO identified additional actions that are needed to strengthen these efforts. Specifically, DOD has made limited progress in implementing 10 changes the department approved to address gaps in the interoperability of digital communications systems used to conduct CAS, hindering efforts to improve the speed and accuracy of information exchanges. DOD's efforts to assess the interoperability of digital systems used to perform CAS have been limited in scope. GAO found that DOD had formally assessed two out of 10 approved changes during joint service and multinational events, and these assessments were not conducted in a training environment that replicated capabilities of near-peer adversaries. DOD implemented a new capability in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to help identify the positions of friendly forces during CAS missions. However, GAO found that DOD did not provide adequate training for personnel who operate it or conduct an evaluation to resolve implementation challenges that have hampered its performance. DOD conducts evaluations of training programs for forces that participate in CAS missions, but GAO identified two areas where DOD can improve its efforts. First, the Army and Marine Corps have not systematically evaluated the effectiveness of periodic training for ground observers providing targeting information due to a lack of centralized systems for tracking training data and the absence of designated entities to monitor service-wide training. Second, the use of contract aircraft for training increased substantially between 2017 and 2019, but DOD has not fully evaluated the use of non-military contract aircraft to train air controllers for CAS (see fig.). GAO found that differences between U.S. military aircraft and contract aircraft (e.g., airspeed) can result in a misalignment of aircraft capabilities for certain types of training events. Without evaluating CAS training fully, DOD cannot have assurance that its forces are prepared to conduct CAS missions safely and effectively. Number of Hours Non-Military Aircraft Were Used to Train for Close Air Support for Fiscal Years 2017 through 2019 The use of ordnance delivered by aircraft to support U.S. military forces that are in close proximity to enemy forces on the ground requires detailed planning, seamless communications, and effective training. Mistakes in communications or procedures used to identify and maintain an awareness of the positions of friendly forces on the battlefield during CAS can result in the loss of U.S. military personnel. Senate Report 116-48 and House Report 116-120, accompanying bills for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included provisions for GAO to evaluate issues related to friendly-force identification capabilities in CAS missions. Among other things, this report evaluates the extent to which DOD has (1) implemented initiatives to enhance friendly-force identification capabilities during CAS, and (2) evaluated training for forces that participate in CAS. GAO analyzed documentation and interviewed officials regarding DOD efforts to develop and implement friendly force tracking capabilities for CAS; reviewed CAS training programs; and analyzed training data, including the number of hours that DOD used non-military contract aircraft for CAS training from 2017 through 2019. GAO is making 11 recommendations to DOD, including that DOD implement and assess initiatives to improve the interoperability of digital systems used in CAS and take additional steps to evaluate the training for certain forces that participate in CAS missions. DOD concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
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