A criminal complaint unsealed Friday in federal court in Pittsburgh charges Desmond Fodje Bobga for his alleged involvement in a puppy fraud scheme perpetrated against American consumers. Fodje Bobga, 27, is a citizen of Cameroon who is in Romania on a visa to attend a university there.
He is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, forging a seal of the U.S. Supreme Court, and aggravated identity theft. Fodje Bobga has been arrested. A website that was used in the online puppy fraud scheme, www.lovelyhappypuppy.com, is already deleted.
“The Department of Justice is committed to deterring and disrupting schemes, especially transnational ones, that take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic for financial gain by victimizing consumers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Bossert Clark for the Civil Division. “We are grateful to our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Pennsylvania and the FBI for working hard to shut down this fraud scheme and to punish criminals who seek to exploit American’s fondness for animals.”
“The dog adoption market can be a breeding ground for catfish schemes. Fodje Bogda and his co-conspirators exploited a national pandemic — and the social isolation it engendered — to exploit victims with photos of cute puppies and to bilk extra costs under the pretense of COVID,” said U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “With the holiday season upon us, and the desire for companionship higher than ever, don’t fall prey to scammers selling pets online: do your research and verify.”
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has created the perfect condition for unscrupulous pet sellers to thrive,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman. “This suspect exploited this website to sell puppies and capitalized on people looking for companion animals online during this difficult time. The FBI has a long arm and an even longer reach and no matter where these scammers are, we will stop at nothing to make sure they don’t get away with victimizing American citizens.”
According to the unsealed affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, from around June 2018 to the present, Fodje Bobga knowingly conspired with others to offer puppies and other animals for sale on Internet websites, including lovelyhappypuppy.com. He and others communicated by text message and email with potential victims to induce pet purchases. Following each purchase, Fodje Bobga and the co-conspirators claimed that a transportation company would deliver the puppy or other animal and provided a false tracking number for the pet. Fodje Bobga and his co-conspirators, acting as the transportation company, then claimed the pet transport was delayed and that the victim needed to pay additional money for delivery of the pet.
More recently, Fodje Bobga and the co-conspirators told some victims that they needed to pay even more money for delivery because the pet had been exposed to the coronavirus. The perpetrators used false and fraudulent promises and documents regarding shipping fees and coronavirus exposure to extract successive payments from victims. Among the fake documents were a “refundable crate and vaccine guarantee document” that purported to have been issued by the “Supreme Court of the United States of America” and bore the seal of the court, along with the signature of a Clerk of the Court. After Fodje Bobga and the co-conspirators received money directly and indirectly through wire communications from the victims, Fodje Bobga and the co-conspirators never delivered the pets.
The affidavit and criminal complaint detail the alleged dealings of Fodje Bobga and his co-conspirators with six victims in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere who were seeking to purchase a puppy. According to the affidavits and criminal complaint:
- Victim 1, of New Brighton, Pennsylvania, was seeking to purchase a mini-dachshund puppy for her mother in mid-March of 2020. Victim 1 was induced to lose $9,100 due to false claims that the puppy was being shipped, needed insurance, and was exposed to COVID-19;
- Victim 2 of Fruitland, Iowa, was seeking to purchase a mini dachshund puppy for herself in mid-March of 2020. False claims induced Victim 2 to lose $1,840;
- Victim 3 of Marion Center, Pennsylvania, was seeking to purchase a teacup Chihuahua and paid $600. Victim 3 became suspicious when asked for an additional $800 for shipping. Fodje Bobga allegedly provided a false Refundable Crate and Vaccine Guarantee Document, purported to have been issued by and containing the seal of the Supreme Court of the United States, in an attempt to induce Victim 3 to pay the additional charges. Victim 3 lost $600;
- Victim 4 is a Dallas, Texas, couple who were seeking to purchase a dog. Following the payment of $950 for the agreed upon dog named Snow White, the couple was contacted regarding issues with shipment and induced to pay $850 more by Zelle, an online payment service. The couple was contacted again with the claim that payment did not go through due to the wrong name being listed, but refused to resend $850. Victim 4 lost $1,800;
- Victim 5 of Cheswick, Pennsylvania, was seeking to purchase a Chihuahua named Bentley for $600. After sending a $600 MoneyGram to the alleged seller, Victim 5 was contacted repeatedly regarding problems with payments, transportation issues and the need to purchase a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit. Victim 5 lost $1,500; and
- Victim 6 of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was searching for a puppy online but became suspicious and did not send any payments. According to the complaint, 55 text messages were exchanged with Victim 6’s phone number, between Jan. 23, 2020, and Jan. 24, 2020, that attempted to induce Victim 6 to pay for a puppy.
Fodje Bobga was arrested in Cluj, Romania, on Dec. 3, 2020, pursuant to a provisional arrest request from the United States.
The wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Forging of Seal provides for a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two years in prison in addition to the other sentences. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI Pittsburgh Field Office conducted the investigation leading to the domain seizures and criminal complaint in this case. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shardul Desai and Ira M. Karoll of the Western District of Pennsylvania and Wei Xiang of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance. Law enforcement authorities in Romania including the Romanian National Police, Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and the Cluj Brigade for Combating Organized Crime provided significant cooperation.
The FBI urges vigilance during the COVID-19 pandemic. For resources on keeping yourself and your family safe from hackers and scammers visit: https://www.fbi.gov/coronavirus.
The details contained in the criminal complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch, visit its website at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch.
Greetings I’m Sam.
I edit, report and maintain this site. If you have any questions You can mail below me but it could be a while before I get back to you.
- NASA Mission Will Study the Cosmos With a Stratospheric BalloonBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Carried by a balloon the [Read More…]
- The Department of Justice Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Owner of Rental Properties in Elizabeth, New JerseyBy Sam NewsAugust 5, 2020The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the owner of rental properties in Elizabeth, New Jersey violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting tenants to sexual harassment.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Settles Citizenship-Status Discrimination Against South Carolina Security Guard Firm Involving Former Interpreter for the U.S. Military in IraqBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with Security Management of South Carolina LLC (Security Management), a private security company that provides armed and unarmed security services throughout South Carolina and Georgia.[Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Japanese Prime Minister SugaBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020
- Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Father & Son Moving & Storage in Billerica, Massachusetts, for Unlawfully Auctioning Off Belongings of Deployed ServicememberBy Sam NewsAugust 18, 2020The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the District of Massachusetts alleging that PRTaylor Enterprises LLC, a company doing business as Father & Son Moving & Storage (Father & Son), violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by failing to obtain a court order before auctioning off the entire contents of a U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant’s two storage units while he was deployed overseas.[Read More…]
- Suburban Chicago Businessman Charged with Illegally Exporting Arms to UkraineBy Sam NewsOctober 9, 2020A suburban Chicago businessman has been indicted on federal criminal charges for allegedly illegally exporting gun parts and other defense articles from the United States to a company in Ukraine.[Read More…]
- Alabama Salesman Sentenced to Prison for Tax EvasionBy Sam NewsOctober 28, 2020A Hoover, Alabama, salesman was sentenced to 24 months in prison yesterday for tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama.[Read More…]
- Visa Restrictions on Tanzanians for Undermining the Democratic Process and Human RightsBy Sam NewsJanuary 19, 2021
- Unaccompanied Children: Actions Needed to Improve Grant Application Reviews and Oversight of Care FacilitiesBy Sam NewsOctober 7, 2020The Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) grant announcements soliciting care providers for unaccompanied children—those without lawful immigration status and without a parent or guardian in the U.S. available to provide care and physical custody for them—lack clarity about what state licensing information is required. Further, ORR does not systematically confirm the information submitted by applicants or document a review of their past performance on ORR grants, when applicable, according to GAO's analysis of ORR documents and interviews with ORR officials. The grant announcements do not specify how applicants without a state license should show license eligibility—a criterion for receiving an ORR grant—or specify what past licensing allegations and concerns they must report. In addition, the extent to which ORR staff verify applicants' licensing information is unclear. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR awarded grants to approximately 14 facilities that were unable to serve children for 12 or more months because they remained unlicensed. In addition, ORR did not provide any documentation that staff conducted a review of past performance for the nearly 70 percent of applicants that previously held ORR grants. Without addressing these issues, ORR risks awarding grants to organizations that cannot obtain a state license or that have a history of poor performance. State licensing agencies regularly monitor ORR-funded facilities, but according to GAO's survey of these agencies, their information sharing with ORR is limited (see figure). State licensing agencies and ORR staff both said that improved information sharing would benefit their monitoring of facilities. Without such improvements, ORR may lack information about ongoing issues at its facilities. Key Survey Responses on Information-Sharing with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) by the 23 State Agencies That Licensed ORR-Funded Facilities in Fall 2019 ORR requires grantees to take corrective action to address noncompliance it identifies through monitoring, but ORR has not met some of its monitoring goals or notified grantees of the need for corrective actions in a timely manner. For example, under ORR regulations, each facility is to be audited for compliance with standards to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and harassment of children by February 22, 2019, but by April 2020, only 67 of 133 facilities had been audited. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR also did not meet its policy goals to visit each facility at least every 2 years, or to submit a report to facilities on any corrective actions identified within 30 days of a visit. Without further action, ORR will continue to not meet its own monitoring goals, which are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its care. ORR is responsible for the care and placement of unaccompanied children in its custody, which it provides through grants to state-licensed care provider facilities. ORR was appropriated $1.3 billion for this program in fiscal year 2020. GAO was asked to review ORR's grant making process and oversight of its grantees. This report examines (1) how ORR considers state licensing issues and past performance in its review of grant applications; (2) state licensing agencies' oversight of ORR grantees, and how ORR and states share information; and (3) how ORR addresses grantee noncompliance. GAO reviewed ORR grant announcements and applications for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. GAO conducted a survey of 29 state licensing agencies in states with ORR facilities, and reviewed ORR monitoring documentation and corrective action reports. GAO also reviewed ORR guidance and policies, as well as relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed ORR officials. GAO is making eight recommendations to ORR on improving clarity in its grant announcements, communication with state licensing agencies, and monitoring of its grantees. ORR agreed with all eight recommendations. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with French Foreign Minister Le DrianBy Sam NewsNovember 16, 2020
- Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against Owners and Mangers of Housing Properties in Honolulu, Hawaii for Discriminating Against Families with ChildrenBy Sam NewsDecember 1, 2020The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the owners and managers of housing in Honolulu, Hawaii, to resolve a lawsuit filed last year alleging that the defendants refused to rent to families with children at properties they owned and managed, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.[Read More…]
- Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt Delivers Remarks at Health Care Fraud Takedown Press ConferenceBy Sam NewsSeptember 30, 2020Good morning and thank you for joining us today. We are here this morning to announce the results of truly historic nationwide law enforcement operations led by the Criminal Division’s Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program — part of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Joins Computational Antitrust Project at Stanford Law SchoolBy Sam NewsJanuary 19, 2021The Department of Justice announced today that it will participate in the Computational Antitrust project, hosted by the Stanford University CodeX Center and created by Professor Thibault Schrepel. The project brings together academics from law, computer science, and economics as well as developers, policymakers, and antitrust agencies from around the world to discuss how technology and automation can improve antitrust enforcement.[Read More…]
- Military Personnel: Perspectives on DOD’s and the Military Services’ Use of Borrowed Military PersonnelBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020Policies on the use of borrowed military personnel vary among military services. Borrowed military personnel refers to military personnel used for duties outside their assigned positions, such as security protection. DOD policy acknowledges that there may be instances in which military personnel can be used to appropriately satisfy a near-term demand but that DOD must be vigilant in ensuring that military personnel are not inappropriately utilized, particularly in a manner that may degrade readiness. Additionally, the Army and the Marine Corps have their own policies that describes how military personnel may be used on a temporary basis. DOD and the Army, Navy, and Air Force do not centrally track their use of borrowed military personnel, nor do they assess any impacts of that use on the readiness of units and personnel to accomplish their assigned missions. According to DOD and Army officials, the relatively limited use of borrowed military manpower, their limited impacts on readiness, and the existence of other readiness reporting mechanisms serve to obviate the need to collect and analyze this information centrally—especially given the resources that would be required to establish and maintain such a reporting process. The House Armed Services Committee has questioned whether DOD continues to divert servicemembers from their unit assignments to perform nonmilitary functions that could be performed by civilian employees. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to assess the levels and impacts of borrowed military personnel. This report examines DOD's and the military services' policies on the use of borrowed military personnel, the tracking and reporting of their use of borrowed military personnel, and any impacts of that use on readiness. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202)512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Restaurant Chain Manager Pleads Guilty to Employment Tax FraudBy Sam NewsJanuary 13, 2021The manager of the San Diego Home Cooking restaurant chain pleaded guilty today to employment tax fraud, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. for the Southern District of California.[Read More…]
- Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper Travels to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and IsraelBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020
- 2019 Wiretap Report: Orders and Convictions IncreaseBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsJune 30, 2020Federal and state courts reported a combined 10 percent increase in authorized wiretaps in 2019, compared with 2018, according to the Judiciary’s 2019 Wiretap Report. Convictions in cases involving electronic surveillance also increased.[Read More…]
- Guyana Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Do not travel to Guyana [Read More…]
- State Department Terrorist Designation of Saraya al-MukhtarBy Sam NewsDecember 15, 2020
- Owner of Japanese Fishing Vessel Pleads Guilty to Unlawful Trafficking of Shark FinsBy Sam NewsOctober 9, 2020Hamada Suisan Co. Ltd., the owner of the Japanese-flagged fishing vessel, M.V. Kyoshin Maru No. 20, pleaded guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to aiding and abetting the attempted export of shark fins out of Hawaii in violation of the Lacey Act, the Department of Justice announced.[Read More…]
- Indian Independence DayBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- The United States of America and The Republic of Korea on Working Together to Promote Cooperation between the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the New Southern PolicyBy Sam NewsNovember 14, 2020
- Owner of Tax Preparation Business Sentenced to Prison for Filing False ReturnsBy Sam NewsSeptember 25, 2020A former Gulfport, Mississippi, tax return preparer was sentenced to 46 months in prison today for aiding and assisting in the preparation of false returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst for the Southern District of Mississippi.[Read More…]
- Louisiana Man Sentenced for Arson of Three African-American ChurchesBy Sam NewsNovember 2, 2020Holden Matthews, 23, was sentenced today in the Western District of Louisiana to XX months imprisonment for intentionally setting fire to three African-American Baptist churches because of the religious character of those buildings.[Read More…]
- Three Foreign Nationals Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to ISISBy Sam NewsJanuary 8, 2021The Justice Department announced today that three Sri Lankan citizens have been charged with terrorism offenses, including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (ISIS). The men were part of a group of ISIS supporters which called itself “ISIS in Sri Lanka.” That group is responsible for the 2019 Easter attacks in the South Asian nation of Sri Lanka, which killed 268 people, including five U.S. citizens, and injured over 500 others, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed today.[Read More…]
- Russian Cybercriminal Sentenced to Prison for Role in $100 Million Botnet ConspiracyBy Sam NewsNovember 2, 2020A Russian national was sentenced Oct. 30 to eight years in prison for his role in operating a sophisticated scheme to steal and traffic sensitive personal and financial information in the online criminal underground that resulted in an estimated loss of over $100 million.[Read More…]
- Information Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Take Urgent Action to Manage Supply Chain RisksBy Sam NewsDecember 15, 2020Few 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.[Read More…]
- Whistleblower Protection: Actions Needed to Strengthen Selected Intelligence Community Offices of Inspector General ProgramsBy Sam NewsSeptember 25, 2020The six Intelligence Community (IC)-element Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) that GAO reviewed collectively received 5,794 complaints from October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2018, and opened 960 investigations based on those complaints. Of the 960 investigations, IC-element OIGs had closed 873 (about 91 percent) as of August 2019, with an average case time ranging from 113 to 410 days to complete. Eighty-seven cases remained open as of August 2019, with the average open case time being 589 days. The number of investigations at each IC-element OIG varied widely based on factors such as the number of complaints received and each OIG's determination on when to convert a complaint into an investigation. An OIG may decide not to convert a complaint into an investigation if the complaint lacks credibility or sufficient detail, or may refer the complainant to IC-element management or to another OIG if the complaint involves matters that are outside the OIG's authority to investigate. Four of the IC-element OIGs—the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) OIG, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) OIG, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) OIG, and the National Security Agency (NSA) OIG—have a 180-days or fewer timeliness objective for their investigations. The procedures for the remaining two OIGs—the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) OIG—state that investigations should be conducted and reported in a timely manner. Other than those prescribed by statute, the ICIG and NGA OIG have not established timeliness objectives for their investigations. Establishing timeliness objectives could improve the OIGs' ability to efficiently manage investigation time frames and to inform potential whistleblowers of these time frames. All of the selected IC-element OIG investigations units have implemented some quality assurance standards and processes, such as including codes of conduct and ethical and professional standards in their guidance. However, the extent to which they have implemented processes to maintain guidance, conduct routine quality assurance reviews, and plan investigations varies (see table). Implementation of Quality Assurance Standards and Practices by Selected IC-element OIG Investigations Units ICIG CIA OIG DIA OIG NGA OIG NRO OIG NSA OIG Regular updates of investigation guidance or procedures — — — ✓ — ✓ Internal quality assurance review routinely conducted — — ✓ — — — External quality assurance review routinely conducted — ✓ — — — — Required use of documented investigative plans ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ — ✓ Legend: ✓ = standard or practice implemented; — = standard or practice not implemented. Source: GAO analysis of IC-element OIG investigative policies and procedures. | GAO-20-699 The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency's (CIGIE) Quality Standards for Investigations states that organizations should facilitate due professional care by establishing written investigative policies and procedures via handbooks, manuals, or similar mechanisms that are revised regularly according to evolving laws, regulations, and executive orders. By establishing processes to regularly update their procedures, the ICIG, CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NRO OIG could better ensure that their policies and procedures will remain consistent with evolving laws, regulations, Executive Orders, and CIGIE standards. Additionally, CIGIE's Quality Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General requires OIGs to establish and maintain a quality assurance program. The standards further state that internal and external quality assurance reviews are the two components of an OIG's quality assurance program, which is an evaluative effort conducted by reviewers independent of the unit being reviewed to ensure that the overall work of the OIG meets appropriate standards. Developing quality assurance programs that incorporate both types of reviews, as appropriate, could help ensure that the IC-element OIGs adhere to OIG procedures and prescribed standards, regulations, and legislation, as well as identify any areas in need of improvement. Further, CIGIE Quality Standards for Investigations states that case-specific priorities must be established and objectives developed to ensure that tasks are performed efficiently and effectively. CIGIE's standards state that this may best be achieved, in part, by preparing case-specific plans and strategies. Establishing a requirement that investigators use documented investigative plans for all investigations could facilitate NRO OIG management's oversight of investigations and help ensure that investigative steps are prioritized and performed efficiently and effectively. CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NGA OIG have training plans or approaches that are consistent with CIGIE's quality standards for investigator training. However, while ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG have basic training requirements and tools to manage training, those OIGs have not established training requirements for their investigators that are linked to the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities, appropriate to their career progression, and part of a documented training plan. Doing so would help the ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG ensure that their investigators collectively possess a consistent set of professional proficiencies aligned with CIGIE's quality standards throughout their entire career progression. Most of the IC-element OIGs GAO reviewed consistently met congressional reporting requirements for the investigations and semiannual reports GAO reviewed. The ICIG did not fully meet one reporting requirement in seven of the eight semiannual reports that GAO reviewed. However, its most recent report, which covers April through September 2019, met this reporting requirement by including statistics on the total number and type of investigations it conducted. Further, three of the six selected IC-element OIGs—the DIA, NGA, and NRO OIGs—did not consistently document notifications to complainants in the reprisal investigation case files GAO reviewed. Taking steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in such cases occur and are documented in the case files would provide these OIGs with greater assurance that they consistently inform complainants of the status of their investigations and their rights as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers play an important role in safeguarding the federal government against waste, fraud, and abuse. The OIGs across the government oversee investigations of whistleblower complaints, which can include protecting whistleblowers from reprisal. Whistleblowers in the IC face unique challenges due to the sensitive and classified nature of their work. GAO was asked to review whistleblower protection programs managed by selected IC-element OIGs. This report examines (1) the number and time frames of investigations into complaints that selected IC-element OIGs received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established timeliness objectives for these investigations; (2) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have implemented quality standards and processes for their investigation programs; (3) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established training requirements for investigators; and (4) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have met notification and reporting requirements for investigative activities. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in June 2020. Information that the IC elements deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO selected the ICIG and the OIGs of five of the largest IC elements for review. GAO analyzed time frames for all closed investigations of complaints received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018; reviewed OIG policies, procedures, training requirements, and semiannual reports to Congress; conducted interviews with 39 OIG investigators; and reviewed a selection of case files for senior leaders and reprisal cases from October 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018. GAO is making 23 recommendations, including that selected IC-element OIGs establish timeliness objectives for investigations, implement or enhance quality assurance programs, establish training plans, and take steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in reprisal cases occur. The selected IC-element OIGs concurred with the recommendations and discussed steps they planned to take to implement them. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604, email@example.com or Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Report to Congress: Human Trafficking in the Seafood Supply ChainBy Sam NewsDecember 23, 2020
- Justice Department Settles Claim Against Texas IT Company for Using Job Advertisements that Discriminated Against and Deterred U.S. Workers in Favor of Temporary Visa HoldersBy Sam NewsDecember 8, 2020The Justice Department today announced that it signed a settlement agreement with Ikon Systems, LLC (Ikon), an IT staffing and recruiting company based in Texas.[Read More…]
- Insitu Inc. to Pay $25 Million to Settle False Claims Act Case Alleging Knowing Overcharges on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ContractsBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021Insitu Inc., headquartered in Bingen, Washington, has agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting materially false cost and pricing data for contracts with the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Department of the Navy (Navy) to supply and operate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the Department of Justice announced today.[Read More…]
- North Carolina Couple Indicted for Failing to Pay Employment Taxes and Failure to File Tax ReturnsBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020A federal grand jury in Greensboro, North Carolina, returned an indictment today, charging a North Carolina couple with federal employment tax and individual income tax violations, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin for the Middle District of North Carolina.[Read More…]
- Internet of Things: Information on Use by Federal AgenciesBy Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2020Many federal agencies (56 of 90) responding to GAO's survey reported using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Most often, agencies reported using IoT to: (1) control or monitor equipment or systems (42 of 56); (2) control access to devices or facilities (39 of 56); or (3) track physical assets (28 of 56) such as fleet vehicles or agency property. Agencies also reported using IoT devices to perform tasks such as monitoring water quality, watching the nation's borders, and controlling ships in waterway locks. Furthermore, IoT use by federal agencies may increase in the future, as many agencies reported planning to begin or expand the use of IoT. However, 13 agencies not using IoT technologies reported they did not plan to use the technologies for a range of reasons, including insufficient return on investment. Example of Government's Use of Internet of Things Technology: Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Water Monitoring Buoy Surveyed agencies most frequently reported increasing data collection (45 of 74), and increasing operational efficiency (43 of 74) as benefits of using IoT technologies. Increasing data collection can aid decision-making and support technology development; increased efficiencies may allow agencies to accomplish more with existing resources. According to EPA officials, sensors are able to transmit data eliminating the need for employees to visit sites to collect data. The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation reported that IoT technologies helped improve transit times through its locks. Agencies most frequently reported cybersecurity issues (43 of 74) and interoperability (30 of 74) as the most significant challenges to adopting IoT technologies. For example, the Transportation Security Administration's officials told us they could not ensure the security and privacy of passenger information and subsequently took its network-connected security equipment offline until they developed a solution. Most agencies' officials responding to GAO's survey (54 of 72), as well as officials interviewed as part of the case studies, reported using information technology (IT) policies developed by their agency, versus internal IoT-specific policies, to manage IoT technologies. Some agencies reported their IT policies were sufficient for the current challenges and risks associated with adopting IoT technologies, including cybersecurity. The Office of Management and Budget's officials stated they do not typically make policies for specific IT components but if needed would work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and others to develop such policies. IoT generally refers to devices—from sensors in vehicles to building thermostats— that collect information, communicate it to a network, and may complete a task based on that information. Although IoT technologies may present an opportunity for the federal government to operate more efficiently and effectively, federal agencies may also face challenges in acquiring and using IoT. GAO was asked to review the federal government's experience with IoT. This report describes (1) IoT technologies selected federal agencies are using, (2) the benefits and challenges of using IoT technologies, and (3) policies and guidance selected agencies follow in using and acquiring IoT technologies. GAO surveyed 115 Chief Information Officers (CIO) and senior IT officials at federal agencies and subcomponents based on, in part, agency membership in the federal CIO Council; 90 responded. However, not all agencies replied to each question. GAO also selected the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, EPA, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as case studies. GAO selected these agencies based on, among other things, their fiscal year 2020 IT budgets and examples of IoT use from literature. For each case study, GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from the Office of the CIO from the agency and officials from selected sub-components that use the IoT technologies. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- United States Announces New Humanitarian Assistance for Displaced Rohingya and Members of Other Affected Communities in Bangladesh and BurmaBy Sam NewsSeptember 27, 2020Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
- Small Business Loans: SBA Generally Incorporated Key Elements for Estimating Subsidy Cost of 7(a) ProgramBy Sam NewsOctober 30, 2020The Small Business Administration (SBA) develops its subsidy cost estimates for the 7(a) loan guarantee program—that is, estimates of the program's net long-term cost to the government—using a cash flow model. The model uses historical data, econometric equations, and macroeconomic projections to estimate cash flows—such as guarantee fees, SBA purchases of defaulted loans, and recoveries on those loans—for the loans SBA expects to guarantee in the next fiscal year. The net present value of the cash flows (value in current dollars) is the subsidy cost estimate. SBA generally incorporated key elements of subsidy cost estimation into its estimates for the 7(a) program for the fiscal year 2020 budget. Specifically, GAO found that SBA's estimation process was largely consistent with eight key elements GAO previously identified that help ensure subsidy estimates are supported, reliable, and reasonable. For example, SBA generally validated historical data, documented the cash flow model and key assumptions, analyzed the sensitivity of estimates to alternative assumptions, and had documented policies and procedures. SBA made changes in its estimation process that collectively increased the 7(a) program's subsidy cost to $99 million for fiscal year 2020 (a 0.33 percent subsidy rate when expressed as the cost per dollar of credit assistance) from $0 for fiscal year 2019 (0 percent subsidy rate). Some of these changes were routine updates to data and economic assumptions used in the cash flow model, while others were revisions to the estimation process. Additionally, some individual changes increased the subsidy costs, while others decreased it. Some of the changes that had the largest impact on the subsidy rate included the following: Incorporating the President's economic assumptions for fiscal year 2020 decreased the rate by 0.27 percentage points. Updating the basis for the size and composition of the loan cohort SBA expected to guarantee in fiscal year 2020 increased the rate by 0.21 percentage points. Revising the methodology for estimating purchase amounts for defaulted loans to better reflect the outstanding loan balance at the time of purchase increased the rate by 0.21 percentage points. The 7(a) program is SBA's largest loan guarantee program for small businesses, with about $95 billion in outstanding loan principal as of the end of fiscal year 2019. Federal agencies that provide credit assistance are generally required to estimate the net long-term cost to the government—known as the subsidy cost—for each annual cohort of loans. SBA initially estimated a zero subsidy cost for each cohort from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, but estimated that the fiscal year 2020 cohort would have a positive subsidy cost and require appropriations. GAO was asked to evaluate SBA's subsidy estimation process for the 7(a) program. This report examines (1) how SBA estimates 7(a) subsidy costs, (2) the extent to which SBA incorporated key elements of subsidy cost estimation into its estimation process for the fiscal year 2020 budget, and (3) the changes SBA made in its estimation process for the fiscal year 2020 budget. GAO reviewed SBA documentation on its estimation process, including information on SBA's cash flow model, and compared SBA's process to key elements that GAO previously identified ( GAO-16-269 ). GAO also interviewed officials from SBA, the Office of Management and Budget, and outside auditors and contractors that annually review SBA's process and model. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Secures Relief for U.S. Army National Guard Reservist on Employment Discrimination Claim Against Luxury Jeweler Harry WinstonBy Sam NewsDecember 30, 2020The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas announced today that they resolved a claim that luxury jeweler Harry Winston, Inc. violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by refusing to offer full-time employment to U.S. Army National Guard Reservist John A. Walker because of his military service obligations.[Read More…]
- Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Remarks at Columbia Law School Virtual Event on Combating the Online Exploitation of ChildrenBy Sam NewsOctober 28, 2020Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us today for a conversation on one of the most pressing challenges we face – the continuing fight against the online exploitation of children. I want to thank Berit Berger and Columbia Law School for hosting us virtually, and for putting together this event on such an important subject.[Read More…]
- Whatever Sea Level Rise Brings, NASA Will Be ThereBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020From keeping tabs on [Read More…]
- Six Arrested on Federal Charge of Conspiracy to Kidnap the Governor of MichiganBy Sam NewsOctober 8, 2020The Department of Justice today announced that six men have been arrested and charged federally with conspiring to kidnap the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. According to a complaint filed Tuesday, October 6, 2020, Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta conspired to kidnap the Governor from her vacation home in the Western District of Michigan. Under federal law, each faces any term of years up to life in prison if convicted. Fox, Garbin, Franks, Harris, and Caserta are residents of Michigan. Croft is a resident of Delaware.[Read More…]
- Federal Jury Convicts Illinois Man for Bombing the Dar al-Farooq Islamic CenterBy Sam NewsDecember 10, 2020Yesterday, a federal jury returned a guilty verdict against Micheal Hari, 49, for his role in the bombing of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Aug. 5, 2017. The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Erica H. MacDonald, Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Minneapolis Division Michael Paul.[Read More…]
- Tax Administration: Opportunities Exist to Improve Oversight of Hospitals’ Tax-Exempt StatusBy Sam NewsOctober 19, 2020Nonprofit hospitals must satisfy three sets of requirements to obtain and maintain a nonprofit tax exemption (see figure). Requirements for Nonprofit Hospitals to Obtain and Maintain a Tax-Exemption While PPACA established requirements to better ensure hospitals are serving their communities, the law is unclear about what community benefit activities hospitals should be engaged in to justify their tax exemption. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identified factors that can demonstrate community benefits, but they are not requirements. IRS does not have authority to specify activities hospitals must undertake and makes determinations based on facts and circumstances. This lack of clarity makes IRS's oversight challenging. Congress could help by adding specificity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). While IRS is required to review hospitals' community benefit activities at least once every 3 years, it does not have a well-documented process to ensure that those activities are being reviewed. IRS referred almost 1,000 hospitals to its audit division for potential PPACA violations from 2015 through 2019. However, IRS could not identify if any of these referrals related to community benefits. GAO's analysis of IRS data identified 30 hospitals that reported no spending on community benefits in 2016, indicating potential noncompliance with providing community benefits. A well-documented process, such as clear instructions for addressing community benefits in the PPACA reviews or risk-based methods for selecting cases, would help IRS ensure it is effectively reviewing hospitals' community benefit activities. Further, according to IRS officials, hospitals with little to no community benefit expenses would indicate potential noncompliance. However, IRS was unable to provide evidence that it conducts reviews related to hospitals' community benefits because it does not have codes to track such audits. Slightly more than half of community hospitals in the United States are private, nonprofit organizations. IRS and the Department of the Treasury have recognized the promotion of health as a charitable purpose and have specified that nonprofit hospitals are eligible for a tax exemption. IRS has further stated that these hospitals can demonstrate their charitable purpose by providing services that benefit their communities as a whole. In 2010, Congress and the President enacted PPACA, which established additional requirements for tax-exempt hospitals to meet to maintain their tax exemption. GAO was asked to review IRS's implementation of requirements for tax-exempt hospitals. This report assesses IRS's (1) oversight of how tax-exempt hospitals provide community benefits, and (2) enforcement of PPACA requirements related to tax-exempt hospitals. GAO is making one matter for congressional consideration to specify in the IRC what services and activities Congress considers sufficient community benefit. GAO is also making four recommendations to IRS, including to establish a well-documented process to ensure hospitals' community benefit activities are being reviewed, and to create codes to track audit activity related to hospitals' community benefit activities. IRS agreed with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Operation Legend: Case of the DayBy Sam NewsSeptember 18, 2020An Ohio man was charged on Aug. 13, 2020, in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio with illegally dealing in firearms without a federal firearms license.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Welcomes Passage of The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020By Sam NewsJanuary 13, 2021On Jan. 13, 2021, President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020 (the “Act”), which limits the antitrust exemption available to health insurance companies under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. The Act, sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, passed the House of Representatives on Sept. 21, 2020 and passed the Senate on Dec. 22, 2020.[Read More…]
- Global Entry for Citizens of SwitzerlandBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020How to Apply for Global [Read More…]
- Over 500K Rapid Coronavirus Tests Being Distributed to HBCUsBy Sam NewsSeptember 29, 2020In yet another effort by [Read More…]
- On Transparency and Foreign Funding of U.S. Think TanksBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2020
- California Nebula Stars in Final Mosaic by NASA’s SpitzerBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020The image composite is [Read More…]
- Prepared Remarks of Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen at U.S. Department of State Conference on “Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium: A Conference on Internet Anti-Semitism”By Sam NewsOctober 21, 2020I want to first thank Secretary Pompeo and Special Envoy Carr for hosting this conference and for inviting me to participate. As we have heard, the Internet is just the latest outlet for the “oldest hatred.” The litany of attacks on the Jewish people has gone on through every era of history. We should not be surprised then--even though it saddens us--that it is part of our modern world. And, since that world depends on the Internet for communication, commerce, and daily life, anti-Semites can use it for their purposes as much as anyone else can use it for legitimate causes.[Read More…]
- COVID-19: Federal Efforts Could Be Strengthened by Timely and Concerted ActionsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2020In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses. However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges. GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible. GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response: Medical Supply Chain The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies. However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations: HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain. HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure). Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine Note: See figure 5 in the report. As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. COVID-19 Data Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations. In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices. Economic Impact Payments The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP. Coronavirus Relief Fund The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation. Guidance for K-12 Schools State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation. Tracking Contract Obligations Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential. Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- New York City Restaurateur Sentenced to Jail For Tax Evasion SchemeBy Sam NewsDecember 1, 2020A New York City restaurateur was sentenced to prison for a tax evasion scheme.[Read More…]
- Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan and Office for Victims of Crime Director Jessica E. Hart Recognize Domestic Violence Month at a Law Enforcement and Domestic Violence RoundtableBy Sam NewsOctober 23, 2020Yesterday, Office of [Read More…]
- Execution Rescheduled for Federal Inmate Convicted of Brutally Murdering a Grandmother and her Nine-Year-Old GranddaughterBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2020Attorney General William [Read More…]
- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Larry O’Connor of the Larry O’Connor Show/WMALBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- Operation Legend: Case of the DayBy Sam NewsSeptember 17, 2020Each weekday, the Department of Justice will highlight a case that has resulted from Operation Legend. Today’s case is out of the Western District of Missouri. Operation Legend launched in Kansas City on July 8, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.[Read More…]
- United Arab Emirates Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to the [Read More…]
- Natural Disasters: Economic Effects of Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and IrmaBy Sam NewsSeptember 10, 2020Between January 1980 and July 2020, the United States experienced 273 climate and weather disasters causing more than $1 billion in damages each, according to NOAA. The total cost of damages from these disasters exceeded $1.79 trillion, with hurricanes and tropical storms accounting for over 50 percent of these damages, according to NOAA. Across the regions affected by these hurricanes over the period from 2005 to 2015, CBO estimated that federal disaster assistance covered, on average, 62 percent of the damage costs. GAO has reported that the rising number of natural disasters and reliance on federal disaster assistance is a key source of federal fiscal exposure. GAO was asked to review the costs of natural disasters and their effects on communities. This report examines (1) estimates of the costs of damages caused by hurricanes and hurricanes' effects on overall economic activity and employment in the areas they affected, and (2) actions subsequently taken in those areas to improve resilience to future natural disasters. GAO conducted case studies of Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Irma, selected for two reasons. First, they were declared a major disaster by the President under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which establishes key programs through which the federal government provides disaster assistance, primarily through FEMA. Second, they had sizable effects on the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia during the period from 2004 through 2018. GAO analyzed federal agency and other data on costs, economic activity, employment, and recovery and mitigation projects in selected areas affected by these hurricanes. GAO also visited selected recovery and mitigation project sites; interviewed experts and federal, state, and local government officials; and reviewed federal, state, and local government reports and academic studies. Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Irma (selected hurricanes) caused costly damages and challenges for some populations in affected communities. In these communities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated the cost of damages to be approximately $170 billion for Katrina, $74 billion for Sandy, $131 billion for Harvey, and $52 billion for Irma. These estimates include the value of damages to residential, commercial, and government or municipal buildings; material assets within the buildings; business interruption; vehicles and boats; offshore energy platforms; public infrastructure; and agricultural assets. These hurricanes were also costly to the federal government. For example, in 2016, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that federal spending exceeded $110 billion in response to Katrina and $53 billion in response to Sandy. GAO analysis suggests that the selected hurricanes were associated with widely varying effects on overall economic activity and total employment in affected metropolitan areas and counties. Economic activity was lower than expected in the month of the hurricane or some of the three subsequent months in three of the affected metropolitan areas GAO analyzed. Within one year, average economic activity in these three metropolitan areas was similar to or greater than what it had been the year before the hurricane. Total employment was lower than expected in the month of the hurricane or some of the three subsequent months in 80 of the affected counties GAO analyzed. Total employment was higher than pre-hurricane employment on average in 47 of those counties within one year but remained below pre-hurricane employment on average in the other 33 counties for at least one year. Finally, state and local government officials said that the selected hurricanes had significant impacts on communities, local governments, households, and businesses with fewer resources and less expertise, and that challenges faced by households may have impacted local businesses. Communities affected by selected hurricanes have been taking actions to improve resilience, but multiple factors can affect their decisions. Actions taken after selected hurricanes include elevating, acquiring, and rehabilitating homes; flood-proofing public buildings; repairing and upgrading critical infrastructure; constructing flood barriers; and updating building codes. A community’s decision to take resilience actions can depend on the costs and benefits of those actions to the community. Multiple factors affect these costs and benefits, including the likelihood, severity, and location of future disasters, as well as the amount of federal assistance available after a disaster. Finally, vulnerabilities remain in areas affected by selected hurricanes. For example, state and local government officials indicated that many older homes in these areas do not meet current building codes. In reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), states indicate they anticipate that the scope of damages via exposure to weather hazards, such as hurricanes, will likely remain high and could expand across regions affected by the selected hurricanes. In addition, some local governments have projected that population will grow in the regions affected by selected hurricanes. For more information, contact Oliver Richard at 202-512-8424 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister JaishankarBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020
- Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Mongolia’s President BattulgaBy Sam NewsOctober 7, 2020
- Guatemala Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Do not travel to [Read More…]
- Judges Bring Students and Their Families an Inside Look at The Bill of RightsBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsDecember 10, 2020Students and parents across the Midwest gathered around computer screens set up at kitchen tables, desks, and couches to join federal judges and volunteer attorneys in an educational celebration of the Bill of Rights in advance of its Dec. 15 anniversary.[Read More…]