Defense Department Linguist Sentenced to 23 Years in Prison for Transmitting Highly Sensitive Classified National Defense Information to Aid a Foreign Government

Mariam Taha Thompson, 62, formerly of Rochester, Minnesota, was sentenced today to 23 years in prison for delivering classified national defense information to aid a foreign government. As part of her March 26 guilty plea, Thompson admitted that she believed that the classified national defense information that she was passing to a Lebanese national would be provided to Lebanese Hezbollah, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

More from: June 23, 2021

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    In U.S GAO News
    At the state and federal levels, GAO found weaknesses in the oversight of Medicaid managed long-term services and supports (MLTSS), which assist individuals with basic needs like bathing or eating. Through various monitoring approaches, six selected states identified significant problems in their MLTSS programs with managed care organization (MCO) performance of care management, which includes assessing beneficiary needs, authorizing services, and monitoring service provision to ensure quality and access to care. State efforts may not be identifying all care management problems due to limitations in the information they use to monitor MCOs, allowing some performance problems to continue over multiple years. Performance Problems in Managed Care Organization (MCO) Care Management, Identified by Selected States GAO found that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) oversight of state implementation of its 2016 requirements, and of access and quality in MLTSS more broadly, was limited. This hinders the agency's ability to hold states and MCOs accountable for quality and access problems beneficiaries may face. Oversight did not detect quality and access problems. GAO identified cases where CMS learned about problems not through its regular oversight, but instead from beneficiary complaints, media reports, or GAO. CMS officials said that states had not reported these problems to the agency. Lack of national oversight strategy and assessment of problems in MLTSS. Weaknesses in oversight reflect a broader area of concern—namely, that CMS lacks a strategy for oversight. CMS also has not assessed the nature and extent of access and quality problems across states. Without a strategy and more robust information, CMS risks being unable to identify and help address problems facing beneficiaries. As of July 2020, CMS had convened a new workgroup focused on MLTSS oversight, though the goals and time frames for its work were unclear. An increasing number of states are using managed care to deliver long-term services and supports in their Medicaid programs, thus delegating decisions around the amounts and types of care beneficiaries receive to MCOs. Federal guidance requires that MLTSS programs include monitoring procedures to ensure the appropriateness of those decisions for this complex population, which includes adults and children who may have physical, cognitive, and mental disabilities. GAO was asked to review care management in MLTSS programs. Among other things, this report examines state monitoring of care management, and CMS oversight of state implementation of 2016 requirements related to MLTSS quality and access. GAO examined documentation of monitoring procedures and problems identified in six states selected for variation in program age and location. GAO reviewed federal regulations and oversight documents, interviewed state and federal Medicaid officials, and assessed CMS's policies and procedures against federal internal control standards. GAO is making two recommendations to CMS to (1) develop a national strategy for overseeing MLTSS, and (2) assess the nature and prevalence of MLTSS quality and access problems across states. CMS did not concur with the recommendations. GAO maintains the recommendations are warranted, as discussed in this report. For more information, contact at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19: Urgent Actions Needed to Better Ensure an Effective Federal Response
    In U.S GAO News
    The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the global economy, stability, and security. According to federal data, the U.S. had an average of 116,000 new COVID-19 cases per day from November 1 through November 12, 2020. Between January 2020 and October 2020, at least 237,000 more deaths occurred from all causes, including COVID-19, than would normally be expected, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further, while the economy has improved since July 2020, many people remain unemployed, including both those temporarily laid off and those who have permanently lost their job (see figure). Also, more households have become seriously delinquent on mortgage payments during the pandemic. In addition, GAO’s review of academic studies suggests the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity. Number of Unemployed Workers Permanently Losing Jobs and on Temporary Layoff, January 2019 through October 2020 In response to the pandemic and its effects, Congress and the administration have taken a series of actions to protect the health and well-being of Americans. However, as the end of 2020 approaches, urgent actions are needed to help ensure an effective federal response on a range of public health and economic issues. Medical Supplies While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have made numerous efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain, shortages of certain supplies persist. In September 2020, GAO reported that ongoing constraints with the availability of certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. In October 2020, GAO surveyed public health and emergency management officials from all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories (hereafter states) and found the following: Testing supplies. Most states reported no shortages of swabs or transport media, but about one-third to one-half reported shortages in other types of testing supplies (see figure). State-Reported Testing Supply Shortages, as of October 2020   GAO surveyed officials in the 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and the five U.S. territories and received responses from 47 of the 56 locations, representing 41 states; Washington, D.C.; and all five territories. Not all states responded to every question. PPE. The majority of states that responded were mainly able to fulfill requests for supplies from organizations and entities within their states. However, availability constraints continue with certain PPE, such as nitrile gloves. Supplies for future vaccine needs. About one-third of states that responded stated that they were “greatly” or “completely” concerned about having sufficient vaccine-related supplies to administer COVID-19 vaccines. An additional 21 states indicated that they were moderately concerned. In September 2020, GAO recommended that 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; 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; and 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 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security disagreed with these recommendations, noting, among other things, the work that they had done to manage the medical supply chain and increase supply availability. In November 2020, HHS repeated its disagreement with GAO’s recommendations and noted its efforts to meet the needs of states. In light of the surge in COVID-19 cases, along with reported shortages, including GAO’s nationwide survey findings, GAO underscores the critical imperative for HHS and FEMA to implement GAO’s September 2020 recommendations. Vaccines and Therapeutics In a recent GAO report (GAO-21-207), GAO found that there has been significant federal investment to accelerate vaccine and therapeutic development, such as through Operation Warp Speed, a partnership between the Department of Defense and HHS that aims to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Separately, Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA), which allow for the emergency use of medical products without Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval or licensure provided certain statutory criteria are met, have also been used for therapeutics. As of November 9, 2020, FDA had made four therapeutics available to treat COVID-19 through EUAs. In that report, GAO recommended that FDA identify waysto uniformly discloseinformation from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO’s goal of transparency. COVID-19 Testing Guidance HHS and its component agencies have taken several key actions to document a federal COVID-19 testing strategy and provide testing-related agency guidance. However, this guidance has not always been transparent, raising the risk of confusion and eroding trust in government. In particular, while it is expected that guidance will change as new information about the novel virus evolves, frequent changes to general CDC testing guidelines have not always been communicated with a scientific explanation. GAO recommends that HHS ensure that CDC clearly discloses the scientific rationale for any change to testing guidelines at the time the changeis made. HHS concurred with this recommendation. Types of COVID-19 Testing Approaches Nursing Home Care In September 2020, the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes (established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in June 2020) made 27 recommendations to CMS on topics such as testing, PPE, and visitation. CMS released a response to the commission that broadly outlined the actions it has taken to date, but it has not fully addressed the commission’s recommendations or provided an implementation plan to track and report progress toward implementing them. While CMS is not obligated to implement all of the commission’s recommendations, the agency has not indicated any areas where it does not plan to take action. GAO recommends that CMS quickly develop a plan that further details how it intends to respond to and implement, as appropriate, the commission’s recommendations. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation and said it would refer to and act upon the commission’s recommendations, as appropriate. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) partners with state governments to provide nursing home care to more than 20,000 veterans in over 150 state veterans homes. In March 2020, VA instructed its contractor to stop in-person inspections due to concerns about COVID-19. As of September 2020, these inspections had not resumed, leaving veterans at risk of receiving poor quality care. Additionally, VA does not collect timely data on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths occurring at each state veterans home, hindering its ability to monitor and take steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in these homes. GAO recommends that VA (1) develop a plan to resume inspections of state veterans homes, which may include using in-person, a mix of virtual and in-person, or fully virtual inspections, and (2) collect timely data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in each state veterans home. VA concurred with both recommendations. Economic Impact Payments The CARES Act included economic impact payments (EIP) for eligible individuals to address financial stress due to the pandemic. As of September 30, 2020, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had disbursed over 165.8 million payments to individuals, totaling $274.7 billion. According to IRS data, more than 26 million non-filers—individuals who do not normally file a tax return and may be hard to reach—received a payment (see figure). However, everyone that was supposed to receive a payment was not reached. Starting in September 2020, IRS sent notices to nearly 9 million individuals who had not yet received an EIP. Number of Filers and Non-Filers Issued an Economic Impact Payment, as of September 30, 2020 Treasury and IRS officials did not plan to track and analyze the outcomes of their EIP notice mailing effort until 2021. The lack of timely analysis deprives Treasury and IRS of data they could use to assess the effectiveness of their notice strategy and redirect resources as needed to other outreach and communication efforts. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, should begin tracking and publicly reporting the number of individuals who were mailed an EIP notification letter and filed for and received an EIP, and use that information to inform ongoing outreach and communications efforts. Treasury agreed with this recommendation. Unemployment Insurance The CARES Act created three federally funded temporary programs for unemployment insurance (UI) that expanded benefit eligibility and enhanced benefits. In its weekly news releases, the Department of Labor (DOL) publishes the number of weeks of unemployment benefits claimed by individuals in each state during the period and reports the total count as the number of people claiming benefits nationwide. DOL officials told GAO that they have traditionally used this number as a proxy for the number of individuals claiming benefits because they were closely related. However, the number of claims has not been an accurate estimate of the number of individuals claiming benefits during the pandemic because of backlogs in processing a historic volume of claims, among other data issues. Without an accurate accounting of the number of individuals who are relying on these benefits in as close to real time as possible, policymakers may be challenged to respond to the crisis at hand. GAO recommends that DOL (1) revise its weekly news releases to clarify that in the current unemployment environment, the numbers it reports for weeks of unemployment claimed do not accurately estimate the number of unique individuals claiming benefits, and (2) pursue options to report the actual number of distinct individuals claiming benefits, such as by collecting these already available data from states. DOL agreed with the recommendation to revise its weekly news releases, and partially agreed with the recommendation to pursue options to report the actual number of distinct individuals claiming benefits. Tax Relief for Businesses To provide liquidity to businesses during the pandemic, the CARES Act included tax measures to help businesses receive cash refunds or other reductions to tax obligations. Some taxpayers need to file an amended income tax return to take advantage of these provisions; at the same time, IRS faces an increase in mail and paper processing delays due to the pandemic, which may delay the timely processing of this paperwork and issuance of these refunds. GAO recommends that IRS update its form instructions to include information on its electronic filing capability for tax year 2019. IRS agreed with this recommendation. Program Integrity Although the extent and significance of improper payments associated with COVID-19 relief funds have not yet been determined, the impact of these improper payments, including those that are the result of fraud, could be substantial. For example, numerous individuals are facing federal charges related to attempting to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), UI program, or other federal programs, and many more investigations are underway. To address the risk of improper payments due to fraud and other causes, GAO previously recommended the following: The Small Business Administration (SBA) should develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in the PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with Treasury, should issue timely guidance for auditing new and existing COVID-19-related programs, including Coronavirus Relief Fund payments, as soon as possible. Audits of entities that receive federal funds are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds.Also, Congress should amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to prevent payments to ineligible individuals. GAO maintains that implementing these recommendations fully is critically important in order to protect federal funds from improper payments resulting from fraud and other risks. In this report, GAO also identifies new concerns about the timely reporting of improper payments for COVID-19 programs. The COVID-19 relief laws appropriated over a trillion dollars that may be spent through newly established programs to fund response and recovery efforts, such as SBA’s PPP. However, unlike the supplemental appropriations acts that provided for disaster relief related to the 2017 hurricanes and California wildfires, the COVID-19 relief laws did not require agencies to deem programs receiving these relief funds that expend more than a threshold amount as "susceptible to significant improper payments." In addition, based on OMB guidance, improper payment estimates associated with new COVID-19 programs established in March 2020 may not be reported until November 2022, in some instances. GAO is making two recommendations: OMB should develop and issueguidance directingagencies to include COVID-19 relief funding with associated key risks, such as changes to existing program eligibility rules, as part of their improper payment estimation methodologies, especially for existing programs that received COVID-19 relief funding. SBA should expeditiously estimate improper payments and report estimates and error rates for PPP due to concerns about the possibility that improper payments, including those resulting from fraudulent activity, could be widespread. GAO is also suggesting that Congress consider, in any future legislation appropriating COVID-19 relief funds, designating all executive agency programs and activities making more than $100 million in payments from COVID-19 relief funds as “susceptible to significant improper payments.” Aviation Assistance and Preparedness GAO identified concerns about efforts to monitor CARES Act financial assistance to the aviation sector. Treasury’s Payroll Support Program (PSP) provides $32 billion in payroll support payments and loans to help the aviation industry retain its employees. While recipients have begun submitting required compliance reports, Treasury has not yet finalized a monitoring system to identify and respond to the risk of noncompliance with PSP agreement terms, potentially hindering its ability to detect program misuse in a timely manner. GAO is recommending that Treasury finish developing and implement acompliance monitoringplan that identifies and responds to risks in the PSP. Treasury neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation, but committed to reviewing additional measures that may further enhance its compliance monitoring and ensure that PSP funds are used as intended. In June 2020, GAO suggested that Congress take legislative action to require the Secretary of Transportation to work with relevant agencies, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security, and other stakeholders, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to limit the spread of communicable diseasethreats and minimize traveland trade impacts. GAO originally made this recommendation to the Department of Transportation in December 2015. GAO urges Congress to take swift action to require such a plan, without which the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to ongoing and future communicable disease events. As of November 12, 2020, the U.S. had over 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of September 30, 2020, of the $2.6 trillion appropriated by these acts, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.8 trillion and expended $1.6 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials. GAO also sent a survey to public health and emergency management officials in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the five U.S. territories regarding medical supplies. GAO is making 11 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. GAO is also raising one matter for congressional consideration. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202)512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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  • Firefighting Foam Chemicals: DOD Is Investigating PFAS and Responding to Contamination, but Should Report More Cost Information
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) is early in the environmental restoration process at or near the 687 installations with a known or suspected release of certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—heat-resistant chemicals found in certain firefighting foams that can contaminate drinking water (see fig.). DOD Installations in the Environmental Restoration Process with a Known or Suspected PFAS Release, as of Fiscal Year 2020 aAccording to DOD officials, in fiscal year 2021 the Air Force changed its definition for when this phase is considered complete, resulting in a lower number of DOD installations (129 installations) that had completed this phase as of March 2021. DOD has taken actions (e.g., providing bottled water, installing water treatment systems) to address PFAS in drinking water at or near its installations when PFAS amounts exceeded federal health advisory levels. DOD generally has not taken actions to address PFAS in drinking water where PFAS amounts were below the federal advisory levels, but above state PFAS standards. DOD estimates that its future PFAS investigation and cleanup costs will total more than $2.1 billion beginning in fiscal year 2021, which is in addition to $1.1 billion in actual PFAS costs incurred through fiscal year 2020. These costs will likely increase significantly, because DOD is still in the early phases of its PFAS investigation. DOD officials also cited regulatory uncertainty at the federal and state levels as a significant challenge in estimating PFAS environmental restoration costs. However, DOD has not reported future PFAS cost estimates, or the scope and limitations of those estimates, in its annual environmental reports to Congress. By reporting this information to Congress, DOD would ensure that Congress has increased visibility into the significant costs and efforts associated with PFAS investigation and cleanup at or near military installations. As of March 2021, DOD had identified six potential PFAS-free foam candidates; however, PFAS-free foams have been unable to fully meet DOD's current performance requirements. By law, DOD must ensure that a PFAS-free firefighting alternative is available for use at its installations by October 2023. DOD is funding research to address challenges associated with identifying PFAS-free alternatives. DOD plans to continue using PFAS-containing foam aboard ships at sea—as allowed for by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020—until a PFAS-free alternative can meet existing requirements. Why GAO Did This Study DOD has long used PFAS-containing firefighting foam to extinguish fires quickly and keep them from reigniting. PFAS can migrate into the environment (e.g., drinking water) and may have adverse effects on human health. The federal government has issued two nonenforceable advisories but has not yet regulated PFAS in drinking water; some states have adopted PFAS regulations. Conference Report 116-333, accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to review DOD's response to PFAS contamination. This report (1) describes DOD's progress in the investigation and cleanup of PFAS at its installations, and DOD's actions to address PFAS in drinking water; (2) describes DOD's actual and estimated costs for PFAS investigation and cleanup, and evaluates the extent to which DOD has reported those figures to Congress; and (3) describes DOD's progress in identifying PFAS-free firefighting alternatives. GAO analyzed DOD data on PFAS cleanup, costs (actual and estimated obligations), and foam alternatives; evaluated DOD's PFAS cost reporting against policy; and interviewed officials from DOD and selected installations and state environmental agencies.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Navy has identified several challenges with using its regular maintenance capability (which restores ships to fully operational status) to provide battle damage repairs during a great power conflict. Challenges include—the lack of established doctrine for battle damage repair, unclear command and control roles, and a shortage of repair capacity. The Navy Process for Repairing Ships Damaged in Battle The Navy is in the early stages of determining how it will provide battle damage repair during a great power conflict. Eight organizations are responsible for the Navy's 15 battle damage repair planning efforts, however the Navy has not designated an organization to lead and oversee these efforts. Without designated leadership, the Navy may be hindered in its efforts to address the many challenges it faces in sustaining its ships during a great power conflict. The Navy develops ship vulnerability models during a ship's acquisition to estimate damage during a conflict. These models are also used to inform war games that refine operational approaches and train leaders on decision-making. However, the Navy does not update these models over a ship's decades-long service life to reflect changes to key systems that could affect model accuracy. As a result, it lacks quality data on ship mission-critical failure points to inform its analysis of battle damage repair needs. Without periodically assessing and updating its models to accurately reflect the ship's mission-critical systems, the Navy has limited its ability to assess and develop battle damage repair capabilities necessary to sustain ships in a conflict with a great power competitor. Why GAO Did This Study The ability to repair and maintain ships plays a critical role in sustaining Navy readiness. After the Cold War, the Navy divested many wartime ship repair capabilities. With the rise of great power competitors capable of producing high-end threats in warfare, the Navy must now be prepared to quickly salvage and repair damage to a modern fleet. 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 Navy's efforts to identify and mitigate challenges in repairing battle-damaged ships during a great power conflict. GAO's report (1) discusses the challenges the Navy has identified in using its regular maintenance capability for battle damage repair, and (2) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has begun developing the battle damage repair capability it requires to prevail in a great power conflict. GAO reviewed relevant guidance and assessed reports on naval war games and other documentation to identify challenges that may impede the planning and repair of battle-damaged ships and efforts to improve the repair capability for a great power conflict.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Small Business Administration
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified eight priority recommendations for the Small Business Administration (SBA). Since then, SBA has implemented one of these recommendations by developing a process for an organization-wide cybersecurity risk assessment. In April 2021, GAO identified eight additional priority recommendations for SBA, bringing the total number to 15. These recommendations involve the following areas: COVID-19 pandemic response Disaster response Credit elsewhere requirement Export promotion SBA's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional or executive branch decision making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015, GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or garciadiazd@gao.gov.
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  • Sam NewsCyber Diplomacy: State Has Not Involved Relevant Federal Agencies in the Development of Its Plan to Establish the Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies Bureau
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of State (State) coordinates with other federal agencies to advance U.S. interests in cyberspace, but it has not involved these agencies in the development of its plan to establish a new cyber diplomacy bureau. In 2019, State informed Congress of its plan to establish a new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) to align cyberspace policy resources with an international security focus and improve coordination with other agencies working on these issues. However, officials from six agencies that work with State on cyber diplomacy efforts told GAO that State did not inform or involve them in the development of its plan to establish CSET. GAO's prior work on government reorganization has shown that it is important for agencies to involve other agency stakeholders in developing proposed reforms to obtain their views. Without involving and communicating with agency partners on its reorganization plan, State lacks assurance that it will effectively achieve its goals for establishing CSET, and it increases the risk of negative effects from unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication of cyber diplomacy efforts. The United States and its allies are facing expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure become increasingly dependent on cyberspace. State leads U.S. cyber diplomacy efforts and coordinates with other agencies to improve the cybersecurity of the nation. Members of Congress have proposed, through the Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 (H.R. 739), to establish a new office within State that would consolidate responsibility for digital economy and internet freedom issues, together with international cybersecurity issues. State subsequently notified Congress of its plan to establish CSET, with a narrower focus on cyberspace security and emerging technologies. The United States and its allies are facing expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure become increasingly dependent on cyberspace. State leads U.S. cyber diplomacy efforts and coordinates with other agencies to improve the cybersecurity of the nation. Members of Congress have proposed, through the Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 (H.R. 739), to establish a new office within State that would consolidate responsibility for digital economy and internet freedom issues, together with international cybersecurity issues. State subsequently notified Congress of its plan to establish CSET, with a narrower focus on cyberspace security and emerging technologies. GAO was asked to review elements of State's planning process for establishing a new cyber diplomacy bureau. This report examines the extent to which State involved the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, and the Treasury in the development of its plan for establishing CSET. GAO reviewed available documentation from State on its planning process for establishing the new bureau and interviewed officials from State and six other agencies. To determine the extent to which State involved other agencies in its planning effort, GAO assessed State's efforts against relevant key practices for agency reforms compiled in GAO's June 2018 report on government reorganization. As part of our ongoing work on this topic, we are also continuing to monitor and review State's overall planning process for establishing this new bureau. GAO recommends that State involve federal agencies that contribute to cyber diplomacy to obtain their views and identify any risks, such as unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication of these efforts, as it implements its plan to establish CSET. State did not concur, citing that other agencies are not stakeholders in an internal State reform, and that it was unware that these agencies had consulted with State before reorganizing their own cyberspace security organizations. GAO stands by the recommendation and maintains that State's agency partners are key stakeholders, as they work closely with State on a range of cyber diplomacy efforts. Further, as the leader of U.S. government international efforts to advance U.S. interests in cyberspace, it is important for State to incorporate leading practices to ensure the successful implementation of its reorganization effort. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at 202-512-5130 or MazanecB@gao.gov, or Nick Marinos at 202-512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    An Austrian man was arrested today in the United Kingdom on criminal charges related to his alleged participation in a conspiracy to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system as part of a scheme to pay bribes around the world and defraud the Brazilian government. 
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  • Steel and Aluminum Tariffs: Commerce Should Improve Its Exclusion Request Process and Economic Impact Reviews
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Commerce (Commerce) has a four-phase process to review companies' requests to be excluded from having to pay Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs. Commerce ensures an exclusion request is complete, accepts public input, evaluates materials submitted, and issues a final decision. Between March 2018 and November 2019, Commerce received over 106,000 requests; it rejected over 19,000 of them prior to decision due to incorrect or incomplete information. Although rejections may delay relief for requesters and can increase work for Commerce, the agency has not identified, analyzed, or taken steps to fully address the causes of these submission errors. In deciding exclusion requests, Commerce examines objections from steel and aluminum producers to find whether the requested products are reasonably available domestically in a sufficient amount. Commerce may also decide exclusion requests based on national security issues, but has not done so. While Commerce approved two-thirds of exclusion requests, it most often denied requests that had technical errors or where a domestic producer had objected. Commerce did not decide about three quarters of requests within its established timeliness guidelines, as shown in the figure, taking more than a year to decide 841 requests. Commerce took steps to improve timeliness, such as streamlining the review process for some requests and creating a new submission website, but continues not to meet guidelines and had a backlog of 28,000 requests as of November 2019. Until Commerce takes additional steps, companies will continue to encounter delays in obtaining relief. Most Steel and Aluminum Exclusion Decisions Did Not Meet the Department of Commerce's Established Timeliness Guidelines from March 2018 to November 2019 Commerce has not documented the results from any reviews of the tariffs' impacts or assigned responsibility for conducting regular reviews. GAO found evidence of changes in U.S. steel and aluminum imports and markets. For example, imports covered by the tariffs declined after an initial surge and prices dropped after significant increases in earlier years. Evaluating whether the tariffs have achieved the intended goals and how they affect downstream sectors requires more in-depth economic analysis. Without assigning responsibility for conducting regular reviews and documenting the results, Commerce may be unable to consistently assess if adjustments to the tariffs are needed. Citing national security concerns over excess global supply of steel and aluminum, in March 2018 the President placed tariffs on the import of some products using Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. At the President's direction, Commerce established a process to provide relief, or exclusion, from the tariffs. GAO was asked to review Commerce's Section 232 tariff exclusion process. This report assesses (1) the process Commerce uses to decide exclusion requests and to what degree it has accepted submitted requests; (2) what criteria and factors affected Commerce's decisions; (3) how often Commerce met established guidelines for the timely resolution of requests; and (4) the extent to which Commerce reviewed the impacts of the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, as directed. GAO analyzed Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security and International Trade Administration records from March 2018 to November 2019, as well as data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security, and spoke with agency officials. GAO recommends that Commerce (1) identify, analyze, and respond to factors in the process that may cause submission errors; (2) take steps to improve timeliness of exclusion request decisions and address the backlog; and (3) assign responsibility for reviewing the tariffs' impact and document the results. Commerce concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or GianopoulosK@gao.gov .
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  • Justice Department to Provide Funding for Body-Worn Cameras to Small, Rural and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is releasing $7.65 million in a competitive microgrant grant solicitation that will fund body-worn cameras (BWCs) to any law enforcement department with 50 or fewer full-time sworn personnel, rural agencies (those agencies within non-urban or non-metro counties); and federally-recognized Tribal agencies.
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    The United States filed suit to halt the sale by a New Jersey entity of an unapproved “nano silver” product previously touted as a COVID-19 treatment, the Department of Justice announced today.
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  • Department of Justice Revises Policy Governing Grants Associated with Foreign-Made Unmanned Aircraft Systems
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that its Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has issued a revised policy governing the award of grants for the purchase and operation of foreign-made Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The new policy requires grant recipients to utilize OJP funds to procure and operate UAS only in a manner that promotes public safety, protects individuals’ privacy and civil liberties, and mitigates the risks of cyber intrusion and foreign influence.
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    In Crime News
    Schneider Electric Buildings Americas Inc. (Schneider Electric), a nationwide provider of electricity solutions for buildings and data centers with its principal place of business in Carrollton, Texas, will pay $11 million to resolve criminal and civil investigations relating to kickbacks and overcharges on eight federally-funded energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), the Department of Justice announced today. Under the contracts, Schneider Electric was to install a variety of energy savings upgrades, such as solar panels, LED lighting, and insulation, in federal buildings.
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    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced three settlements resolving alleged violations of the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act. These are the first enforcement actions that the department and the FTC have brought under the BOTS Act.
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  • Justice Department Settles with North Carolina School District to Provide Equal Opportunities to English Learner Students
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to resolve the department’s investigation into the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s (District) programs for its English learner students. The department’s investigation found system-wide failures to provide these students with the instruction and support they need to learn English and fully participate in school. The department conducted its investigation under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.
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  • U.S. Ports of Entry: Update on CBP Public-Private Partnership Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    Since GAO's January 2020 report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security, continued to expand its public-private partnership programs—the Reimbursable Services Program (RSP) and the Donations Acceptance Program (DAP). The RSP allows partners, such as port authorities or local municipalities that own or manage ports, to reimburse CBP for providing services that exceed CBP's normal operations, such as paying overtime for CBP personnel that provide services at ports of entry (POE) outside regular business hours. The DAP enables partners to donate property or provide funding for POE infrastructure improvements. Regarding RSP, in 2020, CBP selected an additional 25 RSP applications for partnerships, bringing the total of RSP selections to 236 since 2013. There are many factors that CBP considers when reviewing applications for RSP including operational feasibility, and CBP may choose to not select certain applications. According to officials, CBP denied three RSP applications since GAO's January 2020 report. For example, CBP denied one application because the proposed agreement site was located too far away from the nearest CBP facility to make CBP officer travel time practicable. As of October 2020, CBP and its partners executed 157 memoranda of understanding (MOU) from RSP partnerships that they entered into from fiscal years 2013 through 2020. These MOUs outline how agreements are to be implemented at one or more POE. Of those 157 MOUs, 11 cover agreements at land POEs, 49 cover agreements at sea POEs, and 99 cover agreements at air POEs. The majority of MOUs executed since 2013 were at air POEs and focused on freight, cargo, and traveler processing. Although the number of RSP partnerships has increased, the growth in the total number of reimbursable CBP officer assignments, officer overtime hours, and the amount of reimbursed funds provided to CBP declined significantly in 2020. CBP officials explained that the decline in trade and travel at U.S. POEs contributed to the decline in requests for RSP services. Regarding DAP, in fiscal year 2020, CBP entered into one new donation acceptance partnership, bringing the total number of agreements to 39 since fiscal year 2015. Partners span a variety of sectors such as government agencies, private companies, and airline companies. Correspondingly, program donations served a variety of purposes such as expanding inspection facility infrastructure, providing biometric detection services, and providing luggage for canine training. As of October 2020, 27 out of 39 these projects, or 69 percent, were at land POEs. CBP officials estimated that the total value of all donations entered into between September 2015 and October 2020 was $218.2 million. On a daily basis in fiscal year 2020, over 650,000 passengers and pedestrians and nearly 78,000 truck, rail, and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately $6.6 billion entered the United States through 328 U.S. land, sea, and air POEs, according to CBP. To help meet demand for CBP inspection services, since 2013, CBP has entered into public-private partnerships under RSP and DAP. The Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2016 included a provision for GAO to annually review the agreements along with the funds and donations that CBP has received under RSP and DAP. GAO has issued three annual reports on the programs—in January 2020, March 2019, and March 2018. This fourth annual report updates key information from GAO's January 2020 report by examining the status of CBP public-private partnership program agreements, including the purposes for which CBP used the funds and donations from these agreements in fiscal year 2020. GAO collected and analyzed all RSP agreements, DAP agreements, and MOUs for both programs for fiscal years 2019 and 2020, excluding those analyzed in GAO's January 2020 report. GAO also analyzed data on use of the programs and interviewed CBP officials to identify any significant changes to how the programs are administered. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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  • Three Foreign Nationals Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to ISIS
    In Crime News
    The 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.
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  • Financial Fraud in the United States, 2017
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  • Justice Department Settles with Minnesota-Based Company to Resolve Discrimination Claims Under the Immigration and Nationality Act
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with WinCraft, Incorporated (WinCraft), a Minnesota-based sports manufacturing company with locations in Iowa, Florida, and Washington. The settlement resolves claims that WinCraft violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by requiring lawful permanent residents to provide specific work authorization documentation without any legal justification because of their immigration status. 
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  • Aviation Safety: Actions Needed to Evaluate Changes to FAA’s Enforcement Policy on Safety Standards
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directed individual offices to implement the Compliance Program, and FAA has increasingly used compliance actions rather than enforcement actions to address violations of safety standards since starting the Compliance Program. FAA revised agency-wide guidance in September 2015 to emphasize using compliance actions, such as counseling or changes to policies. Compliance actions are to be used when a regulated entity is willing and able to comply and enforcement action is not required or warranted, e.g., for repeated violations, according to FAA guidance. FAA then directed its offices—for example, Flight Standards Service and Drug Abatement Division—to implement the Compliance Program as appropriate, given their different responsibilities and existing processes. Under the Compliance Program, data show that selected FAA offices have made increasing use of compliance actions. Total Number of Federal Aviation Administration Enforcement Actions and Number of Compliance Actions Closed for Selected Program Offices, Fiscal Years 2012-2019 No specific FAA office or entity oversees the Compliance Program. FAA tasked a working group to lead some initial implementation efforts. However, the group no longer regularly discusses the Compliance Program, and no office or entity was then assigned oversight authority. As a result, FAA is not positioned to identify and share best practices or other valuable information across offices. FAA established goals for the Compliance Program—to promote the highest level of safety and compliance with standards and to foster an open, transparent exchange of data. FAA, however, has not taken steps to evaluate if or determine how the program accomplishes these goals. Key considerations for agency enforcement decisions state that an agency should establish an evaluation plan to determine if its enforcement policy achieves desired goals. Three of eight FAA offices have started to evaluate the effects of the Compliance Program, but two offices have not yet started. Three other offices do not plan to do so—in one case, because FAA has not told the office to. FAA officials generally believe the Compliance Program is achieving its safety goals based on examples of its use. However, without an evaluation, FAA will not know if the Compliance Program is improving safety or having other effects—intended or unintended. FAA supports the safety of the U.S. aviation system by ensuring air carriers, pilots, and other regulated entities comply with safety standards. In 2015, FAA announced a new enforcement policy with a more collaborative and problem-solving approach called the Compliance Program. Under the program, FAA emphasizes using compliance actions, for example, counseling or training, to address many violations more efficiently, according to FAA. Enforcement actions such as civil penalties are reserved for more serious violations, such as when a violation is reckless or intentional. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision that GAO review FAA's Compliance Program. This report examines (1) how FAA implemented and used the Compliance Program and (2) how FAA evaluates the effectiveness of the program. GAO analyzed FAA data on enforcement actions agency-wide and on compliance actions for three selected offices for fiscal years 2012 to 2019 (4 years before and after program start).GAO also reviewed FAA guidance and interviewed FAA officials, including those from the eight offices that oversee compliance with safety standards. GAO is making three recommendations including that FAA assign authority to oversee the Compliance Program and evaluate the effectiveness of the program in meeting goals. FAA concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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  • New Jersey Man Admits Conspiring with White Supremacists to Vandalize Synagogues Across the Country
    In Crime News
    A New Jersey man pleaded guilty today to his role in conspiring with members of a white supremacist hate group to threaten and intimidate African Americans and Jewish Americans by vandalizing minority-owned properties throughout the country in September 2019.
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