Department of Justice Files Statement of Interest Supporting Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s Efforts to Practice its Faith During COVID-19

Constitution and Federal Law Require District of Columbia to Accommodate Church’s Efforts to Hold Socially Distanced Outdoor Worship Services

The Justice Department today filed a statement of interest in federal district court in Washington, D.C., arguing the Constitution and federal law require the District of Columbia to accommodate Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s effort to hold worship services outdoors, at least to the same extent the District of Columbia allows other forms of outdoor First Amendment activity, such as peaceful protests.

The statement of interest was filed in Capitol Hill Baptist Church v. Bowser, a case challenging the District of Columbia’s refusal to allow outdoor worship because of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions. The suit challenges the permit denial under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The suit alleges that while places of worship are limited to 100 people at outdoor worship services, these limits do not apply to, among other things, outdoor protests and rallies accommodating thousands.

“The right to free exercise of religion and the right to protest are both enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We are a nation dedicated to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. The District of Columbia has, unfortunately, neglected these rights. The Justice Department is committed to defending both of these fundamental freedoms and in supporting all Americans rights to worship as they choose.”

“One of the most foundational rights protected by the Bill of Rights is the free exercise of religion,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin for the District of Columbia. “The Justice Department is committed to upholding all the civil rights protected under the first amendment, be it peaceable assembly in protest or practicing faith.”

Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a church of more than 850 members with a strong religious conviction that it should meet in person as a complete body for worship each Sunday. It therefore sought a permit to hold worship outdoors in excess of the 100-person limit, which the city denied.

The United States’ brief explains there is no constitutional or statutory basis for allowing protests and rallies attended by thousands of people, while at the same time silencing religious worship. The brief also explains the city bears a high burden of proof to justify its actions under the First Amendment and RFRA because its actions impose a “substantial burden” on religious exercise, as the church has shown here.

The statement of interest is part of Attorney General William P. Barr’s initiative, announced April 27, directing Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, to review governmental policies around the country to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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    What GAO Found GAO found that the Housing Choice Voucher program had 1.1 million voucher holders living in units built before 1978, the year the U.S. banned lead paint in housing. Of these units, roughly 171,000 were occupied by approximately 229,000 young children (under age 6)––putting these children at an increased risk of lead exposure. The voucher program requires visual assessments for identifying deteriorated paint, with no testing of paint or dust. Any change to stricter evaluation methods would need to consider that certain states have a larger portion of pre-1978 voucher units occupied by families with young children. Estimated costs for adopting stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program would vary substantially depending on the method used and what units were included (see figure). Estimated initial costs range from about $60 million for a less expensive method applied only to units with young children to about $880 million for a more expensive method applied to all pre-1978 units. These estimated costs range from 3 percent to 41 percent, respectively, of the fiscal year 2021 budget dedicated to public housing agencies' administrative expenses for the voucher program. Total costs would also depend on the mobility of voucher households and the frequency of any additional lead evaluations. Total Estimated Cost to Change the Lead Evaluation Methods for Housing Choice Voucher Units Would Vary by Evaluation Method Used and Units Included Note: A combination evaluation includes all components of a lead inspection and a risk assessment. Estimated costs may vary by up to plus or minus 14 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. GAO analysis estimated that nearly 6,000 lead professionals can conduct lead evaluations in the U.S. While there is no indication of a national shortage of lead professionals, areas with high numbers of pre-1978 voucher units and low numbers of lead professionals may face implementation challenges. Selected cities offer observations from their implementation of a change in lead evaluation method. For example, education of landlords can help clarify new evaluation requirements and encourage landlords to continue to rent to voucher holders. Further, implementing a new method in phases could target areas with the greatest need and help landlords and the industry adapt to the new requirement and the increased demand for lead evaluations. Why GAO Did This Study Exposure to lead paint, which was used in housing built before 1978, can have serious health effects, especially for young children. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has primary responsibility for identifying lead paint hazards in housing receiving HUD assistance, including private rental units in the voucher program. Some members of Congress have raised questions about whether the voucher program should change from visual assessments to a stricter lead evaluation method. The 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Joint Explanatory Statement, includes a provision for GAO to review HUD's efforts to address lead paint hazards. This report identifies considerations for policymakers related to changing to stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program, specifically regarding the (1) number and characteristics of voucher housing units and their occupants, (2) costs for lead evaluations based on method used and units included, (3) availability of lead professionals, and (4) observations from selected cities that use lead evaluation methods stricter than visual assessments. GAO analyzed HUD data on the voucher program (as of year-end 2019, the most recent available) and information on lead professionals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states. GAO also conducted a nationwide, generalizable survey of lead professionals to estimate the costs of lead evaluation methods. In addition, GAO interviewed staff from HUD, EPA, and public housing agencies, and representatives from two national organizations that represent lead professionals. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • Medicaid: CMS Needs More Information on States’ Financing and Payment Arrangements to Improve Oversight
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    States and the federal government share in financing Medicaid, a health care program for low-income and medically needy individuals. States finance the nonfederal share with state general funds and other sources, such as taxes on health care providers and funds from local governments. GAO's analysis showed a change in how states finance their Medicaid programs. In particular, states relied on provider taxes and local government funds for about 28 percent, or $63 billion, of the estimated $224 billion total nonfederal share of Medicaid payments in state fiscal year 2018—7 percentage points more than state fiscal year 2008. Nonfederal Share of Medicaid Payments from Provider Taxes and Local Government Funds, State Fiscal Years 2008 and 2018 Note: Percentages do not add up due to rounding. Furthermore, GAO estimated that states' reliance on provider taxes and local government funds decreased states' share of net Medicaid payments (total state and federal payments) and effectively increased the federal share of net Medicaid payments by 5 percentage points in state fiscal year 2018. It also resulted in smaller net payments to some providers after the taxes and local government funds they contribute to their payments are taken into account. While net payments are smaller, the federal government's contribution does not change. This effectively shifts responsibility for a larger portion of Medicaid payments to the federal government and away from states. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—which oversees Medicaid—collects some information on states' sources of funds and payments, but it is not complete, consistent, or sufficiently documented, which hinders the agency's oversight. For example, CMS does not require states to report on the source of the nonfederal share for all payments. Absent complete, consistent, and sufficiently documented information about all Medicaid payments, CMS cannot adequately determine whether payments are consistent with statutory requirements for economy and efficiency, and with permissible financing, such as the categories of services on which provider taxes may be imposed. Medicaid cost $668 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO has previously reported on concerns about states' use of various funding sources for the nonfederal share. Although such financing arrangements are allowed under certain conditions, they can also result in increasing the share of net costs paid by the federal government and decreasing reliance on state general funds. GAO was asked to review the sources of funds states used for Medicaid and the types of payments made to providers. This report describes states' reliance on provider and local government funds for these arrangements; the estimated effect of these arrangements on the federal share of net Medicaid payments; and the extent to which CMS collects information on these arrangements. To do this work, GAO reviewed CMS information; administered a questionnaire to all state Medicaid agencies; analyzed the estimated effects of reliance on provider and local government funds; and interviewed CMS officials, as well as Medicaid officials in 11 states selected, in part, on Medicaid spending and geographic diversity. The Administrator of CMS should collect and document complete and consistent information about the sources of funding for the nonfederal share of payments to providers. CMS neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation, but acknowledged the need for additional financing and payment data for Medicaid oversight. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Military Vehicles: Army and Marine Corps Should Take Additional Actions to Mitigate and Prevent Training Accidents
    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
    GAO reviewed 11 Executive Order (EO) 13771 rules—five significant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules and six economically significant Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rules. Seven of the 11 rules modified (i.e. repealed, amended, or delayed) existing rules (see table). GAO found that analyses for most of the seven rules monetized the same types of benefits and costs as analyses for the rules they modified, an indicator of consistency in the regulatory analyses. For example, one EPA rule modified an earlier rule that had established requirements for chemical risk management programs. EPA monetized anticipated changes to industry compliance costs for both rules. Where agencies monetized similar types of benefits and costs for both reviewed rules and modified rules, the value of some estimates differed, in part, because agencies had updated analytical assumptions, such as the number of entities subject to requirements or relevant wage data. Topics and Characteristics of 11 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Rules Selected for Review Agency Topics Modified existing rule(s) Monetized costs exceeded benefits EPA Risk management programs ● ○   Railroad ties as non-waste fuels ● ○   Chemical data reporting ● ●   Mercury reporting ○ ●   Effluent from dental offices ○ ● HHS, FDA Food labeling ● ○   Agricultural water requirements ● ● HHS, CMS End-stage renal disease treatment ● ●   Home health quality reporting ● ●   Patient discharge planning ○ ●   Diabetes prevention and appropriate use of imaging services ○ ● Legend: ● = Yes; ○ = No Source: GAO analysis of EPA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data. | GAO-21-151 Regulatory analyses for eight of the 11 rules GAO reviewed projected that monetized costs would exceed monetized benefits, though each identified other factors that may have led decision makers to determine that the total benefits justified the total costs, such as important, non-quantified effects. These eight analyses met about half of the selected best practices for economic analysis. However, some analyses developed by HHS's Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) did not fully meet best practices associated with analyzing regulatory alternatives, assessing important effects, and providing transparency. It is particularly important that agencies develop quality analyses for economically significant rules, such as those finalized by CMS. By meeting these best practices, CMS could help the public and other parts of government provide effective feedback and mitigate potential conflict with entities affected by rules. It could also help CMS assess whether a rule's benefits justify the costs. EO 13771 generally requires executive agencies to identify two rules for repeal for each new rule issued. Since EO 13771 went into effect in 2017, executive agencies have taken regulatory actions expected to generate over $50 billion in savings to society. Quality regulatory analysis provides agency decision makers and the public with a thorough assessment of the benefits and costs of different regulatory options. GAO was asked to review regulatory analyses for rules finalized under EO 13771. For selected agencies, this report examines (1) how the calculated economic effects of selected rules differed, if at all, from those of rules they modified; and (2) the extent to which agencies met best practices in analyzing the economic effects of selected rules for which monetized costs exceed monetized benefits. GAO reviewed analyses for 11 rules—and the rules they modified— finalized by EPA and HHS, the two agencies that finalized the most economically significant EO 13771 rules through fiscal year 2019. GAO compared analyses to selected best practices in GAO's Assessment Methodology for Economic Analysis . GAO recommends that CMS take steps to ensure its future regulatory analyses are consistent with best practices for analyzing alternatives, assessing important effects, and providing transparency. EPA said it appreciated GAO's findings. HHS generally agreed with the report, and CMS agreed with the recommendation directed to it. For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-6806 or jonesy@gao.gov.
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  • Technology Assessment Design Handbook
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    The Technology Assessment (TA) Design Handbook identifies tools and approaches GAO staff and others can consider in the design of robust and rigorous technology assessments. The handbook underscores the importance of TA design (Chapter 1), outlines the process of designing TAs (Chapter 2), and describes approaches for mitigating select TA design and implementation challenges (Chapter 3). While the primary audience of this handbook is GAO staff, other organizations may also find portions of this handbook useful as they consider or conduct TAs. This is an update to the handbook published in December 2019, based on the experiences of GAO teams and a review of relevant literature and comments submitted by external experts and the public between December 2019 and December 2020. The handbook identifies three general design stages, as shown in the figure below. The handbook also highlights seven cross-cutting considerations for designing TAs: the iterative nature of TA design, congressional and policymakers' interests, resources, independence, engaging internal and external stakeholders, potential challenges, and communication strategy. In addition, the handbook provides a high-level process for developing policy options, as a tool for analyzing and articulating a range of possible actions a policymaker could consider that may enhance the benefits or mitigate the challenges of a technology. Steps in developing policy options include, as applicable: determining the potential policy objective; gathering evidence; identifying possible policy options and the relevant dimensions along which to analyze them; analyzing policy options; and presenting the results of the analysis. Summary of Key Stages of Technology Assessment Design We found that GAO TAs can use a variety of design approaches and methods. The handbook includes TA design and methodology examples, along with example objectives commonly found in GAO TAs, such as: describe a technology, assess opportunities and challenges of a technology, and assess policy implications or options. For example, some GAO TAs include an objective related to describing the status and feasibility of a technology, which GAO teams have addressed by using methodologies such as expert panels, interviews, literature and document reviews, site visits, and determining the technology readiness level. Also included in the handbook are examples of TA design and implementation challenges, along with possible mitigation strategies. We identified four general categories of challenges: (1) ensuring that the design and implementation of TAs result in useful products for Congress and other policymakers; (2) determining the policy objective and measuring potential effects; (3) researching and communicating complicated issues; and (4) engaging relevant stakeholders. For example, allowing sufficient time for writing, review, and any needed revisions is one potential mitigation strategy that could help teams write simply and clearly about technical subjects and ensure that the design and implementation of TAs result in useful products for Congress and other policymakers. In 2019, GAO created the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team to expand its work on cutting-edge science and technology issues, and to provide oversight, insight, and foresight for science and technology. TAs can be used to strengthen decision-making, enhance knowledge and awareness, and provide early insights into the potential effects of technology. Systematically designing a TA can enhance its quality, credibility, and usefulness; ensure independence of the analysis; and ensure effective use of resources. Under Comptroller General Authority, we developed this handbook by generally following the format of the 2012 GAO methodology transfer paper, Designing Evaluations. Below is a summary of the approach we used to affirm and document TA design steps and considerations for this handbook. Reviewed select GAO documents, including Designing Evaluations (GAO-12-208G), published GAO TAs, select GAO products using policy analysis approaches to present policy options, and other GAO reports Reviewed select Office of Technology Assessment reports Reviewed select Congressional Research Service reports Reviewed select English-language literature regarding TAs and related to development and analysis of policy options Consulted with external experts and performed outreach, including holding an expert meeting to gather input on TA design, soliciting comments from external experts who contributed to GAO TAs published since 2015, and soliciting comments from the public Reviewed experiences of GAO teams that have successfully assessed and incorporated policy options into GAO products and TA design, including challenges to TA design and implementation and possible solutions GAO is not making any recommendations. For more information, contact Timothy M. Persons or Karen L. 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