October 21, 2021

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Drug trafficker sentenced for meth and cocaine conspiracy

15 min read
A 45-year-old Laredo resident has been ordered to federal prison for his role as a leader-organizer in a meth distribution conspiracy

Read full article at: https://www.justice.gov October 6, 2021

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  • Justice Department Settles with the State of New Jersey’s Student Lending Authority for Alleged Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) has agreed to enter into a settlement and pay $50,000 to resolve allegations that it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by obtaining unlawful court judgments against two military servicemembers who co-signed student loans.
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  • Operation Warp Speed: Accelerated COVID-19 Vaccine Development Status and Efforts to Address Manufacturing Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    Operation Warp Speed (OWS)—a partnership between the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Defense (DOD)—aimed to help accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. GAO found that OWS and vaccine companies adopted several strategies to accelerate vaccine development and mitigate risk. For example, OWS selected vaccine candidates that use different mechanisms to stimulate an immune response (i.e., platform technologies; see figure). Vaccine companies also took steps, such as starting large-scale manufacturing during clinical trials and combining clinical trial phases or running them concurrently. Clinical trials gather data on safety and efficacy, with more participants in each successive phase (e.g., phase 3 has more participants than phase 2). Vaccine Platform Technologies Supported by Operation Warp Speed, as of January 2021 As of January 30, 2021, five of the six OWS vaccine candidates have entered phase 3 clinical trials, two of which—Moderna's and Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccines—have received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For vaccines that received EUA, additional data on vaccine effectiveness will be generated from further follow-up of participants in clinical trials already underway before the EUA was issued. Technology readiness. GAO's analysis of the OWS vaccine candidates' technology readiness levels (TRL)—an indicator of technology maturity— showed that COVID-19 vaccine development under OWS generally followed traditional practices, with some adaptations. FDA issued specific guidance that identified ways that vaccine development may be accelerated during the pandemic. Vaccine companies told GAO that the primary difference from a non-pandemic environment was the compressed timelines. To meet OWS timelines, some vaccine companies relied on data from other vaccines using the same platforms, where available, or conducted certain animal studies at the same time as clinical trials. However, as is done in a non-pandemic environment, all vaccine companies gathered initial safety and antibody response data with a small number of participants before proceeding into large-scale human studies (e.g., phase 3 clinical trials). The two EUAs issued in December 2020 were based on analyses of clinical trial participants and showed about 95 percent efficacy for each vaccine. These analyses included assessments of efficacy after individuals were given two doses of vaccine and after they were monitored for about 2 months for adverse events. Manufacturing. As of January 2021, five of the six OWS vaccine companies had started commercial scale manufacturing. OWS officials reported that as of January 31, 2021, companies had released 63.7 million doses—about 32 percent of the 200 million doses that, according to OWS, companies with EUAs have been contracted to provide by March 31, 2021. Vaccine companies face a number of challenges in scaling up manufacturing to produce hundreds of millions of doses under OWS's accelerated timelines. DOD and HHS are working with vaccine companies to help mitigate manufacturing challenges, including: Limited manufacturing capacity: A shortage of facilities with capacity to handle the vaccine manufacturing needs can lead to production bottlenecks. Vaccine companies are working in partnership with OWS to expand production capacity. For example, one vaccine company told GAO that HHS's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority helped them identify an additional manufacturing partner to increase production. Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing construction projects to expand capacity at vaccine manufacturing facilities. Disruptions to manufacturing supply chains: Vaccine manufacturing supply chains have been strained by the global demand for certain goods and workforce disruptions caused by the global pandemic. For example, representatives from one facility manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines stated that they experienced challenges obtaining materials, including reagents and certain chemicals. They also said that due to global demand, they waited 4 to 12 weeks for items that before the pandemic were typically available for shipment within one week. Vaccine companies and DOD and HHS officials told GAO they have undertaken several efforts to address possible manufacturing disruptions and mitigate supply chain challenges. These efforts include federal assistance to (1) expedite procurement and delivery of critical manufacturing equipment, (2) develop a list of critical supplies that are common across the six OWS vaccine candidates, and (3) expedite the delivery of necessary equipment and goods coming into the United States. Additionally, DOD and HHS officials said that as of December 2020 they had placed prioritized ratings on 18 supply contracts for vaccine companies under the Defense Production Act, which allows federal agencies with delegated authority to require contractors to prioritize those contracts for supplies needed for vaccine production. Gaps in the available workforce: Hiring and training personnel with the specialized skills needed to run vaccine manufacturing processes can be challenging. OWS officials stated that they have worked with the Department of State to expedite visa approval for key technical personnel, including technicians and engineers to assist with installing, testing, and certifying critical equipment manufactured overseas. OWS officials also stated that they requested that 16 DOD personnel be detailed to serve as quality control staff at two vaccine manufacturing sites until the organizations can hire the required personnel. As of February 5, 2021, the U.S. had over 26 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 449,020 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions, with the unemployment rate and number of unemployed in January 2021 at nearly twice their pre-pandemic levels in February 2020. In May 2020, OWS was launched and included a goal of producing 300 million doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with initial doses available by January 2021. Although FDA has authorized two vaccines for emergency use, OWS has not yet met its production goal. Such vaccines are crucial to mitigate the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. GAO was asked to review OWS vaccine development efforts. This report examines: (1) the characteristics and status of the OWS vaccines, (2) how developmental processes have been adapted to meet OWS timelines, and (3) the challenges that companies have faced with scaling up manufacturing and the steps they are taking to address those challenges. GAO administered a questionnaire based on HHS's medical countermeasures TRL criteria to the six OWS vaccine companies to evaluate the COVID-19 vaccine development processes. GAO also collected and reviewed supporting documentation on vaccine development and conducted interviews with representatives from each of the companies on vaccine development and manufacturing. For more information, contact Karen L. Howard and Candice N. Wright at (202) 512-6888 or howardk@gao.gov or wrightc@gao.gov.
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  • Biofuel Fraudster Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison for Scamming Multiple Federal Agencies and Customers
    In Crime News
    The owner of a biofuel company was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by a three-year term of supervised release and ordered to pay $10,207,000 in restitution for defrauding multiple federal agencies and customers.
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  • Los Angeles Man Arrested for $27 Million PPP Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A California man was arrested today in Los Angeles on criminal charges related to his alleged bank fraud, false statements in a loan application and money laundering arising from the submission of fraudulent applications for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds.
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  • [Protest of Army Contract Award for Base Operations and Maintenance Services]
    In U.S GAO News
    A firm protested an Army Corps of Engineers contract award for base operations and maintenance services, contending that the (1) awardee's proposal contained unbalanced item prices and (2) Corps failed to assess whether the unbalancing posed an unacceptable risk to the government. GAO held that (1) the Corps performed a reasonable price analysis of the bidders' line item prices and (2) there was no evidence of significant risk to the government due to the awardee's pricing scheme. Accordingly, the protest was denied.
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  • Drug Control: U.S. Nonmilitary Assistance to Colombia Is Beginning to Show Intended Results, but Programs Are Not Readily Sustainable
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2000, the U.S. government has provided a total of $3.3 billion to Colombia, making it the fifth largest recipient of U.S. assistance. Part of this funding has gone toward nonmilitary assistance to Colombia, including programs to (1) promote legitimate economic alternatives to coca and opium poppy; (2) assist Colombia's vulnerable groups, particularly internally displaced persons; and (3) strengthen the country's democratic, legal, and security institutional capabilities. GAO examined these programs' objectives, reported accomplishments, and identified the factors, if any, that limit project implementation and sustainability. We also examined the challenges faced by Colombia and the United States in continuing to support these programs.Although U.S. nonmilitary assistance programs have begun to produce some results, individual projects reach a relatively small number of beneficiaries, face implementation challenges, and may not be sustainable. For example, projects designed to promote legitimate economic alternatives to illicit crop cultivation have helped about 33,400 families. However, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimated in 2000 and 2001 that as many as 136,600 families needed assistance, and these projects face implementation obstacles, such as difficulty marketing licit products and operating in conflictive areas. U.S. assistance to Colombia's vulnerable groups has provided support to many internally displaced persons, but these program beneficiaries do not receive all of the assistance they need, and there is no systematic way for beneficiaries to transition from emergency aid to longer-term development assistance. The U.S. government has made some progress toward facilitating democratic reform in Colombia, but projects face certain obstacles, such as limited funding and security constraints. Despite the progress made by the three nonmilitary assistance programs, Colombia and the United States continue to face long-standing management and financial challenges. The Colombian government's ability to contribute funds for nonmilitary assistance programs is limited by a number of domestic and foreign factors, and Colombia's longstanding conflict poses additional challenges to implementing and sustaining nonmilitary assistance efforts. The U.S. government has not maximized the mutual benefits of its nonmilitary assistance programs and has not established a mechanism for vulnerable groups to transition from emergency aid to longer-term assistance. Furthermore, the Departments of State and Justice and USAID have not established timelines for achieving their stated objectives, nor have State and USAID developed a strategy to turn programs over to the Colombian government or to the private sector.
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  • Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ambassador Michael G. Kozak On Human Rights Concerns in Cuba
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  • Humanitarian and Development Assistance: Project Evaluations and Better Information Sharing Needed to Manage the Military’s Efforts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundThe Department of Defense’s (DOD) management of its key humanitarian assistance programs reflects both positive practices and weaknesses:Alignment with strategic goals. DOD aligns its humanitarian assistance project planning with the goals outlined in U.S. and departmental strategies, and has clearly established processes for implementing its projects.Interagency project coordination. DOD has taken steps to coordinate with the Department of State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on projects, such as seeking concurrence on project proposals and embedding representatives from their agencies at its combatant commands, but coordination challenges remain.Poor data management. DOD does not have complete information on the status or actual costs of the full range of its Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) projects. In addition, Humanitarian and Civic Assistance project data in DOD’s database differ from what DOD reports to Congress.Limited program evaluations. From fiscal years 2005 through 2009, DOD had not completed 90 percent of the required 1-year post-project evaluations for its OHDACA projects, and about half of the required 30-day evaluations for those projects, and thus lacks information to determine projects’ effects.Limited program guidance. DOD’s primary guidance for the OHDACA humanitarian assistance program is limited, is not readily accessible to all DOD personnel, and has not been updated for several years.Furthermore, DOD, State, and USAID do not have full visibility over each others’ assistance efforts, which could result in a fragmented approach to U.S. assistance. There are several initiatives under way to improve information sharing, including one directed by the National Security Council. However, no framework, such as a common database, currently exists for the agencies to readily access information on each others’ efforts. Moreover, the potential for overlap exists among agencies’ efforts in four areas: (1) health, (2) education, (3) infrastructure, and (4) disaster preparation. For example, both USAID and DOD are conducting health care projects in Yemen and building schools in Azerbaijan. Overlap may be appropriate in some instances, especially if agencies can leverage each others’ efforts. However, given the agencies’ information-sharing challenges, there are questions as to whether DOD’s efforts are an efficient use of resources since USAID serves as the lead U.S. development agency. State and USAID officials said that DOD’s humanitarian assistance efforts can be beneficial, especially when responding to disasters or supporting foreign militaries. However, officials said DOD’s efforts can have negative political effects, particularly in fragile communities where even small gestures, such as distributing soccer balls to a particular population, can be interpreted as exhibiting favoritism. While DOD’s funding for humanitarian assistance is small relative to the billions spent by State and USAID, its programs are expanding. Given interagency information challenges, the fiscally-constrained environment, and the similarity of agencies’ assistance efforts, DOD and the other agencies involved in foreign assistance could benefit from additional direction from Congress on DOD’s role in performing humanitarian assistance in peacetime environments.Why GAO Did This StudyIn recent years, the Department of Defense (DOD) has increased its emphasis and spending on humanitarian assistance efforts outside of war and disaster environments. From fiscal years 2005 through 2010, DOD obligated about $383 million on its key humanitarian assistance programs. Because civilian agencies, such as the Department of State and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also carry out many assistance efforts, DOD’s efforts require close collaboration with these agencies. This report was conducted as part of GAO’s response to a statutory mandate and reviewed (1) DOD’s management of two key humanitarian assistance programs—the humanitarian assistance program funded through its Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) appropriation and its Humanitarian and Civic Assistance program—and (2) the extent to which DOD, State, and USAID have visibility over each others’ efforts. To conduct this review, GAO analyzed funding and program information, and interviewed officials at DOD, State, USAID, nongovernment organizations, and 12 U.S. embassies.
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  • Former Commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Sentenced to Prison
    In Crime News
    A former Commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison following his multiple convictions of obstructing justice and making false statements, in connection with the death of a civilian at the naval base.
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