What GAO Found
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has taken steps to increase the consistency of their determinations about where wetlands exist on farmers’ lands. For example, NRCS state offices formed teams to make such determinations in the prairie pothole region (see fig.), which covers parts of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. These offices also standardized their wetland determination procedures and included more details, such as the types of data that can be used to identify wetland boundaries. Under wetland conservation provisions in federal law, to receive the benefits of certain USDA farm programs, farmers must not convert wetlands to cropland.
Wetlands and Cropland in the Prairie Pothole Region
NRCS’s primary method to ensure compliance with wetland conservation provisions is conducting annual compliance checks of selected tracts of land for farmers in USDA programs. To select tracts, NRCS draws a national random sample. The sample is to include about 1 percent of tracts subject to wetland the provisions nationally, so many tracts are not sampled for years. For 2014 through 2018, NRCS identified fewer than five farmers with wetland conservation violations per year on the approximately 417,000 tracts in North Dakota and South Dakota—the states with the most wetland acres. Agency officials said NRCS has limited resources to conduct more checks. However, some USDA agencies emphasize risk-based criteria, rather than a random sample, in selecting tracts to check for compliance with other provisions. Doing so makes the checks more efficient by targeting the tracts most likely to have violations. If NRCS used a risk-based approach for its compliance checks (e.g., using information on acres cultivated annually on tracts), it could more efficiently ensure compliance with wetland conservation provisions.
If NRCS finds violations, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) may withhold program benefits from farmers, or it may grant waivers to farmers who acted in good faith, without intent to commit violations. FSA granted 243 of 301 requests for good-faith waivers from 2010 to 2018, according to FSA data. FSA relies on committees of fellow farmers to decide on waivers by considering factors such as prior violations. GAO found that some committees relied on weak justification to grant waivers even if farmers had prior violations and that FSA had not specified what is adequate justification. By specifying what constitutes adequate justification, FSA could better ensure it provides benefits only to eligible farmers.
Why GAO Did This Study
Wetlands perform vital ecological functions, and draining them can harm water quality and wildlife habitat. Many wetlands were drained for farming before enactment of wetland conservation provisions in 1985. However, millions of acres of wetlands, known as potholes, remain in the prairie pothole region.
NRCS determines where wetlands exist on the land of farmers who participate in USDA farm programs, and it identifies violations of wetland provisions. FSA administers farm program benefits. In 2017, USDA’s Office of Inspector General reported that NRCS had implemented wetland determination procedures in the prairie pothole region inconsistently.
GAO was asked to review USDA’s implementation of wetland conservation provisions in the prairie pothole region. This report examines, among other objectives, the steps NRCS has taken to increase the consistency of wetland determinations and the approaches NRCS and FSA use to ensure compliance with the provisions. GAO reviewed agency manuals, data, and files on wetland determinations and waivers, and interviewed agency officials and stakeholder groups.
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Deadline: Grants.gov Application Deadline: 11:59 p.m. eastern time on June 14, 2021; JustGrants Application Deadline: 11:59 p.m. eastern time on June 28, 2021 [Read More…]
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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. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Settles Citizenship-Status Discrimination Against South Carolina Security Guard Firm Involving Former Interpreter for the U.S. Military in IraqBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with Security Management of South Carolina LLC (Security Management), a private security company that provides armed and unarmed security services throughout South Carolina and Georgia.[Read More…]
- World Press Freedom DayBy Sam NewsMay 4, 2021
- Statement by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division on Veterans DayBy Sam NewsNovember 11, 2020The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and its Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative would like to wish a happy Veterans Day to our soldiers, both past and present. We owe you our thanks, but more than that, we owe you our freedom. As the head of the Civil Rights Division, I am entrusted with enforcing laws that protect the rights of the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, and the veterans who have served in the past. Enforcement of these very important federal civil rights laws helps ensure that these men and women can continue to safeguard our freedom.[Read More…]
- Eastern Kentucky Doctor and Assistant Plead Guilty to Unlawfully Distributing OpioidsBy Sam NewsAugust 10, 2020A Kentucky doctor and his former office assistant pleaded guilty on Aug. 7 for their roles in unlawfully distributing opioids and other controlled substances during a time when the defendants did not have a legitimate medical practice.[Read More…]
- USDA Market Facilitation Program: Information on Payments for 2019By Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2020The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) distributed about $14.4 billion in 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments to farming operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. According to USDA, these payments were intended to offset the effects of trade disruptions and tariffs targeting a variety of U.S. agricultural products. FSA distributed these payments to 643,965 farming operations. The average MFP payment per farming operation for 2019 was $22,312 but varied by county, ranging from $44 to $295,299. MFP payments for 2019 also varied by type of commodity. Three types of commodities were eligible for 2019 MFP payments: (1) nonspecialty crops (including grains and oilseeds, such as corn and soybeans); (2) specialty crops (including nuts and fruits, such as pecans and cranberries); and (3) dairy and hogs. Most of the 2019 MFP payments went to farming operations that produced nonspecialty crops. Less than 10 percent went to farming operations that produced specialty crops or dairy and hogs. USDA made approximately $519 million in additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 because of increases in payment limits—the cap on payments that members of farming operations can receive. FSA distributed these additional MFP payments to about 10,000 farming operations across 39 states. The amount of additional MFP payments that FSA distributed for 2019 varied by location. Farming operations in five states—Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota—received almost half of all additional payments. In May 2019, USDA announced it would distribute up to $14.5 billion in direct payments to farming operations that were affected by trade disruptions, following the approximately $8.6 billion USDA announced it had distributed for 2018. USDA referred to these 2018 and 2019 payments as the MFP. In comparison with 2018, USDA changed the 2019 payment structure for the three types of commodities that were eligible for payments. For example, USDA increased the payment limit for each of these three types. GAO was asked to review the distribution of MFP payments for 2019. This report examines, among other things, MFP payments for 2019 and how they varied by location, farming operation, and type of commodity, as well as additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 that resulted from increased payment limits. To accomplish these objectives, GAO analyzed data from USDA and interviewed agency officials knowledgeable about the data. For more information, contact Steve Morris at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Texas Sport Supplement Company Owner Pleads Guilty to Unlawful Distribution of Steroid-Like DrugsBy Sam NewsDecember 22, 2020A former Texas resident and his sport supplement company pleaded guilty today to a felony charge relating to the introduction of unapproved new drugs into interstate commerce, the Department of Justice announced.[Read More…]
- Superfund: EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change EffectsBy Sam NewsMay 13, 2021What GAO Found In October 2019, GAO reported that available federal data on flooding, storm surge, wildfires, and sea level rise suggested that about 60 percent (945 of 1,571) of all nonfederal Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) sites—which have serious hazardous contamination--are located in areas that may be impacted by these potential climate change effects (see figure). In 2019, GAO released an interactive map and dataset, available with its report (GAO-20-73). Nonfederal NPL Sites Located in Areas That May Be Impacted by Flooding, Storm Surge, Wildfires, or Sea Level Rise, as of 2019 Notes: This map does not display all 1,571 active and deleted nonfederal NPL sites GAO analyzed in 2019, which also include six sites in American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though they are included in the counts above. Learn more at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-73. Storm surge data were not available for the West Coast and Pacific islands other than Hawaii, wildfire data were not available outside the contiguous United States, and sea level rise data were not available for Alaska. GAO also reported in 2019 that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) actions to manage risks from climate change effects at these sites aligned with three of GAO's six essential elements of enterprise risk management, partially aligned with two, and did not align with one. For example, EPA had not aligned its process for managing risks with agency-wide goals. Without clarifying this linkage, EPA could not ensure that senior officials would take an active role in strategic planning and accountability for managing these risks. In 2019, GAO found that EPA recognized institutional, resource, and technical challenges in managing risks from climate change effects. For example, some EPA officials told us they do not have the direction they need to manage these risks. Insufficient or changing resources may also make it challenging for EPA to manage these risks, according to EPA documents and officials. Why GAO Did This Study Superfund is the principal federal program for addressing sites contaminated with hazardous substances. EPA administers the program and lists some of the most seriously contaminated sites—most of which are nonfederal—on the NPL. At those sites, EPA has recorded over 500 contaminants, including arsenic and lead. Climate change may make some natural disasters more frequent or more intense, which may damage NPL sites and potentially release contaminants, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. This testimony summarizes GAO's October 2019 report (GAO-20-73) on the impact of climate change on nonfederal NPL sites. Specifically, it discusses (1) what available federal data suggest about the number of nonfederal NPL sites that are located in areas that may be impacted by selected climate change effects; (2) the extent to which EPA has managed risks to human health and the environment from the potential impacts of climate change effects at nonfederal NPL sites; and (3) challenges EPA faces in managing these risks.[Read More…]
- Heavy Lift Helicopter Program: Navy Should Address Cost and Schedule RisksBy Sam NewsMarch 4, 2021Fifteen years into development, the CH-53K program has made progress in testing the aircraft. Program documentation indicates that there is a moderate risk of not demonstrating the required levels of reliability or payload carrying weight by the end of operational testing. The technical issues identified during testing caused program milestones to slip. For example, the full-rate production decision was delayed by nearly 7 years—from December 2015 to November 2022. CH-53K total program costs also increased by nearly $15.3 billion since the program began due to technical issues and a quantity increase fielded helicopters from 156 to 200. The program faces several challenges going forward. First, the schedule for completing the development of the CH-53K does not meet all of the leading practices, which makes the schedule unreliable. Specifically, GAO found that the master schedule is not fully credible or well-constructed. For example, the schedule indicates there is more flexibility in the schedule than it truly has, which can affect the ability to change allocated resources appropriately to meet schedule milestones. Second, the program faces potential further cost increases due to concurrency—or overlap between testing and procurement—which has increased due to delays in the completion of testing. In previous reviews of weapon systems, GAO found that while some concurrency is understandable, it can also result in cost increases and schedule delays, and deny timely, critical information to policy makers. Concurrency, coupled with plans for increased numbers of helicopters to be produced, beyond the six per year currently being built, could result in costly retrofits to helicopters built before the completion of operational testing. This testing will provide decision makers needed information on the resolution of the technical issues facing the program (see figure). CH-53K Helicopter Testing and Procurement, Fiscal Years 2017-2030 The Marine Corps is replacing its aging CH-53E helicopters with the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter. Designed as an evolution of the CH-53E, the CH-53K is intended to transport armored vehicles, equipment, and personnel from ships to deep inland locations. The CH-53K program office is overseen by the Department of the Navy. As we have previously reported, the program has experienced delayed milestones and cost increases from almost its inception in 2005, in part, due to technical issues. GAO was asked to review the CH-53K program. This report examines the program's (1) progress toward completing testing and demonstrating system experience, (2) schedule and cost performance to date, and (3) potential future challenges. GAO analyzed cost, schedule, performance, test, manufacturing, and planning documents; and interviewed officials from the CH-53K program office, other defense offices—such as the Defense Contract Management Agency—the testing community, and the prime contractor, Sikorsky. GAO recommends that the Navy take steps to ensure the CH-53K schedule is credible and well-constructed, and that the Navy should not exceed the current annual procurement of six helicopters per year until the completion of initial operational test and evaluation. The Department of Defense did not concur with these recommendations. GAO continues to believe that the recommendations are valid, as discussed in this report. For more information, contact Jon Ludwigson at (202) 512-4841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Judiciary Launches Redesigned PACER WebsiteBy Sam NewsJune 26, 2020The Administrative Office of the U.S Courts on June 28 will launch a redesigned informational website for the Judiciary’s electronic court records system, known as PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).[Read More…]
- Florida Man Sentenced for $1.3 Million Securities Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsMay 14, 2021A Florida man was sentenced today to more than four years in prison for operating an investment scheme in which he used investor funds to repay other investors and misappropriated funds for himself.[Read More…]
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- United States to Host World Data System’s International Program OfficeBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021
- Fourteenth Anniversary of Robert “Bob” Levinson’s AbductionBy Sam NewsMarch 9, 2021
- Operation Legend: Case of the DayBy Sam NewsSeptember 18, 2020An Ohio man was charged on Aug. 13, 2020, in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio with illegally dealing in firearms without a federal firearms license.[Read More…]
- Curacao Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the PressBy Sam NewsSeptember 27, 2020
- Libya Independence DayBy Sam NewsDecember 24, 2020
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- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks at the Florida Family Policy Council Dinner Gala: Respecting Life in America’s Foreign PolicyBy Sam NewsOctober 4, 2020
- Sao Tome and Principe Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to Sao [Read More…]
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- New Jersey Man Pleads Guilty to Violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices ActBy Sam NewsDecember 17, 2020A New Jersey man who controlled two U.S.-based companies pleaded guilty today for paying a total of $100,000 in bribes to a Korean government official in order to obtain and retain contracts with the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), a state-owned and state-controlled agency within the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.[Read More…]