Disaster Recovery: COVID-19 Pandemic Intensifies Disaster Recovery Challenges for K-12 Schools

What GAO Found

Local education officials in natural disaster-affected areas told us the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and contributed to lost instructional time, staff burnout, delays in recovery projects, and financial strain in their communities. These officials explained that after the natural disaster, restoring students’ mental health was a top priority. Many local education officials said that the services needed to treat trauma and other disaster-related mental health issues were not readily available in their areas, and some noted that providing mental health services has been especially difficult during the pandemic. For example, one official said that because half of her students live in poverty, they usually access mental health services through the school, and were cut off from those services during the pandemic.

Some local education officials said they were also particularly worried about the effects of the pandemic on their low-income and other at-risk students, noting that these students are especially vulnerable to learning loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected districts by slowing progress on some disaster recovery projects. For example, an official in a district affected by wildfire said that an effort to restore running water to damaged school buildings was delayed due the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Education (Education) supported school recovery efforts by awarding nearly $1.4 billion to assist schools in over 30 states and U.S. territories with recovery from presidentially-declared major disasters occurring between 2017 and 2019, although some local education officials reported difficulty in using these grant funds during the pandemic. Education provided this funding through the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart) and the Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant programs, among others. Local education officials from several districts and counties said that they are using or planning to use Education disaster grants to provide mental health services to students and cover other costs associated with re-opening, such as additional transportation services, but that during the pandemic this was sometimes challenging. For example, officials in two counties said that timeframes for using Restart funds, which expire after 2 years, were too short for long-term recovery needs such as mental health services, particularly with the compounding effects of the pandemic.

Education officials said that grantees may request waivers to extend the end dates of these grants and that as of October 2020, no Restart grantees who experienced a 2018 disaster had done so. With regard to oversight, Education officials said they paused on-site monitoring efforts for recent disaster grants as a result of the pandemic, but have continued to hold quarterly phone calls with Restart grantees. These grantees have noted some challenges related to the grant program but have not discussed specific technical assistance needs, according to Education officials.

Why GAO Did This Study

More than 260 presidentially-declared major disasters have occurred since 2017, affecting every state and several U.S. territories, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many of these natural disasters have had devastating effects, including rendering K-12 school facilities unusable for lengthy periods of time. These schools are now experiencing the compounding challenge of recovering from natural disasters while managing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing practices and building closures are meant to keep staff and students safe, but may also complicate recovery efforts for disaster-affected districts.

The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 provided funds for GAO to audit issues related to presidentially-declared major disasters that occurred in 2018. We reviewed (1) how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools recovering from recent natural disasters; and (2) support Education has provided to help school recover from recent natural disasters and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools’ use of these resources.

We interviewed 29 local education officials representing over 50 school districts in California, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, and Hawaii, which were selected because they were affected by a diverse set of major natural disasters in 2018 that occurred in a mix of populated and less-populated areas. In addition, through a national school superintendents association, we convened a discussion group of superintendents who have experienced natural disasters and mentor other affected districts. Finally, we reviewed federal guidance and interviewed Education officials.

For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.

Hits: 5

News Network

  • Just the Facts: Trends in Pro Se Civil Litigation from 2000 to 2019
    In U.S Courts
    Most federal pro se cases are civil actions filed by persons serving time in prison. Pro se prisoner petitions spiked in 2016 after a pair of Supreme Court rulings made it possible for certain prisoners to petition to have their sentences vacated or remanded. Non-prisoners who file pro se actions most often raise civil rights claims.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA’s Venus Rover Challenge Winners Announced
    In Space
    An overwhelming response [Read More…]
  • Retirement Security: Older Women Report Facing a Financially Uncertain Future
    In U.S GAO News
    In all 14 focus groups GAO held with older women, women described some level of anxiety about financial security in retirement. Many expressed concerns about the future of Social Security and Medicare benefits, and the costs of health care and housing. Women in the groups also cited a range of experiences that hindered their retirement security, such as divorce or leaving the workforce before they planned to (see fig.). Women in all 14 focus groups said their lack of personal finance education negatively affected their ability to plan for retirement. Many shared ideas about personal finance education including the view that it should be incorporated into school curriculum starting in kindergarten and continuing through college, and should be available through all phases of life. Women Age 70 and Over by Marital Status Note: Percentages do not add up to 100 percent due to rounding Individual women's financial security is also linked to their household where resources may be shared among household members. According to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, among households with older women, about 23 percent of those with white respondents and 40 percent of those with African American respondents fell short of a measure of retirement confidence, indicating their income was not sufficient to maintain their standard of living. The likelihood of a household reporting high retirement confidence rose in certain cases. For example among households of similar wealth, those with greater liquidity in their portfolio and those with defined benefit plan income were more likely to report high retirement confidence. This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's July 2020 report, entitled Retirement Security: Older Women Report Facing a Financially Uncertain Future (GAO-20-435). For more information, contact Tranchau Nguyen at (202) 512-2660 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Texas Entrepreneur Charged with Spending COVID Relief Funds on Improper Expenses Including Lamborghini and Strip Club
    In Crime News
    A Houston, Texas man has been taken into custody on allegations he fraudulently obtained more than $1.6 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Minister of Industry and Member of Parliament of Barbados Sentenced for Laundering Bribes
    In Crime News
    A former Minister of Industry and elected member of Parliament of Barbados was sentenced today to two years in prison for his role in a scheme to launder bribe payments from a Barbadian insurance company through bank accounts in New York.
    [Read More…]
  • Disaster Housing: Improved Cost Data and Guidance Would Aid FEMA Activation Decisions
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) relied primarily on rental assistance payments to assist 2017 and 2018 hurricane survivors but also used direct housing programs to address housing needs, as shown in the table below. GAO found that FEMA provided rental assistance to about 746,000 households and direct housing assistance to about 5,400 households. FEMA did not use the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP)—a pilot grant program managed jointly with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—because FEMA viewed its direct housing programs to be more efficient and cost-effective and did not consider DHAP to be a standard post-disaster housing assistance program. Number of Households Affected by the 2017 and 2018 Hurricanes That Received Rental and Direct Temporary Housing Assistance, by State or Territory State or territory Rental assistance Direct housing assistance Florida 422,230 1,241 North Carolina 20,198 656 Puerto Rico 147,620 414 Texas 143,465 2,988 U.S. Virgin Islands 12,147 69 Total number of households 745,660 5,368 Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). | GAO-21-116 Notes: FEMA provided the vast majority of its direct housing assistance through transportable temporary housing units such as manufactured housing. Rental assistance data are as of February 13, 2020, and direct housing assistance data are as of July 15, 2020. FEMA's analyses of the cost-effectiveness of housing assistance programs were limited because program cost data were incomplete or not readily useable. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act requires FEMA to consider factors including cost-effectiveness when determining which types of housing assistance to provide. Although FEMA has stated its direct housing programs were relatively more cost-effective than DHAP, FEMA generally could not support these statements with cost data. Specifically, FEMA does not collect key program data in its system, such as monthly subsidy and administrative costs, in a manner that would allow it to analyze the full costs of providing the assistance. Without such information, the agency's program activation decisions will not be well informed, particularly with regard to cost-effectiveness. FEMA policy guidance also says that FEMA is to compare the projected costs of the direct housing programs it is considering activating, but does not consistently specify what cost information to consider, such as whether to use both programmatic and administrative costs. Without such guidance, FEMA cannot reasonably assure that its assessments and their results incorporate consistent and comparable data. The 2017 and 2018 hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence, and Michael) caused $325 billion in damage. FEMA provided post-disaster assistance, including rental and direct housing assistance. DHAP was a pilot grant program that provided temporary rental assistance and was used to respond to several hurricanes before 2017. GAO was asked to review issues related to major disasters in 2018 and housing assistance provided after the 2017 and 2018 hurricanes. This report (1) describes the assistance FEMA provided in response to those hurricanes, and (2) evaluates the extent to which FEMA considered cost-effectiveness in activating programs. GAO reviewed FEMA and HUD policies, communications, and other documentation; analyzed FEMA data; and interviewed officials at FEMA headquarters and regional offices, HUD, and Texas state and local government offices. GAO makes two recommendations to FEMA for its temporary housing programs: (1) identify and make changes to its data systems to allow for capture and analysis of programs' full costs, and (2) specify the information needed to compare projected program costs in its guidance on activating programs. DHS agreed with both recommendations, and said it planned to implement them in 2021–2022. For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Observance of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Deputy Secretary Biegun Remarks at the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Stephen Biegun, Deputy [Read More…]
  • Charleston County School District Agrees to Provide Language Access for Limited English Proficient Parents
    In Crime News
    Today the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the Charleston County School District to resolve its investigation into complaints that the school district failed to communicate essential information to thousands of Spanish-speaking, limited English proficient (LEP) parents, denying their children full and equal access to the district’s education programs and services. The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina conducted the investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nino Scalia of Madison’s Notes Podcast
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • National Consumer Bankruptcy Law Firm Agrees to Pay More than $300,000 in Relief to Consumers and to a Six-Year Practice Ban in Settlement with U.S. Trustee Program
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) has entered into a settlement with national consumer bankruptcy law firm Deighan Law LLC, previously known as Law Solutions Chicago and doing business as UpRight Law.
    [Read More…]
  • 2019 Wiretap Report: Orders and Convictions Increase
    In U.S Courts
    Federal and state courts reported a combined 10 percent increase in authorized wiretaps in 2019, compared with 2018, according to the Judiciary’s 2019 Wiretap Report. Convictions in cases involving electronic surveillance also increased.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Civil Action to Shut Down Mississippi Tax Return Preparer
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi seeking to bar a Senatobia, Mississippi, tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others.
    [Read More…]
  • Indian Health Service: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Provider Misconduct and Substandard Performance
    In U.S GAO News
    The Indian Health Service's (IHS) policies related to provider misconduct and substandard performance outline several key aspects of oversight, such as protecting children against sexual abuse by providers, ethical and professional conduct, and processes for managing an alleged case of misconduct. Although the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or IHS headquarters have established most of these policies, area offices that are responsible for overseeing facility operations and facilities, such as hospitals, may develop and issue their own policies as long as they are consistent with headquarters' policies, according to officials. Although some oversight activities are performed at IHS headquarters, IHS has delegated primary responsibility for oversight of provider misconduct and substandard performance to the area offices. However, GAO found some inconsistencies in oversight activities across IHS areas and facilities. For example, Although all nine area offices require that new supervisors attend mandatory supervisory training, most area offices provided additional trainings related to provider misconduct and substandard performance. The content of these additional trainings varied across area offices. For example, three area offices offered training on conducting investigations of alleged misconduct, while other area offices did not. Officials from IHS headquarters told GAO they do not systematically review trainings developed by the areas to ensure they are consistent with policy or IHS-wide training. Facility governing boards—made up of IHS area office officials, including the Area Director, and facility officials, such as the Chief Executive Officer—are responsible for overseeing each facility's quality of and access to care. They generally review information related to provider misconduct and substandard performance. However, there is no standard format used by governing boards to document their review, making it difficult to determine the extent this oversight is consistently conducted. In some cases, there was no documentation by governing boards of a discussion about provider misconduct or substandard performance. For example, none of the seven governing board meeting minutes provided from one area office documented their discussion of patient complaints. In other cases, there was detailed documentation of the governing board's review. Additionally, governing boards did not always clearly document how or why an oversight decision, such as whether to grant privileges to a provider, had been made based on their review of available information. These inconsistencies in IHS's oversight activities could limit the agency's efforts to oversee provider misconduct and substandard performance. For example, by not reviewing trainings developed by area offices, IHS headquarters may also be unable to identify gaps in staff knowledge or best practices that could be applied across area offices. Addressing these inconsistencies would better position the agency to effectively protect patients from abuse and harm resulting from provider misconduct or substandard performance. IHS provides care to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) through a system of federally and tribally operated facilities. Recent cases of alleged and confirmed misconduct and substandard performance by IHS employees have raised questions about protecting the AI/AN population from abuse and harm. For example, in February 2020, a former IHS pediatrician was sentenced to five consecutive lifetime terms for multiple sex offenses against children. Several studies have been initiated or completed in response, and IHS has reported efforts to enhance safe and quality care for its patients. GAO was asked to review IHS oversight of misconduct and substandard performance. This report (1) describes IHS policies related to provider misconduct and substandard performance and (2) assesses IHS oversight of provider misconduct and substandard performance. GAO reviewed policies and documents, including minutes from 80 governing board meetings from January 2018 to December 2019. GAO also interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, all nine area offices with two or more federally operated facilities, and two federally operated facilities. GAO is making three recommendations, including that IHS should establish a process to review area office trainings as well as establish a standard approach for documenting governing board review of information. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Pain Clinic Owner Sentenced for Role in Operating Pill Mills in Tennessee and Florida
    In Crime News
    A pain clinic owner was sentenced today to over 33 years in prison for her role in operating several pill mills in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Hollywood, Florida.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with School District to Resolve Disability Discrimination Complaint
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that it reached an agreement with Spencer East Brookfield Regional School District in Spencer, Massachusetts to resolve the department’s lawsuit alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
    [Read More…]
  • Colorado Businessman Indicted for Employment Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Denver, Colorado, returned an indictment charging a Bow Mar, Colorado, businessman with tax evasion, failing to pay over employment taxes, and failing to file tax returns.
    [Read More…]
  • Kazakhstan Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to [Read More…]
  • International Statement: End-To-End Encryption and Public Safety
    In Crime News
    We, the undersigned, [Read More…]
  • Benin Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Australian Prime Minister Morrison
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Former CIA Officer Arrested and Charged with Espionage
    In Crime News
    Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, was arrested on Aug. 14, 2020, on a charge that he conspired with a relative of his who also was a former CIA officer to communicate classified information up to the Top Secret level to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Criminal Complaint containing the charge was unsealed this morning.
    [Read More…]
  • Arrest of Eight Pan-Democratic Politicians in Hong Kong
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Genetics, Diagnosis, Treatment: NIH Takes On Sickle Cell Disease
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Each year, some 150,000 [Read More…]
  • Runaway Star Might Explain Black Hole’s Disappearing Act
    In Space
    The telltale sign that [Read More…]
  • Eighth Circuit Reverses Tax Court in Case Involving Statute of Limitations and Bona Fide Residency
    In Crime News
    The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published opinion on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, holding for the government in a case involving the statute of limitations on assessment in the context of bona fide residency in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]
  • Execution Scheduled for Federal Death Row Inmate Convicted of Murdering a Child
    In Crime News
    Attorney General William [Read More…]
  • Sanctions on Russian Entity and a Vessel Engaging in the Construction of Nord Stream 2 
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Today, the United States [Read More…]
  • Courthouse Closures for Hurricane Laura
    In U.S Courts
    Federal courthouses in Louisiana are closed due to the effects of Hurricane Laura.
    [Read More…]
  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Consumer Electronics Recycling
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Consumer electronics contain critical materials whose supplies are limited, including gold, platinum, and rare earth metals. Domestic recycling of consumer electronics could extend the supply and reduce the current U.S. reliance on imports. New technologies are becoming available, but electronics recycling is complex and faces challenges, such as narrow profit margins. The Technology What is it? Recycling of consumer electronics—including smartphones, televisions, and computers—generally involves separating high-value metals from plastics and other low-value materials. Precious metals and rare earth metals are the economic driving force for consumer electronic recycling technology. These metals have high market values and limited supplies, and they can be reused across many industries, including the defense and energy sectors. Consumer electronic devices can also contain personally identifiable information (PII), including medical and financial data, which could be improperly disclosed if they are not destroyed prior to recycling. According to a study of selected consumer electronics, about 2.8 million tons were disposed of in the U.S. in 2017, of which about 36 percent was recycled. Figure 1. Selected valuable, hazardous, and digital materials contained within consumer electronics that can be recovered, disposed, or destroyed There is no federal standard requiring consumer electronics recycling. Some states have enacted electronics recycling laws requiring electronics producers to pay fees or contract with businesses to ensure electronic waste is collected for recycling. The U.S. recycles electronics domestically and also exports electronics for recycling abroad. How does it work? The high concentration of valuable material in certain consumer electronics is key to the economic viability of recycling these products. Cell phones, as one example, have more precious metal by weight than raw ore does. According to the EPA, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered from a million recycled cell phones. Based on commodity market prices on August 12, 2020, these weights of metals are worth approximately $100,000, $290,000, and $2.1 million for copper, silver, and gold, respectively. In contrast, cathode ray tube (CRT) displays in older televisions and computer monitors have little recycling value, but they contain leaded glass and may be considered hazardous waste. In addition, recovery of certain valuable materials from consumer electronics is limited due to the high costs of technology and processing. Electronics recycling companies disassemble devices by shredding, which also destroys PII, or by hand. These companies then separate valuable materials for reuse (including gold, silver, platinum, and rare earth metals) from toxic materials for disposal (including brominated materials and lead). Traditional methods include burning to remove non-metal parts and separation using strong acids. New separation technologies are being used or piloted to recover precious and rare earth metals. For example, robotic disassembly uses machine learning and computer vision to more rapidly pick and sort items. Another new technology uses ultrasound to speed up the chemical removal of gold from cell phone SIM cards. Figure 2. Emerging separation technologies for recycled electronics Other technologies are emerging, like biometallurgy, which uses microorganisms to separate high-value metals from other materials, such as plastics, glass, and glue. For example, naturally occurring bacteria can oxidize gold in acidic solutions, making it soluble and thus easier to separate from other materials. Other advanced techniques, such as magnetic or electrochemical separation, are showing promise in the laboratory with existing technology. For example, in one study, researchers used ultrasound to dissolve nickel and gold within a SIM card. They then used a magnetic field to separate the dissolved nickel, which is magnetic, from the gold, which is not. Similarly, other techniques use electric fields to separate dissolved metals based on their weight and electric charge. How mature is it? Recycling technology is well established for some traditional single-stream processes, such as aluminum recycling. However, electronic devices are more complex and require disassembly and separation. At least one consumer electronics manufacturer is piloting robotic disassembly for its products. Emerging separation technologies such as ultrasound have come to market in the past decade and are being used. Manual disassembly and shredding are decades old. Biometallurgy is being tested in pilot plants, and new microorganisms are being developed in laboratories to treat electronic waste. Opportunities Increase supply and reduce imports. Recycling could increase the domestic supply of precious and rare earth metals and reduce the current U.S. reliance on overseas sources. Grow the green economy. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Reduce hazardous practices. A significant amount of recycling currently occurs in the developing world, where methods include open-pit burning. New technology could reduce the use of such methods, which are hazardous to the environment and human health. Lessen environmental impacts. Developing advanced recycling technologies could reduce the environmental impacts of raw ore mining and landfill disposal of hazardous materials such as lead and brominated materials. Challenges Market challenges. Markets for recovered materials may be limited, and the value of recovered materials may not be enough to cover the costs of equipment for collection, sorting, disassembly, and separation. Secure destruction of personal information. Many electronic devices contain PII. Shredding them may effectively destroy PII but may also make high-value material harder to recover. Counterfeit electronic parts. Exported used electronics may serve as a source of counterfeit electronic parts, which, as GAO previously reported, could disrupt parts of the Department of Defense supply chain and threaten the reliability of weapons systems. (See GAO-16-236, linked below.) Rapid technological development. As consumer electronics made with new materials get smaller, new technologies for separation may be needed to recycle valuable materials. Policy Context and Questions With the volume of electronic waste expected to grow, questions include: How can programs to support technological innovation, economic development, and advanced manufacturing be leveraged to promote a more robust domestic electronics recycling industry? What efforts can the federal government, states, and others make to incentivize recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of such policies? What strategies can the public and private sectors implement to address the risk that exports of used electronics will contribute to unsafe recycling practices, disclosure of PII, and counterfeit electronics? How can reductions in exports bolster job growth? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • The Free World’s Leadership Will Defeat COVID-19
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Founder and CEO of Iranian Financial Services Firm Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Violate U.S. Sanctions
    In Crime News
    Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald today announced the sentencing of Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, to 23 months in prison for his role in conducting financial transactions in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Shahidian, who pleaded guilty on June 18, 2018, was sentenced today before Judge Patrick J. Schiltz in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Shahidian, a citizen of Iran, was arrested in London, England on Nov. 11, 2018, and, on May 15, 2020, was extradited to the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Lesotho Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Florida Towing Company it Alleges Illegally Sold or Scrapped Servicemembers’ Vehicles
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today reached an agreement with ASAP Towing & Storage Company (“ASAP”) in Jacksonville, Florida, to resolve allegations that ASAP violated a federal law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”), by auctioning off or otherwise disposing of cars owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining court orders. 
    [Read More…]
  • Afghanistan Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to [Read More…]
  • VA Disability Benefits: VA Should Continue to Improve Access to Quality Disability Medical Exams for Veterans Living Abroad
    In U.S GAO News
    The number of disability claims for veterans living abroad—in foreign countries or U.S. territories—increased 14 percent from fiscal years 2014 to 2019. During this time period, claims processing time frames improved. In fiscal year 2019, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approved comparable percentages of disability claims for veterans living abroad and domestically—63 percent and 64 percent respectively. However, for a subset of these claims—those where veterans likely received a disability medical exam scheduled by Department of State (State) embassy staff—approval rates were often lower. Veterans' access to disability medical exams abroad improved as VBA has increasingly relied on contracted examiners, rather than embassy-referred examiners, to conduct these exams. According to VBA, this shift expanded the pool of trained examiners abroad and increased the frequency and depth of VBA's quality reviews for contract exams. These quality reviews help VBA and its contractor identify and address common errors, according to VBA and contractor officials. However, several factors continue to limit some veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams (see figure). Factors That Impair the Access of Veterans Living Abroad to Quality Disability Medical Exams Unknown quality of certain exams: A subset of veterans living abroad receive disability medical exams from an embassy-referred provider. VBA does not systematically assess the quality of these exams. Without doing so, VBA cannot determine if such exams affect the approval rates of veterans who receive them or contribute to longer processing times and are unable to make informed decisions about their use. Travel reimbursement: Under current VA regulations, VA is not authorized to reimburse veterans for travel expenses for certain services incurred in foreign countries as it is for those incurred within the United States, including U.S. territories. Consequently, some veterans living in foreign countries may be unable to afford to travel to exams. Examiner reimbursement: The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Foreign Medical Program reimburses examiners referred by embassy staff via paper checks in U.S. currency. These checks may be slow to arrive and not accepted by foreign banks, according to State and other officials and staff we interviewed. Such payment issues can deter examiners from being willing to conduct disability medical exams and thus limit veterans' access to these exams in foreign countries. Of the roughly 1 million disability claims VBA processed in fiscal year 2019, 18,287 were for veterans living abroad. Veterans living abroad are entitled to the same disability benefits as those living domestically, but GAO previously reported that veterans living abroad may not be able to access disability medical exams as readily as their domestic counterparts. VBA uses medical exam reports to help determine if a veteran should receive disability benefits. GAO was asked to review the disability claims and exam processes for veterans living abroad. Among other things, this report examines disability claims trends for veterans living abroad and these veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams. GAO analyzed VBA claims data for fiscal years 2014 to 2019; assessed data reliability; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, policies, and contract documents; and interviewed employees of VBA, State, and other stakeholders. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VBA assess the quality of embassy-referred exams, VBA and VHA assess whether to reimburse beneficiaries for travel to disability medical exams in foreign countries, and that VBA and VHA pay examiners located by embassy staff electronically. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • The Republic of Kenya’s National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Remarks on the Future of Antitrust
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, I am pleased to join you today at the ABA Antitrust Fall Forum, my fourth as Assistant Attorney General. I’d like to thank the Chair of the ABA Antitrust Law Section, Gary Zanfagna and the Conference Co-Chairs, Melanie Aitken and Anant Raut for their efforts in organizing this event.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination by Architect and Owners of 15 Complexes in Four States
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced the filing today of a lawsuit against J. Randolph Parry Architects, P.C. and eight owners of multifamily properties designed by the architectural firm.
    [Read More…]
  • Apply for Preclearance Expansion
    In Travel
    Preclearance [Read More…]
  • Serbian Founder of Digital-Asset Companies Indicted in International Cryptocurrency Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Serbian man was charged in an indictment today for his alleged participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency scheme in which he solicited U.S. investors using two fraudulent online investment platforms.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA’s Perseverance Rover Will Look at Mars Through These ‘Eyes’
    In Space
    A pair of zoomable [Read More…]
  • Littoral Combat Ship: Unplanned Work on Maintenance Contracts Creates Schedule Risk as Ships Begin Operations
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a class of small surface ships with two unique design variants. Both LCS variants carry smaller crews and rely more on contractors for maintenance than any other Navy ship. While this strategy was intended to reduce operating costs, it contributes to challenges in the Navy's strategy for contracted maintenance. Specifically: Contractor travel. U.S. law states that foreign contractors generally cannot conduct certain types of LCS maintenance. This results in the Navy paying for contractors to regularly travel overseas to perform routine maintenance. GAO's sample of 18 delivery orders showed estimated travel costs for the orders reviewed ranged from a few thousand dollars to over $1 million. Heavy reliance on original equipment manufacturers. LCS includes numerous commercial-based systems that are not used on other Navy ships. However, the Navy lacks sufficient manufacturer technical data to maintain many of these systems. This can lead to longer maintenance periods due to extra coordination needed for the manufacturers to assist with or complete the work. Although the Navy is establishing teams of its personnel to take on routine maintenance, contractors will continue performing some of this work. Littoral Combat Ship Variants under Maintenance The Navy is beginning to implement contracting approaches for LCS maintenance in order to help mitigate schedule risk, while taking steps to avoid it in the future. GAO found in the 18 LCS maintenance delivery orders it reviewed that the Navy had to contract for more repair work than originally planned, increasing the risk to completing LCS maintenance on schedule. A majority of this unplanned work occurred because the Navy did not fully understand the ship's condition before starting maintenance. The Navy has begun taking steps to systematically collect and analyze maintenance data to determine the causes of unplanned work, which could help it more accurately plan for maintenance. The Navy has also recently begun applying some contracting approaches to more quickly incorporate unplanned work and mitigate the schedule risk, such as (1) setting a price for low-dollar value unplanned work to save negotiation time and (2) procuring some materials directly instead of waiting for contractors to do so. Such measures will be important to control cost and schedule risks as additional LCS enter the fleet in the coming years. Why GAO Did This Study The Navy plans to spend approximately $61 billion to operate and maintain LCS, a class of small surface ships equipped with interchangeable sensors and weapons. With limited operations to date, these ships have entered the Navy's maintenance cycle. Since 2005, GAO has reported extensively on LCS issues, including ships delivered late and with increased costs and less capability than planned. The Navy also encountered problems as LCS entered the fleet, including higher than expected costs for contractor maintenance and numerous mechanical failures. In 2020, GAO reported that major maintenance on other surface ships using the same contracting approach as LCS was 64 days late, on average. The Navy acknowledges the importance of reducing maintenance delays in order to improve the readiness of its surface fleet. A House Report included a provision for GAO to review long-term contracting strategies and challenges for LCS repair and maintenance. This report (1) describes the effect of the LCS program's acquisition and sustainment strategies on its contracted maintenance and (2) assesses the extent to which the Navy is using contracting approaches to address any cost and schedule risks in maintaining LCS. To conduct this assessment, GAO reviewed relevant Navy documentation, including a sample of 18 delivery orders for LCS maintenance from fiscal year 2018 through April 2020 selected to cover each availability type and each LCS variant. GAO also interviewed Navy officials and contractor representatives. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or OakleyS@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • An Information-Centric Perspective on Coherence Collaboration: Analyses of Uganda and Ecuador (Penn State)
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Bureau of Population, [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Man Charged with Fraudulently Seeking Over $6 Million in COVID Relief Funds
    In Crime News
    A North Carolina man was charged with fraudulently seeking over $6 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
    [Read More…]
  • Auto-Parts Manufacturing Company Sentenced in Worker Death Case
    In Crime News
    JOON LLC, d/b/a AJIN USA (Ajin), an auto-parts manufacturing company, was sentenced in federal court today in Montgomery, Alabama, after pleading guilty to a charge related to the death of a machinery operator.
    [Read More…]
  • Attacks on Yemeni Officials in Aden
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Cale Brown, Principal [Read More…]
  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    Each weekday, the Department of Justice will highlight a case that has resulted from Operation Legend.  Today’s case is out of the Northern District of Illinois.  Operation Legend launched in Chicago on July 22, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Taxpayer in Panama Papers Investigation Sentenced to Prison
    In Crime News
    A former U.S. resident and taxpayer was sentenced in the Southern District of New York to four years in prison for wire fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, false statements, and other charges.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Marshals Operation Results in Recovery of 27 Missing Children in Virginia
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Announces Additional Distribution of more than $488 Million to Victims of Madoff Ponzi Scheme
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that the Madoff Victim Fund (MVF) began its sixth distribution of approximately $488 million in funds forfeited to the U.S. Government in connection with the Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC (BLMIS) fraud scheme, bringing the total distributed to almost $3.2 billion to nearly 37,000 victims worldwide.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Hamtramck, Michigan Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Federal Civil Rights Charge For Excessive Use of Force
    In Crime News
    Former Hamtramck police office Ryan McInerney, 44, pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan to using excessive force against a civilian arrestee and violating the arrestee’s civil rights. As a result of the assault, the victim, identified in court documents only as D.M., suffered broken facial bones and lacerations requiring stitches, among other injuries.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Signs Antitrust Memorandum of Understanding with Korean Prosecution Service
    In Crime News
    Yesterday, the Department of Justice signed an antitrust Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Korean Prosecution Service (KPS). The MOU is designed to promote increased cooperation and communication on criminal antitrust enforcement and policy in both countries.
    [Read More…]
  • Consumer Privacy: Better Disclosures Needed on Information Sharing by Banks and Credit Unions
    In U.S GAO News
    Banks and credit unions collect, use, and share consumers' personal information—such as income level and credit card transactions—to conduct everyday business and market products and services. They share this information with a variety of third parties, such as service providers and retailers. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) requires financial institutions to provide consumers with a privacy notice describing their information-sharing practices. Many banks and credit unions elect to use a model form—issued by regulators in 2009—which provides a safe harbor for complying with the law (see figure). GAO found the form gives a limited view of what information is collected and with whom it is shared. Consumer and privacy groups GAO interviewed cited similar limitations. The model form was issued over 10 years ago. The proliferation of data-sharing since then suggests a reassessment of the form is warranted. Federal guidance states that notices about information collection and usage are central to providing privacy protections and transparency. Since Congress transferred authority to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for implementing GLBA privacy provisions, the agency has not reassessed if the form meets consumer expectations for disclosures of information-sharing. CFPB officials said they had not considered a reevaluation because they had not heard concerns from industry or consumer groups about privacy notices. Improvements to the model form could help ensure that consumers are better informed about all the ways banks and credit unions collect and share personal information. Excerpts of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Model Privacy Form Showing Reasons Institutions Share Personal Information Federal regulators examine institutions for compliance with GLBA privacy requirements, but did not do so routinely in 2014–2018 because they found most institutions did not have an elevated privacy risk. Before examinations, regulators assess noncompliance risks in areas such as relationships with third parties and sharing practices to help determine if compliance with privacy requirements needs to be examined. The violations of privacy provisions that the examinations identified were mostly minor, such as technical errors, and regulators reported relatively few consumer complaints. Banks and credit unions maintain a large amount of personal information about consumers. Federal law requires that they have processes to protect this information, including data shared with certain third parties. GAO was asked to review how banks and credit unions collect, use, and share such information and federal oversight of these activities. This report examines, among other things, (1) what personal information banks and credit unions collect, and how they use and share the information; (2) the extent to which they make consumers aware of the personal information they collect and share; and (3) how regulatory agencies oversee such collection, use, and sharing. GAO reviewed privacy notices from a nongeneralizable sample of 60 banks and credit unions with a mix of institutions with asset sizes above and below $10 billion. GAO also reviewed federal privacy laws and regulations, regulators' examinations in 2014–2018 (the last 5 years available), procedures for assessing compliance with federal privacy requirements, and data on violations. GAO interviewed officials from banks, industry and consumer groups, academia, and federal regulators. GAO recommends that CFPB update the model privacy form and consider including more information about third-party sharing. CFPB did not agree or disagree with the recommendation but said they would consider it, noting that it would require a joint rulemaking with other agencies. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or CackleyA@gao.gov or Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Alabama Salesman Sentenced to Prison for Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Hoover, Alabama, salesman was sentenced to 24 months in prison yesterday for tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama.
    [Read More…]
  • Launching Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Intellectual Property: CBP Has Taken Steps to Combat Counterfeit Goods in Small Packages but Could Streamline Enforcement
    In U.S GAO News
    The European Union (EU) and U.S. approaches to enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) differ with respect to counterfeit goods in small packages, which are often sent through express carrier services or international mail. The EU uses a streamlined, application-based procedure to destroy suspected counterfeits in small packages. Through this procedure, rights holders request that member state customs authorities take action against such packages. The procedure allows customs authorities to bill rights holders for certain associated costs, and gives customs authorities discretion in sharing data with rights holders. In the U.S., U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is required to seize any goods it determines to be counterfeit, and typically destroys such goods, regardless of shipment size. CBP does not bill rights holders for the cost of enforcement, and is required to provide specific information to rights holders after seizure of goods. EU and U.S. customs officials reported common challenges in combating the flow of counterfeit goods in small packages. For example, EU and U.S. officials said the large volume of small packages makes it difficult for customs agencies to prioritize resources among competing needs such as drug enforcement and security. EU and U.S. officials also reported that a lack of adequate data on these packages is a challenge in taking enforcement action against them. Bags of Small Packages at Mail Facilities in Germany and France While CBP has taken steps to address these challenges, its primary enforcement processes are not tailored to combat counterfeit goods in small packages. According to CBP officials, from 2014 to 2018, CBP piloted a program to help address the volume of such packages by facilitating the abandonment of goods that it suspected—but had not determined—to be counterfeit. In 2019, CBP initiated a program to obtain additional data, and as of July 2020 had begun using these data to assess the risk that such packages contained counterfeit goods. However, CBP officials said that the seizure and forfeiture processes they are required to use for goods determined to be counterfeit are time and resource intensive. In April 2019, the White House required DHS to identify changes, including enhanced enforcement actions, to mitigate the trafficking of counterfeit goods. In January 2020, DHS proposed several actions that CBP could take, but CBP has not decided which to pursue to streamline its enforcement. Without taking steps to develop a streamlined enforcement approach, CBP will continue to face difficulty in addressing the influx of counterfeit goods in small packages. Counterfeit goods infringe on IPR, and can harm the U.S. economy and threaten consumer safety. CBP, the U.S. agency tasked with enforcement against counterfeits at the border, has reported that the annual number of small packages sent to the U.S. since fiscal year 2013 more than doubled, and small packages seized often contain counterfeit goods. The European Union Intellectual Property Office noted similar economic and consumer safety impacts in Europe, as well as increases in counterfeit goods in small packages. GAO was asked to review IPR enforcement practices in other advanced economies, and the extent to which CBP could apply those practices. This report examines: (1) how elements of the EU and U.S. approaches to combating counterfeit goods in small packages compare, (2) any enforcement challenges posed by these goods, and (3) the extent to which CBP has taken steps to address these challenges. GAO reviewed agency documents; interviewed CBP and customs officials in the EU; and met with private sector stakeholders, such as express carriers. GAO recommends that CBP take steps to develop a streamlined enforcement approach against counterfeit goods in small packages. CBP concurred with the recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Information Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Take Urgent Action to Manage Supply Chain Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    Few of the 23 civilian Chief Financial Officers Act agencies had implemented seven selected foundational practices for managing information and communications technology (ICT) supply chain risks. Supply chain risk management (SCRM) is the process of identifying, assessing, and mitigating the risks associated with the global and distributed nature of ICT product and service supply chains. Many of the manufacturing inputs for these ICT products and services originate from a variety of sources throughout the world. (See figure 1.) Figure 1: Examples of Locations of Manufacturers or Suppliers of Information and Communications Technology Products and Services None of the 23 agencies fully implemented all of the SCRM practices and 14 of the 23 agencies had not implemented any of the practices. The practice with the highest rate of implementation was implemented by only six agencies. Conversely, none of the other practices were implemented by more than three agencies. Moreover, one practice had not been implemented by any of the agencies. (See figure 2.) Figure 2: Extent to Which the 23 Civilian Chief Financial Officers Act Agencies Implemented Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Practices As a result of these weaknesses, these agencies are at a greater risk that malicious actors could exploit vulnerabilities in the ICT supply chain causing disruption to mission operations, harm to individuals, or theft of intellectual property. For example, without establishing executive oversight of SCRM activities, agencies are limited in their ability to make risk decisions across the organization about how to most effectively secure their ICT product and service supply chains. Moreover, agencies lack the ability to understand and manage risk and reduce the likelihood that adverse events will occur without reasonable visibility and traceability into supply chains. Officials from the 23 agencies cited various factors that limited their implementation of the foundational practices for managing supply chain risks. The most commonly cited factor was the lack of federal SCRM guidance. For example, several agencies reported that they were waiting for federal guidance to be issued from the Federal Acquisition Security Council—a cross-agency group responsible for providing direction and guidance to executive agencies to reduce their supply chain risks—before implementing one or more of the foundational practices. According to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials, the council expects to complete this effort by December 2020. While the additional direction and guidance from the council could further assist agencies with the implementation of these practices, federal agencies currently have guidance to assist with managing their ICT supply chain risks. Specifically, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued ICT SCRM-specific guidance in 2015 and OMB has required agencies to implement ICT SCRM since 2016. Until agencies implement all of the foundational ICT SCRM practices, they will be limited in their ability to address supply chain risks across their organizations effectively. Federal agencies rely extensively on ICT products and services (e.g., computing systems, software, and networks) to carry out their operations. However, agencies face numerous ICT supply chain risks, including threats posed by counterfeiters who may exploit vulnerabilities in the supply chain and, thus, compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an organization's systems and the information they contain. For example, in September 2019, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reported that federal agencies faced approximately 180 different ICT supply chain-related threats. To address threats such as these, agencies must make risk-based ICT supply chain decisions about how to secure their systems. GAO was asked to conduct a review of federal agencies' ICT SCRM practices. The specific objective was to determine the extent to which federal agencies have implemented foundational ICT SCRM practices. To do so, GAO identified seven practices from NIST guidance that are foundational for an organization-wide approach to ICT SCRM and compared them to policies, procedures, and other documentation from the 23 civilian Chief Financial Officers Act agencies. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in October 2020. Information that agencies deemed sensitive was omitted and GAO substituted numeric identifiers that were randomly assigned for the names of the agencies due to sensitivity concerns. The foundational practices comprising ICT SCRM are: establishing executive oversight of ICT activities, including designating responsibility for leading agency-wide SCRM activities; developing an agency-wide ICT SCRM strategy for providing the organizational context in which risk-based decisions will be made; establishing an approach to identify and document agency ICT supply chain(s); establishing a process to conduct agency-wide assessments of ICT supply chain risks that identify, aggregate, and prioritize ICT supply chain risks that are present across the organization; establishing a process to conduct a SCRM review of a potential supplier that may include reviews of the processes used by suppliers to design, develop, test, implement, verify, deliver, and support ICT products and services; developing organizational ICT SCRM requirements for suppliers to ensure that suppliers are adequately addressing risks associated with ICT products and services; and developing organizational procedures to detect counterfeit and compromised ICT products prior to their deployment. GAO also interviewed relevant agency officials. In the sensitive report, GAO made a total of 145 recommendations to the 23 agencies to fully implement foundational practices in their organization-wide approaches to ICT SCRM. Of the 23 agencies, 17 agreed with all of the recommendations made to them; two agencies agreed with most, but not all of the recommendations; one agency disagreed with all of the recommendations; two agencies neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations, but stated they would address them; and one agency had no comments. GAO continues to believe that all of the recommendations are warranted, as discussed in the sensitive report. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harrisCC@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Owner of Texas Chain of Hospice Companies Sentenced for $150 Million Health Care Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme
    In Crime News
    A corporate executive has been ordered to serve 20 years in prison after his conviction related to falsely telling thousands of patients with long-term incurable diseases, such as Alzheimers and dementia, they had less than six months to live and subsequently enrolling them in hospice programs.
    [Read More…]
  • 2019 END Wildlife Trafficking Report
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    Bureau of Oceans and [Read More…]