Grand Juries Carry on During Pandemic

Main content

As the federal courts have gradually resumed operations with new pandemic-era health and safety rules in place, one aspect of the courts’ mission is on a fast track: the resumption of grand jury proceedings.

As of October, all but a few of the 94 U.S. district courts had returned to the use of grand juries – the groups of citizens who meet behind closed doors to judge the strength of a prosecutor’s evidence.

The courts are taking great precautions to protect the health and safety of grand jurors and prospective jurors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, they must be mindful of citizens’ constitutional right to a speedy trial and cognizant of the statute of limitations for filing charges against an individual, typically about five years from the time of the offense.

New Mexico District Chief Judge William P. Johnson

The New Mexico District Court along the southern border has a particularly heavy criminal caseload, driven by immigration, smuggling, and drug trafficking offenses. There are three detention facilities serving its Albuquerque courthouse and five feeding into its Las Cruces courthouse. In addition to concerns over case backlog, any slowdown in grand jury operations risked keeping defendants in unsafe conditions while in custody.

The court suspended grand jury proceedings on March 16. Before resuming them on May 6, the court put into place a number of new polices, requiring everyone entering the courthouse to wear masks, using large jury assembly rooms to allow for safe social distancing, installing hand-sanitizing stations, and bringing in lunches for grand jurors from local restaurants.

New Mexico District Chief Judge William P. Johnson said the actions taken to protect the grand jurors provided valuable experience when the court later resumed jury trials, which require a greater number of prospective jurors to be in the courthouse at one time.

“A very high percentage of grand jurors reported for duty,” Johnson said. “We were very pleasantly surprised by that. No one complained about feeling unsafe and everyone seemed to be comfortable with the precautions we took.”

The court resumed jury trials in September, using many of the same protocols it adopted for its grand jurors.

On the East Coast, courts have faced different obstacles to resuming or sustaining the use of grand juries during the pandemic.

New York Southern District Chief Judge Colleen McMahon

In the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, White Plains, and other suburbs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office elected not to present new cases to the court’s sitting grand juries for the first two months of the pandemic, during the height of the coronavirus outbreak in the city. Then in June, the office requested that the sitting grand jury in White Plains begin hearing cases again.

The court imposed several new safety protocols, including holding grand jury sessions in a much larger room than it typically uses, which allowed for social distancing. It also sought advice from an epidemiologist about how to mitigate airborne coronavirus particles. Plexiglas barriers were installed in the spaces for attorneys and witnesses, allowing them to talk without masks while protecting other participants.

Still, judges and other court personnel wondered what the response would be. Would the grand jurors be willing to come back into the courthouse?

“At that point, the U.S. attorney was ready to resume activity and they told the grand jurors that it was time to come to work. The response was overwhelmingly positive,” said New York Southern District Chief Judge Colleen McMahon.

“That’s the moment when we realized there was something worse than jury service – being stuck at home for weeks at a time,” McMahon said, with a laugh.

Getting citizens to serve has been somewhat easier at the White Plains courthouse than in Manhattan, where people are heavily reliant on the subway, bus lines, and other forms of mass transit. However, the judge said the court has been able to find a sufficient number of grand jurors in both locations.

A grand jury decides whether the legal standard of probable cause has been met to indict someone for a crime. Delaying grand juries and indictments can greatly extend the time it takes to complete an investigation while evidence grows stale. There also are time limits for bringing an indictment after someone has been arrested for a crime – the law protects people from being arrested and detained for long periods without charges being filed.

“You can quickly run into constitutional problems,” McMahon said. “When you arrest someone, eventually you are going to have to convene a grand jury. People are getting arrested all the time, viruses or not. Our criminal justice system does not stop, and the grand jury is by constitutional fiat an integral part of that process.”

Chief Judge Patricia A. Gaughan

In the Cleveland area over the summer months, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was grappling with a growing number of major cases during the pandemic, including those involving violent offenders, national security offenses, and domestic terrorism. At the office’s request, the Northern District of Ohio went forward with a limited number of grand jury sessions after putting multiple protections for the jurors in place, including converting a large ceremonial courtroom in Cleveland into a grand jury room.

“There were cases that simply had to be addressed,” said Chief Judge Patricia A. Gaughan. “That is where the trust factor comes in. We have a good working relationship with the United States Attorney’s office, and we did allow those cases to go forward.”

The court learned to improvise. When the grand jury was scheduled to meet, alternate jurors were contacted and asked to be ready to step in if needed. That allowed the judge to excuse jurors who had to quarantine, who were in high-risk categories, or who had encountered child-care issues with the closing of schools.

“We were able to excuse everyone who needed to be excused and we still obtained a quorum,” Gaughan said.

Read the Series

This is the fourth in a series of articles about how federal courts are working to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Next in this series: Technology, innovation play key role in advancing cases.

Like many courts around the country, Northern Ohio faces a backlog because of the number of cases that had to be postponed. Judges “have been working nonstop” to stay on top of all non-trial proceedings that can move forward with videoconferencing, such as changes of plea hearings and sentencing hearings, Gaughan said.

“We are up to speed with those proceedings,” she said. “The backlog is almost exclusively with trials.”

The Southern New York District is also working through a backlog and continues to hold only two trials at a time in order to ensure proper social distancing and lower the risk for participants.

“Our philosophy is, we can try and fail, but we can’t not try,” Chief Judge McMahon said. “Then we at least have an argument to make when someone raises constitutional and speedy trial issues.”

Hits: 4

News Network

  • Killing of Tahir Naseem
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Cale Brown, Deputy [Read More…]
  • Indian Health Service: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Federal Facilities’ Decision-Making About the Use of Funds
    In U.S GAO News
    The Indian Health Service's (IHS) oversight of federally operated health care facilities' decision-making process about the use of funds has been limited and inconsistent. Funds include those from appropriations, as well as payments from federal programs, such as Medicaid and from private insurance, for care provided by IHS to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). While some oversight functions are performed at IHS headquarters, the agency has delegated primary responsibility for the oversight of health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds to its area offices. Area office officials said the oversight they provide has generally included (1) reviewing facilities' scope of services, and (2) reviewing facilities' proposed expenditures. However, GAO's review found that this oversight was limited and inconsistent across IHS area offices, in part, due to a lack of consistent agency-wide processes. While IHS officials from all nine area offices GAO interviewed said they reviewed facilities' scope of services and coordinated with tribes when doing so, none reported systematically reviewing the extent to which their facilities' services were meeting local health needs, such as by incorporating the results of community health assessments. Such assessments can involve the collection and assessment of data, as well as the input of local community members and leaders to identify and prioritize community needs. These assessments can be used by facilities to assess their resources and identify priorities for facility investment. While IHS has identified such assessments as a priority, the agency does not require federally operated facilities to conduct such assessments or require the area offices to use them as they review facilities' scope of services. To ensure that facilities are effectively managing their resources, IHS has a process to guide its review of facilities' proposed construction projects that cost at least $25,000. However, IHS does not have a similar process to guide its oversight of other key proposed expenditures, such as those involving the purchase of major medical equipment, the hiring of providers, or the expansion of services. Specifically, GAO found limitations and inconsistencies with respect to requiring a documented justification for proposed expenditures; documenting the review and approval of decisions; and conducting an impact assessment on patient access, cost, and quality of care. The limitations and inconsistencies that GAO found in IHS's oversight are driven by the lack of consistent oversight processes across the area offices. Without establishing a systematic oversight process to compare federally operated facilities' current services to population needs, and to guide the review of facilities' proposed expenditures, IHS cannot ensure that its facilities are identifying and investing in projects to meet the greatest community needs, and therefore that federal resources are being maximized to best serve the AI/AN population. IHS, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides care to AI/AN populations through a system of federally operated and tribally operated health care facilities. AI/AN have experienced long standing problems accessing needed health care services. GAO has previously reported that IHS has not been able to pay for all eligible health care services; however, the resources available to federally operated facilities have recently grown. This report assesses IHS oversight of federal health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds. GAO reviewed IHS policies and documents; and interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, nine area offices, and three federally operated facilities (two hospitals and one health clinic). GAO recommends that IHS develop processes to guide area offices in (1) systematically assessing how federally operated facilities will effectively meet the needs of their patient populations, and (2) reviewing federal facilities' spending proposals. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Louisiana Man Sentenced for Arson of Three African-American Churches
    In Crime News
    Holden Matthews, 23, was sentenced today in the Western District of Louisiana to XX months imprisonment for intentionally setting fire to three African-American Baptist churches because of the religious character of those buildings.
    [Read More…]
  • Facial Recognition Technology: Privacy and Accuracy Issues Related to Commercial Uses
    In U.S GAO News
    Market research and other data suggest that the market for facial recognition technology has increased in the number and types of businesses that use it since GAO's 2015 report on the topic (GAO-15-621 ). For example, newer functions of the technology identified by stakeholders and literature included authorizing payments and tracking and monitoring attendance of students, employees, or those attending events. Functions of Facial Recognition Technology Accuracy. Although the accuracy of facial recognition technology has increased dramatically in recent years, differences in performance exist for certain demographic groups. National Institute of Standards and Technology tests found that facial recognition technology generally performs better on lighter-skin men and worse on darker-skin women, and does not perform as well on children and elderly adults. These differences could result in more frequent misidentification for certain demographics, such as misidentifying a shopper as a shoplifter when comparing the individual's image against a data set of known shoplifters. There is no consensus on what causes performance differences, including physical factors (such as lighting) or factors related to the creation or operation of the technology. However, stakeholders and literature identified various methods that could help mitigate differences in performance among demographic groups. Privacy. Stakeholders and literature identified concerns related to privacy, such as the inability of individuals to remain anonymous in public or the use of the technology without individuals' consent. Facial recognition technology may collect or store facial images, posing varying levels of risk. Some federal and state laws and the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation impose requirements on U.S. companies related to facial recognition technology. However, as we reported in 2015, there is no comprehensive federal privacy law governing the collection, use, and sale of personal information by private-sector companies. Some stakeholders, including privacy and industry groups, have developed voluntary frameworks that seek to address privacy concerns. Most of these frameworks were consistent with internationally recognized principles for protecting the privacy and security of personal information. However, U.S. companies are not required to follow these voluntary frameworks. Facial recognition technology can verify or identify an individual from a facial image. Advocacy groups and others have raised privacy concerns related to private companies' use of the technology, as well as concerns that higher error rates among some demographic groups could lead to disparate treatment. GAO was asked to review the commercial use of facial recognition technology and related accuracy and privacy issues. Among other issues, this report examines how companies use the technology, its accuracy and how accuracy differs across demographic groups, and how privacy issues are addressed in laws and industry practices. GAO analyzed laws; reviewed literature and company documentation; interviewed federal agency officials; and interviewed representatives from companies, industry groups, and privacy groups. GAO also reviewed selected privacy frameworks, chosen based on expert recommendations and research. GAO reiterates its previous suggestion from a 2013 report ( GAO-13-663 ) that Congress consider strengthening the consumer privacy framework to reflect changes in technology and the marketplace. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Utah Man Posing As Medical Doctor To Sell Baseless Coronavirus Cure Indicted On Fraud Charges
    In Crime News
    Utah resident Gordon H. Pedersen has been indicted for posing as a medical doctor to sell a baseless treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City late last week, Pedersen fraudulently promoted and sold ingestible silver-based products as a cure for COVID-19 despite having no evidence that his products could treat or cure the disease. Pedersen is also alleged to have claimed to be a physician and worn a stethoscope and white lab coat in videos and photos posted on the Internet to further his alleged fraud scheme.
    [Read More…]
  • Citizen Scientists Discover Dozens of New Cosmic Neighbors in NASA Data
    In Space
    Using a NASA-designed [Read More…]
  • Doctor Sentenced for Role in Unlawful Distribution of Opioids
    In Crime News
    An Ohio physician was sentenced to two years in prison today for his role in illegally distributing opioids.
    [Read More…]
  • United States and Morocco Sign Cultural Property Agreement
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Designating Officials and Entities in Connection with the Military Coup in Burma
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Newly Reprocessed Images of Europa Show ‘Chaos Terrain’ in Crisp Detail
    In Space
    Work is ongoing to [Read More…]
  • National Health Care Fraud and Opioid Takedown Results in Charges Against 345 Defendants Responsible for More than $6 Billion in Alleged Fraud Losses
    In Crime News
    Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, Deputy Inspector General Gary Cantrell of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and Assistant Administrator Tim McDermott of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today announced a historic nationwide enforcement action involving 345 charged defendants across 51 federal districts, including more than 100 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals. 
    [Read More…]
  • Social Security Contracting: Relevant Guidance Should Be Revised to Reflect the Role of Contracting Personnel in Software Development
    In U.S GAO News
    The approach followed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in awarding and overseeing contracts generally aligns with the requirements GAO reviewed. For the 27 contracts and orders GAO reviewed, SSA varied its approach depending on the contract type used and the dollar value. For example, one of SSA's written acquisition plans acknowledged the risks to the government associated with time-and-materials contracts. From fiscal year 2015 through 2019, SSA obligated 22.7 percent of its contract dollars on time-and-material contracts compared with 10.5 percent at other civilian agencies. In addition, from fiscal year 2015 through 2019, the rate at which SSA used competitive award procedures to achieve the best value for the agency increased by nearly 20 percentage points. This increase was the result of the agency's increased use of competition in its contracting for information technology (IT). SSA relies heavily on IT resources to support the administration of its programs and related activities. During fiscal years 2015 through 2019, about 65 percent of the $8.3 billion in contract obligations were for IT goods and services compared with about 16 percent at other civilian agencies. The figure shows the percentage of obligations for IT goods and services at SSA. Percentage of Social Security Administration's Contract Obligations for Goods and Services during Fiscal Years 2015 through 2019 SSA adopted an Agile approach to software development for some of its critical IT programs in 2015. An Agile approach to software development involves incremental improvements to software rather than the more traditional single-track approach. Subsequently, SSA developed an IT modernization plan in 2017 that states SSA will use an Agile methodology. GAO's draft Agile Assessment Guide states that an organization's acquisition policies and guidance should support an Agile development approach and identify clear roles for contracting personnel, since this is a different approach than federal agencies previously used. However, GAO found SSA's acquisition handbook does not specifically identify a role for contracting personnel with respect to contracts and task orders involving Agile, which GAO has identified as a leading practice. Identifying a role for contracting personnel in the Agile process should better position SSA to achieve its IT modernization goals and provide appropriate levels of oversight. SSA is responsible for delivering services that touch the lives of virtually every American. To do so, SSA relies on a variety of products and services, including information technology (IT) systems. SSA obligates approximately $1.5 billion annually to procure goods and services, 65 percent of which are IT-related. GAO was asked to assess how SSA implements its contracting and acquisition processes. This report examines: (1) how SSA awards and oversees contracts for products and services, and (2) the extent to which SSA has updated its guidance regarding the role of contracting personnel in software development efforts. GAO reviewed SSA's acquisition policies, interviewed contracting officials, and reviewed a non-generalizable sample of 27 high- and lower value contracts and orders with dollars obligated in fiscal years 2014 through 2018. GAO also examined data from fiscal years 2015-2019 to determine what SSA contracted for and reviewed IT guidance. GAO compared SSA's practices to leading practices for Agile software development with respect to the roles of contracting personnel. GAO recommends that SSA revise relevant guidance to identify the roles of contracting personnel in Agile software development. SSA agreed with this recommendation. For more information, contact William Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Ambassador Reeker’s Travel to Turkey
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Ghana Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Deputy Secretary Biegun’s Calls with Armenian Foreign Minister Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • High Ranking MS-13 Gang Member Facing Federal Firearms Charges After Nightclub Shooting
    In Crime News
    A criminal complaint was unsealed Nov. 6 charging the local leader of an MS-13 Gang clique with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.
    [Read More…]
  • Five Charged in Connection with COVID-Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    Five individuals were charged in an indictment unsealed today for their alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $1.1 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew D. Krueger of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
    [Read More…]
  • Attorney General William P. Barr Announces Updates on Operation Legend at Press Conference in Kansas City, Missouri
    In Crime News
    At a press conference in Kansas City, Missouri, today, Attorney General William P. Barr announced updates on Operation Legend.
    [Read More…]
  • Houthi Attacks Impacting Civilians
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Intelligence Community: Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Workforce Diversity Planning and Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that the representation of some demographic groups within the Intelligence Community (IC) workforce increased from fiscal years 2011 through 2019—the latest available data. Over this period, the proportion of women, racial or ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities changed by .7, 3.3, and 6.2 percentage points, respectively. However, the representation of women, racial or ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities remained below comparable benchmarks and declined among higher ranks in fiscal year 2019. IC elements report taking steps to address leading practices for managing workforce diversity, but report gaps in diversity planning. GAO found that most IC elements report taking steps to address seven of nine leading practices for diversity management. For the remaining two leading practices—strategic planning and measurement—most elements report taking one or no steps. Number of Intelligence Community (IC) Elements and the Steps They Report Taking to Implement Leading Practices for Workforce Diversity Management, as of August 2020 GAO leading practices Number of IC elements that report taking steps Leadership commitment 17 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps Recruitment 14 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, and three IC elements report taking one step Employee involvement 14 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, two IC elements report taking one step, and one IC element reports taking no step Diversity training 14 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, and three IC elements report taking one step Performance 12 of 17 IC elements linked diversity management with enhanced performance while five IC elements did not Succession planning 9 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, and eight IC elements report taking one step Accountability 9 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, seven IC elements report taking one step, and one IC element reports taking no steps Strategic planning 3 of 17 IC elements have current and complete strategic plans Measurement 6 of 17 IC elements have diversity-related performance measures Source: GAO analysis of IC element documents and GAO leading practices for diversity management. | GAO-21-83 Further, while all IC elements report having a process to identify barriers to diversity, nine IC elements report not completing required barrier assessments. Without fully implementing leading practices for managing workforce diversity and conducting routine barrier assessments, the IC may miss opportunities to develop effective and efficient diversity policies and programs. ODNI's Office of Intelligence Community Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity (IC EEOD) is meeting seven of eight leading practices for enhancing and sustaining the coordination of diversity initiatives across the 17 IC elements. However, IC EEOD partially met the practice to reinforce agency accountability. Specifically, IC EEOD has not established IC-wide implementation objectives and timeframes to demonstrate progress. As a result, IC EEOD risks not holding IC elements accountable for enhancing workforce diversity. The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy states that the IC will recruit, develop, and retain a diverse, inclusive, and expert workforce to enable mission success. ODNI reports that the IC is taking steps to increase the representation of diverse groups, such as issuing new strategies to enhance workforce planning. However, barriers to establishing a diverse workforce exist across the IC, according to an ODNI 2017 analysis. GAO was asked to review the IC's progress in enhancing workforce diversity. This report (1) summarizes ODNI annual demographic reports on the proportion of women, racial or ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities; and assesses the extent to which (2) IC elements report taking steps to address leading practices for managing workforce diversity and to identify potential barriers to maintaining a diverse workforce; and (3) ODNI is addressing leading practices for coordinating IC workforce diversity initiatives. GAO reviewed IC-wide and IC element specific policies and guidance; interviewed ODNI, and other IC officials; and administered a questionnaire to all 17 IC elements to obtain information on diversity strategies and challenges. GAO is making seven recommendations, including that the Director of National Intelligence issue or update guidance to ensure IC elements maintain diversity strategic plans, assess and take steps to eliminate barriers to diversity, and establish implementation objectives and timeframes to hold IC elements accountable. ODNI agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or mazanecb@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Keeping a Steady Eye on Sea Level Change From Space
    In Space
    The Sentinel-6/Jason-CS [Read More…]
  • Burkina Faso’s National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • California Woman Pleads Guilty to Hate Crime for Threatening to Bomb Catholic Prep School
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that Sonia Tabizada, age 36, of San Jacinto, California, pleaded guilty in federal court to intentionally obstructing persons in the enjoyment of their free exercise of religious beliefs by threatening to bomb the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 247. 
    [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…]
  • This Week in Iran Policy
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • K-12 Education: School Districts Need Better Information to Help Improve Access for People with Disabilities
    In U.S GAO News
    Two-thirds of U.S. public school districts have schools with physical barriers that may limit access for people with disabilities, according to GAO's survey of district officials. Barriers, such as a lack of accessible door hardware and steep ramps, can make it challenging for students, teachers, and others with disabilities to use public school facilities (see fig.). In 55 schools across six states, the most common areas with barriers GAO observed were restrooms, interior doorways, and classrooms. GAO also observed barriers related to safety and security. For example, for security, some schools had installed double-door vestibules with limited maneuvering space that could trap people who use wheelchairs. Examples of Doorway and Auditorium Barriers GAO Observed in Schools Note: Barriers presented in this figure potentially limit physical access for people with disabilities, but taken alone, would not necessarily establish whether a legal violation has occurred. An estimated 70 percent of districts had large-scale renovations, small-scale upgrades, or accessibility evaluations planned in the next 3 calendar years, but frequently cited funding constraints as a challenge to these efforts. Districts also identified the need to prioritize projects that keep buildings operational, such as roofing and heating projects. In addition, GAO's survey, observations during site visits, and interviews with national disability groups revealed a tension between making safety and security upgrades and improving physical accessibility. The Department of Justice (Justice) has not provided technical assistance on physical accessibility in schools, and GAO's surveys indicate such help is needed. Justice has authority to provide information on interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), including for public schools, and it has provided technical assistance regarding other public facilities, such as stadiums. In addition, Justice, along with the Department of Education (Education) and other federal agencies, recently launched a new website on school safety, but it does not include specific information on how to improve accessibility of public school facilities or provide information on ADA requirements in the context of school safety upgrades. Without such information, federal agencies may miss opportunities to help ensure that people with disabilities have safe and secure access to public school facilities. National reports have raised concerns about the physical accessibility of public school facilities for people with disabilities. These facilities serve important roles as schools, voting locations, and emergency shelters, among other things. GAO was asked to examine the physical accessibility of public school facilities. This report examines the extent to which (1) school districts have school facilities with physical barriers that may limit access for people with disabilities, (2) districts plan to improve the accessibility of school facilities and the challenges they face, and (3) Justice and Education assist districts and states in improving school facilities' physical accessibility. GAO conducted a nationally representative survey of school districts; surveyed states and the District of Columbia; examined 55 schools across six states, selected for variation in size and other characteristics; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; and interviewed federal, state, and school district officials, and national disability groups. GAO recommends that Justice work with Education to (1) provide information specific to accessibility of public school facilities and (2) provide information on federal accessibility requirements in the context of public school safety and security. Justice neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s Negotiating Team
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Former DeSales University Priest Indicted on Child Pornography Offenses
    In Crime News
    A former DeSales University priest was charged by indictment with three counts of child pornography offenses.
    [Read More…]
  • United States Sanctions Russian Government Research Institution
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Two California Doctors for Discrimination Against Patient with HIV
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department filed lawsuits today alleging that two obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) doctors in Bakersfield, California refused to provide routine medical care to a patient on the basis of her HIV status, in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
    [Read More…]
  • The Houthis Must Cease the Assault on Marib
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • The United States Presents its Universal Periodic Review National Report
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Upcoming Elections in Africa
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Remarks by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers on ISIS Militants Charged with Deaths of Americans in Syria
    In Crime News
    Good morning.  I’m [Read More…]
  • Benin Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Abusive Tax Schemes: Offshore Insurance Products and Associated Compliance Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    Federal law provides certain tax benefits for transactions involving genuine insurance products, including insurance products held offshore. While taxpayers may lawfully hold offshore insurance products, they contain features that make them vulnerable for use in abusive tax schemes. For example, offshore insurance products can be highly technical and individualized, making enforcement challenging, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials. Furthermore, insurance is not defined by federal statute, potentially making a determination of what constitutes genuine insurance for federal tax purposes unclear. Offshore micro-captive insurance products, which are made by small insurance companies owned by the businesses they insure, may be abused if the corporate taxpayer improperly claims deductions for payments made to a micro-captive for federal tax purposes. Courts have applied certain considerations to determine whether these deductions can be claimed. For example, one consideration is whether the insurance legitimately distributes risk across participating entities. IRS officials said they expend significant resources reviewing these schemes because of the varied ways insurance companies may work. Offshore variable life insurance products, which are insurance policies with investment components over which the insured has certain control, may be abused if the individual taxpayer fails to meet IRS reporting requirements or pay appropriate federal income taxes. Federal regulations require that taxpayers with certain foreign life insurance accounts report this information to IRS and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The structure of life insurance products may vary and taxpayers are required to pay taxes based on the underlying type of financial product the policy represents. The figure below shows how noncompliance may occur when taxpayers use life insurance and micro-captive insurance in abusive tax schemes. Abusive Use of Micro-captive and Life Insurance When structured in abusive ways, insurance products held offshore can be designed to aid in unlawful tax evasion by U.S. taxpayers. Two products that IRS has recently warned have the potential for such abuse include micro-captive insurance and variable life insurance policies. GAO was asked to review how taxpayers may abuse offshore insurance products. This report describes (1) how offshore insurance tax shelters provide opportunities for income tax abuse; (2) how offshore micro-captive insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes; and (3) how offshore variable life insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes. GAO reviewed IRS tax and information return forms, relevant U.S. case law and IRS guidance, academic and trade publications, and applicable statutes and regulations. GAO also interviewed IRS officials and professionals in the tax preparation and insurance industries. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or LucasJudyJ@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Briefing With State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott W. Busby
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Scott Busby, Deputy [Read More…]
  • Statement of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division on the Closing of Its Investigation of London Stock Exchange Group and Refinitiv
    In Crime News
    Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued the following statement today in connection with the closing of the division’s investigation into the proposed acquisition of Refinitiv by the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG): “After an extensive review of the proposed transaction, the Antitrust Division determined that the combination of LSEG and Refinitiv is unlikely to result in harm to competition or American consumers.”
    [Read More…]
  • The Honorable Douglas H. Ginsburg Receives Justice Department’s 2020 John Sherman Award
    In Crime News
    The Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice today presented Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg with the John Sherman Award for his lifetime contributions to the development of antitrust law and the preservation of economic liberty.  The award is the Department of Justice’s highest antitrust honor. Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim presented the award and gave remarks  celebrating Judge Ginsburg’s contributions during a ceremony displayed virtually and conducted at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building.  Judge Ginsburg also delivered remarks in accepting the award.  
    [Read More…]
  • Texas Man Charged In $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Dallas-area man was charged in an indictment filed Thursday for his alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking approximately $24.8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • On the Passing of Former Palau President Kuniwo Nakamura
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Nauru Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute Release of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume E–15, Part 2, Documents on Western Europe, 1973–1976, Second, Revised Edition
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with New Jersey-Based Staffing Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with Collabera, Inc., a Basking Ridge, New Jersey-based information technology (IT) staffing agency.  The settlement resolves the department’s claims that Collabera violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) when it discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizens.
    [Read More…]
  • The Department of Justice Announces Standards for Certifying Safe Policing Practices by Law Enforcement Agencies
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice announced Standards for Certification that will be used by credentialing bodies so they can begin certifying thousands of law enforcement agencies over the next three months. The Standards of Certification are a result of President Trump’s June Executive Order 13929, Safe Policing for Safe Communities.
    [Read More…]
  • Rebranding United States Foreign Assistance
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Federal Courts Participate in Audio Livestream Pilot
    In U.S Courts
    Thirteen district courts around the country will livestream audio of select proceedings in civil cases of public interest next year as part of a two-year pilot program.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Sues to Block Visa’s Proposed Acquisition of Plaid
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to stop Visa Inc.’s $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid Inc. Visa is a monopolist in online debit services, charging consumers and merchants billions of dollars in fees each year to process online payments.  Plaid, a successful fintech firm, is developing a payments platform that would challenge Visa’s monopoly. 
    [Read More…]
  • Suspending and Terminating the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with the Governments El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Texas Clinic Owner and Clinic Employee Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Unlawfully Prescribe Hundreds of Thousands of Opioids
    In Crime News
    A Houston-area pain clinic owner and a clinic employee who posed as a physician were sentenced to 240 months and 96 months in prison, respectively, today for their roles at a “pill mill” where they and their co-conspirator illegally prescribed hundreds of thousands of doses of opioids and other controlled substances.
    [Read More…]
  • Estonia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Higher Education: IRS and Education Could Better Address Risks Associated with Some For-Profit College Conversions
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified 59 for-profit college conversions that occurred from January 2011 through August 2020, almost all of which involved the college's sale to a tax-exempt organization. In about one-third of the conversions, GAO found that former owners or other officials were insiders to the conversion—for example, by creating the tax-exempt organization that purchased the college or retaining the presidency of the college after its sale (see figure). While leadership continuity can benefit a college, insider involvement in a conversion poses a risk that insiders may improperly benefit—for example, by influencing the tax-exempt purchaser to pay more for the college than it is worth. Once a conversion has ended a college's for-profit ownership and transferred ownership to an organization the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes as tax-exempt, the college must seek Department of Education (Education) approval to participate in federal student aid programs as a nonprofit college. Since January 2011, Education has approved 35 colleges as nonprofit colleges and denied two; nine are under review and 13 closed prior to Education reaching a decision. Figure: Example of a For-Profit College Conversion with Officials in Insider Roles IRS guidance directs staff to closely scrutinize whether significant transactions with insiders reported by an applicant for tax-exempt status will exceed fair-market value and improperly benefit insiders. If an application contains insufficient information to make that assessment, guidance says that staff may need to request additional information. In two of 11 planned or final conversions involving insiders that were disclosed in an application, GAO found that IRS approved the application without certain information, such as the college's planned purchase price or an appraisal report estimating the college's value. Without such information, IRS staff could not assess whether the price was inflated to improperly benefit insiders, which would be grounds to deny the application. If IRS staff do not consistently apply guidance, they may miss indications of improper benefit. Education has strengthened its reviews of for-profit college applications for nonprofit status, but it does not monitor newly converted colleges to assess ongoing risk of improper benefit. In two of three cases GAO reviewed in depth, college financial statements disclosed transactions with insiders that could indicate the risk of improper benefit. Education officials agreed that they could assess this risk through its audited financial statement review process and could develop procedures to do so. Until Education develops and implements such procedures for new conversions, potential improper benefit may go undetected. A for-profit college may convert to nonprofit status for a variety of reasons, such as wanting to align its status and mission. However, in some cases, former owners or other insiders could improperly benefit from the conversion, which is impermissible under the Internal Revenue Code and Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. GAO was asked to examine for-profit college conversions. This report reviews what is known about insider involvement in conversions and to what extent IRS and Education identify and respond to the risk of improper benefit. GAO identified converted for-profit colleges and reviewed their public IRS filings. GAO also examined IRS and Education processes for overseeing conversions, interviewed agency officials, and reviewed federal laws, regulations and agency guidance. GAO selected five case study colleges based on certain risk factors, obtained information from college officials, and reviewed their audited financial statements. In three cases, GAO also reviewed Education case files. Because of the focus on IRS and Education oversight, GAO did not audit any college in this review to determine whether its conversion improperly benefitted insiders. GAO is making three recommendations, including that IRS assess and improve conversion application reviews and that Education develop and implement procedures to monitor newly converted colleges. IRS said it will assess its review process and will evaluate GAO's other recommendation, as discussed in the report. Education agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Homelessness: Better HUD Oversight of Data Collection Could Improve Estimates of Homeless Population
    In U.S GAO News
    Data collected through the Point-in-Time (PIT) count—a count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night—have limitations for measuring homelessness. The PIT count is conducted each January by Continuums of Care (CoC)—local homelessness planning bodies that apply for grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and coordinate homelessness services. The 2019 PIT count estimated that nearly 568,000 people (0.2 percent of the U.S. population) were homeless, a decline from the 2012 count of about 621,500 but a slight increase over the period's low of about 550,000 in 2016. While HUD has taken steps to improve data quality, the data likely underestimate the size of the homeless population because identifying people experiencing homelessness is inherently difficult. Some CoCs' total and unsheltered PIT counts have large year-over-year fluctuations, which raise questions about data accuracy. GAO found that HUD does not closely examine CoCs' methodologies for collecting data to ensure they meet HUD's standards. HUD's instructions to CoCs on probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness were incomplete. Some CoC representatives also said that the assistance HUD provides on data collection does not always meet their needs. By strengthening its oversight and guidance in these areas, HUD could further improve the quality of homelessness data. To understand factors associated with homelessness in recent years, GAO used PIT count data to conduct an econometric analysis, which found that rental prices were associated with homelessness. To mitigate data limitations, GAO used data from years with improved data quality and took other analytical steps to increase confidence in the results. CoC representatives GAO interviewed also identified rental prices and other factors such as job loss as contributing to homelessness. Estimated Homelessness Rates and Household Median Rent in the 20 Largest Continuums of Care (CoC), 2018 Note: This map shows the 20 largest Point-in-Time counts by CoC in 2018. GAO estimated 2018 homelessness rates because the U.S. Census Bureau data used to calculate these rates were available up to 2018 at the time of analysis. GAO used 2017 median rents (in 2018 dollars) across all unit sizes and types. Policymakers have raised concerns about the extent to which recent increases in homelessness are associated with the availability of affordable housing. Moreover, counting the homeless population is a longstanding challenge. GAO was asked to review the current state of homelessness in the United States. This report examines (1) efforts to measure homelessness and HUD's oversight of these efforts and (2) factors associated with recent changes in homelessness. GAO analyzed three HUD data sources on homelessness and developed an econometric model of the factors influencing changes in homelessness. GAO also conducted structured interviews with 12 researchers and representatives of 21 CoCs and four focus groups with a total of 34 CoC representatives responsible for collecting and maintaining homelessness data. CoCs were selected for interviews and focus groups to achieve diversity in size and geography. GAO also visited three major cities that experienced recent increases in homelessness. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct quality checks on CoCs' data-collection methodologies, (2) improve its instructions for using probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness, and (3) assess and enhance the assistance it provides to CoCs on data collection. HUD concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Florida Resident Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Falsify Clinical Trial Data
    In Crime News
    A Florida resident pleaded guilty to conspiring to falsify clinical trial data regarding an asthma medication, the Department of Justice announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hill Tinoco
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with French Foreign Minister Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Maas, and UK Foreign Secretary Raab
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Madagascar Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel [Read More…]
  • Military Housing: DOD Has Taken Key Steps to Strengthen Oversight, but More Action Is Needed in Some Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    In 1996 Congress provided DOD with authorities enabling it to obtain private-sector financing and management to repair, renovate, construct, and operate military housing. DOD has since privatized about 99 percent of its domestic housing. The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in addressing weaknesses in its privatized housing program, and GAO has identified additional opportunities to strengthen the program. GAO reported in March 2020 on DOD's oversight and its role in the management of privatized housing. Specifically, GAO found that 1) the military departments conducted some oversight of the physical condition of privatized housing, but some efforts were limited in scope; 2) the military departments used performance metrics to monitor private developers, but the metrics did not provide meaningful information on the condition of housing; 3) the military departments and private developers collected maintenance data on homes, but these data were not captured reliably or consistently, and 4) DOD provided reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but some data in these reports were unreliable, leading to misleading results. GAO made 12 recommendations, including that DOD take steps to improve housing condition oversight, performance indicators, maintenance data, and resident satisfaction reporting. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. As of February 2021, DOD fully implemented 5 recommendations and partially implemented 7 recommendations. DOD should also take action to improve the process for setting basic allowance for housing (BAH)—a key source of revenue for privatized housing projects. In January 2021, GAO reported on DOD's process to determine BAH. GAO found that DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. GAO recommended that DOD review its methodology to increase sample sizes. GAO has also determined, in a report to be issued this week, that DOD should improve oversight of privatized housing property insurance and natural disaster recovery. GAO assessed the extent to which the military departments and the Office of the Secretary of Defense exercise oversight of their projects' insurance coverage. GAO found that the military departments have exercised insufficient oversight, and that the Office of the Secretary of Defense has not regularly monitored the military departments' implementation of insurance requirements. Without establishing procedures for timely and documented reviews, the military departments cannot be assured that the projects are complying with insurance requirements and assuming a proper balance of risk and cost. The draft of this report, which GAO provided to DOD for official comment, included 9 recommendations, 2 of which DOD addressed in January 2021 by issuing policy updates. The final report's 7 remaining recommendations, including that the military departments update their respective insurance review oversight procedures, will help strengthen DOD's oversight of privatized housing, once implemented. DOD concurred with all of the recommendations. Congress enacted the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) in 1996 to improve the quality of housing for servicemembers. DOD is responsible for general oversight of privatized housing projects. Private-sector developers are responsible for the ownership, construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair of about 99 percent of military housing in the United States. GAO has conducted a series of reviews of MHPI, following reports of hazards (such as mold) in homes, questions about DOD's process to determine the basic allowance for housing rates, which is a key revenue source for privatized housing, and concerns about how DOD ensures appropriate property insurance for privatized housing projects impacted by severe weather. This statement summarizes 1) steps DOD has taken to strengthen oversight and management of its privatized housing program, and work remaining; 2) actions needed to improve DOD's BAH process; and 3) actions needed to enhance DOD's oversight of privatized housing property insurance. The statement summarizes two of GAO's prior reports, and a report to be issued, related to privatized housing. For this statement, GAO reviewed prior reports, collected information on recommendation implementation, and interviewed DOD officials. In prior reports, GAO recommended that DOD improve oversight of housing conditions; review its process for determining basic allowance for housing rates; and that the military departments update their housing insurance review oversight procedures. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Sao Tome and Principe Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to Sao [Read More…]
  • Further Sanctions on Entities Trading in or Transporting Iranian Petrochemicals
    In Crime News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]