Judge Honors Mother’s Adversity, Sacrifice by Women

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In a highly personal talk, Judge Paula Xinis recounts how two women inspired her career in the law through their different battles with adversity: Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist who escaped from slavery, and Xinis’ mother.

Xinis recalled how Truth won her 5-year-old son’s freedom after turning to a New York court in the 1820s. She later became a forceful advocate for women and African Americans. “No matter what confronted her, she kept speaking truth to power, in courts of law and in the courts of public opinion,” Xinis said.

Xinis, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, then told the story of her mother, whose life unraveled after she suffered devastating injuries in a car accident and “received pennies in a legal settlement.”

“My mom’s life had two chapters, before the accident and after,” Xinis said. “I lived only with after-the-accident mom. And that mom was depressed, anxious. As I grew older, it became harder for her to bottle up that resentment of having been robbed of everything.”

Xinis spoke in late March during a virtual observance of Women’s History Month hosted by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Before she was appointed to the bench, Xinis served as a federal public defender and then entered private practice, representing disadvantaged clients in criminal and civil cases.

“There’s no doubt that my mom’s struggle became one very important reason why I did what I did as a lawyer,” Xinis said. “And I know she influences how I am on the bench.” 

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    In fiscal year 2019, debt held by the public reached 79 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The government's fiscal response to COVID-19 combined with the severe economic contraction from the pandemic will substantially increase federal debt. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that debt held by the public will reach 98 percent of GDP by the end of fiscal year 2020. The nation's fiscal challenges will require attention once the economy has substantially recovered and public health goals have been attained. GAO has previously reported that a long-term plan is needed to put the government on a sustainable fiscal path. Other countries have used well-designed fiscal rules and targets—which constrain fiscal policy by controlling factors like expenditures or revenue—to contain excessive deficits. For example, Germany's constitution places limits on its deficits. The U.S. federal government has previously enacted fiscal rules, such as those in the Budget Control Act of 2011. However, current fiscal rules have not effectively addressed the misalignment between spending and revenues over time. GAO identified key considerations to help Congress if it were to adopt new fiscal rules and targets, as part of a long-term plan for fiscal sustainability (see table). Key Considerations for Designing, Implementing, and Enforcing Fiscal Rules and Targets Setting clear goals and objectives can anchor a country's fiscal policy. Fiscal rules and targets can help ensure that spending and revenue decisions align with agreed-upon goals and objectives. The weight given to tradeoffs among simplicity, flexibility, and enforceability depends on the goals a country is trying to achieve with a fiscal rule. In addition, there are tradeoffs between the types and combinations of rules, and the time frames over which the rules apply. The degree to which fiscal rules and targets are binding, such as being supported through a country's constitution or nonbinding political agreements, can impact their permanence, as well as the extent to which ongoing political commitment is needed to uphold them. Integrating fiscal rules and targets into budget discussions can contribute to their ongoing use and provide for a built-in enforcement mechanism. The budget process can include reviews of fiscal rules and targets. Fiscal rules and targets with limited, well-defined exemptions, clear escape clauses for events such as national emergencies, and adjustments for the economic cycle can help a country address future crises. Institutions supporting fiscal rules and targets need clear roles and responsibilities for supporting their implementation and measuring their effectiveness. Independently analyzed data and assessments can help institutions monitor compliance with fiscal rules and targets. Having clear, transparent fiscal rules and targets that a government communicates to the public and that the public understands can contribute to a culture of fiscal transparency and promote fiscal sustainability for the country. Source: GAO analysis of literature review and interviews. | GAO-20-561 Our nation faces serious challenges at a time when the federal government is highly leveraged in debt by historical norms. The imbalance between revenue and spending built into current law and policy have placed the nation on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Fiscal rules and targets can be used to help frame and control the overall results of spending and revenue decisions that affect the debt. GAO was asked to review fiscal rules and targets. This report (1) assesses the extent to which the federal government has taken action to contribute to long-term fiscal sustainability through fiscal rules and targets, and (2) identifies key considerations for designing, implementing, and enforcing fiscal rules and targets in the U.S. GAO compared current and former U.S. fiscal rules to literature on the effective use of rules and targets; reviewed CBO reports and relevant laws; and interviewed experts. GAO conducted case studies of national fiscal rules in Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. Congress should consider establishing a long-term fiscal plan that includes fiscal rules and targets, such as a debt-to-GDP target, and weigh GAO's key considerations to ensure proper design, implementation, and enforcement of these rules and targets. The Department of the Treasury and other entities provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin, at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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    The Justice Department announced today that it signed a settlement agreement with Fleetlogix Inc. (Fleetlogix) resolving claims that the company discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizens by requiring them to provide specific and unnecessary work authorization documentation because of their citizenship or immigration status. Fleetlogix, based in San Diego, California, operates offices nationwide that provide cleaning and transportation services to rental car companies.
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  • Department of Defense: Eating Disorders in the Military
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) screens for eating disorders for all applicants entering into the military but does not specifically screen servicemembers for eating disorders after entrance. However, after joining the military, servicemembers receive annual health screenings, and medical personnel may be able to diagnose eating disorders during in-person physical exams. Service branch behavioral health specialists told GAO that DOD medical personnel are trained to notice signs of eating disorders, such as changes in vital signs and emaciated appearance. DOD is examining ways to improve its screening of eating disorders in the military and recently expanded the available research funding for eating disorders in its Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP). DOD provides health care services to approximately 9.5 million eligible beneficiaries, including services to treat those diagnosed with eating disorders, through TRICARE, DOD’s regionally structured health care system. Servicemembers can obtain these services at military treatment facilities—referred to as direct care—or receive care purchased from civilian providers—referred to as purchased care. DOD officials told us that the specialized level of care necessary to treat eating disorders is available to TRICARE beneficiaries through purchased care, rather than direct care. The Defense Health Agency (DHA), which oversees the TRICARE program, uses two contractors to develop regional provider networks. According to the two TRICARE contractors’ data for purchased care, as of spring 2020, there were 166 eating disorder facilities located in 32 states throughout the country and the District of Columbia. The facilities vary by geographic location, population served, and level of treatment provided: Geography: About half of the 166 facilities (79) are located in the following five states: California (24), Florida (18), Illinois (15), Texas (13), and Virginia (nine).  Population: Of the 166 eating disorder facilities, over three-quarters provide treatment to both adult (132 facilities) and child and adolescent (132 facilities) populations. Level of Treatment: Most facilities provide inpatient hospitalization programs, which are for serious cases requiring medical stabilization (81 facilities); partial hospitalization, which are day programs providing treatment 5 to 7 days a week (133 facilities); or intensive outpatient programs, which are treatment programs providing therapy 2 to 6 days a week (107 facilities). About one-fifth of the facilities (35) provide residential treatment services, which are living accommodations providing intensive therapy and 24-hour supervision. TRICARE contractors have met with some challenges entering into contracts with eating disorder treatment facilities in certain areas of the country, according to DHA officials and both contractors. However, both contractors told GAO they consider it their responsibility to ensure beneficiaries receive the care they need regardless of the location of the facility. No access-to-care complaints related to eating disorder treatment were reported by TRICARE beneficiaries, according to the most recent DHA data for years 2018 through 2019. Eating disorders are complex conditions affecting millions of Americans and involve dangerous eating behaviors, such as the restriction of food intake. They can have a severe impact on heart, stomach, and brain functionality, and they significantly raise the risk of mortality. Many with eating disorders also experience co-occurring conditions such as depression. Research has yielded a range of estimates of the number of servicemembers with an eating disorder, due to differences in research methods. For example, a 2018 DOD study concluded that servicemembers likely experienced eating disorders at rates that are comparable to rates in the general population, while other survey-based research suggested the number of servicemembers with eating disorders may be higher than those with a medical diagnoses of such disorders. The potential effects that eating disorders can have on the health and combat readiness of servicemembers and their dependents underscores the importance of screening and treating this population. GAO was asked to provide information on eating disorders among servicemembers and their dependents. To describe how DOD screens for eating disorders among servicemembers, GAO reviewed DOD policies related to health screening and interviewed behavioral health specialists from the military branches. To understand approaches and challenges with implementing screening in a military environment, any planned or ongoing DOD-sponsored research related to this topic, and available eating disorder treatment, GAO interviewed representatives from the Eating Disorder Coalition, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and the University of Kansas. To describe how DOD provides eating disorder treatment to servicemembers and their dependents, GAO interviewed DHA officials and TRICARE contractors and reviewed the TRICARE policy manual to identify the types of eating disorder diagnoses and treatments that are covered through direct and purchased care. GAO received data from the two TRICARE contractors related to the availability of eating disorder treatment services as of spring 2020. For more information, contact Sharon Silas at (202) 512-7114 or Silass@gao.gov.
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  • Immigration Detention: Actions Needed to Improve Planning, Documentation, and Oversight of Detention Facility Contracts
    In U.S GAO News
    In fiscal year 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had detention contracts or agreements with 233 facilities, 185 of which it used to hold detainees, as shown below. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Space Acquisition Methods, Fiscal Year 2019 Acquisition method Total facilities Facilities that held detainees Percentage of average daily population held in facility Intergovernmental service agreement 133 108 59 U.S. Marshals Service rider 85 62 17 Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contract 15 15 24 Total 233 185 100 Source: GAO analysis of ICE data. | GAO-21-149 ICE primarily uses intergovernmental service agreements (IGSA) to acquire detention space. Officials said IGSAs offer several benefits over contracts, including fewer requirements for documentation or competition. ICE has a process for obtaining new detention space, but it did not follow this process for most of its recent acquisitions and does not have a strategic approach to using guaranteed minimum payments in its detention contracts and agreements. From fiscal year 2017 through May 11, 2020, ICE entered into 40 contracts and agreements for new detention space. GAO's review of ICE's documentation found that 28 of 40 of these contracts and agreements did not have documentation from ICE field offices showing a need for the space, outreach to local officials, or the basis for ICE's decisions to enter into them, as required by ICE's process. Until ICE consistently uses its process, it will not have reasonable assurance that it is making cost-effective decisions that best meet its operational needs. ICE has increasingly incorporated guaranteed minimum payments into its contracts and agreements, whereby ICE agrees to pay detention facility operators for a fixed number of detention beds regardless of whether it uses them. However, ICE has not taken a strategic approach to these decisions and has spent millions of dollars a month on unused detention space. Planning for detention space needs can be challenging, according to ICE officials, because the agency must respond to factors that are dynamic and difficult to predict. A strategic approach to using guaranteed minimums could help position ICE to balance these factors and make more effective use of federal funds. ICE relies on Contracting Officer's Representatives (COR) to oversee detention contracts and agreements, but the COR's supervisory structure—where field office management, rather than headquarters, oversee COR work and assess COR performance—does not provide sufficient independence for effective oversight. CORs in eight of 12 field offices identified concerns including lacking resources or support, as well as supervisors limiting their ability to use contract enforcement tools and bypassing CORs' oversight responsibilities in contracting matters. Revising its supervisory structure could help ICE ensure that detention contract and agreement terms are enforced. The Department of Homeland Security's ICE detained approximately 48,500 foreign nationals a day, on average, for 72 hours or more in fiscal year 2019. ICE was appropriated about $3.14 billion in fiscal year 2020 to operate the immigration detention system. ICE has three ways of acquiring detention space—IGSAs with state or local government entities; agreements with Department of Justice U.S. Marshals Service to join an existing contract or agreement (known as a “rider”); or contracts. This report examines (1) what data show about the characteristics of contracts and agreements; (2) the extent to which ICE developed and implemented processes and a strategic approach to acquire space; and (3) the extent to which ICE has overseen and enforced contracts and agreements. GAO reviewed documentation of acquisition and oversight efforts at facilities used to hold detainees for 72 hours or more; analyzed ICE data for the last 3 fiscal years—2017 through 2019; conducted site visits to new and long-standing detention facilities; and interviewed ICE officials. GAO is making five recommendations, including that ICE include stakeholder input and document decision-making for new detention space acquisitions; implement a strategic approach to using guaranteed minimums; and revise its supervisory structure for contract oversight. DHS concurred with four recommendations and disagreed with revising its supervisory structure. GAO believes the recommendation remains valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.
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  • National Nuclear Security Administration: Information on the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request and Affordability of Nuclear Modernization Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is in the midst of a long-term effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile and its supporting production infrastructure. NNSA's modernization plans and budgets are communicated to Congress on an annual basis primarily through two key documents—the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) and DOE's budget justification—together referred to as NNSA's nuclear security budget materials. GAO reviewed four areas related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as described in these budget materials: Funding for nuclear modernization activities. Congress funds NNSA's nuclear modernization activities through the Weapons Activities appropriation account, which falls under the National Defense budget function along with other NNSA, DOE, and Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations related to the common defense and security of the United States. Discretionary defense spending for fiscal year 2021 may not exceed a certain statutory limit, or else a sequestration—a cancellation of budgetary resources—would be triggered. Therefore, a proposed increase for a given program under the National Defense budget function may need to be offset by reductions in other defense programs to keep the defense budget within statutory spending limits. Comparison of modernization activities in budget materials for fiscal year 2021 and earlier. The proposed funding in DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA's nuclear modernization activities for fiscal years 2021 through 2025 is about $81 billion, which is about $15 billion more (or about 23 percent greater) compared to NNSA's estimate for the same period in its fiscal year 2020 budget materials. The main factor contributing to this large increase in proposed funding for fiscal year 2021 was NNSA's reevaluation of the funding needed to meet existing requirements, rather than costs associated with new requirements outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Affordability discussion in the Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP. The Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP included a new section entitled, "Affordability Analysis." NNSA added this section in response to GAO's April 2017 recommendation that the agency include an assessment of its portfolio of modernization programs in future versions of the SSMP. The recommendation addressed a shortfall between NNSA's projected budget needs to meet program requirements and projections of the President's budget, a condition that could recur in the future. GAO found that NNSA's new section on affordability does not fully respond to its recommendation because the section does not provide information about how potential misalignment between NNSA's estimates of future modernization funding needs and projections of the President's modernization budgets may be addressed, or about the potential impacts of adjusting program schedules or cost or schedule overruns. Implications of potential New START expiration for modernization activities. New START is a treaty between the United States and Russia for the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, and it will expire in February 2021 unless both parties agree to extend it for no more than 5 years. DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure. NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification. GAO was asked to review issues related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as reflected in its nuclear security budget materials. DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA includes a proposed $3.1 billion increase for nuclear modernization activities. The budget justification states that it supports the modernization efforts and the scientific tools necessary to execute the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Nuclear posture reviews are issued periodically to assess the global threat environment and establish policy on U.S. nuclear forces. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Covid-19 Contracting: Observations on Federal Contracting in Response to the Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    Government-wide contract obligations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic totaled $17.8 billion as of June 11, 2020. Four agencies accounted for 85 percent of total COVID-19 contract obligations (see figure). This report provides available baseline data on COVID-19 federal contract obligations. Contract Obligations in Response to COVID-19 by Department, as of June 11, 2020 About 62 percent of federal contract obligations were for goods to treat COVID-19 patients and protect health care workers—including ventilators, gowns, and N95 respirators. Less than half of total contract obligations were identified as competed (see figure). Top Five Goods and Services and Percentage of Obligations Competed, as of June 11, 2020 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 30, 2020, the United States has documented more than 2.5 million confirmed cases and more than 125,000 deaths due to COVID-19. To facilitate the U.S. response to the pandemic, numerous federal agencies have awarded contracts for critical goods and services to support federal, state, and local response efforts. GAO's prior work on federal emergency response efforts has found that contracts play a key role, and that contracting during an emergency can present unique challenges as officials can face pressure to provide goods and services as quickly as possible. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included a provision for GAO to provide a comprehensive review of COVID-19 federal contracting. This is the first in a series of GAO reports on this issue. This report describes, among other objectives, key characteristics of federal contracting obligations awarded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Future GAO work will examine agencies' planning and management of contracts awarded in response to the pandemic, including agencies' use of contracting flexibilities provided by the CARES Act. GAO analyzed data from the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation on agencies' reported government-wide contract obligations for COVID-19 through June 11, 2020. GAO also analyzed contract obligations reported at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs—the highest obligating agencies. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or MakM@gao.gov.
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