October 21, 2021

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Justice Department and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Announce Actions to Resolve Lending Discrimination Claims Against Cadence Bank

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<div>The Justice Department and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) today announced coordinated actions to address allegations of lending discrimination by Cadence Bank N.A.</div>
The Justice Department and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) today announced coordinated actions to address allegations of lending discrimination by Cadence Bank N.A.

More from: August 30, 2021

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  • Major New Human Rights-Related Listings and Accompanying Sanctions on Iran 
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  • Defendant Was Convicted of Multiple Counts of Sex and Drug Trafficking, Several Firearm Offenses and Other Offenses, Including Witness Tampering
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  • Foreign Assistance: The United States Provides Wide-ranging Trade Capacity Building Assistance, but Better Reporting and Evaluation Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    From 2005 to 2010, 24 U.S. agencies provided more than $9 billion in trade capacity building (TCB) assistance to help more than 100 countries reduce poverty, increase economic growth, and achieve stability through trade. To report on TCB funding, the U.S. government conducts an annual survey of agencies and publicly reports the data in a TCB database administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). GAO examined (1) how agencies' TCB activities are aligned with the agencies' goals, (2) the extent to which the TCB database provides sufficient information on key trends and funding, and (3) the extent to which USAID monitors and evaluates the effectiveness of its TCB activities. GAO focused on the agencies that reported the most funding for TCB activities since 2005--the Departments of the Army and State, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and USAID--and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). GAO analyzed U.S. government data; reviewed agencies' strategic, budget, and program documents; and met with U.S. and foreign government officials in select countries.USAID and State conduct TCB activities that are aligned with their primary goals, but TCB is secondary to the goals of other agencies. USAID and State have developed strategic plans that include TCB-focused goals. Aligned with these goals, USAID and State assist countries in negotiating and implementing trade agreements. In addition, USAID assists countries in taking advantage of economic growth opportunities stemming from trade, often in conjunction with other agency goals. TCB is not a primary focus of MCC and the Army, however, they conduct activities to meet their broader agency goals that have trade-related effects. MCC identifies trade-related assistance it considers TCB as part of its programs' poverty reduction goals. The Army implements TCB-related physical infrastructure projects as part of its disaster response objectives and in support of its reconstruction and economic development efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. government TCB database has reported that annual TCB funding has increased from $1.35 billion in 2005 to $1.69 billion in 2010, but the database does not adequately describe certain factors underlying this growth and other significant changes in the composition of TCB funding. From 2005 to 2010, two agencies--MCC and the Army--began reporting significant TCB funding, primarily for physical infrastructure projects. Their funding comprised 54 percent of total TCB, and physical infrastructure projects comprised 45 percent of total TCB. However, the TCB database does not adequately explain significant factors driving changes in the composition of TCB funding. In particular, the annual TCB survey methodology attempts to identify and quantify just the trade-related components of projects, but this can be difficult in practice, particularly for physical infrastructure projects. Although GAO found the survey data to be generally reliable, these factors can lead to limitations in the data that are not described for its users. Clear reporting and transparent methodology and data collection are essential to understanding levels of funding and changes in the nature of TCB over time. USAID has improved its assessment of TCB activities, including developing performance indicators and taking the positive step of commissioning a multicountry evaluation of the effects of TCB, but it has yet to develop plans to make use of the evaluation's valuable insights. USAID uses trade and investment indicators to assess the immediate results of its TCB activities. However, officials explained that it is difficult to attribute trade-related trends revealed by the indicators to the effects of TCB assistance and collect valid and reliable data to measure progress. To assess longer-term results, USAID has commissioned evaluations of TCB programs in specific countries, but these are limited in number. It recently commissioned a multicountry evaluation of the long-term effectiveness of its TCB activities agencywide. While USAID is beginning to incorporate the evaluation's results in its training, it has yet to develop plans for disseminating best practices to missions and offices on the methods they may use to better manage and assess their activities. Furthermore, it has not made plans for conducting evaluations on an ongoing basis. GAO recommends that the Administrator of USAID publicly report identified limitations and key distinctions in the categories of TCB assistance in the database. GAO also recommends that USAID develop a written plan for using its recent TCB evaluation and for conducting evaluations on an ongoing basis. USAID stated that it has already taken steps consistent with the GAO recommendations.
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  • 401(k) Retirement Plans: Many Participants Do Not Understand Fee Information, but DOL Could Take Additional Steps to Help Them
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Almost 40 percent of 401(k) plan participants do not fully understand and have difficulty using the fee information that the Department of Labor (DOL) requires plans to provide to participants in fee disclosures, according to GAO's analysis of its generalizable survey (see figure). GAO assessed participants' understanding of samples from several large plans' fee disclosures and other information about fees, and asked general knowledge questions about fees. For example, GAO found that 45 percent of participants are not able to use the information given in disclosures to determine the cost of their investment fee. Additionally, 41 percent of participants incorrectly believe that they do not pay any 401(k) plan fees. Prior GAO work has shown that even seemingly small fees can significantly reduce participants' retirement savings over time. GAO Estimates of 401(k) Plan Participants' Score Distribution on Survey's Fee-Related Assessment Questions GAO's review of selected countries and the European Union (EU) found they have implemented practices to help retirement plan participants understand and use fee information from plan disclosures. For example, stakeholders in those locations said layering data, a technique where information is presented hierarchically, can help participants understand disclosures by providing them key plan information first. Stakeholders also said other tools can help participants understand fee information. In Italy, for example, the government provides a supplemental online tool so participants can compare and calculate fees across plans and investment options, according to stakeholders. This tool also includes a fee benchmark—which is generally an average fee among comparable funds—that helps participants judge the value of an individual investment option. DOL could take additional steps to help 401(k) plan participants improve their understanding and use of fee information, based on GAO survey responses and analysis. DOL regulations require that disclosures present fee information in a format that helps participants compare investment options. However, disclosures are not required to include certain information, such as fee benchmarks and ticker information (unique identifying symbols used for many popular types of investments), that could be helpful for participants. Fee benchmarks can help participants to assess an investment option's value, not only relative to other in-plan options but to options outside the plan. Ticker information can help participants identify many plan investments online to evaluate and compare them to options outside the plan. By requiring such information in disclosures, DOL could help participants better understand and compare their 401(k) plan fees when making investment choices that affect their retirement security. Why GAO Did This Study DOL regulations require 401(k) plans to provide the more than 87 million plan participants with a comprehensive disclosure of the fees they pay. GAO was asked to examine how well participants can understand and use the fee disclosures. This report (1) assesses the extent to which 401(k) plan participants can understand and use fee information in disclosures; (2) describes disclosure practices used by selected countries to help retirement plan participants; and (3) examines any additional steps that DOL could take to advance participant understanding and use of fee information. GAO conducted a nationally representative survey of 401(k) plan participants to assess their understanding of fee disclosure samples from among 10 large plans and of other fee information. To identify and describe disclosure practices used abroad, GAO interviewed stakeholders and reviewed fee disclosure documents from Australia, Italy, New Zealand, and the European Union, chosen because of their documented practices to improve participants' understanding of fee disclosures. To identify any additional steps DOL could take, GAO also reviewed disclosures from 10 large plans, as well as relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed stakeholders in the U.S.
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  • Capital Fund Proposal: Upfront Funding Could Benefit Some Projects, but Other Potential Effects Not Clearly Identified
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Federal agencies have long struggled to obtain full, upfront funding for capital investments to acquire and maintain federal buildings. GAO's review of three selected federal capital projects suggests that such funding might have benefitted those projects and their agencies. For example, GAO estimated that full, upfront funding for the Department of Transportation's headquarters building might have saved up to $1.2 billion by allowing construction of a new headquarters versus what did occur—the General Services Administration (GSA) leased space for years and eventually purchased the building that it had leased. U. S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Headquarters Washington D. C. In an effort to improve federal agencies' access to full, upfront funding for capital investments, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed the $10 billion Federal Capital Revolving Fund Act of 2018 (Capital Fund). The Capital Fund, which would be administered by GSA, could provide upfront funding for certain capital projects of $250 million or more, with agencies repaying the Capital Fund over a 15-year period. While the 2018 Capital Fund proposal has not been enacted, a Capital Fund was referenced in each of the President's budgets since 2019 and in a bill that was introduced in the Senate in May 2021. During the course of GAO's review, officials from GSA and OMB expressed different perspectives on the proposed Capital Fund, and how it might affect the existing Federal Buildings Fund (Buildings Fund) is unclear. GSA officials said that the proposed Capital Fund could divert revenue away from the existing Buildings Fund, which receives rent from GSA tenant agencies and from which GSA pays maintenance and repair costs. OMB officials told us that the Capital Fund could benefit the Buildings Fund by promoting federal ownership over leasing and possibly adding assets to GSA's inventory. GAO identified additional circumstances in which the Capital Fund could affect the Buildings Fund. For example, while the tenant agency would pay operating costs during the first 25-years, the proposal does not directly address what would occur if GSA incurred significant repair costs during this period. As GSA would administer the Capital Fund and manage the Buildings Fund, it is in the best position to analyze when these circumstances might occur and their potential scope as well as how the two funds might interact. Identifying and communicating the possible effects would help OMB and Congress more fully consider legislative proposals. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2003, federal real property management has been on GAO's High-Risk List, in part due to upfront- funding challenges. If enacted, the Capital Fund could provide upfront funding to agencies for certain projects to acquire, construct, or renovate buildings and other federal real property. The existing Buildings Fund funds such projects and the operations and maintenance needs of GSA's portfolio. GAO was asked to review the Capital Fund proposal. This report: (1) describes how federal agencies might have used expanded access to full, upfront funding had it been available, for three selected projects and (2) assesses stakeholder views on the proposed Capital Fund and whether it would affect the Buildings Fund. To assess how agencies might have used full, upfront funding, GAO reviewed three recent capital projects of $250 million or more, selected for the differences in type of project (i.e., acquisition, new construction, and renovation). GAO also analyzed the Capital Fund proposal, GSA's budget, and other documents. Additionally, GAO interviewed GSA and OMB officials.
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  • Defense Infrastructure: Challenges Increase Risks for Providing Timely Infrastructure Support for Army Installations Expecting Substantial Personnel Growth
    In U.S GAO News
    The Army expects significant personnel growth, more than 50 percent in some cases, at 18 domestic bases through 2011 because of the effect of implementing base realignment and closure (BRAC), overseas force rebasing, and force modularity actions. This growth creates the need for additional support infrastructure at these bases and in nearby communities. Military construction costs of over $17 billion are expected for new personnel, and communities will incur infrastructure costs as well. GAO prepared this report under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative. It addresses (1) the challenges and associated risks the Army faces in providing for timely infrastructure support at its gaining installations and (2) how communities are planning and funding for infrastructure to support incoming personnel and their families. GAO analyzed personnel restationing numbers, discussed planning efforts with Army and community officials, and visited nine of the larger gaining bases and nearby communities.The Army has developed plans to accommodate the growth of about 154,000 personnel at its domestic bases, but it faces several complex implementation challenges that risk late provision of needed infrastructure to adequately support incoming personnel. First, Army plans continue to evolve, and Army headquarters and each of the nine gaining bases we visited were relying on different numbers of personnel movements and were not fully aware of the causes for the variances. For example, Fort Benning officials expected more than 6,000 additional soldiers and military students than Army headquarters planned. Because consistency in the relocation numbers is important for properly determining not only base infrastructure support needs but those of nearby communities as well, inconsistent numbers could lead to an improperly sized facilities' infrastructure. Second, the Army faces challenges in synchronizing personnel movements with planned newly constructed on-base infrastructure improvements. Any significant delays in implementing planned actions could place the Army at risk of not meeting BRAC statutory deadlines. Third, competing priorities could lead the Army to redirect resources planned for needed infrastructure improvements and operations to such priorities as current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as has happened in the past. However, such redirection of resources could undermine the Army's ability to complete infrastructure improvements in time to support personnel movements and to meet planned timelines. Fourth, the Army Corps of Engineers, the primary construction agent for the Army, must manage an unprecedented volume of construction, implement a new construction strategy designed to save construction costs and time, and complete infrastructure improvements within available resources and planned timelines. The Army recognizes these challenges and is refining its implementation plans to overcome these challenges. While communities surrounding growth bases GAO visited have generally proactively planned for anticipated growth, they have been hindered in fully identifying additional infrastructure requirements and associated costs by the evolving nature of the Army's plans and different interpretations of the plans. For example, while Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, project an influx of about 10,000 school-age children, the Department of Defense's (DOD) November 2006 figures project only about 600. At the time of our review, these disparities remained unresolved. Communities surrounding growth bases have their own unique infrastructure improvement needs, such as schools, housing, or transportation, based on (1) the number of personnel to actually move to the nearby base, (2) the community's current capacity in its area(s) of need, and (3) the community's own capacity to finance additional infrastructure requirements and the availability of federal or state assistance to finance these needs. Some communities had already sought federal and state assistance to help finance construction efforts at the time of GAO's review even though the evolving nature of the Army's planning prevented the communities from having reasonable assurance that they knew the full scope of their infrastructure requirements.
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  • Pipeline Safety: Information on Keystone Accidents and DOT Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) required TC Energy to take additional safety measures specified in a special permit as conditions of allowing certain portions of the Keystone Pipeline (Keystone) to operate at a higher stress level than allowed by regulation. PHMSA reviewed technical information and drew on its experience granting similar permits to natural gas pipelines to develop 51 conditions with which TC Energy must comply. Most pipeline safety and technical stakeholders GAO interviewed agreed the conditions offset the risks of operating at a higher stress level. However, PHMSA did not allow TC Energy to fully operate Keystone at this higher stress level until 2017, after TC Energy replaced pipe affected by industry-wide pipeline quality issues. Keystone's accident history has been similar to other crude oil pipelines since 2010, but the severity of spills has worsened in recent years. Similar to crude oil pipelines nationwide, most of Keystone's 22 accidents from 2010 through 2020 released fewer than 50 barrels of oil and were contained on operator-controlled property such as a pump station. The two largest spills in Keystone's history in 2017 and 2019 were among the six accidents that met PHMSA's criteria for accidents “impacting people or the environment.” According to PHMSA's measures for these more severe types of accidents, from 2010 to 2020 TC Energy performed better than nationwide averages, but worse in the past five years due to the 2017 and 2019 spills. Keystone Accidents Impacting People or the Environment, 2010-2020 In response to each of Keystone's four largest spills, PHMSA issued Corrective Action Orders requiring TC Energy to investigate the accidents' root causes and take necessary corrective actions. These investigations found that the four accidents were caused by issues related to the original design, manufacturing of the pipe, or construction of the pipeline. PHMSA also issued other enforcement actions and assessed civil penalties to TC Energy for deficiencies found during inspections, such as inadequate corrosion prevention and missing pipeline markers. Based in part on its experience overseeing Keystone, PHMSA officials said they have increased resources to conduct inspections during construction of other pipelines and are establishing a more formal process to document and track the compliance of all special permits, including Keystone's permit. Why GAO Did This Study Since it began operating in 2010, Keystone has transported over 3 billion barrels of crude oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to its operator, TC Energy. Prior to construction, TC Energy requested and obtained a special permit from PHMSA to operate certain portions of the pipeline at a higher stress level than is allowed under PHMSA's regulations. Since TC Energy was the first and remains the only hazardous liquid pipeline operator to request a waiver of this particular regulation, the Keystone special permit is unique. GAO was asked to review PHMSA's oversight of the Keystone Pipeline. This report discusses: (1) PHMSA's actions to approve the Keystone special permit and allow the pipeline to operate at a higher stress level, (2) how Keystone accidents compare to accidents on all U.S. crude oil pipelines since 2010, and (3) PHMSA's actions in response to Keystone safety issues. GAO reviewed applicable statutes and regulations, the special permit, and PHMSA enforcement actions. It also analyzed PHMSA's pipeline accident data from 2010 to 2020 to describe Keystone's accidents and compare TC Energy to PHMSA's performance measures. GAO also interviewed TC Energy representatives, PHMSA officials, and 17 stakeholders selected to provide a range of perspectives representing industry associations; pipeline safety and technical stakeholders; and environmental, tribal, and state organizations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
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  • Air Pollution: Opportunities to Better Sustain and Modernize the National Air Quality Monitoring System
    In U.S GAO News
    The ambient air quality monitoring system is a national asset that provides standardized information for implementing the Clean Air Act and protecting public health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies cooperatively manage the system, with each playing different roles in design, operation, oversight, and funding. For example, EPA establishes minimum requirements for the system, and state and local agencies operate the monitors and report data to EPA. Officials from EPA and selected state and local agencies identified challenges related to sustaining the monitoring system. For example, they said that infrastructure is aging while annual EPA funding for state and local air quality management grants, which cover monitoring, has decreased by about 20 percent since 2004 after adjusting for inflation (see fig.). GAO found inconsistencies in how EPA regions have addressed these challenges. GAO's prior work has identified key characteristics of asset management, such as identifying needed resources and using quality data to manage infrastructure risks, which can help organizations optimize limited resources. By developing an asset management framework that includes such characteristics, EPA could better target limited resources toward the highest priorities for consistently sustaining the system. Annual Inflation-Adjusted EPA Funding for State and Local Air Quality Management Grants Air quality managers, researchers, and the public need additional information so they can better understand and address the health risks from air pollution, according to GAO's review of literature and interviews GAO conducted. These needs include additional information on (1) air toxics to understand health risks in key locations such as near industrial facilities; and (2) how to use low-cost sensors to provide real-time, local-scale air quality information. EPA and state and local agencies face persistent challenges meeting such air quality information needs, including challenges in understanding the performance of low-cost sensors. GAO illustrated this challenge by collecting air quality data from low-cost sensors and finding variability in their performance. EPA has strategies aimed at better meeting the additional air quality information needs of managers, researchers, and the public, but the strategies are outdated and incomplete. For example, they do not clearly define roles for meeting additional information needs. GAO's prior work on asset management suggests that a more strategic approach could help EPA modernize the system to better meet the additional information needs. By developing a modernization plan that aligns with leading practices for strategic planning and risk management, such as establishing modernization goals and roles, EPA could better ensure that the system meets the additional information needs of air quality managers, researchers, and the public and is positioned to protect public health. The national ambient air quality monitoring system shows that the United States has made progress in reducing air pollution but that risks to public health and the environment continue in certain locations. The system consists of sites that measure air pollution levels around fixed locations across the country using specific methods. Since the system began in the 1970s, air quality concerns have changed—such as increased concern about the health effects of air toxics. GAO was asked to evaluate the national air quality monitoring system. This report examines the role of the system and how it is managed, challenges in managing the system and actions to address them, and needs for additional air quality information and actions to address challenges in meeting those needs. GAO reviewed literature, laws, and agency documents; conducted a demonstration of low-cost sensors; and interviewed EPA officials, selected state and local officials, representatives from air quality associations, and stakeholders. GAO is making two recommendations for EPA to (1) establish an asset management framework for the monitoring system that includes key characteristics and (2) develop an air quality monitoring modernization plan that aligns with leading practices. In written comments on the report, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Graduate Medical Education Reimbursement
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides training to more than 45,000 medical and dental residents annually through its Graduate Medical Education (GME) program. VHA has established policy for its GME program that details many roles and responsibilities for overseeing VA medical facilities' reimbursements to affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. However, this policy does not define key roles and responsibilities for VHA's central office components, its regional networks, or its medical facilities. For example, VHA's regional networks do not have defined roles and responsibilities for overseeing GME disbursements—contributing to noninvolvement or inconsistent involvement in disbursement agreement oversight. VHA officials reported that they are in the process of updating disbursement agreement policy, but did not indicate if the updates would address all identified concerns. While VHA officials said that VHA's two disbursement agreement oversight mechanisms—facility periodic audits and the Resident Disbursement Audit Process (ReDPro) checklist—are meant to have distinct but complementary purposes, GAO found that VHA policy, guidance, and the tools distributed for these oversight mechanisms did not reflect the distinct purposes officials described. VHA officials said that periodic audits are intended to be a first level of defense and to review actual payments to affiliates, whereas the ReDPro checklist is intended to be a second level of defense, aimed at reviewing the process to see if the rules related to disbursement agreements are being followed by VA medical facilities. However, the ReDPro checklist tool and VHA's recommended periodic audit tool have numerous areas of overlap, including duplicative questions. This overlap causes inefficiencies and unnecessary burden on VA medical facility staff. GAO also found additional weaknesses in the tools, guidance, and training for the two oversight mechanisms. For example, GAO found an unclear ReDPro checklist tool, along with insufficient guidance and training related to conducting the ReDPro reviews. Officials from eight of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that the ReDPro checklist instructions were unclear regarding appropriate supporting documents for checklist responses. These weaknesses contributed to errors and inconsistencies in ReDPro responses. the lack of a standard audit tool, and inadequate guidance and training for periodic audit teams that contributed to problematic inconsistencies in the methodologies used by the audit teams and deficiencies in some of the audits conducted. Officials from 10 of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that they would benefit from more tools, guidance, or training related to conducting periodic audits. These weaknesses limit the effectiveness of VHA's oversight mechanisms, and put VHA at increased risk of both not being able to identify and correct facilities' lack of adherence to disbursement agreement policy and of possible improper payments to GME affiliates. Under VHA's GME program, VA medical facilities use disbursement agreements to reimburse affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. VHA developed policy related to establishing and administering disbursement agreements, but audits have found that facilities have not always adhered to VHA policy—resulting in improper payments to affiliates. GAO was asked to review VHA policies and procedures related to reimbursements to affiliates for GME. This report examines (1) oversight roles and responsibilities for GME disbursement agreements and (2) VHA's mechanisms for ensuring VA medical facilities adhere to policy. GAO reviewed relevant VHA documents and federal internal control standards and interviewed VHA officials. GAO also reviewed ReDPro checklist responses and documentation from 13 VA medical facilities—selected based on factors including geographic variation, GME program size, and number of affiliates. GAO also visited four of the 13 facilities and interviewed officials at the other nine facilities. GAO is making seven recommendations to VA to define key roles in policy, reduce overlap between the ReDPro checklist and facility periodic audits, and improve the oversight mechanisms' tools, guidance, and training. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    A former Texas resident and his sport supplement company pleaded guilty today to a felony charge relating to the introduction of unapproved new drugs into interstate commerce, the Department of Justice announced.
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    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Alabama returned a five-count indictment today charging two Alabama men, an Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) sergeant and corrections officer with assaulting an inmate at ADOC’s Staton Correctional Facility and making false statements following the assault.
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