October 19, 2021

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Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Asotin County, Washington, Regarding Alleged Sexual Harassment by Superior Court Judge

7 min read
<div>The Justice Department has filed a complaint against Asotin County, Washington, alleging that the County discriminated against a female deputy clerk on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.</div>
The Justice Department has filed a complaint against Asotin County, Washington, alleging that the County discriminated against a female deputy clerk on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

More from: September 29, 2021

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  • VA Disability Benefits: VA Should Continue to Improve Access to Quality Disability Medical Exams for Veterans Living Abroad
    In U.S GAO News
    The number of disability claims for veterans living abroad—in foreign countries or U.S. territories—increased 14 percent from fiscal years 2014 to 2019. During this time period, claims processing time frames improved. In fiscal year 2019, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approved comparable percentages of disability claims for veterans living abroad and domestically—63 percent and 64 percent respectively. However, for a subset of these claims—those where veterans likely received a disability medical exam scheduled by Department of State (State) embassy staff—approval rates were often lower. Veterans' access to disability medical exams abroad improved as VBA has increasingly relied on contracted examiners, rather than embassy-referred examiners, to conduct these exams. According to VBA, this shift expanded the pool of trained examiners abroad and increased the frequency and depth of VBA's quality reviews for contract exams. These quality reviews help VBA and its contractor identify and address common errors, according to VBA and contractor officials. However, several factors continue to limit some veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams (see figure). Factors That Impair the Access of Veterans Living Abroad to Quality Disability Medical Exams Unknown quality of certain exams: A subset of veterans living abroad receive disability medical exams from an embassy-referred provider. VBA does not systematically assess the quality of these exams. Without doing so, VBA cannot determine if such exams affect the approval rates of veterans who receive them or contribute to longer processing times and are unable to make informed decisions about their use. Travel reimbursement: Under current VA regulations, VA is not authorized to reimburse veterans for travel expenses for certain services incurred in foreign countries as it is for those incurred within the United States, including U.S. territories. Consequently, some veterans living in foreign countries may be unable to afford to travel to exams. Examiner reimbursement: The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Foreign Medical Program reimburses examiners referred by embassy staff via paper checks in U.S. currency. These checks may be slow to arrive and not accepted by foreign banks, according to State and other officials and staff we interviewed. Such payment issues can deter examiners from being willing to conduct disability medical exams and thus limit veterans' access to these exams in foreign countries. Of the roughly 1 million disability claims VBA processed in fiscal year 2019, 18,287 were for veterans living abroad. Veterans living abroad are entitled to the same disability benefits as those living domestically, but GAO previously reported that veterans living abroad may not be able to access disability medical exams as readily as their domestic counterparts. VBA uses medical exam reports to help determine if a veteran should receive disability benefits. GAO was asked to review the disability claims and exam processes for veterans living abroad. Among other things, this report examines disability claims trends for veterans living abroad and these veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams. GAO analyzed VBA claims data for fiscal years 2014 to 2019; assessed data reliability; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, policies, and contract documents; and interviewed employees of VBA, State, and other stakeholders. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VBA assess the quality of embassy-referred exams, VBA and VHA assess whether to reimburse beneficiaries for travel to disability medical exams in foreign countries, and that VBA and VHA pay examiners located by embassy staff electronically. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
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  • United States Citizen Who Joined ISIS Charged With Material Support Violations
    In Crime News
    An indictment and arrest warrant were unsealed today in the federal court of the District of Columbia charging Lirim Sylejmani, a Kosovo-born naturalized U.S. citizen, with conspiring to provide, providing, and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and receiving training from ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2339B and 2339D. 
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  • Missile Defense: Fiscal Year 2020 Delivery and Testing Progressed, but Annual Goals Unmet
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In fiscal year 2020, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) made progress toward achieving its delivery and testing goals for some of the individual systems—known as elements—that combine and integrate to create the Missile Defense System (also known as the Ballistic Missile Defense System). However, MDA did not complete its overall planned deliveries or annual testing. The figure below shows MDA's progress delivering assets and conducting flight tests against its fiscal year 2020 plans. Percentage of Missile Defense Agency Planned Deliveries and Flight Tests Completed for Fiscal Year 2020 Deliveries— In fiscal year 2020, MDA delivered many assets it had planned. Specifically, MDA was able to deliver 82 missile interceptors for 3 elements. However, MDA was not able to deliver all planned interceptors, including one originally planned for 2018 for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, as the program experienced delays related to qualifying parts from a new supplier. Flight testing— MDA conducted two planned flight tests, but neither was successful. The issues were due to problems with non-MDA assets, but the agency was able to collect important data. In addition, COVID-19 restrictions also affected the planned schedule. However, the delays continue a trend of MDA's inability to conduct planned annual flight testing, resulting in assets and capabilities that are subsequently delayed or delivered with less data than planned. Ground testing— In fiscal year 2020, MDA continued to implement a new ground testing approach that the agency began in fiscal year 2019. In addition, MDA successfully completed three planned ground tests demonstrating defense capabilities for the U.S., U.S. forces and regional allies. However, MDA delayed two other ground tests to future fiscal years and expects disruptions in fiscal year 2021, in part due to ongoing COVID-19 disruptions. Cyber— Despite failing to meet annual operational cybersecurity assessments since 2017, MDA canceled its planned fiscal year 2020 operational assessments, instead taking steps to implement a new approach designed to improve cyber system requirements while streamlining cyber test planning. It is premature to assess whether this new approach will achieve its intended goals. Why GAO Did This Study For over half a century, the Department of Defense has funded efforts to defend the U.S. from ballistic missile attacks. This effort consists of diverse and highly complex land-, sea-, and space-based systems and assets located across the globe. From 2002 through 2019, MDA—the agency charged with developing, testing, integrating, and fielding this system of systems—received about $162.5 billion. The agency also requested about $45 billion from fiscal year 2020 through fiscal year 2024. In fiscal year 2020, MDA's mission broadened to include evolving threats beyond ballistic missiles such as defending against hypersonic missile attacks. With the inclusion of non-ballistic missile threats, the Ballistic Missile Defense System is in the process of transitioning to the Missile Defense System. Congress included a provision in statute that GAO annually assess and report on MDA's progress. This, our 18th annual review, addresses the progress MDA made in achieving fiscal year 2020 delivery and testing goals. GAO reviewed planned fiscal year 2020 baselines, along with program changes due to COVID-19 restrictions, and other program documentation and assessed them against responses to GAO detailed question sets and program and baseline reviews. GAO also interviewed officials from MDA and various Department of Defense Combatant Commands. We do not make any new recommendations in this report but continue to track the status of prior recommendations. For more information, contact John D. Sawyer at (202) 512-4841 or SawyerJ@gao.gov.
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  • Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan: Improved Communication and Adaptive Management Strategy Could Help Address Stakeholder Concerns
    In U.S GAO News
    The International Joint Commission's (IJC) process for developing and selecting the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan 2014 (Plan 2014) was generally consistent with relevant essential elements of risk-informed decision-making. During the 18-year process, IJC took steps to define objectives and performance measures to be used in its decision-making, identify various options, assess uncertainties like climate change, and engage with stakeholders, among other steps. These steps are all essential elements of risk-informed decision making. Plan 2014 Affects Various Users of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, Including (from Left to Right) Commercial Navigation, Coastal Development, and Recreational Boating, Including Marinas IJC uses two mechanisms—a communications committee and a strategic communication plan—and a variety of methods—such as its website, social media, and public meetings—to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014. Nevertheless, 12 of the 14 stakeholders GAO interviewed expressed concerns about IJC's communication. GAO found that IJC's strategic communication plan and related documents partially align with best practices. For example, the communication plan and related documents do not comprehensively identify target audiences or include mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the effectivness of their communication efforts. Updating its strategic communication plan to align with best practices and principles for risk communication could help IJC ensure improved stakeholder communication. Of the 14 stakeholders interviewed, nine expressed concerns about the rules and criteria in Plan 2014 and 10 expressed concerns about its implementation. For example, seven stakeholders told us that they do not believe that the Plan allows IJC to act proactively in anticipation of future water conditions. IJC has taken initial steps to develop an adaptive management process that may help address stakeholder concerns and approved a long-term adaptive management strategy in March 2020. However, the document does not fully incorporate the key elements and essential characteristics of an adaptive management process that could help IJC transparently and effectively assess Plan 2014 and adjust future actions to achieve the plan's objectives. For example, the Plan does not fully incorporate a communication strategy for engaging stakeholders throughout the process or information on how IJC will determine if adjustments to the Plan's rules and criteria are warranted. Water releases from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River are determined by a set of regulatory rules and criteria called Plan 2014—issued pursuant to IJC's Supplementary Order of Approval and the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The IJC—a binational commission—developed and issued the Plan and Order with the concurrence of the United States and Canada. The rules affect a variety of users of the waterway, including ecosystems, hydropower, and municipal and industrial water use. After flooding from the lake and river in 2017, GAO was asked to examine the process IJC used to develop and evaluate Plan 2014 and how IJC has addressed stakeholder concerns. This report examines (1) the extent to which IJC's process to develop and select Plan 2014 was consistent with essential elements of risk-informed decision-making, (2) actions IJC has taken to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014 and stakeholder concerns regarding IJC's communication, and (3) stakeholder concerns about Plan 2014 and the extent to which IJC has developed a process to assess and adjust Plan 2014. GAO reviewed Plan 2014 and other IJC documents, interviewed IJC and federal officials and a nongeneralizable sample of 14 stakeholders, selected for a variety of user interests and stakeholder types. GAO is making three recommendations, including that the U.S. Section of the IJC work with its Canadian counterpart to ensure that the communication plan aligns with best practices and the adaptive management strategy fully incorporates key elements. IJC agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • USAJOBS Website: OPM Has Taken Actions to Assess and Enhance the User Experience
    In U.S GAO News
    The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a variety of sources to assess the user experience with USAJOBS, the central website for posting federal job openings. GAO found that OPM's assessments generally track key measures in accordance with selected government-wide guidance. Specifically, OPM collects data on most of the website performance measures recommended by selected guidance from Digital.gov, including the number of times pages were viewed, the percentage of users who use the USAJOBS search box, and overall customer experience. Additionally, consistent with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OPM surveys USAJOBS users about their experiences with the site. OPM also assesses user experience through usability testing, focus groups, and analysis of data on questions submitted to the USAJOBS help desk. Through these assessments, OPM found variations in user experience across the job search and application process, including variations in how people find job announcements and how long it takes them to complete job applications. Since the agency's redesign of USAJOBS in 2016, OPM has taken a number of actions in an effort to address feedback from these assessments and improve the USAJOBS user experience. For example, in 2017, OPM created a set of categories, called Hiring Paths, that describe who is eligible to apply for specific federal jobs and guide job seekers to positions for which they are eligible. Other OPM actions taken from 2016 to 2020 include implementing a new process for logging in to the system to improve website security; updating job search filters and adding a keyword autocomplete function, which suggests search terms as a job seeker types in the search box; revising its job announcement template for hiring agencies to help eliminate duplicative language, increase clarity, and avoid jargon; adding guidance to help job seekers complete federal applications and understand federal hiring authorities; and highlighting jobs related to COVID-19 response. OPM continues to update and refine these efforts. OPM also expects to take a number of additional actions intended to help enhance the USAJOBS website. For example, according to OPM officials, in early fiscal year 2021 they expect to add a “job status” indicator for each job announcement posted on USAJOBS. The job status indicator would provide information such as the number of applicants and when the job has been filled. According to OPM, this would improve transparency and accountability and also provide applicants with updates at each stage of the hiring process. GAO provided a draft of this report to OPM for review and comment. OPM stated that it did not have comments. The USAJOBS website, which is managed by OPM, is the entry point to the federal hiring process for most agencies. It facilitates hiring of new employees as well as the movement of talent across government through merit-based promotions and transfers. OPM uses USAJOBS to help achieve the agency's mission to recruit and retain a world-class government workforce. OPM is responsible for ensuring the usability of USAJOBS and collecting feedback on the user experience. Hiring agencies are responsible for the content of job opportunity announcements. Report language accompanying the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2020, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 included provisions for GAO to review the user experience on USAJOBS. This report examines (1) the extent to which OPM assesses the user experience with USAJOBS and the results of OPM's assessments; and (2) actions OPM has taken to improve the user experience with USAJOBS. GAO reviewed OPM data and documentation, interviewed OPM officials, and compared OPM's assessments of user experience to OMB guidance for federal service providers and selected guidance from Digital.gov on performance measures for federal websites. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or rosenbergm@gao.gov.
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