October 21, 2021

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Justice Department Reaches Settlement with New Hampshire School District to Protect English Learner Students

8 min read
<div>Today the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the Nashua School District to resolve the department’s investigation into the school district’s programs for its English Learner students.</div>
Today the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the Nashua School District to resolve the department’s investigation into the school district’s programs for its English Learner students.

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  • Minnesota Man Pleads Guilty to Providing Material Support to ISIS
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    The Justice Department today announced the guilty plea of Abdelhamid Al-Madioum, 24, to one count of providing material support and resources, namely personnel and services, to ISIS, a designated foreign terrorist organization.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses established policies to assess potential noise effects of implementing performance-based navigation (PBN) at airports. FAA has been implementing PBN to allow aircraft to fly more precise flight paths intended to reduce flying time, fuel use, and emissions, and PBN may reduce aircraft noise for some communities. FAA uses the Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) metric to meet legal requirements in assessing how these more precise flight paths—which can concentrate noise over a smaller area—might affect noise levels at various locations surrounding airports. DNL accounts for the noise intensity, duration, frequency, and time of occurrence for flights above a particular location over an average day. GAO's analysis showed that because DNL combines the effects of several components of noise into a single metric, it does not provide a clear picture of the flight activity or associated noise levels at a given location. For example, 100 flights per day can yield the same DNL as one flight per day at a higher decibel level, due to the averaging effect of FAA's metric (see figure). GAO's analysis and other research demonstrate the limitations of FAA relying solely on DNL to identify potential noise problems. Also, community concerns about increased noise after PBN implementation, among other factors, have led to legal challenges and delays, reducing the realized benefits of PBN. Since no single metric can convey different noise effects, using additional metrics—such as changes in number of flights overhead—in designing proposed flight paths could help FAA identify and address potential noise concerns. Examples of Different Flight-Frequency and Sound Exposure Levels Resulting in a Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) of 65 decibels (dB) Over time, FAA has increased its community outreach efforts throughout the PBN implementation process. However, most community stakeholders GAO spoke with said information on potential noise impacts was not clear enough to understand the planned changes. For instance, because FAA's description of the impacts is grounded in DNL, communities may not have the information needed to understand how the number of flights over each location is expected to change. Similar to the use of supplemental metrics in designing a flight path, using them in public outreach may help communities better understand expected noise changes. Furthermore, after implementing PBN, FAA primarily conducts outreach through community forums established to address noise concerns. However, members of some forums GAO spoke with were frustrated and unclear on how to productively engage with FAA to address noise concerns. FAA has some guidance on this process, but it is unclear about the extent to which communities can expect assistance from FAA in proposing changes to flight paths that cause noise concerns. Clearly communicating FAA's expected role in this outreach to the public may help alleviate community frustration. Why GAO Did This Study As part of its effort to modernize the National Airspace System, FAA has been implementing new flight paths using satellite-based navigation, called PBN, at airports across the country. GAO reviewed FAA's implementation of PBN with regard to noise and FAA's related public outreach activities. This report discusses: (1) how FAA assesses potential noise impacts for proposed PBN changes; (2) the extent to which FAA's noise impact analysis conveys expected changes; and (3) FAA's community outreach related to PBN and actions to improve this outreach. GAO reviewed FAA documents and guidance related to PBN implementation and to community outreach and mathematically analyzed how DNL levels reflect changes in noise caused by aircraft overhead. GAO conducted case studies at 13 airports selected to achieve a range of perspectives based on annual operations, the timing of PBN implementation, and geographic location, among other factors. GAO interviewed FAA and local airport officials, industry stakeholders, and community representatives in the selected locations.
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  • Contingency Contracting: Observations on Actions Needed to Address Systemic Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) obligated about $367 billion in fiscal year 2010 to acquire goods and services to meet its mission and support its operations, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO's work, as well as that of others, has documented shortcomings in DOD's strategic and acquisition planning, contract administration and oversight, and acquisition workforce. These are challenges that need to be addressed by DOD and by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as they carry out their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and prepare for future contingencies. Today's statement discusses (1) contract management challenges faced by DOD, including those that take on heightened significance in a contingency environment; (2) actions DOD has taken and those needed to address these challenges; and (3) similar challenges State and USAID face. The statement is drawn from GAO's body of work on DOD contingency contracting, contract management, and workforce, as well as prior reports on State and USAID's contracting and workforce issues.DOD faces a number of longstanding and systemic challenges that hinder its ability to achieve more successful acquisition outcomes--obtaining the right goods and services, at the right time, at the right cost. These challenges include addressing the issues posed by DOD's reliance on contractors, ensuring that DOD personnel use sound contracting approaches, and maintaining a workforce with the skills and capabilities needed to properly manage acquisitions and oversee contractors. The issues encountered with contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan are emblematic of these systemic challenges, though their significance and impact are heightened in a contingency environment. GAO's concerns regarding DOD contracting predate the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO identified DOD contract management as a high-risk area in 1992 and raised concerns in 1997 about DOD's management and use of contractors to support deployed forces in Bosnia. In the years since then, GAO has continued to identify a need for DOD to better manage and oversee its acquisition of services. DOD has recognized the need to address the systemic challenges it faces, including those related to operational contract support. Over the past several years, DOD has announced new policies, guidance, and training initiatives, but not all of these actions have been implemented and their expected benefits have not yet been fully realized. While DOD's actions are steps in the right direction, DOD needs to (1) strategically manage services acquisition, including defining desired outcomes; (2) determine the appropriate mix, roles, and responsibilities of contractor, federal civilian, and military personnel; (3) assess the effectiveness of efforts to address prior weaknesses with specific contracting arrangements and incentives; (4) ensure that its acquisition workforce is adequately sized, trained, and equipped; and (5) fully integrate operational contract support throughout the department through education and predeployment training. In that regard, in June 2010 GAO called for a cultural change in DOD that emphasizes an awareness of operational contract support throughout all aspects of the department. In January 2011, the Secretary of Defense expressed concerns about DOD's current level of dependency on contractors and directed the department to take a number of actions. The Secretary's recognition and directions are significant steps, yet instilling cultural change will require sustained commitment and leadership. State and USAID face contracting challenges similar to DOD's, particularly with regard to planning for and having insight into the roles performed by contractors. In April 2010, GAO reported that State's workforce plan did not address the extent to which contractors should be used to perform specific functions. Similarly, GAO reported that USAID's workforce plan did not contain analyses covering the agency's entire workforce, including contractors. The recently issued Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review recognized the need for State and USAID to rebalance their workforces and directed the agencies to ensure that they have an adequate number of government employees to carry out their core missions and to improve contract administration and oversight. GAO has made multiple recommendations to the agencies to address contracting and workforce challenges. The agencies have generally agreed with the recommendations and have efforts under way to implement them.
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  • Michigan Biodiesel Exporter Sentenced to Prison for Tax Fraud
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    A Bloomfield, Michigan, businessman, who operated a biodiesel fuel company, was sentenced to 30 months in prison today for filing a false income tax return.
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    Two individuals have been charged with bribery offenses in connection with Department of Defense contracts as part of the Fraud Section’s ongoing efforts to combat corruption and fraud in contracting on U.S. military installations overseas.
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  • Global Disruption of Three Terror Finance Cyber-Enabled Campaigns
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced the dismantling of three terrorist financing cyber-enabled campaigns, involving the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). This coordinated operation is detailed in three forfeiture complaints and a criminal complaint unsealed today in the District of Columbia. These actions represent the government’s largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency in the terrorism context.
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  • Electricity Grid Resilience: Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. GAO was asked to examine U.S. energy infrastructure resilience. This report describes: (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Effective Use of Fiscal Rules and Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    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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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified seven priority recommendations for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Since then, NRC implemented one of these recommendations by issuing a risk management strategy that addresses key elements foundational to effectively managing cybersecurity risks. The remaining six priority recommendations involve the following areas: addressing the security of radiological sources. improving the reliability of cost estimates. improving strategic human capital management. NRC's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015, GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or gaffiganm@gao.gov.
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  • Judges Help Students Focus on Meaning of Constitution and Citizenship Day
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    Federal judges from New York to California are creating online civics opportunities throughout September to help students honor Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, despite the termination of courthouse trips and classroom visits due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
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