Justice Department Settles Title VII Lawsuit Against Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, Alleging Intentional Discrimination Based on Race

The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement resolving the United States’ claims that Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, and the Tallahatchie County sheriff in his official capacity (collectively, Tallahatchie County), intentionally discriminated against Black deputy sheriffs based on their race, by paying them less than white deputy sheriffs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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  • Operation Warp Speed: Accelerated COVID-19 Vaccine Development Status and Efforts to Address Manufacturing Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    Operation Warp Speed (OWS)—a partnership between the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Defense (DOD)—aimed to help accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. GAO found that OWS and vaccine companies adopted several strategies to accelerate vaccine development and mitigate risk. For example, OWS selected vaccine candidates that use different mechanisms to stimulate an immune response (i.e., platform technologies; see figure). Vaccine companies also took steps, such as starting large-scale manufacturing during clinical trials and combining clinical trial phases or running them concurrently. Clinical trials gather data on safety and efficacy, with more participants in each successive phase (e.g., phase 3 has more participants than phase 2). Vaccine Platform Technologies Supported by Operation Warp Speed, as of January 2021 As of January 30, 2021, five of the six OWS vaccine candidates have entered phase 3 clinical trials, two of which—Moderna's and Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccines—have received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For vaccines that received EUA, additional data on vaccine effectiveness will be generated from further follow-up of participants in clinical trials already underway before the EUA was issued. Technology readiness. GAO's analysis of the OWS vaccine candidates' technology readiness levels (TRL)—an indicator of technology maturity— showed that COVID-19 vaccine development under OWS generally followed traditional practices, with some adaptations. FDA issued specific guidance that identified ways that vaccine development may be accelerated during the pandemic. Vaccine companies told GAO that the primary difference from a non-pandemic environment was the compressed timelines. To meet OWS timelines, some vaccine companies relied on data from other vaccines using the same platforms, where available, or conducted certain animal studies at the same time as clinical trials. However, as is done in a non-pandemic environment, all vaccine companies gathered initial safety and antibody response data with a small number of participants before proceeding into large-scale human studies (e.g., phase 3 clinical trials). The two EUAs issued in December 2020 were based on analyses of clinical trial participants and showed about 95 percent efficacy for each vaccine. These analyses included assessments of efficacy after individuals were given two doses of vaccine and after they were monitored for about 2 months for adverse events. Manufacturing. As of January 2021, five of the six OWS vaccine companies had started commercial scale manufacturing. OWS officials reported that as of January 31, 2021, companies had released 63.7 million doses—about 32 percent of the 200 million doses that, according to OWS, companies with EUAs have been contracted to provide by March 31, 2021. Vaccine companies face a number of challenges in scaling up manufacturing to produce hundreds of millions of doses under OWS's accelerated timelines. DOD and HHS are working with vaccine companies to help mitigate manufacturing challenges, including: Limited manufacturing capacity: A shortage of facilities with capacity to handle the vaccine manufacturing needs can lead to production bottlenecks. Vaccine companies are working in partnership with OWS to expand production capacity. For example, one vaccine company told GAO that HHS's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority helped them identify an additional manufacturing partner to increase production. Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing construction projects to expand capacity at vaccine manufacturing facilities. Disruptions to manufacturing supply chains: Vaccine manufacturing supply chains have been strained by the global demand for certain goods and workforce disruptions caused by the global pandemic. For example, representatives from one facility manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines stated that they experienced challenges obtaining materials, including reagents and certain chemicals. They also said that due to global demand, they waited 4 to 12 weeks for items that before the pandemic were typically available for shipment within one week. Vaccine companies and DOD and HHS officials told GAO they have undertaken several efforts to address possible manufacturing disruptions and mitigate supply chain challenges. These efforts include federal assistance to (1) expedite procurement and delivery of critical manufacturing equipment, (2) develop a list of critical supplies that are common across the six OWS vaccine candidates, and (3) expedite the delivery of necessary equipment and goods coming into the United States. Additionally, DOD and HHS officials said that as of December 2020 they had placed prioritized ratings on 18 supply contracts for vaccine companies under the Defense Production Act, which allows federal agencies with delegated authority to require contractors to prioritize those contracts for supplies needed for vaccine production. Gaps in the available workforce: Hiring and training personnel with the specialized skills needed to run vaccine manufacturing processes can be challenging. OWS officials stated that they have worked with the Department of State to expedite visa approval for key technical personnel, including technicians and engineers to assist with installing, testing, and certifying critical equipment manufactured overseas. OWS officials also stated that they requested that 16 DOD personnel be detailed to serve as quality control staff at two vaccine manufacturing sites until the organizations can hire the required personnel. As of February 5, 2021, the U.S. had over 26 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 449,020 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions, with the unemployment rate and number of unemployed in January 2021 at nearly twice their pre-pandemic levels in February 2020. In May 2020, OWS was launched and included a goal of producing 300 million doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with initial doses available by January 2021. Although FDA has authorized two vaccines for emergency use, OWS has not yet met its production goal. Such vaccines are crucial to mitigate the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. GAO was asked to review OWS vaccine development efforts. This report examines: (1) the characteristics and status of the OWS vaccines, (2) how developmental processes have been adapted to meet OWS timelines, and (3) the challenges that companies have faced with scaling up manufacturing and the steps they are taking to address those challenges. GAO administered a questionnaire based on HHS's medical countermeasures TRL criteria to the six OWS vaccine companies to evaluate the COVID-19 vaccine development processes. GAO also collected and reviewed supporting documentation on vaccine development and conducted interviews with representatives from each of the companies on vaccine development and manufacturing. For more information, contact Karen L. Howard and Candice N. Wright at (202) 512-6888 or howardk@gao.gov or wrightc@gao.gov.
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  • United States Reaches Agreement to Protect New Orleans Waterways and Lake Pontchartrain
    In Crime News
    Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice announced a settlement with the Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company LLC, d/b/a Fair Grounds Corporation (Fair Grounds) that will resolve years of Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at its New Orleans racetrack. Under the settlement, Fair Grounds will eliminate unauthorized discharges of manure, urine and process wastewater through operational changes and construction projects at an estimated cost of $5,600,000. The company also will pay a civil penalty of $2,790,000, the largest ever paid by a concentrated animal feeding operation in a CWA matter.
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  • Amateur Athletes: The U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Response and Resolution Process for Reporting Abuse
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Center for SafeSport (the Center), an independent nonprofit organization, was established in response to concerns about the consistency of investigations conducted and resolutions reached by amateur sports organizations of allegations of misconduct and abuse. According to Center staff, their response to allegations of misconduct are guided by the SafeSport Code, which establishes acceptable standards of conduct for all individuals who participate in U.S. Olympic and Paralympic events and training, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and other tools. The SafeSport Code defines the scope of the Center's jurisdiction, establishes the standard of proof for its decisions, identifies types of prohibited conduct, describes possible temporary measures and sanctions, and outlines the resolution process and requirements to report to law enforcement. SOPs outline intake and investigation staff roles and responsibilities and provide a step-by-step guide of processes, and a case management system is used by intake and investigation staff to document their work. The Center seeks to ensure its intake and investigation process is fair by taking steps to ensure anonymity and privacy; providing opportunities for claimants (the persons alleged to have experienced misconduct) and respondents (the individuals accused of misconduct) to participate in investigations; and providing parties with the right to consult with an advisor and to seek arbitration of sanctions or other measures imposed by the Center. The Center refers to allegations of misconduct as cases when it establishes that it has enough information to proceed with intake and investigation. From February 2018 through June 2020, the Center created and resolved 3,909 cases. Most of the Center’s cases were resolved through administrative closure or jurisdictional closure. Administrative closure may occur as a result of insufficient evidence, claimants who elect not to participate in the resolution process, or other factors. Jurisdictional closure occurs when the Center does not have jurisdiction or the Center chooses not to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction, as defined in the SafeSport Code. As of June 30, 2020, approximately 1,300 individuals were listed in the Center’s Centralized Disciplinary Database; this number includes individuals placed on temporary restriction(s) or temporary suspension, as well as individuals suspended or rendered permanently ineligible to participate. On February 14, 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 was enacted, which codified the Center’s jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its affiliated organizations with regard to safeguarding amateur athletes against abuse in sports. It also required the Center to develop resources and policies to prevent abuse of amateur athletes. The Center investigates and resolves allegations of sexual misconduct by coaches, trainers, managers, peers, and others that may be in violation of the Center’s policies and procedures. In addition, the Center may, at its discretion, investigate and resolve allegations of other policy violations, including non-sexual child abuse and emotional and physical misconduct. The Center plays a key role in ensuring the safety of amateur athletes, many of whom are minors, who participate in Olympic, Paralympic, and Pan-American events and training. GAO was asked to describe the process the Center uses in responding to, investigating, and resolving allegations of misconduct. This report describes (1) how the Center responds to allegations of misconduct in amateur athletics and seeks to ensure its process for investigating and resolving allegations is fair, and (2) what is known about incidents reported to the Center from February 2018 through June 2020. GAO reviewed documents relevant to Center intake and investigation policies and practices and interviewed the Center's leadership, including individuals responsible for the intake and investigation of allegations of misconduct. In addition, GAO requested summary data for the period February 2018 through June 2020—the most recent data available—including information about allegations of misconduct and abuse, and the investigation and resolution of cases. For more information, contact Kathy A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • North Carolina Return Preparer Sentenced to 50 Months in Prison for Multi-Year Tax Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Rocky Mount, North Carolina, tax return preparer was sentenced to 50 months in prison today for conspiring to defraud the United States, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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    An Ohio physician was sentenced to two years in prison today for his role in illegally distributing opioids.
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    A Montana man pleaded guilty in federal court in the District of North Dakota to a felony charge of obstructing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proceeding stemming from the 2014 death of an oilfield worker in Williston, North Dakota.
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    In Crime News
    After a 7-day trial, a federal jury in Frankfurt, Kentucky, found Prince Bixler, 41, of Lexington, Kentucky, guilty of charges related to his extensive and violent sex and drug trafficking operation that sold crack cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines throughout the Lexington area and forced young, drug-addicted women to prostitute. 
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  • Michigan Based Wire Fraud Conspiracy and Tax Offenses Charged
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, returned an indictment today charging Michigan businessmen John Angelo from Royal Oak, Cory Justin Mann from West Bloomfield, Michael Daneshvar from Bingham Farms, Glenn Franklin from Harrison Township, and Brent Sitto, from Bloomfield Township with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and further charging John Angelo and bookkeeper Rosina Angelo, also known as Rosina Caruvana, from Mountainside, New Jersey, with one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS. John Angelo and Rosina Angelo were also each charged with three counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return and Cory Mann was charged with two additional counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return.
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  • Hanford Cleanup: DOE’s Efforts to Close Tank Farms Would Benefit from Clearer Legal Authorities and Communication
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy (DOE) has retrieved nuclear waste from all the tanks at C-farm—the first of 18 tank farms (i.e., groupings of tanks) at DOE's Hanford site in southeastern Washington State. The waste is a byproduct of decades of nuclear weapons production and research. DOE is obligated under agreements with the state's Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move waste from older, single-shell tanks to newer, more durable, double-shell tanks and ultimately to dispose of it. Example of a Tank and of Waste in a Tank at Hanford DOE intends to “close” the C-farm by leaving the nearly empty tanks in place and filling them with grout. However, DOE faces challenges, in part because this approach depends on: (1) DOE's determination under its directives that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than high-level waste (HLW) and (2) Ecology's approval. DOE has started the determination process, but as GAO has previously found, DOE is likely to face a lawsuit because of questions about its legal authority. Ecology has raised concerns that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has not independently reviewed DOE's analysis for this determination. By Congress clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW, DOE would be in a better position to move forward. Another challenge DOE faces in closing C-farm is how to address contaminated soil caused by leaks or discharges of waste from the tanks. DOE and Ecology officials do not agree on a process for evaluating contaminated soil at C-farm or on what role NRC should play in this process. They interpret their agreement differently, particularly regarding whether NRC must review DOE's analysis of contaminated soil. If the two parties cannot resolve this issue, Ecology may deny DOE a permit for C-farm closure. By using an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on how to assess soil contamination, including NRC's role, DOE would be better positioned to avoid future cleanup delays. DOE has not developed a long-term plan for tank-farm closure, in part, because a plan is not required. However, leading practices in program management call for long-term planning. In addition, DOE faces technical challenges that may take years to address as noted by representatives from various entities or tribal governments. For example, an internal DOE document states there is a 95 percent probability DOE will run out of space in its double shell tanks—space needed to continue retrieval operations. Planning for and building new tanks requires years of work. By developing a long-term plan, DOE could better prepare to address technical challenges. The Hanford site in Washington State contains about 54 million gallons of nuclear waste, which is stored in 177 underground storage tanks. In fiscal years 1997 through 2019, DOE spent over $10 billion to maintain Hanford's tanks and retrieve waste from them. DOE expects to spend at least $69 billion more on activities to retrieve tank waste and close tanks, according to a January 2019 DOE report. Senate Report 116-48, accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to review the status of tank closures at Hanford. GAO's report examines the status of DOE's efforts to retrieve tank waste, challenges DOE faces in its effort to close the C-farm, as well as DOE's approach for closing the remaining tank farms. GAO toured the site; reviewed DOE documents, laws, and regulations; and interviewed officials and representatives from local, regional, and national entities and tribal governments. Congress should consider clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, whether residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOE (1) use an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on a process for assessing soil contamination, including NRC's role and (2) develop a long-term plan for its tank waste cleanup mission at Hanford. DOE concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact David C. Trimble at (202) 512-3841 or trimbled@gao.gov.
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  • American Contractor Sentenced for Theft of Government Equipment on U.S. Military Base in Afghanistan
    In Crime News
    An American military contractor was sentenced today to 51 months in prison for her role in a theft ring on a military installation in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
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  • Disqualification of Pan-Democratic Lawmakers in Hong Kong
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  • Judiciary Calls for Passage of Security Legislation
    In U.S Courts
    The Judiciary implores Congress to pass the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2020 during the current lame duck session. The bipartisan bill if passed, would improve security at judges’ homes and at federal courthouses across the country.
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  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    A Detroit man was charged in federal court with drug trafficking and illegally possessing a firearm.
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  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Al Thani
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  • Immigration Detention: ICE Should Enhance Its Use of Facility Oversight Data and Management of Detainee Complaints
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other DHS entities use, in part, inspections to oversee detention facilities and address identified deficiencies. As shown below, in fiscal year 2019, most of ICE's 179 facilities that housed adults for over 72 hours underwent inspections by contractors or its Office of Detention Oversight, while smaller facilities conducted self-assessments. ICE also conducted onsite monitoring at facilities. Further, two DHS offices conducted inspections related to certain aspects of facilities. ICE collects the results of its various inspections, such as deficiencies they identify, but does not comprehensively analyze them to identify trends or record all inspection results in a format conducive to such analyses. By ensuring inspection results are recorded in a format conducive to analysis and regularly conducting comprehensive analyses of results, ICE would be better positioned to identify and address potential trends in deficiencies. Detention Facility Oversight by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Entities at 179 Facilities, Fiscal Year 2019 ICE and DHS entities have various mechanisms for receiving and addressing detention-related complaints from detainees and others. However, while some of these entities conduct some analyses of the complaint data they maintain, ICE does not regularly analyze detention-related complaint data across all of its relevant offices. By regularly conducting such analyses, ICE could identify and address potential trends in complaints. Additionally, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices—which oversee and manage detention facilities—address and record outcomes of detention-related complaints referred to them for resolution, or do so in a timely manner. For example, GAO's analysis of data from one referring office—the Administrative Inquiry Unit—indicated that for certain noncriminal complaints the unit refers, ERO field offices did not provide resolutions back to the unit for 99 percent of referrals. Without requiring that ERO field offices record any actions taken on, and the resolutions of, detention-related complaints, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that field offices are addressing them. ICE is the lead agency responsible for providing safe, secure, and humane confinement for detained foreign nationals in the United States. ICE has established standards for immigration detention related to complaint processes, medical care, and other areas. The joint explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review ICE's management and oversight of detention facilities and detention-related complaints. This report examines ICE and other DHS entities' mechanisms for (1) overseeing compliance with immigration detention facility standards and how ICE uses oversight information to address any identified deficiencies; and (2) receiving and addressing detainee complaints, and how ICE uses complaint information. GAO analyzed documentation and data on inspections and complaints at facilities that held detainees for over 72 hours during the last 3 fiscal years—2017 through 2019; visited 10 facilities selected based on inspection results and other factors; and interviewed officials. GAO is making six recommendations, including that ICE ensures oversight data are recorded in a format conducive to analysis, regularly conducts trend analyses of oversight data and detention-related complaint data, and requires that ERO field offices record the resolutions of detention-related complaints. DHS concurred. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler, (202) 512-8777) or gamblerr@gao.gov.
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  • Offshore Oil and Gas: Updated Regulations Needed to Improve Pipeline Oversight and Decommissioning
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) does not have a robust oversight process for ensuring the integrity of approximately 8,600 miles of active offshore oil and gas pipelines located on the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, BSEE does not generally conduct or require any subsea inspections of active pipelines. Instead, the bureau relies on monthly surface observations and pressure sensors to detect leaks. However, officials told us that these methods and technologies are not always reliable for detecting ruptures. In response to a pair of significant oil leaks in 2016 and 2017, BSEE partnered with industry to improve subsea leak detection, but the technologies identified remain relatively new and cannot be retrofitted to a majority of pipelines. According to BSEE, the bureau's regulations are outdated and do not address how pipelines should be inspected, the complexities of deep water pipeline operations, and changes in technological standards. BSEE has long recognized the need to improve its pipeline regulations, and in 2007 issued a proposed rule that cited the need to enhance safety and protect the environment, but this effort stalled. The 2007 proposed rule addressed offshore pipeline integrity, including new requirements regarding pipeline inspection and subsea leak detection technologies. Since 2013, BSEE has noted plans to update its pipeline regulations but has made limited progress in the interim. Without taking actions to develop, finalize, and implement updated regulations to address identified oversight gaps, BSEE will continue to be limited in its ability to ensure the integrity of active pipelines. BSEE does not have a robust process to address the environmental and safety risks posed by leaving decommissioned pipelines in place on the seafloor due to the cumulative effects of oversight gaps before, during, and after the decommissioning process. First, BSEE does not thoroughly account for such risks during the review of decommissioning applications. This has contributed to BSEE and its predecessors authorizing industry to leave over 97 percent (about 18,000 miles) of all decommissioned pipeline mileage on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor since the 1960s. Generally, pipelines must be removed from the seafloor. BSEE, however, may allow pipelines to be decommissioned-in-place if certain criteria are met. Such a high rate of approval indicates that this is not an exception, however, but rather that decommissioning-in-place has been the norm for decades. Second, BSEE does not ensure that operators meet decommissioning standards, such as cleaning pipelines, because they do not observe any pipeline decommissioning activities, inspect pipelines after their decommissioning, or verify most of the pipeline decommissioning evidence submitted. Third, BSEE does not monitor the condition and location of pipelines following their decommissioning-in-place, which reduces its ability to mitigate any long-term risks, such as pipeline exposure or movement. Additionally, if pipelines decommissioned-in-place are later found to pose risks, there is no funding source for removal. As discussed above, BSEE has made limited progress in updating what it acknowledges are outdated pipeline regulations. Without taking actions to develop, finalize, and implement updated pipeline regulations, BSEE will continue to be limited in its ability to ensure that its pipeline decommissioning process addresses environmental and safety risks. Why GAO Did This Study The offshore oil and gas industry has installed approximately 40,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in federal offshore waters since the 1940s. BSEE is responsible for enforcing standards and regulations for oil and gas operations—including the oversight of active pipelines and their decommissioning—to enhance environmental protection and safety. As pipelines age, they are more susceptible to damage from corrosion, mudslides, and seafloor erosion, which can result in leakage of oil and gas into the ocean. Additionally, hurricanes can move pipelines extensive distances, which may damage subsea habitat, impede access to sediment resources, and create navigational and trawling hazards. GAO was asked to review BSEE's management of offshore oil and gas pipelines. This report examines BSEE's processes for (1) ensuring active pipeline integrity and (2) addressing safety and environmental risks posed by decommissioning. GAO reviewed regulations, procedures, and other documents and data related to BSEE's pipeline management processes. GAO also interviewed BSEE officials and those from other agencies with offshore responsibilities.
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  • Florida Doctor Charged in Massive $681 Million Substance Abuse Treatment Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Palm Beach County, Florida doctor was arrested and charged with conspiring to commit health care fraud and wire fraud for his alleged participation in a massive years-long health care fraud scheme throughout Palm Beach County, billing for fraudulent tests and treatments for vulnerable patients seeking treatment for drug and/or alcohol addiction.
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  • Warfighter Support: DOD Needs a Complete Picture of the Military Services’ Prepositioning Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The services preposition combat and support assets ashore and afloat worldwide, including in the Indo-Pacific region. Prepositioned assets include combat vehicles, equipment sets for engineering and construction, and protective gear for chemical or biological attacks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Defense (DOD) used prepositioned medical assets for personnel in Guam, South Korea, and Germany. All of the services have reported some shortfalls in their prepositioned assets from 2015 through 2019—including mortars, combat vehicles, and medical equipment. In the Indo-Pacific region, for example, the Army reported shortfalls in equipment to construct bridges over difficult terrain. All services also cited challenges, such as insufficient storage space, storage facilities located far away from intended points of use, and the perishability of some assets. In some cases, the services are taking actions to address these shortfalls and challenges. In others, the services are accepting risk because, according to officials, not all shortfalls and challenges can be fully addressed. Sailors and Marines Offload Assets from a Prepositioning Ship during the COVID-19 Response in Guam DOD has taken steps to implement a joint oversight framework but does not have a complete view of the services' prepositioning programs. DOD revised two guidance documents—an instruction in 2019 and a strategic implementation plan in 2020—to establish a joint oversight framework. However, DOD has focused much of its joint efforts to date on preparing a required annual report to Congress on the status of the services' prepositioning programs. While the report provides some useful information, GAO found inaccurate and inconsistent information in multiple annual reports, which hinder their utility. DOD does not have a reporting mechanism or information-collection tool to develop a complete picture of the services' prepositioning programs. The current annual reporting requirement expires in 2021, which provides DOD with an opportunity to create a new reporting mechanism, or modify existing mechanisms or tools, to enable a complete picture of the services' prepositioning programs. By doing so, DOD could better identify gaps or redundancies in the services' programs, make more informed decisions to mitigate asset shortfalls and challenges, reduce potential duplication and fragmentation, and improve its joint oversight. The U.S. military services preposition critical assets at strategic locations around the world for access during the initial phases of an operation. DOD uses these prepositioned assets for combat, support to allies, and disaster and humanitarian assistance. For many years, GAO has identified weaknesses in DOD's efforts to establish a joint oversight framework to guide its ability to assess the services' prepositioning programs. This has led to fragmentation and the potential for duplication. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to evaluate the services' prepositioning programs and associated challenges. This report (1) describes the types of assets the services preposition worldwide, as well as asset shortfalls and challenges the services have identified, and (2) assesses the extent to which DOD has made progress in implementing a joint oversight framework for the services' programs. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed DOD prepositioning documents and interviewed DOD and State Department officials from over 20 offices. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in December 2020. Information that DOD deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO recommends that DOD develop a reporting mechanism or tool to gather complete information about the military services' prepositioning programs for joint oversight and to reduce duplication and fragmentation. DOD concurred with the recommendation. For more information, contact Cary B. Russell at (202) 512-5431 or russellc@gao.gov.
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  • USDA Market Facilitation Program: Information on Payments for 2019
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) distributed about $14.4 billion in 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments to farming operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. According to USDA, these payments were intended to offset the effects of trade disruptions and tariffs targeting a variety of U.S. agricultural products. FSA distributed these payments to 643,965 farming operations. The average MFP payment per farming operation for 2019 was $22,312 but varied by county, ranging from $44 to $295,299. MFP payments for 2019 also varied by type of commodity. Three types of commodities were eligible for 2019 MFP payments: (1) nonspecialty crops (including grains and oilseeds, such as corn and soybeans); (2) specialty crops (including nuts and fruits, such as pecans and cranberries); and (3) dairy and hogs. Most of the 2019 MFP payments went to farming operations that produced nonspecialty crops. Less than 10 percent went to farming operations that produced specialty crops or dairy and hogs. USDA made approximately $519 million in additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 because of increases in payment limits—the cap on payments that members of farming operations can receive. FSA distributed these additional MFP payments to about 10,000 farming operations across 39 states. The amount of additional MFP payments that FSA distributed for 2019 varied by location. Farming operations in five states—Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota—received almost half of all additional payments. In May 2019, USDA announced it would distribute up to $14.5 billion in direct payments to farming operations that were affected by trade disruptions, following the approximately $8.6 billion USDA announced it had distributed for 2018. USDA referred to these 2018 and 2019 payments as the MFP. In comparison with 2018, USDA changed the 2019 payment structure for the three types of commodities that were eligible for payments. For example, USDA increased the payment limit for each of these three types. GAO was asked to review the distribution of MFP payments for 2019. This report examines, among other things, MFP payments for 2019 and how they varied by location, farming operation, and type of commodity, as well as additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 that resulted from increased payment limits. To accomplish these objectives, GAO analyzed data from USDA and interviewed agency officials knowledgeable about the data. For more information, contact Steve Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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    Today, the Department of Justice released “Full Scale Response: A Report on the Department’s Efforts to Combat MS-13 from 2016-2020.”  This report describes the Department’s work to dismantle La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in the United States and abroad.  The data show that since 2016, the Department has prosecuted approximately 749 MS-13 gang members.  So far, more than 500 of these MS-13 gang members have been convicted, including 37 who received life sentences.  Department prosecutors are using more than 20 federal criminal statutes to prosecute MS-13 members, including, for the first time, filing terrorism charges against MS-13’s leadership.  The data also show that for decades MS-13 has exploited weaknesses in border enforcement policies, as approximately 74 percent of the defendants prosecuted were unlawfully present in the United States.  The report also describes the Department’s efforts to combat MS-13 internationally through increased partnerships with law enforcement in Mexico and Central America.  Through international cooperation, hundreds of MS-13 members have been arrested abroad and more than 50 MS-13 members have been extradited to the United States.
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    In Crime News
    A Queens, New York return preparer pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States by filing false returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • COVID-19: HHS Should Clarify Agency Roles for Emergency Return of U.S. Citizens during a Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. returned, or repatriated, about 1,100 U.S. citizens from abroad and quarantined them domestically to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) experienced coordination and safety issues that put repatriates, HHS personnel, and nearby communities at risk. This occurred because HHS component agencies—the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—did not follow plans or guidance delineating their roles and responsibilities for repatriating individuals during a pandemic—an event these agencies had never experienced. While they had general repatriation plans, there was disagreement as to whether the effort was in fact a repatriation. This led to fundamental problems for HHS agencies and their federal partners, including at the March Air Reserve Base quarantine facility in California where the first repatriated individuals were quarantined prior to widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S. These problems included the following: Lack of clarity as to which agency was in charge when the first repatriation flight from Wuhan, China, arrived at the quarantine facility, which caused confusion among the HHS component agencies. Coordination issues among HHS component agencies resulted in component agencies operating independently of each other, and led to frustration and complications. HHS's delay in issuing its federal quarantine order, during which time a repatriate tried to leave the quarantine facility. HHS personnel's inconsistent use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and HHS officials' disagreement on which agency was responsible for managing infection prevention and control. An HHS official also directed personnel to remove their PPE as it created “bad optics,” according to an HHS report that examined the repatriation effort. The National Response Framework, a guide to how the U.S. responds to disasters and emergencies, instructs agencies to understand their respective roles and responsibilities, know what plans apply, and develop appropriate guidance for emergency responses. Until HHS revises or develops new plans that clarify agency roles and responsibilities during a repatriation in response to a pandemic, it will be unable to prevent the coordination and health and safety issues it experienced during the COVID-19 repatriation response in future pandemic emergencies. HHS also did not include repatriation in its pandemic planning exercises. As a result, agencies lacked experience deploying together to test repatriation plans during a pandemic, which contributed to serious coordination issues. GAO has previously reported that exercises play an important role in preparing for an incident by providing opportunities to test response plans and assess the clarity of roles and responsibilities. Until HHS conducts such exercises, it will be unable to test its repatriation plans during a pandemic and identify areas for improvement. Why GAO Did This Study HHS provides temporary assistance to U.S. citizens repatriated by the Department of State (State) from a foreign country because of destitution, illness, threat of war, or similar crises through the U.S. Repatriation Program. In January and February 2020, HHS assisted State in repatriating individuals from Wuhan, China, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, to the U.S. HHS quarantined repatriates at five Department of Defense (DOD) installations to ensure they did not infect others with COVID-19. GAO was asked to examine HHS's COVID-19 repatriation efforts to ensure the health and safety of those involved in the response. This report examines HHS's coordination and management of its COVID-19 repatriation response. GAO reviewed relevant documentation from HHS, State, and DOD related to repatriation planning, including documentation on pandemic planning exercises. GAO also interviewed officials from HHS, State, and DOD.
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  • Venezuela: Additional Tracking Could Aid Treasury’s Efforts to Mitigate Any Adverse Impacts U.S. Sanctions Might Have on Humanitarian Assistance
    In U.S GAO News
    The Venezuelan economy's performance has declined steadily for almost a decade and fallen steeply since the imposition of a series of U.S. sanctions starting in 2015. For example, the economy declined from negative 6.2 percent gross domestic product growth in 2015 to negative 35 percent in 2019 and negative 25 percent in 2020. The sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy, primarily by limiting revenue from oil production. However, mismanagement of Venezuela's state oil company and decreasing oil prices are among other factors that have also affected the economy's performance during this period. U.S. agencies have sought input from humanitarian organizations to identify the potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela and taken steps to mitigate these issues. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of State (State) have solicited input from U.S.-funded humanitarian organizations on challenges they face, including the impact of sanctions. The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and State have also taken steps to mitigate negative consequences. For example, Treasury issued licenses permitting various types of humanitarian assistance transactions in Venezuela (see figure). Treasury also maintains a call center and email account through which organizations can receive assistance with compliance issues or other challenges related to sanctions. While Treasury officials told GAO they respond to individual inquiries, Treasury does not systematically track and analyze information from these inquiries to identify trends or recurrent issues. Without collection and analysis of this information, Treasury and its interagency partners may be limited in their ability to develop further actions to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not disrupt humanitarian assistance. U.S. Humanitarian Assistance Supplies for Venezuelans U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela have likely had a limited impact, if any, on the U.S. oil industry. Despite an overall lower supply of oil in the U.S. market from the loss of Venezuelan crude oil due to sanctions, crude oil and retail gasoline prices in the U.S. have not increased substantially. Many other factors in addition to the sanctions simultaneously affected the oil market and the price of crude oil and retail gasoline prices, including production cuts in January 2019 by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and decreased demand for energy during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to industry officials to whom GAO spoke, U.S. refineries have adjusted to these changes by shifting to alternative sources and types of crude oil. Venezuela has been experiencing an economic, political, and humanitarian crisis. The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company, government, and central bank, among others, in response to activities of the Venezuelan government and certain individuals. Treasury and the Department of State lead the implementation of the sanctions program, and USAID is primarily responsible for implementing humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans. GAO was asked to review U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela. This report examines: (1) how the Venezuelan economy performed before and since the imposition of sanctions in 2015; (2) the steps U.S. agencies have taken to identify and mitigate potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela; and (3) what is known about the impact of U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela on the U.S. oil industry. GAO analyzed economic indicators, reviewed documents, interviewed agency officials, and spoke with representatives from selected humanitarian organizations and the U.S oil industry. GAO recommends that Treasury systematically track inquiries made to its call center and email account, including the specific sanctions program and the subject matter of the inquiry to identify trends and recurring issues. Treasury concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or GianopoulosK@gao.gov.
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  • The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Information on the Spending and Revenue Implications of Potential Debt Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated major federal spending to respond to the national public health emergency and resulting economic turmoil. This response and the severe economic contraction from the pandemic have led to increased federal debt. Once the COVID-19 pandemic abates and the economy has substantially recovered, Congress and the administration will need to address the federal government’s fiscal challenges. To help change the long-term fiscal path, in September 2020 GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a long-term fiscal plan that includes fiscal rules and targets, such as a debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) target. In this report, GAO analyzed the changes in spending and revenue needed to reach six potential debt-to-GDP targets at the end of a 30-year period (2020-2049). To reach any of the targets, policymakers will need to cut program spending, increase revenue, or, most likely, a combination of both (see table). Illustrative Examples of Changes Needed to Achieve Debt-to-GDP Targets Debt target, percent of GDP (end of 30 years) Spending and revenue: total change over 30 years Program spending alone: Immediate and permanent decrease needed in annual projected program spendinga Revenue alone: Immediate and permanent increase needed in annual projected revenue Percent Dollars, trillions Percent Percent 140 25.4 13.8 18.5 120 31.2 16.9 22.8 100 37 20 27 80 42.8 23.1 31.2 60 48.5 26.3 35.4 0 (paying off all debt) 65.9 35.7 48.1 Source: GAO simulation. | GAO-21-211. Note: The simulation used for this analysis generally reflect historical trends, such as the extension of tax provisions scheduled to expire. It does not account for potential macroeconomic effects of fiscal policy changes over time. aProgram spending consists of all spending except interest payments on debt held by the public. When considering the spending and revenue changes needed to achieve various debt-to-GDP targets, policymakers may also consider how changes in assumptions about key variables—such as discretionary spending, revenue, and GDP—affect these fiscal outcomes. For example, if GDP growth is greater than expected, policymakers may have to make smaller spending cuts or revenue increases to reach a selected debt-to-GDP target than those that would be needed based on GAO’s standard assumptions. GAO created an interactive web tool accompanying this report to allow users to enter different assumptions for each of these variables. This tool illustrates how these changes would affect the different debt-to-GDP targets over time, as well as the changes in spending and revenue needed to achieve various targets. This tool can be found at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-211. Even before the fiscal and economic effects resulting from COVID-19, an imbalance between federal revenue and spending that is built into current law and policy was contributing to the growing federal debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2023 federal debt held by the public will reach 107 percent of GDP, its highest point in U.S. history. This situation—in which federal debt grows faster than GDP—means that our nation is on an unsustainable fiscal path. GAO was asked to review issues related to fiscal rules and targets and the federal fiscal condition. In response to this request, in September 2020, GAO issued a report (GAO-20-561) on key considerations for the design, implementation, and enforcement of fiscal rules and targets. This report supplements that work and describes how changes in assumptions of future spending and revenue affect the federal government’s projected fiscal condition. GAO updated its long-term simulations of federal revenue and spending to (1) analyze six potential debt-to-GDP targets and (2) measure the fiscal gap—the policy change needed to reach a given debt-to-GDP fiscal target from the start to the end of 30-years. GAO also analyzed how changes in key variables affected the debt-to-GDP targets and the fiscal gap. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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