Marking One Year of Hong Kong’s National Security Law

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Over the past year, People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Hong Kong officials have systematically undermined Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, delayed elections, disqualified elected lawmakers from office, and forced officials to take loyalty oaths to keep their jobs.  Since protests began in 2019, local authorities have arrested thousands for speaking out against government policies with which they disagreed, including for their social media posts and for attending vigils.  Journalists have been arrested simply for doing their jobs in reporting on the government’s activities and repressive efforts against protesters.  Hong Kong authorities have mounted a persistent and politically motivated campaign against the free press, imprisoned Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, and forced the closure of that publication – a bastion of independent reporting.  Beijing has chipped away at Hong Kong’s reputation of accountable, transparent governance and respect for individual freedoms, and has broken its promise to leave Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy unchanged for 50 years.

We will continue to stand up for the rights and freedoms guaranteed to people in Hong Kong by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.  In the face of Beijing’s decisions over the past year that have stifled the democratic aspirations of people in Hong Kong, we are taking action.  Today we send a clear message that the United States resolutely stands with Hong Kongers.

Promoting Accountability:  The Department of State has designated Chen Dong, Yang Jianping, Qiu Hong, Lu Xinning, Tan Tieniu, He Jing, and Yin Zonghua, who are Deputy Directors of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (LOCPG).  The LOCPG is the PRC’s main platform for projecting its influence in Hong Kong and has repeatedly undermined the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong in the Sino – British Joint declaration. The seven officials are being designated under Executive Order 13936.

Transparency:  Hong Kong’s business environment has deteriorated in the past year.  The many legal, financial, operational, and reputational risks long present in mainland China are now increasingly prevalent in Hong Kong.  A healthy business and investment climate requires a transparent regulatory framework and adherence to the rule of law.  Today, the Department of State, together with the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of the Treasury, released a Business Advisory warning of increased risks for businesses in Hong Kong.  These risks include those introduced by the National Security Law and other new legislation, potential electronic surveillance and lack of data privacy, reduced access to information, and potential retaliation against companies for their compliance with U.S. sanctions.  The business advisory outlines these emerging risks to inform U.S. individuals and businesses and recommends increased awareness and due diligence.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Hits: 1

News Network

  • Terrorist Designation of ISIS Leader Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla
    In Crime News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • U.S. Government Launches First One-Stop Ransomware Resource at StopRansomware.gov
    In Crime News
    Today, as part of the ongoing response, agencies across the U.S. government announced new resources and initiatives to protect American businesses and communities from ransomware attacks.
    [Read More…]
  • Strengthening the Ironclad U.S.-ROK Alliance
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • United States Antitrust Agencies Co-Host the 19th Annual International Competition Network Conference
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are co-hosting the International Competition Network’s (ICN) 19th annual conference, which opens today and runs through Thursday, September 17, 2020.  Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim and FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons are leading the U.S. agencies’ participation in the ICN’s first virtual conference.  Assistant Attorney General Delrahim and Chairman Simons will deliver opening remarks and speak on the conference’s showcase program addressing the challenges of enforcement in the digital economy.
    [Read More…]
  • Texas Heart Hospital and Wholly-Owned Subsidiary THHBP Management Company LLC to Pay $48 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations Related to Alleged Kickbacks
    In Crime News
    Texas Heart Hospital of the Southwest LLP, a partially physician-owned hospital in Plano, Texas, and its wholly owned subsidiary, THHBP Management Company, LLC (collectively, the “Heart Hospital”) have agreed to pay the United States $48 million to resolve claims that the Heart Hospital violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting claims to the Medicare program that resulted from violations of the Physician Self-Referral Law and the Anti Kickback Statute, the Justice Department announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Final four sentenced in $189M Health Care Fraud Scam
    In Justice News
    Four executives of [Read More…]
  • 5G Wireless: Capabilities and Challenges for an Evolving Network
    In U.S GAO News
    Fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks promise to provide significantly greater speeds and higher capacity to accommodate more devices. In addition, 5G networks are expected to be more flexible, reliable, and secure than existing cellular networks. The figure compares 4G and 5G performance goals along three of several performance measures. Note: Megabits per second (Mbps) is a measure of the rate at which data is transmitted, milliseconds (ms) is a measure of time equal to one thousandth of a second, and square kilometer (km²) is a measure of area. As with previous generations of mobile wireless technology, the full performance of 5G will be achieved gradually as networks evolve over the next decade. Deployment of 5G network technologies in the U.S. began in late 2018, and these initial 5G networks focus on enhancing mobile broadband. These deployments are dependent on the existing 4G core network and, in many areas, produced only modest performance improvements. To reach the full potential of 5G, new technologies will need to be developed. International bodies that have been involved in defining 5G network specifications will need to develop additional 5G specifications and companies will need to develop, test, and deploy these technologies. GAO identified the following challenges that can hinder the performance or usage of 5G technologies in the U.S. GAO developed six policy options in response to these challenges, including the status quo. They are presented with associated opportunities and considerations in the following table. The policy options are directed toward the challenges detailed in this report: spectrum sharing, cybersecurity, privacy, and concern over possible health effects of 5G technology. Policy options to address challenges to the performance or usage of U.S. 5G wireless networks Policy Option Opportunities Considerations Spectrum-sharing technologies (report p. 47) Policymakers could support research and development of spectrum sharing technologies. Could allow for more efficient use of the limited spectrum available for 5G and future generations of wireless networks. It may be possible to leverage existing 5G testbeds for testing the spectrum sharing technologies developed through applied research. Research and development is costly, must be coordinated and administered, and its potential benefits are uncertain. Identifying a funding source, setting up the funding mechanism, or determining which existing funding streams to reallocate will require detailed analysis. Coordinated cybersecurity monitoring (report p. 48) Policymakers could support nationwide, coordinated cybersecurity monitoring of 5G networks. A coordinated monitoring program would help ensure the entire wireless ecosystem stays knowledgeable about evolving threats, in close to real time; identify cybersecurity risks; and allow stakeholders to act rapidly in response to emerging threats or actual network attacks. Carriers may not be comfortable reporting incidents or vulnerabilities, and determinations would need to be made about what information is disclosed and how the information will be used and reported. Cybersecurity requirements (report p. 49) Policymakers could adopt cybersecurity requirements for 5G networks. Taking these steps could produce a more secure network. Without a baseline set of security requirements the implementation of network security practices is likely to be piecemeal and inconsistent. Using existing protocols or best practices may decrease the time and cost of developing and implementing requirements. Adopting network security requirements would be challenging, in part because defining and implementing the requirements would have to be done on an application-specific basis rather than as a one-size-fits-all approach. Designing a system to certify network components would be costly and would require a centralized entity, be it industry-led or government-led. Privacy practices (report p. 50) Policymakers could adopt uniform practices for 5G user data. Development and adoption of uniform privacy practices would benefit from existing privacy practices that have been implemented by states, other countries, or that have been developed by federal agencies or other organizations. Privacy practices come with costs, and policymakers would need to balance the need for privacy with the direct and indirect costs of implementing privacy requirements. Imposing requirements can be burdensome, especially for smaller entities. High-band research (report p. 51) Policymakers could promote R&D for high-band technology. Could result in improved statistical modeling of antenna characteristics and more accurately representing propagation characteristics. Could result in improved understanding of any possible health effects from long-term radio frequency exposure to high-band emissions. Research and development is costly and must be coordinated and administered, and its potential benefits are uncertain. Policymakers will need to identify a funding source or determine which existing funding streams to reallocate. Status quo (report p. 52) Some challenges described in this report may be addressed through current efforts. Some challenges described in this report may remain unresolved, be exacerbated, or take longer to resolve than with intervention. GAO was asked to assess the technologies associated with 5G and their implications. This report discusses (1) how the performance goals and expected uses are to be realized in U.S. 5G wireless networks, (2) the challenges that could affect the performance or usage of 5G wireless networks in the U.S., and (3) policy options to address these challenges. To address these objectives, GAO interviewed government officials, industry representatives, and researchers about the performance and usage of 5G wireless networks. This included officials from seven federal agencies; the four largest U.S. wireless carriers; an industry trade organization; two standards bodies; two policy organizations; nine other companies; four university research programs; the World Health Organization; the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements; and the chairman of the Defense Science Board's 5G task force. GAO reviewed technical studies, industry white papers, and policy papers identified through a literature review. GAO discussed the challenges to the performance or usage of 5G in the U.S. during its interviews and convened a one-and-a-half day meeting of 17 experts from academia, industry, and consumer groups with assistance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. GAO received technical comments on a draft of this report from six federal agencies and nine participants at its expert meeting, which it incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Hai Tran at (202) 512-6888, tranh@gao.gov or Vijay A. D’Souza at (202) 512-6240, dsouzav@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Sam NewsCyber Diplomacy: State Has Not Involved Relevant Federal Agencies in the Development of Its Plan to Establish the Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies Bureau
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of State (State) coordinates with other federal agencies to advance U.S. interests in cyberspace, but it has not involved these agencies in the development of its plan to establish a new cyber diplomacy bureau. In 2019, State informed Congress of its plan to establish a new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) to align cyberspace policy resources with an international security focus and improve coordination with other agencies working on these issues. However, officials from six agencies that work with State on cyber diplomacy efforts told GAO that State did not inform or involve them in the development of its plan to establish CSET. GAO's prior work on government reorganization has shown that it is important for agencies to involve other agency stakeholders in developing proposed reforms to obtain their views. Without involving and communicating with agency partners on its reorganization plan, State lacks assurance that it will effectively achieve its goals for establishing CSET, and it increases the risk of negative effects from unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication of cyber diplomacy efforts. The United States and its allies are facing expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure become increasingly dependent on cyberspace. State leads U.S. cyber diplomacy efforts and coordinates with other agencies to improve the cybersecurity of the nation. Members of Congress have proposed, through the Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 (H.R. 739), to establish a new office within State that would consolidate responsibility for digital economy and internet freedom issues, together with international cybersecurity issues. State subsequently notified Congress of its plan to establish CSET, with a narrower focus on cyberspace security and emerging technologies. The United States and its allies are facing expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure become increasingly dependent on cyberspace. State leads U.S. cyber diplomacy efforts and coordinates with other agencies to improve the cybersecurity of the nation. Members of Congress have proposed, through the Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 (H.R. 739), to establish a new office within State that would consolidate responsibility for digital economy and internet freedom issues, together with international cybersecurity issues. State subsequently notified Congress of its plan to establish CSET, with a narrower focus on cyberspace security and emerging technologies. GAO was asked to review elements of State's planning process for establishing a new cyber diplomacy bureau. This report examines the extent to which State involved the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, and the Treasury in the development of its plan for establishing CSET. GAO reviewed available documentation from State on its planning process for establishing the new bureau and interviewed officials from State and six other agencies. To determine the extent to which State involved other agencies in its planning effort, GAO assessed State's efforts against relevant key practices for agency reforms compiled in GAO's June 2018 report on government reorganization. As part of our ongoing work on this topic, we are also continuing to monitor and review State's overall planning process for establishing this new bureau. GAO recommends that State involve federal agencies that contribute to cyber diplomacy to obtain their views and identify any risks, such as unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication of these efforts, as it implements its plan to establish CSET. State did not concur, citing that other agencies are not stakeholders in an internal State reform, and that it was unware that these agencies had consulted with State before reorganizing their own cyberspace security organizations. GAO stands by the recommendation and maintains that State's agency partners are key stakeholders, as they work closely with State on a range of cyber diplomacy efforts. Further, as the leader of U.S. government international efforts to advance U.S. interests in cyberspace, it is important for State to incorporate leading practices to ensure the successful implementation of its reorganization effort. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at 202-512-5130 or MazanecB@gao.gov, or Nick Marinos at 202-512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Jordan Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Political Prisoners in Belarus Should Be Released
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Department of Energy Contracting: Improvements Needed to Ensure DOE Assesses Its Full Range of Contracting Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE), including billing schemes, conflicts of interest, and payroll schemes. For example, a subcontractor employee at a site created fraudulent invoices for goods never received, resulting in a loss of over $6 million. In another scheme, a contractor engaged in years of widespread time card fraud, submitting inflated claims for compensation. The contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the case. DOE reported that it identified nearly $15 million in improper payments due to confirmed fraud in fiscal year 2019. However, due to the difficulty in detecting fraud, agencies—including DOE—incur financial losses related to fraud that are never identified or are settled without admission to fraud and are not counted as such. Fraud can also have nonfinancial impacts, such as fraudsters obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing legitimate businesses from obtaining contracts. DOE has taken some steps and is planning others to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, consistent with the leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. However, GAO found that DOE has not assessed the full range of contracting fraud risks it faces. Specifically, GAO found DOE's methods for gathering information about its fraud risks captures selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs. As shown in the figure, DOE's risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not capture four of nine fraud schemes that occurred at DOE. For example, one entity did not include any fraud risks in its risk profiles, yet GAO identified six types of fraud schemes that occurred at the entity's site. DOE plans to expand its risk assessment process, but officials expect the new process will continue to rely on a methodology that gathers information on selected fraud risks. The Fraud Risk Framework states that entities identify specific tools, methods, and sources for gathering information about fraud risks. Without expanding its methodology to capture, assess, and document all fraud risks facing its programs, DOE risks remaining vulnerable to these types of fraud. Fraud Risks Identified in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 Risk Profiles Compared with Types of Fraud Schemes That Have Occurred at DOE DOE is planning to develop an antifraud strategy in fiscal year 2022 and has taken some steps to evaluate and adapt to fraud risks, consistent with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Part of DOE's effort to manage fraud risks includes adapting controls to address emerging fraud risks. Additionally, DOE is planning to expand its use of data analytics to detect contracting fraud, beginning in fiscal year 2022. DOE relies primarily on contractors to carry out its missions at its laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its total obligations on contracts. GAO and DOE's Inspector General have reported on incidents of fraud by DOE contractors and identified multiple contracting fraud risks. GAO was asked to examine DOE's processes to manage contracting fraud risks. This report examines, for DOE, (1) types of contracting fraud schemes and their financial and nonfinancial impacts, (2) steps taken to commit to combating contracting fraud risks and the extent to which these risks have been assessed, and (3) steps taken to design and implement an antifraud strategy and to evaluate and adapt its approach. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance; reviewed agency media releases, Agency Financial Reports, and DOE Inspector General reports to Congress from 2013 through 2019; and reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 42 DOE field and site offices, contractors, and subcontractors, representing a range of sites and programs. GAO is making two recommendations, including for DOE to expand its fraud risk assessment methodology to ensure all fraud risks facing DOE programs are fully assessed and documented in accordance with leading practices. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-6722 shear@gao.gov or Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841, bawdena@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Sri Lanka National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: Brief Update on Initial Federal Response to the Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    As of August 20, 2020, the U.S. had over 5.5 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19, and 158,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted between March and July 2020 to provide appropriations for the response to COVID-19. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to COVID-19. This second report examines federal spending on the COVID-19 response; indicators for monitoring public health and the economy; and the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations from GAO’s June 2020 report (GAO-20-625). GAO reviewed data through June 30, 2020 (the latest available) from USAspending.gov, a government website with data from government agencies. GAO also obtained, directly from the agencies, spending data, as of July 31, 2020, for the six largest spending areas, to the extent available. To develop the public health indicators, GAO reviewed research and federal guidance. To understand economic developments, GAO reviewed data from federal statistical agencies, the Federal Reserve, and Bloomberg Terminal, as well as economic research. To update the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations, GAO reviewed agency and congressional actions. In response to the national public health and economic threats caused by COVID-19, four relief laws making appropriations of about $2.6 trillion had been enacted as of July 31, 2020. Overall, federal obligations and expenditures government-wide of these COVID-19 relief funds totaled $1.5 trillion and $1.3 trillion, respectively, as of June 30, 2020. GAO also obtained preliminary data for six major spending areas as of July 31, 2020 (see table). COVID-19 Relief Appropriations, Obligations, and Expenditures for Six Major Spending Areas, as of July 2020 Spending area Appropriationsa ($ billions) Preliminary obligationsb ($ billions) Preliminary expendituresb ($ billions) Business Loan Programs 687.3 538.1 522.2c Economic Stabilization and Assistance to Distressed Sectors 500.0 30.4 19.2c Unemployment Insurance 376.4 301.1 296.8 Economic Impact Payments 282.0 273.5 273.5 Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund 231.7 129.6 95.9 Coronavirus Relief Fund 150.0 149.5 149.5 Total for six spending areas 2,227.4 1,422.2 1,357.0 Source: GAO analysis of data from the Department of the Treasury, USAspending.gov, and applicable agencies. | GAO-20-708 aCOVID-19 relief appropriations reflect amounts appropriated under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-123, 134 Stat. 146; Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Pub. L. No. 116-127, 134 Stat. 178 (2020); CARES Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (2020); and Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, Pub. L. No. 116-139, 134 Stat. 620 (2020). These data are based on appropriations warrant information provided by the Department of the Treasury as of July 31, 2020. These amounts could increase in the future for programs with indefinite appropriations, which are appropriations that, at the time of enactment, are for an unspecified amount. In addition, this table does not represent transfers of funds that federal agencies may make between appropriation accounts or transfers of funds they may make to other agencies. bObligations and expenditures data for July 2020 are based on preliminary data reported by applicable agencies. cThese expenditures relate to the loan subsidy costs (the loan’s estimated long-term costs to the United States government). The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to assess the impact of the federal response on public health and the economy. The following are examples of health care and economic indicators that GAO is monitoring. Health care. GAO’s indicators are intended to assess the nation’s immediate response to COVID-19 as it first took hold, gauge its recovery from the effects of the pandemic over the longer term, and determine the nation’s level of preparedness for future pandemics, involving subsequent waves of either COVID-19 or other infectious diseases. For example, to assess the sufficiency of testing—a potential indicator of the system’s response and recovery—GAO suggests monitoring the proportion of tests in a given population that are positive for infection. A higher positivity rate can indicate that testing is not sufficiently widespread to find all cases. That is higher positivity rates can indicate that testing has focused on those most likely to be infected and seeking testing because they have symptoms, and may not be detecting COVID-19 cases among individuals with no symptoms. Although there is no agreed-upon threshold for the test positivity rate, governments should target low positivity rates. The World Health Organization recommends a test positivity rate threshold of less than 5 percent over a 14-day period. As of August 12, 2020, 12 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (38 states had not). Resolve to Save Lives, another organization, recommends a threshold of less than 3 percent over a 7-day period, and 11 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (39 states had not) as of August 12, 2020. GAO also suggests monitoring mortality from all causes compared to historical norms as an indicator of the pandemic’s broad effect on health care outcomes. Mortality rates have tended to be consistent from year to year. This allows an estimation of how much mortality rose with the onset of the pandemic, and provides a baseline by which to judge a return to pre-COVID levels. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, about 125,000 more people died from all causes January 1–June 13 than would normally be expected (see figure). CDC Data on Higher-Than-Expected Weekly Mortality, January 1 through June 13, 2020 Note: The figure shows the number of deaths from all causes in a given week that exceeded the upper bound threshold of expected deaths calculated by CDC on the basis of variation in mortality experienced in prior years. Changes in the observed numbers of deaths in recent weeks should be interpreted cautiously as this figure relies on provisional data that are generally less complete in recent weeks. Data were accessed on July 16, 2020. Economy. GAO updated information on a number of indicators to facilitate ongoing and consistent monitoring of areas of the economy supported by the federal pandemic response, in particular the COVID-19 relief laws. These indicators suggest that economic conditions—including for workers, small businesses, and corporations—have improved modestly in recent months but remain much weaker than prior to the pandemic. In June and July initial regular unemployment insurance (UI) claims filed weekly averaged roughly 1.4 million (see figure), which was six and a half times higher than average weekly claims in 2019, but claims have decreased substantially since mid-March, falling to 971,000 in the week ending August 8, 2020. Increasing infections in some states and orders to once again close or limit certain businesses are likely to pose additional challenges for potentially fragile economic improvements, especially in affected sectors, such as the leisure and hospitality sector. National Weekly Initial Unemployment Insurance Claims, January 2019–July 2020 Note: See figure 5 in the report. As GAO reported in June, consistent with the urgency of responding to serious and widespread health issues and economic disruptions, federal agencies gave priority to moving swiftly where possible to distribute funds and implement new programs designed to help small businesses and the newly unemployed, for example. However, such urgency required certain tradeoffs in achieving transparency and accountability goals. To make mid-course corrections, GAO made three recommendations to federal agencies: To reduce the potential for duplicate payments from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—a program that provides guaranteed loans through lenders to small businesses—and unemployment insurance, GAO recommended that the Department of Labor (DOL), in consultation with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), immediately provide information to state unemployment agencies that specifically addresses PPP loans, and the risk of improper unemployment insurance payments. DOL issued guidance on August 12, 2020, that, among other things, clarified that individuals working full-time and being paid through PPP are not eligible for UI. To recoup economic impact payments totaling more than $1.6 billion sent to decedents, GAO recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients of economic impact payments how to return payments. IRS has taken steps to address this recommendation. According to a Treasury official, nearly 70 percent of the payments sent to decedents have been recovered. However, GAO was unable to verify that amount before finalizing work on this report. GAO is working with Treasury to determine the number of payments sent to decedents that have been recovered. Treasury was considering sending letters to request the return of remaining outstanding payments but has not moved forward with this effort because, according to Treasury, Congress is considering legislation that would clarify or change payment eligibility requirements. To reduce the potential for fraud and ensure program integrity, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA has begun developing oversight plans for PPP but has not yet finalized or implemented them. In addition, to improve the government’s response efforts, GAO suggested three matters for congressional consideration: GAO urged Congress to take legislative action to require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to work with relevant agencies and stakeholders, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and international organizations, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to ensure safeguards are in place to limit the spread of communicable disease threats from abroad, while also minimizing any unnecessary interference with travel and trade. In early July 2020, DOT collaborated with HHS and DHS to issue guidance to airports and airlines for implementing measures to mitigate the public health risks associated with COVID-19, but it has not developed a preparedness plan for future communicable disease threats. DOT has maintained that HHS and DHS should lead such planning efforts as they are responsible for communicable disease response and preparedness planning, respectively. In June 2020, HHS stated that it is not in a position to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan as it does not have primary jurisdiction over the entire aviation sector or the relevant transportation expertise. In May 2020, DHS stated that it had reviewed its existing plans for pandemic preparedness and response activities and determined it is not best situated to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan. Without such a plan, the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to future communicable disease events. GAO also urged Congress to amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to help prevent payments to ineligible individuals. In June 2020, the Senate passed S.4104, referred to as the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. If enacted, the bill would allow SSA to share these data with Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service to avoid paying deceased individuals. Finally, GAO urged Congress to use GAO's Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) formula for any future changes to the FMAP—the statutory formula according to which the federal government matches states' spending for Medicaid services—during the current or any future economic downturn. Congress has taken no action thus far on this issue. GAO incorporated technical comments received the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury; the Federal Reserve; Office of Management and Budget; and Internal Revenue Service. The Small Business Administration commented that GAO did not include information on actions taken and controls related to its loan forgiveness program or its plans for loan reviews. GAO plans to provide more information on these topics in its next CARES Act report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Marking One Year of Hong Kong’s National Security Law
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • North Macedonia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Florida Recording Artist and Pennsylvania Man Charged for Role in $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Florida recording artist and a Pennsylvania towing company owner have been charged for their alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $24 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • Taxpayer Advocate Service: Opportunities Exist to Improve Reports to Congress
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The budget for the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) declined by about 14 percent from fiscal years 2011 to 2020, when adjusted for inflation. For fiscal year 2020, TAS used most of its resources to assist individual taxpayers, known as case advocacy. TAS allocated about 76 percent of its $222 million budget and 86 percent of its almost 1,700 full-time equivalents to this purpose. The percentage of resources for case advocacy has decreased during the past decade—in fiscal year 2011 about 85 percent of the budget was devoted to it. For the same period, resources to address broader issues affecting groups of taxpayers, known as systemic advocacy, increased from 9 percent to 14 percent of the total budget. This shift is due in part to the reallocation of staff to better integrate systemic advocacy work and TAS's overall attrition rate more than doubling to 15.9 percent between fiscal years 2011 and 2019. Since 2011, TAS has received more than 2 million taxpayer cases, of which almost half were referrals from other IRS offices. TAS closed more cases than it received each year from 2012 to 2017, but its inventory has grown since fiscal year 2018, due in part to attrition in case advocacy staff and an increase in taxpayers seeking assistance (see figure below). Number of Taxpayer Cases Received and Closed, Fiscal Years 2011 to 2020 TAS has recently modified its two mandated reports to Congress by reducing their length and separately compiling legislative recommendations. It shortened its annual reports in part because the Taxpayer First Act reduced the required number of most serious taxpayer problems from “at least 20” to “the 10” most serious problems. GAO identified the following additional actions that could further improve TAS reporting. Report outcome-oriented objectives and progress. The objectives for the upcoming fiscal year that TAS included in its most recent report are not always clearly identified and do not link to the various planned activities that are described. Further, the objectives TAS does identify do not include measurable outcomes. In addition, TAS's reports do not include the actual results achieved against objectives so it is not possible to assess related performance and progress. Improved performance reporting could help both TAS and Congress better understand which activities are contributing toward achieving TAS's objectives and where actions may be needed to address any unmet goals. Consult with Congress and other stakeholders. TAS briefs congressional committees each year after publishing its annual report and solicits perspectives from stakeholders. TAS officials said they incorporate the perspectives into its objectives. However, TAS does not follow leading practices to consult congressional committees about its goals and objectives prior to publication at least once every 2 years. Thus, it misses opportunities to obtain congressional input on its objectives and performance reporting. Consultations would provide TAS opportunities to confirm if its goals incorporate congressional and other stakeholder perspectives and whether its reports meet their information needs. Publish updates on recommendation implementation status. By law, TAS's annual report must include an inventory of actions IRS has fully, partially, and not yet taken on TAS's recommendations to address the most serious problems facing taxpayers. If those recommendations take multiple years to implement, which some have as shown in the table below, updating the inventory would be required. In its objectives reports, TAS provides only a one-time inventory of IRS responses to TAS's recommendations made during the preceding year, including plans and preliminary actions taken for those IRS accepts for implementation. TAS does not publicly update the inventory in subsequent annual reports to reflect actions IRS takes or does not take to address TAS's recommendations. This reporting approach does not provide complete information on the status of actions IRS has taken to address serious problems facing taxpayers and also does not provide the information in the annual report, as required. Publishing such updated status information would support congressional oversight. Taxpayer Advocate Service's (TAS) Recommendation Reporting and Status as of the Fourth Quarter of Fiscal Year 2020 GAO also identified options for TAS to consider to improve its reporting. These options include explaining changes to the list of the most serious taxpayer problems from year to year and streamlining report sections congressional staff use less frequently. Why GAO Did This Study TAS, an independent office within IRS, helps taxpayers resolve problems with IRS and addresses broader, systemic issues that affect groups of taxpayers by recommending administrative and legislative changes to mitigate such problems. Congress mandated that TAS issue two reports every year—one known as the annual report which includes sections on, among other things, the 10 most serious problems encountered by taxpayers, and the other known as the objectives report that discusses organizational objectives. GAO was asked to review how TAS carries out its mission, focusing on resources and reporting. This report (1) describes TAS's resources and workload, and (2) assesses TAS's reporting to Congress and identifies opportunities for improvement. GAO reviewed documents from TAS, IRS, and other sources, including TAS's annual and objectives reports and internal guidance; analyzed TAS's budget, staffing, and workload data for fiscal years 2011 through 2020; and interviewed knowledgeable TAS and IRS officials. GAO assessed TAS's reporting of its objectives and performance against statutory requirements, relevant internal control standards, and selected key practices for performance reporting developed by GAO. In addition, GAO reviewed relevant TAS web pages, analyzed the length and composition of TAS's reports, and interviewed key congressional committee staff to identify additional options to improve TAS's reporting.
    [Read More…]
  • Report Detailing Government Efforts to Combat Robocalls Released to Congress
    In Crime News
    The Department of [Read More…]
  • Guyana National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Vermont Man Charged with Hiring Person to Kidnap and Kill a Man in a Foreign Country, and Producing and Receiving Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Vermont returned a third superseding indictment today against a Burlington man for conspiring to kidnap and kill a man in a foreign country, murder for hire, and five child pornography offenses.
    [Read More…]
  • Maryland Tax Preparer Indicted for Preparing False Returns
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Greenbelt, Maryland, returned an indictment today charging an Upper Marlboro tax return preparer with conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur.
    [Read More…]
  • Bhutan National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • On Lunar New Year
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • NASA Engineers Checking InSight’s Weather Sensors
    In Space
    An electronics issue is [Read More…]
  • Military Personnel: Perspectives on DOD’s and the Military Services’ Use of Borrowed Military Personnel
    In U.S GAO News
    Policies on the use of borrowed military personnel vary among military services. Borrowed military personnel refers to military personnel used for duties outside their assigned positions, such as security protection. DOD policy acknowledges that there may be instances in which military personnel can be used to appropriately satisfy a near-term demand but that DOD must be vigilant in ensuring that military personnel are not inappropriately utilized, particularly in a manner that may degrade readiness. Additionally, the Army and the Marine Corps have their own policies that describes how military personnel may be used on a temporary basis. DOD and the Army, Navy, and Air Force do not centrally track their use of borrowed military personnel, nor do they assess any impacts of that use on the readiness of units and personnel to accomplish their assigned missions. According to DOD and Army officials, the relatively limited use of borrowed military manpower, their limited impacts on readiness, and the existence of other readiness reporting mechanisms serve to obviate the need to collect and analyze this information centrally—especially given the resources that would be required to establish and maintain such a reporting process. The House Armed Services Committee has questioned whether DOD continues to divert servicemembers from their unit assignments to perform nonmilitary functions that could be performed by civilian employees. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to assess the levels and impacts of borrowed military personnel. This report examines DOD's and the military services' policies on the use of borrowed military personnel, the tracking and reporting of their use of borrowed military personnel, and any impacts of that use on readiness. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202)512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Hamtramck, Michigan Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Federal Civil Rights Charge For Excessive Use of Force
    In Crime News
    Former Hamtramck police office Ryan McInerney, 44, pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan to using excessive force against a civilian arrestee and violating the arrestee’s civil rights. As a result of the assault, the victim, identified in court documents only as D.M., suffered broken facial bones and lacerations requiring stitches, among other injuries.
    [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – February 12, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Solomon Islands’ National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Covid-19 Housing Protections: Moratoriums Have Helped Limit Evictions, but Further Outreach Is Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Eviction moratoriums at the federal, state, and local levels reduced eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, some eligible renters may not have benefitted from a recent federal moratorium. GAO's analysis of 63 jurisdictions found that the median rate of eviction filings was about 74 percent lower in the last week of July 2020—when a moratorium included in the CARES Act expired—than in the same week in 2019. Eviction filings remained lower throughout 2020 (relative to 2019) but gradually increased during a separate moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020 (see fig.). During this moratorium, jurisdictions without separate state or local moratoriums experienced larger increases in eviction filings, which suggests that some renters may not fully understand how to use the CDC moratorium (completing required documentation). CDC extended its moratorium through March 31, 2021, but has taken few steps to promote awareness and understanding of the moratorium and its requirements. Clear, accurate, and timely information is essential to keep the public informed during the pandemic. Without a communication and outreach plan, including federal coordination, CDC will be missing an opportunity to ensure that eligible renters avoid eviction. Year-over-Year Percentage Change in Eviction Filings in 63 Jurisdictions Note: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) moratorium is active through March 31, 2021. Local moratoriums include separate state or local eviction moratoriums. Unlike the CARES Act, CDC's moratorium does not prohibit eviction filings, which could explain some increases. By late January 2021, Treasury had disbursed 99 percent of the $25 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance funds to state and other eligible grantees responsible for making rent and utility payments to recipients. Treasury's initial program guidance issued that month did not fully define some program requirements and included requirements that could have delayed the delivery of funds or deter participation. In late February 2021, Treasury updated its guidance to address several of these concerns, such as by providing grantees with flexibility for prioritizing lower income applicants and allowing written attestation of income. Although the guidance did not clarify certain data collection and spending requirements, officials said they will continue to update guidance to address stakeholder concerns and strike a balance between accountability and administrative efficiency. GAO will continue to actively monitor these efforts. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of renters and property owners continue to experience housing instability and financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, Congress and CDC created eviction moratoriums, and Congress appropriated $25 billion to Treasury to disburse to state and local grantees to administer emergency rental assistance programs to help those behind on their rent. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) how eviction moratoriums have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic and (2) Treasury's implementation of the Emergency Rental Assistance program. GAO analyzed data on eviction filings and local policies in a sample of 63 jurisdictions (selected based on data availability) from January to December 2020. GAO also analyzed Census Bureau survey data on rental payments and data from federal housing entities on mortgage forbearance. GAO interviewed officials from CDC, Treasury, and organizations representing renters, property owners, and rental assistance grantees.
    [Read More…]
  • Three Individuals Charged for Alleged Roles in Twitter Hack
    In Crime News
    Three individuals have been charged today for their alleged roles in the Twitter hack that occurred on July 15, 2020.
    [Read More…]
  • Beam Suntory Inc. Agrees to Pay Over $19 Million to Resolve Criminal Foreign Bribery Case
    In Crime News
    Beam Suntory Inc. (Beam), a Chicago-based company that produces and sells distilled beverages, has agreed to pay a criminal monetary penalty of $19,572,885 to resolve the department’s investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
    [Read More…]
  • Aviation Cybersecurity: FAA Should Fully Implement Key Practices to Strengthen Its Oversight of Avionics Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    Modern airplanes are equipped with networks and systems that share data with the pilots, passengers, maintenance crews, other aircraft, and air-traffic controllers in ways that were not previously feasible (see fig. 1). As a result, if avionics systems are not properly protected, they could be at risk of a variety of potential cyberattacks. Vulnerabilities could occur due to (1) not applying modifications (patches) to commercial software, (2) insecure supply chains, (3) malicious software uploads, (4) outdated systems on legacy airplanes, and (5) flight data spoofing. To date, extensive cybersecurity controls have been implemented and there have not been any reports of successful cyberattacks on an airplane's avionics systems. However, the increasing connections between airplanes and other systems, combined with the evolving cyber threat landscape, could lead to increasing risks for future flight safety. Figure 1: Key Systems Connections to Commercial Airplanes The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established a process for the certification and oversight of all US commercial airplanes, including the operation of commercial air carriers (see fig. 2). While FAA recognizes avionics cybersecurity as a potential safety issue for modern commercial airplanes, it has not fully implemented key practices that are necessary to carry out a risk-based cybersecurity oversight program. Specifically, FAA has not (1) assessed its oversight program to determine the priority of avionics cybersecurity risks, (2) developed an avionics cybersecurity training program, (3) issued guidance for independent cybersecurity testing, or (4) included periodic testing as part of its monitoring process. Until FAA strengthens its oversight program, based on assessed risks, it may not be able to ensure it is providing sufficient oversight to guard against evolving cybersecurity risks facing avionics systems in commercial airplanes. Figure 2: Federal Aviation Administration's Certification Process for Commercial Transport Airplanes GAO has previously identified key practices for interagency collaboration that can be used to assess interagency coordination. FAA coordinates with other federal agencies, such as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security (DHS), and with industry to address aviation cybersecurity issues. For example, FAA co-chairs the Aviation Cyber Initiative, a tri-agency forum with DOD and DHS to address cyber risks across the aviation ecosystem. However, FAA's internal coordination activities do not fully reflect GAO's key collaboration practices. FAA has not established a tracking mechanism for monitoring progress on cybersecurity issues that are raised in coordination meetings, and its oversight coordination activities are not supported by dedicated resources within the agency's budget. Until FAA establishes a tracking mechanism for cybersecurity issues, it may be unable to ensure that all issues are appropriately addressed and resolved. Further, until it conducts an avionics cybersecurity risk assessment, it will not be able to effectively prioritize and dedicate resources to ensure that avionics cybersecurity risks are addressed in its oversight program. Avionics systems, which provide weather information, positioning data, and communications, are critical to the safe operation of an airplane. FAA is responsible for overseeing the safety of commercial aviation, including avionics systems. The growing connectivity between airplanes and these systems may present increasing opportunities for cyberattacks on commercial airplanes. GAO was asked to review the FAA's oversight of avionics cybersecurity issues. The objectives of this review were to (1) describe key cybersecurity risks to avionics systems and their potential effects, (2) determine the extent to which FAA oversees the implementation of cybersecurity controls that address identified risks in avionics systems, and (3) assess the extent to which FAA coordinates internally and with other government and industry entities to identify and address cybersecurity risks to avionics systems. To do so, GAO reviewed information on key cybersecurity risks to avionics systems, as reported by major industry representatives as well as key elements of an effective oversight program, and compared FAA's process for overseeing the implementation of cybersecurity controls in avionics systems with these program elements. GAO also reviewed agency documentation and interviewed agency and industry representatives to assess FAA's coordination efforts to address the identified risks. GAO is making six recommendations to FAA to strengthen its avionics cybersecurity oversight program: GAO recommends that FAA conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment of avionics systems cybersecurity within its oversight program to identify the relative priority of avionics cybersecurity risks compared to other safety concerns and develop a plan to address those risks. Based on the assessment of avionics cybersecurity risks, GAO recommends that FAA identify staffing and training needs for agency inspectors specific to avionics cybersecurity, and develop and implement appropriate training to address identified needs. develop and implement guidance for avionics cybersecurity testing of new airplane designs that includes independent testing. review and consider revising its policies and procedures for monitoring the effectiveness of avionics cybersecurity controls in the deployed fleet to include developing procedures for safely conducting independent testing. ensure that avionics cybersecurity issues are appropriately tracked and resolved when coordinating among internal stakeholders. review and consider the extent to which oversight resources should be committed to avionics cybersecurity. FAA concurred with five out of six GAO recommendations. FAA did not concur with the recommendation to consider revising its policies and procedures for periodic independent testing. GAO clarified this recommendation to emphasize that FAA safely conduct such testing as part of its ongoing monitoring of airplane safety. For more information, contact Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov, or Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Man Convicted of Conspiracy to Import and Distribute Fentanyl
    In Crime News
    A federal jury convicted a Rhode Island man today for conspiring to import and distribute fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, continuing criminal enterprise, money laundering conspiracy, and multiple obstruction offenses.
    [Read More…]
  • Upholding Research Integrity at HHS
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    February 17, 2021 By: [Read More…]
  • Florida Man Charged with COVID Relief Fraud, Health Care Fraud and Money Laundering
    In Crime News
    A Florida man has been charged regarding allegations that he fraudulently obtained a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and that he orchestrated a conspiracy to submit false and fraudulent claims for reimbursement to Medicare and CareCredit, and to defraud his own patients by charging them thousands of dollars for chiropractic services under false pretenses.
    [Read More…]
  • United States and ASEAN: A Billion Futures Across the Indo-Pacific
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Owner of Michigan Payroll Tax Services Firm Charged With Employment Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, returned an indictment today charging a Farwell, Michigan, businessman with failing to pay payroll taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and failing to file his own returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider for the Eastern District of Michigan.
    [Read More…]
  • State Department Terrorist Designation of Ousmane Illiassou Djibo
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Remarks of Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John C. Demers on the Iran Forfeiture Actions
    In Crime News
    Good morning.  Today, I am joined by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin and the State Department’s Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams to announce two civil seizure court actions that have disrupted malign, and in one instance, potentially deadly, activities undertaken by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force, a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  Special Representative Abrams will also be announcing sanctions that the State Department and the Department of the Treasury have imposed on the responsible individuals and entities.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with the C5+1
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Releases Information on Election Day Efforts to Protect the Right to Vote and Prosecute Ballot Fraud
    In Crime News
    Continuing a longstanding Justice Department tradition, Attorney General William P. Barr today issued the following statement: “Americans have the opportunity once again to help shape the future of this nation by exercising their right to vote.  It is a right that forms the foundation of our democratic system of government, and is precious to all Americans.  The Department of Justice will work tirelessly alongside other federal, State, and local agencies to protect and vindicate that right as it is administered by State and local jurisdictions across the nation.”
    [Read More…]
  • Former Supervisory Corrections Officer Sentenced for Repeatedly Tasing Restrained Detainee
    In Crime News
    Former supervisory corrections officer Mark Bryant, 42, was sentenced today to 5 years in prison for repeatedly tasing a restrained pretrial detainee inside the Cheatham County Jail in Tennessee. In January 2020, a jury in the Middle District of Tennessee convicted Bryant of two counts of violating Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 242, for using excessive force while acting under color of law. 
    [Read More…]
  • Remarks by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen on the Settlement of Clean Air Act Claims against Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz USA LLC
    In Crime News
    Remarks as Prepared for [Read More…]
  • Veterans Community Care Program: Improvements Needed to Help Ensure Timely Access to Care
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established an appointment scheduling process for the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) that allows up to 19 days to complete several steps from VA providers creating a referral to community care staff reviewing that referral. However, as the figure shows, VA has not specified the maximum amount of time veterans should have to wait to receive care through the program. GAO previously recommended in 2013 the need for an overall wait-time measure for veterans to receive care under a prior VA community care program. Subsequent to VA not implementing this recommendation, GAO again recommended in 2018 that VA establish an achievable wait-time goal as part of its new community care program (the VCCP). Potential Allowable Wait Time to Obtain Care through the Veterans Community Care Program Note: This figure illustrates potential allowable wait times in calendar days for eligible veterans who are referred to the VCCP through routine referrals (non-emergent), and have VA medical center staff—Referral Coordination Team (RCT) and community care staff (CC staff)—schedule the appointments on their behalf. VA has not yet implemented GAO's 2018 recommendation that VA establish an achievable wait-time goal. Under the VA MISSION Act, VA is assigned responsibility for ensuring that veterans' appointments are scheduled in a timely manner—an essential component of quality health care. Given VA's lack of action over the prior 7 years implementing wait-time goals for various community care programs, congressional action is warranted to help achieve timely health care for veterans. Regarding monitoring of the initial steps of the scheduling process, GAO found that VA is using metrics that are remnants from the previous community care program, which are inconsistent with the time frames established in the VCCP scheduling process. This limits VA's ability to determine the effectiveness of the VCCP and to identify areas for improvement. In June 2019, VA implemented its new community care program, the VCCP, as required by the VA MISSION Act of 2018. Under the VCCP, VAMC staff are responsible for community care appointment scheduling; their ability to execute this new responsibility has implications for veterans receiving community care in a timely manner. GAO was asked to review VCCP appointment scheduling. This report examines, among other issues, the VCCP appointment scheduling process VA established and VA's monitoring of that process. GAO reviewed documentation, such as scheduling policies, and referral data related to the VCCP and assessed VA's relevant processes. GAO conducted site visits to five VAMCs in the first region to transition to VA's new provider network, and interviewed VAMC staff and a non-generalizable sample of community providers receiving referrals from those VAMCs. GAO also interviewed VA and contractor officials. GAO recommends that Congress consider requiring VA to establish an overall wait-time measure for the VCCP. GAO is also making three recommendations to VA, including that it align its monitoring metrics with the VCCP appointment scheduling process. VA did not concur with one of GAO's recommendations related to aligning monitoring metrics to VCCP scheduling policy time frames. GAO continues to believe this recommendation is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Briefing With Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Nathan A. Sales On Terrorist Designations of Al-Shabaab Leaders
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Nathan A. Sales, [Read More…]
  • Civil Monetary Penalties: Federal Agencies’ Compliance with the 2020 Annual Inflation Adjustment Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In this fifth annual review, GAO found that the majority of federal agencies that could be subject to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended (IAA), have complied with the provisions of the act to publish 2020 civil monetary penalty inflation adjustments in the Federal Register and report related information in their 2020 agency financial reports (AFR), or equivalent. However, two agencies did not publish inflation adjustments in the Federal Register as of December 31, 2020, and did not report the required information in their 2020 AFRs for one or more of their civil monetary penalties. Why GAO Did This Study The IAA includes a provision, added in 2015, requiring GAO to annually submit to Congress a report assessing agencies' compliance with the annual inflation adjustments required by the act. This is the fifth annual report responding to this requirement. For more information, contact Paula M. Rascona at (202) 512-9816 or rasconap@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Chemical Assessments: Annual EPA Survey Inconsistent with Leading Practices in Program Management
    In U.S GAO News
    The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program has not produced timely chemical assessments, and most of its 15 ongoing assessments have experienced delays. As we reported in March 2019, the IRIS Program has taken some actions to make the assessment process more transparent, such as increasing communication with EPA offices and releasing supporting documentation for review earlier in the draft development process, but the need for greater transparency in some steps of the assessment process remains. Specifically, the IRIS Program does not publicly announce when assessment drafts move to certain steps in their development process or announce reasons for delays in producing specific assessments. Without such information, stakeholders who may be able to help fill data and analytical gaps are unable to contribute. This could leave EPA without potential support that could help overcome delays. Delays of Milestones by Quarter for a Selection of the Integrated Risk information System's Assessments in Development 2019 - 2024 In mid-2018, EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) instituted changes to the way it solicits nominations for chemical assessments prepared by the IRIS Program but did so without providing sufficient guidance or criteria, raising questions about its ability to meet EPA user needs. For example, ORD issued a new survey to EPA program and regional offices but did not provide them with guidance for selecting chemicals for nomination, and ORD did not make explicit the criteria it was using for selecting nominations to include in the IRIS Program's list of assessments in development. Furthermore, despite a significant decline in survey participation between 2018 and 2019, EPA did not indicate whether the agency has assessed the quality of information generated by the survey. Leading program management practices state that agency management should internally communicate the necessary, quality information to achieve the entity's objectives and should monitor and evaluate program activities. Without evaluating the quality of the information produced by the survey, ORD cannot know if the survey is achieving its intended purpose and whether ORD has the information necessary to meet user needs. EPA's IRIS Program prepares chemical toxicity assessments that contain EPA's scientific position on the potential human health effects of exposure to chemicals; at present, the IRIS database contains more than 570 chemical assessments. In March 2019, GAO reported on the IRIS Program's changes to increase transparency about its processes and methodologies, including the use of systematic review. However, GAO also found that EPA decreased the number of ongoing assessments in December 2018 from 22 to 13 and continued to face challenges in producing timely assessments. This report evaluates (1) EPA's progress in completing IRIS chemical assessments since 2018; and (2) EPA's recent actions to manage the IRIS Program, and the extent to which these actions help the Program meet EPA user needs. GAO reviewed and analyzed EPA documents and interviewed officials from EPA; GAO also selected three standards for program management, found commonalities among them, and compared ORD's management of the IRIS Program against these leading practices. GAO is making five recommendations, including that EPA provide more information publicly about where chemical assessments are in the development process; and issue guidance for selecting chemicals for nomination and criteria for selecting nominations for assessment. EPA partially agreed with two of our recommendations and disagreed with the other three. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • The United States of America and The Republic of Korea on Working Together to Promote Cooperation between the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the New Southern Policy
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Sales Travels to Mozambique and South Africa
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Former Senior Libyan Intelligence Officer and Bomb-Maker for the Muamar Qaddafi Regime Charged for The December 21, 1988 Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
    In Crime News
    Today, Attorney General William Barr, Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, and Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, announced new charges against a former Libyan intelligence operative, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, aka, “Hasan Abu Ojalya Ibrahim” (Masud), for his role in building the bomb that killed 270 individuals in the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.
    [Read More…]
  • Alabama High School Student Names NASA’s Mars Helicopter
    In Space
    Vaneeza Rupani’s [Read More…]
  • Conflict Minerals: Actions Needed to Assess Progress Addressing Armed Groups’ Exploitation of Minerals
    In U.S GAO News
    The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure rule broadly requires that certain companies submit a filing that describes their efforts to conduct a reasonable country-of-origin inquiry (RCOI), and depending on the preliminary determination, perform due diligence to determine the source and chain of custody of their conflict minerals—gold and specific ores for tantalum, tin, and tungsten. After conducting RCOI, an estimated 50 percent of companies filing in 2019 reported preliminary determinations as to whether the conflict minerals came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or adjoining countries (covered countries) or from scrap or recycled sources. The percentage of companies able to make such preliminary determinations increased significantly between 2014 and 2015, and has since leveled off, as shown below. Source of Conflict Minerals in Products as Determined by Companies' Reasonable Country-of-Origin Inquiries, Reporting Years 2014-2019 However, fewer companies reported such determinations after conducting due diligence. In 2019, an estimated 85 percent of companies made preliminary determinations that required them to then perform due diligence. Of those companies, an estimated 17 percent determined that the minerals came from covered countries—a significantly lower percentage of companies making that determination than the 37 percent reported in 2017 or the 35 percent in 2018. Since 2014, companies have noted various challenges they face in making such determinations; however, SEC staff told GAO that they did not know what factors contributed to the decrease in 2019. We will examine this issue during our future review. While the Department of State (State) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have implemented the U.S. conflict minerals strategy since 2011, they have not established performance indicators for all of the strategic objectives. For example, they have no such indicators for the objectives of strengthening regional and international efforts and promoting due diligence and responsible trade through public outreach. Without performance indicators, the agencies cannot comprehensively assess their progress toward achieving these objectives or the overall goal of addressing armed groups' exploitation of conflict minerals. Armed groups in eastern DRC continue to commit severe human rights abuses and to profit from the exploitation of “conflict minerals,” according to State. Provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required, among other things, that State, USAID, and the SEC take certain actions to promote peace and security. In 2011, State created the U.S. conflict minerals strategy in consultation with USAID to address armed groups' exploitation of conflict minerals. In 2012, the SEC also promulgated regulations containing disclosure and reporting requirements for companies that use conflict minerals from covered countries. The act also included a provision for GAO to annually assess, among other things, the SEC regulations' effectiveness in promoting peace and security. In this report, GAO examines, among other things, how companies responded to the SEC conflict minerals disclosure rule when filing in 2019 and the extent to which State and USAID assessed progress toward the U.S. conflict minerals strategy's objectives and goal. GAO analyzed a generalizable sample of SEC filings, reviewed documents, and interviewed U.S. officials State, in consultation with USAID, should develop performance indicators for assessing progress toward the strategic objectives and goal of the U.S. conflict minerals strategy. State and USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly M. Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Gilead Agrees To Pay $97 Million To Resolve Alleged False Claims Act Liability For Paying Kickbacks
    In Crime News
    Pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc. (Gilead), based in Foster City, California, has agreed to pay $97 million to resolve claims that it violated the False Claims Act by illegally using a foundation as a conduit to pay the copays of thousands of Medicare patients taking Gilead’s pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, Letairis, the Justice Department announced today. 
    [Read More…]
  • Montenegro Statehood Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Arkansas RV Salesman Indicted for Income Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    An indictment was unsealed today charging an Arkansas man with three counts of evading his individual income taxes.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: Emergency Financial Aid for College Students under the CARES Act
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As of November 2020, the Department of Education (Education) had distributed $6.19 billion in grants to 4,778 schools (colleges and other institutions of higher education) that had applied for emergency student aid funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) established by the CARES Act, which was enacted in March 2020. After many schools closed their physical campuses in spring 2020 in response to COVID-19, Education provided these grants to schools, based on a statutory formula, to give emergency financial assistance (student aid) to students who incurred related expenses, such as for housing, technology, and course materials. The majority of these HEERF student aid funds have been awarded to public schools (see figure). The average amount Education awarded per school was about $1.3 million, while amounts schools received ranged from less than $2,000 to more than $27 million, with half of schools receiving awards of $422,000 or less. Education data show that, as of November 2020, schools had drawn down about 90 percent—or $5.6 billion—of their HEERF student aid funds. About 70 percent of schools had drawn down all of their student aid funds, and an additional 24 percent of schools had drawn down at least half. Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Awards to Schools for Emergency Student Aid under the CARES Act, by School Sector Notes: Schools of less than 2 years are included in the 2-year school categories above. The Department of Education also awarded about $24 million to 2-year private, nonprofit schools and about $1.7 million to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Department of Education. Sector-level figures do not add up to $6.19 billion because of rounding. Schools used a variety of approaches to determine student eligibility and distribute funds to students. According to GAO’s analysis of a sample of school websites and data from Education, schools had distributed approximately 85 percent of all emergency student aid funds by fall 2020, with an average amount per student of about $830. Determining student eligibility. Approximately half of schools reported that they required a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—the form used to apply for federal financial aid—to determine student eligibility for HEERF student aid. For example, one school reported requiring students who did not have a FAFSA on file to complete one by June 2020 to be eligible for student aid. Other schools did not require a FAFSA to establish eligibility, according to their websites, but reported using alternative methods. For example, a 4-year public school reported that graduate students applying for emergency aid had the option of submitting a school-provided affidavit certifying they were eligible to receive federal financial aid, an option described in Education’s interim final rule on student eligibility. Awarding funds to students. Schools reported using two main methods for awarding HEERF emergency student aid to students: requiring students to complete a school-developed application or using existing school records. Approximately 18 percent of schools used a combination of both methods. For example, a 4-year nonprofit school reported on its website that it awarded $300 to $500 to eligible students in its first round of funding based on existing student financial aid records, and then allowed students who had more expenses related to COVID-19 to apply for additional funding. Determining award amounts. Schools reported using various factors to determine award amounts for HEERF-eligible students. Over half of schools reported on their websites that amounts were based on individual circumstances, such as students’ general financial need, access to essential items such as food or housing, or a combination of these factors. About 20 percent of schools also reported using full-time or part-time status to determine aid amounts. For example, a 4-year public school reported that it distributed grants, ranging from $150 to $1,000, to all eligible students based on their enrollment status and financial need based on students’ FAFSA information. Why GAO Did This Study In June 2020, GAO issued the first of a series of reports on federal efforts to address the pandemic, which included a discussion of HEERF student aid grants to schools. At that time, limited information on how schools distributed HEERF funds to students was available. This report provides additional information and examines (1) how HEERF emergency student aid funds were provided to schools under the CARES Act, and (2) how schools distributed emergency student aid to eligible students. GAO analyzed Education’s obligation data as of November 2020, after Education had obligated most of the HEERF emergency student aid funds. GAO also analyzed information about HEERF student aid that Education requires schools to report on their websites by selecting a generalizable random sample of 203 schools for website reviews. These schools were representative of the more than 4,500 schools that received HEERF student aid funds as of August 2020. GAO also collected non-generalizable narrative details about how schools distributed funds to eligible students.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA-Developed Ventilator Authorized by FDA for Emergency Use
    In Space
    The agency’s Jet [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Seeks to Shut Down Georgia Return Preparer
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Macon Division, seeking to bar an Irwinton, Georgia, tax return preparer from preparing tax returns for others.
    [Read More…]
  • Financial Fraud in the United States, 2017
    In Justice News
    (Publication)
    This report details the prevalence of seven types of personal financial fraud victimization and the patterns of reporting fraud to police and other authorities.
    4/15/2021, NCJ 255817, Rachel E. Morgan [Read More…]
  • Indiana Man Charged with Hate Crime for Making Racially-Motivated Threats Towards Black Neighbor, and With Unlawful Possession of Firearms
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that Shepherd Hoehn, 50, has been charged by criminal complaint in federal district court with one count of violating 42 U.S.C. § 3631 for making threats to intimidate and interfere with his African-American neighbor because of the neighbor’s race and because of his use and enjoyment of his property, as well as two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) for unlawfully possessing firearms.
    [Read More…]