The mission team performed a crucial weight-balancing test on the rover in preparation for this summer’s history-making launch to the Red Planet.
With 13 weeks to go before the launch period of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover opens, final preparations of the spacecraft continue at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On April 8, the assembly, test and launch operations team completed a crucial mass properties test of the rover.
Precision mass properties measurements are essential to a safe landing on Mars because they help ensure that the spacecraft travels accurately throughout its trip to the Red Planet – from launch through its entry, descent and landing.
On April 6, the meticulous three-day process began with Perseverance being lifted onto the rover turnover fixture. The team then slowly rotated the rover around its x-axis – an imaginary line that extends through the rover from its tail to its front – to determine its center of gravity (the point at which weight is evenly dispersed on all sides) relative to that axis.
NASA’s next rover is rotated on special test fixture in preparation for its upcoming summertime launch to Mars.
The team then moved the rover to a spin table. To minimize friction that could affect the accuracy of the results, the table’s surface sits on a spherical air bearing that essentially levitates on a thin layer of nitrogen gas. To determine center of gravity relative to the rover’s z-axis (which extends from the bottom of the rover through the top) and y-axis (from the rover’s left to right side), the team slowly rotated the vehicle back and forth, calculating the imbalance in its mass distribution.
Just as an auto mechanic places small weights on a car tire’s rim to bring it into balance, the Perseverance team analyzed the data and then added 13.8 pounds (6.27 kilograms) to the rover’s chassis. Now the rover’s center of gravity is within 0.001 inch (0.025 millimeters) of the exact spot mission designers intended.
The Perseverance rover is a robotic scientist weighing about 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). It will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. No matter what day Perseverance launches during its July 17-Aug. 5 launch period, it will land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.
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- Veterans Affairs: VA Needs to Address Persistent IT Modernization and Cybersecurity ChallengesBy Sam NewsSeptember 16, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced challenges in its efforts to accomplish three critical information technology (IT) modernization initiatives: the department's health information system, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA); a system for the Family Caregiver Program, which is to support family caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 veterans; and the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) that collects and stores information and is used for processing disability benefit claims. Specifically, GAO has reported on the challenges in the department's three previous unsuccessful attempts to modernize VistA over the past 20 years. However, VA has recently deployed a new scheduling system as part of its fourth effort to modernize VistA and the next deployment of the system, including additional capabilities, is planned in October 2020. VA had taken steps to address GAO's recommendations from its 2014 report to implement a replacement system for the Family Caregiver Program. However, in September 2019, GAO reported that VA had yet to implement a new IT system that fully supports the Family Caregiver Program and that it had not yet fully committed to a date by which it will certify that the new IT system fully supports the program. In September 2015, GAO reported that VA had made progress in developing and implementing VBMS, but also noted that additional actions could improve efforts to develop and use the system. For example, VBMS was not able to fully support disability and pension claims, as well as appeals processing. GAO made five recommendations aimed at improving VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS; however, as of September 2020, VA implemented only one recommendation. VA's progress in implementing key provisions of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (commonly referred to as FITARA) has been uneven. Specifically, VA has made progress toward improving its licensing of software and achieving its goals for closing unneeded data centers. However, the department has made limited progress toward addressing requirements related to IT investment risk management and Chief Information Officer authority enhancement. Until the department implements the act's provisions, Congress' ability to effectively monitor VA's progress and hold it fully accountable for reducing duplication and achieving cost savings will be hindered. In addition, since fiscal year 2016, GAO has reported that VA faces challenges related to effectively implementing the federal approach to, and strategy for, securing information systems; effectively implementing information security controls and mitigating known security deficiencies; and establishing elements of its cybersecurity risk management program. GAO's work stressed the need for VA to address these challenges as well as manage IT supply chain risks. As VA continues to pursue modernization efforts, it is critical that the department take steps to adequately secure its systems. The use of IT is crucial to helping VA effectively serve the nation's veterans. The department annually spends billions of dollars on its information systems and assets—VA's budget for IT now exceeds $4 billion annually. However, over many years, VA has experienced challenges in managing its IT projects and programs, which could jeopardize its ability to effectively support key programs such as the Forever GI Bill. GAO has previously reported on these IT management challenges at VA. GAO was asked to testify on its prior IT work at VA. Specifically, this testimony summarizes results and recommendations from GAO's issued reports that examined VA's efforts in (1) modernizing VistA, a system for the Family Caregiver Program, and VBMS; (2) implementing FITARA; and (3) addressing cybersecurity issues. In developing this testimony, GAO reviewed its recently issued reports that addressed IT management issues at VA and GAO's biannual high-risk series. GAO also incorporated information on the department's actions in response to recommendations. GAO has made numerous recommendations in recent years aimed at improving VA's IT system modernization efforts, implementation of key FITARA provisions, and cybersecurity program. VA has generally agreed with the recommendations and has begun to address them. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Superfund: EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change EffectsBy Sam NewsMay 13, 2021What GAO Found In October 2019, GAO reported that available federal data on flooding, storm surge, wildfires, and sea level rise suggested that about 60 percent (945 of 1,571) of all nonfederal Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) sites—which have serious hazardous contamination--are located in areas that may be impacted by these potential climate change effects (see figure). In 2019, GAO released an interactive map and dataset, available with its report (GAO-20-73). Nonfederal NPL Sites Located in Areas That May Be Impacted by Flooding, Storm Surge, Wildfires, or Sea Level Rise, as of 2019 Notes: This map does not display all 1,571 active and deleted nonfederal NPL sites GAO analyzed in 2019, which also include six sites in American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though they are included in the counts above. Learn more at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-73. Storm surge data were not available for the West Coast and Pacific islands other than Hawaii, wildfire data were not available outside the contiguous United States, and sea level rise data were not available for Alaska. GAO also reported in 2019 that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) actions to manage risks from climate change effects at these sites aligned with three of GAO's six essential elements of enterprise risk management, partially aligned with two, and did not align with one. For example, EPA had not aligned its process for managing risks with agency-wide goals. Without clarifying this linkage, EPA could not ensure that senior officials would take an active role in strategic planning and accountability for managing these risks. In 2019, GAO found that EPA recognized institutional, resource, and technical challenges in managing risks from climate change effects. For example, some EPA officials told us they do not have the direction they need to manage these risks. Insufficient or changing resources may also make it challenging for EPA to manage these risks, according to EPA documents and officials. Why GAO Did This Study Superfund is the principal federal program for addressing sites contaminated with hazardous substances. EPA administers the program and lists some of the most seriously contaminated sites—most of which are nonfederal—on the NPL. At those sites, EPA has recorded over 500 contaminants, including arsenic and lead. Climate change may make some natural disasters more frequent or more intense, which may damage NPL sites and potentially release contaminants, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. This testimony summarizes GAO's October 2019 report (GAO-20-73) on the impact of climate change on nonfederal NPL sites. Specifically, it discusses (1) what available federal data suggest about the number of nonfederal NPL sites that are located in areas that may be impacted by selected climate change effects; (2) the extent to which EPA has managed risks to human health and the environment from the potential impacts of climate change effects at nonfederal NPL sites; and (3) challenges EPA faces in managing these risks.[Read More…]
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- Data Security: Recent K-12 Data Breaches Show That Students Are Vulnerable to HarmBy Sam NewsOctober 15, 2020A cybersecurity incident is an event that actually or potentially jeopardizes a system or the information it holds. According to GAO's analysis of K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center (CRC) data from July 2016 to May 2020, thousands of K-12 students were affected by 99 reported data breaches, one type of cybersecurity incident in which data are compromised. Students' academic records, including assessment scores and special education records, were the most commonly compromised type of information (58 breaches). Records containing students' personally identifiable information (PII), such as Social Security numbers, were the second most commonly compromised type of information (36 breaches). Financial and cybersecurity experts say some PII can be sold on the black market and can cause students significant financial harm. Breaches were either accidental or intentional, although sometimes the intent was unknown, with school staff, students, and cybercriminals among those responsible (see figure). Staff were responsible for most of the accidental breaches (21 of 25), and students were responsible for most of the intentional breaches (27 of 52), most frequently to change grades. Reports of breaches by cybercriminals were rare but included attempts to steal PII. Although the number of students affected by a breach was not always available, examples show that thousands of students have had their data compromised in a single breach. Responsible Actor and Intent of Reported K-12 Student Data Breaches, July 1, 2016-May 5, 2020 Notes: The actor or the intent may not be discernible in public reports. For this analysis, a cybercriminal is defined as an actor external to the school district who breaches a data system for malicious reasons. Of the 287 school districts affected by reported student data breaches, larger, wealthier, and suburban school districts were disproportionately represented, according to GAO's analysis. Cybersecurity experts GAO spoke with said one explanation for this is that some of these districts may use more technology in schools, which could create more opportunities for breaches to occur. When a student's personal information is disclosed, it can lead to physical, emotional, and financial harm. Organizations are vulnerable to data security risks, including over 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools. As schools and districts increasingly rely on complex information technology systems for teaching, learning, and operating, they are collecting more student data electronically that can put a student's information, including PII, at risk of disclosure. The closure of schools and the sudden transition to distance learning across the country due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic also heightened attention on K-12 cybersecurity. GAO was asked to review the security of K-12 students' data. This report examines (1) what is known about recently reported K-12 cybersecurity incidents that compromised student data, and (2) the characteristics of school districts that experienced these incidents. GAO analyzed data from July 1, 2016 to May 5, 2020 from CRC (the most complete source of information on K-12 data breaches). CRC is a non-federal resource sponsored by an educational technology organization that has tracked reported K-12 cybersecurity incidents since 2016. GAO also analyzed 2016-2019 Department of Education data on school district characteristics (the most recent available), and interviewed experts knowledgeable about cybersecurity. We incorporated technical comments from the agencies as appropriate. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- State Department Terrorist Designation of Saraya al-MukhtarBy Sam NewsDecember 15, 2020
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- Disaster Recovery: COVID-19 Pandemic Intensifies Disaster Recovery Challenges for K-12 SchoolsBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2020Local education officials in natural disaster-affected areas told us the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and contributed to lost instructional time, staff burnout, delays in recovery projects, and financial strain in their communities. These officials explained that after the natural disaster, restoring students' mental health was a top priority. Many local education officials said that the services needed to treat trauma and other disaster-related mental health issues were not readily available in their areas, and some noted that providing mental health services has been especially difficult during the pandemic. For example, one official said that because half of her students live in poverty, they usually access mental health services through the school, and were cut off from those services during the pandemic. Some local education officials said they were also particularly worried about the effects of the pandemic on their low-income and other at-risk students, noting that these students are especially vulnerable to learning loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected districts by slowing progress on some disaster recovery projects. For example, an official in a district affected by wildfire said that an effort to restore running water to damaged school buildings was delayed due the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education (Education) supported school recovery efforts by awarding nearly $1.4 billion to assist schools in over 30 states and U.S. territories with recovery from presidentially-declared major disasters occurring between 2017 and 2019, although some local education officials reported difficulty in using these grant funds during the pandemic. Education provided this funding through the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart) and the Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant programs, among others. Local education officials from several districts and counties said that they are using or planning to use Education disaster grants to provide mental health services to students and cover other costs associated with re-opening, such as additional transportation services, but that during the pandemic this was sometimes challenging. For example, officials in two counties said that timeframes for using Restart funds, which expire after 2 years, were too short for long-term recovery needs such as mental health services, particularly with the compounding effects of the pandemic. Education officials said that grantees may request waivers to extend the end dates of these grants and that as of October 2020, no Restart grantees who experienced a 2018 disaster had done so. With regard to oversight, Education officials said they paused on-site monitoring efforts for recent disaster grants as a result of the pandemic, but have continued to hold quarterly phone calls with Restart grantees. These grantees have noted some challenges related to the grant program but have not discussed specific technical assistance needs, according to Education officials. More than 260 presidentially-declared major disasters have occurred since 2017, affecting every state and several U.S. territories, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many of these natural disasters have had devastating effects, including rendering K-12 school facilities unusable for lengthy periods of time. These schools are now experiencing the compounding challenge of recovering from natural disasters while managing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing practices and building closures are meant to keep staff and students safe, but may also complicate recovery efforts for disaster-affected districts. The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 provided funds for GAO to audit issues related to presidentially-declared major disasters that occurred in 2018. We reviewed (1) how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools recovering from recent natural disasters; and (2) support Education has provided to help school recover from recent natural disasters and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools' use of these resources. We interviewed 29 local education officials representing over 50 school districts in California, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, and Hawaii, which were selected because they were affected by a diverse set of major natural disasters in 2018 that occurred in a mix of populated and less-populated areas. In addition, through a national school superintendents association, we convened a discussion group of superintendents who have experienced natural disasters and mentor other affected districts. Finally, we reviewed federal guidance and interviewed Education officials. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Maternal Mortality and Morbidity: Additional Efforts Needed to Assess Program Data for Rural and Underserved AreasBy Sam NewsMay 10, 2021What GAO Found Nationwide data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System from 2011-2016, the most recent data available at the time of GAO's review, indicate that deaths during pregnancy or up to 1 year postpartum due to pregnancy-related causes—are higher in rural areas compared to metropolitan areas. See figure. CDC data also showed higher mortality in underserved areas (areas with lower numbers of certain health care providers per capita). Pregnancy-Related Mortality Ratios in Rural and Metropolitan Areas, 2011-2016 Note: Micropolitan areas include counties with populations of 2,500 to 49,999. Noncore areas include nonmetropolitan counties that do not qualify as micropolitan. GAO also analyzed the most recent annual data available from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for 2016-2018 on severe maternal morbidity (SMM)—unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery resulting in significant health consequences. Nationwide, these data showed higher estimated rates of SMM in metropolitan areas (72.6 per 10,000 delivery hospitalizations) compared to rural areas (62.9 per 10,000). CDC and another Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), fund several maternal health programs that aim to reduce maternal mortality and SMM, including some that target rural or underserved areas. CDC and HRSA collect program data, such as the percentage of women who received postpartum visits, to track progress in improving maternal health, but they do not systematically disaggregate and analyze program data by rural and underserved areas. By taking these actions, CDC and HRSA could help better ensure that program funding is being used to help address any needs in these areas. HHS has taken actions to improve maternal health through its funding of various programs and releasing an action plan in 2020. HHS also has two workgroups that aim to coordinate across HHS agencies on maternal health efforts, such as program activities that aim to reduce maternal mortality and SMM. Officials from HHS's two workgroups said they coordinated in developing the action plan, but they do not have a formal relationship established to ensure ongoing coordination. Officials from one of the workgroups noted that they often have competing priorities and do not always coordinate their efforts. By more formally coordinating their efforts, HHS's workgroups may be in a better position to identify opportunities to achieve HHS's action plan goal for reducing maternal mortality and objectives that target rural and underserved areas. Why GAO Did This Study Each year in the United States, hundreds of women die from pregnancy-related causes, and thousands more experience SMM. Research suggests there is a greater risk of maternal mortality and SMM among rural residents and that underserved areas may lack needed health services. GAO was asked to review maternal mortality and SMM outcomes in rural and underserved areas. This report examines, among other objectives, what is known about these outcomes; selected CDC and HRSA programs that aim to reduce these outcomes, as well as actions to collect and use relevant data; and the extent to which HHS is taking actions to improve maternal health and monitoring progress on its efforts. GAO analyzed HHS data, agency documentation, literature, and interviewed officials from a non-generalizable sample of three states and stakeholders to capture various perspectives.[Read More…]
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- Man Charged with $1.9 Million COVID-Relief FraudBy Sam NewsJanuary 28, 2021A Nevada man was charged in an indictment Wednesday for his alleged participation in a scheme to defraud multiple financial institutions by filing bank loan applications that fraudulently sought more than $1.9 million dollars in forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.[Read More…]
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- Pipeline Safety: Performance Measures Needed to Assess Recent Changes to Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety RegulationsBy Sam NewsJune 22, 2021What GAO Found In 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a final rule amending its hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations. Selected pipeline operators and officials from PHMSA and selected states' pipeline safety offices said that these changes would enhance pipeline safety and present no significant challenges. They said the most beneficial changes expanded the scope of inspections. For example, in addition to existing requirements for operators to use specialized tools to inspect pipelines in “high consequence areas”—defined by population and environmental factors—the 2019 Rule requires such inspections outside of those areas. While operators noted the rule's potential to improve safety, all 11 operators GAO interviewed identified specific amendments that could increase their costs. For example, several operators said they would need to modify or replace some of their pipeline to allow for certain inspection tools required by the changes. PHMSA and state pipeline safety officials said they did not anticipate oversight challenges or additional costs because the changes did not alter their inspection process. Specialized In-Line Inspection Tool Being Placed in a Launch Point on a Pipeline PHMSA held meetings with and provided guidance to operators and inspectors on the changes but has not developed measures to assess if the changes improve safety. Leading performance management practices call for agencies to track progress toward goals using measures that include targets for expected levels of performance and timeframes. While PHMSA has desired outcomes for the 2019 Rule, including safety improvements, PHMSA officials said they have not established performance measures for those outcomes because some of the changes have long-term compliance deadlines, and so data are not yet available to assess effectiveness. However, other changes have shorter-term deadlines for compliance and PHMSA could use data it already collects from operators for its assessment. Without performance measures, PHMSA cannot determine whether the changes made by the 2019 Rule are achieving their intended outcomes and contributing to PHMSA's safety goals. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. hazardous liquid pipeline network runs for over 220,000 miles and is a critical component of the nation's economy. Pipelines are considered to be a relatively safe mode of transporting crude oil, refined petroleum products, and other hazardous liquids, but accidents can occur that result in loss of life and environmental damage. PHMSA, within the Department of Transportation (DOT), sets the federal minimum pipeline safety standards and generally ensures operator compliance. In 2016, a pipeline safety statute included a provision for GAO to report on hazardous liquid pipeline safety after PHMSA issued a specific final rule amending its safety regulations, which it did in 2019. This report examines: (1) perspectives of selected pipeline stakeholders on the benefits and challenges of the amendments made by the 2019 Rule and (2) steps PHMSA has taken to inform stakeholders of these amendments and to measure their effects on pipeline safety. GAO reviewed relevant statutes and regulations; analyzed PHMSA accident data from calendar years 2011-2020; interviewed 11 pipeline operators—selected by pipeline type, miles, and product type—as well as pipeline industry and safety stakeholders, and PHMSA and pipeline safety officials from six states.[Read More…]
- Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Murray Delivers Remarks to the Honorable Lee Yeakel IP Inn of CourtBy Sam NewsDecember 18, 2020Good evening and thank you for inviting me to join you this evening. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Antitrust Division’s intellectual property and antitrust portfolio, which has been a cornerstone of our efforts over the last few years. I’d like to thank Tim, Jacob, and Craig for their excellent setup, which allows me to dive into some of the critical issues we’ve spent the last several years addressing.[Read More…]
- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jayme West and Jim Sharpe of Arizona Morning News on KTAR PhoenixBy Sam NewsOctober 15, 2020
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- COVID-19: Federal Efforts Could Be Strengthened by Timely and Concerted ActionsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2020In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses. However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges. GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible. GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response: Medical Supply Chain The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies. However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations: HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain. HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure). Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine Note: See figure 5 in the report. As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. COVID-19 Data Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations. In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices. Economic Impact Payments The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP. Coronavirus Relief Fund The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation. Guidance for K-12 Schools State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation. Tracking Contract Obligations Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential. Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 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 as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Missile Defense: Assessment of Testing Approach Needed as Delays and Changes PersistBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020In fiscal year 2019, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) delivered many of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) assets it planned and conducted key flight tests, but did not meet all of its goals for the year. For example, MDA successfully delivered interceptors for use by warfighters and conducted a salvo test (which involves launching two interceptors at an incoming target) for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program. However, MDA did not meet all of its goals for delivering assets or testing. For example, MDA completed only two of seven planned flight tests, plus eight additional flight tests that were later added for fiscal year 2019. MDA did not fully execute its fiscal year 2019 flight testing, continuing a decade-long trend in which MDA has been unable to achieve its fiscal year flight testing as scheduled. Although MDA revised its approach to developing its annual test plan in 2009 to ensure the test plan was executable, over the past decade MDA has only been able to conduct 37 percent of its baseline fiscal year testing as originally planned due to various reasons including developmental delays, range and target availability, or changing test objectives. In addition, MDA has not conducted an assessment to determine whether its current process for developing and executing its annual test plan could be improved to help ensure its executability. Without an independent assessment, MDA will continue down the same path, increasing the risk of the same outcomes from the past decade—less testing than originally planned, resulting in less data to demonstrate and validate capabilities. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Cumulative Flight Test Planning, Fiscal Years 2010-2019 Note: This graphic is a compilation of each individual fiscal year's flight test schedule. As such, if a flight test was planned for a particular fiscal year but then delayed to a later fiscal year, it would be counted both times. MDA is currently at a pivotal crossroads, needing to balance its ability to pursue new and advanced efforts while also maintaining its existing portfolio of BMDS elements that have not transferred to the military services as originally planned. The new and advanced efforts, such as the Next Generation Interceptor—a new interceptor for homeland defense—are research and development-intensive tasks, which carry significant technical risks and financial commitments. As MDA takes on these new efforts, it is increasingly important that the agency establish and maintain a sound and disciplined acquisition approach for these efforts to be successful and within anticipated costs and timeframes. For over half a century, the Department of Defense (DOD) has funded efforts to defend the United States from ballistic missile attacks. From 2002 through 2018, MDA has received about $152 billion to develop the BMDS and requested about $47 billion from fiscal year 2019 through fiscal year 2023. The BMDS consists of diverse and highly complex land-, sea-, and space-based systems and assets located across the globe. Congress included a provision in statute that GAO annually assess and report on MDA's progress. This, our 17th annual review, addresses for fiscal year 2019 (1) the progress MDA made in achieving delivery and testing goals; (2) the extent to which MDA's annual test plan is executable; and (3) broad challenges that could impact MDA's portfolio. GAO reviewed the planned fiscal year 2019 baselines, along with test plans since 2010, and other program documentation and assessed them against program and baseline reviews. GAO also interviewed officials from MDA and DOD agencies, including the office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and the BMDS Operational Test Agency. GAO recommends that MDA ensure an independent assessment is conducted of its process for developing and executing its annual BMDS flight test plan. DOD concurred with the recommendation. For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or Russellw@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Mississippi Tax Preparer Sentenced to Prison for False IRS ReturnsBy Sam NewsNovember 5, 2020A Moss Point, Mississippi, resident was sentenced to 22 months in prison for preparing false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst for the Southern District of Mississippi.[Read More…]
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- Sexual Harassment: VA Needs to Better Protect EmployeesBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020According to data from the most recent Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) survey in 2016, an estimated 22 percent of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, and 14 percent of federal employees overall, experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace from mid-2014 through mid-2016. VA has policies to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace, but some aspects of the policies and of the complaint processes may hinder those efforts. Misalignment of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Director position: VA's EEO Director oversees both the EEO complaint process, which includes addressing sexual harassment complaints, and general personnel functions. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this dual role does not adhere to one of its key directives and creates a potential conflict of interest when handling EEO issues. Incomplete or outdated policies and information: VA has an overarching policy for its efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment of its employees. However, some additional policies and information documents are not consistent with VA's overarching policy, are outdated, or are missing information. For example, they may not include all options employees have for reporting sexual harassment, which could result in confusion among employees and managers. Delayed finalization of Harassment Prevention Program (HPP): VA has not formally approved the directive or the implementing guidance for its 4-year-old HPP, which seeks to prevent harassment and address it before it becomes unlawful. Lack of formal approval could limit the program's effectiveness. VA uses complaint data to understand the extent of sexual harassment at the agency, but such data are incomplete. For example, VA compiles information on allegations made through the EEO process and HPP, but does not require managers who receive complaints to report them to VA centrally. As a result, VA is not aware of all sexual harassment allegations across the agency. Without these data, VA may miss opportunities to better track prevalence and to improve its efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment. VA provides training for all employees and managers, but the required training does not have in-depth information on identifying and addressing sexual harassment and does not mention HPP. Some facilities within VA's administrations supplement the training, but providing additional information is not mandatory. Requiring additional training on sexual harassment could improve VA employees' knowledge of the agency's policies and help prevent and address sexual harassment. In June 2020, GAO issued a report entitled Sexual Harassment: Inconsistent and Incomplete Policies and Information Hinder VA's Efforts to Protect Employees (GAO-20-387). This testimony summarizes the findings and recommendations from that report, including (1) the extent to which VA has policies to prevent and address sexual harassment of VA employees, (2) how available data inform VA about sexual harassment of its employees, and (3) training VA provides to employees on preventing and addressing sexual harassment. GAO made seven recommendations in its June 2020 report, including that VA ensure its EEO Director position is not responsible for personnel functions; require managers to report all sexual harassment complaints centrally; and require additional employee training. VA concurred with all but the EEO Director position recommendation, which GAO continues to believe is warranted. For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- The United States Sanctions Venezuelan Officials Involved in Unjust Sentencing of the Citgo 6By Sam NewsDecember 30, 2020
- Justice Department Sues to Block Aon’s Acquisition of Willis Towers WatsonBy Sam NewsJune 16, 2021The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit today to block Aon’s $30 billion proposed acquisition of Willis Towers Watson, a transaction that would bring together two of the “Big Three” global insurance brokers. As alleged in the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the merger threatens to eliminate competition, raise prices, and reduce innovation for American businesses, employers, and unions that rely on these important services.[Read More…]
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- Congress Urged to Adopt Judicial Security MeasuresBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsSeptember 9, 2020Citing the recent fatal attack at the home of a federal judge in New Jersey and increasing threats against federal judges, the Judiciary has asked Congress to enact a package of safety measures that would improve security at judges’ homes and at federal courthouses.[Read More…]
- Toyota Motor Company to Pay $180 Million in Settlement for Decade-Long Noncompliance with Clean Air Act Reporting RequirementsBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that the United States has filed and simultaneously settled a civil lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Motor North America Inc., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. (Toyota) for systematic, longstanding violations of Clean Air Act emission-related defect reporting requirements, which require manufacturers to report potential defects and recalls affecting vehicle components designed to control emissions.[Read More…]
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- California Man Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Defraud Afghan Government on U.S. Funded ContractBy Sam NewsApril 28, 2021A California man pleaded guilty Tuesday for his role in a scheme to defraud the government of Afghanistan of over $100 million. These funds were provided to Afghanistan by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of constructing an electric grid in Afghanistan, in connection with the long-standing U.S. effort to strengthen that country’s basic infrastructure.[Read More…]
- Program Evaluation: Key Terms and ConceptsBy Sam NewsMarch 22, 2021Both the executive branch and congressional committees need evaluative information to help them make decisions about the programs they oversee—information that tells them whether, and why, a program is working well or not. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) and GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) established a framework for performance management and accountability within the federal government. Building on that foundation, Congress has since passed, among other laws, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) to strengthen the evidence-building efforts of executive branch agencies. This product updates our previous glossary (GAO-11-646SP) to highlight different types of evaluations for answering questions about program performance, as well as relevant issues to ensure study quality. This glossary can help agency officials better understand fundamental concepts related to evaluation and enhance their evidence-building capacity. For more information, contact Lawrance Evans, Jr. at 202-512-2700 or EvansL@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Aviation Safety: Actions Needed to Evaluate Changes to FAA’s Enforcement Policy on Safety StandardsBy Sam NewsAugust 18, 2020The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directed individual offices to implement the Compliance Program, and FAA has increasingly used compliance actions rather than enforcement actions to address violations of safety standards since starting the Compliance Program. FAA revised agency-wide guidance in September 2015 to emphasize using compliance actions, such as counseling or changes to policies. Compliance actions are to be used when a regulated entity is willing and able to comply and enforcement action is not required or warranted, e.g., for repeated violations, according to FAA guidance. FAA then directed its offices—for example, Flight Standards Service and Drug Abatement Division—to implement the Compliance Program as appropriate, given their different responsibilities and existing processes. Under the Compliance Program, data show that selected FAA offices have made increasing use of compliance actions. Total Number of Federal Aviation Administration Enforcement Actions and Number of Compliance Actions Closed for Selected Program Offices, Fiscal Years 2012-2019 No specific FAA office or entity oversees the Compliance Program. FAA tasked a working group to lead some initial implementation efforts. However, the group no longer regularly discusses the Compliance Program, and no office or entity was then assigned oversight authority. As a result, FAA is not positioned to identify and share best practices or other valuable information across offices. FAA established goals for the Compliance Program—to promote the highest level of safety and compliance with standards and to foster an open, transparent exchange of data. FAA, however, has not taken steps to evaluate if or determine how the program accomplishes these goals. Key considerations for agency enforcement decisions state that an agency should establish an evaluation plan to determine if its enforcement policy achieves desired goals. Three of eight FAA offices have started to evaluate the effects of the Compliance Program, but two offices have not yet started. Three other offices do not plan to do so—in one case, because FAA has not told the office to. FAA officials generally believe the Compliance Program is achieving its safety goals based on examples of its use. However, without an evaluation, FAA will not know if the Compliance Program is improving safety or having other effects—intended or unintended. FAA supports the safety of the U.S. aviation system by ensuring air carriers, pilots, and other regulated entities comply with safety standards. In 2015, FAA announced a new enforcement policy with a more collaborative and problem-solving approach called the Compliance Program. Under the program, FAA emphasizes using compliance actions, for example, counseling or training, to address many violations more efficiently, according to FAA. Enforcement actions such as civil penalties are reserved for more serious violations, such as when a violation is reckless or intentional. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision that GAO review FAA's Compliance Program. This report examines (1) how FAA implemented and used the Compliance Program and (2) how FAA evaluates the effectiveness of the program. GAO analyzed FAA data on enforcement actions agency-wide and on compliance actions for three selected offices for fiscal years 2012 to 2019 (4 years before and after program start).GAO also reviewed FAA guidance and interviewed FAA officials, including those from the eight offices that oversee compliance with safety standards. GAO is making three recommendations including that FAA assign authority to oversee the Compliance Program and evaluate the effectiveness of the program in meeting goals. FAA concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Four Members of Los Angeles-Based Fraud Ring Indicted for COVID-Relief FraudBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020Four individuals were charged in an indictment for their alleged participation in a scheme to submit at least 35 fraudulent loan applications seeking over $5.6 million in COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.[Read More…]