Readout of U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s Call with Mexico Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero

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  • DISH Network to Pay $210 Million for Telemarketing Violations
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    In Crime News
    A Bryn Mawr resident pleaded guilty today to filing false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
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  • Financial Services Industry: Factors Affecting Careers for Women with STEM Degrees
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Several factors affect women's participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degree programs and subsequent careers in the financial services industry, according to research and stakeholders GAO interviewed. These factors include young girls' early exposure to STEM topics, access to resources such as computers and high-speed internet, and a sense of whether they belong in STEM degree programs. Women's interest in a financial services career also may be affected by the presence of role models and awareness of job opportunities. In recent years, women have represented roughly 30 percent of financial services industry workers with STEM degrees (see figure). Financial Services Industry Workers with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) by Gender, Fiscal Years 2014-2019 To encourage elementary and high school girls to learn about STEM, selected financial services firms provide funding and other support to nonprofit organizations that focus on increasing girls' participation in STEM. With this support, nonprofit organizations introduce girls to coding, basic programming, and other activities that may inspire interest in STEM education. Similarly, to encourage college women to pursue STEM degrees, selected firms sponsor conferences for women in STEM, offer scholarships to women studying STEM, and work with nonprofit organizations to help increase students' awareness of careers in the financial services industry. Selected financial services firms recruit women with STEM degrees by collaborating with organizations that work with women STEM majors and sponsoring conferences for women in technology, among other efforts. Some firms have employee retention practices that are tailored to women with STEM expertise. For example, selected firms offer leadership training or employee resource groups for women in technology. Why GAO Did This Study The financial services industry is highly dependent on technology and more than one-fifth of industry employees have STEM degrees. Women continue to be underrepresented in management positions in the financial services industry and in STEM degree programs. As a result, some financial services firms have made efforts to promote interest among women in both STEM and financial services. GAO was asked to review factors affecting financial services careers for women with STEM degrees. This report examines (1) factors that affect the participation of women in STEM degree programs and subsequent participation in financial services careers, (2) how selected financial services firms encourage girls and women to participate in STEM education programs, and (3) how selected financial services firms recruit and retain women with STEM backgrounds. GAO analyzed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Department of Education data from 2014 through 2018 and Census Bureau data from 2014 through 2019. At the time of analysis, these were the most recent data available. GAO also reviewed studies on financial services and STEM education. GAO interviewed representatives of financial services firms, industry associations, and nonprofit organizations. GAO selected organizations and representatives based on their participation in previous work and a literature review. EEOC and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System provided technical comments on a draft that GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or CackleyA@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Settles with Private School to Ensure Compliance with the ADA
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today reached a settlement agreement with Ridgewood Preparatory School (Ridgewood) to ensure that students with disabilities are not discriminated against in the full and equal enjoyment of Ridgewood’s services and facilities. Ridgewood is a private, nonsectarian school in Metairie, Louisiana, that provides education to children in pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade.  
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  • Clean Water Act: EPA Needs to Better Assess and Disclose Quality of Compliance and Enforcement Data
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Since 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has modified one of its three national initiatives emphasizing compliance with the Clean Water Act and has discontinued two others (see fig.). The goal of the modified initiative is to reduce significant noncompliance with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits by half by the end of fiscal year 2022. Such permits set limits on discharges of wastewater from point sources, such as a pipe from an industrial facility. This goal supports EPA's strategic objective to increase compliance with environmental laws in its strategic plan for fiscal years 2018-2022. EPA discontinued its initiatives focused on animal waste pollution and raw sewage and stormwater runoff, returning these areas to the core enforcement program in 2018 and 2019, respectively. As a result, these areas no longer receive the heightened attention and focused resources of the national initiatives, but the agency still pursues enforcement actions when needed. Changes in EPA's Clean Water Act National Initiatives EPA posts data that states report on their NPDES compliance and enforcement activities to its website, but the data are not reliable for identifying changes in the number of activities states conducted since 2015. EPA's most recent assessment of states' data showed that two of 17 states met expectations for the accuracy and completeness of the data recorded in the agency's national database. EPA is working with states to improve their data, and it includes on its website disclosures by some states about problems and limitations with their data. However, the agency has not ensured that all states' disclosures are consolidated, complete, and updated. Until it does so, potential users of the data may not fully understand the data or the data's limitations. EPA developed a measure to track progress toward its goal for reducing the rate of significant noncompliance by NPDES facilities with individual permits by the end of fiscal year 2022. While the measure tracks changes in the number of facilities in significant noncompliance, the results of the measure are unclear because data EPA needs to track compliance are incomplete and contain inaccuracies. According to EPA, about 70 percent of NDPES facilities have sufficiently complete data in the national database for EPA to track compliance. EPA is working with states to improve data quality, but it does not have a plan to assess the overall accuracy of the data. Until it does so, EPA cannot be certain what its measure is showing and if EPA is making progress toward its goal. Why GAO Did This Study EPA partners with states to oversee compliance with and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. In fiscal year 2020, there were roughly 335,000 facilities with active NPDES permits, which are used to regulate wastewater discharges under the act. In 2015, EPA began requiring states and facilities to electronically report data on their NPDES activities. EPA estimated that in 2018, nearly 11,000 facilities significantly exceeded their permit limits and illegally discharged pollutants into nearby waters, which may pose serious threats to human health and the environment. GAO was asked to review EPA's enforcement of the Clean Water Act. This report examines (1) changes since 2015 in EPA's national initiatives for ensuring compliance with the act, (2) changes in NPDES compliance and enforcement activities since 2015, and (3) the extent to which EPA is measuring progress toward compliance with the NPDES program. GAO reviewed and analyzed EPA documents and data on NPDES compliance and enforcement activities. GAO also interviewed officials from eight states, selected in part by EPA region, to learn about their NPDES compliance and enforcement activities and data reporting.
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  • Serbian Founder of Digital-Asset Companies Indicted in International Cryptocurrency Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Serbian man was charged in an indictment today for his alleged participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency scheme in which he solicited U.S. investors using two fraudulent online investment platforms.
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  • Former Owner of Florida Produce Business Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Florida man pleaded guilty today to tax evasion in federal district court in Fort Lauderdale. 
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  • Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Announces Re-Organization of the Antitrust Division’s Civil Enforcement Program
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division announced today that it is creating the Office of Decree Enforcement and Compliance and a Civil Conduct Task Force.  Additionally, it will redistribute matters among its six civil sections in order to build expertise based on current trends in the economy.
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    Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen delivered the following video statement on the seizure of the U.S. Capitol:
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  • Small Business Innovation Research: Three Agencies Made Awards to Businesses Majority-Owned by Investment Companies and Funds
    In U.S GAO News
    Under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, participating agencies can make awards to small businesses majority-owned by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms (investment companies and funds). In fiscal years 2019 and 2020, four of the 11 agencies participating in the program received proposals from small businesses majority-owned by investment companies and funds (i.e., qualified small businesses), and three of the four made awards to such small businesses. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of the Navy within the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Education made a combined 45 awards worth $31.6 million to qualified small businesses during this period. As in previous years, NIH made the most awards and awarded the most funds to qualified small businesses in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy opened its SBIR awards to qualified small businesses, but did not issue any awards to them during fiscal years 2019 and 2020. Since 2011, when qualified small businesses became eligible for SBIR awards, participating SBIR agencies have considered whether to allow qualified small businesses to participate in the program. Consistent with what GAO found in December 2018, in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, agencies cited several reasons for not allowing qualified small businesses to participate in their SBIR program. For example, officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Homeland Security said that they did not pursue the option because qualified small businesses have not expressed much interest in their SBIR programs. In contrast, two component agencies within DOD—the Departments of the Navy and the Air Force—decided to allow qualified small businesses to receive awards and the Department of the Army within DOD was considering doing so. For example, Air Force program officials told us they found that providing SBIR funding to qualified small businesses would expand the Air Force's investment in cutting-edge technologies with both commercial and military uses. NIH—the agency that has made the majority of awards to qualified small businesses—has continued to make awards to qualified small businesses in its SBIR program, as these businesses are subject to the same standard reporting requirements as all other SBIR award recipients. NIH officials also noted that SBIR recipients provide information on specific project impacts, such as technology transfer and commercialization activities, and NIH cited development of a long-release capsule for medication as an example of a successful outcome from an award to a qualified small business. The SBIR program enables federal agencies to support research and development (R&D) projects carried out by small businesses. Participating agencies are required to spend a certain percentage of their extramural R&D obligations on their SBIR program each year. Eleven federal agencies participate in the SBIR program. To qualify for SBIR awards, a small business must meet certain ownership and other eligibility criteria. The Small Business Act, as amended, authorizes agencies to allow participation in their SBIR programs by qualified small businesses. Upon providing a written determination to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA)—the agency that oversees the SBIR program—and specified congressional committees, agencies may make SBIR awards to qualified small businesses. The Small Business Act, as amended, includes a provision for GAO to conduct a study of the impact of requirements relating to the involvement of investment companies and funds in the SBIR program and submit a report to Congress regarding the study every 3 years. GAO's first review covered fiscal years 2013 and 2014, and in December 2018, GAO issued its second report on this issue, for fiscal years 2015 through 2018. This third report addresses (1) SBIR participating agencies' awards to small businesses that are majority-owned by multiple investment companies and funds in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 and (2) reasons participating agencies cited for allowing or not allowing the participation of qualified small businesses in the SBIR program. GAO reviewed agencies' data on the participation of qualified small businesses and conducted interviews with or obtained written answers from program managers from the 11 participating agencies and SBA. For more information, contact Candice N. Wright at (202) 512-6888 or wrightc@gao.gov.
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  • Owner of Montana Construction Company Pleads Guilty to Employment Tax Fraud
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    A Great Falls, Montana, businessman pleaded guilty today to employment tax fraud, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Kurt G. Alme for the District of Montana.
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  • Veterans Community Care Program: Improvements Needed to Help Ensure Timely Access to Care
    In U.S GAO News
    In a September 2020 report, GAO found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established an appointment scheduling process for its new Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) but did not specify allowable wait times for some key steps in the process. Further, GAO found that VA had not established an overall wait-time performance measure—that is, the maximum amount of time it should take for veterans to receive care from community providers. In 2013, GAO recommended that VA establish a wait-time measure under a prior VA community care program, and in 2018 again recommended that VA establish an achievable wait-time goal to receive care under the VCCP. VA has not implemented these recommendations. 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 Veterans Community Care Program through routine referrals (not urgent), and have VA medical center staff—Referral Coordination Team (RCT) and community care staff (CC staff)—schedule the appointments on their behalf. Given VA's lack of action over the prior 7 years in implementing wait-time measures for various community care programs, GAO believes that Congressional action is warranted requiring VA to establish such an overall measure for the VCCP. This should help to achieve timely health care for veterans. GAO found additional VCCP challenges needing VA action: (1) VA uses metrics that are remnants from the previous community care program and inconsistent with the time frames established in the VCCP scheduling process. (2) Few community providers have signed up to use the software VA intends for VA medical center (VAMC) staff and community providers to use to electronically share referral information with each other. (3) Select VAMCs faced challenges scheduling appointments in a timely manner and most did not have the full amount of community care staff VA's staffing tool recommended. In June 2019, VA implemented its new community care program, the VCCP, as required by the VA MISSION Act of 2018. This new program replaced or consolidated prior community care programs. Under the VCCP, VAMC staff are responsible for community care appointment scheduling. This statement summarizes GAO's September 2020 report. It describes for the VCCP: (1) the appointment scheduling process that VA established for veterans, (2) the metrics VA used to monitor the timeliness of appointment scheduling, (3) VA's efforts to prepare VAMC staff for appointment scheduling, and (4) VA's efforts to determine VAMC staffing needs. In performing that work, GAO reviewed VA documentation, such as guidance, referral timeliness data, and VAMC community care staffing data; conducted site visits to five VAMCs; and interviewed VA and VAMC officials. In its September 2020 report, GAO recommended that Congress consider requiring VA to establish an overall wait-time measure for the VCCP. GAO also made three recommendations to VA, including that it align its monitoring metrics with the VCCP appointment scheduling process. VA did not concur with this recommendation, but concurred with the other two. GAO maintains that all recommendations are warranted. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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  • Financial Services Industry: Using Data to Promote Greater Diversity and Inclusion
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's prior work has shown that the financial services industry has made little or no progress in increasing diversity at the senior management level. The figure below shows the latest available data on diversity at senior levels. Race/Ethnicity and Gender Representation of Executive/Senior-Level Management in the Financial Services Industry, 2018 One common theme of GAO's recent reports on diversity in the financial services industry is the importance of using data to assess diversity and inclusion efforts. In 2017, GAO reported that financial services firms said it is important for firms to collect and analyze data to assess workforce diversity. Notably, all the financial services firms with which GAO spoke agreed on the importance of analyzing employee data. Some firm representatives noted that with such data, they can analyze the gender and racial/ethnic diversity of new hires, employees leaving the organization, and newly promoted staff and managers. In 2019 and 2020, GAO reported that the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBanks) and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the enterprises) track diversity composition data on their workforce, recruitment, and hiring. The FHLBanks and the enterprises use these data to compare their performance against benchmarks, such as prior-year metrics and peer institutions, and set goals for future performance. They also incorporate diversity targets into their incentive compensation goals or performance competencies for management. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) uses data to oversee the workforce diversity and inclusion efforts of the FHLBanks and the enterprises. As GAO reported in 2019 and 2020, FHFA collects and reviews quarterly and annual workforce diversity data from the FHLBanks and enterprises. For example, FHFA assesses each FHLBank's performance in workforce diversity using the quarterly data. In 2017, FHFA also began reviewing diversity and inclusion efforts as part of its annual examinations of the FHLBanks and the enterprises. Why GAO Did This Study The financial services industry provides services that help families build wealth and is essential to the economic growth of the country. For instance, the FHLBanks, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac play important roles in supporting the U.S. housing market. The FHLBanks include 11 federally chartered banks that provide liquidity for member institutions, such as commercial and community banks, to use in support of housing finance and community lending. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchase single-family and multifamily mortgage loans that lenders already made to borrowers. Congressional members and others have highlighted the need for the financial services industry to create opportunities for all Americans, including supporting a diverse workforce. This statement discusses (1) how financial service firms use data to assess workforce diversity efforts; (2) how the FHLBanks and the enterprises use data to assess their diversity efforts; and (3) how FHFA oversees diversity efforts at the FHLBanks and the enterprises. This statement is primarily based on three GAO reports (GAO-18-64, GAO-19-589, and GAO-20-637) on diversity efforts in the financial services industry and at FHLBanks and the enterprises. For the reports, GAO reviewed relevant literature and data, and interviewed representatives of financial services firms and industry and diversity advocacy organizations. GAO also reviewed documents and interviewed officials from the FHLBanks, enterprises, and FHFA. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or GarciaDiazD@gao.gov.
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  • Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Enticement, Child Pornography Charges
    In Crime News
    A Virginia man who used an online chat website to engage in sexually explicit conversations with a 12-year-old minor female and later induced the victim to engage in sexually explicit behavior over video chat, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia to a pair of federal charges, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia.
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  • Troubled Asset Relief Program: Treasury Continues Winding Down Housing Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) continues to wind down housing assistance programs funded by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Treasury has extended one program to assist certain program participants who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, although limited program funds remain at this point. As of September 30, 2020, Treasury had disbursed $30.85 billion (95 percent) of the $32.56 billion TARP funds obligated to the three housing programs (see figure). The Making Home Affordable program allowed homeowners to apply for loan modifications to avoid foreclosure. Treasury will continue to provide incentive payments for loan modifications through 2023. The Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest Hit Housing Markets provided funds to 18 states and the District of Columbia to help struggling homeowners through programs tailored to the state. Treasury extended this program through June 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic's negative economic effects on some program participants. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Short Refinance program allowed eligible homeowners to refinance into an FHA-insured loan. Under this program, Treasury made TARP funds available to provide additional coverage to lenders for a share of potential losses on these loans for borrowers who entered the program by December 31, 2016. Status of Troubled Asset Relief Program Housing Programs, as of September 2020 aAccording to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), these funds have been committed to future financial incentives for existing Making Home Affordable transactions, as of September 30, 2020. bRepresents the amount of funds that states and the District of Columbia have drawn from Treasury. cIncludes about $11.6 million in administrative expenses and $10 million of reserve funds, as of September 30, 2020. Treasury will be reimbursed for unused reserve amounts. dAmounts do not add up due to rounding. In response to the 2008 housing crisis, Treasury established TARP-funded housing programs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and preserve homeownership. Since 2009, Treasury has obligated $32.56 billion for such housing programs. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 provided GAO with broad oversight authorities for actions taken related to TARP. This report provides an update on the status of TARP-funded housing programs, as of September 30, 2020. GAO reviewed Treasury program data and documentation, and interviewed Treasury officials. This report contains the most recently available public data at the time of GAO's review, including obligations, disbursements, and program participation. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • Prescription Drugs: Department of Veterans Affairs Paid About Half as Much as Medicare Part D for Selected Drugs in 2017
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid, on average, 54 percent less per unit for a sample of 399 brand-name and generic prescription drugs in 2017 as did Medicare Part D, even after accounting for applicable rebates and price concessions in the Part D program. GAO also found that 233 of the 399 drugs in the sample were at least 50 percent cheaper in VA than in Medicare, and 106 drugs were at least 75 percent cheaper. Only 43 drugs were cheaper in Medicare than in VA. The percent difference in price between the two programs was greater on average for generic drugs. Specifically, VA's prices were 68 percent lower than Medicare prices for the 203 generic drugs (an average difference of $0.19 per unit) and 49 percent lower for the 196 brand-name drugs (an average difference of $4.11 per unit). Average Per-Unit Net Prices Paid by Department of Veterans Affairs and Medicare Part D for Selected Drugs, 2017 Note: GAO's sample of 399 drugs included the top 100 brand-name and generic drugs in Medicare Part D in 2017, by: (1) highest expenditures; (2) highest utilization (by quantities dispensed); and (3) highest cost-per use. Per-unit prices are weighted to reflect differences in utilization in the two programs. Medicare prices reflect expenditures after accounting for rebates and other price concessions. While there are many factors that impact prices in the complex drug market, GAO identified several key program features that may contribute to the consistent price differential between VA and Medicare Part D. For example, Medicare's beneficiaries are divided among numerous prescription drug plans, which each negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. In contrast, VA is a single integrated health system with a unified list of covered drugs—thereby possibly strengthening its bargaining position when negotiating. In addition, VA has access to significant discounts defined by law, and can then negotiate further for lower prices. These discount prices are not available to Medicare Part D plans. GAO provided a draft of this product to HHS and VA for comment. Both agencies provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. In 2017, combined, Medicare Part D and VA accounted for approximately $105 billion in prescription drug sales—nearly one-third of total U.S. expenditures—and covered nearly 52 million individuals. The two programs use different methods to pay for prescription drugs. Medicare reimburses Part D plan sponsors, which in turn pay pharmacies to dispense drugs. VA primarily uses a direct purchase approach to acquire drugs from manufacturers. GAO was asked to examine differences in the amounts major federal programs paid for prescription drugs. This report: (1) compares average unit prices for prescription drugs in Medicare Part D to those in the VA; and (2) describes factors affecting prices in the two programs. GAO analyzed (1) CMS data for Medicare Part D payments to retail pharmacies as well as rebates and other price concessions Part D plans received and (2) VA drug purchasing data. These data were from 2017, the most recent data available at the time of GAO's analysis. To select a sample of drugs GAO identified the top 100 brand-name and 100 generic drugs in Medicare Part D in 2017 for three categories: (1) highest expenditure, (2) highest utilization, and (3) highest cost-per use. In total, this yielded 399 non-duplicate drugs (203 generic and 196 brand-name), which represented 44 percent of Medicare Part D spending in 2017. GAO compared weighted average unit prices for these drugs. GAO interviewed CMS and VA officials, and reviewed academic and government reports to understand factors that may affect prices in the two programs. For more information, contact John Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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    In U.S Courts
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  • Grants Management: Agencies Provided Many Types of Technical Assistance and Applied Recipients’ Feedback
    In U.S GAO News
    Technical assistance refers to programs, activities, and services provided by federal agencies to strengthen the capacity of grant recipients and to improve their performance of grant functions. Technical assistance can improve the performance or management of grant program recipients. Technical assistance includes the improvement of grant outcomes, grant management, grantee compliance, project monitoring and evaluation, and interactions with stakeholders. The technical assistance provided by the selected agencies—the Department of Education (Education), the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA)—is designed to align with the requirements of each agency's grant programs and the individual grantee's needs. The types of technical assistance provided by agencies varied and included a range of delivery methods shown below. Types of Technical Assistance Provided by Selected Agencies Education tailors its approach to provide technical assistance to grantees based on recipients' needs and their efforts to obtain technical assistance. According to ACF, some grant programs have extensive, dedicated technical assistance that is grant specific, while other grant programs share technical assistance resources provided by multiple technical assistance centers. ACF's technical assistance can be based on program office oversight of the grantees that includes financial and internal control reviews and site visits. For ETA, state and local grantees administer ETA-funded programs throughout the country and technical assistance plays a role in ensuring these programs' successful implementation. According to ETA officials, technical assistance activities are based on grant program objectives. The 10 grant programs GAO reviewed evaluated technical assistance, collected feedback from recipients of the technical assistance, and incorporated feedback into technical assistance. For example, a School Safety National Activities evaluation of one of its national centers included targets for multiple performance measures and the actual performance for each measure. These measures included the percentage of milestones achieved and the percentage of technical assistance and dissemination products and services deemed to be high quality by an independent review panel. The overall goal of technical assistance is to enhance the delivery of agency programs and help ensure grantee compliance. GAO was asked to review issues related to technical assistance for grants at Education, ACF, and ETA. This report (1) describes how Education, ACF, and ETA provide technical assistance to grantees; and (2) examines to what extent these agencies evaluate the technical assistance. For this review, GAO selected 10 grant programs from the three agencies based on fiscal year 2018 funding information and the purpose of the grant. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed agency officials about the technical assistance provided, the provider and recipient of technical assistance, and the amount obligated in fiscal year 2018 for the 10 grant programs reviewed. GAO also reviewed documents and interviewed agencies about the extent to which they evaluated technical assistance, whether they gathered feedback from the recipients of technical assistance, and whether feedback was included in the evaluations for the 10 grant programs reviewed. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or SagerM@gao.gov.
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  • VA Medical Center Security: Progress Made, but Improvements to Oversight of Risk Management and Incident Analysis Still Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently identified improvements for its physical security risk management policy and oversight process for its medical centers but has yet to implement them. In January 2018, GAO reported that VA's risk management policy did not fully reflect federal standards for facility security, such as a requirement to consider all of the undesirable events described in the standards (e.g. active shooter incidents). GAO also reported that while VA conducted some limited oversight of medical centers' risk management activities, it lacked a system-wide oversight strategy. GAO recommended that VA revise its policy to reflect federal standards and develop a system-wide oversight strategy to help to ensure that its approach to risk management will yield the appropriate security posture relative to the different risks at each of its medical centers. In response, as of June 2021, VA has begun to take actions to revise its policy to reflect the standards and fully deploy a risk assessment tool to help oversee risk management processes across medical centers. VA officials said they plan to implement the revised policy and assessment tool in fiscal year 2022. VA has improved its data collection to support the management and oversight of police officers' use of force but could better track and analyze investigations. VA policy contains a use of force continuum scale to define and clarify the categories of force that officers can use to gain control of a situation. In September 2020, GAO reported that VA's records of use of force incidents were not complete or accurate. For example, GAO found that 176 out of 1,214 use of force incident reports did not include the specific type of force used. Further, VA did not track incidents by individual medical centers. GAO also reported that VA did not systematically collect or analyze use of force investigation findings from local medical centers or have a database designed for such purposes, limiting VA's ability to provide effective oversight. GAO recommended that VA improve the completeness and accuracy of its data on use of force, analyze that data by facility and geographic region, and implement plans to obtain a database to collect and analyze use of force investigations. As of June 2021, VA took steps to improve the accuracy and completeness of its use of force incident data, and officials stated VA is working to obtain a suitable database to track use of force investigation trends. GAO will continue to review VA's steps to address recommendations from both reports. Why GAO Did This Study The Veterans Health Administration provides critical health services to approximately 9-million enrolled veterans at its nearly 170 medical centers. Ensuring safety and security at these medical centers can be complicated because VA has to balance the treatment and care of veterans—a vulnerable population with high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse—while also maintaining order and enforcing the law. Officers may need to use physical force to help bring a violent or hostile situation under control. This statement focuses on how VA manages and oversees (1) the physical security of medical centers and (2) use of force incidents by police officers. The statement is primarily based on GAO-18-201, issued in January 2018, and GAO-20-599, issued in September 2020. To update this information, GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed VA officials on actions taken to address these reports' recommendations.
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  • Climate Resilience: Actions Needed to Ensure DOD Considers Climate Risks to Contractors as Part of Acquisition, Supply, and Risk Assessment
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has not routinely assessed climate-related risks faced by its contractors as part of its acquisition and supply processes, through which DOD obtains contracted goods and services. DOD's acquisition process includes long-term planning activities such as life-cycle sustainment planning. Its supply chain process includes steps to identify and assess potential disruptions, such as severe storms affecting transportation or energy systems, in order to mitigate risk. However, these processes in general do not systematically identify and consider climate-related risks to materiel acquisition and supply or the acquisition of weapon systems, according to Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and military department officials. DOD's climate change adaptation directive indicates that OSD and the military departments should include climate considerations in acquisition and supply and integrate those considerations into relevant policy and guidance. However, GAO's review of DOD and military department guidance on acquisition and supply found that the guidance did not implement DOD's climate change directive by including consideration of climate change or extreme weather. Until DOD and the military departments include these considerations in their guidance on acquisition and supply chain processes, they risk continuing to develop acquisition strategies and managing supply chains without building climate resilience into these processes and potentially jeopardizing their missions. DOD guidance requires consideration of climate-related risks as part of the mission assurance process, when appropriate. However, GAO found that the department has not assessed risks—including those associated with climate change or extreme weather—to commercially owned facilities, which can support DOD installations as well as weapon systems, as part of this process. Assessing risks to commercial facilities has been a longstanding challenge for DOD, with the department noting in 2012 that it had paid inadequate attention to challenges outside of DOD-owned facilities and citing a limited understanding of supply chain risks as a pervasive problem. DOD's mission assurance guidance includes minimum requirements for assessments of certain non-DOD-owned facilities, such as completion of an all-hazards threat assessment. However, DOD officials stated that they had not conducted such assessments. The officials noted that DOD is limited in its ability to conduct such assessments, as it does not have the same access to commercial facilities as it does to its own facilities. While DOD officials stated that they are exploring alternative ways of assessing risks to commercial facilities, they noted that these efforts are in the early stages. Without determining what approaches may be feasible for assessing risks to commercial facilities as part of the mission assurance process and issuing or updating guidance accordingly, DOD may not fully evaluate the risks to critical commercial facilities as part of the mission assurance process, leaving gaps in its knowledge of potential risks—to include climate and weather-related risks—to its ability to fulfill key missions dependent on such facilities. Since 2010, DOD has identified climate change as a threat to its operations and installations. The department relies on contracted goods and services for its mission and installations. Climate change is projected to have broad effects that could affect DOD's supply chains, and any associated risks to contractors can have an impact on DOD. One way DOD assesses risk to its missions is through mission assurance, which is a process to protect or ensure the function of capabilities and assets critical to its missions. GAO was asked to review potential threats to national security from the effects of climate change on defense contractors. GAO examined the extent to which DOD assesses the potential effects on its operations from climate change and extreme weather risks faced by its contractors through the department's (1) acquisition and supply processes, and (2) mission assurance process. GAO reviewed DOD acquisition, supply, and mission assurance documents and interviewed relevant DOD officials and contractor representatives. GAO is making six recommendations, including that DOD incorporate climate adaptation into its acquisition and supply guidance and issue or update guidance on mission assurance-related assessments for commercial facilities. DOD concurred with three recommendations and partially concurred with three. GAO continues to believe that DOD should fully implement its recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Prescription Drugs: Medicare Spending on Drugs with Direct-to-Consumer Advertising
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Drug manufacturers spent $17.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for 553 drugs from 2016 through 2018, and spending was relatively stable at about $6 billion each year. Almost half of this spending was for three therapeutic categories of drugs that treat chronic medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and depression. GAO also found that nearly all DTCA spending was on brand-name drugs, with about two-thirds concentrated on 39 drugs, about half of which entered the market from 2014 through 2017. Medicare Parts B and D and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs from 2016 through 2018, $324 billion of which was spent on advertised drugs. Of the 553 advertised drugs, GAO found Medicare Parts B and D spending for 104 and 463 drugs, respectively. Among the drugs with the highest Medicare spending, some also had the highest DTCA spending. Specifically, among the top 10 drugs with the highest Medicare Parts B or D expenditures, four were also among the top 10 drugs in advertising spending in 2018: Eliquis (blood thinner), Humira (arthritis), Keytruda (cancer), and Lyrica (diabetic pain). Medicare Spending on Advertised Drugs, 2016 - 2018 GAO's review of four advertised drugs found that drug manufacturers changed their DTCA spending during key events, such as increasing spending when a drug was approved to treat additional conditions or decreasing spending following the approval of generic versions. GAO also found that DTCA may have contributed to increases in Medicare beneficiary use and spending among four selected drugs from 2010 through 2018. However, other factors likely contributed to a drug's Medicare beneficiary use and spending, making it difficult to isolate the relationship between drug advertising, use and spending. For example, GAO's review of four selected drugs showed that increases in unit prices were a factor, while stakeholders GAO interviewed cited other contributing factors such as doctors' prescribing decisions and manufacturers' drug promotions directed to doctors. Why GAO Did This Study Drug manufacturers use advertising on television and in other media to promote the use of their drugs to consumers and to encourage them to visit their doctors for more information. From 2016 through 2018, the Medicare program and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs, and spending is projected to increase with the use of newer, more expensive drugs and an increase in beneficiaries. GAO was asked to examine DTCA and Medicare spending on advertised drugs. This report examines (1) drug manufacturer spending on DTCA; (2) Medicare spending on advertised drugs; and (3) changes in DTCA spending and Medicare use and spending for selected drugs. GAO analyzed DTCA spending data from Nielsen Media, and Medicare Parts B and D Drug Spending Dashboard data, from 2016 through 2018 (the most recent available data at the time of GAO's analysis). GAO also analyzed DTCA spending and Medicare data for a non-generalizable selection of four advertised drugs over a longer period—from 2010 through 2018. The four drugs were selected to reflect differences in DTCA and Medicare spending, beneficiary use, and medical conditions treated. GAO also interviewed or obtained information from officials representing 14 stakeholder groups (including research, trade, and physician organizations; and drug manufacturers of the four selected drugs) about DTCA spending and drug use and spending. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact John Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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  • Financial Stability: Agencies Have Not Found Leveraged Lending to Significantly Threaten Stability but Remain Cautious Amid Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    In the years before the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and others assessed the potential risks to financial stability that leveraged loans and collateralized loan obligation (CLO) securities may pose. Generally, leveraged loans are those made to businesses with poor credit and high debt, and CLO securities are backed by these loans. FSOC and others found that riskier borrower profiles and looser underwriting standards left leveraged lending market participants vulnerable to losses in the event of a downturn. After the COVID-19 shock in March 2020, loans suffered record downgrades and increased defaults, but the highest-rated CLO securities remained resilient. Although regulators monitoring the effects of the pandemic remain cautious, as of September 2020, they had not found that leveraged lending presented significant threats to financial stability. Based on regulators' assessments, leveraged lending activities had not contributed significantly to the distress of any large financial entity whose failure could threaten financial stability. Large banks' strong capital positions have allowed them to manage their leveraged lending exposures, and the exposure of insurers and other investors also appeared manageable. Mutual funds experienced redemptions by investors but were able to meet them in part by selling leveraged loan holdings. While this may have put downward pressure on already-distressed loan prices, based on regulators' assessments, distressed leveraged loan prices did not pose a potential threat to financial stability. Present-day CLO securities appear to pose less of a risk to financial stability than did similar securities during the 2007–2009 financial crisis, according to regulators and market participants. For example, CLO securities have better investor protections, are more insulated from market swings, and are not widely tied to other risky, complex instruments. FSOC monitors leveraged-lending-related risks primarily through its monthly Systemic Risk Committee meetings, but opportunities exist to enhance FSOC's abilities to respond to financial stability threats. FSOC identified leveraged lending activities as a source of potential risk to financial stability before the COVID-19 shock and recommended continued monitoring and analysis. However, FSOC does not conduct tabletop or similar scenario-based exercises where participants discuss roles and responses to hypothetical emergency scenarios. As a result, FSOC is missing an opportunity to enhance preparedness and test members' coordinated response to financial stability risks. Further, as GAO reported in 2016, FSOC does not generally have clear authority to address broader risks that are not specific to a particular financial entity, such as risks from leveraged lending. GAO recommended that Congress consider better aligning FSOC's authorities with its mission to respond to systemic risks, but Congress had not done so as of September 2020. GAO maintains that changes such as broader designation authority would help FSOC respond to risks from activities that involve many regulators, such as leveraged lending. The market for institutional leveraged loans grew from an estimated $0.5 trillion in 2010 to $1.2 trillion in 2019, fueled largely by investor demand for CLO securities. Some observers and regulators have drawn comparisons to the pre-2008 subprime mortgage market, noting that loan origination and securitization may similarly spread risks to the financial system. These fears are being tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly affected leveraged businesses. This report examines assessments by regulators, FSOC, and others—both before and after the COVID-19 shock to the economy—of the potential risks to financial stability stemming from leveraged lending activities, and the extent to which FSOC monitors and responds to risks from broad-based activities like leveraged lending, among other objectives. GAO examined agency and private data on market size and investor exposures; reviewed agency, industry, and international reports; and interviewed federal financial regulators and industry participants. GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Treasury, as Chairperson of FSOC, conduct scenario-based exercises intended to evaluate capabilities for responding to crises. GAO also reiterates its 2016 recommendation (GAO-16-175) that Congress consider legislative changes to align FSOC's authorities with its mission. FSOC neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said that it would take further actions if it determined necessary. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.
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  • Canadian Man Extradited from Spain to Face Charges for Massive Psychic Mail Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Canadian citizen accused of operating a decades-long psychic mail fraud scheme was extradited to the United States and made his initial appearance today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced.
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