Remarks of Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband on the Announcement of the Settlement with Amtrak

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us.  Today, we are pleased to announce that the Department of Justice and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation — better known as Amtrak — have reached a comprehensive settlement agreement to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).  Through this agreement, Amtrak has committed to fix inaccessible passenger rail stations across the Country and to pay $2.25 million to passengers with disabilities who have been denied equal access to Amtrak stations between 2013 and today.

Today’s agreement is a historic achievement for both Amtrak and the people of the United States.  Like all people, individuals with disabilities have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Today’s agreement, and its implementation, will mean that individuals with disabilities are one step closer to living in a nation that recognizes their unalienable rights and values them as free people who can enjoy all that his country has to offer.  

Access to transportation is critical to all of us, and a key issue for many people with disabilities.  Indeed, it is the linchpin of access to the full economic, social, and cultural benefits of our Nation.  Rail transportation connects us to family, friends, and opportunity.

Several years ago, the Department of Justice opened an investigation of Amtrak after receiving complaints about the lack of access to train travel for individuals with disabilities.  The Department determined that Amtrak discriminated against such individuals by failing to make its passenger rail stations accessible.  When Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, Congress required that Amtrak make its stations accessible by 2010.  Amtrak did not do so. 

Passengers with disabilities have waited long enough.  This agreement now puts Amtrak on a course towards opening up its vast rail network to passengers with disabilities.  The agreement requires Amtrak to fix stations that are inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs or  who have vision or hearing impairments, to train its employees on the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to compensate people harmed by the lack of access at stations. 

The barriers at many of Amtrak’s stations are consequential, inhibiting access to the system for countless people with disabilities.  Thomas Morgan is one such individual.  In the spring of 2016, Thom — a self-described “outgoing, carefree incomplete paraplegic who uses a wheelchair” — was a senior at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, when he bought an Amtrak ticket to pay a surprise visit to his parents at home in Fairfax.  But what Thom did not know was that the Ashland station platform was entirely unusable to him: there was an inaccessible pedestrian cross-over between the platforms; the north bound platform was too narrow to allow passage for a person using a wheelchair; and the train could only be boarded by climbing stairs.  Only when Thom arrived at the Ashland station ready to travel home from college did he realize that he would not be able to board the train. 

After Thom graduated — with a mathematics major and film studies minor — and moved home to Fairfax, he wanted to return to Randolph-Macon by train for a series of classes that would allow him to earn the one credit needed to complete a second major in computer science.  The Ashland station’s inaccessibility made this impossible.  Thom will tell you he likes proving to his friends and peers “that no disability in existence can outmatch a good attitude.”  After he raised this predicament to the Department, Amtrak installed a lift on one of the two platforms at the Ashland station and set up a system by which Thom had to contact Amtrak and coordinate travel in advance of any trip (an unequal temporary solution, and one available only to Thom).  Even after that, on at least one occasion the last northbound train arrived on the track adjacent to the wrong platform, stranding Thom in Ashland.

Thom wants to travel independently, rather than worrying that he is inconveniencing friends and family.  I’m grateful to Thom for his advocacy and that he brought his complaint to our attention.  Amtrak’s failure to make its existing intercity rail stations accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, has harmed and continues to harm individuals with disabilities, like Thom, across the country.

The settlement agreement will ensure equal access to Amtrak stations across the country for riders like Thom and countless others. The agreement commits Amtrak to prioritize stations with the most significant barriers to access.  Over the next 10 years, Amtrak will design at least 135 stations to be accessible, complete construction at 90 of those stations, and have at least 45 more under construction.  Amtrak will also install Passenger Information Display Systems at 97 stations. These Systems provide both audio and visual messages for passengers, and these messages will greatly benefit riders with vision or hearing disabilities.

Amtrak will also train staff on the Americans with Disability Act’s requirements and will implement an agreed-upon process for accepting and handling Americans with Disabilities Act complaints.  Under the agreement, Amtrak will have an Office of the Vice President of Stations, Properties & Accessibility to coordinate its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To compensate those harmed by inaccessible stations while trying to travel by train, Amtrak will establish a $2.25 million settlement fund.  Individuals with mobility impairments who traveled or desired to travel at 78 specified stations with significant accessibility issues may be compensated from the settlement fund. 

This agreement reflects the contributions and collaboration of many individuals and organizations, and I want to recognize some of them here. 

Amtrak cooperated fully with our investigation and our efforts to resolve this matter.  I would like to thank Amtrak for that cooperation.  I would also like to thank our partner throughout this process, the Federal Railroad Administration.  The Federal Railroad Administration engages in day-to-day regulatory oversight of Amtrak and will continue to do so.  I welcome Amtrak’s commitment to bring its system into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act so that all individuals have an equal opportunity to barrier-free rail transportation. 

I also would like to thank the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), which played a key role in raising awareness about inaccessible stations nationwide.  In October 2013, NDRN released a report based on its member organizations’ visits to more than 100 stations.  Based on this report, the Department’s investigation, and surveys by Amtrak itself, the Department identified pervasive accessibility deficiencies at Amtrak stations across the Country.

I am also grateful to the many Department of Justice attorneys, staff, and others who made today’s agreement possible, including Cynthia McKnight, Rebecca Bond, Matt Donnelly, Katie Wolfe, Kevin Kijewski, David Knight, Felicia Sadler, Celeste Adams-Simmons, Mary Adams, and Anna Young. 

Finally, on behalf of our team, I want to again say thank you to Thom and to all of the individuals with disabilities who shared their stories as we worked with Amtrak to craft this remedy.  Going forward, we will need the ongoing support and engagement, and the support of all our community and federal partners, to make sure that the targets in this agreement are met.  We will also need all of our partners to assist the parties in the coming months as the settlement fund is advertised so that all those eligible to be compensated file timely claims.  We look forward to working with Amtrak to implement the reforms in the agreement, and more importantly, to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, like Thom, who will soon be able to travel more freely and independently.   

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    In U.S GAO News
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  • Whistleblower Protection: Actions Needed to Strengthen Selected Intelligence Community Offices of Inspector General Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The six Intelligence Community (IC)-element Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) that GAO reviewed collectively received 5,794 complaints from October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2018, and opened 960 investigations based on those complaints. Of the 960 investigations, IC-element OIGs had closed 873 (about 91 percent) as of August 2019, with an average case time ranging from 113 to 410 days to complete. Eighty-seven cases remained open as of August 2019, with the average open case time being 589 days. The number of investigations at each IC-element OIG varied widely based on factors such as the number of complaints received and each OIG's determination on when to convert a complaint into an investigation. An OIG may decide not to convert a complaint into an investigation if the complaint lacks credibility or sufficient detail, or may refer the complainant to IC-element management or to another OIG if the complaint involves matters that are outside the OIG's authority to investigate. Four of the IC-element OIGs—the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) OIG, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) OIG, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) OIG, and the National Security Agency (NSA) OIG—have a 180-days or fewer timeliness objective for their investigations. The procedures for the remaining two OIGs—the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) OIG—state that investigations should be conducted and reported in a timely manner. Other than those prescribed by statute, the ICIG and NGA OIG have not established timeliness objectives for their investigations. Establishing timeliness objectives could improve the OIGs' ability to efficiently manage investigation time frames and to inform potential whistleblowers of these time frames. All of the selected IC-element OIG investigations units have implemented some quality assurance standards and processes, such as including codes of conduct and ethical and professional standards in their guidance. However, the extent to which they have implemented processes to maintain guidance, conduct routine quality assurance reviews, and plan investigations varies (see table). Implementation of Quality Assurance Standards and Practices by Selected IC-element OIG Investigations Units   ICIG CIA OIG DIA OIG NGA OIG NRO OIG NSA OIG Regular updates of investigation guidance or procedures — — — ✓ — ✓ Internal quality assurance review routinely conducted — — ✓ — — — External quality assurance review routinely conducted — ✓ — — — — Required use of documented investigative plans ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ — ✓ Legend: ✓ = standard or practice implemented; — = standard or practice not implemented. Source: GAO analysis of IC-element OIG investigative policies and procedures. | GAO-20-699 The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency's (CIGIE) Quality Standards for Investigations states that organizations should facilitate due professional care by establishing written investigative policies and procedures via handbooks, manuals, or similar mechanisms that are revised regularly according to evolving laws, regulations, and executive orders. By establishing processes to regularly update their procedures, the ICIG, CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NRO OIG could better ensure that their policies and procedures will remain consistent with evolving laws, regulations, Executive Orders, and CIGIE standards. Additionally, CIGIE's Quality Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General requires OIGs to establish and maintain a quality assurance program. The standards further state that internal and external quality assurance reviews are the two components of an OIG's quality assurance program, which is an evaluative effort conducted by reviewers independent of the unit being reviewed to ensure that the overall work of the OIG meets appropriate standards. Developing quality assurance programs that incorporate both types of reviews, as appropriate, could help ensure that the IC-element OIGs adhere to OIG procedures and prescribed standards, regulations, and legislation, as well as identify any areas in need of improvement. Further, CIGIE Quality Standards for Investigations states that case-specific priorities must be established and objectives developed to ensure that tasks are performed efficiently and effectively. CIGIE's standards state that this may best be achieved, in part, by preparing case-specific plans and strategies. Establishing a requirement that investigators use documented investigative plans for all investigations could facilitate NRO OIG management's oversight of investigations and help ensure that investigative steps are prioritized and performed efficiently and effectively. CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NGA OIG have training plans or approaches that are consistent with CIGIE's quality standards for investigator training. However, while ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG have basic training requirements and tools to manage training, those OIGs have not established training requirements for their investigators that are linked to the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities, appropriate to their career progression, and part of a documented training plan. Doing so would help the ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG ensure that their investigators collectively possess a consistent set of professional proficiencies aligned with CIGIE's quality standards throughout their entire career progression. Most of the IC-element OIGs GAO reviewed consistently met congressional reporting requirements for the investigations and semiannual reports GAO reviewed. The ICIG did not fully meet one reporting requirement in seven of the eight semiannual reports that GAO reviewed. However, its most recent report, which covers April through September 2019, met this reporting requirement by including statistics on the total number and type of investigations it conducted. Further, three of the six selected IC-element OIGs—the DIA, NGA, and NRO OIGs—did not consistently document notifications to complainants in the reprisal investigation case files GAO reviewed. Taking steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in such cases occur and are documented in the case files would provide these OIGs with greater assurance that they consistently inform complainants of the status of their investigations and their rights as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers play an important role in safeguarding the federal government against waste, fraud, and abuse. The OIGs across the government oversee investigations of whistleblower complaints, which can include protecting whistleblowers from reprisal. Whistleblowers in the IC face unique challenges due to the sensitive and classified nature of their work. GAO was asked to review whistleblower protection programs managed by selected IC-element OIGs. This report examines (1) the number and time frames of investigations into complaints that selected IC-element OIGs received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established timeliness objectives for these investigations; (2) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have implemented quality standards and processes for their investigation programs; (3) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established training requirements for investigators; and (4) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have met notification and reporting requirements for investigative activities. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in June 2020. Information that the IC elements deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO selected the ICIG and the OIGs of five of the largest IC elements for review. GAO analyzed time frames for all closed investigations of complaints received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018; reviewed OIG policies, procedures, training requirements, and semiannual reports to Congress; conducted interviews with 39 OIG investigators; and reviewed a selection of case files for senior leaders and reprisal cases from October 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018. GAO is making 23 recommendations, including that selected IC-element OIGs establish timeliness objectives for investigations, implement or enhance quality assurance programs, establish training plans, and take steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in reprisal cases occur. The selected IC-element OIGs concurred with the recommendations and discussed steps they planned to take to implement them. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604, farrellb@gao.gov or Brian M. 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  • Department of Energy Contracting: Improvements Needed to Ensure DOE Assesses Its Full Range of Contracting Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE), including billing schemes, conflicts of interest, and payroll schemes. For example, a subcontractor employee at a site created fraudulent invoices for goods never received, resulting in a loss of over $6 million. In another scheme, a contractor engaged in years of widespread time card fraud, submitting inflated claims for compensation. The contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the case. DOE reported that it identified nearly $15 million in improper payments due to confirmed fraud in fiscal year 2019. However, due to the difficulty in detecting fraud, agencies—including DOE—incur financial losses related to fraud that are never identified or are settled without admission to fraud and are not counted as such. Fraud can also have nonfinancial impacts, such as fraudsters obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing legitimate businesses from obtaining contracts. DOE has taken some steps and is planning others to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, consistent with the leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. However, GAO found that DOE has not assessed the full range of contracting fraud risks it faces. Specifically, GAO found DOE's methods for gathering information about its fraud risks captures selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs. As shown in the figure, DOE's risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not capture four of nine fraud schemes that occurred at DOE. For example, one entity did not include any fraud risks in its risk profiles, yet GAO identified six types of fraud schemes that occurred at the entity's site. DOE plans to expand its risk assessment process, but officials expect the new process will continue to rely on a methodology that gathers information on selected fraud risks. The Fraud Risk Framework states that entities identify specific tools, methods, and sources for gathering information about fraud risks. Without expanding its methodology to capture, assess, and document all fraud risks facing its programs, DOE risks remaining vulnerable to these types of fraud. Fraud Risks Identified in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 Risk Profiles Compared with Types of Fraud Schemes That Have Occurred at DOE DOE is planning to develop an antifraud strategy in fiscal year 2022 and has taken some steps to evaluate and adapt to fraud risks, consistent with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Part of DOE's effort to manage fraud risks includes adapting controls to address emerging fraud risks. Additionally, DOE is planning to expand its use of data analytics to detect contracting fraud, beginning in fiscal year 2022. DOE relies primarily on contractors to carry out its missions at its laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its total obligations on contracts. GAO and DOE's Inspector General have reported on incidents of fraud by DOE contractors and identified multiple contracting fraud risks. GAO was asked to examine DOE's processes to manage contracting fraud risks. This report examines, for DOE, (1) types of contracting fraud schemes and their financial and nonfinancial impacts, (2) steps taken to commit to combating contracting fraud risks and the extent to which these risks have been assessed, and (3) steps taken to design and implement an antifraud strategy and to evaluate and adapt its approach. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance; reviewed agency media releases, Agency Financial Reports, and DOE Inspector General reports to Congress from 2013 through 2019; and reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 42 DOE field and site offices, contractors, and subcontractors, representing a range of sites and programs. GAO is making two recommendations, including for DOE to expand its fraud risk assessment methodology to ensure all fraud risks facing DOE programs are fully assessed and documented in accordance with leading practices. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-6722 shear@gao.gov or Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841, bawdena@gao.gov.
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    The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress implementing initiatives to enhance capabilities that are used to identify friendly force locations during close air support (CAS) missions, but GAO identified additional actions that are needed to strengthen these efforts. Specifically, DOD has made limited progress in implementing 10 changes the department approved to address gaps in the interoperability of digital communications systems used to conduct CAS, hindering efforts to improve the speed and accuracy of information exchanges. DOD's efforts to assess the interoperability of digital systems used to perform CAS have been limited in scope. GAO found that DOD had formally assessed two out of 10 approved changes during joint service and multinational events, and these assessments were not conducted in a training environment that replicated capabilities of near-peer adversaries. DOD implemented a new capability in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to help identify the positions of friendly forces during CAS missions. However, GAO found that DOD did not provide adequate training for personnel who operate it or conduct an evaluation to resolve implementation challenges that have hampered its performance. DOD conducts evaluations of training programs for forces that participate in CAS missions, but GAO identified two areas where DOD can improve its efforts. First, the Army and Marine Corps have not systematically evaluated the effectiveness of periodic training for ground observers providing targeting information due to a lack of centralized systems for tracking training data and the absence of designated entities to monitor service-wide training. Second, the use of contract aircraft for training increased substantially between 2017 and 2019, but DOD has not fully evaluated the use of non-military contract aircraft to train air controllers for CAS (see fig.). GAO found that differences between U.S. military aircraft and contract aircraft (e.g., airspeed) can result in a misalignment of aircraft capabilities for certain types of training events. Without evaluating CAS training fully, DOD cannot have assurance that its forces are prepared to conduct CAS missions safely and effectively. Number of Hours Non-Military Aircraft Were Used to Train for Close Air Support for Fiscal Years 2017 through 2019 The use of ordnance delivered by aircraft to support U.S. military forces that are in close proximity to enemy forces on the ground requires detailed planning, seamless communications, and effective training. Mistakes in communications or procedures used to identify and maintain an awareness of the positions of friendly forces on the battlefield during CAS can result in the loss of U.S. military personnel. Senate Report 116-48 and House Report 116-120, accompanying bills for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included provisions for GAO to evaluate issues related to friendly-force identification capabilities in CAS missions. Among other things, this report evaluates the extent to which DOD has (1) implemented initiatives to enhance friendly-force identification capabilities during CAS, and (2) evaluated training for forces that participate in CAS. GAO analyzed documentation and interviewed officials regarding DOD efforts to develop and implement friendly force tracking capabilities for CAS; reviewed CAS training programs; and analyzed training data, including the number of hours that DOD used non-military contract aircraft for CAS training from 2017 through 2019. GAO is making 11 recommendations to DOD, including that DOD implement and assess initiatives to improve the interoperability of digital systems used in CAS and take additional steps to evaluate the training for certain forces that participate in CAS missions. DOD concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
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