This Week in Iran Policy

Office of the Spokesperson

This Week in Iran Policy

“The Maximum Pressure campaign against the Iranian regime continues to be effective. It deprives the regime of funds to carry out its malign activities. Reducing that pressure is a dangerous choice, bound to weaken new regional partnerships for peace and strengthen the regime.”

– Secretary Pompeo, Tweet of November 18, 2020

Commemoration of the Massacre of Mahshahr and Designation of Iranian Officials Due to Involvement in Gross Violations of Human Rights, November 18.

  • One year ago, the Iranian regime killed as many as 148 Iranian civilians in Mahshahr, while imposing digital darkness to hide evidence of their savage crackdown on last November’s protests in that city.  Both protesters and bystanders were targeted by snipers on rooftops, tracked down and surrounded by armored vehicles, and sprayed with machine-gun fire.  When protesters sought refuge in nearby marshlands, regime forces set fire to the area and then shot those trying to escape.  When families tried to recover the remains of their loved ones, Iranian authorities charged them hundreds of dollars for each bullet that had pierced their bodies.
  • Today, I am announcing the designation of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Heidar Abbaszadeh and IRGC Colonel Reza Papi pursuant to Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2020 for their involvement, by operation of command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights, namely the flagrant denial of the right to life in connection with the violent suppression of protests by security forces in November 2019 in Khuzestan province.  These individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.  Iranian Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi is also being designated by the Department of Treasury under E.O. 13553, which authorizes sanctions for entities that commit serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people.
  • Additionally, today the United States is designating the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation, 51 associated entities, and 10 associated individuals pursuant to E.O. 13876, which authorizes sanctions for entities affiliated with the Supreme Leader’s Office.  This organization, which claims to be the “Foundation of the Oppressed,” is in reality a key agent of regime oppression and corruption, and many of its assets were originally confiscated from Iranians, especially from religious minorities such as Baha’is and Jews.  The foundation is involved with human rights abusers, those involved with the regime’s support for terrorism, and organizations involved in the brutal killings last November.  This action deprives the regime’s machinery of oppression the funds needed to execute its depraved agenda.  For more information, see the Department of Treasury’s press release.
  • Nations who believe in supporting the freedoms of expression and association should condemn Iran’s egregious human rights violations, and reaffirm respect for the dignity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person by imposing consequences on the regime as we have, today.  The Iranian regime maintains its grip on power through brute force, with no concern for the wellbeing of the Iranian people.  The United States will continue to stand with the Iranian people and demand the regime treat its own people with the respect and dignity they deserve.

The Importance of Sanctions in Iran, November 18.

  • The Maximum Pressure campaign against the Iranian regime continues to be extraordinarily effective.  Today, Iran’s economy faces a currency crisis, mounting public debt, and rising inflation.  Prior to the Maximum Pressure campaign, Iran was exporting nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. Now it struggles to export even a quarter of that volume.  Since May 2018, we have denied the regime of direct access to more than $70 billion in oil revenue, and will continue to prevent the regime access to around $50 billion annually.  The Iranian rial has depreciated to one fifth of its former value against the dollar since the start of the campaign, while Iran’s GDP has shrunk by around 6% for three consecutive years.
  • These sanctions deprive the regime of funds it would use to carry out its malign activities.  As a direct result of sanctions, Iran reduced its military budget by nearly 25 percent in 2019.  The regime’s terrorist proxies and partners beg for cash, and have been forced to take austerity measures, even furloughing some terrorist fighters.  Sanctions are part of the pressures creating a new Middle East, bringing together countries that suffer the consequences of Iran’s violence and seek a region more peaceful and stable than before.  Reducing that pressure is a dangerous choice, bound to weaken new partnerships for peace in the region and strengthen only the Islamic Republic.
  • We need not speculate about what a cessation of sanctions would imply for Iran’s funding for terrorism; we can simply look to the recent past.  From 2016 to 2018, Iran took advantage of the sanctions relief provided under the JCPOA to increase its defense spending by more than 30 percent, to a record high.  Iran’s proxies and partners became flush with cash and greatly emboldened.  The Iranian people did not benefit from the funds as had been promised by their leaders; instead, the regime increased funding for the military and for the Basij, the key instrument of internal oppression, while its elites took billions to enrich themselves. That is why Iranian dissidents around the world are calling for sanctions to remain against this regime as long as its malign behavior continues.
  • The Iranian regime seeks a repeat of the failed experiment that lifted sanctions and shipped them huge amounts of cash in exchange for modest nuclear limitations.  The regime desperately needs an economic lifeline.  For that reason, they make two arguments: sanctions are useless and ineffective; or, in the alternative, when sanctions are effective they hurt only the Iranian people and not the regime; either way they should be removed. The regime’s greatest fear is that sanctions will remain.
  • We can expect to see repeated efforts by the regime to spread disinformation, and we are likely to see reports and arguments that say sanctions have failed.  We should not be deceived.  The consulting firm Facts Global Energy (FGE) reports Iran exported only 280,000 barrels of oil per day in October.  Other estimates are higher, but even if we double FGE’s numbers we see the enormous impact of U.S. sanctions.
  • Meanwhile, the Western media reports with alarm that the Iranian regime is increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium.  This is indeed troubling, but even more disturbing is the notion that the United States should fall victim to this nuclear extortion and abandon our sanctions.  That is precisely the effect the regime intends when it publicly discloses its uranium stockpile. The world must never reward nuclear threats with a cash appeasement—and must never fall victim to regime propaganda intended to save it from powerful sanctions.
  • The Maximum Pressure campaign is working, sanctions will continue, and the United States will not hesitate to impose painful consequences on those who engage in sanctionable activity.  Throughout the coming weeks and months, we will impose new sanctions on Iran, including using our nuclear, counterterrorism, and human rights authorities, each reflecting the wide range of malign behavior that continues to emanate from the Iranian regime.  These sanctions are a critical tool of national security to preserve the safety of the region and to protect American lives.

Our Global Partnership Against Chemical Weapons Abuses, Remarks by International Security and Nonproliferation Bureau Assistant Secretary Dr. Christopher A. Ford, November 18.

  • The world has long recognized the terrible nature of chemical weaponry, and humanity has tried repeatedly to control it.  Initial efforts to prohibit the use of poison gas in warfare failed to prevent its use in World War One, but the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting use of chemical or biological weapons gained widespread adherence.  A number of states still maintained CW programs, but their actual use was thankfully very rare thereafter.  The few instances that did occur – such as Egypt’s use of CW in Yemen in the 1960s and the large-scale employment of chemical agents in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s – helped to drive progress toward a total ban, achieved with the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997.  After that, one hoped, CW would just be a thing of the past, and indeed the superpower adversaries, the United States and Russia, heir to the Soviet Union’s program, declared their Cold War CW stockpiles and production facilities and set about destroying them under international supervision.
  • Countries such as Russia and Iran have been in violation of the CWC for some time, hiding certain aspects of their programs rather than eliminating them, but the worst of the modern ugly spiral of CW problems began with the use of sarin nerve agent by the Syrian regime against its own people.
  • The CWC, and the broader global nonproliferation regime of which it is a part, is today at a turning point.  We must not let the persistence of state-level CW programs in countries such as Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria – and indeed continuing episodes of outright CW use – destroy this regime.
  • For more information about the Plenary Meeting, please see press release.

Anniversary of Protests in Iran, November 15.

  • On November 15, 2019 and in the week that followed, brave Iranians took to the streets of more than 200 cities across Iran to protest four decades of mismanagement by a corrupt regime that squandered its people’s wealth on terrorism abroad and oppression at home. As the protesters exercised their freedom of expression, the regime responded by expressing its radical ideology of indiscriminate violence and terror. In doing so, the regime once again revealed its true nature and squandered any remaining claim to legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people. The regime killed as many as 1,500 Iranians, including at least 23 children.
  • Tragically, the regime’s reign of terror continues to this day. The regime ignores its own laws and international obligations to the rights of the Iranian people. Thousands of protesters remain in prison, where they are reportedly subjected to flogging, electrical shocks, starvation, beatings, sexual assault and rape, and other acts of torture. Family members of victims are thrown in jail for advocating on behalf of their loved ones. The world should understand that there are no moderates to empower in such an evil regime; only officials who defend and seek to profit from this machine of cruelty. We hope all governments join our call for the Iranian regime to immediately release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
  • The Iranian regime tried to hide the evidence of its brutal crackdown through censorship, intimidation, and the digital darkness of Internet shutdowns, and still refuses to allow independent investigations into the killings it perpetrated during that fateful week. But we will never forget the regime’s victims. The United States will continue to promote accountability by announcing further actions against the agents of repression later this week to bring a measure of justice to the Iranian people, the longest-suffering victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

NOTABLE TWEETS

@SecPompeo Nov 18

A year ago, Iran’s regime massacred as many as 148 Iranians in Mahshahr. Today, I designated Heidar Abbaszadeh and Reza Papi for their role in gross human rights violations by Iranian security forces as well as other agents of regime oppression. We will never forget their crimes.

@StateDeputySPOX Nov 18

@SecPompeo‘s designation of Iranian nationals Heidar Abbaszadeh and Reza Papi and Khamenei’s Mostazafan Foundation underscores our support for the Iranian people and our commitment to promoting accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations.

@SecPompeo Nov 15

One year ago, brave Iranians took to the streets to exercise their freedom of expression. The regime responded by manifesting its brutal ideology: indiscriminate violence and terror, killing as many as 1,500 Iranians, including at least 23 children. We mourn these victims.

@StateDeputySPOX Nov 15

Iran’s reign of terror continues to this day. Thousands of Iranian protesters remain in the regime’s prisons, where they are starved, subject to flogging and electrical shocks, and other acts of torture. We will never forget the regime’s victims.

 

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    Like other U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico implements major functions of its Medicaid program by procuring services from contractors, such as the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. In 2018, procurement costs represented $2.4 billion of Puerto Rico's $2.5 billion in total Medicaid expenditures. A 2019 federal indictment alleging Puerto Rico officials unlawfully steered Medicaid contracts to certain individuals has raised concerns about Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process, including whether this process helps ensure appropriate competition. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for overseeing the Medicaid program. CMS requires states and territories to use the same process for Medicaid procurements as they do for their non-federal procurements. However, CMS has not taken steps to ensure Puerto Rico has met this requirement. Instead, CMS has relied on Puerto Rico to oversee the territory's procurement process and to attest to its compliance. CMS approved Puerto Rico's attestation of compliance in 2004 and has not required subsequent updates. CMS officials told GAO that states and territories are in the best position to ensure compliance with their respective procurement laws. GAO and others have found that competition is a cornerstone of procurement. Using competition can reduce costs, improve contractor performance, curb fraud, and promote accountability. GAO reviewed selected Puerto Rico Medicaid procurements against federal procurement standards designed to promote competition and reduce risks of fraud. States and territories are generally not required to meet such standards. However, GAO and others have found that such standards can indicate whether a state's or territory's procurement process includes necessary steps to achieve fair competition. GAO found that seven of the eight selected Puerto Rico procurements did not include important steps to promote competition and mitigate the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, underscoring the need for federal oversight. Competitive procurements. The requests for proposals for two of the three competitive procurements GAO reviewed did not include certain information on factors used to evaluate proposals and make awards. In contrast, Puerto Rico's managed care procurement—the largest procurement reviewed—included this information. Noncompetitive procurements. None of the five noncompetitive procurements GAO reviewed documented circumstances to justify not using competitive procurements, such as a lack of competition or an emergency. Puerto Rico officials explained that territorial law allows noncompetitive procurement for professional services regardless of circumstances. Because CMS does not oversee Puerto Rico's procurement process, the agency lacks assurance that Puerto Rico's Medicaid program is appropriately managing the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. Procurements that did not include important steps to promote competition could have unnecessarily increased Medicaid costs, reducing funding for Medicaid services to beneficiaries. States' and U.S. territories' Medicaid procurement processes can directly affect their ability to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. A 2019 federal indictment alleging fraudulent Medicaid procurements in Puerto Rico has raised questions about the program's oversight. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review oversight of Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process and its use of competition. This report examines CMS oversight of Puerto Rico's procurement process from its initial steps through the award, and how it helps ensure competition. GAO reviewed federal regulations, guidance, and Puerto Rico's December 2020 procurement reform plan; interviewed Puerto Rico and federal officials; and reviewed eight awards that represented about 97 percent of the costs of Puerto Rico's procurements in effect as of April 2020. These procurements were selected based on variation in cost, use of competition, and other factors. GAO assessed whether CMS addressed risks in Puerto Rico's procurement process by reviewing selected procurements against certain federal standards that apply to other non-federal entities and aim to mitigate the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. GAO also assessed CMS's policies and procedures against federal internal control standards. GAO recommends that CMS implement risk-based oversight of the Medicaid procurement process in Puerto Rico. The Department of Health and Human Services concurred with this recommendation. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or YocomC@gao.gov.
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  • Aircraft Noise: Better Information Sharing Could Improve Responses to Washington, D.C. Area Helicopter Noise Concerns
    In U.S GAO News
    According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data for 2017 through 2019, over 50 helicopter operators conducted approximately 88,000 helicopter flights within 30 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (D.C. area), though limited data on noise from these flights exist. According to operators, these flights supported various missions (see table below). While the number of flights has decreased slightly over the 3 years reviewed, it is unknown whether there has been a change in helicopter noise in the area. For example, most stakeholders do not collect noise data, and existing studies of helicopter noise in the area are limited. D.C. area airspace constraints—such as lower maximum altitudes near urban areas—combined with proximity to frequently traveled helicopter routes and operational factors may affect the noise heard by residents. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-Reported Helicopter Flights Conducted in the Washington, D.C. Area by Operator Mission, 2017–2019 Operator mission Number of flights Military 32,890 (37.4 percent) Air medical 18,322 (20.9 percent) Other aviation activity 13,977 (15.9 percent)a State and local law enforcement 12,861 (14.6 percent) Federal law enforcement and emergency support 5,497 (6.3 percent) News 4,298 (4.9 percent) Source: GAO analysis of FAA data. | GAO-21-200 Note: In this table, we refer to the Washington, D.C. area as including the area within 30 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. aIncludes 666 flights for which FAA could not identify an operator or mission based on available historical records. FAA and operators reported taking steps to address public concerns about helicopter noise in the D.C. area. FAA receives and responds to complaints on helicopter noise from the public through its Noise Ombudsman and has recently developed online forms that improve FAA's ability to identify and respond to helicopter noise issues. Operators reported using FAA-recommended practices, such as flying at maximum altitudes and limiting night flights, to address helicopter noise in the D.C. area, but such practices are likely not feasible for operators with military, law enforcement, or air medical evacuation missions. FAA's and operators' approach to addressing these issues in the D.C. area is impeded because they do not consistently or fully share the information needed to do so. According to nearly all the operators we interviewed, FAA has not communicated with operators about helicopter noise or forwarded complaints to them. Similarly, operators often receive noise complaints from the public—some complaints are not directed to the correct operator—but do not typically share these complaints with FAA. As a result, operators have not consistently responded to residents' inquiries about helicopter noise and activity. By developing a mechanism for FAA and operators to share information, FAA could help improve responses to individual helicopter noise concerns and determine what additional strategies, if any, are needed to further address helicopter noise. Helicopter noise can potentially expose members of the public to a variety of negative effects, ranging from annoyance to more serious medical issues. FAA is responsible for managing navigable U.S. airspace and regulating noise from civil helicopter operations. Residents of the D.C. area have raised concerns about the number of helicopter flights and the resulting noise. GAO was asked to review issues related to helicopter flights and noise within the D.C. area. Among its objectives, this report examines: (1) what is known about helicopter flights and noise from flights in the D.C. area, and (2) the extent to which FAA and helicopter operators have taken action to address helicopter noise in the D.C. area. GAO reviewed statutes, regulations, policies, and documents on helicopter noise. GAO analyzed (1) available data on helicopter operations and noise in the D.C. area for 2017 through 2019, and (2) FAA's approach to responding to helicopter complaints. GAO also interviewed FAA officials; representatives from 18 D.C. area helicopter operators, selected based on operator type and number of flights; and 10 local communities, selected based on factors including geography and stakeholder recommendations. GAO recommends that FAA develop a mechanism to exchange helicopter noise information with operators in the D.C. area. FAA agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
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  • Woman Charged in For-Profit Visa Fraud and Alien Smuggling Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Nevada woman was arrested today for her alleged role in a multi-year scheme to commit visa fraud and money laundering, and to illegally bring Chinese nationals into the United States for financial gain.
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  • Colorado Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate Crime After Unprovoked Stabbing of Black Man
    In Crime News
    A Colorado man pleaded guilty today to a federal hate crime for stabbing a Black man from Ontario, Oregon while the man was sitting in a fast-food restaurant.
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    In Crime News
    A federal jury convicted a Virginia man today for downloading images and videos depicting children as young as four years old being sexually abused and for utilizing the Darknet to solicit and promote child pornography.
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  • Fake Title – Maintenance (4/18)
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO Email Notification Test We are testing our notification distribution process for GAO reports. If you are able to read this information the link contained in the email notification link worked. Please confirm that you received the email notification from GAOReports@gao.gov and used the link to access the prepublication site by contacting Andrea Thomas at thomasa@gao.gov (202) 512-3147 John Miller at millerj@gao.gov (202) 512-3672 Thank you
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    In Crime News
    A Nevada man was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in prison for producing images of child sexual abuse involving multiple minor victims under the age of 12 years old.
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  • Judges, Lawyers Bring Life Skills to Virtual Classroom Activities for Home and School
    In U.S Courts
    High school teachers can bring real-life civics into their virtual lessons when they invite federal judges and volunteer attorneys to facilitate a civil discourse and decision-making simulation with students at home or in the classroom this fall.
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  • Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin Delivers Remarks on Domestic Terrorism
    In Crime News
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  • Justice Department Requires Divestiture of Credit Karma Tax for Intuit to Proceed with Acquisition of Credit Karma
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it is requiring Intuit Inc. and Credit Karma Inc. (Credit Karma) to divest Credit Karma’s tax business, Credit Karma Tax, to Square Inc. in order for Intuit, the creator of TurboTax, to proceed with its $7.1 billion acquisition of Credit Karma.  The department said that without this divestiture, the proposed transaction would substantially lessen competition for digital do-it-yourself (DDIY) tax preparation products, which are software programs used by American taxpayers to prepare and file their federal and state returns.
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  • U.S. Ports of Entry: Update on CBP Public-Private Partnership Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    Since GAO's January 2020 report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security, continued to expand its public-private partnership programs—the Reimbursable Services Program (RSP) and the Donations Acceptance Program (DAP). The RSP allows partners, such as port authorities or local municipalities that own or manage ports, to reimburse CBP for providing services that exceed CBP's normal operations, such as paying overtime for CBP personnel that provide services at ports of entry (POE) outside regular business hours. The DAP enables partners to donate property or provide funding for POE infrastructure improvements. Regarding RSP, in 2020, CBP selected an additional 25 RSP applications for partnerships, bringing the total of RSP selections to 236 since 2013. There are many factors that CBP considers when reviewing applications for RSP including operational feasibility, and CBP may choose to not select certain applications. According to officials, CBP denied three RSP applications since GAO's January 2020 report. For example, CBP denied one application because the proposed agreement site was located too far away from the nearest CBP facility to make CBP officer travel time practicable. As of October 2020, CBP and its partners executed 157 memoranda of understanding (MOU) from RSP partnerships that they entered into from fiscal years 2013 through 2020. These MOUs outline how agreements are to be implemented at one or more POE. Of those 157 MOUs, 11 cover agreements at land POEs, 49 cover agreements at sea POEs, and 99 cover agreements at air POEs. The majority of MOUs executed since 2013 were at air POEs and focused on freight, cargo, and traveler processing. Although the number of RSP partnerships has increased, the growth in the total number of reimbursable CBP officer assignments, officer overtime hours, and the amount of reimbursed funds provided to CBP declined significantly in 2020. CBP officials explained that the decline in trade and travel at U.S. POEs contributed to the decline in requests for RSP services. Regarding DAP, in fiscal year 2020, CBP entered into one new donation acceptance partnership, bringing the total number of agreements to 39 since fiscal year 2015. Partners span a variety of sectors such as government agencies, private companies, and airline companies. Correspondingly, program donations served a variety of purposes such as expanding inspection facility infrastructure, providing biometric detection services, and providing luggage for canine training. As of October 2020, 27 out of 39 these projects, or 69 percent, were at land POEs. CBP officials estimated that the total value of all donations entered into between September 2015 and October 2020 was $218.2 million. On a daily basis in fiscal year 2020, over 650,000 passengers and pedestrians and nearly 78,000 truck, rail, and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately $6.6 billion entered the United States through 328 U.S. land, sea, and air POEs, according to CBP. To help meet demand for CBP inspection services, since 2013, CBP has entered into public-private partnerships under RSP and DAP. The Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2016 included a provision for GAO to annually review the agreements along with the funds and donations that CBP has received under RSP and DAP. GAO has issued three annual reports on the programs—in January 2020, March 2019, and March 2018. This fourth annual report updates key information from GAO's January 2020 report by examining the status of CBP public-private partnership program agreements, including the purposes for which CBP used the funds and donations from these agreements in fiscal year 2020. GAO collected and analyzed all RSP agreements, DAP agreements, and MOUs for both programs for fiscal years 2019 and 2020, excluding those analyzed in GAO's January 2020 report. GAO also analyzed data on use of the programs and interviewed CBP officials to identify any significant changes to how the programs are administered. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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  • National Consumer Bankruptcy Law Firm Agrees to Pay More than $300,000 in Relief to Consumers and to a Six-Year Practice Ban in Settlement with U.S. Trustee Program
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) has entered into a settlement with national consumer bankruptcy law firm Deighan Law LLC, previously known as Law Solutions Chicago and doing business as UpRight Law.
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  • Veterans Affairs: VA Needs to Address Persistent IT Modernization and Cybersecurity Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The 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 harriscc@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    A New York construction executive was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to 46 months in prison for evading taxes on more than $1.4 million in bribes he received from building subcontractors.
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    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today filed a civil lawsuit against the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) alleging that NAR established and enforced illegal restraints on the ways that REALTORS® compete.
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