Two Individuals Charged for their Roles in Massive Cattle Ponzi Scheme

A federal grand jury in Colorado returned an indictment that was unsealed Tuesday charging an Illinois woman and a Georgia man with running a Ponzi scheme that raised approximately $650 million from investors across the country.

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    What GAO Found The federal government has taken several actions to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses and indicated it expects to have enough doses available for all adults in the United States by the end of May. As of April 1, 2021, the government had purchased 1.2 billion doses of one- and two-dose regimen vaccines. Also, vaccine companies reported making additional manufacturing sites operational, among other actions to expand capacity and mitigate challenges. Federal officials said projecting future availability of vaccine doses can be difficult, in part because of uncertainty surrounding complex manufacturing processes. Given this uncertainty, coupled with the significant manufacturing and distribution increases needed to have enough vaccine doses available for all adults, managing public expectations is critical. GAO's prior work has found that timely, clear, and consistent communication about vaccine availability is essential to ensure public confidence and trust, especially as initial vaccine implementation did not match expectations. COVID-19 Vaccination Site Stakeholders GAO interviewed identified challenges with initial COVID-19 vaccine implementation. For example, some stakeholders said states often did not have information critical to distribution at the local level, such as how many doses they would receive and when. The federal government has begun initiatives—outlined in a national response strategy—to improve implementation, such as creating new vaccination sites. In its March 2021 distribution strategy, CDC provided a high-level description of its activities and noted that more details would be included in future reports to Congress. To meet the expectations set by recent announcements, such as the planned expansion of vaccine eligibility to all adults and the introduction of tools to help individuals find vaccines, it will be imperative that the federal government effectively coordinate and communicate its plans, as GAO recommended in September 2020. Why GAO Did This Study Providing the public with safe and effective vaccines to prevent COVID-19 is crucial to mitigating the public health and economic impacts of the disease. The U.S. had almost 30 million reported cases and over 545,000 reported deaths as of March 27, 2021. The federal government took a critical step in December 2020 in authorizing the first two COVID-19 vaccines and beginning distribution of doses across the nation. The government had distributed about 180.6 million vaccine doses, and about 147.8 million doses had been administered, as of March 27, 2021, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other issues, actions the federal government has taken to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses, and challenges with initial vaccine implementation—that is, prioritizing, allocating, distributing, and administering vaccine doses—identified by stakeholders and steps the federal government has taken to improve vaccine implementation. GAO reviewed documents from the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, transcripts of public briefings, data from CDC, and interviewed or received written responses from federal officials, vaccine company representatives, and select public health stakeholders. GAO incorporated technical comments from the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as appropriate. For more information, contact Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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    The Department of Energy (DOE) and its national labs have taken several steps to address potential barriers to technology transfer—the process of providing DOE technologies, knowledge, or expertise to other entities. GAO characterized these barriers as (1) gaps in funding, (2) legal and administrative barriers, and (3) lack of alignment between DOE research and industry needs. For example, the “valley of death” is a gap between the end of public funding and start of private-sector funding. DOE partly addresses this gap with its Technology Commercialization Fund, which provides grants of $100,000 to $1.5 million to DOE researchers to advance promising technologies with private-sector partners. Further, DOE's Energy I-Corps program trains researchers to commercialize new technologies and to identify industry needs and potential customers. However, DOE has not assessed how many and which types of researchers would benefit from such training. Without doing so, DOE will not have the information needed to ensure its training resources target the researchers who would benefit most. Illustration of Funding Gap for Commercializing New Technologies DOE plans and tracks the performance of its technology transfer activities by setting strategic goals and objectives and annually collecting department-wide technology transfer measures, such as the number of patented inventions and licenses. However, the department does not have objective and measurable performance goals to assess progress toward the broader strategic goals and objectives it developed. For example, without a performance goal for the number of DOE researchers involved in technology transfer activities and a measure of such involvement, DOE cannot assess the extent to which it has met its objective to encourage national laboratory personnel to pursue technology transfer activities. Internal control standards for government agencies call for management to define objectives in measurable terms, either qualitative or quantitative, so that performance toward those objectives can be assessed. Moreover, DOE has not aligned the 79 existing measures that it collects with its goals and objectives, nor has it prioritized them. Some lab stakeholders said that collecting and reporting these measures is burdensome. Prior GAO work has found that having a large number of performance measures may risk creating a confusing excess of data that will obscure rather than clarify performance issues. Researchers at DOE and its 17 national labs regularly make contributions to new energy technologies, such as more efficient batteries for electric vehicles. Technology transfer officials at the labs help these researchers license intellectual property and partner with private-sector companies to bring these technologies to market. However, several recent reports have highlighted barriers and inconsistencies in technology transfer at DOE, including a 2015 commission report that found barriers related to the costs of collaboration and low maturity level of many DOE technologies. This report examines (1) steps DOE has taken to address barriers to technology transfer and (2) the extent to which DOE plans and tracks the performance of its technology transfer and commercialization activities. GAO analyzed DOE documents on technology transfer and spoke with officials at DOE and seven national labs, as well as with representatives of universities and private-sector companies. GAO selected labs across a range of DOE activities and based on their technology transfer activities. GAO recommends that DOE assess researchers' needs for commercialization training and develop objective, quantifiable, and measurable performance goals and a limited number of related performance measures for its technology transfer efforts. DOE concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Candice Wright at (202) 512-6888 or WrightC@gao.gov.
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    Airlines serving Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Reagan National) are subject to, among other federal operational requirements, (1) a “perimeter rule,” limiting nonstop flights to a distance of 1,250 miles unless there is an exemption, and (2) a “slot” or operating authorization requirement for each takeoff and landing. GAO found that while the 40 daily beyond-perimeter flights to or from Reagan National accounted for about 6 percent of flights and 10 percent of passengers at the airport in 2019, the additional flights may have had some limited effects, including further reducing the airport's landside capacity (e.g., ticketing and gates). GAO's analysis of the Department of Transportation's (DOT) data from 2010 through 2019 showed that airlines used larger aircraft on beyond-perimeter flights carrying, on average, about 75 more passengers than within-perimeter flights. While these larger aircraft may use more capacity, they did not contribute to a substantial increase in flight delays at Reagan National. The beyond-perimeter flights may have also had other effects, such as drawing a few flights and passengers from Washington Dulles International Airport (Dulles). 2020 Beyond-Perimeter Flight Exemptions at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Several factors—existing slot control rules; capacity at Reagan National; and potential effects on noise, other area airports, passengers, and airline competition—should be considered in any decision to modify Reagan National's perimeter rule, according to GAO's prior work and stakeholder interviews. GAO examined these factors under three scenarios: (1) no changes to the current perimeter rule or beyond-perimeter flights, (2) adding a small number of beyond-perimeter flights, and (3) completely lifting the perimeter rule. Many stakeholders who provided a perspective did not support changes to the perimeter rule, citing concerns about increased congestion at Reagan National or drawing passengers from other airports, primarily Dulles. Some stakeholders supported adding a small number of beyond-perimeter flights, citing increased competition if airlines added service to existing routes. No stakeholders supported lifting the perimeter rule, saying it would disadvantage airlines with a small number of flights at Reagan National. Regardless of their position on the rule, many stakeholders said airlines would add beyond-perimeter flights if allowed. Reagan National's perimeter and slot control rules were designed in part, respectively, to help increase use of Dulles and manage congestion at Reagan National by limiting the number of flights. On three occasions—2000, 2003, and 2012—federal statutes have provided exemptions to the perimeter rule, collectively allowing 40 daily beyond-perimeter flights (20 round trips) at Reagan National. Of these exemptions, 32 were new beyond-perimeter flights and eight allowed airlines to convert existing slots to beyond-perimeter flights. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) operates Reagan National and Dulles, and DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversee these rules. GAO was asked to update its past work on the perimeter rule. This report describes (1) the effects of beyond-perimeter flights at Reagan National, and (2) key considerations if additional beyond-perimeter flights are allowed. GAO analyzed DOT data for the most recent 10-year period (2010 through 2019) on passengers and flights at Reagan National and Dulles, and MWAA data on airport capacity at Reagan National in 2019. GAO also reviewed relevant statutes and regulations, and interviewed DOT and FAA officials, and a non-generalizable sample of 32 stakeholders: 9 airlines, 4 airport authorities, 7 academics, 5 associations, 5 community groups, and 2 consumer advocates. Selected airlines included those that operate out of Reagan National or Dulles; other stakeholders were recommended or selected, in part, from prior GAO work and their expertise on the topic. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found About 1.6 percent of the total available budget authority government-wide was cancelled from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2019, averaging $23.9 billion per year. The variations in cancelled appropriations from year to year can be explained largely by trends in four departments. Together they represent 86 percent of the total government-wide cancelled appropriations, but their rate of cancellations were within a few percentage points of the government-wide rate. Four Agencies Represent the Majority of Total Cancellations from FY2009–FY2019 Cancelled appropriations for the six case study accounts GAO reviewed largely resulted from program-specific factors: Actual program needs were less than estimated. For example, actual versus projected troop levels and warfront movements can contribute to cancelled appropriations at the Department of Defense (DOD). Some program funds are only for specific purposes. For example, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families officials reported that some states declined funding for a teen sex and pregnancy prevention program, and the agency did not have the authority to redirect those funds for other purposes. Some programs' costs are more unpredictable than others. Contract and acquisition costs can be unpredictable . When final costs are less than originally estimated, agencies may have to cancel the difference. In contrast, agencies with a higher proportion of personnel expenses, which are relatively predictable, can more easily avoid cancelled appropriations. All of GAO's case study agencies have procedures in place to help limit discretionary cancelled appropriations. For example, the Army established a program that helps reduce cancelled appropriations by providing management with metrics and tools to help prevent them. Why GAO Did This Study Laws limit the time that agencies have available to use fixed-term appropriations for obligations and expenditures. However, agencies do not always obligate and outlay these funds in time, which ultimately results in cancelled appropriations. Efforts to limit the amount of cancelled appropriations result in more accurate budget estimation and fiscal projections, a more efficient appropriations process, and better service to the public. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review the status of cancelled appropriations. This report addresses (1) the extent of appropriations that were cancelled in fiscal years 2009 through 2019 and how the rate of cancelled appropriations and other characteristics differ across agencies, (2) factors that contribute to the level of cancelled appropriations in selected accounts at agencies, and (3) efforts selected agencies make to prevent the cancellation of funds. To provide government-wide trends, GAO analyzed Department of the Treasury and Office of Management and Budget data. GAO also analyzed related documents from six case study accounts at DOD, HHS, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and interviewed officials at these agencies. The selected accounts included the three with the most cancelled appropriations government-wide and three additional accounts to represent the major categories of federal spending: personnel, acquisitions, grants, and contracts. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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    Since April 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has submitted 33 requests for assistance (RFA) to the Department of Defense (DOD) for support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) mission at the southwest border. DOD established six criteria for evaluating RFAs, which it documents in decision packages. When reviewing four selected decision packages, GAO found that DOD fully evaluated four of these six criteria. GAO found that DOD developed rough cost estimates that were not reliable. In addition, DOD did not fully evaluate the effect on military readiness of providing support at the time the Secretary of Defense considered DHS's requests. Without reliable cost estimates and a timely readiness analysis, DOD is limited in its ability to evaluate the effect of supporting DHS on its budget and readiness rebuilding efforts. DOD's Detection and Monitoring Support Mission DOD has not provided Congress with timely information on the full costs it has incurred since 2018 in supporting DHS. Specifically, during this review, DOD did not submit its statutory report to Congress for fiscal year 2019, which was due March 31, 2020. Additionally, GAO found that DOD's internal tracking of obligations excludes potentially significant costs of border support activities, such as installation support costs and the cost of benefits retroactively provided to members of the National Guard. By providing more timely and complete information to Congress, DOD would enhance Congress's ability to conduct oversight and make funding decisions for DOD and DHS. DOD and DHS employed several key interagency collaboration practices for DOD's support on the southwest border, but they have not agreed on a common outcome for DOD's support in fiscal year 2021 and beyond. DHS anticipates needing at least the current amount of DOD support for the next 3 to 5 years, possibly more, and officials stated that the desired outcome is for DOD to provide the capabilities requested in the RFAs. This differs from DOD's desired outcome, which is to provide temporary assistance until DHS can independently execute its border security mission. Defining and articulating a common outcome for DOD's support could enable DOD to more effectively plan for the resources it will need to support DHS and enable DHS to plan to manage its border security mission more effectively with its own assets. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in February 2021. Information on force protection that DOD deemed sensitive has been omitted. For decades, the U.S. southwest border has been vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity such as illegal entries, smuggling of drugs and contraband, and terrorist activities. Since 2002, DOD has supported DHS's mission to secure the nation's borders and episodically supported its efforts to manage surges in foreign nationals without valid travel documents who are seeking entry—most recently since April 2018, when the President directed the Secretary of Defense to support DHS in securing the southwest border. GAO was asked to examine this support. This report assesses the extent to which (1) DOD has evaluated DHS's RFAs, (2) DOD has reported to Congress the full costs of its support, and (3) DOD and DHS have collaborated on border security operations. GAO reviewed RFAs that DHS submitted to DOD between April 2018 and March 2020 and a non-generalizable sample of decision packages that DOD prepared in response, and conducted four site visits to border locations where military personnel were stationed. GAO makes seven recommendations, five to DOD to improve its analysis and reporting of cost and unit-level readiness impacts of supporting southwest border operations and one each to DOD and DHS to define a common outcome for DOD's future support. DOD agreed with one recommendation and disagreed with five. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are warranted as discussed in the report. DHS agreed with the recommendation to it. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, the Department of Defense (DOD) for fiscal year 2019 underwent a financial statement audit. In the military services' full financial statement audit reports for fiscal year 2019, the independent public accountants reported serious control issues related to events that occur during the life cycle of real property, consisting of adding, disposing, reconciling, valuing, and performing physical inventory counts. These control issues affect not only the reliability of financial statement reporting but also the quality of property record data that DOD officials need to make decisions for budget and mission planning, space management, and buying versus leasing options. Further, with DOD having almost half of the government's buildings, better data could help the federal government identify opportunities to dispose of unneeded buildings and reduce lease costs, thus potentially saving it millions of dollars. DOD has not yet developed a comprehensive, department-wide strategy—an element of leading practices for enterprise-wide real property management—to address the reported real property issues. Instead, each of the military services is independently developing corrective actions to address control issues, without applying common solutions among the services or department-wide. A department-wide strategy for remediating control issues would better position DOD to develop sustainable, routine processes that help ensure accurate real property records and, ultimately, auditable information for financial reporting for the department. Additionally, a DOD-wide strategy could help the military services more effectively and efficiently address reported control issues, particularly for those categorized as DOD-wide issues. The Acting Secretary, noting that the services had not accurately accounted for DOD's buildings and structures, required existence and completeness (E&C) verifications to be performed for all real property for fiscal year 2019. Given the lack of department-wide instructions for how to carry out the requirement, the military services independently developed approaches for performing the E&C verifications. Their approaches differed in both scope (what assets were verified) and methodology (how the assets were verified), including the extent to which instructions were written. Reporting and monitoring of the results by service and department-level management also differed. Without department-wide instructions for performing the fiscal year 2019 E&C verifications, the results were not comparable among the military services. Further, DOD and the military services did not obtain the complete and consistent information needed to create a DOD real property baseline or to help ensure that the department's real property records are reliable. DOD-wide instructions would help DOD obtain complete and comparable E&C verifications results, which would help DOD achieve an auditable real property baseline and, ultimately, its objective of an unmodified (“clean”) audit opinion. DOD manages one of the federal government's largest portfolios of real property. This engagement was initiated in connection with the statutory requirement for GAO to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements. DOD's uncorrected deficiencies, including those affecting real property, prevent DOD from having auditable financial statements, one of the three major impediments preventing GAO from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. This report (1) identifies the real property control issues that independent public accountants reported that may affect the ability of the military services to establish and maintain accurate and complete real property records, (2) examines the extent to which DOD had a strategy to address the control issues, and (3) assesses the extent to which DOD provided guidance for the required E&C verifications during fiscal year 2019 and how each military service implemented the directive. GAO analyzed fiscal year 2019 audit findings, reviewed key DOD documents, and interviewed DOD and military service officials. GAO is recommending that DOD (1) develop and implement an enterprise-wide strategy to remediate real property control issues and (2) issue DOD-wide instructions for the E&C verifications. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or kociolekk@gao.gov.
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  • Military Housing: Actions Needed to Improve the Process for Setting Allowances for Servicemembers and Calculating Payments for Privatized Housing Projects
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has established a process to determine basic allowance for housing (BAH) rates, which help cover the cost of suitable housing in the private sector for servicemembers. However, DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. GAO analysis found that 44 percent (788 of 1,806) of locations and housing types had fewer than the minimum sample-size target. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. DOD followed congressional requirements for calculating BAH reductions and payments to privatized housing projects. However, while the 2019 congressionally mandated payments lessened the financial effects of BAH reductions, as intended, they did not do so commensurate with the amount of the BAH reduction. GAO found that privatized housing projects received payments that were either over or under the amount of revenue lost from reductions made to BAH, in some cases by $1 million or more. (see figure) Number of Privatized Housing Projects and Amounts That Congressionally Mandated Payments Were Above or Below the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Reduction Estimate (in 2019) These distortions occurred because the legal requirements for calculating the BAH reduction and the congressionally mandated payments differ. Specifically, the law requires that the BAH reduction be a set dollar amount, regardless of location, while payments to privatized housing projects are required to differ by location. This required method of calculating the BAH reduction amounts is consistent with how prior reductions were calculated. According to DOD, BAH rates were reduced so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs, and that reduction amount was the same for servicemembers with the same pay grade and dependency status, regardless of location. Until Congress takes steps to ensure congressionally mandated payment calculations are consistent with how BAH reductions are calculated, some privatized housing projects will continue to receive more or less than was intended. DOD spent about $20 billion in fiscal year 2019 on BAH—often one of the largest components of military pay. BAH is designed to cover a portion of servicemembers' housing rental and utility costs in the private sector. Starting in 2015, DOD reduced BAH rates so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs. The majority of servicemembers rely on the civilian housing market, while others rely on government housing or privatized housing projects. These projects rely on BAH as a key revenue source. In 2018-2020, Congress required DOD to make payments to these projects to help offset the BAH reduction. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's BAH process. This report evaluates, among other things, the extent to which (1) DOD established a process to determine BAH and (2) DOD's congressionally mandated payments to projects lessened the effects of BAH reductions. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant guidance and other documents, analyzed key data, and interviewed cognizant DOD officials. GAO is making a matter for congressional consideration to revise statutory language to ensure payments to privatized housing projects are consistent with BAH reductions. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOD review its sampling methodology to increase sample size. DOD concurred with two recommendations. DOD also partially concurred with one recommendation, which GAO continues to believe is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Maternal Mortality and Morbidity: Additional Efforts Needed to Assess Program Data for Rural and Underserved Areas
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