The United States has seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com,” two websites that were unlawfully utilized by Kata’ib Hizballah, a Specially Designated National and a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
“Seizures like these are critical to preventing designated entities and terrorist organizations from using U.S. websites to recruit new members and promote their twisted world views,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “While this case is a reminder that terrorists don’t need to step foot in our country to further their aims, today’s actions show that the Department will do what it takes to stop them.”
“We will be steadfast in protecting our electronic infrastructure and commerce system from use by terrorist groups,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak of the Northern District of Georgia. “This seizure shows that we will continue to leverage our national reach to stop these groups from using U.S.-based resources to further their terrorist agenda.”
“The internet is continuously updating with new threats to our nation’s safety, but we will continue to rise and meet this challenge,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The success of this seizure should serve as a message to others that would threaten the safety of our communities: We will continue to fight terror groups and their propaganda no matter the domain.”
“The Bureau of Industry and Security’s Office of Export Enforcement will continue to aggressively disrupt Iranian backed terrorist organizations such as Kata’ib Hizballah from utilizing U.S. based online networks and services in violation of U.S. law,” said P. Lee Smith, Performing the Non-exclusive Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce. “The Bureau of Industry and Security is committed to protecting our war fighters and Allied Forces from terrorist acts of violence inspired and directed via online networks.”
On July 2, 2009, the U.S. Secretary of Treasury designated Kata’ib Hizballah, an Iran-backed terrorist group active in Iraq, as a Specially Designated National for committing, directing, supporting, and posing a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. On the same day, the U.S. Department of State designated Kata’ib Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for committing or posing a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism.
On Aug. 31, 2020, pursuant to a seizure warrant in the District of Arizona, the United States seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org.” “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org,” acted as Kata’ib Hizballah’s media arm and published internet communications such as videos, articles, and photographs. These communications included numerous articles designed to further Kata’ib Hizballah’s agenda, particularly destabilizing Iraq and recruiting others to join their cause. They also functioned as a live online television broadcast channel, “Al-etejah TV.” Portions of the communications expressly noted that they were published by Kata’ib Hizballah.
Within weeks, federal agents located the content from “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org” on “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com,” including the Kata’ib Hizballah flag and the words “Islamic Resistance, Kataib Hizbollah.” The content even included false information about COVID-19 designed to damage perception of the United States in the minds of Iraqi citizens and to destabilize the region to the benefit of Iran.
Federal law prohibits designated entities like Kata’ib Hizballah from obtaining or utilizing goods or services, including website and domain services, in the United States without a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com” are domain names that are owned and operated by a United States company based in Reston, Virginia. Kata’ib Hizballah did not obtain a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control prior to utilizing the domain names.
On Oct. 14, 2020, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, the United States seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com.” Visitors to the site received the following message:
This seizure was investigated by the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Northern District of Georgia, Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Eastern District of Virginia, and trial lawyers from the Department of Justice National Security Division prosecuted the seizure.
- Immigration Detention: ICE Efforts to Address COVID-19 in Detention FacilitiesBy Sam NewsJuly 1, 2021What GAO Found To guide immigration detention facilities' response to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) developed the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Requirements. These protocols address facility intake processing, screening and testing, and social distancing, among other requirements. According to officials from six selected facilities, these requirements were routinely implemented. However, some reported that quarantine of detainees was difficult at times due to infrastructure limitations, and detainee compliance with mask wearing was an ongoing challenge. As of March 2021, individual facilities were generally responsible for working directly with state and local health authorities to administer COVID-19 vaccines to detainees. Number of Reported COVID-19 Cases among Detainees in ICE Detention Facilities To oversee detention facilities' management of COVID-19, ICE administers a recurring survey to assess their implementation of the Pandemic Response Requirements. According to ICE, field officials review the survey responses and follow up with facilities on areas requiring attention. Officials told GAO the survey helped identify areas of potential noncompliance, but also noted some challenges, such as a lack of on-site facility monitoring to validate responses. In December 2020, ICE revised the survey to obtain more information on facilities' adherence to requirements and implemented an on-site compliance check. As of March 2021, officials reported three monthly surveys were completed, plans for corrective actions were initiated at 11 facilities, and they plan to review survey data more systematically for trends. ICE identifies and tracks COVID-19 cases among detainees in its custody as well as those detainees determined to be at high-risk for severe illness due to COVID-19. In calendar year 2020, ICE tested 80,200 detainees for COVID-19, identified 8,622 positive cases (10.8 percent), and recorded eight deaths. ICE further identified 14,729 high-risk detainees in its custody nationwide among whom 528 (3.6 percent) tested positive for COVID-19. Why GAO Did This Study Detention facilities can present a challenging environment to manage the risk of transmission of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. ICE, within the Department of Homeland Security, is the lead federal agency responsible for providing safe, secure, and humane confinement for detained individuals of foreign nationality while they wait for resolution of their immigration cases, or removal from the United States. As of March 2021, ICE confirmed over 10,000 cases of COVID-19 among detainees within its detention facilities nationwide and recorded eight deaths. This report examines: (1) ICE's policies and procedures for responding to COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities and how they were implemented at select facilities; (2) ICE's mechanisms for conducting oversight of COVID-19 related health and safety measures; and (3) ICE's data on COVID-19 cases and identified high-risk health factors among detainees. GAO interviewed officials in ICE headquarters and from a non-generalizable sample of six ICE detention facilities selected on the basis of geographic location, facility type, and average population. GAO reviewed ICE's Pandemic Response Requirements for detention facilities and oversight mechanisms, and analyzed ICE data on COVID-19 cases and high-risk detainees in its custody between January 2020 and March 2021. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Economic Development: Opportunities Exist for Further Collaboration among EDA, HUD, and USDABy Sam NewsJuly 31, 2021What GAO Found Federal economic development programs and state business incentives approach economic development in different ways. In GAO's review of six large state business incentive packages ($50 million or more) in four states, federal economic development program funds were not directly used. Reasons for limited use could include differences in purposes and goals, and limitations on how federal funds can be used. For example, the goals of economic development programs administered by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not completely align with the goals of state business incentives, the latter of which include attracting and retaining individual businesses. Although these incentive packages were not funded with federal economic development program funds, some of the businesses that received a large incentive package were highlighted in federal strategic plans as opportunities for investment and job growth in the local economy. The economic development programs of EDA, HUD, and USDA each encourage or require state and local communities to conduct strategic planning, which includes obtaining input from a range of public and private stakeholders and identifying ways to leverage other available resources, such as federal and state funding. Recognizing the similarities in what they require of grantees, in 2016, EDA and HUD entered into an interagency agreement to align planning requirements under their programs. The agencies implemented certain aspects of the agreement, such as issuing joint guidance to applicants. However, they have not implemented selected leading practices for effective interagency collaboration: Updating written agreements: EDA and HUD have not regularly monitored or updated their interagency agreement to reflect changing priorities of either agency. Officials stated the agencies have prioritized other areas for coordination, such as disaster relief, instead of state and local strategic planning processes. Including relevant participants: EDA and HUD have made limited efforts to involve USDA in their collaborative efforts. USDA also encourages strategic planning for local communities. Monitoring progress towards outcomes: EDA and HUD's agreement identifies specific outcomes, including effectively aligning federal, state, and local resources for economic development. However, the agencies have not monitored progress or addressed any related challenges in meeting the stated outcomes of the collaboration. By incorporating selected leading practices for effective collaboration, EDA and HUD can help grantees and local communities better manage fragmented efforts to meet federal requirements for strategic planning and more effectively align federal and state resources. Why GAO Did This Study States spend billions of dollars annually in business incentives to attract and retain individual businesses or industries. EDA, HUD, and USDA administer programs that support states' economic development goals and encourage strategic planning. In previous reports, we have identified concerns related to fragmentation in these agencies' efforts to collaborate on economic development programs with each other. GAO was asked to review issues related to these state and federal economic development efforts. This report examines the use of federal economic development programs to support state business incentives and how selected federal agencies collaborate on these programs, among other issues. GAO reviewed information on federal economic development programs and business incentives in four states (selected because the states offer incentives of $50 million or more and vary geographically). GAO interviewed federal and state agency officials and policy organizations.[Read More…]
- China Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsIn TravelSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to the [Read More…]
- Foreign Assistance: Reporting of Defense Articles and Services Provided through Drawdowns Needs to Be ImprovedBy Sam NewsAugust 23, 2021Since 1961, the President has had special statutory authority to order the "drawdown" of defense articles--such as aircraft, vehicles, various weapons, and spare parts--and services or military education and training from Department of Defense (DOD) and military service inventories and transfer them to foreign countries or international organizations. Drawdowns give the President the ability to respond to U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives, such as counternarcotics efforts, peacekeeping needs, and unforeseen military and nonmilitary emergencies, by providing military assistance without first seeking additional legislative authority or appropriations from Congress. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency's reports to Congress on the costs and delivery status of drawdowns are inaccurate and incomplete. Two principal problems contribute to the agency's inability to meet the reporting requirements. First, its information system for recording drawdown data is outmoded and difficult to use--service drawdown reports are in different formats, and any conversion errors have to be manually corrected. Second, the services do not regularly provide updates to the agency on drawdown costs and deliveries, and available information sometimes does not get into the system. Drawdowns benefit the United States and foreign recipients primarily by providing the President the flexibility to address foreign policy and national security objectives quickly. Drawdowns also allow the President to provide defense articles and services to improve foreign recipients' capability to conduct military and police missions in support of U.S. foreign policy. Other benefits cited include improved military-to-military relations between the U.S. military services and the foreign recipients and expanded markets for U.S. defense firms. According to U.S. and foreign military officials, the use of drawdowns presents some concerns. Because drawdowns are used to quickly address U.S. national interests and emergencies, the costs associated with a drawdown, such as refurbishment and transportation, are not budgeted for by the services and are not reimbursed.[Read More…]
- [Protest of Army Contract Award for Artillery Testing Services]By Sam NewsAugust 12, 2021A firm protested an Army contract award for artillery testing services, contending that the Army: (1) should have rejected the awardee's bid as nonresponsive, since its pricing scheme deviated from the solicitation's specifications; and (2) improperly considered the awardee's discounted price in its evaluation of labor costs. GAO held that the: (1) Army reasonably determined that the awardee's bid represented the lowest overall cost to the government; and (2) awardee's pricing scheme did not prejudice the protester. Accordingly, the protest was denied.[Read More…]
- Electrical Engineer Sentenced to More Than Five Years in Prison for Conspiring to Illegally Export to China Semiconductor Chips with Military UsesBy Sam NewsJuly 22, 2021A California man was sentenced today to 63 months, or more than five years, in prison for his role in a scheme to illegally export integrated circuits with military applications to China the required filing of electronic export information. As part of his sentence, the Judge ordered Shih to pay $362,698 in restitution to the IRS and fined him $300,000.[Read More…]
- Warfighter Support: DOD Needs to Improve Its Planning for Using Contractors to Support Future Military OperationsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021Contractors provide a broad range of support to U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, with the number of contractors at times exceeding the number of military personnel in each country. The Department of Defense (DOD) has acknowledged shortcomings in how the role of contractors was addressed in its planning for Iraq and Afghanistan. In its report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, the Senate Armed Services Committee directed GAO to assess DOD's development of contract support plans. This report examines (1) what progress DOD has made in developing operational contract support annexes for its operation plans, (2) the extent to which contract requirements are included in other sections of operation plans, and (3) DOD's progress in establishing a long-term capability to include operational contract support requirements in operation plans. GAO reviewed DOD policies, selected operation plans and annexes, and interviewed officials at the combatant commands, the Joint Staff, and Office of the Secretary of Defense.Although DOD guidance has called for combatant commanders to include an operational contract support annex--Annex W--in their operation plans since February 2006, we found only four operation plans with Annex Ws have been approved and planners have drafted Annex Ws for an additional 30 plans. According to combatant command officials, most of the annexes drafted to date restated broad language from existing DOD guidance on the use of contractors to support deployed forces. Several factors help explain the difficulties planners face in identifying specific contract support requirements in Annex Ws. For example, most operation plans contained limited information on matters such as the size and capabilities of the military force involved, hindering the ability of planners to identify detailed contract support requirements. In addition, shortcomings in guidance on how and when to develop contract support annexes complicate DOD's efforts to consistently address contract requirements in operation plans and resulted in a mismatch in expectations between senior DOD leadership and combatant command planners regarding the degree to which Annex Ws will contain specific information on contract support requirements. Senior decision makers may incorrectly assume that operation plans have adequately addressed contractor requirements. As a result, they risk not fully understanding the extent to which the combatant command will be relying on contractors to support combat operations and being unprepared to provide the necessary management and oversight of deployed contractor personnel. According to combatant command officials, detailed information on operational contract support requirements is generally not included in other sections or annexes of the operation plans. Although DOD guidance underscores the importance of addressing contractor requirements throughout an operation plan, including the base plan and other annexes as appropriate, GAO found that nonlogistics personnel tend to assume that the logistics community will address the need to incorporate operational contract support throughout operation plans. For example, combatant command officials told GAO that they were not aware of any assumptions specifically addressing the potential use or role of operational contract support in their base plans. Similarly, according to DOD planners, there is a lack of details on contract support in other parts of most base plans or in the nonlogistics (e.g., communication or intelligence) annexes of operation plans. DOD has launched two initiatives to improve its capability to address operational contract support requirements in its operation plans, but these initiatives are being refined and their future is uncertain. DOD has placed joint operational contract support planners at each combatant command to assist with the drafting of Annex Ws. In addition, the department has created the Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office to help ensure that contract support planning is consistent across the department. For both initiatives, a lack of institutionalization in guidance and funding and staffing uncertainties have created challenges in how they execute their responsibilities.[Read More…]
- Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq: Conditions in Iraq Are Conducive to Fraud, Waste, and AbuseBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021This testimony discusses some of the systemic conditions in Iraq that contribute to the fraud, waste, or abuse of U.S.-provided funds. Since 2003, DOD has reported total costs of about $257.5 billion for military operations in Iraq; these have increased from about $38.8 billion in fiscal year 2003 to about $83.4 billion in fiscal year 2006. The largest increase has been in operation and maintenance expenses, including items such as support for housing, food, and services; the repair of equipment; and transportation of people, supplies and equipment. Many of the operation and maintenance expenses are for services. Other U.S. government agencies had reported obligations of $29 billion for Iraqi reconstruction and stabilization, as of October 2006. These funds have been used for, among other things, infrastructure repair of the electricity, oil, water, and health sectors; training and equipping of the Iraqi security forces; and administrative expenses. Specifically, the testimony focuses on (1) security, (2) management and reporting of the program to train and equip Iraqi security forces, (3) contracting and contract management activities, and (4) Iraqi capacity and commitment to manage and fund reconstruction and security efforts.Despite U.S. and Iraqi efforts to shift a greater share of the country's defense on Iraqi forces, the security situation continues to deteriorate. Poor security conditions have hindered the management of the more than $29 billion that has been obligated for reconstruction and stabilization efforts since 2003. Although the State Department has reported that the number of Iraqi army and police forces that has been trained and equipped has increased from about 174,000 in July 2005 to about 323,000 in December 2006, overall security conditions in Iraq have deteriorated and grown more complex. These conditions have hindered efforts to engage with Iraqi partners and demonstrate the difficulty in making political and economic progress in the absence of adequate security conditions. GAO's ongoing work has identified weaknesses in the $15.4 billion program to support the development and sustainment of Iraqi security forces. Sectarian divisions have eroded the dependability of many Iraqi units, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside the areas where they were recruited. Corruption and infiltration by militias and others loyal to parties other than the Iraqi government have resulted in the Iraqi security forces being part of the problem in many areas instead of the solution. While unit-level transition readiness assessments (TRA) provide important information on Iraqi security force capabilities, the aggregate reports DOD provides to Congress based on these assessments do not provide adequate information to judge the capabilities of Iraqi forces. The DOD reports do not detail the adequacy of Iraqi security forces' manpower, equipment, logistical support, or training and may overstate the number of forces on duty. Congress will need additional information found in the TRAs to assess DOD's supplemental request for funds to train and equip Iraqi security forces. DOD's heavy reliance on contractors in Iraq, its long-standing contract and contract management problems, and poor security conditions provide opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse. First, military commanders and senior DOD leaders do not have visibility over the total number of contractors who are supporting deployed forces in Iraq. As we have noted in the past, this limited visibility can unnecessarily increase costs to the government. Second, DOD lacks clear and comprehensive guidance and leadership for managing and overseeing contractors. In October 2005, DOD issued, for the first time, department-wide guidance on the use of contractors that support deployed forces. Although this guidance is a good first step, it does not address a number of problems we have repeatedly raised. Third, key contracting issues have prevented DOD from achieving successful acquisition outcomes. There has been an absence of well-defined requirements, and DOD has often entered into contract arrangements on reconstruction efforts and into contracts to support deployed forces that have posed additional risk to the government. Further, a lack of training hinders the ability of military commanders to adequately plan for the use of contractor support and inhibits the ability of contract oversight personnel to manage and oversee contracts and contractors in Iraq. Iraqi capacity and commitment to manage and fund reconstruction and security efforts remains limited. Key ministries face challenges in staffing a competent and non-partisan civil service, fighting corruption, and using modern technology. The inability of the Iraqi government to spend its 2006 capital budget also increases the uncertainty that it can sustain the rebuilding effort.[Read More…]
- Military Personnel: DOD Actions Needed to Improve the Efficiency of Mobilizations for Reserve ForcesBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021On September 14, 2001, President Bush proclaimed that a national emergency existed by reason of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Under section 12302 of title 10, United States Code, the President is allowed to call up to 1 million National Guard and Reserve members to active duty for up to 2 years. GAO was asked to review issues related to the call-up of reservists following September 11, 2001. GAO examined (1) whether the Department of Defense (DOD) followed existing operation plans when mobilizing forces, (2) the extent to which responsible officials had visibility over the mobilization process, and (3) approaches the services have taken to provide predictability to reservists. GAO also determined the extent to which the Ready Reserve forces, which make up over 98 percent of nonretired reservists, were available.About 300,000 of the 1.2 million National Guard and Reserve personnel have been called to active duty since September 11, 2001. They fought on the front lines in Iraq; tracked terrorists throughout Asia and Africa; maintained the peace in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and now Iraq; and participated in a wide range of domestic missions. However, DOD's process to mobilize reservists after September 11 had to be modified and contained numerous inefficiencies. Existing operation plans did not fully address the mobilization requirements needed to deal with the terrorist attacks or uncertain overseas requirements. For example, no previous requirements called for the extended use of National Guard and Reserve members to fly combat air patrols over the nation's capital and major cities. Because DOD could not rely on existing operation plans to guide its mobilizations, it used a modified process that relied on additional management oversight and multiple layers of coordination, which resulted in a process that was slower and less efficient than the traditional process. Under the modified process, the Secretary of Defense signed 246 deployment orders to mobilize over 280,000 reservists compared to the less than 10 deployment orders needed to mobilize over 220,000 reservists during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. DOD did not have visibility over the entire mobilization process primarily because it lacked adequate systems for tracking personnel and other resources. DOD's primary automated readiness reporting system could not adequately track the personnel and other resources within the small units that were frequently needed. Also, visibility was lost because some services' active and reserve systems for tracking personnel were incompatible, resulting in ad hoc coordination between active and reserve officials. Both groups often resorted to tracking mobilizations with computer spreadsheets. In addition, some reservists were deployed beyond dates specified in their orders or stayed on alert for more than a year and never mobilized because officials lost visibility. The services have used two primary approaches--predictable operating cycles and advance notification--to provide time for units and personnel to prepare for mobilizations. All the services provide predictability to portions of their forces through some type of standard operating cycle, but only the Air Force has a standard operating cycle that brings predictability to both its active and reserve forces. The Army prioritizes its units, and lower-priority units generally need extra training and preparation time before deploying. Yet, since September 11, a number of lower-priority units have been mobilized with relatively little advance notice. Despite the large number of lower-priority units within the Army Guard and Reserve, the Army does not have a standard operating cycle to provide predictability to its reserves. Without such a concept, the Army's opportunities to provide extra training and preparation time to its reserve forces are limited. Mobilizations were hampered because one-quarter of the Ready Reserve was not readily available for mobilization. Over 70,000 reservists could not be mobilized because they had not completed their training requirements, and the services lacked information needed to fully use the 300,000 pretrained IRR members.[Read More…]
- Maryland Lawyer Charged with Defrauding Financial Institutions and Other Entities to Obtain Control over $12.5 Million of Somali Sovereign AssetsBy Sam NewsDecember 3, 2020A Maryland lawyer was charged in an 11-count indictment for his alleged role in a scheme to fraudulently obtain control of more than $12.5 million that was held by financial institutions on behalf of the Somali government, to improperly take part of those funds for fees and expenses, and to launder a portion of those funds to accounts for the benefit of his co-conspirators.[Read More…]
- Defense Health Care: Efforts to Ensure Beneficiaries Access Specialty Care and Receive Timely and Effective CareBy Sam NewsDecember 22, 2020The Department of Defense (DOD) has a general expectation that its health care beneficiaries, upon receiving an urgent referral to see a specialist, will access that specialty care in 3 days or less. GAO's analysis of 16,754 urgent referrals at military treatment facilities (MTF) shows that DOD beneficiaries accessed specialty care services in 3 days or less for more than half of the urgent referrals. About 9 percent of the urgent referrals involved beneficiaries waiting 3 weeks or longer to be seen. According to DOD officials, some beneficiaries may have waited longer than 3 days due to factors such as patient preference, appointment availability, or waiting for lab results. Time to access care varied by specialty, with beneficiaries urgently referred to ophthalmology generally seeing a specialist the fastest, and those urgently referred to mental health and oncology generally waiting the longest. According to DOD officials, MTFs are responsible for monitoring beneficiaries' access to specialty care through urgent referrals. GAO found that the monitoring processes used varied by MTF and specialty care clinic at the five selected MTFs that GAO reviewed. For example, officials from one MTF told GAO they centrally manage all urgent referrals using a daily report to address any delays, while officials from another MTF told GAO that individual specialty care clinics are responsible for managing their own urgent referrals. DOD officials acknowledged such variation and MTFs have been directed to centralize their referral management and monitoring processes—an effort that is currently underway. GAO found that DOD monitors the rates at which beneficiaries receive timely and effective care, in part, through 10 outpatient health care quality measures. These measures allow DOD to make comparisons to civilian health care systems, and they are reviewed by various DOD groups at least quarterly. However, DOD officials told GAO that since October 2017, they have been unable to monitor nine of the 10 measures for MTFs using Military Health System (MHS) Genesis, DOD's new electronic health record system. According to the officials, DOD's current data warehouse—a system that stores some MHS Genesis data and can be used by MTFs to create reports on quality measures—is not capable of producing accurate reports for those measures. DOD officials told GAO they expect to implement a new data warehouse by the end of 2020. DOD officials also said they are importing data related to quality measures into another system used for quality monitoring; however, DOD does not have a targeted date for completing these data imports. Until these actions are fully implemented, groups responsible for monitoring quality care will continue to lack the data needed to offer assurance that the growing number of MTFs using MHS Genesis are providing beneficiaries with timely and effective care that will lead to better health outcomes. A draft of this report recommended that DOD establish a timeline to complete importing the quality measure-related data from MHS Genesis into DOD's system used for quality monitoring. In its review of the draft, DOD concurred with the recommendation and established a timeline for importing the data, to be available in DOD's system no later than May 2021. After reviewing the information DOD provided, GAO removed the recommendation from the final report. DOD is responsible for ensuring that beneficiaries have access to specialty care for conditions that, while not life-threatening, require immediate attention, as well as for ensuring that beneficiaries receive timely and effective care for certain routine or other services. A report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review the quality of health care in the MHS. This report examines (1) the timeliness with which beneficiaries access specialty care at MTFs through urgent referrals and DOD's efforts to monitor access, and (2) DOD's use of quality measures to monitor and improve the rates of timely and effective care received by beneficiaries at MTFs. GAO examined relevant policies, national DOD referral data (a total of 16,754 urgent referrals) for a 1-year period ending August 2019, and the most recent available quality measure data (April 2020). GAO interviewed officials from five MTFs, selected for variation in military services, geography, provision of select specialty services, and use of the electronic health record system. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Opening Remarks at the 2020 Life Sciences WorkshopBy Sam NewsSeptember 25, 2020“Light My Fire”: [Read More…]
- Rebuilding Iraq: Reconstruction Progress Hindered by Contracting, Security, and Capacity ChallengesBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) has relied extensively on contractors to undertake major reconstruction projects and provide support to its deployed forces, but these efforts have not always achieved desired outcomes. Further, the Iraqi government must be able to reduce violence, sustain reconstruction progress, improve basic services, and make a positive difference in the daily lives of the Iraqi people. This statement discusses (1) factors affecting DOD's ability to promote successful acquisition outcomes on its contracts for reconstruction and for support to deployed forces in Iraq, (2) the deteriorating security situation and the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, and (3) issues affecting the Iraqi government's ability to support and sustain future reconstruction progress. The testimony is based upon our work on Iraq reconstruction and stabilization efforts, DOD contracting activities, and DOD's use of support contractors spanning several years. This work was conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.The challenges faced by DOD on its reconstruction and support contracts often reflect systemic and long-standing shortcomings in DOD's capacity to manage contractor efforts. Such shortcomings result from poorly defined or changing requirements, the use of poor business arrangements, the absence of senior leadership and guidance, and an insufficient number of trained contracting, acquisition and other personnel to manage, assess and oversee contractor performance. In turn, these shortcomings manifest themselves in higher costs to taxpayers, schedule delays, unmet objectives, and other undesirable outcomes. For example, because DOD authorized contractors to begin work before reaching agreement on the scope and price of that work, DOD paid millions of dollars in costs that were questioned by the Defense Contract Audit Agency. Similarly, DOD lacks visibility on the extent to which they rely on contractors to support their operations. When senior military leaders began to develop a base consolidation plan, officials were unable to determine how many contractors were deployed and therefore ran the risk of over- or under-building the capacity of the consolidated bases. U.S. reconstruction efforts also continue to be hampered by a security situation that continues to deteriorate. Although the number of trained and equipped Iraqi security forces increased to about 323,000 in December 2006 and more Iraqi Army units have taken the lead for counterinsurgency operations, attacks on coalition and Iraqi security forces and civilians have all increased. Aggregate numbers of trained and equipped Iraqi forces, however, do not provide information on the capabilities and needs of individual units. GAO has made repeated attempts to obtain unit-level Transition Readiness Assessments (TRAs) without success. This information is essential for the Congress to make fully informed decisions in connection with its authorization, appropriations, and oversight responsibilities. As the U.S. attempts to turn over its reconstruction efforts, the capacity of the Iraqi government to continue overall reconstruction progress is undermined by shortfalls in the capacity of the Iraqi ministries, widespread corruption and the inability to fund and execute projects for which funds were previously budgeted. Iraqi government institutions are undeveloped and confront significant challenges in staffing a competent, nonaligned civil service; using modern technology; and managing resources and personnel effectively. For example, according to U.S. officials 20 to 30 percent of the Ministry of Interior staff are "ghost employees" whose salaries are collected by other officials. Further, corruption in Iraq poses a major challenge to building an effective Iraqi government and could jeopardize future flows of needed international assistance. Unclear budgeting and procurement rules have affected Iraq's efforts to spend capital budgets effectively and efficiently, according to U.S. officials. At the Ministry of Oil, for example, less than 1 percent of the $3.5 billion budgeted in 2006 for key enhancements to the country's oil production, distribution, and export facilities, had been spent as of August 2006.[Read More…]
- Three charged in conspiracy to purchase $500,000 in weapons for cartelBy Sam NewsIn Justice NewsJuly 29, 2021Three men are now facing [Read More…]
- Judges Focus on Diversity in Clerkship, Internship HiringBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsApril 29, 2021Federal judges are working to make highly sought-after law clerkships and judicial internships more accessible to a diverse pool of law students.[Read More…]
- Owner of Wedding Planning Company Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Relief FraudBy Sam NewsMay 19, 2021A Texas man pleaded guilty today to filing fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $3 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.[Read More…]
- Remarks at the Fifth Session of the UN Environment Assembly Leadership DialogueBy Sam NewsFebruary 26, 2021Ambassador Marcia [Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Mike Allen of Axios on HBO MaxBy Sam NewsJune 7, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Employee Benefits Security Administration: Enforcement Efforts to Protect Participants’ Rights in Employer-Sponsored Retirement and Health Benefit PlansBy Sam NewsMay 28, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Labor's (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) enforcement focuses on encouraging retirement and health plans to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, and restoring benefits that were improperly withheld from plan participants. To identify violations, EBSA investigates benefit plans and their service providers. Over two-thirds of investigation leads are identified by EBSA staff. EBSA prioritizes investigating cases that may result in large recoveries or affect many participants, such as restored retirement plan contributions or payment for incorrectly denied medical claims. When agreement cannot be reached, investigators can refer civil cases to DOL's Office of the Solicitor for civil litigation. Criminal cases are referred to Department of Justice. In fiscal year 2020, almost 84 percent of investigations were civil and more than 16 percent were criminal, resulting in over $3 billion in payments to participants and plans. EBSA uses a range of strategies to improve its investigative processes and seeks to ensure enforcement quality through training and oversight. For example, EBSA makes efforts to target investigations for greater impact, such as a 2013 change to prioritize cases with the potential to affect many participants and recover significant assets. As EBSA pursued more complex and technical investigations, the number of closed cases decreased, while monetary recoveries increased (see figure). To ensure investigation quality, EBSA provides training, documents procedures, and reviews open and closed cases to evaluate whether investigation procedures have been followed. Number of EBSA Investigations Closed and Monetary Recoveries, Fiscal Years 2011-2020 The COVID-19 pandemic created a number of immediate and long-term challenges for EBSA and benefit plans. For example, according to stakeholders, plans were initially concerned about how to implement provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, but those concerns were addressed as the agency issued FAQs and notices. Similarly, EBSA officials reported that court closures temporarily slowed criminal cases, but as virtual hearings increased, litigation resumed. Stakeholders and EBSA officials also described potential long-term challenges, including difficulties locating the many participants who may have left a job due to the pandemic and may be unaware they left behind retirement funds. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of Americans rely on employer benefits for their health care and future financial security. Private sector retirement plans are a key source of income for many retirees and employer-sponsored group health plans cover over one-half of all Americans. Consequently, effective oversight and enforcement are critically important to ensure the integrity of the private employee benefit system, especially in light of the economic and health effects of COVID-19 on American workers and their families. EBSA is charged with protecting the rights of participants in employer-sponsored benefit plans. As of fiscal year 2020, this included about 154 million participants in 722,000 retirement plans and 2.5 million health plans with combined assets of over $10.7 trillion. This report examines (1) how EBSA manages its enforcement process, (2) EBSA's strategies to improve investigative processes and ensure enforcement quality, and (3) the immediate and long-term challenges of COVID-19 for EBSA and private sector retirement and health plans. GAO analyzed EBSA data and documents; and federal laws, regulations, and guidance, including the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. GAO interviewed officials from EBSA's national office and three regional offices, selected for variation in investigations, and locations as well as stakeholders from nine organizations knowledgeable about benefits compliance requirements, the employer-sponsored benefit industry, and participants' benefit plan experiences. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Announces the Opening of Nominations for the Fifth Annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Community PolicingBy Sam NewsApril 30, 2021U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today announced the Department of Justice is now accepting nominations for the Fifth Annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Community Policing. These awards represent part of the Department of Justice’s on-going commitment to support the nation’s law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe.[Read More…]