September 22, 2021

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U.S. Foreign Service Member Indicted for Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in the Philippines and Possession of Child Pornography

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<div>A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment today charging a member of the U.S. Foreign Service with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and possession of child pornography.</div>
A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment today charging a member of the U.S. Foreign Service with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and possession of child pornography.

More from: August 3, 2021

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  • Defense Health Care: DOD Needs to Fully Assess Its Non-clinical Suicide Prevention Efforts and Address Any Impediments to Effectiveness
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has a variety of suicide prevention efforts that are implemented by the military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps). These include clinical prevention efforts that are generally focused on individual patient treatment and interventions, as well as non-clinical efforts that are intended to reduce the risk of suicide in the military population. This includes, for example, training servicemembers to recognize warning signs for suicide and encouraging the safe storage of items such as firearms and medications. Officials with DOD's Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) told GAO that most ongoing non-clinical efforts are evidence based. Officials added that a suicide prevention effort is considered to be evidence based if it has been assessed for effectiveness in addressing the risk of suicide in the military population, which has unique risk factors such as a higher likelihood of experiencing or seeing trauma. These officials stated that newer efforts are generally considered to be “evidence informed,” which means that they have demonstrated effectiveness in the civilian population, but are still being assessed in the military population. DSPO officials further explained that assessments of individual prevention efforts can be challenging because suicide is a complex outcome resulting from many interacting factors. In 2020, DSPO published a framework for assessing the collective effect of the department's suicide prevention efforts by measuring outcomes linked to specific prevention strategies, such as creating protective environments. However, this framework does not provide DOD with information on the effectiveness of individual non-clinical prevention efforts. Having a process to assess individual efforts would help DOD and the military services ensure that their non-clinical prevention efforts effectively reduce the risk of suicide and suicide-related behaviors. GAO also identified impediments that hamper the effectiveness of DOD's suicide prevention efforts, including those related to the reporting of suicide data. Definitions. The military services use different definitions for key suicide-related terms, such as suicide attempt, which may result in inconsistent classification and reporting of data. These data are used to develop the department's annual suicide event report. DOD officials stated that this could negatively affect the reliability and validity of the reported data, which may impede the department's understanding of the effectiveness of its suicide prevention efforts and limit its ability to identify and address any shortcomings. Annual suicide reports. DOD publishes two yearly suicide reports through two different offices that are based on some of the same data and provide some of the same information, resulting in the inefficient use of staff. While these reports serve different purposes, improved collaboration between the two offices could help minimize duplication of effort and improve efficiency, potentially freeing resources for other suicide prevention activities. Why GAO Did This Study Suicide is a public health problem facing all populations, including the military. From 2014 to 2019, the rate of suicide increased from 20.4 to 25.9 per 100,000 active component servicemembers. Over the past decade, DOD has taken steps to address the growing rate of suicide in the military through efforts aimed at prevention. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's suicide prevention programs. This report examines DOD's suicide prevention efforts, including, among other objectives, (1) the extent to which non-clinical efforts are assessed for being evidence based and effective and (2) any impediments that hamper the effectiveness of these efforts. GAO examined suicide prevention policies, reports, and assessments and interviewed officials from DOD, the military services, and the Reserve components. GAO also interviewed officials at four installations and a National Guard site selected for variety in military service, location, and size.
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  • VA Construction: VA Should Enhance the Lessons-Learned Process for Its Real-Property Donation Pilot Program
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has received one real property donation through a partnership pilot program authorized by the Communities Helping Invest through Property and Improvements Needed for Veterans Act of 2016 (CHIP-IN Act) and is planning for a second. This Act authorized VA to accept donated real property—such as buildings or facility construction or improvements—and to contribute certain appropriated funds to donors that are entering into donation agreements with VA. Under VA's interpretation, its ability to contribute to such funds is limited to major construction projects (over $20 million). The first CHIP-IN project—an ambulatory care center in Omaha, Nebraska—opened in August 2020. Pending requested appropriations for a second CHIP-IN project, VA intends to partner with another donor group to construct an inpatient medical center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (See figure.) Other potential donors have approached VA about opportunities that could potentially fit the CHIP-IN pilot, but these project ideas have not proceeded for various reasons, including the large donations required. VA officials told us they have developed a draft legislative proposal that seeks to address a challenge in finding CHIP-IN partnerships. For example, officials anticipate that a modification allowing VA to make funding contributions to smaller projects of $20 million and under would attract additional donors. Completed Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Ambulatory Care Center in Omaha, NE, and Rendering of Proposed Inpatient Facility in Tulsa, OK VA has discussed and documented some lessons learned from the Omaha project. For example, VA officials and the Omaha donor group identified and documented the benefits of a design review software that helped shorten timeframes and reduce costs compared to VA's typical review process. However, VA has not consistently followed a lessons-learned process, and as a result, other lessons, such as the decision-making that went into developing the Omaha project's donation agreement, have not been documented. Failure to document and disseminate lessons learned puts VA at risk of losing valuable insights from the CHIP-IN pilot that could inform future CHIP-IN projects or other VA construction efforts. VA has pressing infrastructure demands and a backlog of real property projects. VA can accept up to five real property donations through the CHIP-IN pilot program, which is authorized through 2021. GAO previously reported on the CHIP-IN pilot program in 2018. The CHIP-IN Act includes a provision for GAO to report on donation agreements entered into under the pilot program. This report examines: (1) the status of VA's efforts to execute CHIP-IN partnerships and identify additional potential partners and (2) the extent to which VA has collected lessons learned from the pilot, among other objectives. GAO reviewed VA documents, including project plans and budget information, and interviewed VA officials, donor groups for projects in Omaha and Tulsa, and selected non-profits with experience in fundraising. GAO compared VA's efforts to collect lessons learned with key practices for an overall lessons-learned process. GAO is making two recommendations to VA to implement a lessons-learned process. Recommendations include documenting and disseminating lessons learned from CHIP-IN pilot projects. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • Supplemental Security Income: SSA Faces Ongoing Challenges with Work Incentives and Improper Payments
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Social Security Administration (SSA) has undertaken several efforts to encourage employment for individuals with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and who would like to work, but few benefit from these supports. Work incentives and supports for transition-age youth. SSA administers work incentives and other employment supports for transition-age youth (ages 14 to 17) on SSI. These supports encourage work by allowing these youth to keep at least some of their benefits even if they have earnings. In 2017, GAO analysis of SSA data from 2012 to 2015 found that less than 1.5 percent of SSI youth benefitted from these incentives. According to SSA and other officials, this may be because SSI youth and their families are often unaware of or do not understand the incentives, and may fear that work will negatively affect their benefits or eligibility. Work incentives for working-age adults. The Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program (Ticket) is a voluntary program that was established to assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining and retaining employment, and help reduce dependency on benefits. Preliminary GAO analysis of Ticket indicates that SSI recipients participated more often than other disability beneficiaries, and benefited modestly from the program. GAO analysis of SSA data from 2002 to 2015 found, 5 years after participating in Ticket, about 4 percent of SSI participants had left the disability rolls due to earnings from work, compared with 2 percent of nonparticipants who were similar in characteristics such as age, disability type, and education. However, earnings for SSI Ticket participants remained low. GAO's analysis of data from 2002 to 2018 shows that average earnings for SSI Ticket participants, 5 years after participating, were $3,940 per year, including 57 percent who did not report any earnings at all. GAO's preliminary work also indicates that Ticket participants face a number of challenges to returning to work, including their primary disabling condition, which may not improve sufficiently to allow for fulltime employment, and disincentives to work such as the loss of cash and medical benefits. Prior and ongoing GAO work has identified issues with SSA's efforts to reduce improper payments, including overpayments, to SSI beneficiaries in general and beneficiaries who are working in particular. Overpayments can occur when beneficiaries who work do not timely report earnings to SSA or SSA delays in adjusting their benefit amounts. SSA reported that SSI's overpayment rate in fiscal year 2019 was estimated at 8.13 percent, higher than other SSA programs. Further, SSA reported it made approximately $4.6 billion in SSI overpayments in fiscal year 2019. Overpayments may have to be repaid, which may be burdensome for recipients, especially those who were not aware that they were overpaid and already spent the money. While SSA has taken steps to reduce overpayments, SSA's Office of Inspector General found that SSA had not resolved lags in updating information on beneficiaries' earnings. In addition, SSA has not implemented a 2020 GAO priority recommendation that it develop and implement a process to measure the effectiveness of its corrective actions for improper payments, including overpayments. Why GAO Did This Study SSI is a federal assistance program administered by SSA that provides cash benefits to certain individuals who are elderly, blind, or have a disability. SSI acts as a safety net for individuals who have limited resources and little or no other income. As such, SSI is a means-tested program. As of July 2021, approximately 71 percent of SSI beneficiaries were children or working-age individuals with disabilities. SSA faces longstanding challenges related to administering SSI and its other disability programs. GAO has issued multiple reports with recommendations on how SSA might address these challenges. This testimony describes SSA's challenges with (1) incentivizing employment for SSI recipients who wish to work, and (2) preventing improper payments to SSI recipients, including overpayments. This statement is based primarily on prior GAO reports issued between 2010 and 2021, as well as preliminary observations from an ongoing GAO review of the Ticket program. To conduct the work for these reports and the ongoing review, GAO used a variety of methods including analyzing data; reviewing relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; reviewing key agency documents, such as SSA's strategic plan and annual SSI stewardship reports; and interviewing experts and SSA officials. For more information, contact Elizabeth H. Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
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  • Afghanistan Security: Some Improvements Reported in Afghan Forces’ Capabilities, but Actions Needed to Enhance DOD Oversight of U.S.-Purchased Equipment
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Since the Resolute Support mission began in 2015, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have improved some fundamental capabilities, such as high-level operational planning, but continue to rely on U.S. and coalition support to fill several key capability gaps, according to Department of Defense (DOD) reporting. DOD has initiatives to address some ANDSF capability gaps, such as a country-wide vehicle maintenance and training effort, but DOD reports it does not expect the ANDSF to develop and sustain independent capabilities in some areas, such as logistics, for several years. Examples of U.S.-Purchased Equipment for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces While DOD has firsthand information on the abilities of the Afghan Air Force and Special Security Forces to operate and maintain U.S.-purchased equipment, it has little reliable information on the equipment proficiency of conventional ANDSF units. U.S. and coalition advisors are embedded at the tactical level for the Air Force and Special Security Forces, enabling DOD to directly assess those forces' abilities. However, the advisors have little direct contact with conventional ANDSF units on the front lines. As a result, DOD relies on those units' self-assessments of tactical abilities, which, according to DOD officials, can be unreliable. GAO's analysis of three critical equipment types illustrated the varying degrees of DOD's information (see figure above). For example, DOD provided detailed information about the Air Force's ability to operate and maintain MD-530 helicopters and the Special Security Forces' ability to operate and maintain Mobile Strike Force Vehicles; however, DOD had limited information about how conventional forces operate and maintain radios and Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. DOD's lack of reliable information on conventional forces' equipment operations and maintenance abilities adds to the uncertainty and risk in assessing the progress of DOD efforts in Afghanistan. Why GAO Did This Study Developing independently capable ANDSF is a key component of U.S. and coalition efforts to create sustainable security and stability in Afghanistan under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led Resolute Support mission. The United States is the largest contributor of funding and personnel to Resolute Support, providing and maintaining ANDSF equipment, along with training, advising, and assistance to help the ANDSF effectively use and sustain the equipment in the future. House Report 114-537 included a provision for GAO to review the ANDSF's capability and capacity to operate and sustain U.S.-purchased weapon systems and equipment. This report addresses (1) what has been reported about ANDSF capabilities and capability gaps and (2) the extent to which DOD has information about the ANDSF's ability to operate and maintain U.S.-purchased equipment. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed DOD and NATO reports and documents, examined three critical equipment types, and interviewed DOD officials in the United States and Afghanistan. This is a public version of a sensitive report issued in September 2018. Information that DOD deemed sensitive has been omitted.
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  • Countering Violent Extremism: DHS Can Further Enhance Its Strategic Planning and Data Governance Efforts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found DHS's 2019 Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence and the related plans—collectively referred to as the strategy—outline the department's vision for all DHS counterterrorism activities. In prior work, GAO has identified seven elements of a comprehensive strategy. GAO found that DHS's strategy contains some but not all of the key elements (see figure). For example, GAO found that DHS's strategy included a mission statement, and a set of goals that were in turn linked to objectives and priority actions. However, the strategy did not include a discussion of external factors such as how the economy, demographics, or emerging technologies may affect the department in meeting its goals. By identifying and assessing such external factors, DHS would be better positioned to proactively mitigate such factors or plan for contingencies, if needed. Extent to Which DHS's Strategy for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence Included the Seven Elements of a Comprehensive Strategy DHS has taken some steps to establish a data governance framework, which helps ensure that an agency's data assets are transparent, accessible, and of sufficient quality to support its mission. For example, DHS established a data governance council to manage various data priority areas, however it has not yet completed actions to include targeted violence and terrorism prevention data into its department-wide framework. DHS has already identified some data challenges, such as the lack of comprehensive, national-level statistics on terrorism and targeted violence that underscore the need for a data governance framework. By incorporating targeted violence and terrorism prevention data into its broader data governance framework, DHS would be better able to leverage data to support and inform its prevention efforts, including building effective policy to address the threats and trends it identifies in the data. Why GAO Did This Study Data collected through the Extremist Crime Database show that there were 81 fatal violent extremist attacks in the United States from 2010 through 2020, resulting in 240 deaths. Since 2010, DHS has developed strategic initiatives that address targeted violence and terrorism prevention, which include efforts to counter violent extremism, among other things. GAO was asked to review DHS's longer-term efforts to prevent terrorism and targeted violence. This report examines the extent to which (1) DHS's 2019 strategy to address targeted violence and terrorism prevention includes key elements of a comprehensive strategy, and (2) DHS has developed a data governance framework to help implement its strategy. GAO reviewed DHS documentation and compared DHS's strategy to identified elements of a comprehensive strategy, and compared DHS's efforts to develop a data governance framework to federal requirements for implementing data governance.
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  • Economic Development: Opportunities Exist for Further Collaboration among EDA, HUD, and USDA
    In U.S GAO News
    What 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.
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  • COVID-19: Federal Efforts Accelerate Vaccine and Therapeutic Development, but More Transparency Needed on Emergency Use Authorizations
    In U.S GAO News
    Through Operation Warp Speed—a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD)—the federal government is accelerating efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. A typical vaccine development process can take approximately 10 years or longer, but efforts under Operation Warp Speed seek to greatly accelerate this process by completing key steps simultaneously (see figure). As of October 15, 2020, Operation Warp Speed publicly announced financial support for the development or manufacturing of six COVID-19 vaccine candidates totaling more than $10 billion in obligations. It has also announced financial support for the development of therapeutics, such as a $450 million award to manufacture a monoclonal antibody treatment (a treatment that uses laboratory-made antibodies, which also may be able to serve as a prevention option). Operation Warp Speed Timeline for a Potential Vaccine Candidate Note: An Emergency Use Authorization allows for emergency use of medical products without FDA approval or licensure during a declared emergency, provided certain statutory criteria are met. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may temporarily allow the use of unlicensed or unapproved COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics through emergency use authorizations (EUA), provided there is evidence that the products may be effective and that known and potential benefits outweigh known and potential risks. For vaccines, FDA issued guidance in October 2020 to provide vaccine sponsors with recommendations regarding the evidence FDA needed to support issuance of an EUA. For therapeutics, FDA has issued four EUAs as of November 9, 2020. The evidence to support FDA's COVID-19 therapeutic authorization decisions has not always been transparent, in part because FDA does not uniformly disclose its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data for EUAs, as it does for approvals for new drugs and biologics. Given the gravity of the pandemic, it is important that FDA identify ways to uniformly disclose this information to the public. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. The U.S. had about 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths as of November 12, 2020. Given this catastrophic loss of life as well as the pandemic's effects on the U.S. economy, effective and safe vaccines and therapeutics are more important than ever. 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, (1) efforts of Operation Warp Speed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic development; and (2) FDA's use of EUAs for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, among other objectives. GAO reviewed federal laws and agency documents, including HHS and DOD information on vaccine and therapeutic development and EUAs as of November 2020. GAO interviewed or received written responses from HHS and DOD officials, and interviewed representatives from vaccine developers and manufacturers, as well as select public health stakeholders and provider groups covering a range of provider types. FDA should identify ways to uniformly disclose to the public the information from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO's goal of transparency and would explore approaches to achieve this goal. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov, or Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    Pacific Carriers Limited (PCL), a Singapore-based company that owns subsidiaries engaged in international shipping, was sentenced today in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan in New Bern, North Carolina, after pleading guilty to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, obstruction of justice, and for a failure to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of a hazardous condition on the Motor Vessel (M/V) Pac Antares.
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