U.S. Government Launches First One-Stop Ransomware Resource at StopRansomware.gov

Today, as part of the ongoing response, agencies across the U.S. government announced new resources and initiatives to protect American businesses and communities from ransomware attacks.

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  • Former Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent and Task Force Officer Convicted of Conspiracy and Conversion of Property
    In Crime News
    A former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent and a former DEA task force officer were convicted Tuesday by a federal jury in New Orleans, Louisiana, in connection with a long-running scheme to steal personal property and money from individuals who had been arrested.
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  • DOD Critical Technologies: Plans for Communicating, Assessing, and Overseeing Protection Efforts Should Be Completed
    In U.S GAO News
    Critical technologies—such as elements of artificial intelligence and biotechnology—are those necessary to maintain U.S. technological superiority. As such, they are frequently the target of theft, espionage, and illegal export by adversaries. The Department of Defense (DOD) has outlined a revised process (see figure) to better identify and protect its critical technologies including those associated with acquisition programs throughout their lifecycle or those early in development. Prior DOD efforts to identify these technologies were considered by some military officials to be too broad to adequately guide protection. The revised process is expected to address this by offering more specificity about what elements of an acquisition program or technology need to be protected and the protection measures DOD is expected to implement. It is also expected to support DOD's annual input to the National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies, which was first published in October 2020. Overview of DOD's Revised Process to Identify and Protect Critical Acquisition Programs and Technologies DOD began implementing this process in February 2020, and officials expect to complete all steps for the first time by September 2021. DOD has focused on identifying critical acquisition programs and technologies that need to be protected and how they should be protected. It has not yet determined how it will communicate the list internally and to other agencies, which metrics it will use to assess protection measures, and which organization will oversee future protection efforts. By determining the approach for completing these tasks, DOD can better ensure its revised process will support the protection of critical acquisition programs and technologies consistently across the department. Once completed, the revised process should also inform DOD and other federal agencies' protection efforts. Military officials stated they could use the list of critical acquisition programs and technologies to better direct resources. Officials from the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury stated that they could use the list, if it is effectively communicated, to better understand what is important to DOD to help ensure protection through their respective programs. The federal government spends billions annually to develop and acquire advanced technologies. It permits the sale and transfer of some of these technologies to allies to promote U.S. national security, foreign policy, and economic interests. However, the technologies can be targets for adversaries. The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 requires the Secretary of Defense to develop and maintain a list of acquisition programs, technologies, manufacturing capabilities, and research areas that are critical for preserving U.S. national security advantages. Ensuring effective protection of critical technologies has been included on GAO's high-risk list since 2007. This report examines (1) DOD's efforts to identify and protect its critical technologies, and (2) opportunities for these efforts to inform government protection activities. GAO analyzed DOD critical acquisition program and technologies documentation, and held interviews with senior officials at DOD and other federal agencies responsible for protecting critical technologies. GAO is recommending that DOD specify how it will communicate its critical programs and technologies list, develop metrics to assess protection measures, and select the DOD organization that will oversee protection efforts beyond 2020. DOD concurred with the first recommendation and partially concurred with the second and third. GAO maintains the importance of all recommendations in this report. For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    The former managing director of residential lending and two former loan officers of a financial institution headquartered in Southfield, Michigan, pleaded guilty to participating in a years-long scheme to originate fraudulent residential-mortgage loans through the bank’s low-documentation Advantage Loan Program.
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    In Crime News
    A Maryland man was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake today to 12 months and one day in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for illegally accessing and damaging the computer network of his former employer. Judge Blake also entered an order requiring Stafford to pay restitution in the amount of $193,258.10 to his former employer.
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  • Substance Use Disorder: Medicaid Coverage of Peer Support Services for Adults
    In U.S GAO News
    Substance use disorders (SUD)—the recurrent use of alcohol or illicit drugs causing significant impairment—affected about 19.3 million adults in the United States in 2018, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. State Medicaid programs have the option to cover services offered by peer providers—individuals who use their own lived experience recovering from SUD to support others in recovery. GAO's review of Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission data found that, in 2018, 37 states covered peer support services for adults with SUDs in their Medicaid programs. Medicaid Coverage of Peer Support Services for Adults with Substance Use Disorders, 2018 Officials from the three states GAO reviewed—Colorado, Missouri, and Oregon—reported that their Medicaid programs offered peer support services as a complement, rather than as an alternative, to clinical treatment for SUD. Missouri officials said that peer providers did not maintain separate caseloads and were part of treatment teams, working in conjunction with doctors and other clinical staff. Similarly, officials in Colorado and Oregon said peer support services were only offered as part of a treatment plan. State officials reported that peer support services could be offered as an alternative to clinical treatment outside of Medicaid using state or grant funding. SUD treatment can help individuals reduce or stop substance use and improve their quality of life. In 2007, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recognized that peer providers could be an important component of effective SUD treatment, and provided guidance to states on how to cover peer support services in their Medicaid programs. However, states have flexibility in how they design and implement their Medicaid programs, and coverage for peer support services is an optional benefit. The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act included a provision for GAO to report on peer support services under Medicaid. This report describes, among other objectives, the extent to which state Medicaid programs covered peer support services for adult beneficiaries with SUDs nationwide, and how selected state Medicaid programs offered peer support services for adult beneficiaries with SUDs. GAO obtained state-by-state data from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission on 2018 Medicaid coverage of peer support services. GAO also reviewed information and interviewed officials from a nongeneralizable sample of three states, which GAO selected for a number of reasons, including to obtain variation in delivery systems used. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Offshore Oil and Gas: Updated Regulations Needed to Improve Pipeline Oversight and Decommissioning
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) does not have a robust oversight process for ensuring the integrity of approximately 8,600 miles of active offshore oil and gas pipelines located on the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, BSEE does not generally conduct or require any subsea inspections of active pipelines. Instead, the bureau relies on monthly surface observations and pressure sensors to detect leaks. However, officials told us that these methods and technologies are not always reliable for detecting ruptures. In response to a pair of significant oil leaks in 2016 and 2017, BSEE partnered with industry to improve subsea leak detection, but the technologies identified remain relatively new and cannot be retrofitted to a majority of pipelines. According to BSEE, the bureau's regulations are outdated and do not address how pipelines should be inspected, the complexities of deep water pipeline operations, and changes in technological standards. BSEE has long recognized the need to improve its pipeline regulations, and in 2007 issued a proposed rule that cited the need to enhance safety and protect the environment, but this effort stalled. The 2007 proposed rule addressed offshore pipeline integrity, including new requirements regarding pipeline inspection and subsea leak detection technologies. Since 2013, BSEE has noted plans to update its pipeline regulations but has made limited progress in the interim. Without taking actions to develop, finalize, and implement updated regulations to address identified oversight gaps, BSEE will continue to be limited in its ability to ensure the integrity of active pipelines. BSEE does not have a robust process to address the environmental and safety risks posed by leaving decommissioned pipelines in place on the seafloor due to the cumulative effects of oversight gaps before, during, and after the decommissioning process. First, BSEE does not thoroughly account for such risks during the review of decommissioning applications. This has contributed to BSEE and its predecessors authorizing industry to leave over 97 percent (about 18,000 miles) of all decommissioned pipeline mileage on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor since the 1960s. Generally, pipelines must be removed from the seafloor. BSEE, however, may allow pipelines to be decommissioned-in-place if certain criteria are met. Such a high rate of approval indicates that this is not an exception, however, but rather that decommissioning-in-place has been the norm for decades. Second, BSEE does not ensure that operators meet decommissioning standards, such as cleaning pipelines, because they do not observe any pipeline decommissioning activities, inspect pipelines after their decommissioning, or verify most of the pipeline decommissioning evidence submitted. Third, BSEE does not monitor the condition and location of pipelines following their decommissioning-in-place, which reduces its ability to mitigate any long-term risks, such as pipeline exposure or movement. Additionally, if pipelines decommissioned-in-place are later found to pose risks, there is no funding source for removal. As discussed above, BSEE has made limited progress in updating what it acknowledges are outdated pipeline regulations. Without taking actions to develop, finalize, and implement updated pipeline regulations, BSEE will continue to be limited in its ability to ensure that its pipeline decommissioning process addresses environmental and safety risks. Why GAO Did This Study The offshore oil and gas industry has installed approximately 40,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in federal offshore waters since the 1940s. BSEE is responsible for enforcing standards and regulations for oil and gas operations—including the oversight of active pipelines and their decommissioning—to enhance environmental protection and safety. As pipelines age, they are more susceptible to damage from corrosion, mudslides, and seafloor erosion, which can result in leakage of oil and gas into the ocean. Additionally, hurricanes can move pipelines extensive distances, which may damage subsea habitat, impede access to sediment resources, and create navigational and trawling hazards. GAO was asked to review BSEE's management of offshore oil and gas pipelines. This report examines BSEE's processes for (1) ensuring active pipeline integrity and (2) addressing safety and environmental risks posed by decommissioning. GAO reviewed regulations, procedures, and other documents and data related to BSEE's pipeline management processes. GAO also interviewed BSEE officials and those from other agencies with offshore responsibilities.
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that a federal court in Orlando, Florida, permanently enjoined Advanced Tax Services Inc. and Genson Financial Group LLC from preparing federal tax returns for others and ordered the businesses to disgorge $710,191.55, jointly and severally, representing the ill-gotten gains that they received for the preparation of tax returns. The court also entered permanent injunctions and disgorgement judgments against defendants Lenorris Lamoute and Dosuld Pierre, whom the court found prepared tax returns for compensation at Advanced Tax Services. The order was entered on default because the defendants failed to defend against the government’s allegations.
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    Six individuals were charged in an indictment with fraudulently obtaining approximately $1.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans on behalf of five businesses based in Georgia and South Carolina.
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  • DHS Annual Assessment: Most Acquisition Programs Are Meeting Goals but Data Provided to Congress Lacks Context Needed For Effective Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    As of September 2020, 19 of the 24 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs GAO assessed that had DHS approved acquisition program baselines were meeting their currently established goals. However, of the 24 programs, ten had been in breach of their cost or schedule goals, or both, at some point during fiscal year 2020. A few programs experienced breaches related to external factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, while others breached their baseline goals because of acquisition management issues. Five of these programs rebaselined to increase costs or delay schedules, but the remaining five were still in breach status as of September 2020 (see table). Further, GAO found that some of the 19 programs that were meeting their currently established goals—including the U.S. Coast Guard's Offshore Patrol Cutter program—are at risk of future cost growth or schedule slips. DHS Major Acquisition Programs In Breach of Approved Cost or Schedule Goals (or Both) As of September 2020. Program (estimated life-cycle cost) Breach Type National Cybersecurity Protection System ($5,908 million) Schedule Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology ($3,923 million) Cost and Schedule Grants Management Modernization ($289 million) Cost and Schedule National Bio Agro-Defense Facility ($1,298 million) Schedule Medium Range Surveillance Aircraft ($15,187 million) Schedule Source: GAO analysis of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data. | GAO-21-175 Note: The life-cycle cost information is the current acquisition program baseline cost goal as of September 2020. Programs may revise cost goals, if necessary, when the new baseline is approved. GAO found that supplemental guidance for the development of acquisition documents generally aligned with requirements in DHS's acquisition management policy. However, guidance for developing acquisition documentation in DHS's Systems Engineering Life Cycle Instruction and accompanying Guidebook does not reflect current requirements in DHS's acquisition management policy. DHS officials stated that the information related to development of acquisition documents—including the systems engineering life cycle tailoring plan—should be consistent across all of DHS's policies, instructions, and guidebooks. Inconsistent agency-wide guidance can lead to a lack of clarity on when programs should submit their program documentation. The Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying a bill to the DHS Appropriations Act, 2019, directed DHS to provide quarterly briefings on summary ratings for all major acquisition programs. While DHS is meeting this direction with summary ratings, the ratings do not include contextual information, such as programs' cost, schedule, or performance risks. This type of information would help Congress understand how the ratings relate to potential program outcomes. Determining what additional risk information is needed for DHS's major acquisition programs along with the reporting timeframes and the appropriate mechanism to provide the information, would help ensure that decision makers have needed context. DHS plans to spend more than $7 billion on its portfolio of major acquisition programs—with life-cycle costs over $300 million— in fiscal year 2021 to help execute its many critical missions. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the DHS Appropriations Act, 2015, included a provision for GAO to review DHS's major acquisitions on an ongoing basis. This report, GAO's sixth review, assesses the extent to which (1) DHS's major acquisition programs are meeting baseline goals, (2) DHS's guidance for developing acquisition documentation is consistent with DHS acquisition policy, and (3) DHS is reporting relevant information to Congress on its portfolio of major acquisition programs. GAO assessed 24 acquisition programs, including DHS's largest programs that were in the process of obtaining new capabilities as of April 2018, and programs GAO or DHS identified as at risk of poor outcomes. GAO assessed cost and schedule progress against baselines; assessed DHS's congressional reporting requirements; and interviewed DHS officials and congressional appropriations committee staff. GAO is making one recommendation for DHS to align acquisition guidance with policy, and one matter for Congress to consider determining what additional information it needs to perform oversight. DHS concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or makm@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Settles with North Carolina Dental Offices Over HIV Discrimination
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  • Intellectual Property: Additional Agency Actions Can Improve Assistance to Small Businesses and Inventors
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers multiple programs that help small businesses and inventors with acquiring intellectual property protections, which can help protect creative works or ideas. These programs, such as the Inventors Assistance Center, are aimed at assisting the public, especially small businesses and inventors, with intellectual property protections. Several stakeholders GAO interviewed said that USPTO programs have been helpful, but they were also not aware of some USPTO programs. Although these programs individually evaluate how they help small businesses and inventors, the agency does not collect and evaluate overall information on whether these programs are effectively reaching out to and meeting the needs of these groups. Under federal internal control standards, an agency should use quality information to achieve its objectives. Without an agency-wide approach to collect information to help evaluate the extent to which its programs serve small businesses and inventors, USPTO may not have the quality information needed to fully evaluate the effectiveness of its outreach and assistance for these groups and thus make improvements where necessary. Although the Small Business Administration (SBA) coordinates with USPTO through targeted efforts to provide intellectual property training to small businesses, it has not fully implemented some statutory requirements that can further enhance this coordination. While SBA and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) coordinate with USPTO programs at the local level to train small businesses on intellectual property protection (see figure), this coordination is inconsistent. For example, two of the 12 SBDCs that GAO interviewed reported working primarily with USPTO to help small businesses protect their intellectual property, but the other 10 did not. The Small Business Innovation Protection Act of 2017 requires SBA and USPTO to coordinate and build on existing intellectual property training programs, and requires that SBA's local partners, specifically the SBDCs, provide intellectual property training, in coordination with USPTO. SBA officials reported that they are in the process of implementing requirements of this act. Incorporating selected leading practices for collaboration, such as documenting the partnership agreement and clarifying roles and responsibilities, could help SBA and USPTO fully and consistently communicate their existing resources to their partners and programs, enabling them to refer these resources to small businesses and inventors. Figure: The Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Coordinate at the Local Level, but Are Inconsistent Small businesses employ about half of the U.S. private workforce and create approximately two-thirds of the nation's jobs. For many small businesses, intellectual property aids in building market share and creating jobs. Among the federal agencies assisting small businesses with intellectual property are USPTO, which grants patents and registers trademarks, and SBA, which assists small businesses on a variety of business development issues, including intellectual property. GAO was asked to review resources available to help small businesses and inventors protect intellectual property, and their effectiveness. This report examines, among other things, (1) the extent to which USPTO evaluates the effectiveness of its efforts to assist small businesses and (2) SBA's coordination with USPTO to assist small businesses. GAO analyzed agency documents and interviewed officials who train and assist small businesses. GAO also interviewed stakeholders, including small businesses, and, among other things, reviewed federal internal control standards and selected leading practices for enhancing interagency collaboration. GAO is making four recommendations, including that USPTO develop an agency-wide approach to evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts to help small businesses and inventors, and that SBA document its partnership agreement with USPTO and clarify roles and responsibilities for coordinating with USPTO to provide training. Both agencies agreed with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact John Neumann, (202) 512-6888, NeumannJ@gao.gov. 
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  • Military Health Care: Defense Health Agency Processes for Responding to Provider Quality and Safety Concerns
    In U.S GAO News
    The Defense Health Agency (DHA) within the Department of Defense (DOD) has established processes for preventing and responding to quality and safety concerns about individual providers delivering health care in military treatment facilities (MTF). Specifically, DHA's August 2019 policy standardized processes for managing health care quality in the Military Health System, which superseded the policies of each of the military services (Air Force, Army, and Navy). These processes include 1) initial and ongoing monitoring of providers; 2) taking action to deny, limit, or remove individual providers' ability to practice, known as adverse privileging action; and 3) reviewing the care delivered by individual providers involved in certain patient safety events, known as potentially compensable event reviews. For example, DHA policy establishes requirements for taking adverse privileging actions against a provider that either limit the care a provider is allowed to deliver at a facility or prevent the provider from delivering care altogether, when warranted. In particular, DHA policy specifies that the provider's privileges should be placed in summary suspension—a temporary removal of all or a portion of the provider's privileges—while a peer conducts an investigation of the concerns. DHA policy also specifies that summary suspensions lasting greater than 30 days, as well as any final adverse privileging actions, must be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The NPDB is an electronic repository that collects and releases information on certain adverse actions and medical malpractice payments related to providers. According to DOD officials, 27 DOD providers were reported to the NPDB for a summary suspension lasting greater than 30 days between February 1, 2020—when this requirement was implemented—and September 30, 2020. DHA supports the delivery of health care to servicemembers and their families throughout the Military Health System. As in all health care delivery settings, concerns may arise about the quality and safety of care delivered by individual health care providers at MTFs. For example, patient safety events—incidents that could have resulted or did result in harm to a patient—may occur during the course of providing health care services and may raise questions about the quality and safety of care delivered. DHA is responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of health care delivered by military and civilian health care providers, including contractors, through its clinical quality management program. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review aspects of DOD's clinical quality management program, including its processes for reviewing the quality and safety of providers' care. This report describes DHA's processes for preventing and responding to quality and safety concerns about individual health care providers at MTFs. In future work, GAO will examine the implementation of these processes at MTFs. GAO reviewed documentation that contains policy and guidance for these processes, including DHA's August 2019 procedure manual for managing clinical quality management in the Military Health System. GAO also interviewed officials from DHA and each of the military services. We provided a draft of this report to DOD for review and comment. DOD concurred with our report and provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at(202)512-7114 or Silass@gao.gov.
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  • Commercial Shipping: Information on How Intermodal Chassis Are Made Available and the Federal Government’s Oversight Role
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Containerized shipping—performed by oceangoing vessels using standardized shipping containers—accounted for approximately 60 percent of all world seaborne trade, which was valued at approximately $12 trillion in 2017. At a port, shipping containers are placed on "intermodal chassis" (chassis), standardized trailers that carry shipping containers and attach to tractors for land transport. Multiple entities are involved in the movement of shipping containers, including intermodal equipment providers (IEP) (which own and provide chassis for a fee); ocean carriers (which transport cargo over water); and motor carriers (which transport shipping containers over land via chassis). Four distinct models are used in the U.S. to make chassis available to motor carriers (see table), each with benefits and drawbacks according to the entities GAO interviewed. While chassis are generally provided to motor carriers using one of these four models, more than one model may be available at a port. Chassis Provisioning Models Model 1: Single chassis provider An individual intermodal equipment provider (IEP) owns chassis that are directly provided to shippers or motor carriers. Model 2: Motor carrier-controlled A motor carrier owns or is responsible for a chassis that it has procured under a long-term lease. Model 3: Gray pool A single manager, often a third party, oversees the operations of a pool that is made up of chassis contributed by multiple IEPs. Model 4: Pool-of-pools Each IEP manages its respective chassis fleet, but each allow motor carriers to use any chassis among the fleets and to pick up and drop off chassis at any of the IEPs’ multiple locations. Source: GAO.  |  GAO-21-315R Entities GAO interviewed identified multiple benefits and drawbacks to each of the chassis provisioning models. Regarding benefits, for example, both the single chassis provider model and the motor carrier-controlled model allow IEPs and motor carriers to have direct control over the maintenance and repair of their chassis, something these entities potentially lose under other chassis provisioning models. Further, the gray pool and the pool-of-pools models can resolve many of the logistical concerns regarding the availability of chassis, leading to operational efficiencies for port operators and the ability of motor carriers to choose whatever chassis they wish. Regarding drawbacks, cost considerations were identified in some cases. For example, under the single chassis provider model, two IEPs told us that while an expected part of the business, repositioning chassis to ensure there is a sufficient supply of chassis where they are needed can be costly to the IEPs. The federal government provides oversight of chassis safety but has a limited economic oversight role regarding chassis. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) employs several inspection methods to help oversee chassis safety and compliance with regulations. For example, inspectors perform roadside inspections on commercial vehicles, including chassis, in operation. FMCSA also performs investigations of individual IEPs to oversee chassis safety. While one stakeholder GAO spoke with stated that FMCSA should consider maintaining safety ratings for IEPs—as is currently done for motor carriers—FMCSA officials told us that the current processes provide sufficient information to select IEPs for investigation. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) oversees ocean carriers that provide service to and from the U.S. and works to ensure a competitive and reliable ocean transportation supply system. Entities may file complaints with FMC to allege violations of the Shipping Act of 1984, as amended. One such complaint was filed in August 2020, in which the complainants allege, among other things, that although ocean carriers do not own chassis, they still control the operation of chassis pools at ports. An initial decision on this complaint is expected in August 2021. None of the entities GAO spoke with identified additional actions they would like for FMC to take regarding chassis. Why GAO Did This Study Senate Report 116-109—incorporated by reference into the explanatory statement accompanying the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020—contained a provision for GAO to study intermodal chassis. Within the U.S., some entities have expressed concerns about chassis, including limited availability of chassis in some circumstances, as well as the age and safety of chassis. This report describes selected stakeholders' views on: (1) the ways in which chassis are made available for the movement of shipping containers and the benefits and drawbacks of those models, and (2) the federal government's role in the chassis market. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed relevant reports on chassis provisioning and federal oversight. GAO interviewed representatives from FMC, FMCSA, five industry associations, and the three largest intermodal equipment providers. GAO also interviewed three ocean carriers, five port operators, and a motor carrier selected, in part, for their large number of container movements. The information obtained from these interviews provides a broad perspective of relevant issues but is not generalizable to all entities. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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    In U.S Courts
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Agile Software Development
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Agile software development has the potential to save the federal government billions of dollars and significant time, allowing agencies to deliver software more efficiently and effectively for American taxpayers. However, the transition to Agile requires an investment in new tools and processes, which can be costly and time consuming. The Methodology What is it? Agile is an approach to software development that encourages collaboration across an organization and allows requirements to evolve as a program progresses. Agile software development emphasizes iterative delivery; that is, the development of software in short, incremental stages. Customers continuously provide feedback on the software's functionality and quality. By engaging customers early and iterating often, agencies that adopt Agile can also reduce the risks of funding failing programs or outdated technology. Figure 1. Cycle of Agile software development How does it work? Agile software development is well suited for programs where the end goal is known, but specific details about their implementation may be refined along the way. Agile is implemented in different ways. For example, Scrum is a framework focused on teams, Scaled Agile Framework focuses on scaling Agile to larger groups, and DevOps extends the Agile principle of collaboration and unites the development and operation teams. Scrum, one of the most common Agile frameworks, organizes teams using defined roles, such as the product owner, who represents the customer, prioritizes work, and accepts completed software. In Scrum, development is broken down into timed iterations called sprints, where teams commit to complete specific requirements within a defined time frame. During a sprint, teams meet for daily stand-up meetings. At the end of a sprint, teams present the completed work to the product owner for acceptance. At a retrospective meeting following each sprint, team members discuss lessons learned and any changes needed to improve the process. Sprints allow for distinct, consistent, and measurable progress of prioritized software features. How mature is it? Organizations have used versions of incremental software development since the 1950s, with various groups creating Agile frameworks in the 1990s, including Scrum in 1995. In 2001, a group of software developers created the Agile Manifesto, which documents the guiding principles of Agile. Following this, Agile practitioners introduced new frameworks, such as Kanban, which optimizes work output by visualizing its flow. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), enacted in 2014, includes a provision for the Office of Management and Budget to require the Chief Information Officers of covered agencies to certify that IT investments are adequately implementing incremental development. This development approach delivers capabilities more rapidly by dividing an investment into smaller parts. As a result, more agencies are now adopting an incremental, Agile, approach to software development. For example, in 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced five Agile pilot programs. In 2020, at least 22 Department of Defense major defense acquisition programs reported using Agile development methods.  As the federal government continues to adopt Agile, effective oversight of these programs will be increasingly crucial. Our GAO Agile Assessment Guide, released in 2020, takes a closer look at the following categories of best practices: Agile adoption. This area focuses on team dynamics, program operations, and organization environments. One best practice for teams is to have repeatable processes in place such as continuous integration, which automates parts of development and testing. At the program operations level, staff should be appropriately trained in Agile methods. And at an organizational level, a best practice is to create a culture that supports Agile methods. Requirements development and management. Requirements—sometimes called user stories—are important in making sure the final product will function as intended. Best practices in this area include eliciting and prioritizing requirements and ensuring work meets those requirements. Acquisition strategy. Contractors may have a role in an Agile program in government. However, long timelines to award contracts and costly changes are major hurdles to executing Agile programs. One way to clear these hurdles is for organizations to create an integrated team with personnel from contracting, the program office, and software development. Clearly identifying team roles will alleviate bottlenecks in the development process. Figure 2. Different roles come together to make an Agile software development team. Program monitoring and control. Many Agile documents may be used to generate reliable cost and schedule estimates throughout a program’s life-cycle. Metrics. It is critical that metrics align with and prioritize organization-wide goals and objectives while simultaneously meeting customer needs. Such metrics in Agile include the number of features delivered to customers, the number of defects, and overall customer satisfaction.  Opportunities Flexibility. An Agile approach provides flexibility when customers’ needs change and as technology rapidly evolves. Risk reduction. Measuring progress during frequent iterations can reduce technical and programmatic risk. For example, routine retrospectives allow the team to reflect upon and improve the development process for the next iteration. Quicker deliveries. Through incremental releases, agencies can rapidly determine if newly produced software is meeting their needs. With Agile, these deliveries are typically within months, instead of alternative development methods, which can take years. Challenges GAO has previously reported on challenges the federal government faces in applying Agile methods; for the full report see GAO-12-681. Lack of organizational commitment. For example, organizations need to create a dedicated Agile team, which is a challenge when there is an insufficient number of staff, or when staff have several simultaneous duties. Resources needed to transition to Agile. An organization transitioning to Agile may need to invest in new tools, practices, and processes, which can be expensive and time consuming. Mistrust in iterative solutions. Customers who typically see a solution as a whole may be disappointed by the delivery of a small piece of functionality. Misaligned agency practices. Some agency practices, such as procurement, compliance reviews, federal reporting, and status tracking are not designed to support Agile software development. Policy and Context Questions In what ways can Agile help the federal government improve the management of IT acquisitions and operations, an area GAO has identified as high risk for the federal government? How can policymakers implement clear guidance about the use of Agile software development, such as reporting metrics, to better support Agile methods? How might resources need to shift to accommodate the adoption of Agile in federal agencies? What risks could those shifts pose? What updates to agency practices are worth pursuing to support Agile software development? For more information, contact Tim Persons at (202) 512-6888 or personst@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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  • Civil Rights Division Opens Investigation into Potential Discrimination in Public Contracting
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into whether the public contracting and procurement practices of Kansas City, Missouri comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified eight priority recommendations for the Federal Reserve. Since then, the Federal Reserve has implemented five of those recommendations. As of April 2021, the remaining open three priority recommendations for the Federal Reserve involve the following areas: Collaborating with other financial regulators to communicate with banks that have third-party relationships with fintech lenders about using alternative data in underwriting. Communicating uncertainties surrounding stress testing, including capital ratio estimates. Communicating uncertainties surrounding stress testing, including tolerance levels for key risks, and the degree of uncertainty in projected estimates. The Federal Reserve's continued attention to these issues could improve its ability to more effectively oversee risks to consumers and the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or garciadiazd@gao.gov.
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  • Troubled Asset Relief Program: Treasury Continues Winding Down Housing Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) continues to wind down housing assistance programs funded by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Treasury has extended one program to assist certain program participants who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, although limited program funds remain at this point. As of September 30, 2020, Treasury had disbursed $30.85 billion (95 percent) of the $32.56 billion TARP funds obligated to the three housing programs (see figure). The Making Home Affordable program allowed homeowners to apply for loan modifications to avoid foreclosure. Treasury will continue to provide incentive payments for loan modifications through 2023. The Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest Hit Housing Markets provided funds to 18 states and the District of Columbia to help struggling homeowners through programs tailored to the state. Treasury extended this program through June 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic's negative economic effects on some program participants. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Short Refinance program allowed eligible homeowners to refinance into an FHA-insured loan. Under this program, Treasury made TARP funds available to provide additional coverage to lenders for a share of potential losses on these loans for borrowers who entered the program by December 31, 2016. Status of Troubled Asset Relief Program Housing Programs, as of September 2020 aAccording to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), these funds have been committed to future financial incentives for existing Making Home Affordable transactions, as of September 30, 2020. bRepresents the amount of funds that states and the District of Columbia have drawn from Treasury. cIncludes about $11.6 million in administrative expenses and $10 million of reserve funds, as of September 30, 2020. Treasury will be reimbursed for unused reserve amounts. dAmounts do not add up due to rounding. In response to the 2008 housing crisis, Treasury established TARP-funded housing programs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and preserve homeownership. Since 2009, Treasury has obligated $32.56 billion for such housing programs. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 provided GAO with broad oversight authorities for actions taken related to TARP. This report provides an update on the status of TARP-funded housing programs, as of September 30, 2020. GAO reviewed Treasury program data and documentation, and interviewed Treasury officials. This report contains the most recently available public data at the time of GAO's review, including obligations, disbursements, and program participation. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Powers Delivers Remarks at the Symposium on Corporate Enforcement and Individual Accountability Hosted by the University of Southern California Gould School of Law
    In Crime News
    It is an honor to speak here today, at what I know will be the first of many informative programs on the important topics of corporate enforcement and individual accountability.  This is an exciting time for the Antitrust Division, for many reasons, one of which is that just yesterday President Biden announced that he plans to nominate Jonathan Kanter as our Assistant Attorney General.  The Division’s career officials and staff—myself included—eagerly await his arrival and look forward to carrying out his priorities.  Of course, right now I can’t speak to what those priorities will be, and my remarks today should not be taken as an indication otherwise.  But I welcome the opportunity to reflect on the recent accomplishments of the Division’s Criminal Program, which I have now been leading for over three years, and shed some light on the principles underlying that work.
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  • Data Center Optimization: Agencies Report Progress and Billions Saved, but OMB Needs to Improve Its Utilization Guidance
    In U.S GAO News
    The 24 agencies participating in the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) continue to report progress toward meeting OMB's goals for closing data centers and achieving the related cost savings. According to data submitted by the 24 agencies, almost all of them met or planned to meet their closure and cost savings goals for fiscal years 2019 and 2020. As of August 2020, the agencies reported that they expected to achieve 230 data center closures, resulting in $1.1 billion in savings, over the 2-year period. Agencies expected to realize a cumulative total of $6.24 billion in cost savings and avoidances from fiscal years 2012 through 2020. However, agencies have excluded approximately 4,500 data centers from their inventories since May 2019 due to a change in the definition of a data center. Specifically, in June 2019, OMB narrowed the definition of a data center to exclude certain facilities it had previously identified as having potential cybersecurity risks. GAO reported that each such facility provided a potential access point, and that unsecured access points could aid cyber attacks. Accordingly, GAO recommended that OMB require agencies to report those facilities previously reported as data centers so that visibility of the risks of these facilities was retained. However, OMB has not taken action to address the recommendation. Overall, GAO has made 125 recommendations since 2016 to help agencies meet their DCOI goals, but agencies have not implemented 53. The 24 agencies reported varied progress against OMB's data center optimization targets for fiscal year 2020 (see figure). Agency-Reported Progress towards Meeting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Data Center Optimization Targets, as of August 2020 Notes: Virtualization measures the number of servers and mainframes serving as a virtual host. Advanced energy metering counts data centers with metering to measure energy efficiency. A metric is not applicable if an agency does not have any agency-owned data centers or if its remaining centers are exempted from optimization by OMB. In June 2019, OMB revised the server utilization metric to direct agencies to develop their own definitions of underutilization, and then count their underutilized servers. As a result, agencies adopted widely varying definitions and were no longer required to report actual utilization, a key measure of server efficiency. In December 2014, Congress enacted federal IT acquisition reform legislation known as FITARA, which included provisions related to ongoing federal data center consolidation efforts. OMB's federal Chief Information Officer launched DCOI to build on prior data center consolidation efforts and improve federal data centers' performance. FITARA included a provision for GAO to annually review agencies' data center inventories and strategies. This report addresses (1) agencies' progress on data center closures and the related savings that have been achieved, and agencies' plans for future closures and savings; (2) agencies' progress against OMB's data center optimization targets; and (3) the effectiveness of OMB's metric for server utilization and how the agencies are implementing it. To do so, GAO reviewed the 24 DCOI agencies' data center inventories as of August 2020, their reported cost savings documentation and data center optimization strategic plans, and OMB's revised utilization metric. GAO reiterates that agencies need to address the 53 recommendations previously made to them that have not yet been implemented. GAO is making one new recommendation to OMB to revise its server utilization metric to more consistently address server efficiency. OMB had no comments on the report and the recommendation directed to the agency. Of the 24 DCOI agencies, five agreed with the information in the report, six did not state whether they agreed or disagreed, and 13 had no comments. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.
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  • New Bankruptcy Filings Plummet 38.1 Percent
    In U.S Courts
    Bankruptcy filings dropped 38.1 percent for the 12-month period ending March 31, 2021, a dramatic fall that coincided with the coronavirus (COVID-19), which first disrupted the economy in March 2020. 
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    In Crime News
    Today, a federal grand jury in Carbondale, Ill. returned an indictment charging a mathematics professor and researcher at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale (SIUC) with two counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement.
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