January 23, 2022

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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks Announcing Lawsuit Against the State of Texas to Stop Unconstitutional Senate Bill 8

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<div>Good afternoon.  Last week, after the Supreme Court allowed Texas Senate Bill 8 to take effect, I said that the Justice Department was evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons. </div>
Good afternoon. 

Last week, after the Supreme Court allowed Texas Senate Bill 8 to take effect, I said that the Justice Department was evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons. 

More from: September 9, 2021

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  • Defense Health Care: Efforts to Ensure Beneficiaries Access Specialty Care and Receive Timely and Effective Care
    In U.S GAO News
    The 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 draperd@gao.gov.
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  • Social Security Disability: Ticket to Work Helped Some Participants, but Overpayments Increased Program Costs
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Disability beneficiaries participate in the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency program (Ticket to Work) by assigning a "ticket" to service providers who, in turn, provide help with employment. SSA compensates the service providers when Ticket to Work participants achieve designated levels of work and earnings. Using SSA data from 2002, when the program began, through 2018, the most recent year available, GAO estimated that 5 years after starting Ticket to Work, participants' average earnings were $2,451 more per year than that of similar nonparticipants. However, the majority of participants remained unemployed 5 years after starting Ticket to Work. Based on GAO's analysis, the costs of Ticket to Work exceeded the savings in disability benefits to SSA by an estimated $806 million from 2002 through 2015, the most recent year with reliable savings data. Savings accrue when Ticket to Work participants receive lower benefits or leave the disability rolls due to earnings from work. GAO estimates that participants were slightly more likely to leave the rolls (9.7 percent) than nonparticipants who are similar across a range of characteristics such as age, gender, disability type, and education level (8.6 percent). A greater percentage of participants left the disability rolls due to work rather than for other reasons, such as medical improvement (see figure). Percentage of Beneficiaries Who Left SSA's Disability Rolls 5 Years after Starting Ticket to Work versus Similar Nonparticipants, By Reason, 2002-2015 Note: Percentages were computed for Ticket to Work participants who began the program from 2002 through 2010 at 5 years after they started Ticket to Work and for a sample of similar nonparticipants. Parts may not sum to total because of rounding. GAO estimates that SSA incurred an additional $133 million to $169 million in costs (above the $806 million) from disability benefit overpayments to Ticket to Work participants. Overpayments can occur when beneficiaries who work do not report earnings to SSA or SSA delays in adjusting their benefit amounts. SSA incurs costs when it allows a beneficiary to keep overpayments or expends resources to recover them. GAO estimates that Ticket to Work participants were more than twice as likely to receive overpayments 5 years after starting the program than nonparticipants. While SSA is investigating the root causes of overpayments across its benefit programs, it has not focused on overpayments among Ticket to Work participants, who face unique circumstances due to their ties to service providers. For example, participants may mistakenly think that service providers report their earnings to SSA. Addressing the root causes of overpayments among Ticket to Work participants would reduce repayment burdens on affected participants and increase savings for SSA and taxpayers. Why GAO Did This Study SSA pays billions of dollars in Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits to people with disabilities. To help beneficiaries obtain employment and reduce dependence on disability benefits, Ticket to Work was established in 1999. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 contains a provision for GAO to study the effects of the program. This report examines, among other things, the extent to which Ticket to Work has led to increased earnings and other benefits for participants, and how the costs and savings from Ticket to Work compared over time. GAO conducted statistical analyses of SSA beneficiary data, analysis of Ticket to Work costs, a literature review, and interviews with program officials, service provider representatives, and disability policy experts.
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  • Stabilizing Iraq: DOD Cannot Ensure That U.S.-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2003, the United States has provided about $19.2 billion to develop Iraqi security forces. The Department of Defense (DOD) recently requested an additional $2 billion to continue this effort. Components of the Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I), including the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I), are responsible for implementing the U.S. program to train and equip Iraqi forces. This report (1) examines the property accountability procedures DOD and MNF-I applied to the U.S. train-and-equip program for Iraq and (2) assesses whether DOD and MNF-I can account for the U.S.-funded equipment issued to the Iraqi security forces. To accomplish these objectives, GAO reviewed MNSTC-I property books as of January 2007 and interviewed current and former officials from DOD and MNF-I.As of July 2007, DOD and MNF-I had not specified which DOD accountability procedures, if any, apply to the train-and-equip program for Iraq. Congress funded the train-and-equip program for Iraq outside traditional security assistance programs, providing DOD a large degree of flexibility in managing the program, according to DOD officials. These officials stated that since the funding did not go through traditional security assistance programs, the DOD accountability requirements normally applicable to these programs did not apply. Further, MNF-I does not currently have orders that comprehensively specify accountability procedures for equipment distributed to the Iraqi forces. DOD and MNF-I cannot fully account for Iraqi forces' receipt of U.S.-funded equipment. Two factors led to this lapse in accountability. First, MNSTC-I did not maintain a centralized record of all equipment distributed to Iraqi forces before December 2005. At that time, MNSTC-I established a property book system to track issuance of equipment to the Iraqi forces and attempted to recover past records. GAO found a discrepancy of at least 190,000 weapons between data reported by the former MNSTC-I commander and the property books. Former MNSTC-I officials stated that this lapse was due to insufficient staff and the lack of a fully operational distribution network, among other reasons. Second, since the beginning of the program, MNSTC-I has not consistently collected supporting records confirming the dates the equipment was received, the quantities of equipment delivered, or the Iraqi units receiving the items. Since June 2006, the command has placed greater emphasis on collecting the supporting documents. However, GAO's review of the January 2007 property books found continuing problems with missing and incomplete records. Further, the property books consist of extensive electronic spreadsheets, which are an inefficient management tool given the large amount of data and limited personnel to maintain the system.
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  • Aircraft Noise: Better Information Sharing Could Improve Responses to Washington, D.C. Area Helicopter Noise Concerns
    In U.S GAO News
    According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data for 2017 through 2019, over 50 helicopter operators conducted approximately 88,000 helicopter flights within 30 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (D.C. area), though limited data on noise from these flights exist. According to operators, these flights supported various missions (see table below). While the number of flights has decreased slightly over the 3 years reviewed, it is unknown whether there has been a change in helicopter noise in the area. For example, most stakeholders do not collect noise data, and existing studies of helicopter noise in the area are limited. D.C. area airspace constraints—such as lower maximum altitudes near urban areas—combined with proximity to frequently traveled helicopter routes and operational factors may affect the noise heard by residents. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-Reported Helicopter Flights Conducted in the Washington, D.C. Area by Operator Mission, 2017–2019 Operator mission Number of flights Military 32,890 (37.4 percent) Air medical 18,322 (20.9 percent) Other aviation activity 13,977 (15.9 percent)a State and local law enforcement 12,861 (14.6 percent) Federal law enforcement and emergency support 5,497 (6.3 percent) News 4,298 (4.9 percent) Source: GAO analysis of FAA data. | GAO-21-200 Note: In this table, we refer to the Washington, D.C. area as including the area within 30 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. aIncludes 666 flights for which FAA could not identify an operator or mission based on available historical records. FAA and operators reported taking steps to address public concerns about helicopter noise in the D.C. area. FAA receives and responds to complaints on helicopter noise from the public through its Noise Ombudsman and has recently developed online forms that improve FAA's ability to identify and respond to helicopter noise issues. Operators reported using FAA-recommended practices, such as flying at maximum altitudes and limiting night flights, to address helicopter noise in the D.C. area, but such practices are likely not feasible for operators with military, law enforcement, or air medical evacuation missions. FAA's and operators' approach to addressing these issues in the D.C. area is impeded because they do not consistently or fully share the information needed to do so. According to nearly all the operators we interviewed, FAA has not communicated with operators about helicopter noise or forwarded complaints to them. Similarly, operators often receive noise complaints from the public—some complaints are not directed to the correct operator—but do not typically share these complaints with FAA. As a result, operators have not consistently responded to residents' inquiries about helicopter noise and activity. By developing a mechanism for FAA and operators to share information, FAA could help improve responses to individual helicopter noise concerns and determine what additional strategies, if any, are needed to further address helicopter noise. Helicopter noise can potentially expose members of the public to a variety of negative effects, ranging from annoyance to more serious medical issues. FAA is responsible for managing navigable U.S. airspace and regulating noise from civil helicopter operations. Residents of the D.C. area have raised concerns about the number of helicopter flights and the resulting noise. GAO was asked to review issues related to helicopter flights and noise within the D.C. area. Among its objectives, this report examines: (1) what is known about helicopter flights and noise from flights in the D.C. area, and (2) the extent to which FAA and helicopter operators have taken action to address helicopter noise in the D.C. area. GAO reviewed statutes, regulations, policies, and documents on helicopter noise. GAO analyzed (1) available data on helicopter operations and noise in the D.C. area for 2017 through 2019, and (2) FAA's approach to responding to helicopter complaints. GAO also interviewed FAA officials; representatives from 18 D.C. area helicopter operators, selected based on operator type and number of flights; and 10 local communities, selected based on factors including geography and stakeholder recommendations. GAO recommends that FAA develop a mechanism to exchange helicopter noise information with operators in the D.C. area. FAA agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Settles with Large Health Care Organization to Resolve Software-Based Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with Ascension Health Alliance (Ascension), a Missouri-based health care organization with more than 2,600 sites – including 146 hospitals and more than 40 senior living facilities – in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
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    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that Target Recovery Towing Inc. (Target) has agreed to enter into a court-enforceable consent order to resolve allegations that it failed to obtain a legally required court order before auctioning off a car belonging to a U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant who was deployed overseas. 
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  • Virginia Return Preparer Convicted of Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal jury in Newport News, Virginia, convicted Karl Burden-El Bey (aka Carl L. Burden) Friday of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, theft of government funds and failing to file federal income tax returns.
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  • Indian Education: Schools Need More Assistance to Provide Distance Learning
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), within the Department of the Interior (Interior), has not provided BIE-funded schools with comprehensive guidance on distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, BIE issued a short memo directing schools to “deliver flexible instruction” and “teach content,” but did not offer specific guidance on how to do so. In July 2020, 13 of the 25 schools that responded to GAO's survey said they wanted BIE to provide information on developing and implementing distance learning programs. In addition, 12 schools responded that they wanted information on distance learning methods for areas without broadband internet access. In August 2020, after some schools had already begun the school year, BIE issued a re-opening guide for the 2020-2021 school year. BIE's guidance focused primarily on preparations for in-person instruction at schools, although nearly all schools provided distance learning during the fall of 2020. The guidance contained little information on distance learning. Providing schools with comprehensive distance learning guidance will help them better navigate the current pandemic as well as potential future emergencies that lead to school building closures. BIE helped improve internet access for students at BIE-operated schools during the pandemic, but many students had not received laptops to access online learning by the end of fall 2020. BIE and other Interior offices provided over 7,000 hotspots to students to improve home internet access, but they did not order laptops for most students until September 2020. Interior officials said a nationwide IT supply shortage contributed to the delayed order for about 10,000 laptops. GAO found, however, that delays were also caused in part by BIE not having complete and accurate information on schools' IT needs. Most schools received laptops from late October 2020 to early January 2021, although some laptops still had not been delivered as of late March 2021. Once laptops were delivered, however, schools also faced challenges configuring them, leading to further delays in distributing them to students. BIE officials told GAO that to address schools' challenges with configuring laptops, they are assessing schools' IT workforce needs. Most BIE students did not receive laptops until months after the school year began, according to GAO's analysis of Interior information. Specifically, none of the laptops Interior ordered in early September 2020 arrived in time to distribute to students by the start of the school year in mid-September; by the end of December 2020, schools had not distributed over 80 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered; and as of late March 2021, schools had not distributed about 20 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered. Without accurate, complete, and up-to-date information on schools' IT needs, BIE was unable to ensure that students received laptops when they needed them. Establishing policies and procedures for assessing schools' IT needs would help guide the agency's IT purchases now and in the future, and position schools to integrate technology into their everyday curricula. Why GAO Did This Study BIE's mission is to provide quality education to approximately 41,000 students at 183 schools it funds on or near Indian reservations in 23 states. About two-thirds of these schools are operated by tribes and the remaining third are operated by BIE. In March 2020, all BIE schools closed their buildings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed distance learning at BIE schools as part of its oversight responsibilities under the CARES Act. This testimony examines the extent to which (1) BIE has provided schools with guidance to develop and implement distance learning programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) students have had the technology they need to participate in such programs. GAO analyzed the guidance BIE provided to schools on distance learning, examined BIE's provision of technology to schools and students, surveyed a non-generalizable sample of 30 schools—including 19 operated by tribes and 11 operated by BIE— with 25 schools responding, selected for geographic diversity and level of community broadband access, among other criteria, reviewed relevant federal statutes, regulations, and agency documentation, and interviewed BIE and school officials.
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