Attorney General William P. Barr today directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reschedule the execution of Lezmond Mitchell, a federal death-row inmate who was convicted more than 17 years ago of the brutal murders of a grandmother and her nine-year-old granddaughter. The execution, initially scheduled for last December, is now scheduled to occur on August 26, 2020, at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In October 2001, Mitchell murdered Alyce Slim, a 63-year-old grandmother, and her nine-year-old granddaughter as part of a carjacking in Arizona. After getting a ride from Slim in her pickup truck, Mitchell and an accomplice stabbed her 33 times and threw her body into the backseat beside her granddaughter. Mitchell then drove the truck 30-40 miles into the mountains, ordered the girl “to lay down and die,” slit her throat twice, and crushed her head with rocks. Mitchell and his accomplice proceeded to sever the heads and hands of the victims’ bodies and burn their clothes. Mitchell later confessed to the murders. In May 2003, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona found him guilty of numerous federal crimes — including first-degree murder, felony murder, and carjacking resulting in death — and he was sentenced to death. His convictions and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and his claims for collateral relief were denied by every court that considered them.
Mitchell’s execution was initially scheduled for December 2019, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit entered a stay of execution while it resolved an additional appeal by Mitchell. The court of appeals unanimously rejected Mitchell’s claim in April 2020 and denied his request for full-court rehearing earlier this month. When the Ninth Circuit stay formally concludes, no legal impediments will bar the execution, and it can occur without further delay.
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- National Nuclear Security Administration: Information on the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request and Affordability of Nuclear Modernization ActivitiesBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is in the midst of a long-term effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile and its supporting production infrastructure. NNSA's modernization plans and budgets are communicated to Congress on an annual basis primarily through two key documents—the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) and DOE's budget justification—together referred to as NNSA's nuclear security budget materials. GAO reviewed four areas related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as described in these budget materials: Funding for nuclear modernization activities. Congress funds NNSA's nuclear modernization activities through the Weapons Activities appropriation account, which falls under the National Defense budget function along with other NNSA, DOE, and Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations related to the common defense and security of the United States. Discretionary defense spending for fiscal year 2021 may not exceed a certain statutory limit, or else a sequestration—a cancellation of budgetary resources—would be triggered. Therefore, a proposed increase for a given program under the National Defense budget function may need to be offset by reductions in other defense programs to keep the defense budget within statutory spending limits. Comparison of modernization activities in budget materials for fiscal year 2021 and earlier. The proposed funding in DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA's nuclear modernization activities for fiscal years 2021 through 2025 is about $81 billion, which is about $15 billion more (or about 23 percent greater) compared to NNSA's estimate for the same period in its fiscal year 2020 budget materials. The main factor contributing to this large increase in proposed funding for fiscal year 2021 was NNSA's reevaluation of the funding needed to meet existing requirements, rather than costs associated with new requirements outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Affordability discussion in the Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP. The Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP included a new section entitled, "Affordability Analysis." NNSA added this section in response to GAO's April 2017 recommendation that the agency include an assessment of its portfolio of modernization programs in future versions of the SSMP. The recommendation addressed a shortfall between NNSA's projected budget needs to meet program requirements and projections of the President's budget, a condition that could recur in the future. GAO found that NNSA's new section on affordability does not fully respond to its recommendation because the section does not provide information about how potential misalignment between NNSA's estimates of future modernization funding needs and projections of the President's modernization budgets may be addressed, or about the potential impacts of adjusting program schedules or cost or schedule overruns. Implications of potential New START expiration for modernization activities. New START is a treaty between the United States and Russia for the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, and it will expire in February 2021 unless both parties agree to extend it for no more than 5 years. DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure. NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification. GAO was asked to review issues related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as reflected in its nuclear security budget materials. DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA includes a proposed $3.1 billion increase for nuclear modernization activities. The budget justification states that it supports the modernization efforts and the scientific tools necessary to execute the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Nuclear posture reviews are issued periodically to assess the global threat environment and establish policy on U.S. nuclear forces. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Higher Education: IRS and Education Could Better Address Risks Associated with Some For-Profit College ConversionsBy Sam NewsJanuary 27, 2021GAO identified 59 for-profit college conversions that occurred from January 2011 through August 2020, almost all of which involved the college's sale to a tax-exempt organization. In about one-third of the conversions, GAO found that former owners or other officials were insiders to the conversion—for example, by creating the tax-exempt organization that purchased the college or retaining the presidency of the college after its sale (see figure). While leadership continuity can benefit a college, insider involvement in a conversion poses a risk that insiders may improperly benefit—for example, by influencing the tax-exempt purchaser to pay more for the college than it is worth. Once a conversion has ended a college's for-profit ownership and transferred ownership to an organization the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes as tax-exempt, the college must seek Department of Education (Education) approval to participate in federal student aid programs as a nonprofit college. Since January 2011, Education has approved 35 colleges as nonprofit colleges and denied two; nine are under review and 13 closed prior to Education reaching a decision. Figure: Example of a For-Profit College Conversion with Officials in Insider Roles IRS guidance directs staff to closely scrutinize whether significant transactions with insiders reported by an applicant for tax-exempt status will exceed fair-market value and improperly benefit insiders. If an application contains insufficient information to make that assessment, guidance says that staff may need to request additional information. In two of 11 planned or final conversions involving insiders that were disclosed in an application, GAO found that IRS approved the application without certain information, such as the college's planned purchase price or an appraisal report estimating the college's value. Without such information, IRS staff could not assess whether the price was inflated to improperly benefit insiders, which would be grounds to deny the application. If IRS staff do not consistently apply guidance, they may miss indications of improper benefit. Education has strengthened its reviews of for-profit college applications for nonprofit status, but it does not monitor newly converted colleges to assess ongoing risk of improper benefit. In two of three cases GAO reviewed in depth, college financial statements disclosed transactions with insiders that could indicate the risk of improper benefit. Education officials agreed that they could assess this risk through its audited financial statement review process and could develop procedures to do so. Until Education develops and implements such procedures for new conversions, potential improper benefit may go undetected. A for-profit college may convert to nonprofit status for a variety of reasons, such as wanting to align its status and mission. However, in some cases, former owners or other insiders could improperly benefit from the conversion, which is impermissible under the Internal Revenue Code and Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. GAO was asked to examine for-profit college conversions. This report reviews what is known about insider involvement in conversions and to what extent IRS and Education identify and respond to the risk of improper benefit. GAO identified converted for-profit colleges and reviewed their public IRS filings. GAO also examined IRS and Education processes for overseeing conversions, interviewed agency officials, and reviewed federal laws, regulations and agency guidance. GAO selected five case study colleges based on certain risk factors, obtained information from college officials, and reviewed their audited financial statements. In three cases, GAO also reviewed Education case files. Because of the focus on IRS and Education oversight, GAO did not audit any college in this review to determine whether its conversion improperly benefitted insiders. GAO is making three recommendations, including that IRS assess and improve conversion application reviews and that Education develop and implement procedures to monitor newly converted colleges. IRS said it will assess its review process and will evaluate GAO's other recommendation, as discussed in the report. Education agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Military Personnel: More DOD Actions Needed to Address Servicemembers’ Personal Financial Management IssuesBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) are concerned about the financial conditions of servicemembers and their families, particularly in light of recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Serious financial issues can negatively affect unit readiness. According to DOD, servicemembers with severe financial problems risk losing security clearances, incurring administrative or criminal penalties or, in some cases, face discharge. Despite increases in compensation and DOD programs on personal financial management (PFM), studies show that servicemembers, particularly junior enlisted personnel, continue to report financial difficulties. GAO assessed (1) the extent deployment impacts the financial condition of active duty servicemembers and their families, (2) whether DOD has an oversight framework for evaluating military programs designed to assist deployed and non-deployed servicemembers in managing their finances, and (3) the extent junior enlisted servicemembers receive required PFM training.The financial conditions of deployed and non-deployed servicemembers and their families are similar, but deployed servicemembers and their families may face additional financial problems related to pay. In both a 2003 DOD-wide survey and non-generalizable focus groups that GAO conducted on 13 military installations in the United States and Germany, servicemembers who were deployed reported similar financial conditions as those who were not deployed. Some of GAO's focus group participants also noted that they--like Army Reservists in GAO's 2004 report, Military Pay: Army Reserve Soldiers Mobilized to Active Duty Experienced Significant Pay Problems--had not received their $250 family separation allowance each month during their deployment. Pay record data showed that almost 6,000 deployed servicemembers had received more than the prescribed $250 in January 2005, and 11 of them received a $3,000 catch-up, lump sum payment--the equivalent of 12 months of the allowance. This pay problem was due, in part, to service procedures being confusing and not always followed. Families who do not receive this allowance each month may experience financial strain caused by additional expenses such as extra childcare. DOD lacks an oversight framework--with results-oriented performance measures and reporting requirements--for evaluating the effectiveness of PFM programs across the services. DOD's 2002 human capital strategic plan stated that a standardized evaluation system for PFM programs is a desired goal; however, DOD does not currently have such a system. In 2003, GAO reported that DOD had included evaluative reporting measures in a draft of its PFM instruction to the services. However, the final PFM instruction issued by DOD in 2004 did not address outcome measures or contain a requirement that the services report program results to DOD because the services objected to these additional reporting requirements. Without a policy requiring evaluation and a reporting relationship between DOD and the services, DOD and Congress do not have the visibility or oversight needed to address issues related to the PFM programs. Some junior enlisted servicemembers are not receiving PFM training that is required in service regulations. While each of the services implements PFM training differently, all of the services have policies requiring that PFM training be provided to junior enlisted servicemembers. Moreover, the extent to which the PFM training is not received is unknown because most of the services do not track the completion of PFM training at the service level. Only the Army collected installation-level data and could provide a service-wide estimate of PFM training completed by junior enlisted servicemembers. Senior Army officers said PFM training had not been a priority given the need to prepare for current operations. Top-level DOD officials have repeatedly stated that financial issues directly affect servicemembers' mission readiness and should be addressed. Therefore, units whose servicemembers do not receive required PFM training risk jeopardizing their ability to meet mission requirements.[Read More…]
- Sexual Harassment and Assault: Guidance Needed to Ensure Consistent Tracking, Response, and Training for DOD CiviliansBy Sam NewsFebruary 9, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to track reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault involving its federal civilian employees, but its visibility over both types of incidents is hindered by guidance and information-sharing challenges. While employees may not report all incidents for a variety of reasons, DOD also lacks visibility over those incidents that have been reported. For example, from fiscal years 2015 through 2019, DOD recorded 370 civilian employees as victims of sexual assault and 199 civilian employees as alleged offenders. However, these data do not include all incidents of sexual assault reported over this time period. Specifically, based on DOD guidance, examples of incidents that could be excluded from these data include those involving civilian employee victims (1) occurring in the continental United States, (2) employed by DOD components other than the military services, such as defense agencies, and (3) who are also military dependents. Without guidance that addresses these areas, DOD does not know the extent to which its civilian workforce has reported work-related sexual assault worldwide. Number of Department of Defense Federal Civilian Employees Recorded as Victims or Alleged Offenders in Reported Sexual Assault Incidents, Fiscal Years 2015-2019 While DOD has developed policies and procedures to respond to and resolve sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents involving federal civilian employees, gaps exist. For example, DOD issued guidance in June 2020 directing components to establish anti-harassment programs, but it lacks details regarding how such programs should be structured. Without clarifying guidance, components can establish programs that do not align with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance for model anti-harassment programs. Additionally, GAO found that DOD civilian employees' ability to make restricted reports of sexual assault—confidential disclosures that do not initiate official investigations, but allow the victim to receive DOD-provided sexual assault support services—varies across components. According to DOD officials, they have not taken action to resolve this variation due to conflicts with federal statute, among other things. By reporting to and requesting any needed actions from Congress to resolve any conflicts with statute, the department can alleviate such inconsistencies and minimize legal risks for DOD components. With nearly 900,000 federal civilian employees around the world, DOD has responsibilities for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault within its workforce. In fiscal year 2018, DOD estimated that about 49,700 civilian employees experienced sexual harassment and about 2,500 civilian employees experienced work-related sexual assault in the prior year. House Report 116-120 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's prevention of and response to sexual harassment and assault involving DOD federal civilian employees. GAO's report examines, among other things, the extent to which DOD has (1) visibility over such reported incidents, and (2) developed and implemented policies and procedures to respond to and resolve these incidents. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; analyzed program data from fiscal years 2015 through 2019; interviewed officials at a nongeneralizable sample of five military installations; evaluated DOD training materials; and interviewed DOD, service, and civilian officials. GAO is making 19 recommendations, including that DOD issue guidance for comprehensive tracking of civilian work-related sexual assaults, enhance guidance on the structure of anti-harassment programs for civilians, and report to and request any needed actions from Congress on the ability of civilian employees to make restricted reports of sexual assault. As discussed in the report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Improved Planning and Acquisition Strategies Can Help Address Operational ChallengesBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The current generation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) has been in development for defense applications since the 1980's. As of February 2006, the Department of Defense (DOD) had more than 3,000 unmanned aircraft, about 2,000 of which are supporting ongoing operations in Iraq. DOD's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review validates the importance of unmanned systems and establishes plans to significantly expand investment in unmanned systems and their use in military operations over the next several years. The Congress has been particularly interested in DOD's approach to determining UAS needs and managing the growing number of UAS programs. This testimony addresses GAO's prior work and preliminary observations on (1) the operational successes and challenges U.S. forces are experiencing with UAS in combat operations, and the extent to which DOD has taken steps to address challenges; (2) DOD's progress in establishing a strategic plan and oversight framework to guide joint and service-specific UAS development efforts and related investment decisions; and (3) our assessment of the Global Hawk and Predator programs' business cases and acquisition strategies and the lessons learned that can be applied to the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program.DOD has experienced a high level of mission successes with UAS, but continues to face challenges in fully maximizing the use of these assets. In operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces have used UAS for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and offensive strike missions in support of joint and service-specific operations. As the numbers of UAS operating in the same airspace as manned aircraft grows, DOD continues to face operational challenges related to interoperability, availability of communications bandwidth, and airspace integration. While DOD and the services have taken some positive initial steps to address these challenges, such as issuing guidance and developing initiatives to improve interoperability, limited progress has been made and the effectiveness of these efforts cannot be adequately assessed until they are fully implemented. While DOD continues to request funds to support service plans for acquiring UAS, it still lacks a viable strategic plan to guide UAS development and investment decisions. Since GAO last reported, DOD established new oversight bodies and updated its UAS Roadmap, but it is too early to tell how the new entities will interrelate and whether they will be able to influence service plans. Also, the updated roadmap identifies broad goals, desired capabilities, and service acquisition plans, but lacks critical elements, such as a clear link among goals, capabilities, and plans, opportunities for joint endeavors, and funding priorities and needs. Until DOD develops a strategic plan, it will not be well positioned to validate requirements, evaluate and integrate services plans, and establish program and funding priorities, nor will Congress have all the information it needs to evaluate funding requests. Such a plan would also help DOD anticipate and minimize the types of challenges that are being experienced today. While there have been successes on the battlefield, UAS development programs have shared many of the same problems as other major weapon systems that begin an acquisition program too early, with many uncertainties about requirements, funding, and immature technology, design, and production. Unmanned systems have also experienced similar outcomes--changing requirements, cost growth, delays in delivery, performance shortfalls, and reliability and support problems. Future acquisition programscan learn from past efforts to craft better and less risky acquisition plans. Key steps conducive to success include preparing a comprehensive business case, adopting a knowledge-based and incremental acquisition strategy, and sustaining disciplined leadership and direction. Frequent changes to the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems technology demonstration program and recent budget actions raise some questions about the Department's priorities and future directions for UAS. Concerns have also been raised about possible duplication of systems as the services look to expand individual fleets. Ongoing Army and Air Force efforts to coordinate the Warrior and Predator programs are encouraging and could be a model for limiting duplication and fostering jointness and interoperability.[Read More…]
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