Judiciary leaders are expressing deep concern that Congress has failed to provide funding to protect federal judges and courthouses, and are urging House and Senate leaders to appropriate money to address a “worsening” safety environment.
“We look to you to help address those needs and promote our mutual goal of a safe, effective Judiciary,” said Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Conference’s Budget Committee, in an Aug. 11 letter (pdf).
“The number of security incidents are increasing and the threat environment is worsening,” they said. “The continued existence of these threats and vulnerabilities poses serious risks not just to specific judges, court personnel, or facilities, but also to the effective administration of justice in this country.”
Mauskopf and Lungstrum cited a decision to remove $182.5 million in judicial security funding from the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, a law recently passed in response to the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks and for other purposes. The judicial security funding was included in earlier iterations of the bill, but was dropped from the final bill. The letter called that decision “deeply concerning.”
The Judiciary has pushed for additional security funding since July 2020, when the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas was murdered, and her husband was gravely wounded, by a disgruntled litigant who came to their New Jersey home posing as a delivery courier. During public disturbances last year, more than 50 courthouses were damaged, and two security employees were shot near courthouses, one fatally.
“The Judiciary began sounding the alarm about critical security vulnerabilities over a year ago,” they wrote. “A comprehensive approach is required to effectively address the growing violence and threats facing the Judiciary. Our constitutional system depends on judges who can make decisions without fear of reprisal or retribution.”
The letter was sent to the House and Senate leadership, and to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee (pdf). It noted that the Judiciary’s $1.54 billion infrastructure request seeks $389.5 million in judicial and courthouse security spending, if Congress approves additional infrastructure funding through the budget reconciliation process. That security request includes:
- $112.5 million to harden courthouses to withstand a hostile incursion;
- $10 million for a new security vulnerability program to proactively manage security vulnerabilities at the national, circuit, and district level; and
- $267 million as a direct appropriation to the Federal Protective Service to upgrade aging perimeter security cameras at federal courthouses and other court facilities.
- Coin and Currency Production: Issues Concerning Who Should Provide SecurityBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021The U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), which produce the nation's coins and currency, provide their own security and have experienced some problems with theft by employees. Although security is necessary to carry out the agencies' missions, their primary function is producing money. In light of these thefts, a congressional committee asked GAO whether the Mint and BEP should continue to provide their own security or whether the United States Secret Service should provide their security. Among the issues that GAO was asked to address were (1) how do the Mint, BEP, and other organizations that produce or handle large amounts of cash provide their security; (2) what thefts have occurred at the Mint and BEP and what steps have they taken to prevent thefts from recurring; and (3) what are the potential benefits and costs of having the Secret Service provide Mint and BEP security? The Mint said it generally agreed with the findings and conclusions that applied to the Mint. BEP and the Secret Service provided technical comments regarding the report, which GAO incorporated where appropriate, but had no overall comments on the report.The Mint and BEP use their own police forces to provide security. Eight of the 12 coin and currency organizations in the other G7 nations responded to our requests for information. Four organizations reported that they only used their own security forces; 2 organizations said they used their own security forces supplemented with contractor personnel; 1 organization said it used an outside agency to supplement its own security force; and 1 organization said that it used an outside agency to provide its security. Private businesses that handle large amounts of cash, such as banks and casinos, that we contacted said they used either their own security staff or contractor staff. The Mint and BEP have experienced some thefts by employees over the last decade. The Mint, which did not have records of security incidents that occurred more than 5 years ago, reported 74 incidents of theft involving about $93,000 from 1998 though 2002, while BEP reported 11 incidents of theft from 1993 through 2002 involving about $1.8 million. Both the Mint and BEP had threat assessments made of their facilities and processes and took corrective action to enhance security. The Secret Service said that if its Uniformed Division were charged with the responsibility of protecting the Mint and BEP, the two agencies could benefit from the Secret Service's expertise in protection and criminal investigations. However, unlike Secret Service police officers, Mint and BEP security personnel are already familiar with the coin and currency production processes, which is a benefit in identifying security risks in these manufacturing facilities. Further, if the Secret Service protected the Mint and BEP, the government could incur additional costs because the Secret Service requires more training for its officers than the Mint and BEP police. The Secret Service police officers also are provided more costly retirement benefits than the Mint and BEP police.[Read More…]
- Genetic Services: Information on Genetic Counselor and Medical Geneticist WorkforcesBy Sam NewsJuly 31, 2020Genetic counselors and medical geneticists are two groups who typically work together to provide genetic services, such as genetic testing and counseling. Genetic counselors have at least a master's degree in genetic counseling and assess individuals or families with or at risk for genetic conditions, and provide counseling and education on test results. Medical geneticists are typically physicians who specialize in medical genetics and genomics, and provide comprehensive genetic services, ranging from diagnosis and interpretation of test results to the management and treatment of genetic conditions. GAO's analysis of data from the professional organizations representing this workforce shows the number of genetic counselors certified to provide genetic counseling services has nearly doubled since 2009, and is projected to continue growing. The data show there were approximately 4,700 certified genetics counselors in the United States in 2019. The data also show the number of new medical geneticists has increased modestly since 2009, and the total number certified in the United States was approximately 1,240 as of April 2020. There is no widely accepted measure for how many genetic counselors and medical geneticists should be available; however, representatives from professional organizations GAO interviewed stated that demand for genetic services is rising. Data from the professional organizations representing the genetic counselor and medical geneticist workforces, as well as data from the Census Bureau, also show the number of genetic counselors and medical geneticists varied across states. States averaged seven genetic counselors per 500,000 people in 2019 and two medical geneticists per 500,000 people in 2020. Genetic counselors and medical geneticists primarily practice in hospital settings. Distribution of Genetic Counselors by State, 2019 Advances in genetic technology and research have increased the amount of information available to individuals and providers, and may have increased the demand for genetic services. The medical genetics workforce—which includes genetic counselors and medical geneticists—plays an essential role in providing access to genetic services. Some studies have identified concerns with the size of the medical genetics workforce and its ability to meet the current and future demand for genetic services. A House Committee on Appropriations report included a provision for GAO to conduct an analysis of the medical genetics workforce. This report describes, among other objectives, what is known about changes in the size of the genetic counselor and medical geneticist workforces; and what is known about the geographic distribution of these workforces. GAO reviewed relevant studies of the genetic counselor and medical geneticist workforces; interviewed agency officials and professional organizations representing each workforce; and analyzed the most recent available data on the size and distribution of each workforce in the United States, as well as population data from the Census Bureau. GAO provided a draft of this report to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or CosgroveJ@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Military Personnel: Perspectives on DOD’s and the Military Services’ Use of Borrowed Military PersonnelBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020Policies on the use of borrowed military personnel vary among military services. Borrowed military personnel refers to military personnel used for duties outside their assigned positions, such as security protection. DOD policy acknowledges that there may be instances in which military personnel can be used to appropriately satisfy a near-term demand but that DOD must be vigilant in ensuring that military personnel are not inappropriately utilized, particularly in a manner that may degrade readiness. Additionally, the Army and the Marine Corps have their own policies that describes how military personnel may be used on a temporary basis. DOD and the Army, Navy, and Air Force do not centrally track their use of borrowed military personnel, nor do they assess any impacts of that use on the readiness of units and personnel to accomplish their assigned missions. According to DOD and Army officials, the relatively limited use of borrowed military manpower, their limited impacts on readiness, and the existence of other readiness reporting mechanisms serve to obviate the need to collect and analyze this information centrally—especially given the resources that would be required to establish and maintain such a reporting process. The House Armed Services Committee has questioned whether DOD continues to divert servicemembers from their unit assignments to perform nonmilitary functions that could be performed by civilian employees. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to assess the levels and impacts of borrowed military personnel. This report examines DOD's and the military services' policies on the use of borrowed military personnel, the tracking and reporting of their use of borrowed military personnel, and any impacts of that use on readiness. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202)512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- COVID-19: Reviewing Existing Policies Could Help Selected Agencies Better Prepare for Dedicated User Fee Revenue FluctuationsBy Sam NewsSeptember 29, 2021What GAO Found Executive branch agencies' revenues from dedicated user fees were lower in fiscal year 2020 and in the first half of fiscal year 2021 compared to average annual revenues in fiscal years 2017 through 2019, the 3 fiscal years prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the declaration of the pandemic as a national emergency in March 2020, these revenues were about 39 percent lower than the previous 3-year average during the same period. Executive Branch Agencies' Revenue from Dedicated User Fees in Fiscal Year 2020 Was Lower Overall than the Previous 3-year Average Note: For more details, see figure 2 in GAO-21-104325. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Park Service (NPS), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) all prioritized spending on essential expenses, sought to increase available funds or operational flexibilities, and relied on carryover balances to cover essential expenses during the pandemic. However, FAA and NPS have not documented plans to review certain management plans and policies. FAA drafted a cash management plan containing measures to help it carry out mission-critical functions in a time of Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) revenue instability. FAA officials told GAO they may revisit the plan to align it with leadership priorities in case of future AATF revenue instability. However, FAA has not documented plans to conduct such a review, which could help FAA better prepare for future periods of revenue instability. NPS parks relied on funds carried over from previous years during the pandemic to various extents, depending on local circumstances. NPS requires many fee-collecting parks to carry over no more than 35 percent of the previous year's revenue from certain fees. The agency has not completed an analysis to determine the efficacy of this policy since its implementation in 2010. Because of this, NPS may not be maintaining its carryover balances in the most effective way. Why GAO Did This Study Each year, federal agencies collect billions of dollars in dedicated user fee revenue from fees charged to users of federal goods and services, which are dedicated by law for a specific purpose or program. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted critical government operations for agencies that rely on these revenues. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to review the effects of the pandemic on public institutions of the U.S. This report examines how dedicated user fee revenues have changed since the onset of the pandemic and how selected agencies managed revenue changes related to the pandemic, among other objectives. To determine revenue changes, GAO compared dedicated user fee revenues in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to amounts from prior years. GAO selected three agencies to review—FAA, NPS, and USCIS—based on whether they relied on dedicated user fee revenue to a high (FAA and USCIS) or low (NPS) extent, among other factors. GAO interviewed officials at the selected agencies and reviewed relevant documents to determine how these agencies managed revenue changes, and compared those actions to internal control standards and leading practices for fee design.[Read More…]
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- Priority Open Recommendations: U.S. Department of AgricultureBy Sam NewsJuly 8, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 12 priority recommendations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since then, USDA has implemented two of those recommendations. The department publicized information on state agencies’ use of data matching to reduce recipient fraud. USDA also ensured its workforce data are more reliable. In July 2021, GAO identified one additional priority recommendation for USDA, bringing the total number to 11. These recommendations involve the following areas: protecting the safety of the food supply. reducing improper payments. strengthening protections for wage earners. improving oversight of federal assistance and awards. improving cybersecurity. USDA’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/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 Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq: U.S. Ministry Capacity Development Efforts Need an Overall Integrated Strategy to Guide Efforts and Manage RiskBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021Iraq's ministries were decimated following years of neglect and centralized control under the former regime. Developing competent and loyal Iraqi ministries is critical to stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq. The President received $140 million in fiscal year 2007 funds and requested an additional $255 million in fiscal year 2008 to develop the capacity of the Iraq's ministries. This report assesses (1) the nature and extent of U.S. efforts to develop the capacity of the Iraqi ministries, (2) the key challenges to these efforts, and (3) the extent to which the U.S. government has an overall integrated strategy for these efforts. For this effort, GAO reviewed U.S. project contracts and reports and interviewed officials from the Departments of State (State), Defense (DOD), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Baghdad and Washington, D.C.Over the past 4 years, U.S. efforts to help build the capacity of the Iraqi national government have been characterized by (1) multiple U.S. agencies leading individual efforts, without overarching direction from a lead entity that integrates their efforts; and (2) shifting timeframes and priorities in response to deteriorating security and the reorganization of the U.S. mission in Iraq. First, no single agency is in charge of leading the U.S. ministry capacity development efforts, although State took steps to improve coordination in early 2007. State, DOD and USAID have led separate efforts at Iraqi ministries. About $169 million in funds were allocated in 2005 and 2006 for these efforts. As of mid-2007, State and USAID were providing 169 capacity development advisors to 10 key civilian ministries and DOD was providing 215 to the Ministries of Defense and Interior. Second, the focus of U.S. capacity development efforts has shifted from long-term institution-building projects, such as helping the Iraqi government develop its own capacity development strategy, to an immediate effort to help Iraqi ministries overcome their inability to spend their capital budgets and deliver essential services to the Iraqi people. U.S. ministry capacity efforts face four key challenges that pose a risk to their success and long-term sustainability. First, Iraqi ministries lack personnel with key skills, such as budgeting and procurement. Second, sectarian influence over ministry leadership and staff complicates efforts to build a professional and non-aligned civil service. Third, pervasive corruption in the Iraqi ministries impedes the effectiveness of U.S. efforts. Fourth, poor security limits U.S. advisors' access to their Iraqi counterparts, preventing ministry staff from attending planned training sessions and contributing to the exodus of skilled professionals to other countries. The U.S. government is beginning to develop an integrated strategy for U.S. capacity development efforts in Iraq, although agencies have been implementing separate programs since 2003. GAO's previous analyses of U.S. multiagency national strategies demonstrate that such a strategy should integrate the efforts of the involved agencies with the priorities of the Iraqi government, and include a clear purpose and scope; a delineation of U.S. roles, responsibilities, and coordination with other donors, including the United Nations; desired goals and objectives; performance measures; and a description of benefits and costs. Moreover, it should attempt to address and mitigate the risks associated with the four challenges identified above. U.S. ministry capacity efforts to date have included some but not all of these components. For example, agencies are working to clarify roles and responsibilities. However, U.S. efforts lack clear ties to Iraqi-identified priorities at all ministries, clear performance measures to determine results at civilian ministries, and information on how resources will be targeted to achieve the desired end-state.[Read More…]
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- Electricity Grid Resilience: Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take ActionsBy Sam NewsMarch 10, 2021What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. This testimony summarizes GAO's report on grid resilience to climate change. Specifically, the testimony discusses (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.[Read More…]
- Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Taking the Call ConferenceBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2021Hello, and welcome to the Taking the Call national conference. It is a pleasure to be part of this new event focused on a crucial topic. I want to thank our Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the University of Cincinnati for organizing this event.[Read More…]
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- Defense Health: Coordinating Authority Needed for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Activities [Reissued on January 27, 2012]By Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found From fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2010, DOD activities for the treatment and research of PH and TBI received more than $2.7 billion. In fiscal year 2007, funding for these activities totaled $900 million; in fiscal year 2008, it was $573.8 million; in fiscal year 2009, $395 million; and in fiscal year 2010, $838.6 million. GAO found, however, that the reports DOD provided to Congress on these activities did not include expenditures, as required by law, and that the obligations data they contained were unreliable. Governmentwide policies call for agencies to have effective internal controls to assure accurate reporting of obligations and expenditures. However, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs has not developed quality control mechanisms to help ensure that data on PH and TBI activities are complete and accurate. Further, although DOD listed patient care among reported costs, it did not specify what those costs included, making it difficult for decisionmakers and Congress to fully understand the costs. No one organization coordinates DOD’s PH and TBI activities. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 directed the Secretary of Defense to establish a Center for PTSD and a Center for TBI to, among other things, implement DOD’s comprehensive plans for these issues, disseminate best practices, provide guidance, and conduct research. Subsequently, a Senior Oversight Committee established by the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs reported in its plan to Congress that DOD had created a single Defense Center of Excellence for PH and TBI (DCOE) to lead efforts in practice standards, training, outreach, research, and direct care. The Committee tasked DCOE with acting as an information clearinghouse that would allow servicemembers and their families to navigate the system of care. In its own plan, DCOE stated that it would serve as a coordinating authority for DOD's PH and TBI issues and perform a gap analysis to identify needed programming. GAO found, however, as it had in prior reports, that DCOE’s strategic plan did not reflect a clear mission focusing the organization on its statutory responsibilities. Instead, those responsibilities are dispersed among the TRICARE Management Activity, the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, and others. While the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs has broad oversight for all of DOD’s medical missions, its global role prevents it from focusing on PH and TBI activities specifically. As a result, no single organization is devoted to ensuring that accurate and timely data are available on DOD’s PH and TBI activities or coordinating these activities. GAO, in conducting this review, had to obtain information from several different sources to compile a comprehensive list of DOD's PH and TBI activities. This finding was echoed in a recent RAND report that also noted that no single source in DOD tracked its PH and TBI programs or had appropriate resources to direct servicemembers to the full array of programs available. Without an entity to coordinate these activities, DOD will remain hampered in its efforts to ensure that resources are used effectively to meet goals, and Congress will be limited in its ability to obtain reliable information to guide decisionmaking. Why GAO Did This Study Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which falls into the broader field of psychological health (PH), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are recognized as the signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In two reports issued in 2011 (GAO-11-219 and GAO-11-611 ), GAO cited numerous management weaknesses at the Defense Center of Excellence for PH and TBI (DCOE). For the present report, GAO reviewed (1) funding for DOD's PH and TBI activities in fiscal years 2007 through 2010 and the accuracy of its reporting on these activities to Congress and (2) DOD's ability to coordinate its PH and TBI activities to help ensure that funds are used to support programs of the most benefit to service- members. GAO interviewed DOD officials, reviewed legislation and DOD’s annual reports, and obtained relevant documentation.[Read More…]