December 3, 2021

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Justice Department Addresses Rise in Criminal Conduct on Commercial Aircraft

9 min read
<div>As the holiday travel season commences, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize prosecution of federal crimes occurring on commercial aircraft that endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants.</div>
As the holiday travel season commences, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize prosecution of federal crimes occurring on commercial aircraft that endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants.

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    The Army and Marine Corps maintenance depots provide critical support to ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and are heavily involved in efforts to reset the force. The Department of Defense (DOD) has an interest in ensuring that the depots remain operationally effective, efficient, and capable of meeting future maintenance requirements. In 2008, in response to direction by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Army and the Marine Corps each submitted a depot maintenance strategic plan. Our objective was to evaluate the extent to which these plans provide comprehensive strategies for meeting future depot maintenance requirements. GAO determined whether the plans were consistent with the criteria for developing a results-oriented management framework and fully addressed OSD's criteria.The depot maintenance strategic plans developed by the Army and Marine Corps identify key issues affecting the depots, but do not provide assurance that the depots will be postured and resourced to meet future maintenance requirements because they do not fully address all of the elements required for a comprehensive, results-oriented management framework. Nor are they fully responsive to OSD's direction for developing the plans. While the services' strategic plans contain mission statements, along with long-term goals and objectives, they do not fully address all the elements needed for sound strategic planning, such as external factors that may affect how goals and objectives will be accomplished, performance indicators or metrics that measure outcomes and gauge progress, and resources required to meet the goals and objectives. Also, the plans partially address four issues that OSD directed the services, at a minimum, to include in their plans, such as logistics transformation, core logistics capability assurance, workforce revitalization, and capital investment. Army and Marine Corps officials involved with the development of the service strategic plans acknowledged that their plans do not fully address the OSD criteria, but they stated that the plans nevertheless address issues they believe are critical to maintaining effective, long-term depot maintenance capabilities. The Army's and Marine Corps' plans also are not comprehensive because they do not provide strategies for mitigating and reducing uncertainties in future workloads that affect the depots' ability to plan for meeting future maintenance requirements. Such uncertainties stem primarily from a lack of information on (1) workload that will replace current work on existing systems, which is expected to decline, and (2) workload associated with new systems that are in the acquisition pipeline. According to depot officials, to effectively plan for future maintenance requirements, the depots need timely and reliable information from their major commands on both the amounts and types of workloads they should expect to receive in future years. Depot officials told us that the information they receive from their major commands on their future workloads are uncertain beyond the current fiscal year. Officials cited various factors that contribute to these uncertainties, such as volatility in workload requirements, changing wartime environment, budget instability, and unanticipated changes in customer orders. In addition, depot officials said that they are not involved in the sustainment portion of the life cycle management planning process for new and modified systems. No clear process exists that would enable them to have input into weapon system program managers' decisions on how and where new and modified systems will be supported and maintained in the future. Unless they are integrated in this planning process, these officials said, the depots will continue to have uncertainties about what capabilities they will need to plan for future workloads and what other resources they will need to support new and modified weapon systems.
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  • Behavioral Health: Patient Access, Provider Claims Payment, and the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO found that there have been longstanding concerns about the availability of behavioral health treatment, particularly for low-income individuals. According to a review of federal data, one potential barrier to accessing treatment has been shortages of qualified behavioral health professionals, particularly in rural areas. Stakeholders that GAO interviewed—officials from the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) and from hospital associations and insurance regulators in four states—cited additional contributing factors such as provider reimbursement rates and health system capacity. Additionally, recent reports from Pennsylvania and Oregon further documented longstanding problems with meeting the need for behavioral health services in their states. Evidence collected during the pandemic suggests the prevalence of behavioral health conditions has increased, while access to in-person behavioral health services has decreased: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey data collected from April 2020 through February 2021 found that the percentage of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression averaged 38 percent. In comparison, using similar questions, CDC found that about 11 percent of U.S. adults reported experiencing these symptoms from January to June 2019. An analysis of CDC data found that the share of emergency department visits for drug overdoses and suicide attempts were 36 and 26 percent higher, respectively, for the period of mid-March through mid-October 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. In a February 2021 survey of its members, NCBH found that in the 3 months preceding the survey, about two-thirds of the member organizations surveyed reported demand for their services increasing and having to cancel or reschedule patient appointments or turn patients away. The survey also found that during the pandemic, 27 percent of member organizations reported laying off employees, 45 percent reported closing some programs, and 35 percent decreased the hours for staff. Officials GAO interviewed from provider organizations offered anecdotal examples of problems with payments for behavioral health services, including examples suggesting that denials and delays were more common for these services than they were for medical/surgical services. However, most officials were not aware of published data that could confirm their concerns, and data from reports from two states on claims denials either did not support their concerns or were inconclusive. In addition, a report in one state that examined mental health parity—requirements that behavioral health benefits are not more restrictive than medical/surgical benefits—found that the rate of complaints associated with behavioral health services was notably lower than those for medical/surgical services. The lack of available data confirming stakeholder concerns could be related to potential challenges consumers and providers face in identifying and reporting mental health parity violations, as previously reported by GAO. Specifically, in 2019, GAO found that complaints were not a reliable indicator of such violations, because consumers may not know about parity requirements or may have privacy concerns related to submitting a complaint. GAO recommended that the federal agencies involved in the oversight of mental health parity requirements evaluate the effectiveness of their oversight efforts. As of March 2021, the agencies had not yet implemented this recommendation. Why GAO Did This Study Behavioral health conditions, which include mental health and substance use disorders, affect a substantial number of adults in the United States. For example, in 2019, an estimated 52 million adults in the United States were reported to have a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, and 20 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder. Experts have expressed concerns that the incidence of behavioral health conditions would increase as a result of stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, longstanding questions have been raised about whether coverage or claims for behavioral health services are denied or delayed at higher rates than those for other health services. GAO was asked to examine several issues about the demand for behavioral health services, as well as coverage and payment for these services. GAO examined (1) what is known about the need for and availability of behavioral health services, and how these have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic; and (2) what issues selected stakeholders identified regarding the payment of claims for behavioral health services. GAO reviewed survey data and other relevant analyses focused on the need for and availability of behavioral health services prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO also reviewed reports from two states that compared claims for behavioral health services with those of other health services; interviewed officials from NCBH; and interviewed officials from hospital associations and insurance regulators in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at 202-512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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  • Afghanistan Reconstruction: Progress Made in Constructing Roads, but Assessments for Determining Impact and a Sustainable Maintenance Program Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    The Afghan government, the United States, and other donors consider road reconstruction a top development priority for Afghanistan. Almost 20 percent of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) $5.9 billion in assistance to Afghanistan has been for roads. The Department of Defense (Defense) has committed about $560 million for roads, of which Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds account for over half. GAO examined (1) the status of road reconstruction and challenges affecting project implementation, (2) U.S. agencies' efforts to evaluate the impact of road projects, and (3) efforts to develop a sustainable road maintenance program. GAO reviewed U.S. and Afghan governments' planning, evaluation, and funding documents and interviewed relevant stakeholders in Afghanistan.The United States and other donors have completed construction of several regional and national highways since 2002, but the status of other roads is uncertain and various challenges have delayed construction. The Afghan government and international donors planned to complete the high-priority regional highways by the end of 2008, and as of February 2008, about 60 percent of these roads were built. USAID has completed its portion, but completion of other portions is not expected until late 2009. Donors have committed to construct over 30 percent of national highways, which connect provincial capitals to the regional highways, and only USAID has completed portions of these highways. Detailed information on the status of provincial and rural roads is lacking. Although Defense reported committing CERP funds for 1,600 kilometers of roads, data on the roads were incomplete and Defense has not reported information on these roads to USAID, as required. Poor security, project implementer limitations, and starting construction with limited planning have contributed to project delays and cost increases. U.S. agencies have not conducted sound impact evaluations to determine the degree to which projects achieved the objective of economic development. Limitations of USAID's funding, data collection, and frameworks to assess results have impeded its ability to evaluate project impact. Defense has not conducted any impact evaluations and lacks clear guidance on project evaluation. However, agency officials have noted some anecdotal examples of road construction impact, such as reduced travel times and increased commerce. Moreover, no other donor has performed impact evaluations. A sustainable road maintenance program has not been established, although it is a goal of the Afghan government and international donors. The Afghan government's support of this goal has been limited due to factors such as a lack of resources and a fragmented institutional organization. As a result, international donors have agreed to temporarily fund road maintenance to protect their investments. While USAID plans to maintain about 1,500 kilometers of roads it built, it did not meet its 2007 target to maintain 100 kilometers of reconstructed roads.
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    In Crime News
    The Boeing Company (Boeing) has entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice to resolve a criminal charge related to a conspiracy to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) in connection with the FAA AEG’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane.
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  • Chief Standing Bear: A Hero of Native American Civil Rights
    In U.S Courts
    A new Moments in History video, in recognition of Native American Heritage Month, recounts how Chief Standing Bear persuaded a federal judge in 1879 to recognize Native Americans as persons with the right to sue for their freedom, establishing him as one of the nation’s earliest civil rights heroes.
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  • Statement by Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson on the Pakistani Supreme Court’s Ruling Relating to the Abduction and Murder of Daniel Pearl
    In Crime News
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  • Department of Justice Begins Second Distribution of Funds Recovered Through Asset Forfeiture to Compensate Victims of Western Union Fraud Scheme, Bringing Total to Over $300 Million
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that the Western Union Remission Fund began its second distribution of approximately $148 million in funds forfeited to the U.S. government from the Western Union Company (Western Union) to approximately 33,000 victims located in the United States and abroad. These victims, many of whom were elderly victims of consumer fraud and abuse, will be recovering the full amount of their losses.
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  • Indictment Unsealed Against Six Individuals and Foreign Financial Service Firm for Tax Evasion Conspiracy
    In Crime News
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  • Defense Health Care: Oversight of Military Services’ Post-Deployment Health Reassessment Completion Rates Is Limited
    In U.S GAO News
    Military servicemembers engaged in combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq are at risk of developing combat-related mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In many cases, signs of potential mental health conditions do not surface until months after servicemembers return from deployment. In 2004, Army researchers published a series of articles that indicated a significant increase in the number of servicemembers reporting mental health concerns 90 to 120 days after returning from deployment, compared with mental health concerns reported before or soon after deployment. These findings led the Department of Defense (DOD) in March 2005 to develop requirements and policies for the post-deployment health reassessment (PDHRA) as part of its continuum of deployment health assessments for servicemembers. PDHRA is a screening tool for military servicemembers; it is designed to identify and address their health concerns--including mental health concerns--90 to 180 days after return from deployment. Servicemembers answer a set of questions about their physical and mental health conditions and concerns, and health care providers review the answers and refer servicemembers for further evaluation and treatment if necessary. A November 2007 study showed that a larger number of servicemembers indicated mental health concerns on their PDHRAs than on assessments earlier in their deployment cycles. Although DOD established PDHRA requirements and policies, it gave the military services discretion to implement them to meet their unique needs as long as the services adhere to the requirements and policies. DOD oversees the military services' compliance with PDHRA requirements through its deployment health assessment quality assurance program and is required to report on the quality assurance program annually to the Armed Services Committees of the House of Representatives and Senate. In June 2007, we reported that DOD's oversight of its deployment health assessments does not provide DOD or Congress with the information needed to evaluate DOD and the military services' compliance with deployment health assessment requirements. That report is part of a body of work in which we identified weaknesses in DOD's quality assurance program. The Senate Committee on Armed Services directed us to review DOD's oversight of PDHRA, and the House Committee on Armed Services and 11 senators also expressed interest in this work. In this report, we focus on how DOD ensures that servicemembers complete the PDHRA. Specifically, we discuss how well DOD's quality assurance program oversees the military services' compliance with the requirement that they ensure that servicemembers complete the PDHRA.DOD's quality assurance program has limitations and does not allow the department to accurately assess whether the military services ensure that servicemembers complete the PDHRA. DOD's quality assurance program relies on quarterly reports from each military service, monthly reports from AFHSC, and site visits to military installations to oversee the military services' compliance with deployment health assessment requirements, including completion of PDHRA. Each of these sources of information has limitations. The military services' quarterly reports and the monthly reports from AFHSC do not provide the information DOD needs to accurately assess the military services' PDHRA completion rates, which would allow DOD to determine if the military services have ensured that servicemembers completed the PDHRA. These reports do not allow DOD to calculate a completion rate because they do not provide essential information, such as the total number of servicemembers who returned from deployment and should have completed the PDHRA in that quarter or month. Furthermore, DOD cannot use information collected from site visits to validate the services' quarterly reports because the small number of site visits constitutes an insufficient sample for validation purposes. In our 2007 report, we recommended that DOD make enhancements to its quality assurance program, which would allow the department to better evaluate compliance with deployment health requirements. Although DOD concurred with the recommendation included in the 2007 report, as of June 2008, the department had not implemented the recommendation. As a result, DOD's quality assurance program cannot provide decision makers with reasonable assurance that servicemembers complete PDHRA. Overall, DOD concurred with our report's findings and conclusions; however, DOD identified several items in the report that it addressed in written comments. DOD suggested that the function of oversight is beyond the scope of the quality assurance program. Additionally, DOD commented that the department is taking steps that it believes will resolve some of the issues we note in this report. However, DOD did not provide us with relevant details or evidence pertaining to these efforts. We believe that oversight is an essential function of the quality assurance program and that the program currently does not receive the information necessary to perform this function.
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