The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida today concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions at Lowell Correctional Institution (Lowell) in Ocala, Florida, violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Specifically, the department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Lowell fails to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff.
As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the department provided the facility with written notice of the supporting facts for these alleged conditions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.
“Prison officials have a constitutional duty to protect prisoners from harm, including sexual abuse by staff,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Sexual abuse is never acceptable, and it is not part of any prisoner’s sentence. Our investigation found that staff sexually abused women incarcerated at Lowell and that these women remain at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff. Our investigation also found that sexual abuse is frequent. This systemic misconduct means that many women suffer abuse. In addition, prisoners are discouraged from reporting sexual abuse and investigations of sexual abuse allegations are inadequate. This illegal and indecent treatment of women must end, and the Department of Justice will not tolerate it.”
“Sexual abuse cannot be tolerated anywhere and female prison inmates are particularly vulnerable during their confinement,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida. “This investigation represents a first step towards putting an end to sexual abuse at the Lowell Correctional Institution, and we look forward to working with the State of Florida in finding tangible, effective solutions.”
The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Middle District of Florida initiated the investigation in April 2018 under CRIPA, which authorizes the department to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Communication with Applicants and Address Fraud RisksBy Sam NewsJuly 31, 2021What GAO Found Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applicants and recipients varied in terms of business size, years in operation, and industry, based on GAO's analysis of Small Business Administration (SBA) data from March 2020 through February 2021: Business size. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 81 percent) and EIDL recipients (about 86 percent) were smaller businesses (10 or fewer employees). Years in operation. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 63 percent) had been in operation for less than 5 years. However, businesses in operation for more than 5 years received the majority of total EIDL loan dollars and had higher approval rates compared to newer businesses. Industry. Businesses in the personal services and transportation industries made up the largest share of applicants, while those in the legal services and lodging industries were approved for loans at the highest rates (see figure). Top Loan Applicants and Approval Rates by Business Industry In addition, small businesses in counties with higher median household income, better internet access, and more diverse populations generally received more loans per 1,000 businesses and larger loans. EIDL applicants have faced a number of challenges, according to applicants and other business stakeholders GAO interviewed between August 2020 and February 2021. For example, applicants from five discussion groups and several stakeholders cited lack of information and uncertainty about application status as major concerns. In addition, until February 2021, SBA did not provide important information to potential applicants, such as limits on loan amounts and definitions of certain program terms. Lack of important program information and application status put pressure on SBA's resources and negatively affected applicants' experience. For example, SBA's customer service line experienced call surges that resulted in long wait times, and SBA's data showed that 5.3 million applications were duplicates. SBA's planning documents describe in general terms the public outreach to be conducted following disasters, but they do not detail the type or timing of the information to be provided. Developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that includes these details could improve the quality, clarity, and timeliness of information SBA provides to its applicants and resource partners following catastrophic disasters. GAO's ongoing review of the EIDL program related to COVID-19 has found that the program is susceptible to providing funding to ineligible and fraudulent applicants. For example, as GAO reported in January 2021, SBA had approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to businesses that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as real estate developers and multilevel marketers, as of September 30, 2020. In addition, GAO found that between May and October 2020, over 900 U.S. financial institutions filed more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports related to the EIDL program with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Further, GAO's analysis of 51 Department of Justice cases involving fraud charges for EIDL loans as of March 2021 found that these cases involved identity theft, false attestation, fictitious or inflated employee counts, and misuse of proceeds. Over the course of its COVID-19 response, SBA has made some changes to address these risks. For example, beginning in June 2020, SBA took actions to improve loan officers' ability to withhold funding for applicants suspected of fraud. However, SBA has not yet implemented recommendations GAO has previously made to address EIDL program risks. In January 2021, GAO recommended that SBA conduct data analytics across the EIDL portfolio to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications (GAO-21-265). SBA did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. However, in May 2021, SBA officials stated the agency was in the process of developing analysis to apply certain fraud indicators to all application data. In March 2021, GAO recommended that SBA (1) implement a comprehensive oversight plan to identify and respond to risks in the EIDL program, (2) conduct and document a fraud risk assessment, and (3) develop a strategy to address the program’s assessed fraud risks on a continuous basis (GAO-21-387). SBA agreed with all three recommendations. In May 2021, SBA officials stated that the agency had started to assess fraud risk for the program. Fully implementing these recommendations would help SBA to safeguard billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and improve the operation of the EIDL program. Why GAO Did This Study Between March 2020 and February 2021, SBA provided about 3.8 million low-interest EIDL loans and 5.8 million grants (called advances) totaling $224 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. Borrowers can use these low-interest loans and advances to pay for operating and other expenses. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor funds provided for the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other objectives, the characteristics of program applicants and recipients; the challenges EIDL applicants experienced and the extent to which SBA has addressed them; and the steps SBA has taken to address risks of fraud and provision of funds to ineligible applicants. GAO reviewed documents from SBA, an EIDL contractor, and two of its subcontractors. In addition, GAO analyzed loan application data, conducted five discussion groups with applicants, and interviewed staff from SBA, six Small Business Development Centers, and six business associations. GAO also analyzed socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic data on EIDL program participants.[Read More…]
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- Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks at the Democracy Fund’s Language Access for Voters SummitBy Sam NewsDecember 13, 2021Thank you so much for that very kind introduction, and many thanks to the Democracy Fund for inviting me to participate in this event and for convening this virtual summit. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here today.[Read More…]
- Disaster Recovery: Better Data Are Needed to Ensure Equitable Delivery of HUD Block Grant Funds to Vulnerable PopulationsBy Sam NewsJanuary 19, 2022What GAO Found Recent Federal Register notices for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds direct grantees to demonstrate how their programs will promote housing for vulnerable populations. Grantees generally have been required to spend 70 percent of their funds on low- and moderate-income people. Draft action plans that grantees submit to HUD are to describe how grant funds will be used and the populations to be served, including vulnerable populations such as racial minorities, the elderly, or persons with disabilities. HUD provides tools, such as strategies for reaching people with limited English proficiency, to help grantees serve these populations. When reviewing grantees' draft plans, HUD officials told GAO they typically require revisions to clarify the populations defined as vulnerable, how funds will help them, and how grantees will reach out to traditionally underserved populations. HUD officials also noted that vulnerable populations can be difficult to define because they may vary locally and regionally based on factors such as geography, housing stock, and policy. They described plans to define vulnerable populations in upcoming Federal Register notices. Grantees we reviewed seek to assist vulnerable populations, but HUD does not collect and analyze key demographic data needed to fully assess the extent of CDBG-DR assistance to these populations. HUD requires grantees to collect selected data (race and ethnicity and the gender of single-headed households) on activities that directly benefit households or individuals (such as housing). However, HUD requires grantees to report these data only for those actually served and not for all applicants. The six grantees GAO reviewed gather additional demographic information on both applicants and those served, including age, disability status, and primary language. A 2021 Executive Order cited the need for better data and transparency on assistance to vulnerable populations, noting that a lack of data impedes efforts to measure and advance equity. By collecting, analyzing, and publicly reporting these additional demographic data, HUD and grantees could better assess whether they effectively reach the populations CDBG-DR activities are intended to serve. Vulnerable populations may experience several challenges accessing CDBG-DR assistance, according to grantees and organizations GAO interviewed and studies GAO reviewed. These include language barriers (individuals with limited English proficiency may need translation services), limited access to transportation (to get to assistance centers), and program requirements (individuals may not be able to produce or complete the documentation required). Some grantees said they addressed these challenges by acquiring translation services and developing outreach plans for vulnerable populations. Why GAO Did This Study Large-scale disasters, such as the 2017 hurricanes, have resulted in catastrophic damage, and vulnerable populations can face particular challenges in recovering from a disaster. Since 1993, Congress has provided over $90 billion in supplemental appropriations through CDBG-DR to help affected areas recover. This testimony discusses (1) HUD's approach to assisting vulnerable populations, (2) grantees' actions to assist vulnerable populations, and (3) challenges grantees and vulnerable populations face in implementing and using CDBG-DR. It is based on a report GAO issued in November 2021 (GAO-22-104452). For that report, GAO reviewed documentation from HUD and six grantees (the four largest 2017 CDBG-DR grantees—Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—and Louisiana and New Jersey, which are further along in implementation). GAO also interviewed HUD officials, grantees, and organizations representing vulnerable populations.[Read More…]
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- Telecomunicaciones: La FCC Asistió en la Restauración de Redes después del Huracán María, pero es Necesario Clarificar Su Función en las Labores de Respuesta a los Desastres y Mejorar la ComunicaciónBy Sam NewsDecember 1, 2021This is the Spanish language highlights associated with GAO-21-297. Conclusiones de la GAO La Comisión Federal de Comunicaciones (FCC, por sus siglas en inglés) tomó múltiples medidas para apoyar la restauración de las telecomunicaciones en el periodo posterior al huracán María. Por ejemplo, la FCC recopiló información sobre fallas del sistema, proporcionó asistencia de personal a Puerto Rico, estableció el Grupo de trabajo para la recuperación tras los huracanes para apoyar la restauración de las telecomunicaciones en Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes de los EE. UU., y puso fondos a disposición para la restauración de las redes. Sin embargo, la GAO descubrió que la función de respuesta a los desastres de la FCC no quedaba claramente definida en las directrices publicadas por el Departamento de Seguridad Nacional (DHS, por sus siglas en inglés), aunque las directrices establecen que todos los niveles del gobierno deberían comprender sus respectivas funciones. En particular, el DHS no definió acciones específicas para la FCC en las directrices de funciones de apoyo a emergencias relacionadas con la restauración de la infraestructura de comunicaciones. Esta falta de claridad pudo haber contribuido a la confusión y los retrasos en el periodo posterior al huracán. Por medio de la actualización de las directrices de apoyo a emergencias y una clara definición de la función de la FCC en ellas, el DHS podría ayudar a reducir la confusión y aprovechar el conocimiento de la FCC sobre tecnologías nuevas o en evolución que podrían ayudar a restaurar las redes con mayor rapidez después de los desastres. Vista aérea de una torre caída en Puerto Rico después del huracán María, septiembre de 2017 En el periodo posterior a la temporada de huracanes en el Atlántico de 2017, la FCC determinó cuáles fueron las lecciones aprendidas que le permitirán mejorar su respuesta a los desastres y labores de recuperación, y emitió un informe en agosto de 2018 que contenía observaciones sobre cuatro huracanes, incluido el huracán María. Por ejemplo, la FCC mencionó que pudo mejorar sus funciones en materia de capacitación y mejorar su colaboración con socios federales. Sin embargo, y específicamente relacionado con el huracán María, la GAO descubrió que la FCC obtuvo aportes limitados del público y que las labores del Grupo de trabajo para la recuperación tras los huracanes no fueron lo suficientemente transparentes porque la FCC no comunicó públicamente sus acciones ni sus hallazgos. Debido a la falta de comunicación sobre las acciones del grupo de trabajo y sus hallazgos, el público no tiene una explicación completa y precisa de las labores de respuesta de la FCC al huracán María. Una explicación de esta índole podría asistir con la preparación de desastres futuros. Al presentar al público informes sobre las labores del grupo de trabajo, la FCC podría ayudar a asegurar que los funcionarios del gobierno territorial y demás partes entiendan lo que la FCC ha logrado y qué medidas adicionales son necesarias para construir redes de telecomunicaciones que sean más resilientes. Propósito de Este Estudio El huracán María azotó a Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes de los EE. UU. en 2017 y ocasionó grandes daños físicos a los residentes, así como graves daños a la infraestructura crítica de las islas, incluida la infraestructura de redes de telecomunicaciones (véase la foto). Las agencias federales han enfrentado desafíos sin precedentes en el periodo posterior al huracán que complicaron las labores para resolver las fallas de servicio de las redes de telecomunicaciones. Si bien el DHS es la agencia que lidera la respuesta a los desastres, la FCC desempeña una función de apoyo en asuntos de telecomunicaciones. Se le solicitó a la GAO que analizara la respuesta de la FCC a las fallas en las redes de telecomunicaciones posteriores al huracán María. Este informe analiza 1) las acciones de la FCC para apoyar la restauración de las redes de telecomunicaciones después del huracán María y hasta qué grado está claramente definida la función de respuesta a los desastres de la FCC, y 2) las labores de la FCC para identificar las lecciones aprendidas gracias a los aportes del público y determinar hasta qué punto la FCC comunicó esas labores al público. La GAO analizó informes de agencias y evaluó sus labores contra los criterios pertinentes, y entrevistó a funcionarios gubernamentales y a representantes del sector de las telecomunicaciones y grupos de activistas para obtener una amplia gama de puntos de vista no generalizables.[Read More…]
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- Twenty-Four Defendants, Including Alleged Aryan Circle Gang Members and Associates Indicted on Racketeering, Firearms, and Drug Charges in Multiple StatesBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2020Five indictments in three different states were unsealed today as law enforcement officers arrested twenty-four defendants, including alleged Aryan Circle (AC) gang members and associates, on charges of racketeering conspiracy, violent crimes in aid of racketeering, drug conspiracy, and unlawful firearms trafficking.[Read More…]
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- Military Pay: Army National Guard Personnel Mobilized to Active Duty Experienced Significant Pay ProblemsBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021In light of the recent mobilizations associated with the war on terrorism and homeland security, GAO was asked to determine if controls used to pay mobilized Army Guard personnel provided assurance that such pays were accurate and timely. GAO's audit used a case study approach to focus on controls over three key areas: processes, people (human capital), and systems.The existing processes and controls used to provide pay and allowances to mobilized Army Guard personnel are so cumbersome and complex that neither DOD nor, more importantly, the mobilized Army Guard soldiers could be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payroll payments. Weaknesses in these processes and controls resulted in over- and underpayments and late active duty payments and, in some cases, largely erroneous debt assessments to mobilized Army Guard personnel. The end result of these pay problems is to severely constrain DOD's ability to provide active duty pay to these personnel, many of whom were risking their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, these pay problems have had a profound financial impact on individual soldiers and their families. For example, many soldiers and their families were required to spend considerable time, sometimes while the soldiers were deployed in remote, combat environments overseas, seeking corrections to active duty pays and allowances. The pay process, involving potentially hundreds of DOD, Army, and Army Guard organizations and thousands of personnel, was not well understood or consistently applied with respect to determining (1) the actions required to make timely, accurate pays to mobilized soldiers, and (2) the organization responsible for taking the required actions. With respect to human capital, we found weaknesses including (1) insufficient resources allocated to pay processing, (2) inadequate training related to existing policies and procedures, and (3) poor customer service. Several systems issues were also a significant factor impeding accurate and timely payroll payments to mobilized Army Guard soldiers, including (1) non-integrated systems, (2) limitations in system processing capabilities, and (3) ineffective system edits.[Read More…]
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- Agile Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Agile Adoption and ImplementationBy Sam NewsSeptember 28, 2020From September 28, 2020 through September 27, 2021, GAO is seeking input and feedback on this Exposure Draft from all interested parties. Please click on this link https://tell.gao.gov/agileguide to provide us with comment on the Guide. The U.S. Government Accountability Office is responsible for, among other things, assisting Congress in its oversight of the executive branch, including assessing federal agencies' management of information technology (IT) systems. The federal government annually spends more than $90 billion on IT. However, federal agencies face challenges in developing, implementing, and maintaining their IT investments. All too frequently, agency IT programs have incurred cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes. Accordingly, GAO has included management of IT acquisitions and operations on its High Risk List. Recognizing the severity related to government-wide management of IT, in 2014, the Congress passed and the President signed federal IT acquisition reform legislation commonly referred to as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA. This legislation was enacted to improve agencies' acquisition of IT and enable Congress to monitor agencies' progress and hold them accountable for reducing duplication and achieving cost savings. Among its specific provisions is a requirement for Chief Information Officers (CIOs) at covered agencies to certify that certain IT investments are adequately implementing incremental development as defined in the Office of Management and Budget's capital planning guidance. One such framework for incremental development is Agile software development, which has been adopted by many federal agencies. The Agile Assessment Guide discusses best practices that can be used across the federal government for Agile adoption, execution, and program monitoring and control. Use of these best practices should enable government programs to better transition to and manage their Agile programs. GAO has developed this guide to serve multiple audiences: The primary audience for this guide is federal auditors. Specifically, the guide presents best practices that can be used to assess the extent to which an agency has adopted and implemented Agile methods. Organizations and programs that have already established policies and protocols for Agile adoption and execution can use this guide to evaluate their existing approach to Agile software development. Organizations and programs that are in the midst of adopting Agile software development practices and programs that are planning to adopt such practices can also use this guide to inform their transitions. For more information, contact Carol Harris at (202) 512-4456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Highway Bridges: Federal Highway Administration Could Better Assist States with Information on Corrosion PracticesBy Sam NewsSeptember 28, 2021What GAO Found According to the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) database of information on bridges' condition, the percentage of deck area, a measure that accounts for the size of a bridge, for National Highway System (NHS) bridges in poor condition has decreased since 2012. However, since 2016, the percentage of deck area for NHS bridges in good condition has also decreased, while the percentage of deck area for bridges in fair condition has increased. Although these data do not indicate the extent to which corrosion affects bridges' condition, studies GAO reviewed and stakeholders GAO spoke with—including FHWA, five selected states, and six associations—indicate a significant relationship between corrosion and bridge condition. (See figure.) Examples of Bridge Corrosion State practices to prevent and manage corrosion vary based on environmental factors and bridge condition. For example, states exposed to sea water and deicing chemicals may clean bridges to remove materials that could accelerate corrosion. Four of the five selected states prioritized rehabilitating and replacing poor condition bridges, while the fifth state said it took steps to address corrosion to preserve and maintain bridges in good and fair condition. States are transitioning to asset management practices that emphasize bridge preservation strategies. However, officials from the selected states said limited information about specific corrosion practices' effectiveness is a challenge to implementing asset management practices. For example, officials from some selected states said they use sealant on bridge decks to prevent corrosion while officials from another said they do not because they do not know how effective it is. FHWA, within the Department of Transportation, helps states address corrosion through research and technical assistance. However, FHWA efforts have generally focused on overall bridge condition and may not meet states' needs to determine the circumstances in which to use specific practices. For example, FHWA's Bridge Preservation Guide identifies practices that can be part of a bridge preservation approach but does not indicate under what circumstances they are most effective. Although FHWA does not endorse specific practices, officials recognize their role in helping states make well-informed decisions regarding bridge corrosion. As states continue transitioning to an asset management approach, providing information about the circumstances under which different corrosion practices are most effective could help states make best use of their resources. Why GAO Did This Study In 2021, U.S. bridges, including those on the NHS, were estimated to need billions of dollars in repairs, including efforts to mitigate the effects of corrosion. House Report 116-106 included a provision for GAO to review the status of states' bridge corrosion-control planning. This report examines: (1) trends in the condition of bridges on the NHS and what is known about how corrosion affects bridge condition, (2) practices states use to address corrosion on NHS bridges and how selected states prioritize efforts to address corrosion, and (3) how FHWA assists states in addressing bridge corrosion. GAO reviewed applicable statutes, regulations, guidance, and studies related to corrosion prevention and management, and analyzed data on NHS bridges. GAO selected five states—Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Rhode Island, and Wyoming—based on factors, such as the percentage of bridge deck area in good and poor condition and geographic diversity. Finally, GAO interviewed FHWA, state transportation, and various association officials and assessed FHWA's actions against internal controls for using quality information.[Read More…]
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