December 3, 2021

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Justice Department Secures Surrender of Over 500 Dogs from Iowa Dog Breeder and a Permanent Prohibition on Dealing in Animals

20 min read
<div>In a consent decree entered on Nov. 2 by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Daniel Gingerich, an Iowa dog breeder, has agreed to revocation of his Animal Welfare Act (AWA) dealer license, a permanent prohibition on engaging in any activity that requires an AWA license, and the surrender of more than 500 dogs and puppies to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.</div>
In a consent decree entered on Nov. 2 by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Daniel Gingerich, an Iowa dog breeder, has agreed to revocation of his Animal Welfare Act (AWA) dealer license, a permanent prohibition on engaging in any activity that requires an AWA license, and the surrender of more than 500 dogs and puppies to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

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  • VA Disability Benefits: Actions Needed to Better Manage Appeals Workload Risks, Performance, and Information Technology
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In March 2018, GAO made recommendations to address gaps in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans for reform of its appeals process for disability compensation claims. This reform was intended to offer veterans who are dissatisfied with VA's initial decision on their claim more timely options to appeal. Since then, VA has implemented new options for appeals in February 2019, reduced the backlog of preexisting appeals from 425,445 in fiscal year 2019 to 174,688 in fiscal year 2020, and addressed aspects of GAO's recommendations. However, opportunities exist for VA to more fully address GAO's recommendations and thus better (1) manage workload risks; (2) monitor and assess performance; and, (3) plan for further development of information technology (IT). Specifically: Managing workload risks fully. Since 2018, VA has made strides to manage appeals and address GAO's recommendations. For example, VA has taken steps to monitor workloads and calibrate its staffing needs. However, further efforts are needed to sustain progress and manage workload risks. Specifically, VA has not fully developed mitigation strategies for certain risks, such as veterans using the new hearing appeals option at higher rates than the options that do not require a hearing. The lack of a risk mitigation strategy is significant because in mid-June 2021, VA reported that this resource-intensive new hearing option accounted for nearly 60 percent of the new appeals inventory, but VA has made relatively few hearing option decisions in fiscal year 2021. This could mean veterans have longer wait times and increasing backlogs under the new hearing option. VA's ability to effectively manage workloads lies, in part, in planning ahead and in proactively addressing risks that may impact timeliness of decisions. Monitoring and assessing performance. VA has made progress to address GAO's recommendations, but it is not monitoring or assessing important aspects of performance. VA recently established timeliness goals for all new appeals options, which better positions VA to monitor this aspect of performance and define resources needed to process appeals. However, VA lacks a quality assurance program and related measures to assess the accuracy of its appeals decisions. Planning for further technology development. Since 2018, VA has deployed a new IT system to support its new appeals process, but has yet to address issues GAO identified with VA's IT planning, such as specifying more fully how and when the new IT system will achieve all needed functionality. VA implemented appeals reform in February 2019, but continues to report that the new IT system provides “minimum functionality” and to identify functionality yet to be implemented. Also, a May 2021 VA report itemized over 35 problems with the new IT system, such as the need to reconcile records contained in multiple IT systems. VA officials told GAO that they are working on a plan to address the identified IT shortfalls. These shortfalls and VA's response suggest opportunities exist for VA to identify all key and necessary IT activities, responsibilities, interdependencies and resources, as GAO previously recommended. Why GAO Did This Study In fiscal year 2020, VBA paid about $88.5 billion in disability compensation benefits to over 5 million veterans injured in service to our country. Prior to 2018, veterans who appealed decisions on their initial claims for benefits often experienced long waits for resolution of their appeals—up to 7 years on average. These long waits are one reason GAO designated VA's disability workloads as a high risk issue. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 made changes to improve VA's appeals process. The act required VA to submit to Congress and GAO a plan for implementing a new appeals process (which VA submitted in November 2017) and periodic progress reports. The act also included a provision for GAO to assess VA's original plan. In March 2018, GAO found that VA could help ensure successful implementation of appeals reform by addressing gaps in planning and made several recommendations, with which VA agreed. This testimony examines the extent to which VA (1) manages workloads and associated risks for processing appeals, (2) monitors and assesses performance, and (3) plans for further development of information technology. For this statement, GAO reviewed its prior reports on disability appeals; VA's progress reports to Congress; and information VA provided for GAO's ongoing monitoring of this high-risk issue and about steps VA has taken to implement GAO's prior recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth H. Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
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    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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    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and an August decision to end data collection about 30 days earlier than planned, the Census Bureau (Bureau) has made late design changes to the 2020 Census. The Bureau also announced it would accelerate its response processing operations, which improve the completeness and accuracy of census results. According to the Bureau, late design changes introduce risk to census quality and costs. The compressed time frames for field operations and data processing raise a number of issues that will require the Bureau's attention. It will be important for the Bureau to hire and retain a sufficient workforce, manage operational changes to the Nonresponse Follow-up operation, ensure census coverage at the local level, evaluate risks in streamlining response processing, and ensure timely and quality processing of census responses. As the 2020 Census continues, GAO will monitor the remainder of field operations and the Bureau's response processing operations.  Like the rest of the country, the Bureau has been required to respond to COVID-19. Resulting delays, compressed time frames, implementation of untested procedures, and continuing challenges could undermine the overall quality of the count and escalate census costs. GAO was asked to testify on its ongoing work on implementation of the 2020 Census. This testimony examines the cost and progress of key 2020 Census operations critical to a cost-effective enumeration. Over the past decade, GAO has made 112 recommendations specific to the 2020 Census. To date, the Bureau has implemented 92. As of September 2020, 19 of the recommendations had not been fully implemented. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202)512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The total number of missing or murdered Indigenous women—referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women in this report— is unknown because, for several reasons, federal databases do not contain comprehensive national data on all AI/AN women reported missing. For example, federal law requires federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies—but not tribal law enforcement agencies—to report missing children under the age of 21, but not those over 21. In addition, instances of missing AI/AN women may be underreported due to mistrust of law enforcement and other reasons. Implementation of data-related requirements in two laws, enacted in October 2020, present opportunities to increase and improve data on the number of missing or murdered Indians, including AI/AN women. For example, Savanna's Act requires tribal consultations on how to improve tribal data relevance and access to databases. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken some steps to analyze data in federal databases related to cases of missing or murdered AI/AN women, including publishing more detailed single-year statistics in 2020 on missing persons by race, gender, and age. However, data analyses efforts are in the early stages, and DOJ does not have a plan to continue these efforts past November 2021. Developing such a plan could provide DOJ and other stakeholders with information to better understand the nature of the missing or murdered AI/AN crisis and identify emerging trends. Artist Installation of Red Dresses to Depict the Disappearances and Deaths of Indigenous Women, the National Museum of the American Indian, 2019 Relevant DOJ and Department of the Interior (DOI) law enforcement agencies that investigate cases of missing or murdered Indian women in Indian country have engaged in other efforts to address the crisis, but they have not implemented certain requirements to increase intergovernmental coordination and data collection in the two 2020 laws, which remain unfulfilled past their statutory deadlines. For example, the Not Invisible Act of 2019 requires the Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the Attorney General, to appoint members to a Joint Commission on Reducing Violence Against Indians by February 7, 2021, but as of October 15, 2021, no members have been appointed, and a draft plan to meet this requirement does not include milestones for all interim steps. Developing plans to meet this and other unfulfilled statutory requirements would provide more assurance that DOJ and DOI will meet their legal responsibilities, and support tribal partners in reducing violent crime. Why GAO Did This Study According to researchers, AI/AN women in the U.S. experience higher rates of violence than most other women, and tribal and federal officials have stated that this incidence of violence constitutes a crisis. Various federal officials and tribal stakeholders have raised concerns about challenges with cross-jurisdictional cooperation and a lack of comprehensive national data on cases. GAO was asked to review the federal response to the missing or murdered AI/AN women crisis. This report examines the extent to which (1) the number of missing or murdered AI/AN women in the U.S. is known and (2) DOJ and DOI have taken steps to address the crisis. GAO reviewed available data on missing persons and violent deaths, relevant reports, and agency documentation, including agency policies and procedures. Using agency data—which were determined to be reliable for location selection—and qualitative factors, GAO selected seven locations to interview federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials; tribal officials; and nongovernmental victim service providers on the federal response to the crisis.
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  • Defense Logistics: Greater Awareness of Recommendations and Improvements in Data Quality Needed to Resolve Container-Management Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Since the early years of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Department of Defense (DOD) efforts to improve container management in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility have included either updating existing or developing new container-management policy and guidance. However, the department cannot provide reasonable assurance that all recommendations addressing container management in the CENTCOM area of responsibility have been incorporated in DOD's policy or guidance, as appropriate. DOD officials incorporated some recommendations made by DOD audit agencies and other organizations aimed at improving container management into policy and guidance. For example, in August 2012 the commanders of CENTCOM and U.S. Transportation Command issued a joint memorandum outlining leadership's responsibility for container management in the CENTCOM area of responsibility that was a direct result of a 2012 Joint Logistics Board report that recommended corrective actions to enhance senior leaders' understanding of container management. However, DOD does not have a comprehensive list of the corrective actions that have been recommended over time. Without such a list, DOD cannot reasonably ensure that all of the recommendations have been incorporated into policy and guidance as appropriate. For example, of the 95 corrective actions that GAO identified from reports by DOD audit agencies and other organizations issued from 2003 through 2013, DOD officials could not provide information on steps taken to address 40 of the corrective actions. Since 2012, DOD has taken steps to manage and reduce shipping container detention fees incurred due to the untimely return of commercial carrier-owned shipping containers in Afghanistan, but its ability to manage and reduce these fees is limited by inaccurate and incomplete data. In August 2012, DOD established the requirement that within 15 days of a shipping container's arrival: (1) receipt of the container was to be recorded by the unit in-theater, (2) the container was to be unloaded, and (3) the responsible carrier was to be notified that its container was available for pickup. DOD also developed a set of tracking metrics to monitor progress in meeting this requirement. However, incomplete and inaccurate data about the location and number of containers accruing detention fees hindered DOD's ability to manage and reduce detention fees for containers in Afghanistan. For example, GAO analysis of DOD's container-management system data and carrier delivery data for each month in 2013 showed that DOD had not recorded in the container-management system about 16 percent of the carrier-owned containers delivered and received in Afghanistan. DOD has identified factors, or procedural weaknesses, that may contribute to incomplete and inaccurate data; however, it has not assessed the extent to which these weaknesses have contributed to data inaccuracies, determined the root causes of these weaknesses, or developed a corrective-action plan for correcting them. Without an assessment of the root causes and a corrective-action plan, it will be difficult for DOD to have complete and accurate data, which could limit its ability to manage and reduce detention fees for containers in Afghanistan and in future contingency operations. Why GAO Did This Study DOD uses DOD or commercial carrier shipping containers to transport supplies worldwide. Container management has been a long-standing challenge. DOD has paid detention fees of about $823 million from 2003 through 2012 for retaining containers longer than allowed, primarily due to operations within CENTCOM, including Afghanistan, where fees continue to accrue. GAO was asked to review DOD's efforts to address container-management challenges and the accumulation of detention fees. This report assesses the extent to which (1) DOD policy and guidance incorporate recommendations addressing container-management challenges in CENTCOM's area of responsibility, and (2) DOD has managed and reduced detention fees for containers in Afghanistan since 2012. GAO reviewed prior audit reports to identify container-management recommendations; analyzed data such as container type and ownership from 2010 through 2013; and interviewed DOD officials.
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