January 25, 2022

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Remote Interview Pilot for Trusted Traveler Programs

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Eligible Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) members can now complete enrollment interviews with a CBP officer through video teleconferencing, while ensuring that the remote interview process maintains high security and privacy standards.  …

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  • Veterans Justice Outreach Program: Further Actions to Identify and Address Barriers to Participation Would Promote Access to Services
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In response to the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data show the agency hired 51 Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists, though VA completed its hiring and reporting after the statute's deadline. The program relies on nearly 400 VJO specialists—primarily social workers—who work with jails and municipal courts to identify and assess the needs of arrested or incarcerated veterans, and connect them to VA health care services. In addition, VA's reporting to Congress lacked required information, such as the number of veterans who lack access to VJO specialists. Although VA does not collect these data, VJO program officials said that future research will help them estimate this number. VA has identified and taken some steps to address barriers that veterans may face in accessing VJO specialists and receiving services. GAO additionally found that veterans with other-than-honorable discharges—often at greater risk of mental health issues and suicide—may not know they are eligible under a 2020 VA policy that extends mental health care services to certain members of this subgroup. (See figure.) In addition, this policy change and newly available services are not reflected in training for VJO specialists. As a result, veterans may not meet with VJO specialists and miss an opportunity to get help accessing VA's health care services. Barriers Justice-Involved Veterans (JIV) May Face Accessing VJO Specialists VA and others have conducted research on the use of VA services by veterans in the VJO program, and VA officials have used this research to improve the program by educating staff and further directing their research. However, VJO research and improvement efforts are not guided by project plans that define goals and identify needed resources, such as stakeholder expertise, as called for by generally recognized project management practices. VJO officials told GAO that research is a key strategy for improving VJO services and that they intend to develop a plan, but do not have a timeframe for doing so. Until the VJO program develops detailed project plans that also identify needed resources, program officials will not have a road map to improve the use of VA services by veterans in the VJO program. Why GAO Did This Study Veterans who have been arrested and jailed are at an increased risk of homelessness, mental health conditions, and suicide. To address these concerns and prevent re-incarceration, VA created the VJO program, which served over 30,000 veterans in fiscal year 2020. The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to assess VA's implementation of the act's requirements. This report examines the extent to which VA has (1) implemented the act's hiring and reporting requirements, (2) identified and addressed barriers that veterans face in accessing VJO specialists, and (3) conducted and used research to improve the use of VA services by veterans in the program. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and VA documentation, including program guidance, policies, plans, and reports; reviewed selected studies on veterans' use of the VJO program; interviewed VA and VJO officials; and analyzed VA data for fiscal years 2016 through 2020 on veterans served by the program.
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  • Unaccompanied Children: Actions Needed to Improve Grant Application Reviews and Oversight of Care Facilities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) grant announcements soliciting care providers for unaccompanied children—those without lawful immigration status and without a parent or guardian in the U.S. available to provide care and physical custody for them—lack clarity about what state licensing information is required. Further, ORR does not systematically confirm the information submitted by applicants or document a review of their past performance on ORR grants, when applicable, according to GAO's analysis of ORR documents and interviews with ORR officials. The grant announcements do not specify how applicants without a state license should show license eligibility—a criterion for receiving an ORR grant—or specify what past licensing allegations and concerns they must report. In addition, the extent to which ORR staff verify applicants' licensing information is unclear. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR awarded grants to approximately 14 facilities that were unable to serve children for 12 or more months because they remained unlicensed. In addition, ORR did not provide any documentation that staff conducted a review of past performance for the nearly 70 percent of applicants that previously held ORR grants. Without addressing these issues, ORR risks awarding grants to organizations that cannot obtain a state license or that have a history of poor performance. State licensing agencies regularly monitor ORR-funded facilities, but according to GAO's survey of these agencies, their information sharing with ORR is limited (see figure). State licensing agencies and ORR staff both said that improved information sharing would benefit their monitoring of facilities. Without such improvements, ORR may lack information about ongoing issues at its facilities. Key Survey Responses on Information-Sharing with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) by the 23 State Agencies That Licensed ORR-Funded Facilities in Fall 2019 ORR requires grantees to take corrective action to address noncompliance it identifies through monitoring, but ORR has not met some of its monitoring goals or notified grantees of the need for corrective actions in a timely manner. For example, under ORR regulations, each facility is to be audited for compliance with standards to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and harassment of children by February 22, 2019, but by April 2020, only 67 of 133 facilities had been audited. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR also did not meet its policy goals to visit each facility at least every 2 years, or to submit a report to facilities on any corrective actions identified within 30 days of a visit. Without further action, ORR will continue to not meet its own monitoring goals, which are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its care. ORR is responsible for the care and placement of unaccompanied children in its custody, which it provides through grants to state-licensed care provider facilities. ORR was appropriated $1.3 billion for this program in fiscal year 2020. GAO was asked to review ORR's grant making process and oversight of its grantees. This report examines (1) how ORR considers state licensing issues and past performance in its review of grant applications; (2) state licensing agencies' oversight of ORR grantees, and how ORR and states share information; and (3) how ORR addresses grantee noncompliance. GAO reviewed ORR grant announcements and applications for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. GAO conducted a survey of 29 state licensing agencies in states with ORR facilities, and reviewed ORR monitoring documentation and corrective action reports. GAO also reviewed ORR guidance and policies, as well as relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed ORR officials. GAO is making eight recommendations to ORR on improving clarity in its grant announcements, communication with state licensing agencies, and monitoring of its grantees. ORR agreed with all eight recommendations. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • Organ Transplants: Changes in Allocation Policies for Donated Livers and Lungs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) develops allocation policies in the United States to determine which transplant candidates receive offers for organs, such as livers or lungs, that are donated from deceased donors. In July 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees OPTN, directed it to change the liver allocation policy to be more consistent with federal regulations. The liver allocation policy changed in February 2020 from a system that, in general, offered donated livers first to the sickest candidates within the fixed boundaries of a donation service area or region to a system based on a candidate's level of illness and distance from the donor hospital. The current liver allocation policy offers livers first to the sickest candidates within 500 nautical miles of the donor hospital using a series of distance-based concentric circles, called acuity circles. The processes used to develop the liver and lung allocation policies had various similarities and differences. For example, while the current liver allocation policy, the 2017 liver allocation policy, and the current lung allocation policy each had public comment periods, the length of these comment periods varied—25 days for the current liver allocation policy; two separate 62-day and 64-day periods for the 2017 liver allocation policy; and 61 days (retroactive) for the current lung allocation policy. In addition, the current lung allocation policy resulted in part from a federal district court order directing HHS to initiate emergency review of the policy. However, the 2017 liver allocation policy—that was approved but never implemented—resulted from a 2012 OPTN Board directive to reduce geographic disparities in organ allocation. HHS oversight of OPTN's processes were similar for all three allocation policies and included reviewing the proposed changes to the policies to ensure compliance with federal regulations, according to HHS officials. Timeline of Selected Events Related to Three Organ Allocation Policies Organ transplantation is the leading form of treatment for patients with severe organ failure. OPTN, a nonprofit entity that was established in 1984 under the National Organ Transplant Act, manages the nation's organ allocation system. In 2019, 32,322 organs were transplanted from deceased donors in the United States. Nevertheless, as of July 2020, close to 110,000 individuals remained on waiting lists for donor organs. Previously, donated livers and lungs were generally offered first to the sickest candidates in donation service areas. However, livers and lungs are now generally offered first to the sickest candidates based on distance. GAO was asked to review the changes to the liver and lung allocation policies. This report describes (1) changes to the liver allocation policy, and (2) similarities and differences in the processes OPTN used to change the liver and lung allocation policies, and federal oversight of these processes, among other things. GAO reviewed documents, including those related to the current liver and lung allocation policies, and the 2017 liver allocation policy; interviewed HHS officials and OPTN members; reviewed the National Organ Transplant Act and its implementing regulations; and conducted a literature review of studies published from January 2017 through April 2020 in peer-reviewed and other publications. HHS and the United Network for Organ Sharing (the contractor serving as OPTN) provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks at the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Dialogue
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Justice Department Issues Statement on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Efforts to Invest in Competition in the Meatpacking Industry
    In Crime News
    Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta issued the following statement today after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) request for public comment on how best to invest American Rescue Plan funds to improve competition and resiliency in the meatpacking industry:
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  • U.S. Delegation Meeting with Senior Taliban Representatives in Doha
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo with Taher Baraka of Al-Arabiya
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Military Airlift: DOD Needs to Take Steps to Manage Workload Distributed to the Civil Reserve Air Fleet
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundDOD exceeded the flying hours needed to meet military training requirements for fiscal years 2002 through 2010 because of increased operational requirements associated with Afghanistan and Iraq; however it does not know whether it used Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) participants to the maximum extent practicable. DOD guidance requires it to meet training requirements and to use commercial transportation to the "maximum extent practicable." During fiscal years 2002 through 2010, DOD flew its fleet more than needed to train its crews, although its flying has more closely matched its training needs in recent years. DOD has also used CRAF participants extensively to supplement military airlift. Although DOD has taken steps to make more airlift business available to CRAF participants, officials said that overseas operations have provided enough missions to support both training and CRAF business obligations. However, with the drawdown in Afghanistan, DOD officials expect the need for airlift to decline by at least 66 percent--to pre-September 2001 levels--reducing both training hours available for DOD and business opportunities for CRAF. DOD does not use its process for monitoring flying hours to determine when it will exceed required training hours and allocate eligible airlift missions to CRAF participants. Therefore, it cannot determine whether it is using CRAF to the maximum extent practicable. As a result, DOD may be using its military fleet more than necessary--which officials say is less economical--while risking reduced CRAF participation.DOD provided several reasons for restricting commercial carriers from transporting partial plane loads of cargo over channel routes, including the need to promote efficiency, meet its military airlift training requirements, and fulfill peacetime business obligations to CRAF participants. Channel route missions are regularly scheduled airlift missions used to transport cargo and provide aircrew training time. These missions also help DOD provide business to CRAF participants. According to U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) officials, DOD generally requires aircraft conducting channel route missions to be completely full of cargo before takeoff. The policy restricting carriers from flying partial loads over channel routes allows DOD to consolidate cargo previously flown by commercial carriers in less than full plane loads and redirect that cargo into the channel route system, where it will be transported by either commercial or military aircraft as part of a full plane load mission. According to DOD, consolidating cargo into full loads flown over the channel route system has increased both the efficiency of these missions and the availability of missions that DOD uses to train its crews and fulfill its business obligations to CRAF.It is unclear whether the planned size of CRAF will be adequate to meet future airlift requirements. DOD last established its future requirements based on the wartime scenarios in the Mobility Capability Requirements Study 2016, issued in 2010. However, due to changing military strategy and priorities, the 2010 study does not reflect current mission needs. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 requires DOD to conduct a new mobility capabilities and requirements study. DOD has not begun this study or finalized its ongoing reviews of the CRAF program's ability to support future requirements. Once they are finalized, these studies should allow DOD to better understand future requirements for CRAF and whether the CRAF program will meet future airlift requirements.Why GAO Did This StudyTo move passengers and cargo, DOD supplements its military aircraft with cargo and passenger aircraft from volunteer commercial carriers participating in the CRAF program. Participating carriers commit their aircraft to support a range of military operations in exchange for peacetime business. A House Armed Services Committee mandated GAO to report on matters related to the CRAF program. GAO assessed whether DOD (1) met its military airlift training requirements while also using CRAF participants to the maximum extent practicable, (2) provided justification for restricting commercial carriers from transporting partial plane loads of cargo over certain routes, and (3) has established future requirements for CRAF and how the planned size of CRAF compares to those requirements. GAO reviewed guidance and policies pertaining to the program, flying hour data, and DOD-sponsored CRAF study reports. GAO also interviewed DOD and industry officials.
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  • Justice Department Sues Guam and the Guam Retirement Fund for Denying Servicemembers Proper Pension Credits During Military Service
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it has filed suit against the Territory of Guam and the Guam Retirement Fund (GRF) alleging defendants violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) when they refused to properly provide pension credit to servicemembers who used leave from Guam’s leave-sharing program while on active military duty. As a result, Guam and the GRF shorted the retirement benefits and pension annuities of at least five servicemembers and potentially many more.
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  • Civil Monetary Penalties: Federal Agencies’ Compliance with the 2020 Annual Inflation Adjustment Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In this fifth annual review, GAO found that the majority of federal agencies that could be subject to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended (IAA), have complied with the provisions of the act to publish 2020 civil monetary penalty inflation adjustments in the Federal Register and report related information in their 2020 agency financial reports (AFR), or equivalent. However, two agencies did not publish inflation adjustments in the Federal Register as of December 31, 2020, and did not report the required information in their 2020 AFRs for one or more of their civil monetary penalties. Why GAO Did This Study The IAA includes a provision, added in 2015, requiring GAO to annually submit to Congress a report assessing agencies' compliance with the annual inflation adjustments required by the act. This is the fifth annual report responding to this requirement. For more information, contact Paula M. Rascona at (202) 512-9816 or rasconap@gao.gov.
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  • Texan charged with posting child pornography to Facebook
    In Justice News
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  • Medicaid Program Integrity: Action Needed to Ensure CMS Completes Financial Management Reviews in a Timely Manner
    In U.S GAO News
    Since fiscal year 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has initiated 49 financial management reviews (FMR) to examine state Medicaid agencies' compliance with a variety of federal policies. These 49 FMRs frequently found one or more instances of states' non-compliance. CMS identified instances of non-compliance that had a financial impact totaling about $358 million. CMS identified internal control weaknesses and directed states to make changes to their Medicaid policies. However, FMRs have not always examined topics or states that reflect the areas of highest expenditures. In 2018, GAO recommended that CMS improve its targeting of oversight resources. CMS agreed with this recommendation, but has not yet implemented it. In addition, CMS guidance generally expects draft FMR reports to be completed in the year they began. However, two-thirds of FMRs (26 of 39) initiated in fiscal years 2016 to 2019 were still under review in June 2020, which can delay state actions to address program vulnerabilities. CMS officials said that at least five states would not take actions—such as returning federal funds for unallowable expenditures—until they received a complete report. Status of Financial Management Reviews (FMR) Initiated in Fiscal Years 2016 to 2019, as of June 2020 CMS officials cited competing priorities, decreased staff, and the agency's review process—which involves multiple steps and levels of review—as factors affecting their use of FMRs for oversight. CMS took steps during the course of GAO's review to complete FMRs that had been under review for several years. The agency has not established time frames for the completion of individual review steps or for its overall review of FMR reports. Developing and implementing such time frames would provide a tool to help monitor CMS's progress in completing FMRs and ensure prompt action on FMR findings. Over the last two decades, Medicaid—a joint, federal-state health care financing program for low-income and medically needy individuals—more than tripled in expenditures and doubled in enrollment. CMS estimates the program will continue to grow, exceeding $1 trillion in expenditures and 81 million enrollees in 2028. The size and growth of Medicaid present oversight challenges. CMS is responsible for assuring that states' Medicaid expenditures comply with federal requirements, and FMRs are one of its financial oversight tools. CMS generally directs its regional offices to conduct one focused FMR each year on an area of high risk within their regions, typically within one state. GAO was asked to examine CMS's use of FMRs. In this report, GAO examines the extent to which CMS has used FMRs to oversee state Medicaid programs. GAO reviewed CMS documentation on FMR findings and their status, and resources assigned to FMRs and other financial review functions. GAO also interviewed CMS officials from all 10 regional offices and the central office, and assessed CMS's FMR policies and procedures against federal internal control standards. CMS should develop and implement time frames to ensure the timely completion of FMRs. The Department of Health and Human Services concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Justice Department Seeks to Shut Down Illinois Tax Return Preparer
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois seeking to bar a Rockford area tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others.
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  • Houston-Area Physician and Anesthesiologist Sentenced to 84 Months in Prison for Role in Health Care Benefit Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Houston-area physician and anesthesiologist at two registered pain clinics, Texas Pain Solutions and Integra Medical Clinic, was sentenced today to seven years in prison for his role in fraudulently billing health care programs for at least $5 million dollars in medical tests and procedures, and for the role his fraud played in multiple patient deaths.
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