December 4, 2021

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Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on the Life of Judge Robert Katzmann

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<div>U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made the following statement on the passing of Judge Robert Katzmann:</div>
U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made the following statement on the passing of Judge Robert Katzmann:

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  • Servicemember Rights: Mandatory Arbitration Clauses Have Affected Some Employment and Consumer Claims but the Extent of Their Effects is Unknown
    In U.S GAO News
    Mandatory arbitration clauses in civilian employment contracts and consumer agreements have prevented servicemembers from resolving certain claims in court under two laws that offer protections: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, as amended (USERRA), and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, as amended (SCRA) (see figure). Some courts have held that claims involving mandatory arbitration clauses must be resolved with arbitrators in private proceedings rather than in court. Although we reviewed federal court cases that upheld the enforceability of these clauses, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials said mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented DOJ from initiating lawsuits against employers and other businesses under USERRA or SCRA. However, DOJ officials noted that these clauses could affect their ability to pursue USERRA claims against private employers on behalf of servicemembers. Servicemembers may also seek administrative assistance from federal agencies, and mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented agencies from providing this assistance. For example, officials from DOJ, as well as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Labor (DOL), told us they can often informally resolve claims for servicemembers by explaining servicemember rights to employers and businesses. Examples of Employment and Consumer Protections for Servicemembers Note: USERRA generally provides protections for individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave civilian employment to perform service in the uniformed services. SCRA generally provides protections for servicemembers on active duty, including reservists and members of the National Guard and Coast Guard called to active duty. Data needed to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on the outcomes of servicemembers' employment and consumer claims under USERRA and SCRA are insufficient or do not exist. Officials from DOD, DOL, and DOJ told us their data systems are not set up to track these clauses. Further, no data exist for claims settled without litigation or abandoned by servicemembers. Finally, data on arbitrations are limited because they are often private proceedings that the parties involved agree to keep confidential. Servicemembers are among millions of Americans who enter into contracts or agreements with mandatory arbitration clauses. For example, these provisions may be included in the contracts servicemembers sign when they enter the civilian workforce, obtain a car loan, or lease an apartment. These contracts generally require disputes to be resolved in private proceedings with arbitrators rather than in court. Due to concerns these clauses may not afford servicemembers certain employment and consumer rights, Congress included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 for GAO to study their effects on servicemembers' ability to file claims under USERRA and SCRA. This report examines (1) the effect mandatory arbitration has on servicemembers' ability to file claims and obtain relief for violations of USERRA and SCRA, and (2) the extent to which data are available to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on servicemember claims. GAO reviewed federal laws, court cases, and regulations, as well as agency documents, academic and industry research, and articles on the claims process. GAO interviewed officials from DOD, DOL, DOJ, and other agencies, academic researchers, and a range of stakeholders representing servicemembers, businesses, attorneys, and arbitration firms. GAO also identified and evaluated potential sources of data on servicemembers' employment and consumer claims collected by federal agencies and the firms that administer arbitrations or maintained in court records. For more information, contact Kris T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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  • Southwest Border: Information on Federal Agencies’ Process for Acquiring Private Land for Barriers
    In U.S GAO News
    The interagency process for acquiring private land for border barrier construction along the southwest border involves the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Defense's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as well as the Department of Justice. The key acquisition steps are (1) identifying the landowners affected by planned barriers, (2) contacting landowners to obtain access to their property for surveying and other due diligence activities, (3) negotiating with landowners, and (4) concluding the acquisition preferably through negotiated purchase or via condemnation. The government may acquire temporary access to or permanent ownership of property by initiating a condemnation proceeding in federal district court. In this judicial process, the government articulates the public use necessitating the acquisition and the estimated compensation for the landowner, among other things. Border Barrier Construction in South Texas GAO's analysis of USACE data shows that, as of July 2020, the federal government acquired 135 private tracts, or sections, of land and is working to acquire 991 additional tracts. The privately owned land the government acquired or is working to acquire totals about 5,275 acres or 8.2 square miles, and most of it—1,090 of 1,126 tracts—is in south Texas. The Border Patrol planned for private land acquisition in south Texas to take 21 to 30 months compared with 12 months for comparable land acquisitions in other regions. Border Patrol estimated private land acquisition in south Texas would take more time due to factors unique to south Texas, including: Barrier placement in south Texas. Additional time is needed for the government to work with landowners to ensure that they have access to and are justly compensated for any negative impact on the value of remaining property between the border barrier and the Rio Grande River, according to Border Patrol officials. Missing or incomplete land records. Border Patrol officials said that it often takes time to identify parties with interest in a tract of land due to missing or incomplete land records. In cases where the government is unable to identify interested parties, the government has to use the condemnation process to resolve title issues and acquire ownership. In January 2017, the President issued Executive Order 13767, which directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to immediately plan, design, and construct a wall or other physical barriers along the southwest border. These new barriers would add to or replace 654 miles of primary pedestrian and vehicular barriers constructed as of fiscal year 2015. Of the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border, roughly 30 percent is federal land. Private, tribal, and state-owned land constitutes the remaining 70 percent of the border. GAO was asked to review the U.S. government's efforts to acquire privately owned land along the southwest border for barrier construction. GAO's review focused on the government's acquisition of private land and did not address acquisition of federal, state, or tribal property. This report examines (1) federal agencies' process for acquiring private land identified for the construction of border barriers and (2) the status of federal acquisition of private land for the barrier construction. GAO reviewed key documents; interviewed Border Patrol, USACE, and Department of Justice officials; and interviewed stakeholder organizations and landowners. GAO also analyzed data on the status of private land acquisition and conducted a site visit to areas in south Texas. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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  • Offshore Wind Energy: Planned Projects May Lead to Construction of New Vessels in the U.S., but Industry Has Made Few Decisions amid Uncertainties
    In U.S GAO News
    Under the Jones Act, vessels carrying merchandise between two points in the U.S. must be built and registered in the United States. Developers are planning a number of offshore wind projects along the U.S. east coast, where many states have set targets for offshore wind energy production. Stakeholders described two approaches to using vessels to install offshore wind energy projects in the U.S. Either approach may lead to the construction of new vessels that comply with the Jones Act. Under one approach, a Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) would carry components from a U.S. port to the site and also install the turbines. WTIVs have a large deck, legs that allow the vessel to lift out of the water, and a tall crane to lift and place turbines. Stakeholders told GAO there are currently no Jones Act-compliant vessels capable of serving as a WTIV. One company, however, has announced a plan to build one. Under the second approach, a foreign-flag WTIV would install the turbines with components carried to the site from U.S. ports by Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels (see figure). While some potential feeder vessels exist, stakeholders said larger ones would probably need to be built to handle the large turbines developers would likely use. Example of an Offshore Wind Installation in U.S. Waters Using a Foreign-Flag Installation Vessel and Jones Act-Compliant Feeder Vessels Stakeholders identified multiple challenges—which some federal programs address—associated with constructing and using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind installations. For example, stakeholders said that obtaining investments in Jones Act-compliant WTIVs—which may cost up to $500 million—has been challenging, in part due to uncertainty about the timing of federal approval for projects. According to officials at the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for approving offshore wind projects, the Department plans to issue a decision on the nation's first large-scale offshore wind project in December 2020. Some stakeholders said that if this project is approved, investors may be more willing to move forward with vessel investments. While stakeholders also said port infrastructure limitations could pose challenges to using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind, offshore wind developers and state agencies have committed to make port investments. Offshore wind, a significant potential source of energy in the United States, requires a number of oceangoing vessels for installation and other tasks. Depending on the use, these vessels may need to comply with the Jones Act. Because Jones Act-compliant vessels are generally more expensive to build and operate than foreign-flag vessels, using such vessels may increase the costs of offshore wind projects. Building such vessels may also lead to some economic benefits for the maritime industry. A provision was included in statute for GAO to review offshore wind vessels. This report examines (1) approaches to use of vessels that developers are considering for offshore wind, consistent with Jones Act requirements, and the extent to which such vessels exist, and (2) the challenges industry stakeholders have identified associated with constructing and using such vessels to support U.S. offshore wind, and the actions federal agencies have taken to address these challenges. GAO analyzed information on vessels that could support offshore wind, reviewed relevant laws and studies, and interviewed officials from federal agencies and industry stakeholders selected based on their involvement in ongoing projects and recommendations from others. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • Medical Device Maker Merit Medical To Pay $18 Million To Settle Allegations Of Improper Payments To Physicians
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    Medical device maker Merit Medical Systems Inc. (MMSI), of South Jordan, Utah, has agreed to pay $18 million to resolve allegations that the company caused the submission of false claims to the Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE programs by paying kickbacks to physicians and hospitals to induce the use of MMSI products, the Department of Justice announced today. 
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  • Small Business Administration: COVID-19 Loans Lack Controls and Are Susceptible to Fraud
    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
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    The Justice Department today announced that it reached an agreement with Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, to resolve the department’s findings of disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the agreement Amtrak will fix inaccessible stations and pay $2.25 million to victims hurt by its inaccessible stations.
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  • Prescription Drugs: Medicare Spending on Drugs with Direct-to-Consumer Advertising
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Drug manufacturers spent $17.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for 553 drugs from 2016 through 2018, and spending was relatively stable at about $6 billion each year. Almost half of this spending was for three therapeutic categories of drugs that treat chronic medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and depression. GAO also found that nearly all DTCA spending was on brand-name drugs, with about two-thirds concentrated on 39 drugs, about half of which entered the market from 2014 through 2017. Medicare Parts B and D and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs from 2016 through 2018, $324 billion of which was spent on advertised drugs. Of the 553 advertised drugs, GAO found Medicare Parts B and D spending for 104 and 463 drugs, respectively. Among the drugs with the highest Medicare spending, some also had the highest DTCA spending. Specifically, among the top 10 drugs with the highest Medicare Parts B or D expenditures, four were also among the top 10 drugs in advertising spending in 2018: Eliquis (blood thinner), Humira (arthritis), Keytruda (cancer), and Lyrica (diabetic pain). Medicare Spending on Advertised Drugs, 2016 - 2018 GAO's review of four advertised drugs found that drug manufacturers changed their DTCA spending during key events, such as increasing spending when a drug was approved to treat additional conditions or decreasing spending following the approval of generic versions. GAO also found that DTCA may have contributed to increases in Medicare beneficiary use and spending among four selected drugs from 2010 through 2018. However, other factors likely contributed to a drug's Medicare beneficiary use and spending, making it difficult to isolate the relationship between drug advertising, use and spending. For example, GAO's review of four selected drugs showed that increases in unit prices were a factor, while stakeholders GAO interviewed cited other contributing factors such as doctors' prescribing decisions and manufacturers' drug promotions directed to doctors. Why GAO Did This Study Drug manufacturers use advertising on television and in other media to promote the use of their drugs to consumers and to encourage them to visit their doctors for more information. From 2016 through 2018, the Medicare program and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs, and spending is projected to increase with the use of newer, more expensive drugs and an increase in beneficiaries. GAO was asked to examine DTCA and Medicare spending on advertised drugs. This report examines (1) drug manufacturer spending on DTCA; (2) Medicare spending on advertised drugs; and (3) changes in DTCA spending and Medicare use and spending for selected drugs. GAO analyzed DTCA spending data from Nielsen Media, and Medicare Parts B and D Drug Spending Dashboard data, from 2016 through 2018 (the most recent available data at the time of GAO's analysis). GAO also analyzed DTCA spending and Medicare data for a non-generalizable selection of four advertised drugs over a longer period—from 2010 through 2018. The four drugs were selected to reflect differences in DTCA and Medicare spending, beneficiary use, and medical conditions treated. GAO also interviewed or obtained information from officials representing 14 stakeholder groups (including research, trade, and physician organizations; and drug manufacturers of the four selected drugs) about DTCA spending and drug use and spending. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact John Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Awards Over $54 Million to Support Wellness and Safety of Law Enforcement Officers
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    The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs today announced it has awarded funding totaling over $54 million to provide services that protect officers and improve overall public safety. OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded grants to law enforcement departments, local jurisdictions, and training and technical assistance organizations throughout the United States.
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  • Financial Audit: Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s FY 2021 and FY 2020 Schedules of Federal Debt
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO found (1) the Bureau of the Fiscal Service's Schedules of Federal Debt for fiscal years 2021 and 2020 are fairly presented in all material respects, and (2) although internal controls could be improved, Fiscal Service maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedule of Federal Debt as of September 30, 2021. GAO's tests of selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements related to the Schedule of Federal Debt disclosed no instances of reportable noncompliance for fiscal year 2021. Although Fiscal Service made some progress in addressing previously reported control deficiencies, unresolved information system control deficiencies continued to represent a significant deficiency in Fiscal Service's internal control over financial reporting, which although not a material weakness, is important enough to merit attention by those charged with governance of Fiscal Service. From fiscal year 1997, GAO's first year auditing the schedules, through September 30, 2021, total federal debt managed by Fiscal Service has increased from $5.4 trillion to $28.4 trillion, and the debt limit has been raised 21 times. Total Federal Debt Outstanding, September 30, 1997, through September 30, 2021 During fiscal year 2021, total federal debt increased by $1.5 trillion, with debt held by the public increasing by $1.3 trillion, and intragovernmental debt holdings increasing by $0.2 trillion. The main factor for the increase in debt held by the public was the reported $2.8 trillion federal deficit in fiscal year 2021, which was due primarily to economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 and federal spending in response. The increase in debt held by the public was less than the deficit primarily because of a $1.6 trillion decrease in the government's cash balance. Due to delays in raising the debt limit during fiscal year 2021, the Department of the Treasury deviated from its normal debt management operations and took extraordinary actions—consistent with relevant laws—to avoid exceeding the debt limit. Delays in raising the debt limit have created disruptions in the Treasury market and increased borrowing costs. To improve federal debt management and place the government on a sustainable long-term fiscal path, GAO has previously suggested that Congress consider establishing a long-term plan that includes alternative approaches to the debt limit, and fiscal rules and targets. Why GAO Did This Study GAO audits the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. Because of the significance of the federal debt to the government-wide financial statements, GAO audits Fiscal Service's Schedules of Federal Debt annually to determine whether, in all material respects, (1) the schedules are fairly presented and (2) Fiscal Service management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedule of Federal Debt. Further, GAO tests compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements related to the Schedule of Federal Debt. Federal debt managed by Fiscal Service consists of Treasury securities held by the public and by certain federal government accounts, referred to as intragovernmental debt holdings. Debt held by the public primarily represents the amount the federal government has borrowed to finance cumulative cash deficits and is held by investors outside of the federal government—including individuals, corporations, state or local governments, the Federal Reserve, and foreign governments. Intragovernmental debt holdings represent balances of Treasury securities held by federal government accounts—primarily federal trust funds such as Social Security and Medicare—that typically have an obligation to invest their excess annual receipts (including interest earnings) over disbursements in federal securities. In commenting on a draft of this report, Fiscal Service concurred with GAO's conclusions. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
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  • Lead Paint in Housing: Key Considerations for Adopting Stricter Lead Evaluation Methods in HUD’s Voucher Program
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO found that the Housing Choice Voucher program had 1.1 million voucher holders living in units built before 1978, the year the U.S. banned lead paint in housing. Of these units, roughly 171,000 were occupied by approximately 229,000 young children (under age 6)––putting these children at an increased risk of lead exposure. The voucher program requires visual assessments for identifying deteriorated paint, with no testing of paint or dust. Any change to stricter evaluation methods would need to consider that certain states have a larger portion of pre-1978 voucher units occupied by families with young children. Estimated costs for adopting stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program would vary substantially depending on the method used and what units were included (see figure). Estimated initial costs range from about $60 million for a less expensive method applied only to units with young children to about $880 million for a more expensive method applied to all pre-1978 units. These estimated costs range from 3 percent to 41 percent, respectively, of the fiscal year 2021 budget dedicated to public housing agencies' administrative expenses for the voucher program. Total costs would also depend on the mobility of voucher households and the frequency of any additional lead evaluations. Total Estimated Cost to Change the Lead Evaluation Methods for Housing Choice Voucher Units Would Vary by Evaluation Method Used and Units Included Note: A combination evaluation includes all components of a lead inspection and a risk assessment. Estimated costs may vary by up to plus or minus 14 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. GAO analysis estimated that nearly 6,000 lead professionals can conduct lead evaluations in the U.S. While there is no indication of a national shortage of lead professionals, areas with high numbers of pre-1978 voucher units and low numbers of lead professionals may face implementation challenges. Selected cities offer observations from their implementation of a change in lead evaluation method. For example, education of landlords can help clarify new evaluation requirements and encourage landlords to continue to rent to voucher holders. Further, implementing a new method in phases could target areas with the greatest need and help landlords and the industry adapt to the new requirement and the increased demand for lead evaluations. Why GAO Did This Study Exposure to lead paint, which was used in housing built before 1978, can have serious health effects, especially for young children. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has primary responsibility for identifying lead paint hazards in housing receiving HUD assistance, including private rental units in the voucher program. Some members of Congress have raised questions about whether the voucher program should change from visual assessments to a stricter lead evaluation method. The 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Joint Explanatory Statement, includes a provision for GAO to review HUD's efforts to address lead paint hazards. This report identifies considerations for policymakers related to changing to stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program, specifically regarding the (1) number and characteristics of voucher housing units and their occupants, (2) costs for lead evaluations based on method used and units included, (3) availability of lead professionals, and (4) observations from selected cities that use lead evaluation methods stricter than visual assessments. GAO analyzed HUD data on the voucher program (as of year-end 2019, the most recent available) and information on lead professionals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states. GAO also conducted a nationwide, generalizable survey of lead professionals to estimate the costs of lead evaluation methods. In addition, GAO interviewed staff from HUD, EPA, and public housing agencies, and representatives from two national organizations that represent lead professionals. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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