The executive summary of a report by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was released today to affected victims. The summary, which is available on the Justice Department website, provides the essential details about the findings of OPR’s investigation into the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida’s resolution of its 2006–2008 federal criminal investigation of Jeffrey Epstein and its interactions with victims during the investigation.
While OPR did not find that Department attorneys engaged in professional misconduct, OPR concluded that the victims were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity expected by the Department. OPR also concluded that former U.S. Attorney Acosta exercised poor judgment by deciding to resolve the federal investigation through the non-prosecution agreement and when he failed to make certain that the state of Florida intended to and would notify victims identified through the federal investigation about the state plea hearing.
In order to fully respect the rights and dignity of Jeffrey Epstein’s many victims, the Department first invited victims and their legal representatives to be briefed this morning on the report’s contents. The Privacy Act prohibits the Department from releasing the full report publicly, but permits the report to be disclosed upon request to a congressional committee with jurisdiction over the matter, and this has been done.
We salute the courage of survivors as they again are confronted with these horrible crimes and their aftermath. The Department will thoroughly review the report, which will inform our implementation of the Crime Victims Rights’ Act and the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Victim and Witness Assistance.
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- Supplemental Security Income: SSA Faces Ongoing Challenges with Work Incentives and Improper PaymentsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2021What GAO Found The Social Security Administration (SSA) has undertaken several efforts to encourage employment for individuals with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and who would like to work, but few benefit from these supports. Work incentives and supports for transition-age youth. SSA administers work incentives and other employment supports for transition-age youth (ages 14 to 17) on SSI. These supports encourage work by allowing these youth to keep at least some of their benefits even if they have earnings. In 2017, GAO analysis of SSA data from 2012 to 2015 found that less than 1.5 percent of SSI youth benefitted from these incentives. According to SSA and other officials, this may be because SSI youth and their families are often unaware of or do not understand the incentives, and may fear that work will negatively affect their benefits or eligibility. Work incentives for working-age adults. The Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program (Ticket) is a voluntary program that was established to assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining and retaining employment, and help reduce dependency on benefits. Preliminary GAO analysis of Ticket indicates that SSI recipients participated more often than other disability beneficiaries, and benefited modestly from the program. GAO analysis of SSA data from 2002 to 2015 found, 5 years after participating in Ticket, about 4 percent of SSI participants had left the disability rolls due to earnings from work, compared with 2 percent of nonparticipants who were similar in characteristics such as age, disability type, and education. However, earnings for SSI Ticket participants remained low. GAO's analysis of data from 2002 to 2018 shows that average earnings for SSI Ticket participants, 5 years after participating, were $3,940 per year, including 57 percent who did not report any earnings at all. GAO's preliminary work also indicates that Ticket participants face a number of challenges to returning to work, including their primary disabling condition, which may not improve sufficiently to allow for fulltime employment, and disincentives to work such as the loss of cash and medical benefits. Prior and ongoing GAO work has identified issues with SSA's efforts to reduce improper payments, including overpayments, to SSI beneficiaries in general and beneficiaries who are working in particular. Overpayments can occur when beneficiaries who work do not timely report earnings to SSA or SSA delays in adjusting their benefit amounts. SSA reported that SSI's overpayment rate in fiscal year 2019 was estimated at 8.13 percent, higher than other SSA programs. Further, SSA reported it made approximately $4.6 billion in SSI overpayments in fiscal year 2019. Overpayments may have to be repaid, which may be burdensome for recipients, especially those who were not aware that they were overpaid and already spent the money. While SSA has taken steps to reduce overpayments, SSA's Office of Inspector General found that SSA had not resolved lags in updating information on beneficiaries' earnings. In addition, SSA has not implemented a 2020 GAO priority recommendation that it develop and implement a process to measure the effectiveness of its corrective actions for improper payments, including overpayments. Why GAO Did This Study SSI is a federal assistance program administered by SSA that provides cash benefits to certain individuals who are elderly, blind, or have a disability. SSI acts as a safety net for individuals who have limited resources and little or no other income. As such, SSI is a means-tested program. As of July 2021, approximately 71 percent of SSI beneficiaries were children or working-age individuals with disabilities. SSA faces longstanding challenges related to administering SSI and its other disability programs. GAO has issued multiple reports with recommendations on how SSA might address these challenges. This testimony describes SSA's challenges with (1) incentivizing employment for SSI recipients who wish to work, and (2) preventing improper payments to SSI recipients, including overpayments. This statement is based primarily on prior GAO reports issued between 2010 and 2021, as well as preliminary observations from an ongoing GAO review of the Ticket program. To conduct the work for these reports and the ongoing review, GAO used a variety of methods including analyzing data; reviewing relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; reviewing key agency documents, such as SSA's strategic plan and annual SSI stewardship reports; and interviewing experts and SSA officials. For more information, contact Elizabeth H. Curda at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- VA Vet Centers: Evaluations Needed of Expectations for Counselor Productivity and Centers’ StaffingBy Sam NewsSeptember 23, 2020The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) provides counseling through 300 Vet Centers, which can be found in community settings and are separate from other VHA facilities. RCS has set expectations for counselor productivity at Vet Centers. For example, one expectation is for counselors to achieve an average of 1.5 visits for each hour they provide direct services. However, RCS officials told GAO that they have not conducted, and do not have plans to conduct, an evaluation of the expectations. VA Vet Center Productivity Expectations for Counselors Although most counselors met the productivity expectations in fiscal year 2019, counselors GAO spoke with said the expectations led them to change work practices in ways that could negatively affect client care. For example, counselors at one Vet Center told GAO that, to meet productivity expectations, they spend less time with each client to fit more clients into their schedules. Without an evaluation of its productivity expectations, RCS lacks reasonable assurance that it is identifying any unintended or potentially negative effects of the expectations on counselor practices and client care. RCS officials told GAO that by the start of fiscal year 2021 they plan to implement a staffing model to identify criteria for determining staffing needs at Vet Centers. The model incorporates data on counselors' productivity (work hours and number of visits), and total clients to determine criteria for adding or removing a counselor position from a Vet Center. However, the model does not fully address key practices in staffing model design GAO identified in previous work. For example, the model does not include the input of Vet Center counselors, or client data associated with directors, who also provide counseling. As a result, RCS is at risk of making decisions about Vet Center staffing that may not be responsive to changing client needs. Shortages of mental health staff within VHA coupled with the increasing veteran demand for mental health services highlight the critical importance of ensuring appropriate Vet Center staffing. VHA's RCS provided counseling (individual, group, marriage, and family) and outreach services through Vet Centers to more than 300,000 veterans and their families in fiscal year 2019. In 2017, RCS implemented changes to expectations that it uses to assess Vet Center counselor productivity, setting expectations for counselors' percentage of time with clients and number of client visits. GAO was asked to review Vet Center productivity expectations for counselors and staffing. Among other issues, this report examines the extent to which VHA (1) evaluates its productivity expectations; and (2) assesses Vet Centers' staffing needs. To do this work, GAO reviewed RCS documentation regarding counselors' productivity expectations and analyzed RCS data on counselor productivity expectations and staffing, for fiscal year 2019. GAO interviewed RCS leadership, including district directors, and directors and counselors from 12 Vet Centers, selected for variation in geographic location and total number of clients, among other factors. GAO is making four recommendations, including that VHA (1) evaluate Vet Center productivity expectations for counselors; and (2) develop and implement a staffing model that incorporates key practices. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations and identified actions VHA is taking to implement them. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Military Readiness: DOD Has Not Yet Incorporated Leading Practices of a Strategic Management Planning Framework in Retrograde and Reset GuidanceBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has not established a strategic policy for the retrograde and reset of equipment during contingency operations that incorporates key elements of leading practices for sound strategic management planning. Because DOD and the military services do not separately track the "reconstitution" of units, which includes personnel and training costs, the focus of GAO's report is on the retrograde and reset of equipment. According to DOD's Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, "retrograde" refers to the process for the movement of nonunit equipment and materiel from a forward location to a reset program or to another directed area of operations. "Reset" refers to a set of actions to restore equipment to a desired level of combat capability commensurate with a unit's future mission. GAO found that there was no consensus among the officials we spoke with regarding which organization should lead the effort to develop a DOD-wide policy. GAO continues to believe that its May 2016 recommendation for DOD to develop a strategic policy for retrograde and reset that incorporates key elements of strategic management planning is valid. Although the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) has provided definitions of terms for the services to use in reporting the cost of contingency operations, DOD has not ensured that the services use consistent information and descriptions of key terms regarding retrograde and reset in policy and guidance. Although DOD updated the relevant chapter of the Financial Management Regulation in December 2017 to include definitions of "reset" and "retrograde," GAO found that the terms retrograde and reset are not used consistently by the department and the services. As a result, GAO believes that to fully meet the intent of its May 2016 recommendation DOD needs to take action to ensure that these terms are uniformly defined and consistently used throughout the services. The Marine Corps has been implementing its plan for the retrograde and reset of its equipment, but the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force have no immediate plans to develop reset plans. Marine Corps officials reported that the implementation of reset activities for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is 99-percent complete and will be completed in May 2019. Navy and Air Force officials cited the need for a DOD-wide policy before they can establish service-specific plans. GAO continues to believe that its May 2016 recommendation for the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force to develop service-specific implementation plans for retrograde and reset is valid. Furthermore, GAO continues to believe that DOD needs to establish a strategic policy consistent with leading practices on sound strategic management planning to guide and inform the services' plans, as previously discussed. Why GAO Did This Study Section 324 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014 required DOD to establish a policy regarding the retrograde, reconstitution, and replacement of units and materiel used to support overseas contingency operations and to submit a plan for implementation of the policy within 90 days of the enactment of the NDAA. It also required DOD to submit annual updates (for the next 3 years) to congressional defense committees on its progress toward meeting the goals of the plan. The act included a provision for GAO to review and report on DOD's policy, implementation plan, and annual updates. For this report on DOD's third and final annual update, GAO evaluated the extent to which DOD has addressed GAO's May 2016 recommendations. Specifically, GAO assessed the extent to which (1) DOD has established a strategic policy consistent with leading practices on sound strategic management planning for the retrograde and reset of equipment that supports overseas contingency operations, (2) DOD has developed and required the use of consistent information and descriptions of key terms regarding retrograde and reset in relevant policy and other guidance, and (3) each of the military services has developed and implemented a service-specific plan consistent with leading practices on sound strategic management planning for the retrograde and reset that supports overseas contingency operations. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed DOD reports, interviewed officials, and reviewed/assessed agency provided documents.[Read More…]
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- Commercial Shipping: Information on How Intermodal Chassis Are Made Available and the Federal Government’s Oversight RoleBy Sam NewsMarch 8, 2021What GAO Found Containerized shipping—performed by oceangoing vessels using standardized shipping containers—accounted for approximately 60 percent of all world seaborne trade, which was valued at approximately $12 trillion in 2017. At a port, shipping containers are placed on "intermodal chassis" (chassis), standardized trailers that carry shipping containers and attach to tractors for land transport. Multiple entities are involved in the movement of shipping containers, including intermodal equipment providers (IEP) (which own and provide chassis for a fee); ocean carriers (which transport cargo over water); and motor carriers (which transport shipping containers over land via chassis). Four distinct models are used in the U.S. to make chassis available to motor carriers (see table), each with benefits and drawbacks according to the entities GAO interviewed. While chassis are generally provided to motor carriers using one of these four models, more than one model may be available at a port. Chassis Provisioning Models Model 1: Single chassis provider An individual intermodal equipment provider (IEP) owns chassis that are directly provided to shippers or motor carriers. Model 2: Motor carrier-controlled A motor carrier owns or is responsible for a chassis that it has procured under a long-term lease. Model 3: Gray pool A single manager, often a third party, oversees the operations of a pool that is made up of chassis contributed by multiple IEPs. Model 4: Pool-of-pools Each IEP manages its respective chassis fleet, but each allow motor carriers to use any chassis among the fleets and to pick up and drop off chassis at any of the IEPs’ multiple locations. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-315R Entities GAO interviewed identified multiple benefits and drawbacks to each of the chassis provisioning models. Regarding benefits, for example, both the single chassis provider model and the motor carrier-controlled model allow IEPs and motor carriers to have direct control over the maintenance and repair of their chassis, something these entities potentially lose under other chassis provisioning models. Further, the gray pool and the pool-of-pools models can resolve many of the logistical concerns regarding the availability of chassis, leading to operational efficiencies for port operators and the ability of motor carriers to choose whatever chassis they wish. Regarding drawbacks, cost considerations were identified in some cases. For example, under the single chassis provider model, two IEPs told us that while an expected part of the business, repositioning chassis to ensure there is a sufficient supply of chassis where they are needed can be costly to the IEPs. The federal government provides oversight of chassis safety but has a limited economic oversight role regarding chassis. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) employs several inspection methods to help oversee chassis safety and compliance with regulations. For example, inspectors perform roadside inspections on commercial vehicles, including chassis, in operation. FMCSA also performs investigations of individual IEPs to oversee chassis safety. While one stakeholder GAO spoke with stated that FMCSA should consider maintaining safety ratings for IEPs—as is currently done for motor carriers—FMCSA officials told us that the current processes provide sufficient information to select IEPs for investigation. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) oversees ocean carriers that provide service to and from the U.S. and works to ensure a competitive and reliable ocean transportation supply system. Entities may file complaints with FMC to allege violations of the Shipping Act of 1984, as amended. One such complaint was filed in August 2020, in which the complainants allege, among other things, that although ocean carriers do not own chassis, they still control the operation of chassis pools at ports. An initial decision on this complaint is expected in August 2021. None of the entities GAO spoke with identified additional actions they would like for FMC to take regarding chassis. Why GAO Did This Study Senate Report 116-109—incorporated by reference into the explanatory statement accompanying the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020—contained a provision for GAO to study intermodal chassis. Within the U.S., some entities have expressed concerns about chassis, including limited availability of chassis in some circumstances, as well as the age and safety of chassis. This report describes selected stakeholders' views on: (1) the ways in which chassis are made available for the movement of shipping containers and the benefits and drawbacks of those models, and (2) the federal government's role in the chassis market. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed relevant reports on chassis provisioning and federal oversight. GAO interviewed representatives from FMC, FMCSA, five industry associations, and the three largest intermodal equipment providers. GAO also interviewed three ocean carriers, five port operators, and a motor carrier selected, in part, for their large number of container movements. The information obtained from these interviews provides a broad perspective of relevant issues but is not generalizable to all entities. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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