Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Today, the United States continued to disrupt the financial and logistical networks that support Al Qa’ida (AQ) operations in the Middle East and around the world by designating a financial facilitator. Ahmed Luqman Talib is being designated pursuant to Executive Order 13224 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial or material support for, or goods or services to or in support of, AQ. Additionally, the company Talib and Sons, which is owned, controlled, or directed by Talib, is being designated.
Ahmed Luqman Talib is involved in operational and facilitation activities on behalf of Al Qa’ida, in furtherance of AQ objectives.
Talib and Sons PTY LTD, a gemstone company located in Australia, is owned, controlled, or directed by Ahmed Luqman Talib. Talib has had financial dealings in a number of countries, and his business dealing in gemstones has provided him the ability to move funds internationally for the benefit of AQ.
The United States has made significant progress in degrading AQ’s support networks around the world. We will not relent in our efforts to target AQ’s terrorist activities and those who support them.
- Program Evaluation: Key Terms and ConceptsBy Sam NewsMarch 22, 2021Both the executive branch and congressional committees need evaluative information to help them make decisions about the programs they oversee—information that tells them whether, and why, a program is working well or not. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) and GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) established a framework for performance management and accountability within the federal government. Building on that foundation, Congress has since passed, among other laws, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) to strengthen the evidence-building efforts of executive branch agencies. This product updates our previous glossary (GAO-11-646SP) to highlight different types of evaluations for answering questions about program performance, as well as relevant issues to ensure study quality. This glossary can help agency officials better understand fundamental concepts related to evaluation and enhance their evidence-building capacity. For more information, contact Lawrance Evans, Jr. at 202-512-2700 or EvansL@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- [Protests of Army Corps of Engineers Contract Award for Environmental Remediation Services]By Sam NewsAugust 18, 2021A firm protested an Army Corps of Engineers contract award for environmental remediation services, contending that the: (1) Corps' evaluation of the bids was unreasonable and inconsistent with the solicitation's evaluation criteria, making the selection decision flawed; and (2) Corps improperly failed to perform a cost-technical tradeoff analysis. GAO held that the: (1) Corps reasonably gave the awardee's proposal an excellent technical rating in areas where the proposal met most of the criteria for an excellent rating; (2) protester untimely filed more than 10 days after it knew the basis of protest several issues raised in its supplemental protest; and (3) Corps' consideration of price and technical factors in the selection decision was reasonable and consistent with the solicitation's evaluation criteria. Accordingly, the protests were denied.[Read More…]
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- 2018 Pacific Island Disasters: Federal Actions Helped Facilitate the Response, but FEMA Needs to Address Long-Term Recovery ChallengesBy Sam NewsFebruary 3, 2021The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took steps prior to the 2018 disasters in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and Hawaii to facilitate response in the region, where time and distance from the continental United States create unique challenges. For instance, FEMA increased the capacity of two Pacific-area supply distribution centers and helped develop area specific disaster response plans. FEMA and its federal partners, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), had varied response roles, which local officials in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii considered effective. For example, DOD provided temporary roof repair for disaster survivors in the CNMI. Damage from Typhoon Yutu in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (left) and the Kilauea Volcano Eruption in Hawaii (right) As of October 2020, FEMA obligated $877 million—more than 70 percent of which was for Individual and Public Assistance missions—following the 2018 disasters and made progress addressing some region specific challenges. However, FEMA has not fully addressed housing assistance issues in the CNMI. For example, it experienced delays implementing its Permanent Housing Construction program in the CNMI due to contracting shortfalls and lack of experienced staff. As of October 2020, only about 30 percent of homes were completed and returned to survivors. GAO found that these housing assistance challenges are consistent with lessons learned from prior FEMA missions in other remote areas of the U.S. Developing guidance that addresses lessons learned in the Permanent Housing Construction program could help streamline assistance to disaster survivors. GAO also identified delays in FEMA's obligation of Public Assistance program funds—used to repair or replace disaster-damaged public infrastructure such as utilities, roads, and schools—in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii. Specifically, on average, it took over a year for FEMA to approve funds for projects awarded after the 2018 disasters. FEMA and local officials identified potential reasons for the delays, including cost estimation challenges. FEMA established cost factors in the CNMI to account for higher construction costs, and GAO found that FEMA collects some data on the timeliness of individual steps in the process. However, FEMA has not analyzed the data to help identify causes of the delays, which could allow it to target solutions to address them. The CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii experienced an unprecedented number of natural disasters in 2018—including typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides, and volcanic eruptions. FEMA is the lead federal agency responsible for helping states and territories prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. Due to the remoteness of Hawaii and the Pacific territories, disaster response and recovery can be challenging. Title IX of the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 includes a provision for GAO to review FEMA's response and recovery efforts for 2018 natural disasters, including those in the Pacific region. This report examines (1) how FEMA and its federal partners prepared for and responded to the 2018 disasters in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii; and (2) the extent to which FEMA assisted the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii in recovering from the 2018 natural disasters. GAO analyzed program documents, response plans, and data on FEMA obligations, expenditures, and grant process steps as of October 2020; interviewed federal, state, territorial, and local officials; and visited disaster-damaged areas in Hawaii. GAO is making four recommendations, including that FEMA (1) incorporate lessons learned into Permanent Housing Construction guidance; and (2) use performance data to identify and address inefficiencies in the Public Assistance program. The Department of Homeland Security concurred, and FEMA is taking actions in response. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo to Receive the International Republican Institute’s Freedom AwardBy Sam NewsOctober 12, 2020
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- Medicare: Provider Performance and Experiences Under the Merit-Based Incentive Payment SystemBy Sam NewsOctober 1, 2021What GAO Found The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administers the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) under the Medicare program. Under this system, MIPS-eligible providers receive a “final score” based on their performance on certain measures in four categories, such as quality and cost of care. This final score is compared to a performance threshold and is used to determine if providers receive a negative, neutral, or positive payment adjustment applied to future Medicare payments. Providers may receive a larger positive adjustment if their final score surpasses a higher threshold, known as the exceptional performance threshold. In addition, eligible providers who do not submit required performance data may receive a negative adjustment. Analysis of CMS data shows that final scores were generally high and at least 93 percent of providers earned a small positive adjustment in 2017 through 2019, with the largest payment adjustment in any year being 1.88 percent. Median final scores were well above the performance threshold across each of the 3 years (see figure). About 72 to 84 percent of providers earned an exceptional performance bonus, depending on the year. Median Final Scores Relative to Performance and Exceptional Performance Thresholds, Performance Years 2017 through 2019 Stakeholders GAO interviewed identified some strengths and challenges related to the MIPS program. For example, two of the 11 stakeholders stated that bonus points, such as those that may be added to the final scores for small practices, helped increase scores for certain providers who might otherwise be disadvantaged. Eight stakeholders questioned whether the program helps to meaningfully improve quality of care or patient health outcomes. For example, they said that the design of the program may incentivize reporting over quality improvement, with providers choosing to report on quality measures on which they are performing well, rather than on measures in areas where they may need improvement. According to CMS, the MIPS Value Pathways (MVP)—a new way of meeting reporting requirements in 2023—will help to address some of these challenges by standardizing performance measurement across specific specialties, medical conditions, or episodes of care. The development of clinically cohesive sets of measures and activities should minimize providers' selection burden in choosing measures and activities to report for each MVP, officials said. Why GAO Did This Study The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) changed how Medicare pays for physician services, moving from a payment system that largely rewarded volume and complexity of health care services to the Quality Payment Program, which is a payment incentive program intended to reward high-quality, efficient care. Providers participate in the Quality Payment Program through one of two tracks: MIPS or advanced alternative payment models. MIPS was designed to incentivize high-quality care through performance-based payment adjustments. About 950,000 providers (about half of all Medicare Part B providers) were eligible to participate in MIPS in 2019. Congress included a provision in MACRA for GAO to examine the MIPS program. This report describes (1) the distribution of MIPS performance scores and related payment adjustments, and (2) stakeholders' perspectives on the strengths and challenges of the MIPS program. GAO analyzed MIPS data for performance years 2017 through 2019—the most recent year available at the time of GAO's analysis. GAO also interviewed officials from CMS and 11 selected professional organizations that represent MIPS-eligible providers of various specialties. GAO identified stakeholders through research and its analysis of the MIPS data. 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 Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or FarbJ@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Two Florida Tax Preparers Plead Guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United StatesBy Sam NewsIn Crime NewsSeptember 21, 2021Two Florida tax preparers pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States and preparing false tax returns.[Read More…]
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- Critical Infrastructure Protection: Education Should Take Additional Steps to Help Protect K-12 Schools from Cyber ThreatsBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2021What GAO Found Federal guidance, such as the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (National Plan), specify the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Secure Schools, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist school districts in protecting against cyber threats. These agencies have provided programs, services, and support to assist kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) schools in defending against cyber threats. Examples of such support include incident response assistance, network monitoring tools, and guidance for parents and students on preparing for the cyber threats that students face online (see table). Federal Resources for Cyberattacks on Kindergarten through Grade 12 (K-12) Schools As the lead for the education subsector, the Department of Education is responsible for (1) developing and maintaining a sector-specific plan to address cybersecurity risks at K-12 schools, and (2) determining the need for sector-specific guidance. The Education Facilities plan was developed and issued in 2010. Since then, the cybersecurity risks facing the subsector have substantially changed. Among other things, schools have increasingly reported ransomware and other cyberattacks that can cause significant disruptions to school operations, thus highlighting the importance of securing K-12 schools' IT systems. According to data from K-12 Security Information Exchange, schools publicly reported 62 ransomware incidents in 2019, compared to 11 ransomware incidents reported in 2018. However, Education has not updated its 2010 plan and has not determined whether sector-specific guidance is needed for K-12 schools to help protect against cyber threats. Education officials stated that the department has not updated the sector plan and not determined the need for sector-specific guidance because CISA has not directed it to do so. However, as previously stated, the department is responsible for updating its sector plan and determining the need for guidance. As a result, K-12 schools are less likely to have the federal products, services, and support that can best help protect them from cyberattacks. Why GAO Did This Study When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of schools across the nation, many K-12 schools moved from in-person to remote education, increasing their dependence on IT and making them potentially more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Education Facilities, including K-12 schools, is one of the nation's critical infrastructure subsectors. Several agencies have a role in protecting the subsector. GAO was asked to review cybersecurity in K-12 schools. The objective of this report is to determine the extent that federal agencies have assisted schools in protecting themselves from cyber threats. To do so, GAO identified laws and federal guidance that specify the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies to assist schools in protecting against cyber threats. GAO analyzed documentation of the types of products and services federal agencies have in place to identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover from attacks. In addition, GAO interviewed federal officials about such products and services they offer to K-12 schools.[Read More…]
- Two Individuals And Two Companies Sentenced In Scheme To Fraudulently Sell Popular Dietary SupplementsBy Sam NewsIn Crime NewsOctober 15, 2020A federal court in Texas sentenced two former dietary supplement company executives to prison and ordered two companies to pay a combined $10.7 million in criminal forfeiture for their roles in fraudulently selling popular workout supplements, the Justice Department announced today.[Read More…]
- Warfighter Support: Army Has Taken Steps to Improve Reset Process, but More Complete Reporting of Equipment and Future Costs Is NeededBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO FoundSince GAOs 2007 review, the Army has taken steps to improve its use of reset in targeting equipment shortages. In 2007, GAO noted that the Armys reset implementation strategy did not specifically target shortages of equipment on hand among units preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to mitigate operational risk. GAO recommended that the Army act to ensure that its reset priorities address equipment shortages in the near term to ensure that the needs of deploying units could be met. The Department of Defense (DOD) did not concur, and stated that there was no need to reassess its approaches to equipment reset. However, in 2008, the Army issued its Depot Maintenance Enterprise Strategic Plan, noted that filling materiel shortages within warfighting units is a key challenge facing the depot maintenance enterprise, and called for changes in programs and policies to address materiel shortages within warfighting units. Further, recognizing that retrograde operationsthe return of equipment from theater to the United Statesare essential to facilitating depot level reset and redistribution of equipment, the Army in 2010 developed the retrograde, reset, and redistribution (R3) initiative to synchronize retrograde, national depot-level reset efforts, and redistribution efforts. In March 2011, the Army issued an R3 equipment priority list, and revised and reissued an updated list at the end of fiscal year 2011 with full endorsement from all Army commands. The R3 initiative has only begun to be fully implemented this year, and thus it is too early to tell whether it will provide a consistent and transparent process for addressing the Armys current or future equipping needs.GAO found that the Armys monthly reports to Congress do not include expected future reset costs or distinguish between planned and unplanned reset of equipment. GAO has reported that agencies and decision makers need visibility into the accuracy of program execution in order to ensure basic accountability and to anticipate future costs. However, the Army does not include its future reset liability in its reports to Congress, which DOD most recently estimated in 2010 to be $24 billion. Also, the Army reports to Congress include the number of items that it has repaired in a given month using broad categories, such as Tactical Wheeled Vehicles, which may obscure progress on equipment planned for reset. For example, GAOs analysis of Army data showed that 4,144 tactical wheeled vehicles were planned for reset in fiscal year 2010, while 3,563 vehicles were executed. According to the Armys current reporting method, this would result in a reported completion rate of 86 percent, but GAOs analysis showed that only approximately 40 percent of the equipment that was reset had been planned and programmed. This reporting method may also restrict visibility over the Armys multiyear reset liability. For example, both the M1200 Knight and the M1151 HMMWV are categorized as Tactical Wheeled Vehicles, but anticipated reset costs for the M1200 are significantly higher. In 2010 more M1200s were repaired than planned, thus accounting for a larger share of the budgeted reset funds. With fewer funds remaining, some equipment planned and budgeted for repair was not reset, pushing that workload to future fiscal years. These differences are not captured in the Armys monthly reports, and thus Congress may not have a complete picture of the Armys short- and long-term progress in addressing reset.Why GAO Did This StudyFrom 2007 to 2012, the Army received about $42 billion to fund its expenses for the reset of equipmentincluding more than $21 billion for depot maintenancein support of continuing overseas contingency operations in Southwest Asia. Reset is intended to mitigate the effects of combat stress on equipment by repairing, rebuilding, upgrading, or procuring replacement equipment. Reset equipment is used to supply non-deployed units and units preparing for deployment while meeting ongoing operational requirements. In 2007, GAO reported that the Armys reset strategy did not target equipment shortages for units deploying to theater. For this report, GAO (1) examined steps the Army has taken to improve its equipment reset strategy since 2007, and (2) determined the extent to which the Armys reset reports to Congress provide visibility over reset costs and execution. To conduct this review, GAO reviewed and analyzed DOD and Army documentation on equipment reset strategies and monthly Army reports to Congress, and interviewed DOD and Army officials.[Read More…]
- Commercial Vehicle Security: Risk-Based Approach Needed to Secure the Commercial Vehicle SectorBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Numerous incidents around the world have highlighted the vulnerability of commercial vehicles to terrorist acts. Commercial vehicles include over 1 million highly diverse truck and intercity bus firms. Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has primary federal responsibility for ensuring the security of the commercial vehicle sector, while vehicle operators are responsible for implementing security measures for their firms. GAO was asked to examine: (1) the extent to which TSA has assessed security risks for commercial vehicles; (2) actions taken by key stakeholders to mitigate identified risks; and (3) TSA efforts to coordinate its security strategy with other federal, state, and private sector stakeholders. GAO reviewed TSA plans, assessments, and other documents; visited a nonrandom sample of 26 commercial truck and bus companies of varying sizes, locations, and types of operations; and interviewed TSA and other federal and state officials and industry representatives.TSA has taken actions to evaluate the security risks associated with the commercial vehicle sector, including assessing threats and initiating vulnerability assessments, but more work remains to fully gauge security risks. Risk assessment uses a combined analysis of threat, vulnerability, and consequence to estimate the likelihood of terrorist attacks and the severity of their impact. TSA conducted threat assessments of the commercial vehicle sector and has also cosponsored a vulnerability assessment pilot program in Missouri. However, TSA's threat assessments generally have not identified the likelihood of specific threats, as required by DHS policy. TSA has also not determined the scope, method, and time frame for completing vulnerability assessments of the commercial vehicle sector. In addition, TSA has not conducted consequence assessments, or leveraged the consequence assessments of other sectors. As a result of limitations with its threat, vulnerability, and consequence assessments, TSA cannot be sure that its approach for securing the commercial vehicle sector addresses the highest priority security needs. Moreover, TSA has not developed a plan or time frame to complete a risk assessment of the sector. Nor has TSA completed a report on commercial trucking security as required by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act (9/11 Commission Act). Key government and industry stakeholders have taken actions to strengthen the security of commercial vehicles, but TSA has not assessed the effectiveness of federal programs. TSA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have implemented programs to strengthen security, particularly those emphasizing the protection of hazardous materials. States have also worked collaboratively to strengthen commercial vehicle security through their transportation and law enforcement officials' associations, and the establishment of fusion centers. TSA also has begun developing and using performance measures to monitor the progress of its program activities to secure the commercial vehicle sector, but has not developed measures to assess the effectiveness of these actions in mitigating security risks. Without such information, TSA will be limited in its ability to measure its success in enhancing commercial vehicle security. While TSA has also taken actions to improve coordination with federal, state, and industry stakeholders, more can be done to ensure that these coordination efforts enhance security for the sector. TSA signed joint agreements with DOT and supported the establishment of intergovernmental and industry councils to strengthen collaboration. TSA and DOT completed an agreement to avoid duplication of effort as required by the 9/11 Commission Act. However, some state and industry officials GAO interviewed reported that TSA had not clearly defined stakeholder roles and responsibilities consistent with leading practices for collaborating agencies. TSA has not developed a means to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its coordination efforts. Without enhanced coordination with the states, TSA will have difficulty expanding its vulnerability assessments.[Read More…]
- Just the Facts: Trends in Pro Se Civil Litigation from 2000 to 2019By Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsFebruary 11, 2021Most federal pro se cases are civil actions filed by persons serving time in prison. Pro se prisoner petitions spiked in 2016 after a pair of Supreme Court rulings made it possible for certain prisoners to petition to have their sentences vacated or remanded. Non-prisoners who file pro se actions most often raise civil rights claims.[Read More…]
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- Financial Stability: Agencies Have Not Found Leveraged Lending to Significantly Threaten Stability but Remain Cautious Amid PandemicBy Sam NewsDecember 16, 2020In the years before the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and others assessed the potential risks to financial stability that leveraged loans and collateralized loan obligation (CLO) securities may pose. Generally, leveraged loans are those made to businesses with poor credit and high debt, and CLO securities are backed by these loans. FSOC and others found that riskier borrower profiles and looser underwriting standards left leveraged lending market participants vulnerable to losses in the event of a downturn. After the COVID-19 shock in March 2020, loans suffered record downgrades and increased defaults, but the highest-rated CLO securities remained resilient. Although regulators monitoring the effects of the pandemic remain cautious, as of September 2020, they had not found that leveraged lending presented significant threats to financial stability. Based on regulators' assessments, leveraged lending activities had not contributed significantly to the distress of any large financial entity whose failure could threaten financial stability. Large banks' strong capital positions have allowed them to manage their leveraged lending exposures, and the exposure of insurers and other investors also appeared manageable. Mutual funds experienced redemptions by investors but were able to meet them in part by selling leveraged loan holdings. While this may have put downward pressure on already-distressed loan prices, based on regulators' assessments, distressed leveraged loan prices did not pose a potential threat to financial stability. Present-day CLO securities appear to pose less of a risk to financial stability than did similar securities during the 2007–2009 financial crisis, according to regulators and market participants. For example, CLO securities have better investor protections, are more insulated from market swings, and are not widely tied to other risky, complex instruments. FSOC monitors leveraged-lending-related risks primarily through its monthly Systemic Risk Committee meetings, but opportunities exist to enhance FSOC's abilities to respond to financial stability threats. FSOC identified leveraged lending activities as a source of potential risk to financial stability before the COVID-19 shock and recommended continued monitoring and analysis. However, FSOC does not conduct tabletop or similar scenario-based exercises where participants discuss roles and responses to hypothetical emergency scenarios. As a result, FSOC is missing an opportunity to enhance preparedness and test members' coordinated response to financial stability risks. Further, as GAO reported in 2016, FSOC does not generally have clear authority to address broader risks that are not specific to a particular financial entity, such as risks from leveraged lending. GAO recommended that Congress consider better aligning FSOC's authorities with its mission to respond to systemic risks, but Congress had not done so as of September 2020. GAO maintains that changes such as broader designation authority would help FSOC respond to risks from activities that involve many regulators, such as leveraged lending. The market for institutional leveraged loans grew from an estimated $0.5 trillion in 2010 to $1.2 trillion in 2019, fueled largely by investor demand for CLO securities. Some observers and regulators have drawn comparisons to the pre-2008 subprime mortgage market, noting that loan origination and securitization may similarly spread risks to the financial system. These fears are being tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly affected leveraged businesses. This report examines assessments by regulators, FSOC, and others—both before and after the COVID-19 shock to the economy—of the potential risks to financial stability stemming from leveraged lending activities, and the extent to which FSOC monitors and responds to risks from broad-based activities like leveraged lending, among other objectives. GAO examined agency and private data on market size and investor exposures; reviewed agency, industry, and international reports; and interviewed federal financial regulators and industry participants. GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Treasury, as Chairperson of FSOC, conduct scenario-based exercises intended to evaluate capabilities for responding to crises. GAO also reiterates its 2016 recommendation (GAO-16-175) that Congress consider legislative changes to align FSOC's authorities with its mission. FSOC neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said that it would take further actions if it determined necessary. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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