Archive for the ‘government and politics’ Category

Social Security’s Financial Outlook: The 2014 Update in Perspective

July 30, 2014 Comments off

Social Security’s Financial Outlook: The 2014 Update in Perspective
Source: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

The brief’s key findings are:

The 2014 Trustees Report shows little change from last year:

  • Social Security’s 75-year deficit rose modestly to 2.88 percent of payroll.
  • But the deficit as a percent of GDP is still 1 percent.
  • And trust fund exhaustion is still 2033, after which payroll taxes still cover about three quarters of promised benefits.

The shortfall is manageable but, with the deficit rising to about 4 percent in two decades, action should be taken soon to avoid larger tax/benefit changes later.

And the disability insurance program needs immediate attention, as its trust fund is expected to be exhausted in 2016.

About these ads

CBO — The Renewable Fuel Standard: Issues for 2014 and Beyond

July 30, 2014 Comments off

The Renewable Fuel Standard: Issues for 2014 and Beyond
Source: Congressional Budget Office

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) establishes minimum volumes of various types of renewable fuels that must be included in the United States’ supply of fuel for transportation. Those volumes—as defined by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)—are intended to grow each year through 2022 (see the figure below). In recent years, the requirements of the RFS have been met largely by blending gasoline with ethanol made from cornstarch. In the future, EISA requires the use of increasingly large amounts of “advanced biofuels,” which include diesel made from biomass (such as soybean oil or animal fat), ethanol made from sugarcane, and cellulosic biofuels (made from converting the cellulose in plant materials into fuel).

One of the main goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard is to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. EISA requires that the emissions associated with a gallon of renewable fuel be at least a certain percentage lower than the emissions associated with the gasoline or diesel that the renewable fuel replaces. Advanced biofuels and the subcategory of cellulosic biofuels are required to meet more stringent emission standards than those that apply to corn ethanol.

Policymakers and analysts have raised concerns about the RFS, particularly about the feasibility of complying with the standard, whether it will increase prices for food and transportation fuels, and whether it will lead to the intended reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Because of those concerns, some policymakers have proposed repealing or revising the Renewable Fuel Standard.

In this analysis, CBO evaluates how much the supply of various types of renewable fuels would have to increase over the next several years to comply with the RFS. CBO also examines how food prices, fuel prices, and emissions would vary in an illustrative year, 2017, under three scenarios for the Renewable Fuel Standard…

America’s Shifting Statehouse Press: Can New Players Compensate for Lost Legacy Reporters?

July 30, 2014 Comments off

America’s Shifting Statehouse Press: Can New Players Compensate for Lost Legacy Reporters?
Source: Pew Research Journalism Project

Within America’s 50 state capitol buildings, 1,592 journalists inform the public about the actions and issues of state government, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.

Of those statehouse reporters, nearly half (741) are assigned there full time. While that averages out to 15 full-time reporters per state, the actual number varies widely—from a high of 53 in Texas to just two in South Dakota. The remaining 851 statehouse reporters cover the beat less than full time.

In this study, statehouse reporters are defined as those physically assigned to the capitol building to cover the news there, from legislative activity to the governor’s office to individual state agencies.

Newspaper reporters constitute the largest segment of both the total statehouse news corps (38%) and the full-time group (43%). But the data indicate that their full-time numbers have fallen considerably in recent years, raising concerns about the depth and quality of news coverage about state government.

HHS — Unaccompanied Children Released to Sponsors By State

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Unaccompanied Children Released to Sponsors By State
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement

When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ORR cares for the children in shelters around the country until they can be released to a sponsor, typically a parent or relative, who can care for the child while their immigration case is processed.

Ensuring that a potential sponsor can safely and appropriately care for the child is a top priority. A background check is conducted on all potential sponsors, and steps are taken to verify a potential sponsor’s identity and relationship to the child. In some cases where concerns are raised, a home study is done.

Before children are released to a sponsor, they receive vaccinations and medical screenings. We do not release any children who have a contagious condition.

The sponsor must agree to cooperate with all immigration proceedings.

If ORR cannot identify a viable sponsor, the child will typically remain in ORR care unless the following happens:

  • The child goes before the immigration judge and requests a voluntary departure
  • A judge orders the child to be deported and DHS repatriates
  • The child turns 18, transferring custody back to DHS
  • Legal relief, in some form is granted by an immigration judge
  • Ensuring the privacy and safety of children is of paramount importance. We cannot release information about individual children that could compromise the child’s location or identity.

The data in the table below shows state-by-state placement of unaccompanied children with sponsors. ACF will update this data during the first week of each month.

New From the GAO

July 29, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimonies
Source: Government Accountability Office


1. USDA Farm Programs: Farmers Have Been Eligible for Multiple Programs and Further Efforts Could Help Prevent Duplicative Payments. GAO-14-428, July 8.
Highlights –

2. 401(K) Plans: Improvements Can Be Made to Better Protect Participants in Managed Accounts. GAO-14-310, June 25.
Highlights –

3. National Flood Insurance Program: Additional Guidance on Building Requirements to Mitigate Agricultural Structures’ Damage in High-Risk Areas Is Needed. GAO-14-583, June 30.
Highlights –

4. Medicaid Financing: States’ Increased Reliance on Funds from Health Care Providers and Local Governments Warrants Improved CMS Data Collection. GAO-14-627, July 29.
Highlights –


1. Screening Partnership Program: TSA Has Improved Application Guidance and Monitoring of Screener Performance, and Continues to Improve Cost Comparison Methods, by Jennifer Grover, acting director, homeland security and justice, before the Subcommittee on Transportation Security, House Committee on Homeland Security. GAO-14-787T, July 29.
Highlights –

2. Budget Issues: Opportunities to Reduce Federal Fiscal Exposures Through Greater Resilience to Climate Change and Extreme Weather, by Alfredo Gomez, director, natural resources and environment, before the Senate Committee on the Budget. GAO-14-504T, July 29.
Highlights –

3. Federal Real Property: Better Guidance and More Reliable Data Needed to Improve Management, by David J. Wise, director, physical infrastructure issues, before the Subcommittee on Government Operations, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. GAO-14-757T, July 29.
Highlights –

4. Tobacco Taxes: Disparities in Rates for Similar Smoking Products Continue to Drive Market Shifts to Lower-Taxed Options, by David Gootnick, director, international affairs and trade, before the Senate Committee on Finance. GAO-14-811T, July 29.
Highlights –

5. Medicaid: Completed and Preliminary Work Indicate that Transparency around State Financing Methods and Payments to Providers Is Still Needed for Oversight, by Katherine M. Iritani, director, health care, before the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. GAO-14-817T, July 29.
Highlights –

6. Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Past Work and Preliminary Observations on Research and Development at the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, by David C. Trimble, director, natural resources and environment, before the Subcommittee on Cybsersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, House Committee on Homeland Security. GAO-14-783T, July 29.
Highlights –

CBO Releases Updated and Complete Cost Estimate for H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, as Passed by the House

July 29, 2014 Comments off

CBO Releases Updated and Complete Cost Estimate for H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, as Passed by the House
Source: Congressional Budget Office

Today, as part of its ongoing work to assist the conference committee that is working on H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, CBO issued an updated and complete estimate of the version of the bill that was passed by the House of Representatives on June 18, 2014. That version of H.R. 3230 would authorize the appropriation of whatever sums are necessary for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand, for two years, its use of non-VA health care providers to provide medical services to veterans.

Initially, CBO had issued preliminary estimates for the major provisions of the House-passed and Senate-passed bills. Since then, it has obtained additional information, refined its analysis, and completed estimates of other provisions of those bills. An updated and complete estimate of the Senate version of the bill was issued on July 10. Today, CBO issued an updated and complete estimate of the House version of the bill. Those updated estimates provide a basis for CBO’s analysis of proposals that would modify the earlier versions of the legislation.

Assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, CBO estimates that implementing the House-passed bill would lead to a net increase of $41 billion in VA’s discretionary spending over the 2014-2017 period, reflecting the expectation that veterans’ utilization of contracted care under this act would ramp up over time. We also estimate that enacting the House version of the bill would reduce direct spending by $80 million during that period. Finally, if the amounts estimated were appropriated, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would lead to savings totaling $7 billion in the Medicare and Medicaid programs and to additional revenues of $2.5 billion over the 2015-2017 period.

The Senate-passed version of H.R. 3230 would authorize and appropriate such sums as may be necessary to carry out a similar expansion of health care services. CBO estimates that enacting the Senate version of H.R. 3230 would increase direct spending by $35 billion and increase revenues by $2.5 billion over the 2014-2024 period, and lead to additional appropriations totaling about $2 billion over the 2014-2019 period.

Lack of Planning in $34.4 Million Department of Agriculture Soybean Program in Afghanistan

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Lack of Planning in $34.4 Million Department of Agriculture Soybean Program in Afghanistan (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

The Honorable Tom Vilsack Secretary U.S. Department of Agriculture

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for your response to my inquiry letter dated April 17, 2014, concerning the Soybeans for Agricultural Renewal in Afghanistan Initiative (SARAI) funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). After examining the materials that you provided, I’m concerned about the viability of the project and the apparent lack of analysis and planning performed prior to the project’s initiation. I’m most troubled by the following issues:

• The USDA confirmed that soybean production in Afghanistan has not met expectations and that there are doubts concerning the long-term sustainability of a soybean processing factory built as part of the project.

• The project’s implementer, the American Soybean Association, did not conduct feasibility or value-chain studies prior to initiation of the project in 2010.

• Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented.

• Despite the lack of prior planning and analysis, and despite evidence that may have put the success of the program in doubt, USDA provided $34.4 million in commodities, transportation, and administrative funds to ASA for SARAI.

Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

The Federal Government spent more than $6 billion in fiscal year 2013 on voluntary conservation payment programs to encourage the adoption of a wide range of conservation practices that address multiple environmental and resource conservation goals. Conservation payments can also come from private industry, particularly in the context of an agricultural offset market established as part of a cap-and-trade system designed to reduce nutrient or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Payments lead to improvement in environmental quality only if farmers and ranchers who receive them adopt conservation practices that would not have been adopted without the payment.

When a voluntary payment causes a change in practice(s) that leads to improved environmental quality, these changes are “additional.” For any type of voluntary payment, there is some risk that the farmers or ranchers who receive them would have adopted the required practice(s), even without the payment. This study measures additionality for a number of common conservation practices typically supported by voluntary conservation payments and examines ways to increase additionality.

Building the 2021 Affordable Military

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Building the 2021 Affordable Military
Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies

The CSIS Affordable Military Working Group, and the earlier CSIS Defense Drawdown Working Group, examined the dramatic effects of both fewer and weaker defense dollars in an effort to deal with a deep budget drawdown without significantly weakening national security. This latest report defines a set of strategy options, each with associated capabilities, gleaned from other leading think tank reports as well as the study team’s analysis. The report identifies capability priorities for the 2021 and beyond security environment and recommends a force structure for a 2021 affordable military.

Hamas Seen as More to Blame Than Israel for Current Violence

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Hamas Seen as More to Blame Than Israel for Current Violence
Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

As fighting continues to rage in Gaza amid calls for a cease-fire, about twice as many Americans say Hamas (40%) as Israel (19%) is responsible for the current violence.

Just a quarter (25%) believe that Israel has gone too far in responding to the conflict; far more think Israel’s response has been about right (35%) or that it has not gone far enough (15%).

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 24-27 among 1,005 adults, finds substantial partisan divisions over which side is most responsible for the violence and Israel’s response to the conflict.

A majority of Republicans (60%) say Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. Democrats are divided: 29% say Hamas is more responsible, 26% Israel, while 18% volunteer that both sides are responsible.

There also are deep differences over Israel’s response to the conflict: Nearly half of Republicans (46%) say Israel’s response has been about right while another 19% say it has not gone far enough; just 16% think Israel’s response has been excessive. Among Democrats, as many say Israel has gone too far (35%) as say its response has been about right (31%); 9% say Israel has not gone far enough.

Report Finds NSA Surveillance Harming Journalism and Law

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Report Finds NSA Surveillance Harming Journalism and Law
Source: ACLU and Human Rights Watch

Large-scale U.S. surveillance is seriously hampering U.S.-based journalists and lawyers in their work, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report released today. Surveillance is undermining media freedom and the right to counsel, and ultimately obstructing the American people’s ability to hold their government to account, the groups said.

The 120-page report, “With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale U.S. Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy,” is based on extensive interviews with dozens of journalists, lawyers, and senior U.S. government officials. It documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented U.S. government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions. The report finds that government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public’s right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.

Social Security Board of Trustees: No Change in Projected Year of Trust Fund Reserve Depletion

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Social Security Board of Trustees: No Change in Projected Year of Trust Fund Reserve Depletion
Source: Social Security Administration

The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2033, unchanged from last year, with 77 percent of benefits still payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2016, also unchanged from last year’s estimate, with 81 percent of benefits still payable.

In the 2014 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:

  • The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2019. Beginning with 2020, the cost of the program is projected to exceed income.
  • The projected point at which the combined trust fund reserves will become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, comes in 2033 – the same as projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient income coming in to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits.
  • The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.88 percent of taxable payroll — 0.16 percentage point larger than in last year’s report.

Size Matters Stature Is Related to Diagnoses of Depression in Young Military Men

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Size Matters Stature Is Related to Diagnoses of Depression in Young Military Men
Source: Sage Open

Evolutionary theories suggest that depression has evolved as an adaptation to insurmountable adversity or defeat. One prediction stemming from these models is that individual attributes associated with defeat in a given social environment could be risk factors for depression. We hypothesized that in young military men, where physical prowess was important, short stature might constitute a risk of depression and that this risk would be specific to depression and not to other prevalent mental disorders such as anxiety. A preliminary analysis of the diagnostic profile of a sample of male military personnel treated for mental health indicates that men both shorter and taller than average by 1 standard deviation may be predisposed to higher rates of depressive but not anxiety disorders. Practical and theoretical implications of our findings are discussed.

New From the GAO

July 28, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Railroad Retirement Board: Total and Permanent Disability Program at Risk of Improper Payments. GAO-14-418,June 26.
Highlights –

2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Opportunity Exists to Improve Transparency of Civil Penalty Fund Activities. GAO-14-551, June 26.
Highlights –

3. Drinking Water: EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated With Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement. GAO-14-555, June 27.
Highlights –

4. Media Ownership: FCC Should Review the Effects of Broadcaster Agreements on Its Media Policy Goals. GAO-14-558, June 27.
Highlights –

5. Security Clearances: Tax Debts Owed by DOD Employees and Contractors. GAO-14-686R, July 28.

2013 Digital Inclusion Survey Results Published

July 28, 2014 Comments off

2013 Digital Inclusion Survey Results Published
Source: Institute of Museum and Library Services, American Library Association, Information Policy & Access Center (University of Maryland), International City/County Management Association

Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and conducted by the American Library Association (ALA), the Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) at the University of Maryland, and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), this study conducted a national survey of public libraries that explores the digital inclusion roles of public libraries in four key areas:

  • Public access technology infrastructure resources and capacity (e.g., public access workstations; broadband connectivity).
  • Digital content, services, and accessibility.
  • Digital literacy (including languages in which instruction is offered).
  • Domains-specific services and programs (civic engagement, education, health and wellness, and workforce/employment).

Based on a national survey conducted in Fall 2013, our analysis provides insights into how public libraries help build digitally inclusive communities. In particular, we offer multiple products, including:

  • Interactive mapping tools that combine digital inclusion survey and community-level data. The map enables libraries to better understand their community demographics, education and learning, economic/workforce, and health contexts along with the digital inclusion services that they provide. We have also developed a state view of the interactive mapping tool found on the individual state pages.
  • State pages that provide an interactive state-level mapping tool and selected summary data that compares states to national data.
  • Issue briefs on key topics such as broadband, employment, e-government, community access, digital literacy, and digital inclusion.
  • National report that analyzes data from the survey.
  • Executive summary that provides an overview of survey findings.

These reports and other survey-based products are based on data collected from public libraries between September and November 2013. It may well be the case that libraries have added capacity (e.g., public access computers, more broadband, space) and services/programs (e.g., health information, engagement, training classes) since then.

Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012
Source: American Principles in Action

“Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012″, takes a hard-headed, skeptical, and primarily political look at the lessons Republicans must learn from 2012 in order to build a winning national GOP coalition. It challenges the conventional wisdom that the national GOP’s loss in 2012 was a result of a focus on extremist social issues, which hampered candidates touting a winning economic message.

This document challenges the existing “truce model” and puts forward a case for integrated conservatism. We argue that social issues are winning issues, and that a winning economic message must address the concerns of middle-class voters.

See also: Growth and Opportunity Project (PDF; Republican National Committee)

Military sexual assault: a comparative legal analysis of the 2012 department of defense report on sexual assault in the military: what it tells us, what it doesn’t tell us, and how inconsistent statistic gathering inhibits winning the “invisible war”

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Military sexual assault: a comparative legal analysis of the 2012 department of defense report on sexual assault in the military: what it tells us, what it doesn’t tell us, and how inconsistent statistic gathering inhibits winning the “invisible war” (PDF)
Source: Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society

In May 2013, the Department of Defense released its 2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) report. 1 It is two volumes, totaling 1,494 pages of information related to military sexual assault. 2 While this seems an overwhelming amount of information, a thorough analysis reveals many inconsistencies, problems in the information gathering, and the absence ofmany vital statistics. Much of the report is focused on the Department of Defense and individual military branches touting their efforts at eradicating sexual assault, becoming akin to a “show and tell” exhibition rather than providing accurate, rigorous, and useful information. This Article discusses the numerous flaws in the data gathering and reporting process and how these errors are inhibiting the implementation of effective battle tactics on this front.


Giving Cities and Regions a Voice in Immigration Policy: Can National Policies Meet Local Demand?

July 26, 2014 Comments off

Giving Cities and Regions a Voice in Immigration Policy: Can National Policies Meet Local Demand?
Source: Migration Policy Institute

Immigration policies are typically designed and implemented at the national level, even though economic and demographic circumstances may vary widely across cities and regions. Large and fast-growing metropolitan areas are natural magnets for both immigrants and their native-born peers, while rural areas and small towns tend to attract fewer immigrants, even when employers have vacancies to fill.

Some immigration routes, however, channel new arrivals toward particular destinations where their labor is thought to be in high demand. These routes fall into two major categories: (1) employer-sponsored immigration and (2) immigrants selected through regional nomination programs. Employer-sponsored visa policies implicitly direct foreign workers to areas where their skills are in demand. To ensure that this happens, some such programs are further customized to the needs of particular regions. In the cases of Australia and Canada, which have made regional nomination programs the flagship policies in their immigration systems, the national governments have delegated a certain level of authority to subnational jurisdictions to select their own workers. These subnational visa programs allow regions and localities that are not traditional immigration destinations to attract workers who would otherwise have gone elsewhere.

These types of region-specific immigration policies are not without risk. They add complexity to already complicated immigration systems and disregard immigrants’ market-based decisions, which could potentially undermine economic prospects and contributions.

Online Casino Gambling

July 25, 2014 Comments off

Online Casino Gambling (PDF)
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

Did You Know
• Delaware is the only jurisdiction where the state operates online gambling within its borders.
• The U.S. Virgin Islands is the most recent jurisdiction to permit online gambling.
• The Restoration of America’s Wire Act, introduced in Congress in March, would ban all forms of Internet gambling.

Post-9/11 vets fight suicide, mental health issues

July 25, 2014 Comments off

Post-9/11 vets fight suicide, mental health issues
Source: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

The newest generation of combat veterans is struggling with integration into civilian life, confronted by suicidal thoughts, mental-health issues, unemployment and the inability to get timely assessments of their disability claims.

Yet post-9/11 veterans who have used the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system generally have a favorable impression of the medical services provided, according to a nationwide survey of 2,089 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The survey puts hard statistics on a variety of pressing issues Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face on the home front, he said.

The survey was conducted during a three-week period early this year, prior to public disclosures of secret wait lists and mismanagement at the Phoenix VA hospital and at facilities across the country.

The survey is the sixth and most comprehensive that the organization has conducted, IAVA Research Director Jackie Maffucci said. The research was conducted online and was composed of about 200 questions, with respondents answering only questions relevant to their experiences.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 859 other followers