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?
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.
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 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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664671.pdf
2. 401(K) Plans: Improvements Can Be Made to Better Protect Participants in Managed Accounts. GAO-14-310, June 25.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664392.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664517.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665076.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665067.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665090.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665086.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665082.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665070.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665073.pdf
CBO Releases Updated and Complete Cost Estimate for H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, as Passed by the House
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 (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
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
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.
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.
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664467.pdf
2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Opportunity Exists to Improve Transparency of Civil Penalty Fund Activities. GAO-14-551, June 26.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664452.pdf
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 – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664500.pdf
4. Media Ownership: FCC Should Review the Effects of Broadcaster Agreements on Its Media Policy Goals. GAO-14-558, June 27.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664485.pdf
5. Security Clearances: Tax Debts Owed by DOD Employees and Contractors. GAO-14-686R, July 28.
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.
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”
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?
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 (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
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.