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New From the GAO

September 22, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Identity Theft: Additional Actions Could Help IRS Combat the Large, Evolving Threat of Refund Fraud. GAO-14-633,August 20.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-633
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665367.pdf
Podcast – http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/665529

2. Oil and Gas Transportation: Department of Transportation Is Taking Actions to Address Rail Safety, but Additional Actions Are Needed to Improve Pipeline Safety. GAO-14-667, August 21.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-667
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665403.pdf
Podcast – http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/665350

3. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Procedures for Reporting Certain Financial Management Information Should Be Improved. GAO-14-697, September 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-697
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665984.pdf

4. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Some Privacy and Security Procedures for Data Collections Should Continue Being Enhanced. GAO-14-758, September 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-758
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666001.pdf

5. Bureau of Prisons: Management of New Prison Activations Can Be Improved. GAO-14-709, August 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-709
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665416.pdf

6. Army Corps of Engineers: The Corps Needs to Take Steps to Identify All Projects and Studies Eligible for Deauthorization. GAO-14-699, August 21.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-699
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665394.pdf

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DHS OIG — The DHS Visa Security Program

September 22, 2014 Comments off

The DHS Visa Security Program (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Visa Security Program is intended to prevent terrorists, criminals, and other ineligible applicants from receiving visas. DHS assigns special agents with expertise in immigration law and counterterrorism to U.S. diplomatic posts overseas to perform visa security activities. We reviewed the program’s effectiveness in preventing ineligible applicants from receiving U.S. visas; DHS’ annual reporting to Congress on the program’s expansion; and the efforts to expand the program to additional overseas posts, including the potential impact of a new initiative, the Pre‐Adjudicated Threat Recognition and Intelligence Operations Team.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is required to employ mechanisms that measure and accurately report the program’s performance to determine its value. However, current performance measures for the Visa Security Program do not include key aspects to determine its effectiveness. In addition, ICE has not taken actions to assure that (1) data needed to assess program performance is collected and reported, (2) consular officers receive appropriate advice and training, and (3) Visa Security Program hours are tracked and used to determine staffing and funding needs. Without these types of information, ICE cannot ensure that the Visa Security Program is operating as intended.

DHS has consistently delivered their annual reports to Congress late, reducing their usefulness. ICE should take appropriate steps to ensure that Congress receives future reports in a timely manner.

To date, ICE has established only 20 visa security units. Congressional leaders have repeatedly expressed concerns that the program has not expanded to more visa‐issuing posts. ICE’s responses to these concerns have stressed funding challenges, a limited number of trained special agents, and Department of State challenges to make space and provide support for DHS’ overseas presence.

According to ICE officials, a solution to the program’s slow expansion may be the Pre‐ Adjudicated Threat Recognition and Intelligence Operations Team. ICE officials explained that this new initiative will eventually be capable of screening visa applications from all visa‐issuing posts. However, because it was still being tested at the time of our review, we were not able to determine its effectiveness.

We are making 10 recommendations to improve the Visa Security Program. ICE concurred with each of the recommendations.

Promoting Entrepreneurship: Innovations in State Policy

September 22, 2014 Comments off

Promoting Entrepreneurship: Innovations in State Policy (PDF)
Source: National Conference of State Legislature

A widely accepted and enduring claim is that entrepreneurial activity is vital for healthy economic growth. Yet despite their importance to the economy, entrepreneurs are not always well-supported by state policy.

Updated: State Impact of Expired State and Local Sales Tax Deduction

September 22, 2014 Comments off

Updated: State Impact of Expired State and Local Sales Tax Deduction
Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

Many temporary federal tax provisions expired at the end of 2013. Policymakers have routinely extended many of these provisions over the past decade, but action on a package of “extenders” in 2014 remains uncertain. Among the expired provisions is the deduction for state and local sales taxes. If it is not retroactively extended, states with the highest claim rates would be likely to feel the biggest effects.

CRS — Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs (September 12, 2014)

September 19, 2014 Comments off

Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress has enacted a series of legislative provisions since 2006 to enable certain Iraqi and Afghan nationals to become U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs). These provisions make certain Iraqis and Afghans who have worked as translators or interpreters, or who were employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan, eligible for special immigrant visas (SIVs). Special immigrants comprise a category of permanent employment-based admissions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). While the special immigrant category is unique, it does bear some similarities to other admission categories that are authorized by other sections of the INA, including refugees and Amerasian children.

HHS OIG — Medicare Part B Prescription Drug Dispensing and Supplying Fee Payment Rates Are Considerably Higher Than the Rates Paid by Other Government Programs

September 19, 2014 Comments off

Medicare Part B Prescription Drug Dispensing and Supplying Fee Payment Rates Are Considerably Higher Than the Rates Paid by Other Government Programs
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General

Medicare Part B would have saved millions of dollars in 2011 if dispensing fees for inhalation drugs administered through durable medical equipment and supplying fees for immunosuppressive drugs associated with an organ transplant, oral anticancer chemotherapeutic drugs, and oral antiemetic drugs used as part of an anticancer chemotherapeutic regimen had been aligned with the rates that Part D and State Medicaid programs paid. Part B paid $132.9 million in dispensing and supplying fees. We estimated that if Part B rates had been the same as the average Part D rates, Part B would have paid dispensing and supplying fees of $22 million, a savings of $110.9 million. We also estimated that if Part B rates had been the same as the average State Medicaid program rates, Part B would have paid dispensing and supplying fees of $26.6 million, a savings of $106.3 million.

We recommended that CMS amend current regulations to decrease the Part B payment rates for dispensing and supplying fees to rates similar to those of other payers, such as Part D and Medicaid. CMS did not concur with our recommendation and requested that OIG conduct a study to identify the specific activities involved with dispensing inhalation drugs and supplying oral drugs under Part B and collect information about the actual costs that are directly associated with dispensing these Part B drugs. We maintain that pharmacies are overpaid for dispensing drugs under Part B when compared with what they are paid for dispensing the same drugs under Part D and Medicaid.

New — National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

September 19, 2014 Comments off

National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PDF)
Source: White House

The discovery of antibiotics in the early 20th century fundamentally transformed human and veterinary medicine. Antibiotics now save millions of lives each year in the United States and around the world. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, however, represents a serious threat to public health and the economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that annually, at least two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the United States alone.1 If the effectiveness of antibiotics (drugs that kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria) is lost, we will no longer be able to reliably and rapidly treat bacterial infections, including bacterial pneumonias, foodborne illnesses, and healthcareassociated infections. As more strains of bacteria become resistant to an ever-larger number of antibiotics, our drug choices have become increasingly limited and more expensive and, in some cases, nonexistent. In a world with few effective antibiotics, modern medical advances such as surgery, transplants, and chemotherapy may no longer be viable due to the threat of infection.

The National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria identifies priorities and coordinates investments: to prevent, detect, and control outbreaks of resistant pathogens recognized by CDC as urgent or serious threats, including carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), ceftriaxoneresistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Clostridium difficile, which is naturally resistant to many drugs used to treat other infections and proliferates following administration of antibiotics (Table 1); to ensure continued availability of effective therapies for the treatment of bacterial infections; and to detect and control newly resistant bacteria that emerge in humans or animals. This National Strategy is the basis of a 2014 Executive Order on Combating Antibiotic Resistance, as well as a forthcoming National Action Plan that directs Federal agencies to accelerate our response to this growing threat to the nation’s health and security. The National Action Plan will be informed by a report approved by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on July 11, 2014.

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