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CRS — Implementation of Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS): Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Implementation of Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS): Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implements the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulations, which regulate security at high-risk facilities possessing more than certain amounts of one or more chemicals of interest. Facilities possessing more than the specified amount must register with DHS through this program (a process known as the Top- Screen) and perform security-related activities. The DHS identifies a subset of high-risk chemical facilities from among those that register. These high-risk chemical facilities must submit a security vulnerability assessment, which DHS uses to confirm their high-risk designation, and a site security plan, which DHS then authorizes. The DHS also inspects high-risk chemical facilities for adherence to their submitted site security plans and later for compliance with these plans following DHS approval. The DHS regulates approximately 4,300 facilities under this program and is in the process of implementing requirements for security vulnerability assessment, site security planning, and inspection.

The DHS has had challenges meeting its own projections and congressional expectations regarding program performance, raising questions about its ability to achieve steady-state regulatory implementation.

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CRS — Security Assistance Reform: “Section 1206″ Background and Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Security Assistance Reform: “Section 1206″ Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2006, as amended and regularly extended, provides the Secretary of Defense with authority to train and equip foreign military forces for two specified purposes—counterterrorism and stability operations—and foreign security forces for counterterrorism operations. Section 1206 authority now extends through FY2017.

CRS — U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel

April 22, 2014 Comments off

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides an overview of U.S. foreign assistance to Israel. It includes a review of past aid programs, data on annual assistance, and an analysis of current issues. For general information on Israel, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.

CRS — The Federal Budget: Overview and Issues for FY2015 and Beyond

April 22, 2014 Comments off

The Federal Budget: Overview and Issues for FY2015 and Beyond (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The federal budget is central to Congress’s ability to exercise its “power of the purse.” Each fiscal year Congress and the President undertake a variety of steps intended to set levels of spending and revenue and to make policy decisions. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview and background on the current budget debate. This report will track legislative events related to the federal budget and will be updated as budgetary legislation moves through Congress.

CRS — What Is the Farm Bill? (updated)

April 22, 2014 Comments off

What Is the Farm Bill? (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year piece of authorizing legislation that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. Titles in the most recent farm bill encompassed farm commodity price and income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, bioenergy, foreign food aid, and domestic nutrition assistance. Although agricultural policies sometimes are created and changed by freestanding legislation or as part of other major laws, the farm bill provides a predictable opportunity for policy makers to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues. The farm bill is renewed about every five years.

CRS — Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Recently invalidated aggregate limits on federal campaign contributions capped the total amount that one can give to all candidates, parties, or political action committees (PACs). For the 2014 election cycle, the aggregate limit for individual contributions was $123,200.The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the aggregate limits on April 2, 2014. Alabama contributor Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) brought the case, McCutcheon v. FEC, after the aggregate limits prevented McCutcheon from contributing as desired to federal candidates and parties during the 2012 election cycle. The decision does not affect “base limits” that individuals may contribute to particular candidates or parties. Instead, McCutcheon permits individuals to give limited contributions to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and political action committees.

This report offers a preliminary analysis of major policy issues and potential implications that appear to be most relevant as the House and Senate decide whether or how to respond to McCutcheon. With the aggregate limits relaxed, additional funds might flow to candidate committees, party committees, or PACs. Joint fundraising committees and leadership PACs might expand as tools to funnel large contributions to multiple candidate committees, parties, or PACs. Disclosure of contributors who exceed the current aggregate limits might also be a policy concern. It is important to note that whether these possibilities will occur is unclear at this time.

This report will be updated to reflect major developments. This version of the report supersedes previous versions.

CRS — Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress (updated)

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Prior to 1984, neither federal civil service employees nor Members of Congress paid Social Security taxes, nor were they eligible for Social Security benefits. Members of Congress and other federal employees were instead covered by a separate pension plan called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). The 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act (P.L. 98-21) required federal employees first hired after 1983 to participate in Social Security. These amendments also required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of January 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress. Because CSRS was not designed to coordinate with Social Security, Congress directed the development of a new retirement plan for federal workers. The result was the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 (P.L. 99- 335).

Congressional pensions, like those of other federal employees, are financed through a combination of employee and employer contributions. All Members pay Social Security payroll taxes equal to 6.2% of the Social Security taxable wage base ($117,000 in 2014). Members first covered by FERS prior to 2013 also pay 1.3% of full salary to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF). Members of Congress first covered by FERS in 2013 contribute 3.1% of pay to the CSRDF. Members of Congress first covered by FERS after 2013 contribute 4.4% of pay to the CSRDF. In 2014, Members covered by CSRS Offset pay 1.8% of the first $117,000 of salary, and 8.0% of salary above this amount, into the CSRDF.

CRS — Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Former Presidents Act (FPA; 3 U.S.C. §102 note) charges the General Services Administration (GSA) with providing former Presidents a pension, support staff, office support, travel funds, and mailing privileges. The FPA was enacted to “maintain the dignity” of the Office of the President. The act provides the former President—and his or her spouse—certain benefits to help him respond to post-presidency mail and speaking requests, among other informal public duties often required of a former President. Prior to enactment of the FPA in 1958, former Presidents leaving office received no pension or other federal assistance.

Former Presidents currently receive a pension that is equal to pay for Cabinet Secretaries (Executive Level I), which was $199,700 in calendar year 2013. Executive Level I pay is set at $201,700 for calendar year 2014. In addition to benefits provided pursuant to the FPA, former Presidents are also provided Secret Service protection and financial “transition” benefits to assist their transition to post-presidential life. Pursuant to the FPA, former Presidents are eligible for benefits unless they hold “an appointive or elective office or position in or under the Federal Government or the government of the District of Columbia to which is attached a rate of pay other than a nominal rate.”

CRS — The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways of amending the nation’s fundamental charter. Congress, by a two-thirds vote of both houses, may propose amendments to the states for ratification, a procedure used for all 27 current amendments. Alternatively, if the legislatures of two-thirds of the states apply, 34 at present, Congress “shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments…. ” This alternative, known as an Article V Convention, has yet to be implemented. This report examines the Article V Convention, focusing on contemporary issues for Congress. CRS Report R42592, The Article V Convention for Proposing Constitutional Amendments: Historical Perspectives for Congress examines the procedure’s constitutional origins and history and provides an analysis of related state procedures.

CRS — Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress’s contempt power is the means by which Congress responds to certain acts that in its view obstruct the legislative process. Contempt may be used either to coerce compliance, to punish the contemnor, and/or to remove the obstruction. Although arguably any action that directly obstructs the effort of Congress to exercise its constitutional powers may constitute a contempt, in recent times the contempt power has most often been employed in response to noncompliance with a duly issued congressional subpoena—whether in the form of a refusal to appear before a committee for purposes of providing testimony, or a refusal to produce requested documents.

See also: Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: A Sketch (PDF)

CRS — The Bureau of Prisons (BOP): Operations and Budget

April 22, 2014 Comments off

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP): Operations and Budget (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was established in 1930 to house federal inmates, professionalize the prison service, and ensure consistent and centralized administration of the federal prison system. The BOP is the largest correctional agency in the country, in terms of the number of prisoners under its jurisdiction. The BOP must confine any offender convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a federal court.

CRS — Same-Sex Marriage: A Legal Background After United States v. Windsor

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Same-Sex Marriage: A Legal Background After United States v. Windsor (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The issue of same-sex marriage generates debate on both the federal and state levels. Either legislatively or judicially, same-sex marriage is legal in more than a dozen states. Conversely, many states have statutes and/or constitutional amendments limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman. These state-level variations raise questions about the validity of such unions outside the contracted jurisdiction and have bearing on the distribution of state and/or federal benefits. As federal agencies grappled with the interplay of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the distribution of federal marriage-based benefits, questions arose regarding DOMA’s constitutionality and the appropriate standard (strict, intermediate, or rational basis) of review to apply to the statute.

In United States v. Windsor, a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court held that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage, violated due process and equal protection principles. As such, federal statutes that refer to a marriage and/or spouse for federal purposes should be interpreted as applying equally to legally married same-sex couples recognized by the state. However, the Court left unanswered questions such as (1) whether samesex couples have a fundamental right to marry and (2) whether state bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional.

CRS — Multiyear Procurement (MYP) and Block Buy Contracting in Defense Acquisition: Background and Issues for Congress (updated)

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Multiyear Procurement (MYP) and Block Buy Contracting in Defense Acquisition: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

Multiyear procurement (MYP) and block buy contracting (BBC) are special contracting mechanisms that Congress permits the Department of Defense (DOD) to use for a limited number of defense acquisition programs. Compared to the standard or default approach of annual contracting, MYP and BBC have the potential for reducing weapon procurement costs by several percent.

CRS — The Distribution of Household Income and the Middle Class

April 17, 2014 Comments off

The Distribution of Household Income and the Middle Class (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Although not itself a subject of legislation, the shape of the income distribution enters Congress’s decision-making process concerning such policy issues as taxes, means-tested benefits, and social insurance programs. Congress also considers legislation specifically in the name of those in the middle class, which is variously defined as some income level or income range within the distribution of U.S. households with income. After briefly analyzing the distribution of household money income in 2012, the report attempts to put the term “middle class” into greater perspective.

CRS — Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund: Programs and Policy Issues

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund: Programs and Policy Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

As communities face a variety of economic challenges, some are looking to local banks and financial institutions for solutions that address the specific development needs of low-income and distressed communities. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) provide financial products and services, such as mortgage financing for homebuyers and not-for-profit developers, underwriting and risk capital for community facilities; technical assistance; and commercial loans and investments to small, start-up, or expanding businesses. CDFIs include regulated institutions, such as community development banks and credit unions, and nonregulated institutions, such as loan and venture capital funds.

The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (the Fund), an agency within the Department of the Treasury, administers several programs that encourage the role of CDFIs, and similar organizations, in community development. Nearly 1,000 financial institutions located throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia are eligible for the Fund’s programs to provide financial and technical assistance to meet the needs of businesses, homebuyers, community developers, and investors in distressed communities. In addition, the Fund allocates the New Markets Tax Credit to more than 5,000 eligible investment vehicles in low-income communities (LICs).

This report begins by describing the Fund’s history, current appropriations, and each of its programs. A description of the Fund’s process of certifying certain financial institutions to be eligible for the Fund’s program awards follows. The next section provides an overview of each program’s purpose, use of award proceeds, eligibility criteria, and relevant issues for Congress.

The final section analyzes four policy considerations of congressional interest, regarding the Fund and the effective use of federal resources to promote economic development.

See also: Community Development Block Grants: Funding Issues in the 113th Congress (PDF)

CRS — Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 14th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2012 (Title XVIII of P.L. 112-239) and provides new guidelines on how fire grant money should be distributed. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, the law does require that fire grants be distributed to a diverse mix of fire departments, with respect to type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural).

CRS — Brazil: Political and Economic Situation and U.S. Relations

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Brazil: Political and Economic Situation and U.S. Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The United States has traditionally enjoyed cooperative relations with Brazil, which is the seventh-largest economy in the world and is recognized by the Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy as an emerging center of influence. Administration officials have often highlighted Brazil’s status as a multicultural democracy, referring to the country as a natural partner that shares values and goals with the United States. Bilateral ties have been strained from time to time, however, as the countries’ occasionally divergent national interests and independent foreign policies have led to disagreements. U.S.-Brazilian relations have been particularly strained over the past year as a result of alleged National Security Agency (NSA) activities inside Brazil. Nevertheless, the countries continue to engage on issues such as trade, energy, security, racial equality, and the environment.

CRS — Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Related Non-Tariff Barriers to Agricultural Trade

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Related Non-Tariff Barriers to Agricultural Trade (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures are the laws, rules, standards, and procedures that governments employ to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, toxins, and other contaminants. Examples include meat and poultry processing standards to reduce pathogens, residue limits for pesticides in foods, and regulation of agricultural biotechnology. Technical barriers to trade (TBT) cover technical regulations, product standards, environmental regulations, and voluntary procedures relating to human health and animal welfare. Examples include trademarks and patents, labeling and packaging requirements, certification and inspection procedures, product specifications, and marketing of biotechnology. SPS and TBT measures both comprise a group of widely divergent standards and standards-based measures that countries use to regulate markets, protect their consumers, and preserve natural resources.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), SPS and TBT measures have become more prominent concerns for agricultural exporters and policy makers, as tariff-related barriers to trade have been reduced by various multilateral, regional, and bilateral negotiations and trade agreements. The concerns include whether SPS and TBT measures might be used to unfairly discriminate against imported products or create unnecessary obstacles to trade in agricultural, food, and other traded goods. Notable U.S. trade disputes involving SPS and TBT measures have included a European Union (EU) ban on U.S. meats treated with growth-promoting hormones and also certain pathogen reduction treatments, and an EU moratorium on approvals of biotechnology products, among other types of trade concerns with other countries. Foreign countries have also objected to various U.S. trade measures.

CRS — Small Business Administration Trade and Export Promotion Programs

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Small Business Administration Trade and Export Promotion Programs (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Library)

According to Census data, approximately 1% of small businesses in the United States currently export. With roughly three-quarters of world purchasing power and almost 95% of world consumers living outside of U.S. borders, more attention is being paid to the potential of small business export promotion programs to grow small businesses and contribute to the national economic recovery. In addition, some Members of Congress believe that the contributions of small businesses to commercial innovation and economic growth could be enhanced through greater access to growing international markets.

Consistent with these policy goals, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides export promotion and financing services to small businesses through its loan guarantee programs, management and training programs, and other initiatives. SBA’s Office of International Trade (OIT) coordinates these activities as it assists with four stages of export promotion: (1) identifying small businesses interested in export promotion; (2) preparing small businesses to export; (3) connecting small businesses to export opportunities; and (4) supporting small businesses once they find export opportunities.

CRS — Small Business Administration Microloan Program

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Small Business Administration Microloan Program (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Library)

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Microloan program provides direct loans to qualified non-profit intermediary Microloan lenders who, in turn, provide “microloans” of up to $50,000 to small business owners, entrepreneurs, and non-profit child care centers. It also provides marketing, management, and technical assistance to Microloan borrowers and potential borrowers. The program was authorized in 1991 as a five-year demonstration project and became operational in 1992. It was made permanent, subject to reauthorization, in 1997.

The SBA’s Microloan program is designed to assist women, low-income, veteran, and minority entrepreneurs and small business owners and other individuals possessing the capability to operate successful business concerns by providing them small-scale loans for working capital or the acquisition of materials, supplies, or equipment.

In FY2013, Microloan intermediaries provided 4,426 Microloans amounting to $51.2 million. The average Microloan was $11,569 and had a 7.76% interest rate.

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