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Saturday, January 11, 2014

U.S. Cargo Ship Launches to ISS on First Resupply Mission (+playlist)

PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY

FROM:  STATE DEPARTMENT 
The 20th Anniversary of the Partnership for Peace
Press Statement
Jen Psaki
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 11, 2014

On January 11, 1994, the United States and the other allied nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) created the Partnership for Peace. Today marks its twentieth anniversary.

Based on a commitment to the democratic principles that underpin the Alliance itself, the Partnership for Peace brings NATO together with 22 nations in Europe and Asia. These countries partner together on operations that foster peace and security, as well as on increasing their own security capacity through defense reform, policy and planning, military-to-military cooperation and exercises. Partnership for Peace and other partnership programs have strengthened NATO by adding diversity and political insight while expanding its security reach. Since Partnership for Peace’s inception, twelve countries which were members of this program have become NATO members, and even more partners have contributed to NATO-led operations from Afghanistan to Kosovo and Libya. Together, NATO members and partners have conducted hundreds of exercises to improve their interoperability and capacities for crisis response, conflict resolution and peacekeeping.

As we mark this twentieth anniversary of Partnership for Peace, we pledge to continue to work together with NATO, our Allies and our partners to strengthen and deepen the critical role NATO’s partnerships play in enhancing the adaptability, efficiency and effectiveness of the Alliance and, in turn, promoting the stability and security of our broader community.

CDC REPORT ON DANGEROUS WATER SCUM

FROM:  CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION 

Freshwater Algal Bloom–Associated Disease Outbreaks Among Users of Untreated Recreational Waters — United States, 2009 –2010 

Harmful algal blooms commonly occur in freshwater bodies. They can create bad odors, they can discolor the water or accumulate as a scum on the surface of the water. People should avoid, and animals should be kept from, and neither should drink directly from lakes and ponds that have a scum on the water. People should also observe any local water advisories. Eleven waterborne disease outbreaks reported to CDC in 2009–2010 were linked to harmful algal blooms (HABs) in freshwater lakes during summer months. The outbreaks most often affected people less than 20 years old. HABs tend to occur in warm bodies of water that are rich in nutrients and often produce a visible algal scum on the water. HABs might generate toxins that can make humans sick and cause death among fish, birds and dogs. Ill people report a range of health effects, including neurologic symptoms (for example, confusion), diarrhea, cough, rash, and earache. Health-care providers should consider HAB—toxin exposure as a possible cause of illness in people who have been in or alongside freshwater bodies with algal blooms. Future increases in water temperature and nutrient pollution are expected to result in an increase in the number of HABs in freshwater lakes.

U.S.-CUBA DISCUSS IMPLEMENTATION OF U.S.-CUBA MIGRATION ACCORDS

FROM:  STATE DEPARTMENT 
Press Statement
Jen Psaki
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 10, 2014

On Thursday, January 9, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss the implementation of the 1994 and 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This marks the second time since January 2011 that these talks have been held. Under the Accords, both governments pledge to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba-U.S. migration issues, as well as cooperation on aviation security, search and rescue, and consular document fraud. The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, exchanging information on the interdiction of undocumented migrants, and clarifying aspects of Cuba’s recent changes in migration policy.

The U.S. delegation reiterated its call for the release of Alan Gross, who was arrested by Cuban authorities on December 3, 2009, and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored internet contact between a small, religious community on the island and the rest of the world.

The U.S. delegation was led by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Alex Lee and the Cuban delegation was led by the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro.

JUSTICE COLLECTS OVER $8 BILLION FROM CASES IN FISCAL 2013

FROM:  JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Justice Department Collects More Than $8 Billion in Civil and Criminal Cases in Fiscal Year 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder today announced that the Justice Department collected at least $8 billion in civil and criminal actions in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2013.

“The department’s enforcement actions not only help to ensure justice is served, but also deliver a valuable return to the American people,” said Attorney General Holder.  “It is critical that Congress provide the resources necessary to match the department’s mounting caseload.  As these figures show, supporting our federal prosecutors is a sound investment.”

The statistics indicate that in FY 2013, approximately $5.9 billion was collected by the department’s litigating divisions and the U.S. Attorneys’ offices in individually and jointly handled civil actions.  The largest civil collections were from affirmative civil enforcement cases, in which the United States recovered government money lost to fraud or other misconduct and collected fines imposed on individuals and/or corporations for violations of federal health, safety, civil rights or environmental laws.  This number includes approximately $3.2 billion related to health care fraud and more than $430 million related to environmental cases.  In addition, civil debts were collected on behalf of several federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Education.

The Justice Department’s litigating divisions and U.S. Attorneys’ offices are also responsible for enforcing and collecting criminal debts owed to the U.S. and criminal debts owed to federal crime victims.  In FY 2013, the total amount collected in criminal actions totaled approximately $2.2 billion in restitution, criminal fines and felony assessments.  This total included more than $450 million in criminal fines associated with health care fraud, more than $600 million in antitrust violation fines, more than $390 million in fines for environmental violations and more than $42 million in fines for tax fraud violations.

The approximately $8.1 billion taken in by the department as a whole in FY 2013 represents nearly three times the approximately $2.76 billion of the department’s direct appropriations that pay for the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices and its main litigating divisions.

The total includes all monies collected as a result of Justice Department-led enforcement actions and negotiated civil settlements.   It includes more than $5.48 billion in payments made directly to the Justice Department, and $2.61 billion in indirect payments made to other federal agencies, states and other designated recipients.

In measuring collections recovered in FY 2013, this figure necessarily includes some cases that were resolved in previous years but the proceeds of which were collected in FY 2013.      

FY 2013 Collections Highlights



Health Care Fraud - Abbott, Amgen (Civil Division; U.S. Attorneys Offices)



As in previous years, the largest collections related to health care fraud.   For example, the Justice Department collected more than $800 million of its total $1.5 billion settlement with Abbott Laboratories resolving criminal and civil allegations that Abbott illegally promoted the drug Depakote to treat agitation and aggression in elderly dementia patients and schizophrenia when neither of these uses was approved as safe and effective by the FDA.   Of the total, Abbott paid a $500 criminal fine in FY 2012 following its guilty plea (the total $1.5 billion settlement also includes nearly $200 million in forfeited assets).   In another major pharmaceutical case, the U.S. collected more than $748 million from its total $762 million settlement (including $14 million in forfeited assets) with biotech giant Amgen Inc. to settle allegations including Amgen’s illegal promotion of Aranesp, a drug used to treat anemia, in doses not approved by the FDA and for off-label use to treat non-anemia-related conditions.   For details, see Abbott , Abbott sentencing , and Amgen .

Deepwater Horizon (Criminal Division; Environment and Natural Resources Division; Civil Division; U.S. Attorneys Offices)

Among other major collections in FY 2013 were penalties and fines collected from BP Exploration and Production Inc., and Transocean Deepwater Inc., stemming from their roles in the disastrous April 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that cost 11 men their lives and resulted in the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Out of the $4 billion total criminal settlement with BP, the U.S. collected $256 million in criminal fines in FY 2013 following January 2013 convictions for manslaughter, obstruction of justice and environmental crimes.  The U.S. will recover an additional $1 billion in criminal fines from the resolution over the next four years under the court schedule.  An additional $2.39 billion in non-fine criminal penalties is dedicated to environmental and wildlife conservation efforts in the Gulf, as well as $350 million in spill prevention and response efforts.  During FY 2013, BP made initial payments of $105 million towards these additional obligations, and will pay the rest over the next four years, under the court’s schedule.

In FY 2013, the department collected $100 million in criminal fines owed by Transocean for its role in the oil spill.  Transocean also paid $60 million towards an additional $300 million in non-fine criminal penalties slated for Gulf conservation, spill prevention and response efforts, and it paid $404 million of $1 billion in civil penalties imposed under the Clean Water Act.

The efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster continue.  For details, see BP and Transocean settlements.

Price Fixing and Bid Rigging – AU Optronics (Antitrust Division)

Some of the department’s largest collections related to the Antitrust Division’s criminal prosecutions of international conspiracies to fix prices, rig bids and allocate markets.  For example, in FY 2013, the Justice Department collected more than $326 million from its total of $1.39 billion in criminal fines resulting from its investigation into price fixing of thin-film transistor liquid crystal display (LCD) panels.   For instance, $250 million was collected in FY 2013 from LCD manufacturer AU Optronics’ $ 500 million total fine for its conviction after an eight-week trial .  For details, see LCD .  In addition, the United States collected more than $124 million in criminal fines in FY 2013 related to the department’s ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the automotive parts industry, out of a total of more than $1.6 billion in fines obtained in the investigation through FY 2013.  For details, see Auto Parts .

Tax Conspiracy – Wegelin & Co. (Tax Division)

The U.S. collected more than $42 million in restitution and fines in a single tax case involving Wegelin & Co., a Swiss private bank that pleaded guilty to conspiring with U.S. taxpayers and others to hide more than $1.2 billion in secret Swiss bank accounts and the income generated in these accounts from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).   As part of its guilty plea, Wegelin agreed to pay approximately $20 million in restitution to the IRS and to pay a $22.05 million fine.  In addition, Wegelin agreed to the civil forfeiture of an additional $15.8 million, representing the gross fees earned by the bank on the undeclared accounts of U.S. taxpayers.

SECRETARY OF STATE KERRY'S STATEMENT ON THE DEATH OF ARIEL SHARON

FROM:  STATE DEPARTMENT 
Death of Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 11, 2014

Ariel Sharon's journey was Israel’s journey. The dream of Israel was the cause of his life, and he risked it all to live that dream.

I remember reading about Arik in the papers when I was a young lawyer in Boston and marveling at his commitment to cause and country. I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became Prime Minister as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process. He was prepared to make tough decisions because he knew that his responsibility to his people was both to ensure their security and to give every chance to the hope that they could live in peace.

During his years in politics, it is no secret that there were times the United States had differences with him. But whether you agreed or disagreed with his positions – and Arik was always crystal clear about where he stood – you admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State. In his final years as Prime Minister, he surprised many in his pursuit of peace, and today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger. We honor Arik’s legacy and those of Israel’s founding generation by working to achieve that goal.

Arik is finally at rest, and all of us in the United States pray along with his sons, Gilad and Omri, the Sharon family, and all the people of Israel. Our nation shares your loss and honors Ariel Sharon's memory.

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S STATEMENT ON DEATH OF FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
Statement by the President on the Passing of Ariel Sharon

On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel. We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.

Weekly Address: Ensuring 2014 is a Year of Action to Grow the Economy

EDUCATION AND JUSTICE DEPARTMENTS RELEASE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE GUIDANCE PACKAGE

FROM:  EDUCATION DEPARTMENT 
U.S. Departments of Education and Justice Release School Discipline Guidance Package to Enhance School Climate and Improve School Discipline Policies/Practices

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), today released a school discipline guidance package that will assist states, districts and schools in developing practices and strategies to enhance school climate, and ensure those policies and practices comply with federal law. Even though incidents of school violence have decreased overall, too many schools are still struggling to create positive, safe environments. Schools can improve safety by making sure that climates are welcoming and that responses to misbehavior are fair, non-discriminatory and effective. Each year, significant numbers of students miss class due to suspensions and expulsions—even for minor infractions of school rules—and students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. The guidance package provides resources for creating safe and positive school climates, which are essential for boosting student academic success and closing achievement gaps.

"Effective teaching and learning cannot take place unless students feel safe at school,"U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "Positive discipline policies can help create safer learning environments without relying heavily on suspensions and expulsions. Schools also must understand their civil rights obligations and avoid unfair disciplinary practices. We need to keep students in class where they can learn. These resources are a step in the right direction.”

The resource package consists of four components:

The Dear Colleague guidance letter on civil rights and discipline, prepared in conjunction with DOJ, describes how schools can meet their legal obligations under federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating against students on the basis of race, color or national origin;

The Guiding Principles document draws from emerging research and best practices to describe three key principles and related action steps that can help guide state and local efforts to improve school climate and school discipline;

The Directory of Federal School Climate and Discipline Resources indexes the extensive federal technical assistance and other resources related to school discipline and climate available to schools and districts; and

The Compendium of School Discipline Laws and Regulations, an online catalogue of the laws and regulations related to school discipline in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, compares laws across states and jurisdictions.

"A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,"Attorney General Eric Holder said. "This guidance will promote fair and effective disciplinary practices that will make schools safe, supportive and inclusive for all students. By ensuring federal civil rights protections, offering alternatives to exclusionary discipline and providing useful information to school resource officers, we can keep America’s young people safe and on the right path."

The guidance package is a resource resulting from a collaborative project—the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (SSDI)—between ED and DOJ. The SSDI, launched in 2011, addresses the school-to-prison pipeline and the disciplinary policies and practices that can push students out of school and into the justice system. The initiative aims to support instead school discipline practices that foster safe, inclusive and positive learning environments while keeping students in school. The Department of Justice enforces Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in public schools, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by schools, law enforcement agencies, and other recipients of federal financial assistance.

The guidance package also results from President Obama's Now is the Time proposal to reduce gun violence. It called on ED to collect and disseminate best practices on school discipline policies and to help school districts develop and equitably implement their policies. To both continue ED/DOJ efforts in connection with SSDI and fulfill the administration's commitment to "Now is the Time," the guidance package was developed with additional input from civil rights advocates, major education organizations and philanthropic partners.


STATEMENT BY LABOR SECRETARY PEREZ REGARDING DECEMBER EMPLOYMENT

FROM:  LABOR DEPARTMENT 

Statement of Labor Secretary Perez on December employment numbers
WASHINGTON — Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued the following statement about the December 2013 Employment Situation report released today:
"The U.S. economy closed out 2013 by adding 74,000 jobs, bringing the 2013 total to nearly 2.2 million new jobs. With 87,000 new private-sector jobs in December, that makes 8.2 million jobs created by the private sector over the last 46 straight months. The December unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent.

"The economy continues to recover, but we are clearly not out of the woods. Far too many Americans are still struggling to find jobs and secure a foothold in the middle class. Long-term unemployment in particular remains a persistent challenge, stuck at a staggering high: 3.9 million Americans, representing 37.7 percent of all unemployed workers, have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks.
"I've met recently with many of them — hard-working Americans who, despite their most diligent efforts, have just been unable to find work, some for as long as a few years. Their lives are a daily struggle, as they rapidly deplete their savings and face looming foreclosure on their homes. One woman described keeping her thermostat at 58 degrees, wearing a coat and hat around the house, to cut back on heating costs. They are not lazy or complacent; they want nothing more than the dignity of work. But they're caught in a terrifying spiral: the longer you've been out of a job, the harder it is to get a job.

"To give them the immediate relief they so badly need, the first order of business for Congress is to pass an extension of emergency unemployment benefits that expired on Dec. 28 for 1.3 million people. It's the right thing to do to extend a lifeline to fellow Americans down on their luck, and it's the smart thing to do to stimulate the economy.

"But we need to go beyond stopgap measures. The best way to help unemployed Americans is to create jobs and grow the economy at a faster clip. Last month's bipartisan budget deal demonstrated that members of Congress can muster the will to agree on constructive solutions to tough problems. In that same spirit, they must now get to work on the middle-class jobs agenda put forward by President Obama. Let's resolve in the New Year to fix our broken immigration system, invest in education and skills development, rebuild our infrastructure, increase the minimum wage and take other steps to create and expand opportunity for the American people."

MAN IDENTIFIED AS GANG MEMBER ARRESTED AFTER THREATS TO HARM LAW ENFORCEMENT

FROM:  U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE U
January 07, 2014 Eastern District of Virginia 

U.S. Marshals Arrest Fraud Suspect After Threats to Harm Law Enforcement
Alexandria, VA – U.S. Marshal Robert Mathieson announces the capture of Archie Terrace Darby. Darby was wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) in the federal District of South Carolina (D/SC) for a supervised release violation stemming from an underlying charge of fraud.

Darby was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service in April 2010 and was convicted of fraud. The convicted felon was sentenced to serve three years in prison, followed by a court-ordered term of supervised release.

On Sept. 25, 2013, the U.S. District Court for D/SC issued an arrest warrant charging Darby with supervised release violation. The D/SC alleges that Darby has failed to follow the court-ordered conditions of supervised release on many instances. Investigators assigned to the U.S. Marshals’ fugitive task force in South Carolina quickly began working to locate the fugitive.

Investigation led law enforcement to learn of Darby’s extensive criminal history including assault and battery, burglary, armed robbery, possession of a firearm, resisting arrest and much more. On one past law enforcement endeavor, Darby fled and ultimately became violent with Deputy U.S. Marshals. This criminal history, along with the fugitive’s identification as a known Bloods gang member, led the USMS to consider the suspect as armed and dangerous.

DUSMs in South Carolina developed information which led them to believe that Darby fled to the DC, Maryland, Virginia area. Task force officers in South Carolina quickly informed their counterparts in VA about the case and requested assistance. As investigators in VA continued with the investigation, Darby began posting threatening remarks on social media directed towards law enforcement. His comments included references of knowing that he was being followed by law enforcement officers and intending to shoot first.

After months of following various leads, the USMS task force arrested Darby yesterday without incident in an apartment complex on Gorman Avenue in Laurel, MD.

The U.S. Marshals-led fugitive task force within E/VA is made possible by the collaboration of the U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, Alexandria Police Department, Virginia State Police, Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax County Sheriff's Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Diplomatic Security Service.

The task force within the Metropolitan D.C. area was founded in 2004 and, to date, has arrested tens of thousands of fugitives. The success of the task force directly correlates to it being a truly joint endeavor. Each agency brings its unique skills and expertise toward the common goal of pursuing and arresting the worst of the worst.

The U.S. Marshals Service arrested more than 36,000 federal fugitives, 86,700 state and local fugitives, and 11,800 sex offenders in fiscal year 2013. Our investigative network and capabilities allow for the unique ability to track and apprehend any fugitive who attempts to evade police capture, anywhere in the country.

HHS WORKS ON LIVING OPTIONS FOR OLDER PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

FROM:  HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES 
HHS strengthens community living options for older Americans and people with disabilities

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule today to ensure that Medicaid’s home and community-based services programs provide full access to the benefits of community living and offer services in the most integrated settings. The rule, as part of the Affordable Care Act, supports the Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Living Initiative. The initiative was launched in 2009 to develop and implement innovative strategies to increase opportunities for Americans with disabilities and older adults to enjoy meaningful community living.

Under the final rule, Medicaid programs will support home and community-based settings that serve as an alternative to institutional care and that take into account the quality of individuals’ experiences.  The final rule includes a transitional period for states to ensure that their programs meet the home and community-based services settings requirements.  Technical assistance will also be available for states.

 “People with disabilities and older adults have a right to live, work, and participate in the greater community.  HHS, through its Community Living Initiative, has been expanding and improving the community services necessary to make this a reality,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today’s announcement will help ensure that all people participating in Medicaid home and community-based services programs have full access to the benefits of community living.”

In addition to defining home and community-based settings, the final rule implements the Section 1915(i) home and community-based services State Plan option. This includes new flexibility provided by the Affordable Care Act that gives states additional options for expanding home and community-based services and to target services to specific populations.  It also amends the 1915(c) home and community-based services waiver program to add new person-centered planning requirements, allow states to combine multiple target populations in one waiver, and streamlines waiver administration.

IRISH NATIONAL SENTENCED IN ENDANGERED RHINOCEROS HORN TRAFFICKING CASE

FROM:  JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, January 10, 2014
Irish National Sentenced to Serve 14 Months in Prison for Trafficking of Endangered Rhinoceros Horns

Michael Slattery Jr., an Irish national, was sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., today to serve 14 months   in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, for conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act in relation to illegal rhinoceros horn trafficking, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch for the Eastern District of New York, and Director Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   Slattery was also sentenced to pay a $10,000 fine and forfeit $50,000 of proceeds from his illegal trade in rhino horns.

Slattery was arrested in September 2013 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nation-wide crackdown in the illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns, for his role in trafficking raw rhinoceros horns from Texas to customers in New York.   Slattery was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York.

“Mr. Slattery is today being held accountable for his participation in the illegal trade in wildlife species and products, which threatens the very existence of highly-endangered rhino species,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher.   “We will continue this active and ongoing investigation and wish to send a clear message to buyers and sellers that we will vigorousl y prosecute those who are involved in this devastating trade.

“We take seriously our obligation to protect these links to the Earth’s prehistoric past,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch.   “Michael Slattery’s actions were part of the exploitation and decimation of these animals from their only known predator – man.   He is now being held to account for his actions in furthering this devastating trade.”

“ We’re reaching a tipping point, where the unprecedented slaughter of rhinos and elephants happening now threatens the viability of these iconic species’ wild populations in Africa,” said Director Ashe.   “This slaughter is fueled by illegal trade, including that exposed by Operation Crash.   We will continue to work relentlessly across the United States government and with our international partners to crack down on poaching and wildlife trafficking.”

According to the information, plea agreement and statements made during court proceedings:

In China and Vietnam, rhinoceros horns are highly prized because they are believed to have medicinal value.  The escalating value of the horns has resulted in an increased demand that has helped fuel a thriving black market.

In pleading guilty, Slattery admitted to participating in a conspiracy to travel to and within the United States to purchase rhinoceros horns, which he, along with others, then resold to private individuals or consigned to auction houses in the United States, knowing that the interstate purchase and sale of the horns was illegal.   Due to their dwindling populations, all rhinoceros species are protected under international trade agreements.

Rhinoceros are a herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth.   They have no known predators other than humans.   All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law.  Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

Operation Crash is a continuing investigation being conducted by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in coordination with other federal and local law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros.  Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

The investigation was handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.   Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Nestor and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section are in charge of the prosecution.

NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE DELIVERS REPORT TO CONGRESS

FROM:  INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE 
National Taxpayer Advocate Delivers Annual Report to Congress; Focuses on Taxpayer Bill of Rights and IRS Funding

WASHINGTON — National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson today released her 2013 annual report to Congress, urging the Internal Revenue Service to adopt a comprehensive Taxpayer Bill of Rights – a step she said would increase trust in the agency and, more generally, strengthen its ability to serve taxpayers and collect tax. The Advocate also expressed deep concern that the IRS is not adequately funded to serve taxpayers, pointing out that the IRS annually receives more than 100 million telephone calls from taxpayers and that, in fiscal year 2013, the IRS could only answer 61 percent of calls from taxpayers seeking to speak with an IRS customer service representative.

“The year 2013 was a very challenging one for the IRS. Because of sequestration, the IRS’s funding was substantially cut, which translated into a reduction in taxpayer service,” Olson said in releasing the report. “Public trust in its fairness and impartiality was called into question because of reports the IRS subjected certain applicants for tax-exempt status to greater review based on political-sounding names. And because of the 16-day government shutdown, the agency could not complete preparations for the upcoming tax filing season on time, delaying the date on which taxpayers can first file returns and claim refunds.”

Olson continued: “From challenges can come opportunities, and this report presents a ‘21st century vision’ designed to meet taxpayer needs and enhance voluntary tax compliance.”

TAXPAYER BILL OF RIGHTS RECOMMENDED

The report reiterates the Advocate’s longstanding recommendation that the IRS adopt a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR). In a prior report, Olson analyzed the IRS’s processing of applications for tax-exempt status and concluded its procedures violated eight of the ten taxpayer rights she has proposed. Today’s report argues that the rationale for a TBOR is much broader.

“Taxpayer rights are central to voluntary compliance,” the report says. “If taxpayers believe they are treated, or can be treated, in an arbitrary and capricious manner, they will mistrust the tax system and be less likely to comply with the laws voluntarily. If taxpayers have confidence in the fairness and integrity of the system, they will be more likely to comply.”

The report emphasizes that the U.S. tax system is built on voluntary compliance. Ninety-eight percent of all tax revenue the IRS collects is paid timely and voluntarily. Only 2 percent results from IRS enforcement actions. For the taxpayer, voluntary compliance means not having to face IRS enforcement. For the government, voluntary compliance is cheapest, because enforced compliance requires the IRS to devote resources to detecting and collecting amounts that are not voluntarily reported or paid.

While arguing that knowledge of taxpayer rights promotes voluntary compliance, the report cites a survey of U.S. taxpayers conducted for TAS in 2012 that found less than half of respondents believed they have rights before the IRS and only 11 percent said they knew what those rights are.

“The Internal Revenue Code provides dozens of real, substantive taxpayer rights,” the report says. “However, these rights are scattered throughout the Code and are not presented in a coherent way. Consequently, most taxpayers have no idea what their rights are and therefore often cannot take advantage of them.”

The report calls on the IRS to take the taxpayer rights that already exist and group them into ten broad categories, modeled on the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The report says the “simplicity and clarity” of a thematic, principle-based Taxpayer Bill of Rights would help taxpayers understand their rights in general terms.

“A Taxpayer Bill of Rights would serve as an organizing principle for tax administrators in establishing agency goals and performance measures, provide foundational principles to guide IRS employees in their dealings with taxpayers, and provide information to taxpayers to assist them in their dealings with the IRS,” the report says.

The ten rights the Advocate is proposing are detailed in the report. Olson has been in discussions with senior IRS officials about publishing a TBOR, and TAS has just completed a series of focus groups with taxpayers and preparers to gauge reaction to, and comprehension of, the proposed list. Olson said the IRS has been open to publishing a proposed TBOR, and she will continue to work with the IRS leadership to refine and publish a TBOR during the coming year.

IRS FUNDING INADEQUATE

The report identifies the lack of adequate IRS funding as a top problem for taxpayers. Each year, more than 100 million taxpayers call the IRS for help and millions more visit IRS walk-in sites or send correspondence. Key metrics show the agency is increasingly unable to keep up with taxpayers’ demand for help in complying with their tax obligations.

“The requirement to pay taxes is generally the most significant burden a government imposes on its citizens,” the report says. “The National Taxpayer Advocate believes the government has a practical and moral obligation to make compliance as simple and painless as possible.” The report also points out that federal spending cuts, which are designed to reduce the budget deficit, have the effect of increasing the deficit when applied to the revenue collection agency.

Impact on Taxpayer Service. The report says the IRS’s workload has increased over the past decade, and since FY 2010, IRS funding and staffing have been cut by 8 percent. The report highlights key areas in which the quality of taxpayer service has dropped to unacceptable levels:

Last year, the IRS could only answer 61 percent of calls from taxpayers seeking to speak with a customer service representative (CSR). That’s down from 87 percent ten years earlier, with half the decline occurring since FY 2010. In FY 2013, 39 percent of calls (some 20 million) simply did not get through.
Taxpayers who did get through had to wait on hold approximately 17.6 minutes before speaking with a CSR. That’s up from 2.6 minutes ten years earlier, a nearly six-fold increase, with nearly half the increase occurring since FY 2010.
Millions of taxpayers visit IRS walk-in sites each year for assistance. Ten years ago, the IRS answered some 795,000 tax law questions in the sites during the filing season. Last year, it handled about 110,000 tax law questions during the filing season – a reduction of 86 percent.

The IRS historically has prepared tax returns for taxpayers seeking its help, particularly for low income, elderly, and disabled taxpayers. Ten years ago, it prepared some 476,000 returns. That number declined significantly over the decade, and the IRS recently announced it will no longer prepare returns at all.
Last year, the IRS received about 8.4 million letters from taxpayers responding to proposed adjustments to their tax liabilities. As of the end of the fiscal year, 53 percent of taxpayer letters in the IRS’s “adjustments” inventory were considered “over age” (generally, more than 45 days old). That compares with “over age” percentages of 12 percent ten years earlier and 28 percent in FY 2010.
The IRS recently announced it will only answer “basic” tax law questions on its telephone lines and in its walk-in sites during the upcoming filing season and it will not answer any tax law questions after the filing season, including questions from the millions of taxpayers who obtain filing extensions and prepare their returns later in the year.

Olson made clear that the deficiencies in taxpayer service are attributable primarily to a lack of resources. Regardless of cause, she wrote, “it is a sad state of affairs when the government writes tax laws as complex as ours – and then is unable to answer any questions beyond ‘basic’ ones from baffled citizens who are doing their best to comply.”

The Advocate expressed particular concern about the magnitude and impact of cuts to the IRS’s training budget. Since FY 2010, the IRS’s training budget has been cut from $172 million to $22 million. “If IRS customer service representatives are not well trained, taxpayers calling for help are more likely to receive incorrect information or no information,” the report says. “If IRS enforcement employees are not well trained, auditors may make inappropriate adjustments and assessments, and collection employees may issue inappropriate levies or file inappropriate liens.”

Impact on Voluntary Compliance and Revenue Collection. The report notes that the cuts to IRS funding since FY 2010 have been made as part of across-the-board reductions to federal discretionary spending designed to reduce the budget deficit. But “the logic behind budget cuts simply does not apply to the funding of the IRS,” the report says. The IRS collected $255 for each $1 it received in appropriated funds in FY 2013. “If the Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company were told that each dollar allocated to his company’s Accounts Receivable Department would generate multiple dollars in return,” the report says, “it is difficult to see how the CEO would keep his job if he chose not to provide the department with the funding it needed. Yet that is essentially what has been happening with respect to IRS funding for years.”

Olson said IRS funding is shortchanged because the federal budget rules treat the IRS the same way they treat all spending programs – with no “credit” given for the revenue it collects.  “This procedure makes little sense when applied to the IRS,” she wrote. “For virtually every other spending program, a dollar spent is just that – it increases the deficit by one dollar. But a dollar spent on the IRS generates substantially more than one dollar in return – it reduces the budget deficit.”

The report reiterates the Advocate’s longstanding recommendation that the relevant congressional committees work together to develop new procedures to fund the IRS, with the goal of maximizing tax compliance, particularly voluntary compliance, with due regard for protecting taxpayer rights and minimizing taxpayer burden.

OTHER KEY ISSUES ADDRESSED

Federal law requires the Annual Report to Congress to identify at least 20 of the “most serious problems” encountered by taxpayers and to make administrative and legislative recommendations to mitigate those problems. Overall, this year’s report identifies 25 problems, makes dozens of recommendations for administrative change, makes five recommendations for legislative change, and analyzes the 10 tax issues most frequently litigated in the federal courts.

Among the “most serious problems" addressed are the following:

Need for Return Preparer Oversight. In 2002, the National Taxpayer Advocate began advocating for regulation of unenrolled tax preparers to protect taxpayers from incompetent and unscrupulous preparers. In 2011, the IRS began implementing regulations to register, test, and require continuing education for unenrolled preparers. In 2013, a U.S. District Court invalidated regulations governing the IRS’s testing and continuing education requirements, holding that they exceeded the authority of the Treasury Department to impose absent authorizing legislation. If the district court’s decision is upheld on appeal, the Advocate urges the IRS to adopt a multi-pronged strategy to protect taxpayers by pursuing education and enforcement options that are unambiguously within its purview. Of particular note, the Advocate recommends that the IRS give unenrolled preparers an opportunity to earn a voluntary testing and continuing education certificate and limit the ability of unenrolled preparers who do not earn the certificate to represent taxpayers in audits of returns they prepare. The Advocate also recommends Congress enact legislation to clarify that the IRS may regulate unenrolled paid preparers directly.

The IRS’s Conceptual Approach Toward Collection of Delinquent Tax Liabilities. The report urges the IRS to fundamentally reassess its traditional approach toward Collection. In her preface to the report, Olson cites third-party studies that often use the number of levies served and liens filed as a measure of the Collection function’s effectiveness. Contrary to this “conventional wisdom,” she notes, IRS Collection revenue actually increased in the aftermath of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 when the IRS reduced levies served by 94 percent and liens filed by 47 percent. Similarly, she notes that Collection revenue has increased slightly over the last few years, despite a 51 percent reduction in levies since FY 2011 and a 45 percent reduction in liens since FY 2010. Olson says that earlier personal contacts with delinquent taxpayers and more flexible use of payment options for financially struggling taxpayers, such as installment agreements and offers in compromise, would be more effective than increasing the number of levies and liens filed by automation. The report acknowledges that the use of levies, liens, and seizures remains appropriate with respect to taxpayers who can afford to pay their tax liabilities but refuse to do so.

The Impact of the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs on Taxpayers Who Make Honest Mistakes. The IRS has sought to increase enforcement of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) reporting and similar information reporting requirements in recent years and has offered a series of offshore voluntary disclosure (OVD) programs to settle with taxpayers who have failed to file the required forms. However, the report says, the programs impose excessive penalties on taxpayers whose failure to file was not “willful.” Analyzing results from the IRS’s 2009 OVD program, the Advocate found the median offshore penalty was about 381 percent of the additional tax assessed for taxpayers with median-sized account balances, and 580 percent of the tax assessed for taxpayers with the smallest account balances (i.e., the bottom 10 percent, with an average $44,855 account balance). Taxpayers who “opted out” of the OVD program and agreed to subject themselves to audits fared better but still faced penalties of nearly 70 percent of the tax and interest. While FBAR penalties are computed as a percentage of account balances rather than tax liabilities, the report offers the comparison to illustrate that the penalties are often Draconian and may deter other taxpayers from coming into compliance.

New TAS Research Studies on Tax Compliance. Volume 2 of the report contains six research studies, including three that relate directly to tax compliance:

An assessment of accuracy-related penalties imposed on Schedule C filers found that penalties do not increase future reporting compliance.
A comparison of the effectiveness of Revenue Officers (ROs) and the IRS’s Automated Collection System (ACS) in addressing employment tax liabilities found that ROs collected more dollars and resolved delinquencies more quickly than ACS, but neither channel was effective at promoting future tax compliance.
A study regarding tax compliance by sole proprietors found that taxpayer service and social norms were the two most influential factors affecting compliance behavior.  Contrary to expectation, the study found that traditional deterrence theory did not play a role in promoting compliance, possibly because sole proprietors were particularly motivated by short-term cash flow needs.
Volume 2 also contains an analysis designed to further the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2009 recommendation that the IRS develop a plan and timeline to achieve an accelerated third-party information reporting and document-matching system. The analysis describes the steps that must be taken and the benefits to taxpayers and the IRS of accelerating receipt and processing of third-party information reports, such as Forms W-2 and 1099.

Friday, January 10, 2014

ISS Extended to 2024 on This Week @NASA

1/10/14: White House Press Briefing

U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CONTRACTS FOR JANUARY 10, 2014

FROM:  DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
CONTRACTS
 DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY

L-3 Communications Systems West, Salt Lake City, Utah, has been awarded a maximum $85,485,879 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for procurement of spare and component satellite terminal parts.  This contract is a sole-source acquisition.  Location of performance is Utah with a Jan. 9, 2019 performance completion date.  Using military service is Army.  Type of appropriation is fiscal 2014 Army working capital funds.  The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., (SPRBL1-14-D-0001).

Dispensers Optical Service Corp.*, Louisville, Ky., has been awarded a maximum $17,006,713 modification (P00007) exercising the third option year on a one-year base contract (SPM2DE-11-D-7548) with four one-year option periods for various optical lenses.  This is a fixed-price with economic-price-adjustment, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract.  Location of performance is Kentucky with a Jan. 12, 2015 performance completion date.  Using military services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and federal civilian agencies.  Type of appropriation is fiscal 2014 defense working capital funds.  The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, Philadelphia, Pa.

Signature Flight Support Corp., Palm Springs, Calif., has been awarded a maximum $10,936,934 fixed-price with economic-price-adjustment contract for into-plane jet fuel.  This contract is a competitive acquisition, and two offers were received.  Location of performance is California with a March 31, 2018 performance completion date.  Using military services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and federal civilian agencies.  Type of appropriation is fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2018 defense working capital funds.  The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Energy, Fort Belvoir, Va., (SP0600-14-D-0005).

Boeing Co., Saint Louis, Mo., has been awarded a maximum $10,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract that provides gap or transition coverage of consumable items during contract transition to ensure uninterrupted support to the customer.  This contract is a sole-source acquisition.  Location of performance is Missouri with a May 2014 performance completion date.  Using military services are Navy and Air Force.  Type of appropriation is fiscal 2014 defense working capital funds.  The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Aviation, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPM400-02-D-9407-PH01).

ARMY

Raytheon Co., McKinney, Texas, was awarded a $36,789,509 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to procure second generation forward looking infrared (2GF) hardware and support services to preserve the Army's 2GF sensor industrial base.  Fiscal 2013 other procurement, Army funds in the amount of $36,789,509 were obligated at the time of the award.  Estimated completion date is July 3, 2015.  One bid was solicited with one received.  Work will be performed in McKinney, Texas.  Army Contracting Command, Alexandria, Va., is the contracting activity (W909MY-14-C-0011).

Ultimate Training Munitions Inc., Somerville, N.J.*, was awarded an $11,250,000 firm-fixed-price contract for the close combat mission capability kit, for the M4/M16 (carbine/rifle) and M249 (squad automatic weapon).  Funding and work performance location will be determined with each order.  Estimated completion date is Jan. 10, 2019.  Bids were solicited via the Internet with one received.  Army Contracting Command, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., is the contracting activity (W15QKN-14-D-0009).

L-3 Communications Corp., Tempe, Ariz., was awarded a $10,000,000 firm-fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for commercial tubes for special operations to improve lighting capabilities which increase range and field of vision in darkness.  Funding and work performance location will be determined with each order.  Estimated completion date is Jan. 2, 2018.  One bid was solicited with one received.  Army Contracting Command, Natick, Mass. is the contracting activity (W911QY-14-D-0006).

C.E.C. Inc., Lafayette, La.*, was awarded a $7,391,803 firm-fixed-price contract for work on the Lake Pontchartrain Bayou Bienvenue Swing Bridge and vicinity for detour roads; access/maintenance roads; grouted rip-rap; pile driving; pavement demolition; drainage box culverts, inlets, and piping.  Also provided for in the contract is a concrete slab span bridge with curtain walls, concrete bridge approach slabs; asphalt pavement construction; grading; embankment; guardrails; and signing and marking.  Fiscal 2014 other procurement funds in the amount of $7,391,803 were obligated at the time of the award.  Estimated completion date is Aug. 30, 2015.  Bids were solicited via the web with 12 received.  Work will be performed in St. Bernard, La.  Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans, La., is the contracting activity (W912P8-14-C-0016).

AIR FORCE

United Technologies Corp., doing business as Pratt & Whitney Aftermarket Services Inc., San Antonio, Texas, has been awarded a $33,884,559 modification for the first option to previously awarded contract FA8121-10-D-0008 to remanufacture F-100-PW-100/200/220/220E/229 engine modules.  Work will be performed at San Antonio, Texas, and is expected to be completed by April 22, 2014.  This contract is 100 percent foreign military sales for Chile, Egypt, Jordan, Thailand, Taiwan, Greece and Indonesia.  No funds are being obligated at time of award. Air Force Systems Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., is the contracting activity.

Sparta Inc., Lake Forest, Calif., has been awarded a $7,310,558 modification (P00026) to firm-fixed-price contract (FA8802-10-F-3011) to exercise fiscal 2014, option four continued engineering consulting and technical advisory services including special studies under the basic task order to support or augment existing staff at Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC).  Work will be performed at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., and is expected to be completed on Jan. 10, 2015.  Fiscal 2014 procurement and military personnel funds in the amount of $782,899 are being obligated at time of award. SMC, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the contracting activity.

NAVY

Systems Engineering Support Co.*, San Diego, Calif., is being awarded an $18,626,453 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for production of Navigation Sensor System Interface (NAVSSI) hardware.  NAVSSI collects, processes, integrates and formats distribution positioning, navigation and timing data for weapon systems, combat support systems, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and other information systems users.  Work will be performed in San Diego, Calif., and is expected to be completed by December 2019.  Fiscal 2012 shipbuilding and conversation, Navy funds in the amount of $498,126 will be obligated at the time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  This contract was competitively procured via the Commerce Business Daily’s Federal Business Opportunities website and the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website, with four offers received.  The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity (N00039-14-D-0003).

Micro USA Inc.,* Poway, Calif. is being awarded a $17,622,114 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for production of Navigation Sensor System Interface (NAVSSI) hardware.  NAVSSI collects, processes, integrates and formats distribution positioning, navigation and timing data for weapon systems, combat support systems, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and other information systems users.  Work will be performed in Poway, Calif., and is expected to be completed by December 2019.  Fiscal 2013 shipbuilding and conversation, Navy funds in the amount of $495,727 will be obligated at the time of award, and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  This contract was competitively procured via the Commerce Business Daily’s Federal Business Opportunities website and the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website, with four offers received.  The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity (N00039-14-D-0002).

Lockheed Martin Corp., Baltimore, Md., is being awarded $13,188,967 for modification 0017 to previously awarded (N00024-12-G-4329) for the accomplishment of planning yard support efforts for LCS 1 and 3.  This modification is to definitize the LCS 3 not-to-exceed cost-plus award fee contracting action and to add support for LCS 1.  Services include:  vendor training and crew familiarization; trainer support; availability advanced planning; long lead time material planning and procurement; material warehousing; logistics product updates; and class sustainment management.  Work will be performed in Washington, D.C., and is expected to be completed by September 2014.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Navy contract funds in the amount of $13,188,967 will be obligated at time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Airtec, Inc.*, California, Md., is being awarded a $9,477,860 modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (N68335-13-D-0010) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) services in support of the U.S. Southern Command.  The contractor will provide ISR services utilizing two contractor-owned, contractor-operated aircraft, with government furnished property previously installed on the aircraft.  Work will be performed in Bogota, Columbia, and is expected to be completed in September 2014.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Army contract funds in the amount of $751,459 will be obligated at time of award, all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  The Naval Air Warfare Center, Lakehurst, N.J., is the contracting activity.

General Dynamics NASSCO, Norfolk, Va., is being awarded a $7,475,361 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-09-C-4416) for the USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) fiscal 2014 extended dry-docking planned maintenance availability.  Services provide extended dry docking, modernization, upgrades, repairs and alterations to multiple shipboard systems such as the engineering control systems, power management platform and chilled water distribution systems for the LSD-class amphibious landing ships.  Work will be performed in Norfolk, Va., and is expected to be completed by April 2015.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Navy funding in the amount of $7,475,361 will be obligated at time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  Norfolk Ship Support Activity, Norfolk, Va., is the administrative contracting activity.

*Small Business

JUSTICE, COMMERCE NAME EXPERTS TO NEW NATIONAL COMMISSION ON FORENSIC SCIENCE

FROM:  JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, January 10, 2014
U.S. Departments of Justice and Commerce Name Experts to First-ever National Commission on Forensic Science

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced appointments to a newly created National Commission on Forensic Science.

Members of the commission will work to improve the practice of forensic science by developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the criminal justice system.  The commission also will work to develop policy recommendations for the U.S. Attorney General, including uniform codes for professional responsibility and requirements for formal training and certification.

The commission is co-chaired by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick D. Gallagher.  Nelson Santos, deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Forensic Sciences at the Drug Enforcement Administration, and John M. Butler, special assistant to the NIST director for forensic science, serve as vice-chairs.

“I appreciate the commitment each of the commissioners has made and look forward to working with them to strengthen the validity and reliability of the forensic sciences and enhance quality assurance and quality control,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole.  “Scientifically valid and accurate forensic analysis supports all aspects of our justice system.”

The commission includes federal, state and local forensic science service providers; research scientists and academics; law enforcement officials; prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges; and other stakeholders from across the country.  This breadth of experience and expertise reflects the many different entities that contribute to forensic science practice in the U.S. and will ensure these broad perspectives are represented on the commission and in its work.

“This new commission represents an extremely broad range of expertise and skills,” said Under Secretary Gallagher.  “It will help ensure that forensic science is supported by the strongest possible science-based evidence gathering, analysis and measurement.

“This latest and most impressive collaboration between the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will help ensure that the forensic sciences are supported by the most rigorous standards available—a foundational requirement in a nation built on the credo of ‘justice for all,’” said John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The following commissioners were chosen from a pool of more than 300 candidates:

Suzanne Bell, Ph.D. , Associate Professor, West Virginia University; Frederick Bieber, Ph.D., Medical Geneticist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School; Thomas Cech, Ph.D. , Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder; Cecelia Crouse, Ph.D. , Director, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory; Gregory Czarnopys , Deputy Assistant Director, Forensic Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; M. Bonner Denton, Ph.D. , Professor, University of Arizona; Vincent Di Maio, M.D., Consultant in Forensic Pathology; Troy Duster, Ph.D. , Chancellor’s Professor and Senior Fellow, Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, University of California, Berkeley; Jules Epstein , Associate Professor of Law, Widener University; Stephen Fienberg, Ph.D. , Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science, Carnegie Mellon University; Andrea Ferreira-Gonzalez, Ph.D. , Professor of Pathology and Director Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, Virginia Commonwealth University; John Fudenberg , Assistant Coroner, Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner, Clark County, Nevada; S. James Gates, Jr., Ph.D. , University System Regents Professor and John S. Toll Professor of Physics, University of Maryland; Dean Gialamas , Crime Laboratory Director, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Scientific Services Bureau; Paul Giannelli , Distinguished University Professor and Albert J Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University; Hon. Barbara Hervey , Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Susan Howley , Public Policy Director, National Center for Victims of Crime; Ted Hunt , Chief Trial Attorney, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Kansas City, Missouri; Linda Jackson , Director, Virginia Department of Forensic Science;  John Kacavas , United States Attorney, District of New Hampshire; Pamela King, Assistant State Public Defender, Minnesota State Public Defender Office; Marc LeBeau, Ph.D. , Senior Forensic Scientist, Scientific Analysis Section, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Julia Leighton , General Counsel, Public Defender Service, District of Columbia; Hon. Bridget Mary McCormack , Justice, Michigan Supreme Court; Peter Neufeld , Co-Director, Innocence Project, Benjamin Cardozo School of Law; Phil Pulaski , Chief of Detectives, New York City Police Department; Hon. Jed Rakoff , Senior United States District Judge, Southern District of New York; Matthew Redle , Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney, Sheridan, Wyoming; Michael “Jeff” Salyards, Ph.D. , Executive Director, Defense Forensic Science Center, Department of the Army; and Ryant Washington , Sheriff, Fluvanna County Sherriff’s Office, Fluvanna, Virginia.

Ex-Officio Members:

David Honey, Ph.D. , Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Science and Technology and Director of Science and Technology, Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Marilyn Huestis, Ph.D., Chief, Chemistry and Drug Metabolism Section, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health; Gerald LaPorte , Acting Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, National Institute of Justice; Patricia Manzolillo , Laboratory Director, Forensic Laboratory Services, U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Frances Schrotter , Senior Vice President and Chief Operation Officer, American National Standards Institute; Kathryn Turman , Program Director, Office for Victim Assistance, Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Mark Weiss, Ph.D. , Division Director, Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, National Science Foundation.

The first meeting of the Commission will be held February 3-4, 2014, at 810 7th Street, N.W., Washington, DC.  The membership list, notice of meetings, commission charter and other related material will be maintained within the General Service Administration’s Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) database at http://www.facadatabase.gov .

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.


PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES THREE PICKS TO SERVE ON BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF FEDERAL RESERVE

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
President Obama Announces his Intent to Nominate Three to Serve on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Obama announced his intent to nominate three individuals to serve on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.  The President announced his intent to nominate Stanley Fischer to serve as Vice Chairman and Governor, Lael Brainard to serve as Governor, and announced his intent to nominate Jerome Powell for a second term as Governor.

President Obama said, “These three distinguished individuals have the proven experience, judgment and deep knowledge of the financial system to serve at the Federal Reserve during this important time for our economy.  Stanley Fischer brings decades of leadership and expertise from various roles, including serving at the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Israel.  He is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading and most experienced economic policy minds and I’m grateful he has agreed to take on this new role and I am confident that he and Janet Yellen will make a great team.  Lael Brainard has served as one of my top and most trusted international economic advisors during a challenging time not just at home, but for our global economy as well, and her knowledge of international monetary and economic issues will be an important addition to the Fed.  I’m also thankful that Jerome Powell, who has proven to be an effective and wise voice at the Fed, has agreed to serve a second term.  I’m confident that these individuals will serve their country well.”

President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals today:

Stanley Fischer, Vice Chairman and Governor of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

(To represent the New York, NY region; term ending January 31, 2020)

Dr. Stanley Fischer served as the Governor of the Bank of Israel from 2005 to 2013, where he successfully navigated Israel’s economy through the global financial crisis.  Prior to joining the Bank of Israel, Dr. Fischer was Vice Chairman of Citigroup from 2002 through 2005.  From 1994 to 2001, he was the First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), addressing the Asian, Russian, Brazilian, and other financial crises of the late 1990s.  Before he joined the IMF, Dr. Fischer was the Killian Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  From 1988 to 1990, he was Vice President, Development Economics and Chief Economist at the World Bank.  From 1973 to 1994, he taught economics at MIT.  Dr. Fischer was Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago.  He received a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. from MIT.

Lael Brainard, Governor of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

(To represent the Richmond, VA region; term ending January 31, 2026)

Dr. Lael Brainard most recently served as the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Under Secretary for International Affairs from 2010 to 2013, where she was responsible for currency policy as well as for coordinating with G20 central banks and finance ministries to arrest the European financial crisis and institute fundamental financial reforms.  She was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Award for her service as the Administration’s chief economic diplomat.  Prior to joining the Administration, she was Vice President and the Founding Director of the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution.  During the Clinton Administration, she served as Deputy National Economic Adviser and Deputy Assistant to the President for International Economics, addressing challenges such as the Asian financial crisis and the Mexican financial crisis and China’s role in the global economy.  Previously, Dr. Brainard served as Associate Professor of Applied Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  Dr. Brainard has also worked at McKinsey & Co. advising corporate clients on strategic challenges, and she has worked in the field of microfinance in West Africa.  She received a B.A. from Wesleyan University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Jerome H. Powell, Governor of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

(To represent the Philadelphia, PA region; term ending January 31, 2028)

Jerome H. Powell is a Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, a position he has held since 2012.  Prior to serving on the Board of Governors, he was a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center.  From 1997 to 2005, he was a partner at The Carlyle Group.  Mr. Powell previously served as an Assistant Secretary and an Under Secretary of the Treasury at the Department of the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush.  He worked for many years prior to that as a lawyer and investment banker in New York City.  Mr. Powell received an A.B. from Princeton University and J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center.

West Wing Week 1/10/14 or, "A Year of Action"

ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER'S STATEMENT ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGES IN UTAH

FROM:  JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, January 10, 2014
Statement by Attorney General Eric Holder on Federal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages in Utah
Attorney General Eric Holder issued the following statement today on the status of same-sex marriages performed in the state of Utah:

 “Last June, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision – in United States v. Windsor – holding that Americans in same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law.  This ruling marked a historic step toward equality for all American families.  And since the day it was handed down, the Department of Justice has been working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and spirit—moving to extend—federal benefits to married same-sex couples as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

"Recently, an administrative step by the court has cast doubt on same-sex marriages that have been performed in the state of Utah.  And the governor has announced that the state will not recognize these marriages pending additional court action.

"In the meantime, I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.  These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds. In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled – regardless of whether they in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages.  And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”

HEALTH CARE COMPANY EXECS TO PAY OVER $1 MILLION TO RESOLVE FALSE CLAIMS ALLEGATIONS

FROM:  JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, January 10, 2014
Former HealthEssentials Solutions Inc. Executives to Pay More Than $1 Million to Resolve Allegations of Submitting False Claims to Federal Health Care Program

Michael R. Barr, former chief executive officer of Louisville, Kentucky-based HealthEssentials Solutions Inc., has agreed to pay $1 million to resolve allegations that he knowingly caused HealthEssentials to submit false claims to Medicare between 1999 and 2004, the Justice Department announced today.  Norman J. Pfaadt, HealthEssentials’ former chief financial officer, also agreed to pay $20,000 to resolve similar allegations.  H ea lt h E s s e nt i a ls provided primary medical care to patients in nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and other settings from 1998 until it filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in 2005.  Barr founded HealthEssentials and served as its president, chief executive and board chairman.  Pfaadt served as HealthEssentials’ senior vice president and chief financial officer.

“Healthcare executives should lead by example and create cultures of compliance within their companies, not pressure their employees to cheat the taxpayers,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart F. Delery.  “We will continue to hold health care executives personally accountable for their dealings with Medicare.”

“Pursuing health care fraud is a priority of this office and the Department of Justice,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky David J. Hale.  “We will continue to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the public to ensure that fraudulent claims are investigated and those responsible are required to pay.”
         
In March 2008, HealthEssentials pleaded guilty to submitting false statements to Medicare relating to services it provided to patients in assisted living facilities and entered into a civil settlement with the government.  In May 2011, HealthEssentials’ former director of billing, Karen Stone, pleaded guilty for her role in the company’s billing scheme.

The settlement announced today resolves Barr’s and Pfaadt’s alleged liability under the False Claims Act for their roles in HealthEssentials’ false billings.  The government alleged that, between 1999 and 2004, HealthEssentials billed for services that were inflated or not medically necessary and that Barr and Pfaadt pressured HealthEssentials employees to inflate the company’s billings, despite having been advised by attorneys and others that doing so would be improper.  The government further alleged that Barr pressured HealthEssentials employees to conduct special medical assessments on patients, without regard to whether the patients required the assessments, solely to increase the amount that HealthEssentials could bill for the visits.  As part of the settlement, Barr has agreed to a three-year period of exclusion from participating in federally funded health care programs.

“Executives cheating taxpayers and patients – as alleged in this case – should beware of exclusion from Medicare, Medicaid and all other federal health programs, as well as criminal and civil liability,” said Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Daniel R. Levinson.  “Vulnerable beneficiaries deserve protection from potentially harmful, medically unnecessary services.”

The allegations that were resolved by the settlement arose in part from a lawsuit filed by former HealthEssentials employees Michael and Leigh RoBards under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private citizens to bring suit on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery.  Mr. and Mrs. RoBards will receive a total of $153,000.

This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $17 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $12.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

The case was handled by the Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky, with assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.  The case is captioned United States ex rel. Stydinger, et al. v. Michael R. Barr and Norman J. Pfaadt, Civil No. 3:03-cv-00380-TBR (W.D. Ky.).

FEDS SEND MORE FUNDING TO AID IN SEVERE WEATHER RECOVERY EFFORTS IN MISSISSIPPI

FROM:  LABOR DEPARTMENT 

Additional funding awarded to Mississippi to assist ongoing cleanup 
and recovery efforts from severe storms, tornadoes and flooding

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a $833,835 National Emergency Grant incremental award to continue with the cleanup and recovery efforts resulting from the severe storms, tornadoes and flooding in Mississippi on Feb. 10, 2013. These funds are being awarded to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to create temporary jobs for eligible individuals to assist in cleanup efforts.

"The residents of Mississippi recovering from the devastating storms last February," said Eric M. Seleznow, acting assistant secretary of labor for employment and training. "This funding will help create the jobs necessary to provide assistance to the communities impacted by this damaging weather system."
This grant was first approved on March 4, 2013, for up to $2,000,000, with $1,000,000 initially released, to assist in the aftermath of the Mississippi severe storms, tornadoes and flooding. This incremental award brings the total funds awarded for this project to $1,833,835, which is projected to create a total of 95 temporary jobs.

Following the Mississippi severe storms, tornadoes and flooding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Wayne counties as eligible for FEMA's Public Assistance Program. The state is targeting Forrest and Lamar counties for assistance under this grant.

National Emergency Grants are part of the secretary of labor's discretionary fund and are awarded based on a state's ability to meet specific guidelines.

Editor's Note: Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Eric M. Seleznow's radio actuality on National Emergency Grants is available for public use.

FTC GOES AFTER AUTO DEALERS FOR FALSE ADVERTISING

FROM:  FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION 
FTC Announces Sweep Against 10 Auto Dealers
‘Operation Steer Clear’ Drives Home That Auto Ads Must Be Truthful

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that nine auto dealers agreed to settle deceptive advertising charges, and the agency is taking action against a 10th dealer, in a nationwide sweep focusing on the sale, financing, and leasing of motor vehicles.

According to the complaints, the dealers made a variety of misrepresentations in print, Internet, and video advertisements that violated the FTC Act, falsely leading consumers to believe they could purchase vehicles for low prices, finance vehicles with low monthly payments, and/or make no upfront payment  to lease vehicles. One dealer even misrepresented that consumers had won prizes they could collect at the dealership.

“Buying or leasing a car is a big deal, and car ads are an important source of information for serious shoppers,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Dealers’ ads need to spell out costs and other important terms customers can count on. If they don’t, dealers can count on the FTC to take action.”

‘Operation Steer Clear’ is the latest effort from the FTC to protect consumers in the auto marketplace. The dealerships that settled are charged as follows:

California

Casino Auto Sales of La Puente, Calif., and Rainbow Auto Sales, of South Gate, Calif., allegedly violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers could purchase vehicles at specific low prices when, in fact, the price was $5,000 higher. Both dealers’ ads involved a mix of English and Spanish. Honda of Hollywood, Los Angeles, and Norm Reeves Honda of Cerritos, Calif., violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers could pay $0 up-front to lease a vehicle when, in fact, the advertised amounts excluded substantial fees and other amounts. The ads also allegedly violated the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA) and Regulation M, by failing to disclose certain lease related terms. Norm Reeves Honda’s ads also allegedly violated the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Regulation Z, by failing to disclose certain credit related terms.

Georgia

Nissan of South Atlanta of Morrow, Ga., allegedly violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers could finance a vehicle purchase with low monthly payments when, in fact, the payments were temporary “teasers” after which consumers would owe a different amount. The ads also allegedly violated TILA and Regulation Z, by failing to disclose certain credit related terms.

Illinois

Infiniti of Clarendon Hills of Clarendon Hills, Ill., allegedly violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers could pay $0 up-front to lease a vehicle when, in fact, the advertised amounts excluded substantial fees and other amounts. The ads also allegedly violated the CLA and Regulation M, by failing to disclose certain lease related terms.

North Carolina

Paramount Kia of Hickory, N.C., allegedly violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers could finance a purchase with low monthly payments when, in fact, the payments were temporary “teasers” after which the consumer would owe a much higher amount, by several hundred dollars. The ads also allegedly violated the TILA and Regulation Z, by failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose certain credit related terms.

Michigan

Fowlerville Ford of Fowlerville, Mich., allegedly violated the FTC Act by sending mailers that deceptively claimed consumers had won a sweepstakes prize, when, in fact, they had not. Some of their ads also allegedly violated TILA and Regulation Z, by failing to disclose certain credit related terms.

Texas

Southwest Kia companies, including New World Auto Imports, Dallas, Texas, New World Auto Imports of Rockwall, Rockwall, Texas, and Hampton Two Auto Corporations, Mesquite, Texas, allegedly violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers could purchase a vehicle for specific low monthly payments when, in fact, consumers would owe a final balloon payment of over $10,000. The companies also allegedly deceptively advertised that consumers could drive home a vehicle for specific low up-front amounts and low monthly payments when, in fact, the deal was a lease and they would owe substantially more up-front. The ads also allegedly violated the CLA and Regulation M, by failing to disclose certain lease related terms, and the TILA and Regulation Z, by failing to disclose certain credit related terms.

The proposed consent orders settling the FTC’s charges in the nine cases are designed to prevent the dealerships from engaging in similar deceptive advertising practices in the future. The orders prohibit the dealerships from misrepresenting in any advertisement for the purchase, financing, or leasing of motor vehicles the cost of leasing a vehicle, the cost of purchasing a vehicle with financing, or any other material fact about the price, sale, financing, or leasing of a vehicle. When relevant, the proposed consent orders also address the alleged TILA and CLA violations by requiring the dealerships to clearly and conspicuously disclose terms required by these credit and lease laws. In the case where the dealerships misrepresented that consumers had won a prize, the proposed order also prohibits misrepresenting material terms of any prize, sweepstakes, giveaway, or other incentive.

The FTC would like to thank the Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs for its assistance with multiple investigations in California, and the Michigan Department of Attorney General for its assistance with the investigation in Michigan.

The Commission votes to accept the packages containing the nine proposed consent orders and complaints for public comment were 4-0. The agreements will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through Feb. 10, 2014, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent orders final. Submit a comment electronically:

Casino Auto Sales
Honda of Hollywood
Fowlerville Ford
Infiniti of Clarendon Hills
Nissan of South Atlanta
Norm Reeves Honda Superstore
Paramount Kia
Rainbow Auto Sales
Southwest Kia
Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.

In addition, the FTC issued an administrative complaint against Courtesy Auto Group of Attleboro, Mass. The FTC alleges the dealership violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers can lease a vehicle for $0 down and specific monthly payments when, in fact, the advertised amounts exclude substantial fees. The ads also allegedly violate the CLA and Regulation M, by failing to disclose or clearly and conspicuously disclose certain lease related terms.

The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint was 4-0.

QUADRENNIAL ENERGY REVIEW LAUNCHED BY WHITE HOUSE

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
Obama Administration Launches Quadrennial Energy Review
First QER Will Focus on Transmission and Distribution Infrastructure

Today, President Obama signed a Memorandum directing his Administration to conduct a Quadrennial Energy Review (QER).  This first QER will focus on the development of a comprehensive strategy for the infrastructure involved in transporting, transmitting, and delivering energy. The QER will be developed through robust interagency dialogue and engagement of external stakeholders and will help to build on the Nation’s progress toward greater energy and climate security.

Building on the foundation provided in the President’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future and his Climate Action Plan, this QER will study the opportunities and challenges that our energy infrastructure faces as a result of transformations in energy supply, markets, and use; issues of aging and capacity; impacts of climate change; and cyber and physical threats.  The QER will provide rigorous analysis in a focused, actionable document for policymakers across all sectors.

The development of the QER will include broad outreach, including to the private sector; state, local and tribal governments; labor and other non-governmental organizations; and the academic community.  The QER will be conducted by an interagency task force that is co-chaired by the leaders of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy, and includes representation from all relevant executive departments and agencies.  The Department of Energy will play a key role in providing analytical support to the QER.

As the Presidential Memorandum outlines, the QER will provide an integrated view of, and recommendations for, Federal energy policy in the context of economic, environmental, occupational, security, and health and safety priorities; review the adequacy of existing executive and legislative activities and recommend additional executive and legislative actions as appropriate; assess and recommend priorities for research, development, and demonstration programs to support key goals; and identify analytical tools and data needed to support further policy development and implementation.

Since President Obama took office, domestic oil production has increased more than 50 percent and natural gas production is now the highest it has ever been. Today, America is not just leading the world in energy production but it is also leading the world in energy innovation: Investments in research, development, and deployment have more than doubled the renewable electricity that we generate from wind and solar, even as the prices of those technologies continue to drop, and advances in energy efficiency are making our energy system cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable.  All this change tests an aging infrastructure that must keep pace both with the transformations in energy supply, climate change and security.  In this context, the QER will help U.S. policymakers across all sectors make decisions based on unbiased data and rigorous analysis.

READOUT: PRESIDENT OBAMA'S MEETING WITH CONGRESSIONAL MEMBERS

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
Readout of the President's Meeting with Members of Congress

Today President Obama met with Members of Congress to discuss the Administration’s ongoing review of signals intelligence programs, including our study of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies report. In August, the President committed his Administration to working with Congress to pursue reforms to our nation’s surveillance programs and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This meeting was an opportunity for the President to hear from the Members about the work they have been doing on these issues since they last met and solicit their input as we near the end of our internal review. The President thanked the Members for their ongoing work on these challenging issues.

The following Members of Congress attended:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Chairman, Select Committee on Intelligence

Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, Vice Chairman, Select Committee on Intelligence

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Chairman, Judiciary Committee

Senator Chuck Grassley, R-IA, Ranking Member, Judiciary Committee

Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL, Assistant Majority Leader and Chairman, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense

Senator Thad Cochran, R-MS, Ranking Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT

Senator Mark Udall, D-CO

Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR

Representative Mike Rogers, R-MI, Chairman, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Representative Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, Chairman, Judiciary Committee

Representative John Conyers, D-MI, Ranking Member, Judiciary Committee

Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, Chairman, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense

Representative Peter Visclosky, D-IN, Ranking Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense

Representative Adam Schiff, D-CA

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, R-WI

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE HAGEL VISITS NEW MEXICO NUCLEAR FACILITIES

FROM:  DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
Hagel Visits Troops, Defense Nuclear Facilities in New Mexico
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Jan. 9, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was impressed with what he saw here yesterday at an Air Force base on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, where two facilities represent a large and historic part of the nation’s nuclear weapons expertise.

The secretary spent the morning in San Antonio, visiting troops, wounded warriors and their families, and hospital workers and staff at Brooke Army Medical Center and its Center for the Intrepid. He then traveled here for briefings at Kirtland Air Force Base and the Air Force Materiel Command's Nuclear Weapons Center, whose responsibilities include nuclear system programs acquisition, modernization and sustainment for the Defense and Energy departments.
Also on the nearly 52,000-acre base is the main facility of Sandia National Laboratories, where scientists and engineers develop, engineer and test non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons. An initial version of the lab was established in 1945 in the early days of the Manhattan Project, a research and development program that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II.
During his visit to Sandia and Kirtland, Hagel met with experts and discussed microsystems and engineering science applications, proliferation assessment, the advanced hypersonic weapon concept, and other topics.

Afterward, while briefing reporters who are traveling with him, Hagel said he wanted especially to visit Sandia “because modernization, research and development, [and] that technical edge that we have been able to maintain, is critically important … in the world we’re in today.”

Technology in particular, he added, has increasingly driven complications, combustibility and new dimensions in the global environment.

At the lab, he said, “I was impressed not only with the technical capability but with the people.”

Because of the critical skills required in any institution, but particularly in the area of nuclear weapons, nuclear modernization and research and development, Hagel said, the United States must continue to be able to recruit and keep cutting-edge minds worldwide on its team.

The secretary said he also was impressed with the people he met at Sandia and Kirtland, including “what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and the commitment they have made to this country and [its] future.” They understand the privilege of helping to make a better world, he added.

Today, Hagel will travel to Cheyenne, Wyo., to visit the Missile Alert Facility and Launch Control Center, where he will receive briefings and have lunch with missile combat crewmembers and security forces.

Afterward, Hagel will move to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, where the 90th Missile Wing, activated in 1963, operates 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. At the base, he will hold a troop event for up to 200 service members.

“I think it’s very important that all of us who have some responsibility for the national security of this country pay attention to every aspect of that responsibility,” Hagel said, “and certainly the nuclear component of our defense capabilities -- the deterrence capabilities that nuclear gives us.”
The secretary said he firmly believes that nuclear deterrence probably is the reason there has been no World War III. “We've had wars, but not on the scale of what we saw in the first half of the 20th century,” he said.

Hagel said another reason he visited Sandia and Kirtland yesterday and will travel to Cheyenne today “is that the American people have to be assured of the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear component of our national security.”
In a fact sheet released a year ago, the State Department said the U.S. government is committed to modernizing the nuclear weapons infrastructure to support a safe, secure and effective nuclear weapons stockpile in the absence of nuclear explosive testing. In accordance with the Nuclear Posture Review, the State Department fact sheet said, the National Nuclear Security Administration identified a path forward.

The modernization focuses on recapitalizing and refurbishing existing infrastructure for plutonium, uranium, tritium, high-explosive production, non-nuclear component production, high-fidelity testing and waste disposition. It also will preserve and enhance essential science and technology tools for assessing and certifying weapons without nuclear explosive testing.

“These investments in science, technology, engineering, manufacturing and information technology infrastructure will sustain the capabilities that underpin the stockpile and other national security missions,” the document said.
During his visit here, Hagel acknowledged the high cost of modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure, but noted the importance of nuclear weapons continuing to stay secure and safe. In a December report, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that between 2014 and 2023, the costs of the administration’s plans for nuclear forces will total $355 billion.

“This country has always been willing to make that investment,” Hagel said, “and I think we will continue to make it.”

The secretary said he believes Congress will be a strong partner in this effort. “I’m often asked many questions by members of Congress of both parties and both houses about nuclear modernization and about our investment and our commitment, so I look forward to that continued conversation,” he said. “We’ll get into the specifics of that when I present our [defense] budget, probably within the next two months.”