Archive for May, 2011

CRS — Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program

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Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via IEEE-USA)

In 1982, the Small Business Innovation Development Act (P.L. 97-219) established Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs within the major federal research and development (R&D) agencies designed to increase participation of small innovative companies in federally funded R&D. Government agencies with R&D budgets of $100 million or more are required to set aside a portion of these funds to finance the SBIR activity. Through FY2009, over 112,500 awards have been made totaling more than $26.9 billion.

Reauthorized several times over the years, the SBIR program was scheduled to terminate on September 30, 2008. To date, the program has not been specifically reauthorized, but instead temporarily extended by several bills, including P.L. 110-235, which extended the activity through March 20, 2009. P.L. 111-10 provided an additional extension through July 31, 2009; P.L. 111-43 through September 30, 2009; and P.L. 111-66 through October 31, 2009. P.L. 111-89 once again extended the program through April 30, 2010; P.L. 111-214 through September 30, 2010; and P.L. 111-251 through January 31, 2011. P.L. 112-1 provides an additional extension through May 31, 2011.

Several bills have been introduced in the 112th Congress that would reauthorize and make changes to the SBIR program (and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program) including H.R. 447, H.R. 448 (introduced January 26, 2011), H.R. 449, S. 493 (reported March 9, 2011, from the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship), and H.R. 1425 (introduced April 7, 2011). For further information on SBIR reauthorization activity see CRS Report RS22865, The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program: Reauthorization Efforts, by Wendy H. Schacht.

New From the GAO

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New GAO Reports (PDFs)
Source: Government Accountability Office
31 May 2011

1. Managing Critical Isotopes: Weaknesses in DOE’s Management of Helium-3 Delayed the Federal Response to a Critical Supply Shortage. GAO-11-472, May 12.  Highlights

2. Department of Energy: Progress Made Overseeing the Costs of Contractor Postretirement Benefits, but Additional Actions Could Help Address Challenges. GAO-11-378, April 29.  Highlights

3. Pediatric Research: Products Studied under Two Related Laws, but Improved Tracking Needed by FDA. GAO-11-457, May 31.  Highlights

CRS — U.S. Postal Service Workforce Size and Employment Categories, 1990-2010

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U.S. Postal Service Workforce Size and Employment Categories, 1990-2010 (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Consumer Postal Council)

This report provides data from the past 20 years on the size of the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS’s) workforce, including the number of persons employed by USPS by employment categories and the number of persons employed by USPS under time-limited contracts. It also analyzes the most salient aspects of these employment data.

USPS employed 671,687 persons as of September 30, 2010 (FY2010). USPS’s workforce size has dropped by 171,576 employees (20.3%) in the past 20 years, and USPS had 40,395 (6.0%) fewer employees at the end of FY2010 than it did at the end of FY2009. Since 1990, the career/non-career composition of the USPS’s workforce has also changed. The number of career employees has declined 23.2%, and the number of non-career employees has increased 6.3%.

Facing financial problems, the USPS recently has instituted a hiring freeze, frozen the pay rate of managers, and offered some employees early retirement options. In FY2010, USPS operated with its smallest workforce in at least 20 years.

This report will be updated at the beginning of each new Congress.

Documents in the News — IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans

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IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans (PDF)
Source: World Health Organization (International Agency for Research on Cancer)

Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”

“Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild, “it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting.”

The Working Group considered hundreds of scientific articles; the complete list will be published in the Monograph. It is noteworthy to mention that several recent in‐press scientific articles resulting from the Interphone study were made available to the working group shortly before it was due to convene, reflecting their acceptance for publication at that time, and were included in the evaluation.

A concise report summarizing the main conclusions of the IARC Working Group and the evaluations of the carcinogenic hazard from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including the use of mobile telephones) will be published in The Lancet Oncology in its July 1 issue, and in a few days online.

CRS — Advertising Industry in the Digital Age

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Advertising Industry in the Digital Age (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Word of Mouth Marketing Association)

The U.S. advertising industry is under growing scrutiny from Congress and federal regulators, who are considering tighter oversight in areas ranging from Internet privacy to environmental claims on packaging to marketing aimed at children.

Lawmakers have been active on advertising issues. In the 111th Congress, Members introduced legislation to limit the tax deductibility of advertising for pharmaceutical marketing and circulated proposals to give consumers more ability to block technology that tracks individuals’ activities online so that marketers may tailor advertising accordingly. House and Senate committees held hearings on privacy issues; advertising and marketing directed at children; and the state of the newspaper industry, which is in financial distress as advertising moves to the Internet and away from the print product. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on potentially deceptive advertising practices, including false testimonial advertising, blogging, and other areas. Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation to regulate the volume of commercials on television (P.L. 111-311).

On the regulatory front, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released guidelines calling on bloggers to disclose paid product reviews, and in December 2010 recommended a Do Not Track function to allow consumers to prevent advertising and other firms from collecting data about individuals’ online activities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is examining pharmaceutical marketing in social networks and could propose guidance for online marketing early in 2011. In December 2010, the Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force released a paper on commercial privacy issues.

Much of this activity is in response to the rapid growth of advertising on the Internet. Online ad spending has jumped more than 400% during the past decade, to more than $20 billion. The online market is dominated by a small number of firms, with the top 10 digital ad firms garnering more than 70% of all online ad revenues, a level that has remained relatively constant in recent years. “Search” advertising—where companies sell ads as part of consumer-initiated information queries on web browsers—accounted for nearly half of digital ad revenues in 2009, with Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo getting most of the online search traffic.

The key issue for lawmakers and regulators is how to protect consumers without stifling innovation. Rapid technological change is leading to new forms of advertising and to issues that were unknown only a few years ago, from competition in search advertising to fraudulent marketing over social networks. It is likely that regulators, and Congress, will continue to struggle to keep pace as they consider how to craft a workable system to oversee advertising in the rapidly changing digital world.

CRS — Organized Retail Crime

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Organized Retail Crime (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Business Industry Political Action Committee)

Organized retail crime (ORC) involves the large-scale theft of everyday consumer items and potentially has much broader implications. Organized groups of professional shoplifters, or “boosters,” steal or fraudulently obtain merchandise that is then sold, or “fenced,” to individuals and retailers through a variety of venues. In an increasingly globalized society, more and more transactions take place online rather than face-to-face. As such, in addition to relying on physical resale markets, organized retail thieves have turned to online marketplaces as means to fence their ill-gotten goods.

ORC exposes the United States to costs and harms in the economic, public health, and domestic security arenas. The exact loss from ORC to the retail industry is unknown, but an often-cited estimate of this loss is $15 billion to $30 billion annually. The economic impact, however, extends beyond the manufacturing and retail industry and includes costs incurred by consumers and taxes lost by the states. The theft and resale of stolen consumable or health and beauty products such as infant formula (that may have been repackaged, relabeled, and subjected to altered expiration dates) poses potential safety concerns for individuals purchasing such goods from ORC fences. In addition, some industry experts and policy makers have expressed concern about the possibility that proceeds from ORC may be used to fund terrorist activities.

Current efforts to combat ORC largely come from retailers, online marketplaces, and law enforcement alike. Retailers responding to the 2009 National Retail Security Survey spent an average of 0.37% of their annual sales on loss prevention measures. These loss prevention costs are ultimately born by the consumers in the form of higher prices on goods. Also, online marketplaces report taking various measures to combat the sale of stolen and fraudulently obtained goods on their websites, including educating sellers and consumers, monitoring suspicious activity, and partnering with retailers and law enforcement. Combating retail theft has traditionally been handled by state law enforcement under state criminal laws. Some, however, have begun to question whether state laws—which vary in the quantity of monetary losses that constitute major theft—are adequate to combat ORC.

While many agree that ORC is a national problem, there is debate over the federal government’s role in deterring ORC and sanctioning various actors that may be involved in committing or aiding these crimes. One policy issue facing Congress is whether criminalizing organized retail crime in the U.S. Code would allow for more effective investigation and prosecution of these criminals. Congress may also wish to consider whether regulating resale marketplaces (online markets, in particular), to require such entities to increase information sharing with retailers and law enforcement, would strengthen investigations and prosecutions of ORC as well as decrease the prevalence of retail thieves relying on legitimate online marketplaces to fence stolen goods.

CRS — Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: Past and Present

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Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: Past and Present (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials)

American federalism, which shapes the roles, responsibilities, and interactions among and between the federal government, the states, and local governments, is continuously evolving, adapting to changes in American society and American political institutions. The nature of federalism relationships in surface transportation policy has also evolved over time, with the federal government’s role becoming increasingly influential, especially since the Federal-Aid to Highway Act of 1956 which authorized the interstate highway system. In recent years, state and local government officials, through their public interest groups (especially the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) have lobbied for increased federal assistance for surface transportation grants and increased flexibility in the use of those funds. They contend that they are better able to identify surface transportation needs in their states than federal officials and are capable of administering federal grant funds with relatively minimal federal oversight. They also argue that states have a long history of learning from one another. In their view, providing states flexibility in the use of federal funds results in better surface transportation policy because it enables states to experiment with innovative solutions to surface transportation problems and then share their experiences with other states. Others argue that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that federal funds are used in the most efficient and effective manner possible to promote the national interest in expanding national economic growth and protecting the environment. In their view, providing states increased flexibility in the use of federal funds diminishes the federal government’s ability to ensure that national needs are met. Still others have argued for a fundamental restructuring of federal and state government responsibilities in surface transportation policy, with some responsibilities devolved to states and others remaining with the federal government.

Congressional attention to federalism issues in surface transportation policy tends to increase during reauthorizations of the federal highway and mass transit program. The current highway and mass transit program, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA, P.L. 109-59), after being extended several times, is set to expire on March 4, 2011. Its reauthorization generated considerable legislative activity during the 111th Congress. Issues addressed by Congress include SAFETEA’s funding level and financing, especially proposals addressing the Highway Trust Fund’s fiscal sustainability, state funding guarantees, and congressional earmarks.

This report provides an historical perspective on contemporary federalism issues in surface transportation policy that are likely to be addressed by Congress during the 112th Congress, including possible devolution of programmatic responsibility to states and proposals to change state maintenance-of-effort requirements and state cost matching requirements.

CRS — Insourcing Functions Performed by Federal Contractors: An Overview of the Legal Issues

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Insourcing Functions Performed by Federal Contractors: An Overview of the Legal Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Recent Congresses and the Obama Administration have taken numerous actions to promote “insourcing,” or the use of government personnel to perform functions that contractors previously performed on behalf of federal agencies. Among other things, the 109th through the 111th Congresses enacted several statutes requiring the development of policies and guidelines to ensure that agencies “consider” using government employees to perform functions previously performed by contractors, as well as any new functions. These statutes also require that “special consideration” be given to using government personnel to perform certain functions, including those functions (1) performed by government employees in the recent past, (2) closely associated with the performance of inherently governmental functions, (3) performed pursuant to a contract awarded on a non-competitive basis, or (4) performed poorly by a contractor because of excessive costs or inferior quality. The Obama Administration has similarly promoted insourcing. Among other things, on July 29, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget directed federal agencies to conduct a pilot human capital analysis of one program where the agency has concerns about its reliance on contractors, as a prelude to potentially insourcing functions performed by contractors.

These recent insourcing initiatives raise several legal questions, including whether agencies complied with their own guidelines when insourcing particular functions. Because the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) allows challenges to agency actions that are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law,” contractors may have standing to challenge insourcing determinations that are contrary to guidelines based in statutes, regulations, or policy documents that the agency intended to be binding or has employed in such a manner that they are binding as a practical matter. However, it is presently unclear whether the federal district courts or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims have jurisdiction over such claims. The district courts have reached differing conclusions as to whether a contractor challenging an insourcing determination is an “interested party” within the meaning of the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act (ADRA) of 1996, and whether an insourcing determination is made “in connection with a procurement or proposed procurement” under this act. Assuming that contractors are interested parties and insourcing determinations are made in connection with proposed procurements, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims would have exclusive jurisdiction under ADRA. If not, the district courts would have jurisdiction under the APA.

While the APA would not prohibit insourcing per se, it could constrain whether and how agencies proceed with insourcing in particular circumstances, as could other provisions of law. For example, the terms of certain requirements contracts could potentially require agencies to delay insourcing so as to allow current contracts to expire, or face the prospect of liability for constructive termination for convenience. Similarly, limitations on “direct hires” under civil service law could prevent agencies from hiring, on the spot, the person currently performing a function under a contract, although no provisions of federal law appear to prevent the government from hiring the employees of its contractors. Federal ethics and conflict of interest laws and regulations could also result in certain narrow limitations on the official duties or conduct of former contractor employees in matters in which that employee may have a continuing or current personal financial interest, or which involve a former employer of that individual as a direct party to a governmental transaction or other such matter.

The 112th Congress is considering legislation that could constrain insourcing initiatives by requiring agencies to conduct a public-private competition and determine that provision of goods or services by federal employees provides “best value” prior to insourcing (H.R. 1474, S. 785).

CRS — Universal Service Fund: Background and Options for Reform

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Universal Service Fund: Background and Options for Reform (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education)

The concept that all Americans should be able to afford access to the telecommunications network, commonly called the “universal service concept” can trace its origins back to the 1934 Communications Act. Since then, the preservation and advancement of universal service has been a basic tenet of federal communications policy, and Congress has historically played an active role in helping to preserve and advance universal service goals. The passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-104) not only codified the universal service concept, but also led to the establishment, in 1997, of a federal Universal Service Fund (USF or Fund) to meet the universal service objectives and principles contained in the 1996 act. According to Fund administrators, from 1998 through end of year 2010, $73.7 billion was distributed, or committed, by the USF, with all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all territories receiving some benefit.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required to ensure that there be “specific, predictable and sufficient … mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service.” However, changes in telecommunications technology and the marketplace, while often leading to positive benefits for consumers and providers, have had a negative impact on the health and viability of the USF, as presently designed. These changes have led to a growing imbalance between the entities and revenue stream contributing to the fund and the growth in the entities and programs eligible to receive funding. The desire to expand access to broadband and address what some perceive as a “digital divide” has also placed focus on what role, if any, the USF should take to address this issue. The FCC’s national broadband plan, Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan, calls for a major restructuring of the USF to enable it to take a major role in achieving the goal of nationwide broadband access and adoption. The FCC has initiated a series of proceedings to achieve this goal.

There is a growing consensus among policy makers, including some in Congress, that significant action is needed not only to ensure the viability and stability of the USF, but also to address the numerous issues surrounding its appropriate role in a changing marketplace. How this concept should be defined, how these policies should be funded, who should receive the funding, and how to ensure proper management and oversight of the Fund are among the issues framing the debate.

The current policy debate has focused on five concerns: the scope of the program; who should contribute and what methodology should be used to fund the program; eligibility criteria for benefits; concerns over possible program fraud, waste, and abuse; and the impact of the Antideficiency Act (ADA) on the USF.

It is anticipated that Universal Service Fund reform will continue to be a topic of congressional interest. The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee have included USF reform on their agendas of issues for consideration and oversight. One measure (S. 297) relating to USF has been introduced to date. S. 297 amends Section 254 of the Communications Act of 1934 to provide for a permanent exemption for the USF from the Antideficiency Act.

This report will be updated as events warrant.

CRS — Interagency Collaborative Arrangements and Activities: Types, Rationales, Considerations

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Interagency Collaborative Arrangements and Activities: Types, Rationales, Considerations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Interagency collaboration among federal agencies with overlapping jurisdictions and shared responsibilities is not a new phenomenon. Attempts to foster cooperation among agencies, reduce their number in particular policy areas, or clarify the division of labor among them date to the early days of the republic. Such arrangements are increasing in the contemporary era in number, prominence, and proposals across virtually all policy areas. The reasons for the current upsurge are the growth in government responsibilities, cross-cutting programs, and their complexity; certain crises which showed severe limitations of existing structures; and heightened pressure to reduce the size of federal programs and expenditures.

Recent congressional action reflects these considerations. In 2010, Congress directed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) (P.L. 111-139, 124 Stat. 29) to

conduct routine investigations to identify programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals and activities within Departments and governmentwide and report annually to Congress on the findings, including the cost of such duplication.

GAO identified 34 such programs. The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-352) provides that the Office of Management and Budget’s government-wide priority goals include “outcome-oriented goals covering a limited number of crosscutting policy areas.” Legislative initiatives in the 112th Congress have also advanced across-the-board reviews (e.g., H.R. 155) or recognize shared jurisdictions and responsibilities among agencies. And House Rules for the 112th Congress call on its standing committees to include proposals in their oversight plans to eliminate “programs that are inefficient, duplicative, outdated, or more appropriately administered by State or local governments.” President Barack Obama has taken similar stands regarding overlapping programs—in his 2011 State of the Union Address, subsequent memoranda, and recent budget requests—and the executive has continued ongoing arrangements or added new ones.

The broad concept of interagency collaboration contains at least six types of various activities and arrangements: collaboration (an exchange among relatively equal entities or peers, separate from collaboration’s broad use), coordination, mergers, integration, networks, and partnerships. These categories often overlap with, supplement, or reinforce one another; and several different types may occur in the same organizational structure and endeavor. Complicating matters, the different types are not defined in public laws or executive directives, even though required in some. Because of this and other reasons, the terms have sometimes lacked consistency and precision, have been used interchangeably, or have been applied to more than one category.

Nonetheless, working definitions can be developed for the different types. All of these are surrounded by a number of rationales, intended to enhance collaboration, improve coordination, or clarify responsibilities and jurisdictions among agencies. The underlying objectives and expectations range from reducing policy fragmentation and mitigating competition among agencies, to enhancing efficiency and effectiveness, changing organizational and administrative cultures, and streamlining and improving congressional and executive oversight. Despite these appeals, concerns and questions have arisen over some of the rationales and their underlying assumptions as well as determining the success or failure of interagency efforts. This report— which will be updated as conditions dictate—examines the burgeoning field of interagency collaboration and presents a bibliography at the end, highlighting the broad subject as well as specific areas.

CRS — Small Business: Access to Capital and Job Creation

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Small Business: Access to Capital and Job Creation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Defense Industrial Association)

The SBA administers several programs to support small businesses, including loan guaranty programs to enhance small business access to capital; contracting programs to increase small business opportunities in federal contracting; direct loan programs for businesses, homeowners, and renters to assist their recovery from natural disasters; and small business management and technical assistance training programs to assist business formation and expansion. Congressional interest in these programs has increased in recent years, primarily because assisting small business is viewed as a means to enhance economic growth.

Some, including President Obama, have argued that current economic conditions make it imperative that the SBA be provided additional resources to assist small businesses in acquiring capital necessary to start, continue, or expand operations and create jobs. Others worry about the long-term adverse economic effects of spending programs that increase the federal deficit. They advocate business tax reduction, reform of financial credit market regulation, and federal fiscal restraint as the best means to assist small business economic growth and job creation.

Several laws were enacted during the 111th Congress to enhance small business access to capital. For example, P.L. 111-5, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), provided the SBA an additional $730 million, including funding to temporarily subsidize SBA fees and increase the 7(a) loan guaranty program’s maximum loan guaranty percentage to 90%. P.L. 111-240, the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF) to encourage community banks to provide small business loans, a $1.5 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative to provide funding to participating states with small business capital access programs, numerous changes to the SBA’s loan guaranty and contracting programs, funding to continue the SBA’s fee subsidies and the 7(a) program’s 90% maximum loan guaranty percentage through December 31, 2010, and about $12 billion in tax relief for small businesses. P.L. 111-322, the Continuing Appropriations and Surface Transportation Extensions Act, 2011, authorized the SBA to continue its fee subsidies and the 7(a) program’s 90% maximum loan guaranty percentage through March 4, 2011, or until available funding was exhausted, which occurred on January 3, 2011.

This report addresses a core issue facing Congress during the 112th Congress: what, if any, additional action should the federal government take to enhance small business access to capital? After briefly discussing the role of small business in job creation and retention, this report provides an assessment of the supply and demand for small business loans. It also examines selected laws enacted during the 110th and 111th Congresses that were designed to enhance small business access to capital by increasing the supply of small business loans and/or the demand for small business loans. This report also includes empirical evidence concerning small business lending and borrowing, including the number and amount of small business loans guaranteed by the SBA.

CRS — Pakistan-U.S. Relations: A Summary

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Pakistan-U.S. Relations: A Summary (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report summarizes important recent developments in Pakistan and in Pakistan-U.S. relations. These include high-profile political assassinations earlier in 2011, the Raymond Davis affair involving a CIA operative accused of murder in the city of Lahore, and the May killing of Osama bin Laden in the military cantonment city of Abbottabad, among others. Obama Administration engagement with Pakistan has been seriously disrupted by recent events. A brief analysis of the current state of Pakistan-U.S. relations illuminates the main areas of contention and uncertainty. Vital U.S. interests related to links between Pakistan and indigenous American terrorism, Islamist militancy in Pakistan and Islamabad’s policies toward the Afghan insurgency, Pakistan’s relations with historic rival India, nuclear weapons proliferation and security, and the troubled status of Pakistan’s domestic setting are reviewed. Ongoing human rights concerns are briefly summarized, and the report closes with discussion of U.S. foreign assistance to Pakistan.

In the post-9/11 period, assisting in the creation of a more stable, democratic, and prosperous Pakistan actively combating religious militancy has been among the most important U.S. foreign policy efforts. Global and South Asian regional terrorism, and a nearly decade-long effort to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan are viewed as top-tier concerns. Pakistan’s apparently accelerated nuclear weapons program and the long-standing dispute with India over Kashmir continue to threaten regional stability. Pakistan is identified as a base for numerous U.S.- designated terrorist groups and, by some accounts, most of the world’s jihadist terrorist plots have some connection to Pakistan-based elements.

While Obama Administration officials and most senior congressional leaders continue to recognize Pakistan as a crucial partner in U.S.-led counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts, long-held doubts about Islamabad’s commitment to core U.S. interests have deepened considerably in recent months. Most independent analysts view the Pakistani military and intelligence services as too willing to distinguish among Islamist extremist groups, maintaining links to some as a means of forwarding Pakistani’s perceived security interests. This results in ongoing apparent tolerance of Afghan insurgent and anti-India militants operating from Pakistani territory. The May 2011 revelation that Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden had enjoyed apparently years-long and relatively comfortable refuge inside Pakistan has led to intensive U.S. government scrutiny of the now deeply troubled bilateral relationship, and has sparked much congressional questioning of the wisdom of existing U.S. foreign assistance programs to a government and nation that may not have the intention and/or capacity to be an effective U.S. partner. Pakistan is among the leading recipients of U.S. aid both in FY2010 and in the post-9/11 period, having been appropriated more than $20 billion in assistance and military reimbursements since 2001. With anti-American sentiments and xenophobic conspiracy theories remaining rife among ordinary Pakistanis, persistent economic travails and a precarious political setting combine to present serious challenges to U.S. decision makers.

This report will be updated periodically. For broader discussion, see CRS Report R41307, Pakistan: Key Current Issues and Developments, by K. Alan Kronstadt.

CRS — Reviewing Workers’ Compensation for Federal Employees (testimony)

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Reviewing Workers’ Compensation for Federal Employees (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections)

Chairman Walberg, Ranking Member Woolsey, and Members of the subcommittee, my name is Scott Szymendera and I am an analyst at the Congressional Research Service. Thank you for inviting me to testify before the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections on workers’ compensation for federal employees.

For nearly 100 years, members of America’s civil service have been protected from economic losses associated with employment-related injuries and illnesses, and their families have been protected in cases of employment-related deaths, by the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, or FECA, a workers’ compensation program administered by the Department of Labor. In my testimony today, I will provide an overview of workers’ compensation in the United States, the original intent of Congress when creating FECA, a legislative history of the FECA program, and a plain-language summary of the features of the FECA program that serves federal employees today.

Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2009–10

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Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2009–10
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

The National Center for Education Statistics collects data on crime and violence in U.S. public schools through the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). This First Look report presents findings from the 2009–10 School Survey on Crime and Safety data collection.

+ Full Report (PDF)

CRS — The Department of Defense’s Use of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background, Analysis, and Options for Congress

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The Department of Defense’s Use of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background, Analysis, and Options for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States relies on contractors to provide a wide variety of services in Afghanistan and Iraq, including armed security. While DOD has previously contracted for security in Bosnia and elsewhere, it appears that in Afghanistan and Iraq DOD is for the first time relying so heavily on armed contractors to provide security during combat or stability operations. Much of the attention given to private security contractors (PSCs) by Congress and the media is a result of numerous high-profile incidents in which security contractors have been accused of shooting civilians, using excessive force, being insensitive to local customs or beliefs, or otherwise behaving inappropriately. Some analysts believe that the use of contractors, particularly private security contractors, may have undermined U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As of March 31, 2011, there were more than 28,000 private security contractor personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq, representing 18% of DOD’s total contractor workforce in those two countries. Since December 2009, the number of PSC personnel in Afghanistan has exceeded the number in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, as of March 2011, there were 18,971 private security contractor personnel working for DOD, the highest number since DOD started tracking the data in September 2007. The number of PSC personnel in Afghanistan has more than tripled since June 2009.

In Iraq, as of March 2011, there were 9,207 private security contractor personnel working for DOD, down from a high of 15,279 in June 2009. As a result of the transition of activities from DOD to the Department of State, State anticipates increasing its reliance on PSCs. However, the overall number of PSC personnel working in Iraq for the United States is not increasing. From June 2009 to March 2011, the number of PSC personnel working for DOD has declined by more than 6,000—more than offsetting the estimated additional 3,000 PSC personnel that the Department of State anticipates having to hire as a result of the transition.

This report examines current PSC trends in Afghanistan and Iraq, steps DOD has taken to improve oversight and management, and the impact using private security personnel can have on military operations. It also reviews steps Congress has taken to exercise oversight over the use of PSCs and includes options for Congress.

CRS — “Hollowing Out” in U.S. Manufacturing: Analysis and Issues for Congress

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“Hollowing Out” in U.S. Manufacturing: Analysis and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Congressman J Randy Forbes R-VA)

The health of the U.S. manufacturing sector has been a long-standing concern of Congress. Although Congress has established a wide variety of tax preferences, direct subsidies, import restraints, and other federal programs with the goal of retaining or recapturing manufacturing jobs, only a small proportion of U.S. workers is now employed in factories. Meanwhile, U.S. factories have stepped up production of goods that require high technological sophistication but relatively little direct labor. Labor productivity in manufacturing, as measured by government data, has grown rapidly, suggesting that the manufacturing sector as a whole remains healthy.

Recent data, however, challenge the belief that the manufacturing sector, taken as a whole, will continue to flourish. Unlike previous expansions, the two most recent cyclical upturns in the U.S. economy have not generated jobs in manufacturing. Moreover, statistics suggest that domestic value represents a diminishing share of the value of U.S. factory output. One interpretation of these data is that manufacturing is “hollowing out” as companies undertake a larger proportion of their high-value work abroad. These developments raise the question of whether the United States will continue to generate highly skilled, high-wage jobs related to advanced manufacturing.

The evidence concerning “hollowing out” is ambiguous, as conceptual issues and statistical deficiencies make it difficult to determine whether the recent decline in manufacturing value added, relative to shipments, is a short-term phenomenon or a long-term trend. Despite improvements in recent years, U.S. statistical agencies still tend to treat manufacturing and services as unrelated economic activities, and it is not clear that existing data series on domestic economic activity, trade, and freight transportation adequately capture changes in the nature of manufacturing, the sources of employment, and the creation of value.

Nonetheless, evidence suggests strongly that physical production activities account for a diminishing share of the final value of manufactured products, with service-related inputs such as research, product design, and marketing becoming more important. Further, the production of many goods is dispersed across multiple locations along global supply chains, making it difficult to determine where value is added. Such shifts pose a challenge to efforts to capture economic value by promoting goods production in the United States.

In the context of national security, the fact that U.S. manufacturers of vital products are critically dependent upon inputs from abroad is frequently a subject of concern. International comparisons indicate that the United States is in no way unique in its dependence on foreign inputs to manufacturing. Although the output of U.S. factories contains a large proportion of foreign value added, many other countries appear to be even more dependent upon foreign value added than is the United States, at least with respect to goods traded in international markets.

CRS — Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis

May 31, 2011 Comments off

Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The critical role contractors play in supporting military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq necessitates that the Department of Defense (DOD) effectively manage contractors during contingency operations. Lack of sufficient contract management can delay or even prevent troops from receiving needed support and can also result in wasteful spending. Some analysts believe that poor contract management has played a role in permitting abuses and crimes committed by certain contractors against local nationals, which may have undermined U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

DOD relies extensively upon contractors to support overseas contingency operations. As of March 2011, DOD had more contractor personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq (155,000) than uniformed personnel (145,000). Contractors made up 52% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since December 2009, the number of DOD contractors in Afghanistan has exceeded the number in Iraq.
According to DOD, in Afghanistan, as of March 2011, there were 90,339 DOD contractor personnel, compared to approximately 99,800 uniformed personnel. Contractors made up 48% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan at that time. This compares to December 2008, when contractors represented 69% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan. According to DOD data, the recent surge of uniformed personnel in Afghanistan and the increase in contract obligations did not result in a corresponding increase in contractor personnel.

DOD obligated approximately $11.8 billion on contracts performed primarily in the Afghanistan theater of operations (including surrounding countries) in FY2010, representing 15% of total DOD obligations for the area. From FY2005-FY2010, DOD obligated approximately $33.9 billion on contracts for the Afghanistan theater, representing 16% of total DOD obligations for the area.

According to DOD, in Iraq, as of March 2011, there were 64,253 DOD contractor personnel in Iraq compared to 45,660 uniformed personnel in-country. Contractors made up 58% of DOD’s workforce in Iraq. Contractor and troop levels have decreased every quarter for the last nine quarters. DOD obligated approximately $15.4 billion on contracts in the Iraq theater in FY2010, representing 20% of total DOD obligations for the area. From FY2005-FY2010, DOD obligated approximately $112.1 billion on contracts for the Iraq theater of operations, representing 19% of total DOD obligations for the area.

A number of analysts have questioned the reliability of DOD’s contractor data. DOD officials have acknowledged data shortcomings and have stated that they are working to improve the reliability and the type of data gathered. DOD is implementing a database to track and monitor contractor personnel during a contingency operation. DOD has also taken a number of steps to try to improve how it manages contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq, including efforts to centralize contracting support and management; implement regulatory and policy changes, train uniformed personnel on how to manage contractors; and increase the size of the acquisition workforce in theater. A number of these initiatives have been reflected in or were the result of legislation.

This report provides a detailed analysis of contractor personnel trends and contracting dollars obligated in U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Afghanistan, and Iraq.

CRS — House and Senate Chaplains: An Overview

May 31, 2011 Comments off

House and Senate Chaplains: An Overview (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Office of the Chaplain, U.S House of Representatives)

Both the Senate and House of Representatives elect chaplains. The chaplains perform ceremonial, symbolic, and pastoral duties. Pursuant to Senate Rule IV and House Rule II, the Senate and House chaplains open the daily sessions in their respective chambers with a prayer. In addition to these official duties, they also serve as spiritual counselors to Members, their families, and staff; coordinate religious studies, discussion sessions, and prayer meetings for Members and staff; and may officiate at the weddings and funerals of Members.

At the beginning of each Congress, the House chaplain is elected to a two-year term. The Senate chaplain, like other officers of the Senate, does not have to be reelected at the beginning of a new Congress. The House and Senate elect the chaplains as individuals and not as representatives of any religious body or denominational entity.

The elected chaplains also coordinate the “guest chaplains,” who are invited by Members of the House and Senate to offer an opening prayer. These guest chaplains, who have represented numerous faiths, have been invited for many decades. In 1948, for example, the House welcomed its first female guest chaplain.

CRS — Department of Defense Trends in Overseas Contract Obligations

May 31, 2011 Comments off

Department of Defense Trends in Overseas Contract Obligations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Department of Defense (DOD) has long relied on contractors to support military operations. Contractors provide the U.S. military with weapons, food, uniforms, and logistic services, and without contractor support, the U.S. would currently be unable to arm and field an effective fighting force. DOD spends more on federal contracts than all other federal agencies combined.

Understanding the costs associated with contractor support of overseas military operations could provide Congress more data upon which to weigh the relative costs and benefits of different military operations, including contingency operations and maintaining bases around the world.

The federal government tracks contract obligations through the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. Obligations occur when agencies enter into contracts, employ personnel, or otherwise legally commit to spending money. Outlays occur when obligations are liquidated. This report examines (1) DOD’s overseas contract obligations in the larger context of U.S. government and DOD contract spending, and (2) how those contract obligations are used to support DOD operations in different regions.

Total DOD Contract Obligations
From FY1999 to FY2008, DOD contract obligations increased from $165 billion (in FY2010 dollars) to $414 billion (in FY2010 dollars). Contract obligations also consumed an increasing share of total DOD obligations, increasing from 50% of total obligations in FY2003 to 60% in FY2008. In FY2009 and FY2010, DOD contract obligations decreased. In FY2010, DOD obligated $366 billion to contracts (54% of total DOD obligations).

DOD Contract Obligations Performed Overseas
DOD obligated $45 billion for contracts performed overseas in FY2010. Although much of these funds were to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, a significant portion—$18 billion, or 40%—was spent to support DOD operations in other parts of the world.

DOD contract obligations for work performed overseas went primarily to the region that falls under the jurisdiction of U.S. Central Command (61% of total), which includes the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation. DOD contractors working abroad performed their remaining work in the geographic regions that fall under U.S. European Command (21%), U.S. Pacific Command (7%), U.S. Northern Command (7%), U.S. Southern Command (1%), and U.S. African Command (1%). Combined, Central Command and European Command represent over 80% of all overseas contract obligations and approximately 85% of all U.S. troops deployed overseas.

Comparison of DOD, State, and USAID Overseas Contract Obligations
Some analysts argue that the United States needs to strengthen its use of soft power to achieve foreign policy objectives. Such a whole-of-government approach brings together the resources of, among others, DOD, the Department of State, USAID—and government contractors. Over the past 12 fiscal years, DOD’s share of total federal government obligations for contracts performed abroad has trended down from a high of 90% in FY1999 to 73% in FY2010. Over the same period, combined Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development contract obligations increased from 4% to 11% of all U.S. government overseas obligations.

CRS — Building the Capacity of Partner States Through Security Force Assistance

May 31, 2011 Comments off

Building the Capacity of Partner States Through Security Force Assistance (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Historically, the U.S. military’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) have had primary responsibility for training, advising, and assisting foreign military forces. Today, although this mission has not been completely relegated to conventional forces, the National Security Strategies of the current and previous administrations direct the U.S. military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) to organize, train, and equip themselves to carry out these activities on a larger scale with conventional (non-SOF) forces. This responsibility in its broad sense of building the capacity of partner states has been termed “security force assistance” (SFA).

SFA ties into several interests of Congress, including security assistance, security cooperation, foreign military financing, foreign military sales, foreign affairs, foreign aid, overseas contingency operations, and legislative authorities associated with training foreign forces (Foreign Assistance Act, P.L. 87-195; 22 U.S.C. 2151).

Of significant interest to Congress in the near term is the ability of U.S. military forces to train their counterparts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Obama Administration position, endorsed for the most part by Congress, is that developing competent forces in these countries is pivotal to coalition mission success and to protecting U.S. national interests. SFA is part of the U.S. strategic goal of having Iraq and Afghanistan responsible for their own security. Congress has supported the Department of Defense’s agenda for training Afghani forces; however, some Members are skeptical of the new Iraqi government’s commitment to developing its own security forces.

Each of the military services has undertaken to organize, train, and equip themselves for SFA. However, while SOF have units specifically dedicated to a long-term role in SFA, the conventional forces services do not. Each of the services does have Security Cooperation and Security Assistance organizations that are dedicated to SFA activities, although they do not have SFA in their titles. The services also standardize training for deploying forces to support combatant commanders in their SFA mission. This effort to “train the trainers,” although an object of consistent inquiry in congressional hearings, has been endorsed in testimony by combatant commanders.

Along with its role in the current Afghanistan and Iraq wars, SFA is directly linked to counterterrorism strategy and is key to engaging underdeveloped and undergoverned nations (often referred to as “weak or fragile states”) in a preventive national security strategy. Regional combatant commanders apply this preventive strategy through authorities provided in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The SFA authorizations in the NDAA are often criticized as being disjointed and cumbersome, creating significant challenges to effective SFA employment. The Departments of Defense and State have presented a proposal for pooled funding to alleviate some of these challenges. The proposed Global Security Contingency Fund would be a shared resource requiring authorization by both departments. This would be similar to the temporary authorization known as “1206 global train and equip” authorization.

The training, organizing, and equipping of U.S. forces to conduct SFA competes for scarce fiscal and personnel resources among the services. Some critics of SFA attest that committing to this capability within the services detracts from their ability to conduct traditional combat roles. Others suggest that building the security capacity of weak and failed states is a misguided effort.


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