Archive for January, 2012

New From the GAO

January 31, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Homeland Defense: Continued Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Sovereignty Alert Operations.  GAO-12-311, January 31.
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2. Department of Energy: Additional Opportunities Exist to Streamline Support Functions at NNSA and Office of Science Sites.  GAO-12-255, January 31.
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3. Antibiotics: FDA Needs to Do More to Ensure that Drug Labels Contain Up-to-Date Information.  GAO-12-218, January 31.
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CRS — Federal Aid to Roads and Highways Since the 18th Century: A Legislative History

January 31, 2012 Comments off

Federal Aid to Roads and Highways Since the 18th Century: A Legislative History (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The federal government has provided aid for roads and highways since the establishment of the United States in 1789. This report comprises a brief history of such aid, detailing some precedent setters and more recent funding through the Highway Trust Fund, which was created in 1956.

CRS — “Who is a Veteran?” — Basic Eligibility for Veterans’ Benefits

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“Who is a Veteran?” — Basic Eligibility for Veterans’ Benefits (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

A broad range of benefits are offered to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and to certain members of their families by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Among these benefits are various types of financial assistance, including monthly cash payments to disabled veterans, health care, education, and housing benefits. Basic criteria must be met to be eligible to receive any of the benefits administered by the VA.

For a former servicemember to receive certain VA benefits, the person must have active U.S. military service for a minimum period of time and meet nature of discharge requirements. Some members of the National Guard and reserve components have difficulty meeting the active duty and length of service requirements. However, a member of the National Guard or reserve components who is activated for federal military service and serves the full period of activation is considered a veteran for purposes of VA benefits.

The GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-202) recognized the service of one group of civilians, the Women’s Air Forces Service Pilots, as active service for benefits administered by the VA, and it also established that the Secretary of Defense could determine that service for the Armed Forces by a group of civilians, or contractors, be considered active service for benefits administered by the VA.

This report examines the basic eligibility criteria for VA administered veterans’ benefits, including the issue of eligibility of members of the National Guard and reserve components.

CRS — Legal Issues Associated with the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline

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Legal Issues Associated with the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In 2008, TransCanada Corp. applied for a presidential permit from the State Department to construct and operate an oil pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border in a project known as Keystone XL. The Keystone XL pipeline would transport oil produced from oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries. The permit application was subjected to review by the State Department pursuant to executive branch authority over cross-border pipeline facilities as articulated in Executive Order 13337.

After several phases of review, on November 10, 2011, the State Department announced that it would seek additional information about alternative pipeline routes before it could move forward with a national interest determination. In response, several pieces of legislation were introduced, including Title V of the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011. Title V dictated that President must grant the Keystone XL pipeline permit within 60 days of the law’s enactment, unless the President determined that the pipeline is not in the national interest. If the President did not make a national interest determination and took no action to grant the permit, then the law provided that the permit “shall be in effect by operation of law.” The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-78), including Title V addressing the Keystone XL permit, was enacted on December 23, 2011.

Pursuant to the requirements of Title V, on January 18, 2012, the State Department recommended that “the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest.” The same day, the President stated his determination that the Keystone XL pipeline project “would not serve the national interest.”

New legislative activity with respect to the permitting of border-crossing facilities, a subject previously handled exclusively by the executive branch, has triggered inquiries as to whether this raises constitutional issues related to the jurisdiction of the two branches over such facilities. Additionally, as states have begun to contemplate taking action with respect to the pipeline siting, some have questioned whether state siting of a pipeline is preempted by federal law. Others argue that states dictating the route of the pipeline violates the dormant Commerce Clause of the Constitution which, among other things, prohibits one state from acting to protect its own interests to the detriment of other states.

This report reviews those legal issues. First, it suggests that legislation related to cross-border facility permitting is unlikely to raise significant constitutional questions, despite the fact that such permits have traditionally been handled by the executive branch alone pursuant to its constitutional “foreign affairs” authority. Next, it observes generally that state oversight of pipeline siting decisions does not appear to violate existing federal law or the Constitution. Finally, the report suggests that State Department’s implementation of the existing authority to issue presidential permits appears to allow for judicial review of its National Environmental Policy Act determinations.

A companion report from CRS focusing on policy issues associated with the proposal, CRS Report R41668, Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Key Issues, by Paul W. Parfomak et al., is also available.

CRS — Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications

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Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Presidential signing statements are official pronouncements issued by the President contemporaneously to the signing of a bill into law that, in addition to commenting on the law generally, have been used to forward the President’s interpretation of the statutory language; to assert constitutional objections to the provisions contained therein; and, concordantly, to announce that the provisions of the law will be administered in a manner that comports with the administration’s conception of the President’s constitutional prerogatives. While the history of presidential issuance of signing statements dates to the early 19th century, the practice has become the source of significant controversy in the modern era as Presidents have increasingly employed the statements to assert constitutional and legal objections to congressional enactments. President Reagan initiated this practice in earnest, transforming the signing statement into a mechanism for the assertion of presidential authority and intent.

President Reagan issued 250 signing statements, 86 of which (34%) contained provisions objecting to one or more of the statutory provisions signed into law. President George H. W. Bush continued this practice, issuing 228 signing statements, 107 of which (47%) raised objections. President Clinton’s conception of presidential power proved to be largely consonant with that of the preceding two administrations. In turn, President Clinton made aggressive use of the signing statement, issuing 381 statements, 70 of which (18%) raised constitutional or legal objections.

President George W. Bush continued this practice, issuing 161 signing statements, 127 of which (79%) contain some type of challenge or objection. The significant rise in the proportion of constitutional objections made by President George W. Bush was compounded by the fact that his statements were typified by multiple objections, resulting in more than 1,000 challenges to distinct provisions of law. Although President Barack Obama has continued to use presidential signing statements, the Obama Administration has used the interpretive tools with less frequency than previous administrations—issuing 20 signing statements, of which 10 (50%) contain constitutional challenges to an enacted statutory provision.

The number and scope of such assertions in the George W. Bush Administration gave rise to extensive debate over the issuance of signing statements, with the American Bar Association (ABA) publishing a report declaring that these instruments are “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers” when they “claim the authority or state the intention to disregard or decline to enforce all or part of a law … or to interpret such a law in a manner inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress.”

However, in analyzing the constitutional basis for, and legal effect of, presidential signing statements, it becomes apparent that no constitutional or legal deficiencies adhere to the issuance of such statements in and of themselves. Rather, it appears that the appropriate focus of inquiry in this context is on the assertions of presidential authority contained therein, coupled with an examination of substantive executive action taken or forborne with regard to the provisions of law implicated in a presidential signing statement. Applying this analytical rubric, it seems evident that the issues involved center not on the simple issue of signing statements, but rather on the view of presidential authority that governs the substantive actions of the administration in question. This report focuses on the use of signing statements by recent administrations, with particular emphasis on the Administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

CRS — Kim Jong-il’s Death: Implications for North Korea’s Stability and U.S. Policy

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Kim Jong-il’s Death: Implications for North Korea’s Stability and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

North Korea represents one of the United States’ biggest foreign policy challenges due to its production and proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles, the threat of attacks against South Korea, its record of human rights abuses, and the possibility that its internal problems could destabilize Northeast Asia. The North Korean government’s December 19, 2011, announcement of the death of the country’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, has the potential to be a watershed moment in the history of the Korean Peninsula and the region. Ever since the death of his father, the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, in 1994, Kim Jong-il had sat at the apex of a highly centralized, brutal regime. During his tenure, his regime subjected North Korea’s people to profound impoverishment and massive food shortages, developed nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and sold technology related to both programs abroad.

The effect of Kim Jong-il’s death on North Korea’s stability is uncertain. Many experts doubt that his anointed successor, his third son Kim Jong-un, will over the course of time be able to maintain effective control over his country due to his relative inexperience and the mounting internal and external pressures confronting North Korea. Yet, the North Korean regime under the elder Kim proved to be remarkably resilient, and many of the forces that held it together will continue to operate even if the young Kim himself remains weak. A key to the Kim Jong-un regime’s stability will be its ability to continue obtaining and distributing funds, mostly from external sources. Of particular importance will be China’s willingness to provide commercial, financial, and other support for the regime. Over the years, China reportedly has resisted repeated U.S. and South Korean attempts to discuss North Korea contingency plans. It is unclear whether Kim Jong-il’s death will change this situation, though there have been calls to redouble outreach to Beijing. A possible opportunity for high-level dialogue could come in January 2012, when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visits Washington, DC. Xi is widely expected to be chosen as China’s top leader over the coming year.

Very little is known about the inner workings of the North Korean elite, as evidenced by the U.S. and South Korean intelligence services apparent surprise at the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death. Even less is known about Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be in his late 20s and to have attended primary school in Switzerland in the 1990s. Kim Jong-un was being groomed to be the successor since his father’s August 2008 stroke that put a spotlight on the succession question.

In the days after the announcement, U.S. and South Korean officials issued statements that expressed support for the North Korean people, hope that the new leadership will continue recent diplomatic initiatives with Washington and Seoul, and a desire for a smooth transition in Pyongyang. (For the text of these statements as well as a joint message from several Chinese state and communist party organs, see the Appendix. U.S. and South Korean influence over events in North Korea is widely believed to be limited. In the coming weeks, the Obama Administration will be confronted with a decision of whether to persist with two proposed new agreements that reportedly were in the process of being concluded with the Kim Jong-il government in mid- December: a resumption of U.S. food assistance, and in return, a reported agreement by North Korea to shut down key sites of its nuclear program and open them to international monitoring.

CRS — Building Civilian Interagency Capacity for Missions Abroad: Key Proposals and Issues for Congress

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Building Civilian Interagency Capacity for Missions Abroad: Key Proposals and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Within the past two decades, prominent foreign policy organizations and foreign policy experts have perceived serious deficiencies in the authorities, organizations, and personnel used to conduct interagency missions that prevent the United States from exercising its power to full advantage. For the 112th Congress, proposals to address these problems may be of interest for their perceived potential not only to enhance performance, but also to save money by streamlining processes, encouraging interagency cooperation, and reducing duplication. These proposals also provide context for current legislation, including the Interagency Personnel Rotation Act of 2011 (S. 1268 and H.R. 2314), the Global Security Contingency Fund contained in the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, Section 1207, H.R. 1540, as sent by Congress to the President on December 21, 2011), as well as in the House’s FY2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Section 924, H.R. 2583. The FY2012 NDAA, as sent to the President, requires the President to submit to Congress a “whole-of-government” implementation plan (Section 1072, H.R. 1540).

Despite a growing perception during the 1990s that reforms were needed to foster interagency cooperation in missions abroad, it was not until the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, during the presidency of George W. Bush, and subsequent U.S. military interventions that the need became urgent enough to result in significant changes. The earlier first steps of the Clinton Administration toward interagency reform were in short order embraced and then expanded by the Bush Administration, which also implemented reforms of its own. The Barack H. Obama Administration has endorsed these changes and undertaken some of its own.

Three problems with the current interagency cooperation system are most commonly cited. These are: (1) a government-wide lack of strategic planning and interagency operational planning capabilities among civilian agencies; (2) a variety of structural deficiencies in the U.S. government for conducting missions abroad that lead to a tendency for “stove-piping” responses, with each agency operating independently and to civilian agencies’ reluctance to divert scarce resources, including personnel, from their core missions to interagency missions; and (3) personnel who are not trained for interagency missions and often unfamiliar with the missions, capabilities, and cultures of other agencies.

This report draws on over three dozen studies with recommendations to improve the current national security system. The studies surveyed include three prepared by the Project on National Security Reform, with comprehensive recommendations, four prepared or co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and two by RAND in conjunction with the American Academy of Diplomats, as well as reports by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Defense Science Board, the National Defense University, and others. This report draws from these studies, as well as a few articles, for recommendations to improve strategy-making, planning, and budgeting; to improve institutional authorities, structures and arrangements; and, to create interagency personnel policies and mechanisms.

As the breadth and variety of the recommendations indicate, there is no consensus on how to fix the perceived problems. Nor is there agreement among policymakers on a number of overarching questions: whether interagency reform is necessary for missions abroad, which proposals are considered highest priority, whether reforms would save money, and whether reform of Congressional organization or procedures must accompany other national security reform measures.

2011 Financial Report of the United States Government

January 31, 2012 Comments off

2011 Financial Report of the United States GovernmentSource: U.S. Department of the Treasury (Financial Management Service0
From A Citizen’s Guide (PDF)

The Citizen’s Guide to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 Financial Report of the U.S. Government presents the Nation’s financial position and condition of the U.S. Government and discusses key financial topics, including continuing economic recovery efforts and fiscal sustainability. This Guide and the full Report are produced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in cooperation with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

During FY 2011, nearly equivalent increases in Federal tax receipts and outlays resulted in a cash-based U.S. budget deficit that remained essentially flat at $1.3 trillion. The Government’s net cost decreased from $4.3 trillion to $3.7 trillion due in large part to decreased estimated costs for federal employee and veteran benefits as well as a decline in projected costs for the Government’s economic recovery programs and a slight revenue increase from $2.2 trillion to $2.4 trillion. The net cost of $3.7 trillion and revenue of $2.4 trillion yield a “bottom line” net operating cost figure for the Federal Government of $1.3 trillion, a $768 billion or 37 percent decrease from $2.1 trillion in FY 2010 (see Chart 1).

CRS — The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012: Detainee Matters

January 31, 2012 Comments off

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012: Detainee Matters (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012 (2012 NDAA, P.L. 112-81) contains a subtitle addressing issues related to detainees at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and more broadly, the disposition of persons captured in the course of hostilities against Al Qaeda and associated forces. Much of the debate surrounding passage of the act centered on what appears to be an effort to confirm or, as some observers view it, expand the detention authority that Congress implicitly granted the President via the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF, P.L. 107-40) in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The 2012 NDAA, as enacted, largely adopts the detention provisions from the Senate bill, S. 1867, with several modified provisions from the House bill, H.R. 1540, along with a few modifications inserted at conference in an effort to avoid a presidential veto. It authorizes the detention of certain categories of persons and requires the military detention of a subset of them (subject to waiver by the President); regulates status determinations for persons held pursuant to the AUMF, regardless of location; regulates periodic review proceedings concerning the continued detention of Guantanamo detainees; and continues current funding restrictions that relate to Guantanamo detainee transfers to foreign countries. The act continues to bar military funds from being used to transfer detainees from Guantanamo into the United States for trial or other purposes, although it does not directly bar criminal trials for terrorism suspects (similar transfer restrictions are found in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-55) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-74)).

During floor debate on S. 1867, significant attention centered on the extent to which the bill and existing law permit the military detention of U.S. citizens believed to be enemy belligerents, especially if arrested within the United States. A single amendment was made to the detainee provisions (ultimately included in the final version of the act) to clarify that the bill’s affirmation of detention authority under the AUMF is not intended to affect any existing authorities relating to the detention of U.S. citizens or lawful resident aliens, or any other persons captured or arrested in the United States. When signing the FY2012 into law, President Obama stated that he would “not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”

While Congress deliberated over the competing House and Senate bills, the White House expressed strong criticism of both bills’ detainee provisions, and threatened to veto any legislation “that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the Nation.” A few modifications were made during conference to assuage some of the Administration’s concerns. Notably, the conferees added a statement to confirm that the provision mandating the military detention of certain categories of persons does not affect existing authorities of domestic law enforcement agencies, even with respect to persons held in military custody. President Obama ultimately lifted the veto threat and signed the 2012 NDAA into law, though he issued a statement criticizing many of the bill’s detainee provisions. He declared that his Administration would implement the mandatory military detention provision so as to preserve a maximum degree of flexibility, and that it would not “adhere to a rigid across-the-board requirement for military detention.” He also criticized the restrictions placed on Guantanamo detainee transfers, arguing that some applications might violate constitutional separation of powers principles.

This report offers a brief background of the salient issues raised by the detainee provisions of the FY2012 NDAA and provides a section-by-section analysis.

CRS — Circular A-76 and the Moratorium on DOD Competitions: Background and Issues for Congress

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Circular A-76 and the Moratorium on DOD Competitions: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report discusses the current moratorium on the conduct of Department of Defense (DOD) public-private competitions under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-76 and issues for Congress.
There is a long-standing public debate over the conduct of A-76 competitions. The policy of the government relying on the private sector for the performance of commercial services was first initiated by the Bureau of the Budget during the Eisenhower Administration. OMB Circular A- 76, first issued in 1966, defines federal policy for determining whether recurring commercial activities should be performed by the private sector or federal employees. The Circular has been revised several times; the latest revision was released in 2003.

Public debate over A-76 policy ignited in February 2007 as a result of a series of articles in the Washington Post on the conditions at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. The articles led to several investigations, resignations of some senior Army officials, congressional hearings, and legislation passed by Congress to prohibit the conduct of A- 76 competitions at military medical facilities. Congress passed legislation in Public Law (P.L.) 110-181, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 to suspend DOD public-private competitions under OMB Circular A-76. Congress also passed legislation in P.L. 111-8, the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY2009, to halt the beginning of any new A-76 competitions throughout the rest of the federal government. The government-wide moratorium has continued to the present. Section 733 of H.R. 2434, the proposed Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for FY2012, would prohibit funds from being used to begin or announce a study or public-private competition regarding the conversion to contractor performance of any function performed by Federal employees pursuant to Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 or any other administrative regulation, directive, or policy.

Congress has directed the completion of several reports before the moratorium can be lifted. The congressionally-required reports are the “Section 325” report which DOD was required to submit to Congress within 30 days of the enactment of the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act, the DOD Inspector General’s report on issues involving DOD’s conduct of A-76 competitions, and two Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports: one on DOD’s conduct of public- private competitions, and the other on DOD’s inventory of service contracts. All of these reports have been completed except the GAO assessment on the inventory of service contracts.

Some policymakers advocate an end to the moratorium on the conduct of DOD A-76 competitions. Questions about the moratorium are largely centered around to what extent the problems identified with Circular A-76 have been corrected, and whether the congressionally required reports have been completed and the issues resolved to the satisfaction of Congress.

CRS — Horn of Africa Region: The Humanitarian Crisis and International Response

January 31, 2012 Comments off

Horn of Africa Region: The Humanitarian Crisis and International Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

As a result of the worst drought in 60 years, regional conflicts, and conflict within states, a humanitarian emergency of massive proportion has unfolded over the past year in the Horn of Africa region. Current estimates suggest that more than 13.3 million people are currently affected, 250,000 of whom need food assistance in the near term to avoid death. Somalia has been hardest hit so far, creating population displacement within its borders and a refugee crisis of nearly 1 million people in the region, primarily in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The international community continues to respond with a massive humanitarian operation that reached full strength in mid 2011. Although food security has begun to improve, the situation remains very fragile, particularly in southern Somalia, where conditions are considered among the worst in the world. Humanitarian needs are expected to demand sustained attention well into 2012. While life-saving assistance is the current priority, long-term responses may be needed to break the disaster cycle in the Horn. Though triggered by drought, the humanitarian emergency is complicated by political and security pressures within, between, and among the various countries in the region. The recent deterioration of security conditions along the Kenya-Somali border, security incidents within the Dadaab refugee camp complex in northeast Kenya, and increasing restrictions by Al Shabaab, an Islamist insurgency led by an Al Qaeda affiliate, on humanitarian access in Somalia all have had an impact on the relief effort.

This report provides an overview of the current status of the crisis, summary background on the region, a framework for the international and humanitarian response, and an analysis of some of the operational challenges.

The role of the 112th Congress, which has so far focused on the crisis in hearings, legislation, and congressional correspondence with the Administration, is also examined, particularly with regard to funding questions, including:

  • budget priorities on global humanitarian accounts and food aid;
  • diversion of food aid;
  • donor restrictions on aid; and
  • burdensharing and donor fatigue.

It is anticipated Congress will continue to follow and respond to events as they unfold in the Horn.

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

January 31, 2012 Comments off

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

Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2006, as amended and regularly extended, provides the Secretary of Defense with authority to train and equip foreign military forces for two specified purposes—counterterrorism and stability operations—and foreign maritime security forces for counterterrorism operations. The Department of Defense (DOD) values this authority as an important tool to train and equip military partners. Funds may be obligated only with the concurrence of the Secretary of State. Thus far, the Department of Defense (DOD) has used Section 1206 authority primarily to provide counterterrorism (CT) support. In FY2010 and FY2011, Section 1206 funds were also used to provide significant assistance to train and equip foreign military forces for military and stability operations in which U.S. forces participate. This authority will expire in FY2013.

Section 1206 allocations or notifications for FY2006-FY2011totaled $1.574 billion. (FY2012 plans are still under consideration.) During this period, Section 1206 supported bilateral programs in 40 countries, 16 multilateral programs, and a global human rights program.

FY2011 funding totaled $247.5 million, significantly below the $350 million cap on Section 1206 funding. The largest amount, totaling $44.8 million or some 18% of the funding, was provided to Uganda and Burundi to improve the tactical effectiveness of their military forces (the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force and the Burundian National Defense Forces) engaged in counterterrorism operations in Somalia. Over $20 million was provided to each Mauritania (for 1 fixed-wing aircraft and the modernization of others) and Georgia (to support Georgian deployments to Afghanistan under the International Security Assistance Force.) By region, FY2012 funding was as follows: Africa $113.9 million; Greater Europe, $88.7 million, Middle East and South/Southwestern Asia, $19.2 million.

Some Members have been concerned with several issues related to Section 1206 authority, both narrow and broad. Specific current concerns include whether Section 1206 funds are being used appropriately and effectively, and whether the authority should be expanded to provide training not only military forces but also to a wide range of foreign security forces. (Currently, Section 1206 limits security force training to maritime security forces.) An overarching issue is whether Congress should place Section 1206 train and equip (T&E) authority under the State Department with other T&E authorities. (Members have thus far refrained from codifying Section 1206 in permanent law, as requested by DOD.) Finally, some Members may wish to examine the status of Section 1206 in the context of broader security assistance reform.

Pets for Life–A New Community Understanding

January 30, 2012 Comments off

Pets for Life–A New Community Understanding
Source: Humane Society of the United States

The HSUS’s new report, “Pets for Life–A New Community Understanding,” shows that increasing access and removing cost barriers to animal care and veterinary services for pet owners in underserved areas will improve community animal health and reduce shelter overpopulation.

The report uses data gathered from events organized by The HSUS Pets for Life team and local partners to provide free and low-cost pet wellness and spay/neuter services for people in underserved communities.

Key findings

  • More than half—53 percent—of the owners of unaltered pets surveyed had never seen a veterinarian before. There is a growing gap between underserved pet owners and veterinary service providers and this has severe consequences for companion animal overpopulation and overall health.
  • The vast majority, 87 percent, of attendees at Pets for Life events had never contacted their local animal control or animal shelter organization for any reason. It is critical for leaders in the animal welfare field to recognize the unmet needs in their communities and the impact on companion animal health and overpopulation.
  • Meeting people in the neighborhoods where they live, and marketing services strategically using canvassing and community organizing techniques, is much more effective than traditional advertising in reaching owners of unaltered pets in underserved communities. Adequate follow-up is critical to build relationships and ensure that animal veterinary needs are met.

+ Full Report (PDF)
+ Pets for Life

CBO — Comparing the Compensation of Federal and Private-Sector Employees

January 30, 2012 Comments off

Comparing the Compensation of Federal and Private-Sector Employees
Source: Congressional Budget Office

Employees of the federal government and the private sector differ in ways that can affect compensation. Federal workers tend to be older, more educated, and more concentrated in professional occupations than private-sector workers.

CBO’s study compares federal civilian employees and private-sector employees with certain similar observable characteristics (described below). Even among workers with similar observable characteristics, however, employees of the federal government and the private sector may differ in other attributes, such as motivation or effort, that are not easy to measure but that can matter a great deal for individuals’ compensation. This analysis focuses on wages, benefits, and total compensation between 2005 and 2010.

+ Full Report (PDF)

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans

January 30, 2012 Comments off

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans
Source: White House

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values. As an important part of keeping the American promise alive, the President called for a comprehensive approach to tackling rising college costs. In today’s global economy, a college education is no longer just a privilege for some, but rather a prerequisite for all. To reach a national goal of leading the world with the highest share of college graduates by 2020, we must make college more affordable.

President Obama has emphasized the responsibility shared by the federal government, states, colleges, and universities to promote access and affordability in higher education, by reining in college costs, providing value for American families, and preparing students with a solid education to succeed in their careers. Over the past three years, the Obama Administration has taken historic steps to help students afford college, including reforming our student aid system to become more efficient and reliable and by expanding grant aid and college tax credits.

This year, President Obama is calling on Congress to advance new reforms that will promote shared responsibility to address the college affordability challenge. If these proposals are passed, this will be the first time in history that the federal government has tied federal campus aid to responsible campus tuition policies.

President Obama will begin the third day of his post-State of the Union travels with an event at the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, focusing on the importance of tackling rising college costs to ensure America’s students and workers can obtain the education and training they need so that we have a workforce prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.

Familial Linkage between Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Intellectual Interests

January 30, 2012 Comments off
Source:  PLoS ONE
From personality to neuropsychiatric disorders, individual differences in brain function are known to have a strong heritable component. Here we report that between close relatives, a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders covary strongly with intellectual interests. We surveyed an entire class of high-functioning young adults at an elite university for prospective major, familial incidence of neuropsychiatric disorders, and demographic and attitudinal questions. Students aspiring to technical majors (science/mathematics/engineering) were more likely than other students to report a sibling with an autism spectrum disorder (p = 0.037). Conversely, students interested in the humanities were more likely to report a family member with major depressive disorder (p = 8.8×10−4), bipolar disorder (p = 0.027), or substance abuse problems (p = 1.9×10−6). A combined PREdisposition for Subject MattEr (PRESUME) score based on these disorders was strongly predictive of subject matter interests (p = 9.6×10−8). Our results suggest that shared genetic (and perhaps environmental) factors may both predispose for heritable neuropsychiatric disorders and influence the development of intellectual interests.

Health and Environmental Effects of Nanomaterials Remain Uncertain; Cohesive Research Plan Needed to Help Avoid Potential Risks From Rapidly Evolving Technology

January 30, 2012 Comments off
Source:  National Research Council
Despite extensive investment in nanotechnology and increasing commercialization over the last decade, insufficient understanding remains about the environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanomaterials.  Without a coordinated research plan to help guide efforts to manage and avoid potential risks, the future of safe and sustainable nanotechnology is uncertain, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The report presents a strategic approach for developing research and a scientific infrastructure needed to address potential health and environmental risks of nanomaterials.  Its effective implementation would require sufficient management and budgetary authority to direct research across federal agencies.
Nanoscale engineering manipulates materials at the molecular level to create structures with unique and useful properties — materials that are both very strong and very light, for example.  Many of the products containing nanomaterials on the market now are for skin care and cosmetics, but nanomaterials are also increasingly being used in products ranging from medical therapies to food additives to electronics.  In 2009, developers generated $1 billion from the sale of nanomaterials, and the market for products that rely on these materials is expected to grow to $3 trillion by 2015.
The committee that wrote the report found that over the last seven years there has been considerable effort internationally to identify research needs for the development and safe use of nanotechnology, including those of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which coordinates U.S. federal investments in nanoscale research and development.  However, there has not been sufficient linkage between research and research findings and the creation of strategies to prevent and manage any risks.  For instance, little progress has been made on the effects of ingested nanomaterials on human health and other potential health and environmental effects of complex nanomaterials that are expected to enter the market over the next decade.  Therefore, there is the need for a research strategy that is independent of any one stakeholder group, has human and environmental health as its primary focus, builds on past efforts, and is flexible in anticipating and adjusting to emerging challenges, the committee said.

Full Report

New From the GAO

January 30, 2012 Comments off

Reissued GAO ReportSource: Government Accountability Office

1. Defense Health: Coordinating Authority Needed for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Activities. GAO-12-154, January 25.
Highlights –

GAO is reissuing GAO-12-154, Defense Health: Coordinating Authority Needed for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Activities, to replace $52.5 million to $52.5 billion, on page 4 (Background), line 4, and some references to annual reports on pages 9 and 26 were clarified.

Incoming college students more liberal on hot-button political, social issues, annual survey finds

January 30, 2012 Comments off

Incoming college students more liberal on hot-button political, social issues, annual survey finds

Source:  Higher Education Research Institute (UCLA)
First-year college students’ political and social views shifted in a more liberal direction in 2011, according to the CIRP Freshman Survey, UCLA’s annual survey of the nation’s entering students at four-year colleges and universities. Notable changes were seen in student views on same-sex marriage, affirmative action and access to higher education for undocumented students.
The survey, part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), is administered nationally by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.
An unprecedented 71.3 percent of incoming college students indicated that same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status, compared with 64.9 percent in 2009, a remarkable 6.4 percentage-point increase over a two-year period. While support for same-sex marriage is highest among female students and those who identify as liberal, a significant amount of conservative students (42.8 percent) and an increasing number of male students (64.1 percent in 2011 vs. 56.7 percent in 2009) expressed support for this issue.

Tracking Employment-Based Health Benefits in Changing Times

January 30, 2012 Comments off

Tracking Employment-Based Health Benefits in Changing Times
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Health care in the United States is a complex system consisting of patients, providers, insurers, employers, and governments. Individuals and companies shopping for health coverage face a myriad of choices presenting varying costs and benefits. Since most Americans obtain coverage through an employment-related plan, employers must stay current with laws and regulations and educate their employees about the changing nature of health benefits.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as the principal federal agency charged with reporting labor market activity, disseminates statistical information on the costs to employers for health care benefits. It also reports measures of access, participation, and features for those plans as part of its National Compensation Survey (NCS).

As the BLS continues to produce these measures, it is in a unique position to track changes as provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) are implemented. Changes to BLS measures may be needed as well. For example, the BLS recently published a report on selected medical benefits that presents previously unavailable estimates of certain detailed provisions of employer-provided health plans in private industry.1 Information on these additional provisions, or others, may be needed in the future to administer and track progress of the new law.

Varying approaches to the delivery of health services to the nation have long been subject to national debate, and they have rapidly evolved to incorporate new technologies and services to meet consumer expectations. The rising costs of these services have posed significant challenges to both private and public policy makers, and several strategies to control costs have been implemented over the last few decades. This article looks at some past efforts to change the nation’s health care system, the current landscape, and some issues for the future as the new law is implemented.


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