McALLEN, Texas – A 29-year-old Edinburg resident citizen has been ordered to prison for importing more than $827,000 in heroin, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
Amanda Zaragoza pleaded guilty July 29, 2021.
Today, Judge Micaela Alvarez ordered Zaragoza to serve 65 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. At the hearing, the court heard additional evidence that Zaragoza had been previously involved in successful drug trafficking incidents, had extensive contacts within the drug trafficking organization and significant mental health and substance abuse issues. In handing down the sentence, the court noted that she played a significant part in the movement of controlled substances into the United States from Mexico.
On May 17, 2021, Zaragoza attempted to pass through the port of entry located in Pharr while driving a grey Volkswagen sedan. After she made a negative declaration, a K-9 alerted authorities to narcotics in the tires of the vehicle. Inside, an X-ray inspection revealed a total of 24.49 kilograms of heroin.
The drugs have an estimated street value of $827,259.
Zaragoza will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with the assistance of Customs and Border Protection. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eliza Carmen Rodriguez prosecuted the case.
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August 25, 2021The Global War on Terrorism–principally involving operations in Afghanistan and Iraq–was funded in fiscal year 2003 by Congress’s appropriation of almost $69 billion. To assist Congress in its oversight of spending, GAO is undertaking a series of reviews relating to contingency operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism. In September 2003, GAO issued a report that discussed fiscal year 2003 obligations and funding for the war through June 2003. This report continues the review of fiscal year 2003 by analyzing obligations reported in support of the Global War on Terrorism and reviews whether the amount of funding received by the military services was adequate to cover DOD’s obligations for the war from October 1, 2002, through September 30, 2003. GAO will also review the war’s reported obligations and funding for fiscal year 2004.In fiscal year 2003, DOD reported obligations of over $61 billion in support of the Global War on Terrorism. GAO’s analysis of the obligation data showed that 64 percent of fiscal year 2003 obligations reported for the war on terrorism went for Operation Iraqi Freedom; among the DOD components, the Army had the most obligations (46 percent); and among appropriation accounts the operation and maintenance account had the highest level of reported obligations (71 percent). The adequacy of funding available for the Global War on Terrorism for fiscal year 2003 military personnel and operation and maintenance accounts varied by service. For military personnel, the Army, Navy, and Air Force ended the fiscal year with more reported obligations for the war than funding and had to cover the shortfalls with money appropriated for their budgeted peacetime personnel costs. For operation and maintenance accounts, the Army, Navy, and Air Force appeared to have more funding than reported obligations for the war. However, the Navy and Air Force have stated that the seeming excess funding ($299 million and $176.6 million respectively) were in support of the war on terrorism, but had not been recorded as such. Therefore, Navy and Air Force obligations exactly match funding. The Marine Corps used funds appropriated for its budgeted peacetime operation and maintenance activities to cover shortfalls in funding for the war.
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August 25, 2021The Department of Defense’s (DOD) management of its supply chain network is critical to supporting military forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere and also represents a substantial investment of resources. As a result of weaknesses in DOD’s management of supply inventories and responsiveness to warfighter requirements, supply chain management is on GAO’s list of high-risk federal government programs and operations. In July 2010, DOD issued a new Logistics Strategic Plan that represents the department’s current vision and direction for supply chain management and other logistics areas. Today’s testimony draws from GAO’s prior related work and observations from an ongoing review of DOD supply chain management, and, as requested, will (1) describe DOD’s prior strategic planning efforts in the area of logistics, (2) highlight key elements in the new Logistics Strategic Plan, and (3) discuss opportunities for improvement in future iterations of this plan. In conducting its ongoing audit work, GAO reviewed the Logistics Strategic Plan, compared elements in the plan with effective strategic planning practices, and met with cognizant officials from DOD, the military services, and other DOD components as appropriate.Prior to the publication of its new Logistics Strategic Plan, DOD issued a series of strategic planning documents for logistics over a period of several years. In 2008, DOD released its Logistics Roadmap to provide a more coherent and authoritative framework for logistics improvement efforts, including supply chain management. While the roadmap discussed numerous ongoing initiatives and programs that were organized around goals and joint capabilities, it fell short of providing a comprehensive, integrated strategy for logistics. GAO found, for example, that the roadmap did not identify gaps in logistics capabilities and that DOD had not clearly stated how the roadmap was integrated into DOD’s logistics decision-making processes. GAO’s prior work has shown that strategic planning is the foundation for defining what an agency seeks to accomplish, identifying the strategies it will use to achieve desired results, and then determining how well it succeeds in reaching results-oriented goals and achieving objectives. DOD said that it would remedy some of the weaknesses GAO identified in the roadmap. The July 2010 Logistics Strategic Plan, which updates the roadmap, is DOD’s most recent effort to provide high-level strategic direction for future logistics improvement efforts, including those in the area of supply chain management. The plan provides unifying themes for improvement efforts, for example, by including a logistics mission statement and vision for the department, and it presents four goals for improvement efforts with supporting success indicators, key initiatives, and general performance measures. One goal focuses specifically on supply chain processes. The plan is aligned to and reiterates high-level departmentwide goals drawn from both the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review and the 2009 Strategic Management Plan for business operations. Key initiatives in the plan appear to focus on issues that GAO has identified as needing management attention. While the Logistics Strategic Plan contains some of the elements necessary for strategic planning, it lacks some detailed information that would benefit decision makers and guide DOD’s logistics and supply chain improvement efforts. The plan lacks specific and clear performance measurement information (such as baseline or trend data for past performance, measurable target-level information, or time frames for the achievement of goals or completion of initiatives), definition of key concepts, identification of problems and capability gaps, and discussion of resources needed to achieve goals. Further, linkages to other plans and some key related activities under way within logistics are unclear, and it is similarly unclear how the plan will be used within the existing governance framework for logistics. Without more specific information in the Logistics Strategic Plan, it will be difficult for DOD to demonstrate progress in addressing supply chain management problems and provide Congress with assurance that the DOD supply chain is fulfilling the department’s goal of providing cost-effective joint logistics support for the warfighter.
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March 4, 2022What GAO Found Among the 12 tribal epidemiology centers (TEC), which are public health entities serving American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities across the U.S., access to epidemiological data varied. Federal law authorizes TECs’ access to data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including data from HHS’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Indian Health Service (IHS), for a variety of public health purposes. However, according to TEC officials, access to non-public HHS data, such as CDC data on positive COVID-19 tests or IHS data on patient diagnosis codes, varied among TECs. TEC officials also described challenges accessing some CDC and IHS data, such as the inability to access certain CDC data on infectious diseases and other conditions. TECs used available epidemiological data to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and to conduct other analyses that support public health decision-making in AI/AN communities. However, TEC officials told GAO that their access to data influences the analyses they are able to conduct, and that a lack of access can limit their ability to provide AI/AN communities with meaningful information needed for decision-making. The presence of CDC and IHS data sharing systems and agreements between the agencies and TECs have facilitated TECs’ access to a range of epidemiological data, including on COVID-19 cases and the health of IHS facility patients. However, a number of factors have also hindered TEC access to HHS data, including A lack of policies affirming TECs’ authority to access HHS data . Officials from seven of 12 TECs indicated that some CDC and IHS officials with whom they interacted when requesting data did not recognize that HHS is required by federal law to provide data in its possession to TECs. According to IHS and CDC officials, as of November 2021, HHS had not clarified the specific data that TECs are entitled to access under federal law. A lack of guidance for TECs on how to request data, and agency procedures on how to respond to such requests . CDC and IHS had not developed guidance for TECs on how to submit data requests or established written agency procedures for reviewing and responding to these requests as of November 2021, according to agency officials. CDC and IHS officials told GAO that they did not believe that guidance or procedures related to TECs’ data access was needed, because TECs’ requests were infrequent and they believed they had successfully responded to their needs. However, officials from six TECs told GAO that the process to request and obtain data was unclear and inconsistent within HHS. In addition, officials from seven TECs reported facing delays receiving CDC or IHS data, with some delays lasting over 1 year. According to TEC officials, these delays or limitations in accessing data made it difficult for them to adequately support tribal and community leaders, as they work to understand and address the health needs of AI/AN in their communities, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Why GAO Did This Study AI/ANs have experienced long-standing problems accessing health care services and worse health outcomes than the general U.S. population, such as a life expectancy that is 5.5 years shorter than the U.S. average, according to IHS. To provide tribes with public health support, Congress required the establishment of TECs and, in 2010, authorized their access to HHS data. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to understand TECs’ access to epidemiological data to help AI/AN communities prevent and control diseases. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing COVID-19 monitoring and oversight efforts. Also, GAO was asked to examine TECs’ access to epidemiological data. This report (1) describes TECs’ access to and use of epidemiological data, and (2) examines factors that have affected TECs’ access to HHS epidemiological data. GAO reviewed HHS policies and documents and documentation of TECs’ data requests. GAO also interviewed officials from CDC, IHS, and all 12 TECs.
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- USDA Market Facilitation Program: Information on Payments for 2019
September 14, 2020The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) distributed about $14.4 billion in 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments to farming operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. According to USDA, these payments were intended to offset the effects of trade disruptions and tariffs targeting a variety of U.S. agricultural products. FSA distributed these payments to 643,965 farming operations. The average MFP payment per farming operation for 2019 was $22,312 but varied by county, ranging from $44 to $295,299. MFP payments for 2019 also varied by type of commodity. Three types of commodities were eligible for 2019 MFP payments: (1) nonspecialty crops (including grains and oilseeds, such as corn and soybeans); (2) specialty crops (including nuts and fruits, such as pecans and cranberries); and (3) dairy and hogs. Most of the 2019 MFP payments went to farming operations that produced nonspecialty crops. Less than 10 percent went to farming operations that produced specialty crops or dairy and hogs. USDA made approximately $519 million in additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 because of increases in payment limits—the cap on payments that members of farming operations can receive. FSA distributed these additional MFP payments to about 10,000 farming operations across 39 states. The amount of additional MFP payments that FSA distributed for 2019 varied by location. Farming operations in five states—Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota—received almost half of all additional payments. In May 2019, USDA announced it would distribute up to $14.5 billion in direct payments to farming operations that were affected by trade disruptions, following the approximately $8.6 billion USDA announced it had distributed for 2018. USDA referred to these 2018 and 2019 payments as the MFP. In comparison with 2018, USDA changed the 2019 payment structure for the three types of commodities that were eligible for payments. For example, USDA increased the payment limit for each of these three types. GAO was asked to review the distribution of MFP payments for 2019. This report examines, among other things, MFP payments for 2019 and how they varied by location, farming operation, and type of commodity, as well as additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 that resulted from increased payment limits. To accomplish these objectives, GAO analyzed data from USDA and interviewed agency officials knowledgeable about the data. For more information, contact Steve Morris at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.
- Missile Defense: Observations on Ground-based Midcourse Defense Acquisition Challenges and Potential Contract Strategy Changes
October 21, 2020The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing a system to defend the U.S. from long-range missile attacks. As MDA continues to develop this system, called Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), it has opportunities to incorporate into its approach lessons learned from over 2 decades of system development. MDA has made progress in developing and fielding elements of the GMD system. For example, MDA is constructing a new missile field to expand the fleet of interceptors. However, MDA has also experienced significant setbacks. Most recently, the Department of Defense canceled development of a key GMD element, the Redesigned Kill Vehicle, in 2019 because of fundamental problems with the system’s design. Ongoing Construction of a New Ground-based Midcourse Defense Interceptor Field (July 16, 2019) Over the years, GAO has identified practices that MDA could apply to the GMD program to improve acquisition outcomes, such as: Using knowledge-based acquisition practices Involving stakeholders early and often Providing effective oversight Promoting competition Performing robust testing GAO has also made numerous recommendations to improve MDA’s acquisition outcomes and reduce risk. As of July 2020, the department has concurred with most of the recommendations GAO made since MDA’s inception in 2002. Although the department has implemented many of the recommendations, it has further opportunities to implement the remaining open recommendations and apply lessons learned on a major, new effort to develop a next-generation GMD interceptor. Since the late 1990s, DOD has executed the GMD program through a prime contractor responsible for developing and integrating the entire weapon system. MDA is considering taking over these responsibilities for GMD for the next phase of the program. GAO found that this approach offers potential benefits to the agency, such as more direct control over and greater insight into GMD’s cost, schedule, and performance. However, the approach has some challenges that, if not addressed, could outweigh the benefits. For example, MDA may encounter challenges obtaining the technical data and staffing levels necessary to manage this complex weapon system, which could ultimately affect its availability or readiness. As of October 2020, MDA has not yet determined an acquisition strategy for the next phase of the GMD program. The GMD system aims to defend the U.S. against ballistic missile attacks from rogue states like North Korea or Iran. DOD has been developing this system since the 1990s and has spent $53 billion on the system so far. GMD is a complex system that includes interceptors and a ground system, and MDA has largely relied on a contractor, Boeing, to manage development and system integration. MDA is considering moving away from this approach as the program embarks on developing a key element of the GMD, a new interceptor. The House Armed Services Committee included a provision in a report for GAO to assess the GMD contract structure and identify potential opportunities to improve government management and contractor accountability. This report addresses (1) the lessons learned from challenges MDA encountered acquiring the GMD system and (2) the potential benefits and risks of MDA taking over system integration responsibilities for GMD. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed GMD program documentation, prior GAO reports on missile defense, GAO interviews with other DOD components, and expert panel reviews of GMD. GAO also spoke with officials from MDA and other DOD components. GAO has 17 open recommendations aimed at improving missile defense acquisition outcomes and reducing risk. Recently, DOD has taken steps to address some of these open recommendations, but further action is needed to fully implement the remaining recommendations. For more information, contact W. William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Election Assistance Commission: Assessment of Lessons Learned Could Improve Grants Administration
November 8, 2021What GAO Found The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)—established to serve as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration, among other responsibilities—shared information on a range of topics to help state and local election officials conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, it shared information on in-person voting, absentee/mail voting, and contingency planning. It also established National Poll Worker Recruitment Day and developed graphics as part of a related public awareness campaign (see fig.). U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) National Poll Worker Recruitment Day Graphic The EAC administered CARES Act grants by obligating funds and overseeing how states spent the funds, in part by reviewing states’ grant reports to check how states spent funds to respond to the pandemic. It also reported information to Congress on how states spent approximately $326 million in grant funds, and to a committee overseeing the response to the pandemic on the specific activities undertaken by states using these funds. The EAC identified and addressed some issues with its administration of CARES Act grants. For example, while administering CARES Act grants, the EAC revised required grant reporting forms to more clearly align with requirements and to address difficulties some states were having with narrative questions on the forms. The EAC and GAO identified other issues with administration of the grants. For example, GAO found issues with how states and the EAC categorized expenditures involving nearly 20 percent of the total reported spending nationwide. As a result, in the EAC’s annual grant expenditure report to Congress, states’ expenditures for similar or the same items or activities could be included under multiple categories, making it difficult to consistently determine, by category, how states spent the grant funds. However, the EAC has not yet assessed its administration of CARES Act grants and documented lessons learned. According to EAC officials, assessing the administration of these grants could identify lessons learned beyond those that officials identified while administering the grants. Additionally, the EAC could document and implement any lessons learned. This could help improve the EAC’s administration of ongoing or future grant programs, particularly in the event of a future emergency. Why GAO Did This Study During the 2020 federal elections, the EAC administered $400 million in grant funds provided by the CARES Act to help states prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report (1) describes information that the EAC provided to state and local election officials for conducting elections during the pandemic, (2) describes how the EAC administered CARES Act grant funding, and (3) examines the extent to which the EAC assessed its CARES Act grants administration. GAO reviewed information on the EAC’s website on conducting elections during the pandemic and interviewed EAC officials regarding processes for developing and distributing this information. GAO obtained and reviewed the EAC’s data on CARES Act grant expenditures, grant guidance for states on expending and reporting funding, and materials the EAC used to review state reports. GAO also interviewed EAC officials regarding grant administration procedures.
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November 30, 2021Why This Matters The Department of Defense (DOD) acquires and licenses intellectual property (IP)—such as computer software and technical data—for its cutting-edge weapon systems. Yet, DOD often does not acquire the IP it needs to operate and maintain those systems, which can lead to surging costs later. In 2019, DOD assigned specific IP responsibilities to organizations within the department. Key Takeaways DOD organizations are working to meet their assigned IP responsibilities. However, DOD has not fully addressed how the IP Cadre—DOD’s new group of specialized experts—will fulfill all of its responsibilities. The IP Cadre faces uncertainty in these areas: Funding and staffing: DOD currently plans to provide the Director of the IP Cadre and his team in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) with funding for five positions through fiscal year 2023. IP Cadre members told us the temporary positions were a disincentive during the hiring process and could present future staffing obstacles. Program support: The members of the IP Cadre at OSD expect to tap into a larger pool of IP experts across DOD to support program offices by helping them develop IP strategies and negotiate with contractors, among other things. However, DOD has not yet detailed how the Director of the IP Cadre and the OSD team will work with these other experts. Expertise: DOD officials said the department lacks sufficient expertise in two key areas—IP valuation (determining its worth) and financial analysis. DOD is currently conducting a pilot project to study valuation strategies. However, DOD officials said more work is needed to provide this expertise. Determining the IP Cadre’s staffing and resource needs will help DOD better position the IP Cadre for success. Department of Defense Intellectual Property Cadre How GAO Did This Study We reviewed guidance, reports, and documentation on IP issues; interviewed DOD personnel, military officials, and industry groups; and reviewed the existing regulatory and agency frameworks related to IP.
- Warfighter Support: Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding
September 21, 2021The Army has issued soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan personal body armor, comprising an outer protective vest and ceramic plate inserts. GAO observed Preliminary Design Model testing of new plate designs, which resulted in the Army’s awarding contracts in September 2008 valued at a total of over $8 billion to vendors of the designs that passed that testing. Between November and December 2008, the Army conducted further testing, called First Article Testing, on these designs. GAO is reporting on the degree to which the Army followed its established testing protocols during these two tests. GAO did not provide an expert ballistics evaluation of the results of testing. GAO, using a structured, GAO-developed data collection instrument, observed both tests at the Army’s Aberdeen Test Center, analyzed data, and interviewed agency and industry officials to evaluate observed deviations from testing protocols. However, independent ballistics testing expertise is needed to determine the full effect of these deviations.During Preliminary Design Model testing the Army took significant steps to run a controlled test and maintain consistency throughout the process, but the Army did not always follow established testing protocols and, as a result, did not achieve its intended test objective of determining as a basis for awarding contracts which designs met performance requirements. In the most consequential of the Army’s deviations from testing protocols, the Army testers incorrectly measured the amount of force absorbed by the plate designs by measuring back-face deformation in the clay backing at the point of aim rather than at the deepest point of depression. Army testers recognized the error after completing about a third of the test and then changed the test plan to call for measuring at the point of aim and likewise issued a modification to the contract solicitation. At least two of the eight designs that passed Preliminary Design Model testing and were awarded contracts would have failed if measurements had been made to the deepest point of depression. The deviations from the testing protocols were the result of Aberdeen Test Center’s incorrectly interpreting the testing protocols. In all these cases of deviations from the testing protocols, the Aberdeen Test Center’s implemented procedures were not reviewed or approved by the Army and Department of Defense officials responsible for approving the testing protocols. After concerns were raised regarding the Preliminary Design Model testing, the decision was made not to field any of the plate designs awarded contracts until after First Article Testing was conducted. During First Article Testing, the Army addressed some of the problems identified during Preliminary Design Model testing, but GAO observed instances in which Army testers did not follow the established testing protocols and did not maintain internal controls over the integrity and reliability of data, raising questions as to whether the Army met its First Article Test objective of determining whether each of the contracted designs met performance requirements. The following are examples of deviations from testing protocols and other issues that GAO observed: (1) The clay backing placed behind the plates during ballistics testing was not always calibrated in accordance with testing protocols and was exposed to rain on one day, potentially impacting test results. (2) Testers improperly rounded down back-face deformation measurements, which is not authorized in the established testing protocols and which resulted in two designs passing First Article Testing that otherwise would have failed. Army officials said rounding is a common practice; however, one private test facility that rounds told GAO that they round up, not down. (3) Testers used a new instrument to measure back-face deformation without adequately certifying that the instrument could function correctly and in conformance with established testing protocols. The impact of this issue on test results is uncertain, but it could call into question the reliability and accuracy of the measurements. (4) Testers deviated from the established testing protocols in one instance by improperly scoring a complete penetration as a partial penetration. As a result, one design passed First Article Testing that would have otherwise failed. With respect to internal control issues, the Army did not consistently maintain adequate internal controls to ensure the integrity and reliability of test data. In one example, during ballistic testing, data were lost, and testing had to be repeated because an official accidentally pressed the delete button and software controls were not in place to protect the integrity of test data. Army officials acknowledged that before GAO’s review they were unaware of the specific internal control problems we identified.
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