Entries in GAO (4)


GAO: Hospitals' Failure to Secure Radioactive Materials Ups Terrorism Risk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Eleven years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Government Accountability Office has released a report saying that hospitals have been negligent in securing the radioactive materials they use to treat cancer patients, potentially putting the materials in the hands of terrorists who could use them to make a dirty bomb.

While authorities have identified no specific plot or target for this 11th anniversary of 9/11, the GAO, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, has warned Congress about lapses in hospitals, many of which routinely use equipment containing these radioactive materials.

"Although we realize how important these facilities and equipment are, they have to be secured," Gene Aloise, director of national resources and environment at the GAO, said.

Nearly four out of five hospitals across the country have failed to put in place safeguards to secure radiological material that could be used in a dirty bomb, according to the report, which identifies more than 1,500 hospitals as having high-risk radiological sources. Only 321 of these medical facilities have set up security upgrades, according to the GAO review, which found some gaping lapses of security in 26 hospitals.

At one facility, for example, a device containing potentially lethal radioactive cesium was stored behind a door with a combination lock -- but the combination was written on the door frame.

At another, a machine containing almost 2,000 curies of cesium-13 was stored just down the hall from a loading dock near an unsecured window.

At a third, at least 500 people had unescorted access to radiological materials.

"In the hands of terrorists, these [radioactive materials] could be used to produce a simple and crude but potentially dangerous weapon," the GAO says.

According to the report, the National Nuclear Security Administration spent $105 million to complete security upgrades at 321 of more than 1,500 hospitals and medical facilities that were identified as having high-risk radiological sources. The upgrades include security cameras, iris scanners, motion detectors and tamper alarms.

But these upgrades are not expected to be completed until 2025, so until then, many hospitals and medical centers remain vulnerable, the GAO says.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission challenged the GAO's findings, saying that the agency and its partners are vigilant about protecting hospitals and medical facilities, and had developed layers of security to do so.

The American Hospital Association has responded to the report, saying it is carefully reviewing the GAO's recommendations.

"Since September 11, hospitals across the country have been upgrading their disaster plans to meet today's new threats. Hospitals follow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regulations on how to secure radiological materials.  In addition, the Joint Commission, which accredits most hospitals, requires hospitals to ensure the safety and security of radioactive materials," the AHA said in a statement.  "Hospitals will carefully study the GAO recommendations.  America's hospitals are committed to working with NRC to strengthen security and protect their community."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


GAO Report Exposes Rule-Breaking at for-Profit Colleges

Photodisc/Jack Hollingsworth/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new report from the Government Accountability Office found several instances of rule-breaking at several for-profit colleges in the United States. Investigators who went undercover to pose as students found they could get away with blatant flouting of academic standards, such as plagiarism. Some even found they could get away with inserting photos of celebrities and politicians in lieu of written answers to essay questions.

When the investigators presented “fictitious evidence of high-school graduation -- either a home-school diploma or a diploma from a closed high school,” they were allowed to enroll in online courses at 15 commercial colleges, which were not identified in the report.

Once enrolled, the undercover students investigating the colleges engaged in “substandard academic performance,” including plagiarism, failure to attend class, failure to submit assignments and submission of incorrect assignments.

The investigation was conducted over the course of one year, from October 2010 to October 2011. Each investigator enrolled for one term. The report focused on the areas of enrollment criteria, cost, financial aid, course structure, substandard student performance, withdrawal and exit counseling.

Overall, eight of the 15 schools followed standard procedures regarding penalties for academic dishonesty, exit counseling and course grading. There were mixed results for the remaining seven schools.

At one college, “Our undercover student consistently submitted plagiarized material, such as articles clearly copied from online sources or text copied verbatim from a class textbook,” according to the report.

The first time it happened, the instructor told the student to paraphrase but gave full credit. The student continued to turn in plagiarized assignments and ultimately received a failing grade, but no action related to academic misconduct was taken.

There were also situations in which the schools and instructors followed standard policies.

At one college, a professor repeatedly tried to contact a student who logged into class but did not submit assignments or participate in discussions. When the student refused help, the professor locked the student out of the class.

The undercover investigation was done at the request of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Harkin’s office was closed Wednesday, but he released a statement Tuesday regarding the report, as was reported by the New York Times.

“The fact that many of the schools accepted incomplete and plagiarized work -- sometimes for full credit -- leads me to question whether for-profit college students are truly receiving the quality education they are promised to prepare them for a good job,” Harkin  said.

“Coupled with sky-high tuition costs, alarming dropout rates, poor job placement services and the many other troubling practices that we’ve uncovered in the HELP Committee’s investigation,” Harkin said, “it is obvious that Congress must step in to hold this heavily federally subsidized industry more accountable.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GAO: FAA Needs to Act to Improve Aviation Safety

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The number of runway incidents and controller errors are up at the nation’s airports, and the Federal Aviation Administration should do more to improve safety, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.  
The GAO says, although the FAA has met some of its goals in reducing runway incursions (where planes and vehicles get too close), the overall trend is on the upswing. In 2004 there were 11 incursions per million operations, and by 2010 that rate increased to 18 incursions per million operations (70 percent of the most serious incursions involve general aviation planes, not commercial jets).
Controller errors are up too -- errors involving close calls in the air nearly doubled from the first three months of 2008 to the same period in 2011.
The GAO says it’s hard to know if these are actual increases, or changes due to new and better reporting requirements. They say that’s part of the problem -- that the FAA can’t be sure if safety is getting worse, or not.
So what should the agency do? According to the GAO, the FAA needs to expand the incidents it keeps track of -- to include runway overruns, and mishaps in the ramp area. The FAA should also categorize all incidents according to how risky they were. The FAA does this now with some types of mishaps, but not all. The GAO also says the FAA needs to a better job sharing information about incidents.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GAO: Could Drug-Tainted Fish Be Slipping Through the Safety Net?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government is doing far less than other countries to keep drug-tainted fish off dinner tables.
A congressional investigation finds the U.S. Food and Drug Administration samples a tiny fraction -- just 0.1 percent -- of all seafood imports for drug residues. Inspectors visit few importers, even fewer overseas seafood processors and none of the farms. The Government Accountability Office report, written in April but just released Monday, paints the FDA’s approach to seafood safety as outdated and oversimplistic.
Americans are eating more fish and most of it -- 84 percent -- is imported from 130 countries. Half of that imported fish is raised on farms. Those crowded pens can be rough places for fish to survive. To keep them alive, farmers feed the fish antibiotics and other drugs that can remain in the meat when it shows up on your plate -- and that can lead to antibiotic resistance.
Nearly a quarter of all the fish imported to the U.S. comes from China, a country that allows fish farms to use the antibiotic tetracycline. Vietnam, the largest source of imports for farmed catfish and the third-largest source for farmed shrimp, allows use of the antibiotic neomycin. But the FDA conducts no test for either drug.
“In 2007, Japan detected excessive levels of tetracycline residues in the shrimp products it imported from China and in 2010, the EU detected excessive levels of neomycin in imported catfish from Vietnam. Because FDA does not include tetracycline and neomycin in its sampling program, it has no assurance that seafood containing these drug residues has not entered the United States," said the report.
In total, Vietnam allows the use of 38 drugs, most of which are not approved for use in the United States, in fish farms.
The United States has approved just five drugs for use in fish. But countries that send seafood to the United States use dozens of other unapproved drugs. When the FDA does look for drugs, it has a target list of 16.
“Canada tests its imported seafood products for more than 40 different drugs, select EU member countries test for 50 drugs, and Japan tests for 57.”
And the FDA has fallen short in looking for the drugs that are on the target list. The United State bans treating fish with nitrofurans, another type of antibiotic, because prolonged exposure may cause cancer. But the GAO found the FDA collecting too few samples.
When the agency does inspect fish, it can take weeks (average of three weeks) to get a result. But one sample took more than five months to come back from the lab.
The GAO also determined FDA inspectors spend much more time looking at paperwork than at fish.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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