Entries in Government (15)


After $350M, Success of Law Enforcement Wireless Network Still ‘Doubtful’

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General finds that the Department of Justice has spent $350 million on developing an integrated wireless network that has, “yet to achieve the results intended,” and that after 10 years of trying, “its success is doubtful.”

The assessment comes a decade after the 9/11 tragedy highlighted a lack of coordination and effective communication between law enforcement and first responders, and spurred a commitment to fix the problem. But according to the Justice Department audit, serious communications problems still plague the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies.

For example, the audit found that the Justice Department’s law enforcement components are still using old and obsolete equipment. The audit further determined that many of the Department’s radios do not meet some or all of the intended requirements, including limited interoperability between the Department’s components and other law enforcement agencies. The Justice Department’s wireless equipment is not even synched up with the Department of Homeland Security’s network. Moreover, the continued use of “legacy,” or outdated, equipment does not meet security encryption requirements, and leaves communication channels open to the threat of being hacked.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Debt Committee’s Cuts Could Impact Younger Generation: Report

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Countless battles are being waged behind the closed doors of the Congressional deficit-reduction "super committee," which has less than a month to strike an agreement on reducing federal spending by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

But while the committee members battle in secret, the automatic cuts that will take effect if the committee fails to reach an agreement would create a greater imbalance between the old and the young than between the wealthy and the poor.

“When push comes to shove they are going to cut programs for the kids,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. “Elected officials, they don’t want to mess with the elderly. Not only are they a huge constituency, but relative to many other constituencies they are well organized.” In short? Kids can't vote.

The two of the three major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicaid, will remain untouched by the automatic cuts, which would kick in for the 2013 fiscal year budget if the super committee fails to create a deficit-reduction plan that passes through Congress.

The third big-dollar entitlement program, Medicare, would be cut a maximum of 2 percent, or about $11 billion in the fiscal year 2013 budget, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The vast majority of the back-up plan cuts would fall on discretionary spending, with half of the $109 billion yearly cuts coming from defense spending.

There are few concrete details on how the remaining $55 billion would be cut, but a report by the Federal Funds Information for States, which does budget analyses for the National Governor’s Association, shows that cuts to children’s programs would likely far outpace cuts to programs for the elderly.

Taking into account likely budget reductions for public education, child welfare services, child care subsidies and the low-income infant nutrition program known as WIC, the younger generation lose about $5 billion in federal funding, according to the report.

About $250 million would be cut from programs aimed toward seniors, such as the Administration on Aging and housing for the elderly.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Weather Satellite Cost Taxpayers $6B, Has Yet to Launch

An artist's rendering of NOAA's existing Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (NOAA)(WASHINGTON) -- While most Americans spent the week fearing a rogue satellite falling out of the sky, perhaps they should have spent a little more time considering the $6 billion the U.S. government spent on satellites that have yet to get off the ground.

After 17 years, more than $6 billion in taxpayer money and three complete project overhauls, a program that was originally intended to launch six weather-tracking satellites before 2018 has yet to put the first test satellite into orbit.

“This is the poster child of a runaway government program that is over-promised, over-budget and, honestly, under-performed,” Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Andy Harris, R- Md., said Friday at a House hearing on the program.

The Joint Polar Satellite System run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will now create two satellites, one that’s set to launch Oct. 25 and another that won’t hit the skies until 2017. By that time the total price tag is expected to balloon to more than $17 billion.

David A. Powner, the director of Information Technology Management Issues at the Government Accountability Office, said at least some of the blame should fall on Congress, which has failed to pass a year-long budget bill since 1997. Because Congress has appropriated funds in short spurts through continuing resolutions, the project has not been able to work off of a steady baseline of funding, he said.

“One of most difficult things for a project manager is uncertainty,” Powner said. “The more re-plannings we have to do, the more uncertainty there is, the more difficult it is for us to accomplish our goals.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Minnesota Government Shutdown: Neither Side Budging

DC Productions/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan commission of former lawmakers was appointed Tuesday to seek a way around the budget impasse that has shut down the state of Minnesota.

But while the commission starts work to find a compromise to get the state's 20,000 employees back to work and reopen state parks, former Minnesota governor and current Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty encouraged Republicans to stand strong and launched a new campaign ad touting his role as governor in 2005's 10-day stalemate.

"Minnesota government shutdown. Why? Because Tim Pawlenty would not accept Democrats' massive tax and spending demands. Result: Pawlenty won," the ad boasts.

That shutdown was six years ago, but once again the North Star State's government has come to a screeching halt. As the current impasse entered its fifth day Tuesday, some of the state's leading politicians on both sides of the aisle weighed in on the problem.

While Pawlenty bragged about his work in the 2005 impasse and suggested the current stoppage is good for the state, former Vice President Walter Mondale -- a Democrat -- and former governor Arne Carlson -- a Republican -- started a committee to find a solution by week's end. The bipartisan panel will come up with "a third approach," Carlson told reporters, according to Bloomberg News.

In the state capital of St. Paul, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton was set to meet with the Republican leaders of Minnesota's GOP-controlled legislature. At issue is how to deal with the state's projected $5 billion deficit over the next two years. To reduce the shortfall, one of Dayton's proposals involves raising taxes on the rich, a move Republicans have opposed.

Dayton demanded that Republicans drop their focus on policies involving abortion and stem cell research and instead focus on "the fiscal side of things."

Amid all the partisan bickering, the shutdown continues -- with serious consequences for the Midwestern state. More than 20,000 state employees are now without work. State parks are shuttered. Construction projects paused. Highway rest areas are closed.

"This is a terrible situation," Dayton said.

The deadlock in Minnesota could be a preview of things to come in Washington. Lawmakers in the nation's capital are currently divided on how to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, while at the same time reaching an agreement to reduce the country's deficits going forward.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


$77 Billion Jets, Never Seen Combat, Now Grounded Indefinitely

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Air Force fleet of stealth F-22 Raptor fighter jets, which has never seen combat despite costing the U.S. government nearly $80 billion, has now been grounded indefinitely.

The order came down from the Air Force's Air Combat Command Tuesday due to "recent reports of potential oxygen system malfunctions," Air Combat Command Captain Jennifer Ferrau told ABC News.

"The stand-down provides Air Force officials the opportunity to investigate the reports and ensure crews are able to safely accomplish their missions," Ferrau said.

The grounding comes just days after a rare video surfaced featuring a flight by one of the F-22s closest potential air rivals, the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter.

But for U.S. forces in each of America's three current major combat operations, having the F-22s sitting on the sidelines may not make much of a difference -- other than training and patrol operations, that's where they've been since the first of the expensive planes went combat ready in December 2005.

When the U.S. led an international effort to secure a no-fly zone over Libya in March, the Raptors did not participate. The Air Force said the planes simply weren't necessary to take out Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses.

"If this was a requirement, it would've been used," Air Force spokesperson Maj. Chad Steffey told ABC News then. "We had all the assets that we needed in Europe already... It simply wasn't an operational requirement."

In fact, though the Air Force has more than 160 F-22s, Steffey said that they have not been an "operational requirement" in any major theater of combat for the U.S., from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Not a single one of the planes -- which cost U.S. government $77.4 billion for a total of 187 planes from Lockheed Martin according to recent report by the Government Accountability Office -- has used what Lockheed Martin's website called a "revolutionary leap in lethality" in defense of U.S. interests.

In 2009, Congress cut all funding for new Raptors, stopping the orders at 187 operational planes -- the last of which are still being delivered -- compared to the more than 600 that were originally part of the deal. However, Lockheed Martin is still receiving hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to make upgrades to existing planes.

The closest an F-22 has come to combat was in 2007 when a pair of Raptors intercepted and monitored two Russian bombers that were on patrol in airspace near Alaska, according to a report by Air Force Magazine.

Both the Air Force and Lockheed Martin said the reason the planes have yet to fire on any enemies is because they're designed to dominate the air against rival, sophisticated air forces or air defenses, not a small, poorly armed third-world militaries and insurgent groups.

The planes' natural enemy, therefore, is one that the program's biggest critic, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said as of now does not exist.

"The F-22 is clearly a capability we do need -- a niche, silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios -- specifically the defeat of a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2009 while advocating that Congress ditch further funding for the Raptor from the budget. "[But] the F-22, to be blunt, does not make much sense anyplace else in the spectrum of conflict."

Dozens of supporters of the F-22 program in the House and the Senate wrote letters to President Obama ahead of the 2009 budget decision, arguing a full force of F-22s would be needed to meet the future challenge of other nations like China and Russia that are also developing fifth generation fighters and new, high-tech air defense systems. Gates dismissed these claims and said the U.S. next generation fighters, both the F-22 and the newer F-35, would greatly outnumber any adversaries for the next 15 years at least.

Jeff Babione, the vice president and project manager for the F-22 program at Lockheed Martin, told ABC News last month China and Russia's fighter programs were a consideration in the F-22's development, but also said the F-22 could find a home in strike missions against rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

"[The F-22s] are in an area where they would be solely or more suited for a sophisticated adversary like North Korea," Babione told ABC News. "In particular, its ability to penetrate highly defended locations -- such as North Korea -- only the Raptor would be able to get in there and prosecute the missions."

In the meantime, Babione said the F-22 was "absolutely" a prudent investment for its value as a deterrent to potential foes and said he hopes the Raptors never do go to war.

"The best weapon is the one that's never used," he said.

News of the stand-down order for the F-22s was first reported by the aviation website

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is the Government Overpaying for Prison?

Darrin Klimek/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Keeping some federal detainees in motels might be cheaper than renting them a cell in a local jail.

A report released Monday reveals the federal government will sometimes pay more than $100 a night to house detainees at state and local corrections facilities. For that price, you can get a clean room, cable TV, and a buffet breakfast at many national motel chains.

An audit conducted by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General charges that the federal government is paying $1.2 billion a year -- and at least $15 million too much -- for jail space. Ironically, the report also found that the feds are often being ripped off by their correctional colleagues in state and local government.

"We found that state and local detention facilities at times take advantage of a shortage of options for federal detainees and demand rates that appear to generate excessive profits -- sometimes in the range of millions of dollars," the IG report states.

It's simple supply and demand: state and local governments have empty jail cells, the federal law enforcement officials need them to house federal detainees temporarily. Immigration or drug enforcement sweeps, for example, can flood the system with suspects who need to be incarcerated. With demand for jail space high, state and local governments are driving a hard bargain.

The audit found that the federal government pays an average of $65 per night to keep between 35,000 and 37,000 detainees locked up every night. In some cases, however, the audit found the feds pay as much as $119 a night. According to the Hotel Price Index for 2010, the average hotel room in North America cost just under $115 per night.

The IG examined 25 agreements for jail-day rates paid by federal corrections officials, and found that it "potentially paid about $15 million more than it cost the facilities to house federal detainees..." The audit concluded that the federal government "would have realized significant cost savings if it had consistently used a jail's operating expense data as leverage in its negotiations to achieve a fair jail-day rate."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Government Warns of Severe Flooding Throughout US

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Get your galoshes ready. Government forecasters said Thursday that almost half the country has an above average risk of flooding in the next few weeks. Warmer temperatures are melting the snow and storms forecast for coming weeks could make it worse with more rain and snow.

The highest spring flood risk?  The Red River between North Dakota and Minnesota, but rivers in Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, parts of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are also facing a high risk of flooding.

Officials say many cities have a greater than 95 percent chance of flooding, including Fargo, North Dakota; St. Paul Minnesota; and Davenport, Mississippi.

According to the National Weather Service, floods are the deadliest weather events, claiming an average of 100 lives a year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Economy, Gas, Partisanship and War Gang Up on Confidence in Gov't

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Confidence in the U.S. system of government has dropped to a new low in more than 35 years, with public attitudes burdened by continued economic discontent, soaring gasoline prices, record opposition to the war in Afghanistan -- and a letdown in hopes for political progress after a bout of bipartisanship last fall.

Only 26 percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say they're optimistic about "our system of government and how well it works," down seven points since October to the fewest in surveys dating to 1974. Almost as many, 23 percent, are pessimistic, the closest these measures ever have come. The rest, a record high, are "uncertain" about the system.

The causes are many. Despite a significant advance, more than half still say the economy has not yet begun to recover. And there's trouble at the pump: Seventy-one percent in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, report financial hardship as a result of rising gas prices. Forty-four percent call it a "serious" hardship.

On an equally critical front in terms of potential political impact, just 31 percent now say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, a new low. Sixty-four percent call it not worth fighting, and 49 percent feel that way "strongly," both record highs in ABC/Post polls.

Two-to-one opposition for the first time puts public criticism of the war in Afghanistan at the level seen for the war in Iraq. Such views had a devastating impact on President George W. Bush, the least popular second-term president in polls since the Truman presidency. And there's danger ahead; fighting in Afghanistan, now in its winter lull, is expected to intensify come summer.

Indeed, with Gen. David Petraeus set to testify on Capitol Hill this week, a broad and bipartisan 73 percent of Americans say the United States should withdraw a substantial number of its combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. But just 39 percent think it will.

In politics, many Americans appear to regard President Obama and the Republicans in Congress as a choice between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, 55 percent disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy and budget deficit alike. On the other, Republicans have lost ground in public trust to deal with both issues, now trailing Obama by 12- and 9-point margins, respectively.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


IIHS Study: Many Tractor-Trailers Unsafe

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- More than 350 people are killed each year when their car strikes the back of a tractor-trailer and -- because of the height difference -- the car slides underneath, literally crushing the vehicle and often the passengers inside. There are safety standards in place to prevent these accidents -- many trucks have been equipped with impact guards designed to prevent such accidents -- but new tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety find those barriers often give way.

"Our tests show how easily some of these guards are failing at relatively moderate speeds," said Adrian Lund with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. He says the group wants the government to require tougher standards.

"You're buying a new car which has really state of the art frontal crash protection, but when you hit a truck, all those goes by the wayside," Lund said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is calling on the government and the trucking industry to beef up the barriers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration May Delay Fannie-Freddie Proposal

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The government may not release a proposal on the restructuring of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before the Congressional deadline of Jan. 31.

The overhaul of Fannie and Freddie has been a delicate and urgent issue, with much debate concerning the extent of government regulation. The Dodd-Frank Law was the most sweeping legislation prompted by the recession, but it failed to offer a solution to the mortgage monopolies.

The Obama administration has been preoccupied with the State of the Union address, and reportedly plans to releasing the so-called "white paper" the week of Feb. 7, according to The Financial Times.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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