Federal watchdog: U.S. government spending “unsustainable”

U.S. government spending is increasingly outstripping its revenue, which will eventually cause the federal debt to soar and harm the U.S. economy.  This baleful assessment, issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on Tuesday, comes as the incoming Trump administration plans large increases in infrastructure and military spending, along with big tax cuts for corporations and individuals.  While the GAO report’s findings are hardly new, the timing of the release as a new Congress and presidency get under way puts the issue back in the spotlight. The study projected that the spending-revenue imbalance will put “the federal government on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path.” Without any changes to spending patterns, debt could expand to three times gross domestic product by 2090, according to the GAO, the government watchdog agency.  After six years of shrinking deficits, the GAO said, the red ink increased to $587 billion in fiscal year 2016 (ending last Sept. 30), with U.S. debt held by the public at about $14.2 trillion. “These figures are only expected to grow,” the report said. The primary causes are growing spending on entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, largely due to the population’s aging -- and ever-higher interest on the national debt, the GAO said. Among the economic effects of expanding the nation’s balance sheet is higher debt. That would put pressure on the rest of the federal budget, restricting lawmakers’ ability to respond to unforseen events and increasing the likelihood of another financial crisis. The GAO did not take into account President-elect Donald Trump’s ambitious fiscal plans. But the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget forecast last fall that federal debt as a share of GDP, now 77 percent, would explode to well above 100 percent by 2026 if his program was enacted in full.  Mr. Trump has called for a massive tax cut Continue Reading

‘Mass disaster’ grows at the U.S.-Mexico border, but Washington doesn’t seem to care

UNNAMED AND UNCOUNTEDAcross sandy Texas scrubland, along swift-moving California canals, in searing Arizona deserts and within remote New Mexico canyons, the bodies of hundreds of immigrants who died illegally crossing the southwestern border with Mexico are found each year.Border Patrol agents encounter some of the dead, and count them in the agency's annual report that constitutes the only official reckoning of the death toll.But an investigation by the USA TODAY NETWORK has found many migrant deaths are never accounted for — including when bodies are discovered by sheriff’s deputies, police, ranchers, hikers and humanitarian groups.U.S.-MEXICO BORDER — Illegal crossings along the southwestern border have claimed 7,209 lives over the past 20 years, according to official Border Patrol statistics, but the actual number is far higher.A USA TODAY NETWORK investigation found federal authorities largely fail to count border crossers when their remains are recovered by local authorities, and even local counts are often incomplete. Network reporters spent nine months attempting to build the most complete count ever of border-crosser deaths in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas from 2012 to 2016, to reveal how many are missed. That effort found many more deaths than the Border Patrol's official number. In three of those states, the USA TODAY NETWORK found anywhere from 25 percent to nearly 300 percent more migrant deaths over five years. But a complete accounting proved elusive. Why? Because many local authorities responsible for investigating deaths on or near the border don’t track border-crosser deaths. Information on migrant deaths in Texas is incomplete or unavailable in many counties, so the true number is even higher than the USA TODAY NETWORK's count. What’s more, the investigation found no central governmental, Continue Reading

Many U.S. Navy ships in Pacific lack certification: watchdog

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. government watchdog said on Thursday that more than a third of U.S. Navy ships based out of Japan had expired warfare training certifications, as lawmakers raised concerns about readiness after a series of collisions involving the Navy this year. The U.S. Navy recently removed Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin after a pre-dawn collision between a guided-missile destroyer and a merchant vessel east of Singapore and Malaysia in August, the fourth major incident in the U.S. Pacific Fleet this year. In the latest incident, 10 sailors were killed after the USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant vessel in waters near Singapore and Malaysia, triggering a fleet-wide probe of operations and training. In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship, killing seven U.S. sailors. Speaking before a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing, John Pendleton, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), said that a report had found that 37 percent of U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers based out of Japan had expired warfare certifications as of June 2017. That was a five-fold increase from the number in May 2015. The certification is a measurement of whether a ship and its crew are well trained and ready for operations. The GAO report also found that a reduction in crew sizes was contributing to safety risks, with some sailors working over 100 hours a week and there was limited training because of an increased demand for operations. "The Navy has made plans to revise operational schedules to provide dedicated training time for overseas-based ships, but this schedule has not yet been implemented," the report said. Admiral Bill Moran, deputy chief of naval operations, said that advanced technology was meaningless unless sailors were well trained. "All of the marvelous technology, the magnificent hardware that we put together in these ships, and the power of our weapons Continue Reading

U.S. THAAD missile defenses hit test target as North Korea tension rises

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) similar to the ones being developed by countries like North Korea, in a new test of the nation's THAAD missile defenses. Planned months ago, the U.S. missile defense test over the Pacific Ocean has gained significance after North Korea's July 4 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) heightened concerns about the threat from Pyongyang. The test was the first-ever of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system against an incoming IRBM, which experts say is a faster and more difficult target to hit than shorter-range missiles. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said the IRBM was designed to behave similarly to the kinds of missiles that could threaten the United States. "The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country's defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries," the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement. The successful THAAD test adds to the credibility of the U.S. military's missile defense program, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, including because of test delays and failures. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, noted in a May report that the Missile Defense Agency had not previously tested THAAD against an IRBM, despite having deployed the system to the island of Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, in 2013 amid concerns about North Korea's missile program. That means that, until the latest test, the THAAD system had an unproven capability against IRBMs, missiles that have a range of between 1,800 and 3,100 miles (3,000 to 5,500 km). Guam is approximately 2,100 miles (3,400 km) from North Korea. In order to hit the mainland United States, North Korea would need to fire an ICBM, which is defined as a missile Continue Reading

Asylum seekers turned away at U.S.-Mexico border sue U.S. government

By Mica Rosenberg NEW YORK (Reuters) - A group of asylum seekers fleeing gang and drug violence in Honduras and Mexico were improperly turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border by border patrol agents, a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government on Wednesday said. The lawsuit said some U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have referred to the tough immigration policies of President Donald Trump when turning asylum seekers back. But it also said human rights groups have documented "hundreds" of cases dating back to at least the summer of 2016, before Trump's election win in November. Filed by a non-profit legal services group called "Al Otro Lado" along with six unidentified people in U.S. District Court in central California, the class action lawsuit said border agents have used "misrepresentations, threats and intimidation," to tell asylum seekers they cannot enter the country at various border crossings in California, Arizona and Texas. The accounts of the plaintiffs detailed in the lawsuit could not be independently verified. U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. Under U.S. immigration law, if someone arriving at a U.S. port of entry expresses fear of returning to their country, border agents should refer them to an interview with a designated asylum officer. The lawsuit detailed the case of a woman from Mexico whose brother-in-law was a high-ranking police official killed and dismembered by a drug cartel in Mexico, which then threatened her family. When she arrived with her children at the San Ysidro, California, port of entry and said she was afraid to go back, a border officer coerced her into signing a form in English that she did not understand withdrawing her application for admission to the United States, the lawsuit said. Apprehensions of immigrants on the southwest border have dropped since the beginning of the Trump administration in January, according to U.S. Continue Reading

Most U.S. troops kicked out for misconduct had mental illness: study

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of U.S. troops discharged from the military for misconduct during a four-year period ending in 2015 had been diagnosed with mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, a new study found.The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office will likely add to scrutiny over whether the U.S. military is doing enough to care for troops identified with mental health issues during their service, instead of simply casting them out.The GAO analysis showed that 62 percent of the 91,764 servicemembers discharged for misconduct during the fiscal years 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed within the previous two years with conditions including PTSD, TBI "or certain other conditions that could be associated with misconduct."Twenty-three percent of the servicemembers received an "other than honorable" discharge, which made them potentially ineligible for health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.Veterans' advocates have long complained about a lack of support for former U.S. servicemembers who do not have honorable discharge papers, something new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced plans to address.The watchdog said the Navy does not require medical examination or screening of some sailors who are being kicked out of the service for misconduct. It said the Army and Marine Corps "may not have adhered to their own screening, training and counseling policies related to PTSD and TBI." (Reporting by Phil Stewart)(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2017. Click For Restrictions Continue Reading

Gay rights activist, U.S. government employee one of two hacked to death by radical Islamists in Bangladesh

NEW DELHI — Unidentified assailants fatally stabbed two men in Bangladesh’s capital Monday night, including a gay rights activist who also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, police said, in the latest in a series of attacks targeting atheists, moderates and foreigners. Police said they suspected radical Islamists in the attack, which occurred two days after a university professor was hacked to death. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. PROFESSOR IN BANGLADESH HACKED TO DEATH ON WAY TO WORK BY ISIS The victims were identified as USAID employee Xulhaz Mannan, who previously worked as a U.S. Embassy protocol officer, and his friend, Tanay Majumder, according to Mohammed Iqbal, a police officer in Dhaka’s Kalabagan area. Mannan was also an editor of Bangladesh’s first gay rights magazine, Roopbaan, as well as a cousin of former Foreign Minister Dipu Moni of the governing Awami League party. The U.S. ambassador condemned the killing, just weeks after the U.S. government and numerous rights groups urged the government of the Muslim-majority country to better protect its citizens and secure free speech. “I am devastated by the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan and another young Bangladeshi this evening in Dhaka,” Ambassador Marcia Bernicat said in a statement. “Xulhaz was more than a colleague to those of us fortunate to work with him at the U.S. Embassy. He was a dear friend.” “We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders,” she said. Security guard Mohammed Parvez told reporters that five or six young men posing as employees of a courier service entered the six-story building where Mannan lived and went upstairs to his unit. He said they hit him with knives later when they left. He was treated at Dhaka Medical Continue Reading

Congressional Budget Office says U.S. government will have invested $7.5 billion in electric vehicles through 2019

U.S. federal policies to promote electric vehicles will cost $7.5 billion through 2019 and have "little to no impact" on overall national gasoline consumption over the next several years, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report issued on Thursday. Consumer tax credits for buying electric vehicles, which can run as high as $7,500 per vehicle, will account for about 25 percent of the $7.5 billion cost, the CBO said. The rest of the cost comprises of $2.4 billion in grants to battery makers and projects to promote electric vehicles as well as $3.1 billion in loans to auto companies designed to spur production of fuel-efficient vehicles. Many of these initiatives were initiated in 2009 under President Barack Obama, but the loan program was authorized in 2007 under the Bush administration. Producing all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids is part of the auto industry's solution to reach increasingly stringent fuel economy standards designed to cut emissions and lessen the United States' dependence on oil. U.S. government standards mandate that by 2025, automakers to show corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) of 54.5 miles per gallon or about 39 miles per gallon in real world driving. The tax credits will increase sales of EVs, hybrids and more fuel-efficient gas-powered models and help boost the average fuel economy of automakers' fleets, the CBO said. The federal tax credits apply to the first 200,000 electric vehicles sold by each manufacturer. But these sales will leave room for automakers to continue to sell models with low fuel economy, the CBO said. "The more electric and other high-fuel-economy vehicles that are sold because of the tax credits, the more low-fuel-economy vehicles that automakers can sell and still meet the standards," according to the report. As a result, tax credits will have "little or no impact on the total gasoline use and greenhouse gas emissions of the nation's vehicle fleet over the next several years." Continue Reading

The U.S. government gives its citizens lots of overlap and inefficiency for their tax dollars

Government is often accused of trying to solve problems by throwing money at them, but things are actually much worse. The U.S. tries to solve problems by throwing money away.Have you got a hangnail? Somewhere in the federal bureaucracy there has to be a program even for such a minor ill. Because there are dozens and dozens of programs for everything else. So says a new report from the Government Accountability Office.As in 82 separate programs to improve teaching, all with their own budgets, adding up to $4 billion, and nobody in charge of making sure they don't overlap.As in 47 programs to fight unemployment, 62 to help the "transportation-disabled," 56 to cure financial illiteracy and 20 to attack homelessness.There are 18 programs that spend $62.5 billion to provide food and nutritional assistance, including one run by, of all places, the Department of Homeland Security. Take that, Osama!How much of the $3.6 trillion federal budget (including $1.6 trillion in borrowed money) is wasted? Hundreds of billions.Yes, Washington has a huge deficit, and it's measured both in dollars and sense. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Cost of U.S. brand-name prescription drugs skyrocketing compared to other medical goods, services

U.S. prices for brand-name prescription drugs rose at a faster rate than costs for other medical goods and services over the last four years, according to a new U.S. government report.U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the "usual and customary" price index for the top 100 commonly used drugs increased by an annual average of 6.6 percent from 2006 through the first quarter of 2010, compared with a 3.8 percent average annual increase in the consumer price index for medical goods and services.Rep. Pete Stark, a ranking member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health,Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said it was "pleased" that the GAO took into account the mix of brand and generic medicines that patients actually use. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading