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Saturday, December 28, 2013

DOD PHOTOS: LEAVING AFGHANISTAN

FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE 
12/26/2013
U.S. Soldiers Prepare To Leave Afghanistan



U.S. Army Master Sgt. Duane Perez, foreground, carries duffel bags and leads troops to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter as they depart Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2013. Perez is assigned to the Guam Army National Guard's Company E, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment. He also was part of Task Force Guam, which concludes its historic Operation Enduring Freedom mission. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenz.




U.S. soldiers load equipment and duffel bags onto a CH-47 Chinook helicopter on Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2013. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza.

STATEMENT: U.S.-RUSSIA BILATERAL PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION JOINT REPORT

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on the U.S.–Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Joint Report

The United States of America and the Russian Federation launched the U.S.–Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) four years ago to reaffirm our commitment to cooperation and collaboration based on shared interests.  Since its creation, the Commission has embraced a whole-of-government approach to advance this goal, finding common ground on arms control and international security; fostering closer defense ties; increasing bilateral trade and investment opportunities; countering terrorism and narcotics trafficking; promoting advances in science, technology, and energy; and enhancing people-to-people and cultural ties between our societies.

Today we received from Secretary of State John Kerry the submission of the 2013 BPC Joint Report, which comprehensively highlights the Commission’s accomplishments since Spring 2012.

President Obama encourages the Commission’s working groups to deepen and expand their engagement with Russia in order to remove barriers to trade and investment, increase security, and ensure that advances in science and innovation continue.  By partnering with American and Russian civil society and private enterprise, the Commission’s working groups can have an enduring impact that yields a brighter future for Russians, Americans, and people around the world.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC VIOLENCE: REMARKS BY SECRETARY OF STATE KERRY

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Violence in the Central African Republic
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 26, 2013

The United States is alarmed by the December 24 and 25 attacks in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) by both Seleka and Anti-Balaka fighters against civilian populations in the capital Bangui. These attacks resulted in dozens of deaths, including several MISCA troops, and the large-scale displacement of those living in the northern part of the city.

We were deeply disturbed by the discovery on December 26 in Bangui of a mass grave containing over 20 bodies. The continued sectarian fighting only deepens the country’s wounds and makes reconciliation more difficult. The United States calls on the C.A.R. transitional authorities to immediately end the violence, end the use of torture, and investigate and prosecute all those implicated in grave human rights abuses.

The United States believes that this crisis can only be resolved through a political process that leads to fair and inclusive elections as soon as possible, but not later than February 2015, so that C.A.R. can have a legitimate government that represents the will of the people.

The United States commends the African Union-led stabilization mission in the C.A.R., MISCA, and the French forces operating as part of Operation Sangaris, for their commitment to ending the violence and establishing an environment in which a political transition to a democratically elected government can take place. We are confident the French and MISCA forces will act robustly to protect equally all civilian populations, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation.

We call on the C.A.R. transitional authorities to take every possible step to end violence and promote reconciliation and to provide all necessary support to MISCA and French troops in their efforts to disarm both Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups and to allow for unhindered humanitarian access to those in need.

As President Obama said, “Every citizen of the Central African Republic can show the courage that’s needed right now. You can show your love for your country by rejecting the violence that would tear it apart. You can choose peace.”

COURT ENTERS PERMANENT INJUNCTION AGAINST DAIRY FIRMS, INDIVIDUALS TO PREVENT DISTRIBUTION OF FOODS THAT CONTAIN EXCESSIVE DRUG RESIDUE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Thursday, December 26, 2013

District Court Enters Permanent Injunction Against Pennsylvania-Based Dairy Firms and Individuals to Prevent Distribution of Foods That Contain Excessive Drug Residue

U.S. District Court Judge Kim R. Gibson of the Western District of Pennsylvania has entered a consent decree of permanent injunction against Metzler & Sons LLC and Pleasant View Farms Inc., the Justice Department announced today.   The permanent injunction was also entered against Rodney L. Metzler, Gretchen A. Metzler, Rodney T. Metzler and Lee M. Metzler, all of whom have ownership in the firms.   The permanent injunction is designed to prevent the distribution of foods that contain excessive drug residue.

The Pennsylvania firms, Metzler & Sons LLC and Pleasant View Farms Inc., own and operate several farms that sell cows for slaughter and for use as food.   As set forth in the complaint filed on Dec. 18, 2013, inspections by United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and laboratory analyses performed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicated that the defendants sold for slaughter for use as food dairy cows and bob veal calves that contained excessive and illegal residues of drugs in their edible tissues.  According to the complaint, these inspections revealed that the defendants delivered adulterated food into interstate commerce in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).  As set forth in the complaint, the defendants received numerous warnings from both FDA and USDA that their conduct violated the law, and despite these warnings, the defendants continued to hold animals that they sold for slaughter as food in a manner that may have rendered the animals’ edible tissues injurious to the public health.

As set forth in the complaint, levels of new animal drugs in the edible tissues of animals in amounts above the tolerances established in federal regulations pose a significant public health
risk.   For example, consumers of edible animal tissues who are susceptible to antibiotics may experience severe allergic reactions as a result of ingesting food containing out-of-tolerance
antibiotic levels.   Furthermore, food containing above-tolerance antibiotic levels contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in those who eat or handle food containing residues of such drugs.

The complaint filed by the United States asked the court to permanently enjoin the firms and individual defendants from violating the FDCA.  The permanent injunction entered by the court requires the firms and individual defendants to take a wide range of actions to correct their violations and ensure that they do not happen again.   Among other actions, the firms must establish and implement a written record-keeping system for every animal receiving drugs to prevent the firms from selling or distributing any animals whose edible tissues contain new animal drugs in amounts above the levels permitted by law.   The firms must also establish and implement a system that ensures that their use of new animal drugs conforms to the uses approved by the FDA or, for new animal drugs used in an extra-label manner, to the lawful written order of a licensed veterinarian.

“Foods that contain excessive levels of antibiotics and other drugs pose a significant risk to the public health,” said Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Along with our partners at HHS, FDA and USDA, the Department of Justice is committed to making sure that the food on our tables is safe to eat.”

FDA recently said that it is implementing a voluntary plan with industry to phase out the use of certain antibiotics for enhanced food production.   For more information on this, you can visit the FDA website at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm378100.htm .

Assistant Attorney General Delery thanked the FDA for referring this matter to the Department of Justice.  Roger Gural, Trial Attorney at the Consumer Protection Branch of the Justice Department, in conjunction with Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lew in the Western District of Pennsylvania, and Christopher Fanelli, Assistant Chief Counsel for Enforcement of the Food and Drug Division, Department of Health and Human Services, brought this case on behalf of the United States.

LABOR DEPARTMENT SUES TO RESTORE VALUE TO AN EMPLOYEE STOCK-OWNERSHIP PLAN

FROM:  U.S. LABOR DEPARTMENT 
Labor Department files suit to restore losses to the Miller's Health Systems Employee Stock Ownership Plan

WARSAW, Ind —The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to recover losses to the Miller’s Health Systems, Inc., Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The suit alleges that PBI Bank, Inc., the trustee of the plan, authorized the purchase of company stock for $40 million, an amount far in excess of the fair market value of the stock. The suit also alleges that PBI Bank approved financing for the transaction at an excessive interest rate. Miller’s Health is a Warsaw-based company that manages long-term care and assisted-living facilities.
“Fiduciaries must act with undivided loyalty to plan participants.  When it comes to ESOP stock purchases, they must ensure that the plan receives full value for its money,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi.

An investigation by the Chicago Regional Office of the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration focused on a September 2007 stock purchase. The suit alleges that PBI violated ERISA by imprudently and disloyally approving the purchase of stock by the plan.  The suit seeks to require PBI to restore all losses suffered by the ESOP, plus interest.

At the time of the stock purchase, Miller’s Health managed 31 long-term care facilities under the name of Miller’s Mary Manor and 10 assisted living facilities under the name Miller’s Senior Living. Miller’s Health also operated Theracare, Inc., an Indiana corporation, which primarily provided physical and occupational therapy and speech-language pathology to residents in Miller’s Health facilities.
After conducting its investigation, the department concluded that, as a result of the design of the transaction and the fiduciary breaches of PBI, the stock purchase was not for the primary benefit of participants and did not promote employee ownership in Miller’s Health. As a result, the department concluded that PBI was responsible and liable for violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

The lawsuit also seeks to remove PBI as a fiduciary and service provider of the plan and to permanently bar it from serving as a fiduciary or service provider to ERISA-covered plans in the future.

As of Sept. 30, 2012, the ESOP had 2,939 participants and assets of $12,848,000.

NEC DIRECTORS STATEMENT ON EXTENDING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
Statement from the Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling

As the President has repeatedly made clear, it  defies economic sense, precedent and our values to allow 1.3 million Americans fighting to find jobs to see their unemployment insurance abruptly cut off -- especially in the middle of the holiday season. These are our neighbors, our community members and often fellow parents who depend on this as a temporary lifeline while they are actively looking for new jobs to support their families and make ends meet.  Never before have we abruptly cut off emergency unemployment insurance when we faced this level of long-term unemployment and it would be a blow to these families and our economy.

While we remain disappointed that Congress did not heed the President's call to extend emergency unemployment benefits for next year before the holidays, the President as well as the Democratic Congressional leadership have made clear the importance of extending the benefits immediately upon Congress's return. Senator Jack Reed and Senator Heller have put forward bipartisan legislation to extend emergency unemployment insurance for three months which would prevent these 1.3 million workers and their families from losing benefits while giving more time for consideration of further extension through 2014, and Leader Reid will bring it to a vote as soon as they return. The President strongly encourages both the Democratic and Republican Congressional leadership and their members to support this bipartisan solution and to pass the Reed-Heller bill.

Friday, December 27, 2013

U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CONTRACTS FOR DECEMBER 27, 2013

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
CONTRACTS

AIR FORCE

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., has been awarded an $116,069,077 cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification (P00548) on contract (F04701-02-C-0002) for Space Vehicle (SV) 4 launch operations and support to integrate the space vehicle into the launch vehicle.  SV4 launch preparation activities begin at launch minus 12 months.  During this period, the contractor performs pre-launch planning and preparation activities for the launch and early orbit operations rehearsal campaign. Work will be performed at Sunnyvale, Calif., and El Segundo, Calif., and is expected to be completed July 31, 2019.  Fiscal 2014 missile procurement funds in the amount of $2,000,000 are being obligated at time of award. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, PKJ, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the contracting activity.

Alvarez & Marsal Real Estate Advisory Services, LLC, Washington, D.C., has been awarded an $88,000,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for Air Force privatization, post closing management 2013 (PCM-13) services.  The contract provides advisory and assistance services for long-term post closing management services in support of the Air Force's privatization of military housing, enhanced use leasing, value-based transaction, voluntary action program for real estate and environmental issues related to Base Realignment and Closure, Real Estate Transaction, and other programs throughout the United States.  This indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract has a five year ordering period, with one additional year performance.  Work will be performed at the contractor's facility in Washington, D.C., and various Air Force installations, and is expected to be complete by Dec. 26, 2019.  This award is the result of a competitive acquisition, and 100 offers were solicited and two offers were received.  Fiscal 2014 operation and maintenance funds in the amount of $3,000 are being obligated at time of award.  772 Enterprise Sourcing Squadron/PKS, Joint Base San Antonio, Lackland, Texas, is the contracting activity (FA8903-14-D-0040).

Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Services, Colorado Springs, Colo., has been awarded a $47,347,121 modification (P00302) exercising an option to an existing contract (F19628-00-C-0019) to support critical mission operations for NORAD Cheyenne Mountain Complex/Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment in support of air, missile and space defense for the national command authority.  This sustainment effort encompasses operations, maintenance and support to maintain mission integrity for the Target System Architecture systems at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., the Alternate Mission Command Center, and forward user and sensor sites, as well as maintenance of legacy systems at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Test Development Facility, Space Training System and Joint Space Operations at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and the ISC2 Test and Integration Lab in Colorado Springs, Colo.  Also included are the 721 CS, the Cheyenne Mountain Communications Squadron support. Work will be performed at Colorado Springs, Colo., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and is expected to be completed by Sep. 30, 2014. Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $6,520,588 are being obligated at time of award.  Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/HBQK, Peterson AFB, Colo., is the contracting activity.

DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY

TeraRecon, Inc.,* Foster City, Calif., has been awarded a maximum $30,000,000 fixed-price with economic-price-adjustment, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the procurement of  radiology systems, subsystems, accessories, service, manuals and repair parts. This contract is a competitive acquisition, and fifty offers were received. Location of performance is California with a Dec. 22, 2014 performance completion date.  Using military services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies.  Type of appropriation is fiscal year 2014 working capital funds. The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPE2D1-14-D-0001).

Brothers Produce, Inc.,* Houston, Texas, has been awarded a maximum $21,474,000 fixed-price with economic-price-adjustment, indefinite-quantity contract for the procurement of full line fresh fruit and vegetable support to non-Department of Defense customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth schools zone.  This contract is a competitive acquisition, and three offers were received. Location of performance is Texas with a July 6, 2018 performance completion date.  Using service is U.S. Department of Agriculture school customers.  Type of appropriation is fiscal year 2014 defense working capital funds. The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPE300-14-D-8607).

ARMY

CDM Federal Programs, Kansas City, Mo., was awarded a $9,500,000 firm-fixed-price, multi-year, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for civil works for the Kansas City District of the Corps of Engineers.  Funding will be determined with each order.  Work to be performed will be determined with each order, and is expected to be complete Dec. 26, 2018.  Bids were solicited via the Internet with 11 received.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City, Mo., is the contracting activity (W912DQ-14-D-1003).

*Mythics, Incorporated, Virginia Beach, Va., was awarded a $19,770,292 firm-fixed-price modification (BA0415) of contract (W91QUZ-06-A-0003) in exercise of option year two for new products and support for Oracle.  Work will be performed in Alexandria, Va., and expected to be complete Dec. 31, 2014.  The contract will be incrementally funded using fiscal year 2014 operations and maintenance funds.  The U.S. Army Contracting Command, Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. is the contracting activity.

NAVY

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, Moorestown, N.J., is being awarded a $574,538,664 firm-fixed-price, multi-year procurement contract (N00024-14-C-5114) for the production of the Aegis Weapon System MK 7 equipment sets in support of the DDG 51 Shipbuilding Program and an option for Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System, Host Nation Poland, and engineering services.  This procurement includes economic order quantity, advance procurement funding for production related materials for the multi-year procurement ship sets.  Work will be performed in Moorestown, N.J. (85.5 percent); Clearwater, Fla. (13.1 percent); and Akron, Ohio (1.4 percent), and is expected to be completed by September 2021.  Fiscal 2013 shipbuilding and conversion, Navy funds in the amount of $308,360,317 will be obligated at the time of award.  Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  This contract was awarded as a sole-source contract authorized under 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1) - only one or limited number of sources and no other suppliers will satisfy the requirements.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Mission Systems and Training, Manassas, Va., is being awarded an $84,650,745 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-13-C-6272) for fiscal 2014 Acoustic Rapid Commercial-Off-The-Shelf Insertion (A-RCI) production.   A-RCI is a sonar system that integrates and improves towed array, hull array, sphere array, and other ship sensor processing, through rapid insertion of COTS based hardware and software.   The contract provides funding for the development and production of the A-RCI and common acoustics processing for Technology Insertion 14 (TI-14) for the United States submarine fleet.  This modification will purchase TI-14 System Upgrades for 12 ships including pre-cable kits.  Work will be performed in Manassas, Va. (60 percent) and Clearwater, Fla. (40 percent), and is expected to be completed by September 2018.  Fiscal 2012, 2013, 2014 shipbuilding and conversion, Navy and fiscal 2014 other procurement, Navy contract funds in the amount $81,681,413 will be obligated at the time of award.  Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-13-C-6272).

Raytheon Technical Services Co., Indianapolis, Ind., is being awarded $40,911,284 ceiling priced delivery order 7000 against previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00383-14-G-006D) for the repair of 40 Weapon Replaceable Assemblies of the APG 65/73 Radar System used in support of the F/A-18 aircraft.  Work will be performed in Indianapolis, Ind. (57 percent); El Segundo, Calif. (24 percent); Forest, Miss. (17 percent); Andover, Maine (2 percent), and work is expected to be completed no later than December 2015.   Fiscal 2014 Navy working capital funds in the amount of $20,455,642 will be obligated at the time of award, and will not expire before the end of the current fiscal year.  The contract was not competitively procured and is issued on a sole-source basis in accordance with 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1).  Naval Supply Systems Command, Weapon Systems Support, Philadelphia, Pa., is the contracting activity.  

T. B. Penick & Sons, Inc., San Diego, Calif., is being awarded $18,702,988 for firm-fixed-price task order 0007 under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract (N62473-10-D-5412) for renovation of the medical clinic at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms.  The work to be performed provides for replacement of a medical clinic with multi-story concrete masonry unit building on a concrete foundation to deliver primary care, physical therapy, behavioral and deployment health, and ancillary and diagnostic imaging services. Supporting facilities will include utilities, site improvements, parking, signage, and environmental protection measures.  Existing clinic and site structures will be demolished after new clinic has been completed.  The task order also contains one planned modification, which if exercised would increase cumulative task order value to $18,723,488.  Work will be performed in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and is expected to be comp
leted by September 2015.   Fiscal 2013 military construction, Defense medical contract funds in the amount of $18,702,988 are obligated on this award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  Seven proposals were received for this task order.  The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity.

BAE Systems Information and Electronic Systems Integration (IESI), Inc., Greenlawn, N.Y., is being awarded a $16,472,873 firm-fixed-price contract for the procurement of Common Identification Friend or Foe hardware for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and the governments of Korea, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates, including transponders, remote control units, mounts, power supplies; chasses, displays, repairs, and modification kits.  Work will be performed in Greenlawn, N.Y. (86 percent) and Scottsdale, Ariz. (14 percent), and is expected to be completed in January 2016.   Fiscal 2012, 2013 aircraft procurement, Navy; Fiscal 2013 aircraft procurement, Army; Fiscal 2012, 2013, 2014 other procurement, Navy; Fiscal 2013, 2014 research, development, test and evaluation, Navy; Fiscal 2014 aircraft procurement, Navy; Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Navy; Fiscal 2014 Navy working capital funds; and Foreign Military Sales contract funds in the amount of $16,472,873 are being obligated at time of award, $722,959 of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Army ($7,938,757; 48.2 percent); U.S. Navy ($6,682,819; 40.6 percent), and the Governments of Korea ($820,525; 5 percent), Taiwan ($781,676; 4.7 percent); and the United Arab Emirates ($249,096; 1.5 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales program. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 302-1.  The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00019-14-C-0034).

*Small Business

COURT SHUTS DOWN TAX PREPAER FOR ALLEGED FALSIFICATION OF TAX RETURNS

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Federal Court Shuts Down Montgomery Area Tax Preparer
Alabama Preparer Allegedly Falsified Tax Returns at Cost of Millions to U.S. Treasury

A federal court in Montgomery, Ala., permanently barred Kenya Hendrix Adams from preparing tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today.   The permanent injunction order was signed by U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Fuller of the Middle District of Alabama.

The order, filed on Dec. 20, 2013, also requires Adams to turn over to the United States copies of all returns or claims for refund that she prepared after Jan. 1, 2008, and to notify each person for whom she prepared returns since that date.   The order authorizes the United States to monitor Adams’ compliance with the terms of the order.

The government’s complaint alleged that Adams repeatedly prepared federal tax returns that understated her clients’ federal tax liabilities.   According to the complaint, Adams did so by falsely claiming or inflating tax credits or fabricating deductions.   The suit alleges that the harm to the United States Treasury as a result of her conduct could be in the millions of dollars.

“These fraudulent tax preparers create a horrible problem in this area,” said U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. of the Middle District of Alabama.   “What these people are doing must be stopped.   I applaud the IRS for taking the steps to shut down those fraudulent tax preparers.”

Claiming bogus tax refunds is one of the IRS’s Dirty Dozen Tax Scams.   In the past decade, the Justice Department’s Tax Division has obtained injunctions against hundreds of tax fraud promoters and unscrupulous tax preparers.   Information about these cases is available on the Justice Department website .   For more information about choosing a tax return preparer, see the IRS website and the IRS YouTube Channel .

U.S. CONDEMNS ASSASSINATION OF FORMER LEBANESE CABINET MINISTER MOHAMAD CHATAH

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT, 
Terrorist Attack and Assassination of Mohamad Chatah
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 27, 2013

On behalf of President Obama and the United States, I condemn in the strongest possible terms today's abhorrent terrorist attack and assassination of former Lebanese Cabinet Minister Mohamad Chatah in Beirut.

This is a terrible loss for Lebanon, the Lebanese people and for the United States.

I had the privilege of spending many hours with Chatah during my visits to Beirut as a United States Senator, and I know he was a voice of reason, responsibility and moderation. His presence will be missed, but his vision for a united Lebanon, free from sectarian violence and destabilizing interference, will continue to guide our efforts.

Indeed, his tragic end reminds all of us just why his vision remains so imperative.

The Obama Administration supports Lebanon as its leaders work to bring those responsible for this heinous and cowardly attack to justice under the rule of law.

Such actions cannot be allowed to take place with impunity.

This is why we fully support the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and its efforts to find and hold accountable those responsible for these reprehensible and destabilizing acts.

These acts only reinforce the strength and resolve of our commitment to support legitimate, unifying security forces in Lebanon, such as the Lebanese Armed Forces.

It also shows the importance of all parties adhering to the Taif and Baabda agreements and UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1710, and fulfilling their commitments to all of those principles, so that Lebanon maintains its sovereignty and stability.

We stand with the Lebanese people at this time and will continue to do so.

STATE DEPARTMENT TOUTS U.S. ROLE IN DESTRUCTION OF CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS IN IRAQ

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Iraq: Decade of U.S. Support for Conventional Weapons Destruction Saves Lives and Builds Capacity
Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 26, 2013

In 2013, we mark ten years of U.S. Government assistance to Iraq for Conventional Weapons Destruction, including Humanitarian Mine Action, and are proud of the programs and partnerships that enable countless Iraqi citizens to live and work in their communities more safely. The United States has invested more than $235 million in Iraq since 2003 toward the clearance and safe disposal of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and excess conventional weapons and munitions. This assistance, directed through several Iraqi and international nongovernmental organizations, has made significant progress toward protecting communities from potential risks, restoring access to land and infrastructure, and developing Iraqi capacity to manage weapons abatement programs independently over the long term.

The Landmine/Unexploded Ordnance Challenge

Iraq faces a significant challenge from landmines and unexploded ordnance as a result of conflicts dating back to the 1940s. In addition, large stocks of abandoned ordnance and unstable, poorly-secured munitions stockpiles also remain a threat to communities across the country. In FY 2009, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs invested $4.3 million with the Iraq Mine/UXO Clearance Organization (IMCO) to conduct a CWD program that included the destruction of 37,939 weapons, ranging from pistols to 120mm mortars.

Explosive remnants of war, such as unexploded artillery shells, mortars, and other munitions still present daily hazards to Iraqi citizens across the country. Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP) conducted two Landmine Impact Surveys in 2006 and 2011 that estimated 1,513 million square meters (585 square miles) of land in Iraq contain as many as 20 million landmines and millions more pieces of unexploded ordnance.

As many as 1,430 Iraqi cities, towns and villages remain at risk from explosive hazards. Landmines and unexploded ordnance contaminate significant acreage of agricultural land, making clearance an economic necessity for communities to regain their livelihoods as well as a security priority for Iraq’s future. Additional surveys will determine the full extent of the challenge facing Iraq in the years to come.

FY 2012 Accomplishments

During Fiscal Year 2012 (the last fiscal year for which complete data is available), the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs provided $25 million in Iraq for Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) efforts that:

Safely cleared landmines and unexploded ordnance from more than 687 million square meters (265 square miles) of land across Iraq, which has revitalized economic and agricultural development throughout the nation.

Destroyed more than 135,430 pieces of unexploded ordnance, and abandoned or otherwise at-risk munitions.

Provided outreach education to more than 40,000 Iraqi men, women and children about potential dangers from landmines and unexploded ordnance in their communities.

U.S.-funded partner initiatives include:

Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD): With U.S. support and funding, the GICHD completed an assessment of Iraq’s mine action capabilities and developed a two- to three-year development plan for Iraqi training and capacity development. GICHD also led a course with the Ministry of Defense and Directorate for Mine Action staff on quality assurance (QA) and quality control and on the use of demining machines in October 2012.

Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP): With U.S. financial support, advisors continue to provide operational management, strategic planning, and Victims’ Assistance support. In FY 2012, iMMAP delivered six workshops, 13 training courses, and trained 128 students in information management, data collection, and mapping. In addition, iMMAP also trained 50 rehabilitation technicians to treat thousands of landmine/unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive device survivors.

 Iraq Mine/UXO Clearance Organization (IMCO) Central/Southern Iraq: IMCO supported four technical advisors and provided landmine and unexploded ordnance clearance remediation in central and southern Iraq. Since May 2012, IMCO has returned over 3,300,000 square meters (815 acres) of land to communities through quality control checks and clearance methodologies. In addition, IMCO conducted technical and non-technical surveys of over 1,800,000 square meters (450 acres) of land, and located and handed over almost 2000 landmines and pieces of UXO to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

MAG (Mines Advisory Group) Northern and Central CWD: As a result of minefield and Battle Area Clearance in FY 2012, MAG has returned more than two million square meters (507 acres) of land to local communities for agriculture and economic development.

Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI): In partnership with IMCO, in FY 2012 MLI expanded its mine detection dog program in southern Iraq and linked three American schools to three Iraqi schools through its Children Against Mines Program to promote mine risk education in schools and provide medical assistance to young survivors.

MLI and the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development: Working together, MLI and the Polus Center oversaw the Partnership for Iraq Program, which is establishing a cost-sharing program to create a center to provide vocational and medical rehabilitation for thousands of mine and war survivors in Basrah and the surrounding area.

Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA): NPA provided technical advisors to the Regional Mine Action Center - South (RMAC-S) to assist the RMAC-S in fulfilling its role as a regulatory body that is able to coordinate and monitor mine action activities. This project has enabled the RMAC-S to implement a Non-Technical Survey (NTS) designed to provide a more accurate picture of the mine/ERW situation in southern Iraq.

Spirit of Soccer (SoS): Spirit of Soccer expanded its landmine/unexploded ordnance risk education projects throughout Iraq. Spirit of Soccer is implementing innovative projects using soccer as a means to promote education and outreach to children about risks from landmines and unexploded ordnance.
U.S. Government FY 2013 Conventional Weapons Destruction funding allocated for Iraq totals $23.75 million. The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is using that funding to continue humanitarian mine action programs similar to those described above and will continue these efforts in FY 2014.

The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance. Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.1 billion to more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. For more information on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.


SEC AND BIOTECH COMPANY SETTLE CIVIL ACTION IN UNREGISTERED DISTRIBUTION OF STOCK CASE

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
SEC Settles Civil Action Against Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. Concerning Its Illegal Unregistered Distributions of Stock - Relief Includes Payment of More Than $4 Million

The Commission today settled a pending civil action against Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (“Advanced Cell”), arising out of Advanced Cell’s issuance of hundreds of millions of unregistered shares of common stock on thirteen separate occasions without qualifying for any exemption from registration. The settlement, which was filed with the Court earlier today, is subject to the Court’s approval.

In its Complaint filed on May 30, 2012, the Commission alleged that seven defendants, including Advanced Cell, a biotechnology company with headquarters in Marlborough, Massachusetts, violated the federal securities laws by engaging in the illegal unregistered distribution of billions of shares of penny stocks through the repeated misuse of the exemption from registration contained in Section 3(a)(10) of the Securities Act of 1933. Section 3(a)(10) permits a company to issue common stock to public investors other than pursuant to an effective registration statement “in exchange for one or more bona fide outstanding securities, claims or property interests . . . where the terms and conditions of such issuance and exchange are approved after a hearing [held before a court or other governmental authority authorized to conduct such hearings] upon the fairness of such terms and conditions.” The Section 3(a)(10) exemption may not be relied upon for capital formation by issuers, and it was improperly used for that purpose in these transactions.

According to the Commission’s Complaint, in or about early 2006, Mark A. Lefkowitz, a penny stock financier, developed an illegal strategy for penny stock issuers to pay off past due debts and also raise capital by issuing stock purportedly pursuant to the Section 3(a)(10) exemption. The Complaint alleges that in September 2008, Lefkowitz introduced the strategy to William Caldwell IV, who was then the Chief Executive Officer of Advanced Cell.

The Complaint alleges that from September 2008 through January 2009, pursuant to an agreement between Lefkowitz and Caldwell, several entities affiliated with Lefkowitz (collectively, the “Lefkowitz Related Entities”) purchased past due debts of Advanced Cell from various Advanced Cell debtholders. Shortly after a Lefkowitz Related Entity acquired each debt, Lefkowitz and Caldwell agreed on the terms of a settlement, and the Lefkowitz Related Entity filed a lawsuit against Advanced Cell in a Florida state court purportedly to collect on the debt. The principal purpose of the lawsuits, according to the Complaint, was to present the settlements to the Florida state court for a fairness hearing, as required by Section 3(a)(10).

The Complaint alleges that, in each instance, the Florida state court found the settlements to be fair and entered an order granting a Section 3(a)(10) exemption. However, the Commission’s Complaint asserts that the parties never informed the Florida state court of the full terms and conditions of the settlements, thereby compromising the fairness hearings. According to the Complaint, the parties falsely represented to the Florida state court that they were settling for the face value of the past due debts and did not inform the Florida state court of the actual market value of the settlement shares or that the market value of the shares greatly exceeded the amount of the debts that were to be extinguished. Nor was the Florida state court told that the Lefkowitz Related Entities had agreed to sell the settlement shares quickly and remit a substantial portion of the sales proceeds to Advanced Cell.

According to the Complaint, Advanced Cell ultimately issued a total of 260,115,983 shares of unrestricted common stock to settle the thirteen lawsuits filed against it by the Lefkowitz Related Entities. The settlement shares, which had a total market value of approximately $9,230,000 as of the respective settlement dates, were issued to satisfy past due debts totaling approximately $1,110,000. According to the Complaint, after retaining a portion of the profits from the sale of the shares for themselves, the Lefkowitz Related Entities remitted $3.5 million to Advanced Cell.

The Complaint alleges that, as a result of the foregoing, Advanced Cell’s unregistered distributions to the Lefkowitz Related Entities violated Section 5 of the Securities Act. The Complaint also alleges that Advanced Cell failed to timely disclose the settlement agreements and its issuance of unregistered shares of common stock in connection with the Section 3(a)(10) settlements by filing current reports on Forms 8-K with the Commission.

The proposed final judgment would enjoin Advanced Cell from violating Section 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 13(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 13a-11 thereunder. It would also order Advanced Cell to disgorge $3.5 million in ill-gotten payments from the Lefkowitz Related Entities, plus prejudgment interest in the amount of $586,619, for a total of $4,086,619, but would not impose a civil penalty based upon Advanced Cell’s financial condition. Advanced Cell consented to the entry of the proposed Final Judgment without admitting or denying the allegations in the Commission’s Complaint.

The Commission’s litigation against the five remaining defendants, Mark A. Lefkowitz, Mark A. Lopez, Unico, Inc., Steven R. Peacock, and Shane H. Traveller, is ongoing.

FUTURE LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP CHRISTENED

FROM:  U.S. NAVY USS MILWAUKEE 
Future USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) Christened and Launched, Marks Production Milestone
Story Number: NNS131218-14 Release 
Date: 12/18/2013 5:00:00 
From Program Executive Office Littoral Combat Ships Public Affairs

MARINETTE, Wis. (NNS) -- The Navy, along with the Lockheed Martin-led industry team, christened and launched the future USS Milwaukee in a ceremony at the Marinette Marine Corporation shipyard Dec. 18, marking an important production milestone for the littoral combat ship program.

The ship joins the future USS Jackson (LCS 6), which launched Dec. 14 following construction at the Austal USA shipyard in Alabama. These ships are the first vessels procured under the block buy contract awarded in 2010 and represent the true beginning of "serial production" for the class. With serial production, the Navy is able to realize benefits such as improved cost structure per vessel and reduced construction time.

"Milwaukee will be an exceptional ship and I am pleased with the progress being made," said Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, program executive officer, Littoral Combat Ships. "With serial production lines now in full swing at both LCS building yards, we are looking forward to each new ship joining the fleet on a regular and consistent timeline. This is a significant step for the program and the Navy."

As is tradition, ship sponsor Sylvia Panetta struck the bow with a bottle of champagne, officially naming the ship. LCS 5 is the sixth U.S. Navy vessel christened in tribute to the Wisconsin city. Panetta, wife of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has been a tireless supporter of the military and longtime advocate for public service.

"It is a true privilege to serve as the sponsor for this ship as it begins its journey of service and commitment to our powerful fleet," said Mrs. Panetta. "I am proud to support the ship's crew members over the course of her service to ensure it leads with strength and protects our freedom. My congratulations to the city of Milwaukee as this ship assumes its name."

The christening ceremony was followed by a dramatic side launch of the ship into the Menominee River.

Milwaukee will continue to undergo outfitting and testing at Marinette Marine. The ship is expected to deliver to the Navy in early 2015 following acceptance trials.

The LCS Class consists of two variants, the monohull design Freedom variant and the trimaran design Independence variant. The ships are designed and built by two industry teams, led by Lockheed Martin and Austal USA, respectively. Milwaukee is the third LCS constructed by the Lockheed Martin team.

Both variants of the LCS are fast, agile, focused-mission platforms designed for operation in near-shore environments yet capable of open-ocean operation. They are designed to embark specialized mission packages to defeat "anti-access" threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines, and fast surface craft.

The Navy has been able to incorporate much of the knowledge gained in the construction, test and operation of LCS 1 and LCS 2, the lead ships of the class, into follow on ships. Many of those are currently in various stages of construction, and will deliver to the Navy over the next few years. These include Milwaukee's sister ships - Detroit (LCS 7), Little Rock (LCS 9), Sioux City (LCS 11), Wichita (LCS 13), and Billings (LCS 15).

Program Executive Office Littoral Combat Ships is affiliated with the Naval Sea Systems Command and provides a single program executive responsible for acquiring and sustaining mission capabilities of the littoral combat ship class, from procurement through fleet employment and sustainment. Delivering high-quality warfighting assets while balancing affordability and capability is key to supporting the nation's maritime strategy.

FOUR INDICTED IN FALSE TAX RETURN CONSPIRACY CASE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT T
Monday, December 23, 2013
Four Minneapolis-based Return Preparers Indicted for Conspiracy, Aggravated Identity Theft, Preparing False Returns

A 63-count superseding indictment charging Chatonda Khofi, Ishmael Kosh, Amadou Sangaray and Francis Saygbay in a conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was unsealed on Monday, December 23, in Minneapolis, Minn., the Justice Department and IRS announced today.  The superseding indictment was returned by a federal grand jury on Nov. 19, 2013, and alleges that Primetime Tax Services Inc. was a tax return preparation business with three storefronts in the Minneapolis area.  Khofi worked as the Chief Executive Officer of Primetime, and Kosh and Sangaray worked as managers of the Brooklyn Center location of Primetime.  All four named defendants allegedly prepared false tax returns under the name of Primetime.

According to court documents, Khofi, Kosh, Sangaray and Saygbay conspired amongst themselves and with others to prepare and file false individual income tax returns for the customers of Primetime.  Some of these returns reported false dependents, false deductions, false Schedule C business losses and false wage income.  These false entries resulted in fraudulently inflated refunds for their customers.  As part of the scheme, court documents allege that the defendants prepared and filed false Minnesota state income tax returns for their customers that contained the same or similar false information as reported on the federal income tax returns.  From 2007 to 2009, Primetime filed over 2,000 customer federal income tax returns with the IRS.

The indictment further charges each defendant with multiple counts of aggravated identity theft and multiple counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false individual income tax returns.  The aggravated identity theft charges stem from the defendants’ alleged use of the names and social security numbers of actual persons to falsely claim as dependents on their customers’ individual income tax returns.

According to the indictment, the defendants also accompanied some customers to check-cashing businesses to cash their falsely inflated tax refund checks, then demanded a portion of the cashed refund check in addition to tax preparation fees already collected.  The indictment alleges that, in some instances, the defendants withdrew cash from debits cards containing their customers’ refunds without permission, again in addition to the tax preparation fees they had already collected.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  If convicted, the defendants face a maximum potential sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy count and three years in prison for each count of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return.  The aggravated identity theft counts have a mandatory two year sentence.

The case was investigated by special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation.  It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Dennis Kihm and Thomas Flynn of the Justice Department's Tax Division.

FDIC SETTLES WITH AMERICAN EXPRESS CENTURION BANK IN DECEPTIVE PRACTICES CASE

FROM:  FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION 
FDIC Announces Settlement With American Express Centurion Bank for Unfair and Deceptive Practices 

Today, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) announced a settlement with American Express Centurion Bank, Salt Lake City, Utah, (Bank) for unfair and deceptive marketing practices related to credit card "add-on products," in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act.

This action results from a review of the Bank's credit card products by the FDIC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As part of the settlement, the Bank stipulated to the issuance of a Consent Order, Order for Restitution, and Order to Pay Civil Money Penalty (collectively, FDIC Order). The FDIC Order requires the Bank to pay a civil money penalty (CMP) of $3.6 million. The CFPB is also taking a parallel enforcement action against the Bank for the same practices and will assess a separate CMP of $3.6 million. Together, the FDIC and CFPB will require restitution of no less than $40.9 million to harmed consumers.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the CFPB also announced actions against other American Express affiliated institutions for the same unfair and deceptive practices identified in those institutions. Collectively, these actions will result in restitution of approximately $59.5 million to more than 335,000 consumers.

The FDIC determined that the Bank violated federal law prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices by, among other things:

Misrepresenting to consumers the benefits and costs of its "Account Protector" add-on product. Consumers were led to believe that the benefits would continue for up to 24 months in the event of a qualifying life event, when in fact the majority of events had benefit periods of one, two, or three months. Consumers were also led to believe that if they purchased the product their monthly minimum payment would be cancelled in the event of a qualifying event. However, the benefit payment was limited to 2.5% of the consumer's outstanding balance, up to $500, which could be less than the minimum monthly payment.
Misrepresenting the terms and conditions of the "Lost Wallet" add-on product through telemarketing calls conducted in Spanish to consumers in Puerto Rico. American Express did not provide uniform Spanish language scripts to its customer service representatives for enrollment calls, and all written materials provided to consumers were in English.
Consumers were not informed during telemarketing calls or during the enrollment process for identity theft products that two steps were necessary to fully utilize credit monitoring and public records monitoring benefits. The second step was not completed by 85 % of consumers. These consumers were thus unfairly billed for benefits they did not receive.
In addition, the Order requires the Bank to take affirmative steps to correct its marketing and billing practices, and to ensure that all of the add-on products offered by the Bank are marketed and administered in compliance with applicable laws.

DOL ANNOUNCES $5 MILLION GRANT TO REDUCE CHILD LABOR IN BURMA

FROM:  U.S. LABOR DEPARTMENT 
$5M grant to reduce child labor in Burma awarded by US Labor Department

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs today announced the award of a $5 million cooperative agreement to the International Labour Organization to implement a project to reduce child labor in Burma and support the Government of Burma's efforts to comply with international standards.

The project will:
support research and collection of data on the extent and nature of child labor in Burma, build the capacity of national and local organizations to carry out efforts to reduce child labor, implement pilot programs to remove or prevent children from involvement in exploitative labor and raise awareness about child labor in the country.

"This project will develop effective strategies for reducing child labor in Burma," said Deputy Undersecretary of Labor for International Affairs Carol Pier. "It will expand understanding of the extent and nature of the problem and help stakeholders in the country increase efforts to protect children."

The project involves collaboration among key government agencies and ministries at the national, regional and local levels, including the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. It will also work with workers' organizations, employers' organizations, civil society organizations and teachers.

Since 1995, ILAB projects have rescued approximately 1.7 million children from exploitative child labor. The Labor Department has funded 275 such projects implemented by more than 65 organizations in 93 countries. ILAB currently oversees more than $245 million of active programming to combat the worst forms of child labor.

OHIO LOBBYIST PLEADS GUILTY IN KICKBACK AND MONEY LAUNDERING CASE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Monday, December 23, 2013
Ohio Lobbyist Pleads Guilty for Role in Kickback and Money Laundering Scheme

An Ohio attorney and lobbyist pleaded guilty today for his role in a bribery and money laundering scheme involving the Ohio Treasurer’s Office.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark T. D’Alessandro of the Southern District of Ohio, and Special Agent in Charge Kevin R. Cornelius of the FBI’s Cincinnati Division made the announcement.

Mohammed Noure Alo, 35, of Columbus, Ohio, appeared before U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of the Southern District of Ohio and pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting honest services wire fraud.   He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and sentencing will be set at a later date.

Alo is a partner and founding member of a Columbus-based law firm and became a registered lobbyist to the State of Ohio in 2010.   Court records state that from approximately January 2009 through January 2011, Alo admitted he conspired with his close personal friend Amer Ahmad, 38, of Chicago, and others to use Ahmad’s role as deputy treasurer to direct official State of Ohio broker services business to Douglas E. Hampton, 39, a securities broker from Canton, Ohio, in return for payments from Hampton.  Hampton funneled in excess of $123,000 to Alo.   Ahmad and Joseph M. Chiavaroli, 33, of Chicago, concealed additional payments from Hampton by passing them through the accounts of a landscaping business in which Ahmad and Chiavaroli held ownership interests.

As a result of the scheme, Hampton received approximately $3.2 million in commissions for 360 trades on behalf of the Ohio Treasurer’s Office.   Ahmad and his co-conspirators received in excess of $500,000 from Hampton.   Both Hampton and Chiavaroli entered guilty pleas in August 2013.

Ahmad was indicted on Aug. 15, 2013, on charges of conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, federal program bribery, and false statements.   He is scheduled for trial on March 3, 2014.   A criminal indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Central Ohio Public Corruption Task Force, which includes special agents from the FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas W. Squires of the Southern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Eric L. Gibson of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

DOD REPORTS TO CONGRESS ON THE FUTURE OF UNMANNED VEHICLES

Members of the Unmanned Underwater Vehicle detachment, Commander, Task Group 56.1, guide a UUV as it is lowered into the water off the coast of Bahrain, June 5, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Lewis.  
FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE 
DOD Looks 25 Years Ahead in Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2013 – Strategy and budget realities are two aspects of the Defense Department’s new Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, released today.

The report to Congress is an attempt to chart how unmanned systems fit into the defense of the nation.

“The 2013 Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap articulates a vision and strategy for the continued development, production, test, training, operation and sustainment of unmanned systems technology across DOD,” said Dyke Weatherington, the director of the unmanned warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance office at the Pentagon.

“This road map establishes a technological vision for the next 25 years and outlines the actions and technologies for DOD and industry to pursue to intelligently and affordably align with this vision,” he continued.
Unmanned aerial vehicles have received the most press, but unmanned underwater vehicles and ground vehicles are also providing warfighters with incredible capabilities.

Although unmanned vehicles have proved their worth in combat operations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, current technologies must be expanded and integrated into the sinews of the defense establishment, the report says.

It also calls for unmanned systems to be programs of record in order to achieve “the levels of effectiveness, efficiency, affordability, commonality, interoperability, integration and other key parameters needed to meet future operational requirements.”

Of course, all DOD programs have to face the reality of the budget crunch. “Achieving affordable and cost-effective technical solutions is imperative in this fiscally constrained environment,” the report notes.

Strategy really drives the technology. Unmanned systems will be crucial as the U.S. military shifts its focus to the Asia-Pacific region and puts the air-sea doctrine into effect. In the future, unmanned vehicles will be required to operate in more complex environments involving difficult weather, terrain, distance and airspace. All this will require extensive coordination with allies and host nations, the report says.

“The road map describes the challenges of logistics and sustainment, training and international cooperation while providing insight on the strategic planning and policy, capability needs, technology development and operational environments relevant to the spectrum of unmanned systems,” Weatherington said.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE WEEKLY CLAIMS REPORT FOR WEEK ENDING DECEMBER 21, 2013

FROM:  U.S. LABOR DEPARTMENT 

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE WEEKLY CLAIMS REPORT

          SEASONALLY ADJUSTED DATA

In the week ending December 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 338,000, a decrease of 42,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 380,000. The 4-week moving average was 348,000, an increase of 4,250 from the previous week's revised average of 343,750.
The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.2 percent for the week ending December 14, unchanged from the prior week's unrevised rate. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending December 14 was 2,923,000, an increase of 46,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 2,877,000. The 4-week moving average was 2,836,750, an increase of 39,500 from the preceding week's revised average of 2,797,250.

UNADJUSTED DATA

The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 413,920 in the week ending December 21, a decrease of 159 from the previous week. There were 457,578 initial claims in the comparable week in 2012.

The advance unadjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.3 percent during the week ending December 14, an increase of 0.1 percentage point from the prior week. The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 2,984,815, an increase of 113,284 from the preceding week. A year earlier, the rate was 2.5 percent and the volume was 3,254,315.
The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending December 7 was 4,279,284, a decrease of 132,858 from the previous week. There were 5,471,714 persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2012.

No state was triggered "on" the Extended Benefits program during the week ending December 7.

Initial claims for UI benefits filed by former Federal civilian employees totaled 1,869 in the week ending December 14, a decrease of 306 from the prior week. There were 2,004 initial claims filed by newly discharged veterans, a decrease of 352 from the preceding week.

There were 20,880 former Federal civilian employees claiming UI benefits for the week ending December 7, a decrease of 1,559 from the previous week. Newly discharged veterans claiming benefits totaled 31,459, a decrease of 1,478 from the prior week.

States reported 1,333,332 persons claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits for the week ending December 7, a decrease of 40,699 from the prior week. There were 2,096,243 persons claiming EUC in the comparable week in 2012. EUC weekly claims include first, second, third, and fourth tier activity.

The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending December 14 were in Alaska (5.3), Puerto Rico (3.8), Pennsylvania (3.5), California (3.3), Connecticut (3.1), Montana (3.1), West Virginia (3.1), Illinois (2.8), Oregon (2.8), and Wisconsin (2.8).

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending December 14 were in California (+4,622), Illinois (+3,686), Massachusetts (+2,331), Ohio (+1,529), and Indiana (+1,473), while the largest decreases were in New York (-12,706), Pennsylvania (-10,866), Georgia (-8,340), Texas (-4,904), and Wisconsin (-4,821).

U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CONTRACTS FOR DECEMBER 26, 2013

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
CONTRACTS

AIR FORCE

The Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Calif., was awarded a $24,000,000 modification (P00006) on an existing cost-plus-fixed-fee, five year contract (FA8802-14-C-0001) for general life cycle systems engineering and integration for the National Security Space Community.  Contractor will provide planning, systems definition, and technical specification support, analyze user needs, design and design alternative, interoperability, manufacturing and quality control, and assist with test and evaluation, launch support, flight tests, orbital operations and integration of space systems into effective systems of systems.  Work will be performed at El Segundo, Calif., and is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2014.  The contract is being incrementally funded using fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance funds.   Space and Missile Systems Center/PKE, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the contracting activity.

ARMY

Boeing Co, Ridley, Park, Pa., was awarded a $617,676,589 modification (P0004) to contract W58RGZ-14-C-0003 for the remanufacture of twenty- two CH-47F helicopters, six new CH-47F helicopters, and long lead funding for remanufacturing thirteen CH-47F helicopters.  Fiscal 2014 other procurement funds in the amount of $615,046,591 were obligated at the time of the award. Estimated completion date is Dec. 31, 2020.  Work will be performed at Ridley Park, Pa.  Army Contracting Command, Redstone, Arsenal, Ala., is the contracting activity.

General Dynamics Information Technology, Fairfax, Va., was awarded a $26,491,522 modification (P00021) to contract W52P1J-11-C-0019 to sort and classify material turned in by units and to re-issue serviceable material to deploying units.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $26,491,522 were obligated at the time of the award. Estimated completion date is Dec. 29, 2014.  Work will be performed in Kuwait.  Army Contracting Command, Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., is the contracting activity.

Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Va., was awarded a $24,958,310 modification (P00024) to contract W52P1J-11-C-0005 to support the ammunition supply point/theater storage area, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait for the issue, storage, and receipt of Class V munitions for the 1st Theater Support Command and other Central Command forces.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $22,006,134 were obligated at the time of the award.  Estimated completion date is Dec. 29, 2014.  Work will be performed in Kuwait. Army Contracting Command, Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., is the contracting activity.

*Dills Architects, P.C., Virginia Beach, Va., (W91236-14-D-0016); *KZF Design, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio (W91236-14-D-0017); and *CEMS Engineering Inc., Ladson, S.C., (W91236-14-D-0018) were awarded a $10,000,000 firm-fixed-price, multiple-award contract for architectural and engineering services for the planning, design and construction of a dependent elementary and secondary school area office.  Funding and location will be determined with each order.  Estimated completion date is Dec. 25, 2017.  Bids were solicited via the Internet with thirty-nine received. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk, Va., is the contracting activity.

Trax International Corp, Las Vegas, Nev., was awarded an $8,647,158 modification (P00116) to contract W9124R-09-C-0003 for test services supporting the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.  Fiscal 2014 research development test and evaluation funds in the amount of $8,647,158 were obligated at the time of the award.  Estimated completion date is Jan. 31, 2014.  Work will be performed in Yuma, Ariz. and at Fort Greely, Alaska. Army Contracting Command, Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., is the contracting activity.

General Dynamics C4 Systems, Huntsville, Ala. was awarded a $6,657,441 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for engineering services and logistics for the tactical airspace integration air traffic control system.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $6,657,441 were obligated at the time of the award.  Estimated completion date is Jun 30, 2016.  Bids were solicited via the Internet with one received. Work will be performed in Huntsville, Ala, Afghanistan, and South Korea.  Army Contracting Command, Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., is the contracting activity (W58RGZ-14-C-0003).

NAVY

General Dynamics, NASSCO, Norfolk, Va., (formerly Metro Machine Corp.) is being awarded an $171,961,941 undefinitized contract action as a modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-09-C-4416) for USS Carter Hall fiscal 2014 extended dry-docking planned maintenance availability.  Work will be performed in Norfolk, Va., and is expected to be completed by April 2015.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Navy and Fiscal 2014 other procurement, Navy funds in the amount of $104,155,547 will be obligated at time of award.  Contract funds in the amount of $123,702,226 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  The Norfolk Ship Support Activity, Norfolk, Va., is the contracting activity.

The Boeing Co., Oklahoma City, Okla., is being awarded a $43,200,000 cost-plus-fixed-fee,  indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to provide engineering and technical field services to inform, instruct and train Navy and Marine Corps military and civilian personnel at various fleet and shore activities on how to install, operate and maintain equipment on AV-8B, EA-18G and F/A-18 aircraft.  Work will be performed in Whidbey Island, Wash. (16 percent); Oceana, Va. (12 percent); Cherry Point, N.C. (8 percent); New Orleans, La. (8 percent); Lemoore, Calif. (8 percent); Miramar, Calif. (8 percent); Pensacola, Fla. (8 percent); Yuma, Ariz. (8 percent); Atsugi, Japan (8 percent); Kuwait (8 percent); Beaufort, N.C. (4 percent), and Fort Worth, Texas. (4 percent) and is expected to be completed in December 2018.  Fiscal 2014 operation and maintenance, Navy and Foreign Military Sales contract funds in the amount of $1,458,850 are being obligated on this award, $708,850 of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($30,240,000; 70 percent); U.S. Marine Corps ($9,504,000, 22 percent); and the Government of Kuwait ($3,456,000, 8 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales Program.  This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1.  The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, Calif. is the contracting activity (N68936-14-D-0010)

Sensor and Antenna Systems, Lansdale, Pa., is being awarded a $21,804,323 modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-10-C-0047) to exercise an option for the procurement of eight Low Band Transmitters (LBT), 11 Vertically Polarized (VPOL) Antennas, and 17 High Band Horizontally Polarized (HPOL) Antennas for the AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) for the U.S. Navy.  In addition, this option provides for the procurement of 11 LBT, 6 VPOL Antennas, 6 Band-2 Adapter Interface Assemblies, and 7 High Band Horizontally Polarized HPOL Antennas for the AN/ALQ-99 TJS for the Government of Australia. Work will be performed in Lansdale, Pa., and is expected to be completed in July 2016.  Fiscal 2012, 2013, 2014 aircraft procurement Navy, and Foreign Military Sales funds in the amount of $21,804,323 will be obligated at time of award, $180,080 of which will expire at the end of the fiscal year. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($9,973,
 082; 45.7 percent); the Government of Australia ($11,831,241; 54.3 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales Program.  The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Marietta, Ga., is being awarded an $11,060,628 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for logistics and engineering services in support of the C/KC-130J Aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps/Marine Corps Reserve, U.S. Coast Guard and the Kuwait Air Force.  Work will be performed in Marietta, Ga. (65.3 percent); Afghanistan (12 percent); Palmdale, Calif. (9.2 percent); Kuwait (3.3 percent); Okinawa, Japan (3 percent); Miramar, Calif. (1.8 percent); Cherry Point, N.C. (1.7 percent); Elizabeth City, N.C. (1.6 percent); Fort Worth, Texas (1.5 percent); and Greenville,  S.C. (.6 percent); and is expected to be completed in December 2014.  No funds are being obligated at time of award.  Funds will be obligated against individual delivery orders as they are issued.  This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Marine Corps/Marine Corps Reserve ($8,886,223; 80.3 percent); U.S. Coast Guard ($1,423,148; 12.9 percent); and the Government of Kuwait ($751,257; 6.8 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales Program.  This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1).  The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00019-14-D-0006).

Raytheon Technical Services Co. LLC, Norfolk, Va., is being awarded an $8,496,327 task order under a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee basic ordering agreement (N00024-09-G-5442) for technical support services, Overhaul, Turnaround and Life Extension Refurbishment program in support of the NATO SEASPARROW Surface Missile System and Test Acquisition System (TAS).  Work will be performed in Norfolk, Va., (50 percent) and Chula Vista, Calif., (50 percent) and is expected to be completed by September 2014.  Fiscal 2014 other procurement, Navy and Fiscal 2014 shipbuilding and conversion, Navy funds in the amount of $50,000 will be obligated at time of award.  Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme, Calif., is the contracting activity.

*Small Business

LLCD BOLDEN VIDEO TO THE MOON AND BACK

NASA VIDEO

RECENT U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PHOTOS FROM AFGHANISTAN




FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
U.S. soldiers gather in a team huddle after prepping their mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle before moving out on missions on Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan's Parwan province, Dec. 22, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sinthia Rosario.



U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jose A. Antepara guides a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle before conducting missions on Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan's Parwan province, Afghanistan, Dec. 22, 2013. Antepara is a truck commander assigned to the 51st Transportation Company, 77th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sinthia Rosario.

U.S. MARSHALS ANNOUNCE FUGITIVE ON THE RUN FOR 36 YEARS WAS ARRESTED

FROM:  U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE 
Chris Bozeman, Lone Star Fugitive Task Force
Deputy U.S. Marshal/Public Information Officer (PIO)
Western District of Texas – San Antonio (210) 657-8500
36 Years On The Run Can’t Out Run Justice
Fugitive To Face Attempted Murder Charges

 LSFTF LogoFarmington Hills, MI – Kathlyn Regina Huff, 58, was arrested this evening by the United States Marshals Service Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team (DFAT) in Farmington Hills, MI. An arrest warrant was issued pursuant to an investigation by the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD), where more than 36 years ago Huff was indicted on allegations of attempted murder.

On December 9, 2013, the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force Cold Case Squad (LSFTF CCS) initiated an investigation in the search for Huff. Subsequent to the investigation, task force officers discovered that Huff had previously fled from San Antonio, TX to Farmington Hills, MI. The LSFTF CCS then contacted the DFAT in Detroit, MI for assistance in locating and apprehending Huff. This evening, task force officers determined through investigative efforts that Huff was residing at a house in the 30000 block of Gladstone Street in Farmington Hills, MI. Task force officers conducted a brief surveillance and observed Huff arrive and park her vehicle in the driveway of the residence. Task force officers approached the vehicle, identified themselves, made contact with Huff, and took her into custody without incident.

On September 14, 1977, Huff was formally indicted by a Grand Jury in Bexar County on allegations of attempted murder. A warrant for Huff’s arrest was issued the same day. Reports stated that Huff allegedly shot a man in the head after a heated argument. Sometime after the alleged incident, Huff fled San Antonio, married, and started a new life as Kathlyn Regenia Rose. Huff may have eluded capture by law enforcement over the past 36 years due to her name change.

Huff is currently being held in custody at the Oakland County Jail awaiting extradition to Bexar County.

Robert R. Almonte, United States Marshal for the Western District of Texas, stated, “Words alone cannot express how proud I am of the investigative efforts displayed by the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force Cold Case Squad and the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team. This is a perfect example of how diligent and determined our task force officers are at solving the most challenging cases. No matter how many years a fugitive is on the run, we will hunt, we will search, and we will pursue until they are brought to justice.”

Members of the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force:

New Braunfels Police Department
San Antonio Police Department
San Antonio Independent School District Police Department
Bexar County Sheriff’s Office
Comal County Sheriff’s Office
Bexar County Fire Marshal’s Office
Bexar County District Attorney’s Office
Texas Office of The Attorney General
Texas Department of Public Safety
Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Office of the Inspector General
Immigration & Customs Enforcement – Office of Detention & Removal
U.S. Marshals Service

ADJUSTMENTS PROPOSED TO EXCEPTED BENEFITS REGULATIONS

FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR 

Obama administration proposes adjustments to excepted benefits regulations
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury today proposed rules that would adjust regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 regarding excepted benefits to include employee assistance programs (EAPs). The proposed rules would also provide added options for employees and employers in connection with the Affordable Care Act.

"This proposal would give employers and workers more options for their health-care coverage while staying true to the consumer protections put in place by the Affordable Care Act," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi. "This is another example of federal agencies listening to public concerns and responding with solutions."

Under the HIPAA, excepted benefits are exempt from certain health reform requirements, including some requirements added by the Affordable Care Act. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, employers, employees and other stakeholders expressed concerns that past HIPAA definitions should be updated in light of new Affordable Care Act standards.

The proposed rules would amend current regulations to treat certain EAPs as excepted benefits, effective immediately. EAPs are typically free programs offered by employers that can provide wide-ranging benefits to address circumstances that might otherwise adversely affect employees’ work and health. Benefits may include short-term substance abuse or mental health counseling or referral services, as well as financial counseling and legal services. Under the proposed rules, EAPs would be considered excepted benefits if the program is free to employees and does not provide significant benefits in the nature of medical care or treatment. As excepted benefits, EAPs would be exempt from private insurance market reforms, and EAP coverage would not make individuals ineligible for a premium tax credit for enrolling in qualified health plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Similarly, under the proposed regulations, vision and dental benefits provided by employers on a self-insured basis would be able to qualify as excepted benefits effective immediately, even if they do not require contributions from employees. Insured vision and dental benefits, as well as self-insured vision and dental coverage that requires employee contributions, already qualify as excepted benefits.

Effective for plan years starting in 2015, the proposed rules also would treat as excepted benefits certain limited coverage provided by plan sponsors that "wraps around" an individual market policy. The "wraparound" coverage would be available to employees for whom the plan sponsor’s primary group health coverage is not affordable and who instead get coverage through a nongrandfathered individual market policy. The wraparound coverage would provide extra benefits or broader networks, and may also reduce cost sharing. The proposal would not allow the wraparound coverage to substitute for employment-based coverage. The value of the wraparound coverage could not exceed 15 percent of the value of the primary coverage offered by the plan sponsor, which must be affordable for at least the majority of employees.

DETROIT-BASED ALLY BANK RESOLVES ALLEGATIONS OF LENDING DISCRIMINATION

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, December 20, 2013

Justice Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Reach $98 Million Settlement to Resolve Allegations of Auto Lending Discrimination by Ally
Settlement Is Department’s Third Largest Fair Lending Agreement Ever and Largest Ever Auto Lending Agreement

The Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today announced the federal government’s largest auto loan discrimination settlement in history to resolve allegations that Detroit-based Ally Financial Inc. and Ally Bank have engaged in an ongoing nationwide pattern or practice of discrimination against African-American, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander borrowers in their auto lending since April 1, 2011.  The agreement is the first joint fair lending enforcement action by the department and CFPB.  With this agreement, eight of the top 10 largest fair lending settlements in the department’s history have been under Attorney General Eric Holder’s leadership.

The settlement provides $80 million in compensation for victims of past discrimination by one of the nation’s largest auto lenders and requires Ally to pay $18 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.  Ally also must refund discriminatory overcharges to borrowers for the next three years unless it significantly reduces disparities in unjustified interest rate markups.  This system will create a strong financial incentive to eliminate discriminatory overcharges.

“With this largest-ever settlement in an auto loan discrimination case, we are taking a firm stand against discrimination in a critical lending market,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “By requiring Ally to provide refunds to those who are overcharged because of their race or national origin, this agreement will ensure relief for Americans who are victimized. It will enable the Justice Department and the CFPB to work closely with Ally and others to prevent discriminatory practices in the future. And it will reinforce our determination to respond aggressively to discrimination in America’s lending markets – wherever it is found.”

The settlement resolves claims by the department and the CFPB that Ally discriminated by charging approximately 235,000 African-American, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander borrowers higher interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers.  The agencies claim that Ally charged borrowers higher interest rates because of their race or national origin, and not because of the borrowers’ creditworthiness or other objective criteria related to borrower risk.  The average victim paid between $200 and $300 extra during the term of the loan.  The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits such discrimination in all forms of lending, including auto lending.  Ally’s settlement with the DOJ, which is subject to court approval, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in conjunction with the DOJ’s complaint.  Ally resolved the CFPB’s claims by entering into a public administrative settlement.

“Discrimination is a serious issue across every consumer credit market,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are returning $80 million to hard-working consumers who paid more for their cars or trucks based on their race or national origin. We look forward to working closely with the Justice Department and Ally to make sure this serious issue will be addressed appropriately in the years ahead as well.”

Rather than taking applications directly from consumers, Ally makes most of its loans through over 12,000 car dealers nationwide who help their customers pay for their new or used car by submitting their loan application to Ally.  Ally’s business practice, like most other major auto lenders, allows car dealers discretion to vary a loan’s interest rate from the price Ally initially sets based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors.  Dealers receive greater payments from Ally on loans that include a higher interest rate markup.  The coordinated investigations by the department and the CFPB that preceded today’s settlement determined this system of subjective and unguided pricing discretion directly results in Ally’s qualified African-American, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander borrowers paying more than qualified non-Hispanic white borrowers.

The agencies claim that Ally fails to adequately monitor its interest rate markups for discrimination or require dealers to document their markup decisions.  Ally’s first effort to monitor for discrimination in interest rate markups began only earlier this year after it learned of the CFPB’s preliminary findings of discrimination, and resulted in only two dealers being sanctioned and subjected to nothing more than voluntary training.

“This settlement provides relief to those who were harmed by this discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade.  “Lenders must consider an individual borrower’s credit worthiness, based on income, savings, credit history and other objective factors when determining the terms of a loan.  This settlement will ensure that in the future, borrowers will be able to obtain loans from Ally based on their own credit history free from discrimination based on race or national origin.”

Today’s settlement represents the first resolution of the department’s joint effort with the CFPB to address discriminatory auto lending practices.  The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act gave both the DOJ and the CFPB authority to take action against large banks like Ally for violating the ECOA.  Although the department has filed previously filed lawsuits alleging violations of ECOA involving car loans, today is the first ECOA lawsuit against an auto lender that operates nationwide.

In addition to the $98 million in payments for its past conduct and requirement to refund future discriminatory charges, the settlement requires Ally to improve its monitoring and compliance systems.  The settlement allows Ally to experiment with different approaches toward lessening discrimination and requires it to regularly report to the department and the CFPB on the results of its efforts as well as discuss potential ways to improve results.  The department commends Ally for working cooperatively to reach an appropriate resolution of this case.  The department looks forward to Ally’s commitment, as part of the settlement, to work with the Civil Rights Division and the CFPB to find improved ways to fairly charge all consumers while also fairly compensating auto dealers for the services they provide.

The department’s enforcement of fair lending laws is conducted by the Fair Lending Unit of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section in the Civil Rights Division.  Since the Fair Lending Unit was established in February 2010, it has filed or resolved 30 lending matters under the Fair Housing Act, ECOA and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  The settlements in these matters provide for a minimum of $775 million in monetary relief for impacted communities and more than 535,000 individual borrowers.

The settlement provides for an independent administrator to locate victims and distribute payments of compensation at no cost to borrowers whom the department and the CFPB identify as victims of Ally’s discrimination.  The department and the CFPB will make a public announcement and post information on their websites once more details about the compensation process become available.  Borrowers who are eligible for compensation from the settlement will be contacted by the administrator, and do not need to contact the department or the CFPB at this time.  Individuals who have auto loan questions or would like to submit a complaint can contact the CFPB at (855) 411-2372.

The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the CFPB are members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.  The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

NSF ON STUDYING "SOCIAL BACTERIA"

FROM:  NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

"Social" bacteria that work together to hunt for food and survive under harsh conditions
Research into multi-cell bacterium could lead to new antibiotics or to development of new pest-resistant seeds
When considering the behavior of bacteria, the word "social" doesn't often come to mind.

Yet some bacteria are quite social, chief among them Myxococcus xanthus, a soil-dwelling bacterium that organizes itself into multi-cellular, three-dimensional structures made up of thousands of cells that work together to hunt for food and survive under harsh conditions.

"For the first 100 years of microbiology, researchers were trying to find model organisms to study bacteria, and most were selected because they had some medical or industrial significance influence, such as E. coli, and because they grow very well in the standard test tube," says Oleg Igoshin, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University. "But when you base your choice on their behavior in a test tube, and not on social behavior or spatial structure, you lose some interesting species to study.

"The story is quite different for Myxococcus xanthus," he adds. "They are a very social bacteria that form really cool structures, and rely on each other for survival."

Myxococcus xanthus is "predatory," meaning it eats other microbes, although it is not harmful to humans. It is of great interest to researchers because of its self-made complex spatial formations, some even visible to the naked eye, and because it can kill efficiently and digest a wide range of microbial species.

"Their three-dimensional structures contain hundreds of thousands of bacteria, plus extra cellular material that holds the bacteria together like glue," says the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded computational biologist, who is using both data-driven modeling and simulations to learn how M. xanthus behaves when there is sufficient food available, and when there is not. "We are trying to identify the mechanisms to understand how they achieve their multi-cellular behaviors."

Studying this organism addresses fundamental biological questions about how individual cells can break their symmetry to organize into these complicated many-celled compositions, teaching scientists about the evolution of multi-cellularity. "The most primitive form of life is single-cell life," Igoshin says. "The next step up would be going from single cells to multicellular organisms. These bacteria are somewhat in the middle."

When food is plentiful, these bacteria move in coordinated swarms, called ripples, often containing thousands of cells, which secrete enzymes into the environment to kill their prey and digest it outside their structure before taking in the resulting nutrients.

"M. xanthus has the ability to produce some powerful antibiotics that kill other species and enzymes that chew up the prey proteins into small segments," Igoshin says. "Single cells can't produce enough of these antibiotics or enzymes to effectively kill their prey, which is why they hunt together as a group."

But when food is scarce, M. xanthus takes another shape, forming itself into mounds of spores called fruiting bodies, where they can survive for a long time, sometimes for many years, until conditions improve and they can germinate again. "A single spore wouldn't survive," he says. "They need to be together."

The insights gained from a better understanding of how this bacterium functions potentially could help future researchers in designing new antibiotics, or possibly have a role in agricultural practices, such as developing new pest-resistant seeds. Moreover, deciphering the basic biology of multicellular organization can help to understand its more complex manifestations, such as embryonic development.

Igoshin is using M. xanthus as a model system for his computational tools, using approaches that involve both data analysis and simulation, both of which "have become a cornerstone of biological research in the modern era of biology," he says.

"I use reverse engineering approaches to look at these microscopic structures and try to figure out what these individual cells should do in order to produce this type of behavior," he adds. "I put in parameters such as size, velocity, flexibility, speed--some we can measure, some we can guess--and see whether the computer simulations will produce structures similar to those observed."

Igoshin is conducting his research under an NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, which he received in 2009. The award supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organization. NSF is funding his work with $640,000 over five years.

He is collaborating with other experimental labs to study this organism, including Roy Welch, associate professor of biology at Syracuse University; Lawrence Shimkets, professor of biology at the University of Georgia; and Heidi Kaplan, associate professor of microbiology and genetics at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School.

As part of the grant's educational component, Igoshin and his colleagues created a new interdisciplinary graduate program at Rice offering doctoral degree in systems, synthetic, and physical biology, that began in the fall of 2013. Igoshin, who co-wrote the program proposal, serves on the program steering committee, and the admission and recruitment committee.

"Answering complex biological questions in the post-genomic era will require multidisciplinary approaches combining both experimental and computational methods" he says. "Our new program aims to educate a new generation of life-scientists that have truly interdisciplinary training and therefore can work together on these challenges."

-- Marlene Cimons, National Science Foundation
Investigators
Oleg Igoshin