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Archive for the ‘Federal Government’ Category

IRS overpaid $100B in earned income credit from ’03-’11

by April 29th, 2012

An audit report from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Inspector General For Tax Administration says the Internal Revenue Service has overpaid U.S. taxpayers between $99 billion and $119 billion in earned income tax credit (EITC) payments, or allowances, from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal 2011. The 2011 estimate was $13.7 billion to $16.7 billion. The EITC is a tax benefit for low- and moderate-income workers. The Treasury audit notes the EITC overpayment estimates actually come from the IRS itself.

Data viz: major U.S. pipeline incidents, 2008-2010

by April 23rd, 2012

A study released by the Congressional Research Service on U.S. energy pipeline management and security says that despite potential vulnerability to accidental malfunction or purposeful sabotage, the risk of a terrorist threat is low, but safety oversight could be improved, particularly by beefing up staffing of inspectors. Roughly 170,000 miles of pipeline in the United States carry material that is toxic, flammable, or otherwise dangerous, including approximately 75% of the nation’s crude oil. Around 200 interstate pipelines account for about 80% of United States pipeline use.

Vast network, some fatal accidents, property damage
Overall, pipeline discharges cause few deaths. Hazardous liquid pipelines caused an average of 1.8 fatalities yearly from 2006 to 2010, while natural gas transmission and distribution pipeline accidents caused an average of 3.0 and 9.8 deaths yearly over the same time period. However, an individual pipeline accident can cause significant damage and loss of life. A gasoline pipeline in Bellingham, Washington, exploded in 1999, killing three people and causing millions of dollars in property damage. In 2000, a natural gas pipeline exploded near Carlsbad, New Mexico, and killed 12 campers. Pipeline breakages can release of thousands of gallons of hazardous material; a leak caused by corrosion on the North Slope of Alaska released more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil in 2006, and in 2011 a pipeline spill in Montana released approximately 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.

Following is a mapped data visualization of U.S. pipeline accidents from 2008-10 that caused fatalities and/or more than $5 million USD of damage. Click on individual points to see more data; click and drag to move the map. Click on the +/- signs to zoom in or out. Click the “x” to close a pop-up box.

Data sources: The Congressional Research Service
PHMSA Incident Reports

Pipeline security threats elsewhere, but not so much in U.S.
Pipelines may also be vulnerable to purposeful sabotage; in the case of certain pipelines, this may even extend to computer-based attacks. Groups in Mexico, Colombia, and Nigeria have made efforts to bomb pipelines in their respective countries, and pipelines in British Columbia were bombed six times between 2008 and 2009. While pipelines make tempting targets, the United States has not experienced a major attack by an individual or group on its pipelines. According to the CRS report, recent threat assessments indicate that, realistically speaking, the risk of a foreign or domestic terrorist attack on U.S. pipelines is very low.

A series of oversight laws have been passed
Under the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-481) and the Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Act of 1979 (P.L. 96-129) state that the Transportation Secretary has authority to regulate the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and response planning for interstate pipelines. A presidential decision during the Clinton administration assigned main responsibility for pipeline security to the Department of Transportation, while the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-355) created an inter-agency committee meant to streamline the review process for new pipelines. The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act also included “whistle blower” protection and required that operators of regulated natural gas pipelines in high-consequence areas to implement risk analysis and management procedures similar to those used for oil pipelines.

Additionally, President Bush established the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in 2004 within the Department of Transportation. President Bush also signed into law the Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006 (PIPES Act, P.L. 109-468). This bill created a program of grants given to states for damage prevention efforts. It also mandated a minimum standard for integrity management of natural gas pipelines. Additionally, the Transportation Security Administration was created and given the authority to handle pipeline security operations.

Pipeline safety inspector staffing a challenge
Due to a relative dearth of qualified applicants, delays in the hiring process, and inspector turnover, the PHMSA inspector program is often understaffed. The recession has also affected PHMSA, forcing numerous budget cuts and preventing expanded inspector hiring, according to the CRS.

Automatic shut-off valves not mandated by DOT
The TSA also requires greater resources for pipeline security, since air transportation has received comparatively enormous amounts of money and personnel. In order to more fully secure pipelines, some have argued for the installation of automatic or remote shutoff valves; particularly since the San Bruno incident of 2010 in which a natural gas pipeline exploded, killing eight people. However, the DOT concluded that automatic shutoff valves would not activate in time to stop an explosion and would be susceptible to false alarms. Such installations would also require significant investments in time and capital, and would probably raise transmission rates for all concerned. However, the PHMSA mandated that all single-family homes recieve excess flow valves, which can minimize the amount of natural gas that escapes in the event of a leak.

Some issues still remain. New regulations may be required since oil sands, often imported from Canada, are significantly more corrosive to current pipe materials. Maintenance of accurate, complete, and current pipeline system records is difficult, and debates over the best practices for pipeline inspection continue. Overall, however, industries and federal agencies have generally increased pipeline safety over the past decade.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News; Donate.

Non-violent crime in Washington state: the data say it pays

by April 18th, 2012

Nine years of Washington figures released recently in the Office of Financial Management’s wide-ranging state Data Book show that with the exception of murder and assault, the odds are long here that criminals will even be arrested, much less convicted. The data suggest that close to nine of ten burglars go scot-free in Washington state, as do more than 19 of 20 car thieves, and more than four of five who commit other thefts. For violent crimes, arrests are more frequent but not always the norm. More than two of three robbers get away with it, as, disturbingly, have more than two of three – and more recently, three of four – reported rapists. For assault, the odds of arrest are almost one in two; and for murder, lately all but certain.

U.S. audit accents broad problems at VA’s Puget Sound hospitals

by April 13th, 2012

A new oversight report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (OIG) identifies problems with sedation safety, colorectal cancer screening, sanitation, medication management, coordination of care, quality assurance and patient satisfaction at the VA’s Puget Sound Health Care System-Seattle, for vets who’ve served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The audit covers a look into quality of care at just the system’s hospital complex on Columbian Way in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, and the VA Hospital at American Lakes in Lakewood, Wash., near Tacoma – but not its additional seven Western Washington clinics, confirmed a VA OIG official in Washington, D.C. VA Puget Sound Seattle calls itself “the primary referral site for the VA’s Northwest Region” serving 80,000 veterans in several states. Care is provided in collaboration with physicians of the University of Washington’s UW Medicine unit.

$44M more in military dough announced for WA firms

by April 8th, 2012

According to a recent announcement from the U.S. Department of Defense, two Washington employers can expect a total of up to $44 million more in military contract revenues in coming months. First, the Tacoma division of the French-born international conglomerate Universal Sodexo was awarded a one-year contract extension worth up to $36 million by the Philadelphia-based U.S. Defense Logistics Agency last week. As a result Universal Sodexo Tacoma will continue serving as prime vendor for operations, maintenance and repair for major branches of the U.S. military in South Korea, including the Army, Air Force, Marines, and civilian federal agencies. Sodexo provides building supplies and non-munitions equipment to 85 U.S. military bases in South Korea from a central 24,000 square foot warehouse, emphasizing just-in-time delivery and inventory control, according to a video at this Sodexo page.

Ex-Marine, and ex-Seattle news exec warn U.S. Senate against overly broad disclosure shields

by March 21st, 2012

In a recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee, a retired Marine and a national proponent of government transparency with long and deep ties to Seattle, ratcheted up concerns about a recent military attempt to censor from the public eye information on drinking water and public health risks. Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger (Ret.), who believes his daughter died of leukemia as a result of contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in 1985, was disappointed that the U.S. Marine Corps decided to remove from an official study, information regarding locations of water sources in the area. It has been the latest in a series of hurdles he has had to overcome in the case.

Bothell firm wins military contract extension worth up to $46M

by February 17th, 2012

Yesterday as the first stage of its $995 million purchase by Tokyo-based Fujifilm was successfully completed, Sonosite, Inc. of Bothell, Wash. was awarded a third-year contract extension worth up to $46,303,658 to supply the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and federal civilian agencies with ultrasound devices used near combat settings and in hospitals to detect injuries to war-fighters and other personnel. The company’s 2010 gross revenues were $275 million.

According to the company’s Vice-President of Governments Accounts and MSK Imaging, Ronald S. Dickson, the contract with the Philadelphia-based U.S. Defense Logistics Agency means Sonosite will continue to sell core products such as the M-Turbo and NanoMaxx portable ultrasound devices for use by field physicians in tents and medics in “far-forward” battle locations, as well as other ultrasound products for U.S. military and Veterans Administration hospitals. There are approximately 70 to 80 of the former globally and about 170 of the latter in the U.S.