State Dept’s bomb-sniffing dogs struggle to detect explosives

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Bomb-sniffing dogs are used by the U.S. State Department to search vehicles, packages, and luggage at embassies and consulates in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the security program is not well managed and puts the lives of U.S. and foreign officials’ lives in danger, a new watchdog report says.

The State Department relies on contractors such as Ronco Consulting Corp. to administer explosive detection tests of the dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a department inspector general report. It found the contractors are not testing the dogs for six of the most common explosives required by U.S. government standards, that they fail to store test materials separately to prevent cross-contamination, and that they may have used expired testing materials.

The inspector general’s review found “systemic problems that directly affect the safety and security of U.S. government personnel and installations,” the report said.

The watchdog report suggested hiring a canine expert in the region to ensure the dogs meet testing standards, to develop a procedure for contractors to import fresh testing material, and to publish standards to properly store the materials.

FAST FACT: At the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the bomb-sniffing dog program carries a hefty annual price tag of $24 million.

Other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities:

FINANCE

* U.S. treasury loses an estimated $100 billion annually due to offshore tax havens used by big companies and wealthy investors (Congressional Research Service).

* Allowing the Bush administration’s tax cuts for rich taxpayers to expire as scheduled could help reduce U.S. budget deficits in the short-term without stifling the economic recovery (Congressional Research Service).

* Federally chartered Farm Credit System, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of U.S. farm debt, wants to expand investments into bonds and assets to finance rural infrastructure, housing facilities, and rural business investment companies (Congressional Research Service).

* Congress should speak with precision if it wants to roll back a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits an “honest services” fraud prosecution only to corporate executives who received bribes or kickbacks, regardless of how much damage they did to their companies overall (Congressional Research Service).

NATIONAL SECURITY

* The Bonneville, Western Area, and Southwestern power marketing associations, which provide wholesale electricity for homes, banks, and military bases throughout the West, have yet to complete risk assessments to protect the flow of electricity and to analyze potential threats (OIG).

* Navy’s rate of ship procurement and affordability of its shipbuilding plans are matters of concern for lawmakers (Congressional Research Service).

* China’s naval modernization includes anti-ship ballistic missiles, submarines, and surface ships as well as improvements in logistics. Countering that could mean basing more the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Fleet and boosting training exercises (Congressional Research Service).

ENVIRONMENT

* Study will investigate short- and long-term health effects among workers who cleaned up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (Institute of Medicine).

HEALTH CARE

* U.S. funding for global HIV/AIDS and other health-related programs rose significantly from 2001 to 2008, and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was reauthorized in 2008 at $48 billion through 2013 (GAO).

* Congress annually overrides scheduled Medicare cuts in the physician fee schedule known as the “sustainable growth rate” system as the volume of physician services provided to Medicare patients grows at more than double the rate allows by the SGR (Congressional Research Service).

* Summary of dozens of new governmental organizations, advisory bodies, demonstration projects, grants, trust funds, risk pools, websites, protocols, and model agreements created by U.S. health care reform law (Congressional Research Service).

MISC.

* If Congress chooses to codify the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive to expand government transparency, it should consider penalties for agencies that fail to comply with requirements (Congressional Research Service).

Note: Congressional Research Service reports, which are given to lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

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