Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Future U.S. Role in the World

A July 12, 2017 CRS Report entitled U.S. Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress by Ronald O-Rourke and Michael Moodie provides background information and issues for Congress to consider given statements and actions from the Trump Administration that may indicate a change in the role the U.S. plays in world affairs. The central policy issue for this report concerns "whether there should be a change in the U.S. role, and if so, what that change should be, including whether a given proposed change would be feasible or practical, and what consequences may result." The report addresses implications a change in the U.S. role would have for "congressional organization, capacity, and operations relating to foreign policy, national security, and international economic policy."

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer Recreation - Find a National Park

Looking for an outdoor getaway this summer? The U.S. National Park Service's "Find a Park" page features a map of the U.S. enabling you to click on a particular state and see where national parks are located in that state.  If downloading a map of a national park is taking too long, national park enthusiast and park ranger Matt Holly has collected park maps to streamline download. Holly started his site, http://npmaps.com/ , during the 2013 government shutdown, but has continued adding maps since then. Eventually he plans to have every National Park Service Map on his site.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017

The Department of Defense (DOD) has released its "Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China" which addresses the "current and probable
future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years." The report also addresses "United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future."
Read an executive summary or the full report.


Congressional Budget Office Report on Repeal of the ACA (Obamacare)

On June 26, 2017 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) released their report on the Senate's amendment to H.R. 1628, Better Care Reconciliation Act of  2017, designed to replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The report indicates the senate version, if passed, would "reduce federal deficits by $321 billion over the coming decade and increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to current law." By 2026 for people under age 65 under the senate version, 49 million are projected to be without insurance compared with 28 million under the current law.  Although the CBO and the JCT state estimates cannot be made with certainty, they conclude "the amount of federal revenues collected and the amount of spending on Medicaid would almost surely both be lower than under current law" in addition to the number of underinsured people being greater than under the current law.

For more information, read a PDF of their report.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Legal Questions About President Trump's Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

On June 9, 2017 the Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a "Legal Sidebar" report and analysis entitled President Trump's Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Raises Legal Questions.
The questions are:
Pt. 1
  • Will the United States Follow the Multi-Year Process for Withdrawal in Article 28?
  • Can the United States Immediately Withdraw from the Paris Agreement?
  • To What Extent Does the Trump Administration Consider the Paris Agreement Binding Under International Law?
  • Will the United States Remain in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?
Pt. 2
  • What is the United States’ Role in Future Climate Change Meetings Organized Under the Paris Agreement?
  • What are the Prospects for Legal Challenges to the Withdrawal?
  • What Legal Risks did the President Seek to Avoid by Announcing the Exit?
See the answers at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/withdrawal.pdf

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trends in Nuclear Explosion Monitoring Research & Development

 National Laboratories (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Naval Research, Pacific Northwest, and Sandia) released a report in June 2017 entitled Trends in Nuclear Explosion Monitoring Research & Development — A Physics Perspective LA-UR-17-21274. According to the abstract, the report "reviews the accessible literature, as it relates to nuclear explosion monitoring and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT, 1996), for four research areas: source physics (understanding signal generation), signal propagation (accounting for changes through physical media), sensors (recording the signals), and signal analysis (processing the signal). Over 40 trends are addressed "exploring the value and benefit (of each) to the monitoring mission." The report also presents "key papers that advanced the science, and promising research and development for the future."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

FBI Director Appointment and Tenure

Given that the firing of FBI Director James Comey is a hot topic in the news right now, condensed background information can be found in a new Congressional Research  Service (CRS) report that "provides an overview of the development of the process for appointing the FBI Director, briefly discusses the history of nominations to this position, and identifies related congressional hearing records and reports."  The May 10, 2017 report, FBI Director: Appointment and Tenure, by Henry B. Hogue, Specialist in American National Government, is available as a pdf.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States

In January 2017 NOAA published the technical report Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States. Key findings include:

  • For almost all future GMSL (global mean sea level) rise scenarios, RSL (relative sea level) rise is projected to be greater than the global average along the coasts of the U.S. Northeast and the western Gulf of Mexico.  
  • Under the Intermediate and Low GMSL rise scenarios, RSL is projected to be less than the global average along much of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska coasts 
  • Under the Intermediate-High, High and Extreme GMSL rise scenarios, RSL is projected to be higher than the global average along almost all U.S. coasts outside Alaska.
The report also mentions consequences of RSL rise that are already occurring such as increasing tidal-flood frequencies in coastal communities. Using as a definition of flood-frequency the elevation threshold of about 0.8 m (2.6 feet) above the highest tide with a local 20% annual chance of occurring, annual frequencies of damaging flooding with less than 14 inches of local RSL rise "will increase 25-fold by or about (±5 years) 2080, 2060, 2040 and 2030 under the Low, Intermediate-Low, Intermediate, and Intermediate High subset of scenarios, respectively."

See the full report at https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/publications/techrpt83_Global_and_Regional_SLR_Scenarios_for_the_US_final.pdf

NOAA also has a new mapping tool to visualize community-level impacts from coastal flooding or sea level rise (up to 6 feet above average high tides). Try the new beta version.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Energy-Saving Landscapes

Just in time for summer the Energy Department has published Energy Saver 101: Everything You Need to Know About Landscaping.  The web page covers how to shade, create windbreaks, conserve water, and landscape for different climates.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response

On April 7, 2017 the Congressional Research Service (CRS) published Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  by Carla E. Humud, Coordinator Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs; Christopher M. Blanchard, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs; and Mary Beth D. Nikitin, Specialist in Nonproliferation, In addition to the overview, the 33 page report includes sections on issues for Congress; conflict synopsis; recent military, political, and humanitarian developments; U.S. policy and assistance; and an outlook.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

U.S. Climate Change Regulation and Litigation: Selected Legal Issues,

Given President Trump's March 28, 2017 executive order modifying climate change policies, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a climate change report on April 3, 2017 discussing legal challenges to Obama Administration climate change regulations pending before courts. U.S. Climate Change Regulation and Litigation: Selected Legal Issues by Linda Tsang, Legislative Attorney, covers a brief history of U.S. climate change regulation; reviews the types of regulation and legal actions pursued in the national debate over GHG emissions; examines selected legal issues and next steps in related litigation; and addresses what these legal and regulatory developments mean for Congress.

The 2017 Long Term Budget Outlook

The Congressional Budget Office has made available online "The 2017 Long Term Budget Outlook." The report paints a bleak picture noting "If current laws remained generally unchanged, the United States would face steadily increasing federal budget deficits and debt over the next 30 years—reaching the highest level of debt relative to GDP ever experienced in this country." The report includes links to data, supplemental information and related publications and is divided into the following sections:

  • Why Are Projected Deficits Rising?
  • What Might the Consequences Be If Current Laws Remained Unchanged?
  • How Does CBO Make Its Long-Term Budget Projections?
  • How Uncertain Are Those Projections?
  • How Large Would Changes in Spending or Revenues Need to Be to Reach Certain Goals for Federal Debt?
  • How Have CBO’s Projections Changed Over the Past Year?
  • Thursday, March 16, 2017

    Budget of the United States Government 2018

    The Budget of the United States Government 2018 titled "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again" is now available online from the Government Printing Office. President Trump recommends increasing defense spending by $54 billion while cutting the budgets of the following departments/agencies: State, EPA, Labor, Education, and Agriculture. He proposes to eliminate both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities and decrease funding to agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation which provide money for academic research. Public broadcasting and the arts would also face cuts as would popular domestic programs like home-heating subsidies and clean-water projects. The budget does not address mandatory entitlement programs like Social Security.

    If you'd like to see a quick visual representation (graphs and charts) of  programs that would lose funding under President Trump's proposed budget, see Bloomberg's March 16, 2017 article "These 80 Programs Would Lose Federal Funding Under Trump’s Proposed Budget."

    Thursday, February 23, 2017

    Questions and Answers about the European Union

    On February 21, 2017 the Congressional Research Service published a report by Kristin Archick, Specialist in European Affairs, entitled The European Union: Questions and Answers. This report complements Archick's June 21, 2016 report entitled The European Union: Current Challenges and Future Prospects. Find information in the reports about the major challenges confronting the EU and potential implications for EU relations with the U.S.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017

    Issues and Challenges for new Executive and Congressional Policymakers

    One place that might not be on many people's radar to check for helpful information during new Presidential and Congressional transitions is the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO is often called the "congressional watchdog" since it "investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars."  It has a Presidential and Congressional Transition page with three topics to help new leaders focus on important issues and challenges:

    1. Priority Recommendations: The GAO sent letters to key federal departments and agencies urging them to focus on recommendations available for viewing by subject term, federal agency, or topic.
    2. Key Issues and High Risk List: "GAO’s High Risk List calls attention to agencies and program areas that are vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are in need of transformation."
    3. Management Agenda: "The Management Agenda provides high-level information for new leaders about the critical management challenges facing the federal government and lays out the actions needed to address those challenges."

    Monday, February 20, 2017

    Tool to Track Key Executive Branch Appointments

    Keeping track of who has been nominated to the more than 500 key executive branch offices is a daunting task just made easier by a tool developed by the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. The tool first shows how many of the 549 key positions requiring Senate confirmation have a nominee, how many of those nominated are awaiting confirmation, and how many have been confirmed.  You can then scroll through the positions arranged by department and see the name of the nominee with either Announced, Confirmed, or Withdrawal by the name.  Find the tool at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-administration-appointee-tracker/database/

    Friday, January 13, 2017

    BBC Team to Debunk Fake News

    The BBC is assembling a team "to fact check and debunk deliberately misleading and false stories masquerading as real news." BBC will make its Reality Check series permanent to target false stories/facts being shared on social media. The news organization is emphasizing slow news, " news with more depth – data, investigations, analysis, expertise." See more in a January 12, 2017 post in the Guardian.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2017

    General Accounting Office Study - Climate Information for Design Standards, Building Codes, and Certifications

    On January 3, 2016 the General Accounting Office (GAO) released a study entitled Climate Change: Improved Federal Coordination Could Facilitate Use of Forward-Looking Climate Information in Design Standards, Building Codes, and Certifications. You can access the 45 page PDF report and/or fast facts, highlights, and recommendations. The purpose of the study is as follows:
    GAO was asked to review the use of forward-looking climate information by standards-developing organizations. This report examines (1) what is known about the use of such information in standards, codes, and certifications; (2) challenges standards organizations face to using climate information; and (3) actions federal agencies have taken to address such challenges and additional actions they could take.
    The GAO recommends that "federal agencies work together to provide forward-looking climate information for consideration in standards and codes."

    Tuesday, January 03, 2017

    DHS and FBI Joint Analysis Report (JAR) on Russian Malicious Cyber Activity

    A December 29, 2016 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release discusses  its Joint Analysis Report (JAR) with the FBI. Nicknamed "Grizzy Steppe, the JAR provides "details of the tools and infrastructure used by Russian intelligence services to compromise and exploit networks and infrastructure associated with the recent U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. government, political and private sector entities."  The "Grizzy Steppe" is described as follows on the December 29, 2016 White House Fact Sheet: Actions in Response to Russian Malicious Cyber Activity and Harassment:
    • The JAR includes information on computers around the world that Russian intelligence services have co-opted without the knowledge of their owners in order to conduct their malicious activity in a way that makes it difficult to trace back to Russia. In some cases, the cybersecurity community was aware of this infrastructure, in other cases, this information is newly declassified by the U.S. government.
    • The report also includes data that enables cybersecurity firms and other network defenders to identify certain malware that the Russian intelligence services use.  Network defenders can use this information to identify and block Russian malware, forcing the Russian intelligence services to re-engineer their malware.  This information is newly de-classified.
    • Finally, the JAR includes information on how Russian intelligence services typically conduct their activities.  This information can help network defenders better identify new tactics or techniques that a malicious actor might deploy or detect and disrupt an ongoing intrusion.
    DHS and FBI encourage security companies and private sector owners and operators to use this JAR to check their network traffic for signs of malicious activity as well as to "leverage these indicators in proactive defense efforts to block malicious cyber activity before it occurs."