Just in ... Hawaii outdoor rec

The State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) 2008 Update was published last month by the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). An update of the 2003 SCORP report, it was prepared to qualify for federal funding under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act, P.L. 88-578. LWCF funding is used for the acquisition and development of public lands for outdoor recreation. The state and counties of Hawaii have received more than $36 million in federal grants since the program's inception in 1965.

HC107 H3 H56 2008
Report (pdf, 207pp/14.8 MB)
Appendix (pdf, 274pp/22.3MB)

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Douglas J. Elliott of Brookings Economic Studies and the Center On Federal Financial Institutions (COFFI) has authored a guide to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). The PBGC was established by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, which was enacted in part, according to the paper, because of the bankruptcies of automakers Packard and Studebaker in the 1960s that left many employees with greatly reduced pensions. The current crisis in the auto industry raises the same concern. The PBGC basically guarantees pensions when a firm goes bankrupt. It is primarily funded by premiums from employers that offer defined benefit pension plans. The PBGC itself is in major financial stress, being $11 billion in debt as of Sept. 2008. A GM bankruptcy could add $20 billion to the deficit.

The guide covers:
  • Background on retirement plans
  • Pension funding rules
  • Guarantees provided by the PBGC
  • How the PBGC works
  • The situation in the auto industry
  • The PBGC's financial crisis
  • Options to fix the crisis
  • Glossary of terms
A Guide to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (pdf, 50pp/436kB), May 20, 2009



Child stats

On May 1 the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) released Children in the States Factsheets for the U.S. and each of the 50 states. Data are from November 2008. The factsheets provide basic stats and rankings for racial demographics, poverty, health, hunger, early childhood development, education, child welfare, and youth at risk.

Factsheets for:
      U.S. and all states (pdf, 104pp/608kB)
      Hawaii (pdf, 2pp/60kB)

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Don't let them bite

On May 15 McClatchy published an article on "the biggest bedbug outbreak since World War II" and legislation introduced by Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), the Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2009 (HR 2248). The bill includes grants for state inspection programs and adds bed bugs to public housing inspections and preventive public health services. (A similar bill Butterfield introduced last year HR 6068 died in committee.) The article also noted the "first-ever" bed bug summit held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in April in Washington.

According to the article, pesticide resistance is a factor in the resurgence. In Hawaii bed bugs fall under the purview of the Vector Control Branch of the Dept. of Health (DOH). Its website acknowledges the decrease in broad spectrum pesticides as the primary cause but also attributes "the increase and speed at which humans can travel" for the spread of new bed bug infestations.



Climate change and U.S.

A recent paper from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) gives an overview of the potential impacts of climate change in the U.S. The paper discusses impacts on:
  • The physical environment - temperature; precipitation; cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes; ocean currents, sea level, and ocean acidification
  • Biological systems - ecosystems and biodiversity; agriculture, forestry, and fisheries
  • Economy and human health - water supply and other infrastructure; human health; and aggregate economic impacts
A primary source used for the paper was the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Potential Impacts of Climate Change in the United States
    Report (pdf, 33pp/1.3MB), May 2009
    Blog, May 4, 2009

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Why education matters

The Common Good Forecaster, a joint project of the United Way of America and the American Human Development Project, is a webtool which estimates education levels as impacting a community's "important statistical indicators, such as income, health, voting rates and even the likelihood that a person will stay out of prison," as reported by USA Today.

According to the companion report to the Good Forecaster:
education is about more than just better jobs and bigger paychecks,...More education is also linked to better physical and mental health, longer lives, fewer crimes, less incarceration, more voting, greater tolerance, and brighter prospects for the next generation. More education...is also good for all of us, paying big dividends in the form of increased civic engagement, greater neighborhood safety, and a healthy, vibrant democracy.
USA Today goes on to say, the Forecaster website "allows users to fiddle with state and county high school graduation rates, college attendance and college graduation rates to predict what the effect of raising those rates might be."

Ten indicators featured on the website are examined in more detail in the companion report which makes "the case why education matters to each of these critical areas."
  • Life expectancy
  • Low birthweigh
  • Murder
  • Obesity
  • Income
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Children’s reading proficiency
  • Voting
  • Incarceration
Basic data sources include: the U.S. Census Bureau; CDC; National Center for Health Statistics; and the U.S. Department of Education.

The Common Good Forecaster (website)
Goals For The Common Good: Exploring The Impact Of Education (companion report, pdf, 16pp/680kB)


Recent GAO reports

From the Government Accountability Office (GAO):

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION: Greater Attention Is Needed to Enhance Communication and Utilization of Resources in the Division of Enforcement, GAO-09-613T (pdf, 14pp/164kB), May 7, 2009

This testimony on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Division of Enforcement (Enforcement) is based on GAO's earlier report (pdf, 64pp/1.1MB) of the same title, issued March 31, 2009. The testimony focuses on (1) the extent to which Enforcement has an appropriate mix of resources; (2) considerations affecting penalty determinations, and recent trends in penalties and disgorgements ordered; and (3) the adoption, implementation, and effects of recent penalty policies.

GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEM: Significant Challenges in Sustaining and Upgrading Widely Used Capabilities,
      Report (pdf, 61pp/1.4MB), April 30, 2009
      Testimony (pdf, 15pp/196kB), May 7, 2009

The U.S. provides free Global Positioning System (GPS) data and service, the Dept. of Defense (DOD) develops and operates GPS, and the Air Force, which is responsible for GPS acquisition, is in the process of modernizing GPS. In both the report and testimony, GAO expressed concern as to the Air Force's timely acquisition of next-generation GPS satellites. GAO assessed progress in (1) acquiring GPS satellites, (2) acquiring the ground control and user equipment necessary to leverage GPS satellite capabilities, and evaluated (3) coordination among federal agencies and other organizations to ensure GPS missions can be accomplished.

FINANCIAL LITERACY AND EDUCATION COMMISSION: Progress Made in Fostering Partnerships, but National Strategy Remains Largely Descriptive Rather Than Strategic, GAO-09-638T (pdf, 20pp/176kB), April 29, 2009

In 2003 the Financial Literacy and Education Improvement Act established the Financial Literacy and Education Commission to improve financial literacy and education through a national strategy. In Dec. 2006 GAO published a report (pdf, 54pp/580kB) with recommendations to the Commission on its national strategy, Web site, reviews of federal activities, and development of partnerships. This testimony is on the Commission's progress in implementing GAO's recommendations and key challenges the Commission faces.

AUTO INDUSTRY: Summary of Government Efforts and Automakers' Restructuring to Date, GAO-09-553 (pdf, 48pp/624kB), April 23, 2009

To stabilize the auto industry, in Dec. 2008 Treasury established the Automotive Industry Financing Program (AIFP) under TARP. Through March 2009, Treasury allocated $36 billion to AIFP. As part of GAO's mandate to oversee TARP activities, this report discusses the (1) nature and purpose of assistance to the auto industry, (2) how the assistance addresses three principles (identifying and defining the problem, determining the national interests and setting clear goals and objectives that address the problem, and protecting the government's interests), and (3) important factors for Chrysler and GM to address in achieving long-term viability and the challenges they face to become viable.

COMMERCIAL AVIATION: Airline Industry Contraction Due to Volatile Fuel Prices and Falling Demand Affects Airports, Passengers, and Federal Government Revenues, GAO-09-393 (pdf, 58pp/1.4MB), April 21, 2009

According to GAO, U.S. passenger airlines lost $4.3 billion in the first 3 quarters of 2008, largely due to volatile fuel prices, and the outlook for profitability in 2009 is uncertain. For this report, GAO examined how (1) the financial condition of the U.S. passenger airline industry has changed, the principal factors affecting its condition, and its prospects for 2009; (2) airlines have responded to the factors affecting their financial condition; and (3) changes in the industry have affected airports, passengers, and the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF), which funds the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) capital programs and most of its operations.

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Information flow

The New York Times reports today on the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology efforts to open access to the highly regarded reports and memos of the Congressional Research Service, a research division of the Library of Congress.
The center has been working for years to gain access to the service’s reports. In a recent informal online survey financed by the Sunlight Foundation together with the center and OpenTheGovernment.org, the research service’s reports were the government documents the most respondents wanted to see.
NYT describes the research service as being "by law exclusively for the use of members of Congress." On its webpage CRS defines one of its values:
Confidential. All queries and exchanges with Members of Congress are held in the strictest confidence. Legislators and congressional staff are free to access CRS experts and analysis, explore issues, dispute them, ask questions about them, or float an unusual idea — all without question, challenge or disclosure. CRS employees do not discuss work undertaken for a Member or a committee with another congressional office or with anyone outside the organization.
The Center's website OpenCRS provides access to some CRS reports. NYT further mentions,"In February, Wikileaks, an online source of hard-to-get documents, began offering access to 6,780 of the research service’s reports dating to 1990." Wikileaks claims,
"Members of Congress are free to selectively release CRS reports to the public but are only motivated to do so when they feel the results would assist them politically. Universally embarrassing reports are kept quiet."
Contacted by NYT Janine D’Addario, a spokeswoman for the research service, said
by law, its work is to be exclusive and confidential to Congress. Additionally, a provision in the appropriations bill that finances the service each year forbids it to make its work public.

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Examining pandemic: issues and resources

The National Academies Press publishes a ten-book series that "examines status of preparations, implementation strategies, and other aspects of the US response to the threat of pandemic influenze." Titles include:
  • The Impact of Globalization on Infectious Disease Emergence and Control
  • The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready?
  • Ethical and Legal Considerations in Mitigating Pandemic Disease
  • Dispensing Medical Countermeasures for Public Health Emergencies
  • Antivirals for Pandemic Influenza: Guidance on Developing a Distribution and Dispensing Program

Pandemic Influenza Special Collection, by The National Academies Press
available as Open Text documents (select the "Buy this single book" option to access each free, full text availability)

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