Syria’s Chemical Weapons, & More from CRS

While most of Syria’s declared chemical weapons facilities have been destroyed, the possibility of undeclared stockpiles has been hard to rule out. UN investigators said they have confirmed the use of chemical weapons in attacks attributed to the Asad regime. Background on the subject was provided by the Congressional Research Service last week in Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Continuing Challenges, CRS Insight, September 8, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Congressional Primer on Responding to Major Disasters and Emergencies, updated September 8, 2017

Congressional Considerations Related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, CRS Insight, updated September 8, 2017

Patentable Subject Matter Reform, September 8, 2017

The DACA and DAPA Deferred Action Initiatives: Frequently Asked Questions, updated September 6, 2017

The End of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program: Some Immediate Takeaways, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 8, 2017

Possible Exits from the Iran Nuclear Agreement

If the Trump Administration decided to terminate U.S. acceptance and implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement, how might it do that?

The Congressional Research Service considered the question, without advocating such a move, in a new report.

“There are several mechanisms or methods the Administration might use to cease implementing the JCPOA [Iran nuclear agreement] or to alter its implementation, if there is a decision to do so,” CRS found. These include provisions in the agreement itself or in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that was passed in 2015.

See Options to Cease Implementing the Iran Nuclear Agreement, September 7, 2017.

Disposal of Disaster Debris, and More from CRS

Dealing with the debris left by a major disaster such as Hurricane Harvey is a challenge that requires skilled management to overcome, a new report from the Congressional Research Service explains.

“In the aftermath of a major disaster, a potential threat to safety and obstacle to recovery is the presence of significant amounts of disaster debris.”

“Improperly managing debris can have detrimental long-term repercussions. During or after a disaster, some debris will likely become mixed with hazardous constituents. For example, under flooding conditions, household hazardous waste or sewage may contaminate otherwise benign personal property or building materials, such as drywall or carpeting. Improper disposal of contaminated debris may lead to future environmental, health, or safety problems, such as groundwater contamination.”

The CRS report provides an overview of the legal and regulatory frameworks for addressing disposal of post-disaster debris. See Disaster Debris Management: Requirements, Challenges, and Federal Agency Roles, September 6, 2017.

Other notable new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Floodplain Management and Flood Resilience: Current Policy and Considerations for CongressCRS Insight, September 6, 2017

Issues in Autonomous Vehicle Deployment, September 1, 2017

Retirement Benefits for Federal Law Enforcement Personnel, updated September 5, 2017

Qatar: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated September 1, 2017

Paraguay: In Brief, August 31, 2017

New Financial Sanctions on Venezuela: Key IssuesCRS Insight, September 1, 2017

Since 2002, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system has reportedly achieved 36 successful missile intercepts out of 44 attempts. Lately, Japan has indicated that it will purchase and deploy an Aegis Ashore system to bolster its own defense against North Korean missiles. See Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated September 1, 2017.

Harvey Response Depends on Congressional Action

Aside from immediate needs for food, shelter, and medical care incurred by Hurricane Harvey, there are important disaster response and recovery tasks that will require prompt attention from Congress, according to an overview from the Congressional Research Service.

These tasks include appropriation of supplemental funds and extension of needed authorities.

“Special attention will be paid to the remaining balance of the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) that pays for most of the immediate response activities supported by the federal government,” CRS said. “Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall the DRF had roughly $3.5 billion in total unobligated resources available. The total projected end-of-fiscal-year balance, as of July 31 (prior to Hurricane Harvey), was $1.45 billion.”

The uneven availability of flood insurance must also be addressed.

“Flood insurance claims made through the NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program] will be an important source of financial assistance to policyholders in the region. However, past data on participation (i.e., penetration) rates suggests that many properties in the special flood hazard area (SFHA) affected by Hurricane Harvey may not have flood insurance.”

In any case, “Key provisions of the NFIP are also set to expire on September 30, 2017…. Expiration of these authorities could have a deleterious effect on the NFIP’s ability to meet needs following Hurricane Harvey,” CRS said. See Congressional Considerations Related to Hurricane Harvey, CRS Insight, August 29, 2017.

Other new or newly-relevant publications from the Congressional Research Service on disaster response include the following.

Hurricane Harvey and Army Corps: Background for Flood Response and Recovery, CRS Insight, August 29, 2017

Oil and Chemical Spills: Federal Emergency Response Framework, August 29, 2017

Introduction to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), July 25, 2017

Federal Disaster Assistance Response and Recovery Programs: Brief Summaries, July 18, 2017

Private Flood Insurance in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), CRS Insight, June 2, 2017

Federal Disaster Assistance: The National Flood Insurance Program and Other Federal Disaster Assistance Programs Available to Individuals and Households After a Flood, April 6, 2017

Major Disaster Assistance from the Disaster Relief Fund: State Profiles, March 29, 2017

Dam Safety: Federal Programs and Authorities, CRS In Focus, February 23, 2017

FEMA Disaster Housing: The Individuals and Households Program–Implementation and Potential Issues for Congress, September 2, 2016

Congressional Primer on Responding to Major Disasters and Emergencies, May 19, 2015

Deployable Federal Assets Supporting Domestic Disaster Response Operations: Summary and Considerations for Congress, May 13, 2015

FEMA’s Disaster Declaration Process: A Primer, November 12, 2014

FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund: Overview and Selected Issues, May 7, 2014

FEMA Disaster Cost-Shares: Evolution and Analysis, April 4, 2013

FY2013 Supplemental Funding for Disaster Relief, February 19, 2013

Federal Involvement in Flood Response and Flood Infrastructure Repair: Storm Sandy Recovery, October 31, 2012

Can the President Pardon Himself?

The Congressional Research Service has prepared a summary overview of the presidential pardon power, addressing various legal questions such as: “whether the President can issue ‘prospective’ pardons; whether the President can pardon himself; and the extent to which Congress can regulate or respond to the exercise of the President’s pardon authority.”

So can the President pardon himself?

“The Framers did not debate this question at the Convention, and it unclear whether they considered whether the pardon power could be applied in this manner. No President has attempted to pardon himself. . . Accordingly, this is an unsettled constitutional question, unlikely to be resolved unless a President acts to pardon himself for a criminal offense.”

See Presidential Pardons: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)CRS Legal Sidebar, August 28, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following:

Allowances and Office Staff for Former Presidents, FY2016-FY2018 AppropriationsCRS Insight, August 28, 2017

Transport Agencies Withdraw Proposed Sleep Apnea RulesCRS Insight, August 24, 2017

Kurds in Iraq Propose Controversial Referendum on IndependenceCRS Insight, August 25, 2017

China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States, updated August 26, 2017

China-U.S. Trade Issues, updated August 26, 2017

Domestic Terrorism: An Overview, & More from CRS

The problem of “domestic terrorism” is examined in a new report from the Congressional Research Service, along with an assessment of the government’s difficulty in addressing it.

“Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), domestic terrorists–people who commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from U.S.-based extremist ideologies and movements–have not received as much attention from federal law enforcement as their violent jihadist counterparts,” the report says.

Among other obstacles to an effective response, “The federal government lacks a process for publicly designating domestic terrorist organizations.” See Domestic Terrorism: An Overview by CRS Specialist Jerome P. Bjelopera, August 21, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Confederate Names and Military InstallationsCRS Insight, August 22, 2017

FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act: Selected Military Personnel Issues, August 22, 2017

Human Rights in China and U.S. Policy: Issues for the 115th Congress, July 17, 2017

North Korean Cyber Capabilities: In Brief, August 3, 2017

Justice Department’s Role in Cyber Incident Response, August 23, 2017

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): History and Overview, updated August 17, 2017

Remedies for Patent Infringement, July 18, 2017

Russia: Background and U.S. Interests, updated August 21, 2017

DoD Releases Plan to Split Acquisition Office

In response to congressional direction, the Department of Defense is planning to divide its existing defense acquisition office into two separate organizations. The change, which would take effect in February 2018, is predicated on the belief that it would promote technological innovation and increase efficiency.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service provides background on the move. See DOD Plan to Split Acquisition Duties, CRS Insight, August 18, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Select Acquisition Reform Provisions in the House and Senate Versions of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, August 21, 2017

Who Regulates Whom? An Overview of the U.S. Financial Regulatory Framework, August 17, 2017

Select Demographic and Other Characteristics of Recent U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominees, CRS Insight, August 17, 2017

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, updated August 18, 2017

U.S. Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress, updated August 17, 2017

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, updated August 18, 2017

Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress, updated August 17, 2017

Comparing DHS Component Funding, FY2018: In Brief, August 21, 2017

Violence Against Members of Congress and Their Staff: Selected Examples and Congressional Responses, updated August 17, 2017

Charlottesville as a Federal Criminal Case

The car attack in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer and wounded many others has already been charged by the State of Virginia as a case of second degree murder. But the attack may also end up as a federal case, particularly since Attorney General Sessions announced a federal investigation into the matter last Monday.

“For both constitutional and practical reasons, law enforcement is first and foremost a state responsibility,” a new CRS brief explains. “Nevertheless, the protection of civil rights has been thought to be an important federal concern.”

“It’s too early to tell what, if any, prosecutable federal offenses the Justice Department’s investigation might discover. However, various civil rights and terrorist offenses may be implicated.” The CRS brief surveys potential federal crimes that might have been committed in the Charlottesville case, including domestic terrorism and civil rights violations.

“There is no constitutional impediment to both state and federal prosecution for the same misconduct, although prosecution in both forums occurs only infrequently.” See Charlottesville Car Crash Attack: Possibility of Federal Criminal Prosecution, CRS Legal Sidebar, August 15, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Sifting Domestic Terrorism from Hate Crime and Homegrown Violent Extremism, CRS Insight, August 14, 2017

For First Time, FinCEN Imposes Penalty on Foreign-Based Virtual Currency Exchange for Violations of Anti-Money Laundering Laws, CRS Legal Sidebar, August 17, 2017

Foreign Money and U.S. Elections, CRS Legal Sidebar, August 17, 2017

Medicare: Insolvency Projections, updated August 16, 2017

Inspector General Community Launches Oversight.gov to Increase Accessibility to Reports, CRS Insight, August 15, 2017

Trespassing: The Leading Cause of Rail-Related Fatalities, CRS Insight, August 15, 2017

EPA’s 2015 Ozone Air Quality Standards, updated August 15, 2017

The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks, updated August 15, 2017

The Debt Limit Since 2011, updated August 9, 2017

Productivity Growth Across the Economy, CRS Insight, August 8, 2017

Trump Administration Releases First Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, CRS Insight, August 7, 2017

U.S. Circuit and District Court Judges: Profile of Select Characteristics, updated August 1, 2017

Global Engagement Center: Background and Issues, CRS Insight, August 4, 2017

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response, updated August 10, 2017

Yemen: Cholera Outbreak, CRS Insight, August 2, 2017

China-India Border Tensions at Doka La, CRS Insight, August 9, 2017

Paris Agreement on Climate Change: U.S. Letter to United Nations, CRS Insight, August 8, 2017

The Open Skies Treaty: Issues in the Current Debate, CRS Insight, August 10, 2017

Navy Littoral Combat Ship/Frigate (LCS/FFGX) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated August 11, 2017

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, updated August 15, 2017

Navy Columbia Class (Ohio Replacement) Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated August 8, 2017

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated August 14, 2017

Trump Budget Would Reduce Most Federal R&D

The Trump Administration budget request would cut federal spending on research and development in every major agency except for the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the Congressional Research Service said yesterday in a new report.

“Nearly every federal agency would see its R&D funding decrease under the President’s FY2018 request compared to their FY2016 levels,” the CRS report said.

“The largest declines (as measured in dollars) would occur in the budgets of HHS (down $6.099 billion, 18.9%), DOE (down $1.809 billion, 11.9%), USDA (down $666 million, 25.1%), NSF (down $639 million, 10.6%), and the EPA (down $239 million, 46.3%).”

Federal R&D is generally understood to provide support for scientific, medical, military and other research of economic, social, security or other value that would not normally be undertaken by the private sector. Reducing R&D therefore means foregoing the benefits that might otherwise accrue from such investment.

CRS noted that the Trump budget request is “largely silent” on funding for existing multiagency R&D initiatives such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative, Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, Precision Medicine Initiative, Cancer Moonshot, Materials Genome Initiative, National Robotics Initiative, and National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The future of these programs, some of which have a statutory basis, is left uncertain in the Administration budget request.

However, the budget request is the first word, not the last word, in the budgeting process.

“Congress may opt to agree with none, part, or all of the request, and it may express different priorities through the appropriations process,” CRS said. “In particular, Congress will play a central role in determining the allocation of the federal R&D investment in a period of intense pressure on discretionary spending.”

See Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2018, July 31, 2017.

Other new or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Bail: An Overview of Federal Criminal Law, updated July 31, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape, updated July 28, 2017

Ongoing Section 232 Steel and Aluminum InvestigationsCRS Insight, July 28, 2017

In Brief: Highlights of FY2018 Defense Appropriations Actions, July 31, 2017

NAFTA and Motor Vehicle Trade, July 28, 2017

Rwanda’s August 4 Presidential ElectionCRS Insight, July 31, 2017

Honduras: Background and U.S. Relations, updated July 28, 2017

U.S. Petroleum Trade with Venezuela: Financial and Economic Considerations Associated with Possible SanctionsCRS Insight, July 27, 2017

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated July 24, 2017

Trump Admin Would Curtail Carbon Capture Research

The Trump Administration budget request for FY 2018 would “severely reduce” Energy Department funding for development of carbon capture and sequestration technologies intended to combat the climate change effects of burning fossil fuels.

The United States has “more than 250 years’ worth of clean, beautiful coal,” President Trump said last month, implying that remedial measures to diminish the environmental impact of coal power generation are unnecessary.

Research on the carbon capture technology that could make coal use cleaner by removing carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust would be cut by 73% if the Trump Administration has its way.

“The Trump Administration’s approach would be a reversal of Obama Administration and George W. Bush Administration DOE policies, which supported large carbon-capture demonstration projects and large injection and sequestration demonstration projects,” the Congressional Research Service said this week in a new report.

“We have finally ended the war on coal,” President Trump declared.

However, congressional approval of the Administration’s proposal to slash carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) development is not a foregone conclusion.

“The House Appropriations Committee’s FY2018 bill funding DOE disagrees with the Administration budget request and would fund CCS activities at roughly FY2017 levels,” the CRS report said.

“This report provides a summary and analysis of the current state of CCS in the United States.” It also includes a primer on how CCS could work, and a profile of previous funding in this area. See Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) in the United States, July 24, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Methane and Other Air Pollution Issues in Natural Gas Systems, updated July 27, 2017

The U.S. Export Control System and the Export Control Reform Initiative, updated July 24, 2017

Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS): OECD Tax Proposals, July 24, 2017

Oman: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated July 25, 2017

Lebanon, updated July 25, 2017

Aviation Bills Take Flight, but Legislative Path Remains Unclear, CRS Insight, July 25, 2017

Military Officers, CRS In Focus, July 3, 2017

Military Enlisted Personnel, CRS In Focus, July 3, 2017

Transgender Servicemembers: Policy Shifts and Considerations for Congress, CRS Insight, July 26, 2017

Systematic, authorized publication of CRS reports on a government website came a step closer to reality yesterday when the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve “a provision that will make non-confidential CRS reports available to the public via the Government Publishing Office’s website.”