Lights, Camera, Court Room?

Supreme CourtThe U.S. Supreme Court hears cases that potentially affect millions of Americans. Oral arguments are open to the public, but seating is limited—if you’re in DC while the Court is in session, you may glimpse lines of people snaking the court steps waiting to try to get a seat.

But, if you don’t make it through the door, you won’t be able to see what happens because the Court doesn’t allow video coverage of its proceedings.

So, what do courtroom insiders think about cameras in the courtroom? Today’s WatchBlog tunes in to the issue.

Audio, but not video

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t provide or allow video or live-audio coverage of oral arguments. However, the Court posts audio at the end of each week that it’s in session. Sessions are held Monday through Wednesday, though, so you may have to wait 2 to 5 days to hear the oral arguments.

The Court also provides transcripts of oral arguments the same day arguments are heard, and decisions within minutes of their release.

In 2000, the Court also started granting same-day access to audio recordings for selected cases. But as you can see, the Court declines many requests—something it can decide at its discretion.

fig. 4(Excerpted from GAO-16-437)

What other courts do

We looked at how some other courts (here and abroad) handle oral arguments, and found that the policies vary. For example, only 2 of 13 U.S. courts of appeals allow media video coverage, but 9 of the 13 make same-day audio recordings available.

However, most of the nation’s highest state courts (49) allow the media to record both video and audio of court proceedings. And almost all of these courts make their own recordings publicly available online.

fig. 5(Excerpted from GAO-16-437)

The highest appeals courts in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom also provide video coverage of court proceedings.

Education v. Sensationalism

Most of the appellate judges and attorneys we spoke to thought that court coverage could help educate the public about judicial issues. However, some were worried that the media could sensationalize or distort the proceedings (e.g., by presenting only one side’s arguments or editing the tapes). Although some judges and attorneys thought that having the courts directly provide the coverage—such as by making full videos available online—could potentially help with this concern.

Some attorneys were also concerned that televising arguments could change how people behave in the Supreme Court.

So, what do the Supreme Court Justices think? According to their Public Information Officer, individual Justices have said that televising proceedings could hurt the dynamics of oral arguments. They have also expressed concerns about introducing changes that could create misconceptions about the Court and noted that arguments are one small piece of the overall decision-making process.

This is just a quick glimpse of what we found. For information on the policies on court coverage in appellate courts, the list of all Supreme Court cases for which media requested same-day audio (and the results), and video policies and procedures for some foreign courts, check out the full report.

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Licenses for Dangerous Radioactive Materials (podcast)

GAO Podcast IconWe set up fake companies in 3 states to test licensing of radioactive materials, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees. The result? 2 states flagged the fake business but, in 1 state, we were able to get a license and secure commitments to buy a dangerous quantity of radioactive materials.

Listen to David Trimble, a director in our Natural Resources and Environment team, discuss his team’s work examining the licensing of radioactive material:

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6 years after Dodd-Frank, Oversight of Financial Services Industry Still Needs Streamlining

thumbnail_auditingToday is the 6th anniversary of the signing of the Dodd-Frank Act. The law made a range of financial reforms meant to help prevent future financial crises. For example, it closed gaps in the oversight of consumer protection and markets that were previously unregulated.

However, Dodd-Frank didn’t do much to simplify oversight of the U.S. financial system. We recently reviewed the U.S. financial regulatory structure in light of Dodd-Frank to see if the act helped to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. Read on for a snapshot of the current system and the work that still needs to be done.

Complex and fragmented oversight

Dodd-Frank made a number of reforms but it didn’t ultimately end up clarifying the complex and fragmented U.S. regulatory structure. Responsibilities for overseeing the financial services industry are still spread out over multiple federal regulators, hundreds of state agencies, and many industry organizations.

U.S. Financial Regulatory Structure, 2016(Excerpted from GAO-16-175)

Lawrance Evans, a director in our Financial Markets and Community Investment team, explains this sprawling structure:

Why it’s a problem

Because the fragmented and overlapping regulatory structure is still largely the same, so is the potential for inconsistencies and inefficiencies:

  • Duplicate reviews. Dodd-Frank created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new consumer financial protection agency. But the responsibilities for overseeing banks (to protect consumers) are split between this new agency and 4 different bank or credit union regulators. This arrangement may result in inefficiencies, such as duplicate examinations of banks.
  • Inconsistent oversight. One way financial institutions lessen their risk is through so-called swaps. These are fairly complex financial agreements that were unregulated prior to Dodd-Frank. Dodd-Frank regulated swaps and generally divided their oversight between 2 agencies—the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
    However, having 2 different agencies regulating interconnected markets can create inefficiencies. For example, we found differences in some of the agencies’ rules for swaps. Firms told us that such differences could result in having to spend more time and effort trying to comply with both rules than one set of rules.
  • Different levels of consumer protection. Dodd-Frank increased federal consumer protections, but not all regulation is at the federal level. For example, states generally regulate insurance. But they have different requirements for licensing insurance agents and brokers. So some states have more rigorous requirements for agent and broker criminal background checks than other states. As a result, depending on what state you live in, you may have more or fewer financial protections.
  • Limits to mitigating risks. Dodd-Frank established an oversight council to monitor the overall financial system for risks. But, the council may not have all the authorities it needs to carry out this mission, particularly with respect to risks that arise from financial activities not specified in Dodd-Frank.

Cutting through the murk

We asked Congress to consider changing the U.S. financial regulatory structure to ensure more consistent and effective oversight. For example, it could decrease the number of federal entities involved or make legislative changes that ensure an effective response to risks to financial system stability.

We’ve also identified opportunities for better collaboration and information sharing among the key monitoring agencies. For this and other recommendations, check out all of our reports and testimonies on the Dodd-Frank Act.

    • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Lawrance Evans at
    • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact
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What You Need to Know about Tax Incentives and the Federal Budget (infographic)

thumbnail of Spending Through the Tax Code infographicThe federal budget consists of revenue (mostly taxes, but also things like user fees and intragovernmental revolving funds) and spending.

But not all spending looks the same. Spending through tax provisions—known as tax incentives or expenditures—is not as well-known as other types of federal spending, such as discretionary spending on federal programs, or spending on Social Security and other entitlement programs.

Yet tax expenditures totaled more than $1.2 trillion in fiscal year 2015—roughly what is spent on discretionary federal spending. And they didn’t have the scrutiny of other types of federal spending.

Learn more about tax expenditures and how they’re evaluated in our latest infographic:

Spending Through the Tax Code infographic

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When the Federal Government Makes Improper Payments (podcast)

GAO Podcast IconFederal government agencies made an estimated $137 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2015. These were payments that shouldn’t have been made at all or were sent in the wrong amount.

Here is Beryl Davis, a director in our Financial Management and Assurance team, discussing the difference between fraud and improper payments, and efforts to eliminate improper payments by the federal government.

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All About Medicaid

Thumbnail Health CareWe’ve talked a lot about Medicare on this blog but Medicaid, a federal-state health care program, is also on our radar. In fact, it’s one of our High Risk issues. Today’s WatchBlog looks at the size and complexity of Medicaid, and some of the challenges to oversight and transparency that the program presents.

Medicaid is big. How big? Continue reading

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Can DOD Operate and Sustain the F-35 Fleet?

Figure 1: F-35A Air Force Conventional Takeoff and Landing Variant (CTOL)The F-35 is the Department of Defense’s largest and most expensive weapon system ever. This fleet of aircraft is the most technologically advanced in history, possessing state-of-the-art warfighting capabilities, and is estimated to cost more than $1.3 trillion over the program’s 56-year life cycle. Is DOD ready for it?

Today’s WatchBlog discusses DOD problems assessing the affordability of the F-35 and the risks related to the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System—the “brains” of the aircraft. Continue reading

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Can We Count on an Accurate Count?

govThe 2010 Census was the most expensive in U.S. history—it cost about $13 billion from start to finish (in 2010 dollars). Using the same design, the 2020 Census would cost over $17 billion (in 2020 dollars). But the Census Bureau’s new plan for the national headcount may put the cost closer to $12.5 billion (in 2020 dollars). Is that estimate really reliable? Today’s WatchBlog explores. Continue reading

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Worker Safety at Meat and Poultry Plants

GAO-16-337_fig7Buying meat for your summer cookout is certainly faster than hunting for it. But that doesn’t mean that getting all of those burgers, wings, and hot dogs from the farm to the grill is easy. Today’s WatchBlog takes a look at the risks of injuries and illnesses to meat and poultry workers, and what the federal government can do to better support worker safety. Continue reading

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Answering the Calls of Veterans in Crisis (podcast)

GAO Podcast IconMany servicemembers returning from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other deployments have struggled with mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse. The Department of Veterans affairs established the 24-hour Veterans Crisis Line in July 2007 to help veterans in emotional crisis:

1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255 then press 1

However, some callers have complained about long hold times—including one veteran who recorded a 45-minute hold period. Listen to Seto Bagodoyan, a director in our Forensic Audits and Investigative Service team discuss the service provided by the Veterans Crisis Line and what the VA is doing to ensure the line meets callers’ needs.

Comments on the WatchBlog? Contact

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