Snapshots from the Audit Trail

Our Watchdogs track the way agencies spend federal money—and take snapshots along the way as physical evidence on the audit trail.

Today’s WatchBlog highlights some of the best photos from our audit teams as they fanned out across the country and overseas to follow the money.

TSA officials at a Cuban airport

In August 2016, the first scheduled commercial flight in over 50 years made the trip between the United States and Cuba and new agreements allowed daily scheduled flights between the two countries. We reported on how TSA ensures the security of U.S.-bound aircraft from Cuba.

Figure Showing Transportation Security Administration Inspector Preparing to Board an Aircraft at Frank Pais Airport in Holguin, Cuba

Marine debris in the Florida Keys

In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the California wildfires created unprecedented demand for federal disaster help. Congress provided at least $120 billion in supplemental funding for these disasters. We reported that the timing and scale of the disaster damages nationwide caused shortages in available debris removal contractors and delays in removing debris.

Figure Showing Marine Debris in Florida Keys Canal Following Hurricane Irma in 2017

Capital project needs at HBCUs

We identified significant capital project needs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities to ensure well-maintained, safe, and functional facilities. This photo depicts a public HBCU we visited where much of their building space had suffered damage from severe weather and other causes.

Figure Showing Capital Project Needs at an Historically Black College and University

Wildlife products seized in Miami

The illegal wildlife trade—estimated to be worth $7 billion to $23 billion annually—is pushing protected and endangered animal species to the brink of extinction. The United States and Asia are key sources of demand for a variety of wildlife.

Figure Showing Wildlife Products Seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Port of Miami

Safe handling of synthetic opioids

Federal agencies have developed guidance for safely handling synthetic opioids. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s guidance notes that if a first responder encounters a situation where the scene is highly contaminated from fentanyl (a substance 100 times stronger than morphine), then he or she needs to wear a specialized full-body suit with a self-contained breathing apparatus, such as this one.

Figure Showing an Example of a Specialized Full-Body Suit Used to Respond to Scenes of Gross Fentanyl Contamination

Volume of paperwork

Throughout the life of a major disaster declaration, jurisdictions, including tribes, are required to maintain paperwork to document the recovery projects. This photo shows an example of the volume of paperwork needed to support and close out the recovery projects associated with a landslide in Washington State, according to the tribal and state officials involved.

Figure Showing the Amount of Paperwork Submitted to FEMA to Close a Major Disaster Declaration Following a Landslide in Washington, 2013

Baby turtles on the move

In our previous work on DOD adaptation to climate change impacts, we noted how these impacts may have caused a protected turtle species to nest on a part of the beach where it previously had not nested, limiting where the military can train. This photo illustrates this type of impact.

Figure Showing Movement of Sea Turtles Across a Department of Defense Beach

What does “smaller than 5 millimeters” look like?

Microbeads are plastic pieces smaller than 5 millimeters that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes. These tiny particles may pass through some water filtration systems and end up in the oceans and the Great Lakes, posing a potential threat to aquatic life.

Figure Showing Microbeads Smaller than Five Millimeters in Diameter


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