A reduced U.S. House Judiciary Committee comprised of Chairman Robert Goodlatte, 10th District Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and a committee attorney heard from one witness at a Monday morning, July 16 field hearing at the Warren County Government Center. That witness addressing a proposal to move the Alcohol-Tobacco-Firearms (ATF) Canine Training Center from Front Royal-Warren County to the Redstone Arsenal site near Huntsville, Alabama was Deputy ATF Director Thomas Brandon.
Brandon’s assessment based on experience with the Front Royal-Warren County ATF training site since its inception here in 2012 and a study of the proposed new site was – well, this story’s headline says it all.
In addition to the $40-million price tag in federal tax revenue placed on the move to Alabama, an environmental assessment study commissioned by the ATF of the proposed new site found circumstances that will have a negative impact on ATF dogs training, rendering them essentially unable to perform crucial portions of their assigned tasks. Those tasks include helping solve and prevent weapons and explosives-based attacks, not only in the U.S., but with international allies of the United States.
“It is truly a world-renowned program, a program that has been very productive and successful throughout the years,” Goodlatte observed, adding, “The training facility in Front Royal provides the clean air and quiet location the dogs need in order to learn how to do their job, but there has been a proposal to move the facility to a place that could adversely impact the canines’ ability to detect explosives and keep the public safe.”
ATF-trained dogs’ roles in solving and preventing explosives and firearms-related attacks were cited during Deputy Director Brandon’s testimony. They included helping local authorities solve the Austin, Texas serial bombing case; work on the Santa Fe, Texas school shooting; and on the preventative end Brandon noted that ATF dogs are now an annual presence at the Boston Marathon and all Super Bowls.
The primary negative training impact Brandon cited are consequences of two nearby explosive and weapons research facilities, the Redstone Arsenal now apparently a federal Superfund site, and the active Corkern Range.
As for Redstone, both Goodlatte and Brandon referenced the findings of a 2016 Senate Appropriations Committee-financed feasibility study ATF was directed to conduct.
“The study found that building a comparable canine training and kennel facility at Redstone would cost millions of taxpayer dollars, require intensive talent recruitment for the new facility, and result in the loss of key National Canine Division personnel due to the move. Altogether, the study concluded that the move would substantially disrupt continuity of operations and mission readiness,” Goodlatte read in prepared statement to open the hearing. Brandon elaborated that cost estimates for the move included about $37 million for the move and new construction, and another $3-million in recruitment and training expenses.
Hot on the heels of that report ATF commissioned an independent environmental evaluation of the proposed Alabama site by AECOM Technical Services. ATF Deputy Director Brandon explained that ATF wanted a finding that could not be accused of internal manipulation or influence by the agency.
“My agents love being out here; heck, I love being out here,” Brandon said at one point in his testimony, drawing appreciative laughter from Town and County officials present for the hearing.
Brandon elaborated that he was not only referencing the quiet, rural setting at the ATF facility on a portion of 150 acres sublet from the longer-standing local Customs-Border Patrol Canine Training Facility in Harmony Hollow, but also the positive working relationship with the Front Royal and Warren County business community that financial and training arrangements have been established with over the years.
Those relationships and mutual trust and benefit are not things that are established over night, but over years, Brandon testified.
The second study of the proposed move from Virginia to Alabama, the independent environmental assessment, focused on three categories: surface soil assessment; noise evaluation; and air dispersion modeling. And with both the past and present explosives development and research facilities presence in the Huntsville area, the conclusions weren’t positive about the impact on training ATF dogs to detect explosives.
“The canines will become unreliable … You can’t train a bomb-sniffing dog at a place where everything smells like a bomb,” Brandon and Goodlatte concurred of a short version of the study’s conclusion.
Specifically, Brandon elaborated that the levels of explosive contaminants in the soil “present obstacles that are likely insurmountable to the initial imprinting of the canines to detect explosives and accelerants.” He explained the importance of “initial imprinting” as “absolutely essential” to ATF’s well-established and internationally-recognized training regimes.
Brandon said the concern was that young dogs beginning their training would associate the pervasive amount of explosive contaminants remaining in the environment with the “target odors” they are being trained to detect in order to save lives or solve crimes in order to prevent further loss of life.
“This isn’t a game, this is real life. We have situations where we are catching killers from the bombings in Austin to the case I just mentioned …It would set us back,” Brandon said of the proposed move.
The previously-mentioned case Brandon referenced was a 2017 case in New Jersey. He used it to illustrate ATF-trained dogs’ ability to detect exceptionally small traces of those “target odors” involved in firearms cases, often some time after they occur. Called by New Jersey State Police to a traffic stop, ATF dogs were able to find two well-concealed guns.
“Our dog got on the trunk of the car; and within that trunk were two firearms that would never have been detected because of such a low level (of target odors) … And those guns turned out to be murder weapons,” Brandon said. Those weapons were taken off the streets because of the initial target odor imprinting that ATF dogs receive at the Harmony Hollow training facility.
The noise issues comes from blasting at the active Corkern Range “that has a clear potential to affect dogs at the proposed kennel site, especially if the dogs are outside at the time of the blasting activity.” It was noted that ATF dogs are outdoors for approximately six of their eight-hour training shifts.
“So, why are we even talking about this?” was the post-meeting, parking lot assessment of one journalist and a spectator from one local business, AirServe, who observed the hearing.
Apparently because some politicians in Alabama would like the peripheral economic benefit such a facility would bring to their community – estimated at over $300,000 annually by the local Chamber of Commerce – not to mention the prestige of such a vital national security agency’s presence there.
Chairman Goodlatte, in whose Sixth Virginia Congressional District Front Royal, Warren County and the ATF Canine Training Facility in Harmony Hollow all lie, predicted charges of district protectionism in his effort to keep the facility here.
However, based on the ATF assessment of the impacts of the proposed move versus the success of their facility’s six-year training experience in Front Royal-Warren County, it would appear the district “nepotism” and attempt to hijack a federal agency that is perfectly comfortable where it is, lies a bit further southwest.
And we doubt Huntsville has the proud war dog-training heritage that Front Royal has dating back to World War II as is commemorated annually at the town’s Memorial Day ceremonies that include a salute to the dogs of war.
Social Security benefits will be paid on time and other updates related to the COVID-19 pandemic
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, reminds the public that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payments will continue to be paid on time during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency also reminds everyone to be aware of scammers who try to take advantage of the pandemic to trick people into providing personal information or payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash, to maintain Social Security benefit payments or receive economic impact payments from the Department of the Treasury.
“Social Security will pay monthly benefits on time and these payments will not be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Commissioner Saul said. “I want our beneficiaries to be aware that scammers may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping or somehow changing your Social Security payments, but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.”
The Department of the Treasury will soon provide information about economic impact payments under the recently enacted law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. Treasury, not Social Security, will be making direct payments to eligible people. Please do not call Social Security about these payments as the agency does not have information to share.
The agency continues to direct the public to its online self-service options whenever possible. Local offices are closed to the public but are available by phone. People can find their local field office phone number by accessing the Field Office Locator.
To allow available agents to provide better phone coverage, the agency is temporarily changing the National 800 Number hours starting on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The hours will change from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time to 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. local time. The agency is experiencing longer than normal wait times on the 800 Number and asks the public to remain patient, use its online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, or call their local office.
Please visit the agency’s COVID-19 web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/coronavirus/ for important information and updates.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – April 3, 2020
Important updates from Congressman Ben Cline – April 3, 2020
Since last week’s passage of H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, federal agencies have issued guidelines for how this bill will be implemented. This important bill will utilize new resources to fight on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in America and will inject funding into the economy to help American workers, families, small businesses, and industries so that our country can not only survive this crisis but thrive when we do.
Day by day, more details continue to be made available about both the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and the Economic Impact Payments available to individuals, which are provisions of the CARES Act designed to provide key relief to the American people in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus. For an overview of action the U.S. Department of the Treasury has taken since the bill’s passage, please visit treasury.gov/cares.
The Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force, which is being run by FEMA and focused on meeting the demand for critical medical resources and supplies, published a fact sheet detailing its four-pronged approach to address issues related to critical protective and life-saving equipment: Preservation, Acceleration, Expansion, and Allocation.
To learn more about the Economic Impact Payments available to individuals through the CARES Act, please visit irs.gov. There, you will find information about who is eligible to receive payments and whether you need to take any action in order to receive the payments, among other helpful information. The IRS has said it will begin distributing the checks in the next three weeks.
For business owners struggling to keep their doors open and their employees’ taken care of during this difficult time, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has two loan programs. First, the recently passed CARES Act created the Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative that provides 100% federally guaranteed loans to help small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.
Secondly, the SBA has now approved Virginia for its Economic Injury Disaster Program. The SBA will work directly with state governors to provide targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and non-profits that have been severely impacted. Please visit sba.gov/coronavirus for more information on the two loan programs.
This week, the President announced that the CDC’s nationwide guidance to slow the spread of the virus, which was published 15 days ago, will be extended until at least April 30th. As Dr. Fauci said, “The reason why we feel so strongly about the necessity of the additional 30 days is that now is the time, whenever you’re having an effect, not to take your foot off the accelerator.”
Additionally, during one of this week’s briefings, Dr. Fauci said that vaccine trials are, “right on target for the year to year and a half.” On the subject of treating the virus, Dr. Birx announced that a coronavirus antibody test could be available within this month. Such a test could help identify those who have had the virus and recovered.
As of March 30, the U.S. Navy’s gigantic floating hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, arrived in New York City where it has been sent to help relieve the pressure on the city’s hospitals that are overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. The Comfort’s 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms will largely be used for non-coronavirus patients, freeing up much-needed space at the city’s overtaxed hospitals. Likewise, the USNS Mercy sits on the shores of Los Angeles.
Rest assured, I will continue to keep you informed, monitor the situation in Virginia and around the country, and work with my colleagues to ensure the full, coordinated force of the federal government is behind our efforts to stop the spread of this disease. Please visit cline.house.gov/covid-19 for additional resources.
If you experience symptoms or have been exposed to someone recently diagnosed with COVID-19, contact your doctor immediately to determine if you need screening.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Resources:
Follow @CDCgov on Twitter
Resources for Business:
School work, meal deliveries continue during pandemic
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) food services have been on a roll, literally and figuratively.
Last week, WCPS Child Nutrition handed out almost 2,100 free meals to help support local students with breakfasts and lunches during the COVID-19 pandemic, WCPS Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard told members of the Warren County School Board during its April 1 regular meeting.
On Tuesday, she said 3,582 meals were served to more than 597 students — 1,088 were served at E.W. Morrison Elementary School; 332 were served via the food services van, and 968 were served from Warren County school buses.
That was a substantial increase over Monday when 804 meals were served at E.W. Morrison; 276 via the food services van; and 636 from the buses for a total of 1,716 meals served.
“I really have to give a shout out to our food services department and our transportation department,” said Sheppard. “They have done a phenomenal job of making sure our students are fed.” Sheppard said that the schedule for the bagged meals program has been modified. For instance, WCPS will deliver two-days worth of breakfasts and lunches to specific sites on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then on Fridays, WCPS will deliver three-days worth of breakfasts and lunches at various sites to cover weekend meals.
To access the WCPS Child Nutrition bagged meals program for the full schedule of pick-up and/or drive-through times and locations please go to https://www.wcps.k12.va.us/index.php/child-nutrition
“We also just received permission from the Virginia Department of Education that the student does not have to be present for food pickup,” Sheppard said. “Parents must provide students’ names, but the children don’t have to be present to receive their free meals.”
Warren County School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower said that she recently rode on a school bus to help deliver free school meals.
“The kids and the parents are very appreciative,” she said, “and the kids are super sweet and very engaging. Let’s get the word out that we’re going to take care of them and see them through this.”
“Even in this difficult time, our community is pulling through as always,” said School Board member Kristen Pence.
During her superintendent’s report to the board, Sheppard also said that WCPS teachers continue to support students on a daily basis.
“Our teachers and principals have been working very hard to ensure the continuity of instruction,” said Sheppard. “Where we can, we are providing virtual instruction and for those students without internet connectivity, we are providing packets of learning materials.”
Teachers also hold “office” hours from home every weekday during mornings and afternoons, she said, adding that students and their families may interact with teachers via email, Google Classroom, or telephone if they have questions.
“Teachers are reaching out regularly to students via email and phone,” Sheppard told the board members.
Additionally, WCPS is initiating plans for a comprehensive summer school program, but currently is unsure “when and if we can resume normal operations, but we are hopeful we will have a robust summer school program in July to help students get ready for the upcoming school year that starts in August,” said Sheppard.
WCPS also hasn’t lost sight of prom and graduation, which are the big memory-making events for high school seniors. “But it’s still too early to predict when these events will be held based on currently available information,” she said.
School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr. noted that WCPS is “striving hard” to take care of its teachers, children, and staff.
“Bottom line,” he said, “our community will pull out of this and will be fine. I know it’s tough. But if we do what we need to do, we can hopefully move on and get back to our normal routine.”
Winchester Police on point of carjacking suspect arrest in Front Royal
Prior to 8 a.m., Thursday morning, April 2nd, not far from the Royal Examiner/National Media Services’ Commerce Avenue Front Royal offices, a joint law enforcement operation led by the Winchester City Police Department’s Investigative Unit arrested a suspect on multiple charges in a March 28 incident in the city. Below is the Winchester Police Department’s full press release on its investigation and Thursday morning’s joint-departmental operation:
On April 2, 2020, at approximately 7:15 a.m., the Winchester Police Department (WPD), assisted by other law enforcement agencies, executed a search warrant at 218 East 6th Street in Front Royal, VA following an ongoing investigation into a carjacking in the City of Winchester. As a result of the investigation and search warrant, Diontre Tyrese Bell, 20 years old, of the above address in Front Royal, was arrested and charged with carjacking, robbery, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
On March 28, 2020, at approximately 12:30 a.m., WPD was alerted to a motor vehicle theft that had just occurred in the 100 blocks of East Pall Mall Street. Upon investigation into the incident, detectives learned that the male victim was standing outside his 1990 Dodge Caravan when he was approached by a group of males. One of the males, later identified as Diontre Bell, grabbed the backpack the victim was wearing and took items including a firearm and keys to the van. Threatening statements were made during the encounter. No injuries were sustained during the incident. The van was later recovered on March 30th, parked and unoccupied, along the roadway in the 1300 block of South Braddock Street.
During the execution of the search warrant, two cell phones were seized and DNA was collected. Bell is being held at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Detention Center without bond. The Winchester Police Department would like to publicly thank the Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force for their assistance in the investigation.
Coronavirus update: Deaths soar, supplies remain short, convention rescheduled
WASHINGTON — The federal government offered increased financial aid to communities Thursday (April 2) as states continued pleading for more medical equipment to address the novel coronavirus in preparation for the pandemic’s peak.
Over 234,460 cases and almost 5,650 deaths were confirmed across the country as of Thursday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard. Health experts and the administration warned that the worst is yet to come.
Democratic National Convention pushed back
The Democratic National Convention, originally scheduled to start July 13 in Milwaukee, will be postponed a month due to the pandemic.
“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” Joe Solmonese, the convention committee’s CEO, said in a statement Thursday.
The convention is now set to run for four days starting on Aug. 17.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s leading the delegate count for the Democratic presidential nomination, was vocal about his uncertainty surrounding the convention before the schedule change as the coronavirus continued to exponentially affect Americans.
“I doubt whether the Democratic convention is going to be able to be held in mid-July,” Biden told Jimmy Fallon during an appearance on the “The Tonight Show” Wednesday night. “I think it’s going to have to move into August.”
The Republican presidential nominating convention is expected to start as planned on Aug. 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fifteen states and Puerto Rico have delayed their primaries because of the coronavirus as of Wednesday, while upcoming votes in states including Alaska and Wyoming are expected to be conducted completely by mail.
White House announces counter-narcotics mission amid growing coronavirus crisis
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States was launching an operation to curb the presence of illegal narcotics in the country as the pandemic persisted.
“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” the president said during the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing.
The U.S. Southern Command will ramp up surveillance and seizures of drug shipments with cooperation from 22 other nations, according to Trump. Additional deployment of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force would help in “doubling our capabilities in the region,” the president said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that the initiative is part of the administration’s “whole-of-government approach.”
“At a time when the nation and the Department of Defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread of the coronavirus, we also remain vigilant to the many other threats our country faces,” Esper said.
The announcement came as the country geared up for its peak in coronavirus cases and states pleaded for additional medical equipment to combat the virus.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said intelligence showed that drug cartels were going to “take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country.”
New FEMA documents show medical supply shortage despite states’ requests
Only a fraction of protective equipment and medical supplies requested by five states and the District of Columbia were delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), new agency documents show.
As of Monday, less than 10% of the requested 5.2 million N95 masks, less than 1% of the 194 million requested gloves and none of the 15,000 body bags were sent to FEMA’s third region. Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia comprise this area.
“The new documents…confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals for weeks,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said in a statement Thursday.
Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said a Wednesday briefing with FEMA and Health and Human Services Department officials exposed other equipment shortages. The demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the national demand, according to FEMA, and the shortage is expected to worsen.
To combat supply shortages, FEMA told lawmakers that medical professionals should be re-using protective equipment despite the increased risk of contracting the coronavirus that comes with this practice.
“Rather than casting doubt on the gravity of this pandemic, the administration should have been working around the clock to prepare and execute plans to obtain desperately needed personal protective equipment and medical supplies,” Maloney said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, called the findings “alarming.”
“We already know that the White House delayed taking action for weeks as the virus spread,” he said in a statement. “Now we are seeing further evidence of mismanagement in this emergency with its failure to answer states’ dire requests for masks, gloves, and other critical supplies needed by health care workers.”
Hoyer added: “It is unconscionable that FEMA would ask our frontline health care workers to re-use personal protective equipment, putting their lives and the health of their families at great risk.”
Maryland, D.C. unemployment insurance claims skyrocket amid a pandemic
Over 83,000 Maryland residents and almost 15,000 District of Columbia residents filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday.
Maryland residents who filed unemployment claims doubled from the previous week, making a total of over 120,000 claims in the past two weeks ending on March 28. In the District, residents filed almost 44,000 claims since mid-March, which is already more than the 27,000 claims that D.C. residents filed during 2019.
Over 6.6 million American residents applied for unemployment benefits last week, a record number that helped make a total of more than 10 million American unemployment claims in the month of March due to COVID-19.
Hoyer said in a statement that the unemployment claims data “demonstrates the urgency with which the federal government must step up rather than down.”
By BRYAN GALLION and HALEIGH WHISTED
Capital News Service