Last Build Date: Tue, 06 Dec 2016 03:24:16 -0500
Mon, 05 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found As of May 2016, there were 2,063 low power television (LPTV) stations and 3,660 translator stations in the United States and its territories, serving diverse communities. However, some LPTV and translator stations may be displaced and need to find a new channel or discontinue operation after the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) ongoing incentive auction of broadcast television spectrum. By statute, these stations were not designated as eligible to participate in the auction; consequently, they cannot voluntarily relinquish their spectrum usage rights in return for compensation. LPTV stations may serve rural communities with limited access to full-power stations and niche communities in urban areas, whereas translator stations retransmit the programming of other stations, mostly to viewers in rural areas who cannot otherwise receive television signals. After the auction, FCC intends to reorganize the television stations remaining on the air so that they will occupy a smaller range of channels, thus freeing up spectrum for other uses. LPTV and translator stations are not guaranteed a channel during the reorganization. FCC has acknowledged that the auction and channel reorganization may negatively affect an unknown number of LPTV and translator stations and that some viewers will lose service, and concluded the success of the auction outweighs these concerns. Broadcast industry associations and others have raised concerns about viewers' losing access to programming and emergency alert information these stations provide. Selected stakeholders viewed FCC's actions to mitigate the effects of the incentive auction on LPTV and translator stations as helpful in some circumstances, but overall as insufficient. FCC's actions include using its software to identify channels that will be available for displaced stations following the auction and allowing channel sharing. While broadcast industry associations generally supported these measures in comments to FCC, some representatives told GAO that the actions will not do much to mitigate the effects of the incentive auction on LPTV and translator stations. Moreover, in response to GAO's non-generalizable survey, representatives of LPTV and translator stations generally indicated FCC's actions have limited usefulness. According to selected stakeholders, FCC's proposal to preserve a vacant television channel in all areas throughout the country for unlicensed use, such as Wi-Fi Internet, could result in the loss of some existing broadcast service, but could have various benefits. Of the stakeholders GAO contacted, the broadcast industry associations generally opposed the proposal, while the technology companies supported it. According to a broadcast industry association, the proposal will force some LPTV and translator stations off the air because there will be one less channel where a displaced station can relocate, and many rural and underserved communities will likely lose access to the broadcast stations on which they rely. On the other hand, technology companies and other supporters of the vacant channel proposal maintain that preserving at least one vacant channel for unlicensed use will contribute to innovation and the development of new technologies. Proponents also said that preserving a vacant channel could help expand Wi-Fi more thoroughly giving people and businesses greater connectivity and could help extend coverage to people who might not have affordable access to the Internet. Why GAO Did This Study In 2012, Congress authorized FCC to conduct an incentive auction of broadcast television spectrum whereby eligible broadcasters can voluntarily relinquish their spectrum usage rights in return for compensation. This auction will make spectrum available for new uses such as mobile broadband and will also potentially affect LPTV and translator stations. In addition to conducting the auction, FCC proposed preserving at least one vacant television channel in all areas that could be used by unlicensed devices to ensure the public continues to have[...]
Mon, 05 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found GAO assessed the cost estimate for the military construction project to consolidate and relocate the Joint Intelligence Analysis Complex (JIAC) at Royal Air Force (RAF) base Croughton and found that it partially met three and minimally met one of the four characteristics of a reliable cost estimate defined by GAO best practices, as shown in the table below. For example, it minimally met the credibility standard because it did not contain a sensitivity analysis; such analyses reveal how the cost estimate is affected by a change in a single assumption, without which the estimator will not fully understand which variable most affects the estimate. Unless the Department of Defense's (DOD) methodology incorporates all four characteristics of a high-quality, reliable estimate in preparing future cost estimates for the JIAC construction project, it will not be providing decision makers with reliable information. GAO Summary Assessment of the Air Force's February 2015 JIAC Cost Estimate Characteristic GAO Assessment Comprehensive Partially Met Well documented Partially Met Accurate Partially Met Credible Minimally Met Source: GAO analysis of DOD information. I GAO-17-29 Note: “Fully met” means the agency provided complete evidence that satisfies the entire criterion. “Substantially met” means the agency provided evidence that satisfies a large portion of the criterion. “Partially met” means the agency provided evidence that satisfies about half of the criterion. “Minimally met” means the agency provided evidence that satisfies a small portion of the criterion. “Not met” means the agency provided evidence that does not satisfy any part of the criterion. After DOD's 2013 decision to consolidate the JIAC at RAF Croughton, DOD organizations conducted multiple reviews in response to congressional interest in Lajes Field, Azores (Portugal) as a potential alternative location for the JIAC, including U.S. European Command (EUCOM) September 2015 review , a cost comparison and location analysis of RAF Croughton and Lajes Field; Office of the Secretary of Defense Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation April 2016 cost verification for JIAC , an independent review of EUCOM's September 2015 cost estimates and those developed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in July 2015; and Defense Information Systems Agency May 2016 review on JIAC communications infrastructure requirements , an assessment and comparison of the communications infrastructures at Lajes Field and RAF Croughton with the intelligence mission support requirements, including the communications and technical requirements, for the JIAC. These reviews produced different cost estimates, in particular for housing and communications infrastructure, because the DOD organizations that developed them relied on different assumptions. DOD officials said that these reviews were not conducted with the same level of rigor as formal cost estimates, because DOD had concluded its analysis of alternatives and no credible new evidence had been produced to indicate the department should revisit its initial decision to consolidate the JIAC at RAF Croughton. Why GAO Did This Study DOD's JIAC, which provides critical intelligence support for the U.S. European and Africa Commands and U.S. allies, is currently located in what DOD has described as inadequate and inefficient facilities at RAF Molesworth in the United Kingdom. To address costly sustainment challenges and instances of degraded theater intelligence capabilities associated with the current JIAC facilities, the Air Force plans to spend almost $240 million to consolidate and relocate the JIAC at RAF Croughton in the United Kingdom. GAO was asked to review analysis associated with consolidating and relocating the JIAC. [...]
Mon, 05 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The Department of State's (State) Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking Office) compiles information on countries' actions to combat human trafficking and recommends tier rankings for the Trafficking in Persons Report but did not post information on waivers within mandated timeframes. The figure below shows the percentage of countries by tier in the 2015 and 2016 reports. Disagreements about tier rankings between the Trafficking Office and other parts of State, which have different priorities, are usually resolved at the working level, according to officials, with only a few elevated to the Secretary of State for resolution. The Secretary of State determines all final tier rankings. The Trafficking Office recommends whether to grant waivers for countries that otherwise would be automatically downgraded to the lowest tier. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) requires State to post a detailed description of the credible evidence used to support these waivers on its website annually, but State did not do so for the 2014 through 2016 reports until September 2016. Figure: Percentage of Countries by Tier in 2015 and 2016 Trafficking in Persons Reports State has made improvements to the Trafficking in Persons Report since 2006 but does not explicitly explain the basis for certain countries' tier rankings or, where relevant, why countries' tier rankings changed. GAO's analysis of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report found that, compared with GAO's previous report in 2006, there were fewer instances in which minimum standards and criteria were not mentioned in the narratives. However, most narratives for the highest-ranked, or Tier 1, countries in the 2015 and 2016 reports did not explicitly explain the basis for the tier rankings. The narratives sometimes included language that seemed contradictory to certain standards and criteria. In addition, GAO found that, for countries that changed tier from one year to the next, most narratives did not provide an explicit explanation as to why the rankings changed. Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that information should be communicated in a way that is useful to internal and external users. Lacking such clarity could diminish the report's usefulness as a tool to advance efforts to combat trafficking. State and other officials indicate that the Trafficking in Persons Report can be a useful tool to engage other countries about trafficking, but State has not systematically assessed the report's effectiveness. As a result, the effect of the report in encouraging governments to make progress in combating trafficking is not well understood. However, State officials stated that they are working on efforts to assess the report's effectiveness at achieving the goal of addressing trafficking worldwide. Why GAO Did This Study Human traffickers exploit men, women, and children for financial gain. Congress enacted the TVPA in 2000, which requires the Secretary of State to report annually on governments' efforts according to the act's minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Each year since 2001, State has published the Trafficking in Persons Report , ranking countries into one of four tiers. GAO found in 2006 that the report did not fully describe State's assessment of compliance with standards or provide complete explanations for ranking decisions. The explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, included a provision for GAO to review the report's preparation and effectiveness. This report addresses (1) the process to develop the report, (2) the extent to which country narratives discuss minimum standards, and (3) the extent to which State assesses the report's effectiveness as a tool to address trafficking. GAO compared 220 country narratives in the 2015 and 2016 reports with the minimum standards and analyzed 82 narratives for countries that changed tier. GAO also interviewed State[...]
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) does not have accurate and complete data on the extent to which its medical centers comply with environment of care standards for women veterans. VHA policy requires its medical facilities, including VA medical centers, to meet environment of care standards related to the privacy, safety, and dignity of women veterans. VHA Central Office relies on medical centers to conduct regular inspections and to report instances of noncompliance, which are compiled in a VHA database. However, almost all the noncompliance GAO identified through inspections at six VA medical centers it visited had not been reported or recorded in the VHA database, and compliance rates ranged from 65 percent to 81 percent. For example, GAO found a lack of auditory privacy at check-in clerk stations and a lack of privacy curtains in examination rooms, as required by VHA policy. GAO also found weaknesses in VHA's oversight of the environment of care for women, including a lack of thorough inspections and limited verification of facility-reported data which results in inaccurate and incomplete data. As a result, the privacy, safety, and dignity of women veterans may not be guaranteed when they receive care at VA facilities. Federal internal control standards for monitoring call for management to establish activities to monitor the quality of performance over time and promptly resolve any identified issues. GAO's analysis of VHA data shows that nationally the number of VHA full-time-employee equivalent gynecologists and the number of women's health primary care providers—VHA primary care providers specially trained in women's health care services, such as breast exams—increased by 3 percent and 15 percent respectively, from fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2015, and those percentages exceeded the 1 percent growth in women veteran enrollment during the same period. However, about 27 percent of VA medical centers and health care systems lacked an onsite gynecologist and about 18 percent of VA facilities providing primary care lacked a women's health primary care provider, according to VHA data. VHA officials said not all facilities require onsite gynecologists and facilities may authorize gynecological services from non-VA providers. They acknowledged a shortage of at least 675 women's health primary care providers and have a plan to train at least 535 providers by the end of fiscal year 2016. The Veterans Choice Program (Choice) is a primary option for veterans to receive care from non-VA providers in the community if care cannot be provided at VA facilities. While the number of obstetricians and gynecologists under Choice has increased, some areas lack these providers, according to a VHA analysis. While VHA monitors access-related Choice performance measures (such as timely appointment scheduling) for all veterans, it does not have such measures for women veterans' sex-specific care, such as mammography, maternity care, or gynecology. VHA's data show poor performance on access-related performance measures for all veterans, and GAO found cases where women veterans' maternity care was significantly delayed, suggesting that veterans, including women, face challenges receiving timely access to care. Federal internal control standards for monitoring call for management to establish activities to monitor the quality of performance over time and promptly resolve any identified issues. Why GAO Did This Study In 2010, GAO found a number of weaknesses related to care for women veterans at VA medical facilities. GAO was asked to update that study. This report examines (1) the extent that VA medical centers complied with requirements related to the environment of care for women veterans and VHA's oversight of that compliance; (2) what is known about the availability of VHA medical providers who can provide sex-specific care for women veterans at VA facilities; and (3) VHA's ef[...]
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found Establishing a system that would provide incentives for trucking companies to self-report equipment problems may not necessarily yield safety benefits. Most stakeholders GAO interviewed—including selected carriers and drivers—thought a self-reporting system would be unlikely to produce safety benefits, stating that it would not incentivize quicker repairs. If repairs are not made more quickly, there would be no positive impact on safety. Three drivers, however, thought a self-reporting system could yield some safety benefits if it incentivized drivers to do more thorough inspections of their vehicles. Officials from industry groups and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) noted that a self-reporting system could negatively impact safety, such as by encouraging distracted driving if drivers report equipment problems on their cell phones while driving. Moreover, estimating the potential safety impacts of such a system requires information that is not currently available, such as how equipment problems that would be permitted to be self-reported are related to crashes. Example of a Driver Receiving a Violation for a Previously Identified Equipment Problem under Current System and under a Self-Reporting One FMCSA has the statutory and regulatory authority to establish a system for self-reporting equipment problems, and technology exists to create it, but its costs are unknown. Also, establishing such a system could pose challenges for FMCSA, carriers, and drivers. For example, developing a new system could delay efforts FMCSA has under way to improve its information technology, and carriers or drivers may have difficulty selecting their specific equipment problem from the more than 300 potential vehicle maintenance violations. Further, without information on key design features of a self-reporting system, such as whether reporting would be through a telephone hotline or a web-application, it is not possible to estimate costs with any reasonable degree of confidence. FMCSA developed a rough estimate that a self-reporting system would cost between $5 and $10 million to establish and operate for the first year. Why GAO Did This Study In 2015, more than 4,000 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks. To identify carriers with the highest crash risk, FMCSA uses information from roadside inspections and crashes to rank each carrier's safety performance relative to other carriers in seven categories, including one on vehicle maintenance. Some stakeholders have proposed a system for carriers or their drivers to self-report en route vehicle equipment problems to FMCSA. Reported equipment problems that were repaired within a certain time period would not affect the carrier's relative ranking, potentially incentivizing carriers to make repairs more quickly. The Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act included a provision for GAO to examine the cost and feasibility of establishing a system for carriers or drivers to self-report vehicle equipment problems to FMCSA. This report examines (1) the potential safety impacts of a self-reporting system and (2) factors that could affect its feasibility and cost. GAO reviewed relevant regulations, information on other existing DOT self-reporting systems, and prior related GAO work. GAO also interviewed a non-generalizable sample of representatives from six industry and safety associations, six carriers, and six drivers about this potential system for self-reporting equipment problems. GAO selected carriers to include those with diverse fleet sizes and average distances traveled, and drivers from six additional carriers. DOT provided technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found To help emergency responders safely handle rail accidents involving hazardous materials, selected railroads transporting hazardous materials typically carry two sources of information: the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Emergency Response Guidebook ( ERG ) and information in the trains' documents. Federal Hazardous Material Regulations require railroads and other hazardous material transporters to carry emergency response information that describes immediate hazards to health and risks of fire or explosion, among other things. Representatives from all 18 railroads GAO interviewed told us that they carry the ERG on their trains. According to DOT officials, the ERG's use is not required by regulation, but the rail industry views it as a national standard for emergency response information. Our review of selected train documents showed that they always have a basic description of each hazardous material being transported, including the identification number and proper shipping name, as well as an emergency response telephone number. Six of the 7 Class I railroads and 5 of the 11 selected Class II and III railroads also included emergency response information in these documents. According to four emergency response associations, in the first 30 minutes after a rail incident, emergency responders primarily use the train documents to locate and identify hazardous materials and use the ERG to identify potential response actions. Emergency Response Information Used in the First 30 Minutes of a Rail Accident GAO found that the emergency-response information in the ERG and the GAO-reviewed train documents of the selected railroads were generally similar, but differed somewhat in the level of specificity and type of information. For the 72 frequently shipped hazardous materials GAO selected, the train documents at times described hazards, mitigation measures, and protective-clothing requirements more specifically than the ERG . The ERG provided more detail on evacuation distances. However, for 6 selected hazardous materials, the recommended evacuation distances in the ERG differed from the supplemental emergency response information which is provided by the Association of American Railroads' (AAR) Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Database. AAR decided in August 2016 to discontinue the database, removing the potential for discrepancies between the ERG and the supplemental emergency response information from AAR going forward. Why GAO Did This Study In November 2012, a train derailed in Paulsboro, New Jersey, releasing about 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, a hazardous material. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found, among other issues, that the supplemental information in the train's documents on responding to emergencies involving vinyl chloride was inconsistent with and less protective than emergency response guidance in the ERG . Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to evaluate the differences between the emergency response information carried by trains transporting hazardous materials and the ERG guidance. This report examines (1) what emergency response information is carried on trains by selected railroads transporting hazardous materials and how responders use it, and (2) how selected railroads' supplemental emergency response information compares to information in the ERG . GAO reviewed the ERG and other relevant literature and met with DOT and NTSB officials, among others. GAO interviewed all 7 larger Class I railroads and 11 smaller Class II and III railroads that carried hazardous materials in 2015. GAO compared the supplemental emergency response information with ERG information for 72 frequently shipped hazardous materials from a nonprobability sample of train documents provided by 10 of the 18 selected railroads. What GAO Recommends GAO is not making recommendations. DOT and NTSB pro[...]
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found Federal legislation passed in 2007 created a schedule of periodic increases to minimum wages in American Samoa. During the previous 50 years, special industry committees had periodically recommended industry-specific minimum wages. Historically, minimum wages in the U.S. territory have generally remained below the federal minimum wage (see fig.). The current schedule of increases would raise all American Samoa minimum wages to the current federal hourly rate of $7.25 by 2036. However, any new increase in the federal rate will lengthen the time required to achieve convergence. Minimum Wages in American Samoa Relative to the Federal Minimum Wage, 1957-2016 American Samoa's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is less than a quarter of the U.S.'s GDP per capita and, adjusted for inflation, has declined over the past decade. Local government and tuna canneries are the largest employers, accounting in 2014 for 42 percent and 14 percent of the workforce, respectively. From 2007 to 2014, overall employment fell by 4 percent, and workers' average inflation-adjusted earnings fell by about 11 percent. During the same period, cannery employment decreased by 50 percent, and the minimum wage for cannery workers rose. Cannery officials reported labor costs and fisheries access among the challenges of operating in the territory, and one of the two canneries announced plans to suspend operations indefinitely in December 2016. The American Samoa government has expressed concern that continued minimum wage increases are at odds with sustainable economic development. There are two basic approaches for increasing American Samoa's minimum wages to keep pace with the cost of living in American Samoa and to eventually equal the federal minimum wage—the criteria included in the provision for GAO to report on this issue. The first approach relies on indexing minimum wages to the cost of living. The second approach relies on using a schedule of future adjustments. Aspects of each approach could also be combined, as needed, with respect to the amount and timing of future increases to the territory's minimum wages. Given concerns about potential negative effects of increasing American Samoa's minimum wage on the territory's economy, other design options could be incorporated to safeguard against such effects. For example, minimum wage increases could be reduced or suspended based on economic indicators that reflect the general health of the American Samoa economy or critical sectors. Why GAO Did This Study The federal minimum wage, established by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, has not been applied in American Samoa for many years. In 2007, Congress passed legislation to incrementally raise minimum wages in American Samoa to the federal level. Subsequent legislation postponed or reduced these increases. Pub. L. No. 114-61, enacted in October 2015, included a provision for GAO to report on alternative ways of increasing minimum wages in American Samoa to keep pace with the territory's cost of living and eventually equal the federal minimum wage. In addition, Pub. L. No. 111-5, enacted in February 2009, included a provision for GAO to report periodically on the economic impact of minimum wage increases in the territory. This report examines (1) the history of minimum wage implementation in American Samoa; (2) the status of the American Samoa economy, including changes in employment, earnings, and key industries since scheduled minimum wage increases began in 2007; and (3) alternative approaches for increasing minimum wages in American Samoa to meet GAO's two reporting criteria in Pub. L. No. 114-61. GAO reviewed American Samoa local and federal earnings information; collected data from American Samoa employers in a key industry through a questionnaire; and reviewed methods used to set minimum wages in the United States and around the world. C[...]
Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found It is unlikely that the goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation's renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil—will be met as envisioned because there is limited production of advanced biofuels and limited potential for expanded production by 2022. Advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol and biomass-based diesel, achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions than conventional biofuels (primarily corn-starch ethanol), but the latter account for most of the biofuel blended into domestic transportation fuels under the RFS. As a result, the RFS is unlikely to achieve the targeted level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. For example, the cellulosic biofuel blended into the transportation fuel supply in 2015 was less than 5 percent of the statutory target of 3 billion gallons. Partly as a result of low production of advanced biofuels, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which administers the RFS in consultation with other agencies, has reduced the RFS targets for such fuels through waivers in each of the last 4 years (see figure). According to experts GAO interviewed, the shortfall of advanced biofuels is due to high production costs. The investments required to make these fuels more cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels, even in the longer run, are unlikely in the current investment climate, according to experts. Volumes of All Biofuels to Be Blended into Domestic Transportation Fuel, as Set by the Renewable Fuel Standard Statute and by EPA, 2010 through 2017 Why GAO Did This Study Since 2006 the RFS has required that transportation fuels—typically gasoline and diesel—sold in the United States be blended with increasing volumes of biofuels to meet environmental and energy goals. Annual targets for the volumes of biofuels to be blended are set by statute. EPA is responsible for adjusting the statutory targets through 2022 to reflect expected U.S. industry production levels, among other factors, and for setting volume targets after 2022. Biofuels included in the RFS are either conventional (primarily corn-starch ethanol) or advanced biofuels (e.g., cellulosic ethanol and biomass-based diesel). Advanced biofuels emit fewer greenhouse gases than petroleum-based fuels and corn-starch ethanol. In November 2016, GAO issued two reports on the RFS. This testimony is based on those two reports: GAO-17-94 and GAO-17-108. It provides information on whether the RFS is expected to meet its production and other targets, as well as expert views on any federal actions that could improve the RFS framework, among other things. For the reports on which this testimony is based, GAO analyzed legal requirements and EPA data. In addition, GAO worked with the National Academy of Sciences to convene a meeting of experts from industry, academia, and research organizations in May 2016. GAO also contracted with the National Academy of Sciences for a list of experts on issues related to the RFS. Further information on how GAO conducted its work is contained in the reports. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.
Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found Military officials planning for and executing operations under force management levels have taken various actions to maximize military capabilities deployed to countries under those limits, as discussed below: Increased Engagement with Partner Nation Security Forces. The Department of Defense (DOD) has increased its engagement with partner nations through advise-and-assist missions that rely on partner nation security forces to conduct operations. While this action helps leverage U.S. resources, it can create complications for U.S. planners in terms of allocating capabilities and resources. In 2011, GAO reported that the Army and Marine Corps have faced challenges in providing the necessary field grade officers and specialized capabilities for advisor teams, as well as challenges regarding the effect on the readiness and training of brigades whose combat teams have been split up to source advisor teams. GAO made three recommendations related to advisor teams. DOD concurred and implemented two recommendations relating to improving the ability of advisor teams to prepare for and execute their mission. Reliance on Airpower. DOD has relied on U.S. and coalition airpower to provide support to partner nation ground forces in lieu of U.S. ground combat capabilities. For example, since U.S. operations related to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began in August 2014, coalition members have dropped more than 57,000 munitions. Air-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems have also proved critical to commanders by providing them timely and accurate information. While effective, this reliance on air power is not without its costs or challenges. For example, the Secretary of Defense stated in February 2016 that the intensity of the U.S. air campaign against ISIS has been depleting U.S. stocks of certain weapons. Increased Pace of U.S. Special Operations Deployments. DOD has increased its use of U.S. Special Operations Forces to increase its operational reach and maximize its capabilities under force management levels. However, the increased use of U.S. Special Operations Forces in operations has resulted in a high pace of deployments which can affect readiness, retention, and morale. GAO made 10 recommendations to DOD related to U.S. Special Operations Forces. DOD concurred or partially concurred and has implemented 7 recommendations relating to security force assistance activities and readiness of U.S. Special Operations Forces. Increased Use of Contractors and Personnel on Temporary Duty. DOD relies on contractors to support a wide range of military operations and free up uniformed personnel to directly support mission needs. During operations in Afghanistan and Iraq contractor personnel played a critical role in supporting U.S. troops and sometimes exceeded the number of deployed military personnel. However, the increased use of contractors and temporary personnel to provide support during operations has its challenges, including oversight of contractors in deployed environments. GAO made four recommendations to improve oversight of operational contract support. DOD concurred with all four, and has implemented three of them. GAO also made a recommendation that DOD develop guidance relating to costs of overseas operations, with which DOD partially concurred and which remains open. Why GAO Did This Study The United States has engaged in multiple efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria since declaring a global war on terrorism in 2001. Currently, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, U.S. forces are deployed under force management levels set by the administration. Force management levels and similar caps limit the number of U.S. military personnel deployed to a given region and have been a factor in military operations at least since the Vietnam War. Force mana[...]
Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The Navy's vision for Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has evolved significantly over the last 15 years, reflecting degradations of the underlying business case. Initial plans to experiment with two different prototype ships adapted from commercial designs were abandoned early in favor of an acquisition approach that committed to numerous ships before proving their capabilities. Ships were not delivered quickly to the fleet at low cost. Rather cost, schedule, and capability expectations degraded over time. In contrast, a sound business case would have balanced needed resources—time, money, and technical knowledge—to transform a concept into the desired product. Evolution of Expectations for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program Early program Updated program Quantity and cost 55 seaframes @ $220 million each 40 seaframes @ $478 million each Schedule Ship initial operational capability (IOC) in 2007 Ship IOC with partial capability in 2013 Design Leverage existing designs for reduced cost, rapid fielding Considerable design changes, under revision throughout early construction Seaframe Sprint speed: 40-50 knots; range: 1,000 nautical miles @ 40 knots Neither seaframe meets combined original speed and range expectations Mission Packages IOC for three mission packages by 2010 Revised IOC – one package in 2015; two more planned by 2020 Source: GAO analysis of prior GAO reports and Navy documentation. | GAO-17-262T Concerned about the LCS's survivability and lethality, in 2014 the Secretary of Defense directed the Navy to evaluate alternatives. After rejecting more capable ships based partly on cost, schedule, and industrial base considerations, the Navy chose the existing LCS designs with minor modifications and re-designated the ship as a frigate. Much of the LCS's capabilities are yet to be demonstrated and the frigate's design, cost, and capabilities are not well-defined. The Navy proposes to commit quickly to the frigate in what it calls a block buy of 12 ships. Congress has key decisions for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 that have significant funding and oversight implications. First, the Navy has already requested funding to buy two more baseline LCS ships in fiscal year 2017. Second, early next year, the Navy plans to request authorization for a block buy of all 12 frigates and funding in the fiscal year 2018 budget request for the lead frigate. Making these commitments now could make it more difficult to make decisions in the future to reduce or delay the program should that be warranted. A more basic oversight question today is whether a ship that costs twice as much yet delivers less capability than planned warrants an additional investment of nearly $14 billion. GAO has advised Congress to consider not funding the two LCS requested in 2017 given its now obsolete design and existing construction backlogs. Authorizing the block buy strategy for the frigate appears premature. The decisions Congress makes could have implications for what aspiring programs view as acceptable strategies. Why GAO Did This Study The Navy envisioned a revolutionary approach for the LCS program: dual ship designs with interchangeable mission packages intended to provide mission flexibility at a lower cost. This approach has fallen short, with significant cost increases and reduced expectations about mission flexibility and performance. The Navy has changed acquisition approaches several times. The lates[...]
Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found GAO's prior work has identified four key design decisions related to how fee, fine, and penalty collections are used that help Congress balance agency flexibility and congressional control. Key Design Decisions for Use of Collections One of these key design decisions is the congressional action that triggers the use of collections. The table below outlines the range of structures that establish an agency's use of collections and examples of fees, fines, and penalties for each structure. Design Decision on Agency Use of Fees, Fines, and Penalties and Related Examples Design decision: Congressional action triggering use of collections Example of fee, fine, or penalty Collections deposited to the Treasury as miscellaneous receipts Civil monetary penalty payments from financial institutions received by certain financial regulators Collections dedicated to the related program with availability subject to further appropriation Food and Drug Administration prescription drug user fees Collections dedicated to the related program and available without further congressional action (i.e., a permanent appropriation) National Park Service fees Collections available based on a combination of these authorities Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Control fees Source: GAO analysis of applicable laws ǀ GAO-17-268T As GAO has previously reported, these designs involve different tradeoffs and implications. For example, requiring collections to be annually appropriated before an agency can use the collections increases opportunities for congressional oversight on a regular basis. Conversely, if Congress grants an agency authority to use collections without further congressional action, the agency may be able to respond more quickly to customers or changing conditions. Even when an agency has the permanent authority to use collections, the funds remain subject to congressional oversight at any point in time and Congress can place limitations on obligations for any given year. Why GAO Did This Study Congress exercises its constitutional power of the purse by appropriating funds and prescribing conditions governing their use. Through annual appropriations and other laws that constitute permanent appropriations, Congress provides agencies with authority to incur obligations for specified purposes. The federal government receives funds from a variety of sources, including tax revenues, fees, fines, penalties, and settlements. Collections from fees, fines, penalties, and settlements involve billions of dollars and fund a wide variety of programs. The design and structure—and corresponding agency flexibility and congressional control—of these statutory authorities can vary widely. In many cases, Congress has provided agencies with permanent authority to collect and obligate funds from fees, fines, and penalties without further congressional action. This authority is a form of appropriations and is subject to the fiscal laws governing appropriated funds. In addition, annual appropriation acts may limit the availability of those funds for obligation. Given the nation's fiscal condition, it is critical that every funding source and spending decision be carefully considered and applied to its best use. This testimony provides an overview of key design decisions related to the use of federal collections outlined in prior GAO reports, with examples of specific fees, fines, and penalties from GAO reports issued between September 2005 and November 2016. For more information, contact Heather Krause at[...]
Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) is a forward-looking management approach that allows agencies to assess threats and opportunities that could affect the achievement of its goals. While there are a number of different frameworks for ERM, the figure below lists essential elements for an agency to carry out ERM effectively. GAO reviewed its risk management framework and incorporated changes to better address recent and emerging federal experience with ERM and identify the essential elements of ERM as shown below. GAO has identified six good practices to use when implementing ERM. Essential Elements and Good Practices of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Elements Good Practices Align ERM process to goals and objectives Leaders Guide and Sustain ERM Strategy Implementing ERM requires the full engagement and commitment of senior leaders, supports the role of leadership in the agency goal setting process, and demonstrates to agency staff the importance of ERM. Identify Risks Develop a Risk-Informed Culture to Ensure All Employees Can Effectively Raise Risks Developing an organizational culture to encourage employees to identify and discuss risks openly is critical to ERM success. Assess Risks Integrate ERM Capability to Support Strategic Planning and Organizational Performance Management Integrating the prioritized risk assessment into strategic planning and organizational performance management processes helps improve budgeting, operational, or resource allocation planning. Select Risk Response Establish a Customized ERM Program Integrated into Existing Agency Processes Customizing ERM helps agency leaders regularly consider risk and select the most appropriate risk response that fits the particular structure and culture of an agency. Monitor Risks Continuously Manage Risks Conducting the ERM review cycle on a regular basis and monitoring the selected risk response with performance indicators allows the agency to track results and impact on the mission, and whether the risk response is successful or requires additional actions. Communicate and Report on Risks Share Information with Internal and External Stakeholders to Identify and Communicate Risks Sharing risk information and incorporating feedback from internal and external stakeholders can help organizations identify and better manage risks, as well as increase transparency and accountability to Congress and taxpayers. Source: GAO. | GAO-17-63 Why GAO Did This Study Federal leaders are responsible for managing complex and risky missions. ERM is a way to assist agencies with managing risk across the organization. In July 2016, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued an updated circular requiring federal agencies to implement ERM to ensure federal managers are effectively managing risks that could affect the achievement of agency strategic objectives. GAO's objectives were to (1) update its risk management framework to more fully include evolving requirements and essential elements for federal enterprise risk management, and (2) identify good practices that selected agencies have taken that illustrate those essential elements. GAO reviewed literature to identify good ERM practices that generally aligned with the essential elements and validated these with subject matter specialists. GAO also interviewed officials representing the 24 Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Act [...]
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) assessment of its fleet of radiation portal monitors (RPM)—large, stationary radiation detectors through which vehicles and cargo containers pass at ports of entry—shifted over time and, as a result, DHS has changed the focus of its RPM replacement strategy. During fiscal years 2014 and 2015, as some RPMs began to reach the end of their estimated 13-year service life, DHS began planning for replacing the entire fleet of almost 1,400 RPMs. However, as of September 2016, the fleet remains nearly 100 percent operational and recent studies indicate that the fleet can remain operational until at least 2030 so long as proactive maintenance is carried out and RPM spare parts remain available. As a result, in 2016, DHS changed the focus of its RPM replacement strategy to selective replacement of RPMs—using existing RPMs that have been upgraded with new alarm threshold settings or purchasing enhanced, commercially available RPMs—to gain operational efficiencies and reduce labor requirements at some ports. During fiscal years 2016 through 2018, DHS plans to replace approximately 120 RPMs along the northern U.S. border with upgraded RPMs and, during fiscal years 2018 through 2020, plans to replace between 150 and 250 RPMs at select high-volume ports with enhanced, commercially available RPMs. Specifically, DHS plans to replace some legacy RPMs—those that cannot be upgraded with the new alarm thresholds—at northern U.S. land border crossings with RPMs from existing inventory that have been upgraded. This upgrade enables improved threat discrimination and minimizes “nuisance” alarms created by naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) in commonly shipped cargo such as ceramics, fertilizers, and granite tile. Improved discrimination between NORM and threat material will create efficiencies for the movement of cargo through ports and minimize time that DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers spend adjudicating the nuisance alarms. DHS is also planning limited replacement of upgraded RPMs at select high-volume ports with enhanced, commercially available RPMs that offer nuisance alarm levels significantly lower than even the upgraded RPMs. Currently, upgraded RPMs at some high-volume ports do not reduce nuisance alarm rates enough to implement remote RPM operations—which allows CBP officers to carry out other duties at the ports when not responding to an RPM alarm—because of the high number of vehicles and cargo containers passing through the ports daily. Nuisance Alarms by Type of Radiation Portal Monitor (RPM) Why GAO Did This Study Preventing terrorists from smuggling nuclear or radiological materials to carry out an attack in the United States is a top national priority. Terrorists could use these materials to make an improvised nuclear device that could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and devastate buildings and other infrastructure. DHS's fleet of almost 1,400 RPMs helps secure the nation's borders by scanning incoming cargo and vehicles for radiological and nuclear materials. DHS began deploying RPMs to seaports and border crossings in fiscal year 2003. As RPMs began to approach the end of their expected 13-year service lives, DHS raised concerns over the sustainability of the fleet, the ability to maintain current scanning coverage, and the need for fleet recapitalization. GAO was asked to report on the sustainability of the RPM fleet. This report provides information on (1) DHS's assessment of the condition of its RPM fleet and how, if at all, that assessment has changed over time; and (2) DHS's plans for meeting detection requirements in the future. GAO reviewed agency [...]
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found Integrated program teams (IPT) are cross-functional or multidisciplinary groups of individuals that are organized and collectively responsible for delivering a product to an external or internal customer. GAO identified three characteristics that contribute to the creation and operation of a comprehensive IPT: (1) executive leadership through team support, empowerment, and oversight; (2) team composition; and (3) processes for team operations. GAO also identified 18 practices supporting these three characteristics (see figure). For example, executive leadership is effective when sufficient resources are provided and teams are empowered to act, team composition is more robust when the IPT has cross-functional and multidisciplinary skill sets, and team operations are streamlined when team guidelines are established and stakeholders are involved as active members. When implemented, these practices can increase the IPT's likelihood of success by having the right mix of expertise to recognize problems early and by having the requisite authority to do something about them. Figure: Key Characteristics and Practices of Comprehensive Integrated Program Teams (IPT) for Major Information Technology Acquisitions While multiple factors contribute to a robust IPT, one aspect involves having a strong information technology (IT) workforce. To evaluate agencies' IT workforce planning efforts, GAO identified eight key workforce planning steps and activities based on relevant laws and guidance (see table). Table: Summary of Key Information Technology (IT) Workforce Planning Steps and Activities Set the strategic direction for IT workforce planning Activity 1: Establish and maintain a workforce planning process Activity 2: Develop competency and staffing requirements Analyze the IT workforce to identify skill gaps Activity 3: Assess competency and staffing needs regularly Activity 4: Assess gaps in competencies and staffing Develop strategies and implement activities to address IT skill gaps Activity 5: Develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing Activity 6: Implement activities that address gaps (including IT acquisition cadres, crossfunctional training of acquisition and program personnel, career paths for program managers, plans to strengthen program management, and use of special hiring authorities) Monitor and report progress in addressing IT skill gaps Activity 7: Monitor the agency's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps Activity 8: Report to agency leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps Source: GAO analysis of relevant laws and guidance. | GAO-17-8 Five federal departments had mixed progress in assessing their IT skill gaps. While all five departments had demonstrated important progress in either partially or fully implementing key IT workforce planning activities, each had shortfalls. For example, four departments had not demonstrated an established IT workforce planning process. Figure: Selected Departments' Implementation of Eight Key Information Technology Workforce Planning Activities As shown in the figure, of the five departments, the Department of Defense had the most robust IT workforce planning process by fully or partially implementing all eight activities. However, the departments have not yet fully implemented all of the practices for various reasons. For example, policie[...]
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found For the fiscal year 2017 budget, the U.S. Department of Education (Education) estimates that all federally issued Direct Loans in Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans will have government costs of $74 billion, higher than previous budget estimates. IDR plans are designed to help ease student debt burden by setting loan payments as a percentage of borrower income, extending repayment periods from the standard 10 years to up to 25 years, and forgiving remaining balances at the end of that period. While actual costs cannot be known until borrowers repay their loans, GAO found that current IDR plan budget estimates are more than double what was originally expected for loans made in fiscal years 2009 through 2016 (the only years for which original estimates are available). This growth is largely due to the rising volume of loans in IDR plans. Estimated Costs of Direct Loans in Income-Driven Repayment Plans Note: Due to the timing of the fiscal year 2017 budget, the amount of loans made to borrowers in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 are estimated. Education's approach to estimating IDR plan costs and quality control practices do not ensure reliable budget estimates. Weaknesses in this approach may cause costs to be over- or understated by billions of dollars. For instance: Education assumes that borrowers' incomes will not grow with inflation even though federal guidelines for estimating loan costs state that estimates should account for relevant economic factors. GAO tested this assumption by incorporating inflation into income forecasts, and found that estimated costs fell by over $17 billion. Education also assumes no borrowers will switch into or out of IDR plans in the future despite participation growth that has led budget estimates to more than double from $25 to $53 billion for loans made in recent fiscal years. Predicting plan switching would be advisable per federal guidance on estimating loan costs. Education has begun developing a revised model with this capability, but this model is not complete and it is not yet clear when or how well it will reflect IDR plan participation trends. Insufficient quality controls contributed to issues GAO identified. For instance: Education tested only one assumption for reasonableness, and did so at the request of others, although such testing is recommended in federal guidance on estimating loan costs. Without further model testing, Education's estimates may be based on unreasonable assumptions. Due to growing IDR plan popularity, improving Education's estimation approach is especially important. Until that happens, IDR plan budget estimates will remain in question, and Congress's ability to make informed decisions may be affected. Why GAO Did This Study As of June 2016, 24 percent of Direct Loan borrowers repaying their loans (or 5.3 million borrowers) were doing so in IDR plans, compared to 10 percent in June 2013. Education expects these plans to have costs to the government. GAO was asked to review Education's IDR plan budget estimates and estimation methodology. This report examines: (1) current IDR plan budget estimates and how those estimates have changed over time, and (2) the extent to which Education's approach to estimating costs and quality control practices help ensure reliable estimates. GAO analyzed published and unpublished budget data covering Direct Loans made from fiscal years 1995 through 2015 and estimated to be made in 2016 and 2017; analyzed and tested Education's computer code used to estimate IDR plan costs; reviewed documentation related to Education's estimation approach; and interviewed officials at Education and other federal agencies. [...]
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The extent of elder abuse by guardians nationally is unknown due to limited data on key factors related to elder abuse by a guardian, such as the numbers of guardians serving older adults, older adults in guardianships, and cases of elder abuse by a guardian. Court officials from six selected states GAO spoke to noted various data limitations that prevent them from being able to provide reliable figures about elder abuse by guardians, including incomplete information about the ages of individuals with guardians. Officials from selected courts and representatives from organizations GAO spoke to described their observations about elder abuse by a guardian, including that one of the most common types appeared to be financial exploitation. Some efforts are under way to try to collect better data on elder abuse and guardianship at the federal, state, and local levels to support decision making and help prevent and address elder abuse by guardians. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to launch the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System—a national reporting system based on data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agency information systems by early 2017. According to HHS and its contractor, this system has the capability to collect information that could specifically help identify cases of elder abuse where a guardian was involved. GAO also identified state and local initiatives to capture key data points and complaint data as well as identify “red flags” such as unusually high guardian fees or excessive vehicle or dining expenses. The federal government does not regulate or directly support guardianship, but federal agencies may provide indirect support to state guardianship programs by providing funding for efforts to share best practices and facilitate improved coordination, as well as by sharing information that state and local entities can use related to guardianship. State and local courts have primary responsibility over the guardianship process and, as such, have a role in protecting older adults with guardians from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Measures taken by selected states to help protect older adults with guardians vary but generally include screening, education, monitoring, and enforcement. Measures Used to Help Protect Older Adults with Guardians from Abuse Why GAO Did This Study The number of older adults, those over age 65, is expected to nearly double in the United States by 2050. When an older adult becomes incapable of making informed decisions, a guardianship may be necessary. Generally, guardianships are legal relationships created when a state court grants one person or entity the authority and responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of an incapacitated individual—which can include an older adult—concerning his or her person or property. While many guardians act in the best interest of persons under guardianship, some have been reported to engage in the abuse of older adults. GAO was asked to review whether abusive practices by guardians are widespread. This report describes (1) what is known about the extent of elder abuse by guardians; and (2) what measures federal agencies and selected state and local guardianship programs have taken to help protect older adults with guardians. GAO reviewed relevant research, reports, studies, and other publications issued by organizations with expertise on elder abuse and guardianship issues. GAO also conducted interviews with various guardianship stakeholders including federal agencies such as HHS, six selected state courts, and nongovernmental organization[...]
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The extent of elder abuse by guardians nationally is unknown due to limited data on key factors related to elder abuse by a guardian, such as the numbers of guardians serving older adults, older adults in guardianships, and cases of elder abuse by a guardian. Court officials from six selected states GAO spoke to noted various data limitations that prevent them from being able to provide reliable figures about elder abuse by guardians, including incomplete information about the ages of individuals with guardians. Officials from selected courts and representatives from organizations GAO spoke to described their observations about elder abuse by a guardian, including that one of the most common types appeared to be financial exploitation. Some efforts are under way to try to collect better data on elder abuse and guardianship at the federal, state, and local levels to support decision making and help prevent and address elder abuse by guardians. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to launch the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System—a national reporting system based on data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agency information systems by early 2017. According to HHS and its contractor, this system has the capability to collect information that could specifically help identify cases of elder abuse where a guardian was involved. GAO also identified state and local initiatives to capture key data points and complaint data as well as identify “red flags” such as unusually high guardian fees or excessive vehicle or dining expenses. The federal government does not regulate or directly support guardianship, but federal agencies may provide indirect support to state guardianship programs by providing funding for efforts to share best practices and facilitate improved coordination, as well as by sharing information that state and local entities can use related to guardianship. State and local courts have primary responsibility over the guardianship process and, as such, have a role in protecting older adults with guardians from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Measures taken by selected states to help protect older adults with guardians vary but generally include screening, education, monitoring, and enforcement. Measures Used to Help Protect Older Adults with Guardians from Abuse Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's November 2016 report, entitled Elder Abuse: The Extent of Abuse by Guardians Is Unknown, but Some Measures Exist to Help Protect Older Adults GAO-17-33. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-6722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), an agency within the Department of Justice, has updated its confidential informant policy and corresponding monitoring processes to address provisions in The Attorney General’s Guidelines Regarding the Use of Confidential Informants regarding oversight of informants’ illegal activities. Thus, GAO considers its recommendation from September 2015—see GAO-15-807—to be closed as implemented. Why GAO Did This Study GAO was asked to report on the status of a recommendation it made in September 2015 to support congressional oversight at a hearing sponsored by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. This report provides GAO’s assessment of DEA’s actions taken in response to the recommendation. GAO reviewed DEA’s updated confidential informant policy and internal inspection checklists and met with DEA officials to assess the extent to which DEA’s actions were consistent with GAO’s recommendation. What GAO Recommends GAO is not making any new recommendations. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or email@example.com.
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), the Army’s component command in the Asia-Pacific region, has identified Pacific Pathways costs and taken steps to assess some associated benefits, but it has not conducted an analysis that fully assesses the initiative’s benefits relative to costs. Pacific Pathways is an initiative that combines three to four exercises with partner nations—exercises that were previously conducted as stand-alone events—into an integrated operation to strengthen relationships with allies and build readiness by rehearsing deployment tasks (see figure below). For fiscal year 2015, the three Pathway operations cost a total of $34.5 million—about twice as much as the combined costs of those same named exercises prior to Pathways. However, the forces and equipment provided under Pathways were more than double in many categories. USARPAC officials stated that Pathways builds readiness at multiple command echelons; increases exercise complexity for partners, such as by providing more equipment to exercises; supports the rebalance of forces to the Pacific with a persistent forward presence; and allows the Army to experiment with capabilities. Units that have participated in Pacific Pathways have assessed some of these benefits, but USARPAC has not conducted a comprehensive analysis that demonstrates the initiative’s value, which could better inform Department of Defense decision-makers as they consider budgetary trade-offs. Comparison between the Concepts of Operation for Stand-Alone Exercises Prior to Pacific Pathways and Exercises Conducted as Part of Pacific Pathway 16-1 The Army has taken steps to plan for Pacific Pathways as a cohesive operation, but challenges remain in synchronizing planning efforts and incorporating training objectives of supporting units, such as units that provide transportation support to the operations. USARPAC has developed some Pathways-specific planning guidance, among other things, but it continues to experience challenges in synchronizing planning across participating organizations and in ensuring that decisions made for individual exercises are aligned with the broader objectives of the Pathway operation. Also, USARPAC has not established an approach to seek out and integrate supporting units’ training objectives in the design of Pacific Pathway operations. Without taking action on these issues, USARPAC may continue to experience challenges executing the Pathway operations as cohesive operations and could miss opportunities to enhance the value of Pacific Pathways as a venue for real-world training across the region. Why GAO Did This Study In accordance with the shift in U.S. strategy and rebalance of military forces to the Asia-Pacific, USARPAC has turned its focus toward rebuilding its expeditionary readiness. To this end, USARPAC launched the Pacific Pathways initiative in 2014, in which it deploys a battalion-sized task force for approximately 90 days to conduct a series of exercises in the Asia-Pacific for the purpose of enhancing readiness and strengthening relationships with allies, among other things. As of September 2016, USARPAC had completed six Pathway operations. House Report 114-102 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a provision for GAO to review the Pacific Pathways initiative. This report examines the extent to which the Army has (1) assessed the costs and benefits of Pacific Pathways; and (2) synchronized plans and incorporated training objectives of supporting units to maximize the[...]
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found Of the two types of whistleblower appeals—individual right of action (IRA) and otherwise appealable action (OAA)—Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) data show higher numbers of IRA appeals received by MSPB after enactment of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA). In an IRA appeal, an individual has been subject to a personnel action, such as a reassignment, and claims the action was reprisal for whistleblowing. In contrast, the number of OAA appeals decreased after WPEA. In an OAA appeal, an individual has been subject to an action directly appealable to MSPB, such as a demotion, and claims that the action was taken because of whistleblowing. WPEA, among other things, clarified the scope of protected disclosures which may have contributed to a higher number of IRA appeals. WPEA did not alter MSPB's jurisdiction over OAAs. Annual Numbers of Two Kinds of Whistleblower Appeals Before and After Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act's Enactment in 2012 MSPB has taken steps to collect and report whistleblower appeals data. GAO identified a number of weaknesses in MSPB's data collection. Some were due to shortcomings in data coding that resulted in over reporting appeals closed. Further, MSPB has not updated its data entry user guides to reflect new reporting requirements nor has it instituted checks to ensure data accuracy, which are inconsistent with internal control standards. Subject matter specialists varied in their opinions about the benefits of granting summary judgment authority—a procedural device used when there is no dispute as to the material facts of the case—to MSPB. Benefits cited included a more efficient process; but negatives included the loss of a whistleblower's right to a hearing. Similarly, the specialists provided a mix of opinions about granting jurisdiction for cases to U.S. District Courts. A benefit cited was access to a jury trial, while a negative cited was the increased workload of the courts. Why GAO Did This Study Federal employee whistleblowers—individuals who report violations of law or certain agency mismanagement— may risk reprisals from their agencies. WPEA seeks to strengthen the rights of and protections for federal whistleblowers. WPEA includes a provision for GAO to report on the law's implementation. This report (1) describes changes in the number of whistleblower reprisal appeals filed with MSPB, as well as the outcome of appeals, since WPEA's effective date; (2) provides subject matter specialists' views about granting MSPB summary judgment authority for whistleblower cases; and (3) provides subject matter specialists' views about granting jurisdiction for a subset of whistleblower appeals to be decided by a district court of the United States. GAO obtained data from MSPB on whistleblower appeals received and closed from fiscal years 2011 through 2015. This period begins approximately 2 years prior to WPEA's effective date of December 27, 2012, and continues through the end of fiscal year 2015. GAO also conducted six focus groups with subject matter specialists that include whistleblower advocates and agency labor relations officials. What GAO Recommends GAO recommends that MSPB help ensure the accuracy of its reporting on whistleblower appeals received and closed by (1) updating its data entry user guide to include additional guidance and procedures, and (2) adding a quality check in its data analysis and reporting process to better identify discrepancies. MSPB agreed with these recommendations. [...]
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found It is unlikely that the goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation's renewable fuels sector—will be met as envisioned because there is limited production of advanced biofuels to be blended into domestic transportation fuels and limited potential for expanded production by 2022. Advanced biofuels achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions than conventional (primarily corn-starch ethanol), while the latter accounts for most of the biofuel blended under the RFS. As a result, the RFS is unlikely to achieve the targeted level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. For example, the cellulosic biofuel blended into the transportation fuel supply in 2015 was less than 5 percent of the statutory target of 3 billion gallons. In part as a result of low production, EPA has reduced the RFS targets for advanced biofuels through waivers in each of the last 4 years (see figure). According to experts GAO interviewed, the shortfall of advanced biofuels is the result of high production costs, and the investments in further research and development required to make these fuels more cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels even in the longer run are unlikely in the current investment climate. Volumes of Advanced Biofuels to Be Blended into Domestic Transportation Fuel, as Set by the Renewable Fuel Standard Statute and by EPA, 2010 through 2017 Note: As of September 2016, EPA volumes for 2017 are proposed, except for the biomass-based diesel volume for 2017, which is final. Experts cited multiple federal actions that they suggested could incrementally improve the investment climate for advanced biofuels. For example, some experts told GAO that maintaining a consistent tax credit for biofuels, rather than allowing it to periodically lapse and be reinstated, could reduce uncertainty and encourage investment in advanced biofuels. Why GAO Did This Study The RFS generally mandates that domestic transportation fuels be blended with increasing volumes of biofuels through 2022, with the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding the nation's renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil. Annual targets for the volumes of biofuels to be blended are set by statute. EPA oversees the program and is responsible for adjusting the statutory targets through 2022 to reflect expected U.S. industry production levels, among other factors, and for setting biofuel volume targets after 2022. Biofuels included in the RFS are conventional (primarily corn-starch ethanol) as well as various advanced biofuels (including cellulosic ethanol and biomass-based diesel). Advanced biofuels emit fewer greenhouse gases than petroleum and corn-starch ethanol. GAO was asked to review challenges to the RFS and their possible solutions. This report provides information on whether the RFS is expected to meet its goals, as well as expert views on any federal actions that could improve the RFS framework, among other things. GAO worked with the National Academy of Sciences to identify experts on issues related to the RFS. GAO interviewed these experts and analyzed their responses. This report also drew on published studies, and a companion report, GAO-17-108, that examined federal research and development in advanced biofuels and related issues. EPA generally agreed with the report. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The federal government has supported research and development (R&D) related to advanced biofuels through direct research or grants, and the focus is shifting away from cellulosic ethanol and toward drop-in biofuels. Unlike corn starch-based or cellulosic ethanol, drop-in fuels such as renewable gasoline are fully compatible with existing infrastructure, such as vehicle engines and distribution pipelines. In fiscal years 2013 through 2015, the federal government obligated more than $1.1 billion for advanced biofuels R&D. Of this amount, the Department of Energy (DOE) obligated over $890 million. For example, DOE's Office of Science funds three bioenergy research centers affiliated with universities and national labs that conduct basic research for all stages of biofuel production. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) obligated over $168 million in fiscal years 2013 through 2015 to support advanced biofuels. For example, USDA scientists developed a novel process to increase production of butanol, a drop-in fuel that lowered production costs by over 20 percent. The remaining federal obligations during these years were through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Science Foundation (NSF), which obligated relatively less for such R&D. According to agency officials, agencies are shifting their focus to drop-in fuels in part because they are compatible with existing infrastructure. Officials from one federal funding agency said this compatibility makes drop-in fuels more desirable than cellulosic ethanol. Experts said that several advanced biofuels are technologically well understood and some are being commercially produced, but they noted there is limited potential for increased production in the near term and cited several factors that will make significant increases challenging. Given that current advanced biofuel production is far below Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) targets and those targets are increasing every year, it does not appear possible to meet statutory target volumes for advanced biofuels in the RFS under current market and regulatory conditions. Biofuels that are technologically well understood include biodiesel, renewable diesel, renewable natural gas, cellulosic ethanol, and some drop-in fuels. A few of these fuels, such as biodiesel and renewable diesel, are being produced in significant volumes, but it is unlikely that production of these fuels can expand much in the next few years because of feedstock limitations. Current production of cellulosic biofuels is far below the statutory volumes and, according to experts, there is limited potential for expanded production to meet future higher targets, in part because production costs are currently too high. Experts told GAO that technologies for producing other fuels, such as some drop-in fuels, are technologically well understood but that these fuels are not being produced because production is too costly. Among the factors that will affect the speed and volume of production, experts cited the low price of fossil fuels relative to advanced biofuels. This disparity in costs is a disincentive for consumers to adopt greater use of biofuels and also a deterrent for private investors entering the advanced biofuels market. Experts also cited uncertainty about government policy, including whether the RFS and federal tax credits that support advanced biofuels will remain in effect. While such policies should encourage [...]
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed an information clearinghouse, called the Technical Assistance Network (TAN), to evaluate and respond to concerns from businesses and other stakeholders regarding the produce rule and other rules under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The produce rule, promulgated in November 2015, established the first enforceable national standards for on-farm growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of domestic and imported produce. Businesses and other stakeholders—such as industry associations, academia, and consumers—can submit questions to the TAN online or by phone or traditional mail. FDA received 2,626 TAN questions from early September 2015, when the TAN first became operational, through early September 2016. About 14 percent of questions (363) pertained to the produce rule, and about 60 percent of questions (218) pertaining to the produce rule came from those who identified as belonging to “industry/business.” According to FDA officials, the agency tracks TAN questions to help inform FSMA policy, guidance, and training, and the agency intends to maintain the TAN as a mechanism to respond to stakeholder questions and concerns even after the produce rule and other FSMA rules are fully implemented. FDA officials GAO interviewed said the agency is developing a stakeholder survey to assess the effectiveness of the TAN. Starting in fiscal year 2017, the agency will send a copy of the survey when providing responses to TAN questions. The agency is also developing metrics to measure overall success in implementing the produce rule. These metrics will include an examination of how effective the TAN is in responding to questions and will ultimately be used to assess whether additional training and outreach to business are needed to help implement the produce rule. Representatives from industry associations generally told GAO that wait times for answers from the TAN can be long, and some had not yet received answers to their questions. For example, representatives from one industry association told GAO it took 4 months to get an answer from the TAN. FDA officials told GAO the agency is currently studying how long it takes, on average, to respond to questions submitted to the TAN, and the agency is working to decrease its response time. FDA officials told GAO that response times to TAN questions may be longer in some cases because agency guidance on the produce rule and other FSMA rules is still under development, and the agency does not want to provide information through the TAN that might conflict with the subsequent guidance. In addition, these officials said that while simpler questions can often be addressed immediately by FDA staff that monitor the TAN, about 95 percent of the questions are more complex. These questions are forwarded to subject matter experts within the agency and, consequently, require more time for a response. Why GAO Did This Study Although the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, foodborne illness is a common public health problem. Some of this illness can be linked to produce. Because produce is often consumed raw without processing to reduce or eliminate contaminants, preventing contamination is key to ensuring safe consumption. FDA, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has responsibility for ensuring the safety of produce, along with many other foods. FSMA requir[...]
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found The Department of Defense's (DOD) 2016 Biennial Core Report to Congress complied with two of the three reporting elements required by Section 2464—core capability requirements and planned workload. It partially complied with the third element—a detailed explanation or rationale for shortfalls and accompanying mitigation plans—because DOD did not include rationales and mitigation plans for all identified shortfalls. In a prior report, GAO recommended that DOD improve its Core Report by including detailed explanations for each identified shortfall. DOD concurred with this recommendation and stated that it was taking steps to implement it. Including rationales and mitigation plans in future core reports will provide Congress visibility into whether the armed services' plans address the causes of the core shortfalls. The Extent to Which the Department of Defense's Report Complied with the Law Required Reporting Elements Compliancea 1. Core Capability Requirements Complied 2. Planned Workload Complied 3. Explanations and mitigation plans for any shortfalls Partially Complied Source: GAO analysis of DOD's 2016 Biennial Core Report. | GAO-17-81 aComplied means that the report explicitly included all parts of the required reporting element. Partially complied means that the report included some—but not all—parts of the required reporting element. For example, some of the armed services did not provide rationales for shortfalls identified and a plan to either correct or mitigate the effects of the shortfall. Regarding completeness—including accurate data and supporting information from the armed services—the armed services are not calculating their shortfalls consistently. For example, the Army and Air Force calculate their own shortfalls, while the Navy and Marine Corps' shortfalls are calculated by DOD. The armed services are not calculating their shortfalls consistently because DOD does not provide guidance on, among other things, how to calculate the shortfalls. Therefore, DOD cannot be sure that the armed services are calculating their shortfalls accurately to support the information in the Core Report. While DOD generally reports on the elements required by Section 2464, additional information currently not required by the statute could help improve the transparency of the report so that it would better inform oversight and funding decisions. This would include information on issues such as workload shortfalls, mitigation plans, work breakdown structure categories, and whether the core requirements reported in previous core reports have been executed. To require such information in the report, Congress would need to amend the statute. Why GAO Did This Study DOD uses both military depots and contractors to maintain many complex weapon systems and equipment. Recognizing the key role of the depots and the risk of overreliance on contractors, Section 2464 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code requires DOD to maintain a core maintenance capability—a government-owned and operated combination of personnel, facilities, equipment, processes, and technology. Section 2464 requires DOD to provide a Biennial Core Report to Congress that includes informati[...]
Fri, 25 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500What GAO Found Company officials GAO interviewed identified potential uses for “space support vehicles”—which include a variety of aircraft from high-performance jets to balloons and the aircraft portion of a hybrid launch systems (a vehicle that contains elements of both an aircraft and a rocket-powered launch vehicle)—but the size of the market for these uses is unclear. Company officials said they plan to use space support vehicles to train spaceflight participants and to conduct research in reduced gravity environments. For example, some company officials said they would like to use high-performance jets to train future spaceflight participants by exposing them to physiological and psychological effects encountered in spaceflight. Other company officials said they would like to use space support vehicles to research how objects or people react in reduced gravity environments. It is difficult to know the size of the market for spaceflight training and research as GAO found no studies on these markets. However, stakeholders said they expect interest in research to increase. Some company officials said the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) regulatory framework presents a market challenge because companies cannot get FAA approval to use the aircraft they would like to use to carry passengers or cargo for compensation, thus limiting their ability to operate in the market. FAA's Office of Aviation Safety (AVS) regulates aircraft that companies would like to use as space support vehicles by issuing standard and experimental certificates that help ensure safety. While officials from two companies GAO interviewed have received standard aircraft certification for their space support vehicle, others said the standard certification process is lengthy and not designed for the type of vehicles they would like to use, such as unique, single-production aircraft or retired military jets. In addition, FAA regulations do not allow companies to receive compensation for carrying people or property on an aircraft operating under an experimental certificate. As a result, some of the companies we interviewed have training operations in other countries where they can receive payment for the activity. Further, FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST)—the office that regulates commercial space activities—is only authorized to regulate commercial space activities, such as launches, focusing on the safety of third parties. According to FAA officials, a statutory or regulatory change would be needed to allow companies to use space support vehicles that do not meet AVS's standard certification requirements for compensation. Stakeholders GAO interviewed have mixed views on how FAA should regulate space support vehicles; some companies believe the current regulatory approach is appropriate, while others believe the system should be changed in the face of new technology and commercial space development. While FAA has taken steps to assess the licensing and permitting process for hybrid launch vehicles, it has not assessed whether space support vehicles are needed and if it should propose changes that would accommodate all aircraft that could be used as space support vehicles. Thus, some U.S. company officials said they are delaying investments in space support vehicles, and therefore, it is uncertain if they will be able to use them to meet the future needs of the comm[...]