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Last Build Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 01:06:18 -0400


GAO-16-777, Superfund Sediment Sites: EPA Considers Risk Management Principles but Could Clarify Certain Procedures, September 22, 2016

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established risk management principles and a consultation process to help provide national consistency in its management of Superfund sediment sites. Specifically, EPA developed a framework of 11 risk management principles, including assessing sources of contamination and ways to control them early in the cleanup process, that EPA regional officials are to consider in developing a site's cleanup remedy. EPA also established a consultation process between EPA's headquarters and 10 regions for two tiers of sediment sites—Tier 1 sites, those with proposed cleanups of 10,000 cubic yards or more of contaminated sediment, and Tier 2 sites, those that are large, complex, or controversial. As part of the consultation process for Tier 1 and Tier 2 sites, regional officials are to prepare and submit consideration memorandums to headquarters to document how the 11 principles are being considered as the region develops a cleanup remedy for each site. Additionally, for Tier 2 sites, EPA established the Contaminated Sediments Technical Advisory Group (CSTAG) to monitor the progress of and provide advice on sites throughout the cleanup process. The CSTAG is to review the consideration memorandums for Tier 2 sites and meets with regional staff as part of the consultation process. CSTAG is to provide recommendations to regions on their proposed cleanup approach, and regional staff are to provide written responses to CSTAG recommendations. EPA generally followed its steps for providing national consistency in its management of Superfund sediment sites at selected Tier 1 and Tier 2 sites GAO reviewed. At 5 of 6 Tier 1 sites reviewed, regional officials submitted memorandums explaining how the 11 principles were considered in developing the cleanup remedy. At 11 of 12 Tier 2 sites reviewed, officials submitted consideration memorandums prior to their initial meeting with CSTAG; CSTAG provided recommendations on the regions' consideration of the principles, and regional officials provided written responses, as required in CSTAG's operating procedures. At 5 of the 12 Tier 2 sites where CSTAG held additional meetings, or update meetings, consideration memorandums were not submitted to CSTAG. CSTAG's operating procedures do not clearly describe what type of information and documentation, if any, should be prepared by regional officials and provided to CSTAG in advance of these meetings. Under federal standards for internal controls, agencies are to clearly document internal controls, such as in operating manuals. Clarifying, in the operating procedures, the types of information and documentation, if any, that should be prepared for CSTAG before update meetings would help to ensure that CSTAG was getting information needed to inform its reviews and meetings. EPA faces two main challenges in managing cleanups of Superfund sediment sites—technical complexities and stakeholder involvement—according to EPA officials. Technical complexities include site characteristics and the use of sampling and modeling in developing a cleanup remedy. Challenges with stakeholder involvement include the differing opinions and competing interests of stakeholders—such as communities, local governments, and industry—and the varying levels of knowledge among these stakeholders about the Superfund process, which officials said can take EPA time and resources to address. Why GAO Did This Study Water bodies in the United States, including rivers and harbors, may contain contaminated sediments that pose risks to ecosystems and human health. The federal government's principal program to clean up hazardous waste sites, including sediment sites, is EPA's Superfund program, authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Recently estimated costs for cleanups of some large Superfund sediment sites have ranged from about $500 million to $1.4 billion, according to EPA documents. GAO was asked to review issues related to Superfund sediment sites. This report exa[...]

GAO-16-713, Nuclear Material: Agencies Have Sound Procedures for Managing Exchanges but Could Improve Inventory Monitoring, September 23, 2016

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found In the United States, from October 1, 2003, through November 30, 2015, there were 817 exchanges of nuclear material that carried obligations to foreign partners under nuclear cooperation agreements. These exchanges allowed the obligated nuclear material to be transferred between U.S. facilities without physically moving it. For example, if a facility had a certain amount of obligated nuclear material and another facility had at least the same amount and type of unobligated material (which is not subject to the same conditions as obligated material), the facilities could exchange the obligations on their material so that each facility had a portion of both types of material without physically moving it. Numbers of exchanges. Of the 817 exchanges, 802 were conducted by Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)-licensed facilities—private companies and other entities involved in commercially producing nuclear energy. Of the remaining exchanges, 14 were conducted by contractors that run Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories and weapons-production sites, and 1 by an NRC licensee that does both commercial and DOE work. Reasons for exchanges. NRC licensees said they conducted exchanges primarily to meet their utility customer demand, as well as to avoid the high costs and safety risks associated with physically transporting nuclear material. DOE contractors said they conducted exchanges primarily to avoid physically moving nuclear material stored at a specific site. DOE and NRC have procedures to ensure accurate tracking and reporting of data on obligation exchanges through the Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System (NMMSS). GAO tested elements of these procedures and generally found them to be reliable. But, GAO identified two issues that may impact the agencies' ability to effectively monitor nuclear material inventories. First, some facilities have carried negative obligation balances for extended periods. A negative obligation balance occurs when a facility conducts an exchange without having enough of a given material in its physical inventory to cover the exchange. In certain circumstances, negative balances may place the United States at risk of noncompliance with nuclear agreements. Negative balances have occurred because DOE and NRC have not addressed this issue in documented guidance on when facilities may carry such balances, which is inconsistent with federal internal control standards. Second, while unobligated low-enriched uranium (LEU) could be used to correct any future negative obligation balances, the U.S. inventory of it is declining and NMMSS does not have an early-warning monitoring capability to alert DOE when the inventory is particularly low. Federal internal control standards state that agencies should establish activities to monitor internal control systems and evaluate the results, but DOE officials said that the LEU inventory is currently sufficient and no early warning capability is needed. Without developing such a capability in NMMSS, DOE officials cannot know when the inventory of unobligated LEU becomes so low that supplies may not be available to correct negative obligation balances, thereby putting the United States at risk of not complying with its nuclear agreements. Why GAO Did This Study The United States must generally account for nuclear material it has obtained under nuclear cooperation agreements with foreign partners. The agreements generally impose certain conditions, including that the material be used for peaceful purposes. Material subject to such conditions is called “obligated.” The United States relies on NMMSS to track obligated material and to help demonstrate U.S. compliance with agreements. Material not subject to agreement conditions is called “unobligated.” Some forms of uranium, such as LEU, are used to maintain the nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile, but the U.S. inventory of unobligated LEU is declining. GAO was asked to review the practice of obligation exchanges and the [...]

GAO-17-133, Military Personnel: Performance Measures Needed to Determine How Well DOD's Credentialing Program Helps Servicemembers [Reissued on October 21, 2016], October 17, 2016

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to establish the statutorily required credentialing program, but it has not developed performance measures to gauge the program's effectiveness. Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) officials are in the process of coordinating a draft DOD instruction for the program that will assign responsibilities and prescribe procedures for its operation, and each of the services has established websites to help its servicemembers find information on certifications and licenses related to their jobs. Servicemembers can use these websites to obtain background information on credentialing and detailed information on credentials related to a military occupational specialty, credential requirements, potential gaps between military training and civilian credentialing requirements, and resources available to fill in those gaps. Neither the draft DOD instruction nor any other guidance provided by OSD, however, establishes any performance measures by which to evaluate the program's effectiveness. By using performance measures, conducting ongoing monitoring, and reporting on progress in meeting its desired outcomes transparently, key decision makers can obtain feedback for improving the program. DOD officials collected some credentialing data for fiscal year 2015, such as the number of credentials that active duty and reserve servicemembers successfully attained and expenditures for the credentialing program. However, without performance measures that have targets and a baseline against which to measure current performance, DOD officials and other decision makers may find it difficult to determine whether DOD's credentialing program is on track to achieve desired results or, alternatively, needs corrective actions. DOD engages with states in various efforts to further assist servicemembers in attaining credentials, including working at the state level to encourage and support the development of credentials for servicemembers, with efforts varying by state. For example, DOD created the “USA 4 Military Families” initiative to engage with state-level policymakers, not-for-profit associations, concerned business interests, and other state leaders regarding the needs of military members and their families. DOD also provided data and subject matter expertise to an 18-month partnership project with the Department of Labor and National Governors Association. This project was designed to identify state-level professional requirements that can be met through the training received by servicemembers in the armed forces and to identify strategies to remove barriers to servicemembers' efforts to attain credentials. The six states participating in the project found that transitioning servicemembers and veterans encounter various barriers when trying to attain civilian credentials, such as civilian licensing boards that are not accustomed to military documentation of a servicemember's training and experience. The project also identified strategies to enable states to accelerate the licensing and certification of veterans based on the challenges identified, such as working with educational institutions to set up accelerated programs that provide veterans advanced standing in existing programs, or offer bridge courses to prepare veterans entering existing programs. Why GAO Did This Study DOD reimburses the Department of Labor quarterly for unemployment compensation payments provided to former servicemembers. In 2015, DOD reported that unemployment compensation for veterans was $434 million. Differences between military and civilian occupational classification systems can make it difficult for servicemembers to identify civilian jobs that are comparable to their military occupational specialties. Section 2015 of Title 10 directed DOD to carry out a program to enable servicemembers to obtain professional credentials related to their military training that translate into civilian occupations. Senate Report 114-49 accompanying t[...]

GAO-17-171, Homeland Security Acquisitions: Joint Requirements Council's Initial Approach Is Generally Sound and It Is Developing a Process to Inform Investment Priorities, October 24, 2016

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found GAO found that the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Joint Requirements Council's (JRC) structure and management approach—informed by assessments of requirements processes, guidance, and lessons learned from DHS components and the Department of Defense—are generally consistent with key practices for mergers and organizational transformations. However, although 24 of DHS's 36 major acquisitions are information technology programs, the department's Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) serves as a non-voting advisor to the JRC. Because GAO has previously identified poor requirements definition as a factor in failed information technology programs, a more formal and consistent role for the OCIO could help minimize the risk that programs will begin with poorly developed requirements. In addition, some components lack the capacity to develop sound capability and requirements documents to present to the JRC. DHS officials are aware of this issue and are planning to take steps to address it, but it will likely take some time to do so. The JRC has begun to review or validate capability and requirements documents, including one joint-operational requirements document between the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a common aircraft mission system. JRC-Reviewed or Validated Capability and Requirements Documents Capability Analysis Study Plan Capability Analysis Report Mission Needs Statement Concept of Operations Operational Requirements Document Joint Operational Requirements Document 13 0 8 0 8 1 Source: GAO analysis of DHS data, as of August 2016. | GAO-17-171 The JRC's role in prioritizing requirements and informing DHS's investment decisions is just beginning under a new joint assessment of requirements process. As the process evolves, the JRC will brief senior officials responsible for preparing DHS's budget requests. As shown below, the JRC plans for almost all of DHS's requirements to be evaluated under the new process in time to inform resource tradeoffs for the fiscal year 2021 budget request. Plans for the Joint Assessment of Requirements to Prioritize Investments Year of review Fiscal year 2016 Fiscal year 2017 Fiscal year 2018 Scope of requirements JRC will prioritize Limited number (8-10) of new All new and existing for major acquisitions All new and existing, including for some smaller acquisitions Planned outcome Informational briefing in spring 2017 Informational briefing in spring 2018 Spring 2019 briefing to inform fiscal year 2021 budget request Source: GAO analysis of DHS data and discussions with agency officials. | GAO-17-171 While it is too soon to tell what impact the JRC and associated processes will have on investment priorities or inefficiencies, JRC and other senior DHS officials recognize that sustained management focus is needed to continue momentum. Why GAO Did This Study In 2003, DHS established a JRC to review and prioritize requirements across the department's components—such as the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. However, due to a lack of senior management involvement, it became inactive. Over a decade later and after a 2008 GAO recommendation that the JRC be reinstated, the Secretary of Homeland Security directed the creation of a new JRC in June 2014. GAO was asked to review the organization and activities of the current JRC. This report addresses, among other things, the extent to which the JRC (1) has a structure and manageme[...]

GAO-17-26, Security Assistance: Guidance Needed for Completing Required Impact Assessments Prior to Presidential Drawdowns, October 20, 2016

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found In fiscal years 2011 through 2015, the President authorized 13 drawdowns to provide security assistance and build foreign partner capacity to France, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and countries in West and Central Africa (see fig.). According to Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of State (State) data, the total value of articles and services authorized for these drawdowns was $321.5 million. Authorized Recipients of Presidential Drawdowns, Fiscal Years 2011-2015 State and DOD implemented some, but not all, steps in their stated processes for planning and implementing drawdowns, but the military departments did not conduct required impact assessments. State implemented three steps in the process for which it was responsible, such as preparing justification packages for planned drawdowns. DOD implemented some parts of its stated process. For example, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which is the lead DOD entity for drawdowns, worked with the military departments to identify resources for the drawdowns from fiscal years 2011 through 2015. However, the Army and Air Force—which together delivered about 96 percent of the dollar amount of drawdown aid during that time—did not conduct required impact assessments. Specifically, the two military departments had not assessed the potential impact of drawdowns on military readiness and budgets during drawdown planning, as required by DOD guidance. Neither of the military departments has assigned responsibility for conducting the assessments, and DSCA did not determine whether the assessments had been completed. Without these assessments, DOD is not in a position to identify and, if needed, mitigate potential negative impacts of a drawdown on military readiness. Why GAO Did This Study The President has special legal authorities that allow him to direct the “drawdown” of defense articles and services to provide assistance in response to an international crisis. Examples of this aid include deliveries of vehicles, food, and medical equipment, and the use of military airlift, among other articles and services. The President may authorize up to $325 million each year in drawdowns under three authorities in the Foreign Assistance Act. A House Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a provision for GAO to review drawdown authorities. This report (1) describes the use of drawdown authorities to provide security assistance and build partner capacity and (2) evaluates the extent to which State and DOD followed their stated processes for planning and implementing drawdowns. GAO reviewed guidance and documents relevant to drawdowns, analyzed drawdown data from fiscal years 2011 through 2015, and interviewed State and DOD officials. What GAO Recommends GAO recommends that (1) the Secretaries of the military departments develop guidance that assigns responsibility for the preparation of impact assessments, and (2) the Director, DSCA, develop an internal control mechanism to determine whether the military departments have completed the required impact assessments before moving forward with drawdown planning and execution. DOD concurred with each of GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., at (202) 512-7331 or or Zina Merritt at (202) 512-5257 or

GAO-17-19, Breast Cancer Education: HHS Has Implemented Initiatives Aimed at Young Women, October 20, 2016

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has led federal efforts to respond to four areas specified in the Young Women's Breast Health Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act of 2009 (EARLY Act). CDC reported spending nearly $37 million between fiscal years 2010 to 2016 on the following efforts across the four areas specified in the act: Prevention research: CDC developed research in areas such as the economic implications of breast cancer, infertility, and survivorship, as well as participated in research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Public education campaign: To educate women at risk of or living with breast cancer, including those with a breast cancer susceptibility gene (BRCA) mutation, CDC launched Know : BRCA —an interactive web resource that enables women to determine their potential breast cancer risk—in 2014, and Bring Your Brave —a web-based campaign—in 2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Promotional Material for Know: BRCA Support grants: CDC awarded 14 grants to entities that increase education and awareness, and provide support programs for young women with breast cancer—particularly the target populations specified in the EARLY Act. Health professional education campaign: Efforts for this campaign are more recent and have focused on developing continuing education case studies for providers and provider components of Know: BRCA and Bring Your Brave . CDC officials are beginning to work with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to reach providers. GAO determined that HHS's targeted breast cancer education campaign for young women leverages existing resources, but does not duplicate other federal breast cancer education efforts, which are more general in nature. Additionally, a breast cancer expert noted that breast cancer education for young women is new and evolving, thus, further limiting the possibility that recent efforts are duplicative. Why GAO Did This Study While most breast cancer is detected in older women, breast cancer also affects young women (defined as women under 45 years old). Researchers have found that young women affected by breast cancer tend to be diagnosed at a later stage, experience worse outcomes, and face unique issues in their treatment, such as effects on fertility. The EARLY Act requires HHS to provide breast cancer education and support specifically for young women. The 2014 reauthorization of the act included provisions that GAO identify HHS activities to provide breast cancer education, and assess whether such activities are duplicative of other federal breast cancer education efforts. This report addresses (1) HHS's efforts to provide or support breast cancer education for young women, and (2) whether these efforts for young women duplicate other federal breast cancer education efforts. In conducting this work, GAO reviewed federal laws, federal internal control standards, GAO's Fragmentation, Duplication, and Overlap Guide, as well as HHS's documentation of EARLY Act efforts and spending; and interviewed officials at HHS agencies with roles implementing the act, including CDC, HRSA, and NIH. GAO also interviewed officials from seven research and advocacy groups who were selected based on the populations they represent, and searched 17 federal websites, which were selected based on GAO's research and referrals by breast cancer experts. HHS provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Marcia Crosse at (202) 512-7114 or

GAO-16-749R, Immigrant Investor Program: Proposed Project Investments in Targeted Employment Areas, September 19, 2016

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Congress created the Employment-Based Fifth Preference (EB-5) immigrant visa category to promote job creation and encourage capital investment in the United States by foreign investors.  EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program (EB-5 Program) requirements include investing $1 million in a new business that will result in the creation of at least 10 permanent full-time jobs or a reduced amount of $500,000 if the investment is made in a targeted employment area (TEA)—defined as an area that is rural or has an unemployment rate at least 150 percent of the national average. GAO estimates from its review of a generalizable simple random sample of unadjudicated EB-5 Program petitions (Form I-526) that about 99 percent of the 6,652 EB-5 petitioners who filed a petition in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015 elected to invest in a project located in a TEA. The remaining one percent of petitioners elected to invest in a project that was not located in a TEA. GAO also estimates from its review of Form I-526 files that about 90 percent of petitioners from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015 electing to invest in a high unemployment TEA, based the TEA on the average unemployment rate for a combination of census areas (e.g. tracts), as allowed under the program. The remaining petitioners (10 percent) based the TEA on the unemployment rate of a single census tract, census block group, or county. Of the 90 percent of petitioners from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015 who based a high unemployment TEA on the average unemployment rate of a combination of census areas, an estimated 63 percent used 2 to 10 census areas, 26 percent combined 11 to 100 census areas, and the remaining 12 percent combined more than 100 census areas (percentages do not sum to 100 due to rounding).   GAO’s review of EB-5 petitioner business plans included in the Form I-526 files from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015 showed substantial differences in the number of potential project investors and costs, and that EB-5 investment in projects located in a TEA was generally less than non-EB-5 investment by other foreign or U.S. investors. Under the program, petitioners can combine their business investment with other foreign and U.S. investors. GAO estimates that the median percentage of total potential EB-5 investment is 29 percent of the total estimated project cost, and the estimated mean percentage is 40 percent. About 74 percent of petitioners from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015 who elected to invest in a TEA invested or planned to invest in various types of real estate projects including mixed use, hotels and resorts, commercial, and residential developments; while the remaining 28 percent of petitioners invested or planned to invest in projects such as infrastructure projects or transportation, restaurants, medical, and education facility projects (percentages do not sum to 100 due to rounding). Why GAO Did This Study About 10,000 EB-5 visas per fiscal year are made available to qualified immigrant investors and their families seeking to immigrate to the United States through the EB-5 Program. EB-5 Program petitioners submit a Form I-526 to the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for adjudication, along with supporting materials, including a business plan. GAO was asked to provide information on projects that petitioners included with their Form I-526 petition. This report provides information from unadjudicated petitions submitted during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015 on the (1) proportion of petitioners who did or did not elect to invest in a TEA; (2) proportion of petitioners basing a high unemployment TEA on various types of geographic areas; and (3) EB-5 investment as a proportion of the total investment in petitioners’ TEA projects. GAO selected and reviewed a simple random sample of[...]

GAO-16-785, Water Infrastructure: Information on Selected Midsize and Large Cities with Declining Populations, September 15, 2016

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Midsize cities (with populations from 50,000 to 99,999) and large cities (with populations of 100,000 and greater) that have experienced a population decline are generally more economically distressed than growing cities. Specifically, GAO's review of American Community Survey data for 674 midsize and large cities showed that the 99 cities with declining population had higher poverty and unemployment rates and lower median income than cities with growing populations. Little research has been done about these cities' overall water and wastewater infrastructure needs, but the needs of the 10 midsize and large cities that GAO reviewed generally reflected the needs of cities nationally, as identified in needs assessments conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Water and wastewater utility representatives whom GAO interviewed described major infrastructure needs, including pipeline repair and replacement and wastewater improvements to control combined sewer overflows (i.e., wastewater discharges to streams and other water bodies during storms). Utilities for the 10 cities GAO reviewed used the strategy of raising rates to increase revenues to address water and wastewater infrastructure needs and used other strategies to address concerns about rate affordability for low-income customers. Most of the 14 utilities GAO reviewed raised rates annually to cover declines in revenues related, in part, to decreasing water use from declining populations, or to pay for rising operating and capital expenses. To help address rate affordability concerns, all of the utilities reviewed had developed customer assistance programs, a strategy to make rates more affordable, for example, by developing a payment plan agreeable to the customer and the utility. In addition, most utilities were using or had plans to use one or more cost-control strategies to address needs, such as rightsizing system infrastructure to fit current demands (i.e., reducing treatment capacity or decommissioning water or sewer lines in vacant areas). For example, as part of rightsizing, representatives GAO interviewed for 5 wastewater utilities said that they planned or were considering using vacant areas for green infrastructure (vegetated areas that enhance on-site infiltration) to help control stormwater that can lead to sewer overflows. As of June 2016, six federal programs and one policy could assist midsize and large cities with declining populations in addressing their water and wastewater infrastructure needs. Cities with declining populations may receive funding from the six programs, managed by EPA, the Economic Development Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for such projects. For example, states can use a portion of EPA's Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to provide additional subsidies in the form of principal forgiveness or negative interest loans to cities that meet state affordability criteria, such as median household income. The Birmingham Water Works Board, one of the 14 utilities GAO reviewed, received $11.6 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund in fiscal years 2010 through 2015, including $1.7 million with principal forgiveness to pay for green projects, such as water efficiency projects. GAO provided a draft of this report to EPA, the Economic Development Administration, and HUD for comment. The agencies provided technical comments that were incorporated, as appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study Many midsize and large cities throughout the United States, including the Midwest and Northeast, have lost a substantial percentage of their population. These cities face the challenge of a corresponding decline in utility revenues from a loss of ratepayers, which makes it difficult to address their water infrastructur[...]

GAO-17-89R, U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Contracting for Transportation and Guard Services for Detainees, October 17, 2016

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found GAO found that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) manages its current transportation services contract at the headquarters level, primarily through the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) and at the sector level, through Task Order Monitors (TOM) who are assigned officials within the U.S. Border Patrol (Border Patrol), a CBP component, in each of the seven southwest border sectors covered by the contract. The TOMs and the COR coordinate with one another in the day to day oversight and management of the contract.  CBP also exercises flexibility in reallocating its contractor resources where necessary, basing its decision on mission needs and sector capabilities.  For example, on a month to month basis, the sector TOMs and the contractor coordinate to adjust or shift routes based on changes in the sector. GAO also found that CBP has a quality assurance plan to help guide oversight of its contractor’s performance; conducts a range of monitoring activities to make sure the contractor meets contract requirements; and assesses contractor performance to identify efficiencies.  Specifically, CBP’s quality assurance plan identifies contractor performance requirements and standards, and the surveillance activities that should be conducted to assess contractor performance and compliance. The COR and sector TOMs conduct surveillance activities such as on-site inspections and reviewing incident investigations and other status reports, and use formal and informal reviews to monitor, assess, and rate contractor performance.  CBP uses the information from monitoring activities to assess and rate contractor performance on a monthly basis, and evaluate contractor performance yearly. Headquarters program officials, sector TOMs and the contractor also participate in semi-annual program management reviews to discuss contractor performance, including areas for improvement and lessons learned. Why GAO Did This Study As the lead federal agency charged with, keeping inadmissible aliens out of the country, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) CBP coordinates the security, monitoring and movement of individuals apprehended by its Border Patrol agents or deemed inadmissible by its Office of Field Operations (OFO) to or from several locations within and across its Border Patrol sectors and ports of entry.  In 2006, CBP began contracting for transportation services for individuals apprehended along the southwest border and to minimize the use of agents and officers performing guard and transportation duties. CBP’s current transportation services contract, awarded in August 2013, covers the transportation service needs for seven of the nine southwest Border Patrol sectors, and is valued at approximately $285 million over five fiscal years. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 contains a provision for GAO to report on CBP’s procurement process and standards for entities it contracts with for the transportation and detention of individuals apprehended by CBP officers, as well as the operational efficiency of its contracting.  This report examines the extent to which CBP (1) manages its existing transportation services contract to meet its needs and (2) assesses the performance of the contractor responsible for transporting detained individuals. To determine how CBP manages its existing transportation services contract, GAO reviewed CBP’s contract documents and contract management tools, as well as sector transportation plans and needs assessments. GAO also reviewed additional documentation provided by CBP to identify how CBP assesses the performance of its contractor, and what performance standards and quality assurance framework CBP uses to monitor and assess contractor performance.  GAO further assessed CBP’s fra[...]

GAO-16-570, Medicare: CMS's Round 2 Durable Medical Equipment and National Mail-order Diabetes Testing Supplies Competitive Bidding Programs, September 15, 2016

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The number of beneficiaries receiving durable medical equipment (DME) items covered under the competitive bidding program (CBP) generally decreased after implementation of two CBP phases that began July 1, 2013—round 2 and the national mail-order program for diabetes testing supplies. Under the CBP, (administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)), only competitively selected contract suppliers can furnish certain DME items at competitively determined prices to beneficiaries in designated competitive bidding areas. From the year before (2012) to the year after (2014) implementation, the number of beneficiaries receiving covered items in round 2 areas decreased 17 percent, compared with a 6 percent decrease for beneficiaries in non-CBP areas. The number of beneficiaries that received diabetes testing supplies through the national mail-order program also decreased 39 percent between 2012 and 2014, with a corresponding 13 percent increase in the number of beneficiaries receiving these items through retail outlets. CMS officials stated that CBP has helped limit fraud and abuse and may have curbed unnecessary utilization of some CBP-covered items in competitive bidding areas. CMS reports that available evidence from the agency's monitoring efforts indicates that the implementation of round 2 and the national mail-order program have had no widespread effects on beneficiary access. In particular, CMS has reported that its health status monitoring tool has not detected any changes in health measures attributable to the CBP, and the results of its 2014 post-CBP beneficiary satisfaction surveys remained positive. In addition, the number of CBP inquiries and complaints generally decreased throughout the first 2 years of round 2 and the national mail-order program. CMS officials told GAO that CMS took measures to ensure that contract suppliers met their contract obligations, such as investigating complaints using secret shopping calls, and terminating contracts of suppliers that remained noncompliant after receiving targeted education. However, some beneficiary advocacy groups and state hospital associations reported specific access issues, such as difficulty locating contract suppliers that will furnish certain items and delays in delivery of DME items. Round 2 and the national mail-order program included 801 separate competitive bidding area and product category competitions. Most of these competitions had at least five active contract suppliers in 2014. However, 11 percent of the competitions had three or fewer active contract suppliers and 1 percent had just one active contract supplier. In addition, while multiple suppliers had substantial shares of the market for most competitions, in some competitions a single supplier had a majority. For example, in 6 percent of the competitions, one contract supplier had at least 90 percent of the market. Conversely, 11 percent of contract suppliers did not furnish any CBP-covered items for any competitions in their contract. CMS officials told GAO that CMS monitors these suppliers to help ensure that they are meeting their contractual obligations, such as being willing to service all beneficiaries in their areas and to furnish the same items to Medicare beneficiaries that they make available to other customers. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study To achieve Medicare savings for DME, the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 required that CMS implement the CBP for certain DME, such as wheelchairs and oxygen, in phases, or rounds. Round 1 started in 2008, and round 2 and the national mail-order program started in 2013. CMS estimated that th[...]

GAO-17-162R, Global Positioning System: Observations on Quarterly Reports from the Air Force, October 17, 2016

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Air Force’s first Global Positioning System (GPS) quarterly report provided important information on some of the programs’ efforts and details about its full and long-term cost, schedule, performance, testing, and risk. The report included individual program schedules and costs for some programs. However, it did not include an integrated master schedule—key information needed to demonstrate the synchronization of all the programs. Additionally, there were gaps and inconsistent reporting of key acquisition measures. For example, the report identified when some risks will be resolved for the GPS III satellite program but not for the next generation operational control system (OCX) and military GPS user equipment (MGUE) programs. Much of the information in the quarterly report duplicated information already available in other reports. However, it is unclear when the data were collected because the information was not marked with a source date—key information to understand its timeliness. Further, the report also lacked a quarterly focus, looking neither forward one quarter nor backward another. Finally, the information on the fourth program, known as Contingency Operations (COps), was insufficient as it was mentioned only as a mitigation strategy for OCX delays. The report provided no information on the Air Force’s acquisition strategy or future milestones, such as the program's planned completion date.  Transparency could be improved in future reports if the Air Force included some additional information, such as:  (1) an integrated master schedule that clearly shows synchronization of the four programs; (2) a forward outlook and details on what to expect for each program over the next 3 to 6 months to gauge progress, such as milestones and key decision points; (3) updates to expected completion dates noted in previous reports to demonstrate progress and explanations for any deviations; (4) details on acquisition risks, both at the segment level and across the collective GPS acquisition, including plans to reduce risk and the projected closure date for each risk; (5) additional context for key data reported, such as the cost estimate source and approval date or the “as of” date for schedule events to ascertain the timeliness of the information; (6) additional details on the COps program, such as its acquisition strategy and key dates; and (7) a date to identify each quarterly report to distinguish between reports. In response to our observations on the first quarterly report, DOD and Air Force officials stated they will make changes starting with the next edition of the GPS quarterly report to improve transparency. GAO will continue to monitor DOD and Air Force efforts to do so. Hence, we are not making any recommendations in this report. Why GAO Did This Study The satellite-based GPS provides positioning, navigation, and timing data to users worldwide. GPS is an essential U.S. national security asset and a key component of economic growth, national infrastructure, and transportation safety. For nearly 9 years, the Air Force has been in the process of modernizing all three GPS segments to enhance performance and security. This effort is divided into three major programs to modernize the segments: GPS III, OCX, and MGUE. The warfighter needs all three modernization programs successfully developed and deployed in order to benefit from the M-code signal and increased cybersecurity. As GAO reported in 2015, OCX software development has experienced significant cost growth and schedule delays in the past few years that have subsequently delayed the implementation of M-code and cybersecurity for the military. To mitigate multi-year delays developing OCX and to maintain the[...]

GAO-17-117, Federal Reserve: Observations on Regulation D and the Use of Reserve Requirements, October 06, 2016

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The methods by which depository institutions can implement Regulation D (Reserve Requirements of Depository Institutions) include maintaining reserves against transaction accounts and enforcing a numeric transfer and withdrawal (transaction) limit for savings deposits if they wish to avoid classifying those accounts as reservable transaction accounts. GAO estimates that 70–78 percent of depository institutions limit savings deposit transactions. Other methods include automatically transferring balances from transaction (e.g., checking) accounts to savings deposits in order to reduce reserve requirements. Institutions may choose to maintain transaction account reserves against savings deposits to eliminate the need to enforce the transaction limit. But some institutions GAO surveyed indicated that they had operational burdens associated with monitoring and enforcing the transaction limit (for example, 63–73 percent cited challenges, such as creating forms and converting and closing accounts). Available data indicate that few customers exceeded or expressed concerns about the limit. Monetary policy—actions taken to influence the availability and cost of money and credit (i.e., interest rates)—can be conducted with varying dependence on reserve requirements. While many central banks around the world use reserve requirements, some have reduced their reliance on them due, in part, to the associated cost and administrative burdens. GAO reviewed how different central banks rely on reserve requirements and found a wide range of frameworks, including those with: (1) different mandatory reserve requirements (as compared to the United States), (2) voluntary reserve requirements, and (3) no reserve requirements at all. For example, countries with different mandatory reserves frameworks require maintaining reserves against all deposits, which eliminate the need to impose limits on transfers and withdrawals from specific accounts. While the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) has used reserve requirements to help achieve the interest rate targets it sets in the market for reserves (federal funds market), central banks of other developed countries such as Canada, Australia, Sweden, and Denmark, among others, do not rely on reserve requirements. Instead, they use interest rates under their direct control to restrict interest rates from moving outside of a targeted range (corridor operating approach). The authority for the Federal Reserve to pay interest on reserves has reduced some of the costs associated with reserve requirements in the United States. One of the alternatives to the current reserve requirement framework that GAO examined would require legislative change to further reduce some of these costs and burdens. Other approaches, while proven feasible for some foreign central banks, have implications for the conduct of monetary policy (e.g., require the pursuit of a corridor operating approach). Given the differences in financial systems across the globe, it is unclear whether the practices used by other nations would translate to the United States. Moreover, lowering or eliminating reserve requirements would raise a number of operational and technical issues for monetary policy implementation. For example, lowering or eliminating reserve requirements could introduce the need to manage potential volatility in short-term interest rates. Therefore, minimizing the burdens associated with reserve requirements would have to be weighed against the costs and monetary policy implications of any alternative framework when considering changes. Why GAO Did This Study Section 19 of the Federal Reserve Act requires depository institutions to maintain reserves against a portion of t[...]

GAO-17-119, Environmental Protection: Information on Federal Agencies' Expenditures and Coordination Related to Harmful Algae, October 14, 2016

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Twelve federal agencies reported expending an estimated total of roughly $101 million from fiscal years 2013 through 2015 to fund various research, monitoring, and other activities related to harmful algae—overgrowths of algae that can create toxic “blooms” in marine or freshwater environments. The agencies provided a mix of actual and estimated expenditure data and used different methods for collecting the data, making comparisons among agencies, and a federal total, inexact. Based on the data, the 5 agencies with the largest expenditures related to harmful algal blooms for this period—totaling roughly $86 million—were the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $39.4 million; National Science Foundation (NSF), $15.4 million; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), $14.5 million; U.S. Geological Survey, $9 million; and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), $8 million. According to agency officials, these 5 agencies funded efforts to research and analyze harmful algal blooms; forecast, monitor, and respond to their occurrence; and investigate human and ecological health effects. In addition, other agencies expended millions of dollars funding activities to address harmful algae. For example, from fiscal years 2013 through 2015, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported expending nearly $2 million on research to improve the detection of algal blooms using satellite imagery. Federal officials reported that their agencies coordinate in a variety of ways with each other and with nonfederal stakeholders to share information, expertise, and opportunities for collaboration on activities to address harmful algae. For example, since 2014, an interagency working group has been the primary, government-wide mechanism through which federal agencies coordinate such activities, develop plans for future work, and identify any gaps in federal activities and capabilities. In addition, federal officials reported that agencies participate in numerous groups, task forces, and other coordination efforts led by federal agencies, states, international organizations, or academics. Furthermore, federal officials reported a number of interagency partnerships directly related to their harmful algae work, such as NIEHS' and NSF's collaboration since 2005 to jointly fund research projects. Harmful Algal Blooms Can Have Toxic Effects on the Environment and Aquatic Species Why GAO Did This Study Harmful algal blooms are an environmental problem in all 50 states, according to EPA. While algae are essential to the ecosystem, providing food for all types of animals, these blooms can produce toxins that hurt the environment and local economies. Specifically, they can cause human illness or death from the consumption of seafood or water contaminated by toxic algae; harm aquatic and other animal species through neurological or liver damage or severe oxygen depletion; and hurt the seafood industry, recreation, and tourism. Harmful algal blooms occur naturally, but their prevalence, frequency, and severity are increasing—and this increase is influenced by climate, pollution, and human activities such as agriculture and wastewater, according to an interagency working group report. The Drinking Water Protection Act included a provision for GAO to review federally funded activities related to harmful algal blooms. This report examines (1) how much federal agencies expended on these activities from fiscal years 2013 through 2015 and (2) how federal agencies coordinate their activities with each other and with nonfederal stakeholders. GAO collected information from federal agencies by using a questionnaire and interviewing agency officials. GAO pr[...]

GAO-16-775R, Child Care: Information on Integrating Early Care and Education Funding, September 14, 2016

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found State officials and local providers of early care and education programs that GAO interviewed identified benefits associated with integrating funding from multiple sources as well as partnering with other providers. They also cited factors that adversely impacted their ability to do so. The benefits most often cited by state officials and providers included access to additional funding sources, opportunities to serve more children, increased access by families to full day services, and the ability to offer higher quality care. The factors cited by state officials and local providers in which different requirements, practices, and state and local policies can adversely affect integration and partnering across multiple programs include: data sharing or technology; reimbursement practices; different child-to-staff ratio requirements; different income eligibility criteria; different teacher credential requirements; cost allocation rules; and monitoring requirements. Providers GAO interviewed said that these factors resulted in, among other things, additional challenges for them. These included (1) the need to divert resources from services to attend to record keeping and monitoring visits, (2) encountering funding restrictions, or (3) as a consequence of a requirement, a reduction in the provider’s income. All of the state officials and local providers GAO spoke to reported steps taken at the state or local level to address factors that they said can adversely affect program funding integration or partnering. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of children under the age of 5 participate in federal and state early care and education programs each year. For fiscal years 2010 to 2015, Congress appropriated almost $48 billion to Head Start and over $31 billion to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), the two largest sources of federal funding for early care and education. To better leverage funds, expand services, and make quality improvements, many providers delivering these early care and education services are forming partnerships with other providers or combining funds from federal and other sources. GAO was asked to examine how state and local grantees are managing multiple funding sources and partnering with other providers to provide quality early care. This report describes what selected state officials and local child care providers identified as (1) the benefits to integrating funding from federal Head Start, CCDF, and state Pre-K programs and partnering with other providers; (2) factors that adversely affect integration and partnering; and (3) ways these adverse impacts were mitigated. To gather information about the factors that affected integrating funds and partnering, GAO conducted 24 interviews with state officials and local providers in four states (Colorado, Maryland, Washington, and West Virginia). GAO initially identified states using recommendations from HHS, state officials, and child care stakeholder groups. The final list of states GAO selected was based on the following criteria: (1) participation in HHS’s Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships grant program; (2) experiences with partnering among early care and education programs; (3) variation in licensing standards; and (4) differences in state income eligibility levels for CCDF. In each state, GAO selected 2 to 5 providers for interviews, also based on recommendations of state officials or providers that were integrating funds or partnering as part of their provision of early care and education services. GAO researched relevant federal laws and regulations; reviewed agency documentation, and literature; and interviewed agency officials fro[...]

GAO-17-14, Open Innovation: Practices to Engage Citizens and Effectively Implement Federal Initiatives, October 13, 2016

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Open innovation involves using various tools and approaches to harness the ideas, expertise, and resources of those outside an organization to address an issue or achieve specific goals. GAO found that federal agencies have frequently used five open innovation strategies to collaborate with citizens and external stakeholders, and encourage their participation in agency initiatives. Descriptions of Open Innovation Strategies Used by Federal Agencies GAO identified seven practices that agencies can use to effectively implement initiatives that involve the use of these strategies: Select the strategy appropriate for the purpose of engaging the public and the agency’s capabilities. Clearly define specific goals and performance measures for the initiative. Identify and engage external stakeholders and potential partners. Develop plans for implementing the initiative and recruiting participants. Engage participants and partners while implementing the initiative. Collect and assess relevant data and report results. Sustain communities of interested partners and participants. Aspects of these practices are illustrated by the 15 open innovation initiatives GAO reviewed at six selected agencies: the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation (DOT); the Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). For example: With the Asteroid Data Hunter challenge, NASA used a challenge and citizen science effort, beginning in 2014, to improve the accuracy of its asteroid detection program and develop an application for citizen scientists. Since 2009, DOT’s Federal Highway Administration has used an ideation initiative called Every Day Counts to identify innovations to improve highway project delivery. Teams of federal, state, local, and industry experts then implement the ideas chosen through this process. Why GAO Did This Study To address the complex and crosscutting challenges facing the federal government, agencies need to effectively engage and collaborate with those in the private, nonprofit, and academic sectors, other levels of government, and citizens. Agencies are increasingly using open innovation strategies for these purposes. The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires federal agencies to identify strategies and resources they will use to achieve their goals. GPRAMA also requires GAO to periodically review how implementation of its requirements is affecting agency performance. This report identifies and illustrates practices that help agencies effectively implement open innovation strategies, and how the use of those strategies has affected agency performance and opportunities for citizen engagement. To identify these practices, GAO analyzed relevant federal guidance and academic literature, and interviewed open innovation experts. To refine and illustrate the practices, GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, General Services Administration, and six selected federal agencies. GAO selected the agencies and a sample of their initiatives based on several factors, including the number and type of initiatives outlined in their Open Government Plans. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or

GAO-17-5, Health Care Quality: HHS Should Set Priorities and Comprehensively Plan Its Efforts to Better Align Health Quality Measures, October 13, 2016

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found While the full extent of misalignment among health care quality measures is unknown, it can have adverse effects on providers and efforts to improve quality of care. Misalignment occurs when health care payers require providers to report on measures that focus on different quality issues or define the measures using different specifications. GAO identified three studies that provided some information on the extent of misalignment. For the most part, these studies examined the number of measures that were used in common, among a narrow selection of public and private payers, and found that with few exceptions, only a small proportion of measures were commonly used by these payers. The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) agrees that misalignment exists, and some experts note that it adds to providers' administrative burden and often results in quality information that is not comparable. GAO's interviews with HHS officials and experts indicate that three interrelated factors drive misalignment of health care quality measures, as described in the table. Factors Driving Misalignment of Health Care Quality Measures Factor Description Dispersed decision-making Among public and private payers and other stakeholders, each entity independently decides which quality measures it will use and which specifications should apply to those measures. Variation in data collection and reporting systems Payers may choose different measures, modify existing measures, or leave details about measure specifications up to providers in order to accommodate differences in data that providers collect and the systems they use to collect these data. Few meaningful measures Although hundreds of quality measures have been developed, relatively few are measures that payers, providers, and other stakeholders agree to adopt, because few are viewed as leading to meaningful improvements in quality. Source: GAO interviews with Department of Health and Human Services officials and experts. | GAO-17-5 HHS has various ongoing efforts that address different aspects of misalignment of quality measures and the three factors that drive it. For example, HHS has begun to address dispersed decision-making by negotiating with private payers to adopt a core set of measures. To address variation in data systems, HHS is taking steps to develop electronic quality measures—those that allow providers to report data electronically—and standardize the data collected under these measures. CMS has also taken steps to address the paucity of meaningful measures through efforts to develop new measures that focus on key quality concerns. However, HHS has not prioritized development of electronic quality measures specifically for the core measures CMS negotiated with private payers, which could delay the implementation of this alignment effort. Further, CMS has not comprehensively planned how to target the development of new, more meaningful measures that address misalignment, and it has not set timelines and methods to track its progress. Federal internal control standards and leading principles for planning call for agencies to prioritize their efforts and assess their progress in achieving their objectives. Without comprehensive planning, CMS cannot ensure that it will achieve its objective of reducing misalignment. Why GAO Did This Study Both the federal government and private payers, such as health plans, incre[...]

GAO-16-811, U.S. Postal Service: Information on How Broadband Affects Postal Use and the Communications Options for Rural Residents, September 12, 2016

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Broadband use has in recent years been associated with reduced use of First-Class Mail. Continued declines as a result of broadband, however, are uncertain. Broadband access to various Internet services, especially online bill paying, is associated with reduced use of transaction mail, a subset of First-Class Mail. GAO analysis of the U.S. Postal Service's (USPS) Household Diary Survey (HDS) data from 2007-2014 found that households using broadband to access Internet services tended to send less transaction mail than other households, controlling for age, income, and education. However, GAO found that in recent years broadband use may not have had a statistically significant effect on correspondence mail, a subset of First-Class Mail that includes letters and greeting cards. Experts GAO spoke with had mixed views on the future of First-Class Mail as a result of broadband use, with only 4 of the 11 experts expecting decreases in First-Class Mail in the short term. Several experts and officials suggested that Internet privacy and security concerns, as well as many individuals having already changed postal habits in response to the Internet, are among the factors that could be contributing to a slowed rate of “electronic diversion” from mail. With regard to rural areas, GAO analysis of HDS data suggests that rural households without broadband tended to send more transaction and correspondence mail than non-rural households without broadband in recent years. The officials in rural areas GAO interviewed generally agreed that residents of rural areas value mail and postal services for a variety of reasons, including that they have fewer retail alternatives and trust USPS services. Despite this relationship, GAO found that the subset of rural households with broadband were not statistically different in the volume of correspondence mail sent compared to non-rural households. In rural areas, two groups of businesses that GAO spoke with also noted that improved Internet access could result in mail volume declines. E-commerce continues to have a strong effect on USPS package and shipping volumes. GAO analysis of HDS data found that broadband use in the home was associated with sending and receiving more packages with USPS in recent years. This analysis also found that households in rural areas made greater use of package and shipping services, a view echoed in interviews with officials in rural areas. While research and experts interviewed by GAO generally agreed that USPS's package business will grow in the short term, USPS is likely to face longer-term challenges, such as increased competition in the delivery market. It is unclear what role broadband use has played in the reduction in post office visits in recent years. GAO analysis of HDS data found no statistically significant relationship between broadband use and post office visits. However, GAO found that rural households tend to visit post offices more regardless of broadband use. Local stakeholders GAO interviewed said that rural residents may use post offices at higher rates because post offices play a valuable social role in small communities and that alternatives for certain services, such as money orders, are lacking. To balance the benefits of its postal retail network with the high costs of some facilities, USPS is undertaking various initiatives. Despite these efforts, balancing the benefits of a robust network with the costs of maintaining that network, especially in rural areas, will remain a challenge for USPS. Why GAO Did This Study As broadband availability grows, Americans—including those in rural [...]

GAO-17-122, Train Braking: DOT's Rulemaking on Electronically Controlled Pneumatic Brakes Could Benefit from Additional Data and Transparency, October 12, 2016

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found DOT based estimates of the business benefits of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on limited data, in part, because railroads that have used ECP brakes to date have shared limited data on their use. ECP brakes provide an electronic brake signal instantaneously throughout the train, allowing train cars to brake faster than with conventional air brakes. In supporting the May 2015 rule requiring the use of ECP brakes on certain trains hauling flammable liquid, the Department of Transportation (DOT) estimated the potential business benefits of ECP brakes, including reduced fuel consumption, reduced wear on wheels, and improved operational efficiencies. Industry stakeholders claim that DOT overestimated benefits. Seven of 10 experts GAO interviewed who commented on such benefit estimates said that DOT's estimates of business benefits, such as reduced fuel consumption, were based on experiences that may not be representative. DOT also estimated benefits to railroads from improved operational efficiency (e.g., the ability to return to speed sooner after braking), while industry stakeholders stated that poor reliability of ECP brakes will greatly limit any such benefits; however, only two out of five railroads provided GAO extensive quantifiable data to support these claims. DOT's use of limited data adds uncertainty to the estimates that DOT did not always acknowledge in the rule and its supporting analysis. By acknowledging uncertainties and in the future requiring railroads to collect and provide DOT more data on ECP brake use, DOT could improve its estimates and public confidence in those estimates, and use the data to determine the extent to which the ECP brake rule is meeting its objectives. DOT and an industry association each conducted computer-based modeling and additional analysis to estimate the potential safety benefits of ECP brakes, but took different approaches based in part on different assumptions of how the brakes affect what happens in a derailment. DOT's analysis supporting its final rule found that the improved braking performance of ECP brakes can reduce the number of cars in a derailment that puncture and release their contents by almost 20 percent compared to other braking technologies. DOT published two reports and explanatory details in the final rule to document this approach. The industry association's analysis and modeling, using a different approach and assumptions, found ECP brakes provide a “marginal” safety benefit. GAO found DOT's modeling lacked transparency as the information published may not be sufficient to enable an independent third party to replicate it. For example, DOT did not report complete details on specific inputs, such as how the model applied the brake force to tank cars. One researcher attempted to replicate the analysis and told GAO he was unable to do so, citing limited information. Best practices identified by the Office of Management and Budget state that modeling results published by federal agencies should be supported by transparent data to facilitate third-party review. By providing more information about the modeling, DOT could help stakeholders and the public better understand the analysis and the extent to which the model's results hinged on DOT's choices and assumptions. This increased understanding could in turn increase confidence in the ECP brake requirement. Why GAO Did This Study In May 2015, DOT issued a final rule requiring certain trains hauling flammable liquids to equip with ECP brakes. This rule has met opposition from many industry stakeholders. The Fixin[...]

GAO-17-128, DOD Civilian and Contractor Workforces: Additional Cost Savings Data and Efficiencies Plan Are Needed, October 12, 2016

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) did not report all required data on military, civilian, and contracted services workforces in its February 2016 report that would demonstrate savings, as required by section 955 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, and it estimates that by FY 2017 it will meet savings for the civilian workforce but not for contracted services. Section 955 requires DOD to submit annual reports in FYs 2015—2018 that include the costs of civilian and contracted services workforces from FYs 2012—2017, among other items. See the table for DOD's February 2016 compliance with selected reporting requirements. Table: DOD's February 2016 Compliance with Selected Section 955 Reporting Requirements   Workforce Requirement Military Civilian Contracted Services Include a summary of the cost savings achieved in the prior fiscal year through reductions: no no yes Include a summary of the number of reductions: yesa yesb no Achieve savings in the total funding from FYs 2012—2017 that are not less, as a percentage, than the savings in funding for basic military pay costs: Not applicable yes (estimated) no (estimated) Source: GAO analysis of DOD's February 2016 status report | GAO-17-128 aNumber of reductions reported in average strength bNumber of reductions reported in full-time equivalents Note: DOD costs savings provided for the prior FY are actual and costs for FY2017 are estimated. Officials stated that DOD interpreted section 955 as requiring DOD to report civilian savings achieved when comparing costs from FY 2012 to FY 2017, and not each year in between. Further, officials stated that DOD did not include full-time equivalents (FTEs) for contracted services in the report as required because they were unable to provide an accurate number. In December 2015 GAO recommended that DOD include costs savings for civilian personnel in its reports, and DOD concurred. Without including these cost data, Congress may not know whether DOD is on track to meet the mandated savings. DOD has not developed and implemented an efficiencies plan for reducing the civilian and contracted services workforces, and DOD did not demonstrate how its reductions are consistent with workforce management laws in its February 2016 status report. Section 955 requires DOD to develop an efficiencies plan to reduce civilian personnel and costs for FYs 2012—2017, and for each FY through 2018 to submit a report that describes the implementation of the efficiencies plan. Furthermore, section 955 allows for DOD to grant civilian and contractor workforce exclusions from section 955 required reductions for areas identified as critical. For example, DOD reported that it excluded about 538,000 of 776,000 civilian FTEs. However, its reports do not provide a description indicating why these exclusions were chosen. In December 2015 GAO recommended that DOD include a comprehensive description of the efficiencies plan to achieve savings, and DOD concurred. Without an efficiencies plan, including an explanation of its exclusions, DOD has not provided Congress with information on how the department will achieve required savings. Why G[...]

GAO-17-127, Federal Human Resources Data: OPM Should Improve the Availability and Reliability of Payroll Data to Support Accountability and Workforce Analytics, October 07, 2016

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) payroll data are not fully supporting the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) strategic and open data goals. This is because OPM has not taken the steps necessary to make the data widely available for use by other agencies and researchers. EHRI payroll data are intended to provide a centralized, standardized, and comprehensive source of pay and leave related data across the federal government. In this capacity, these data have the potential to provide a more efficient, cost effective, and precise data source for federal agencies and researchers who wish to assess human resources and policy decision making across the federal government. Because these data are not widely available, federal agencies and researchers must rely on other proxy sources for payroll data, which are more limited in the scope of analysis they can provide or the level of detail needed for data-driven human capital studies. Although some elements of the data are sufficiently reliable for general use, weaknesses in OPM's internal controls for the EHRI payroll data will need to be addressed to enhance the reliability of other data elements. As shown in the table below, GAO's assessment of key internal control activities that are critical to ensuring the reliability of the EHRI payroll data found a number of areas where there is insufficient assurance that the control objective will be achieved. These weaknesses increase the risk of data errors, incomplete data fields, and ineffective monitoring of the EHRI payroll data. Unless OPM takes steps to correct these internal control weaknesses, it will be unable to fully leverage these data to meet its mission and allow others to make full use of these data for their research needs. Assessment of Selected Internal Control Activities for Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) Payroll Data Internal Control Attributes Design Implementation Management designs control activities over the information technology infrastructure to support the completeness, accuracy, and validity of information processing by information technology. ○ ○ Management designs control activities to limit user access to information technology through authorization control activities. ● ○ Management designs appropriate types of control activities, such as for appropriate documentation of transactions and internal controls. ○ ○ Management performs ongoing monitoring of the design and operating effectiveness of the internal control system as part of the normal course of operations. ● ○ Management evaluates and documents the results of ongoing monitoring and separate evaluations to identify internal control issues. ○ ○ Source: GAO Analysis of OPM information | GAO -17-127 ●= Reasonable assurance control objective will be achieved ○= Insufficient assurance control objective will be achieved Why GAO Did This Study OPM is tasked with supporting federal agencies' human capital management activities, which includes ensuring that agencies have the data needed to make staffing and resource decisions to support their missions. The EHRI system is OPM's primary data warehou[...]

GAO-16-700, Skilled Nursing Facilities: CMS Should Improve Accessibility and Reliability of Expenditure Data, September 07, 2016

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that administers Medicare—collects and reports expenditure data from skilled nursing facilities (SNF), but it has not taken key steps to make the data readily accessible to public stakeholders or to ensure their reliability. SNFs are required to self-report their expenditures in annual financial cost reports, and CMS posts the raw data on its website. However, CMS has not provided the data in a readily accessible format and has not posted the data in a place that is easy to find on its website, according to public stakeholders and GAO's observations. In addition, CMS does little to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the data. Federal internal control standards suggest that agencies should make data accessible to the public and ensure data reliability. Until CMS takes steps to make reliable SNF expenditure data easier to use and locate, public stakeholders will have difficulty accessing and placing confidence in the only publicly available source of financial data for many SNFs. GAO found that, for each fiscal year from 2011 through 2014, direct and indirect care costs were lower as a percentage of revenue, on average, at for-profit SNFs compared with nonprofit and government SNFs. Direct and indirect care costs were similarly lower at chain SNFs compared with independent SNFs. In addition, the median margin, which measures revenue relative to costs, was higher for for-profit and chain SNFs than for other SNFs in each of the 4 years. The relationship between SNFs' nurse staffing levels (hours per resident day) and their margins varied by ownership type in each fiscal year from 2012 through 2014, the 3 years with complete staffing data. For-profit SNFs generally had lower nurse staffing ratios than did nonprofit and government SNFs. Examining each fiscal year separately, GAO estimated that a SNF's margin had a small, but statistically significant, effect on its case-mix adjusted (that is, adjusted for residents' health care needs) nurse staffing ratios. For example, for each percentage point increase in a for-profit SNF's margin in fiscal year 2014, GAO estimated that the SNF's total nurse staffing ratio (including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nursing assistants) decreased by 4.1 minutes per resident day after controlling for other factors. However, in GAO's analyses, these other factors, such as geographic location, were more important predictors of a SNF's case-mix adjusted nurse staffing ratios. SNFs' Average Nursing Time and Median Margins, by Ownership Type, Fiscal Year 2014 Ownership type Reported average nursing time per resident day Median margin All nurses Registered nurses For-profit 3 hours, 53 minutes 34 minutes 19% Nonprofit 4 hours, 7 minutes 38 minutes 15 Government 3 hours, 59 minutes 32 minutes 13 Source: GAO analysis of Medicare cost report data. | GAO-16-700 Note: All nurses include registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nursing assistants. A margin is the difference between revenues and costs, divided by revenues, and[...]

GAO-17-16, Securities and Exchange Commission: Management Has Enhanced Supervisory Controls and Could Further Improve Efficiency, October 06, 2016

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found As of the end of fiscal year 2015, the internal supervisory control framework of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reflected key components of federal internal control, including identifying and assessing risks; designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating controls; and reporting the results. Internal supervisory controls are management processes to help ensure that procedures applicable to staff are performed completely, consistent with applicable policies and procedures, and remain current. SEC's Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement, and Offices of Compliance Inspections and Examinations and Credit Ratings (collectively, the divisions and offices) are subject to requirements of section 961 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) to assess and certify the effectiveness of SEC's internal supervisory controls and report annually to Congress. GAO assessed the framework and each division and office's implementation and determined that it reflected key components of internal control. Since GAO's first review in 2013, the divisions and offices have taken steps to enhance the framework, including developing electronic workflow tracking systems and creating a permanent standards monitoring office. GAO found that 52 of the 58 tested controls were operating as intended in fiscal year 2015. Of the six controls in which GAO identified deficiencies, none appeared likely to prevent the divisions and offices from achieving the controls' objectives (for reasons that included mitigating evidence or circumstances). For example, for three controls with deficiencies, GAO found that the supervisory control activities had occurred, so the controls' objectives were achieved. SEC officials said that the divisions and offices planned to or already have addressed most of the deficiencies. SEC also generally improved the design and operation of the tested controls. SEC implemented GAO's 2013 recommendation that it should make certain that existing and future supervisory controls have clearly defined activities and clear and readily available documentation demonstrating execution of the activities. SEC's annual 961 reports to Congress during fiscal years 2013–2015 were consistent with Dodd-Frank Act requirements and the divisions and offices' processes for developing the annual reports reflected components of internal control. The divisions and offices shared information about the report development process through an informal working group. However, GAO found variations among divisions and offices in the design of controls addressing similar risks or objectives, and in testing approaches and documentation, among other differences. Federal internal control standards allow for variation but also emphasize the importance of efficiency and effectiveness. The variations illustrate that SEC has opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness through further information sharing about the design, implementation, and testing of internal supervisory controls. The variations occurred, in part, because the working group is informal and thus lacks a clear leadership structure and mandate to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Clarifying the working group's mandate in this way could enable the group to leverage its coordinating role and further promote information sharing with the goal of improving efficiency and effectiveness of filing reviews, investigations, and examinations. Why GAO Did T[...]

GAO-16-877R, Public Relations Spending: Reported Data on Related Federal Activities, September 30, 2016

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Federal obligations for advertising and public relations contracts have on average been close to $1 billion annually over the past decade, ranging from a low of about $800 million in fiscal year 2012 to a high of about $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2009, according to data from the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG). Obligations for these contracts are concentrated among a few agencies, with 10 agencies responsible for 95 percent of these obligations over the past ten years. The Department of Defense (DOD), which is responsible for over 60 percent of total obligations for these contracts, has driven changes in overall spending. Although advertising and public relations contracts data provide an indication of the magnitude of federal spending on public relations activities, they do not capture the full scope of these activities. This is due to several factors. For example, the data GAO presents is based on contracts coded under categories that closely align to public relations. There are other categories that could encompass public relations activities, but GAO did not use them because public relations activities could not be disaggregated from other activities. The combined salary amounts for federal public relations employees averaged approximately $430 million from fiscal year 2006 through 2014, reaching nearly $500 million in fiscal year 2014, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) database. Over this time period the number of federal public relations employees ranged from a low of 4,422 in fiscal year 2006 to a high of 5,238 in fiscal year 2011. These employees were concentrated among a relatively small number of agencies, but to a lesser extent than contract obligations for advertising and public relations. DOD is the largest employer of public relations staff; accordingly, DOD public relations employees have the highest combined salaries.Although federal employment data provide an indication of federal employee resources devoted to public relations, they do not reflect the full scope of these resource. Reasons for this include the likelihood that employees beyond just those classified under the Public Affairs occupational series, which GAO used in the analysis, are involved in public relations activities.  Why GAO Did This Study With the increased popularity and accessibility of expanded media platforms, the federal government’s ability to publicize information has changed rapidly, but the total scope of federal public relations activities is largely unknown. GAO was asked to determine how much the federal government spends on public relations activities. Based on information contained in federal databases, this report examines (1) the reported federal spending on contracts for advertising and public relations activities from fiscal year 2006 through 2015, including the agencies that have spent the most; and (2) the reported number of federal public relations employees and their combined annual salaries from fiscal years 2006 through 2014, and the agencies reported to have the highest total salaries for public relations employees. What GAO Recommends GAO is not making any recommendations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-6806 or

GAO-17-13SP, Emergency Communications: Survey of Selected Federal Agencies' Use and Procurement of Land Mobile Radio Equipment (GAO-17-13SP, October 5, 2016), an E-supplement to GAO-17-12, October 05, 2016

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

This e-supplement is a companion to GAO’s report entitled, Emergency Communications: Improved Procurement of Land Mobile Radios Could Enhance Interoperability and Cut Costs, GAO-17-12. The purpose of this e-supplement is to provide a summary of the results of GAO's survey of select civilian federal agencies on their use of land mobile radio (LMR) systems to communicate with other federal agencies. To identify relevant agencies for this survey, GAO first asked non-military participating members of the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center (ECPC) to identify which, if any, of their component agencies use LMR to communicate with at least one other federal agency. The ECPC is comprised of 14 federal departments and agencies which serve as a federal interagency focal point for interoperable and operable communications coordination. Its members represent the federal government's broad role in emergency communications, including regulation, policy, operations, grants, and technical assistance. Members of the ECPC are: the Federal Communications Commission, the General Services Administration, and U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and the Treasury.  Seventy-four federal agencies were identified. GAO screened this initial set of agencies to determine which of them use LMR systems to communicate with at least one other federal agency for daily operations; planned events, like presidential inaugurations; or unplanned incidents. All 74 agencies responded to the screening question. Agencies that met the criterion—58 federal LMR users in all—were further surveyed about the types of equipment they use, interoperability needs, and procurement practices, among other topics. All but one of the 58 agencies that GAO identified as federal LMR users responded to the full survey. The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not respond to the full survey but provided responses to a limited set of survey questions related to identifying agencies with which they require LMR interoperability. The results of the survey cannot be generalized to the experience and perspectives of federal agencies that did not participate in the survey. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-2834 or

GAO-17-12, Emergency Communications: Improved Procurement of Land Mobile Radios Could Enhance Interoperability and Cut Costs, October 05, 2016

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Federal agencies GAO surveyed generally use land mobile radio (LMR) equipment to meet their core missions, such as public safety, emergency management, or firefighting. More than two-thirds of the 57 agencies GAO surveyed reported using equipment from the same manufacturer because, for example, they believe doing so will help ensure compatibility of new LMR equipment with existing system requirements. Most agencies GAO surveyed were consistent in identifying each other as agencies with which they have or have not needed LMR interoperability over the past 5 years. Of the agencies that identified the need to communicate with each other, about two-thirds reported generally having a good or excellent level of LMR interoperability. The use of standards-based and multi-band LMR equipment has helped to enhance interoperability among agencies, but the use of proprietary features and other factors continue to hinder interoperability. Almost all of the agencies that GAO surveyed reported using LMR equipment that meets voluntary technical standards, which have improved interoperability. Further, almost half of these agencies reported using multiband radios, which operate on multiple public-safety radio bands, to enhance interoperability. However, agencies reported several factors continue to limit their progress in achieving interoperability with other federal agencies. These factors include the use of proprietary features and encryption in devices and limited investments in LMR systems and devices. For example, about half of the agencies surveyed reported that the use of proprietary features within LMR devices has hindered interoperability. Nearly half of the agencies GAO surveyed reported using pre-approved vendors with established prices to acquire LMR equipment, mainly through contracts sponsored by the Departments of Homeland Security and the Interior. While this approach can facilitate cost savings and interoperability, many of these agencies reported purchasing equipment through multiple agreements, a practice that can reduce these benefits. About 40 percent of agencies GAO surveyed reported using sole-source procurement or independent approaches. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in general, agencies often purchase and manage items in a fragmented and inefficient manner. This approach can result in duplication of effort, which imposes significant costs on federal agencies. OMB has directed agencies to implement “category management” as an improved way to manage spending across government for commonly purchased goods and services. This approach enables the government to leverage its purchasing power and realize cost savings. However, OMB’s category management initiative does not include LMR equipment even though federal agencies spend millions of dollars annually purchasing such equipment. By including LMR equipment in OMB’s category management initiative, the government could more fully leverage its aggregate buying power to obtain the most advantageous terms and conditions for LMR procurements. OMB officials agreed that a category management approach to LMR procurement might save the government money while supporting the goal of enhanced interoperability among agencies that require it, but OMB has not examined the feasibility of applying this approach to the procurement of LMR equipment. Why GAO Did This Study Public safety[...]