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GAO-17-370, KC-46 Tanker Modernization: Delivery of First Fully Capable Aircraft Has Been Delayed over One Year and Additional Delays Are Possible, March 24, 2017

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The KC-46 tanker modernization program is meeting cost and performance targets, but has experienced some recent schedule delays. Costs: As shown in the table below, the program's total acquisition cost estimate has decreased about $7.3 billion, or 14 percent, since the initial estimate. This is primarily because there have been no requirements changes and there have been fewer engineering changes than expected. Total Acquisition Cost Estimate for the KC-46 Tanker Aircraft Has Decreased  (then-year dollars in millions)   February 2011 January 2017 Percent Change Development 7,149.6 5,897.7 -17.5 Procurement 40,236.0 35,494.1 -11.8 Military construction 4,314.6 2,966.7 -31.2 Total 51,700.2 44,358.5 -14.2 Source: GAO presentation of Air Force Data. │ GAO-17-370 Performance: The program office estimates that the KC-46 will achieve its key and technical performance capabilities, such as completing a mission 92 percent of the time. As noted below, though, much testing remains. Schedule: The program fixed design problems and was approved for low-rate initial production in August 2016, a year late. Boeing (the prime contractor) will not meet the original required assets available delivery schedule due to ongoing Federal Aviation Administration certifications of the aircraft, including the wing air refueling pods, and flight test delays. As shown, the remaining schedule was modified to allow Boeing to deliver the first 18 aircraft and pods separately by October 2018, 14 months later than first planned. Current KC-46 Tanker Delivery Schedule Is 14 Months Later Than Original Plans GAO's analysis shows there is risk to the current delivery schedule due to potential delays in Federal Aviation Administration certifications and key test events. Boeing must also complete over 1,700 test points on average for each month from February to September 2017, a level that is more than double what it completed in the last 11 months. Program officials agree that there is risk to Boeing's test completion rate until it obtains Federal Aviation Administration approval for the design of all parts, including the pods, but test mitigation strategies are underway. Why GAO Did This Study The KC-46 tanker modernization program, valued at about $44 billion, is among the Air Force's highest acquisition priorities. Aerial refueling—the transfer of fuel from airborne tankers to combat and airlift forces—is critical to the U.S. military's ability to effectively operate globally. The Air Force initiated the KC-46 program to replace about a third of its aging KC-135 aerial refueling fleet. Boeing was awarded a fixed price incentive contract to develop the first four aircraft, which are being used for testing. Among other things, Boeing is contractually required to deliver a total of 18 aircraft and 9 wing air refueling pod sets by August 2017. This is defined as required assets available. The program plans to eventually field 179 aircraft in total. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 included a provision for GAO to review the KC-46 program annually through 2017. This is GAO's sixth report on this issue. It addresses (1) progress made in 2016 toward achieving cost, performance, and schedule goals and (2) development risk remaining. GAO analyzed key cost, schedule, development, test, and manufacturing documents and discussed results with officials from the KC-46 program office, other defense offices, the Federal Aviation Administration, and Boeing. What GAO Recommends GAO is not making recommendations. For more information, contact Michael Sullivan at (202) 512-4841 or [...]



GAO-17-255R, Building Partner Capacity: Inventory of Department of Defense Security Cooperation and Department of State Security Assistance Efforts, March 24, 2017

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found GAO identified 194 Department of Defense (DOD) security cooperation and Department of State (State) security assistance efforts that may be used to build foreign partner capacity to address security-related threats. This report presents GAO’s fiscal year 2016 inventory of these efforts—including each effort’s name, description, and associated legal authorities—in tables organized according to agency involvement as required by the listed associated authorities. GAO determined that DOD has 56 efforts for which the listed associated authorities do not require any State involvement and 87 efforts for which at least one of the listed associated authorities requires some level of State involvement. State has 22 efforts for which the listed associated authorities do not require any DOD involvement and 30 efforts for which at least one of the listed associated authorities requires some level of DOD involvement. (One joint effort is included in two tables but is counted only once in GAO’s total number of efforts.) Why GAO Did This Study Since the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, the U.S. government has engaged in numerous efforts to build the capacity of foreign partners to address security–related threats—an objective that has become increasingly prominent in U.S. national security strategy and foreign policy in recent years. Much of U.S. assistance intended for this purpose has been undertaken as security cooperation efforts by DOD and as security assistance efforts by State, with the help of various implementing partners. However, according to the RAND Corporation (RAND), the rapid growth of legal authorities and efforts associated with security cooperation and assistance has led to redundancies, limitations, and gaps. RAND also noted that this rapid growth of legal authorities and programs has led to expanding demands on DOD staff who must navigate through them as well as through unsynchronized processes, resources, programs, and organizations to execute individual initiatives with partner nations. Members of Congress have raised questions about the proliferation and duplication of efforts to build partner security capabilities and the supporting legal authorities. In addition, Members of Congress have raised questions about whether DOD security cooperation efforts lack strategic direction and may not act in concert with other efforts. House Armed Services Committee Report 114-102, accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016 (H.R.1735), includes a provision for GAO to report on an inventory of DOD security cooperation programs intended to build partner security capabilities. DOD defines these programs as including DOD-administered State security assistance activities. According to DOD and State officials, no sanctioned U.S. government inventory of security cooperation and security assistance efforts exists. In this report, GAO provides its fiscal year 2016 inventory of DOD security cooperation and State security assistance efforts that may be used by the U.S. government to build foreign partners’ capacity to address security-related threats, including each effort’s name, description, associated legal authorities, and agency involvement as required by the associated authorities. This inventory includes efforts that have building partner capacity (BPC) to address security-related threats as a primary goal as well as efforts that may have BPC as an ancillary goal or effect. GAO compiled this inventory primarily from DOD and State sources and worked with DOD and State to resolve any discrepancies and add additional efforts. This inventory may not represent the complete universe of DOD security cooperation and State security assistance efforts to build partner capacity and their associated authorities, because of, among other things, possible lack of accurate reporting in the primary sources and difficulties involved in identifying all associated authorities for each effort. To mitigate these concern[...]



GAO-17-234, VA Disability Benefits: Additional Planning Would Enhance Efforts to Improve the Timeliness of Appeals Decisions, March 23, 2017

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) is taking steps to improve the timeliness of its benefit compensation appeals process, in which veterans who are dissatisfied with claims decisions by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) can appeal first to VBA, and then to the Board of Veterans' Appeals (the Board). VA has taken actions related to increasing staff, reforming the process, and updating information technology (IT), which are consistent with relevant sound planning practices. However, gaps in planning exist, thereby reducing the agency's ability to ensure that these actions will improve the timeliness of disability appeals decisions. Increase staff: VA determined that staff resources have not sufficiently kept pace with increased pending appeals, and concluded that additional staff are needed, particularly at the Board, to improve timeliness and reduce its appeals inventory. The Board received approval to hire more staff in fiscal year 2017, and expects to need an additional hiring surge beginning in fiscal year 2018. As of October 2016, officials estimated that if the agency does not take any action, such as increasing staff in 2018, veterans may have to wait an average of 8.5 years by fiscal year 2026 to have their appeals resolved. Consistent with sound workforce planning practices, VA modeled different options for increasing staff levels to support its conclusion that staff increases in conjunction with process change would reduce the appeals inventory sooner. However, contrary to sound practices, VA often used fixed estimates for key variables in its models—such as staff productivity—rather than a range of estimates (sensitivity analysis) to understand the effect variation in these key variables could have on staffing needs. Also, VA's written workforce plans—which cover recruiting, hiring and training—did not include detailed steps, time frames, and mitigation strategies consistent with sound workforce planning practices. For example, while VA has established a center for excellence in hiring to focus on recruitment and hiring the agency has not finalized training or telework plans or otherwise mitigated space constraints that it encountered for hiring staff in fiscal year 2017. Without a timely, detailed workforce plan, VA risks delays in hiring and preparing staff to help manage workloads as soon as possible. Reform process: VA determined that new evidence—which a veteran can submit at any point during his or her appeal—inefficiently causes an additional round of reviews, and thus delays appeals decisions, and in response it proposed legislation (not enacted) to streamline the process. Consistent with sound practices for process redesign, VA worked with veterans service organizations (VSO) and other key stakeholders in developing the proposal, and continued to update VSOs about the development of its implementation plans. VA's proposed reform is promising, but there are several gaps in its implementation plans. In particular, VA plans to fully implement appeals process reform at the Board as well as at VBA regional offices across the country while it concurrently manages the existing appeals inventory, a hiring surge, and planned system changes discussed below. However, VA's plans run counter to sound redesign practices that suggest pilot testing the process changes in a more limited fashion before full implementation, in order to manage risks and help ensure successful implementation of significant institutional change. VA officials told GAO that pilot testing—which would require legislation to implement—will prolong a process that is fundamentally broken and delay urgently needed repairs. However, without pilot testing VA may experience challenges and setbacks on a broader scale, which could undermine planned efficiencies and other intended outcomes. In addition, VA has not sufficiently identified how it will monitor progress, evaluate efficiency and effectiveness, identify trouble spots, and otherwise[...]



GAO-17-204, Immigration Status Verification for Benefits: Actions Needed to Improve Effectiveness and Oversight, March 23, 2017

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has taken steps to assess the accuracy of the information reported by its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system. For example, since 2014 USCIS has conducted monthly checks to ensure SAVE is accurately reporting information contained in its source systems. In addition, USCIS reports that SAVE status verifiers, who manually research a benefit applicant's immigration status during a process known as additional verification, accurately reported the applicant's status 99 percent of the time. However, from fiscal year 2012 through fiscal year 2016, GAO found that the majority of SAVE user agencies that received a SAVE response prompting them to institute additional verification did not complete the required additional steps to verify the benefit applicant's immigration status. USCIS does not have sufficient controls to help ensure agencies are completing the necessary steps because of inconsistent guidance, and lacks reasonable assurance that SAVE user agencies have completed training that explains this procedure. Improving guidance and ensuring training on verification requirements could help USCIS better ensure agencies have complete and accurate information for making eligibility determinations. USCIS has taken actions to protect the privacy of personal information related to SAVE, such as requiring SAVE user agencies to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) stating the intended use of the system and provisions for safeguarding information. USCIS has also established mechanisms for access, correction, and redress regarding use of an individual's personal information; however, GAO found these mechanisms were largely ineffective and unlikely to enable benefit applicants to make timely record corrections. Specifically, USCIS provides a fact sheet for benefit applicants stating their immigration status could not be verified, along with information on contacting DHS to update or correct their records. However, the fact sheet's guidance on contacting DHS was not specific or clear, which could hinder benefit applicants' efforts to contact DHS. Without an effective method for ensuring individuals can access and correct their information, benefit applicants may face challenges ensuring accurate information is used in a SAVE check and appealing potentially erroneous denials of benefits with the user agency in a timely manner. USCIS's SAVE Monitoring and Compliance (M&C) branch monitors user agencies' use of SAVE in accordance with their MOA. However, SAVE M&C's monitoring efforts have not improved agency compliance rates for the two monitored behaviors—deleting inactive user accounts and instituting additional verification when prompted. For example, GAO found that only 4 of 40 agencies monitored from fiscal years 2013 through 2015 had improved their compliance with requirements to complete additional verification when prompted. Further M&C does not have a documented, risk-based strategy for monitoring. Without such a strategy, USCIS is not well-positioned to target its monitoring efforts on the agencies most in need of compliance assistance or ensure the most effective use of its limited resources. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of applicants for healthcare, licenses, and other benefits rely on DHS's SAVE system to verify their immigration or naturalized or derived citizenship status at the request of over 1,000 federal, state, and local user agencies. Agencies use the information from SAVE to help determine an applicant's eligibility for benefits. Programs required or authorized to participate include Medicaid, certain license-issuing programs (such as driver's licenses), federal food and housing assistance, and educational programs. The House Appropriations Committee Report accompanying the DHS Appropriations Act, 2016, included a provision for GAO to review the SAVE program. This rep[...]



GAO-17-80, Defense Commissaries: DOD Needs to Improve Business Processes to Ensure Patron Benefits and Achieve Operational Efficiencies, March 23, 2017

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) lacks reasonable assurance that it is maintaining its desired savings rate for commissary patrons. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), which manages the commissaries, has a methodology for calculating the annual savings rate that patrons realize by shopping at commissaries rather than commercial grocery stores. In fiscal year 2015, the most recent data available at the time of our review, DeCA's Board of Directors approved a desired average savings rate of 30 percent based on savings calculated for prior years using the methodology. However, GAO found weaknesses in this methodology. For example, the methodology does not use a random sample of overseas commissaries or account for seasonal and geographic variations in item prices. Because of these weaknesses, DOD's methodology can potentially result in an inaccurate calculation of the actual savings rate that commissary patrons experience. DeCA officials stated that the agency plans to revise the savings methodology to address the limitations GAO identified. Because this effort is underway, it is too early to know whether the revisions will address the limitations GAO identified. Differences exist between certain business processes used at the commissaries and those of commercial grocery stores. First, DeCA tracks the sale of products at all commissaries but does not assess the contribution of the sale of each product to a given store's total sales in determining which products to sell. According to DeCA officials, because commissaries are focused on providing a benefit rather than on maximizing profits like commercial grocery stores, commissaries do not always adjust products they carry based on customer demand. DeCA officials said that they would like to be more efficient, but have not developed a plan with achievable objectives, goals, and time frames regarding how to improve product management based on sales and customer demand. Without improving the management of products based on sales and customer demand as is done in commercial grocery stores, DeCA may be missing opportunities to increase sales, leverage efficiencies, and achieve savings in commissary operations. Second, DeCA has not conducted cost-benefit analyses for costs associated with (1) the use of stocking and custodial service contracts as compared with the use of in-house staff and (2) product distribution options across all commissaries. For example, DeCA uses services contracts at most commissaries, totaling about $137 million in fiscal year 2015, even though our analysis suggests that using in-house personnel for stocking may be more cost effective. Commercial grocery stores are generally sensitive to the cost of business operations, competition in their market, and the need to generate a profit. In addition, different product distribution options could result in significant savings impacting the price a commissary patron pays for a product. According to DeCA officials, DOD does not require cost-benefit analyses to compare alternative options for service contracts or for the distribution of products to commissaries. However, without conducting such analyses to guide its decision making on these business processes, DeCA is not positioned to determine whether it is using its resources most efficiently. Why GAO Did This Study DOD operates 238 commissaries worldwide to provide groceries and household goods at reduced prices as a benefit to military personnel, retirees, and their dependents. Since 2010, Congress appropriated an average $1.4 billion annually to help fund commissary operations. Senate Report 114-49 included a provision for GAO to review aspects of commissary operations. This report (1) determines the extent to which DOD has assurance it is maintaining its desired savings rate for patrons and (2) identifies differences in business practices between commissary operations and commercial grocery store practices. GAO analyzed d[...]



GAO-17-366, Commercial Space Launch Insurance: Weakness in FAA's Insurance Calculation May Expose the Federal Government to Excess Risk, March 23, 2017

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revised its method for calculating insurance requirements to address some known weaknesses. FAA is the part of the Department of Transportation that determines the amount of insurance that commercial space launch companies must purchase to cover damages from accidents that harm third parties—that is, the uninvolved public—or federal property and personnel, unless companies otherwise demonstrate sufficient financial resources to cover the same calculated damages. The amount of insurance required is based on FAA's calculation of the maximum loss that can be reasonably expected. FAA contractors found the following: FAA's estimates of the number of casualties (serious injuries and deaths) that could result from a launch accident have likely been too high, and have been based on an unrealistic scenario; FAA's estimates of losses due to property damage may be too high in some cases, and too low in others; FAA's estimate of the average cost of a casualty —referred to as the cost-of-casualty amount—is based on outdated information and is likely too low. The amount has been fixed at $3 million since 1988. FAA implemented a new method for estimating the number of casualties in April 2016 that uses computer software to simulate a range of possible launch accidents that are intended to be more realistic than FAA's previous scenarios. FAA has also reduced the factor it uses to estimate losses due to property damage, based on tests of a new process for estimating such losses that showed the previous factor was too high. Both of these revisions have tended to reduce insurance requirements. In addition, FAA assigned one of its two contractors examining elements of the methodology to study potential improvements in estimating average casualty losses, but that contractor found significant limitations in each alternative approach that it reviewed. Because FAA has not yet addressed the identified weakness in the cost-of-casualty amount used in its calculation, the federal government may be exposed to excess risk. FAA has identified potential steps to update the information the cost-of-casualty amount is based on, including seeking public input on whether and how to revise the amount, but the agency does not have a complete plan for updating the cost-of-casualty amount. Federal internal control standards require that agency management respond to risks related to achieving the entity's objectives, define how to achieve objectives, and set time frames for achieving them. FAA has not responded to the risk identified in using outdated data as the basis of the cost-of-casualty amount because FAA has prioritized other work, such as reviewing launch license applications, ahead of this issue. Further, because the weakness in the cost-of-casualty amount indicates that the amount is likely too low, the current calculation may not account for damages to third parties and federal property and personnel that can reasonably be expected from a launch accident, as required by FAA regulations. By leaving this weakness unaddressed, FAA's insurance requirements may not account for damages that can be reasonably expected, and may expose the government to more liability risk than intended under the risk-sharing arrangement. Why GAO Did This Study To assist in the development of the commercial space launch industry, the federal government shares liability risks for losses from damages to third parties or federal property. This risk-sharing arrangement requires space launch companies to have a specific amount of insurance for damages to third parties and federal property. The federal government is potentially liable for third-party claims above that amount, up to an estimated $3.1 billion in 2017, subject to appropriations. The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act enacted in 2015 required the Department of Transportat[...]



GAO-17-508T, Aviation Certification: FAA Has Made Continued Progress in Improving Its Processes for U.S. Aviation Products, March 23, 2017

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made progress in addressing two rulemaking committees' recommendations regarding its certification process and the consistency of its regulatory interpretations. FAA has completed 13 of 14 initiatives for addressing the 6 certification process recommendations. For example, 5 of the 13 completed initiatives involved improving and expanding its program that authorizes other organizations to act on its behalf in issuing certificates. The remaining initiative—issuing a final rule on regulations dealing with the certification of aircraft products—will likely not be issued this calendar year due to internal delays and the administration's efforts to review agencies' rules and regulations. FAA's Aircraft Certification Service (AIR) is responsible for implementing the certification process initiatives and the outcomes of the 14 initiatives are intended to be rolled into a larger organizational transformation concept. The initial phase involves restructuring AIR's organization, shifting its structure from a product-based focus to a function-based focus, with a new division responsible for monitoring and managing performance. FAA expects to complete this realignment in 2017, and noted that the overall aim of this transformation is to create a process that is more responsive to stakeholder expectations and more efficient and effective. FAA has completed efforts to address 2 of the 6 regulatory consistency recommendations, has efforts underway to address three, and is not planning to implement one. Completed efforts include ensuring better clarity in final rules and improvements in regulatory training for FAA personnel and industry. FAA is continuing work on an electronic platform to allow agency and industry users to access consolidated information on regulations and on creation of a consistency board to provide clarification on regulation-related questions from FAA and industry stakeholders. FAA did not establish a centralized support center to provide guidance to FAA personnel and industry, noting the consistency board would do this. FAA has also made progress in developing measures for assessing the outcomes of the actions being taken for most of the initiatives. In addition, industry stakeholders GAO spoke to indicated a better sense of progress being achieved by FAA and better communication and collaboration from FAA. FAA has continued efforts to address challenges that selected U.S. aviation companies reported facing when seeking foreign approval of their products. In April 2015, GAO testified on these challenges, which included the length and uncertainty of some approval processes, difficulty with communications, and high fees. FAA's efforts to address these challenges include working with its counterpart in the European Union to develop a “roadmap,” approved in February 2016, of various initiatives aimed at reducing the time and costs of European approval of U.S. aviation products. According to FAA, completed changes have already eliminated approval and associated fees for all approved aircraft parts and reduced the approval time for simple low-risk modifications of product design from weeks to days. FAA plans to use this roadmap as a template for working with other countries on these issues. Why GAO Did This Study FAA issues certificates approving new U.S.-manufactured aviation products, such as new aircraft, engines, and propellers. GAO has previously reviewed the efficiency of FAA's certification process and the consistency of its regulatory interpretations. As required by the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, FAA chartered two aviation rulemaking committees—one to improve certification processes and another to address regulatory consistency—that recommended improvements in 2012. FAA also assists U.S. aviation companies seeking approval of their FAA-certificated p[...]



GAO-17-504T, Airport Funding: FAA's and Industry's Cost Estimates for Airport Development, March 23, 2017

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) estimate of the costs for planned capital development at airports over the next five years is about $32.5 billion, compared to the Airports Council International-North America's (ACI-NA) estimate of almost $100 billion, both for the period 2017-2021. The difference between these two estimates can be attributed to a number of factors, but most significantly to the types of projects included in the estimates. FAA's estimate is limited to projects that are eligible for Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants that do not already have funding arranged, whereas ACI-NA's estimates include all projects regardless of AIP eligibility or whether funding is arranged. The figure below illustrates the disparity between the two estimates since 2005. Note that since 2015, FAA's estimate has decreased by $1 billion whereas ACI-NA's has increased by $24.4 billion. FAA's and ACI-NA's Planned Development Cost Estimates, 2005–2021 In addition to the AIP and state grants they receive, airports generate funds through airport-generated income and Passenger Facility Charges (PFC), among other sources. In 2015, GAO estimated that funding from these sources totaled an average of $10.3 billion annually (2013 dollars), $2.7 billion less than airports' planned development costs. Airports have a number of options for addressing any shortfall in funding their planned development costs, including prioritizing development projects, financing projects with long term debt, attempting to increase airport revenues, or entering into public-private partnerships. Increasing or eliminating the PFC cap would significantly increase PFC collections available to airports under three scenarios GAO modeled in prior work. However, according to GAO's model, an increase in the PFC could also marginally slow passenger growth and therefore the growth in tax revenues to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF), which is used to fund FAA programs. Such projected effects depend on key assumptions regarding the consumers' sensitivity to a PFC cap increase, whether the airlines decide to pass on the full increase to consumers, and the rate at which airports would adopt the increased PFC cap. Any increase in PFCs is strongly opposed by airlines which contend that an increase could reduce passenger demand. Why GAO Did This Study Roughly 3,300 airports in the United States are eligible for federal AIP grants from the FAA that can be used for certain types of projects, such as building runways and noise mitigation. To fund development, in addition to AIP grants, airports rely on locally generated revenues and federally authorized PFCs, which are added to the price of an airline ticket and have been capped at $4.50 per flight segment. The administration's call to boost spending on public infrastructure has renewed attention on the importance of maintaining and improving airport infrastructure. This testimony discusses: (1) the differences between estimates of airports' planned development costs, (2) the federal funding and other airport funding and revenues that may be available to defray development costs, and (3) the implications of increasing the cap on PFCs, among other objectives. This testimony is based on previous GAO reports issued from March 1998 through April 2015, with selected updates conducted through March 2017. To conduct these updates, GAO reviewed recent information on FAA's program activities and analyses outlined in FAA reports, and related airport industry estimates of infrastructure development costs. GAO also interviewed officials from FAA, and airport and airline trade associations. For more information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov.



GAO-17-475T, Veterans Health Administration: Actions Needed to Better Recruit and Retain Clinical and Administrative Staff, March 22, 2017

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Challenges in recruiting and retaining both clinical and human resources (HR) employees along with weak HR-related internal control practices are undermining the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) ability to meet the health care needs of veterans. In July 2016, GAO found that VHA losses in its 5 clinical occupations with the largest staffing shortages, including physicians, registered nurses, and psychologists, increased from about 5,900 employees in fiscal year 2011 to about 7,700 in fiscal year 2015. Voluntary resignations and retirements were the primary drivers. VHA's exit survey indicated that advancement issues or dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the work were commonly cited as the primary reasons people left. In September 2015, GAO found that VHA had multiple initiatives to recruit and retain its nurse workforce, but three of the four VA medical centers GAO reviewed faced challenges offering the initiatives due to, for example, a lack of sufficient HR support and competition with private sector medical facilities. GAO also found that VHA had not evaluated the training resources provided to nurse recruiters at VA medical centers. As a result, VHA is unable to determine to what extent its nurse recruitment and retention initiatives are effective and whether VHA has an adequate and qualified nurse workforce to meet veterans' health care needs. In December 2016, GAO found that VHA's limited HR capacity combined with weak internal control practices undermined VHA's HR operations and its ability to improve delivery of health care services to veterans. Long-standing, Systemic Human Capital Challenges Limit the Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Ability to Effectively Manage and Deliver Human Resources Services VA has exempted 108 clinical and administrative occupations from the recent hiring freeze; however, HR occupations are not among the exempt positions. A prolonged freeze could further erode VHA's capacity to provide HR services such as recruiting and hiring of staff who provide medical care to veterans. Why GAO Did This Study VHA's ability to attract, hire, and retain top talent is critical to its mission to provide quality and timely care for our nation's veterans. GAO's prior work has found that VHA faces long-standing, systemic human capital challenges that limit its ability to improve delivery of health care services to veterans. This statement is based on GAO reports issued between September 2015 and December 2016 and discusses (1) the difficulties VHA is facing in recruiting and retaining staff for key clinical positions; and (2) VHA's capacity to perform key HR functions essential to addressing these difficulties. To conduct these studies, GAO reviewed VHA policies, directives, and other documents; analyzed VHA data; applied relevant federal internal control standards; and interviewed VA and VHA officials and staff in headquarters offices, as well as in eight VHA medical centers across the country. What GAO Recommends GAO previously made three recommendations to VA aimed at improving oversight of nurse recruitment and retention initiatives and seven recommendations directed at strengthening VHA's HR capacity. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations and is taking steps to implement them. GAO will monitor VA's progress. For more information, contact Robert Goldenkoff at (202) 512-2757 or goldenkoffr@gao.gov or Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.



GAO-17-489T, Face Recognition Technology: DOJ and FBI Need to Take Additional Actions to Ensure Privacy and Accuracy, March 22, 2017

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found In May 2016, GAO found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had not fully adhered to privacy laws and policies and had not taken sufficient action to help ensure accuracy of its face recognition technology. GAO made six recommendations to address these issues. As of March 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI disagreed with three recommendations and had taken some actions to address the remainder, but had not fully implemented them. Privacy notices not timely. In May 2016, GAO recommended DOJ determine why privacy impact assessments (PIA) were not published in a timely manner (as required by law) and take corrective action. GAO made this recommendation because FBI did not update the Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS) PIA in a timely manner when the system underwent significant changes or publish a PIA for Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation (FACE) Services before that unit began supporting FBI agents. DOJ disagreed on assessing the PIA process stating it established practices that protect privacy and civil liberties beyond the requirements of the law. GAO also recommended DOJ publish a system of records notice (SORN) and assess that process. DOJ agreed to publish a SORN, but did not agree there was a legal requirement to do so. GAO believes both recommendations are valid to keep the public informed on how personal information is being used and protected by DOJ components. Key Dates of Privacy Notices GAO also recommended the FBI conduct audits to determine if users of NGI-IPS and biometric images specialists in the FBI's FACE Services unit are conducting face image searches in accordance with DOJ policy requirements. The FBI began conducting NGI-IPS user audits in 2017. Accuracy testing limited. In May 2016, GAO recommended the FBI conduct tests to verify that NGI-IPS is accurate for all allowable candidate list sizes to give more reasonable assurance that NGI-IPS provides leads that help enhance criminal investigations. GAO made this recommendation because FBI officials stated that they do not know, and have not tested, the detection rate for candidate list sizes smaller than 50, which users sometimes request from the FBI. GAO also recommended the FBI take steps to determine whether systems used by external partners are sufficiently accurate for FBI's use. By taking such steps, the FBI could better ensure the data from external partners do not unnecessarily include photos of innocent people as investigative leads. However, FBI disagreed with these two recommendations, stating the testing results satisfy requirements for providing investigative leads and that FBI does not have authority to set accuracy requirements for external systems. GAO continues to believe these recommendations are valid because the recommended testing and determination of accuracy of external systems would give the FBI more reasonable assurance that the systems provide investigative leads that help enhance, rather than hinder or overly burden, criminal investigation work. GAO also recommended the FBI conduct an annual operational review of NGI-IPS to determine if the accuracy of face recognition searches is meeting federal, state, and local law enforcement needs and take actions, as necessary. DOJ agreed and in 2017 FBI stated they implemented the recommendation by submitting a paper to solicit feedback from NGI-IPS users on whether face recognition searches are meeting their needs. However, GAO believes these actions do not fully meet the recommendation because they did not result in any formal response from users and did not constitute an operational review. GAO continues to recommend FBI conduct an operational review of NGI-IPS at least annually. Why GAO Did This Study Technology advancements have increased the[...]



GAO-17-318, Department of State: Foreign Language Proficiency Has Improved, but Efforts to Reduce Gaps Need Evaluation, March 22, 2017

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found As of September 2016, 23 percent of overseas language-designated positions (LDP) were filled by Foreign Service officers (FSO) who did not meet the positions' language proficiency requirements. While this represents an 8-percentage-point improvement from 2008, the Department of State (State) still faces significant language proficiency gaps (see fig.). Regionally, the greatest gaps were in the Near East (37 percent), Africa (34 percent), and South and Central Asia (31 percent). According to FSOs we interviewed, language proficiency gaps have, in some cases, affected State's ability to properly adjudicate visa applications; effectively communicate with foreign audiences, address security concerns, and perform other critical diplomatic duties. Percentages of Overseas Language-Designated Positions Filled by Officers Who Did Not Meet Proficiency Requirements as of September 2016, by Region State reviews overseas posts' language needs every 3 years, but the extent to which the reviews' outcomes address these needs is unclear. State's policies indicate that operational need should determine the designation of positions as LDPs and required proficiency levels. However, views expressed by geographic bureau officials and FSOs whom GAO met at overseas posts suggest that other factors, such as staffing and cost concerns, influence State's decisions about LDP designations and proficiency requirements. State Human Resources officials noted that State is taking steps to better align its LDP policies with its operational needs. State has implemented most actions described in its 2011 “Strategic Plan for Foreign Language Capabilities” but has not evaluated the effects of these actions on language proficiency at overseas posts. According to State’s evaluation policy, the department is committed to using performance management, including evaluation, to achieve the most effective foreign policy outcomes and greater accountability. Actions State has implemented under the plan include reviewing the language requirements of overseas posts every 3 years; offering recruitment incentives for personnel with proficiency in critically important languages; providing language incentive pay only for languages that reflect the department’s highest strategic priorities; and using technology to strengthen and develop new approaches for language training and to complement FSOs’ language skills. However, more than 5 years after it began implementing its strategic plan, State has not systematically evaluated the results of these efforts. As a result, State cannot determine the extent to which these efforts contribute to progress in increasing language proficiency worldwide and reducing proficiency gaps. Why GAO Did This Study Proficiency in foreign languages is a key skill for U.S. diplomats to advance U.S. interests overseas. GAO has issued several reports highlighting State's persistent foreign language shortfalls. In 2009, GAO recommended that State, to address these shortfalls, develop a strategic plan linking all of its efforts to meet its foreign language requirements. In response, in 2011 State issued its “Strategic Plan for Foreign Language Capabilities.” GAO was asked to build on its previous reviews of State's foreign language capabilities. In this report, GAO examines (1) the extent to which State is meeting its foreign language proficiency requirements for overseas posts as well as the effects of language proficiency and any gaps in State's ability to perform diplomatic duties, (2) State's process for identifying overseas posts' language proficiency needs and the extent to which the process addresses these reported needs, and (3) efforts State has taken to enhance foreign language proficiency and any effects of those efforts. GAO[...]



GAO-17-293, Oil and Gas Management: Stronger Leadership Commitment Needed at Interior to Improve Offshore Oversight and Internal Management, March 21, 2017

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) leadership has started several key strategic initiatives to improve its offshore safety and environmental oversight, but its limited efforts to obtain and incorporate input from within the bureau have hindered its progress. For example, to supplement its mandatory annual regulatory compliance inspections, in 2012, BSEE leadership began developing a risk-based inspection initiative to identify high-risk production facilities and assess their safety systems and management controls. During pilot testing in 2016, several deficiencies—including the usefulness of its facility risk-assessment model and unclear inspection protocols—caused BSEE to halt the pilot. According to bureau officials, during the development of the initiative, BSEE headquarters did not effectively obtain and incorporate input from regional personnel with long-standing experience in previous risk-based inspection efforts, who could have identified deficiencies earlier in the process. GAO previously found that when implementing large-scale management initiatives a key practice is involving employees to obtain their ideas by incorporating their feedback into new policies and procedures. Instead, BSEE leadership appears to have excluded the input of regional personnel by, for example, not incorporating input beyond the risk-assessment tool when selecting the first pilot facility, even though it was prescribed to do so in the bureau's inspection planning methodology. This undercut the pilot effort, raising questions about whether the bureau's leadership has the commitment necessary to successfully implement its risk-based program. Without higher level leadership within Interior establishing a mechanism for BSEE to obtain and incorporate input from personnel within the bureau, BSEE's risk-based inspection initiative could face continued delays. Similarly, since 2013, BSEE leadership has started several key strategic initiatives to improve its internal management, but none have been successfully implemented, in part, because of limited leadership commitment. For example, BSEE's leadership identified the importance of developing performance measures in its 2012-2015 strategic plan. BSEE began one of three attempts to develop performance measures in July 2014 by hiring a contractor to develop measures, but the bureau terminated this contract in January 2015 after determining a need to complete its internal reorganization before developing such measures. A second effort to develop performance measures started in December 2015, using the same consultant, and yielded 12 performance measures in March 2016, but BSEE did not implement them, in part, because data did not exist to use the measures. By the time BSEE received this consultant's report, it had already begun a third effort to internally develop performance measures; as of November 2016 had identified 17 draft performance measures, but BSEE leadership missed repeated deadlines to review them. BSEE officials told GAO that after leadership approval, the bureau plans to pilot these measures and develop others. BSEE leadership has not demonstrated continuing oversight and accountability for implementing internal management initiatives, as evidenced by its limited progress implementing key strategic initiatives. Without higher-level oversight within Interior addressing leadership commitment deficiencies within BSEE, the bureau is unlikely to succeed in implementing internal management initiatives. Why GAO Did This Study On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The incident raised questions about Interior's oversight of offshore oil and gas activities[...]



GAO-17-505T, Offshore Oil and Gas Oversight: Actions Needed to Address Leadership Commitment Deficiencies at Interior, March 21, 2017

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) leadership has started several key strategic initiatives to improve its offshore safety and environmental oversight, but its limited efforts to obtain and incorporate input from within the bureau have hindered its progress. For example, to supplement its mandatory annual regulatory compliance inspections, in 2012, BSEE leadership began developing a risk-based inspection initiative to identify high-risk production facilities and assess their safety systems and management controls. During pilot testing in 2016, several deficiencies--including the usefulness of its facility risk-assessment model and unclear inspection protocols--caused BSEE to halt the pilot. According to bureau officials, during the development of the initiative, BSEE headquarters did not effectively obtain and incorporate input from regional personnel with long-standing experience in previous risk-based inspection efforts, who could have identified deficiencies earlier in the process. GAO previously found that when implementing large-scale management initiatives a key practice is involving employees to obtain their ideas by incorporating their feedback into new policies and procedures. Instead, BSEE leadership appears to have excluded the input of regional personnel by, for example, not incorporating input beyond the risk-assessment tool when selecting the first pilot facility, even though it was prescribed to do so in the bureau's inspection planning methodology. This undercut the pilot effort, raising questions about whether the bureau's leadership has the commitment necessary to successfully implement its risk-based program. Without higher level leadership within Interior establishing a mechanism for BSEE to obtain and incorporate input from personnel within the bureau, BSEE's risk-based inspection initiative could face continued delays. Similarly, since 2013, BSEE leadership has started several key strategic initiatives to improve its internal management, but none have been successfully implemented, in part, because of limited leadership commitment. For example, BSEE's leadership identified the importance of developing performance measures in its 2012-2015 strategic plan. BSEE began one of three attempts to develop performance measures in July 2014 by hiring a contractor to develop measures, but the bureau terminated this contract in January 2015 after determining a need to complete its internal reorganization before developing such measures. A second effort to develop performance measures started in December 2015, using the same consultant, and yielded 12 performance measures in March 2016, but BSEE did not implement them, in part, because data did not exist to use the measures. By the time BSEE received this consultant's report, it had already begun a third effort to internally develop performance measures; as of November 2016 had identified 17 draft performance measures, but BSEE leadership missed repeated deadlines to review them. BSEE officials told GAO that after leadership approval, the bureau plans to pilot these measures and develop others. BSEE leadership has not demonstrated continuing oversight and accountability for implementing internal management initiatives, as evidenced by its limited progress implementing key strategic initiatives. Without higher-level oversight within Interior addressing leadership commitment deficiencies within BSEE, the bureau is unlikely to succeed in implementing internal management initiatives. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's March 2017 report, entitled Oil and Gas Management: Stronger Leadership Commitment Needed at [...]



GAO-17-90, Grants Management: Monitoring Efforts by Corporation for National and Community Service Could Be Improved, March 21, 2017

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) assesses its grants before the beginning of each fiscal year and prioritizes its grant monitoring based on the scoring of certain indicators, such as potential performance or financial problems and the length of time since the last compliance visit. For fiscal year 2015, CNCS identified about 2,200 grants for assessment and prioritized 16.4 percent for compliance visits and 5.4 percent for other types of visits and financial reviews. In addition, each year CNCS selects a sample of grant records to review for improper payments. CNCS's process for grant monitoring is not fully aligned with the internal controls for identifying, analyzing, and responding to risks (see fig.). Specifically, because CNCS's assessment process does not include all grants, risks may go unidentified. Further, the assessment process uses a scoring model of 19 indicators to analyze and prioritize grants for monitoring visits rather than to identify the highest-risk grants. For example, multiple financial risks are grouped together under one indicator, including for improper payments, and a grant found to have such risks would not be scored as high priority for monitoring based on this indicator alone. In addition, while nearly half of CNCS grant dollars are passed through to other organizations (referred to as subrecipients) and evidence indicates that subrecipient oversight is a key risk area, CNCS's monitoring of grantees' oversight of subrecipients is limited, leaving the agency's response to risk vulnerable in this area. Areas for Improvement in CNCS's Grant Monitoring Process CNCS has not conducted the strategic workforce planning necessary to determine whether it has the people and resources to effectively monitor grantees' compliance with grant program requirements, as key principles for effective strategic workforce planning suggest. CNCS's workforce management activities to address vacancies have been largely ad-hoc, including vacancies in a key office responsible for grant monitoring, at senior levels across the agency, and among program and grant officers. Some of these vacancies reduced the number of fiscal year 2015 monitoring activities conducted. Further, program and grant officers' workloads varied across the agency, and CNCS has not evaluated whether staff have been deployed where they are most needed. Officials said they had not developed a strategic workforce planning process because of limited resources. Without such a process, CNCS's efforts to address workforce challenges may continue to be ad hoc and reactive. Why GAO Did This Study Created in 1993, CNCS distributes about $750 million in grants annually to volunteer and national service programs for needs ranging from disaster recovery to improving education. A 2014 CNCS Office of Inspector General (OIG) report cited problems with grant management. GAO was asked to review CNCS's efforts to improve its grant monitoring. This report examines (1) CNCS's process for grant monitoring; (2) the extent that this process aligns with relevant internal controls for identifying, analyzing, and responding to risk; and (3) the extent that CNCS has the capacity necessary to monitor grantees' compliance with grant requirements. GAO reviewed agency documents for fiscal years 2015 and 2016; analyzed fiscal year 2015 assessment and monitoring data (the most recent complete year of data available); interviewed agency officials and a nongeneralizable sample of program and grant officers who had experience with grants with negative outcomes, such as greater-than-expected monitoring needs or audit findings; and held discussion groups with a small nongeneralizab[...]



GAO-17-471T, Department Of Justice: Continued Actions Needed to Enhance Program Efficiency and Resource Management, March 21, 2017

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found DOJ has not fully addressed most GAO recommendations related to its law enforcement activities. The Department of Justice (DOJ) undertakes a number of activities to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States. Key findings and recommendations from six recent GAO reports include, among other things, that DOJ should: better adhere to policies on collecting firearms data, assess opportunities to more efficiently share information on missing persons, better ensure the privacy and accuracy of face recognition technology, provide more information to entities that handle controlled substances, and improve the handling of whistleblower complaints. Collectively, these reports resulted in 28 recommendations. As of March 2017, DOJ has fully implemented 5 of these recommendations, begun actions to address 11, has not taken actions for 8, and disagreed with 4 recommendations. DOJ has not fully addressed most GAO recommendations related to the custody and care of federal prisoners and inmates. DOJ is responsible for the custody and care of federal prisoners and inmates, for which the President's Budget requested $8.8 billion for fiscal year 2017. GAO's recent reports highlight areas for continued improvements in DOJ incarceration and offender management, including better assessing key initiatives to address overcrowding and other federal incarceration challenges, better measuring the outcomes of alternatives to incarceration, improving the management of new prison activations, better estimating cost savings for prisoner operations, and improving notification to tribes about registered sex offenders upon release. Since August 2014, GAO has made 17 recommendations to DOJ in five reports related to these issues, and DOJ generally concurred with them. As of March 2017, DOJ has fully implemented 7 of the recommendations, partially implemented 8, and has not taken actions for 2 recommendations. DOJ has implemented most GAO recommendations to improve grant administration and management. DOJ supports a range of activities—including policing and victims' assistance—through grants provided to federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as national, community-based, and non-profit organizations. Congress appropriated $2.4 billion for DOJ grant programs in fiscal year 2016. Four recent GAO reports highlight DOJ's overall grant administration practices, management of specific programs, and efforts to reduce overlap and duplication amongst its grant programs. The four reports include 17 recommendations to DOJ, and the department generally concurred with all of them. As of March 2017, DOJ has fully implemented 15 of the 17 recommendations and partially implemented the remaining two. DOJ has partially implemented GAO recommendations designed to improve management of funds collected through alternative sources. DOJ has the ability to fund programs using money it collects through alternative sources, such as fines, fees, and penalties in addition to its annual appropriations. For example, in 2015, we reported that DOJ collected $4.3 billion from seven alternative sources of funding in 2013. This statement highlights three reports that address DOJ's collection, use, and management of these funds. One of the three reports includes three recommendations, which DOJ has partially implemented. Why GAO Did This Study In fiscal year 2016, DOJ's $29 billion budget funded a broad array of national security, law enforcement, and criminal justice system activities. GAO has examined a number of key programs where DOJ has sole responsibility or works with other departments, and recommended actions to improve program efficiency a[...]



GAO-17-302, National Park Service: Concessions Program Has Made Changes in Several Areas, but Challenges Remain, February 16, 2017

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of the Interior's National Park Service (Park Service) has made several changes to its concessions program since GAO issued a report on the program in 2000. In that report, GAO highlighted three management challenges: (1) inadequate qualifications and training of concessions staff; (2) backlog of expired contracts that were extended; and (3) lack of accountability in the concessions program. In this review, GAO found that the Park Service has taken steps to address these challenges: Staff qualifications: Park Service has hired many concessions staff with relevant skills or educational backgrounds, such as in hospitality services or business. In addition, the Park Service developed several training classes for concessions staff to help improve their skills. Contracts under extension: Park Service has reduced the percentage of extended contracts, from about 45 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2016. Accountability: Park Service headquarters has increased its involvement in the concessions program and has centralized more information on the program. However, in some instances, GAO found that some financial reports that were to be submitted by concessioners to the Park Service were not submitted in a timely manner or data in the submitted reports were inaccurate. Park Service staff did not identify these discrepancies when reviewing the reports. Without timely and accurate financial data from concessioners, the agency could be limited in its ability to oversee certain aspects of the program such as determining whether concessioners paid required fees. GAO identified some ongoing challenges in each of the three steps of the concessions process. First, developing a prospectus, which provides information on a concessions operation to potential bidders, can be a lengthy and expensive process, and it can be hard to generate competition. Second, the agency's evaluation panels can sometimes have difficulty assessing some proposals, and the award process can be lengthy. Third, contract management can be affected by limited staffing and confusion among concessioners about how to fund maintenance and capital improvements on buildings or land assigned to them by the Park Service. This situation is, in part, because the Park Service has not yet finalized related guidance and made it publicly available to concessioners. The Park Service's commercial services strategic plan recognizes many of the challenges GAO identified and lists goals to potentially address them. For example, the plan has a goal to improve the prospectus and contract award processes by reducing costs and improving efficiency to the government and bidders. In addition, the plan aims to attract more bids for concessions contracts, increase the accuracy of financial reporting, and increase the percentage of concessions staff that receive training. However, these goals do not have targets or timeframes for their completion. Leading practices indicate it is critical for an agency to set meaningful performance goals and to measure progress towards these goals. Without clearly defined performance goals that contain targets or timeframes, it will be difficult for the Park Service to track its progress in these areas and determine where additional effort may be needed to address identified challenges in the concessions program. Why GAO Did This Study The 1998 Concessions Management Improvement Act governs concessions services at national parks. In 2016, the Park Service managed 488 concessions contracts, and such contracts generated about $1.4 billion in gross revenues in the prior year. Under these contracts, companies and indi[...]



GAO-17-247, Federal Telework: Additional Controls Could Strengthen Telework Program Compliance and Data Reporting, February 17, 2017

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The telework policies at four selected case study agencies GAO reviewed met select requirements of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act) for telework eligibility and agreements. These agencies followed similar processes for approving telework agreements. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) guidance recommends managers complete telework training prior to approving telework agreements, but three of the four agencies did not have a mechanism to help ensure managers have completed this training before approving employee telework agreements. Because managers in these agencies may not have completed the training before entering into agreements, they may not be familiar with telework policies. Further, three of the four agencies did not require a periodic documented review of telework agreements. By not requiring regular review of telework agreements, these agencies cannot be assured that the agreements reflect and support their current business needs. Consistent with the act, all four agencies described efforts to encourage telework participation and provide for the technology to enable it. However, GAO's focus groups with teleworkers provided some examples of how supervisors may discourage telework participation and reported that some level of managerial resistance to telework remains. Managerial resistance to telework can undermine reviewed agencies' ability to meet telework participation goals. In its leadership role for telework matters, OPM can assist agencies with tools to assess and resolve these types of concerns. Consistent with the act, all four case study agencies have controls to help ensure that telework does not diminish employee and organizational performance. These four agencies' policies followed the act's requirement that teleworkers be treated the same as nonteleworkers for the purposes of work requirements, performance appraisals, and other managerial decisions. Agency officials and focus groups reported that telework status did not impact performance expectations. Focus groups with supervisors described numerous strategies and resources they use to supervise and stay connected with teleworking employees. The four agencies used varied methods to collect and report telework data to be included in OPM's annual telework reports, but all cited challenges to ensuring that employee-reported telework data were accurate because employees may not know or follow policies for recording telework. While three of these agencies use electronic systems to track telework agreements, the Department of Labor (Labor) uses a manual system which limits its ability to access accurate, real-time telework agreement data that management uses to assess compliance and for resource allocation decisions. Further, GAO found that the Department of Education (Education) had not been reporting telework eligibility data compliant with the act. OPM also faced challenges in reporting accurate agency telework data and GAO identified errors in OPM's annual reports to Congress. For example, OPM's report cited Education's fiscal year 2016 telework participation goal as 5 percent, reflecting Education's goal for increasing its participation rate, instead of its overall participation goal of 90 percent. OPM may be missing opportunities to improve its data because it does not always follow up with agencies on significant data differences or outliers. The errors and invalid data in OPM's annual reports to Congress reduce the usefulness of these reports. Why GAO Did This Study The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 required agencies to develop telework policies and OPM to provide guidanc[...]



GAO-17-261, Research and Development: DOE Activities and Costs to Oversee Investments, February 14, 2017

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Three Department of Energy (DOE) program offices that GAO selected for detailed review—the offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Nuclear Energy, and Science—use various activities to oversee civilian research and development (R&D) investments. Activities to identify research priorities. The program offices obtain input from multiple sources to help determine the areas in which DOE invests in research at its national laboratories, as well as in universities and industry. For example, the Office of Nuclear Energy sponsored workshops in 2015 that sought to identify ideas for advancing nuclear energy technologies. Activities to oversee investments at national laboratories. The program offices require that the laboratories they oversee develop strategic plans to help ensure DOE investments in these laboratories support national R&D priorities. They also monitor and review individual laboratory R&D projects. For example, in fiscal year 2015, the Office of Science oversaw over 1,600 new or ongoing laboratory projects that received $3.67 billion in obligations. Finally, the program offices annually assess each laboratory contractor's scientific, technological, managerial, and operational performance. Activities to oversee investments in universities, industry, and other entities. To help determine where DOE invests in civilian R&D, the program offices review R&D proposals from universities, industry, and other entities. According to data provided by DOE, in fiscal year 2015 the three program offices conducted or managed more than 5,600 proposal reviews—with each review including as many as 3 to 4 individual reviewers—and selected 1,490 proposals for new financial assistance awards. The program offices then monitored and periodically reviewed the awarded proposals. Staffing levels for oversight of civilian R&D decreased by 11.0 percent from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2015 in five DOE program offices—those noted above, plus two others that oversee a smaller percentage of DOE's civilian R&D investments—and in the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). At the same time, obligations for staff costs and civilian R&D investments increased by 2.4 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively, without adjusting for inflation (obligations declined slightly when adjusted for inflation). Staffing levels and costs changed to varying degrees among the offices and ARPA-E. For example, staff costs increased in three of the offices and ARPA-E but decreased in the other two offices. Obligations for staff costs made up 7.6 percent of total obligations (R&D and non-R&D obligations) in fiscal year 2015; they also varied among program offices and ARPA-E, ranging from 3.6 percent to 21.4 percent. DOE Staffing Levels and Obligations for Staff Costs and Civilian R&D, Fiscal Years 2011 and 2015 (Obligations are not adjusted for inflation)   Fiscal Year 2011 Fiscal Year 2015 Percentage Change Full-time equivalent staff 2,937 2,613 ▼11.0 percent Obligations for staff costs $632.9 million $647.9 million ▲ 2.4 percent Obligations for civilian R&D $7.09 billion $7.36 billion ▲ 3.8 percent Source: GAO analysis of Department of Energy (DOE) data. | GAO-17-261 Why [...]



GAO-17-486T, Immigration Benefits System: Significant Risks in USCIS's Efforts to Develop its Adjudication and Case Management System, March 16, 2017

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) most recent cost and schedule baseline, approved in April 2015, indicates that its Transformation Program will cost up to $3.1 billion and be fully deployed no later than March 2019. This is an increase of approximately $1 billion with a delay of more than 4 years from its initial July 2011 acquisition program baseline. In addition, the program is currently working to develop a new cost and schedule baseline to reflect further delays. Due to the program's recurring schedule delays, USCIS will continue to incur costs for maintaining its existing systems while the program awaits full implementation. Moreover, USCIS's ability to achieve program goals, including enhanced national security, better customer service, and operational efficiency improvements, will be delayed. Recurring delays are partly the result of challenges in program management. In July 2016, GAO reported that the USCIS Transformation Program had fully addressed some, and partially addressed many other key practices for implementing software development, conducting systems integration and testing, and monitoring the largest program contractors. Nevertheless, GAO reported that the program inconsistently adhered to these practices. For example, The program had established an environment and procedures for continuously integrating functionality and was conducting various tests and inspections of new software code. However, the program was not consistently adhering to its policies and guidance or meeting stated benchmarks for testing and inspections. The program had reported experiencing issues such as production defects and bugs in the system as a result of deploying software that had not been fully tested. The program had mixed success in monitoring its contractors for six contracts that GAO reviewed. For example, a development services contract contained appropriate performance criteria that linked to the program goals, but the program did not clearly define measures against which to analyze differences between services expected and those delivered. Its software development approach deviated from key practices in part because USCIS policy and guidance were not being updated. Given the history of development for the Transformation Program and the subsequent commitment of additional resources for a new system, it is more important than ever that USCIS consistently follow key practices in its system development efforts. For example, the program has already reported realizing risks associated with deploying software that has not been fully tested, such as system bugs, defects, and unplanned network outages. If the agency does not address the issues GAO has identified in prior work, then it will continue to experience significant risk for increased costs, further schedule delays, and performance shortfalls. Why GAO Did This Study Each year, USCIS processes millions of applications from foreign nationals seeking to study, work, visit, or live in the United States, and for persons seeking to become U.S. citizens. In 2006, USCIS began the Transformation Program to enable electronic adjudication and case management tools that would allow users to apply and track their applications online. It is essential that USCIS deploy a seamless electronic system to help ensure the integrity of the immigration process. Such a system should allow the agency to more accurately process immigration and citizenship benefits in a timely manner and identify fraudulent and criminal activity. This statement summari[...]



GAO-17-296, Embassy Construction: State Needs to Better Measure Performance of Its New Approach, March 16, 2017

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found In 2011, the U.S. Department of State's (State) Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) established the Excellence approach in response to concerns regarding the aesthetics, quality, location, and functionality of embassies built using its Standard Embassy Design (SED). The SED utilized a standard prototypical design for new embassies and consulates along with a streamlined delivery method combining responsibility for design and construction under a single contract. Under the Excellence approach, OBO now directly contracts with design firms to develop customized embassy designs before contracting for construction. OBO officials believe that greater design control under Excellence will improve embassies' appearance in representing the United States, functionality, quality, and operating costs. Excellence consists of several key elements and involves trade-offs. For example, OBO now allots time and funding to develop customized designs and hires leading design firms to produce them. These design firms have faced initial adjustment challenges designing U.S. embassies, and OBO only recently began evaluating their performance as required by federal regulation. OBO's new approach poses cost and schedule trade-offs since, for example, OBO now has greater design control but may also be responsible if design problems are identified during construction. GAO's survey found that OBO staff who responded held split or conflicting opinions on Excellence compared with SED. U.S. Embassy in Panama Constructed under Standard Embassy Design and Rendering of U.S. Consulate General in India to Be Delivered under the Excellence Approach While OBO has established guidance to implement Excellence, it lacks tools to fully evaluate the performance of this new approach. Performance measures are essential tools for managers to evaluate progress toward a program's goals, as noted in Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government. However, OBO has not established performance measures to specifically evaluate and communicate the effectiveness of Excellence in delivering embassies. Moreover, OBO's bureau-wide strategic measures do not address Excellence priorities, such as greater adaptability to individual locations, functionality, or sustainability. OBO also lacks a reliable system to monitor operating performance, such as building energy usage, and a centralized database to broadly manage the Excellence program, to include effectively reporting on projects' design and construction costs and schedules. Without performance measures and reliable systems to collect and analyze relevant data, OBO cannot fully assess the value of shifting to the Excellence approach and away from the SED. Why GAO Did This Study In 1998, terrorists bombed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing over 220 people and injuring 4,000. In 1999, State began a new embassy construction program, administered by OBO, which to date has received $21 billion, according to State. OBO's primary goal was to provide secure, safe, and functional workplaces, and it adopted SED with a streamlined, standard design for all embassies. In 2011, OBO replaced the SED with the Excellence approach, which makes use of customized designs for each embassy. GAO was asked to review the implementation of Excellence. This report examines (1) the reasons for State's shift to the Excellence approach, (2) key elements and tradeoffs of the new approach, and (3) the extent to which State has established guidanc[...]



GAO-17-183, Defense Logistics: Improved Performance Measures and Information Needed for Assessing Asset Visibility Initiatives, March 16, 2017

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has identified performance measures for the eight selected asset visibility initiatives GAO reviewed, but these performance measures generally cannot be used to monitor progress. Specifically, GAO found that the measures for the eight initiatives reviewed did not generally include key attributes of successful performance measures. For example, for six initiatives there were no baseline and trend data associated with the measures. While DOD's 2014 and 2015 Strategy for Improving DOD Asset Visibility (Strategies) called for performance measures to be identified for the initiatives, the Strategies lacked complete direction on how to develop performance measures that would allow DOD to assess the progress of the initiatives toward their intended outcomes. GAO also found that after-action reports for the initiatives did not always include key information needed to determine the success of the initiatives in achieving the goals described in the Strategies. Without improved performance measures and information to support that progress has been made, DOD may not be able to monitor and show progress in improving asset visibility. DOD has made progress and meets the criteria related to capacity and its corrective action plan but needs to take additional actions to monitor implementation and demonstrate progress to meet GAO's two remaining criteria for removal from the High Risk List, as shown in the figure. For the capacity criterion, in its draft update to the 2015 Strategy, DOD provides guidance on how to document cases where the funding for the initiatives is embedded within the overall program funding. Also, for the action plan criterion, DOD included matrixes in its 2015 Strategy to link ongoing initiatives to the Strategy's goals and objectives. DOD has also taken steps to monitor the status of initiatives. However, the performance measures for the selected initiatives that GAO reviewed generally cannot be used to track progress and are not consistently incorporated into reports to demonstrate results. Until these criteria are met, DOD will have limited ability to demonstrate sustained progress in improving asset visibility. DOD's Progress in Meeting GAO's High-Risk Criteria for Asset Visibility Why GAO Did This Study GAO designated DOD's supply chain management as a high-risk area in 1990 and in February 2011 reported that limitations in asset visibility make it difficult to obtain timely and accurate information on assets that are present in a theater of operations. DOD defines asset visibility as the ability to provide timely and accurate information on the location, quantity, condition, movement, and status of items in its inventory. In 2015, GAO found that DOD had demonstrated leadership commitment and made considerable progress in addressing weaknesses in its supply chain management. This report addresses the extent to which DOD has (1) identified performance measures that allow it to monitor the progress of selected asset visibility initiatives identified in its Strategies; and (2) addressed the five criteria—leadership commitment, capacity, corrective action plan, monitoring, and demonstrated progress—for removing asset visibility from the High Risk List. GAO reviewed documents associated with selected initiatives, surveyed DOD officials, and observed demonstrations. What GAO Recommends GAO recommends that DOD use key attributes of successful performance measures in refining measures in updates to [...]



GAO-17-192, Antibiotic Resistance: More Information Needed to Oversee Use of Medically Important Drugs in Food Animals, March 02, 2017

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Since 2011, when GAO last reported on this issue, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has increased veterinary oversight of antibiotics and, with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), has made several improvements in collecting data on antibiotic use in food animals and resistance in bacteria. For example, HHS's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulation and guidance for industry recommending changes to drug labels. However, oversight gaps still exist. For example, changes to drug labels do not address long-term and open-ended use of antibiotics for disease prevention because some antibiotics do not define duration of use on their labels. FDA officials told GAO they are seeking public comments on establishing durations of use on labels, but FDA has not clearly defined objectives for closing this gap, which is inconsistent with federal internal control standards. Without doing so, FDA will not know whether it is ensuring judicious use of antibiotics. Moreover, gaps in farm-specific data on antibiotic use and resistance that GAO found in 2011 remain. GAO continues to believe HHS and USDA need to implement a joint on-farm data collection plan as previously recommended. In addition, FDA and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) do not have metrics to assess the impact of actions they have taken, which is inconsistent with leading practices for performance measurement. Without metrics, FDA and APHIS cannot assess the effects of actions taken to manage the use of antibiotics. Three selected countries and the European Union (EU), which GAO reviewed, have taken various actions to manage use of antibiotics in food animals, including strengthening oversight of veterinarians' and producers' use of antibiotics, collecting farm-specific data, and setting targets to reduce antibiotic use. The Netherlands has primarily relied on a public-private partnership, whereas Canada, Denmark, and the EU have relied on government policies and regulations to strengthen oversight and collect farm-specific data. Since taking these actions, the use or sales of antibiotics in food animals decreased and data collection improved, according to foreign officials and data reports GAO reviewed. Still, some U.S. federal officials and stakeholders believe that similar U.S. actions are not feasible because of production differences and other factors. HHS and USDA officials said they have not conducted on-farm investigations during foodborne illness outbreaks including those from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animal products. In 2014, USDA agencies established a memorandum of understanding to assess the root cause of foodborne illness outbreaks. However, in 2015 in the agencies' first use of the memorandum, there was no consensus among stakeholders on whether to conduct foodborne illness investigations on farms and the memorandum does not include a framework to make this determination, similar to a decision matrix used in other investigations. According to a directive issued by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, foodborne illness investigations shall include identifying contributing factors and recommending actions or new policies to prevent future occurrences. Developing a framework, in coordination with HHS's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other stakeholders, would help USDA identify factors that contribute to or cause foodborne illness outbreaks, including those from antibiotic-resistant bacteri[...]



GAO-17-473T, Veterans' Health Care: Limited Progress Made to Address Concerns That Led to High-Risk Designation, March 15, 2017

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken action to partially meet two of the five criteria GAO uses to assess removal from the High-Risk List (leadership commitment and an action plan), but it has not met the other three (agency capacity, monitoring efforts, and demonstrated progress). Specifically, VA officials have taken leadership actions such as establishing a task force, working groups, and a governance structure for addressing the issues that led to the high-risk designation. VA provided GAO with an action plan in August 2016 that acknowledged the deep-rooted nature of the five areas of concern GAO identified: (1) ambiguous policies and inconsistent processes; (2) inadequate oversight and accountability; (3) information technology challenges; (4) inadequate training for VA staff; and (5) unclear resource needs and allocation priorities. Although VA's action plan outlined some steps VA plans to take over the next several years, several sections were missing analyses of the root causes of the issues, resources needed, and clear metrics to measure progress.   Also of concern are the more than 100 open recommendations GAO has made between January 2010 and February 2017 related to VA health care, almost a quarter of which have been open for 3 or more years. Since February 2015, GAO has made 74 new recommendations relating to the areas of concern. To address its high-risk designation, additional actions are required of VA, including: (1) demonstrating stronger leadership support as it continues its transition under a new administration; (2) developing an action plan to include root cause analyses for each area of concern, clear metrics to assess progress, and the identification of resources for achieving stated outcomes; and (3) implementing GAO's recommendations, not only to remedy the specific weaknesses identified, but because they may be symptomatic of larger underlying problems that also need to be addressed. Until VA addresses these serious underlying weaknesses, it will be difficult for the department to effectively and efficiently implement improvements addressing the five areas of concern that led to the high-risk designation. Why GAO Did This Study VA operates one of the largest health care delivery systems in the nation, including 168 medical centers and more than 1,000 outpatient facilities organized into regional networks. Enrollment in the VA health care system has grown significantly, from 7.9 million in fiscal year 2006 to almost 9 million in fiscal year 2016. Over that same period, VA's Veterans Health Administration's total budgetary resources have increased substantially, from $37.8 billion in fiscal year 2006 to $91.2 billion in fiscal year 2016. Since 1990, GAO has regularly updated the list of government operations that it has identified as high risk due to their vulnerability to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. VA health care was added as a high-risk area in 2015 because of concerns about VA's ability to ensure the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, quality, and safety of veterans' health care. GAO assesses High-Risk List removal against five criteria: (1) leadership commitment, (2) capacity, (3) action plan, (4) monitoring, and (5) demonstrated progress. This statement, which is based on GAO's February 2017 high-risk report, addresses (1) actions VA has taken over [...]



GAO-17-305, Health Information Technology: HHS Should Assess the Effectiveness of Its Efforts to Enhance Patient Access to and Use of Electronic Health Information, March 15, 2017

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Since 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has invested over $35 billion in health information technology, including efforts to enhance patient access to and use of electronic health information. One of the largest programs is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) Medicare Electronic Health Record Incentive Program (Medicare EHR Program), which, among other things, encourages providers to make electronic health information available to patients. Program data for 2015 show that health care providers that participated in the program (3,218 hospitals and 194,200 health care professionals such as physicians) offered most of their patients the ability to electronically access health information. Patients generally described this access as beneficial, but noted limitations such as the inability to aggregate their longitudinal health information from multiple sources into a single record. Data from the 2015 Medicare EHR Program show that relatively few patients electronically access their health information when offered the ability to do so. Patients GAO interviewed described primarily accessing health information before or after a health care encounter, such as reviewing the results of a laboratory test or sharing information with another provider. Average Percentage of Patients of 2015 Medicare EHR Program Participating Providers Who Were Offered Access and Electronically Accessed Available Health Information While HHS has multiple efforts to enhance patients' ability to access their electronic health information, it lacks information on the effectiveness of these efforts. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) within HHS collaborates with CMS to assess CMS's Medicare EHR Program as well as its own efforts to enhance patient access to and use of electronic health information. However, ONC has not developed outcome measures for these efforts consistent with leading principles for measuring performance. Without such measures, HHS lacks critical information necessary to determine whether each of its efforts are contributing to the department's overall goals, or if these efforts need to be modified in any way. Why GAO Did This Study HHS's goal is that all Americans will be able to electronically access their longitudinal health information, that is, their health information over time. HHS's efforts to achieve this goal include the Medicare EHR Program and other efforts to encourage providers to make patient health information available and for patients to access such information. GAO was asked to review the state of patients' electronic access to their health information. This report (1) describes the electronic access to health information available to patients, and patients' views of this access, (2) describes the extent to which patients electronically access their health information, and actions providers reported taking to encourage such access, and (3) evaluates HHS's efforts to advance patients' ability to electronically access their health information. GAO analyzed data from HHS and other sources; reviewed applicable strategic planning documents; surveyed a generalizable sample of providers that participated in the Medicare EHR program; and interviewed HHS officials and a nongeneralizable sample of patients, providers, and health information technology product developers. What GAO Recommends [...]



GAO-17-142, Electricity: Status of Residential Deployment of Solar and Other Technologies and Potential Benefits and Challenges, February 13, 2017

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Federal and state policymakers have used a range of policies to encourage the deployment of solar systems and other technologies that allow residential customers to generate, store, and manage their electricity consumption. For example, federal tax incentives—such as the investment tax credit—have reduced customers' up-front costs of installing solar systems. In addition, a Department of Energy funded database of renewable energy incentives identifies 41 states with net metering policies that require electricity suppliers to credit customers for electricity sent from their solar systems to the grid, providing an additional incentive. Moreover, in 14 states, customers can also receive state tax credits for installing solar systems, according to the database, which further reduces the up-front costs. According to GAO's analysis of Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, deployment of solar systems has increased significantly in some states, with the total number of residential customers with solar systems increasing sevenfold from 2010 to 2015. However, customers with solar systems represent a very small portion of overall electricity customers—about 0.7 percent of U.S. residential customers in 2015, according to EIA data. Every state experienced growth in the number of customers with residential solar systems, although certain states, such as California and Hawaii, accounted for most of the growth and have had more widespread deployment. For example, about 14 percent of residences in Hawaii have installed a solar system, according to EIA data. Although comprehensive data on the deployment of electricity storage systems and smart devices are not available, the data and information provided by stakeholders GAO interviewed suggest their deployment is limited. The increasing residential deployment of solar systems and other technologies poses potential benefits and challenges, and some policymakers have implemented or are considering measures to address these, as GAO found in its analysis of reports and stakeholder interviews. Specifically, these technologies can provide potential benefits through more efficient grid operation, for example, if customers use these technologies to reduce their consumption of electricity from the grid during periods of high demand. Nonetheless, grid operators GAO interviewed said they have begun to confront grid management and other challenges in some areas as solar deployment increases. For example, in some areas of Hawaii, solar systems have generated more electricity than the grid was built to handle, which resulted in the need for infrastructure upgrades in these areas. However, grid operators reported that challenges generally have been manageable because overall residential solar deployment has been low. Policymakers in some states have implemented or are considering measures to maximize potential benefits and mitigate potential challenges associated with the increasing deployment of these technologies. For example, two states' regulators have required electricity suppliers to identify areas of the grid where solar and other technologies would be most beneficial to grid operation. In addition, several state regulators recently have allowed electricity suppliers to adopt voluntary time-based electricity prices that increase when demand for electricity is high, providing customers with an incentive to reduce consu[...]