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Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 21:24:28 -0400


GAO-18-290, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education: Actions Needed to Better Assess the Federal Investment, March 23, 2018

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The federal investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs remained relatively stable from fiscal years 2010 to 2016, although the number of programs declined from 209 to 163 (see figure). While agencies reported that many of the same STEM education programs existed during this time period, the portfolio underwent various changes, including program consolidations, creations, and terminations. Nearly all STEM education programs in fiscal year 2016 overlapped to some degree with at least one other program in that they offered similar services to similar groups in similar STEM fields to achieve similar objectives. The Committee on STEM Education, an interagency body responsible for implementing the federal STEM education strategic plan, reported it managed this overlap through coordination with agencies administering these programs. Number of Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Programs Reported in Fiscal Years 2010 and 2016 The Committee on STEM Education has not fully met its responsibilities to assess the federal STEM education portfolio. Specifically, the Committee has not reviewed programs' performance assessments, as required by its authorizing charter, nor has it documented those assessments in its inventory, as required by law. Such efforts could encourage the use of evidenced-based practices across the portfolio—a key national goal of the STEM education strategic plan. These efforts could also enhance public awareness of the administering agencies' efforts to assess programs' performance. In addition, the Committee has not reported the participation rates of underrepresented groups in federal STEM education programs, as required by law. By reporting this information, the Committee could better assess whether programs are broadening access to groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields—another key goal of the strategic plan. Why GAO Did This Study Education programs in STEM fields are intended to enhance the nation's global competitiveness. GAO reported in 2012 that there were more than 200 federal STEM education programs in fiscal year 2010. Since then, this portfolio of programs has changed. GAO was asked to review the landscape of federal STEM education programs. This report examines (1) how the federal investment in STEM education programs changed from 2010 to 2016, and (2) the extent to which the STEM education portfolio has been assessed.To answer these questions, GAO administered a web-based questionnaire to all federal STEM education programs funded in fiscal year 2016 and analyzed the results. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws and agency documents, examined the implementation of relevant assessment requirements, and interviewed officials from relevant federal agencies. What GAO Recommends GAO is making four recommendations, including three to the Committee on STEM Education to review performance assessments of STEM education programs, document those assessments, and report programs' participation rates of underrepresented groups. The Committee on STEM Education agreed with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or

GAO-18-311, Comparative Effectiveness Research: Activities Funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund, March 23, 2018

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) made about $2 billion in commitments for awards in fiscal years 2010 through 2017. PCORI is a federally funded, nonprofit corporation established to carry out and improve comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER), which evaluates and compares the health outcomes and the clinical effectiveness, risks, and benefits of two or more medical treatments, services, or items. PCORI provides funding through award commitments from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund (Trust Fund) and may pay these awards over multiple years. Of the $2 billion PCORI committed as of the end of fiscal year 2017, about $1.6 billion (or 79 percent of its commitments) is for research awards, and $325 million (or 16 percent) is for building the capacity to use existing health data for research. Through fiscal year 2017, commitments for dissemination and implementation awards—intended to share CER findings with potential users of this research—were limited because most PCORI-funded research was still underway. PCORI projects to commit an additional $721 million for awards in fiscal years 2018 through 2021. In addition to awards, PCORI spent $310 million on program and administrative support services in fiscal years 2010 through 2017 and projects to spend an additional $206 million for these services through fiscal year 2024. PCORI's Actual and Projected Commitments and Expenditures, Fiscal Years 2010 through 2024 (Dollars in Millions) Note: Amounts listed are current as of Jan. 5, 2018. From fiscal years 2011 through 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) obligated about $448 million from the Trust Fund. Of this amount, HHS obligated about $260 million (or 58 percent of all obligations) to the dissemination and implementation of CER findings. As most PCORI-funded CER had not yet been completed due to the time needed to conduct this research, HHS efforts focused instead on the dissemination and implementation of CER funded by other federal entities. Additionally, HHS obligated funds for efforts to train researchers on conducting CER, build data capacity, and on administrative activities. HHS projects to obligate an additional $120 million for these activities in fiscal years 2018 through 2020. Why GAO Did This Study In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) authorized the establishment of PCORI to carry out CER and improve its quality and relevance. PPACA also established new requirements for HHS to, among other things, disseminate findings from federally funded CER, including findings published by PCORI; and coordinate with relevant federal health programs to build data capacity for this research. To fund CER activities, PPACA established the Trust Fund from which PCORI and HHS are expected to receive an estimated $4.0 billion from fiscal years 2010 through 2019. PPACA included a provision for GAO to review PCORI's and HHS's use of the Trust Fund. This report examines (1) PCORI's use of the Trust Fund for CER activities, including the dissemination and use of research findings; and (2) HHS's use of the Trust Fund for these activities. GAO examined PCORI and HHS documents and data related to use of the Trust Fund, such as commitment, obligation, and expenditure data; PCORI's audited financial statements; and descriptions of CER activities. GAO also interviewed PCORI and HHS officials responsible for planning and carrying out CER activities and interviewed officials from stakeholder organizations representing potential users of CER, including public and private payer organizations, provider organizations, and patient organizations. PCORI and HHS provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or

GAO-18-352, VA Disability Benefits: Improved Planning Practices Would Better Ensure Successful Appeals Reform, March 22, 2018

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) plan for implementing a new disability appeals process while attending to appeals in the current process addresses most, but not all, elements required by the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (Act). VA's appeals plan addresses 17 of 22 required elements, partially addresses 4, and does not address 1. For example, not addressed is the required element to include the resources needed by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) to implement the new appeals process and address legacy appeals under the current process. VA needs this information to certify, as specified under the Act, that it has sufficient resources to implement appeals reform and make timely appeals decisions under the new and legacy processes. VA's appeals plan reflects certain sound planning practices, but it could benefit from including important details in several key planning areas: Performance measurement: VA's plan reflects steps taken to track performance, but could articulate a more complete and balanced set of goals and measures for monitoring and assessing performance on a range of dimensions of success. Specifically, the plan reports that VA is developing a process to track timeliness of the new and legacy processes. However, contrary to sound planning practices, the plan does not include timeliness goals for all five appeals options available to veterans, does not include goals or measures for additional aspects of performance (such as accuracy or cost), and does not explain how VA will monitor or assess the new process compared to the legacy process. Unless VA clearly articulates a complete and balanced set of goals and measures, it could inadvertently incentivize staff to focus on certain aspects of appeals performance over others or fail to improve overall service to veterans. Project management: VA's plan includes a master schedule for implementing the new appeals plan. However, this schedule falls short of other sound practices for guiding implementation and establishing accountability, such as articulating interim goals and needed resources for, and interdependencies among, activities. Unless VA augments its master schedule to include all key activities and reflect sound practices, VA may be unable to provide reasonable assurance that it has the essential program management information needed for this complex and important effort. Risk assessment: VA has taken steps to assess and mitigate some risks related to appeals reform by, for example, pilot testing two of the five appeals options through its Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). However, as designed, RAMP does not include key features of a well-developed and documented pilot test. For example, VA has not articulated how it will assess RAMP before proceeding with full implementation. In addition, RAMP is not pilot testing three options and, as a result, VA will not have data on the extent to which veterans will appeal directly to the Board when given the option. Unless VA identifies and mitigates key risks associated with implementing a new process, VA is taking a chance that untested aspects will not perform as desired. Why GAO Did This Study VA's disability compensation program pays cash benefits to veterans with disabilities connected to their military service. In recent years, the number of appeals of VA's benefit decisions has been rising. For decisions made on appeal in fiscal year 2017, veterans waited an average of 3 years for resolution by either VBA or the Board, and 7 years for resolution by the Board. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 makes changes to VA's current (legacy) appeals process, giving veterans new options to have their claims further reviewed by VBA or appeal directly to the Board. The Act requires VA to submit to Congress and GAO a plan for implementing a new appeals process, and includes a provision for GAO to assess VA's plan. [...]

GAO-18-123, Rental Assistance Demonstration: HUD Needs to Take Action to Improve Metrics and Ongoing Oversight, February 20, 2018

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) put procedures in place to evaluate and monitor the impact of conversion of public housing properties under the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. RAD's authorizing legislation requires HUD to assess and publish findings about the amount of private-sector leveraging. HUD uses a variety of metrics to measure conversion outcomes. But, the metric HUD uses to measure private-sector leveraging—the share of private versus public funding for construction or rehabilitation of assisted housing—has limitations. For example, HUD's leveraging ratio counts some public resources as leveraged private-sector investment and does not use final (post-completion) data. As a result, HUD's ability to accurately assess private-sector leveraging is limited. HUD does not systematically use its data systems to track effects of RAD conversions on resident households (such as changes in rent and income, or relocation) or monitor use of all resident safeguards. Rather, since 2016, HUD has required public housing agencies (PHA) or other post-conversion owners to maintain resident logs and collect such information. But the resident logs do not contain historical program information. HUD has not developed a process for systematically reviewing information from its data systems and resident logs on an ongoing basis. HUD has been developing procedures to monitor compliance with some resident safeguards—such as the right to return to a converted property—and begun a limited review of compliance with these safeguards. However, HUD has not yet developed a process for monitoring other safeguards—such as access to other housing voucher options. Federal internal control standards require agencies to use quality information to achieve objectives, and obtain and evaluate relevant and reliable data in a timely manner for use in effective monitoring. Without a comprehensive review of household information and procedures for fully monitoring all resident safeguards, HUD cannot fully assess the effects of RAD on residents. RAD authorizing legislation and the program's use agreements (contracts with property owners) contain provisions intended to help ensure the long-term availability of affordable units, but the provisions have not been tested in situations such as foreclosure. For example, use agreements between HUD and property owners specify affordability and use restrictions that according to the contract would survive a default or foreclosure. HUD officials stated that HUD intends to develop procedures to identify and respond to risks to long-term affordability, including default or foreclosure in RAD properties. However, HUD has not yet done so. According to federal internal control standards, agencies should identify, analyze, and respond to risks related to achieving goals and objectives. Procedures that address oversight of affordability requirements would better position HUD to help ensure RAD conversions comply with program requirements, detect potential foreclosure and other risks, and take corrective actions. Why GAO Did This Study HUD administers the Public Housing program, which provides federally assisted rental units to low-income households through PHAs. In 2010, HUD estimated its aging public housing stock had $25.6 billion in unmet capital needs. To help address these needs, the RAD program was authorized in fiscal year 2012. RAD allows PHAs to move (convert) properties in the public housing program to Section 8 rental assistance programs, and retain property ownership or transfer it to other entities. The conversion enables PHAs to access additional funding, including investor equity, generally not available for public housing properties. GAO was asked to review public housing conversions under RAD and any impact on residents. This report addresses, among other objectives, HUD's (1) assessment of conversion outcomes; (2) oversight of resident safeguards; and (3)[...]

GAO-18-301, National Mediation Board: Progress Made on GAO Recommendations, but Actions Needed to Address Management Challenges, March 22, 2018

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The National Mediation Board (NMB), which facilitates labor relations for railroads and airlines, has implemented five of the eight recommendations GAO made in its December 2013 and February 2016 reports (see table). The three remaining recommendations—on information security, information privacy, and rail grievance arbitration—are not yet fully implemented. Regarding information security, GAO found that NMB has made progress but is only partially following key practices. On information privacy, GAO found that NMB was following two of four key privacy practices but has not yet, among other things, assessed the privacy risks of its information systems. Finally, the agency has taken steps to track rail grievance arbitration cases, but still cannot perform needed analysis of the data. At the same time, NMB reports its backlog of these cases has grown from about 2,400 at the end of fiscal year 2011 to over 8,400 at the end of fiscal year 2017. While NMB has taken some steps to reduce this growing number of cases, it does not have a specific plan to address the backlog. Without such a plan, the backlog could continue to increase. Status of GAO's 2013 and 2016 Recommendations to NMB Recommendation Area Implemented Not Fully Implemented Strategic Plan X   Performance Measures X   Workforce Plan X   Audit Response X   Procurement X   Information Security   X Information Privacy   X Rail Grievance Arbitration   X Source: GAO analysis of National Mediation Board (NMB) documents | GAO 18-301 NMB also faces other management challenges. First, although federal employees may not use their public office for private gain, NMB does not have controls in place to ensure that this is followed. During this review, GAO found that a lack of internal controls may have permitted a former manager to represent himself as a government employee while conducting business for his private companies. GAO plans to refer the matter to the appropriate authority for further investigation. Second, NMB employees expressed concerns in a 2017 employee survey about issues such as promotions, training, and leadership. NMB officials said they have not yet taken actions in response to survey results or conducted an internal climate assessment, even though such actions were promised in NMB's strategic plan. Finally, some of NMB's travel and telework policies are inconsistent with federal law and not consistently enforced. For example, NMB management approved rental of a luxury car in one case, which may have been prohibited by federal regulations. Oversight of a cognizant Inspector General (IG), as suggested in GAO's 2013 report, might have prevented or minimized many of the issues GAO identified. NMB recently established an agreement with the National Labor Relations Board IG to operate a telephone fraud hotline; however, ongoing oversight is needed to identify and assist NMB with addressing agency challenges. Why GAO Did This Study NMB was established under the Railway Labor Act to facilitate labor relations for railroads and airlines by mediating and arbitrating labor disputes and overseeing union elections. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 included a provision for GAO to evaluate NMB programs and activities every 2 years. GAO's previous reports, issued in December 2013 and February 2016, included eight recommendations for NMB based on assessments of policies and processes in several management and program [...]

GAO-18-254, Financial Technology: Additional Steps by Regulators Could Better Protect Consumers and Aid Regulatory Oversight, March 22, 2018

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Fintech products—including payments, lending, wealth management, and others—generally provide benefits to consumers, such as convenience and lower costs. For example, fintech robo-advisers offer low cost investment advice provided solely by algorithms instead of humans. Fintech products pose similar risks as traditional products, but their risks may not always be sufficiently addressed by existing laws and regulations. Also, regulators and others noted that fintech activities create data security and privacy concerns and could potentially impact overall financial stability as fintech grows. The extent to which fintech firms are subject to federal oversight of their compliance with applicable laws varies. Securities regulators can oversee fintech investment advisers in the same ways as traditional investment advisers. Federal regulators may review some activities of fintech lenders or payment firms as part of overseeing risks arising from these firms' partnerships with banks or credit unions. In other cases, state regulators primarily oversee fintech firms, but federal regulators could take enforcement actions. Regulators have published consumer complaints against fintech firms, but indications of widespread consumer harm appear limited. The U.S. regulatory structure poses challenges to fintech firms. With numerous regulators, fintech firms noted that identifying the applicable laws and how their activities will be regulated can be difficult. Although regulators have issued some guidance, fintech payment and lending firms say complying with fragmented state requirements is costly and time-consuming. Regulators are collaborating in various ways, including engaging in discussions on financial protections for customers that may experience harm when their accounts are aggregated by a fintech firm and unauthorized transactions occur. Market participants disagree over reimbursement for such consumers, and key regulators are reluctant to act prematurely. Given their mandated consumer protection missions, regulators could act collaboratively to better ensure that consumers avoid financial harm and continue to benefit from these services. GAO has identified leading practices for interagency collaboration, including defining agency roles and responsibilities and defining outcomes. Implementing these practices could increase the effectiveness of regulators' efforts to help resolve this conflict. Regulators abroad have taken various approaches to encourage fintech innovation. These include establishing innovation offices to help fintech firms understand applicable regulations and foster regulatory interactions. Some use “regulatory sandboxes” that allow fintech firms to offer products on a limited scale and provide valuable knowledge about products and risks to both firms and regulators. Regulators abroad also established various mechanisms to coordinate with other agencies on financial innovation. While some U.S. regulators have taken similar steps, others have not due to concerns of favoring certain competitors or perceived lack of authority. While these constraints may limit regulators' ability to take such steps, considering these approaches could result in better interactions between U.S. regulators and fintech firms and help regulators increase their understanding of fintech products. This would be consistent with GAO's framework calling for regulatory systems to be flexible and forward looking to help regulators adapt to market innovations. Why GAO Did This Study Advances in technology and the widespread use of the Internet and mobile communication devices have helped fuel the rise of traditional financial services provided by non-traditional technology-enabled providers, often referred to as fintech. GAO was asked to provide information on various aspects of fintech activities. This report addresses fintech payment, lending, wealth management, and other pro[...]

GAO-18-319, Federal Real Property: Agencies Make Some Use of Telework in Space Planning but Need Additional Guidance, March 22, 2018

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The 23 civilian Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Act agencies reported various ways of considering and using telework as a space-planning tool, by, for example, implementing desk-sharing for employees who telework in order to relinquish leased space, or increasing the number of staff working in an existing space without increasing its size. All of the 23 agencies discussed telework in the context of space planning and achieving greater space efficiencies in either their space-planning documents or Real Property Efficiency Plans . The agencies that used telework as a space-planning tool generally reported implementing smaller or unassigned workstations. Three of the four agencies GAO reviewed in greater detail––the General Services Administration (GSA); the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice; the Centers for Disease Control at the Department of Health and Human Services; and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service at the Department of the Treasury––leveraged telework to reduce or use office space more efficiently. For example, GSA and the Office of Justice Programs used telework to accommodate more employees in a smaller office space as illustrated in figure 1 below. The Centers for Disease Control used telework to accommodate more employees in the same amount of space. The Bureau of the Fiscal Service reduced space without telework by reducing the size of individual workstations. Figure 1: A Telework Scenario That Can Increase Space Efficiency or Reduce Space The 23 civilian CFO Act agencies reported several challenges in using telework to reduce space including human capital issues, mission suitability, and measuring cost savings attributable to telework. About two-thirds of the agencies said they would find it helpful to have additional information, assistance, or resources in using telework as a space-planning tool. GSA provides guidance to improve space utilization. However, GAO found that GSA last developed relevant formal guidance in 2006. This information, and that on GSA's telework and space-planning websites, was neither specific nor detailed and therefore of limited assistance to agencies that would like to use telework as a space-planning tool. Additionally, GSA's space-planning tool—the Workplace Investment and Feasibility Tool, intended to help agencies quantify the benefits and costs of telework––remains under development after more than 4 years, and GSA officials have not decided whether to make the tool available to other federal agencies. As such, agencies reported that they lack adequate guidance to determine how best to reduce space or use it more efficiently, and how to assess the benefits and costs of using telework in space planning. Why GAO Did This Study Federal agencies are exploring ways to use telework as a tool to reduce the federal footprint and use space more efficiently. GAO was asked to examine the effects of telework on agencies' space-planning efforts. In this report, GAO reviewed: (1) how the 23 civilian CFO Act agencies reported using telework in office space planning; (2) the specific ways selected agencies and GSA used telework in their office space planning; and (3) any challenges the civilian CFO Act agencies faced in using telework in office space planning. GAO surveyed all 23 civilian CFO Act agencies, analyzed each agency's space-planning documents, and Real Property Efficiency Plans . GAO reviewed four agencies in greater detail based on analysis of telework data and other factors. For those four agencies GAO conducted site visits, interviewed officials, and analyzed agency documents. GAO also identified challenges agencies faced in using telework in space planning, based on survey results, agency documents, and interviews. What GAO Recommends GSA concurred with recommendations that GSA should: (1) develop guidance on how agencies can use telework a[...]

GAO-18-188, Climate-Related Risks: SEC Has Taken Steps to Clarify Disclosure Requirements, February 20, 2018

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found To help clarify to companies their disclosure requirements for climate-related matters, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued the Commission Guidance Regarding Disclosure Related to Climate Change in 2010 (2010 Guidance). The 2010 Guidance was SEC's primary form of communication to clarify companies' climate-related disclosure requirements. In addition, SEC issued individual comment letters to specific companies on their climate-related disclosures. These letters are publicly available and companies can view these letters to understand SEC's assessment of a particular company's disclosures. Representatives from industry associations with whom GAO spoke stated that they consider the disclosure requirements for climate-related risks to be clear and have no need for additional guidance. SEC issued two reports to Congress in 2012 and 2014 that examined changes in climate-related disclosures in select industries. SEC found that most of these filings included some level of climate-related disclosures and reported that there were no notable year-to-year changes. SEC staff also continue to periodically assess climate-related disclosures in addition to its regular disclosure review process. Additionally, in April 2016, SEC requested public input on modernizing certain business and financial disclosure requirements, including potential changes on reporting climate-related risks in SEC's filings. As of December 2017, SEC staff said they are considering recommendations for the Commission's consideration based on comments received. SEC faces constraints in reviewing climate-related and other disclosures because it primarily relies on information that companies provide. SEC senior staff explained that SEC's Division of Corporation Finance staff assess companies' filings for compliance with federal securities laws—which require companies to disclose material risks—but do not have the authority to subpoena additional information from companies. Additionally, companies may report similar climate-related disclosures in different sections of the filings, and climate-related disclosures in some filings contain disclosures using generic language, not tailored to the company, and do not include quantitative metrics. When companies report climate-related disclosures in varying formats and specificity, SEC reviewers and investors may find it difficult to compare and analyze related disclosures across companies' filings. SEC has tools, mechanisms, and resources—including internal supervisory controls, regulations and guidance, a two-level filing review process, internal and external data, and staff training and experience—that help SEC staff consistently review filing disclosures, according to SEC documents and staff. Representatives of industry associations told GAO that they consider the current climate-related disclosure requirements adequate and no additional climate-related disclosures are needed. However, some investor groups and asset management firms have highlighted the need for companies to disclose more climate-related information. But, members of SEC's Investor Advisory Committee told GAO that investors have not agreed on the priority of climate-related disclosures. Also, additional disclosure requirements or increased scrutiny of companies' climate-related information—which, if necessary, SEC and Congress can consider—could have mission and resource implications for SEC's Division of Corporation Finance. Why GAO Did This Study Impacts from a changing climate can pose serious risks to the global economy and affect many economic sectors, according to reports. Public companies are generally required to disclose certain risks in their SEC filings. In 2010, SEC issued guidance to clarify how existing disclosure requirements apply for climate-related matters. GAO was asked to review (1) steps S[...]

GAO-18-107, Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrants: More Information on Their Resettlement Outcomes Would Be Beneficial, February 20, 2018

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Since fiscal year 2011, about 13,000 Afghan and Iraqi nationals (excluding family members) have resettled in the United States under special immigrant visas (SIV), but limited data on their outcomes are available from the Department of State (State) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). State collects data on SIV holders' resettlement outcomes once—90 days after they arrive. GAO's analysis of State's data from October 2010 through December 2016 showed that the majority of principal SIV holders—those who worked for the U.S. government—were unemployed at 90 days, including those reporting high levels of education and spoken English. Separately, HHS collects data on about one-third of resettled SIV holders (those in one HHS grant program). According to HHS's fiscal year 2016 data (the only year available), most of these SIV holders were employed and not receiving cash assistance 6 months after arrival; however, these data are not representative of all SIV holders. GAO did not identify any outcome data for SIV holders beyond 6 months after arrival. HHS annually surveys refugees up to 5 years after arrival, but does not do so for SIV holders. However, it has occasionally used its survey of refugees to analyze selected groups at no additional reported cost. Such analysis could provide valuable information on whether SIV holders have achieved longer-term assimilation, consistent with HHS' mission and program goals. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Holders Who Were Unemployed 90 Days After Arrival, October 2010-December 2016 Stakeholders GAO interviewed reported several resettlement challenges, including capacity issues in handling large numbers of SIV holders, difficulties finding skilled employment, and SIV holders' high expectations. Officials from local resettlement agencies in Northern Virginia reported capacity challenges for their agencies and the community due to the large increase of SIV holders. In almost all of GAO's focus groups with principal SIV holders, participants expressed frustration at the need to take low-skilled jobs because they expected that their education and prior work experience would lead to skilled work. State and HHS have taken steps to address some resettlement challenges. For example, in 2017 State placed restrictions on where SIV holders could resettle and HHS announced a new grant to support career development programs for SIV holders, refugees, and others. In addition, State provides information to prospective SIV holders about resettlement. However, the information is general, and lacks detail on key issues such as housing affordability, employment, and available government assistance. Providing such specifics could lead to more informed decisions by SIV holders on where to resettle and help them more quickly adapt to potential challenges once in the United States. Why GAO Did This Study Certain Afghan or Iraqi nationals who worked for the U.S. government and may have experienced serious threats due to this work may qualify for an SIV. An SIV allows them and eligible family members to resettle in the United States, and since 2008 over 60,000 SIV holders (principal holder and family members) have done so. Upon arrival, they are eligible for resettlement assistance from State and HHS. GAO was asked to review SIV holders' resettlement outcomes and challenges. This report examines (1) available data on SIV holders' employment and other outcomes, (2) challenges affecting their resettlement, and (3) federal efforts to help address challenges. GAO analyzed the most recent federal data (State: 2010-2016; and HHS: 2016) on SIV holders' outcomes; interviewed officials from nine national resettlement agencies; and visited three states (CA, TX, and VA) where over half of SIV holders resettled. In these states, GAO interviewed the stat[...]

GAO-18-451T, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Observations on the Covered Business Method Patent Review Program, March 20, 2018

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found From September 2012 through September 2017, entities facing patent infringement lawsuits filed 524 petitions challenging the validity of 359 patents under the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) covered business method (CBM) program, resulting in decisions against about one-third of these patents. The CBM program provides entities facing infringement lawsuits an opportunity to challenge the validity of a business method patent by demonstrating that it did not meet requirements for patentability. Business method patents focus on ways of doing business in areas such as banking or e-commerce. The rate of filing petitions over this period has fluctuated but has generally declined since 2015, and none were filed in August or September 2017. Number of Petitions Filed per Month Challenging Business Method Patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, September 2012 through September 2017 USPTO has taken several steps to ensure the timeliness of trial decisions, review past decisions, and engage with stakeholders to improve proceedings under the program: Timeliness: USPTO regularly informs relevant parties about paperwork requirements and due dates throughout trials. According to program data, as of September 2017, all 181 completed trials were completed within statutorily required time frames. Decision review: USPTO has taken several steps to review its decisions and has monitored the rate at which the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirms or reverses them. However, USPTO does not have guidance, such as documented procedures, for reviewing trial decisions, or the processes leading to decisions, for consistency. Without guidance, such as documented procedures, USPTO cannot fully ensure that it is meeting its objective of ensuring consistency of decisions. Stakeholder engagement: USPTO judges have engaged with stakeholders by participating in public roundtables and webinars, and attending judicial conferences, among other things. Stakeholders GAO interviewed generally agreed that the CBM program has reduced lawsuits involving business method patents in the federal courts. While many stakeholders favored maintaining aspects of the program, there was not strong consensus among stakeholders for how future trials should be designed. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's March 2018 report, entitled U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Assessment of the Covered Business Method Patent Review Program (GAO-18-320). For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-3841 or

GAO-18-318, Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Additional Action Needed to Improve Process for Billing Licensees, March 08, 2018

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Office of the Inspector General for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and internal reviews conducted by NRC identified several problems with the agency's billing process, and NRC has implemented or plans to implement several changes to address the recommendations. For example, the codes that NRC staff use to record their work hours on time cards—referred to as activity codes—did not describe the work and did not have a consistent naming convention, which increased the risk of staff charging their time to the wrong activity codes. This could lead, in some cases, to billing errors. To address these problems, NRC created a standard naming convention for activity codes that provides more information about the activity. See the figure below for the steps in NRC's billing process for work that NRC or contractor staff performed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Billing Process Some of the 13 licensees that GAO interviewed identified challenges with NRC's billing process, including its method for delivering paper invoices by mail. For example, two of these licensees stated that with invoices taking up to 10 days to arrive in the mail, they sometimes do not have sufficient time to properly review charges and remit payment to NRC within the 30-day deadline for paying the invoice. One licensee said that delays in receiving an invoice resulted in late fees. NRC is undertaking an initiative to transition to electronic billing, which may address the challenges the licensees identified and, according to NRC staff, improve the agency's billing process. However, NRC has not developed planning documents for this initiative and, according to staff, the planning phase is already past its original deadline of October 2017. The Project Management Institute has identified standards related to project management processes, including project planning. By developing a project management plan that is consistent with best practices and includes steps for involving licensees in system development and assessing results of the project, NRC would have reasonable assurance that it can better manage its electronic billing initiative. Why GAO Did This Study NRC is responsible for regulating the commercial nuclear industry, including nuclear power plants. NRC provides services, such as inspections, for regulated entities that hold licenses—that is, licensees. NRC recovers the costs for these services by assessing fees and billing licensees quarterly. In fiscal year 2016, NRC collected about $321 million in service fees. From 2006 to 2016, audits of NRC's fees identified problems with NRC's billing process. For example, a 2012 audit identified about $24 million in unbilled fees from fiscal years 2011 and 2012. GAO was asked to review NRC's billing process for service fees. This report examines (1) the actions NRC is taking to address problems with its billing process identified by internal reviews and (2) the challenges selected licensees identified with NRC's billing process and the extent to which NRC's actions are addressing them. GAO reviewed audits of NRC's billing process and other documents related to this process. GAO also interviewed NRC staff and a nongeneralizable sample of 13 licensees, selected based on the amount of service fees charged from October 2015 through July 2017, and compared NRC's actions against criteria on internal controls and project planning. What GAO Recommends GAO is making five recommendations, including that NRC develop a project management plan for its electronic billing initiative that follows project management standards and includes steps for involving licensees and assessing results. NRC agreed with these recommendations. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@g[...]

GAO-18-300, New Trauma Care System: DOD Should Fully Incorporate Leading Practices into Its Planning for Effective Implementation, March 19, 2018

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Joint Trauma System (JTS) implementation plan submitted to Congress by the Department of Defense (DOD) in August 2017 includes a description of the four elements required by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and an overview of implementation activities. For example, it indicates how the Army's current JTS Defense Center of Excellence will become part of DOD's new JTS. However, the plan and other supplemental planning documents prepared to date do not fully incorporate leading practices for planning as identified by prior GAO work. GAO has previously found that implementation plans incorporating these leading practices—goals, strategies to achieve goals, risks that can affect goals, and plans to assess progress toward goals—help ensure organizations achieve their objectives. For each of the four required elements, GAO found that these leading practices either were partially incorporated or had not been incorporated: Element 1—Serve as the reference body for all trauma care provided across the military health system. DOD documents include specific goals, such as consolidating data from multiple trauma registries. They also include some strategies to achieve the goals, such as identifying lead offices and time frames to complete specific actions. However, the documents provide limited details on actions DOD plans to take, and do not indicate how DOD plans to address risks or assess its progress. Element 2—Establish standards of care for trauma care services. DOD documents include a goal to develop, publish, and assess clinical practice guidelines that serve as standards of trauma care. These documents also describe how the new JTS will continue to produce, update, and monitor adherence to the guidelines. However, they do not fully indicate plans to address risks, such as ensuring effective dissemination. Element 3—Coordinate the translation of research from DOD centers of excellence into standards of clinical trauma care. DOD planning documents do not incorporate any leading practices for this element. DOD officials told GAO that clinical standards incorporate relevant research and that officials responsible for trauma care standards routinely interact with officials responsible for research. Officials expect this practice to continue under the new JTS. Element 4—Coordinate the incorporation of lessons learned from trauma education and training partnerships into clinical practice. DOD planning documents do not incorporate any leading practices for this element. According to officials, DOD must first establish a separate directorate responsible for partnerships with civilian trauma centers before determining how to incorporate lessons from partnerships into the new JTS. According to DOD, the JTS implementation plan is a general overview of implementation activities, and planning efforts are ongoing. By not fully incorporating leading practices in its planning documents, DOD may be missing opportunities to ensure that the JTS is effectively implemented, to provide more effective trauma care across the military, and to help reduce trauma-related deaths and disabilities. Why GAO Did This Study Traumatic injury is a major cause of death and disability in the military, but improved trauma care has the potential to improve these outcomes. DOD has worked to improve trauma care over time, such as by establishing a Joint Trauma System Defense Center of Excellence to examine trauma care and share best practices. To improve trauma care across DOD, the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2017 directed DOD to establish a new JTS within DOD's Defense Health Agency. The NDAA requires that the new JTS include four specified elements, and also required DOD to submit to Congress[...]

GAO-18-244, Community Reinvestment Act: Options for Treasury to Consider to Encourage Services and Small-Dollar Loans When Reviewing Framework, February 14, 2018

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Based on GAO analysis of 2014 and 2016 data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), National Credit Union Administration, Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, and Census, low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities have at least as many banks and credit unions nearby as middle-income communities in rural areas and larger metropolitan areas but fewer than in smaller metropolitan areas. However, 2015 FDIC survey data suggest lower-income households were more likely to obtain credit or conduct financial transactions through an alternative financial services (AFS) provider (such as a check casher) and less likely to have a checking or savings account with a bank or credit union than their higher-income counterparts. Federal banking regulators' procedures for conducting Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) evaluations do not require an evaluation of financial institutions' provision of retail banking services or small-dollar, nonmortgage consumer lending, or support for community development in LMI areas for every institution. Whether the federal banking regulators—the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), FDIC, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)—evaluate a financial institution on its provision of these services and loans depends on the type of institution, among other factors. For example, while large institutions are subject to evaluations of their services, lending, and support of community development, smaller institutions are primarily evaluated on their lending. Further, small-dollar, nonmortgage consumer lending is typically evaluated only if consumer lending is a substantial majority of the lending or a major product of the institution, which generally is not the case across all institution types. Stakeholders GAO contacted identified several options they believe could provide additional incentives for financial institutions to provide basic banking services and small-dollar, nonmortgage consumer loans in LMI areas. Such options include modifications to tests conducted as part of the CRA examination process to focus more on the extent to which institutions are offering these services and loans, expanding the areas and entities assessed as part of the examinations, and clarifying guidance about the examination process. However, other stakeholders noted that such options may not alleviate institutions' competing concerns about the profitability of these services and loans or regulators' concerns about their safety and soundness. In commenting on these options, the federal banking regulators noted they had, among other things, issued in 2016 additional guidance on small-dollar loans that would qualify for CRA consideration. In June 2017, the Department of the Treasury issued a report indicating that statutes of critical importance to the banking sector, such as CRA, should be modernized to better target the financial risks consumers face. As a result, Treasury is planning a review of how CRA is being implemented, though the agency did not have a timeline for completing this review. Given the continuing unmet needs of many LMI consumers in obtaining basic banking services and small-dollar credit, the options that our work identified could help inform Treasury's review of the CRA framework and potentially encourage financial institutions to provide basic banking services and small-dollar, nonmortgage loans. Why GAO Did This Study A 2015 FDIC survey found that 7 percent of U.S. households were unbanked—meaning no one had a checking or savings account—and about 20 percent were underbanked—meaning the household had such an account but used an AFS provider's products. The goal of CRA is to encourage financial[...]

GAO-18-249, Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States: Treasury Should Coordinate Assessments of Resources Needed to Address Increased Workload, February 14, 2018

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has experienced an increased workload in recent years, and member agency officials have expressed concerns that CFIUS staff levels may not be sufficient to complete committee functions. Officials attribute the increased workload to an increase of over 50 percent in the volume of transactions reviewed from 2011 to 2016 and the complexity of those reviews in terms of technology, transaction structure, and national security concerns, compared to a modest increase in the number of staff assigned to CFIUS. Member agency officials stated that CFIUS is able to review all transactions that have been submitted to the committee. However, officials and external experts expressed concerns that agencies were limited in their ability to complete other functions, such as identifying transactions about which they have not been voluntarily notified but that may pose a risk. Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that management should establish the organizational structure necessary to achieve its objectives and periodically evaluate this structure. Treasury—the agency that leads CFIUS— has not coordinated member agencies' efforts to better understand the staffing levels needed to address the current and future workload associated with core functions of the committee. Without this information, CFIUS may be limited in its ability to fulfill its objectives and address national security concerns. Table: Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) Member Agency Staff Compared to the Number of Covered Transactions Reviewed, 2011-2016   2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Percentage change 2011-2016 Covered Transactions Reviewed 111 114 97 147 143 172 55% Number of staff assigned 82 82 79 85 83 91 11% Source: GAO analysis of Treasury-reported CFIUS cases and agency-reported staffing levels. | GAO-18-249 Officials from CFIUS member agencies and selected nonmember agencies, as well as external experts, expressed a range of views on the potential benefits and drawbacks to possible changes to CFIUS. GAO organized the possible changes into three categories: (1) altering the structure of CFIUS, (2) redefining which transactions should be considered for CFIUS review, and (3) expanding the factors CFIUS considers when evaluating the impacts of a foreign transaction on national security. Agency officials were generally satisfied with CFIUS' structure, such as the committee's chair and membership. Views among officials and experts varied on redefining which transactions should be considered for review, such as requiring CFIUS to review all transactions covered by its authority regardless of notification. Officials and experts generally did not support expanding the list of national security factors CFIUS considers, such as by adding a net economic benefit test. Agency officials and experts agreed that one trade-off related to some possible changes is a likely increase to the CFIUS workload, which they noted is already straining agencies' staff resources. Why GAO Did This Study The United States economy has historically been the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the[...]

GAO-18-268, U.S. Ports of Entry: CBP Public-Private Partnership Programs Have Benefits, but CBP Could Strengthen Evaluation Efforts, March 15, 2018

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Within the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses criteria and follows documented procedures to evaluate and approve public-private partnership applications and administer the Reimbursable Services Program (RSP) and Donations Acceptance Program (DAP). For example, RSP applications undergo an initial review by CBP officials at the affected ports of entry before they are scored by an expert panel of CBP officials at headquarters. The panel evaluates RSP applications against seven criteria, such as impact on CBP operations. Similarly, DAP proposals are evaluated by CBP officials against seven operational and six technical criteria, such as real estate implications. Further, if the proposal involves real estate controlled by the General Services Administration (GSA), CBP and GSA officials collaborate on DAP selection decisions and project implementation. To administer the RSP and DAP, CBP has documented policies and procedures, such as standard operating procedures and implementation frameworks. For example, CBP uses a standard procedure to guide the process for RSP partners to request services and to provide reimbursement. For DAP projects, CBP, GSA (if applicable), and partners follow an implementation framework that includes a project planning and design phase. The number of public-private partnerships is increasing, and partnerships provide a variety of additional services and infrastructure improvements at ports of entry. From fiscal years 2013 through 2017, CBP selected over 100 partners for RSP agreements that could impact 112 ports of entry and other CBP-staffed locations, and the total number of RSP partnerships doubled from fiscal year 2016 to 2017. According to CBP, since partners began requesting reimbursable services in 2014, CBP has provided its partners nearly 370,000 officer overtime hours of services, which led to over $45 million in reimbursed funds. As a result, CBP inspected an additional 8 million travelers and over 1 million personal and commercial vehicles at ports of entry. Similar to the RSP, the number of DAP partnerships more than doubled from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, and totals 16 projects that impact 13 ports of entry as of November 2017. The donations include improvements, such as the installation of new inspection booths and equipment and removal of traffic medians, and are intended to support over $150 million in infrastructure improvements. CBP uses various processes to monitor and evaluate its partnerships, but could benefit from establishing an evaluation plan to assess overall program performance. For example, CBP conducts regular audits of RSP records to help ensure that CBP bills and collects funds from its partners accurately, and uses guidance, such as the DAP Implementation Roadmap, to identify and monitor project milestones and tasks. However, as of November 2017, CBP had not developed an evaluation plan—which could include, among other things, measurable objectives, performance criteria, and data collection plans—to assess the overall performance of the RSP and DAP, consistent with Office of Management and Budget guidance and leading practices. Given CBP's staffing challenges and anticipated growth of the RSP and DAP, an evaluation plan could better position CBP to further integrate evaluation activities into program management. Why GAO Did This Study International trade and travel to the United States is increasing. On a typical day in fiscal year 2016, CBP officers inspected nearly 1.1 million passengers and pedestrians and over 74,000 truck, rail, and sea containers at 328 U.S. land, sea, and air ports of entry, according to CBP. To [...]

GAO-18-297, Homeownership: Information on Mortgage Options and Effects on Accelerating Home Equity Building, March 15, 2018

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Federal homeownership assistance programs generally are not designed to accelerate equity building (home equity is the difference between the value of a home and the amount owed on a mortgage). For example, programs that offer grants for down-payment assistance can provide a one-time boost to home equity. However, these programs are not specifically designed to accelerate equity building—that is, increasing the pace of paying off principal more quickly than would be the case with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Instead, the focus of federal programs is on providing affordable access to homeownership, including through grants, loans, and mortgage insurance or guarantees. For instance, federal mortgage insurance programs help provide market liquidity by protecting lenders from losses, in turn increasing access to credit and homeownership, and ultimately, the opportunity for equity building for home buyers. Borrowers have options to accelerate equity building that include obtaining shorter-term mortgages, making more frequent or additional payments, or choosing a mortgage product designed to accelerate equity building. For example, a mortgage product introduced by private lenders in 2014—the Wealth Building Home Loan (WBHL)—has features designed to accelerate equity building, including shorter terms (15 or 20 years) and the option to buy down the interest rate. The product also allows for no down payment. However, these products have trade-offs, including the following: Shorter-term loans build home equity (in terms of principal reduction) at a faster rate, but require higher monthly payments (see fig.). Payments for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage can be more than 40 percent higher than for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Higher payments may make mortgages less affordable or limit access for lower-income borrowers. For example, higher payments may result in a higher debt-to-income ratio for some home buyers, which may prevent them from qualifying for a mortgage unless they buy a less expensive home. In contrast, all else equal, loans with a shorter term generally have reduced credit risk—the likelihood of a home buyer defaulting on a mortgage—for lenders. Principal Reduction Pace: 15-Year Fixed-Rate Wealth Building Home Loan (WBHL) versus 30-Year Fixed-Rate Loan Note: Monthly mortgage payments do not include property tax or any type of insurance. Interest rates used are generally consistent with market rates in September and October 2017. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government has a number of programs to help increase access to affordable homeownership for first-time buyers and lower-income households, including programs that provide guarantees for certain types of mortgages and funding that can be used for down-payment assistance. Generally, homeowners can build home equity by making payments on a mortgage to reduce the outstanding principal (assuming home value does not depreciate). Recently, there has been interest in mortgage products that accelerate home equity building. GAO was asked to explore options for building equity through homeownership. This report discusses (1) how federal homeownership assistance programs affect home equity building; and (2) options, including private-sector mortgage products, through which borrowers can accelerate home equity building and the trade-offs of these options for both borrowers and lenders. GAO analyzed relevant laws and program guidance of federal homeownership assistance programs. GAO attended housing conferences and interviewed relevant federal and state agency officials, academics, and industry stakeholders[...]

GAO-18-245, Commercial Real Estate Lending: Banks Potentially Face Increased Risk; Regulators Generally Are Assessing Banks' Risk Management Practices, March 15, 2018

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found While the commercial real estate (CRE) sector has recovered since the 2007–2009 financial crisis, GAO's trend and econometric analyses generally indicate that risk in CRE lending by banks has increased over the past several years. Since the early 2000s, community banks have tended toward providing CRE loans more than other kinds of loans. Indicators of CRE market conditions and loan performance have been improving since 2011. At the same time, GAO's analyses of changes in CRE underwriting standards, property prices, and other data suggest that credit and concentration risks have increased in bank CRE lending. For example, the number of banks with relatively high CRE concentrations—measured by the ratio of a bank's CRE loans to its total capital—has been increasing. In addition, commercial property prices have been increasing rapidly, and property valuations also have risen in recent years. Similarly, GAO's predictive econometric models of CRE loan performance suggest that risk has increased, based largely on the simultaneous increase in bank CRE lending and CRE prices observed over the last several years, but is lower than the level associated with the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Number of Banks with Commercial Real Estate Loans Representing 300 Percent or More of Their Total Capital, Based on Year-End Data, 2007–2017 GAO found that federal banking regulators subjected banks with relatively high CRE concentrations to greater supervisory scrutiny based on its review of a nongeneralizable sample of 54 bank examinations covering 40 banks done by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency from 2013 through 2016. Of the 54 examinations that GAO reviewed, 41 of them covered banks with relatively high CRE concentrations. In all of these examinations, regulators examined whether the banks had adequate risk management practices and capital to manage their CRE concentration risk. In 26 of the 41 examinations, regulators did not find any risk management weaknesses. However, in 15 of the 41 examinations, regulators found the banks had weaknesses in one or more risk management areas, such as board and management oversight, management information systems, or underwriting. The regulators generally communicated their findings to the banks in the reports of examination and directed the banks to correct their risk management weaknesses. Why GAO Did This Study In 2006, federal banking regulators jointly issued guidance that described their expectations for sound risk management practices for banks with CRE concentrations. The guidance includes two CRE thresholds that regulators use to identify banks that are potentially exposed to significant CRE concentration risk and could be subject to greater supervisory scrutiny. Concentrations in CRE loans at U.S. banks have been steadily increasing—raising safety and soundness concerns. In December 2015, the regulators jointly issued a public statement to remind banks of the 2006 CRE guidance. In light of the joint 2015 statement and GAO's ongoing monitoring of regulatory efforts to identify and respond to emerging threats to the banking system, GAO examined (1) trends in the CRE lending market, including changes in risk, and (2) actions taken by regulators to help ensure that banks with CRE concentrations are effectively managing the related risks. To address these issues, GAO analyzed CRE-related data; reviewed agency policies and guidance; and reviewed a nongeneralizable sample of 54 bank examinations conducted from 2013 through 2[...]

GAO-18-397T, Border Security: Progress and Challenges with the Use of Technology, Tactical Infrastructure, and Personnel to Secure the Southwest Border, March 15, 2018

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The U.S. Border Patrol, within the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has made progress deploying surveillance technology—a mix of radars, sensors, and cameras—along the southwest U.S. border. As of October 2017, the Border Patrol had completed the planned deployment of select technologies to several states along the southwest border. The Border Patrol has also made progress toward assessing performance of surveillance technologies, but additional actions are needed to fully implement GAO's 2011 and 2014 recommendations in this area. For example, the Border Patrol has not yet used available data to determine the contribution of surveillance technologies to border security efforts. CBP spent about $2.3 billion to deploy fencing from fiscal years 2007 through 2015 and constructed 654 miles of fencing by 2015. The Border Patrol has reported that border fencing supports agents' ability to respond to illicit cross-border activities by slowing the progress of illegal entrants. GAO reported in February 2017 that CBP was taking a number of steps in sustaining tactical infrastructure—such as fencing, roads, and lighting—along the southwest border. However, CBP has not developed metrics that systematically use data it collects to assess the contributions of border fencing to its mission, as GAO has recommended. CBP concurred with the recommendation and plans to develop metrics by January 2019. Further, CBP established the Border Wall System Program in response to a January 2017 executive order that called for the immediate construction of a southwest border wall. This program is intended to replace and add to existing barriers along the southwest border. In April 2017, DHS leadership gave CBP approval to procure barrier prototypes, which are intended to help inform new design standards for the border wall system. Physical Barriers in San Diego, California, April 2016 The Border Patrol has faced challenges in achieving a staffing level of 21,370 agents, the statutorily-established minimum from fiscal years 2011 through 2016. As of September 2017, the Border Patrol reported it had about 19,400 agents. GAO reported in November 2017 that Border Patrol officials cited staffing shortages as a challenge for optimal deployment. As a result, officials had to make decisions about how to prioritize activities for deployment given the number of agents available. Why GAO Did This Study DHS has employed a variety of technology, tactical infrastructure, and personnel assets to help secure the nearly 2,000 mile long southwest border. Since 2009, GAO has issued over 35 products on the progress and challenges DHS has faced in using technology, infrastructure, and other resources to secure the border. GAO has made over 50 recommendations to help improve DHS's efforts, and DHS has implemented more than half of them. This statement addresses (1) DHS efforts to deploy and measure the effectiveness of surveillance technologies, (2) DHS efforts to maintain and assess the effectiveness of existing tactical infrastructure and to deploy new physical barriers, and (3) staffing challenges the Border Patrol has faced. This statement is based on three GAO reports issued in 2017, selected updates conducted in 2017, and ongoing work related to DHS acquisitions and the construction of physical barriers. For ongoing work GAO analyzed DHS and CBP documents, interviewed officials within DHS, and visited border areas in California. What GAO Recommends In recent reports, GAO made or reiterated recommendations for DHS to,[...]

GAO-18-95, Physical Security: NIST and Commerce Need to Complete Efforts to Address Persistent Challenges [Reissued with Revisions Mar. 14, 2018], October 11, 2017

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found GAO found that efforts to transform the physical security program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have incorporated some key practices, particularly with regard to leadership commitment to organizational change. For example, GAO estimates that, as of May 2017, 75 percent of staff GAO surveyed believe that NIST leadership places “great” or “very great” importance on security issues. However, staff awareness about security responsibilities varied, in part because of the limited effectiveness of NIST's security-related communication efforts. Additionally, GAO agents gained unauthorized access to various areas of both NIST campuses in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado. GAO found that ongoing efforts do not provide NIST with the tools needed to address security vulnerabilities. By incorporating elements of key practices, including a comprehensive communication strategy, interim milestone dates, and measures to assess effectiveness, NIST will be better positioned to address the security vulnerabilities caused by varied levels of security awareness among employees. Management of NIST's physical security program is fragmented between the Department of Commerce (Commerce) and NIST. This is inconsistent with the federal Interagency Security Committee's (ISC) physical security best practices, which encourage agencies to centrally manage physical security. Commerce is responsible for overseeing security personnel who implement physical security policies, while NIST manages physical security countermeasures such as access control technology, leading to fragmentation in responsibilities. Before implementing the current organizational structure in October 2015, neither Commerce nor NIST assessed whether it was the most appropriate way to fulfill NIST's physical security responsibilities. Without evaluating management options, the current organizational structure may be creating unnecessary inefficiencies, thereby inhibiting the effectiveness of the security program overall. To help federal agencies protect and assess risks to their facilities, the ISC developed a risk management process standard (RMP Standard), with which federal agencies, including Commerce, generally must comply. Commerce and NIST most recently completed risk management steps for NIST campuses in 2015 and 2017, but GAO found that their efforts did not fully align with the RMP Standard. Neither Commerce nor NIST used a sound risk assessment methodology, fully documented key risk management decisions, or appropriately involved stakeholders, partly because these requirements were not in existing agency policy. Further, GAO found that Commerce and NIST had overlapping risk management activities, potentially leading to unnecessary duplication. According to officials, Commerce and NIST are separately drafting new risk management policies. Without ensuring that (1) these policies align with the RMP Standard and (2) the NIST policy contains a formal mechanism to coordinate with Commerce, future risk management activities may be limited in their usefulness and duplicative. This report is a public version of a sensitive report that was also issued in October. Information that Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security deemed sensitive has been omitted. Why GAO Did This Study NIST is the United States' national physical laboratory, which among other matters is responsible for developing measurement standards. In 2017, NIST, located within Commerce, employed approximately 3,500 federal personnel and hosted about 4[...]

GAO-18-460T, Information Technology: Further Implementation of Recommendations Is Needed to Better Manage Acquisitions and Operations, March 14, 2018

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies have taken steps to improve the management of information technology (IT) acquisitions and operations through a series of initiatives, to include (1) data center consolidation, (2) implementation of incremental development practices, (3) approval of IT acquisitions, (4) implementation of key IT workforce practices, and (5) addressing aging legacy IT systems. As of March 2018, the agencies had fully implemented about 59 percent of the approximately 800 related recommendations that GAO made during fiscal years 2010 through 2015. However, important additional actions are needed. Consolidating data centers . OMB launched an initiative in 2010 to reduce data centers, which was codified and expanded by a law commonly referred to as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). GAO has since noted that, while this initiative could potentially save the government billions of dollars, weaknesses exist in areas such as optimization and OMB's reporting on related cost savings. Accordingly, GAO has made 160 recommendations to OMB and agencies to improve the initiative; however, about half of GAO's recommendations have not yet been implemented. Implementing incremental development . OMB has emphasized the need for agencies to deliver investments in smaller increments to reduce risk and deliver capabilities more quickly. Further, GAO has issued reports highlighting actions needed by OMB and agencies to improve their implementation of incremental development. In these reports, GAO made 42 related recommendations, but the majority of GAO's recommendations have not yet been addressed. Approval of IT acquisitions . OMB's FITARA implementation guidance required covered agencies' chief information officers (CIO) to review and approve IT acquisition plans. In January 2018, GAO reported that many agencies' CIOs were not reviewing and approving acquisition plans, as required by OMB. GAO made 39 recommendations to improve the review and approval of IT acquisitions, but they have not yet been implemented by the agencies. Implementation of key IT workforce practices . Effective IT workforce planning can help agencies improve their ability to acquire IT. In November 2016, GAO reported on agencies' IT workforce planning activities. GAO noted that five selected agencies had not fully implemented key workforce planning activities and recommended that they do so, but the agencies have not yet addressed the recommendations. Addressing aging legacy IT systems. Legacy IT investments across the federal government are becoming increasingly obsolete and consuming an increasing amount of IT dollars. In May 2016, GAO reported that many agencies were using systems which had components that were, in some cases, at least 50 years old. GAO noted, however, that several agencies did not have specific plans with time frames to modernize or replace these investments. GAO recommended that 12 agencies plan to modernize or replace legacy systems; all of which have not yet been implemented. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government plans to invest almost $96 billion in IT in fiscal year 2018. Historically, these investments have too often failed, incurred cost overruns and schedule slippages, or contributed little to mission-related outcomes. In December 2014, Congress and the President enacted FITARA, aimed at improving covered agencies' acquisitions of IT. Further, in February 2015, GAO added improving the management of IT acquisitions[...]

GAO-18-436T, Federal Regulations: Opportunities to Improve the Effectiveness and Transparency of Regulatory and Guidance Practices, March 14, 2018

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Agencies GAO reviewed—Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Education (Education), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Labor (DOL) did not consistently adhere to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements and internal controls when developing regulatory guidance, as GAO reported in 2015. Unlike regulations, regulatory guidance is not generally legally binding and is subject to different requirements for regulatory oversight. Agencies weighed various factors when they determined whether to issue guidance. The agencies GAO reviewed issued different amounts of guidance for various purposes, such as explaining plans for implementing regulations. Agencies found few of their guidance documents to be “significant,” guidance with a broad and substantial impact on regulated entities. USDA and Education had written procedures for the approval of significant guidance as directed by OMB; DOL's procedures needed updating and to be distributed to appropriate agency officials; HHS did not have any. GAO found that USDA, Education, and DOL consistently applied OMB's requirements for public feedback and access, for example public access to guidance through websites, while HHS did not. Agencies can better ensure consistent application of review processes and public access to significant guidance through better adherence to OMB requirements. GAO also found opportunities for agencies to improve adherence to internal controls for guidance that did not meet OMB's definition of “significant.” For example, most subagencies GAO reviewed did not have written procedures for the production of guidance and about half did not regularly evaluate whether issued guidance was effective and up-to-date. Adherence to these internal controls could promote quality and consistency in guidance development processes. GAO found that agencies did not consistently comply with the Congressional Review Act (CRA) for regulations promulgated during the 120-day presidential transition periods (September 23 through January 20), as defined by the Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015. GAO reported that during the transition from the end of one presidential administration to the next, the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations published on average roughly 2.5 times more economically significant regulations during transition periods than during nontransition periods; increases are typical during transition periods. For these regulations, agencies more frequently provided advanced notice to the public, thus providing the public opportunities to influence the development of these transition period regulations before they were finalized. In their published regulations, agencies generally reported complying with four of five procedural requirements for promulgating regulations during both transition and nontransition periods. Agencies are required to 1) assess the impact of regulations on small entities, 2) minimize the burden that information collections impose on the public, 3) assess the costs and benefits of regulations that include federal mandates, and 4) for certain agencies, obtain direct input from small entities during rulemaking. Also, a fifth requirement, agencies must comply with CRA, which provides Congress an opportunity to review and possibly disapprove regulations before they take effect. Agencies less often complied with CRA, during both transition and nontransition periods. The most common deficiency was agencies' failure to provide Congress the required time to review regu[...]

GAO-18-438T, Department of Energy: Continued Actions Needed to Address Management Challenges, March 14, 2018

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) faces challenges related to the affordability of its nuclear modernization programs. In April 2017, GAO found a misalignment between NNSA's modernization plans and the estimated budgetary resources needed to carry out those plans. Specifically, GAO found that NNSA's estimates of funding needed for its modernization plans sometimes exceeded the budgetary projections included in the President's planned near-term (fiscal years 2018 through 2021) and long-term (fiscal years 2022 through 2026) modernization budgets. GAO also found that the costs of some major modernization programs—such as for nuclear weapon refurbishments—may also increase and further strain future modernization budgets. GAO recommended in April 2017 that NNSA include an assessment of the affordability of its modernization programs in future versions of its annual plan on stockpile stewardship; NNSA neither agreed nor disagreed with that recommendation. DOE also faces challenges with addressing its environmental liabilities—the total cost of its cleanup responsibilities. According to the Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Report of the United States Government , DOE is responsible for $383.8 billion—about 83 percent—of the federal government's $464.5 billion total reported environmental liability. GAO and other organizations have reported that DOE has not consistently taken a risk-informed approach to decision making for environmental cleanup, which could reduce costs while also reducing environmental risks more quickly. For example, in May 2017, we found that DOE may be able to save tens of billions of dollars and accelerate its waste treatment mission by reconsidering its approach for treating a portion of tank waste at DOE's Hanford Site in Washington State. Since 1994, GAO has made at least 30 recommendations to DOE and other federal agencies, which could reduce long-term costs and environmental risks more quickly. Of these, 15 remain unimplemented. DOE has taken several important steps that demonstrate its commitment to improving contract and project management, but challenges persist. Specifically, DOE's revised project management order, issued in May 2016, made several changes in response to recommendations GAO made in prior years, such as recommending that projects develop cost estimates and analyses of alternatives according to GAO's best practices. However, DOE's recent efforts do not address several areas, such as acquisition planning for major contracts and aspects of program and project management with which the department continues to struggle. GAO has made several recommendations related to these areas, and DOE has generally agreed with most of them. Finally, NNSA faces challenges in implementing its nonproliferation programs. For example, in September 2017, GAO found that selected programs in NNSA's Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) did not measure performance against schedule and cost baselines, as recommended by program management leading practices because DNN's program management policy did not require programs to measure performance in this way. GAO recommended that DNN revise its policy to require programs to measure performance against cost and schedule baselines. NNSA indicated it plans to take action to revise its policy. Why GAO Did This Study DOE's NNSA is responsible for managing the nuclear weapons stockpile and supporting nuclear nonprolife[...]

GAO-18-271, Customs and Border Protection: Automated Trade Data System Yields Benefits, but Interagency Management Approach Is Needed, March 14, 2018

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found Since renewing efforts to implement the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) in 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has deployed a number of key ACE activities, processes, and functions that it terms core capabilities. After several delays, CBP reported that it had finished implementing these capabilities—other than a capability for revenue collections—in February 2018. CBP expects to decide how to proceed with collections by the end of March 2018, according to agency officials. Three Stages of Import Processing The 22 agencies CBP identified as requiring documentation to clear or license cargo are all authorized to access ACE, although GAO found considerable variation in their use of the system for import processing. For example, the Food and Drug Administration has integrated its systems with ACE and uses ACE data to review imports under its jurisdiction and target public health risks. In contrast, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet integrated ACE into its operations. ACE users at CBP and partner agencies and in the trade community told GAO that using ACE has reduced costs by making trade processing more efficient and has strengthened enforcement of trade laws and regulations. CBP has developed metrics for itself and the trade community and estimated savings that could result from the increased efficiency of some processes in ACE. CBP also reported efforts to expand its metrics to capture more ACE benefits—for example, to estimate the value of increased efficiencies for partner agencies. CBP has not yet established an approach for the management of ACE after February 2018. The agency plans to enhance ACE to address shortcomings ACE users have identified—such as difficulty in transmitting messages and required information —but has not established a process for prioritizing all suggested enhancements. CBP also has not identified funding for continued ACE development, including enhancements, after fiscal year 2018. CBP is leading an interagency effort to develop an ACE management approach that includes processes for prioritizing enhancements and sharing costs, but this approach has not been finalized. Federal guidance calls for establishing the organizational structure necessary to operate effectively and for examining efforts as needed to adopt coordinated approaches. Until processes for prioritizing ACE enhancements and sharing costs are finalized, agencies and the trade community will not realize the system's full potential benefits. Why GAO Did This Study CBP began work on ACE in 1994 to update the agency's existing electronic trade processing system. In 2006, Congress broadened this effort by mandating creation of a “single portal” International Trade Data System to, among other things, efficiently regulate the flow of commerce and more effectively enforce laws and regulations relating to international trade. Performance problems halted implementation of ACE from 2010 to 2013. In 2014, the President set a deadline of December 31, 2016, for completing the system. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 included a provision for GAO to report on issues related to ACE implementation. In this report, GAO examines (1) CBP efforts to complete core ACE capabilities since 2013; (2) agencies' access to ACE and use of the system to process imports; (3) any cost savings and trade enforcement benefits from using ACE; and (4) the approach that will be used[...]

GAO-18-320, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Assessment of the Covered Business Method Patent Review Program, March 12, 2018

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found From September 2012 through September 2017, entities facing patent infringement lawsuits filed 524 petitions challenging the validity of 359 patents under the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) covered business method (CBM) program, resulting in decisions against about one-third of these patents. The CBM program provides entities facing infringement lawsuits an opportunity to challenge the validity of a business method patent by demonstrating that it did not meet requirements for patentability. Business method patents focus on ways of doing business in areas such as banking or e-commerce. The rate of filing petitions over this period has fluctuated but has generally declined since 2015, and none were filed in August or September 2017. Number of Petitions Filed per Month Challenging Business Method Patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, September 2012 through September 2017 USPTO has taken several steps to ensure the timeliness of trial decisions, review past decisions, and engage with stakeholders to improve proceedings under the program: Timeliness: USPTO regularly informs relevant parties about paperwork requirements and due dates throughout trials. According to program data, as of September 2017, all 181 completed trials were completed within statutorily required time frames. Decision review: USPTO has taken several steps to review its decisions and has monitored the rate at which the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirms or reverses them. However, USPTO does not have guidance, such as documented procedures, for reviewing trial decisions, or the processes leading to decisions, for consistency. Without guidance, such as documented procedures, USPTO cannot fully ensure that it is meeting its objective of ensuring consistency of decisions. Stakeholder engagement: USPTO judges have engaged with stakeholders by participating in public roundtables and webinars, and attending judicial conferences, among other things. Stakeholders GAO interviewed generally agreed that the CBM program has reduced lawsuits involving business method patents in the federal courts. While many stakeholders favored maintaining aspects of the program, there was not strong consensus among stakeholders for how future trials should be designed. Why GAO Did This Study Patents can promote innovation by giving inventors exclusive rights to their inventions, and patent owners can bring infringement lawsuits against anyone who uses, makes, sells, offers to sell, or imports a patented invention without authorization. As GAO previously reported, such lawsuits can take years and cost several million dollars. USPTO's CBM program provides a trial proceeding to challenge a patent's validity at USPTO's board for, according to stakeholders, a fraction of the time and money that would be spent in the federal courts. The CBM program began in September 2012 and is slated to sunset in September 2020. GAO was asked to examine the CBM program. This report (1) describes the extent to which the program has been used to challenge patents, and the results of those challenges; (2) examines the extent to which USPTO ensures timeliness of trial decisions, reviews decisions for consistency, and engages with stakeholders to improve proceedings for the program; and (3) discusses stakeholder views on the effects of the program and whether it should be extended past its sunset date. GA[...]

GAO-18-218, Military Housing Privatization: DOD Should Take Steps to Improve Monitoring, Reporting, and Risk Assessment, March 13, 2018

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0400

What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has regularly assessed the financial condition of its privatized housing projects; however, it has not used consistent measures or consistently assessed future sustainment (that is, the ability to maintain the housing in good condition), or issued required reports to Congress in a timely manner. Specifically: Some data used to report on privatized housing across the military services are not comparable. For example, there are inconsistencies among the projects in the measurements of current financial condition (for example, the ability to pay debts and maintain quality housing).These differences have not been identified in reports to Congress. The military departments vary in the extent to which they use measures of future sustainment, and information regarding the sustainment of each of the privatized housing projects has not been included in the reports to Congress. DOD's reporting to Congress has not been timely. DOD is statutorily required to report to Congress the financial condition of privatized housing projects on a semiannual basis, but it has not reported on any fiscal year since 2014. By taking steps to improve the consistency of the information provided and meet the reporting requirement, DOD would provide decision makers in Congress with useful, timely information about the financial condition of the privatized housing projects as they provide required oversight. DOD has not fully assessed the effects of reductions, relative to calculations of market rates for rent and utilities, in servicemembers' basic allowance for housing payments on the financial condition of its privatized housing projects. In August 2015, DOD required the military departments to review their privatized housing portfolios and outline any effects of the reductions. Each military department reported that the reductions would decrease cash flows to their long-term sustainment accounts. However, the reports did not specify the significance of the reductions on each project's future sustainment or identify specific actions to respond to shortfalls at individual projects. If DOD fully assesses the effects of the basic allowance for housing reductions on privatized housing and identifies actions to respond to any risks, DOD and Congress will be better informed to make decisions affecting the projects. DOD has not defined when project changes require prior notice to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment or its tolerance for risk relative to its goal of providing servicemembers with quality housing, including the risk from reduced sustainment funding. Specifically, the military departments had different understandings of when project changes, such as financial restructurings, required prior notice. Additionally, DOD has not required the military departments to define their risk tolerances—the acceptable level of variation in performance relative to the objectives—regarding the future sustainability of the projects. By clearly defining the conditions that require advance notification and developing risk tolerance levels, DOD would have consistent information that would improve its oversight of privatized housing and inform its response to any future sustainment challenges. Why GAO Did This Study In 1996 Congress provided DOD with authorities enabling it to obtain private-sector fin[...]