January 25, 2022

News

News Network

COVID-19: Federal Efforts Could Be Strengthened by Timely and Concerted Actions

32 min read
<div>In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses. However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges. GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible. GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response: Medical Supply Chain The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies. However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations: HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain. HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure). Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine Note: See figure 5 in the report. As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. COVID-19 Data Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations. In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices. Economic Impact Payments The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP. Coronavirus Relief Fund The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation. Guidance for K-12 Schools State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation. Tracking Contract Obligations Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential. Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.</div>

What GAO Found

In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses.

However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges.

GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible.

GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response:

Medical Supply Chain

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies.

However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations:

  • HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain.
  • HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic.
  • HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs.

Vaccines and Therapeutics

Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure).

Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine

Note: See figure 5 in the report.

As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

COVID-19 Data

Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations.

In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices.

Economic Impact Payments

The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP.

Coronavirus Relief Fund

The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation.

Guidance for K-12 Schools

State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation.

Tracking Contract Obligations

Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential.

Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses

Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation.

For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.

News Network

  • Justice Department Solicits Public Comments on Possible Regulatory Modifications to Foreign Agents Registration Act
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice is issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in the Federal Register to seek public comment to help inform the Department’s decision-making prior to its issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
    [Read More…]
  • Georgia Dog-Fighting Trainer and Breeder Sentenced to Five Years in Prison  
    In Crime News
    A well-known dog-fighting trainer and breeder, who owned Cane Valley Kennels, was sentenced to the statutory maximum of five years in prison resulting from an investigation into a significant multi-state dog-fighting and cocaine trafficking ring.
    [Read More…]
  • District Court Orders Puerto Rico Companies to Cease Importation of Dangerous Children’s Products
    In Crime News
    A federal court permanently enjoined Puerto Rican companies Pharmacare Inc., China District PR LLC, as well as their owner, Juan Reynoso, from importing children’s toys and other consumer products that violate the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) among other laws.
    [Read More…]
  • Financial Audit: Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s FY 2021 and FY 2020 Schedules of Federal Debt
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO found (1) the Bureau of the Fiscal Service's Schedules of Federal Debt for fiscal years 2021 and 2020 are fairly presented in all material respects, and (2) although internal controls could be improved, Fiscal Service maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedule of Federal Debt as of September 30, 2021. GAO's tests of selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements related to the Schedule of Federal Debt disclosed no instances of reportable noncompliance for fiscal year 2021. Although Fiscal Service made some progress in addressing previously reported control deficiencies, unresolved information system control deficiencies continued to represent a significant deficiency in Fiscal Service's internal control over financial reporting, which although not a material weakness, is important enough to merit attention by those charged with governance of Fiscal Service. From fiscal year 1997, GAO's first year auditing the schedules, through September 30, 2021, total federal debt managed by Fiscal Service has increased from $5.4 trillion to $28.4 trillion, and the debt limit has been raised 21 times. Total Federal Debt Outstanding, September 30, 1997, through September 30, 2021 During fiscal year 2021, total federal debt increased by $1.5 trillion, with debt held by the public increasing by $1.3 trillion, and intragovernmental debt holdings increasing by $0.2 trillion. The main factor for the increase in debt held by the public was the reported $2.8 trillion federal deficit in fiscal year 2021, which was due primarily to economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 and federal spending in response. The increase in debt held by the public was less than the deficit primarily because of a $1.6 trillion decrease in the government's cash balance. Due to delays in raising the debt limit during fiscal year 2021, the Department of the Treasury deviated from its normal debt management operations and took extraordinary actions—consistent with relevant laws—to avoid exceeding the debt limit. Delays in raising the debt limit have created disruptions in the Treasury market and increased borrowing costs. To improve federal debt management and place the government on a sustainable long-term fiscal path, GAO has previously suggested that Congress consider establishing a long-term plan that includes alternative approaches to the debt limit, and fiscal rules and targets. Why GAO Did This Study GAO audits the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. Because of the significance of the federal debt to the government-wide financial statements, GAO audits Fiscal Service's Schedules of Federal Debt annually to determine whether, in all material respects, (1) the schedules are fairly presented and (2) Fiscal Service management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedule of Federal Debt. Further, GAO tests compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements related to the Schedule of Federal Debt. Federal debt managed by Fiscal Service consists of Treasury securities held by the public and by certain federal government accounts, referred to as intragovernmental debt holdings. Debt held by the public primarily represents the amount the federal government has borrowed to finance cumulative cash deficits and is held by investors outside of the federal government—including individuals, corporations, state or local governments, the Federal Reserve, and foreign governments. Intragovernmental debt holdings represent balances of Treasury securities held by federal government accounts—primarily federal trust funds such as Social Security and Medicare—that typically have an obligation to invest their excess annual receipts (including interest earnings) over disbursements in federal securities. In commenting on a draft of this report, Fiscal Service concurred with GAO's conclusions. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Cooler Production Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with Igloo Products Corp., a company that produces coolers, jugs and hydration products, based in Katy, Texas.
    [Read More…]
  • North Macedonia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Joins Computational Antitrust Project at Stanford Law School
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it will participate in the Computational Antitrust project, hosted by the Stanford University CodeX Center and created by Professor Thibault Schrepel. The project brings together academics from law, computer science, and economics as well as developers, policymakers, and antitrust agencies from around the world to discuss how technology and automation can improve antitrust enforcement.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Bud Hedinger of Good Morning Orlando on WFLA Orlando
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Lab Owner Pleads Guilty to $6.9 Million Genetic Testing & COVID-19 Testing Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Florida man pleaded guilty today in the Southern District of Florida to a $6.9 million conspiracy to defraud Medicare by paying kickbacks and bribes to obtain doctors’ orders for medically unnecessary lab tests that were then billed to Medicare. The defendant exploited the COVID-19 pandemic by bundling COVID-19 testing with other forms of testing that patients did not need, including genetic testing and tests for rare respiratory pathogens.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Visit of Johns Hopkins Anomalous Health Incident Medical Care Operations
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Veterans’ Disability Benefits: Processing of Claims Continues to Present Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, House Veterans' Affairs Committee, asked GAO to discuss its recent work related to the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) disability claims and appeals processing. GAO has reported and testified on this subject on numerous occasions. GAO's work has addressed VA's efforts to improve the timeliness of decisions on claims and appeals and VA's efforts to reduce backlogs.VA continues to face challenges in improving service delivery to veterans, specifically speeding up the process of adjudication and appeal, and reducing the existing backlog of claims. For example, as of the end of fiscal year 2006, rating-related compensation claims were pending an average of 127 days, 16 days more than at the end of fiscal year 2003. During the same period, the inventory of rating-related claims grew by almost half, in part because of increased filing of claims, including those filed by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Meanwhile, appeals resolution remains a lengthy process, taking an average of 657 days in fiscal year 2006. However, several factors may limit VA's ability to make and sustain significant improvements in its claims-processing performance, including the potential impacts of laws and court decisions, continued increases in the number and complexity of claims being filed, and difficulties in obtaining the evidence needed to decide claims in a timely manner, such as military service records. VA is taking steps to address these problems. For example, the President's fiscal year 2008 budget requests an increase of over 450 full-time equivalent employees to process compensation claims. VA is also working to improve appeals timeliness by reducing appeals remanded for further work. While VA is taking actions to address its claims-processing challenges, opportunities for significant performance improvement may lie in more fundamental reform of VA's disability compensation program. This could include reexamining program design such as updating the disability criteria to reflect the current state of science, medicine, technology, and labor market conditions. It could also include examining the structure and division of labor among field offices.
    [Read More…]
  • 2019 END Wildlife Trafficking Report
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    Bureau of Oceans and [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – July 16, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Jalina Porter, Principal [Read More…]
  • French Polynesia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel [Read More…]
  • Republic of Korea’s National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Veterans Health Care: Addressing High Risk Concerns for Oversight and Accountability Are Key to Ensuring Quality of Care and Patient Safety
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's work has identified a range of concerns with the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) oversight and accountability of its health care system, including those related to quality of care and patient safety. Since GAO added VA health care to its High-Risk List in 2015, GAO has made 131 recommendations related to VA's oversight and accountability, almost half of all GAO's recommendations for VA health care. Recent examples of quality of care and patient safety recommendations include the following: VA has faced challenges in ensuring that its providers deliver safe and effective care to veterans. In February 2021, GAO identified 227providers that had been removed from VA employment but were potentially providing care in a community care network. GAO recommended that VA take actions to assess and address the situation.VA implemented this recommendation by reviewing and excluding 155providers from participating in VA's community care networks. In recent years, there have been reports of veterans dying by suicide on VA campuses—in locations such as inpatient settings, parking lots, and on the grounds of VA cemeteries. In September 2020, GAO found that VA lacks accurate information on the number of suicides and comprehensive analyses of the underlying causes. While VA agreed with two of GAO's recommendations to address these issues, VA still needs to provide documentation of key actions taken by the committee it established to improve its understanding of on-campus suicides. In June 2019, GAO found that VA's oversight of its regional health care networks was limited. GAO recommended that VA develop a process for assessing the overall performance of its networks to be able to better determine if a network's performance is positive, if it is functioning poorly, or if it requires remediation. While VA concurred with GAO's recommendation, VA still needs to provide documentation of the process developed to assess the overall performance of these networks in managing medical centers. Since the last high-risk update in March 2021, VA has taken steps to address some of the oversight and accountability concerns identified by GAO. In May 2021, VA published a revised high-risk action plan for addressing VA health care concerns. However, VA is still in the beginning stages of developing its plan to address root causes such as a fragmented oversight and accountability infrastructure and will need clearly defined metrics to ensure it is effective. Fully addressing oversight and accountability concerns also requires sustained leadership attention as well as leadership stability. However, the Under Secretary for Health position responsible for managing VA health care has not had permanent leadership since January 2017. While VA takes steps to address its needed transformation, it should continue to implement recommendations GAO has made in the oversight and accountability area, given the number of these similar types of recommendations and the need to ensure quality of care and patient safety. Why GAO Did This Study VA operates one of the nation's largest health care systems. GAO's work, along with that of VA's Office of Inspector General and others, has cited longstanding issues with VA's oversight of its health care system. In 2015, GAO added VA health care to its High-Risk List, in which one broad area of concern was inadequate oversight and accountability. In its latest high-risk update in March 2021, GAO noted continued concern over VA's ability to ensure the safety and protection of patients and staff, as well as to oversee its programs. This statement describes the oversight and accountability issues GAO's work has identified related to quality care and patient safety, and the status of VA's efforts to address its high-risk designation. This statement is based on GAO's body of work in this area. GAO’s Fiscal Year 2021 Rating for the Inadequate Oversight and Accountability Area For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Virginia Return Preparer Convicted of Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal jury in Newport News, Virginia, convicted Karl Burden-El Bey (aka Carl L. Burden) Friday of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, theft of government funds and failing to file federal income tax returns.
    [Read More…]
  • Brooklyn Federal Jury Convicts U.S. Citizen of Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS
    In Crime News
    Earlier today, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Bernard Raymond Augustine, a U.S. citizen and California resident, of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS” or “the Islamic State”). The verdict followed a one-week trial before U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. When sentenced, Augustine faces up to 20 years in prison.
    [Read More…]
  • Maine Man Sentenced for Federal Hate Crime Convictions
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced the sentencing of Maurice Diggins, 36, of Biddeford, Maine, in federal court for his role in a series of racially motivated assaults against black men in Maine.
    [Read More…]

Crime

Network News © 2005 Area.Control.Network™ All rights reserved.