January 29, 2022

News

News Network

Disaster Response: Agencies Should Assess Contracting Workforce Needs and Purchase Card Fraud Risk

11 min read
<div>The efforts of selected agencies to plan for disaster contracting activities and assess contracting workforce needs varied. The U.S. Forest Service initiated efforts to address its disaster response contracting workforce needs while three agencies—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Coast Guard, and Department of the Interior (DOI)—partially addressed these needs. The Environmental Protection Agency indicated it did not have concerns fulfilling its disaster contracting responsibilities. Specifically, GAO found the following: USACE assigned clear roles and responsibilities for disaster response contracting activities, but has not formally assessed its contracting workforce to determine if it can fulfill these roles. The Coast Guard has a process to assess its workforce needs, but it does not account for contracting for disaster response activities. DOI is developing a strategic acquisition plan and additional guidance for its bureaus on how to structure their contracting functions, but currently does not account for disaster contracting responsibilities. Contracting officials at all three of these agencies identified challenges executing their regular responsibilities along with their disaster-related responsibilities during the 2017 and 2018 hurricane and wildfire seasons. For example, Coast Guard contracting officials stated they have fallen increasingly behind since 2017 and that future disaster response missions would not be sustainable with their current workforce. GAO's strategic workforce planning principles call for agencies to determine the critical skills and competencies needed to achieve future programmatic results. Without accounting for disaster response contracting activities in workforce planning, these agencies are missing opportunities to ensure their contracting workforces are equipped to respond to future disasters. The five agencies GAO reviewed from above, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), collectively spent more than $20 million for 2017 and 2018 disaster response activities using purchase cards. GAO found that two of these six agencies—Forest Service and EPA—have not completed fraud risk profiles for their purchase card programs that align with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Additionally, five of the six agencies have not assessed or documented how their fraud risk for purchase card use might differ in a disaster response environment. DOI completed such an assessment during the course of our review. An Office of Management and Budget memorandum requires agencies to complete risk profiles for their purchase card programs that include fraud risk. GAO's Fraud Risk Framework states managers should assess fraud risk regularly and document those assessments in risk profiles. The framework also states that risk profiles may differ in the context of disaster response when managers may have a higher fraud risk tolerance since individuals in these environments have an urgent need for products and services. Without assessing fraud risk for purchase card programs or how risk may change in a disaster response environment, agencies may not design or implement effective internal controls, such as search criteria to identify fraudulent transactions. The 2017 and 2018 hurricanes and California wildfires affected millions of people and caused billions of dollars in damages. Extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and intense due to climate change. Federal contracts for goods and services play a key role in disaster response and recovery, and government purchase cards can be used by agency staff to buy needed items. GAO was asked to review federal response and recovery efforts related to recent disasters. This report examines the extent to which selected agencies planned for their disaster response contracting activities, assessed their contracting workforce needs, and assessed the fraud risk related to their use of purchase cards for disaster response. GAO selected six agencies based on contract obligations for 2017 and 2018 disasters; analyzed federal procurement and agency data; reviewed agencies' policies on workforce planning, purchase card use, and fraud risk; and analyzed purchase card data. FEMA was not included in the examination of workforce planning due to prior GAO work. GAO is making 12 recommendations, including to three agencies to assess disaster response contracting needs in workforce planning, and to five agencies to assess fraud risk for purchase card use in support of disaster response. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or makm@gao.gov.</div>

What GAO Found

The efforts of selected agencies to plan for disaster contracting activities and assess contracting workforce needs varied. The U.S. Forest Service initiated efforts to address its disaster response contracting workforce needs while three agencies—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Coast Guard, and Department of the Interior (DOI)—partially addressed these needs. The Environmental Protection Agency indicated it did not have concerns fulfilling its disaster contracting responsibilities. Specifically, GAO found the following:

USACE assigned clear roles and responsibilities for disaster response contracting activities, but has not formally assessed its contracting workforce to determine if it can fulfill these roles.

The Coast Guard has a process to assess its workforce needs, but it does not account for contracting for disaster response activities.

DOI is developing a strategic acquisition plan and additional guidance for its bureaus on how to structure their contracting functions, but currently does not account for disaster contracting responsibilities.

Contracting officials at all three of these agencies identified challenges executing their regular responsibilities along with their disaster-related responsibilities during the 2017 and 2018 hurricane and wildfire seasons. For example, Coast Guard contracting officials stated they have fallen increasingly behind since 2017 and that future disaster response missions would not be sustainable with their current workforce. GAO’s strategic workforce planning principles call for agencies to determine the critical skills and competencies needed to achieve future programmatic results. Without accounting for disaster response contracting activities in workforce planning, these agencies are missing opportunities to ensure their contracting workforces are equipped to respond to future disasters.

The five agencies GAO reviewed from above, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), collectively spent more than $20 million for 2017 and 2018 disaster response activities using purchase cards. GAO found that two of these six agencies—Forest Service and EPA—have not completed fraud risk profiles for their purchase card programs that align with leading practices in GAO’s Fraud Risk Framework. Additionally, five of the six agencies have not assessed or documented how their fraud risk for purchase card use might differ in a disaster response environment. DOI completed such an assessment during the course of our review. An Office of Management and Budget memorandum requires agencies to complete risk profiles for their purchase card programs that include fraud risk. GAO’s Fraud Risk Framework states managers should assess fraud risk regularly and document those assessments in risk profiles. The framework also states that risk profiles may differ in the context of disaster response when managers may have a higher fraud risk tolerance since individuals in these environments have an urgent need for products and services. Without assessing fraud risk for purchase card programs or how risk may change in a disaster response environment, agencies may not design or implement effective internal controls, such as search criteria to identify fraudulent transactions.

Why GAO Did This Study

The 2017 and 2018 hurricanes and California wildfires affected millions of people and caused billions of dollars in damages. Extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and intense due to climate change. Federal contracts for goods and services play a key role in disaster response and recovery, and government purchase cards can be used by agency staff to buy needed items.

GAO was asked to review federal response and recovery efforts related to recent disasters. This report examines the extent to which selected agencies planned for their disaster response contracting activities, assessed their contracting workforce needs, and assessed the fraud risk related to their use of purchase cards for disaster response.

GAO selected six agencies based on contract obligations for 2017 and 2018 disasters; analyzed federal procurement and agency data; reviewed agencies’ policies on workforce planning, purchase card use, and fraud risk; and analyzed purchase card data. FEMA was not included in the examination of workforce planning due to prior GAO work.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making 12 recommendations, including to three agencies to assess disaster response contracting needs in workforce planning, and to five agencies to assess fraud risk for purchase card use in support of disaster response.

For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or makm@gao.gov.

News Network

  • Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month 
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Defense Budget: DOD Has Adopted Practices to Manage Within the Constraints of Continuing Resolutions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO found that the Department of Defense (DOD) and the military services' obligations and acquisitions are limited during a Continuing Resolution (CR), but they have some practices in place to minimize the effects. Specifically, GAO found that for selected appropriations' accounts for fiscal years 2017 through 2020, the military services tended to obligate, (i.e., make a legal commitment to pay for goods or services), a lower percentage of their total annual obligations in the first quarter of the fiscal year—when DOD is most likely to be operating under a CR—as compared with the other quarters (see figure). Military Services' Average Obligations by Quarter of Operation and Maintenance Appropriations, Fiscal Years 2017–2020 Note: Percentages may not add due to rounding. Although DOD officials reported acquisitions were constrained by CR provisions that restrict starting new programs and production rate increases, the programs GAO reviewed were able to avoid delays or cost increases during the fiscal years with CRs. The military services have instituted some practices to minimize the effects of CRs, including initiating service contract start dates after the first quarter of the fiscal year and postponing nonessential purchases and training to later in the fiscal year. DOD officials stated both that the repetition and incremental planning required during a CR is not an effective or efficient way to operate, but that preparing for and operating under CRs have become routine in nature. GAO identified three activities directly related to preparing for and operating under CRs—developing legislative anomaly proposals (i.e., requests for authority beyond the standard CR provisions), creating spending plans for various CR scenarios, and adjusting contracts to reflect CR funding availability. DOD civilian hiring generally slowed during CRs. GAO's analysis of DOD civilian hiring data from fiscal year 2017 through 2020 found that, on average, fewer civilian personnel were hired per day during CRs than during non-CR periods. For fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2020, DOD hired on average about 200 civilians per day during CR periods as compared with about 250 people per day during non-CR periods. Why GAO Did This Study For 11 of the past 12 fiscal years, DOD has operated under a CR for some part of the fiscal year. CRs provide funding for agencies to continue operating when Congress has not enacted its regular appropriation acts before the beginning of the new fiscal year. From fiscal years 2010 through 2021—with the exception of fiscal year 2019 during which there was no CR—DOD has operated under CRs ranging from 76 to 216 days. DOD officials have stated publicly that delays in knowing when and how much funding will ultimately be available for the fiscal year hampers the military services' ability to accomplish key mission requirements and carry out management functions. The conference report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review the effects of CRs on DOD. This report examines, among other things, (1) the effects of constraints on the military services' spending and acquisitions during CRs, and what practices they use to minimize these effects; (2) how DOD personnel prepare for and operate under CRs; and (3) DOD's hiring of civilian personnel during CRs. GAO reviewed DOD's CRs, the military services' quarterly obligation reports, and DOD civilian personnel hiring data for fiscal years 2017 through 2020; obtained information from DOD and military service financial management officials; and interviewed officials from a nongeneralizable sample of major defense acquisition programs and other defense organizations. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or FieldE1@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN en Espanol
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Valley drug trafficking organizer gets life in prison
    In Justice News
    A 40-year-old resident [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Rene Pfister of Der Spiegel
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Nuclear Waste Disposal: Actions Needed to Enable DOE Decision That Could Save Tens of Billions of Dollars
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Several potential options exist for disposing of grouted supplemental low-activity waste (LAW) from the Department of Energy's (DOE) Hanford site. (Grout immobilizes waste in a concrete-like mixture.) Specifically, two commercial and two federal facilities present minimal technical challenges to accepting grouted LAW. The commercial facilities—Clive Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility in Utah and Waste Control Specialists in Texas—are licensed to receive similar waste. The federal facilities—Hanford's Integrated Disposal Facility and the Nevada National Security Site—face regulatory constraints and other challenges to disposing of grouted supplemental LAW. Disposal costs and health and environmental risks vary among the four potential disposal facilities, but disposing of Hanford's supplemental LAW as grouted waste could cost billions less than disposing of it as vitrified waste, which is DOE's current plan. (Vitrification immobilizes the waste in glass.) DOE estimated that vitrification and disposal of the waste would cost between $21 billion and $37 billion. GAO estimated grouting and disposal would cost between $11 billion and $13 billion (see figure) and may be faster. DOE has begun exploring how to dispose of grouted Hanford waste, but it has not analyzed a range of options as GAO and DOE best practices recommend. As a result, DOE is likely missing opportunities to reduce risks, expedite treatment, and save tens of billions of dollars. Figure: Estimated Total Costs for Treatment and Disposal of Vitrified and Grouted Supplemental Low-Activity Waste DOE faces legal challenges in selecting a disposal site if it grouts supplemental LAW. For example, before DOE can consider alternatives to vitrification, it must show it can manage Hanford's tank waste as a waste type other than high-level waste (HLW) because it is currently required to vitrify at least a portion of the HLW. DOE is testing alternative treatment and disposal options, but DOE officials told GAO that if they continue with the testing, they expect the effort to be the subject of litigation. Clarifying DOE's authority to manage Hanford's supplemental LAW as low-level waste and transport it outside Washington State for disposal could help save tens of billions of dollars by allowing DOE to pursue less expensive disposal options. Why GAO Did This Study DOE oversees the treatment and disposal of 54 million gallons of nuclear and hazardous waste at the Hanford site in Washington State. Hanford's tank waste is currently managed as HLW; however, more than 90 percent of the waste's volume has low levels of radioactivity. DOE plans to vitrify a portion of Hanford's LAW, but it has not made a decision on how to treat and dispose of the roughly 40 percent referred to as supplemental LAW. In May 2017, GAO found that grouting supplemental LAW could save tens of billions of dollars and reduce certain risks compared to vitrification. However, little is known about disposal options for grouted LAW. GAO examined (1) what potential disposal options exist for grouted supplemental LAW, (2) what is known about the costs and environmental risks of potential disposal facilities and the extent to which DOE has assessed them, and (3) the challenges DOE faces in selecting a disposal method. GAO reviewed technical reports on DOE's waste disposal strategies at Hanford, compared DOE's approach to best practices, and interviewed DOE officials and disposal facility representatives.
    [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement on the Extended “Troika” on Peaceful Settlement in Afghanistan
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Issues Statement Regarding Decision in Skyworks v. CDC
    In Crime News
    More from: March 12, 2021 [Read More…]
  • Virginia Man Sentenced for Producing Images of Child Sex Abuse
    In Crime News
    A Virginia man was sentenced today in the Eastern District of Virginia to 19 years in prison for the production and distribution of child pornography.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Louisiana Construction Company Owner Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Louisiana man pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the IRS.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Seeks Permanent Injunction Against San Antonio-Area Pharmacist for Controlled Substances Act Violations
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a civil complaint today seeking to permanently enjoin the owner of a San Antonio-area pharmacy from unlawfully dispensing opioids and other controlled substances.
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Announces Department-Wide Policy on Chokeholds and ‘No-Knock’ Entries
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced written department-wide policies explicitly prohibiting the use of “chokeholds” and  “carotid restraints” unless deadly force is authorized, and limiting the circumstances in which the department’s federal law enforcement components are authorized to use unannounced entries. The announcement follows a review with the department’s law enforcement agencies led by Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.  
    [Read More…]
  • Lebanon National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • 7 Things to Know About the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission
    In Space
    NASA’s next rover [Read More…]
  • Counselor Chollet’s Meeting with NUG Representatives
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Freedom of Information Act: Actions Needed to Improve Agency Compliance with Proactive Disclosure Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 expanded the requirement for agencies to proactively disclose certain records—making the records publicly available without waiting for specific requests. Of the three agencies GAO reviewed—Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Health Administration (VHA)—only VHA aligned its policies and procedures with applicable Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) proactive disclosure requirements. Although FAA officials stated that the agency has processes to identify and post proactive disclosures, it has not documented these processes. HUD has FOIA regulations, updated in 2017, that address proactive disclosure, but its standard operating procedures have outdated sections that do not reflect statutory requirements. GAO also found that HUD, VHA, and FAA did not fully comply with the statutory reporting requirements and Department of Justice's (DOJ) guidance to accurately report proactive disclosures. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires agencies to report the number of records the FOIA and program offices proactively disclosed each fiscal year. From fiscal years 2017 through 2019, HUD incorrectly reported zero proactive disclosures, while VHA and FAA did not track and report all required categories of proactive disclosures in fiscal year 2019 (see table). Selected Agencies' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Offices' Reported Proactive Disclosures Fiscal year Federal Aviation Administration Housing and Urban Development Veterans Health Administration 2019 8 0 16 2018 89,687 0 0 2017 90,486 0 58 2016 68,046 12 0 Source: FOIA.gov. | GAO-21-254 DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP) is responsible for encouraging agencies' compliance with FOIA, including overseeing the Annual FOIA Report that agencies submit to OIP. OIP told GAO that it asked agencies that report zero proactive disclosures to confirm that this was accurate, but it did not follow up with these agencies. For example, OIP asked HUD officials to confirm that HUD intentionally reported zero proactive disclosures, but did not ask why HUD had zero proactive disclosures. In addition, GAO's review of annual FOIA data found that 25 of 118 agencies reported zero proactive disclosures in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. OIP said that agencies with a low volume of requests may have fewer records to proactively disclose. However, by not following up with agencies that report zero proactive disclosures, OIP is not using an available tool that may strengthen its efforts to encourage agencies to make required disclosures. OIP and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)'s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) officials stated that making proactive disclosures accessible is a challenge for agencies. To assist agencies in addressing such challenges, OGIS periodically reviews agencies' compliance with FOIA and recently issued a report that included strategies for making proactive disclosures accessible. Why GAO Did This Study FOIA, enacted into law more than 50 years ago, requires federal agencies to provide the public with access to government records and information, including through proactive disclosures. FOIA proactive disclosures enhance transparency by ensuring that certain information about the operations and activities of the government is publicly available. GAO was asked to review federal agencies' efforts to implement FOIA requirements regarding proactive disclosures. This report assesses the extent to which selected agencies (1) aligned their policies and procedures with FOIA requirements, and (2) tracked and reported these disclosures. GAO also assessed the effectiveness of the tools, resources, and oversight provided by DOJ and NARA to address known challenges to agencies' FOIA compliance. GAO selected three agencies—FAA, HUD, and VHA—that reflect, among other things, a range in the agency-reported number of FOIA requests received and records proactively disclosed. GAO reviewed DOJ, NARA, FAA, HUD, and VHA documents and interviewed agency officials.
    [Read More…]
  • Cambodia National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against Village of Hinsdale, Illinois Under Fair Housing Act
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the Village of Hinsdale, Illinois, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.  
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Defense: Eating Disorders in the Military
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) screens for eating disorders for all applicants entering into the military but does not specifically screen servicemembers for eating disorders after entrance. However, after joining the military, servicemembers receive annual health screenings, and medical personnel may be able to diagnose eating disorders during in-person physical exams. Service branch behavioral health specialists told GAO that DOD medical personnel are trained to notice signs of eating disorders, such as changes in vital signs and emaciated appearance. DOD is examining ways to improve its screening of eating disorders in the military and recently expanded the available research funding for eating disorders in its Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP). DOD provides health care services to approximately 9.5 million eligible beneficiaries, including services to treat those diagnosed with eating disorders, through TRICARE, DOD’s regionally structured health care system. Servicemembers can obtain these services at military treatment facilities—referred to as direct care—or receive care purchased from civilian providers—referred to as purchased care. DOD officials told us that the specialized level of care necessary to treat eating disorders is available to TRICARE beneficiaries through purchased care, rather than direct care. The Defense Health Agency (DHA), which oversees the TRICARE program, uses two contractors to develop regional provider networks. According to the two TRICARE contractors’ data for purchased care, as of spring 2020, there were 166 eating disorder facilities located in 32 states throughout the country and the District of Columbia. The facilities vary by geographic location, population served, and level of treatment provided: Geography: About half of the 166 facilities (79) are located in the following five states: California (24), Florida (18), Illinois (15), Texas (13), and Virginia (nine).  Population: Of the 166 eating disorder facilities, over three-quarters provide treatment to both adult (132 facilities) and child and adolescent (132 facilities) populations. Level of Treatment: Most facilities provide inpatient hospitalization programs, which are for serious cases requiring medical stabilization (81 facilities); partial hospitalization, which are day programs providing treatment 5 to 7 days a week (133 facilities); or intensive outpatient programs, which are treatment programs providing therapy 2 to 6 days a week (107 facilities). About one-fifth of the facilities (35) provide residential treatment services, which are living accommodations providing intensive therapy and 24-hour supervision. TRICARE contractors have met with some challenges entering into contracts with eating disorder treatment facilities in certain areas of the country, according to DHA officials and both contractors. However, both contractors told GAO they consider it their responsibility to ensure beneficiaries receive the care they need regardless of the location of the facility. No access-to-care complaints related to eating disorder treatment were reported by TRICARE beneficiaries, according to the most recent DHA data for years 2018 through 2019. Eating disorders are complex conditions affecting millions of Americans and involve dangerous eating behaviors, such as the restriction of food intake. They can have a severe impact on heart, stomach, and brain functionality, and they significantly raise the risk of mortality. Many with eating disorders also experience co-occurring conditions such as depression. Research has yielded a range of estimates of the number of servicemembers with an eating disorder, due to differences in research methods. For example, a 2018 DOD study concluded that servicemembers likely experienced eating disorders at rates that are comparable to rates in the general population, while other survey-based research suggested the number of servicemembers with eating disorders may be higher than those with a medical diagnoses of such disorders. The potential effects that eating disorders can have on the health and combat readiness of servicemembers and their dependents underscores the importance of screening and treating this population. GAO was asked to provide information on eating disorders among servicemembers and their dependents. To describe how DOD screens for eating disorders among servicemembers, GAO reviewed DOD policies related to health screening and interviewed behavioral health specialists from the military branches. To understand approaches and challenges with implementing screening in a military environment, any planned or ongoing DOD-sponsored research related to this topic, and available eating disorder treatment, GAO interviewed representatives from the Eating Disorder Coalition, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and the University of Kansas. To describe how DOD provides eating disorder treatment to servicemembers and their dependents, GAO interviewed DHA officials and TRICARE contractors and reviewed the TRICARE policy manual to identify the types of eating disorder diagnoses and treatments that are covered through direct and purchased care. GAO received data from the two TRICARE contractors related to the availability of eating disorder treatment services as of spring 2020. For more information, contact Sharon Silas at (202) 512-7114 or Silass@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Repeat Child Sex Offender Sentenced to 108 Months in Prison for Attempted Sex Abuse in Vietnam
    In Crime News
    A U.S. citizen residing outside the United States was sentenced today to 108 months in prison for attempting to molest an 11-year-old boy in Vietnam.
    [Read More…]

Crime

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