Office of the Spokesperson
The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), a leading organization representing the business and professional interests of consulting engineering firms in the United States, honored the new U.S. Embassy in Pristina, Kosovo, as a 2020 Grand Award Winner in the Engineering Excellence category.
The ACEC awards jury recognized the project’s cutting-edge approach to waste-water management and energy conservation. An example of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ (OBO) resilient and sustainable projects, cost-effective measures were taken that allowed for annual energy and water savings of roughly 40% and 90%, respectively. These measures included the use of daylight harvesting, solar water heaters, rainwater harvesting, the installation of an optimized building envelope, and the construction of an on-site wastewater treatment plant. The on-site wastewater treatment plant does double duty, keeping the Embassy self-sufficient and recycling graywater which is treated for use on the site and in the building. The large water feature provides water storage and serves as a heat sink for the ground-sourced heat pump, reducing the energy needed to heat or cool the building year-round. Altogether, the Embassy has achieved nearly net-zero water capability for the entire campus.
The U.S. Embassy was recognized alongside other complex projects that represent some of the most innovative in the engineering industry. ACEC presented the awards at this year’s Engineering Excellence Awards Virtual Gala on December 1. Mason and Hanger, the architectural and engineering firm that submitted the project for consideration, continues to showcase OBO’s dedication to innovation in the field of engineering, stewardship, security, and resilience. The project was designed by Davis Brody Bond of New York and constructed by BL Harbert International of Alabama.
Since the start of the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program in 1999, OBO has completed 164 new diplomatic facilities. OBO currently has more than 50 active projects either in design or under construction worldwide.
OBO provides safe, secure, functional, and resilient facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and that support U.S. diplomats in advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives abroad.
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- Cancellation of the Army’s Autonomous Navigation SystemBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO FoundAlmost all ANS hardware and most software development were completed prior to its cancellation, according to the Army and GDRS. The software for the most advanced capabilities was not completed, which potentially presented the greatest complexities. GDRS had demonstrated many of ANSs capabilities to some extent, including its capability to avoid obstacles and follow a leading vehicle through varying terrain. ANS had not yet progressed to the independent testing phase, however. In cancelling ANS and MM-UGV, the Army estimated that approximately $2.5 billion in planned funding for fiscal years 2013 to 2017 could be made available for other Army efforts. According to Army officials, the government owns the work completed on ANS to date.To compare ANS to other alternatives, the Army engaged a team (the Red Team) to perform a functional comparison of the demonstrated capabilities of ANS and six other military and commercial systems. The Red Team, comprised of robotics experts with prior knowledge of the systems, found that ANS did not provide a unique capability relative to the other systems evaluated with respect to basic navigation functionality. However, the Red Team noted that ANS was designed for and had demonstrated capabilities for operating in an off-road environment, unlike some of the other systems. The Red Team, which had previously witnessed demonstrations of some of the systems, did not conduct field evaluations for the study due to time constraints, nor did the team rely on testing data and reports on the different systems.DOD has not validated a requirement for a UGV with an ANS-like capability using the traditional requirement processes, despite attempts to do so. On the other hand, urgent needs statements from battlefield commanders indicate some desire for unmanned ground capabilitiesespecially in countering IEDs. Several efforts have been underway to address these urgent needs, but nothing has yet resulted in a full scale development program.Why GAO Did This StudyThe Army intended the Autonomous Navigation System (ANS) to enable ground robotic vehicles to partially drive and navigate themselves and to do so in remote areas with difficult terrain, by integrating sensors, processors, and software. Initially, the Army was developing the system as part of manned and unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) that were part of the Armys Future Combat System (FCS) program. But after the cancellation of various FCS vehicles beginning in 2009, the Army planned to couple ANS with the yet-to-be developed Multi-Mission Unmanned Ground Vehicle (MM-UGV), which among many uses was intended to counter roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices (IED) in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Dynamics Robotic Systems (GDRS) was the contractor for ANS.The Army made considerable effort to develop and validate a requirement for the MM-UGV and ANS; however, both were cancelled in 2011. With the cancellation of these efforts, Congress expressed interest in the impact on Army future autonomous unmanned ground capabilities. In response, we examined:To what extent did the Army demonstrate ANS capabilities prior to cancellation?What methods did the Army use to compare ANS to commercially available and other alternatives, particularly in the area of field demonstrations?To what extent does a validated requirement exist for this capability, and how does it fit in with other UGV initiatives?For more information, contact Belva Martin at (202) 512-4841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Afghanistan Development: USAID Continues to Face Challenges in Managing and Overseeing U.S. Development Assistance ProgramsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021This testimony discusses oversight of U.S. assistance programs in Afghanistan. Strengthening the Afghan economy through development assistance efforts is critical to the counterinsurgency strategy and a key part of the U.S Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan. Since fiscal year 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded over $11.5 billion in support of development assistance programs in Afghanistan. Since 2003, GAO has issued several reports and testimonies related to U.S. security, governance, and development efforts in Afghanistan. In addition to reviewing program planning and implementation, we have focused on efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of the U.S. investment, which are essential to reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. Over the course of this work, we have identified improvements that were needed, as well as many obstacles that have affected success and should be considered in program management and oversight. While drawing on past work relating to U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan, this testimony focuses on findings in our most recent report released yesterday on the USAID's management and oversight of its agricultural programs in Afghanistan. It will address (1) the challenges the United States faces in managing and overseeing development programs in Afghanistan; and (2) the extent to which USAID has followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures.Various factors challenge U.S. efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan. Among the most significant has been the "high-threat" working environment, the difficulties in preserving institutional knowledge due to the lack of a formal mechanism for retaining and sharing information during staff turnover, and the Afghan government ministries' lack of capacity and corruption challenges. USAID has taken some steps to assess and begin addressing the limited capacity and corruption challenges associated with Afghan ministries. In addition, USAID has established performance management and evaluation procedures for managing and overseeing its assistance programs. These procedures, among other things, require (1) the development of a Mission Performance Management Plan (PMP); (2) the establishment and approval of implementing partner performance indicators and targets; and (3) analyses and use of performance data. Although USAID disseminated alternative monitoring methods for projects in high-threat environments such as Afghanistan, USAID has generally required the same performance management and evaluation procedures in Afghanistan as it does in other countries in which it operates. Summary USAID has not consistently followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures. There were various areas in which the USAID Mission to Afghanistan (Mission) needed to improve upon. In particular, we found that the Mission had been operating without an approved PMP to guide its management and oversight efforts after 2008. In addition, while implementing partners have routinely reported on the progress of USAID's programs, we found that USAID did not always approve the performance indicators these partners were using, and that USAID did not ensure, as its procedures require, that its implementing partners establish targets for each performance indicator. For example, only 2 of 7 USAID-funded agricultural programs active during fiscal year 2009, included in our review, had targets for all of their indicators. We also found that USAID could improve its assessment and use of performance data submitted by implementing partners or program evaluations to, among other things, help identify strengths or weaknesses of ongoing or completed programs. Moreover, USAID needs to improve documentation of its programmatic decisions and put mechanisms in place for program managers to transfer knowledge to their successors. Finally, USAID has not fully addressed the risks of relying on contractor staff to perform inherently governmental tasks, such as awarding and administering grants. In the absence of consistent application of its existing performance management and evaluation procedures, USAID programs are more vulnerable to corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. We reported in 2009 that USAID's failure to adhere to its existing policies severely limited its ability to require expenditure documentation for Afghanistan-related grants that were associated with findings of alleged criminal actions and mismanaged funds. To enhance the performance management of USAID's development assistance programs in Afghanistan, we have recommended, among other things, that the Administrator of USAID take steps to: (1) ensure programs have performance indicators and targets; (2) fully assess and use program data and evaluations to shape current programs and inform future programs; (3) address preservation of institutional knowledge; and (4) improve guidance for the use and management of USAID contractors. USAID concurred with these recommendations, and identified steps the agency is taking to address them. We will continue to monitor and follow up on the implementation of our recommendations.[Read More…]
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Among these disability applicants, wait times for a final decision did not significantly vary by age, sex, or education levels. GAO's analysis of available data from SSA and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) found that from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, about 48,000 individuals filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a final decision on their disability appeals. This represents about 1.3 percent of the approximately 3.6 million disability applicants who filed appeals during those years. The applicants who filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a disability appeals decision were disproportionately female, older, and had more than a high school education as compared to the total population of disability applicants who filed appeals. Bankruptcies among individuals who were awaiting decisions about disability appeals may have been unrelated to the applicant's claimed disability. GAO's analysis of SSA disability administrative data and death data found that of the approximately 9 million disability applicants who filed an appeal from fiscal year 2008 through 2019, 109,725 died prior to receiving a final decision on their appeal. This represents about 1.2 percent of the total number of disability applicants who filed an appeal during those years. The annual death rate of applicants awaiting a final disability decision has increased in recent years. From fiscal years 2011 through 2018, the annual death rate for applicants pursuing appeals increased from 0.52 percent to 0.72 percent. Applicants who filed their initial disability claim during years of peak wait times and appealed their initial decision died at a higher rate while awaiting a final decision than applicants who filed their initial claim in years with shorter wait times. Disability applicants awaiting a final decision about their appeal who were male died at higher rates than applicants who were female and those who were older died at higher rates than those who were younger. Death rates were largely similar across reported education levels. Deaths among individuals who were awaiting decisions about disability appeals may have been unrelated to the applicant's claimed disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages two large disability benefit programs–Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As of December 2019, these programs provided benefits to approximately 12.3 million adults living with disabilities and their eligible dependents. A disability applicant who is dissatisfied with SSA's initial disability determination can appeal the decision to multiple escalating levels of review. From fiscal years 2008 through 2019, SSA received approximately 9 million appeals of initial DI or SSI decisions. GAO has previously reported that applicants who appeal a benefits denial can potentially wait years to receive a final decision, during which time an applicant's health or financial situation could deteriorate. Given the heightened risk of worsening medical and financial conditions for disability applicants, GAO was asked to examine the incidence of such events while applicants await a final decision on their disability claim. This report examines the status of disability applicants while they awaited a final benefits decision including 1) their total wait times across all levels of disability appeals within SSA, 2) their incidence of bankruptcy, and 3) their incidence of death. For wait times, bankruptcies, and deaths, GAO also examined variations across certain demographic characteristics of applicants. GAO obtained administrative data from SSA for all adult disability applicants from fiscal years 2008 through 2019 who filed an appeal to their initial disability determination. GAO used these data to calculate wait times across appeals levels, rates of approvals and denials, and appeals caseloads, and examined changes in these three areas over time. To describe the incidence of bankruptcy among individuals awaiting a disability appeals decision, GAO matched SSA disability data to AOUSC bankruptcy data for fiscal years 2014 through 2019. To describe the incidence of death among individuals awaiting a disability appeals decision, GAO matched the disability data to SSA's Death Master File. For all of these analyses, GAO also examined variations across demographic characteristics of applicants, including age, sex, and reported education level. GAO also reviewed relevant policies, federal laws and regulations, and agency publications, and interviewed agency officials. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or CurdaE@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Contingency Contracting: Observations on Actions Needed to Address Systemic ChallengesBy Sam NewsAugust 23, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) obligated about $367 billion in fiscal year 2010 to acquire goods and services to meet its mission and support its operations, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO's work, as well as that of others, has documented shortcomings in DOD's strategic and acquisition planning, contract administration and oversight, and acquisition workforce. These are challenges that need to be addressed by DOD and by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as they carry out their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and prepare for future contingencies. Today's statement discusses (1) contract management challenges faced by DOD, including those that take on heightened significance in a contingency environment; (2) actions DOD has taken and those needed to address these challenges; and (3) similar challenges State and USAID face. The statement is drawn from GAO's body of work on DOD contingency contracting, contract management, and workforce, as well as prior reports on State and USAID's contracting and workforce issues.DOD faces a number of longstanding and systemic challenges that hinder its ability to achieve more successful acquisition outcomes--obtaining the right goods and services, at the right time, at the right cost. These challenges include addressing the issues posed by DOD's reliance on contractors, ensuring that DOD personnel use sound contracting approaches, and maintaining a workforce with the skills and capabilities needed to properly manage acquisitions and oversee contractors. The issues encountered with contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan are emblematic of these systemic challenges, though their significance and impact are heightened in a contingency environment. GAO's concerns regarding DOD contracting predate the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO identified DOD contract management as a high-risk area in 1992 and raised concerns in 1997 about DOD's management and use of contractors to support deployed forces in Bosnia. In the years since then, GAO has continued to identify a need for DOD to better manage and oversee its acquisition of services. DOD has recognized the need to address the systemic challenges it faces, including those related to operational contract support. Over the past several years, DOD has announced new policies, guidance, and training initiatives, but not all of these actions have been implemented and their expected benefits have not yet been fully realized. While DOD's actions are steps in the right direction, DOD needs to (1) strategically manage services acquisition, including defining desired outcomes; (2) determine the appropriate mix, roles, and responsibilities of contractor, federal civilian, and military personnel; (3) assess the effectiveness of efforts to address prior weaknesses with specific contracting arrangements and incentives; (4) ensure that its acquisition workforce is adequately sized, trained, and equipped; and (5) fully integrate operational contract support throughout the department through education and predeployment training. In that regard, in June 2010 GAO called for a cultural change in DOD that emphasizes an awareness of operational contract support throughout all aspects of the department. In January 2011, the Secretary of Defense expressed concerns about DOD's current level of dependency on contractors and directed the department to take a number of actions. The Secretary's recognition and directions are significant steps, yet instilling cultural change will require sustained commitment and leadership. State and USAID face contracting challenges similar to DOD's, particularly with regard to planning for and having insight into the roles performed by contractors. In April 2010, GAO reported that State's workforce plan did not address the extent to which contractors should be used to perform specific functions. Similarly, GAO reported that USAID's workforce plan did not contain analyses covering the agency's entire workforce, including contractors. The recently issued Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review recognized the need for State and USAID to rebalance their workforces and directed the agencies to ensure that they have an adequate number of government employees to carry out their core missions and to improve contract administration and oversight. GAO has made multiple recommendations to the agencies to address contracting and workforce challenges. The agencies have generally agreed with the recommendations and have efforts under way to implement them.[Read More…]
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