December 4, 2021

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Oman National Day

19 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the United States of America, I extend my heartfelt wishes for a joyous National Day to His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik Al Said and the people of the Sultanate of Oman.

Oman and the United States share the common goal of creating a better future for the next generation.  Our countries share 50 years of a historic friendship, partnership, and cooperation.  That partnership includes cooperation on free trade, environmental conservation, education, and many other issues.  In all of these areas, the United States is proud to work with Oman.  We look forward to strengthening our economic, security, and cultural collaboration in the years to come.

My best wishes to the people of Oman for a happy National Day and a peaceful, prosperous year ahead.

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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found National data from the Department of Defense (DOD) between 2016 and 2020 suggest that very few military families—2,174—fostered or sought to adopt relative to the total active-duty servicemember population, which was 1.3 million in 2019. The distribution of servicemembers by service branch who fostered or sought to adopt was generally similar to the distribution of the overall servicemember population, with more Army servicemembers fostering or seeking to adopt. These servicemembers were also deployed at a similar rate as the overall active-duty servicemember population. Officers fostered or sought to adopt children at over three times the rate of enlisted servicemembers. DOD, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and selected state and local agencies provide some targeted supports to assist military families who foster or adopt, such as adoption-related leave (see figure). Other DOD supports, such as non-medical counseling and Children and Youth programs, are available to all military families, including foster and adoptive families. However, military and child welfare officials and families GAO interviewed reported limited awareness of available military supports, which are spread across multiple programs and offices. Absent efforts to centralize and promote available supports, DOD may be missing an opportunity to meet the needs of foster and adoptive families. Targeted and Other Supports Available to Military Foster and Adoptive Families Almost all military families GAO interviewed reported frequent moves, deployments, or enrollment in DOD's benefits system as challenges to fostering and adopting. Many families said moves or deployments resulted in delays or interruptions in the foster or adoption process, which child welfare officials GAO interviewed said they were sometimes able to mitigate, such as by expediting the adoption process or allowing a deployed parent to complete required training virtually. In addition, 12 of the 29 families GAO interviewed reported challenges enrolling their foster or pre-adoptive child in the DOD system that allows the child to obtain certain military benefits and services, which they said caused delays or prevented many families from accessing such services. DOD issued guidance on enrolling children in its system, but we found key parts of the guidance related to enrolling foster children to be inconsistent with DOD regulations. In addition, most DOD officials GAO spoke with at selected installations who are responsible for enrollments said they have little experience enrolling either foster or pre-adoptive children. Until DOD revises the guidance on enrolling foster children to ensure consistency with regulations and promotes awareness of eligibility and documentation requirements for enrolling both foster and pre-adoptive children in DOD's benefits system, foster and adoptive families may continue to face challenges obtaining services for which they are eligible. Why GAO Did This Study Active-duty servicemembers in the U.S. military may expand their family by fostering or adopting a child from the foster care system, or through a private adoption. A U.S. House of Representatives Committee report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to examine these families. This report examines (1) the number and characteristics of military foster and adoptive servicemembers, (2) what foster- and adoption-related supports federal, and selected state and local agencies provide to military families and families' use of supports, and (3) challenges these families face. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance and analyzed data on active-duty servicemembers. GAO conducted virtual visits with officials at a nongeneralizable group of four military installations, and with officials at state and local agencies involved in foster care and adoption in four states, selected for a high number of active-duty members and varying installation sizes and geographic locations. GAO held virtual discussion groups with 29 military foster and adoptive families. GAO also interviewed officials from DOD, HHS, and national organizations.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found According to the Department of Defense's (DOD) fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request, DOD spent $2.8 billion on the 29 selected major business information technology (IT) programs in FY 2019. The department also reported that it planned to invest over $9.7 billion on these programs between FY 2020 and FY 2022. In addition, 20 of the 29 programs reported experiencing cost or schedule changes since January 2019. Program officials attributed cost and schedule changes to a variety of reasons, including modernization changes and requirements changes or delays. Seventeen of the 29 programs also reported experiencing challenges associated with the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the slowdown of contractors' software development efforts. DOD and GAO's assessments of program risk identified a range of program risk levels and indicated that some programs could be underreporting risks. Specifically, of the 22 programs that were actively using a register to manage program risks, DOD rated nine programs as low risk, 12 as medium risk, and one as high risk. In contrast, GAO rated seven as low risk, 12 as medium risk, and three as high risk. In total, GAO found 10 programs for which its numerical assessments of program risk reflected greater risk than reported by DOD, while DOD had three programs with greater reported risk than GAO. DOD officials noted that differences in risk levels might be associated with a variety of factors, including different risk assessment approaches. However, the differences in risk level GAO identified highlight the need for DOD to ensure that it is accurately reporting program risks. Until the department does so, oversight of some programs could be limited by overly optimistic risk perspectives. As of December 2020, program officials for the 22 major DOD business IT programs that were actively developing software reported using approaches that may help to limit cost and schedule risks. (See table.) Selected Software Development and Cybersecurity Approaches That May Limit Risks and Number of Major DOD Business IT Programs That Reported Using the Approach Software development and cybersecurity approaches that may limit risk Number of programs that reported using the approach Using off-the-shelf software 19 of 22 Implementing continuous iterative software development 18 of 22 Delivering software at least every 6 monthsa 16 of 22 Developing or planning to develop a cybersecurity strategy 21 of 22 Conducting developmental cybersecurity testing 16 of 22 Conducting operational cybersecurity testing 15 of 22 Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense questionnaire responses. | GAO-21-351aThe Defense Innovation Board encourages more frequent delivery of working software to users for Agile and DevOps practices. Program officials also reported facing a variety of software development challenges while implementing these approaches. These included difficulties finding and hiring staff, transitioning from waterfall to Agile software development, and managing technical environments. DOD's continued efforts to address these challenges will be critical to the department's implementation of modern software development approaches. DOD has also made organizational and policy changes intended to improve the management of its IT acquisitions, such as taking steps to implement Agile software development and improve data transparency. In addition, to address statutory requirements, DOD has taken steps to remove the department's chief management officer (CMO) position. However, the department had not yet sufficiently implemented these changes. Officials from many of the 18 programs GAO assessed that reported using Agile development reported that DOD had implemented activities associated with Agile transition best practices to only some or little to no extent, indicating that the department had not sufficiently implemented best practices. For example, 12 of the 18 programs reported that DOD's life-cycle activities only supported Agile methods to some or little to no extent. Program officials also reported challenges associated with implementing Agile software development. The department has a variety of efforts underway to help with its implementation of Agile software development. DOD officials stated that the department's transition to Agile will take years and will require sustained engagement throughout DOD. In addition, DOD has taken steps aimed at improving the sharing and transparency of data it uses to monitor its acquisitions. According to a November 2020 proposal from the Office of the Under Secretary for Acquisition and Sustainment, DOD officials are to develop data strategies and metrics to assess performance for the department's acquisition pathways. However, as of February 2021, DOD did not have data strategies and had not finalized metrics for the two pathways associated with the programs discussed in this report. Officials said they were working with DOD programs and components to finalize initial pathway metrics. They stated that they plan to implement them in fiscal year 2021 and continue to refine and adjust them over the coming years. Without important data from acquistion pathways and systems, DOD risks not having timely quantitative insight into program performance, including its acquisition reform efforts. Finally, DOD's CMO position was eliminated by a statute enacted in January 2021. This position was responsible for key efforts associated with the department's business systems modernization, which has been on GAO's High Risk List since 1995. DOD plans to take steps to address the uncertainty associated with the recent elimination of the position. Why GAO Did This Study For fiscal year 2021, DOD requested approximately $37.7 billion for IT investments. These investments included major business IT programs, which are intended to help the department carry out key business functions, such as financial management and health care. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 included a provision for GAO to assess selected IT programs annually through March 2023. GAO's objectives for this review were to (1) summarize DOD's reported performance of its portfolio of IT acquisition programs and the reasons for this performance; (2) evaluate DOD's assessments of program risks; (3) summarize DOD's approaches to software development and cybersecurity and identify associated challenges; and (4) evaluate how selected organizational and policy changes could affect IT acquisitions. To address these objectives, GAO selected 29 major business IT programs that DOD reported to the federal IT Dashboard (a public website that includes information on the performance of major IT investments) as of September 2020. GAO reviewed planned expenditures for these programs, from fiscal years 2019 through 2022, as reported in the department's FY 2021 budget request. It also aggregated program office responses to a GAO questionnaire that requested information about cost and schedule changes that occurred since January 2019 and the early impacts of COVID-19. GAO also analyzed the risks of the 22 programs that were actively using central repositories known as risk registers to manage program risks. GAO used these registers to create program risk ratings, and then compared its ratings to those of the DOD chief information officer (CIO). In addition, GAO aggregated DOD program office responses to the questionnaire that requested information about the software and cybersecurity practices used by 22 of the 29 IT programs that were actively developing software. GAO compared the responses to relevant guidance and leading practices. GAO reviewed selected IT-related organizational and policy changes and reviewed reports and documentation related to the effects of these changes on IT acquisitions. GAO also aggregated program office responses to the questionnaire that requested information about DOD's implementation of these changes. This included information on DOD's implementation of best practices as part of its efforts to implement Agile software development. GAO met with relevant DOD officials to discuss each of the topics addressed in this report.
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    In U.S GAO News
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This report examines (1) estimates of the costs of damages caused by hurricanes and hurricanes' effects on overall economic activity and employment in the areas they affected, and (2) actions subsequently taken in those areas to improve resilience to future natural disasters. GAO conducted case studies of Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Irma, selected for two reasons. First, they were declared a major disaster by the President under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which establishes key programs through which the federal government provides disaster assistance, primarily through FEMA. Second, they had sizable effects on the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia during the period from 2004 through 2018. GAO analyzed federal agency and other data on costs, economic activity, employment, and recovery and mitigation projects in selected areas affected by these hurricanes. GAO also visited selected recovery and mitigation project sites; interviewed experts and federal, state, and local government officials; and reviewed federal, state, and local government reports and academic studies. Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Irma (selected hurricanes) caused costly damages and challenges for some populations in affected communities. In these communities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated the cost of damages to be approximately $170 billion for Katrina, $74 billion for Sandy, $131 billion for Harvey, and $52 billion for Irma. These estimates include the value of damages to residential, commercial, and government or municipal buildings; material assets within the buildings; business interruption; vehicles and boats; offshore energy platforms; public infrastructure; and agricultural assets. These hurricanes were also costly to the federal government. For example, in 2016, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that federal spending exceeded $110 billion in response to Katrina and $53 billion in response to Sandy. GAO analysis suggests that the selected hurricanes were associated with widely varying effects on overall economic activity and total employment in affected metropolitan areas and counties. Economic activity was lower than expected in the month of the hurricane or some of the three subsequent months in three of the affected metropolitan areas GAO analyzed. Within one year, average economic activity in these three metropolitan areas was similar to or greater than what it had been the year before the hurricane. Total employment was lower than expected in the month of the hurricane or some of the three subsequent months in 80 of the affected counties GAO analyzed. Total employment was higher than pre-hurricane employment on average in 47 of those counties within one year but remained below pre-hurricane employment on average in the other 33 counties for at least one year. Finally, state and local government officials said that the selected hurricanes had significant impacts on communities, local governments, households, and businesses with fewer resources and less expertise, and that challenges faced by households may have impacted local businesses. Communities affected by selected hurricanes have been taking actions to improve resilience, but multiple factors can affect their decisions. Actions taken after selected hurricanes include elevating, acquiring, and rehabilitating homes; flood-proofing public buildings; repairing and upgrading critical infrastructure; constructing flood barriers; and updating building codes. A community’s decision to take resilience actions can depend on the costs and benefits of those actions to the community. Multiple factors affect these costs and benefits, including the likelihood, severity, and location of future disasters, as well as the amount of federal assistance available after a disaster. Finally, vulnerabilities remain in areas affected by selected hurricanes. For example, state and local government officials indicated that many older homes in these areas do not meet current building codes. In reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), states indicate they anticipate that the scope of damages via exposure to weather hazards, such as hurricanes, will likely remain high and could expand across regions affected by the selected hurricanes. In addition, some local governments have projected that population will grow in the regions affected by selected hurricanes. For more information, contact Oliver Richard at 202-512-8424 or richardo@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
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At the time of this report, DOD had only 14 months remaining until the The House Armed Services Committee report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 directed the Comptroller General to monitor the implementation of recommendations for the 2005 round of closures and realignments of military installations made pursuant to section 2914 of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990. We prepared this report, our fourth, in response to the mandate, to assess (1) the challenges, if any, DOD faces in implementing BRAC recommendations and (2) DOD's efforts to mitigate any challenges and the extent to which any costs related to those mitigation efforts are being reported as BRAC implementation costs.DOD is implementing 182 BRAC recommendations for this BRAC round, but several logistical, human capital, and other implementation challenges remain. 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Since DOD's recent fiscal year 2011 BRAC budget request--which was the final annual request for funds for the BRAC account before the statutory deadline for completion of closures and realignments--has already been submitted to Congress, such additional costs in our view may have to be funded from outside the BRAC account. However, we found that DOD's reported costs funded outside the BRAC account are not complete because the Army has not reported to Congress some of these costs as BRAC costs. Thus, OSD officials do not have full visibility over the extent of these costs funded from outside the BRAC account, given that the services prepare their own BRAC budget justification material. Until the Secretary of Defense ensures that all BRAC-related costs are captured and reported to Congress, neither congressional decision makers nor those within OSD who are charged with overseeing BRAC implementation will have a complete picture of the cost of implementing the 2005 BRAC round.
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