Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
One year ago the United States, in conjunction with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and our local Iraqi and Syrian partners, launched an operation that took out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This followed the destruction of ISIS’s fraudulent territorial “caliphate” and was another major victory in the mission to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. We have been clear in our words and our actions that we will not allow ISIS to reconstitute.
Baghdadi led the ISIS terrorist movement and inspired one of the most brutal and misguided terror campaigns in modern history. Since al-Baghdadi’s death the United States and our Coalition partners have continued to pursue any remaining ISIS leaders and fighters and bring them to justice. Our continued campaign against ISIS has kept the terrorist organization’s leadership in a constant state of disarray and disrupted ISIS’s ability to organize and plan attacks.
While we celebrate this critical milestone in the fight against ISIS, the work of the Global Coalition is far from complete. ISIS remains a significant threat and it is vital that we keep continuous pressure on ISIS remnants in Iraq and Syria and strengthen our collective efforts to defeat ISIS’s branches and networks around the world, on which ISIS has increasingly focused attention since the defeat of the fraudulent caliphate. We remain committed to the Coalition and our mission to ensure a lasting defeat of ISIS.
- Florida Doctor Charged in Massive $681 Million Substance Abuse Treatment Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsJuly 31, 2020A Palm Beach County, Florida doctor was arrested and charged with conspiring to commit health care fraud and wire fraud for his alleged participation in a massive years-long health care fraud scheme throughout Palm Beach County, billing for fraudulent tests and treatments for vulnerable patients seeking treatment for drug and/or alcohol addiction.[Read More…]
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- U.S. Territories: Public Debt Outlook – 2021 UpdateBy Sam NewsJuly 1, 2021What GAO Found Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico): Puerto Rico remains in default. It has finalized three debt restructuring agreements or settlements to date, pursuant to three distinct legal approaches, and it is using one of these approaches to restructure additional debt. Puerto Rico's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross National Product increased slightly from 93 to 95 percent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. Puerto Rico's total revenue remained consistent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at about $30.0 billion and the territory operated with a $3.1 billion deficit in fiscal year 2017. Puerto Rico's future capacity for debt repayment depends primarily on the outcomes of the ongoing debt restructuring process, its ability to generate sustained economic growth, and the disbursement of federal funding. American Samoa: American Samoa's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from 19 to 37 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. This increase was partially due to a series of general revenue bonds issued in late 2018 to fund infrastructure projects. During this period, American Samoa's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 24 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a surplus of $34.0 million in fiscal year 2019. Continued reliance on a single industry and significant pension liabilities remain fiscal risks in American Samoa. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI): CNMI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP remained constant at about 8 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. During this period, CNMI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 27 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a deficit of $33.3 million in fiscal year 2019. Worsening economic conditions and significant pension liabilities may affect CNMI's future debt repayment capacity. COVID-19 has hurt tourism, CNMI's primary industry. Guam: Guam's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP decreased slightly from 44 to 42 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. Guam's total revenue increased 7 percent during this period and the territory had a surplus of $112.6 million in fiscal year 2019. Guam faces fiscal risks such as COVID-19's negative impact on tourism, Guam's primary industry, and significant pension liabilities. United States Virgin Islands (USVI): USVI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP increased slightly from 68 to 69 percent of GDP between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. During this period, USVI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 36 percent higher in fiscal year 2018 compared to fiscal year 2016, and the territory had a deficit of $29.4 million in fiscal year 2018. USVI's capacity for future debt repayment may be affected by its ability to create economic growth and its ability to manage its pension liabilities and address the pending insolvency of its public pension system. USVI's ability to create economic growth may be hampered by the adverse impact of COVID-19 on tourism, USVI's primary industry. Why GAO Did This Study The five permanently inhabited U.S. territories–Puerto Rico, USVI, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam–borrow through financial markets. Puerto Rico, in particular, has amassed large amounts of debt, and began to default on debt payments in 2015. In 2017, hurricanes caused widespread damage in Puerto Rico and USVI. Further, in 2018, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam experienced typhoons and cyclones. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the territories' economies is not yet fully known. In June 2016, Congress passed and the President signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. It contains a provision for GAO to review the public debt of the five territories every 2 years. In this report, for each of the five territories, GAO updates (1) trends in public debt and its composition; (2) trends in revenue and its composition, and in overall financial condition; and (3) the fiscal risk factors that affect each territory's ability to repay public debt. GAO analyzed the territories' single audit reports for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019, as available; reviewed relevant documentation and analyses; and interviewed officials from the territories' governments, federal agencies, and industry groups. For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-6806 or email@example.com or David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Information Technology: DHS Directives Have Strengthened Federal Cybersecurity, but Improvements Are NeededBy Sam NewsMay 6, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established a five-step process for developing and overseeing the implementation of binding operational directives, as authorized by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA). The process includes DHS coordinating with stakeholders early in the directives' development process and validating agencies' actions on the directives. However, in implementing the process, DHS did not coordinate with stakeholders early in the process and did not consistently validate agencies' self-reported actions. In addition to being a required step in the directives process, FISMA requires DHS to coordinate with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to ensure that the directives do not conflict with existing NIST guidance for federal agencies. However, NIST officials told GAO that DHS often did not reach out to NIST on directives until 1 to 2 weeks before the directives were to be issued, and then did not always incorporate the NIST technical comments. More recently, DHS and NIST have started regular coordination meetings to discuss directive-related issues earlier in the process. Regarding validation of agency actions, DHS has done so for selected directives, but not for others. DHS is not well-positioned to validate all directives because it lacks a risk-based approach as well as a strategy to check selected agency-reported actions to validate their completion. Directives' implementation often has been effective in strengthening federal cybersecurity. For example, a 2015 directive on critical vulnerability mitigation required agencies to address critical vulnerabilities discovered by DHS cyber scans of agencies' internet-accessible systems within 30 days. This was a new requirement for federal agencies. While agencies did not always meet the 30-day requirement, their mitigations were validated by DHS and reached 87 percent compliance by 2017 (see fig. 1). DHS officials attributed the recent decline in percentage completion to a 35-day partial government shutdown in late 2018/early 2019. Nevertheless, for the 4-year period shown in the figure below, agencies mitigated within 30 days about 2,500 of the 3,600 vulnerabilities identified. Figure 1: Critical Vulnerabilities Mitigated within 30 days, May 21, 2015 through May 20, 2019 Agencies also made reported improvements in securing or replacing vulnerable network infrastructure devices. Specifically, a 2016 directive on the Threat to Network Infrastructure Devices addressed, among other things, several urgent vulnerabilities in the targeting of firewalls across federal networks and provided technical mitigation solutions. As shown in figure 2, in response to the directive, agencies reported progress in mitigating risks to more than 11,000 devices as of October 2018. Figure 2: Federal Civilian Agency Vulnerable Network Infrastructure Devices That Had Not Been Mitigated, September 2016 through January 2019 Another key DHS directive is Securing High Value Assets, an initiative to protect the government's most critical information and system assets. According to this directive, DHS is to lead in-depth assessments of federal agencies' most essential identified high value assets. However, an important performance metric for addressing vulnerabilities identified by these assessments does not account for agencies submitting remediation plans in cases where weaknesses cannot be fully addressed within 30 days. Further, DHS only completed about half of the required assessments for the most recent 2 years (61 of 142 for fiscal year 2018, and 73 of 142 required assessments for fiscal year 2019 (see fig. 3)). In addition, DHS does not plan to finalize guidance to agencies and third parties, such as contractors or agency independent assessors, for conducting reviews of additional high value assets that are considered significant, but are not included in DHS's current review, until the end of fiscal year 2020. Given these shortcomings, DHS is now reassessing key aspects of the program. However, it does not have a schedule or plan for completing this reassessment, or to address outstanding issues on completing required assessments, identifying needed resources, and finalizing guidance to agencies and third parties. Figure 3: Department of Homeland Security Assessments of Agency High Value Assets, Fiscal Years (FY) 2018 through 2019 Why GAO Did This Study DHS plays a key role in federal cybersecurity. FISMA authorized DHS, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, to develop and oversee the implementation of compulsory directives—referred to as binding operational directives—covering executive branch civilian agencies. These directives require agencies to safeguard federal information and information systems from a known or reasonably suspected information security threat, vulnerability, or risk. Since 2015, DHS has issued eight directives that instructed agencies to, among other things, (1) mitigate critical vulnerabilities discovered by DHS through its scanning of agencies' internet-accessible systems; (2) address urgent vulnerabilities in network infrastructure devices identified by DHS; and (3) better secure the government's highest value and most critical information and system assets. GAO was requested to evaluate DHS's binding operational directives. This report addresses (1) DHS's process for developing and overseeing the implementation of binding operational directives and (2) the effectiveness of the directives, including agencies' implementation of the directive requirements. GAO selected for review the five directives that were in effect as of December 2018, and randomly selected for further in-depth review a sample of 12 agencies from the executive branch civilian agencies to which the directives apply. In addition, GAO reviewed DHS policies and processes related to the directives and assessed them against FISMA and Office of Management and Budget requirements; administered a data collection instrument to selected federal agencies; compared the agencies' responses and supporting documentation to the requirements outlined in the five directives; and collected and analyzed DHS's government-wide scanning data on government-wide implementation of the directives. GAO also interviewed DHS and selected agency officials.[Read More…]
- Three Former U.S. Intelligence Community and Military Personnel Agree to Pay More Than $1.68 Million to Resolve Criminal Charges Arising from Their Provision of Hacking-Related Services to a Foreign GovernmentBy Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2021On Sept. 7, U.S. citizens, Marc Baier, 49, and Ryan Adams, 34, and a former U.S. citizen, Daniel Gericke, 40, all former employees of the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) or the U.S. military, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) that restricts their future activities and employment and requires the payment of $1,685,000 in penalties to resolve a Department of Justice investigation regarding violations of U.S. export control, computer fraud and access device fraud laws.[Read More…]
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- Crude Oil Markets: Effects of the Repeal of the Crude Oil Export BanBy Sam NewsNovember 20, 2020GAO's analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data and interviews with industry stakeholders shows that the repeal of the U.S. crude oil export ban is associated with increased crude oil exports—from less than half a million barrels per day in 2015 to almost 3 million barrels per day in 2019. The repeal of the ban expanded the market for U.S. crude oil to overseas buyers and, along with other market factors, allowed U.S. crude oil producers to charge higher prices relative to comparable foreign crude oil. Higher prices and an expanded market for U.S. crude oil further incentivized domestic crude oil production, which had been growing since the shale oil boom began around 2009 (see figure). During the period after the repeal, total U.S. imports of crude oil remained largely unchanged. Annual Production and Exports of U.S. Crude Oil, 2009-2019 GAO's analysis found limited effects associated with the repeal of the ban on the production, export, and import of domestic refined petroleum products, such as gasoline. However, profit margins—which are determined in part by the costs a refiner pays for the crude oil and the earnings a refiner receives from the sale of refined products—likely decreased as the prices refiners paid for domestic crude oil increased relative to international prices. Because gasoline prices are largely determined on the global market, U.S. refiners could not pass on to consumers the additional costs associated with the increase in crude oil prices, resulting in decreased profit margins for U.S. refiners. Finally, after the repeal of the crude oil export ban, the U.S. shipping industry experienced a decline as demand fell for U.S. tankers—known as Jones Act tankers—used to move domestic crude oil between U.S. ports. The increase in the relative price of domestic crude oils associated with the repeal of the export ban may have resulted in some U.S. refineries deciding to use more foreign crude oil. Foreign crude oil is typically transported by foreign tankers, reducing the demand for Jones Act tankers compared to what it would have been if the export ban had remained in place, according to six of the seven shipping industry stakeholders GAO interviewed. Between 1975 and the end of 2015, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act directed a ban on nearly all exports of U.S. crude oil. This ban was not considered a significant policy issue when U.S. oil production was declining and import volumes were increasing. However, U.S. crude oil production roughly doubled from 2009 to 2015, due in part to a boom in shale oil production made possible by advancements in drilling technologies. In December 2015, Congress effectively repealed the ban, allowing the free export of U.S. crude oil worldwide. GAO was asked to provide information on the effects of repealing the crude oil export ban. This report describes the effects of the repeal of the crude oil export ban on the domestic crude oil production, petroleum refining, and related sectors of the U.S. shipping industry. GAO analyzed data from EIA and other federal databases to determine the effects of repealing the export ban. GAO also interviewed a nongeneralizeable sample of economists, market analysts, and stakeholders from the oil and gas, refining, and shipping industries. GAO's analysis focused on the repeal of the crude oil export ban and any effects of the repeal on U.S. crude oil and related industries through March 2020. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Spare Parts Contracts: Collecting Additional Information Could Help DOD Address Delays in Obtaining Cost or Pricing DataBy Sam NewsMay 26, 2021What GAO Found When the Department of Defense (DOD) awards contracts without competition, contracting officers may rely on cost or pricing data that contractors certify as accurate, current, and complete to determine if the prices are reasonable. DOD uses data other than certified cost or pricing data when certified cost or pricing data are not required. GAO found that, during fiscal years 2015 to 2019, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) obtained data other than certified data for 77 of the 136 sole-source spare parts contracts it awarded. As the 77 contracts were for commercial items, statute prohibits contracting officers from requiring certified cost or pricing data. DLA also waived the requirement to obtain certified cost or pricing data in two cases, citing the exceptional need for the spare parts. DLA obtained certified cost or pricing data for the remaining sole-source contracts. In March 2019, DOD issued a memorandum requiring defense agencies to report when contractors outright refuse to provide cost or pricing data, but it is not collecting data on the extent that delays in obtaining data affect the time that it takes to award contracts. DLA, Air Force, and Navy contracting officers said that while they were able to determine if prices were reasonable, delays in obtaining contractors' cost or pricing data contributed to the length of time needed to award seven of the 10 sole-source spare parts contracts GAO reviewed (see figure). Length of Time to Award 10 Sole-Source Contracts in Fiscal Year 2019 That GAO Reviewed DOD's March 2019 memorandum highlighted the need to understand, DOD-wide, the extent that contractors do not comply with contracting officer requests for data other than certified cost or pricing data. However, the focus was on outright refusals and not delays. Without a means to monitor or identify the nature and extent of delays, DOD is missing opportunities to develop approaches to effectively address these issues and potentially award contracts faster. Why GAO Did This Study DOD spends billions of dollars each year on spare parts for planes, ships, and other equipment. While DLA buys the bulk of the spare parts, the military departments also acquire them to support specific weapon systems. DOD seeks to negotiate a reasonable price for these spare parts to award contracts in a timely manner. DOD uses data other than certified cost or pricing data if it determines certified cost or pricing data are not required to determine prices are reasonable. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's efforts to obtain contractor cost or pricing data. This report 1) describes how often DLA obtained cost or pricing data on sole-source contracts for spare parts; and 2) assesses the extent to which DOD tracks delays in obtaining these data and the reasons for those delays. GAO reviewed federal and DOD acquisition regulations and analyzed data for 136 DLA spare parts contracts awarded between fiscal years 2015 to 2019. For fiscal year 2019, GAO also selected 10 sole-source contracts awarded by DLA, Air Force, and the Navy, based on dollar value and other factors, to identify challenges in obtaining cost or pricing data. GAO also interviewed DOD and contractor officials.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Awards More Than $110 Million to Support Currently and Formerly Incarcerated IndividualsBy Sam NewsDecember 22, 2021The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) today announced awards totaling more than $110.7 million to reduce recidivism and support adults and youth returning to their communities after confinement.[Read More…]
- High-Risk Series: Dedicated Leadership Needed to Address Limited Progress in Most High-Risk AreasBy Sam NewsMarch 2, 2021Overall ratings in 2021 for 20 of GAO's 2019 high-risk areas remain unchanged, and five regressed. Seven areas improved, one to the point of removal from the High-Risk List. Two new areas are being added, bringing our 2021 High-Risk List to 36 areas. Where there has been improvement in high-risk areas, congressional actions, in addition to those by executive agencies, have been critical in spurring progress. GAO is removing Department of Defense (DOD) Support Infrastructure Management from the High-Risk List. Among other things, DOD has more efficiently utilized military installation space; reduced its infrastructure footprint and use of leases, reportedly saving millions of dollars; and improved its use of installation agreements, reducing base support costs GAO is narrowing the scope of three high-risk areas by removing segments of the areas due to progress that has been made. The affected areas are: (1) Federal Real Property (Costly Leasing) because the General Services Administration has reduced its reliance on costly leases and improved monitoring efforts; (2) DOD Contract Management (Acquisition Workforce) because DOD has significantly rebuilt its acquisition workforce; and (3) Management of Federal Oil and Gas Resources (Offshore Oil and Gas Oversight) because the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has implemented reforms improving offshore oil and gas oversight. National Efforts to Prevent, Respond to, and Recover from Drug Misuse is being added to the High-Risk List. National rates of drug misuse have been increasing, and drug misuse has resulted in significant loss of life and harmful effects to society and the economy. GAO identified several challenges in the federal government's response, such as a need for greater leadership and coordination of the national effort, strategic guidance that fulfills all statutory requirements, and more effective implementation and monitoring. Emergency Loans for Small Businesses also is being added. The Small Business Administration has provided hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of loans and advances to help small businesses recover from adverse economic impacts created by COVID-19. While loans have greatly aided many small businesses, evidence of fraud and significant program integrity risks need much greater oversight and management attention. Nine existing high-risk areas also need more focused attention (see table). 2021 High-Risk List Areas Requiring Significant Attention High-risk areas that regressed since 2019 High-risk areas that need additional attention USPS Financial Viability IT Acquisitions and Operations Decennial Census Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks Ensuring the Cybersecurity of the Nation U.S. Government's Environmental Liability Strategic Human Capital Management Improving Federal Oversight of Food Safety EPA's Process for Assessing and Controlling Toxic Chemicals Source: GAO. | GAO-21-119SP GAO's 2021 High-Risk List High-risk area Change since 2019 Strengthening the Foundation for Efficiency and Effectiveness Strategic Human Capital Management ↓ Managing Federal Real Propertya ↑ Funding the Nation's Surface Transportation Systemb c n/a Modernizing the U.S. Financial Regulatory Systemb ● Resolving the Federal Role in Housing Financeb ● USPS Financial Viabilityb ↓ Management of Federal Oil and Gas Resourcesa ● Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risksb ● Improving the Management of IT Acquisitions and Operations ● Improving Federal Management of Programs That Serve Tribes and Their Members ● Decennial Census ↓ U.S. Government's Environmental Liabilityb ● Emergency Loans for Small Businesses (new)c n/a Transforming DOD Program Management DOD Weapon Systems Acquisition ● DOD Financial Management ↑ DOD Business Systems Modernization ● DOD Approach to Business Transformation ● Ensuring Public Safety and Security Government-wide Personnel Security Clearance Processb ↑ Ensuring the Cybersecurity of the Nationb ↓ Strengthening Department of Homeland Security Management Functions ● Ensuring the Effective Protection of Technologies Critical to U.S. National Security Interests ● Improving Federal Oversight of Food Safetyb ● Protecting Public Health through Enhanced Oversight of Medical Products ● Transforming EPA's Process for Assessing and Controlling Toxic Chemicals ↓ National Efforts to Prevent, Respond to, and Recover from Drug Misuse (new)c n/a Managing Federal Contracting More Effectively VA Acquisition Managementd n/a DOE's Contract and Project Management for the National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management ↑ NASA Acquisition Management ↑ DOD Contract Managementa ● Assessing the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Tax Law Administration Enforcement of Tax Lawsb ● Modernizing and Safeguarding Insurance and Benefit Programs Medicare Program & Improper Paymentse ● Strengthening Medicaid Program Integrityb ● Improving and Modernizing Federal Disability Programs ● Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Insurance Programsb c n/a National Flood Insurance Programb ● Managing Risks and Improving VA Health Careb ↑ (↑ indicates area progressed on one or more criteria since 2019; ↓ indicates area declined on one or more criteria ; ● indicates no change; n/a = not applicable) Source: GAO. | GAO-21-119SP aRatings for a segment within this high-risk area improved sufficiently that the segment was removed. bLegislation is likely to be necessary in order to effectively address this high-risk area. cNot rated, because this high-risk area is newly added or primarily involves congressional action. dRated for the first time, because this high-risk area was newly added in 2019. eOnly rated on one segment; we did not rate other elements of the Medicare program. The federal government is one of the world's largest and most complex entities; about $6.6 trillion in outlays in fiscal year 2020 funded a broad array of programs and operations. GAO's High-Risk Series identifies government operations with vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or in need of transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. This biennial update describes the status of high-risk areas, outlines actions that are still needed to assure further progress, and identifies any new high-risk areas needing attention by the executive branch and Congress. Solutions to high-risk problems save billions of dollars, improve service to the public, and strengthen government performance and accountability. GAO uses five criteria to assess progress in addressing high-risk areas: (1) leadership commitment, (2) agency capacity, (3) an action plan, (4) monitoring efforts, and (5) demonstrated progress. This report describes GAO's views on progress made and what remains to be done to bring about lasting solutions for each high-risk area. Addressing GAO's hundreds of open recommendations across the high-risk areas and continued congressional oversight and action are essential to achieving greater progress. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- 2018 Pacific Island Disasters: Federal Actions Helped Facilitate the Response, but FEMA Needs to Address Long-Term Recovery ChallengesBy Sam NewsFebruary 3, 2021The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took steps prior to the 2018 disasters in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and Hawaii to facilitate response in the region, where time and distance from the continental United States create unique challenges. For instance, FEMA increased the capacity of two Pacific-area supply distribution centers and helped develop area specific disaster response plans. FEMA and its federal partners, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), had varied response roles, which local officials in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii considered effective. For example, DOD provided temporary roof repair for disaster survivors in the CNMI. Damage from Typhoon Yutu in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (left) and the Kilauea Volcano Eruption in Hawaii (right) As of October 2020, FEMA obligated $877 million—more than 70 percent of which was for Individual and Public Assistance missions—following the 2018 disasters and made progress addressing some region specific challenges. However, FEMA has not fully addressed housing assistance issues in the CNMI. For example, it experienced delays implementing its Permanent Housing Construction program in the CNMI due to contracting shortfalls and lack of experienced staff. As of October 2020, only about 30 percent of homes were completed and returned to survivors. GAO found that these housing assistance challenges are consistent with lessons learned from prior FEMA missions in other remote areas of the U.S. Developing guidance that addresses lessons learned in the Permanent Housing Construction program could help streamline assistance to disaster survivors. GAO also identified delays in FEMA's obligation of Public Assistance program funds—used to repair or replace disaster-damaged public infrastructure such as utilities, roads, and schools—in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii. Specifically, on average, it took over a year for FEMA to approve funds for projects awarded after the 2018 disasters. FEMA and local officials identified potential reasons for the delays, including cost estimation challenges. FEMA established cost factors in the CNMI to account for higher construction costs, and GAO found that FEMA collects some data on the timeliness of individual steps in the process. However, FEMA has not analyzed the data to help identify causes of the delays, which could allow it to target solutions to address them. The CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii experienced an unprecedented number of natural disasters in 2018—including typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides, and volcanic eruptions. FEMA is the lead federal agency responsible for helping states and territories prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. Due to the remoteness of Hawaii and the Pacific territories, disaster response and recovery can be challenging. Title IX of the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 includes a provision for GAO to review FEMA's response and recovery efforts for 2018 natural disasters, including those in the Pacific region. This report examines (1) how FEMA and its federal partners prepared for and responded to the 2018 disasters in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii; and (2) the extent to which FEMA assisted the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii in recovering from the 2018 natural disasters. GAO analyzed program documents, response plans, and data on FEMA obligations, expenditures, and grant process steps as of October 2020; interviewed federal, state, territorial, and local officials; and visited disaster-damaged areas in Hawaii. GAO is making four recommendations, including that FEMA (1) incorporate lessons learned into Permanent Housing Construction guidance; and (2) use performance data to identify and address inefficiencies in the Public Assistance program. The Department of Homeland Security concurred, and FEMA is taking actions in response. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Foreign Assistance: USAID Needs to Improve Its Strategic Planning to Address Current and Future Workforce NeedsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) oversees U.S. foreign assistance programs in more than 100 countries. In 2003, GAO recommended that USAID develop a comprehensive workforce planning system to better identify its staffing needs and requirements. Key principles for effective strategic workforce planning are important to an agency's ability to carry out its mission. GAO examined (1) changes in USAID's workforce and program funding since 2004, (2) the extent to which it has developed a strategic workforce plan, (3) the efforts it has taken to implement two key human capital initiatives, and (4) the challenges and constraints that affect its workforce planning and management. To conduct the work, GAO analyzed staffing and program funding data; reviewed documentation related to the agency's workforce planning; and interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., and at six overseas missions selected to obtain an appropriate mix of geographic coverage, programs, and workforce size and composition.USAID's workforce declined 2.7 percent from 2004 to 2009. While the decline is primarily due to decreases in the number of U.S. and foreign national personal services contractors, these staff continue to comprise the majority of USAID's workforce. Over the same period USAID's program funding increased 92 percent to $17.9 billion. USAID also faces some workforce gaps and vacancies at the six missions visited by GAO. Mission officials cited recruiting difficulties and the need for staff in priority countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as factors contributing to these vacancies. According to mission officials, it is not uncommon for positions to remain vacant for a lengthy period. During this time staff may assume multiple responsibilities and accept additional workload, which present some challenges in the agency's ability to manage and oversee its activities. For example, workforce gaps and heavy workload may limit mission staff's ability to travel to the field to monitor and evaluate the implementation of projects. USAID's 5-year workforce plan for fiscal years 2009 through 2013 discusses the agency's challenges and the steps it has taken and plans to take to strengthen its workforce. However, the plan lacks several key elements that GAO has identified as critical to strategic workforce planning. For example, the plan generally does not include a major portion of USAID's workforce--U.S. and foreign national personal services contractors. In particular, it is not comprehensive in its analysis of workforce and competency gaps and the staffing levels that the agency requires to meet its program needs and goals. USAID has taken actions to implement two key initiatives specified in its workforce plan--a workforce planning model and expansion of its Foreign Service--but it generally lacks documented plans to help ensure they are implemented successfully. For example, USAID implemented the workforce planning model to project its workforce and budgetary needs, but it has not developed plans for providing all missions comprehensive information about the model and its projections to inform missions of how it will affect their workforce planning. In addition, USAID has not fully met its Foreign Service hiring targets nor developed plans for how it will meet its hiring goals, and it has not planned the required overseas training assignments for all new hires to help ensure that missions have the necessary resources and mentors. USAID faces several challenges in its workforce planning and management. First, USAID lacks a sufficiently reliable and comprehensive system to record the number, location, and occupation of its staff. Second, according to mission officials, operating in an uncertain environment with shifting program priorities and funding can make it difficult to ensure that missions have the staff available with the necessary skills when needed. Third, the processes USAID must use to plan for the placement of its overseas staff require coordination with State; however, USAID has not consistently developed and shared its plans for the numbers and specific locations for these assignments. GAO recommends that USAID take several actions to develop more comprehensive workforce plans and improve its workforce data. USAID concurred with GAO's findings and recommendations.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Defends Health Care Workers from Being Forced to Perform Abortions with Vermont LawsuitBy Sam NewsDecember 16, 2020The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division today filed a civil lawsuit in Vermont federal court against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for violating the federal anti-discrimination statute known as the “Church Amendments.” That statute prohibits health care entities like UVMMC from discriminating against health care workers who follow their conscience and refuse to perform or assist with abortions.[Read More…]
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