January 27, 2022

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Readout of The Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat Hate Crimes Against Asian American and Pacific Island Communities

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<div>The Department of Justice today held a listening session with more than a dozen Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community groups as part of its continuing efforts to deter hate crimes and other unlawful acts against the AAPI community.</div>
The Department of Justice today held a listening session with more than a dozen Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community groups as part of its continuing efforts to deter hate crimes and other unlawful acts against the AAPI community.

More from: March 5, 2021

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  • Afghanistan and Iraq: DOD Should Improve Adherence to Its Guidance on Open Pit Burning and Solid Waste Management
    In U.S GAO News
    From the start of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military and its contractors have burned solid waste in open burn pits on or near military bases. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), burn pit emissions can potentially harm human health. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) guidance directs the military's use of burn pits, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) provides healthcare and other benefits to veterans and their families. GAO was asked to report on the (1) extent of open pit burning in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whether the military has followed its guidance; (2) alternatives to burn pits, and whether the military has examined them; and (3) extent of efforts to monitor air quality and potential health impacts. GAO visited four burn pits in Iraq, reviewed DOD data on burn pits, and consulted DOD and VA officials and other experts. GAO was unable to visit burn pits in Afghanistan.The military has relied heavily on open pit burning in both conflicts, and operators of burn pits have not always followed relevant guidance to protect servicemembers from exposure to harmful emissions. According to DOD, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq generate about 10 pounds of solid waste per soldier each day. The military has relied on open pit burning to dispose of this waste mainly because of its expedience. In August 2010, CENTCOM estimated there were 251 burn pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq. CENTCOM officials said the number of burn pits is increasing in Afghanistan and decreasing in Iraq, which reflects U.S. troop reallocations and efforts to install waste incinerators. Despite its reliance on burn pits, CENTCOM did not issue comprehensive burn pit guidance until 2009. Furthermore, to varying degrees, operators of burn pits at four bases GAO visited in Iraq were not complying with key elements of this guidance, such as restrictions on the burning of items, including plastic, that produce harmful emissions. DOD officials also said that, from the start of each conflict, operators routinely burned items that are now prohibited. The continued burning of prohibited items has resulted from a number of factors, including the constraints of combat operations, resource limitations, and contracts with burn pit operators that do not reflect current guidance. Waste management alternatives could decrease the reliance on and exposure to burn pits, but DOD has been slow to implement alternatives or fully evaluate their benefits and costs, such as avoided future costs of potential health effects. Various DOD guidance documents discourage long-term use of burn pits, encourage the use of incinerators and landfills, or encourage waste minimization such as source reduction. DOD has installed 39 solid waste incinerators in Iraq and 20 in Afghanistan, and plans to install additional incinerators in Afghanistan. To date, source reduction practices have not been widely implemented in either country and recycling consists primarily of large scrap metals. DOD plans to increase recycling at its bases in Iraq, but recycling at bases in Afghanistan has been limited. Further, DOD has not fully analyzed its waste stream in either country and lacks the information to decrease the toxicity of its waste stream and enhance waste minimization. U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq do not sample or monitor burn pit emissions as provided by a key CENTCOM regulation, and the health impacts of burn pit exposure on individuals are not well understood, partly because the military does not collect required data on emissions or exposures from burn pits. Army public health officials have, however, sampled the ambient air at bases in each conflict and found high levels of particle pollution that causes health problems but is not unique to burn pits. These officials identified logistical and other challenges in monitoring burn pit emissions, and U.S. Forces have yet to establish pollutant monitoring systems. DOD and VA have commissioned studies to enhance their understanding of burn pit emissions, but the lack of data on emissions specific to burn pits and related exposures limit efforts to characterize potential health impacts on service personnel, contractors, and host-country nationals. Among other things, GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense improve DOD's adherence to relevant guidance on burn pit operations and waste management, and analyze alternatives to its current practices. In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD said that it concurred with five of the six recommendations and partially concurred with the sixth. GAO addressed a DOD suggestion to clarify the sixth recommendation. VA reviewed the draft report and had no comments.
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  • Federal Contracting: Senior Leaders Should Use Leading Companies’ Key Practices to Improve Performance
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Each year, federal agencies spend over $500 billion to buy a wide variety of products and services, ranging from cutting-edge military aircraft to common office supplies. Given the amount of federal funds spent and the missions these contracts support, it is critical that agencies' procurement leaders manage their organizations effectively. However, GAO found procurement leaders at six of the federal government's largest agencies did not consistently use key practices that leading companies use to improve the performance of their procurement organizations (see figure). Procurement Leaders at the Federal Agencies GAO Reviewed Did Not Consistently Use Leading Companies' Key Practices to Improve Performance Note: GAO's assessment of procurement leaders' collaboration when developing performance metrics reflects the extent to which they collaborated with end users. Link performance metrics to strategic goals. Procurement leaders at all the agencies in GAO's review linked their performance metrics to their agencies' strategic goals. These leaders stated that doing so helps ensure acquisition personnel are focused on the right things to support their agency's mission. These statements are consistent with statements from procurement leaders at leading companies. Collaborate with internal stakeholders, particularly end users, when developing performance metrics. When they were developing performance metrics, procurement leaders at all six of the agencies in GAO's review collaborated with other members of the procurement community. However, only the procurement leaders at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) collaborated with end users, such as technical experts from installation centers. One procurement leader said he did not collaborate with end users when he developed performance metrics because too much end user influence could lead to suboptimal results, but leaders do not have to cede control when they collaborate with end users. End users can help procurement leaders increase the usefulness and use of performance information in program management and policy, and corporate procurement leaders told GAO that collaboration with end users during the development and implementation of performance metrics increases coordination and improves performance at the strategic level. Use outcome-oriented performance metrics to manage procurement organizations. GAO found the leaders at all six of the agencies reviewed rely primarily on process-oriented metrics (such as small business utilization rates) when managing their procurement organizations. These leaders cited various reasons for not implementing metrics that are more outcome-oriented. For example, two leaders stated they did not use outcome-oriented performance metrics because of unreliable data. Three of the leaders, however, are working to improve data that can facilitate outcome-oriented assessments. Additionally, procurement leaders at most of the agencies GAO reviewed have ongoing or planned efforts to use performance metrics to measure at least one of the four procurement outcomes identified as important by corporate procurement leaders. These outcomes include (1) cost savings/avoidance, (2) timeliness of deliveries, (3) quality of deliverables, and (4) end-user satisfaction. For example, the Air Force's senior procurement leader has used a cost savings/avoidance metric to manage the Air Force's procurement organizations, and as of March 2021, the Air Force leader had identified $2.38 billion in cost savings and avoidance. Additionally, the Army's senior procurement leader told GAO that she began to pursue outcome-oriented metrics in late 2020, after GAO provided her an interim assessment comparing Army practices to private sector practices. GAO has previously reported that using a balanced set of performance measures, including both process- and outcome-oriented measures—and obtaining complete and reliable performance information—can help federal agencies identify improvement opportunities, set priorities, and allocate resources. Why GAO Did This Study Federal agencies face significant, long-standing procurement challenges that increase the risk of waste and mismanagement. GAO was asked to review key procurement practices in the private sector and assess whether federal agencies could adopt them. This report examines key practices that leading companies use to improve the performance of their procurement organizations, and the extent to which procurement leaders at selected federal agencies use those practices. GAO interviewed senior procurement leaders at seven leading companies, and experts from four professional associations and five academic institutions. GAO selected these individuals based on literature reviews and conversations with knowledgeable officials. GAO compared key practices they identified to those used at six federal agencies selected based on the dollar value and number of their procurement actions, among other factors. GAO analyzed documentation on each agency's procurement management practices, and interviewed the agencies' senior procurement leaders. The federal government does not have generally accepted definitions for outcome-oriented and process-oriented metrics. For the purposes of this report, GAO defined outcome-oriented metrics as those metrics that measure the results of organizations' procurement activities. GAO defined process-oriented metrics as those metrics that measure the type or level of procurement activities conducted.
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  • Physical Infrastructure: Preliminary Observations on Options for Improving Climate Resilience of Transportation Infrastructure
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework serves as a guide for analysis of federal actions to facilitate and promote resilience to natural disasters and changes in the climate across many policy areas, including transportation. The framework is organized around three guiding principles—information, integration, and incentives—and a series of questions that can help identify opportunities to enhance federal efforts to promote disaster resilience. Specifically, the integration principle states that integrated analysis and planning can help decision makers take coherent and coordinated actions to promote resilience. For example, in October 2019, GAO reported that no federal agency, interagency collaborative effort, or other organizational arrangement has been established to implement a strategic approach to climate resilience investment that includes periodically identifying and prioritizing projects. Such an approach could supplement individual agency climate resilience efforts and help target federal resources toward high-priority projects. GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a federal organizational arrangement to periodically identify and prioritize climate resilience projects for federal investment. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has taken steps to encourage states to enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads by developing agency policy, providing technical assistance to states, and supporting climate resilience research funding, among other actions. In addition, as part of ongoing work on FHWA's federal-aid highway program, GAO identified options that could further enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads, based on a literature review and interviews with knowledgeable stakeholders (see table). Some of these options are similar to recommendations made previously by GAO. Further, according to FHWA officials, some of these options would likely require additional congressional direction or authority to implement. Options to further enhance resilience of federally funded roads, as suggested by relevant literature and knowledgeable stakeholders Option Integrate climate resilience into Federal Highway Administration policy and guidance. Update design standards to account for climate change and resilience best practices. Provide authoritative, actionable, forward-looking climate information. Add climate resilience funding eligibility requirements, conditions, or criteria to formula grant programs. Expand the availability of discretionary funding for climate resilience improvements. Alter the Emergency Relief (ER) program by providing incentives for, or conditioning funding on, pre-disaster resilience actions. Expand the availability of ER funding for post-disaster climate resilience improvements. Establish additional climate resilience planning or project requirements. Link climate resilience actions or requirements to incentives or penalties. Condition eligibility, funding, or project approval on compliance with climate resilience policy and guidance. Source: GAO analysis of literature and interviews with knowledgeable stakeholders. | GAO-21-561T Why GAO Did This Study Since 2013, GAO has included Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks in its High Risk List. In addition, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a changing climate threatens the performance of the U.S. transportation system across all modes, including roads. Congress authorized approximately $43 billion of fiscal year 2021 formula funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation's FHWA's federal-aid highway program, which primarily funds highway planning and construction. This testimony discusses (1) GAO's framework for identifying opportunities to enhance the climate resilience of transportation infrastructure; and (2) preliminary observations on actions taken and options to further enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads. This work is based on GAO reports issued from 2014 through 2019, a review of literature, and interviews conducted with FHWA officials and knowledgeable stakeholders conducted as part of on-going work. GAO expects to issue a report on the results of its ongoing work in summer 2021.
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  • Higher Education: Children’s Savings Account Programs Can Help Families Build Savings and Envision College
    In U.S GAO News
    Eighty-two Children's Savings Account (CSA) programs operated and had collectively enrolled about 700,000 children in 2019, according to survey data from the nonprofit organization Prosperity Now. These programs—operated by states, cities, and other organizations—use a variety of strategies to enroll families, especially those with lower incomes, and help them save and prepare for college. For example, CSA programs enroll families by partnering with trusted organizations (e.g., schools) or through automatic enrollment, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and CSA experts. In addition, these programs help families build savings once children are enrolled by, for example, providing initial deposits or financial education. While experts GAO interviewed said savings may be modest given lower-income families' and programs' limited resources, CSA programs also aim to help lower-income families prepare for college, such as by increasing financial knowledge. There is evidence that CSA program strategies have positive short-term effects on families, including those with lower incomes. These effects include increased CSA program enrollment and participation, amounts saved, and educational expectations, based on research GAO reviewed (see figure). For example, strategies such as automatically enrolling families and providing financial contributions (e.g., initial deposits) may help CSA programs reach more families and encourage saving. Several studies of a CSA program that used both these strategies found increases in the number of children enrolled and the amount saved by enrolled families. One study found that families who were enrolled for 7 years saved over four times more of their own money, on average, than families who were not enrolled—$261 compared to $59. When including financial contributions from the CSA program, enrolled families had about six times more total savings ($1,851) compared to other families ($323). Enrollment and participation in CSA programs may also increase families' educational expectations for their children. For example, a study found that parents with children enrolled in one CSA program were nearly twice as likely to expect their children to attend college. However, information on college enrollment and other long-term effects on families participating in CSA programs is limited because most of the children have not yet reached college age. Effects of CSA Program Strategies in Three Commonly Assessed Areas Rising college costs have outpaced federal grant aid and placed more of the financial burden on students and their families. CSA programs help families, especially lower-income families, save for college—and other postsecondary education—by providing financial contributions and possibly other supports. A Senate Appropriations Committee report included provisions for GAO to examine various aspects of college savings account programs and their effectiveness. This report examines (1) the number of CSA programs and how they use strategies to help families, especially lower-income families, save and prepare for college; and (2) what is known about the effects of these strategies on families, including lower-income families. GAO reviewed 2016–2019 annual CSA program survey data collected by the nonprofit Prosperity Now. GAO also analyzed CFPB documents and the findings of 33 peer-reviewed studies from 2010 through 2019—and one working paper from 2017—that met GAO's criteria for inclusion, for example, used data from the United States. In addition, GAO interviewed officials from CFPB, the Department of Education, and four organizations that have expertise on these programs. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified three priority recommendations for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Since then, FDIC has implemented two of those recommendations. As of April 2021, the remaining open priority recommendation for FDIC involves the following area: Collaborating with other financial regulators to communicate with banks that have third-party relationships with financial technology lenders about using alternative data in underwriting. FDIC's continued attention to this issue could improve its ability to more effectively oversee risks to consumers and the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system. We are not adding any additional priority recommendations this year. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at 202-512-8678 or garciadiazd@gao.gov.
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  • Rebuilding Iraq: Stabilization, Reconstruction, and Financing Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The United States, along with coalition partners and various international organizations, has undertaken a challenging and costly effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq following multiple wars and decades of neglect by the former regime. This enormous effort is taking place in an unstable security environment, concurrent with Iraqi efforts to transition to its first permanent government. The United States' goal is to help the Iraqi government develop a democratic, stable, and prosperous country, at peace with itself and its neighbors, a partner in the war against terrorism, enjoying the benefits of a free society and a market economy. In this testimony, GAO discusses the challenges (1) that the United States faces in its rebuilding and stabilization efforts and (2) that the Iraqi government faces in financing future requirements. This statement is based on four reports GAO has issued to the Congress since July 2005 and recent trips to Iraq. Since July 2005, we have issued reports on (1) the status of funding and reconstruction efforts in Iraq, focusing on the progress achieved and challenges faced in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure; (2) U.S. reconstruction efforts in the water and sanitation sector; (3) U.S. assistance for the January 2005 Iraqi elections; and (4) U.S. efforts to stabilize the security situation in Iraq (a classified report).The United States faces three key challenges in rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq. First, the security environment and the continuing strength of the insurgency have made it difficult for the United States to transfer security responsibilities to Iraqi forces and progressively draw down U.S. forces. The security situation in Iraq has deteriorated since June 2003, with significant increases in attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces. In addition, the security situation has affected the cost and schedule of rebuilding efforts. The State Department has reported that security costs represent 16 to 22 percent of the overall costs of major infrastructure projects. Second, inadequate performance data and measures make it difficult to determine the overall progress and impact of U.S. reconstruction efforts. The United States has set broad goals for providing essential services in Iraq, but limited performance measures present challenges in determining the overall impact of U.S. projects. Third, the U.S. reconstruction program has encountered difficulties with Iraq's inability to sustain new and rehabilitated infrastructure projects and to address basic maintenance needs in the water, sanitation, and electricity sectors. U.S. agencies are working to develop better performance data and plans for sustaining rehabilitated infrastructure. As the new Iraqi government forms, it must plan to secure the financial resources it will need to continue the reconstruction and stabilization efforts begun by the United States and international community. Iraq will likely need more than the $56 billion that the World Bank, United Nations, and CPA estimated it would require for reconstruction and stabilization efforts from 2004 to 2007. More severely degraded infrastructure, post-2003 conflict looting and sabotage, and additional security costs have added to the country's basic reconstruction needs. However, it is unclear how Iraq will finance these additional requirements. While the United States has borne the primary financial responsibility for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq, its commitments are largely obligated and future commitments are not finalized. Further, U.S. appropriations were never intended to meet all Iraqi needs. In addition, international donors have mostly committed loans that the government of Iraq is just beginning to tap. Iraq's ability to financially contribute to its own rebuilding and stabilization efforts will depend on the new government's efforts to increase revenues obtained from crude oil exports, reduce energy and food subsidies, control government operating expenses, provide for a growing security force, and repay $84 billion in external debt and war reparations.
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