January 20, 2022

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U.S.-Bulgaria Sign Nuclear Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding

6 min read

Office of the Spokesperson

Today, the United States and Bulgaria signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Strategic Civil Nuclear Cooperation (NCMOU), which will further strengthen the diplomatic and economic ties between our two nations. This NCMOU bolsters our bilateral strategic relationship while deepening our cooperation on energy security.

Nuclear Cooperation MOUs are diplomatic mechanisms that strengthen and expand strategic ties between the United States and a partner country by providing a framework for cooperation on civil nuclear issues and for engagement between experts from government, industry, national laboratories, and academic institutions.

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  • Behavioral Health and COVID-19: Higher-Risk Populations and Related Federal Relief Funding
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis—such as increased social isolation, stress, and unemployment—have intensified concerns about the number of people in the U.S. affected by behavioral health conditions: mental health and substance use disorders. Based on 32 interviews with federal, state, and other stakeholders, and a review of selected research, GAO found that certain populations may be at higher risk of new or exacerbated behavioral health symptoms or conditions related to the pandemic. Six populations were cited by the most stakeholders as being at higher risk of such behavioral health effects for a range of reasons. Children and adolescents, for example, had rising rates of behavioral health conditions before the pandemic and then faced disruptions to school-based behavioral health services, stakeholders said. They also said that people may be part of multiple higher-risk populations, though not everyone at risk will develop symptoms or conditions. Stakeholders cautioned that with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it will take time to determine how different populations may be affected in the long term. Populations Cited by the Most Stakeholders as Being at Higher Risk of Behavioral Health Effects As of November 2021, the federal government awarded over $8 billion in COVID-19 relief funding for behavioral health. Over 97 percent of this funding was provided to states and other recipients through six programs: one Federal Emergency Management Agency program, and five Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) programs. For example, SAMHSA awarded about $5.3 billion to 50 states, Washington, D.C., eight U.S. territories and other jurisdictions, and one tribe through supplements to existing substance abuse and mental health block grants using standard statutory formulas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also awarded about $467 million to 46 states, Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories via the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program. GAO's review of program documentation shows that the COVID-19 relief funds for behavioral health, as awarded through the six programs, could generally serve the six higher-risk populations identified by stakeholders. Selected funding recipients in four states and Washington, D.C., reported varying ways they were using, or planned to use, relief funds to reach higher-risk populations. For example, officials in one state said they planned to use some mental health block grant funds to assist children and adolescents in the child protective services system. SAMHSA officials said that it would take time to determine who was actually served by COVID-19 relief funded programs, but said that it was important to examine grantee data to determine whether target populations were reached and identify any gaps, and the agency planned to do so. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic has had repercussions for the behavioral health of the nation. During the pandemic, U.S. adults have reported higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms and substance use. To address related concerns, the CARES Act; the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021; and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 appropriated relief funds specifically for behavioral health. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes (1) populations that may be at higher risk of behavioral health effects; (2) the amount and type of funding the federal government provided in COVID-19 relief to address behavioral health needs; and (3) whether COVID-19 relief funds for behavioral health could serve higher-risk populations, and how selected funding recipients plan to use these funds. GAO will continue to monitor behavioral health issues as part of ongoing COVID-19 related oversight. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed selected research on COVID-19 and behavioral health, and relevant federal funding opportunity and awards documents. GAO also interviewed stakeholders, such as federal officials, researchers, and grantees. Grantees included state officials and providers in four states and Washington, D.C., selected based on state behavioral health metrics and CARES Act-funded grants received, among other factors. GAO incorporated technical comments from the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, as appropriate. For more information, contact Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Housing and Urban Development
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 17 priority recommendations for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Since then, HUD has implemented 5 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to help HUD strengthen the monitoring of disaster recovery block grant funds and improving information technology management. In June 2021, GAO identified 1 additional priority recommendation for HUD, bringing the total number to 13. This recommendation involved improving the Real Estate Assessment Center's physical inspection process. The 13 recommendations fall into the following areas: Improve Real Estate Assessment Center's physical inspection process Address Ginnie Mae's risk management and staffing-related challenges Strengthen processes to address lead paint hazards Enhance oversight of Moving to Work Improve cybersecurity risk management and workforce planning practices Improve information technology management HUD's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/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 John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • Defense Nuclear Enterprise: DOD Can Improve Processes for Monitoring Long-Standing Issues
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) continues to make progress implementing the recommendations from the 2014 nuclear enterprise reviews and the 2015 nuclear command, control, and communications enterprise review. From the 2014 reviews, DOD identified 175 recommendations. From these 175, DOD identified 247 actions it referred to as sub-recommendations, meaning that a recommendation made to multiple DOD components would be counted as one sub-recommendation for each of those components. Since GAO's March 2020 report, DOD has closed an additional nine of these sub-recommendations, and recommended 11 sub-recommendations for final closure. DOD has also closed one additional recommendation from the 13 made in its 2015 review, with four of the remaining five recommended for final closure. Regarding the 2014 recommendations related to nuclear security forces, DOD identified initial metrics and milestones for tracking the progress addressing the identified challenges, but GAO found that a key measure for many of the recommendations contained unreliable data. Additionally, more recent reviews of security forces have identified additional metrics and milestones that could help DOD in assessing the progress of recommendation implementation. However, DOD has not reassessed these measures to determine if they are appropriate. As a result, DOD is not in a position to effectively measure progress or assess whether the actions taken have addressed the underlying issues. In November 2018, GAO found that DOD had taken steps to improve nuclear enterprise oversight in response to the 2014 reviews. However, GAO found a key organization lacked clear roles, responsibilities, and methods to collaborate with other nuclear oversight organizations. Subsequently, in January 2021, DOD created a new entity, the Secretary of Defense Nuclear Transition Review, to take over responsibility for oversight of the defense nuclear enterprise (see figure). However, DOD has not defined specific roles and responsibilities for this organization or how it will communicate internally and with other organizations. Selected Oversight Groups in the Nuclear Enterprise In addition, DOD and the military services have made some progress in identifying areas for monitoring the health of the nuclear enterprise, but DOD has not identified the means by which it will monitor long-standing issues related to the long-term health of the enterprise. Why GAO Did This Study In 2014, the Secretary of Defense directed two reviews of DOD's nuclear enterprise. The reviews made recommendations to address long-standing issues with leadership, investment, morale, policy, and procedures, as well as other shortcomings adversely affecting the nuclear deterrence mission. In 2015, DOD conducted a review focused on nuclear command, control, and communications systems, resulting in additional recommendations. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's processes for addressing these recommendations. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) made progress implementing the recommendations; (2) evaluated the metrics and milestones for implementing the 2014 nuclear enterprise review recommendations related to nuclear security forces; and (3) implemented oversight mechanisms, including developing an approach for monitoring long-standing issues. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed DOD officials on the recommendations' status and DOD's oversight.
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    In Crime News
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  • Real Estate Appraisals: Most Residential Mortgages Received Appraisals, but Waiver Procedures Need to Be Better Defined
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Although Title XI permits federal regulators to exempt certain mortgages from an appraisal requirement, such exemptions likely have not increased overall risks for regulated lenders (e.g., banks and credit unions) and homebuyers. This is because GAO estimates the lenders obtained appraisals for around 85 percent of the mortgages eligible for an exemption in 2018–2019 (see figure). An appraisal of a home's market value can help lenders mitigate the risk of loss and homebuyers mitigate the risk of overpaying. Regulated lenders obtained appraisals even when not required by Title XI for various reasons. For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac generally require appraisals for mortgages they purchase from lenders, so lenders obtained appraisals in order to sell mortgages to them. In addition, regulated lenders typically obtained appraisals for mortgages of $250,000 or less, although they were permitted to use an evaluation (an estimate of a home's market value not conducted by a state-approved appraiser) in place of an appraisal. Most Residential Mortgages Originated in 2018–2019 That Qualified for a Title XI Appraisal Exemption Still Had an Appraisal The Appraisal Subcommittee (ASC) followed its process in granting a waiver to North Dakota in 2019 but faced challenges in making the determination. ASC may temporarily waive the requirement that only state-approved appraisers perform Title XI appraisals if it determines a scarcity of appraisers led to a significant delay in obtaining appraisals. However, ASC's regulations and guidance for processing temporary waiver requests do not define scarcity and significant delay or establish standards to determine when these conditions exist. For North Dakota's request, the absence of such standards led different stakeholders to use different definitions and data to prove or disprove the conditions existed—creating challenges for ASC in making its determination. Defining the key terms in measurable ways and establishing standards to determine if such conditions exist would better ensure that ASC has a consistent and objective process for reviewing and granting future waiver requests. Why GAO Did This Study Congress enacted Title XI in the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 to require regulated lenders to obtain appraisals for residential mortgages from state-approved appraisers, unless eligible for one of its exemptions. Title XI also created ASC to monitor Title XI-related activities and authorized it to grant waivers related to appraiser credentialing requirements. In late 2019 and early 2020, federal regulators raised the threshold under which lenders can (but do not have to) obtain an evaluation instead of an appraisal for mortgages to $400,000 or less. Also, in 2018, North Dakota requested a temporary waiver, citing delays in appraisals because of a scarcity of appraisers. GAO was asked to review Title XI exemptions. This report examines the extent to which (1) Title XI appraisal exemptions increased risks for federally regulated lenders and homebuyers, and (2) ASC followed its waiver review process or faced challenges when it granted North Dakota a temporary waiver. GAO reviewed and analyzed Title XI and related regulations, most recently available mortgage data, research on appraisals, and ASC records, and interviewed federal agencies and industry stakeholders.
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