December 6, 2021

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U.S.-EU Dialogue on Nonproliferation, Disarmament, Arms Control and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Risk Mitigation

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Office of the Spokesperson

The United States and the European Union’s External Action Service held another meeting this week in their ongoing dialogue on nonproliferation, arms control, disarmament, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear risk mitigation issues. Ann Ganzer, Senior Official for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, and Bruce Turner, Senior Official for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, led discussions on the U.S. side. Marjolijn van Deelen, Special Envoy for Nonproliferation and Disarmament, led for the EEAS.

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  • VA Health Care: Challenges in Budget Formulation and Issues Surrounding the Proposal for Advance Appropriations
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates it will provide health care to 5.8 million patients with appropriations of about $41 billion in fiscal year 2009. It provides a range of services, including primary care, outpatient and inpatient services, long-term care, and prescription drugs. VA formulates its health care budget by developing annual estimates of its likely spending for all its health care programs and services, and includes these estimates in its annual congressional budget justification. GAO was asked to discuss budgeting for VA health care. As agreed, this statement addresses (1) challenges VA faces in formulating its health care budget and (2) issues surrounding the possibility of providing advance appropriations for VA health care. This testimony is based on prior GAO work, including VA Health Care: Budget Formulation and Reporting on Budget Execution Need Improvement (GAO-06-958) (Sept. 2006); VA Health Care: Long-Term Care Strategic Planning and Budgeting Need Improvement (GAO-09-145) (Jan. 2009); and VA Health Care: Challenges in Budget Formulation and Execution (GAO-09-459T) (Mar. 2009); and on GAO reviews of budgets, budget resolutions, and related legislative documents. We discussed the contents of this statement with VA officials.GAO's prior work highlights some of the challenges VA faces in formulating its budget: obtaining sufficient data for useful budget projections, making accurate calculations, and making realistic assumptions. For example, GAO's 2006 report on VA's overall health care budget found that VA underestimated the cost of serving veterans returning from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to VA officials, the agency did not have sufficient data from the Department of Defense, but VA subsequently began receiving the needed data monthly rather than quarterly. In addition, VA made calculation errors when estimating the effect of its proposed fiscal year 2006 nursing home policy, and this contributed to requests for supplemental funding. GAO recommended that VA strengthen its internal controls to better ensure the accuracy of calculations used to prepare budget requests. VA agreed and, for its fiscal year 2009 budget justification, had an independent actuarial firm validate savings estimates from proposals to increase fees for certain types of health care coverage. In January 2009, GAO found that VA's assumptions about the cost of providing long-term care appeared unreliable given that assumed cost increases were lower than VA's recent spending experience and guidance provided by the Office of Management and Budget. GAO recommended that VA use assumptions consistent with recent experience or report the rationale for alternative cost assumptions. In a March 23, 2009, letter to GAO, VA stated that it concurred and would implement this recommendation for future budget submissions. The provision of advance appropriations would "use up" discretionary budget authority for the next year and so limit Congress's flexibility to respond to changing priorities and needs. While providing funds for 2 years in a single appropriations act provides certainty about some funds, the longer projection period increases the uncertainty of the data and projections used. If VA is expected to submit its budget proposal for health care for 2 years, the lead time for the second year would be 30 months. This additional lead time increases the uncertainty of the estimates and could worsen the challenges VA already faces when formulating its health care budget. Given the challenges VA faces in formulating its health care budget and the changing nature of health care, proposals to change the availability of the appropriations it receives deserve careful scrutiny. Providing advance appropriations will not mitigate or solve the problems we have reported regarding data, calculations, or assumptions in developing VA's health care budget. Nor will it address any link between cost growth and program design. Congressional oversight will continue to be critical.
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  • Home Foreclosure Sales: FHA, Rural Housing Service, and VA Could Better Align Program Metrics with Their Missions
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  • Small Business Research Programs: Agencies Should Further Improve Award Timeliness
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Most federal agencies that participate in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs did not consistently issue timely awards to small businesses in fiscal year 2020. The Small Business Administration's (SBA) SBIR/STTR policy directive recommends that most agencies issue such awards within 180 days of the closing date of the solicitation. On the one hand, timeliness across agencies has improved since fiscal year 2017. Agencies issued 69 percent of awards within the recommended time that year, compared to 82 percent of awards that we reviewed for fiscal year 2020. On the other hand, only nine of the 29 participating agencies were consistently on time in fiscal year 2020, meaning they issued at least 90 percent of their awards within 180 days. This lack of timeliness dates back at least 5 years: 20 agencies were routinely late during that period, issuing fewer than 90 percent of their awards on time for 3 or more of the 5 fiscal years since 2016 (see figure). Total Number and Value of Late Awards Issued by Routinely Late Agencies Nearly all of the agencies that were routinely late in issuing awards to small businesses have taken some steps to address risks to the timeliness of their awards. Such risks included not having standardized proposal review procedures and a lack of dedicated staff to issue awards. Agencies have taken some steps to improve timeliness by, for example, streamlining proposal reviews and the award contracting process. However, they have not fully addressed risks they identified or evaluated steps already taken and may continue to issue late awards until they do so. Although the Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some steps to improve timeliness, it has not established a required pilot program. According to officials, DOD has not done so, in part, because it would be too difficult to standardize practices across the department. GAO found that 12 of the 13 DOD participating agencies are not consistently issuing timely awards to small businesses. Without addressing the pilot program requirements, or by not reporting to Congress if the requirements are infeasible, DOD may be missing an opportunity to obtain technologies more quickly, as well as sustain small businesses that can provide such technologies. Why GAO Did This Study SBIR and STTR participating agencies awarded over $3 billion to small businesses in fiscal year 2020 to develop and commercialize new technologies. Timely issuance of these awards can affect the speed with which small businesses receive funds and begin work, according to the SBA. SBA's SBIR/STTR policy directive provides time frames for notification and award issuance—90 days for award notification and 180 days for award issuance. The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision for GAO to review the timeliness of award notification and issuance. The Fiscal Year 2021 NDAA conference report included a provision for GAO to review instances of agencies not following through with awards. This report, GAO's third, examines, among other things: (1) agencies' timeliness in notification and issuance, (2) the extent to which agencies have addressed risks to award timeliness, and (3) the extent to which DOD established a pilot program to improve timeliness. GAO analyzed SBIR and STTR award data, reviewed documentation, interviewed SBA officials, and sent a questionnaire to all 29 participating agencies and select small businesses.
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  • DHS Office of Inspector General: Preliminary Observations on Long-Standing Management and Operational Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's preliminary work has identified a number of management and operational challenges, including frequent leadership turnover, since fiscal year 2015 that have impeded the overall effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). DHS OIG senior leaders have acknowledged that these challenges have contributed to organizational weaknesses, and have taken steps to begin addressing some of them. GAO's preliminary work has identified issues in the following areas, among others: Strategic planning: DHS OIG has not consistently developed strategic plans, which are a necessary input for developing the organization's other guiding documents and governance framework. Specifically, DHS OIG has operated for 4 of the past 6 years without a strategic plan, and the plan it adopted for fiscal years 2018–2019 included some, but not all, of the elements considered standard for federal entities. In 2020, DHS OIG contracted with a nonprofit academy of government experts to develop a strategic plan for fiscal years 2021–2025, with expected delivery in June 2021. Quality assurance: Internal and external reviews have reported on concerns about quality assurance in some of DHS OIG's work. In 2017 and 2018, after an internal review found that some reports issued by DHS OIG may not have adhered to the professional standards cited, DHS OIG retracted 13 audit reports that had been issued over a 5-year period. In 2018, an external review determined that DHS OIG needed to improve its system of quality control. Though DHS OIG concurred with all of the recommendations from that external review, it did not fully implement them. In addition, DHS OIG has not established roles and responsibilities for an organization-wide quality assurance program. Moreover, GAO's preliminary work indicates that current staff allocations may limit DHS OIG's quality assurance reviews to focusing on audit work and not on the other types of work it produces, including inspections, evaluations, special reviews, and management alerts. Timeliness: DHS OIG project time frames for work from its offices of Audits and Special Reviews and Evaluations have increased over the 4 fiscal years GAO assessed. For example, in fiscal year 2017, 79 of 102 Office of Audits projects were completed in 1 year or less and eight of 102 took more than 18 months. In fiscal year 2020, seven of 67 reports were completed in 1 year or less and more than half (35 of 67) took more than 18 months. In addition, DHS OIG has not assessed time frames for work completed by these offices, though timeliness in reporting is a key element of effective oversight and DHS OIG staff considered it an organizational weakness. GAO will complete its evaluation of these and other management and operational areas, and will issue a final report in the coming months. Why GAO Did This Study DHS OIG has a critical role in providing independent and objective oversight of DHS, which encompasses multiple operational and support components. OIGs are expected to maintain high standards of professionalism and integrity in light of their mission, according to quality standards developed by the community of federal Inspectors General. However, DHS OIG has faced a number of challenges that have affected its ability to carry out its oversight mission effectively. This statement is based on GAO's draft report on DHS OIG's management and operations, which is currently at the agency for comment. It provides preliminary observations on DHS OIG's strategic planning processes; quality assurance processes; and reporting time frames for work from DHS OIG's offices of Audits and Special Reviews and Evaluations. To develop these preliminary observations, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and quality standards for federal OIGs as well as DHS OIG documentation, including organizational policies; internal communications such as emails and memoranda; and DHS OIG's semiannual reports to Congress and published reports. GAO also analyzed DHS OIG project data from fiscal years 2015 through 2020, and interviewed DHS OIG leaders and other staff.
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