January 25, 2022

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User Fee Facilities Program

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Program Manager: Officer Andrew J. WellingtonStaff: Zehra HasnainBenefits of a User Fee FacilityProviding more efficient aircraft operations benefiting business, the environment, and the public.Fueling the local economy with increased international…

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  • Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism John T. Godfrey Travel to Oman, UAE, London
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  • Electronic Health Records: DOD Has Made Progress in Implementing a New System, but Challenges Persist
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) made progress toward implementing its new electronic health record system, MHS GENESIS. DOD deployed the new system to sites in six of 24 planned deployment phases (i.e., waves), which included about 41,600 users (see figure). DOD also improved system performance and addressed issues experienced at the initial sites. Even with this progress, incidents identified during testing—such as system defects—remain unresolved. DOD has not developed plans to conduct additional testing at future sites to ensure the remaining incidents are fully resolved. As a result, unaddressed incidents could lead to challenges at future sites. Actual and Planned MHS GENESIS Deployments, 2017-2023, as of June 2021 Additionally, implementation of MHS GENESIS faced training and communication challenges. Test results and selected system users indicated that training for MHS GENESIS and the dissemination of system change information were ineffective. For example, the users stated that training was not consistent with the “live” system. Further, users reported that there were too many system changes to keep up with and that they were not adequately informed as changes were implemented. As a result, users were unaware of important changes to their roles or business processes, or to system revisions and improvements. These challenges could hinder users' ability to effectively use the system, impede their knowledge of new workflows, and limit the utility of system improvements. Regarding key program risks, DOD identified and was tracking risks and their associated mitigation plans. Why GAO Did This Study DOD relies on multiple legacy electronic health record systems to create, maintain, and manage patient health information. DOD has determined that these systems, implemented over the past 3 decades, require modernization and replacement. The department has sought to replace these legacy systems with a comprehensive, real-time electronic health record. The conference report accompanying the Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019 and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's electronic health record deployment. GAO's objectives were to (1) determine what progress DOD has made toward implementing a new electronic health record system, and (2) identify the challenges and key risks to MHS GENESIS implementation and what steps DOD is taking to address them. To do so, GAO analyzed test reports, briefing materials, and incident report tracking documents. GAO also held discussion groups with 356 users at selected sites and interviewed relevant officials.
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  • Justice Department Finds Yale Illegally Discriminates Against Asians and Whites in Undergraduate Admissions in Violation of Federal Civil-Rights Laws
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today notified Yale University of its findings that Yale illegally discriminates against Asian American and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The findings are the result of a two-year investigation in response to a complaint by Asian American groups concerning Yale’s conduct.   
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  • Justice Department Addresses Rise in Criminal Conduct on Commercial Aircraft
    In Crime News
    As the holiday travel season commences, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize prosecution of federal crimes occurring on commercial aircraft that endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants.
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  • On Bill of Rights Day, Mary Beth Tinker Encourages Students to ‘Speak up’
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    To mark the anniversary of the Bill of Rights, on Dec. 15, Vietnam War protester Mary Beth Tinker Tinker will participate virtually in a ceremony prior to installing the armband in its temporary home in the Judicial Learning Center at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis. 
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    In Crime News
    A Utah man and his company Natur Inc. pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Salt Lake City to violating the Lacey and Endangered Species Acts.
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  • Areas with High Poverty: Changing How the 10-20-30 Funding Formula Is Applied Could Increase Impact in Persistent-Poverty Counties
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Some federal agencies have been statutorily required to use the “10-20-30 formula” when allocating funding for certain programs. That is, agencies must allocate at least 10 percent of designated funds to counties with poverty rates of at least 20 percent over the last 30 years (persistent-poverty counties). However, GAO found the formula has not always increased the proportion of funding awarded to those counties. The Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) and Department of the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund both awarded at least 10 percent of designated funds to persistent-poverty counties in fiscal years 2017–2020, but generally had done so before 2017. Most of their programs subject to the formula already were required to target funds to economically distressed areas. The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development awarded less than 10 percent of designated funds to persistent-poverty counties in at least one fiscal year for six out of 10 appropriations accounts. Rural Development set aside 10 percent of designated funds for use in those counties, which officials said met the statutory requirement to allocate these funds. Officials said some programs had not received a sufficient number of applications from these counties to meet the threshold because the programs are not well-suited to areas with severe poverty. For example, it may not be financially prudent for local governments in persistent-poverty counties to participate in a loan program to finance community facilities if the governments cannot service the debt. The purpose of the 10-20-30 formula—to increase the proportion of funding awarded to persistent-poverty counties—could be better achieved by focusing its application on programs that do not already target such areas and which can provide meaningful assistance to economically distressed communities. The three agencies GAO reviewed used different datasets and methodologies to identify persistent-poverty counties for the 10-20-30 formula. Appropriations laws for 2017–2020 required the agencies to use data from different years and sources, some outdated, to identify the counties. EDA also used a methodology that identified more than 100 additional persistent-poverty counties, than the other two agencies. Requiring each agency to identify persistent-poverty counties in this way is inefficient, and the inconsistency limits the ability to compare targeted funding across agencies. Using a uniform list of persistent-poverty counties, updated each year, would reduce administrative costs and facilitate assessments of the formula's impact across agencies. Such a measure also could help ensure more consistent investment in areas with current poverty rates of at least 20 percent. USDA's Economic Research Service has the technical capabilities to produce such a list and officials said that doing so each year would not be resource intensive because the agency already publishes other related work using the same data. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2009, the 10-20-30 formula has been applied to appropriations for certain federal programs and accounts. This includes programs and accounts administered by USDA's Rural Development, Treasury's CDFI Fund, and Commerce's EDA that averaged more than $10 billion in each fiscal year from 2017 to 2020. GAO was asked to review certain issues related to the 10-20-30 formula. This report examines (1) the proportion of funds subject to the 10-20-30 formula that these agencies awarded in persistent-poverty counties in 2017–2020 and the effects on funding levels to these areas, and (2) how agencies identify persistent-poverty counties. GAO analyzed agency budget and administrative data for fiscal years 2017—2020. GAO also reviewed documentation, such as program descriptions and funding notices, and interviewed agency officials.
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  • Robert Katzmann, Judge and Civics Advocate, Dies at 68
    In U.S Courts
    Robert A. Katzmann, a former chief judge of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and a tireless, impassioned advocate of civics education, died June 9. He was 68.
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  • National Flood Insurance Program: Congress Should Consider Updating the Mandatory Purchase Requirement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The mandatory purchase requirement mandates flood insurance for certain high-risk properties and was established to increase the number of households with flood insurance. Lenders must verify that certain properties have flood insurance. At least 10 federal entities oversee lenders' compliance, including the federal banking regulators, among others (see figure). The most frequent violation the regulators identified was related to a lack of or insufficient flood insurance coverage for properties subject to the requirement. If regulators identify violations, lenders are required to take corrective actions, and if a pattern or practice of certain flood insurance violations is found, monetary penalties may be assessed against them. Oversight of the Mandatory Purchase Requirement The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), engages in a variety of efforts to help increase consumer participation in the flood insurance market (one of the agency's goals). However, FEMA does not effectively use information related to compliance with the requirement to identify ways to meet this goal. Information currently maintained by FEMA and other federal entities could help inform FEMA on noncompliance trends and patterns and help FEMA to develop strategies to address them. By using internal and external information to better understand compliance with the requirement, and facilitating the sharing of this information among the federal entities with responsibilities related to the requirement, FEMA may help reduce instances of noncompliance, increase consumer participation, and limit the federal government's fiscal exposure to future flood losses. FEMA's floodplain maps—which, by law, delineate those properties subject to the requirement—have limitations. For example, they may not reflect current flood hazards or the potential for flooding from some types of events, such as heavy rainfall. FEMA has efforts underway that can assess flood risk more comprehensively. However, FEMA has not evaluated how the new information could be incorporated into the requirement because the agency believes it has a limited role in implementing the requirement. In addition, changes to the maps for the purpose of implementing the requirement could impact other aspects of NFIP. An evaluation by FEMA of how its new flood risk information could be used to designate which properties are subject to the requirement could help Congress revise the requirement to better increase consumer participation and reduce future federal disaster assistance expenditures. Why GAO Did This Study Flood insurance plays a key role in helping homeowners reduce the financial effects of floods, reduces the need for federal disaster assistance, and lowers costs for American taxpayers. NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to property owners in qualifying communities. The mandatory purchase requirement requires property owners in NFIP communities to purchase flood insurance if, among other things, they have mortgages from federally regulated lenders. GAO was asked to review the implementation of the mandatory purchase requirement. This report (1) describes federal entities' oversight of the requirement, (2) examines the extent to which FEMA uses information about compliance with the requirement, and (3) examines the use of FEMA floodplain maps to determine who must purchase flood insurance. GAO reviewed documentation from federal entities, analyzed data on lender violations of the requirement, and interviewed officials and other stakeholders.
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  • Housing Finance System: Future Reforms Should Consider Past Plans and Vulnerabilities Highlighted by Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted three vulnerabilities in the housing finance system—although thus far mitigated by federal actions and market conditions—that remain relevant to the debate about future system reforms. Federal fiscal exposure. Exposure to potential mortgage credit losses during an economic crisis is substantial. The government directly or indirectly backs $8 trillion in single-family mortgages, in part due to the ongoing federal conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (enterprises). Nonbank liquidity risks. Nonbanks, which service more than 50 percent of federally backed mortgages, faced significant liquidity risk—that they would be unable to meet their financial obligations—at the onset of the pandemic because they were not receiving loan payments but had to continue paying mortgage investors. Failures of nonbanks could constrain mortgage credit. Market instability. In March 2020, the pandemic's economic shock temporarily disrupted the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) market by causing many investors to sell assets. This overwhelmed market intermediaries and created conditions where MBS could not be sold. Continued market dysfunction could have limited mortgage availability and caused other credit markets to freeze. GAO analysis of the 2019 housing finance reform plans issued by the Department of the Treasury and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) identified recommendations that align with these vulnerabilities and GAO's 2014 housing finance reform framework. The plans made 81 administrative recommendations to agencies and 35 legislative recommendations to Congress. The plans contained 34 recommendations focused on federal fiscal exposure, three related to nonbank liquidity risks, and one related to MBS market stability. Regarding fiscal exposure, the recommendations included steps to help ensure the enterprises and the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) mortgage insurance programs are financially sound. Some steps, such as strengthening the enterprises' capital framework, were implemented. Others, including certain recommendations to improve the financial viability of FHA's program for reverse mortgages (a loan against home equity), were not. Each of the plans' recommendations aligned with an element of GAO's framework, and the recommendations collectively addressed all the elements to some degree (see figure below). The elements include control of fiscal exposure, alignment of policies with goals, capacity to manage risks, and borrower protections and access to mortgages. As of January 2021—the latest point at which Treasury and HUD systematically tracked implementation—agencies implemented or took partial action on 57 of 81 administrative recommendations, focusing primarily on framework elements for control of fiscal exposure and capacity to manage risks. For example, FHA substantially implemented a recommendation to develop and integrate automated tools for managing mortgage origination risks. As of September 2021, Congress had not enacted legislation to implement any of the 35 legislative recommendations. Alignment and Status of Recommendations in 2019 Housing Finance Reform Plans, by GAO Framework Element (Administrative Actions as of January 20, 2021, and Legislative Actions as of September 30, 2021) While the current administration has stated its interest in helping shape future reforms, it has not issued its own plans, or performed an analysis similar to GAO's. GAO's analysis showed that the 2019 reform plans are relevant to future planning efforts. Although the plans were issued shortly before the pandemic, they contain implemented and unimplemented recommendations relevant to vulnerabilities the pandemic highlighted. While mitigated by federal actions and market conditions thus far, the vulnerabilities remain relevant for risk assessments that may support future Treasury and HUD planning efforts. Considering recommendations from the 2019 plans could help agencies identify options for mitigating the vulnerabilities and aid assessment of steps already taken. The plans also contain recommendations related to each element of GAO's framework. Attention to each framework element is important for establishing an effective housing finance system. While future housing reforms may emphasize different policy goals, considering the prior plans in the context of the framework could help identify actions that would cover all the framework elements. As Treasury and HUD develop future reform plans, considering the recommendations in the 2019 plans and addressing all GAO framework elements could help ensure the plans address key risks, are comprehensive, and account for prior actions that complement or diverge from current policy priorities. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2013, GAO has designated the federal role in housing finance as a high-risk area because of the significant risks the current role poses. In September 2019, Treasury and HUD began implementing housing finance reform plans, which included steps to transition the enterprises from federal conservatorship. But pandemic-related strains on the housing finance system and the transition to a new administration have increased uncertainty about the future of reform. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. Congress also included a provision in statute for GAO to annually review financial services regulations. This report examines (1) vulnerabilities in the housing finance system highlighted by the pandemic, and (2) the nature and status of recommendations in the 2019 reform plans and the extent to which they align with system vulnerabilities and GAO's housing finance reform framework (GAO-15-131). GAO reviewed housing finance system research and regulations and agency documents on system reforms and pandemic responses. GAO aligned recommendations in the 2019 plans with system vulnerabilities and its 2014 framework elements. GAO also analyzed information on the status of the plan recommendations and interviewed agency and industry representatives.
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  • Justice Department Finds that Manson Youth Institution Violates the U.S. Constitution and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced today that it has concluded an investigation into whether Manson Youth Institution is violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) with respect to children in the facility.
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  • Special Operations Forces: Additional Actions Needed to Effectively Manage the Preservation of the Force and Family Program
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has established minimum requirements for its Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF) program to improve the readiness and resilience of Special Operations Forces (SOF) and their families, but has not clearly defined a key term—integrated and holistic system of care—to guide implementation of its efforts across the five POTFF domains (see figure). SOCOM officials interpret this key term differently and SOCOM guidance does not provide clarity on how subordinate commands should implement activities to achieve it. Without defining an integrated and holistic system of care or how to achieve it, SOCOM leaves interpretation of the term to subordinate commands and is unable to establish a standard for POTFF's essential coordination functions or activities against which it can assess efforts to help SOF and their families. Preservation of the Force and Family Domains The POTFF program offers a range of services for SOF, but availability and access vary. Participants in GAO focus groups had mixed experiences with POTFF, with some benefitting from services and others lacking access in certain areas, such as spiritual services. SOCOM data indicated that the number and type of POTFF service providers varies by domain and location. Additionally, SOCOM uses an allocation model that does not consider the data required by POTFF guidance, and it lacks a deployment strategy to guide POTFF service provider distribution. Without an allocation model informed by data and a deployment strategy for distributing POTFF service providers aligned to that model, SOCOM will continue to rely on incomplete information to make decisions and may not be able to ensure that service providers are distributed where they are most needed. While SOCOM is upgrading its POTFF data system to one designed to be more capable, the command does not have clear data governance or management guidance. Although SOCOM Directive 10-12 defines minimum data collection requirements for all SOCOM POTFF domains, it lacks standardized data elements. Additionally, according to officials, although SOCOM worked with service component staff to standardize data as much as possible, it had difficulty reaching agreement on which standards to follow. Without guidance that establishes data governance and management for the POTFF program, SOCOM will continue to struggle to define and collect quality data. Why GAO Did This Study For nearly 2 decades, the Department of Defense has increased its reliance on SOF, pushing some to the limits of their physical and mental well-being. To help these special forces and their families, SOCOM established the POTFF program in 2013. In fiscal year 2021, SOCOM expected to make about $80 million available for POTFF program activities and maintained over 800 POTFF service providers across 32 locations worldwide to care for SOF and their families. House Report 116-442 included a provision for GAO to review the POTFF program. GAO evaluated, among other things, the extent to which SOCOM has provided subordinate commands with guidance on POTFF implementation, made POTFF services available and accessible to SOF, and developed an overarching vision for effective data usage for the POTFF program. GAO reviewed SOCOM policies and guidance and analyzed information on POTFF services and service providers. GAO also held focus groups with SOF personnel and interviewed officials managing the program.
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  • VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Graduate Medical Education Reimbursement
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides training to more than 45,000 medical and dental residents annually through its Graduate Medical Education (GME) program. VHA has established policy for its GME program that details many roles and responsibilities for overseeing VA medical facilities' reimbursements to affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. However, this policy does not define key roles and responsibilities for VHA's central office components, its regional networks, or its medical facilities. For example, VHA's regional networks do not have defined roles and responsibilities for overseeing GME disbursements—contributing to noninvolvement or inconsistent involvement in disbursement agreement oversight. VHA officials reported that they are in the process of updating disbursement agreement policy, but did not indicate if the updates would address all identified concerns. While VHA officials said that VHA's two disbursement agreement oversight mechanisms—facility periodic audits and the Resident Disbursement Audit Process (ReDPro) checklist—are meant to have distinct but complementary purposes, GAO found that VHA policy, guidance, and the tools distributed for these oversight mechanisms did not reflect the distinct purposes officials described. VHA officials said that periodic audits are intended to be a first level of defense and to review actual payments to affiliates, whereas the ReDPro checklist is intended to be a second level of defense, aimed at reviewing the process to see if the rules related to disbursement agreements are being followed by VA medical facilities. However, the ReDPro checklist tool and VHA's recommended periodic audit tool have numerous areas of overlap, including duplicative questions. This overlap causes inefficiencies and unnecessary burden on VA medical facility staff. GAO also found additional weaknesses in the tools, guidance, and training for the two oversight mechanisms. For example, GAO found an unclear ReDPro checklist tool, along with insufficient guidance and training related to conducting the ReDPro reviews. Officials from eight of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that the ReDPro checklist instructions were unclear regarding appropriate supporting documents for checklist responses. These weaknesses contributed to errors and inconsistencies in ReDPro responses. the lack of a standard audit tool, and inadequate guidance and training for periodic audit teams that contributed to problematic inconsistencies in the methodologies used by the audit teams and deficiencies in some of the audits conducted. Officials from 10 of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that they would benefit from more tools, guidance, or training related to conducting periodic audits. These weaknesses limit the effectiveness of VHA's oversight mechanisms, and put VHA at increased risk of both not being able to identify and correct facilities' lack of adherence to disbursement agreement policy and of possible improper payments to GME affiliates. Under VHA's GME program, VA medical facilities use disbursement agreements to reimburse affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. VHA developed policy related to establishing and administering disbursement agreements, but audits have found that facilities have not always adhered to VHA policy—resulting in improper payments to affiliates. GAO was asked to review VHA policies and procedures related to reimbursements to affiliates for GME. This report examines (1) oversight roles and responsibilities for GME disbursement agreements and (2) VHA's mechanisms for ensuring VA medical facilities adhere to policy. GAO reviewed relevant VHA documents and federal internal control standards and interviewed VHA officials. GAO also reviewed ReDPro checklist responses and documentation from 13 VA medical facilities—selected based on factors including geographic variation, GME program size, and number of affiliates. GAO also visited four of the 13 facilities and interviewed officials at the other nine facilities. GAO is making seven recommendations to VA to define key roles in policy, reduce overlap between the ReDPro checklist and facility periodic audits, and improve the oversight mechanisms' tools, guidance, and training. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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