January 22, 2022

News

News Network

Whither Arms Control in Outer Space? Space Threats, Space Hypocrisy, and the Hope of Space Norms

22 min read

Dr. Christopher Ashley Ford, Assistant SecretaryBureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

Washington, DC

Center for Strategic and International Studies Webinar on “Threats, Challenges and Opportunities in Space”

Good afternoon, everyone.  This is only my second Zoom teleconference, but hopefully I am getting the hang of this format now.  I’m glad that we are able to find ways to keep interacting with NGO experts such as yourselves during this pandemic.  It’s great to be able to talk to you today. 

Outer space — or more specifically, the area of it that surrounds our planet — is today an extraordinarily dynamic environment.  Whereas for almost all of human history pretty much no one had any idea that there even was such a domain in which humans could give expression to their inherent dynamism, and whereas for some time thereafter space issues were conceived primarily through the lens of bilateral Cold War rivalry, outer space is today all but pulsing with activity and possibility.  

There are more actors operating in space than ever before, with more than 100 governments and countless inter-governmental organizations and non-state actors playing some kind of role in space activity, including important sectors of industry and academia.  The range of commercial technological and entrepreneurial innovation in space is also exploding, in a kaleidoscope of fascinating innovations and initiatives — among them the advent of “mega constellations,” the build-out of 5G communications and applications in spacethe development of reusable and even self-returning space-launch vehicles (SLVs)the proliferation of nanosats, and the arrival of robotics for on-orbit servicing and active debris removal.  Today, moreover, recourse to space-based communications and space-facilitated functions is so ubiquitous that there are surely few, if any, countries anywhere that do not depend upon outer space in some way for their prosperity or security. 

But there is also a dark side to all of this vibrancy and activity, for outer space has also emerged as a battlespace — a domain of conflict that will almost certainly be a key arena if there is a war between any major powers.  Space has long been important to war fighting, with both sides during the Cold War coming to depend heavily upon space-based communications and intelligence assets, and the early development of anti-satellite (ASAT) weaponry.  Thanks to the aggressive development and deployment of counterspace capabilities by Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), however, outer space has more recently become an alarming potential location for warfighting as a real domain all its own.   

This raises questions, of course, about what the international community should do about such threats to the orbital domain upon which we all depend so heavily.  Not surprisingly, the range of answers under discussion is quite broad, with some proposals being rather more reasonable than others — and some ideas being downright awful.  So I’d like to talk today about how we in the U.S. Government see these challenges, and how we are pursuing a constructive way forward.   

I. The Threat  

One cannot have a coherent discussion about outer space security solutions without understanding the problem, so let me first outline the nature and gravity of the space threats that Russia and the PRC present today to every country that depends upon space-based assets. The CSIS and Secure World Foundation reports that will be the focus of the panel following my remarks do an exceptional job at describing these counterspace weapon developments in detail, but let me myself remark on some of the more significant developments in recent years.   

The world has known about the PRC ASAT threat since 2007, when Beijing tested a ground-based missile that destroyed a satellite, in a test that produced an appalling amount of orbital debris that even to this day – almost 13 years later – still threatens all countries’ low-earth orbital constellations.  What is less well known is that since that infamously irresponsible 2007 test, the PRC’s program has matured into an operational ground-based ASAT missile capability for destroying satellites in low-earth orbit.  The PRC is also likely pursuing additional ground-based ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites in geosynchronous orbit, where many important capabilities such as U.S. nuclear command and control and missile warning satellites reside.  It is clear that Beijing conceives of outer space as a critical warfighting domain, and that it expects to escalate in this arena very quickly in wartime.  Military and strategic thinkers in the PRC now openly talk and write about their intentions to move against U.S. satellites early in any future conflict. 

Despite the PRC’s irresponsible 2007 ASAT test and methodical approach to developing these counterspace capabilities, however, it is Russia that enjuoys the dubious honor of being the poster child for dangerous and provocative space postures.  Nor do the Russians bother to hide it, instead openly bragging about their development of counterspace capabilities.  In 2017, for instance, a Russian Air Force commander said that Moscow is developing new missiles with which to destroy satellites, and the Ministry of Defense admitted it is working on “a mobile attack anti-satellite system.”  Vladimir Putin himself announced in March 2018 that Russia was developing a mobile anti-satellite laser system, and the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has since confirmed that its Space Troops have indeed now received a mobile laser of this sort.  Both Beijing and Moscow, therefore, are building up their arsenal of terrestriallybased ASAT capabilities, and they don’t seem shy about showing it. 

But that’s not nearly the end of it, for such threats are in no way limited to terrestriallybased systems.  Outer space is a domain in which there remains a good deal of secrecy, but also one in which lots of people with telescopes can see some key aspects of what’s going on.  Thanks to observations and analyses by amateur astronomers, commercially provided informationand the orbital data that the U.S. Government releases to the public, it is now possible to talk at the unclassified level about Russia’s apparent development of in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry.  Let me give you some examples. 

In October 2017, the Russian Ministry of Defense deployed a space object, Cosmos 2519, that officials claimed was a “space apparatus inspector.”  The behavior of Cosmos 2519, however, was notably unusual, and inconsistent with anything seen before for on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness — and inconsistent, in fact, with any sort of device except an ASAT weapon.  Once in orbit, Cosmos 2519 deployed a sub-satellite, Cosmos 2521, that displayed the ability to maneuver around another satellite in space.  So far, I guess, you could argue that this was consistent with the declared purpose of being a “space apparatus inspector.”  But what happened next is the disturbing part: the sub-satellite Cosmos 2521 itself launched an additional object into space, Cosmos 2523 — at the high relative speed of about 250 kilometers per hour, straight off into space.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but Cosmos 2521 demonstrated the ability to position itself near another satellite and fire a projectile.      

Having demonstrated this capability in October 2017 – and done so in what counts as being “in public” in space, since if you want to, you can go look up these orbital tracks yourself on the Space-Track.org website – Russia has followed up this activity with some additionally provocative satellite movements.  

Since that date, as General Raymond, the commander of U.S. Space Command and Chief of Space Operations, has noted, for instance, two other Russian MoD satellites, Cosmos 2542 and 2543, were deployed last November and December and have actively maneuvered near a U.S. Government satellite in low earth orbit.  After launch, the Cosmos 2542 satellite demonstrated similar capabilities as Cosmos 2519.  Since the Russian military had already demonstrated its ability to fire a projectile from one satellite in space just over two years before, Russia’s irresponsible movements are clearly hugely provocative.  

Moreover, we have some concerns about Russia’s ability to operate in close proximity to other satellites.  Last year, in another episode involving the Russian Ministry of Defense launching a supposed “inspector satellite,” Cosmos 2535 and Cosmos 2536 maneuvered near each other — after which mysterious small additional objects appeared.  The Russian Federation has not yet registered these objects, so they don’t appear to be new satellites.  Instead, the logical conclusion would be that the two satellites collided and created debris.  If so, that suggests something went very wrong with their proximity operations, which is why you can understand our concern about Russia being in close proximity to a U.S. government satellite.  There’s really no good answer: either these two satellites accidentally crashed into each other, highlighting the risks inherent in Russia’s proximity operations, or something happened intentionally.  In neither case does Russia look much like the responsible space actor one wishes it were. 

Together, these irresponsible Russian and PRC actions obviously represent quite a remarkable and provocative escalation of military posture in outer space.  They demonstrate the dangerous degree to which Moscow and Beijing have already weaponized the space domain in threatening ways, and they highlight the importance of the rest of the world coming together to speak with one voice in condemning such approaches and in developing constructive answers to these threats. 

II. Dangerous and Hypocritical Answers   

But we are not the only ones talking about answers to these questions, and as always in the arms control arena, one needs to be wary of snake oil salesmen.  In what one might be forgiven for thinking is an effort to win some kind of international chutzpah competition, in fact, Russia and the PRC are offering what they describe as a draft “Treaty on the Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space,” or PPWT – an instrument that purports to help solve the problems that its drafters have themselves worked hard to create.  They also proffer something Russia calls the “No First Placement” initiative, in which countries voluntarily agree not to be the “first” to place weapons in space. 

As you can tell from the facts I’ve already recounted, these initiatives would be humorous punch lines if the subject matter were not so deadly serious.  The draft PPWT would by careful design fail to address in any meaningful fashion the terrestriallybased ASAT systems that both Russia and China have long since developed and deployed.  As for Russia’s initiative about not placing weapons in space, a more accurate term for this efforts might be the “No Second Placement” initiative, for the point of this diplomatic overture seems simply to be propaganda, or worse.  In the spirit of Moscow’s so-called “moratorium” on intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe, the effort apparently aims to lock in unilateral military advantage – that is, to persuade other countries not to do in space what Russia gives every sign of already having done itself.  

It’s important to make these points because not listening to deceptive or dangerous answers is an important — and often-overlooked — aspect of arms control wisdom.  Given all these factors, it is hard not to come to a conclusion that this call for quick negotiations looks like an attempt by Russia and the PRC to constrain the United States and our allies without either Moscow or Beijing having the slightest intention of abiding by the commitments they are proffering.   

But having evaluated such disingenuous Russian and PRC responses to the outer space militarization problems that Moscow and Beijing have created, and having dismissed these responses with the derision they deserve, it is still necessary to look for better answers.  So how are we in the United States approaching these challenges? 

III. A Better Way Forward   

To answer that question, let me begin by mentioning what we are doing in order to protect our security interests and deter outer space-related provocations directly before turning to our diplomatic efforts.   

 A. Deterrence  

First and foremost, we are working to deter aggression and dangerous, escalatory provocations in outer space.  First and foremost, you can see how serious an issue this is in the President’s creation of the U.S. Space Force as a sixth branch of the armed services.  Additionally, the U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) makes clear that “he United States considers unfettered access to and freedom to operate in space to be a vital interest,” and that “ny harmful interference with or an attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital U.S. interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.”  This covers not just attacks upon assets that are themselves in space, but also attacks upon any aspects of our space architecture, including ground systems.  Our potential adversaries need to know that there is nothing “different” in this respect about any component of the U.S. space architecture: if you attack it, you are attacking us. 

Indeed, we have made clear that we do not rule out even the use of nuclear weapons in response to a sufficiently severe attack upon critical aspects of our space architecture.  The latest U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) declares that “he United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners.”  As you’ll recall, our space architecture is specified in the NSS as a vital U.S. interest.”  This is no coincidence. 

In fact, the NPR goes on to clarify that the “extreme circumstances” in which the United States will not rule out nuclear weapons use “could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.”  What does this mean? Well, according to the NPR,

“ignificant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”   

I need hardly point out — but I will nonetheless, for emphasis — that the U.S. National nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3) architecture depends to some extent upon space-based systems.  Any harmful interference with or attacks upon such components of our space architecture at any time, even if undertaken only with non-nuclear tools, thus starts to move into “significant non-nuclear strategic attack” territory, and would lead to a significant and potentially drastic escalation of a crisis or conflict.  It is essential that any potential adversary understand this with crystalline clarity.  And with the PRC exploring capabilities to attack satellites in orbits such as those of our NC3 systems, it is important to note that this is not just a theoretical or hypothetical question.   

B. Normative Development

That said, our hope is to do much more than just deter the worst sorts of behavior in outer space.  We also hope to build broad international support for norms of responsible behavior that will help forestall problems and reduce escalation and accident risks in this rapidly evolving domain. 

As I made clear in December at a European Union conference on nonproliferation, outer space is a domain in which technologies are evolving so quickly, private and governmental actors are intertwined, and definitions of what can be a “weapon” are so vague, that it is hard to see how traditional, rule-based and legally-binding “prohibitory” approaches to arms control could work.  I am convinced, however, that it remains possible to develop better and better normative expectations in outer space – just as we have been making progress on doing in the even faster-moving arena of cyberspace during the last few U.N.-sponsored cyberspace Groups of Governmental Experts (GGEs).  U.S. diplomats are looking, in other words, to work constructively with their counterparts in other spacefaring nations to develop approaches to outer space norms that will help improve predictability and collective “best practices” in the space domain.  

There is nothing untoward about trying to develop normative expectations in outer space.  Important standards for space-related behavior already exist.   Some have grown from legallybinding instruments, such as the Outer Space Treaty (which bars placing nuclear weapons into orbit, or on celestial bodies), or the Registration Convention (which calls for registration of all space objects).  In the interests of preserving the efficacy of arms control verification, a number of arms control precedents between the United States and the USSR or the Russian Federation prohibited interference with space-based “national technical means” of verification.  The Constitution of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and its Radio Regulations articulate a norm against harmful interference with space radiocommunications services, while there are also legally binding rules against nuclear testing in outer space written in to the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT).  

As a consensus study in 2013 by a UN Group of Government Experts noted, moreover, norms and transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs) do not have to be legallybinding or be articulated in legallybinding instruments in order to be useful and contribute to constructive behavior and the promotion of global “best practices” for governmental and a broadening range of private sector space activities.  The Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC), for instance, urges the provision of Pre-Launch Notification (PLNs) for missile tests in order to improve trust and confidence and reduce the risk of inadvertent escalation.  The 2019 United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) process guidelines on the Long-term Sustainability (LTS) of the Outer Space Environment Activities, the  U.N. S2007 COPUOS Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, and the recently updated U.S. Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices are also articulations of expected “best practices” that are proving helpful in the outer space domain. 

There is also constructive thinking underway in both government and the private sector about how to formulate analogous best practices in areas such as satellite collision avoidance, and on-orbit rendezvous and servicing operations and utilization of space resources.  As a result, U.S. diplomatic engagements on these issues rely on extensive and thoughtful inputs provided by American companies and academic experts. 

So far, however, none of these various efforts, as salutary as they are, have yet directly addressed the security problems that are emerging as a result of ongoing Russian and PRC weaponization of the space domain and placement of weapons in outer space.  We clearly need to do more to develop non-legallybinding international norms of responsible behavior that are complementary to the existing legal regime – both through “bottom-up” best practices developed cooperatively with other the full range of established and emerging space actors, and through “top-down’ voluntary, non-legally binding TCBMs.  And we need to do this in the security arena, in order to cope with the challenges presented by Russian and Chinese space weaponry. 

I’m certainly not here today to outline as set of “take-it-or-leave-it” U.S. ideas on space norms.  You don’t just declare norms; you grow them, as it were, with your partners.  As one scholar of nonbinding norms has noted in the context of cyberspace, but which is equally true in outer space, 

 “simply solving the puzzle of what substantive normative prescriptions might address … and announcing this to the world does not create a norm. Others need to buy in and recognize that the norm’s behavioral prescriptions apply to them (or to other actors who can be held to account).” 

But I do believe it’s important to be thinking about these questions and trying to develop such norms, lest unscrupulous actors such as Russia and China gleefully conclude that there are no standards of responsible behavior in space — and lest we and our partners and friends find ourselves normatively voiceless in the face of more of the kind of problematic behavior in this domain that we’ve seen from those two powers so far. 

Why not, for instance, start where the cyberspace GGEs did, in acknowledging that there’s nothing special about outer space that would make it an arena of warfare different from any other with regard to the applicability of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) — and that, therefore, traditional IHL principles of humanity, necessity, proportionality, and distinction between combatants and non-combatants apply in outer space?  Is it possible also for the space domain to follow the Cyber GGEs in articulating a nonbinding norm against peacetime attacks upon critical civilian infrastructure that is largely owned and operated by the private sector?  And what about those Russian satellites that appear to be capable of firing projectiles but yet maneuver up alongside of other countries’ satellites?  Is it possible to articulate a standard for what constitutes responsible — and thus, impliedly, irresponsible — behavior in proximity operations?   

Such questions deserve sustained attention.  As General Raymond, the Chief of Space Operations has suggested, perhaps we could consider whether it would be beneficial to establish a norm that it is irresponsible to conduct on-orbit experiments such as the ones Russia did recentlin close proximity to another country’s satellites without prior consultations.  That sort of behavior is easy to detect.  The establishment of such a norm, coupled with the fact that this sort of orbital pattern of life is increasingly easy to detect and assess, would enable the international community to develop a response – and perhaps we could thereby help deter such irresponsible behavior.  

For this reason, I’m pleased that at the last Strategic Security Dialogue (SSD) we held with the Russians – which I led on the U.S. side, and which was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov for the Russian they accepted our proposal for a space dialogue focused upon such questions.  There is already active and constructive engagement on these topics among a number of likeminded Western partners, and it’s important to gradually build such discussions outward in order to develop improved mutual understanding and start to set expectations for all parties about what responsible behavior looks like in outer space — as well as about what it doesn’t.  Such steps will not solve the outer space problem, by a long shot, but they would still represent an important step forward. 

In addition, our allies need to do more.  We need diplomatic burden sharing.  We need allies to call out such malign behavior both privately and publicly, and have the courage of their convictions to vote against Russian and Chinese phony proposals for space arms control at the UN when they know the truth of what Moscow and Beijing are up to in space.  Given all that I’ve recounted here this afternoon, for instance, it’s clear that no U.S. Ally should has any business supporting the Russo-Chinese position when it comes to votes on issues such as Russia’s disingenuous No First Placement resolution.  Instead, our Allies and partners should step up and join in the development of constructive expectations of behavior of the sort I have been describing. 

IV. Conclusion  

We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we are working closely with our partners to start asking the right questions, and it’s very clear that supposed solutions such as PPWT are terrible answers.  This should give all responsible states — and all the many public and non-governmental stakeholders involved in the modern space domain — something to work with as we strive together to find a better path.  

We look forward to working with all of you on these issues in the months and years ahead.  Thank you. 

News Network

  • Justice Department and Department of Labor Sign Memorandum of Understanding to Protect the Employment Rights of Servicemembers and Veterans
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) today signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to enshrine the collaboration between the agencies to protect the employment rights provided to servicemembers by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
    [Read More…]
  • Condemning ISIS-K Attack on a Kabul Gathering
    In Crime News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Robbery and related assault sends violent gang members to prison
    In Justice News
    Three Houston gang [Read More…]
  • Imposing Sanctions on Russia for the Poisoning and Imprisonment of Aleksey Navalny
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: Continued Attention Needed to Enhance Federal Preparedness, Response, Service Delivery, and Program Integrity
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The nation is concurrently responding to, and recovering from, the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have declined in recent months. Among the factors that have contributed to the decline in these metrics, the development and administration of multiple vaccines across the nation have been key. About 53.1 percent of the U.S. population 12 years and older—almost 150.7 million individuals—had been fully vaccinated as of June 23, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Continuing to deliver “shots in arms” will be a priority for the federal government, as individuals yet to be vaccinated remain at risk from COVID-19 and as new variants of the virus continue to emerge. A successful vaccination program is seen as essential to further stabilizing the economy and safely returning to prepandemic activities, such as in-person learning for students in the 2021–22 school year. The economic and public health recovery from the pandemic and its effects remains fragile. Data from the Department of Labor show that labor market conditions improved in March, April, May, and June 2021 but remained worse relative to the prepandemic period. Additionally, new reported COVID-19 cases from June 5 to June 18, 2021, averaged about 13,000 per day—less than a tenth of the peak reported in January 2021 (see figure). Reported COVID-19 Cases per Day in the U.S., Mar. 1, 2020–June 18, 2021 Since GAO began reporting on the federal response to the pandemic in June 2020, it has made 72 recommendations. The agencies generally agreed with 57 of these recommendations and are in the process of implementing a majority of them; 16 of these recommendations have been fully implemented. GAO also made four matters for congressional consideration, three of which remain open. In this report, GAO is making 15 new recommendations in the areas of federal preparedness and response, delivery of benefits and services, and program integrity. GAO’s recommendations, if effectively implemented, can help improve the government’s ongoing response and recovery efforts as well as help it to prepare for future public health emergencies. GAO’s new recommendations are discussed below. COVID-19 Testing CDC has opportunities to improve collaboration and communication with stakeholders. Prior to the COVID-19 response, CDC had not developed a plan for enhancing laboratory testing capacity that identifies objectives and outlines agency and stakeholder roles and responsibilities for achieving these objectives within defined time frames. Doing so would be consistent with the stated goal of its own memorandum of understanding with public health and private laboratory partners and would also be consistent with other leading principles on sound planning that GAO has identified in its prior work. GAO recommends that CDC work with appropriate stakeholders to develop a plan to enhance surge capacity for laboratory testing. CDC agreed with this recommendation. CDC initially developed a flawed COVID-19 diagnostic test, which caused challenges for the rollout of testing nationwide. CDC has taken steps to improve its process for developing tests, but additional actions could help strengthen CDC’s preparedness and enhance the nation’s testing capacity during a future infectious disease outbreak. For example, establishing contracts with test kit manufacturers prior to a public health emergency could allow CDC to supplement the supply produced by CDC and aid in the rapid manufacturing and deployment of test kits during a future public health emergency. GAO recommends that CDC assess the agency’s needs for goods and services for the manufacturing and deployment of diagnostic test kits in public health emergencies, including the potential role of establishing contracts in advance of an emergency. CDC agreed with this recommendation. Strategic National Stockpile The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) contains a multibillion dollar inventory of medical countermeasures—drugs, vaccines, supplies, and other materials—to respond to a broad range of public health emergencies. The SNS can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the supply of materials may not be immediately available in affected areas during a public health emergency. The Department of Health and Humans Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) oversees the SNS. The Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE), an interagency group of experts, advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services in prioritizing, developing, procuring, deploying, and effectively using medical supplies and other countermeasures for the SNS. In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, ASPR began restructuring the PHEMCE. This led to concerns from interagency partners regarding the effectiveness of interagency collaboration and transparency, such as a lack of clarity on how ASPR makes decisions about medical countermeasure issues, including for the SNS inventory. In addition, while the PHEMCE was being restructured, ASPR did not conduct SNS annual reviews from 2017 through 2019; these reviews result in recommendations to HHS regarding SNS procurement and are provided to Congress. According to the former Assistant Secretary who initiated the restructure, although PHEMCE was successful in advancing the development of medical countermeasures, its consensus-driven process did not reflect the urgency needed and PHEMCE proceedings created security vulnerabilities. ASPR officials acknowledged that the changes ASPR made to the PHEMCE from 2018 to 2020 did not fully achieve the desired aims and created other challenges. The office is in the process of reassessing and reestablishing new organizational processes for the PHEMCE, but it has not yet finalized planning documents, including an organizational charter and implementation plan, to guide those efforts. GAO recommends that ASPR develop and document its plans for restructuring the PHEMCE. The plans should describe how ASPR will ensure a transparent and deliberative process that engages interagency partners in PHEMCE responsibilities outlined in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019, including those related to SNS annual reviews. These plans should also incorporate GAO’s leading practices to foster more effective collaboration, while ensuring that sensitive information is appropriately protected. HHS—which includes ASPR—agreed with this recommendation. PHEMCE interagency partners raised concerns about the transparency of PHEMCE activities and deliberations, and ASPR lacked documentation of PHEMCE activities and deliberations after 2017. ASPR was unable to provide documentation to GAO regarding PHEMCE decisions or recommendations made from 2018 to 2020; the rationale for the changes to the PHEMCE; or PHEMCE meeting agendas and minutes from 2018 to 2020. Not maintaining such documentation is inconsistent with HHS’s policy for records management and leaves Congress and key stakeholders without assurance that steps taken are advancing national preparedness for natural, accidental, and intentional threats. GAO recommends that ASPR implement records management practices that include developing, maintaining, and securing documentation related to PHEMCE activities and deliberations, including those related to the SNS. HHS, including ASPR, agreed with this recommendation. The nationwide need for supplies to respond to COVID-19 quickly exceeded the quantity of supplies contained in the SNS. Thus, ASPR used procurement processes in addition to its standard process, including direct shipment of supplies from vendors. Through this direct shipment process, supplies purchased by ASPR were not used to replenish the SNS but instead were primarily distributed from vendors directly to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. Although ASPR has documented policies and procedures for its standard procurement process, ASPR did not have documented policies and procedures, including related control and monitoring activities, to address payment integrity risks for its direct shipment procurement process. Without written policies and procedures documenting how ASPR tracks the direct shipment and receipt of supplies before issuing payments, there is an increased risk that ASPR may make improper payments to vendors for incorrect supplies or quantities or for supplies that the intended recipients did not receive. In addition, it is difficult for management to assess the adequacy of controls over the direct shipment procurement process, and ASPR lacks assurance that its staff fully understand the process and properly and consistently perform their duties. GAO recommends that, to strengthen the current procedures for the SNS, HHS update its policies and procedures for the SNS, including related control and monitoring activities, to document the direct shipment procurement process and address payment integrity risks. Although HHS, including ASPR, did not agree with GAO regarding the need to address payment integrity risks, it stated that HHS will update its policies and procedures, including related control and monitoring activities to document the direct shipment procurement process. Domestic Medical Supply Manufacturing Before the pandemic, the U.S. generally depended on foreign suppliers for certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE), including nitrile gloves and surgical gowns. Multiple stakeholders representing manufacturers, distributors, and other purchasers noted that meaningful, transparent federal engagement with industry could enhance the resilience of domestic manufacturing and the supply chain. According to some stakeholders, such engagement with the private sector could help ramp up private investment in domestic PPE manufacturing, among other things. In January 2021, GAO reported that HHS had not developed a process for engaging with key nonfederal stakeholders and Congress for development of a supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, including the role of the SNS. GAO recommended that HHS do so, and the department generally agreed with GAO’s recommendation. However, as of May 2021, HHS had not implemented this recommendation. GAO continues to underscore that engaging with key nonfederal stakeholders—in meaningful, proactive ways to obtain their business and industry expertise—and with Congress is critical for developing strategies to build a sustainable domestic medical supply manufacturing base. HHS COVID-19 Funding As of May 31, 2021, Congress had appropriated to HHS approximately $484 billion in COVID-19 funds in six relief laws. The majority of HHS’s appropriations from the first five relief laws had been obligated and about half had been expended. Specifically, as of May 31, 2021, the department reported the following (see figure): Of the $324 billion appropriated in the first five COVID-19 relief laws, about $253 billion had been obligated (about 78 percent) and about $168 billion had been expended (about 52 percent). Of the $160 billion appropriated in the sixth law, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), about $75 billion had been obligated (about 47 percent) and about $3 billion had been expended (about 2 percent). HHS’s Reported COVID-19 Relief Appropriations, Obligations, and Expenditures from COVID-19 Relief Laws, as of May 31, 2021 The percentage of obligations and expenditures varied across selected COVID-19 response activities for a variety of reasons, including the nature of the activities, their planned uses, and the timing of the funds provided through the six COVID-19 relief laws. HHS uses spend plans to communicate information about its COVID-19 spending. The first five COVID-19 relief laws generally require the department to develop, update, and provide these spend plans to Congress every 60 days. The sixth relief law, ARPA, does not require a spend plan, but according to HHS officials, the department is preparing a consolidated plan that captures the first five relief laws and a separate spend plan for funding provided through ARPA. The consolidated spend plan is under internal review at HHS and the ARPA spend plan is still being finalized. As of May 2021, GAO had received and reviewed a total of 15 spend plans—the original spend plans and subsequent updates—provided by HHS. GAO found that the most current spend plans generally do not include time frames for obligating the remaining funds, which is useful information for oversight and informing future funding decisions by Congress. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget to federal agencies, including HHS, noted the importance of spending transparency and regular reporting to help safeguard taxpayer dollars. GAO recommends that HHS communicate information about, and facilitate oversight of, the department’s use of COVID-19 relief funds by providing projected time frames for its planned spending in the spend plans it submits to Congress. HHS partially concurred with the recommendation and stated that the department would aim to incorporate some time frames on planned spending where that information may be available such as time frames for select grants to states. Higher Education Grants The Department of Education (Education) has faced inherent challenges that increase the risk of improper payments for its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants to institutions of higher education to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. For example, funding needed to be processed and distributed expeditiously because of health and economic threats to institutions of higher education posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO tested Education’s procedures for approving and processing HEERF grants through a sample of obligations and found that the department had not effectively designed and implemented procedures needed to identify erroneous obligations after awarding the grants. GAO estimated that for 5.5 percent of schools receiving HEERF grants (about 262 of 4,764 schools in GAO’s sample), Education awarded grants that exceeded the amounts allocated—including three instances in GAO’s sample for which Education obligated $20 million more than was allocated. Officials from Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education stated that because of time and staffing constraints and the high volume of grants administered, they did not regularly perform quality assurance reviews after obligation to identify and correct erroneous obligations. GAO recommends Education design and implement procedures for regularly conducting quality assurance reviews of obligated amounts for higher education grants, including HEERF, to help identify and correct erroneous obligations in a timely manner. Education agreed with this recommendation. Coronavirus State and Local Relief and Recovery Funds COVID-19 relief laws appropriated $500 billion to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to provide direct funding to states, localities, tribal governments, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories to help them respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. This amount includes $150 billion that the CARES Act appropriated to Treasury for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) in March 2020 as well as $350 billion that ARPA appropriated to Treasury for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF) in March 2021. Recipients can use CRF payments to offset costs related to either the pandemic’s direct effects (e.g., public health needs) or its indirect effects (e.g., harm to individuals or businesses as a result of COVID-19-related closures). The CSLFRF provides payments to these recipients to cover a broader range of costs stemming from the fiscal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Single Audit Act establishes requirements for states, localities, Indian tribes, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and nonprofit organizations that receive federal awards to undergo single audits of those awards annually when their expenditures meet a certain dollar threshold. Single audits are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard the use of the billions of dollars distributed through the CRF and CSLFRF. Auditors who conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which provides guidelines and policy for performing single audits. After consultation with federal agencies, OMB annually updates and issues the supplement. Auditors have reported that the timing of the supplement is critical in allowing them to effectively plan their work. The timely issuance of single audit guidance is critical to ensuring timely completion and reporting of single audits to inform the federal government about actions needed to help safeguard the use of the billions of dollars distributed through the CRF and CSLFRF. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue timely and sufficient single audit guidance for auditing recipients’ uses of payments from the CSLFRF. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Economic Impact Payments The CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and ARPA authorized Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue three rounds of economic impact payments (EIP) as direct payments to help individuals alleviate financial stress due to the pandemic. (See figure.) To publicize information about how to file a tax return with the IRS to receive an EIP, IRS partners with organizations that work with communities that may not traditionally interact with IRS, such as lower-income families, senior citizens, veterans, tribal communities, and families with mixed-immigration status. According to officials from IRS partner organizations, ensuring eligible nonfilers receive their payments continues to be a challenge. Partners also told GAO their outreach efforts to nonfilers could be more effective if the partners had current data that could help identify specific communities of nonfilers who may need assistance. Total Number and Amount of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) Disbursed, Rounds 1, 2, and 3, as of May 28, 2021 In January 2021, Treasury began analyzing nearly 9 million notices it had sent to nonfilers who may be eligible for the first round of EIP payments. However, Treasury does not plan to complete this analysis until fall 2021, more than 6 months after the third round of EIP payments began to be issued. This timing would limit the findings’ usefulness for informing EIP outreach efforts. By waiting to complete the analysis, Treasury and IRS are missing an opportunity to identify communities that may have a higher number of nonfilers and to use that information to inform their outreach efforts as well as the efforts of their outreach partners.GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, release interim findings on the effectiveness of the notices it sent in September 2020 to potentially EIP-eligiblenonfilers; incorporate that analysis into IRS outreach efforts as appropriate; and then, if necessary, release an update based on new analysis after the 2021 filing season. Treasury neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Tax Relief for Businesses To provide liquidity to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES Act and other COVID-19 relief laws included tax measures to reduce certain tax obligations, including measures related to net operating loss carryback claims. In some cases, these reductions of obligations led to cash refunds. The Internal Revenue Code and the CARES Act generally require IRS to issue certain refunds within 90 days from the date when a complete application for a tentative carryback adjustment is filed or 90 days from the last day of the month in which the return is due, whichever is later. IRS data show that the agency is not meeting the statutory refund requirement for these relief measures and that as of May 1, 2021, the average processing time for refunds was 154 days, excluding additional time for final processing and distribution. IRS officials said it is taking longer to process returns because IRS facilities that process paper returns continue to operate at reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing. In the meantime, transparent communication about these issues could help taxpayers know when to expect their refunds. Specifically, an explanation on IRS’s website that processing times for tentative refunds may exceed the expected 90 days because of service disruptions would provide taxpayers with more accurate information and expectations for receiving a refund. GAO recommends that IRS clearly communicate on its website that there are delays beyond the statutory 90-day timeline in processing tentative refunds. IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. 2021 Tax Filing Season IRS is experiencing delays in processing certain returns received in 2021, resulting in extended time frames for processing returns for some taxpayers. IRS reported that it is taking longer than usual to manually review some of these returns. Specifically, as of the end of the 2021 filing season, IRS had about 25.5 million unprocessed individual and business returns, including about 1.2 million returns from its 2020 backlog, and 13.7 million returns that it had suspended because of errors. IRS staff must manually review these returns with errors. IRS typically has unprocessed returns in its inventory at the end of the filing season, but not to this extent. For example, at the end of the 2019 filing season, IRS had 8.3 million unprocessed individual and business returns, including 2.7 million returns suspended for errors. IRS’s annual tax filing activities include processing more than 150 million individual and business tax returns electronically or on paper. With significantly more returns currently being held for manual review than in prior years, more taxpayers are trying to get information about the status of their returns and refunds. However, taxpayers have had difficulty obtaining status updates on their refunds from IRS, either by phone or online. IRS’s website does not contain all of the relevant information regarding delays in processing 2021 returns and issuing taxpayers’ refunds. Additionally, IRS’s automated message on its toll-free telephone line for individual taxpayers has not been updated to explain refund delays or to include any other alerts associated with the 2021 filing season.GAO recommends that IRS update relevant pages of its website and, if feasible, add alerts to its toll-free telephone lines to more clearly and prominently explain the nature and extent of individual refund delays occurring for returns that taxpayers filed in 2021. IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. This report contains additional recommendations related to disseminating information related to leave benefits for employees. Why GAO Did This Study As of mid-June 2021, the U.S. had about 33.4 million reported cases of COVID-19 and about 593,000 reported deaths, according to CDC. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions from the pandemic. Six relief laws, including the CARES Act, had been enacted as of May 31, 2021, to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of May 31, 2021, of the $4.7 trillion appropriated by these six laws for COVID-19 relief—including about $1.6 trillion appropriated by ARPA, which was enacted in March 2021—the federal government had obligated a total of $3.5 trillion and had expended $3.0 trillion, as reported by federal agencies. 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 examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities. GAO also interviewed federal officials; representatives from organizations for states and localities; and other stakeholders, including manufacturers of PPE (e.g., N95 respirators, surgical masks, and nitrile gloves).
    [Read More…]
  • Registered Sex Offender Sentenced To 50 Years in Prison for Producing and Using Facebook to Distribute Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    An Indiana man was sentenced today to 50 years in prison followed by 15 years of supervised release for using social media to produce child pornography.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Announces National Response Center and Offer to Bring Assistance to Minneapolis Police Department to Support Law Enforcement and Safe Communities Through Fair Policing
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department, in an announcement by Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric S. Dreiband, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Katharine T. Sullivan, and U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Erica H. MacDonald, unveiled a new National Response Center Initiative and offered the assistance to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to support law enforcement, and review, enhance and reform policies and practices to prevent the use of excessive force. The BJA Law Enforcement Training and Technical Assistance Response Center will be a national resource for all state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO)
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Navy has identified several challenges with using its regular maintenance capability (which restores ships to fully operational status) to provide battle damage repairs during a great power conflict. Challenges include—the lack of established doctrine for battle damage repair, unclear command and control roles, and a shortage of repair capacity. The Navy Process for Repairing Ships Damaged in Battle The Navy is in the early stages of determining how it will provide battle damage repair during a great power conflict. Eight organizations are responsible for the Navy's 15 battle damage repair planning efforts, however the Navy has not designated an organization to lead and oversee these efforts. Without designated leadership, the Navy may be hindered in its efforts to address the many challenges it faces in sustaining its ships during a great power conflict. The Navy develops ship vulnerability models during a ship's acquisition to estimate damage during a conflict. These models are also used to inform war games that refine operational approaches and train leaders on decision-making. However, the Navy does not update these models over a ship's decades-long service life to reflect changes to key systems that could affect model accuracy. As a result, it lacks quality data on ship mission-critical failure points to inform its analysis of battle damage repair needs. Without periodically assessing and updating its models to accurately reflect the ship's mission-critical systems, the Navy has limited its ability to assess and develop battle damage repair capabilities necessary to sustain ships in a conflict with a great power competitor. Why GAO Did This Study The ability to repair and maintain ships plays a critical role in sustaining Navy readiness. After the Cold War, the Navy divested many wartime ship repair capabilities. With the rise of great power competitors capable of producing high-end threats in warfare, the Navy must now be prepared to quickly salvage and repair damage to a modern fleet. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to assess the Navy's efforts to identify and mitigate challenges in repairing battle-damaged ships during a great power conflict. GAO's report (1) discusses the challenges the Navy has identified in using its regular maintenance capability for battle damage repair, and (2) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has begun developing the battle damage repair capability it requires to prevail in a great power conflict. GAO reviewed relevant guidance and assessed reports on naval war games and other documentation to identify challenges that may impede the planning and repair of battle-damaged ships and efforts to improve the repair capability for a great power conflict.
    [Read More…]
  • Brazil Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to Brazil [Read More…]
  • Afghanistan: Key Oversight Issues for USAID Development Efforts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In 2010, the United States pledged to provide at least 50 percent of its development aid directly through the Afghan government budget within 2 years. This direct assistance is intended to help develop the capacity of Afghan government ministries to manage programs and funds. Using bilateral agreements and multilateral trust funds, the United States more than tripled its direct assistance awards to Afghanistan in the first year of the pledge, going from over $470 million in fiscal year 2009 to over $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2010. The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) most current reporting shows that for fiscal year 2012 the agency provided over $800 million in mission funds through direct assistance. In 2013, GAO reported that while USAID had established and generally complied with various financial and other controls in its direct assistance agreements, it had not always assessed the risks in providing direct assistance before awarding funds. USAID has taken steps in response to GAO's recommendations to help ensure the accountability of direct assistance funds provided to the Afghan government. Recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported that USAID determined that seven ministries were unable to manage direct assistance funds without a risk mitigation strategy in place. However, SIGAR reported that USAID approved assistance for the ministries, but did not mitigate for all identified risks. GAO has previously reported on systemic weaknesses in USAID's monitoring and evaluation of programs carried out by its implementing partners in Afghanistan. For example, although USAID collected progress reports from implementing partners for agriculture and water projects, it did not always analyze and interpret data to, among other things, inform future decisions. USAID has undertaken some efforts to improve its monitoring and evaluation of the billions of dollars invested towards development projects in Afghanistan. GAO and other oversight agencies, however, have highlighted gaps that show USAID continued to inconsistently apply performance management procedures, falls short in maintaining institutional knowledge, and needs to improve oversight of contractors. USAID's ability to conduct its mission and the challenges it has faced in providing oversight and monitoring of its development projects in Afghanistan are likely to be exacerbated by the planned withdrawal of U.S. and coalition combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. The United States is currently transitioning from counterinsurgency and stability operations toward more traditional diplomatic and development activities. As U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan, provincial reconstruction teams will continue to decline in number, thus challenging USAID's opportunities to directly monitor and evaluate programs in certain parts of Afghanistan. To prepare for the possible lack of USAID personnel in the field, USAID has undertaken various planning efforts to mitigate against potential challenges. For example, USAID is planning to implement a remote monitoring program that will use contractors to verify activities that implementing partners have completed. As the United States plans for the withdrawal of its combat troops and the transition from an integrated civilian and military effort to a civilian-led presence, GAO believes it is important to have safeguards in place to help ensure sustainment of the gains made by U.S. and coalition investments. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. government has been engaged in efforts in Afghanistan since declaring a global war on terrorism that targeted al Qaeda, its affiliates, and other violent extremists. The U.S. effort has involved a whole of government approach to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates and strengthen Afghanistan so that it can never again be a haven for terrorists. This approach includes USAID's development assistance and reconstruction efforts, which to date have invested over $15 billion in Afghanistan since 2002. To assist Congress in its oversight, GAO has issued over 50 products in the past 5 years focusing on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. This testimony summarizes the findings from those products related to USAID efforts in Afghanistan and discusses: (1) levels of U.S. direct assistance and need for continued oversight, (2) the importance of routine monitoring and evaluation of USAID projects in Afghanistan, and (3) the need for mitigation planning for how USAID will continue to operate in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.
    [Read More…]
  • DOJ Announces Coordinated Law Enforcement Action to Combat Health Care Fraud Related to COVID-19
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced criminal charges against 14 defendants, including 11 newly-charged defendants and three who were charged in superseding indictments, in seven federal districts across the United States for their alleged participation in various health care fraud schemes that exploited the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in over $143 million in false billings.
    [Read More…]
  • Tennessee Department of Human Services Agrees to Pay $6.8 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Liability in Connection with SNAP Quality Control
    In Crime News
    The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) has agreed to pay the United States $6,854,416 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act in its administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Until 2008, SNAP was known as the Food Stamp Program. 
    [Read More…]
  • Guinea Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • MOXIE Could Help Future Rockets Launch Off Mars
    In Space
    NASA’s [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nino Scalia of Madison’s Notes Podcast
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Participation in the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Foreign Assistance: Reporting of Defense Articles and Services Provided through Drawdowns Needs to Be Improved
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 1961, the President has had special statutory authority to order the "drawdown" of defense articles--such as aircraft, vehicles, various weapons, and spare parts--and services or military education and training from Department of Defense (DOD) and military service inventories and transfer them to foreign countries or international organizations. Drawdowns give the President the ability to respond to U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives, such as counternarcotics efforts, peacekeeping needs, and unforeseen military and nonmilitary emergencies, by providing military assistance without first seeking additional legislative authority or appropriations from Congress. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency's reports to Congress on the costs and delivery status of drawdowns are inaccurate and incomplete. Two principal problems contribute to the agency's inability to meet the reporting requirements. First, its information system for recording drawdown data is outmoded and difficult to use--service drawdown reports are in different formats, and any conversion errors have to be manually corrected. Second, the services do not regularly provide updates to the agency on drawdown costs and deliveries, and available information sometimes does not get into the system. Drawdowns benefit the United States and foreign recipients primarily by providing the President the flexibility to address foreign policy and national security objectives quickly. Drawdowns also allow the President to provide defense articles and services to improve foreign recipients' capability to conduct military and police missions in support of U.S. foreign policy. Other benefits cited include improved military-to-military relations between the U.S. military services and the foreign recipients and expanded markets for U.S. defense firms. According to U.S. and foreign military officials, the use of drawdowns presents some concerns. Because drawdowns are used to quickly address U.S. national interests and emergencies, the costs associated with a drawdown, such as refurbishment and transportation, are not budgeted for by the services and are not reimbursed.
    [Read More…]
  • Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Kishi
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Military Child Care: Potential Costs and Impacts of Expanding Off-Base Child Care Assistance for Children of Deceased Servicemembers
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found  The Department of Defense (DOD) subsidizes the cost of off-base child care through its fee assistance program. Although the spouses of servicemembers who die in combat-related incidents are currently eligible to receive fee assistance for their children, spouses of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents are not. According to GAO's analysis of DOD data, the estimated cost of providing fee assistance to all eligible children of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents in fiscal year 2020 could have ranged from approximately $1.3 million to $6.4 million, based on low- and high- cost locations and average length of time in the program. This would have represented an increase of about 1 to 7 percent of DOD's fiscal year 2019 fee assistance costs for off-base child care. However, the actual costs of expanding fee assistance eligibility to children of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents could vary from GAO's estimated cost range due to multiple factors. Such factors include the number of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents who have children, awareness of the program, and the availability and cost of off-base care. Expanding fee assistance to children of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents would be unlikely to substantially increase the demand for child care services or impact active-duty families, according to DOD officials. DOD officials and representatives of Child Care Aware of America (CCAoA), the third-party administrator of the fee assistance program, said that a lack of high-quality child care providers is an ongoing challenge for active-duty servicemembers attempting to use the fee assistance program. However, families of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents may already be using child care providers in the community and may not affect competition for limited openings, according to officials from one service branch. Further, given the relatively small number of additional children who would be eligible for fee assistance, it is unlikely that expanding fee assistance eligibility would have a substantial impact on the overall demand for child care services, according to DOD officials. Additionally, DOD officials said that because the families of active-duty servicemembers would be in a higher priority grouping than families of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents, these families would be unlikely to compete with active duty servicemembers for child care fee assistance. Why GAO Did This Study  DOD considers its child care program, which includes on-base and off-base child care for military families, a workforce support that directly affects military force readiness, efficiency, and retention. Most of the children in DOD's child care programs are cared for in subsidized child development centers on military bases. When military families cannot access on-base child care due to geographic distance or because there are no openings, DOD subsidizes the cost of off-base care through its fee assistance program. The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) includes a provision for GAO to review the implications of expanding fee assistance for off-base providers of child care services to survivors of members of the Armed Forces who die in non-combat related incidents in the line of duty. This report describes (1) the estimated costs of expanding fee assistance for off-base child care services to children of servicemembers who die in noncombat-related incidents and factors that drive those costs, and (2) the reported potential effects of such an expansion on the availability of off-base child care services for children of active-duty servicemembers. To address these questions, GAO analyzed data from DOD on servicemember deaths and children of deceased servicemembers for fiscal years 2009 through 2020, as well as data on fee assistance applicants and participants from the military service branches and CCAoA. We interviewed DOD officials, including those from different service branches, and representatives of CCAoA. We also reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations and reports. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]

Crime

Network News © 2005 Area.Control.Network™ All rights reserved.