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    Subject Term: "Educational facilities"

    12 publications with a total of 31 open recommendations including 5 priority recommendations
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve oversight of school finances and provide better information to schools and the public about its monitoring efforts, the Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid should update the composite score formula to better measure schools' financial conditions and capture financial risks.

    Agency: Department of Education: Office of Federal Student Aid
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve oversight of school finances and provide better information to schools and the public about its monitoring efforts, the Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid should improve guidance to schools about how the financial composite score is calculated, for example, by updating current guidance to include explanations about common areas of confusion and misinterpretation for schools.

    Agency: Department of Education: Office of Federal Student Aid
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve oversight of school finances and provide better information to schools and the public about its monitoring efforts, the Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid should increase the transparency of public data on schools' financial health by publicly listing the final composite score for each school.

    Agency: Department of Education: Office of Federal Student Aid
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure accountability for BIE school facility funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs to develop a comprehensive long-term capital asset plan to inform its allocation of school facility funds. Such a plan should include a prioritized list of school repair and maintenance projects with the greatest need for funding.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior stated that Indian Affairs is engaged with the Office of Management and Budget to develop a more robust and prioritized capital asset management plan for school infrastructure needs, which they expect to complete before the end of fiscal year 2017.
    Recommendation: To ensure accountability for BIE school facility funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs to provide more details in Indian Affairs' annual congressional budget justifications on specific needs at BIE schools, including information on proposed capital expenditures, and updates on previous school construction projects.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. In May 2017, Interior stated that Indian Affairs is currently engaged in an effort to comprehensively review the budget justification process with the objective of improving the quality, format, and presentation of the President's annual budget submission to Congress and that it will work to provide more detailed information on proposed capital expenditures and updates on previous construction projects. In addition, the agency reported that Indian Affairs will ensure improvements to the budgeting process are made permanent through formal policy and procedure in order to ensure that the needs of BIE schools are accurately and regularly reported in its congressional budget justification.
    Recommendation: To ensure accountability for BIE school facility funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs to develop and implement guidance for its project managers and contracting officers regarding effective use of accountability measures.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior indicated that the Acquisition office and the Division of Facilities Management and Construction are working together to create and implement guidance and were preparing and planning improvements for future construction contracts. In addition, the agency stated that Indian Affairs will develop a financial accountability workgroup with members from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, BIA, BIE, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs to develop guidance and standards to ensure the effective use of accountability measures.
    Recommendation: To ensure accountability for BIE school facility funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs to clarify Indian Affairs' design handbook requirements to explain when and how school designs can deviate from specific requirements--such as heating and cooling systems with complex features--when the life cycle cost analysis demonstrates the requirements are not cost-effective or practical given such factors as the technical capacity of school facility staff.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior disagreed with this recommendation, noting that it had revised its design handbook in 2017 and that the revised handbook includes a process to consider deviations that do not violate requisite codes, standards, or laws. Interior also stated that the handbook is not intended to describe every scenario where a deviation may be requested and that it is more efficient to allow designers, schools and other users to request deviations and exceptions as and when needs arise. However, we believe the revised handbook is still in draft and is being reviewed internally and has neither been finalized nor distributed: an updated design handbook that includes a process for deviations is critical. We agree with the agency that the handbook does not need to describe every scenario where a deviation may be requested. The draft 2017 handbook indicates that when conflicts or questions arise the designer is to formally notify the Interior project manager in writing to request a waiver. However, it does not provide an explanation of the process or how life cycle cost analysis might inform that process. We continue to believe that, in addition to a process, providing guidelines and an explanation about how life-cycle cost analysis should inform such decisions in the handbook before it is finalized would be useful and help to ensure that the choices designers make with regard to design are both cost-effective and practical.
    Recommendation: To ensure accountability for BIE school facility funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs to improve oversight and technical assistance to tribal organizations to enhance tribal capacity to manage major construction projects.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior stated that its Division of Facilities Management and Construction will develop a "high-risk" project tracking and monitoring process. The Division will work with BIA and BIE facilities managers to develop an engagement plan to better inform tribes of the extensive requirements involving the management of capital projects replacing schools or facilities. For tribes that manage projects themselves, Indian Affairs will offer to provide them with technical assistance, particularly during key program phases.
    Recommendation: To ensure accountability for BIE school facility funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs to develop and implement guidance for maintaining complete contract and grant files for all BIE school construction projects.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior stated that Indian Affairs will develop, as part of its Financial Accountability Workgroup, guidance for maintaining all types of construction contract and grant files.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: PCSB should further explore ways to more accurately measure behavior-related time out of school--both partial and full day removals--not captured under current reporting procedures.

    Agency: DC Public Charter School Board
    Status: Open

    Comments: The DC Public Charter School Board did not comment on this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's efforts to address it.
    Recommendation: The D.C. Mayor should direct the Deputy Mayor for Education and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to deepen collaboration with PCSB and other relevant stakeholders, such as charter school local educational agencies, to develop a coordinated plan to continue progress in reducing discipline rates and, as part of this process, make explicit their respective roles, responsibilities, and authorities with regard to discipline in D.C. charter schools. This plan could include developing additional guidance, training, or resources, consistent with the unique autonomy of charter schools.

    Agency: District of Columbia: Executive Office of the Mayor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The agency plans to continue to deepening their collaboration to reduce disciple rates. They will make explicit their common understanding about their relevant roles, and find further ways to cooperate on such matters as guidance, training, data, and other resources for schools.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better manage any challenges states may face implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of State Support to evaluate its oversight process in light of the challenges states encountered in implementing the Flexibility initiative to identify lessons learned and, as appropriate, incorporate any lessons into plans for overseeing the ESSA, particularly around issues such as the design and implementation of states' monitoring systems.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed that it is important to continuously evaluate its work and to consider ways to improve its efficiency and effectiveness and cited examples of the agency doing so during ESEA Flexibility implementation. For example, Education said it developed the Office of State Support, in part based on lessons learned while implementing the Flexibility initiative. In addition, Education said that since the ESSA was enacted in December 2015, it has continued to informally evaluate ESEA Flexibility implementation and oversight and cited several examples relevant to ESEA Flexibility and other Education programs and initiatives. Further, the agency provided is piloting quarterly calls between Education program officers and states and piloting a fiscal review in eight states focused on components of the law it says did not change significantly between NCLBA and ESSA. As Education continues its efforts to evaluate lessons learned from the Flexibility initiative - including the peer review process - and apply them to its oversight of ESSA, we encourage Education to incorporate these lessons into how it oversees the design and implementation of states' monitoring systems which are key to the success of ESSA's accountability provisions.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: Using its general authority to collaborate with other federal agencies, the Secretary of Education should convene its federal interagency partners to develop a strategic approach to interagency collaboration on school emergency preparedness. This group could include designees or delegates from the Secretaries of DHS, HHS, and the Attorney General, including representatives from relevant agency components, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others as appropriate, and should incorporate leading federal interagency collaboration practices, for example, by: (1) identifying leadership, (2) defining outcomes and assigning accountability, (3) including all relevant participants, and (4) identifying necessary resources.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education agrees that improved federal coordination will better assist K-12 schools in preparing for emergencies, and noted that other federal agencies, including especially FEMA, play a significant role in school emergency preparedness. Additionally, Education cited the importance of involving other relevant agencies in obtaining agreement on the assignment of roles and responsibilities, including selecting a lead agency charged with primary responsibility for coordinating federal emergency preparedness assistance to K-12 schools. In August 2016, Education convened a committee of Assistant Secretary-level representatives from relevant agencies, including DHS, FEMA, and TSA, among others, to develop a strategic approach to interagency collaboration on school emergency management efforts. Subsequently, in October 2016, it convened a task force consisting of program staff from the relevant agencies to draft a plan for organizational structure, goals, and objectives for the next five years, which it expects will be approved for implementation beginning in January 2017. We are encouraged by these actions and will monitor the group's progress towards developing a strategic approach to school emergency preparedness. Education stated that it expects to complete these efforts very soon. At that time, we will await documentation showing that it has finalized and implemented its strategic approach for interagency collaboration around school emergency management.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    4 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To support the collection of complete and accurate safety and health information on the condition of BIE school facilities nationally, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to ensure that all BIE schools are annually inspected for safety and health, as required by its policy, and that inspection information is complete and accurate. This could include: (1) Analyzing the key challenges to ensuring that all BIE schools are inspected, as well as implementing a plan to mitigate those challenges. (2) In the interim, prioritizing inspections at schools where facility conditions may pose a greater risk to students--such as schools with dormitories or those that have not been recently inspected.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In September 2016, Indian Affairs reported that it had completed annual safety inspections at all BIE school locations for the first time in at least 15 years. In late August 2017, officials reported that Indian Affairs was on course to complete all inspections in 2017 but did not provide documentation on its progress. Further, Indian Affairs stated that it understands the need to ensure that completing school inspections does not detract from inspection quality. However, as of August 2017 we had not received documentation that the agency had taken steps to ensure that its safety personnel collect inspection information that is complete and accurate. We believe the steps Indian Affairs has taken to prioritize the completion of safety inspections at all BIE schools are important ones. However, we believe it is also important that the agency take specific steps to ensure that the inspection information it collects is complete and accurate. Without complete and accurate information, BIE schools may not have the information they need on potential safety hazards, which may endanger students and staff. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To support the collection of complete and accurate safety and health information on the condition of BIE school facilities nationally, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to revise its inspection guidance and tools to ensure that they are comprehensive and up-to-date; require that regional safety inspectors use them to ensure all vital areas are covered, such as school fire protection; and monitor safety inspectors' use of procedures and tools across regions to ensure they are consistently adopted.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2016, Indian Affairs implemented new comprehensive guidelines for safety and health inspections and testing and maintaining fire prevention systems. The guidelines, which we reviewed, detail specific inspection procedures which all relevant safety personnel are required to follow. Indian Affairs provided training in May and June of 2017 to relevant staff on using the guidelines. According to the guidelines, Indian Affairs' safety office is required to monitor safety staff compliance with the new inspection procedures. We believe these are important steps to ensuring that regional inspectors have clear procedures in place for conducting BIE school inspections. However, Indian Affairs has not provided us with documentation, such as a plan, for how its safety office will monitor inspections to ensure procedures are consistently followed by inspectors across regions. For example, such monitoring could help ensure that all inspectors conduct a close out meeting with relevant school staff at the conclusion of an on-site safety inspection. We believe such monitoring is important to ensure that the practices of its safety inspectors consistently align with its procedures and result in inspection information that is complete and accurate. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure that all BIE schools are positioned to address safety and health problems with their facilities and provide student environments that are free from hazards, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a plan to build schools' capacity to promptly address safety and health problems with facilities. Such a plan could prioritize assistance to schools to improve the expertise of facility staff to maintain and repair school buildings.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. As of late August 2017, Indian Affairs had not provided us any documentation that it had taken steps to implement our recommendation. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure that all BIE schools are positioned to address safety and health problems with their facilities and provide student environments that are free from hazards, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to consistently monitor whether schools have established required safety committees.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, Indian Affairs officials told us that they are developing a system that would enable them to monitor whether schools have established required safety committees. They also noted that Indian Affairs' new inspection procedures require that inspectors check to see if schools have established safety committees. Finally, the BIE Director reported that he would send a memorandum to all BIE schools reminding them about Indian Affairs' requirement to establish safety committees. We will review and evaluate Indian Affairs' actions when the agency has provided us with supporting documentation.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To strengthen states' monitoring and facilitate local MOE compliance, the Secretary of Education should prioritize technical assistance and information sharing across states on ways to facilitate local MOE compliance with respect to the use of the four calculation methods and the exceptions.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2016, Education officials reported that the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has been working on guidance on local educational agency maintenance of effort (LEA MOE) and intends to issue an expanded question and answer document by the end of 2016. In addition, the officials reported that the OSEP-funded Center for Idea Fiscal Reporting (CIFR) has taken additions steps, including creating an LEA MOE calculator projected for publication in fall 2016. GAO anticipates closing this recommendation when these activities have been implemented.
    Recommendation: To help districts address key challenges in meeting MOE and mitigate unintended consequences that may affect services for students with disabilities, while preserving the safeguard for funding for students with disabilities, Congress should consider options for a more flexible MOE requirement. This could include adopting a less stringent MOE requirement to align with the MOE requirements in other education programs or adding to or modifying exceptions. For example, current exceptions could be changed to allow one-time increases in spending without changing a district's MOE baseline in order to encourage pilot innovations or to allow certain spending decreases (e.g., state caps on teacher benefits), as long as a district can demonstrate the decrease does not negatively affect services.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: Congress has not taken legislative action on this issue.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure that states are better able to sustain RTT reforms and that Education can effectively support other grant programs managed by the Office of State Support, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of State Support to fully implement and incorporate into its coordinated technical assistance policies and procedures the types of support that would be useful in sustaining RTT reforms and providing effective support to grantees in other programs supporting education reform that the Office of State Support oversees. These could include: (1) providing individualized technical assistance to states, such as that currently provided by Education program officers; (2) facilitating communities of practice to promote opportunities for collaboration across states; (3) providing professional development (or training) throughout the grant period, as opposed to only during the early stages of the grant; (4) making training more easily accessible by conducting training locally in their respective states, when possible; and (5) to the extent permissible in the context of federal and state requirements and restrictions, exploring the possibility of assisting states in identifying skilled contractors to help implement reform efforts.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that, as of October 20, 2015, the Office of State Support has a draft technical assistance plan in place that is currently being revised based on stakeholder input. Officials stated that the technical assistance plan addresses all of the numerated suggestions from GAO that were included in the recommendation. We look forward to reviewing the technical assistance plan once it is finalized. Education plans to provide an update by the end of fiscal year 2017.
    Recommendation: To help states address capacity challenges as they sustain comprehensive education reforms similar to RTT, the Secretary of Education direct the Office of State Support to take steps, such as: (1) providing ongoing individualized technical assistance to states to help them target assistance to rural districts, particularly in the reform areas that were most challenging for rural districts; (2) finalizing and disseminating guidance to be included in Education's toolkit to help states leverage federal formula grants to sustain education reforms; and (3) clarifying and improving understanding of how funding flexibilities in existing formula grants could be used to support education reform efforts to help states and the audit community address impediments to using formula grants in different ways.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it expected to release a toolkit for states and districts on ways to leverage federal grants to sustain educational reforms. As of October 20, 2015, officials stated that the toolkit is in clearance. Staff are developing a dissemination plan that will outline how the toolkit will be rolled out to states and support its use. However, they do not yet have an estimated release date. We look forward to reviewing the toolkit once it has been released. Education plans to provide an update by the end of fiscal year 2017.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    4 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a comprehensive workforce plan to ensure that BIE has an adequate number of staff with the requisite knowledge and skills to effectively oversee BIE school expenditures.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2017, the Bureau of Indian Education(BIE) Director reported that an internal working group would draft a comprehensive workforce plan that is aligned with BIE's strategic plan. They did not specify whether such a plan would include a focus on BIE administrative offices responsible for oversight of school expenditures. In late August 2017, BIE officials indicated that they would revisit the strategic workforce planning effort by Indian Affairs. They did not provide further information on what actions BIE will take to address this recommendation. However, the BIE Director noted in May of this year that the agency planned to complete its work on this recommendation no later than the end of 2018. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a process to share relevant information, such as single audit reports, with all BIE staff responsible for overseeing school expenditures to ensure they have the necessary information to identify schools at risk for misusing funds.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: In late August 2017, agency officials reported that it had developed and implemented a SharePoint-based system for sharing single audit reports to ensure that all key staff have access to this system. The agency is exploring other technological options for providing staff with access to single audit reports. The BIE Director noted in May of this year that the agency planned to complete its work on this recommendation no later than the end of 2018. While this is a step in the right direction, as we have communicated to BIE officials, the SharePoint system includes audit reports on fewer than half of all tribally-operated schools. Such reports are a vital source of information for monitoring how schools use federal funds. Without relevant BIE staff having access to audit reports for the majority of tribally-operated schools, it is unclear to us how such a system can support effective oversight of spending at these schools. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop written procedures for BIE to oversee expenditures for major programs, including Interior's Indian School Equalization Program. These procedures should include requirements for staff to consistently document their monitoring activities and actions they have taken to resolve financial weaknesses identified at schools.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In response to our report, Interior stated that BIE already had written procedures in place related to the Indian School Equalization Program (ISEP). However, we found the procedures did not relate to overseeing schools' ISEP expenditures. In late August 2017, agency officials reported taking several steps to address this recommendation. In particular, officials reported that the agency had drafted written procedures for overseeing BIE school spending. However, these officials noted that further review and revision to the procedures are necessary before they can be finalized and implemented. Officials did not provide us with a draft of the procedures to review. The BIE Director noted in May of this year that the agency planned to complete its work on this recommendation by the middle of 2019. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a risk-based approach to oversee BIE school expenditures to focus BIE's monitoring activities on schools that auditors have found to be at the greatest risk of misusing federal funds.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In late August 2017, agency officials reported that they had begun drafting a risk assessment policy and procedures for monitoring BIE school expenditures. However, they noted that further review and revision to the policy is necessary before it can be finalized and implemented. Officials did not provide us with a draft of these documents to review. The BIE Director noted in May of this year that the agency planned to complete its work on this recommendation by the middle of 2019. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: Based on GAO's review, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Special Education Programs to increase transparency regarding the timeliness of due process hearing decisions for Congress and better target its monitoring and technical assistance to states, revise its performance measure to collect information from states on the amount of time that extensions add to due process hearing decisions.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: : In April 2017, Education reported that it had developed and implemented a plan to monitor states with 10 or more fully adjudicated hearings in a given year where at least 75 percent of the decisions are issued with extended timelines. Specifically, the agency reported it was actively monitoring 6 states meeting these criteria. It would also provide technical assistance to states, as appropriate, to facilitate more timely resolution of due process disputes. Education also reported that it would gather information on the burden and cost of revising its performance measure, however, as of June 2017, it had not provided documentation that it had done so. While these are positive steps, we will consider closing this recommendation when Education's revises its performance measure on the timeliness of due process hearing decisions.
    Recommendation: Based on GAO's review, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Special Education Programs to assist its oversight of dispute resolution, take steps to improve the comparability of parental involvement data while minimizing the burden to states, and use the data for better management decision making. Steps to consider could include establishing and requiring that states follow standard data collection and analysis procedures.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In FY15, Education reported that the IDEA Data Center, in relation to the parent involvement portion of the audit, has continued review of APR [need to spell out] indicator B8 to collect information related to data collection methods, results, and improvement activities for the indicator summary for OSEP. It also began reviewing existing sources for information on how parent data are collected and best practices/ exemplars that are publicly available. In April 2017, Education reported it would direct Parent Technical Assistance Centers and other Education-funded centers to work together to develop and disseminate materials to assist states in analyzing and using parental involvement data to improve the provision of special education services. We believe this effort could help individual states improve methods for analyzing and using parental involvement data. However, we await documentation that such materials were developed and distributed. Also, it is unclear how it would improve the comparability of parental involvement data across states and allow Education to accurately assess states' performance on this IDEA indicator.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that veterans' education benefits are used effectively, the Secretary of VA should take additional steps to improve the outreach, accessibility, and usefulness of its educational counseling services, particularly for prospective student veterans, for example by (1) featuring these services in resources intended for prospective students veterans; (2) prioritizing efforts to enable veterans to apply for educational counseling online; and (3) considering cost-effective ways to gather more information on applicants, users, and key program areas (such as the timeliness of service) to better identify service needs or gaps and to improve the effectiveness of future outreach.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA has taken steps and is planning additional work to improve the accessibility and usefulness of its educational counseling services, especially for prospective student veterans. Specifically, VA has incorporated an online application and some additional information about educational counseling on its website. However, VA is in the process of transitioning to a new website, vets.gov, which is not yet fully operational. Additionally, the current pathway within that website for prospective student veterans to learn about educational counseling is not completely clear, and VA officials noted that they are working on specific sequencing for the new website to present that information. VA has estimated that the new website will be fully operational by the end of March 2017. At that time, GAO will review the new website to make sure that prospective student veterans who want help on how to use their education benefits effectively have an easy-to-follow pathway to access information explaining VA's educational counseling services and the different ways to apply for these services.
    Director: Scott, George A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop and implement decision-making procedures for BIE that specify who should be involved in the decision-making process for key decisions that affect BIE and its schools to ensure that BIE has effective management controls, is accountable for the use of federal funds, and comports with federal laws and regulations. Such procedures should be clearly documented in management directives, administrative policies, or operating manuals.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2017, Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) officials stated that they have developed decision-making procedures for BIE in consultation with staff from across the bureau. They indicated that the procedures will be implemented in the coming weeks, pending final approval from the Office of Regulatory Affairs and Collaborative Action and the Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs. We reviewed Indian Affairs' draft procedures, which they plan to incorporate into Indian Affairs' policy manual. The procedures identify, by position, BIE leaders whose involvement in the decision-making process is necessary and define roles and responsibilities of such individuals, among other areas. We will consider whether Indian Affairs' actions fully address this recommendation once the agency provides us with its finalized procedures.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a strategic plan that includes detailed goals and strategies for BIE and for those offices that support BIE's mission, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to help Indian Affairs effectively implement its realignment. Development of the strategic plan should incorporate feedback from BIE officials and other key stakeholders. To gather stakeholder input, we recommend that the plan include a comprehensive communications strategy to improve communication within Indian Affairs and between Indian Affairs and BIE staff.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2017, Indian Affairs officials stated that the draft strategic plan for BIE developed by the agency several years ago did not address our recommendation. Officials also told us they began holding strategic planning sessions in March 2017, which they said would continue through late September 2017. Indian Affairs drafted several key elements of its new strategic plan for BIE. The draft includes information on its mission, vision, values and goals. According to agency officials, they are currently developing additional elements to include milestones, measures, and specific action plans. Officials also noted that BIE has reached out to external subject matter expert organizations, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers, in developing its strategic plan. Officials reported they expect to implement the new plan no later than the end of calendar year 2017. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to revise its strategic workforce plan to ensure that employees providing administrative support to BIE have the requisite knowledge and skills to help BIE achieve its mission and are placed in the appropriate offices to ensure that regions with a large number of BIE schools have sufficient support.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Although BIE completed a strategic workforce planning effort in 2016, the agency has not fully addressed this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's efforts to finish implementing this recommendation.