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    Subject Term: "Physical disabilities"

    23 publications with a total of 85 open recommendations including 4 priority recommendations
    Director: Barbara Bovbjerg
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to develop a long-term facility plan that explicitly links to SSA's strategic goals for service delivery, and includes a strategy for consolidating or downsizing field offices in light of increasing use of and geographic variation in remote service delivery.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint, such as co-locating field and hearing offices and reducing warehouse space. SSA will also work within the existing Memorandum of Understanding to conduct a proof of concept on space sharing by employees who telework.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to reassess and, if needed, revise its field office space standards to ensure they provide sufficient flexibility to accommodate both unexpected growth in the demand for services and new service delivery technologies.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to ensure the Real Estate and Lease Tracking application has the capacity to accurately track the composition of SSA's office inventory over time.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to develop a cost-effective approach to identifying the most common issues with online benefit claims that require staff follow-up with applicants, and use this information to inform improvements to the online claims process.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency for its alternative customer services approaches, including desktop icons and video services in third-party sites, to develop performance goals and collect performance data related to these goals.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint, such as expanding video hearing capacity.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure VHA medical examiners are prepared to conduct the Gulf War general medical exam, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to require medical examiners to complete training, such as the 90-minute Gulf War Illness web-based course, before conducting these exams.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans to address it. Specifically, VA said it plans to make its 90-minute web-based training course mandatory for its medical examiners who conduct Gulf War Illness exams.
    Recommendation: To provide more complete information to veterans whose Gulf War Illness claims are denied, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to update guidance to require that decision letters indicate whether Gulf War Illness medical issues were evaluated under both a presumptive and direct service connection method.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans in place to address it. Specifically, VA noted it would improve how it communicates decisions to veterans and is in the process of updating its guidance to the regional offices to clarify the language required for its Gulf War Illness decision letters.
    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood of making progress toward developing a single case definition of Gulf War Illness, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to prepare and document a plan to develop a single case definition of Gulf War Illness. This plan should include near- and long-term specific actions, such as analyzing and leveraging information in existing datasets and identifying any areas for future research to help VA achieve this goal.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans to address it. Specifically, VA noted it would convene a group of subject matter experts to work on a plan - as described in our report - to establish a single case definition of Gulf War Illness.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should analyze the SEIE data to determine why a large proportion of transition-age youth on SSI with reported earnings did not benefit from the SEIE and, if warranted, take actions to ensure that those eligible for the incentive benefit from it.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that it would also explore various options for increasing connections to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), stating that in addition to assessing options for referring youth to VR and/or changing the Ticket to Work program, the agency will continue to research other options for supporting transitioning youth.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should analyze options to improve communication about SSA-administered work incentives and the implications of work on SSI benefits, with a goal of increasing understanding of SSI program rules and work incentives among transition-age youth and their families. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, updating SSAs procedures for staff meeting with SSI applicants, recipients, and their families to regularly and consistently discuss - when applicable--how work incentives can prevent reductions in benefit levels and how work history is considered during eligibility redeterminations.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation, noting that it already analyzed, and continuously monitors and solicits feedback on, options to improve communications. SSA also said it requires staff to meet with SSI recipients regularly and instructs staff to discuss relevant work incentives, and that there is no indication that staff are not providing youth with appropriate work incentive information. However, SSA did not explain how it knows or ensures that staff are providing this information and SSA policies do not instruct staff to consistently convey information to youth and families on how work may or may not affect age 18 redetermination. While SSA's new brochure provides information on age-18 redeterminations, work incentives and other resources, we believe it could also contain additional relevant information, for example, on Medicaid eligibility. We also noted that written information may not be sufficient for conveying complex information. In addition, while we recognize the important role that WIPA projects play in providing work incentives counseling to SSI youth, WIPA projects have limited capacity for serving youth along with other SSI recipients and disability insurance beneficiaries. Therefore, we continue to believe that there are opportunities for SSA to improve its communication with transition-age youth and their families, including through in-person or telephone interactions.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should work with the Secretary of Education to determine the extent to which youth on SSI are not receiving transition services through schools that can connect them to VR agencies and services.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA partially agreed with this recommendation. SSA noted its ongoing collaboration with Education and other agencies through the Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI (PROMISE) project, stating the initiative is testing the provision of VR services to youth receiving SSI and will provide some evidence related to the role of schools and VR services for this population. SSA also stated it will continue to pursue research in this area. While we recognize the value of this initiative, a final PROMISE evaluation is not expected until winter 2022. In addition, the PROMISE initiative was not designed to determine the extent to which youth on SSI are receiving transition services through schools or are otherwise connected to VR services. SSA also noted that it works with Education and other agencies through the Federal Partners in Transition (FPT) Workgroup to improve the provision of transition services to students with disabilities, and that the FPT has issued a blueprint of agencies' efforts. While the FPT can be a promising vehicle to help connect youth on SSI to key transition services, the FPT had not set timelines or milestones to achieve its broad goal to support positive outcomes for youth with disabilities, nor does it have a list or specific activities and tasks it will undertake. Therefore, we continue to believe additional collaboration by SSA with Education would be beneficial. SSA also noted several concerns related to complying with this recommendation, such as legal (privacy) concerns with data sharing, the capacity of state VR agencies to serve more individuals, and the receptivity of youth on SSI to receiving services. While we acknowledge these challenges, we believe that SSA can take steps to explore actions it could take after considering such legal issues. While low state VR capacity or individual motivation can obstruct receipt of VR services, they should not prevent SSA from working with Education to determine the extent to which SSI youth are sufficiently informed of VR resources that are potentially available to them.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should explore various options for increasing connections to VR agencies and services, including their potential costs and benefits. One option, among others, could be to expand the Ticket to Work program to include youth.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that, in addition to assessing legal and statutory options for referring youth to VR and/or changing the Ticket to Work program, it would also continue its research supporting youth.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To determine whether IDEA's current transition age requirement allows youth with disabilities, including those with ASD, the time needed to plan and prepare for the transition to adult life, the Secretary of Education should examine outcomes for students when transition services begin at age 16 and the merits and implications of amending IDEA to lower the age at which school districts are to begin providing transition services to students with disabilities, such as 14.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation and has not taken steps to implement it.
    Recommendation: To improve collaboration and leverage the knowledge of key federal agencies serving youth with ASD, the Secretary of HHS should regularly engage key non-member federal agencies that serve or provide supports to young adults with autism in IACC activities. This could include, for example, directly engaging and soliciting input from federal agencies on the IACC strategic plan, or inviting other federal agencies that serve or provide supports to young adults with autism to become IACC members.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, HHS stated that it has engaged with federal agencies as part of an interagency working group on the needs of youth and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our report stated that the IACC missed opportunities to collaborate with non-member federal agencies to report on and monitor services and supports activities for individuals with ASD, which Congress has called for IACC to include in its annual strategic plan and monitoring activities. In response, HHS stated that it has engaged several nonmember federal agencies at various points. However, we continue to believe it should develop strategies to regularly engage key non-member federal agencies in IACC activities, such as by soliciting input on its annual strategic plan.
    Recommendation: To implement the goals and policy priorities of the 2020 Federal Youth Transition Plan, the Federal Partners in Transition (FPT) workgroup--the Secretaries of HHS, Education, Department of Labor, and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration--should develop a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed with this recommendation but has not yet taken action to implement it.
    Recommendation: To implement the goals and policy priorities of the 2020 Federal Youth Transition Plan, the Federal Partners in Transition (FPT) workgroup--the Secretaries of HHS, Education, Department of Labor, and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration--should develop a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS agreed with this recommendation but stated that the voluntary nature of the FPT precludes definitive implementation plans. We maintain, however, that being a voluntary initiative does not preclude the FPT from establishing long-term milestones and clarifying roles and responsibilities. Without a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments, it is less likely that the priorities outlined in the Federal Youth Transition Plan will be achieved.
    Recommendation: To implement the goals and policy priorities of the 2020 Federal Youth Transition Plan, the Federal Partners in Transition (FPT) workgroup--the Secretaries of HHS, Education, Department of Labor, and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration--should develop a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA stated that the voluntary nature of the FPT precludes definitive implementation plans. However, we maintain that being a voluntary initiative does not preclude the FPT from establishing long-term milestones and clarifying roles and responsibilities. Without a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments, it is less likely that the priorities outlined in the Federal Youth Transition Plan will be achieved.
    Recommendation: To implement the goals and policy priorities of the 2020 Federal Youth Transition Plan, the Federal Partners in Transition (FPT) workgroup--the Secretaries of HHS, Education, Department of Labor, and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration--should develop a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed with this recommendation but has not yet taken action to implement it.
    Director: Seto Bagdoyan
    Phone: (202) 512-6722

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to lead a comprehensive fraud risk assessment that is consistent with leading practices, and develop a plan for regularly updating the assessment.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to develop, document, and implement an antifraud strategy that is aligned to its assessed fraud risks.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to work with components responsible for implementing antifraud initiatives to develop outcome-oriented metrics, including baselines and goals, where appropriate for antifraud activities.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to review progress toward meeting goals on a regular basis, and recommend that the NAFC make changes to control activities or take other corrective actions on any initiatives that are not meeting goals.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: Kay Brown
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better ensure FEMA's regional activities effectively support individuals with disabilities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to take steps to establish written procedures for how regions should involve the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination in clarifying disability integration staff's roles, evaluating staff performance, and setting expectations for how staff communicate with headquarters and the regions.

    Agency: Department of Homeland Security
    Status: Open

    Comments: FEMA agreed with this recommendation and FEMA's Office of Disability Integration and Coordination is in the process of establishing a working group that will clarify and codify the roles, responsibilities, and expectations among the various agency offices and personnel involved in carrying out the agency's disability integration mission. GAO will monitor the progress of these efforts. FEMA expects to complete these efforts by December 31, 2017. At that time, GAO will await documentation of the agency's procedures for carrying out its disability integration mission.
    Recommendation: To better position FEMA to expand access to key training on incorporating access and functional needs into emergency planning for state, local, and voluntary organization emergency management officials, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to evaluate alternative cost-effective methods for delivering its course on access and functional needs, such as via virtual classes.

    Agency: Department of Homeland Security
    Status: Open

    Comments: FEMA agreed with this recommendation and reported that it will explore options for updating one of its existing online courses--IS-368 "Including People with Disabilities and Other with Access and Functional Needs in Disaster Operations"--to tailor the content for a broader audience, including members of the public. The agency also reported that it will evaluate the need for alternative cost-effective methods for delivering other courses on inclusive emergency management it currently offers, such as its classroom course, "Integrating Access and Functional Need into Emergency Planning." The agency anticipates completing these efforts by December 31, 2017. When these efforts are complete, GAO will await documentation that the agency has evaluated its delivery of key training on incorporating access and functional needs into emergency planning.
    Recommendation: To help ensure its key training on incorporating access and functional needs into emergency planning reaches a sufficiently wide audience, the Secretary should direct the FEMA Administrator to collect information about the potential pool of participants, set general goals for the number of state and local emergency managers that will take this course, and implement the delivery methods needed to meet these goals.

    Agency: Department of Homeland Security
    Status: Open

    Comments: FEMA agreed with this recommendation and reported that it will work with its regional staff to map potential training participants in each state and set goals for delivery of the course to state and local emergency managers. The agency also reported that it may be able to use data in the State Preparedness Report and states' self-reporting on the need for training on integrating the needs of people with access and functional needs into emergency management. GAO will monitor the progress of these efforts. The agency anticipates completing these efforts by December 31, 2017.
    Director: Allison Bawden
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To preserve the balance between the importance of repaying federal student loan debt and protecting a minimum level of Social Security benefits put in place by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, Congress should consider modifying Social Security administrative offset provisions, such as by authorizing the Department of the Treasury to annually index the amount of Social Security benefits exempted from administrative offset to reflect changes in the cost of living over time.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2017, Congress has not yet taken action on this matter.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform affected borrowers of the suspension of offset and potential consequences if the borrower does not take action to apply for a TPD discharge. Such information could include notification that interest continues to accrue and that offsets may resume once their disability benefits are converted to retirement benefits.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education does not currently notify borrowers of the suspension of offset, but plans to implement a process to do so in the future using a new mailing sent to affected borrowers by their default servicer. The current budget situation does not allow for this type of enhancement, and it is not clear when that will change. In the interim, the agency is exploring alternative notification approaches that could be put in place prior to the implementation of an automated solution. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should revise forms sent to borrowers already approved for a TPD discharge to clearly and prominently state that failure to provide annual income verification documentation during the 3-year monitoring period will result in loan reinstatement.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) TPD-Post discharge forms contain the recommended language in the first bullet of the Earned Income Section. In order to more clearly provide this information they recommended that the new OMB form, which is in its public comment period, (1) use a larger font size for the form and (2) use "plain language." GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should evaluate the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process, including determining whether the agency has the necessary legal authority to implement such a process.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that over the next six months, they are committed to working with SSA to determine the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process. The verification will address both the legal authority to implement such a process as well as operational and budgetary feasibility. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform borrowers about the financial hardship exemption option and application process on the agency's website, as well as the notice of offset sent to borrowers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agrees with the recommendation and said that they will include this change in upcoming revisions to the agency's web content. The agency reported that the Notice of Offset to borrowers is sent by Treasury and that they will share this recommendation with Treasury and discuss possible changes to the notice. We will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should implement an annual review process to ensure that only eligible borrowers are exempted from offset for financial hardship on an ongoing basis.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education reported that it plans plan to fully automate their process for tracking hardships and other exceptions from offset. However, due to competing priorities and funding limitations, full implementation of these improvements have not been scheduled. As they fully implement this process, they will review complementary strategies to assist borrowers in complying with annual reporting requirements. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Director: John Dicken
    Phone: (202) 512-7114

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Executive Director of NCD should assign responsibilities for conducting future campaign activities and develop an evaluation plan for its activities.

    Agency: National Council on Disability
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, the National Council on Disability (NCD) had developed a plan for conducting campaign activities that had assigned responsibilities. However, as a result of recent changes in leadership and staff, several key activities do not have staff assigned and will need to be updated to ensure responsibility for completing the plan. Additionally, NCD said that they plan to conduct an internal audit in December 2017 to monitor the progress of their activities. While this audit is helpful in identifying progress to date, our recommendation suggests that NCD should also plan to evaluate the effectiveness of its activities.
    Director: Brown Barnes, Cindy S
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal contractors are complying with equal employment opportunity requirements, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Director of OFCCP to make changes to the contractor scheduling list development process so that compliance efforts focus on those contractors with the greatest risk of not following equal employment opportunity and affirmative action requirements.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor (DOL) agreed with this recommendation and is taking steps to address it. DOL noted its past work to improve its ability to identify federal contractor establishments under its jurisdiction. The agency is also committed to improving the scheduling process and using its resources more efficiently. DOL noted that its recently proposed EEO-1 pay data collection will provide more detailed information on federal contractor compensation disparity patterns, which they believe will strengthen the selection process. Finally, the agency reported that it is committed to improving its ability to focus on contractors with the greatest risk of noncompliance.
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal contractors are complying with equal employment opportunity requirements, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Director of OFCCP to develop a mechanism to monitor AAPs from covered federal contractors on a regular basis. Such a mechanism could include electronically collecting AAPs and contractor certification of annual updates.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation and reported that it will fully explore the operational implications and funding requirements.
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal contractors are complying with equal employment opportunity requirements, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Director of OFCCP to make changes to the current scheduling list distribution process so that it addresses changes in human capital and does not rely exclusively on geographic location.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor (DOL) agreed with this recommendation. DOL reported that it will explore the logistics of non-geographically based compliance evaluations in its review of contractors with Functional Affirmative Action Programs. The agency will also explore establishment based cross-regional case transfers, and continue to implement improved case distribution approaches in future scheduling lists.
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal contractors are complying with equal employment opportunity requirements, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Director of OFCCP to provide timely and uniform training to new staff, as well as provide continuing training opportunities to assist compliance officers in maintaining a level of competence to help ensure quality and consistency of evaluations across regions and district offices.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation and noted past and future efforts to address it. To date, the agency has conducted many webinars to build staff knowledge and skills; implemented a Front Line Manager Leadership Development Program to enhance leadership and technical skills; hosted an all-staff regional training in FY16 to hone the staff's technical skills; developed a training plan in FY16 to assess employee training needs and address the needs of compliance officers at various stages of their careers; and conducted a training needs assessment in FY16 to identify the performance requirements and competencies needed by agency staff. Based on the results of the needs assessment, the agency plans to develop the "Compliance Officer Continuous Education Success Program," a three-year program to ensure that compliance officers receive timely and consistent instruction. They will also formalize its use of training-related work groups to ensure training is responsive to employer needs, and leverage different instructional methods, such as classroom and web-based training.
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal contractors are complying with equal employment opportunity requirements, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Director of OFCCP to review outreach and compliance assistance efforts and identify options for improving information provided to federal contractors and workers to enhance their understanding of nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements to ensure equal employment opportunities for protected workers.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor (DOL) agreed with this recommendation and is taking steps to address it. The agency plans to expand stakeholder engagement practices, such as consultations with federal contractors, to determine what additional guidance is needed to support contractor compliance with OFCCP regulations and increase contractor awareness of resources, such as its Help Desk and EEO Tabulation. OFCCP will also build on prior outreach that has included live and virtual events (e.g., focus groups, round tables) and explore ways to disseminate promising practices.
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal contractors are complying with equal employment opportunity requirements, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Director of OFCCP to assess existing contractor guidance for clarity to ensure that contractors have information that helps them better understand their responsibilities regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements to ensure equal employment opportunities for protected workers.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted past efforts demonstrating its commitment to quality guidance, such as by increasing online resources and tools available to stakeholders, and revising outdated regulations and guidance with input from stakeholders.
    Director: Brenda S. Farrell
    Phone: (202) 512-3604

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help support DOD management of its FECA responsibilities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military departments and other defense agency leaders, to monitor timelines associated with significant FECA claims-management actions in order to identify the extent to which delays or inefficiencies may be occurring and at what points in the process; to identify any known reasons for the delays; and to communicate this information to DOL as appropriate for consideration and action.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Dan Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure the agency has sufficient information about risks to SSI program integrity when making decisions about efforts to address them, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should conduct a risk assessment of the current manual process for connecting and adjusting claim records of SSI recipients who live in households with other SSI recipients, and, as appropriate, take steps to make cost-effective improvements to SSA's claims management system to address identified risks.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation stating that current SSI program rules do not support connecting records of unrelated individuals living in multiple recipient households. SSA also noted that it does not have evidence from its fiscal year 2014 payment accuracy reviews that manual processing of married couple multiple recipient household claims led to payment errors. As such, the agency stated that it could not commit resources to address this recommendation at this time, but noted if a legislative proposal is put forth that affects unrelated multiple SSI recipient households, SSA will assess program policy and systems risks as part of its evaluation and planning. However, we continue to believe that the manual processing currently used to connect and adjust claim records of SSI recipients who live in households with other SSI recipients leaves the agency at risk. SSA has acknowledged that it has not assessed the extent to which manual processing leads to payment errors, and the data they provided us on fiscal year 2014 improper payments to married couple recipients does not address the full scope of the issues we identified. Specifically, field office staff reported several instances in which manual processing is used to connect and adjust claims records for multiple recipient households due to system limitations, and indicated that these manual adjustments increase the likelihood of erroneous payments. These manually processed claims are for households with multiple related recipients whose SSI benefits are currently inter-related under program rules, such as multiple child recipients who are siblings or individual recipients who marry another recipient. Without an assessment of the risks associated with the manual processing of these claims, SSA is unable to determine if additional adjustments to its system would be a cost-effective use of its resources.
    Director: bertonid@gao.gov
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    8 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should clarify its policy for assessing the reasonableness of expenses used in determining beneficiaries' repayment amounts to help ensure that withholding plans are consistently established across the agency and accurately reflect individuals' ability to pay.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, SSA gained the ability to use the Access to Financial Information (AFI) system to verify information about the assets of beneficiaries. In February 2017, the agency reported it is continuing to work on clarifying its policy for assessing the reasonableness of expenses used in determining repayment amounts, including guidance on using the new AFI process. As part of this effort, SSA is also reviewing the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Collection Financial Standards and determining whether it can incorporate these or similar standards in its policies for determining reasonable repayment amounts. We will continue to track SSA's efforts to clarify its policies, including efforts to incorporate IRS standards.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should improve oversight of DI benefit withholding agreements to ensure that they are completed appropriately. This could include requiring supervisory review of repayment plans or sampling plans as part of a quality control process, and requiring that supporting documentation for all withholding plans be retained to enable the agency to perform such oversight.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation, but does not believe that it is necessary to conduct supervisory reviews. As of February 2017, SSA reported that it is exploring system, policy, and training opportunities to better ensure staff appropriately complete benefit withholding agreements. We will continue to track SSA's efforts to improve oversight in this area.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should explore the feasibility of using additional methods to independently verify financial information provided by beneficiaries to ensure that complete and reliable information is used when determining repayment amounts. These additional tools could include those already being used by the agency for other purposes.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to SSA, Section 834 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 gave the agency the authority to use the Access to Financial Information system as part of the agency's waiver determination process. SSA reported that, as of February 2017, it also considered using the National Directory of New Hires Query for verifying an overpaid beneficiary's financial information, but preliminarily determined that the information in this system would be of limited value since it is a quarterly report of past earnings. SSA states that it continues to explore other options to verify financial information such as The Work Number and the Interstate Benefit Inquiry. We will monitor SSA's efforts to explore additional options for verifying financial information.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should adjust the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent of monthly DI benefits to allow quicker recovery of debt.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and as of April 2017, it estimated that this would result in an additional $213 million in collections over a 5-year period. The fiscal year 2017 President's budget submission contained a legislative proposal to make this change, but has not yet been enacted. In April 2017, the agency reported that, in the third quarter of fiscal year 2017, it intends to resubmit a regulatory change to establish the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent in the event that its legislative proposal is not included in the fiscal year 2017 budget.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should consider adjusting monthly withholding amounts according to cost of living adjustments or charging interest on debts being collected by withholding benefits. Should SSA determine that it is necessary to do so, it could pursue legislative authority to use recovery tools that it is currently unable to use.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA continued to disagree with this recommendation. For debt subject to benefit withholding, which is not considered delinquent debt, SSA asserted that these measures would not have a significant effect on the amount of debt recovered, especially compared to the option of changing the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent of monthly benefits. For delinquent debt, SSA stated charging interest on debts would require substantial changes to multiple systems that affect its overpayment businesses processes, and would require extensive training to its employees. We continue to believe there is merit in further consideration of these measures. While SSA reported it has studied the potential changes needed to charge interest on debt, without further consideration of, for example, the costs and benefits of charging interest or adjusting withholding amounts according to cost of living adjustments, SSA cannot know the extent to which these options would improve debt recovery efforts or help protect the value of debts against the effects of inflation, which can be substantial given that withholding plans can take decades to complete.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should pursue additional debt collection tools for collecting delinquent penalties. This includes taking steps to implement tools within its existing authority and exploring the use of those not within its authority, and seeking legislative authority if necessary.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2016, SSA reported that: it had drafted regulations to use existing external debt collection tools for penalties, was developing a legislative proposal to allow the use of additional debt collection tools such as Federal salary offset and credit bureau reporting, and had started planning for a multi-activity, multi-year administrative sanctions project. In February 2017, SSA reported that, as part of its administrative sanctions project, the agency revised policy guidance on factors significant to OCIG's civil monetary penalty determinations. We will track SSA's progress in applying new tools to collecting penalties.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to collect complete, accurate, and timely data on, and thereby improve its ability to track civil monetary penalties and their disposition.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA reported that it is developing a workload tracking tool for penalties to provide accurate management information on cases. SSA expects to implement this tool by September 2017, and have the first full year of management information available in fiscal year 2018. We will close this recommendation once SSA implements and begins using this tool.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to collect complete, accurate, and timely data on, and thereby improve its ability to track administrative sanctions and their disposition.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA reported that it has been developing a new workload tracking tool for administrative sanctions. The first phase of this tool was implemented in December 2016 and allows SSA to track administrative sanction cases throughout the development process. The second phase, expected to be implemented by September 2017, will provide SSA with management information on sanctions cases. We will continue to monitor SSA's process in developing this tool. We will close this recommendation once the tool is implemented.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that it provides all eligible populations access to its services and that its eligibility requirements are consistent with currently accepted practices, the Library of Congress should re-examine and potentially revise its requirement that medical doctors must certify eligibility for the NLS program for those with a reading disability caused by organic dysfunction.

    Agency: Library of Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Library of Congress indicated that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has contracted for a study of how eligibility based on reading disability should be certified. This study will look at medical advances in the diagnosis of reading disabilities, the NLS authorizing statute, and the potential impact of a regulatory change on the program. The expected completion date is December 2017. To close this recommendation, the Library of Congress must demonstrate that this study has been completed and that NLS has determined whether a change in its requirements is warranted.
    Recommendation: To ensure funds are directed to the most cost-effective outreach efforts, NLS should evaluate the effectiveness of its outreach efforts, including the extent to which different outreach efforts have resulted in new users.

    Agency: Library of Congress: National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Library of Congress indicated that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has begun revising the program application form so that it captures information on how applicants were referred to the program. NLS expects to have all libraries nationwide using this revised application by sometime in 2018. In addition, the Library of Congress indicated that NLS has contracted for a multi-year, multi-media advertising campaign. This effort will assess the effectiveness of different approaches by connecting direct responses to ads with verified program enrollment. The campaign is expected to be fully underway by January 2018. To close this recommendation, the Library of Congress will need to demonstrate that NLS has fully implemented one or more of its planned new approaches for evaluating outreach.
    Recommendation: To help it determine the most cost-effective approach for its next audio player, NLS should comprehensively assess the alternatives of designing its own specialized audio player versus providing commercially available players to its users.

    Agency: Library of Congress: National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Library of Congress indicated that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has contracted for a study of the different commercially available audio players for their usability, life-cycle costs, maintenance needs, and durability. The study is expected to be completed by December 2017, and will guide NLS in its decision about how to develop its next generation of audio players. To close this recommendation as implemented, the Library of Congress will have to demonstrate that this study has been conducted and that NLS has considered its findings in making a decision about its next generation audio player.
    Recommendation: To help it determine whether to supplement its collection of human-narrated audio materials with text-to-speech materials, NLS should thoroughly assess the text-to-speech option versus continuing to provide only human-narrated materials.

    Agency: Library of Congress: National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Library of Congress indicated that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has developed a library of 100 text-to-speech (synthetic speech) talking books. In September 2017, NLS will begin a 3-month pilot in which a group of NLS users try out these talking books and provide input to NLS. Also, NLS will require that its next generation of audio players have the capacity to play synthetic speech talking books, and the study it has contracted of commercially available players will consider this requirement among other factors. To close this recommendation as implemented, NLS needs to demonstrate that it has completed its text-to-speech pilot and has decided on an approach going forward with regards to expanding this program.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Operations to further consider cost savings as part of its prioritization of full medical reviews. Such options could include considering the feasibility of prioritizing different types of beneficiaries on the basis of their estimated average savings and, as appropriate, integrating case-specific indicators of potential cost savings, such as beneficiary age and benefit amount, into its modeling or prioritization process.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, SSA stated that there is no accepted way to accurately predict future benefit payments at the individual level and that any improvement from implementing this recommendation would be minimal - and would be reduced over time as the continuing disability review (CDR) backlog diminishes - because SSA already considers expected return on investment by cohort in its overall approach to releasing CDRs. It is unclear whether SSA will be able to achieve and sustain currency in its CDR workloads. Even if SSA were to eliminate the backlog of full medical reviews, refining its prioritization process would enable the agency to more efficiently use its resources with any future backlogs. SSA could use actuarial considerations to prioritize refined cohorts of beneficiaries (e.g., types of DI beneficiaries) on the basis of their estimated average savings. SSA Operations could collaborate with SSA's Office of the Actuary on this work as needed. SSA previously agreed that it could look for ways to improve its return on conducting CDRs, but also stated that its statistical models and prioritization process already do much of what we recommend. For example, SSA stated that age is already a strong variable in its statistical models. However, these models predict medical improvement and are not designed to take expected cost savings into account. We continue to believe that to maximize expected cost savings SSA could refine its prioritization process by factoring in additional actuarial considerations.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to complete a re-estimation of the statistical models that are used to prioritize CDRs and determine a plan for re-estimating these models on a regular basis to ensure that they reflect current conditions.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2016, SSA re-estimated the statistical models that it uses to prioritize CDRs. However, as of October 2017, SSA has not yet produced a plan for re-estimating the models on a regular basis to ensure that they continually reflect current conditions.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to monitor the characteristics of CDR errors to identify potential root causes and report results to the Disability Determination Services. For example, SSA could analyze CDRs with and without errors to identify trends by impairment, beneficiary type, or other characteristics.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it reports all errors to the relevant DDS for corrective action. SSA further stated that its identification of root causes is limited by the relatively few reviewed CDRs that have errors. However, in fiscal year 2014 as an example, SSA identified over 600 CDRs with errors. Although these CDRs make up a small percentage of the CDRs reviewed by SSA that year, the agency could analyze the characteristics of CDRs with errors by comparing relevant percentages without modeling. In addition, SSA could combine data from multiple years if it determined that considering more CDRs with errors would be helpful. There is no change in the status of this recommendation for 2017.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to regularly track the number and rate of date errors, which can affect benefit payments (e.g., incorrect cessation dates), and consider including those errors in its reported CDR accuracy rates.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation and stated that, per SSA regulation, the agency does not consider date errors when calculating accuracy rates because date errors do not affect the decision to cease or continue benefits. SSA also stated its stewardship reviews examine the non-medical quality of benefit payment decisions. However, these reviews are not focused on CDRs, and SSA does not report results from them for CDRs specifically. SSA also explained that it does not track the number and rate of date errors because they are infrequent. However, SSA's regulations do not prevent the agency from tracking date errors, and until it does, SSA cannot definitively determine the frequency of these errors. In addition, we found that considering date errors substantially reduced some states' estimated CDR accuracy rates. Without tracking these errors, SSA cannot assess their effect and consider whether including them in its reported CDR accuracy rates has merit. There is no change in the status of this recommendation for 2017.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to adjust its approach to sampling CDRs to efficiently produce reliable accuracy rate estimates for continuances and cessations separately in each state.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation and stated that some states do not generate enough CDR decisions, particularly cessations, to generate statistically valid samples. However, for states with CDR samples that are consistently too small to produce reliable results, SSA could, for example, pool decisions from more months than it currently does to generate statistically valid samples by state. Conversely, for states with CDR samples that are consistently larger than necessary to efficiently achieve reliable results, SSA could, for example, reduce sample sizes. Because CDR accuracy rates vary by state and cessations are consistently less accurate than continuances, we maintain that SSA should adjust its approach to sampling CDRs. There is no change in the status of this recommendation for 2017.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Chief Actuary to better document the methods including data sources, assumptions, and limitations that factor into its estimates of CDR cost savings.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it will improve and expand its existing documentation as time and resources permit. As of July 2017, SSA had begun to improve documentation of its OASDI estimates and plans further enhancements including documenting the methods of its SSI estimates.
    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: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure the best use of the VA Adaptive Sports Grant program funds, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Undersecretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs to systematically gather and disseminate, to all its grantees, techniques that can reduce the no-show rate at funded events.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA concurred with our recommendation. In 2015, VA stated that it would have grantees report on their policies, tools and experience with veterans and service members who do not show up for events; and measures grantees have taken to reduce no-shows. VA stated that it will analyze this information and disseminate best techniques, tools, and recommended actions to current and future grantees. We will close this recommendation when we receive documentation showing that VA is systematically gathering and disseminating information on best practices for reducing no-shows.
    Recommendation: To help ensure the best use of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Adaptive Sports Grant program funds, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Undersecretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs to revise the draft monitoring plan to include guidance on the number and frequency of annual site visits and desk audits.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA concurred with this recommendation. In 2015, VA reported that its final monitoring plan calls for conduct of site visits or desk audits of at least 10 percent of grantees in a grant year. We will close this recommendation when we receive a copy of the final plan for FY16 documenting this commitment.
    Director: Valerie C. Melvin
    Phone: (202) 512-6304

    5 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to develop an updated plan for VBMS that includes (1) a schedule for when VBA intends to complete development and implementation of the system, including capabilities that fully support disability claims, pension claims, and appeals processing and (2) the estimated cost to complete development and implementation of the system.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with our recommendation calling for an updated plan for the Veterans Benefits Management System. However, as of June 2017, the department had not developed a plan that included a schedule for when the Veterans Benefits Administration intends to complete development and implementation of the system, as well as the estimated cost of doing so. We will continue to monitor VA's actions in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to establish goals for system response time and use the goals as a basis for periodically reporting actual system performance.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and reported that the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) program office has developed draft metrics for performance of the system. Specifically, VA stated that the office has established key performance indicators as a basis for monitoring the response times of the most commonly executed user transactions (or work events) within VBMS. According to the department, these indicators have been incorporated into the application's continuous monitoring tools for all service level agreements and these agreements are enforced by the VA Service Level Management Board. Nevertheless, as of June 2017, VA had not identified its goals for VBMS response times, nor had the department reported actual system response times. We will continue to monitor VA's actions toward addressing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to reduce the incidence of high- and medium-priority level defects that are present at the time of future VBMS releases.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and, in June 2017, reiterated its plans and procedures for decreasing the incidences of defects in each system release. However, the incidences of high- and medium-priority level defects at the time of recent VBMS releases (i.e., releases 10.1 and 11.0) had increased relative to the number of defects present at the time of the earlier release (i.e., release 8.1) that we described in our report. We will continue to monitor VA's actions and progress in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to develop and administer a statistically valid survey of VBMS users to determine the effectiveness of steps taken to make improvements in users' satisfaction.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and in January 2017, conducted a survey of VBMS users that was sent to over 16,000 claims processors at each of its 56 regional offices. Although 52 percent of respondents indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with VBMS, the department received only about 2500 responses to the survey for a 15 percent response rate. This low response rate raises concern about whether the survey results are statistically valid. We have requested additional information from VA to determine any actions the department has taken to ensure the statistical validity of its survey results and will assess any information that is provided.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to establish goals that define customer satisfaction with VBMS and report on actual performance toward achieving the goals based on the results of GAO's survey of VBMS users and any future surveys VA conducts.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and conducted a survey of VBMS users in January 2017. However, as of June 2017, the department had yet to develop customer satisfaction goals for VBMS that would provide users with an expectation of the system response times they should anticipate, and management with an indication of how well the system is performing relative to performance goals.
    Director: Mark L. Goldstein
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Chairman of FCC should evaluate the effectiveness of FCC's accessibility-related public outreach efforts and ensure those efforts incorporate key practices identified in this report, such as defining objectives and establishing process and outcome metrics.

    Agency: Federal Communications Commission
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Bertoni, Daniel
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To help ensure that Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) decisions are well supported and TDIU benefits are provided only to veterans whose service-connected disabilities prevent them from obtaining or retaining substantially gainful employment, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to update the TDIU guidance to clarify how rating specialists should determine unemployability when making TDIU benefit decisions. This updated guidance could clarify whether factors such as enrollment in school, education level, and prior work history should be used and if so, how to consider them; and whether or not to assign more weight to certain factors than others. Updating the guidance would also give VBA the opportunity to re-examine the applicability, if at all, of other factors it has identified as extraneous.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA reported in March 2017 that an internal workgroup is in the final stage of collecting and analyzing the data to determine if age should be a factor in deciding Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU), and whether or not to use positive vocational assessments to disallow TDIU claims. VA reported that the workgroup is also in the process of completing an Inter-Rater Variability Assessment (IRVA) to examine the disparity in rating decisions involving entitlement to TDIU and service connection. After completion of the internal study on TDIU and the IRVA, targeted for September 30, 2017, the workgroup will submit its preliminary analysis and recommendations to VBA leadership for a decision on the next courses of action for future policy decisions and will then update any related guidance, as appropriate.
    Recommendation: To help ensure that TDIU decisions are well supported and TDIU benefits are provided only to veterans whose service-connected disabilities prevent them from obtaining or retaining substantially gainful employment, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to verify the self-reported income provided by veterans (a) applying for TDIU benefits and (b) undergoing the annual eligibility review process by comparing such information against IRS earnings data, which VBA currently has access to for this purpose. VA could also explore options to obtain more timely earnings data from other sources to ensure that claimants are working within allowable eligibility limits

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VA is developing an upfront verification process by expanding the data sharing agreement with Social Security Administration (SSA), which enables VA to receive federal tax information via an encrypted electronic transmission through a secure portal. Once a Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) claim is received, VA will request the reported income through the secured SSA portal and receive a response within 10-16 days. VA reported that process will serve as a more efficient way to receive income data in a timely manner and maintain the integrity of the TDIU benefit while reducing improper payments. The development and implementation of the upfront verification process for TDIU claimants is anticipated to be completed by July 21, 2017. Meanwhile, VA has reinstituted the data match agreement with SSA through December 2017, which collects earned income (employment wages). The agreement allows VBA to compare reported income earnings of TDIU beneficiaries to earnings actually received. In addition, VA completed the upfront income verification manual guidance and is planning to pilot the guidance prior to implementation. VA also has drafted new manual guidance for the annual eligibility review process and the documents are currently under review. As of March 2017, VA reported delays and stated it planned to fully implement the annual eligibility review process by June 30, 2017.
    Recommendation: To help ensure that TDIU decisions are well supported and TDIU benefits are provided only to veterans whose service-connected disabilities prevent them from obtaining or retaining substantially gainful employment, in light of VA's agreement with the recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to develop a plan to study the complex TDIU policy questions on (1) whether age should be considered when deciding if veterans are unemployable and (2) whether it is possible to disallow TDIU benefits for veterans whose vocational assessment indicated they would be employable after rehabilitation.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of March 2017, a VA workgroup is in the final stages of collecting and analyzing the data to determine if age should be a factor in deciding TDIU, and whether or not the agency will use positive vocational assessments to disallow TDIU claims. Additionally, the workgroup is in the process of completing an Inter-Rather Variability Study (IRVA) to examine the disparity in rating decisions involving entitlement to TDIU and service connection. After completion of the internal study on TDIU and the IRVA, targeted for September 30, 2017, he workgroup will submit its preliminary analysis and recommendations and VA will then decide on the next courses of action for future policy decisions. Due to VA's earlier conclusions, in April 2015, that no immediate changes to its current guidance were necessary, and in the spirit of this recommendation, the status will remain open until the completion of these ongoing efforts.
    Director: Mark Goldstein
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve performance management of the Telecommunications Relay Service, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should develop specific performance goals and measures for the TRS program. FCC should establish goals that would guide its efforts on major program dimensions--for example, consider goals and performance measures related to, but not limited to, service quality or competition among providers.

    Agency: Federal Communications Commission
    Status: Open

    Comments: On May 12, 2017, FCC's Liaison reported to us that FCC is working towards implementing these recommendations, but FCC does not have any specific achievements or documentation to report at this time. GAO will continue to monitor and update the status of this rec.
    Recommendation: To improve performance management of the Telecommunications Relay Service, following the establishment of TRS's performance goals, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should conduct a robust risk assessment that can help FCC design a comprehensive internal-control system.

    Agency: Federal Communications Commission
    Status: Open

    Comments: On May 12, 2017, FCC's Liaison reported to us that FCC is working towards implementing these recommendations, but FCC does not have any specific achievements or documentation to report at this time. GAO will continue to monitor and update the status of this rec.
    Recommendation: To improve performance management of the Telecommunications Relay Service, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should improve FCC's communication of TRS rules and procedures to the community of individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities and the companies providing TRS services through the creation and dissemination of a handbook, program manual, or other consolidation of TRS rules and procedures.

    Agency: Federal Communications Commission
    Status: Open

    Comments: On May 12, 2017, FCC's Liaison reported to us that FCC is working towards implementing these recommendations, but FCC does not have any specific achievements or documentation to report at this time. GAO will continue to monitor and update the status of this rec.
    Director: Randall B. Williamson
    Phone: (202) 512-7114

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve identification of enlisted servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions, and to provide reasonable assurance that enlisted servicemembers, including Air Force National Guard members, are separated for non-disability mental conditions as appropriate and in accordance with DOD requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Secretaries of the Army and the Navy and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to use the separation codes specific to a non-disability mental condition or develop another uniform method to track servicemembers who have been separated for specific non-disability mental conditions so that this information can be easily retrieved.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOD officials have not implemented this recommendation. GAO considers it to be open. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information.
    Recommendation: To improve identification of enlisted servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions, and to provide reasonable assurance that enlisted servicemembers, including Air Force National Guard members, are separated for non-disability mental conditions as appropriate and in accordance with DOD requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Secretary of the Air Force to take steps to ensure there is an appropriately staffed process to identify and administratively separate enlisted National Guard members who are unable to function effectively in the National Guard because of a non-disability mental condition.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOD officials have not implemented this recommendation. GAO considers it to be open. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information.
    Recommendation: To improve identification of enlisted servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions, and to provide reasonable assurance that enlisted servicemembers, including Air Force National Guard members, are separated for non-disability mental conditions as appropriate and in accordance with DOD requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to update their services' administrative separation policies to be consistent with DOD regulations for those servicemembers separated for all non-disability mental conditions.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOD officials have not implemented this recommendation. GAO considers it to be open. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information.
    Recommendation: To improve identification of enlisted servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions, and to provide reasonable assurance that enlisted servicemembers, including Air Force National Guard members, are separated for non-disability mental conditions as appropriate and in accordance with DOD requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Air Force and the Navy and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to implement processes to oversee separations for non-disability mental conditions, such as reinstituting the requirement of annual compliance reporting of a sample of administrative separations, using current DOD policy requirements as review criteria for servicemembers of all military services and their Reserve components.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOD officials have not implemented this recommendation. GAO considers it to be open. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information.
    Recommendation: To improve identification of enlisted servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions, and to provide reasonable assurance that enlisted servicemembers, including Air Force National Guard members, are separated for non-disability mental conditions as appropriate and in accordance with DOD requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to ensure that Army's planned oversight of separations for non-disability mental conditions is implemented and incorporates reservists and National Guard members separated for such conditions, or that Army implement another process to oversee such administrative separations using current DOD policy requirements as review criteria for all servicemembers, including reservists and National Guard members.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOD officials have not implemented this recommendation. GAO considers it to be open. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information.
    Recommendation: To improve identification of enlisted servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions, and to provide reasonable assurance that enlisted servicemembers, including Air Force National Guard members, are separated for non-disability mental conditions as appropriate and in accordance with DOD requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to review any processes used by the military services to oversee such administrative separations to ensure compliance with DOD requirements.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOD officials have not implemented this recommendation. GAO considers it to be open. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to address potential disincentives for staff to detect and prevent physician-assisted fraud, SSA should review the standards used to assess DDS performance; and develop and distribute promising practices to incentivize staff to better balance the goal of processing claims promptly with the equally important goal of identifying and reporting evidence of potential fraud.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA partially agreed with this recommendation, citing that their employees take their stewardship responsibilities seriously and that field office and disability determination services (DDS) employees are the agency's first and best line of defense against fraud. In 2016, the agency reported that it was working with experts in its OIG and Office of Anti-Fraud Programs to develop and disseminate promising practices on identifying and reporting fraud. We will close this recommendation once SSA takes steps to review its standards for assessing DDS performance and disseminates the best practices it is developing.
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to address the potential risks associated with medical evidence submitted by sanctioned physicians, SSA should evaluate the threat posed by this information and, if warranted, consider changes to its policies and procedures.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of 2016, SSA reported that it was pursuing several options to address the potential risks of medical evidence submitted by sanctioned physicians. This included determining how it could use licensure information from the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities. SSA stated that it believes the best opportunity to further evaluate the possible review of the license statuses of medical evidence providers is in conjunction with the implementation of the National Vendor File, part of the national Disability Case Processing System, which is under development. In addition, SSA reported it had drafted two Social Security Rulings to define fraud and to provide processes for disregarding evidence and making redeterminations in disability claims when there is reason to believe that fraudulent evidence was provided. We will close this recommendation once SSA articulates a strategy for using license status information in the vendor file and it finalizes its rulings.
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to help ensure new initiatives that use analytics to identify potential fraud schemes are successful, SSA should develop an implementation plan that identifies both short- and long-term actions, including: (1) timeframes for implementation; (2) resources and staffing needs; (3) data requirements, e.g., the collection of unique medical provider information; (4) how technology improvement will be integrated into existing technology improvements such as the Disability Case Processing System and National Vendor File; and (5) how different initiatives will interact and support each other.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: Since fiscal year 2015, SSA has taken several steps that will help the agency to combat fraud, waste, and abuse. SSA established the Office of Anti-Fraud Programs to provide centralized oversight and accountability for the agency's initiatives, which, in consultation with the Office of the Inspector General and other SSA components, will lead the development of SSA's anti-fraud initiatives and activities. This includes efforts to mitigate fraud through data analytics that utilize SSA's existing data systems. SSA developed a strategic plan for fiscal years 2016-2018 to guide its anti-fraud efforts that includes the use of data analytics. However, this plan does not specifically address actions to combat potential physician-assisted fraud. As of April 2017, SSA stated that it continued to develop a fraud management strategy that is consistent with the leading practices identified in GAO's report. Once the strategy is complete, SSA plans to conduct a fraud risk assessment on its major lines of business, beginning with the disability program in fiscal year 2017. We will continue to monitor SSA's progress to identify and prevent fraud schemes that include physicians.