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    Subject Term: E-commerce

    5 publications with a total of 14 open recommendations
    Director: John Neumann
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    7 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that USPTO's collaborative efforts on classification help examiners find relevant prior art, USPTO should work with the European Patent Office (EPO) to identify a target level of consistency of Cooperative Patent Classification decisions between USPTO and EPO and develop a plan to monitor consistency to achieve the target.

    Agency: Department of Commerce: Patent and Trademark Office
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the agency's action plan, USPTO has begun ongoing meetings with EPO on quality assurance. USPTO aims to agree to a target level, develop and deploy any needed IT, and begin monitoring and implementing corrective actions by first quarter of 2019.
    Recommendation: To ensure that USPTO is able to take full advantage of its investment in new information technology tools and capabilities, USPTO should develop and periodically update a documented strategy to identify key sources of nonpatent literature for individual technology centers and to assess the optimal means of providing access to these sources, such as including them in USPTO's search system.

    Agency: Department of Commerce: Patent and Trademark Office
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the agency's action plan, USPTO will begin assessing nonpatent literature usage and develop a strategy for optimizing its usage by November 2017.
    Recommendation: To improve its monitoring of prior art searches and provide USPTO the ability to examine and address trends in prior art search quality at the technology center level, USPTO should develop written guidance on what constitutes a thorough prior art search within each technology field (i.e., mechanical, chemical, electrical), technology center, art area, or art unit, as appropriate, and establish goals and indicators for improving prior art searches.

    Agency: Department of Commerce: Patent and Trademark Office
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the agency's action plan, USPTO will establish goals and indicators for prior art searches by December 2017.
    Recommendation: To improve its monitoring of prior art searches and provide USPTO the ability to examine and address trends in prior art search quality at the technology center level, USPTO should ensure that sufficient information is collected in reviews of prior art searches to assess the quality of searches at the technology center level, including how often examiners search for U.S. patents, foreign patents, and nonpatent literature.

    Agency: Department of Commerce: Patent and Trademark Office
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the agency's action plan, USPTO will complete an evaluation of the master review form used to collect information on prior art search by April 2017 and will have performed a sufficient number of reviews by September 2017 to assess search quality at the technology center level.
    Recommendation: To improve its monitoring of prior art searches and provide USPTO the ability to examine and address trends in prior art search quality at the technology center level, USPTO should use the audits and supervisory reviews to monitor the thoroughness of examiners' prior art searches and improvements over time.

    Agency: Department of Commerce: Patent and Trademark Office
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the agency's action plan, USPTO will develop metrics for prior art search quality and processes to incorporate information learned from these metrics by June 2017.
    Recommendation: To ensure that examiners have sufficient time to conduct a thorough prior art search, USPTO should, in conjunction with implementing the recommendation from our patent quality report to analyze the time examiners need to perform a thorough examination, specifically assess the time examiners need to conduct a thorough prior art search for different technologies.

    Agency: Department of Commerce: Patent and Trademark Office
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the agency's action plan, USPTO will complete analyses of examiner's required duties and current time expectancies and determine what, if any, additional time should be given by September 2017.
    Recommendation: To ensure that examiners have the technical competence needed to complete thorough prior art searches, USPTO should assess whether the technical competencies of examiners in each technology center match those necessary; develop strategies to address any gaps identified, such as a technical training strategy; and establish measures to monitor progress toward closing any gaps.

    Agency: Department of Commerce: Patent and Trademark Office
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the agency's action plan, USPTO will develop assessment tools and plans to address any gaps identified, as well as measure progress towards closing any gaps by December 2017.
    Director: Kay E. Brown
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better ensure that WIC participants are aware of the prohibition against selling WIC formula, and to assist states' efforts to prevent and address online formula sales, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FNS to require state agencies to articulate their procedures for identifying attempted sales of WIC food benefits in their WIC state plans and analyze the information to ascertain the national extent of state efforts.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: USDA agreed with this recommendation and reported that in April 2015 the agency revised the guidance for WIC state plans to include policies on informing participants that the sale of WIC benefits is a program violation. As part of that document, state agencies were required to report/articulate their policies and procedures for identifying and monitoring online sales of WIC benefits. In October 2015, USDA contracted a study to determine 1) the national extent of WIC state agency policies and procedures intended to prevent, monitor, and take administrative action related to online sales of WIC infant formula; and 2) effective preventative, monitoring, and investigative approaches to address the online sale of WIC infant formula. USDA reported that a narrative state plan report, based on the contractor's review of 2016 and 2017 state plans, is expected to be completed by the end of FY 2017. GAO will close this recommendation once USDA has issued its report.
    Recommendation: To better ensure that WIC participants are aware of the prohibition against selling WIC formula, and to assist states' efforts to prevent and address online formula sales, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FNS to collect information to help assess the national extent of attempted online sales of WIC formula benefits and determine cost-effective techniques states can use to monitor online classified advertisements.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: USDA agreed with this recommendation and reported that it would explore options for using available resources to assess the extent of online sales of WIC formula and to identify and share best practices, cost-effective techniques, or new approaches with state agencies to use in monitoring online advertisements. In October 2015, USDA contracted a case study analysis of two state agencies in order to provide examples of prevention, monitoring, investigation, and sanctioning practices related to the online sale of WIC infant formula. As part of this study, the contractor sought to identify cost-effective techniques State agencies can use to monitor sales of WIC infant formula. USDA reported that the Case Study Analysis Report is expected to be completed by the end of FY 2017, and after it is completed, USDA will work to disseminate the study results to state agencies. GAO supports these efforts and will close this recommendation when the study is completed, providing the study identifies cost-effective techniques states can use to monitor online sales of infant formula.
    Director: Kay E. Brown
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FNS to establish additional guidance to help states analyze SNAP transaction data to better identify SNAP recipient households receiving replacement cards that are potentially engaging in trafficking, and assess whether the use of replacement card benefit periods may better focus this analysis on high-risk households potentially engaged in trafficking.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: FNS officials reported that, in September 2013, they awarded a contract to provide expert business consultation and technical assistance in the area of recipient fraud prevention and detection to 7 states. The purpose of the contract was to improve how effectively recipients suspected of trafficking SNAP benefits were identified and investigated, including the use of predictive analytics involving transaction and replacement card data to uncover potential recipient trafficking. As of August 2017, FNS officials reported that they have completed studies in 10 states, helping the states build predictive analytics models that incorporate use of replacement card data to better identify SNAP recipient trafficking. FNS officials report that the models have demonstrated a significant improvement in state effectiveness. FNS officials also report that, in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016, the agency conducted a training program for state technical staff to teach them how to build predictive models that incorporate the use of replacement card data. In addition, FNS officials report that the agency is currently developing a SNAP Fraud Framework to provide guidance to states on improving fraud prevention and detection, including the use of excessive card replacements and other data sources, as potential indicators of fraud. FNS tentatively anticipates releasing the framework by the end of calendar year 2017. GAO will monitor these efforts and await information, including related technical assistance materials and documentation, on how these activities are used to guide states' efforts to use transaction and replacement card data to better focus on high-risk households for potential investigation.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FNS to reassess the effectiveness of the current guidance and tools recommended to states for monitoring e-commerce and social media websites, and use this information to enhance the effectiveness of the current guidance and tools.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: FNS officials reported that, in 2016, the agency conducted additional analysis to evaluate states' current use of social media in their detection of SNAP trafficking and develop a proof of concept for the use of market-leading tools to assist states in more efficient monitoring. Based on the information gained through this analysis, FNS officials reported in August 2017 that a draft of the social media guidance is currently in FNS clearance and is expected to be released by the end of the calendar year. GAO will await the issuance of this guidance.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Treasury should consider requiring pension plan sponsors to provide participants with an opportunity to opt out of all forms of electronic delivery, including (but not limited to) disclosures sent by default electronic delivery and disclosures posted on a secure continuous access website.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2013, DOL stated that it was appropriate to consider the merits of broader rights to opt out of electronic delivery and would want to consult with the Treasury Department/IRS on the agencies' different opt-out standards. In FY14, the agency reiterated that dfferent opt-out standards may be appropriate for general plan information versus individual account or other personal information and would consult with Treasury/IRS. They will consider this matter as part of any future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In FY15, Labor stated that different opt-out standards may be appropriate for general plan information versus individual account or other personal information, but that was an issue for Labor to consider in consultation with the Treasury Department/IRS should Labor pursue future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In July 2016, DOL confirmed that the agency continues to plan to take the above action. As of July 2017, DOL indicated that no decisions had been made concerning future rulemaking in this area.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Treasury should consider requiring pension plan sponsors to send a periodic paper notice to participants reminding them of their right to change their preferred delivery method at any time and the steps they must take to make these changes.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In FY13, DOL stated that it was appropriate to obtain further input on requiring some periodic paper reminder notice. In FY14, the agency reported that the sort of periodic notice described by GAO could be a safeguard against malfunctions in the electronic communication system and act as a reminder that important plan information is being provided through electronic media. DOL will consider and obtain further input on requiring a periodic paper reminder of as part of any future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In FY15, Labor stated that the agency intends to consider and obtain further input on requiring a periodic paper reminder should we pursue future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In July 2016, DOL confirmed that the agency continues to plan to take the above action. As of July 2017, DOL indicated that no decisions had been made concerning future rulemaking in this area.
    Director: St James, Lorelei
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: Because USPS faces a deteriorating financial situation, and to help ensure that future promotions generate net revenue for USPS, the Chairman of the PRC should direct staff to evaluate USPS's data collection and analysis plans for USPS's proposed mail promotions and discuss these evaluations in the PRC decisions for those mail promotions.

    Agency: Postal Regulatory Commission
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) said that it agreed with our recommendation. PRC has also noted the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is not required by statute to collect data on promotions and provide it to PRC. Based on the information it received, PRC approved USPS's Calendar Year 2017 promotions. However, USPS did not provide PRC with information regarding its plans to estimate the net financial results of the proposed promotions, as we recommended. As no such information was received, no evaluation of these plans was prepared by PRC, and this recommendation remains open.