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    Topic: Education

    44 publications with a total of 142 open recommendations including 11 priority recommendations
    Director: John Neumann
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should require staff to follow written internal guidance for (1) using tools and templates NSF has developed for the process for setting indirect cost rates and (2) updating the agency's database to reflect the status of awardees for which NSF has cognizance and of indirect cost rate proposals. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency: National Science Foundation
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should add details to NSF's internal guidance for setting indirect cost rates specifying (1) the criteria to be used by the supervisor for assessing the level of risk and steps for mitigating the risks at each level and (2) the steps for supervisory review of the process for setting indirect cost rates and documentation of the results of the review. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency: National Science Foundation
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should add procedures to NSF's internal guidance for (1) implementing the applicable new provisions of the Uniform Guidance, including updating links to Office of Management and Budget guidance, and (2) monitoring the indirect cost rates that the Department of Interior sets on NSF's behalf. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency: National Science Foundation
    Status: Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help improve students' access to information so that they can make well-informed transfer decisions, the Secretary of Education should require schools to (1) disclose the list of schools with which they have articulation agreements online if the school has a website, and (2) clearly inform students, on the school's website if it has one, when no articulation agreements on credit transfer are in place. If the department determines that it does not have the authority to require this, it should nonetheless encourage schools to take these actions (through guidance or other means).

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To help improve students' access to information so that they can make well-informed transfer decisions, the Secretary of Education should provide students and their families with general transfer information, for example by developing a consumer guide and posting it on Education's website or augmenting transfer information already provided on the website, to help increase awareness of key considerations when transferring schools.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

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

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop and take corrective actions, in consultation with Interior's Designated Agency Safety and Health Official, to address BIA safety program weaknesses identified in prior Interior evaluations.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that the Designated Agency Safety and Health Official (DASHO) is working with the Indian Affairs' safety office and BIA regional leadership to discuss the current state of BIA's safety program and develop a corrective action plan to address identified safety program weaknesses.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to assign responsibility to a specific office or official to develop and implement a plan to assess employees' safety training needs and monitor employees' compliance with Indian Affairs' safety training requirements.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior indicated that Indian Affairs is developing a safety training plan, which will establish program responsibilities and compliance requirements for safety training across BIA, among other areas. Interior also noted that line offices will track the implementation of the training plan and individuals' compliance with training requirements.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to ensure that BIA's employee performance standards on inspections are consistently incorporated into the appraisal plans of all BIA personnel with safety program responsibilities.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior commented that the appraisal plans of BIA regional directors had been updated to include BIA's new performance standards on inspections, which we noted in our report. The agency also stated that Indian Affairs' work in addressing this recommendation was primarily completed. However, Interior did not provide evidence that the appraisal plans of all BIA staff with safety program responsibilities included all of the bureau's new performance standards on safety inspections. We continue to believe that it is important that BIA's employee performance standards on inspections are consistently incorporated in all BIA employee appraisal plans.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a performance standard on inspection report quality and establish a process to routinely monitor the quality of inspection reports. Monitoring could include, but not be limited to, the following areas: accuracy of risk levels and abatement timeframes assigned to deficiencies and clarity of language to describe safety hazards and recommended corrections.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted that Indian Affairs is developing written policies and procedures for safety inspections at BIE schools, which it says will address issues with report clarity and accuracy, among other areas. However, Interior did not provide us with information about whether it will establish a performance standard for report quality and a process for monitoring inspection quality, which are the two key actions we recommended. We maintain that these steps are needed to ensure that BIE schools receive thorough and accurate safety inspection reports.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to require safety inspectors to document when inspection reports are sent to schools and establish a process to routinely monitor the timeliness of reports against Indian Affairs' required 30-day timeframe.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior stated that Indian Affairs will require inspectors to certify and report the dates on which inspectors send reports to schools. The agency also noted that Indian Affairs' safety office will monitor the timeliness of inspection reports sent to schools and report the results of its monitoring to Indian Affairs' senior leadership.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to use information gathered from monitoring the timeliness of school safety inspection reports to assess the performance of employees with safety program responsibilities and hold them accountable.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior stated that supervisors will ensure that responsible employees are held accountable for complying with its performance standards on safety inspections. We continue to believe it is important that Indian Affairs use information from monitoring inspection report timeliness to assess employee performance.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior agreed with this recommendation. Interior stated that Indian Affairs will develop, as part of its Financial Accountability Workgroup, guidance for maintaining all types of construction contract and grant files.
    Director: Rebecca Shea
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    8 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure that NTTFI is able to provide quality information to support management and program oversight efforts, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to coordinate with the Federal Highway Administration and tribal stakeholders and reexamine the need for road-description and condition data currently collected in the NTTFI and eliminate fields that do not serve an identified purpose.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To help ensure that NTTFI is able to provide quality information to support management and program oversight efforts, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to for fields determined to have continued relevance for management and program oversight take steps to improve the quality of these data by clarifying guidance in the NTTFI coding guide that tribes use to collect data and by providing additional guidance on steps needed to ensure that data are consistently reported.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To help ensure that NTTFI is able to provide quality information to support management and program oversight efforts, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to establish a process to monitor data to facilitate timely and targeted corrections to missing or erroneous data.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve the DMR, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a means to document when the level of service for each road section was last evaluated.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve the DMR, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop and maintain documentation supporting the unit costs of maintenance used to estimate maintenance needs.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve the DMR, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to develop a process for more complete and accurate reporting occurring under existing authority of Road Maintenance Program funds expended for performed maintenance on BIA roads.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve data on reasons for student absences, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to provide guidance to BIE schools to collect data on student absences related to road and weather conditions.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To best align resources allocation decisions to needs, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to review the formula to fund transportation at BIE schools and determine, with BIA and tribal stakeholders, what adjustments, such as distinguishing between gravel and paved roads, are needed to better reflect transportation costs for schools.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    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

    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: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to expand its performance measures for the 21st Century program to address all program objectives. Specifically, Education should establish performance measures related to key behavioral, including student attendance and disciplinary incidents, and socio-emotional outcomes.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendations; rather, it generally noted that it will keep our recommendations in mind as it continues to implement changes in the program as a result of ESSA. Specifically, the department stated that it is in the process of re-examining whether additional or revised measures should be developed to align more significantly with the program's statutory objectives under ESSA. Education also expressed concern about collecting data on student attendance and disciplinary measures, noting that it will require effective collaboration between states, districts, and other eligible entities. However, we note that about half of states already collect data on at least one of these two measures; and that research has shown that 21st Century programs more often have positive effects on student attendance and reducing disciplinary incidents than on improving students' academic outcomes. Given these effects, we continue to believe that it is critical for Education to measure student attendance and disciplinary incidents to obtain more complete, accurate information on this program's effect on student outcomes.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to conduct federal-level data checks on the accuracy of 21st Century program data submitted by states. Such checks could test for logical relationships between fields. Education should also publicly disclose and address any data limitations it identifies, as appropriate.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education commented that it plans to build in additional data checks into the data system beyond its current checks on the data's completeness. Specifically, Education anticipates that new technology enhancements in the data system will be designed to flag for inconsistencies in data reporting. For example, the system may send a "flag" that participation data is significantly lower or higher than previously reported participation data. Further, Education indicated that it will consider whether auditors performing audits under the Single Audit Act can be asked and guided to do more checks on the accuracy and reliability of 21st Century program data.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to provide written, non-regulatory guidance to states on developing and conducting high-quality 21st Century state evaluations to help address the difficulties states face in measuring program performance and effectiveness.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education outlined several steps it has taken to assist states in the past. For example, Education said that it provided six states with individualized technical assistance on strategies related to developing statewide evaluations and measures. Education also noted that, to date, it has conducted two webinars on state evaluations and is in the process of including presentations from those webinars on its online learning portal so that states will have easy access to the information. In addition, Education stated that it included presentations on evaluation strategies in the past during its Summer Institute. Education also said it would consider whether additional guidance for all states was needed. While these are important steps, we do not believe they are sufficient. We continue to believe that Education should prepare written guidance to assist all states in developing and conducting high-quality program evaluations.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to use the information it collects from its monitoring visits and ongoing interactions with states to share effective practices across states for sustaining their 21st Century programs once program funding ends. This information could be shared using existing mechanisms such as Education's meetings with 21st Century state coordinators.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education noted that it hosts meetings twice a year for 21st Century state coordinators where strategies related to program sustainability are shared with states. These meetings covered topics such as reducing the amounts of 21st Century grant awards by a percentage each year. However, these meetings have not focused on topics on program sustainability for several years. We continue to believe that Education should take the lead in sharing information with states to help them address their sustainability challenges by sharing information on state policies and practices that have shown some success.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance its oversight of discretionary grantee performance, the Secretary of Education should direct the Risk Management Service (RMS) to work with principal offices, as appropriate, to establish and implement detailed written supervisory review procedures for official grant files to provide reasonable assurance that grant staff perform and document key monitoring activities.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education substantially agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted that it planned to establish a standard operating procedure for grant file reviews, including a protocol for the review of these files to ensure that monitoring efforts are documented appropriately.
    Recommendation: To enhance its oversight of discretionary grantee performance, the Secretary of Education should direct RMS to work with principal offices, as appropriate, to develop guidance for grant staff on using the PAM Module to share information on grantee performance. Such guidance could clarify expectations about when staff should use the "Issues" and "Notable Results" tabs while monitoring grantees once the transition to electronic grant files is complete, and clarify the types of information staff should enter about grantee performance.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education substantially agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted that it planned to reinforce through grant administration trainings the importance of sharing grantee performance information agency-wide, including in the PAM Module.
    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: 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: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    6 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should assess and improve, as necessary, the quality of data and methods used to forecast borrower incomes, and revise the forecasting method to account for inflation in estimates.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to assess and improve its borrower income forecasts. The agency reported that it is working with Treasury and other federal partners to obtain the best income data while ensuring that taxpayer privacy is protected to the full extent of the law. Education noted it will establish a timeframe for improvements to the IDR model that allows for adequate and thorough analysis and quality control. It will also consider including an adjustment for inflation in our income estimates and will document the results of our analysis for the next version of the IDR model. The agency wants to guarantee that an inflation adjustment is appropriate for this subpopulation of IDR borrowers, therefore they will conduct further analysis to ensure that any inflation adjustment is appropriately incorporated into the model. The agency anticipates completing these efforts by September 29, 2017. When these efforts are complete, GAO will await documentation that Education has assessed and improved the quality of data quality and methods it uses to forecast borrower incomes, and that it has revised its forecasting methods to account for inflation.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should obtain data needed to assess the impact of income recertification lapses on borrower payment amounts, and adjust estimated borrower repayment patterns as necessary.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to attempt to obtain data to assess the impact of income recertification lapses on borrower payment amounts. The agency reported that it started to collect more detailed information on borrowers who fail to recertify their income. It will analyze these data to see if they can be used to adjust borrower repayment patterns in the model. The agency will also consider whether to include behavioral effects to account for targeted borrower outreach to recertify their income. GAO will monitor the progress of these efforts. Education expects to complete these efforts by September 29, 2017. At that time, GAO will await documentation that Education has obtained the necessary data to assess the impact of recertification lapses on borrower repayment patterns and adjusted estimated borrower repayments in its model, as necessary.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should complete efforts to incorporate repayment plan switching into the agency's redesigned student loan model, and conduct testing to help ensure that the model produces estimates that reasonably reflect trends in Income-Driven Repayment plan participation.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to incorporate repayment plan switching into its redesigned student loan model, and reiterated that efforts to incorporate this capability had begun despite challenges inherent in predicting borrower behavior. GAO will monitor the progress of these efforts.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should, as a part of the agency's ongoing student loan model redesign efforts, add the capability to produce separate cost estimates for each Income-Driven Repayment plan and more accurately reflect likely repayment patterns for each type of loan eligible for these plans.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education asserted that as they redesign its current cost estimation model, it will consider adding the capability to produce separate cost estimates for each IDR plan and allow for separate, more accurate estimates by loan type.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should more thoroughly test the agency's approach to estimating Income-Driven Repayment plan costs, including by conducting more comprehensive sensitivity analysis on key assumptions and adjusting those assumptions (such as the agency's Public Service Loan Forgiveness participation assumption) to ensure reasonableness.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to test its approach to estimating IDR plan costs more thoroughly, including through more comprehensive sensitivity analysis. The agency included in its FY16 Annual Financial Report, sensitivity analyses for Public Service Loan Forgiveness participation and borrower incomes. In the future, the agency will consider conducting additional sensitivity to analyses as well as other kind of analysis to ensure reasonableness. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed these efforts.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should publish more detailed Income Driven Repayment plan cost information-- beyond what is regularly provided through the President's budget--including items such as total estimated costs, sensitivity analysis results, key limitations, and expected forgiveness amounts.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to publish more detailed IDR plan cost information and stated that it plans to present sensitivity analysis results and key limitations in upcoming financial reports. GAO will consider closing this requirement when the agency has completed this effort.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure quality information is conveyed to servicemembers about how the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) interest rate cap applies to student loans, the Secretary of Defense should direct the secretaries of each service branch, and work with other secretaries as appropriate, to ensure that all information about the SCRA interest rate cap for student loans is accurate when provided to servicemembers and to those who work with servicemembers to help them obtain SCRA benefits, including information contained in outreach materials.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) disagreed with this recommendation believing it to be unnecessary because it is already providing accurate information. Specifically, DOD noted that the information provided in several documents GAO reviewed is accurately based on statute whereas Education's updated requirement to automatically apply the cap is based on policy that could change in the future. Moreover, the automated process applies only to federal and commercial FFEL student loans in contrast to other types of debt. DOD said that providing information based on statute rather than policy would cause less confusion and was a better approach than what we recommend. However, our report noted that Education formalized the automated process through federal regulations, effective July 2016, which legally require servicers to use this process for all federal and commercial FFEL loans. In addition, DOD said it was unable to verify whether DOD's Military OneSource website inaccurately states that the SCRA rate cap does not apply to commercial FFEL loans. However, our searches of the website still turned up this inaccuracy. DOD said it would look into a means of verifying website information but that in the meantime, it is satisfied that its training provides correct information. Given that Military OneSource is a key source of information for servicemembers and that some documents DOD provided state that the SCRA rate cap does not apply to student loans, we continue to believe that servicemembers are not always receiving accurate and up-to-date information.
    Recommendation: To ensure that all eligible servicemembers with student loans receive the SCRA interest rate cap, the Attorney General should direct the Department of Justice to consider modifying its proposed changes to SCRA to require use of the automatic eligibility check for private student loans.

    Agency: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Justice (DOJ) stated that its current package of proposed legislative changes provides benefits to servicemembers with all kinds of loans, including private student loans. Rather than requiring servicemembers to submit written notice and a copy of military orders, they need only give oral or written notice of eligibility for the cap to their creditors. Creditors would then have to search the Department of Defense's records to verify the servicemembers' military service and apply the SCRA interest rate cap, when applicable. DOJ believes that these changes would significantly benefit all servicemembers with loans while providing a uniform standard for all types of creditors. The department added that it will consider its proposed changes to SCRA in future legislative proposals and plans to obtain feedback from stakeholders on how to improve SCRA's protections for servicemembers. However, as stated in our report, servicemembers with private student loans would still need to be aware of the rate cap in order to give notice, whether written or oral. Therefore, we encourage DOJ to consider updating its current proposal to require use of the automatic eligibility check by all student loan lenders and servicers. Not only would this ensure that servicemembers with private student loans receive a benefit for which they are eligible, but also that the interest rate cap is applied consistently across all types of student loans. The agency said that it would consider these changes to the SCRA in future legislative proposals and plans to obtain feedback from stakeholders on how the agency can propose to improve the SCRA's protections for servicemembers. However, as stated in our report, servicemembers with private student loans would still need to be aware of the rate cap in order to give notice, whether written or oral. Therefore, we encourage DOJ to consider updating its current proposal to require use of the automatic eligibility check by all student loan lenders and servicers. Not only would this ensure that servicemembers with private student loans receive a benefit for which they are eligible, but also that the interest rate cap is applied consistently across all types of student loans.
    Recommendation: To enhance customer service, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid to identify ways to modify the data collected in its unified borrower complaint system to allow the agency to more precisely identify and analyze complaints specifically about the SCRA interest rate cap.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education said it is committed to accurately tracking the types of complaints it receives and will create a complainant subcategory for SCRA under the "Military and Veterans Benefit" category. In addition, it will continue to run periodic key word searches to identify other complaints that may have been miscategorized by the complainant, related to the requirements of the SCRA, and ensure that they are considered appropriately. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the department has provided evidence that it has completed these efforts.
    Recommendation: To better ensure that servicemembers with private student loans benefit from the SCRA interest rate cap, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Attorney General of the Department of Justice should coordinate with each other, and with the four federal financial regulators, as appropriate, to determine the best way to ensure routine oversight of SCRA compliance for all nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers. If CFPB and DOJ determine that additional statutory authority is needed to facilitate such oversight, CFPB and DOJ should develop a legislative proposal for Congress.

    Agency: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) stated that it is committed to working with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal financial regulators, when possible, to facilitate oversight of SCRA compliance and that it will support all relevant federal agencies in using their respective authorities to identify and address SCRA violations as efficiently and effectively as possible. While CFPB coordinates with DOJ and other federal regulators in general, there is still no single agency authorized to enforce SCRA compliance among nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers, and no entity is conducting onsite supervisory reviews of these lenders and servicers. In addition, while CFPB may refer complaints from servicemembers about the SCRA rate cap for private student loans to DOJ and other financial regulators, we believe this does not constitute routine, proactive oversight and also presumes servicemembers are aware of the SCRA rate cap. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the bureau has provided evidence of actions it has taken to facilitate routine oversight of SCRA compliance for all nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers.
    Recommendation: To better ensure that servicemembers with private student loans benefit from the SCRA interest rate cap, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Attorney General of the Department of Justice should coordinate with each other, and with the four federal financial regulators, as appropriate, to determine the best way to ensure routine oversight of SCRA compliance for all nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers. If CFPB and DOJ determine that additional statutory authority is needed to facilitate such oversight, CFPB and DOJ should develop a legislative proposal for Congress.

    Agency: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Justice (DOJ) believes that it is in full compliance with this recommendation and that the four federal financial regulators do not have statutory authority to examine nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers unaffiliated with a depository institution. DOJ stated that it already coordinates extensively with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the financial regulators concerning SCRA compliance through such mechanisms as referrals from CFPB for any SCRA-related violations and access to its consumer complaint database, and regular meetings with CFPB, and that it will continue to be built upon these efforts. While these mechanisms are commendable, GAO believes they do not constitute exercising routine oversight of nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers who are not affiliated with a depository institution. We believe that additional interagency coordination, including working with CFPB to seek additional statutory authority, as needed, is necessary to ensure routine SCRA compliance.
    Director: Cheryl E. Clark
    Phone: (202) 512-9377

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure that subsidy cost estimates for the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund are supported, reliable, and reasonable, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should direct the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Housing to develop detailed policies and procedures over the subsidy cost estimation process that address, at a minimum, the documentation that should be prepared and maintained to support subsidy cost estimates and the process to document management review and approval of subsidy costs estimates.

    Agency: Department of Housing and Urban Development
    Status: Open

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, HUD said that a new contract was issued that will address documentation of the MMI cash flow model and the subsidy cost estimation process. HUD also said that it was in the process of developing a solicitation for a contractor to perform an independent verification and validation of the MMI cash flow model. HUD stated that completing this documentation of the subsidy cost estimation process will help management oversee the program as required by internal control standards and help support its subsidy cost estimates. We are awaiting supporting documentation for actions taken by HUD to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To help ensure that subsidy cost estimates for the Direct Student Loan Program are supported, reliable, and reasonable, the Secretary of Education should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development to develop detailed policies and procedures over the subsidy cost estimation process that address, at a minimum, the documentation that should be prepared and maintained to support subsidy cost estimates and the process to document management review and approval of subsidy cost estimates.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education (Education) agreed with this recommendation. Education stated that has detailed procedures for developing and validating subsidy cost estimates. These procedures include, but are not limited to, establishing a baseline scenario, documenting each assumption individually, comparing estimates to actual data, and management review and sign-off. Education has begun drafting a more detailed document that will describe policies and procedures.
    Recommendation: To help ensure that subsidy cost estimates for the Direct Student Loan Program are supported, reliable, and reasonable, the Secretary of Education should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development to develop detailed documentation of the cash flow model used to estimate subsidy costs, including the rationale for model calculations, all formulas and assumptions used in the model, data sources, the process to update and document changes to the model, and the process to document management review and approval of the model, which may be based on an independent verification and validation of the model to ensure that calculations are accurate and consistent with the model documentation.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education (Education) agreed with this recommendation. Education stated that it is committed to continuous improvements in its cash flow model and how it is documented. The cash flow model includes inputs of modeled data, referred to as assumptions, together with program-determined static values, such as interest rates and fees. Education stated that it will update its detailed documentation of its cash flow model. In addition, Education is investing staff and resources into developing a new cash flow model to estimate subsidy costs. Detailed documentation of this new cash flow model will be prepared before the model becomes operational. We will review Education's new cash flow model documentation once it is completed.
    Recommendation: To help ensure that subsidy cost estimates for the Direct Student Loan Program are supported, reliable, and reasonable, the Secretary of Education should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development to document the procedures and results of such procedures used to develop or support key elements of the subsidy cost estimation process, addressing at a minimum (1) the reliability of historical data, (2) the rationale for informed opinion when applicable, (3) the methods used to calculate cash flow assumptions, (4) the process to ensure that subsidy cost estimates are consistent with the terms and conditions of the program, (5) the process to assess estimated cash flows for reasonableness, and (6) the process used to perform sensitivity analysis.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education (Education) agreed with this recommendation. Education stated that it will work on developing more detailed policies and procedures which will address the key elements referenced in this recommendation.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

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

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed that it is important to continuously evaluate its work and to consider ways to improve its efficiency and effectiveness and cited examples of the agency doing so during ESEA Flexibility implementation. For example, Education said it developed the Office of State Support, in part based on lessons learned while implementing the Flexibility initiative. In addition, Education said that since the ESSA was enacted in December 2015, it has continued to informally evaluate ESEA Flexibility implementation and oversight and cited several examples relevant to ESEA Flexibility and other Education programs and initiatives. Further, the agency provided is piloting quarterly calls between Education program officers and states and piloting a fiscal review in eight states focused on components of the law it says did not change significantly between NCLBA and ESSA. As Education continues its efforts to evaluate lessons learned from the Flexibility initiative - including the peer review process - and apply them to its oversight of ESSA, we encourage Education to incorporate these lessons into how it oversees the design and implementation of states' monitoring systems which are key to the success of ESSA's accountability provisions.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    7 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help foster and unaccompanied homeless youth better navigate the college admissions and federal student aid processes, the Secretaries of Education and HHS should jointly study potential options for encouraging and enabling child welfare caseworkers, McKinney-Vento homeless youth liaisons, and other adults who work with these youth to more actively assist them with college planning.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education, working with the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a Foster Youth Transition Toolkit in May 2016 which addresses both financial aid and college admissions processes. The toolkit was written for youth in or formerly in foster care rather than for professionals who serve these youth. Education noted that it had also posted a Homeless Youth Fact sheet for teachers and other professionals on its website in July. Education said that it will continue to work with HHS and the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth about college admissions and federal student aid processes for foster and unaccompanied homeless youth. Education also plans to conduct a technical assistance webinar for McKinney-Vento homeless youth liaisons and to provide technical assistance for other programs. Making such information available on Education's website is an encouraging step, as are plans to conduct webinars for professionals who work with homeless youth. We look forward to the implementation of these plans. However, we continue to believe that HHS and Education should consider ways to encourage more active college planning efforts among professionals who work with homeless and foster youth that consider professional staff's competing goals and priorities and multiple responsibilities.
    Recommendation: To help foster and unaccompanied homeless youth better navigate the college admissions and federal student aid processes, the Secretaries of Education and HHS should jointly study potential options for encouraging and enabling child welfare caseworkers, McKinney-Vento homeless youth liaisons, and other adults who work with these youth to more actively assist them with college planning.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS, working with the Department of Education, issued a Foster Youth Transition Toolkit in May 2016 which encourages current and former foster youth to pursue college and addresses both financial aid and college admissions processes. The toolkit was written for youth in or formerly in foster care, and HHS considers it a resource for unaccompanied homeless youth as well as for the adults who serve these youth. Making such information available through this joint publication is an encouraging step. However, child welfare caseworkers, school homelessness liaisons, and other professionals who work with homeless and foster youth have competing goals and priorities and multiple responsibilities. To encourage and facilitate college planning and admissions efforts, Education and HHS would need to carefully consider professional staff's workloads, responsibilities, and training needs, among other issues, and develop some options for encouraging college planning efforts among professionals in these programs who work with homeless and foster youth.
    Recommendation: To help foster and unaccompanied homeless youth, as well as adults who assist these youth, better navigate the federal student aid process and obtain information about college resources, the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of HHS, should create webpages directed to homeless and foster youth so they can more easily find tailored and centralized information about available federal and other resources, such as Pell Grants, Chafee Education and Training Voucher Program (Chafee ETV Vouchers), and waivers for college admission tests.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In addition to having a webpage about foster youth, Education noted that in April 2016 it had created a new webpage with resources for homeless children and youth. In July 2016, Education developed and posted online a Foster Care Transition Toolkit and a Fact Sheet on federal student aid for homeless youth that is available through its resources webpage. The development and posting of these materials on the agency's website offers helpful resources to foster and homeless youth; however, Education should also make it easier for these youth, who often lack adult support, to find these documents easily--such as by referring to them on the page that says who is eligible for federal student aid--without lengthy searching of the Website.
    Recommendation: To help college financial aid administrators more effectively implement eligibility rules for unaccompanied homeless youth, the Secretary of Education should make available an optional worksheet or form that college financial aid administrators can voluntarily use to document unaccompanied homeless youth status or encourage the use of existing forms that are available.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed that it would be helpful to make forms developed by outside organizations knowledgeable about homelessness issues available for financial aid administrators to use for documenting the status of unaccompanied homeless youth. Education also said that it plans to highlight the availability of these forms and provide guidance at its annual conference and in updates to the Federal Student Aid Handbook. Education noted that it will not endorse the use of a specific form but that it will highlight forms that already exist that may be useful to financial aid administrators. We look forward to Education making such forms available for college financial aid administrators so that they can more effectively implement eligibility rules for unaccompanied homeless youth.
    Recommendation: To help homeless youth more easily access federal student aid, the Secretary of Education should clarify its guidance to financial aid administrators and students about whether financial aid administrators should accept any unaccompanied homeless youth determination provided by McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons or other authorized officials even if a student is not in high school or receiving program services.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2016, Education posted questions and answers about federal student for homeless youth on its website and in July, the agency posted a fact sheet about Homeless Youth on its webpage for teachers and other professional staff. However, neither document states whether financial aid administrators should accept any unaccompanied homeless youth determination provided by McKinney-Vento liaisons or authorized officials even if a student is not in high school or receiving program services. In July 2016, Education issued guidance for the McKinney-Vento program specifying that a local liaison may continue to provide verification of a youth's homelessness status for federal student aid purposes for as long as the liaison has access to the information necessary to make such a determination for a particular youth. The guidance also stated that local homelessness liaisons should ensure that all homeless high school students receive information and counseling on college-related issues. Education said that it will also hold a technical assistance webinar for McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program liaisons. In July 2016, Education said that it will issue the most-up-to-date guidance clarifying that financial aid administrators should accept any unaccompanied homeless youth determination provided by McKinney-Vento liaisons or authorized officials even if a student is not in high school or receiving program services. In addition to updating its guidance for financial aid administrators, the agency should also update the question and answer factsheet on federal student aid for homeless students and the factsheet for professionals so that the information on unaccompanied homeless youth determinations is presented consistently in these key documents.
    Recommendation: To enhance access to federal student aid for unaccompanied homeless youth, the Secretary of Education should consider developing a legislative proposal for congressional action to simplify the application process so that once a student has received an initial determination as an unaccompanied homeless youth, the student will not be required to have that status re-verified in subsequent years but attest to their current status on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, unless a financial aid administrator has conflicting information.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2016, Education said that the department had proposed further simplification of the FAFSA in its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal. Education stated that it will also consider the feasibility of a legislative proposal to not require re-verification of homelessness after a student has received an initial determination. Such a legislative proposal would enhance access to federal student aid for unaccompanied homeless youth.
    Recommendation: To simplify program rules for Chafee ETV vouchers and improve access to these vouchers for former foster youth ages 21 and 22, the Secretary of HHS should consider developing a legislative proposal for congressional action to allow foster youth to be eligible for the Chafee ETV voucher until age 23 without also requiring that they start using the voucher before they turn 21.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS's budget request for fiscal year 2018 does not contain a legislative proposal to improve access to Chafee vouchers for former foster youth ages 21 and 22. In July 2016, HHS noted that it had made a proposal for mandatory programs to improve foster youth's access to vouchers for title IV-E Chafee programs in the Administration for Children and Families' fiscal year 2017 budget request. However, the agency explained that the proposal's purpose is to extend eligibility for Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) services to youth up to age 23 in jurisdictions that have extended foster care to age 21. According to HHS, the budgetary proposal does not affect the Chafee Vouchers. A legislative proposal to simplify program rules for Chafee ETV vouchers would support improving access to these vouchers for former foster youth ages 21 and 22.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help address Education's strategic goal of providing superior customer service to borrowers, and to strengthen oversight of the Direct Loan program, the Secretary of Education should develop a minimum standard that specifies core call center operating hours to provide borrowers, including those on the West Coast, with improved access to servicers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to establish core hours in the requirements for servicers to help borrowers access live customer service representatives. Education also noted that borrowers can use interactive voice response and web technology to access information from their servicers during periods when live operators are not available. While these are additional tools for borrowers, they do not replace the need for access to live representatives, and, as we note in the report, Education's customer satisfaction surveys of borrowers in 2014 and 2015 raised concerns about the usefulness of servicers' automated voice response systems. Establishing core call center hours in servicer requirements, if implemented as Education described, would meet the intent of the recommendation.
    Recommendation: To help address Education's strategic goal of providing superior customer service to borrowers, and to strengthen oversight of the Direct Loan program, the Secretary of Education should ensure the new unified borrower complaint tracking system includes comprehensive and comparable information on the nature and status of borrower complaints made to both Education and servicers, to allow Education to track trends and better manage the program to effectively meet borrower needs.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that it will conduct communication and awareness campaigns to ensure borrowers know of the existence and purpose of the feedback system, which includes comprehensive and comparable information on the nature and status of borrower complaints about servicers. One of the communication channels used will be through the servicers. In addition, the agency reported that it will establish a common borrower experience and common branding in the requirements for the ongoing student loan servicing solicitation by, among other things, requiring the creation of a single web portal clearly labeled as representing the agency. Through that system, all borrowers will be ale to access information, make payments, apply for benefits and manage their accounts. When implemented, this new platform, in conjunction with FSA's Feedback System, will collect complaint information at FSA comprehensively.
    Recommendation: To help address Education's strategic goal of providing superior customer service to borrowers, and to strengthen oversight of the Direct Loan program, the Secretary of Education should evaluate and make needed adjustments to Direct Loan servicer performance metrics and compensation to improve assessment, including using baseline data, and alignment with Federal Student Aid's strategic goals aimed at superior customer service and program integrity, and to ensure that the assignment of new loans to servicers takes program compliance into account.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would evaluate existing and alternative performance metrics and compensation strategies as part of the ongoing student loan servicing procurement. The agency noted that the results of this evaluation, along with information gleaned form other market research conducted in the context of the procurement and proposals submitted by prospective vendors, will be reflected in future servicing contracts.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct Education's Office for Civil Rights to more routinely analyze its Civil Rights Data Collection by school groupings and types of schools across key elements to further explore and understand issues and patterns of disparities. For example, Education could use this more detailed information to help identify issues and patterns among school types and groups in conjunction with its analyses of student groups.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that it already analyzes its civil rights data in some of the ways we recommended, and in light of our recommendation, will consider whether additional analysis could augment their core civil rights enforcement mission. Education noted that it often uses the type of analyses GAO recommended, when appropriate, to inform its internal civil rights investigations, and makes the data available to researchers and other stakeholders outside the agency. While these efforts are encouraging, our recommendation emphasizes that the agency itself more routinely use the civil rights data across key data elements to help it identify disparities and patterns among groups and types of schools. Such an analysis could enhance the agency's current efforts and ultimately improve the agency's ability to target oversight and technical assistance to the schools that need it most. Education reported that this recommendation would be implemented by September 15, 2017. At that time, we will await documentation of its analyses by the school groupings as specified in our recommendation.
    Recommendation: The Attorney General of the United States should direct the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to systematically track key summary information across its portfolio of open desegregation cases and use this data to inform its monitoring of these cases. Such information could include, for example, dates significant actions were taken or reports received.

    Agency: Department of Justice
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Justice concurred with this recommendation and believes its procedures for tracking case-related data are adequate. Justice reported in 2016 that it is currently developing an electronic document management system that may allow more case-related information to be stored in electronic format. The agency has already taken substantial steps to increase its case monitoring activities in desegregation cases, and intends to continue those efforts. However, Justice did not provide any details on what these steps are or if these steps are in line with our recommendation. GAO is encouraged that the agency sees a need to increase case monitoring. We will consider closing this recommendation when the agency provides specific information on its systematic tracking of information on open cases and using this information to enhance enforcement.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

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

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

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

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, Indian Affairs officials told us that they are developing a system that would enable them to monitor whether schools have established required safety committees. They also noted that Indian Affairs' new inspection procedures require that inspectors check to see if schools have established safety committees. Finally, the BIE Director reported that he would send a memorandum to all BIE schools reminding them about Indian Affairs' requirement to establish safety committees. We will review and evaluate Indian Affairs' actions when the agency has provided us with supporting documentation.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: In order to ensure complete, analyzable records regarding research grant award decisions are available for management and analysis, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to lead the implementation of additional data collection efforts in coordination with DOD's grant-making components. These should include: (1) Retaining complete records of pre-proposal, proposal, and award data, including a record of proposal disposition, in linked electronic files to facilitate aggregate, statistical analysis of the grant-making process, including the calculation of success rates. (2) Collecting demographic, education, and career information from applicants, on a voluntary basis, that is not available to proposal reviewers but is used for analysis of success rates.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD agreed with our recommendation to implement additional data collection efforts. As of August, 2017, the Basic Research Office (BRO) has drafted an implementation plan and schedule for the collection of demographic data on grant applicants and lifecycle grant data. As part of this, BRO has identified a number of issues to be addressed and resolved within DoD. One of these areas is the protection of any information collected to assess the success rates of women as Principal Investigators (PIs)/co-PIS under STEM Research grants and cooperative agreements. As a result, before BRO proceeds with its planned actions, they are working with the Office of Information Management, WHS, to ensure there are no issues related to the Privacy Act. The agency did not provide a timeline to GAO for when these actions are expected to be completed.
    Recommendation: In order to ensure complete, analyzable records regarding research grant award decisions are available for management and analysis, the Secretary of Energy should direct DOE's grant-making agencies to implement additional data collection efforts, which should include: (1) Retaining complete records of pre-proposal, proposal, and award data, including a record of proposal disposition, in linked electronic files to facilitate aggregate, statistical analysis of the grant-making process, including the calculation of success rates. (2) Collecting demographic, education, and career information from applicants, on a voluntary basis, that is not available to proposal reviewers but is used for analysis of success rates.

    Agency: Department of Energy
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOE generally agreed with our recommendation to implement additional data collection efforts. According to DOE officials, as of September, 2017, of the four components audited at DOE, all four have taken actions toward implementing the recommendation and one component has completed its implementation. Specifically, the Office of Science began collecting investigator demographics during the second quarter of fiscal year 2015 and already retained complete records that enabled the calculation of success rates. Three additional DOE components conducted a joint feasibility study and all concur that it is feasible to collect data on demographic, education and career information of applicants. The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) revised its approach to data collection and now retains complete grant life cycle information for each individual award, including complete records of pre-proposal, proposal, and award data in linked electronic files. NE is also changing existing data systems to input/track voluntarily submitted demographic information on Principle Investigators on applications to facilitate aggregate, statistical analysis of the grant-making process, including the calculation of success rates. The agency notes that for NE, the completion of the actions required to implement this recommendation is estimated to take up to 12 months. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) participated in the joint feasibility study regarding the collection of demographic data, but have not completed any actions to implement such data collection.
    Recommendation: As NASA begins to collect demographic data on its grant proposals and awards, the NASA Administrator should include the following key components: (1) Retain complete records of pre-proposal, proposal, and award data, including a record of proposal disposition, in linked electronic files to facilitate aggregate, statistical analysis of the grant-making process, including the calculation of success rates. (2) Collect demographic, education, and career information from applicants, on a voluntary basis, that is not available to proposal reviewers but is used for analysis of success rates.

    Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: NASA agreed with our recommendation and indicated it will begin collecting basic demographic, education, and career data from its research grant applicants on a voluntary basis by the end of fiscal year 2016. In addition, NASA noted it will explore its ability to consolidate proposal and award data as part of the ongoing update to its procurement and grants management systems. As of September 2017, NASA officials reported that the notice of grant award document (form 1687) was modified to require entry of the proposal number on the form in order to capture the linkage between proposal and award. When the transition to the new contract/grant writing system (Procurement for Public Sector) occurred in June 2017, NASA began using the amended award notice. NASA states they are continuing to investigate system options for fine tuning this cross-referencing methodology. However, as of September 2017, there were no stated plans to collect or track demographic, education, or career characteristics of grant applicants in such a way as to facilitate the analysis of success rates.
    Recommendation: To comply with Title IX enforcement requirements, the Secretary of the Department of Defense, which funds STEM research at universities, should direct the Director of the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity to ensure that Title IX compliance reviews of DOD's grantees are periodically conducted.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD agreed with our recommendation and noted it is in the process of revising current DOD guidance which will address its Title IX enforcement requirements. In a conversation with GAO in September 2017, a DOD official stated that the agency is in the process of formulating instructions related to both Title IX and Title VI that they believe will address the recommendation regarding Title IX enforcement. To date, these actions are not complete as they are still in the process of developing appropriate language.
    Recommendation: To comply with Title IX enforcement requirements, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which funds STEM research at universities, should ensure that Title IX compliance reviews of NIH's grantees are periodically conducted.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS indicated it would consult with NIH and initiate a sex discrimination compliance review program that includes grantee institutions with STEM programs. We will update the status of this recommendation when the agency provides documentation that these efforts have been completed.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To strengthen management of the Direct Loan Program and ensure good customer service for borrowers, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review its methods of providing instructions and guidance to servicers, identifying areas to improve clarity and sufficiency, and ensure consistent delivery of instructions and guidance to ensure program integrity and improve service to borrowers. For example, the Department could consider implementing a detailed, common servicing manual for the Direct Loan program.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed with this recommendation and, as of October 2016, has reviewed its guidance to servicers. It has issued clarifications to servicers in several areas. In addition, the Department is in the process of an acquisition for a new loan servicing solution and said the procurement will include detailed requirements, currently under development, which will be explicitly structured to promote consistency; high standards of performance; and clarity for servicers, borrowers, and other program participants. These requirements will be part of the final contract and, after award, will be available to the public. The Department said the combination of more explicit requirements focused on consistency and a reduced number of vendors will significantly simplify the process for delivering guidance and instructions related to student loan servicing. As of May 2017, Education has suspended activity to address this recommendation, pending the resolution of a related bid protest. Upon resolution of the bid protest, Education needs to demonstrate that its final contract for a new loan servicing solution is structured to provide clear and consistent instructions and guidance to servicers to ensure program integrity and improve service to borrowers.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    8 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve program management by expanding monitoring of available information on overpayment debts and collections. This could include regularly tracking the number and amount of overpayments created and the effectiveness of collection efforts.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA reported in March 2017 that the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Debt Management Center had recently developed a plan to track, analyze, and report on new measures of overpayments. This will include the number and amount of new overpayments, average debt per student, and the amount of uncollected debts outstanding. VA plans to include this information in a bi-annual report and use the data to identify trends and determine root causes of student and school debts. We will consider closing this recommendation once VA has produced the new reports and we have had an opportunity to review them.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should address overpayments resulting from enrollment changes by providing guidance to educate student veterans about their benefits and consequences of changing their enrollment.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in June 2017 that the agency has drafted revisions to the initial and subsequent award letters issued to students. The draft letters that we reviewed included more detailed information on education benefits and the consequences of changes in enrollment and a link to a website with additional helpful information about student overpayment debts. VA officials said these revisions are pending approval and the new award letters should be implemented by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources are available. We will close this recommendation when we receive confirmation that these changes have been incorporated into the letters that are sent to beneficiaries.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should address overpayments resulting from enrollment changes by providing guidance to schools about the benefits of using a dual certification process where schools wait to certify the actual tuition and fee amounts until after the school's deadline for adding and dropping classes.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA reported in March 2017 that the agency sent school administrators an official letter in March 2017 asking them to use the dual certification process and to wait to certify actual tuition and fee amounts until after the school's deadline for adding and dropping classes. In addition, VA reported that it had discussed the dual certification method during a webinar with school administrators in June 2016. While these communications are helpful, we believe that VA should also update its guidance, such as its School Certifying Official Handbook, to include this information so that specific guidance on how dual certification can reduce tuition and fee overpayments is available on a continuing basis for current and future school certifying officials.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should address overpayments resulting from enrollment changes by identifying and implementing a cost-effective way to allow Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries to verify their enrollment status each month, and require monthly reporting.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency is developing a plan to add functionality for monthly verifications of student enrollment to its information technology systems, as GAO recommended in its 2015 report. Officials said they expect to complete these upgrades by December 2017once the necessary IT resources requested by the Veterans Benefits Administration are provided.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve efforts to notify veterans and schools about overpayment debts by identifying and implementing other methods of notifying veterans and schools about debts to supplement the agency's mailed notices (e.g., email, eBenefits).

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency is developing a plan to update its IT systems so veterans could be notified of overpayment debts through eBenefits or by email. VA plans to complete this action by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources are available.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve efforts to notify veterans and schools about overpayment debts by including information on both the cause of the debt and how to repay it in debt letters.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed with our recommendation and reported in March 2017 that it is working on a plan to include school term dates on debt notification letters sent to schools. VA also plans to review and modify the initial debt letters sent to students and schools to include information on both the cause of the debt and how to repay the debt. VA plans to complete these actions by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources are available.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should revise policy for calculating overpayments to increase collections by prorating tuition overpayments when veterans reduce their enrollment during the term based on the actual date of the enrollment change rather than paying additional benefits through the end of the month during which the reduction occurred.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency is revising its tuition overpayment regulations, as GAO recommended in its 2015 report. VA officials said these proposed regulatory revisions are going through the internal approval process, which is expected to be completed by October 2017.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure it is recovering the full amount of tuition and fee payments if a school does not charge a veteran for any tuition or fees after dropping a class or withdrawing from school. For example, VA could adjust its overpayment calculation to account for these situations or provide schools with guidance on how to account for school refund policies when reporting enrollment and tuition changes.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency plans to amend its procedures to account for school refund policies when calculating veterans' overpayment debts, as GAO recommended in its 2015 report. VA officials said they plan to publish this information in the School Certifying Official Handbook and notify schools and student veterans about the change. However, officials also reported that the agency needs to address several issues with its information technology systems before these changes can be made. Officials said they expect to complete these upgrades by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources requested by the Veterans Benefits Administration are provided.
    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: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure that Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness serve their intended beneficiaries to the greatest extent possible, the Secretary of Education should take steps to consistently and regularly notify all borrowers who have entered repayment of income-driven repayment plan options, including Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education generally concurred with our recommendation, stating that it is committed to ensuring the federal student loan borrowers have the information they need to manage their debt, including details regarding income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs. However, Education stated that it is not clear that providing information on repayment options to all borrowers is the most efficient or effective way to achieve this goal. The agency indicated that the steps it is taking to raise awareness about income-driven repayment would include streamlined processes for learning about, applying for, and recertifying eligibility for income-driven repayment plans with enhanced communications targeted to borrowers most likely to benefit from these plans. While these are positive steps, because Education does not have income and family size information needed to determine which borrowers could benefit from income-driven repayment, we maintain it is important for Education to notify all borrowers of these options.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should develop a risk-based, cost-effective strategy to verify that states are implementing a process for assessing whether any teacher preparation programs are low-performing.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported adding additional questions about states' processes for identifying low-performing and at-risk programs to its annual state data collection form. The Department reported that this revised data collection form was submitted to OMB in April 2016 and was still undergoing OMB review as of September 2017. In the meantime, Education reported that it is conducting a temporary risk-based monitoring approach to determine how states report information on low-performing teacher preparation programs. GAO will monitor Education's efforts to finalize and implement these initiatives.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should study the usefulness of Title II data elements for policymakers and practitioners, and, if warranted, develop a proposal for Congress to eliminate or revise any statutorily-required elements that are not providing meaningful information.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that its regulations published in October 2016 included new Title II data elements related to program quality. However, this action is distinct from our recommendation to assess whether existing fields required by law should be eliminated or revised. During our review, Education officials noted that such data elements could only be eliminated or revised through legislation, rather than regulation. Therefore, we continue to believe that it would be valuable for Education to review the existing data elements required by law and submit a proposal to Congress to eliminate or revise any of these fields, if warranted.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should develop and implement mechanisms to systematically share information about teacher preparation program quality with relevant Department of Education program offices and states (including state Independent Standards Boards).

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that, subject to available staff resources, the agency would be designing an internal work group to increase information-sharing about teacher preparation program quality within and outside the Department. As of August 2017, ED reported that actions on this recommendation were pending. GAO will monitor Education's continued steps to design and implement this working group.
    Director: David Gootnick
    Phone: (202) 512-3149

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve USAID's ability to measure progress in achieving a quantitative reading goal in any future education strategy, the Acting USAID Administrator should ensure that the future strategy includes targets that will allow USAID to monitor interim progress toward its goal in comparison with planned performance.

    Agency: United States Agency for International Development
    Status: Open

    Comments: In written comments on the report, USAID agreed to implement GAO's recommendation. USAID told GAO in August 2015 that a new Education Strategy will continue to focus on primary grade reading through 2020. The current strategy was scheduled to end in December 2015. USAID noted that as it expands its body of knowledge surrounding achievements of current reading projects, it will be better able to set achievable project and country level targets and report interim progress toward the new strategy's aggregate primary grade reading goal. USAID announced on August 28, 2017 that it has extended the 2011-2015 Education Strategy until December 2017, to allow adequate time for development of a new strategy with "the full backing and ownership of the new Administration." This recommendation will be applicable once USAID establishes a new strategy with new targets. According to a USAID official, as of September 14, 2017, the current strategy remains extended through December 2017. We will continue to monitor this recommendation.
    Director: Michelle Sager
    Phone: (202) 512-6806

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better ensure the adherence to requirements for approval and public access to and feedback on significant guidance in accordance with OMB's Final Bulletin for Agency Good Guidance Practices (M-07-07), the Secretary of HHS should develop written procedures for the approval of significant guidance documents.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: In comments printed in the April 2015 final report, HHS concurred with the recommendation and stated that it would explore the best mechanism for distributing written procedures for approval of significant guidance. As of August 2017, GAO is working with HHS officials to obtain additional updates and documentation regarding the department's implementation of this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve agencies' guidance development, review, evaluation, and dissemination processes for non-significant guidance, we recommend that the Secretaries of USDA, HHS, DOL, and Education should strengthen their selected components' application of internal controls to guidance processes by adopting, as appropriate, practices developed by other departments and components, such as assessment of risk; written procedures and tools to promote the consistent implementation and communication of management directives; and ongoing monitoring efforts to ensure that guidance is being issued appropriately and has the intended effect. Examples of practices that could be adopted more widely include (1) written procedures for guidance production to, among other things, clearly define management roles; (2) improved communication tools, such as routing slips to document management review; and (3) consistent and ongoing monitoring to determine if guidance is being accessed and having the intended effect.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: In comments printed in the April 2015 final report, HHS concurred with the recommendation and stated that it would continue to work with its agencies to share best practices and ensure that agency practices are alighted with departmental standards. As of August 2017, GAO is working with HHS officials to obtain additional updates and documentation regarding the department's implementation of this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve agencies' guidance development, review, evaluation, and dissemination processes for non-significant guidance, we recommend that the Secretaries of USDA, HHS, DOL, and Education should improve the usability of selected component websites to ensure that the public can easily find, access, and comment on online guidance. These improvements could be informed by the web and customer satisfaction metrics that components have collected on their websites. Some examples of changes that could facilitate public access to online guidance include (1) improving website usability by clarifying which links contain guidance; (2) highlighting new or important guidance; and (3) ensuring that posted guidance is current.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: In comments printed in the April 2015 final report, HHS concurred with the recommendation and stated that it would review current links to guidance documents and explore ways to enhance their visibility and usability. As of August 2017, GAO is working with HHS officials to obtain additional updates and documentation regarding the department's implementation of this recommendation.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

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

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it expected to release a toolkit for states and districts on ways to leverage federal grants to sustain educational reforms. As of October 20, 2015, officials stated that the toolkit is in clearance. Staff are developing a dissemination plan that will outline how the toolkit will be rolled out to states and support its use. However, they do not yet have an estimated release date. We look forward to reviewing the toolkit once it has been released. Education plans to provide an update by the end of fiscal year 2017.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki,
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to explore and implement ways to raise awareness about the TEACH Grant and the loan forgiveness programs.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education noted that Federal Student Aid disseminates information about these programs through various channels, such as its website, social media, and materials posted to the Financial Aid Took Kit. Annual in-person training is also provided, as well as online guidance on these programs to Financial Aid Officers at Title IV institutions. Education will assess the effectiveness of these sources of program information and seek input from interested organizations outside the agency on ways to better publicize and promote the progress. They will also develop and implement additional outreach efforts and vehicles to more effectively raise awareness both among current and incoming students and, for loan forgiveness among potentially eligible individuals who have already entered the workforce. We will close this recommendation when these efforts are completed. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to take steps to determine why participants are not able to meet TEACH Grant service requirements and examine ways to address those challenges.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In FY 2015, the Department of Education (Education) developed a survey for institutions that offer the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant and grant recipients to assess program issues and challenges. According to documentation posted in the Federal Register, the surveys will be administered in 2016 and will be used as part of a study to improve TEACH Grant program administration. Education has also indicated it is developing plans to analyze existing data on TEACH grant recipients and institutions. We will close the recommendation when the study is complete and Education has examined ways to address the challenges identified. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review the underlying cause of the known erroneous conversions to ensure steps Education has taken are sufficient to address the problem, and establish time frames for transferring the approximately 2,600 loan conversions currently with other loan servicers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education noted it has already taken steps to implement this recommendation, such as a comprehensive assessment to identify the causes of the conversions and the grants affected. After identifying the reasons, they worked with current grant services to ensure accuracy and make sure they understood program requirements. ED will also work with recipients to resolve issues related to grants that were converted in error. All active Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans that were converted from TEACH grants and not in default were transferred to FedLoan Servicing by December 2014. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review the TEACH grant-to-loan conversion dispute process and disseminate to appropriate audiences clear, consistent information on it, including that recipients have an option to dispute, how to initiate a dispute, and the specific criteria considered in the adjudicating process.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education noted steps it has taken to address this recommendation. For example, the agency clarified the TEACH grant conversion dispute process, detailing the specific set of criteria under which FedLoan Servicing is authorized to convert loans back to grants. The agency reported that it will assess the current process for disseminating information on the dispute process to determine whether additional outreach or more extensive information is necessary to ensure that appropriate audiences have access to needed information. We will close this recommendation when this effort has been completed. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to establish program performance measures for the TEACH Grant and the loan forgiveness programs to assess against established goals and to inform program administration.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that it will convene a group to review program data, identify appropriate metrics for which supporting data are available, and establish baselines and targets for those metrics. The agency will then incorporate those metrics, baselines and targets into its ongoing program management and policy development processes. We will close this recommendation when these efforts have been completed. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To strengthen Education's oversight of schools, the Secretary of Education should ensure that Education staff consistently review, record, and respond to accreditor sanction information, and clarify its guidance on how the agency will respond to specific accreditor sanctions.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed with this recommendation, noting that it is committed to identifying ways to use data about and from accreditors in its oversight. As of July 2017, Education has developed guidance for how accreditors should report sanction information. Education previously noted that the agency also planned to provide additional staff training and to provide a copy of GAO's report to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. GAO will close this recommendation when Education provides current documentation of staff training and guidance, and documentation that GAO's report has been provided to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.
    Recommendation: To strengthen Education's oversight of accreditors through the recognition review process, the Secretary of Education should draw upon accreditor data to determine whether accreditors are consistently applying and enforcing their standards to ensure that the education offered by schools is of sufficient quality. For example, Education could systematically use available information related to the frequency of accreditor sanctions or could do additional analyses, such as comparing accreditor sanction data with Education's information on student outcomes, to inform its recognition reviews.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed with this recommendation, noting that it is committed to identifying ways to use data about and from accreditors in its oversight. As of July 2017, Education has taken steps to track the number of accreditor sanctions issued by each accrediting agency. Education previously noted that this information will then be used to focus their limited resources on those accrediting agencies with extremely low or high sanction rates. The agency also noted it would provide a copy of GAO's report to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. GAO will close this recommendation when these efforts are completed.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In late August 2017, agency officials reported that they had begun drafting a risk assessment policy and procedures for monitoring BIE school expenditures. However, they noted that further review and revision to the policy is necessary before it can be finalized and implemented. Officials did not provide us with a draft of these documents to review. The BIE Director noted in May of this year that the agency planned to complete its work on this recommendation by the middle of 2019. We will continue to monitor Indian Affairs' efforts to implement this recommendation.
    Director: J. Christopher Mihm
    Phone: (202) 512-6806

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, to improve Forest Service's customer service standards and feedback review, to: (1) ensure standards include performance targets or goals, (2) ensure standards include performance measures, (3) ensure standards are easily publicly available, (4) develop a feedback mechanism to collect comments agency-wide, which should include guidance or criteria to elevate customer feedback from local and regional offices to identify the need for and to make service improvements.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2017, Forest Service provided an update for completing the tasks necessary to respond to our recommendations. In accordance with our recommendations, for each of its customer service standards, the Forest Service has developed goals, targets and measures and we consider this part of the recommendation closed. Forest Service stated the remaining part of the recommendation will be implemented by December 2018. Specifically, the Forest Service stated by December 2018 it will begin to make standards easily publicly available on its public-facing websites. The Forest Service provided the criteria for elevating customer comments and by December 2018 stated it will begin to deploy and collect feedback forms. We will close this recommendation as implemented when standards are publicly available and customer feedback forms are deployed.
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer, to improve Federal Student Aid's customer service standards and feedback review, to: (1) ensure standards are easily publicly available, (2) develop a feedback mechanism that includes guidance or criteria for service providers to elevate customer feedback to identify the need for and to make service improvements.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: We emailed Department of Education in June 2017 for an update on the status of this recommendation. Once a response is received we will update this recommendation.
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection should, to improve CBP's customer service standards: (1) ensure standards include performance targets or goals, (2) ensure standards include performance measures.

    Agency: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection
    Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2017, CBP sent an email stating that the agency has done all it can to fully implement the recommendation at this time. Because CBP does not have performance goals or targets for customer service standards this recommendation remains open. In April 2016, CBP provided us with customer service survey questions they use to collect data. Based on our review of that information, we were unable to confirm CBP had established performance targets and goals for the data being collected. As we stated in the report, performance goals should be in a quantifiable and measurable form to define the level of performance to be achieved for program activities each year. Although CBP is collecting new customer service data based on survey responses, without predetermined performance targets that align with a customer service standard it is not clear what or if internal targets or customer needs are being met. In June 2017, we emailed CBP for an update on the status of this recommendation. Once a response is received we will update this recommendation.
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, to improve the National Park Service's customer service standards and feedback review, to: (1) ensure standards include performance targets or goals, (2) ensure standards include performance measures, (3) ensure standards are easily publicly available, (4) develop a feedback mechanism that includes guidance or criteria to review and elevate customer feedback from local and regional offices to identify the need for and to make service improvements.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to NPS officials, NPS plans on defining a strategy that describes the intended customer experience for highest customer interactions such as Volunteer in Parks program and Teacher engagement program. NPS will align the strategy with overall organizational strategy, share the strategy with all employees (e.g., documentation, training), and update strategy plans to include performance targets and goals for customer service. NPS also plans on soliciting feedback from customers about their experiences with the VIP and Teacher Outreach Programs, collecting unsolicited feedback from customers about their experiences with the organization (e.g., by mining calls, emails, or social media posts), and gathering input from employees about their experiences with customers and their role in delivering the customer experience. NPS plans to share customer experience metrics and models with all employees (e.g., distribute reports and dashboards, conduct training sessions), publish customer service standards on website so that customers know what to expect, and publish customer service data to ensure actual service levels are transparent. Finally NPS plans on piloting the "Federal Feedback" Button and evaluate for expanded use in fiscal year 2018. In June 2017, we emailed NPS for an update on this recommendation. Once a response is received we will update this recommendation.
    Director: Emrey Arras, Melissa H
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve the usefulness of information from school evaluations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop a plan for future school evaluations that includes, among other things, clearly-defined evaluation questions and an assessment of the experience, expertise, and skills needed by the personnel from the entity or entities conducting the school evaluations.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2016, DOD reported that it had contracted with a recognized industry leader to provide expert research and analysis of the Department's needs and offer best practices in compliance across industry and government. In 2017, DOD reported that it awarded the contract for conducting the school evaluations and as part of that contract, specified the required experience and education for key staff conducting the evaluation. To guide the evaluations, DOD developed several data collection instruments to collect information on schools participating in the program and service members' experiences in the program. GAO will consider closing this recommendation once the first round of evaluations are completed and we obtain any evaluations based on the DCIs.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

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

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In FY15, Education reported that the IDEA Data Center, in relation to the parent involvement portion of the audit, has continued review of APR [need to spell out] indicator B8 to collect information related to data collection methods, results, and improvement activities for the indicator summary for OSEP. It also began reviewing existing sources for information on how parent data are collected and best practices/ exemplars that are publicly available. In April 2017, Education reported it would direct Parent Technical Assistance Centers and other Education-funded centers to work together to develop and disseminate materials to assist states in analyzing and using parental involvement data to improve the provision of special education services. We believe this effort could help individual states improve methods for analyzing and using parental involvement data. However, we await documentation that such materials were developed and distributed. Also, it is unclear how it would improve the comparability of parental involvement data across states and allow Education to accurately assess states' performance on this IDEA indicator.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: In order to improve grantees' planning and implementation efforts, increase the effectiveness of grantee efforts to integrate and manage resources, and learn more about the program's impact, the Secretary of Education should clarify program guidance about planning and implementation grants to provide reasonable assurance that planning grantees are better prepared to continue their efforts in the absence of implementation funding. Additional guidance could include encouraging grantees to set aside a small amount of the grant to identify and deliver early, tangible benefits to their neighborhoods.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would communicate to planning grant applicants that implementation funding is contingent on the availability of funds and that it would clarify to grantees that planning grant funds could be used to achieve early, tangible benefits. However, Education has not awarded any new planning grants since 2012. In FY17, ED reported that if new funding becomes available for the Promise Neighborhoods' planning and implementation awards, the Department will emphasize to all interested applicants that grant awards are contingent on the availability of funds and the results of the competitive award process. Education also stated that it would provide more targeted technical assistance to planning grant recipients regarding strategies for continuing grantees' efforts absent implementation funding. In 2015, its technical assistance provider published information on planning for growth and sustainability of Promise Neighborhoods.
    Recommendation: In order to improve grantees' planning and implementation efforts, increase the effectiveness of grantee efforts to integrate and manage resources, and learn more about the program's impact, the Secretary of Education should develop and disseminate to grantees on an ongoing basis an inventory of federal programs and resources that can contribute to the Promise Neighborhoods program's goal to better support coordination across agency lines.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would work with its technical assistance providers to create a mechanism to distribute a comprehensive list of external funding opportunities, programs and resources on a regular basis to better support the grantees' implementation efforts. In FY15, ED reported that the program office held a grantee meeting in July 2015 featuring at least three workshops on sustainability and leveraging additional funding sources. The program office also had a website (promiseneighborhoods.ed.gov) with a number of resources under the "toolbox" tab that can assist interested programs in financing their ongoing needs. While the workshops and web resources were good first steps that can assist grantees, GAO maintains that Education, rather than individual grantees, is best positioned to develop and share such an inventory of federal programs that relate to the goals of the Promise Neighborhoods program. Without such an inventory, Education may be missing opportunities to better support grantees; find other federal program for future coordination efforts; and identify potential fragmentation, overlap and duplication at the federal level. In FY17, Education did not provide any updates on this recommendation, nor has it provided such an inventory.
    Recommendation: In order to improve grantees' planning and implementation efforts, increase the effectiveness of grantee efforts to integrate and manage resources, and learn more about the program's impact, the Secretary of Education should develop a plan to use the data collected from grantees to conduct a national evaluation of the program.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would consider options for how and whether it can use the data collected from grantees to conduct a national evaluation. As a first step, Education said it would conduct a systematic evaluation of the reliability and validity of the data. In its 2016 Notice of Funding Availability for Implementation Grants, Education acknowledged that grantees have struggled to collect the full range of data necessary to conduct meaningful evaluation activities and emphasized the importance of helping grantees develop robust data systems. In addition, in its agency comments, Education had stated that it had not received sufficient funding to support a national evaluation. In FY2017, ED provided documentation of its request for funding for conducting an evaluation and the response to the request. However, the entity within ED that is responsible for impact evaluations maintains that it has no plans to conduct an impact evaluation, given that grantees were not randomly selected. GAO agrees that the program was not designed for impact evaluation, however, as we reported, there are other options for evaluating such programs that can provide meaningful information about how well grantees are addressing the problem of poor student outcomes in impoverished neighborhoods. Not evaluating the program limits Education and other agencies from learning about the extent to which model is effective and should be replicated. Developing an evaluation plan would provide critical information about the resources required to conduct an evaluation, and could better inform future funding requests for such an evaluation.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    2 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To strengthen Education's oversight of the loan rehabilitation process, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to take steps to ensure that the final monitoring plan for the new defaulted loan information system contract identifies risks presented by the contractor or contract work and the oversight activities planned to address those risks.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: Education concurred with this recommendation and reported that it has developed a contract monitoring plan that tracks explicit deliverables related to key risk areas. Education also reported that the new vendor for the defaulted loan information system is using a methodology, referred to as Lifecycle Management Methodology, that includes risk monitoring and mitigation strategies, and is using an independent verification and validation service to work with the new vendor to ensure that all appropriate processes and controls are in place. With the contract's base period end date of July 31, 2016, GAO will close this recommendation when Education provides documentation of its monitoring reviews that show its contractor is receiving appropriate levels of oversight.
    Recommendation: To strengthen Education's oversight of the loan rehabilitation process, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to take steps to improve its collection agency call review process. For example, Education could take steps to ensure that quarterly rehabilitation call reviews are completed, establish procedures for monitoring collection agency corrective actions, and utilize call review results to inform its oversight of collection agencies activities.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education concurred and reported that it has taken a number of steps to strengthen its call review process. For example, Education reported it has established a target of reviewing each collection agency once per quarter, revised monitoring procedures to improve documentation of corrective actions taken by collection agencies, and developed a database to track errors made by collection agencies. GAO will close this recommendation after Education provides documentation of these efforts and how it is sustaining them over time to ensure collection agencies receive appropriate levels of oversight. The agency did not provide an update for FY15.
    Director: Rebecca Gambler
    Phone: (202) 512-8777

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better ensure DSOs' and students' compliance with OPT requirements, and strengthen efforts to identify and assess potential risks in OPT, the Director of ICE should direct SEVP to develop and distribute guidance to DSOs on how to determine whether a job is related to a student's area of study and require DSOs to provide information in SEVIS to show that they took steps, based on this guidance, to help ensure that the student's work is related to the area of study.

    Agency: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of April 2015, SEVP has made progress in developing employment guidance to support DSOs in determining whether a job is related to a student's area of study and requiring DSOs to provide such information in SEVIS. SEVP stated that it has drafted such guidance and it is being reviewed by SEVP subject matter experts. In addition, SEVP stated that it is developing information requirements for DSOs to attest that they adhered to the new employment guidance document in SEVIS, which requires system enhancements. In May 2016, the new STEM OPT regulation went into effect and, among other things, SEVP officials stated that it requires much greater detail on the scope of the employment and how it is related to the earned degree. As of October 2016, SEVP expects that non-STEM guidance on field of study will be finalized by the second quarter of fiscal year 2017.
    Director: St James, Lorelei
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As part of the development of a national maritime strategy and a national freight strategic plan, the Secretary of Transportation should direct MARAD--in consultation with maritime industry stakeholders--to study and identify any potential problems in ensuring that U.S. mariners are adequately trained to meet the needs of the entire maritime industry, including the domestic waterways. Public forums, such as MARAD's roundtable discussions, could serve as a means for gaining industry input on potential training issues.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: On April 7, 2017 GAO requested an update on the status of MARAD's position on whether or not the recommendation would be implemented. In June 2016, MARAD indicated that it had not made this determination. In response to GAO's latest inquiry, MARAD indicated that it was in the process of checking on whether any action had been taken within the agency to implement the recommendation.
    Director: Brown, Kay E
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: In order to help inform federal, state, and local initiatives to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel, the Secretary of Education should lead an effort, in collaboration with the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General, to leverage resources, expertise, and capacities across the departments to determine the most cost-effective way to disseminate federal information so that relevant state and local educational agencies, child welfare agencies, and criminal justice entities are aware of and have access to it.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2016, the Department of Education reported that on November 16, 2015, the Office of Safe and Healthy Students within the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education convened a meeting with federal partners to explore ways in which the agencies can better support states and to devise dissemination strategies for sharing information and providing technical assistance in the most cost- effective ways to state and local educational agencies and child welfare agencies, and ensure that resources are accessible to the various stakeholders. It noted several next steps including creating and implementing a Federal dissemination plan for the new adult sexual misconduct guidance, repository of federal resources, and for information on all state-level mandates and policies addressing adult sexual misconduct in schools. GAO will consider this recommendation closed when the department provides timelines for the completion of these activities and documentation of their completion.
    Recommendation: In order to help inform federal, state, and local initiatives to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel, the Secretary of Education should lead an effort, in collaboration with the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General, to leverage resources, expertise, and capacities across the departments to identify mechanisms to better track and analyze the prevalence of child sexual abuse by school personnel through existing federal data collection systems, such as the School Survey on Crime and Safety, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the National Crime Victimization Survey.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education reported that experts within the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) consulted with research partners in the Department of Justice and academic research experts to determine if an effective item or item set about this important issue could be derived. After review of extant sources and consultation with item development experts, a clear question that would result in meaningful information from school administrator respondents could not be developed. They also noted that they understand there is continuing interest on this issue and will continue studying item possibilities for the next School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) provided the collection is funded. As of May 2016, NCES does not have funds to field SSOCS after 2016, but there is a request in the 2016 budget to support a 2018 collection. GAO will consider this recommendation closed when the department has taken the above mentioned action to continue studying item possibilities for the next SSOCS if the collection is funded.
    Director: Farrell, Brenda S
    Phone: (202) 512-3604

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To guide the implementation of actions DOD identified in its study on JPME, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should direct the Director for Joint Force Development to establish well-defined timeframes for conducting follow-on actions, coordinate with all stakeholders, and identify key officials responsible for implementing the study's recommendations to help ensure the usefulness, timeliness, and implementation of any actions DOD takes in response to the findings and recommendations contained in its study.

    Agency: Department of Defense: Joint Chiefs of Staff
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To guide the implementation of actions DOD identified in its study on JPME, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should direct the Director for Joint Force Development to assess the costs of implementing recommendations made and efficiencies to be derived from the recommendations in order to implement DOD's recommendations in a cost-effective manner.

    Agency: Department of Defense: Joint Chiefs of Staff
    Status: Open

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

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

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

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: Although BIE completed a strategic workforce planning effort in 2016, the agency has not fully addressed this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's efforts to finish implementing this recommendation.
    Director: Cackley, Alicia P
    Phone: (202)512-8678

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure effective and efficient use of federal financial literacy resources, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in their capacity as Chair and Vice Chair of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, and in concert with other agency representatives of the commission should identify for federal agencies and Congress options for consolidating federal financial literacy efforts into the activities and agencies that are best suited or most effective.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Financial Literacy and Education Commission and its member agencies have taken actions to avoid potential duplication, but the Commission has not yet identified options for consolidating federal financial literacy efforts. The Commission has made significant progress in coordinating federal financial literacy programs. Moreover, the Commission and its committees have promoted collaborations that delineate appropriate roles among agencies. For example, in recent years, CFPB signed memorandums with several federal agencies clarifying respective roles in financial education for specific subpopulations, and the Commission led an initiative that sought to coordinate and avoid overlap in federal financial literacy research efforts. Such efforts have helped avoid duplication and inefficiency, which also is a key goal of consolidation. However, as of March 1, 2017, the Commission still has not specifically examined options for consolidation of federal financial literacy efforts. In August 2016, a representative of the commission told GAO it believes that identifying options for consolidation would be outside the commission's scope. GAO maintains that identifying options for consolidating federal financial literacy efforts is needed to help ensure the most efficient and effective use of resources.
    Recommendation: To help ensure effective and efficient use of federal financial literacy resources, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in their capacity as Chair and Vice Chair of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, and in concert with other agency representatives of the commission should revise the commission's national strategy to incorporate clear recommendations on the allocation of federal financial literacy resources across programs and agencies.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: No executive action taken as of March 1, 2017. The Financial Literacy and Education Commission has not made clear recommendations on allocation of federal financial literacy resources. In November 2016, the Commission updated its national strategy. The update describes activities that the Commission and federal agencies have taken to advance financial literacy in the areas of policy, education, practice, research, and coordination, and identifies next steps in these areas. In addition, in a 2016 report describing its progress, the Commission states that it will consider whether actions are needed to streamline, improve, or augment federal financial literacy programs, grants, and materials. However, these reports do not specifically make recommendations on allocation of federal resources. Without a clear discussion of resource needs and where resources should be targeted, policymakers lack information to direct the strategy's implementation and help ensure efficient use of funds.
    Director: Mctigue Jr, James R
    Phone: (202) 512-7968

    1 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To provide federal policymakers information on the relative effectiveness of Title IV programs and higher education tax expenditures, the Secretary of Education should take advantage of opportunities presented by recent and anticipated substantive program changes to sponsor and conduct evaluative research into the effectiveness of Title IV programs and higher education tax expenditures at improving student outcomes.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education (Education) has made some progress toward sponsoring and conducting evaluative research into the effectiveness of Title IV programs and higher education tax expenditures at improving student outcomes, as GAO recommended. For example, in June 2014, Education signed an agreement with the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to share data for the purpose of policy development and research. In particular, the agreement allows the agencies to coordinate their data to understand the relationship between Title IV student aid and tax benefits, and to model the effects of potential policy changes. Education officials noted the office of Federal Student Aid is also working with Treasury to generate outcomes data by institution and make that information publicly available. In June 2016, Education officials stated their website would be updated with these new data by the end of the year. In addition, in fiscal year 2014 Education launched the Enterprise Data Warehouse and Analytics (EDW&A) project to provide internal and external stakeholders, including researchers, timely and accurate access to centralized Federal Student Aid data and analytic tools. Education officials said that the agency is in the process of improving EDW&A for a variety of purposes, including research on Title IV program effectiveness. In July 2016, through the Education Research Grants competition, Education's Institute of Education Sciences awarded two grants to researchers looking at the impact of interventions related to applying for federal student aid on college enrollment, attendance, and degree completion. While sponsoring this research represents an important step toward understanding specific financial aid interventions, Education has identified a critical research gap in the area of linking higher education financing to student outcomes, and more evaluative research may be necessary to strengthen the evidence related to key federal strategies and programs. As of May 2017, although Education awarded several grants to evaluate the effectiveness of higher education programs and interventions, most of the studies do not focus on federal assistance. GAO encourages Education to ensure that its data-sharing and future grant efforts result in actively sponsoring or conducting evaluative research on federal higher education assistance programs, and make plans to use the information in future policymaking, as appropriate. Making these data-sharing and research efforts a priority will help policymakers make fact-based decisions on the merits and value of various federal assistance efforts. To fully implement this recommendation, Education needs to ensure that its efforts result in evaluating the effectiveness of Title IV programs and federal higher education tax expenditures.