West Bank and Gaza:

State Has Taken Actions to Address Potentially Problematic Textbook Content but Should Improve Its Reporting to Congress

GAO-19-448: Published: Jun 4, 2019. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 2019.

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Contact:

Thomas Melito
(202) 512-9601
melitot@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
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youngc1@gao.gov

The State Department gave money to a UN relief agency that funds certain children’s schools in the West Bank and Gaza. Congress required State to report to them on this agency’s activities.

We found State’s reports in FY 2015-2017 weren’t always accurate or detailed. For example, the UN agency evaluated the Palestinian Authority textbooks used in their schools, and found content that didn’t align with UN values such as human rights and tolerance. However, State didn’t report certain details of these evaluations to Congress.

State implemented the 4 recommendations we made to improve the accuracy and completeness of its reporting to Congress.

Palestinian Authority textbooks

Three Palestinian Authority textbooks displayed on a table

Three Palestinian Authority textbooks displayed on a table

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Thomas Melito
(202) 512-9601
melitot@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The U.S. government funded an estimated $243 million for education assistance in the West Bank and Gaza (WBG) for fiscal years 2015 through 2017, including an estimated $193 million from the Department of State (State) and about $50 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Of State's contribution of approximately $193 million, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimated that about $187 million was provided for its education assistance. State provided the remaining approximately $6 million for non-UNRWA education projects. UNRWA purchased English language textbooks used in UNRWA schools with funds that consist of contributions from donor countries, including the United States. The U.S. government and UNRWA did not fund textbooks published by the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinian Authority provided these textbooks free of charge, according to agency officials.

UNRWA and State have taken steps to identify and address potentially problematic content of textbooks used in UNRWA schools, such as maps that exclude Israel. UNRWA reviewed textbooks, including English language textbooks, and took actions to address content it deemed as not aligned with UN values. For example, UNRWA created complementary teaching materials, such as alternate photos, examples, and guidance for teachers to use with the textbooks in UNRWA schools. However, due to financial shortfalls and other constraints, UNRWA officials told GAO that UNRWA did not train teachers or distribute the complementary teaching materials to classrooms. As a result, these materials were not used in UNRWA classrooms. To address textbook content deemed problematic, State examined nongovernmental organizations' studies, encouraged Palestinian Authority officials to address the issue, and monitored UNRWA's efforts.

The annual appropriations acts for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 require State to report to Congress on several topics, including steps UNRWA has taken to ensure that the content of all educational materials taught in UNRWA schools is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and do not induce incitement. Although State submitted its required reports to Congress on time, State included inaccurate information in the 2017 report and omitted potentially useful information in all three reports. In its 2017 report, State noted incorrectly that UNRWA had completed training teachers and distributed complementary teaching materials to address textbook content that UNRWA deemed as not complying with UN values. In all three of the reports, State omitted information concerning whether UNRWA found that any educational materials used in its schools do not comply with two of four elements, dignity and not inducing incitement. Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that management should use quality information to achieve the entity's objectives and communicate it in a way that is useful to users. Without a fuller explanation, Congress may not have the information it needs to oversee efforts to identify and address potentially problematic textbook content.

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. government has funded education assistance to Palestinians. The State Department oversees U.S. contributions to UNRWA, and USAID provides assistance to Palestinian Authority schools. UNRWA generally administers schools for Palestine refugees. The Palestinian Authority generally administers schools for non-refugee Palestinians who live in the WBG. During the 2016-2017 school year, it issued new pilot textbooks for grades 1 through 4 for use in both its and UNRWA's schools. GAO was asked to review issues related to U.S. education assistance to the WBG.

This report examines (1) the funding the U.S. government provided for education assistance to the WBG for fiscal years 2015 through 2017, (2) how UNRWA and State have identified and addressed potentially problematic content in textbooks, and (3) whether State has submitted required annual reports to Congress including information on educational materials used in UNRWA schools. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed documents and interviewed U.S. government, UNRWA, and Palestinian Authority officials. For this report, GAO refers to potentially problematic content as that which State defined as inappropriate and that UNRWA defined as not aligned with UN values.

What GAO Recommends

GAO made four recommendations in our April 2018 report that State improve its reports to Congress, including to ensure the information presented is accurate and to provide additional information on the textbook content UNRWA identified as not aligned with UN values. State implemented all of GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Thomas Melito at (202) 512-9601 or melitot@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2018 (GAO-18-227C), GAO reported that although State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM) submitted annual reports to Congress for fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017 in a timely manner in response to provisions in the annual appropriations acts, one report contains inaccurate information. In the annual appropriations acts for fiscal years 2015 through 2017, Congress required State to report on seven different topics, including whether the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is taking steps to ensure that the content of all educational materials taught in UNRWA schools and summer camps is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and does not induce incitement. However, State's 2017 report to Congress inaccurately describes some of UNRWA's actions to address content that is not aligned with UN values. GAO recommended that the Secretary of State direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration to establish a process to ensure that State's reporting to Congress on the actions UNRWA has taken is accurate. State concurred with our recommendation and stated its intention to take additional steps to ensure that its reporting to Congress is accurate to support effective Congressional decision-making and oversight. In August 2018, State provided GAO with newly drafted standard operating procedures for drafting and verifying the information contained in its annual report to Congress on UNRWA, including clearly sourcing all information contained in the report and seeking written verification from UNRWA on any information previously obtained via oral communication. Based on this information, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration to establish a process to ensure that State's reporting to Congress on the actions UNRWA has taken is accurate. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2018 (GAO-18-227C), GAO reported that although State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM) submitted annual reports to Congress for fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017 in a timely manner in response to provisions in the annual appropriations acts, reports do not include some information that could be useful for congressional oversight. In the annual appropriations acts for fiscal years 2015 through 2017, Congress required State to report on seven different topics, including whether UNRWA is taking steps to ensure that the content of all educational materials taught in UNRWA schools and summer camps is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and does not induce incitement. However, our analysis showed that State's reports partly explain how certain educational materials are consistent with two elements included in the law (human rights and tolerance). GAO recommended that the Secretary of State direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration provide information in its reports to Congress that could be useful for congressional oversight, including information that discusses whether Palestinian Authority textbooks used in UNRWA schools are found to be consistent by UNRWA with the values of human rights and tolerance. State concurred with our recommendation and stated its intention to take additional steps to ensure that its reporting to Congress contains relevant information to support effective Congressional decision-making and oversight. In August 2018, State provided GAO with the fiscal year 2018 report to Congress, including the degree to which UNRWA assesses that these materials are consistent with human rights and tolerance. Based on this information, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration to provide information in its reports to Congress that could be useful for congressional oversight, including information that discusses whether Palestinian Authority textbooks used in UNRWA schools are found to be consistent by UNRWA with the values of human rights and tolerance. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2018 (GAO-18-227C), GAO reported that although State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM) submitted annual reports to Congress for fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017 in a timely manner in response to provisions in the annual appropriations acts, reports do not include some information that could be useful for congressional oversight. In the annual appropriations acts for fiscal years 2015 through 2017, Congress required State to report on seven different topics, including whether the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is taking steps to ensure that the content of all educational materials taught in UNRWA schools and summer camps is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and does not induce incitement. However, our analysis showed that while State's reports partly explain how certain educational materials are consistent with two elements included in the law (human rights and tolerance), they do not address the other two elements (dignity and not inducing incitement). GAO recommended that the Secretary of State direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration provide information in its reports to Congress that could be useful for congressional oversight, including information that explicitly states whether the UN values UNRWA applied as part of the Curriculum Framework encompass dignity and do not induce incitement. State concurred with our recommendation and stated its intention to take additional steps to ensure that its reporting to Congress contains thorough and relevant information to support effective Congressional decision-making and oversight. In August 2018, State provided GAO with the fiscal year 2018 report to Congress that included this information. Based on this information, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration to provide information in its reports to Congress that could be useful for congressional oversight, including information that explicitly states whether the UN values UNRWA applied as part of the Curriculum Framework encompass dignity and do not induce incitement. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2018 (GAO-18-227C), GAO reported that although State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM) submitted annual reports to Congress for fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017 in a timely manner in response to provisions in the annual appropriations acts, reports do not include some information that could be useful for congressional oversight. In the annual appropriations acts for fiscal years 2015 through 2017, Congress required State to report on seven different topics, including whether the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is taking steps to ensure that the content of all educational materials taught in UNRWA schools and summer camps is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and does not induce incitement. However, State's reports do not include details about the nature and extent of content UNRWA identified in Palestinian Authority textbooks as not aligned with UN values. Although State's reports generally discuss whether UNRWA is taking certain steps, the lack of certain relevant information in State's reports could limit their usefulness as a tool for congressional decision making and oversight. GAO recommended that the Secretary of State direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration provide information in its reports to Congress that could be useful for congressional oversight, including information that describes the nature and extent of textbook content that UNRWA identified as not aligned with UN values, including in the English language textbooks purchased by UNRWA. State concurred with our recommendation and stated its intention to take additional steps to ensure that its reporting to Congress contains thorough and relevant information to support effective Congressional decision-making and oversight. In August 2018, State provided GAO with the fiscal year 2018 report to Congress, including additional qualitative and quantitative details from UNRWA's evaluation of Palestinian Authority textbooks in its fiscal year 2018 report based on information provided by UNRWA. Based on this information, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration to provide information in its reports to Congress that could be useful for congressional oversight, including information that describes the nature and extent of textbook content that UNRWA identified as not aligned with UN values, including in the English language textbooks purchased by UNRWA. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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