Reports News from the GAO Reports News from the GAO. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 18:13:23 -0400 GAO Reports News from the GAO Feed provided by GAO. Cybersecurity and Information Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Strengthen Efforts to Address High-Risk Areas What GAO Found In March 2021, GAO issued its high-risk series update and emphasized that federal agencies' needed to implement numerous critical actions to strengthen the nation's cybersecurity and information technology (IT) management efforts. In the update, GAO reiterated the importance of agencies addressing four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. Overall, the federal government has to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address key cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace . In September 2020, GAO reported that the White House's national cyber strategy and associated implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks . GAO reported in December 2020 that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Address weaknesses in federal agencies information security programs. GAO reported in July 2019 that 23 agencies almost always designated a risk executive, but had not fully incorporated other key risk management practices, such as establishing a process for assessing agency-wide cybersecurity risks. In its March update, GAO also stressed the importance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies fully implementing critical actions recommended to improve the management of IT to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. GAO emphasized, for example, that OMB had demonstrated its leadership commitment to improving IT management, but sustaining this commitment was critically important; twenty-one of 24 federal agencies had not yet implemented recommendations to fully address the role of Chief Information Officers, including enhancing their authorities; OMB and agencies needed to address modernization challenges and workforce planning weaknesses; and agencies could take further action to reduce duplicative IT contracts and reduce the risk of wasteful spending. Until OMB and federal agencies take critical actions to strengthen efforts to address these important high-risk areas, longstanding and pervasive weaknesses will likely continue to jeopardize the nation's cybersecurity and management of IT. Why GAO Did This Study The nation's critical infrastructures and federal agencies are dependent on IT systems and electronic data to carry out operations and to process, maintain, and report essential information. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on cybersecurity and IT investments. GAO has long stressed the continuing and urgent need for effective cybersecurity, as underscored by recent events that have illustrated persistent and evermore sophisticated cyber threats and incidents. Moreover, many IT investments have failed, performed poorly, or suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO has included information security on its high-risk list since 1997 and added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations in 2015. In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed in both of these important areas. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address cybersecurity and the management of IT. For this testimony, GAO relied on selected products it previously issued. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 14:46:11 -0400 /products/gao-21-105325 COVID-19 Pandemic: Actions Needed to Improve Federal Oversight of Assistance to Individuals, Communities, and the Transportation Industry What GAO Found The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Department of the Treasury (Treasury), among others, continue to provide financial assistance to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA reported obligating over $79 billion from its Disaster Relief Fund to respond to COVID-19. Through several programs, FEMA is providing help to individuals with funeral costs; reimbursing communities for vaccine distribution; and funding federal agencies' efforts to support communities, including National Guard deployments. DOT and Treasury continue to make available the over $200 billion appropriated by COVID-19 relief laws for financial assistance to the transportation sector, including to air carriers, airports and airport tenants, Amtrak, and transit agencies. Through several financial assistance programs, GAO's work has found DOT and Treasury have provided critical support to the transportation sector during a period of sharp declines in travel demand and uncertainty about the pace and nature of the recovery. Depending on the program, financial assistance has reportedly enabled recipients to avoid layoffs, maintain service, and ramp up operations as demand for their services improves. Based on GAO's prior work examining responses to public health and fiscal emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO has (1) identified key lessons learned that could improve the federal response to emergencies, and (2) made several related recommendations, including ones that highlight the importance of applying these lessons learned. For example, DOT has not developed a national aviation preparedness plan to coordinate, establish, and define roles and responsibilities for communicable diseases across the federal government. GAO recommended in 2015 that DOT work with federal partners to develop such a plan, but it has not taken any action. Without such a plan, the U.S. is less prepared to respond to future communicable disease events. In addition, FEMA has faced challenges collecting and analyzing data on requests for supplies, such as personal protective equipment, made through the federal government. In 2020, GAO recommended that FEMA work with relevant stakeholders to develop an interim solution to help states track the status of their supply requests and plan for supply needs. FEMA has not taken action on this recommendation, and until the agency develops a solution, states, tribes, and territories will likely continue to face challenges that hamper the effectiveness of their COVID-19 response. Why GAO Did This Study In response to the public health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided billions of dollars across a range of agencies to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. This included billions to: FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to provide assistance to individuals as well as state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and DOT and Treasury to provide financial assistance to the transportation sector. This statement describes: (1) the federal response and selected relief programs administered by FEMA, DOT, and Treasury and (2) lessons learned based on GAO's reviews of selected COVID-19 relief programs, including related recommendations and their implementation status. This statement is based on GAO's body of work on the CARES Act issued from June 2020 through July 2021.To update this information, GAO reviewed agency documentation; and interviewed agency officials, industry associations, and selected businesses that applied to these programs on the latest implementation efforts. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 11:11:49 -0400 /products/gao-21-105202 Paycheck Protection Program: SBA Added Program Safeguards, but Additional Actions Are Needed What GAO Found The Small Business Administration (SBA) quickly implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in April 2020 to assist small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. But SBA's initial limited program safeguards resulted in improper payments and fraud risks. In June 2020 and March 2021, GAO recommended that SBA do more to oversee PPP and identify and respond to fraud risks. In response, SBA implemented compliance checks for applications submitted in 2021 and stated it would conduct a fraud risk assessment. PPP loans are fully forgivable (do not have to be repaid) if borrowers meet certain conditions. As of May 2021, SBA had made determinations on 3.3 million loan forgiveness applications (see figure) but had not issued guidance for key aspects of the forgiveness process. Specifically: SBA had not yet finalized a process on how lenders can claim the SBA guarantee if the loan is not fully forgiven or when they have evidence the business ceased operations or declared bankruptcy. Without such a process, lenders' capital will remain tied up, limiting their ability to make non-PPP loans to small businesses. SBA had not implemented, nor sought exceptions to, a statutory requirement to purchase loans prior to loan forgiveness upon submission of reports by lenders concerning the amount expected to be forgiven. SBA Loan Forgiveness Determinations on PPP Loans Made During Round 1, as of May 17, 2021 SBA has enhanced its oversight of PPP, such as by conducting in-depth reviews of selected loans, but it has not documented certain loan review steps or developed a process to improve communication with lenders. SBA has not yet finalized procedures for senior-level reviews of borrower eligibility and loan forgiveness decisions, increasing the risk of inconsistent or incorrect loan determinations. Although SBA has developed tools such as a web portal to communicate with lenders, it has not developed a process to ensure its responses to lenders are timely. Some lenders responding to GAO's survey said SBA had not responded in a timely manner or at all to inquiries on loan forgiveness applications, which has created confusion and uncertainty for lenders and borrowers and made it difficult for them to make management decisions. Why GAO Did This Study Since March 2020, Congress has provided commitment authority of about $814 billion for PPP, which provides small businesses with low-interest loans that SBA fully guarantees. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor funds provided for the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines (1) safeguards that SBA put in place during the PPP loan approval process, (2) the PPP loan forgiveness process, including processes for unforgiven loans, and (3) SBA's oversight of PPP loans and lenders. GAO reviewed SBA documentation; surveyed a generalizable sample of PPP lenders; analyzed data on loan forgiveness applications; compared SBA processes against federal guidance on credit programs; and interviewed staff from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and four trade associations representing lenders. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 10:15:50 -0400 /products/gao-21-577 COVID-19 Contracting: Opportunities to Improve Practices to Assess Prospective Vendors and Capture Lessons Learned What GAO Found As of May 31, 2021, agencies obligated $61.4 billion for contracts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Agencies cancelled $4 billion in obligations, in some cases due to contract terminations. The proportion of obligations to vendors with prior federal experience government-wide was 88 percent but varied by agency (see figure). In calendar year 2020, agencies awarded about 5 times as many contracts to vendors without prior federal contracting experience for COVID-19, as compared to contracts awarded overall in preceding calendar years. COVID-19-Related Contract Obligations to Vendors with or without Prior Federal Contracting Experience for the Five Agencies with the Most Obligations, as of May 31, 2021 For the selected contracts GAO reviewed across four agencies—the Departments of Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Agriculture (USDA), and Homeland Security (DHS)—contracting officials identified a number of challenges, including: working with vendors new to federal contracting or vendors supplying products they had not previously provided; operating under limited time frames to make awards; and contracting for supplies and services the agency does not typically buy. The four agencies are collecting and sharing lessons learned related to their COVID-19 response. However, HHS and DHS have not included contracting lessons learned, even though they identified contracting challenges. Collecting contracting lessons learned could inform future emergency response efforts. Furthermore, although interagency coordination was critical to the response, contracting lessons learned are at risk of not being reflected in formal interagency lessons learned efforts. Without a process to do so, federal agencies risk missing an opportunity to memorialize contracting and coordination practices that were successful, as well as those that were not, for future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In response to COVID-19, agencies awarded contracts for goods and services to vendors from a range of industries and with varying levels of federal contracting experience, but some vendors have been unable to deliver under those contracts. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to review COVID-19-related federal contracting under the act. This report addresses (1) COVID-19 contract obligations and characteristics of vendors, (2) contracting challenges, including with agency assessments of vendors, and (3) whether lessons learned efforts reflect those challenges. GAO analyzed federal procurement data on agencies' reported COVID-19 contract obligations through May 31, 2021. GAO examined a nongeneralizable sample of 28 contracts with high dollar values or other characteristics from four agencies—DOD, HHS, USDA, and DHS. GAO interviewed officials, including Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials about their emergency acquisition guidance. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 09:48:35 -0400 /products/gao-21-528 Child Welfare: Pandemic Posed Challenges, but also Created Opportunities for Agencies to Enhance Future Operations What GAO Found Child welfare officials GAO interviewed in five selected states reported challenges affecting both child protective and foster care services during the pandemic in 2020-2021. Officials interviewed in all five state and 10 local child welfare agencies noted concerns about unreported child abuse and neglect, as children had less contact with mandated reporters such as teachers and doctors due to school and office closures. Officials also discussed challenges initially accessing technology and personal protective equipment needed to reduce health risks to staff and families. In addition, officials in four state and all 10 local agencies discussed delays in child welfare hearings because of court closures, which can affect when children can reunify with their parents or be adopted. Aided by federal funding and other supports provided by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), child welfare agencies reported navigating pandemic challenges by increasing assistance to families and providing virtual services. HHS distributed CARES Act funds in amounts ranging from $15,686 to $4,690,717 to states for certain child welfare services, and provided various flexibilities to allow child welfare agencies to adapt their work. Child welfare officials in 35 of the 53 states GAO surveyed reported that they had reached out to support families who had previously been in contact with the agency to offer assistance, such as with food, diapers, and formula. Officials in GAO's survey also reported that most agencies in their state had implemented various forms of virtual services. This included facilitating visits for children in foster care to spend time with their biological families (52 states), participating in court hearings (47 states), and providing virtual health services (35 states). Child welfare officials in the 53 states GAO surveyed reported that they may continue providing virtual services (see figure), strengthening stakeholder partnerships, and updating disaster plans after the pandemic ends. Officials interviewed in all five state and 10 local agencies discussed benefits they observed when providing virtual services, such as increased options for children in foster care to spend time with their biological families (e.g., virtual dinners and bedtime stories). In addition, these officials discussed considerations for determining when virtual services are appropriate. Officials in all of the state and local agencies also discussed the importance of stakeholder communication and partnerships, such as with community organizations and health and education departments, which allowed them to quickly share information and serve families. Lastly, officials in all of these agencies discussed being unprepared for the pandemic. Officials in several agencies said they needed to update their disaster plans, for example, to include health safety guidance. Virtual Services Child Welfare Agencies May Continue after the COVID-19 Pandemic Why GAO Did This Study The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has raised concerns about the welfare of children and disruptions to child welfare services. This work was conducted as part of GAO's COVID-19 monitoring and oversight responsibilities under the CARES Act. It examines (1) challenges child welfare agencies reported as a result of the pandemic; (2) actions these agencies reported taking to respond to challenges, including using the additional funds and other supports provided by HHS; and (3) practices agencies reported they may continue based on what they learned during the pandemic. GAO interviewed and gathered information from officials at HHS; five state and 10 local child welfare agencies in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas, selected for factors such as high numbers of children in foster care and confirmed COVID-19 cases; and eight national organizations with child welfare expertise. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and HHS guidance; analyzed reports states submitted to HHS in July 2020 about their plans for using CARES Act funds; and conducted a survey between December 2020 and February 2021 of child welfare administrators in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (referred to as states). For more information, contact Kathryn Larin at (202) 512-7215 or Thu, 29 Jul 2021 09:32:02 -0400 /products/gao-21-483 Air Cargo Security: TSA Field Testing Should Ensure Screening Systems Meet Detection Standards What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) address U.S.-bound air cargo security through separate programs and have taken steps to measure their effectiveness. For example, TSA conducts an inspection program to help ensure that air carriers comply with specific cargo-related security requirements, such as requirements related to cargo acceptance, control and custody, and screening procedures. Air Cargo Pallet and Air Cargo Loaded onto an Aircraft From January 2020 through April 2021, TSA conducted a field assessment on the use of a computed tomography (CT)-based explosives detection system to screen air cargo as part of its ongoing process to qualify the system for use by air carriers. This type of system produces images of parcels that are examined by computer for signs of explosives. However, TSA's assessment did not fully meet three of five key design and evaluation practices. While the assessment identified goals and established metrics, TSA did not incorporate other key practices, such as collecting all necessary data about the system's ability to detect threats (probability of detection) in the field, consistent with TSA's standards. Since TSA officials cannot use live explosives in the field to measure the probability of detection, they relied on image quality testing, using a manufacturer's test kit to compare system performance in the field with earlier tests performed in a laboratory with live explosives. However, TSA did not validate that the test kit was an acceptable alternative test method for determining the CT system's probability of detection in the field. TSA did not (1) independently validate that the test kit captures all ways system performance could degrade or (2) collect any of the underlying quantitative data from the test kit. TSA officials told GAO they did not validate the test kit because its performance was certified during laboratory testing at DHS's Transportation Security Laboratory; however, officials from the Transportation Security Laboratory told GAO they do not certify the performance of test kits. Without a suitable alternative testing approach to determine the probability of detection, TSA will not have all relevant data to assess whether the CT system meets TSA's detection standard requirements in the field and should be qualified for use by air carriers. Why GAO Did This Study According to DHS—which is responsible for ensuring the security of air cargo transported to the United States—the threat from explosives in air cargo remains significant. The TSA Modernization Act includes a provision for GAO to review DHS's processes for securing U.S.-bound air cargo and efforts to use CT technology for air cargo screening. This report addresses, among other things, how DHS secures inbound air cargo, and the extent to which TSA's field assessment of a CT screening system included key practices for design and evaluation. GAO reviewed TSA and CBP air cargo security procedures and documents and analyzed a random sample of air cargo shipment data from calendar year 2019. GAO also interviewed TSA and CBP headquarters and National Targeting Center officials, and interviewed TSA field and air carrier officials regarding operations with two foreign airports, selected based on TSA risk data and the amount of air cargo transported from these airports to the United States. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in May 2021. Information that DHS deemed sensitive was omitted. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 08:56:33 -0400 /products/gao-21-105192 Bureau of Prisons: BOP Could Further Enhance its COVID-19 Response by Capturing and Incorporating Lessons Learned What GAO Found The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has developed COVID-19 guidance, with input in part from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and periodically updates this guidance, but some BOP staff reported to GAO confusion in how to implement BOP's guidance. In addition, the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General surveyed BOP staff and reported that of the 28 percent of employees who responded, 59 percent of respondents thought BOP's guidance was not clear. Routinely evaluating how it communicates its COVID-19 guidance to staff, and modifying its approach as needed based on staff feedback, would help BOP ensure that staff can understand and effectively implement the protocols for COVID-19 and any future public health emergency. As of May 2021, BOP's data showed that: BOP obligated nearly $63 million for personal protective equipment (PPE)—such as masks, hand sanitizers, gloves and COVID-19 testing kits—for staff and inmates. 45,660 inmates had tested positive, and 237 inmates had died from the virus. In addition, 6,972 staff members tested positive, with four deaths. BOP fully vaccinated about 56 percent of all inmates in BOP-managed facilities (73,050 inmates) and about 50 percent of all staff (19,000 staff) COVID-19 has affected inmates and staff. For example, inmates faced reduced access to certain programs, services, visitors and facility spaces. For staff, quarantining procedures have resulted in reduced staff availability and increased the use of overtime. BOP has processes, such as teleconferences among BOP officials and facilities inspections, to identify best practices and lessons learned related to its COVID-19 response. However, BOP does not capture or share, bureau-wide, the lessons and practices discussed at its teleconferences, or have an approach for ensuring facilities apply them, as appropriate. Implementing approaches for such actions would help BOP ensure that the lessons and practices it identifies reach all facilities that could benefit from them, and that facilities actively improve their COVID-19 response efforts. A BOP Facility's Housing Tents for Inmates in Quarantine and Isolation Why GAO Did This Study BOP was responsible for the custody and care of about 129,000 federal inmates in BOP-managed facilities, and employed more than 37,000 staff as of May 2021. Because of confined spaces, the prison population is particularly vulnerable during infectious disease outbreaks, such as COVID-19. About $620 million has been appropriated to or designated by BOP for COVID-19- related efforts. GAO was asked to review BOP's approach to responding to COVID-19. This report addresses, among other objectives: (1) BOP's development and updates of COVID-19 guidance; (2) BOP's provision of PPE, COVID-19 tests and vaccines, and infection and fatality rates for inmates and staff; and (3) the impact of COVID-19 on inmates and staff, and the extent to which BOP has incorporated lessons learned into its response. GAO reviewed BOP policies, data, and other documentation related to the impact of COVID-19 and how BOP addressed it. GAO also conducted non-generalizable interviews of officials from five BOP facilities and one private facility operating under contract with BOP, selected based on inmate infection rates and other factors. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 08:45:55 -0400 /products/gao-21-502 Private Security Contractors: DOD Needs to Better Identify and Monitor Personnel and Contracts What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has been unable to comprehensively identify private security contractor (PSC) contracts and personnel supporting contingency, humanitarian, peace-keeping, or other similar operations, limiting DOD's ability to readily and accurately identify the use of PSCs. DOD uses PSCs, which include companies and their personnel, hired to provide security services for the U.S. government. However, neither DOD nor GAO was able to use DOD's three PSC data sources to readily determine the universe of PSCs, the type of operation or exercise they support, or their functions, activities, and armed or unarmed status. For example, queries of DOD databases using the term “security guard” to identify PSC personnel excluded eight other job titles that may also perform private security functions. DOD has not comprehensively determined and communicated the contracted activities that fall within its definition of private security functions. Further, DOD does not have a means of readily identifying the contracts and personnel performing those activities in data sources. Without better identifying and tracking its PSC contracts and personnel, DOD will not be able to accurately determine its use of PSCs. Since 2009, DOD has established an oversight framework for its use of PSC contracts, but has not fully monitored the implementation of this framework. DOD's framework distributes oversight functions across the department as well as to organizations outside the department (see fig.). Roles and Functions of Entities to Oversee DOD's Use of Private Security Contractor (PSC) Contracts and Personnel However, DOD has not fully monitored whether and how it and the other entities have carried out their PSC oversight roles and functions. For example, GAO reviewed data for deployed contractor personnel with the job title of “security guard” and found that about 12 percent of those individuals were employed by companies not on a DOD list of certified PSC companies. Independent, third-party certification is a key oversight mechanism DOD relies on to ensure it contracts with companies that use approved personnel hiring, screening, training, and reporting practices. DOD lacks a single, senior-level position assigned to fully monitor whether DOD and various entities are carrying out their respective PSC oversight roles and functions. Without assigning this position, DOD increases the risk of incidents that its framework aims to prevent.  Why GAO Did This Study During Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001–2014 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003–2011, DOD significantly increased its use of PSCs. In 2008, the Swiss Government and the Red Cross issued the Montreux Document, which generally reaffirmed the obligation nations have to ensure that their PSCs respect international humanitarian law. PSCs supporting DOD have faced international attention resulting from incidents allegedly involving their personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's use of PSCs. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified PSC contracts and personnel used to support contingency operations and (2) established a framework to oversee the department's use of PSC contracts. GAO analyzed DOD contract and personnel data for PSCs from 2009 through 2019, reviewed DOD guidance on PSC use, and conducted interviews with DOD officials and representatives from standards organizations. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 08:37:04 -0400 /products/gao-21-255 Military Installations: DOD Should Consider Various Support Services when Designating Sites as Remote or Isolated What GAO Found Between 2011 and 2020, the Department of Defense (DOD) designated three installations as remote or isolated in the United States for morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) services (e.g., fitness centers and child care centers). Those designations bring the current total to 43 installations as established by either the House of Representatives or DOD since 1989. However, DOD's current process does not consider other support services. This is because it has not developed policy that addresses this designation for support services other than MWR, such as housing and medical care. Military installations that are far from key support services often have fewer services, such as more limited access to health care and housing options. See figure. DOD officials responsible for a variety of support services told GAO that servicemembers and dependents would benefit from an overarching policy that included a process for designating installations as remote or isolated that considers all support services. This would better position DOD to increase awareness of the unique needs of servicemembers and dependents at these locations and help target needed resources like funding for improvements to housing and better access to specialty medical care. GAO-Selected Examples of Remote or Isolated Military Installations within the United States DOD has set broad program objectives for providing support services such as ensuring that eligible personnel have access to affordable, quality housing. Servicemembers and officials at the installations included in GAO's review identified concerns related to meeting these needs. For example, GAO found that servicemembers at three remote or isolated installations faced commutes of an hour or more to reach health care providers within DOD's TRICARE network. While DOD and the services use a variety of methods to assess whether support services meet the needs of servicemembers and dependents, DOD has not systematically assessed the associated risks to recruiting, retention, and quality of life that these concerns pose and developed strategies to mitigate these risks. Assessing risk and taking action based on that assessment would better position DOD to address the needs of servicemembers in remote or isolated areas. Why GAO Did This Study DOD operates hundreds of installations in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, which support the daily operations of military units. The support services provided to servicemembers and their dependents at these installations include morale, welfare, and recreation services; medical care; housing; and education. Senate Report 116-48, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to review support services at remote or isolated installations. This report assesses the extent to which DOD (1) designated installations in the United States since 2011 as remote or isolated for the provision of support services, and (2) established objectives for support services at installations and assessed whether current support services are meeting the needs of servicemembers and their dependents. GAO reviewed relevant policies and guidance, conducted interviews with four selected installations and conducted a non-generalizable web-based survey of 756 active-duty servicemembers. Thu, 29 Jul 2021 08:26:16 -0400 /products/gao-21-276 Medicare Advantage: Beneficiary Disenrollments to Fee-for-Service in Last Year of Life Increase Medicare Spending What GAO Found Under Medicare Advantage (MA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with private MA plans to provide health care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. MA beneficiaries in the last year of life disenrolled to join Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) at more than twice the rate of all other MA beneficiaries, GAO's analysis found. MA plans are prohibited from limiting coverage based on beneficiary health status, and disproportionate disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last of year life may indicate potential issues with their care. Stakeholders told GAO that, among other reasons, beneficiaries in the last of year life may disenroll because of potential limitations accessing specialized care under MA. While CMS monitors MA disenrollments, the agency does not specifically review disenrollments by beneficiaries in the last year of life. Doing so could help CMS better ensure the care provided to these beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage Beneficiary Disenrollments to Join Fee-for-Service, 2016-2017 Beneficiaries in the last year of life who disenrolled from MA to join FFS increased Medicare costs as they moved from MA's fixed payment arrangement to FFS, where payments are based on the amount and cost of services provided. GAO's analysis shows that FFS payments for such beneficiaries who disenrolled in 2016 were $422 million higher than their estimated MA payments had they remained in MA, and were $490 million higher for those that disenrolled in 2017. Estimated Medicare Advantage Payments for Beneficiaries in Last Year of Life that Disenrolled Compared to Fee-for-Service Payments, 2016-2017 Why GAO Did This Study In contrast to Medicare FFS, which pays providers for claims for services, CMS pays MA plans a fixed monthly amount per beneficiary to provide health care coverage. For beneficiaries with higher expected health care costs, MA payments are increased. In 2019, CMS paid MA plans about $274 billion to cover about 22 million beneficiaries. Prior GAO and other studies have shown that beneficiaries in poorer health are more likely to disenroll from MA to join FFS, which may indicate that they encountered issues with their care under MA. Beneficiaries in the last year of life are generally in poorer health and often require high-cost care. GAO was asked to review disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last year of life. In this report, GAO examined (1) disenrollments from MA to join FFS by beneficiaries in the last year of life, and CMS's associated monitoring; and (2) the costs of such disenrollments to Medicare. GAO analyzed CMS disenrollment and mortality data for 2015 through 2018—the most current data at the time of the analysis—to examine the extent of MA beneficiary disenrollment in the last year of life. To estimate the costs of disenrollment, GAO used CMS data to estimate payments for disenrolled beneficiaries had they remained in MA, and compared those estimates against those beneficiaries' actual FFS costs. Wed, 28 Jul 2021 08:26:08 -0400 /products/gao-21-482 Veterans with Disabilities: VA Could Better Inform Veterans with Disabilities about Their Education Benefit Options What GAO Found Most school and veteran service organization (VSO) officials GAO interviewed stated that when given the choice between the Post 9/11 GI Bill (GI Bill) and the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program, veterans with disabilities will base their choice on which program best suits their unique goals, preferences, and circumstances. For example, certain veterans may prefer the GI Bill's flexibility to independently select courses of study, whereas others may prefer to have the assistance of a counselor to select a course of study as part of an employment plan, as provided under VR&E. However, most officials GAO interviewed said veterans with disabilities often use the GI Bill for education benefits without knowing that the VR&E program exists, or that it can pay for education, provide assistive equipment for their disability, or offer unique benefits of working with a counselor. Selected Comments Regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Veteran Readiness & Employment Programs “Had I known about VR&E I would have [used it.]” -Veteran with disabilities “I often think of VR&E as sort of a hidden program when it comes to education benefits.” -VSO official ”Veterans with disabilities are often not aware of the differences between the two programs.” -School official Source: GAO survey of veterans and GAO interviews with school and VSO officials | GAO-21-450 VA provides information about education benefits to veterans with disabilities through various methods, including in-person communication, online materials, and written communications. However, on the agency website,, few webpages devoted to VR&E explicitly mention that it can help pay for a college degree. In addition, the letters that VA sends to veterans when they receive their disability rating do not specifically mention that VR&E can cover education costs for a college degree. VA's online GI Bill Comparison Tool allows veterans to learn more about the tuition amounts each program will cover for certain schools, but it does not inform veterans on the key differences in program features across the programs. Most school and VSO officials GAO interviewed said VA's efforts do not adequately inform veterans with disabilities about their potential education benefit options, as evidenced by the number of veterans with disabilities they encounter who are unaware that VR&E exists or who do not fully understand the benefits VR&E can provide. Including more information about how VR&E can help veterans pay for higher education, and facilitating direct comparison between the features of the GI Bill and VR&E, would help better position veterans with disabilities to choose the program that best meets their needs. Why GAO Did This Study VA offers education benefits to veterans with disabilities through the GI Bill, VA's largest education program, and VR&E, which helps veterans with service-connected disabilities re-enter the workforce. Each offers distinct features that may better serve veterans depending on their individual circumstances. However, veterans with disabilities may not know that VR&E can help pay for education as part of its employment services. GAO was asked to what extent eligible veterans are aware of the comparative features of the programs. This report examines (1) the reported factors that influence whether veterans with disabilities select the Post-9/11 GI Bill or VR&E, and (2) how VA informs veterans with disabilities about the education benefits available to them from each program, and the effectiveness of those efforts. For both programs, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws; analyzed participant data; conducted semi-structured interviews with officials from schools and VSOs selected for their depth of knowledge about veteran affairs, and reviewed relevant VA informational materials. Wed, 28 Jul 2021 08:07:38 -0400 /products/gao-21-450 COVID-19 Contracting: Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursements Could Provide Lessons Learned for Future Emergency Responses What GAO Found To help government contractors keep their workforce in a ready state during the COVID-19 pandemic, section 3610 of the CARES Act generally authorized government agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to contractor personnel and subcontractors during the national emergency. Section 3610 did not appropriate specific funding for this purpose. The four agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and NASA—reported use of section 3610 authority totaling at least $882.8 million over 14 months. The extent to which the agencies used the authority varied, from $1.4 million at Homeland Security to $760.7 million at Energy. Further, Defense officials estimated that defense contractors have more than $4 billion in paid leave costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement under section 3610. Defense officials also noted, however, that the department does not plan to reimburse this full amount using existing funding. Agencies also based their reimbursement decisions on the nature of the work performed by contractors, such as whether telework was an option. Twelve out of the 15 contractors GAO interviewed reported that paid leave reimbursement had a great or moderate effect on their ability to retain employees (see figure), in particular those with specialized skills or clearances. Selected Contractors' Views on the Effect of Paid Leave Reimbursement on Workforce Retention Given the urgency of the pandemic, agencies prioritized quick implementation of section 3610 over a more deliberative process, resulting in variations such as how agencies tracked use of the authority. Officials from all four agencies said that they either have captured or intend to capture lessons learned from implementing section 3610 and are willing to share these with other federal agencies. However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which coordinates government-wide contracting policy—has not collected and shared lessons learned. With coordination from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the government could seize an opportunity to enhance implementation of paid leave reimbursement provisions that may be enacted as part of rapid federal responses to future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance for those affected by COVID-19. Section 3610 of the CARES Act enables agencies, at their discretion, to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to their employees and subcontractors who are unable to access work sites due to facility closures or other restrictions, and whose duties cannot be performed remotely during the pandemic. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. In September 2020, GAO found that agencies had not made much use of section 3610 authority as of July 2020, and expectations of future use varied. This report (1) examines how selected federal agencies have used section 3610 authority and (2) presents selected contractors' perspectives on COVID-19 paid leave reimbursement. GAO reviewed guidance and data and interviewed cognizant officials from four agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO also selected a non-generalizable sample of 15 contractors that received or requested section 3610 reimbursements from one or more of the selected agencies and conducted semi-structured interviews of contractor representatives. Wed, 28 Jul 2021 07:46:21 -0400 /products/gao-21-475 COVID-19: VA Should Assess Its Oversight of Infection Prevention and Control in Community Living Centers What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took steps—such as issuing guidance and trainings—to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Community Living Centers (CLC), which are VA-owned and -operated nursing homes. This guidance focused on, for example, limiting CLC entry and testing residents and staff for COVID-19, while the trainings were intended to prepare staff for, among other things, a surge in cases. However, the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in these facilities during the first year of the pandemic, from March 2020 through February 2021. In particular, the agency suspended annual in-person inspections of CLCs before resuming them virtually in February 2021. The agency also required that CLCs conduct a one-time self-assessment of their infection prevention and control practices but did not review the results in a timely manner to make more immediate improvements. VA officials acknowledged these shortcomings as the agency responded in real time to the rapidly evolving pandemic. As VA has described this time as a “learning period,” it could benefit from assessing its decisions and actions related to oversight of infection prevention and control during the pandemic to identify any lessons learned. Such an assessment would align with VA's plans to assess and report on the agency's overall response to the pandemic as well as its strategic goal to promote continuous quality improvement in CLCs. Results from such an assessment—which could look at both successes and missed opportunities—could help VA better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks in CLCs. Why GAO Did This Study Close to 8,000 veterans per day received nursing home care provided by VA in CLCs in fiscal year 2020. COVID-19 has posed significant risks to nursing home residents and staff, as residents are often in frail health, and residents and staff have close daily contact with each other. The CARES Act includes a provision that GAO monitor the federal response to the pandemic. This report describes, among other objectives, guidance and training VA has issued to help CLCs respond to the pandemic and examines VA's oversight of infection prevention and control in CLCs during the pandemic. GAO analyzed documents, including guidance, training-related materials, and CLC self-assessments of their infection prevention and control practices. GAO also interviewed VA officials and CLC staff, the latter from five facilities selected based on factors such as having been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies prior to the pandemic. Wed, 28 Jul 2021 07:38:07 -0400 /products/gao-21-559 U.S.-China Trade: USTR Should Fully Document Internal Procedures for Making Tariff Exclusion and Extension Decisions What GAO Found The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) developed a process in July 2018 to review tariff exclusion requests for some imported products from China and later developed a process to extend these exclusions. From 2018 to 2020, U.S. stakeholders submitted about 53,000 exclusion requests to USTR for specific products covered by the tariffs. USTR's process consisted of a public comment period to submit requests, an internal review, an interagency assessment, and the decision publication. USTR documented some procedures for reviewing exclusion requests. However, it did not fully document all of its internal procedures, including roles and responsibilities for each step in its review process. GAO reviewed selected exclusion case files and found inconsistencies in the agency's reviews. For example, USTR did not document how reviewers should consider multiple requests from the same company, and GAO's case file review found USTR performed these steps inconsistently. Another case file lacked documentation to explain USTR's final decision because the agency's procedures did not specify whether such documentation was required. Federal internal control standards state that agencies should document their procedures to ensure they conduct them consistently and effectively, and to retain knowledge. Without fully documented internal procedures, USTR lacks reasonable assurance it conducted its reviews consistently. Moreover, documenting them will help USTR to administer any future exclusions and extensions. USTR evaluated each exclusion request on a case-by-case basis using several factors, including product availability outside of China and the potential economic harm of the tariffs. According to USTR officials, no one factor was essential to grant or deny a request. For example, USTR might grant a request that demonstrated the tariffs would cause severe economic harm even when the requested product was available outside of China. USTR denied about 46,000 requests (87 percent), primarily for the failure to show that the tariffs would cause severe economic harm to the requesters or other U.S. interests (see figure). Further, USTR did not extend 75 percent of the tariff exclusions it had granted. USTR's Primary Reasons for Denying Exclusion Requests for Section 301 Tariffs on Products from China, 2018-2020 Note: Totals may not sum due to rounding. Why GAO Did This Study In July 2018, USTR placed tariffs on certain products from China in response to an investigation that found certain trade acts, policies, and practices of China were unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce. As of December 2020, the U.S. imposed tariffs on roughly $460 billion worth of Chinese imports under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. Because these tariffs could harm U.S. workers and manufacturers that rely on these imports, USTR developed a process to exclude some products from these additional tariffs. U.S. businesses and members of Congress have raised questions about the transparency and fairness of USTR's administration of this process. GAO was asked to review USTR's tariff exclusion program. This report (1) examines the processes USTR used to review Section 301 tariff exclusion requests and extensions and (2) describes how USTR evaluated those tariff exclusion requests and extensions, and the outcomes of its decisions. GAO analyzed USTR's public and internal documents relating to the exclusion and extension processes, including 16 randomly selected nongeneralizable case files, and data from USTR and the U.S. Census Bureau. GAO also interviewed agency officials. Wed, 28 Jul 2021 07:26:22 -0400 /products/gao-21-506 Supplemental Material for GAO-21-536: 2020 Federal Managers Survey: Results on Government Performance and Management Issues This product is a supplement to Evidence-Based Policymaking: Survey Data Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Capacity across Federal Agencies (GAO-21-536). Between July and December 2020, GAO surveyed nearly 4,000 federal managers on various organizational performance and management issues. The survey asked managers for their perspectives on their agencies' capacities to develop and use different types of data and information in decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources. In addition, the survey sought views on agency efforts to maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a 56 percent response rate, the results are generalizable to the 24 major agencies included in the survey, and across the federal government. This product makes available the results from GAO's 2020 survey—at a government-wide level and for each agency. It also provides information about how and why GAO conducted the survey, and identifies other GAO products that analyzed and reported these survey results. For more information, contact Alissa H. Czyz at 202-512-6806 or Tue, 27 Jul 2021 13:19:31 -0400 /products/gao-21-537sp Aviation Services: Information on Airports Exercising Their Right as the Sole Provider of Fuel What GAO Found Based on GAO's survey, 588 of the nearly 2,000 airports responding to the survey reported exercising their proprietary exclusive right (the right to be the sole service provider) for aviation fuel services. While airports are generally prohibited from granting an exclusive right to any party to provide aviation services, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that an airport can be the exclusive provider of such services, thereby precluding other parties from providing those services at the airport. Most (567) of these airports are general aviation airports—airports that have no scheduled commercial service or have scheduled service but fewer than 2,500 passenger boardings per year. The 588 airports are located in 45 of the 48 contiguous states and in all of the FAA regions covering these states. Location of Airports that Reported Using the Proprietary Exclusive Right on GAO Survey, by Federal Aviation Administration Region Note: An airport sponsor may elect to provide any or all of the aeronautical services at its airports and be the exclusive provider of those services. This is known as the proprietary exclusive right. GAO's survey and interviews with selected airports found most airports that report exercising their proprietary exclusive right do so based largely on attracting users to the airport, providing a high level of reliable customer service, and generating airport revenue. Over 90 percent of the 588 airports responded that attracting users to the airport and generating revenue were very important or somewhat important to their decision to provide fuel service. Further, officials from 17 of the 26 airports GAO interviewed explained that the resulting revenue was a main factor in their decision to provide fuel service. For example, one airport manager said the revenue allows the airport to invest in capital projects, such as building hangars, to help attract users to the airport. The revenue can also help an airport become as financially self-sustaining as possible, which is a requirement to receive federal airport grants. Airports also cited providing consistent customer service as a key factor in exercising their proprietary exclusive right. For example, one airport manager GAO spoke to said complaints about the former private fuel provider's customer service and prices prompted the airport to become the sole service provider. Why GAO Did This Study FAA, through federal airport grants, helps fund airports' capital development and is responsible for overseeing airports' compliance with federal requirements incorporated in airport grant agreements. Under these agreements, airports are generally not allowed to grant exclusive rights to any person or entity to provide aeronautical services—such as fuel—on airport grounds. FAA has determined, however, that airports themselves can opt to be the exclusive provider of such services by exercising their proprietary exclusive right. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to examine airports that have exercised their proprietary exclusive right. This report addresses what is known about the number and characteristics of airports that are currently exercising their proprietary exclusive right to provide fuel and the factors airports consider when deciding whether to exercise this right to provide fuel. GAO reviewed relevant federal statutes, FAA policies and guidance, airport documents and websites, and conducted a web survey of all 3,010 public use airports in the contiguous United States. GAO interviewed officials at a non-generalizable sample of 26 airports that self-identified as exercising their proprietary exclusive right and at 10 airports that are not exercising their proprietary exclusive right, selected based on a mix of characteristics, including the amount of fuel sales. GAO also interviewed FAA compliance staff at headquarters and regional offices. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or Tue, 27 Jul 2021 11:51:22 -0400 /products/gao-21-397 Federal Contracting: Senior Leaders Should Use Leading Companies' Key Practices to Improve Performance What GAO Found Each year, federal agencies spend over $500 billion to buy a wide variety of products and services, ranging from cutting-edge military aircraft to common office supplies. Given the amount of federal funds spent and the missions these contracts support, it is critical that agencies' procurement leaders manage their organizations effectively. However, GAO found procurement leaders at six of the federal government's largest agencies did not consistently use key practices that leading companies use to improve the performance of their procurement organizations (see figure). Procurement Leaders at the Federal Agencies GAO Reviewed Did Not Consistently Use Leading Companies' Key Practices to Improve Performance Note: GAO's assessment of procurement leaders' collaboration when developing performance metrics reflects the extent to which they collaborated with end users. Link performance metrics to strategic goals. Procurement leaders at all the agencies in GAO's review linked their performance metrics to their agencies' strategic goals. These leaders stated that doing so helps ensure acquisition personnel are focused on the right things to support their agency's mission. These statements are consistent with statements from procurement leaders at leading companies. Collaborate with internal stakeholders, particularly end users, when developing performance metrics. When they were developing performance metrics, procurement leaders at all six of the agencies in GAO's review collaborated with other members of the procurement community. However, only the procurement leaders at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) collaborated with end users, such as technical experts from installation centers. One procurement leader said he did not collaborate with end users when he developed performance metrics because too much end user influence could lead to suboptimal results, but leaders do not have to cede control when they collaborate with end users. End users can help procurement leaders increase the usefulness and use of performance information in program management and policy, and corporate procurement leaders told GAO that collaboration with end users during the development and implementation of performance metrics increases coordination and improves performance at the strategic level. Use outcome-oriented performance metrics to manage procurement organizations. GAO found the leaders at all six of the agencies reviewed rely primarily on process-oriented metrics (such as small business utilization rates) when managing their procurement organizations. These leaders cited various reasons for not implementing metrics that are more outcome-oriented. For example, two leaders stated they did not use outcome-oriented performance metrics because of unreliable data. Three of the leaders, however, are working to improve data that can facilitate outcome-oriented assessments. Additionally, procurement leaders at most of the agencies GAO reviewed have ongoing or planned efforts to use performance metrics to measure at least one of the four procurement outcomes identified as important by corporate procurement leaders. These outcomes include (1) cost savings/avoidance, (2) timeliness of deliveries, (3) quality of deliverables, and (4) end-user satisfaction. For example, the Air Force's senior procurement leader has used a cost savings/avoidance metric to manage the Air Force's procurement organizations, and as of March 2021, the Air Force leader had identified $2.38 billion in cost savings and avoidance. Additionally, the Army's senior procurement leader told GAO that she began to pursue outcome-oriented metrics in late 2020, after GAO provided her an interim assessment comparing Army practices to private sector practices. GAO has previously reported that using a balanced set of performance measures, including both process- and outcome-oriented measures—and obtaining complete and reliable performance information—can help federal agencies identify improvement opportunities, set priorities, and allocate resources. Why GAO Did This Study Federal agencies face significant, long-standing procurement challenges that increase the risk of waste and mismanagement. GAO was asked to review key procurement practices in the private sector and assess whether federal agencies could adopt them. This report examines key practices that leading companies use to improve the performance of their procurement organizations, and the extent to which procurement leaders at selected federal agencies use those practices. GAO interviewed senior procurement leaders at seven leading companies, and experts from four professional associations and five academic institutions. GAO selected these individuals based on literature reviews and conversations with knowledgeable officials. GAO compared key practices they identified to those used at six federal agencies selected based on the dollar value and number of their procurement actions, among other factors. GAO analyzed documentation on each agency's procurement management practices, and interviewed the agencies' senior procurement leaders. The federal government does not have generally accepted definitions for outcome-oriented and process-oriented metrics. For the purposes of this report, GAO defined outcome-oriented metrics as those metrics that measure the results of organizations' procurement activities. GAO defined process-oriented metrics as those metrics that measure the type or level of procurement activities conducted. Tue, 27 Jul 2021 11:38:24 -0400 /products/gao-21-491 Supplemental Material For GAO-21-104071: 2020 Census Survey of Area Census Office Managers This electronic supplement serves as a companion to GAO-21-104071 2020 Census: Office Managers' Perspectives on Recent Operations Would Strengthen Planning for 2030 Census. The purpose of this supplement is to provide regional and national summaries of the six waves of our survey of the Census Bureau's 248 area census office managers on their perspectives during the 2020 Census. Tue, 27 Jul 2021 10:50:00 -0400 /products/gao-21-105237 Evidence-Based Policymaking: Survey Data Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Capacity across Federal Agencies What GAO Found The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) recognizes that federal decision makers need evidence about whether federal programs achieve intended results. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), evidence can include performance information, program evaluations, and other types of data, research, and analysis. Results from GAO's 2020 survey of federal managers showed that nearly all managers (an estimated 95 percent) reported having at least one type of evidence for their programs. When they had evidence, generally about half to two-thirds reported using it in different decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources. However, on most questions related to evidence-building capacity, only about one-third to half of managers across the federal government reported that different aspects of capacity (e.g., having staff with relevant skills) were present to a “great” or “very great” extent. Further, when GAO disaggregated these results, it found that reported aspects of capacity varied widely across federal agencies and types of evidence, as illustrated below. Federal Managers Reporting Presence of Selected Aspects of Evidence-Building Capacity, with the Range of Agencies' Responses Estimated Percentages Reporting to a “Great” or “Very Great” Extent OMB, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and various interagency councils, such as the Chief Data Officers Council, have taken some actions intended to strengthen federal evidence-building capacity. These include collecting and assessing information from various sources to identify (1) issues to address, and (2) best practices for enhancing capacity to share across agencies. GAO's survey results could help inform these efforts. For example, survey results could reinforce existing knowledge, or provide new insights, on cross-cutting and agency-specific capacity issues to address. Results could also inform efforts to identify and share promising practices. Why GAO Did This Study The Evidence Act created a framework for enhancing the federal government's capacity to build and use evidence in decision-making. The Evidence Act includes provisions for GAO to review its implementation. This report (1) describes federal managers' reported availability and use of evidence in decision-making activities, and (2) assesses federal managers' reported views on their agencies' capacity for evidence-building activities. To conduct its work, GAO analyzed results from a survey it administered from July to December 2020 to a stratified random sample of about 4,000 managers at 24 major federal agencies. The survey had a 56 percent response rate. Results can be generalized to the population of managers government-wide and at each agency. GAO also reviewed documents from OMB, OPM, and relevant interagency councils, and interviewed federal officials. Tue, 27 Jul 2021 10:35:04 -0400 /products/gao-21-536 Critical Infrastructure Protection: TSA Is Taking Steps to Address Some Pipeline Security Program Weaknesses What GAO Found Protecting the nation's pipeline systems from security threats is a responsibility shared by both the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and private industry stakeholders. Prior to issuing a cybersecurity directive in May 2021, TSA's efforts included issuing voluntary security guidelines and security reviews of privately owned and operated pipelines. GAO reports in 2018 and 2019 identified some weaknesses in the agency's oversight and guidance, and made 15 recommendations to address these weaknesses. TSA concurred with GAO's recommendations and has addressed most of them, such as clarifying portions of its Pipeline Security Guidelines improving its monitoring of security review performance, and assessing staffing needs. As of June 2021, TSA had not fully addressed two pipeline cybersecurity-related weaknesses that GAO previously identified. These weaknesses correspond to three of the 15 recommendations from GAO's 2018 and 2019 reports. Incomplete information for pipeline risk assessments. GAO identified factors that likely limit the usefulness of TSA's risk assessment methodology for prioritizing pipeline security reviews. For example, TSA's risk assessment did not include information consistent with critical infrastructure risk mitigation, such as information on natural hazards and cybersecurity risks. GAO recommended that TSA develop data sources relevant to pipeline threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences of disruptions. As of June 2021, TSA had not fully addressed this recommendation. Aged protocols for responding to pipeline security incidents. GAO reported in June 2019 that TSA had not revised its 2010 Pipeline Security and Incident Recovery Protocol Plan to reflect changes in pipeline security threats, including those related to cybersecurity. GAO recommended that TSA periodically review, and update its 2010 plan. TSA has begun taking action in response to this recommendation, but has not fully addressed it, as of June 2021. TSA's May 2021 cybersecurity directive requires that certain pipeline owner/operators assess whether their current operations are consistent with TSA's Guidelines on cybersecurity, identify any gaps and remediation measures, and report the results to TSA and others. TSA's July 2021 cybersecurity directive mandates that certain pipeline owner/operators implement cybersecurity mitigation measures; develop a Cybersecurity Contingency Response Plan in the event of an incident; and undergo an annual cybersecurity architecture design review, among other things. These recent security directives are important requirements for pipeline owner/operators because TSA's Guidelines do not include key mitigation strategies for owner/operators to reference when reviewing their cyber assets. TSA officials told GAO that a timely update to address current cyber threats is appropriate and that they anticipate updating the Guidelines over the next year. Why GAO Did This Study The nation's pipelines are vulnerable to cyber-based attacks due to increased reliance on computerized systems. In May 2021 malicious cyber actors deployed ransomware against Colonial Pipeline's business systems. The company subsequently disconnected certain systems that monitor and control physical pipeline functions so that they would not be compromised. This statement discusses TSA's actions to address previous GAO findings related to weaknesses in its pipeline security program and TSA's guidance to pipeline owner/operators. It is based on prior GAO products issued in December 2018, June 2019, and March 2021, along with updates on actions TSA has taken to address GAO's recommendations as of June 2021. To conduct the prior work, GAO analyzed TSA documents; interviewed TSA officials, industry association representatives, and a sample of pipeline operators selected based on type of commodity transported and other factors; and observed TSA security reviews. GAO also reviewed TSA's May and July 2021 Pipeline Security Directives, TSA's Pipeline Security Guidelines, and three federal security alerts issued in July 2020, May 2021, and June 2021. Tue, 27 Jul 2021 10:03:24 -0400 /products/gao-21-105263 2020 Census: Office Managers' Perspectives on Recent Operations Would Strengthen Planning for 2030 What GAO Found The Census Bureau executed its most labor-intensive field data-collection activity through 248 area census offices, relying on managers of these offices (ACOM) to oversee field work and ensure its timely completion. ACOMs had a unique vantage point on the census, working at the intersection of regional management and the massive temporary field workforce they oversaw. Area Census Office Managers' Position in the Census Workforce ACOMs responded to GAO's 2020 survey with perspectives on topics ranging from work environment to automation to the Bureau's pandemic response. Such perspectives can inform planning for 2030 and help the Bureau achieve its objectives. Further, as the Bureau moves forward with its planning, it could solicit the views of selected former ACOMs. Similar to the Bureau's use of other advisory groups, former ACOMs' views could be valuable in informing upcoming 2030 design decisions, particularly regarding the most effective and efficient options in the area offices that have been pivotal to successful censuses. In 2010, GAO recommended that the Bureau develop mechanisms to increase coordination between its area census offices and its Community Partnership and Engagement Program. This program is designed to build community relationships and access hard-to-count populations. However, the Bureau has not fully implemented this recommendation. Accordingly, GAO's survey showed that only 26 to 56 percent of responding ACOMs were very or generally satisfied with aspects of coordination with the program. Developing a plan with defined tasks and milestones could help the Bureau address this and more fully implement the recommendation. Why GAO Did This Study The execution of the 2020 Census was largely a local endeavor, carried out by hundreds of thousands of short-term workers reporting to temporary census offices around the country. How this workforce is managed can affect the cost and quality of the census. This report examines how the Bureau managed its field data collection operations at the local level for the 2020 Census, and how area census office managers' (ACOM) perspectives can inform planning. GAO performed the work under the authority of the Comptroller General to evaluate the 2020 Census to assist Congress with its oversight responsibilities. GAO surveyed the Bureau's 248 ACOMs six times during the 2020 Census, reviewed Bureau documents related to management and operations, and interviewed Bureau officials. The number of questions asked varied across waves of the survey, and the wording of some questions changed. Concurrent with this report, GAO is issuing online supplemental material that presents regional and national aggregations of survey responses. Tue, 27 Jul 2021 08:36:05 -0400 /products/gao-21-104071 COVID-19 Contracting: Actions Needed to Enhance Transparency and Oversight of Selected Awards What GAO Found In response to COVID-19, as of March 2021, the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security obligated at least $12.5 billion using a contracting mechanism that gave them the flexibility to quickly respond to urgent pandemic needs. This mechanism—known as an other transaction agreement—is not subject to certain federal contract laws and requirements but allowed the agencies to customize the agreements. Agencies cited the timeliness of awards as a major factor for using these agreements, including awards that accelerated COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing. The Department of Defense used this mechanism to award $7.2 billion to consortium members—organizations and federal contractors organized around a specific topic area—through one consortium management firm (see figure). Obligations on Other Transaction Agreements in Response to COVID-19 as of March 2021 GAO's analysis found two challenges with how the agencies tracked these agreements due to limitations with the federal procurement database. First, the three agencies did not properly identify at least $1.6 billion of the $12.5 billion as COVID-19-related agreements. Second, the Department of Defense reported that one consortium management firm received $7.2 billion in agreements, as noted above. In actuality, the management firm distributed nearly all of the awarded dollars to five pharmaceutical companies, with each receiving $450 million to $2 billion. The database is the only way for Congress and the public to track these obligations, but transparency is limited without accurate reporting. Also, two agencies' policies on other transaction agreements did not address the requirement for enhanced oversight of certain activities that consortium management firms may perform, potentially posing risks to the government. According to Office of Federal Procurement Policy guidance, these types of activities require enhanced oversight because they can closely support tasks fundamental to the public interest, such as the award of contracts. By not addressing such oversight in their policies, agencies may not fully consider the range of actions they should take to mitigate risks of inappropriate influence for government decisions. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act as part of the federal response to COVID-19. The act had certain provisions for federal contracting, including providing additional flexibilities. Contracting plays a critical role in the pandemic response as agencies obligate billions of dollars for goods and services. The act also included a provision for GAO to review federal contracting in response to COVID-19. This report examines, among other objectives, the extent to which the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security—the only agencies that reported using other transaction agreements in response to COVID-19 in the federal procurement database—used such agreements, including awards to consortia, and oversight of such use. GAO analyzed federal procurement data as of March 2021; reviewed a nongeneralizable sample of 15 agreements selected based on high dollar amounts, agency, a mix of products and services, among other criteria; reviewed agency policies; and interviewed agency officials. Mon, 26 Jul 2021 09:29:40 -0400 /products/gao-21-501 Federal Land Management: Key Differences and Stakeholder Views of the Federal Systems Used to Manage Hardrock Mining What GAO Found Stakeholders GAO interviewed provided their views on the two systems used to manage hardrock mining on federal lands (see figure). Under the location system, the public generally has the right to explore federal lands, stake mining claims, hold the claims in perpetuity, and extract minerals without paying a federal royalty. Under the leasing system, the public generally must obtain agency approval to explore federal lands for minerals and must obtain a mining lease, which sets time limits and other conditions, including paying a federal royalty. GAO found collective differences between the views of different stakeholder groups. For example: Industry stakeholders' comments reflected a general emphasis on certainty: certainty that federal lands will be open and available for exploration, that they will be able to develop the deposits they find, and that they will have ample time to accommodate the lengthy mine development process. These are characteristics that these stakeholders generally described as advantages of the location system. Public interest and tribal government stakeholders' comments reflected a general emphasis on balance: that mining will be equitably balanced with other land uses, that the public will have the opportunity to participate in land- use decisions, and that mining will not preclude other future uses of the land. These are characteristics that these stakeholders generally described as advantages of the leasing system. Number of Hardrock Mining Operations Authorized to Produce Minerals on Federal Lands by System and State, as of September 30, 2018 However, collective comments from stakeholders suggested that neither system wholly advances their goals in all respects and those stakeholders identified areas for improvement in the management of hardrock mining on federal lands. These areas fell in three broad categories: Environmental stewardship. For example, some stakeholders said abandoned mines pose various challenges and suggested establishing federal funding sources for reclamation. Administrative resources. For example, some stakeholders said greater agency staff expertise, as well as an appropriate level of staffing, could improve overall agency management of hardrock mining activity. Governance and transparency. For example, some stakeholders identified public engagement as an overall area for improvement and said steps should be taken to increase public access to information about mining activities. Why GAO Did This Study Hardrock minerals, such as gold and copper, are crucial resources for modern technology. However, mining by its nature can create lasting health hazards and environmental contamination. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service are responsible for managing hardrock mining on the federal lands they manage. Federal management of hardrock mining has been a source of ongoing debate, in part because the agencies use two different systems, depending on where the resources occur: the location system under the General Mining Act of 1872 to manage hardrock mining on public domain lands (those usually never in state or private ownership), and the leasing system first adopted in the 1940s to manage hardrock mining on acquired lands (those granted or sold to the United States by a state or citizen). GAO was asked to review hardrock mining on federal lands. This report describes, among other things, stakeholder views on the systems and areas for improvement. GAO reviewed relevant laws, regulations, policies, and literature about mining systems. GAO interviewed agency officials. GAO interviewed stakeholders selected to reflect a broad range of perspectives from industry, public interest groups such as environmental organizations, and tribal governments. For more information, contact Mark E. Gaffigan, (202) 512-3841 or Mon, 26 Jul 2021 07:28:49 -0400 /products/gao-21-299 Hardrock Mining Management: Selected Countries, U.S. States, and Tribes Have Different Governance Structures but Primarily Use Leasing What GAO Found Australia, Canada, and Chile—three top mineral-producing countries as of 2018—generally own the minerals on private and government lands and manage hardrock mining at the national or regional (state, provincial, or territorial) government levels. Australia and Canada use national and regional governments to manage mining, whereas Chile uses national governance structures. All three countries primarily use leasing to manage mining. However, some Canadian provinces allow mineral exploration using a location system that provides open access to land to stake a mining claim. Australia, Canada, and Chile collect royalties and corporate income taxes on mineral extraction; however, the types and rates vary. For example, Canada and Chile's royalties are based on operators' net proceeds, while some Australian regional governments' royalties are also based on net market value. Primary Stages of Hardrock Mining In 11 western states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming—responsibility for managing mining on state-owned lands, including trust lands, is decentralized among multiple governance structures. These states primarily use leasing, although Alaska also allows operators to stake mine claims on certain lands, according to state officials. All states collect royalties, or taxes that are similar to royalties, on mining. The types and rates vary, but states typically base their rates on quantity or weight, gross revenue, net smelter returns (based on the value of minerals extracted, with deductions for processing), or net proceeds. Hardrock mining on trust and restricted fee lands (tribal lands) is managed by governance structures at the tribal and federal government levels, in accordance with the approaches established in tribal and federal law. Tribes decide whether to allow hardrock mining on their lands. If so, multiple governance structures at the tribal level may be involved in managing the mining, depending on the requirements of tribal law, which may vary by tribe. In addition, governance structures at the federal level are involved in managing mining. Two federal laws—the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 and the Indian Mineral Leasing Act—require the use of minerals agreements, as defined in regulation, or leases, respectively. However, few tribes allow hardrock mining on their lands, according to the Department of the Interior. Why GAO Did This Study Hardrock minerals such as gold, silver, and copper play a significant role in U.S. and global economies—in 2018, hardrock minerals extracted worldwide were valued at about $981 billion. However, extracting these minerals creates the potential for public health, safety, and environmental hazards. Different approaches exist to manage these hazards and hardrock mining. GAO recently reported on the number and characteristics of mining operations on federal lands in GAO-20-461R and was also asked to review the methods different governments use to manage mining. This report describes the governance structures and approaches used to manage mining on (1) selected mineral-producing countries' land, (2) state-owned land in selected U.S. states, and (3) tribal lands subject to federal laws and regulations. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, government documents, legal guides, and nongovernmental and industry reports. GAO also interviewed nongovernmental and mining association representatives and officials from selected states and countries. GAO selected countries that were top mineral producers, perceived by researchers to have good mining governance, and were attractive to mining investors. GAO selected states in the western region of the U.S. that produced the highest value of hardrock minerals compared with other U.S. regions. GAO examined federal laws and regulations that generally govern mining on tribal land and interviewed one tribe on mining approaches used. For more information, contact Mark E. Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or Mon, 26 Jul 2021 07:14:32 -0400 /products/gao-21-298 Health Care Funding: Planned Parenthood Federation of America Affiliates' Expenditures of Federal Funds, 2016 through 2018 What GAO Found GAO reviewed reported expenditures of federal funds among 39 Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) affiliates from fiscal years 2016 through 2018 and found that they expended approximately $271 million in federal funds during that time frame. The majority—about $256 million (or 94 percent)—were expenditures of funds from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that were awarded through grant programs or cooperative agreements. Most of these expenditures were from funding PPFA affiliates received through grants awarded by the Office of Population Affairs to provide family planning services. Why GAO Did This Study In order to achieve their programmatic goals, federal agencies provide funding to various organizations that, in turn, use those funds to implement programs and activities aligned with those goals. For example, HHS may award funding through grants or cooperative agreements to PPFA affiliates, who then expend those funds to provide health-related services to patients. GAO was asked to provide information on federal funding to PPFA affiliates. This report describes certain PPFA affiliates' reported expenditures of federal funds from grants and cooperative agreements during fiscal years 2016 through 2018. GAO reviewed expenditure data contained in audit reports submitted by 39 PPFA affiliates that were required to submit a single audit report to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse within at least one of the years covered by GAO's review. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-7114 or Thu, 22 Jul 2021 09:05:34 -0400 /products/gao-21-608r