Administration

New Jersey Man Admits to Defrauding VA of $200,000

Veterans Affairs - OIG -

Melvin Greenspan, 72, of Perrineville, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to defrauding VA of over $200,000 in survivor’s pension benefits. After the death of his mother in 2006, who had received survivor’s pension due to his father’s prior military service, Greenspan failed to notify the VA about his mother’s death and made withdrawals of the benefits through 2018.

Federal Lands and Waters: Information on Agency Spending for Outdoor Recreation Is Limited

GAO - OIG -

What GAO Found The information that the seven federal agencies GAO reviewed have about their spending that supports outdoor recreation varies and is not intended to fully or precisely reflect all agency spending on recreation. The Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service identified budget lines related to outdoor recreation, although officials said this information may not accurately reflect the agencies' overall recreation spending. This is because some programs can support multiple purposes, so it can be difficult to determine how to divide a program's costs among its different purposes. For example, through its navigation program, the Army Corps of Engineers manages navigation locks, which benefit both commercial and recreational travel. The Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did not identify budget lines related to outdoor recreation. Examples of Outdoor Recreation Activities on Federal Lands and Waters Some agencies in our review provided spending information, while others provided funding information. The Army Corps of Engineers and Forest Service provided spending (expenditure) information, and BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service provided funding (allotment) information. Funding represents amounts available to the agencies at a particular time but not necessarily actual spending. The Army Corps of Engineers' annual spending for its recreation program budget line averaged about $292 million for fiscal years 2010 through 2019. The Forest Service's annual spending for its budget lines that it identified as supporting outdoor recreation averaged about $225 million for fiscal years 2014 through 2019. BLM's annual funding for its budget lines that it identified as primarily supporting outdoor recreation averaged about $77 million for fiscal years 2010 through 2019. The Fish and Wildlife Service's annual funding for its budget lines that it identified as primarily supporting outdoor recreation averaged about $1.3 billion for fiscal years 2010 through 2019. The National Park Service's annual funding for its budget lines that it identified as primarily supporting outdoor recreation averaged about $1.5 billion for fiscal years 2010 through 2019. Why GAO Did This Study Federal agencies provide outdoor recreation opportunities and facilities on the hundreds of millions acres of lands and waters they manage, attracting hundreds of millions of visitors annually. These agencies include the seven that comprised the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation: the Army Corps of Engineers, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, and NOAA. However, federal agencies are not required to track spending for outdoor recreation, and it is unclear how much federal funding is spent, through various programs, on recreation. The joint explanatory statement accompanying the Department of the Interior's fiscal year 2020 appropriation included a provision for GAO to conduct a study that identifies programs carried out by federal agencies that directly impact the outdoor recreation sector and that presents federal spending information for these programs. This report provides available information on what selected federal agencies know about their outdoor recreation spending. GAO focused on the seven council member agencies; reviewed available data and documents on agency spending or funding that supports outdoor recreation; and interviewed agency officials to understand how, if at all, each agency identified its spending that supports outdoor recreation. For more information, contact at (202) 512-3841 or andersonn@gao.gov.

Military Personnel: DOD's Transition Assistance Program at Small or Remote Installations

GAO - OIG -

What GAO Found The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides counseling, employment assistance, and information on federal veterans benefits, among other support, to transitioning servicemembers who are separating from the military. From fiscal years 2018 through 2020, seven of the nine selected small or remote installations exceeded, on average, DOD's TAP compliance target of 85 percent of separated servicemembers completing all TAP requirements. The information delivered during TAP and the components of the program are standard across all military installations, regardless of the size or location of the installation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only certain servicemembers were eligible to participate in TAP virtually, including those servicemembers in remote or geographically isolated locations. According to officials of the Military-Civilian Transition Office (MCTO), servicemembers who attended TAP sessions virtually prior to the pandemic received the same transition information as those who attended TAP sessions in person. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all nine of the small or remote installations in GAO's review shifted to virtual delivery of TAP sessions for all servicemembers, according to officials at those installations. DOD monitors TAP across all installations, regardless of size or geographic location, through a standard form used by all four military services and by conducting course surveys. DOD officials told GAO that there are no additional monitoring activities or metrics specific to small or remote installations. Officials whom GAO interviewed—including those of the military services and at the nine selected small or remote installations—discussed common challenges with TAP delivery and participation, as well as ways they were mitigating these challenges where possible. For example, TAP officials at several remote installations stated there were limited local employment opportunities available to servicemembers post-separation. However, a few officials stated that they had built relationships with local employers to provide networking opportunities to servicemembers. Also, Army officials stated that they provide virtual career fairs that are available to all servicemembers regardless of location. The shift to fully virtual delivery of TAP support at the start of the pandemic also presented common challenges among the installations in GAO's review, including not having a live virtual option for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits briefing and having caps on the number of servicemembers in virtual classes. An official at one installation said the installation was able to provide servicemembers access to informal VA information sessions with their local VA office to supplement the self-paced virtual VA briefing. Why GAO Did This Study Approximately 200,000 servicemembers each year leave the military and transition to civilian life. To help servicemembers with potential challenges they may face during this transition, such as finding and maintaining employment, DOD is mandated by law to require that eligible separating servicemembers participate in TAP. House Report 116-442, accompanying a bill for the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, directed GAO to review servicemember participation in formal Transition Assistance Programs at small and remote military installations in the United States. This report describes: (1) the extent to which active-duty servicemembers at selected small or remote military installations within the United States are receiving required transition services; (2) the extent to which DOD is monitoring TAP at small or remote military installations; and (3) challenges that exist in implementing TAP at selected small or remote military installations. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance documents, and analyzed data provided by the Military-Civilian Transition Office (MCTO) and the military services. GAO also interviewed officials from MCTO, the military services, and TAP staff at nine small or remote installations in the United States selected to achieve at least two installations for each military service and for variation in geographic location. GAO identified remote military installations as those 50 or more miles from a city of 50,000 people or more, and small installations as those with 350 or fewer projected servicemember separations for fiscal year 2021.

Voters with Disabilities: State and Local Actions and Federal Resources to Address Accessibility of Early Voting

GAO - OIG -

What GAO Found Selected states and localities have taken steps to make voting prior to Election Day accessible for people with disabilities, but election officials and advocacy officials reported that challenges persist. Election officials reported taking steps to make in-person early voting accessible such as addressing barriers to physical access and providing accessible voting equipment (see figure), but election and advocacy officials reported challenges including physical obstacles such as gravel parking lots and voting equipment not being set up properly. Voting by mail may be an accessible option and has been used more frequently by those with disabilities than others. However, election and advocacy officials also noted that some voters with disabilities have difficulty marking paper mail ballots; six of seven states GAO contacted offer them electronic delivery and marking options. Steps Taken by Selected States and Localities to Make Early In-Person Voting Accessible Selected states and localities have taken steps to make voting information available and accessible, but voters with disabilities may encounter challenges with both. States and some localities have provided information about accessible voting options on their websites, but advocacy officials reported challenges, such as one state not providing information about the accessibility features of its voting equipment. States have also taken steps to make websites accessible, such as ensuring compatibility with screen readers used by people with visual disabilities. However, election and advocacy officials reported, among other things, that some website content such as digital materials, lacks accessibility features and some content is not written in plain language. Federal agencies have assisted state and local election officials in their efforts to ensure accessible voting. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has provided guidance and educational resources on voting accessibility, such as a checklist for assessing polling places, which some selected states and localities have found useful. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC)—a national clearinghouse of information about election administration—has also provided resources on topics such as accessible voting equipment and partnering with disability advocates. However, selected states and localities GAO contacted reported mixed feedback on the usefulness of EAC resources. Although the EAC communicates regularly with election officials, it does not have a mechanism for collecting and using feedback from these officials about the usefulness of its existing accessibility resources or additional resource needs. Implementing such a mechanism would better positon the EAC to meet election officials' needs. Why GAO Did This Study An estimated 38 million Americans with disabilities were eligible to vote in the November 2020 election, according to a Rutgers University study. Federal law generally requires that all aspects of voting be accessible to people with disabilities. Recent increases in voting in person and by mail prior to Election Day have focused attention on these voting modes. GAO was asked to examine the accessibility of voting prior to Election Day and voting information. This report addresses steps taken by selected states and localities to (1) make voting prior to Election Day accessible, and the challenges in doing so; and (2) make voting information available and accessible, and the challenges in doing so. It also addresses (3) DOJ and EAC efforts to assist states and localities with voting accessibility. GAO interviewed state election and advocacy officials in seven states, and local officials in six of the states and reviewed associated documentation. These states were selected to provide variation in turnout between voters with and without disabilities, and election policies, among other factors. The results from these states and localities are not generalizable, but provide perspectives on accessibility. GAO also analyzed 2016 and 2020 data from a nationwide survey of voters, reviewed DOJ and EAC guidance and resources, and interviewed federal officials.

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