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Cybersecurity and Informtion 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Former Florida Doctor Sentenced to Six Years In Federal Prison for $20 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

Veterans Affairs - OIG -

Richard Davidson, a former doctor from Delray Beach, Florida, was sentenced to six years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud. In 2018, Davidson and his conspirators established several durable medical equipment supply companies in the names of straw owners. By concealing the companies’ true ownership, the conspirators were able to submit high volumes of illegal claims, resulting in more than $10 million in payments from Medicare and CHAMPVA.

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.


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