ANZAC Day

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I extend my warmest thoughts to all Australians and New Zealanders as you commemorate ANZAC Day on April 25, 2021.

As we reflect on the incredible acts of bravery and sacrifice of the Gallipoli Campaign 106 years ago, I am humbled by the debt of gratitude we all owe to our service men and women.  We honor not just the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, who served during the First World War, but all those who have responded to our nations’ calls to service to defend our shared values and freedom.

Since 1915, U.S., Australian, and New Zealand service members have served alongside one another in many global conflicts.  Through our strong and deep interpersonal ties, the partnership between our nations continues to grow each year along with the realization that the kinship our armed forces share is more important than ever in helping ensuring a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

As we remember and honor those who have fallen, I am confident that with our enduring spirit of camaraderie and shared sacrifice we will continue to overcome common challenges.  Once again, I express my sincere gratitude to all Australians and New Zealanders on this somber day.

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Doing so would be consistent with the stated goal of its own memorandum of understanding with public health and private laboratory partners and would also be consistent with other leading principles on sound planning that GAO has identified in its prior work. GAO recommends that CDC work with appropriate stakeholders to develop a plan to enhance surge capacity for laboratory testing. CDC agreed with this recommendation. CDC initially developed a flawed COVID-19 diagnostic test, which caused challenges for the rollout of testing nationwide. CDC has taken steps to improve its process for developing tests, but additional actions could help strengthen CDC’s preparedness and enhance the nation’s testing capacity during a future infectious disease outbreak. For example, establishing contracts with test kit manufacturers prior to a public health emergency could allow CDC to supplement the supply produced by CDC and aid in the rapid manufacturing and deployment of test kits during a future public health emergency. GAO recommends that CDC assess the agency’s needs for goods and services for the manufacturing and deployment of diagnostic test kits in public health emergencies, including the potential role of establishing contracts in advance of an emergency. CDC agreed with this recommendation. Strategic National Stockpile The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) contains a multibillion dollar inventory of medical countermeasures—drugs, vaccines, supplies, and other materials—to respond to a broad range of public health emergencies. The SNS can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the supply of materials may not be immediately available in affected areas during a public health emergency. 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GAO recommends that, to strengthen the current procedures for the SNS, HHS update its policies and procedures for the SNS, including related control and monitoring activities, to document the direct shipment procurement process and address payment integrity risks. Although HHS, including ASPR, did not agree with GAO regarding the need to address payment integrity risks, it stated that HHS will update its policies and procedures, including related control and monitoring activities to document the direct shipment procurement process. Domestic Medical Supply Manufacturing Before the pandemic, the U.S. generally depended on foreign suppliers for certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE), including nitrile gloves and surgical gowns. Multiple stakeholders representing manufacturers, distributors, and other purchasers noted that meaningful, transparent federal engagement with industry could enhance the resilience of domestic manufacturing and the supply chain. According to some stakeholders, such engagement with the private sector could help ramp up private investment in domestic PPE manufacturing, among other things. In January 2021, GAO reported that HHS had not developed a process for engaging with key nonfederal stakeholders and Congress for development of a supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, including the role of the SNS. GAO recommended that HHS do so, and the department generally agreed with GAO’s recommendation. However, as of May 2021, HHS had not implemented this recommendation. GAO continues to underscore that engaging with key nonfederal stakeholders—in meaningful, proactive ways to obtain their business and industry expertise—and with Congress is critical for developing strategies to build a sustainable domestic medical supply manufacturing base. HHS COVID-19 Funding As of May 31, 2021, Congress had appropriated to HHS approximately $484 billion in COVID-19 funds in six relief laws. The majority of HHS’s appropriations from the first five relief laws had been obligated and about half had been expended. Specifically, as of May 31, 2021, the department reported the following (see figure): Of the $324 billion appropriated in the first five COVID-19 relief laws, about $253 billion had been obligated (about 78 percent) and about $168 billion had been expended (about 52 percent). Of the $160 billion appropriated in the sixth law, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), about $75 billion had been obligated (about 47 percent) and about $3 billion had been expended (about 2 percent). HHS’s Reported COVID-19 Relief Appropriations, Obligations, and Expenditures from COVID-19 Relief Laws, as of May 31, 2021 The percentage of obligations and expenditures varied across selected COVID-19 response activities for a variety of reasons, including the nature of the activities, their planned uses, and the timing of the funds provided through the six COVID-19 relief laws. HHS uses spend plans to communicate information about its COVID-19 spending. The first five COVID-19 relief laws generally require the department to develop, update, and provide these spend plans to Congress every 60 days. The sixth relief law, ARPA, does not require a spend plan, but according to HHS officials, the department is preparing a consolidated plan that captures the first five relief laws and a separate spend plan for funding provided through ARPA. The consolidated spend plan is under internal review at HHS and the ARPA spend plan is still being finalized. As of May 2021, GAO had received and reviewed a total of 15 spend plans—the original spend plans and subsequent updates—provided by HHS. GAO found that the most current spend plans generally do not include time frames for obligating the remaining funds, which is useful information for oversight and informing future funding decisions by Congress. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget to federal agencies, including HHS, noted the importance of spending transparency and regular reporting to help safeguard taxpayer dollars. GAO recommends that HHS communicate information about, and facilitate oversight of, the department’s use of COVID-19 relief funds by providing projected time frames for its planned spending in the spend plans it submits to Congress. HHS partially concurred with the recommendation and stated that the department would aim to incorporate some time frames on planned spending where that information may be available such as time frames for select grants to states. Higher Education Grants The Department of Education (Education) has faced inherent challenges that increase the risk of improper payments for its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants to institutions of higher education to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. For example, funding needed to be processed and distributed expeditiously because of health and economic threats to institutions of higher education posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO tested Education’s procedures for approving and processing HEERF grants through a sample of obligations and found that the department had not effectively designed and implemented procedures needed to identify erroneous obligations after awarding the grants. GAO estimated that for 5.5 percent of schools receiving HEERF grants (about 262 of 4,764 schools in GAO’s sample), Education awarded grants that exceeded the amounts allocated—including three instances in GAO’s sample for which Education obligated $20 million more than was allocated. 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This amount includes $150 billion that the CARES Act appropriated to Treasury for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) in March 2020 as well as $350 billion that ARPA appropriated to Treasury for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF) in March 2021. Recipients can use CRF payments to offset costs related to either the pandemic’s direct effects (e.g., public health needs) or its indirect effects (e.g., harm to individuals or businesses as a result of COVID-19-related closures). The CSLFRF provides payments to these recipients to cover a broader range of costs stemming from the fiscal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Single Audit Act establishes requirements for states, localities, Indian tribes, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and nonprofit organizations that receive federal awards to undergo single audits of those awards annually when their expenditures meet a certain dollar threshold. Single audits are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard the use of the billions of dollars distributed through the CRF and CSLFRF. Auditors who conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which provides guidelines and policy for performing single audits. After consultation with federal agencies, OMB annually updates and issues the supplement. Auditors have reported that the timing of the supplement is critical in allowing them to effectively plan their work. The timely issuance of single audit guidance is critical to ensuring timely completion and reporting of single audits to inform the federal government about actions needed to help safeguard the use of the billions of dollars distributed through the CRF and CSLFRF. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue timely and sufficient single audit guidance for auditing recipients’ uses of payments from the CSLFRF. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Economic Impact Payments The CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and ARPA authorized Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue three rounds of economic impact payments (EIP) as direct payments to help individuals alleviate financial stress due to the pandemic. (See figure.) To publicize information about how to file a tax return with the IRS to receive an EIP, IRS partners with organizations that work with communities that may not traditionally interact with IRS, such as lower-income families, senior citizens, veterans, tribal communities, and families with mixed-immigration status. According to officials from IRS partner organizations, ensuring eligible nonfilers receive their payments continues to be a challenge. Partners also told GAO their outreach efforts to nonfilers could be more effective if the partners had current data that could help identify specific communities of nonfilers who may need assistance. Total Number and Amount of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) Disbursed, Rounds 1, 2, and 3, as of May 28, 2021 In January 2021, Treasury began analyzing nearly 9 million notices it had sent to nonfilers who may be eligible for the first round of EIP payments. However, Treasury does not plan to complete this analysis until fall 2021, more than 6 months after the third round of EIP payments began to be issued. This timing would limit the findings’ usefulness for informing EIP outreach efforts. By waiting to complete the analysis, Treasury and IRS are missing an opportunity to identify communities that may have a higher number of nonfilers and to use that information to inform their outreach efforts as well as the efforts of their outreach partners.GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, release interim findings on the effectiveness of the notices it sent in September 2020 to potentially EIP-eligiblenonfilers; incorporate that analysis into IRS outreach efforts as appropriate; and then, if necessary, release an update based on new analysis after the 2021 filing season. Treasury neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Tax Relief for Businesses To provide liquidity to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES Act and other COVID-19 relief laws included tax measures to reduce certain tax obligations, including measures related to net operating loss carryback claims. In some cases, these reductions of obligations led to cash refunds. The Internal Revenue Code and the CARES Act generally require IRS to issue certain refunds within 90 days from the date when a complete application for a tentative carryback adjustment is filed or 90 days from the last day of the month in which the return is due, whichever is later. IRS data show that the agency is not meeting the statutory refund requirement for these relief measures and that as of May 1, 2021, the average processing time for refunds was 154 days, excluding additional time for final processing and distribution. IRS officials said it is taking longer to process returns because IRS facilities that process paper returns continue to operate at reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing. In the meantime, transparent communication about these issues could help taxpayers know when to expect their refunds. Specifically, an explanation on IRS’s website that processing times for tentative refunds may exceed the expected 90 days because of service disruptions would provide taxpayers with more accurate information and expectations for receiving a refund. GAO recommends that IRS clearly communicate on its website that there are delays beyond the statutory 90-day timeline in processing tentative refunds. IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. 2021 Tax Filing Season IRS is experiencing delays in processing certain returns received in 2021, resulting in extended time frames for processing returns for some taxpayers. IRS reported that it is taking longer than usual to manually review some of these returns. Specifically, as of the end of the 2021 filing season, IRS had about 25.5 million unprocessed individual and business returns, including about 1.2 million returns from its 2020 backlog, and 13.7 million returns that it had suspended because of errors. IRS staff must manually review these returns with errors. IRS typically has unprocessed returns in its inventory at the end of the filing season, but not to this extent. For example, at the end of the 2019 filing season, IRS had 8.3 million unprocessed individual and business returns, including 2.7 million returns suspended for errors. IRS’s annual tax filing activities include processing more than 150 million individual and business tax returns electronically or on paper. With significantly more returns currently being held for manual review than in prior years, more taxpayers are trying to get information about the status of their returns and refunds. However, taxpayers have had difficulty obtaining status updates on their refunds from IRS, either by phone or online. IRS’s website does not contain all of the relevant information regarding delays in processing 2021 returns and issuing taxpayers’ refunds. Additionally, IRS’s automated message on its toll-free telephone line for individual taxpayers has not been updated to explain refund delays or to include any other alerts associated with the 2021 filing season.GAO recommends that IRS update relevant pages of its website and, if feasible, add alerts to its toll-free telephone lines to more clearly and prominently explain the nature and extent of individual refund delays occurring for returns that taxpayers filed in 2021. IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. This report contains additional recommendations related to disseminating information related to leave benefits for employees. Why GAO Did This Study As of mid-June 2021, the U.S. had about 33.4 million reported cases of COVID-19 and about 593,000 reported deaths, according to CDC. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions from the pandemic. Six relief laws, including the CARES Act, had been enacted as of May 31, 2021, to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of May 31, 2021, of the $4.7 trillion appropriated by these six laws for COVID-19 relief—including about $1.6 trillion appropriated by ARPA, which was enacted in March 2021—the federal government had obligated a total of $3.5 trillion and had expended $3.0 trillion, as reported by federal agencies. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities. 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    This is the Arabic language highlights associated with GAO-21-332, which issued on Monday, March 29. لماذا أجرى مكتب مساءلة الحكومة ھذه الدراسة قدمت الحكومة الأمريكية منذ عام 1993 أكثر من 6.3 مليار دولار على شكل مساعدات ثنائية للفلسطينيين في الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة. ووفقا للوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية ووزارة الخارجية الأمريكية، تم إيقاف تمويل صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي (ESF) منذ يناير/ كانون الثاني 2019 بسبب مجموعة من الإجراءات السياساتية والقانونية. إن الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية مسؤولة بشكل رئيسي عن إدارة المساعدات المقدمة من صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي للضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة وضمان الامتثال لسياساته وإجراءاته الخاصة بمكافحة الإرهاب. تتضمن قوانين التخصيص للسنوات المالية 2015-2019 أحكاماً لمكتب مساءلة الحكومة لمراجعة استخدامات أموال صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي الخاصة ببرنامج الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة. كما طُلِبَ من مكتب مساءلة الحكومة مُراجعة كيف يؤثر وقف هذه المساعدات على موارد التوظيف في الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية. يدرس هذا التقرير (1) حالة مساعدات صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي المقدمة من الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية للبرنامج في السنوات المالية 2015-2019، وذلك اعتباراً من 30 سبتمبر/ أيلول 2020؛ (2) الخطوات التي اتخذتها الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية تجاه المشاريع الجارية ومستويات التوظيف عندما توقفت مساعدات صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي؛ (3) مدى امتثال الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية لسياساتها وإجراءاتها الخاصة بمكافحة الإرهاب للسنوات المالية 2015-2019. وقد راجع مكتب مساءلة الحكومة القوانين وسياسات الوكالة وإجراءاتها ووثائقها وبياناتها وقام بتقييم عيّنة قابلة للتعميم من 245 من الجهات الفرعية الحاصلة على المنح للتأكد من الامتثال لسياسات واجراءات الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية الخاصة بمكافحة الإرهاب. النتائج التي توصل إليها مكتب مساءلة الحكومة قدمت الحكومة الأمريكية مساعدات للفلسطينيين في الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة لتعزيز السلام في الشرق الأوسط منذ عام 1993، جزئيا من خلال البرامج التي تُديرها الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية ويمولها صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي. وقد توقف هذا التمويل منذ 31 يناير/ كانون الثاني 2019. وبحلول 30 سبتمبر/ أيلول 2020، كانت الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية قد انفقت معظم أموال صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي التي تم تخصيصها لبرنامج الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة في السنوات المالية 2015-2019. على وجه التحديد، انفقت الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية 487.3 مليون دولار من أصل 540.4 مليون دولار من مساعدات صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي للبرنامج في السنتين الماليتين 2015 و2016. وأعادت إدارة الرئيس ترامب برمجة الـ 230.1 مليون دولار التي كانت مخصصة للسنة المالية 2017 لبرامج أخرى ولم تخصص مبالغ للسنتين الماليتين 2018 و2019. وأعلنت السلطة الفلسطينية في شهر ديسمبر/ كانون الأول 2018 بأنها لن تقبل المساعدة بعد 31 يناير/ كانون الثاني 2019 بسبب مخاوف لديها بشأن قانون توضيح مكافحة الإرهاب (Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act) لعام 2018. ووفقاً لمسؤولين من وزارة الخارجية الأمريكية والوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية فإن القانون يتضمن أحكاماً يمكن أن تجعل الجهات المتلقية للمساعدات من صندوق الدعم الاقتصادي خاضعة لدعاوى قضائية أمريكية. وفي شهر يناير/ كانون الثاني 2021، أعلنت إدارة الرئيس بايدن نيتها إستئناف تقديم المساعدات الأمريكية للبرامج في الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة. اتخذت الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية عدة خطوات بشأن المشاريع الجارية ومستويات التوظيف في بعثتها في الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة بعد توقف تقديم المساعدة للبرنامج اعتبارا من 31 يناير/ كانون الثاني 2019. وقد أوقفت الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية 27 مشروعاً جارياً. كما توقفت الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية عن إعادة شغل الوظائف المصرح بها في بعثتها في الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة، واقترحت تخفيضا في قوة العمل، ووضعت حوالي 50 موظفا في مَهام مؤقتة لأنشطة أخرى. ووفقا للوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية، فإنه اعتبارا من شهر مايو/ أيار 2019، طلبت لجان الكونجرس من الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية تعليق تخفيض الوظائف المُخطط له انتظاراً لاستمرار المداولات. وفي حين أن الوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية لم تنهِ عمل موظفيها، إلا أن عدد موظفي البعثة انخفض بنسبة 39 بالمئة من ديسمبر/ كانون الأول 2017 وحتى سبتمبر/ أيلول 2020 بسبب مُغادرة الموظفين للبعثة وعمليات النقل والاستقالات. تُحدد سياسات وإجراءات مكافحة الإرهاب للوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية والخاصة بالضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة ثلاثة متطلبات لمُتلقي التمويل من 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    What GAO Found The Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated more than $2.7 billion for rule of law assistance from fiscal years 2014 through 2018—the latest available data as of GAO's review. Of that, State allocated over $2 billion and USAID allocated over $700 million. State and USAID funded some of these programs through the Department of Justice (DOJ). Rule of law assistance funded a variety of activities including improving justice institutions, legal reform, and promoting a culture of lawfulness. The agencies implemented these programs globally but allocated most funds to the Western Hemisphere and Afghanistan. Global Distribution of Bilateral Rule of Law Assistance Allocations, Fiscal Years 2014–2018 After Congress appropriates funding, agencies determine rule of law allocations through the foreign assistance budget process. State and USAID identify rule of law as a goal in agency-wide strategic documents and hold an annual interagency roundtable regarding rule of law assistance to determine those allocations. Rule of law assistance is guided by national and agency-, bureau-, and mission-specific strategies that are linked to the national security goals of the United States. These strategies discuss the agencies' roles and responsibilities in improving the rule of law. State and USAID guidance highlights the importance of coordination between agencies as they design and implement rule of law assistance, but not all agencies are included in some of the key coordination mechanisms used in four countries GAO selected for review. Agency officials in the selected countries cited the use of some informal and formal coordination practices, such as the use of law enforcement working groups, but State policy does not require all entities that may be involved in rule of law assistance to participate in these working groups. For example, in three of the four selected countries, officials described coordinating rule of law assistance, in part, through these working groups, which may not include critical agencies such as USAID. According to State policy, these working groups are designed to achieve other goals using agencies and offices that are not involved in providing rule of law assistance. Without verifying that interagency coordination includes all relevant entities, missions may not know whether they are fully leveraging interagency resources or ensuring that they do not duplicate or overlap rule of law assistance. Why GAO Did This Study Rule of law strengthens protection of fundamental rights, ensures a robust civil society, and serves as a foundation for democratic governance and economic growth. According to State, countries with a strong rule of law provide a more level playing field for American businesses to engage and compete, and countries with a weak rule of law can potentially export transnational threats and economic insecurity, undermining the interests of the United States. GAO was asked to review U.S. rule of law assistance around the world. This report examines (1) how State and USAID allocated funds for this assistance in fiscal years 2014 through 2018, (2) how agencies strategically plan and allocate this assistance globally, and (3) what processes agencies have to design, implement, and coordinate this assistance in selected countries. GAO reviewed State, USAID, and DOJ documents and data for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 and interviewed officials in Colombia, Kosovo, Liberia, the Philippines, and Washington, D.C. GAO chose these countries on the basis of funding amounts and other factors.
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  • Housing: Preliminary Analysis of Homeownership Trends for Nine Cities
    In U.S GAO News
    Following a decade of decline, including after the 2007–2009 financial crisis, the national homeownership rate started to recover in 2016 (see figure). Homeownership Rate in the United States, 1990–2018 Note: Shaded areas indicate U.S. recessions. However, not all Americans have benefitted from the recovery, even in housing markets that appear to be thriving. GAO examined homeownership trends during 2010–2018 in nine core-based statistical areas (cities)—Chicago; Cleveland; Columbia, South Carolina; Denver; Houston; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. In summary, among the nine cities reviewed, GAO found that during 2010–2018: The homeownership rate declined or was flat in all cities. The homeownership rate significantly declined in Chicago, Cleveland, and Houston and remained statistically unchanged in the other cities. Average home prices grew in all cities, but at considerably different rates. For example, real house prices increased significantly in Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle but much less in Chicago, Cleveland, and Columbia. The homeowner vacancy rate dropped in all cities, indicating growing constraints on the housing supply. Most significantly, by 2018, the three cities with the largest house price increases—Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle—all had homeowner vacancy rates below 1 percent and the three lowest rental vacancy rates (below 5 percent), indicating more severe constraints on supply. Most cities became denser, and some also expanded outward. Cities such as Houston and Washington, D.C., both became denser (added more housing units in developed areas) and expanded outward (added housing units in previously undeveloped areas), while cities such as Seattle and Denver grew largely by adding more density to already high-density areas. Chicago, and Pittsburgh became less dense, as limited growth came largely through outward expansion. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly higher-income. All nine cities saw growth in the estimated number and percentage of households reporting annual incomes of $150,000 or more (the highest income category reported by Census). Similarly, with the exception of Columbia, real median incomes of borrowers increased in the selected cities. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly older and more diverse. Most cities saw growth in homeownership among households aged 60 and older, often with corresponding decreases among younger owners. Additionally, loan originations by minority borrowers increased in all cities. GAO's analysis of homeownership trends in these nine cities during 2010–2018 illustrates two main points: (1) Cities grew differently and accommodated growth to differing degrees, and (2) who owns and who can buy a home differs by location and type of buyer, sometimes substantially. Historically, owning a home has been one of the primary ways Americans built wealth and financial security. This is one reason why the availability and price of housing is consequential to both households and policymakers. GAO was asked to assess the state of the current domestic housing market and this report, one in a series, focuses on homeownership trends. To conduct this work, GAO used data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data (loan and application data filed by mortgage lenders), among other sources, to identify trends in nine selected cities during 2010–2018, the most current data available at the time of GAO's review. This report examines trends prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and does not account for the profound effect it likely will have on homeowners. GAO has ongoing work that will examine implementation of foreclosure and eviction protections authorized in recent legislation. GAO makes no recommendations in this report. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or garciadiazd@gao.gov.
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    Thirteen individuals have been charged so far in federal court in the District of Columbia related to crimes committed at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. In addition to those who have been charged, additional complaints have been submitted and investigations are ongoing.
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  • Facial Recognition Technology: Privacy and Accuracy Issues Related to Commercial Uses
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    Market research and other data suggest that the market for facial recognition technology has increased in the number and types of businesses that use it since GAO's 2015 report on the topic (GAO-15-621 ). For example, newer functions of the technology identified by stakeholders and literature included authorizing payments and tracking and monitoring attendance of students, employees, or those attending events. Functions of Facial Recognition Technology Accuracy. Although the accuracy of facial recognition technology has increased dramatically in recent years, differences in performance exist for certain demographic groups. National Institute of Standards and Technology tests found that facial recognition technology generally performs better on lighter-skin men and worse on darker-skin women, and does not perform as well on children and elderly adults. These differences could result in more frequent misidentification for certain demographics, such as misidentifying a shopper as a shoplifter when comparing the individual's image against a data set of known shoplifters. There is no consensus on what causes performance differences, including physical factors (such as lighting) or factors related to the creation or operation of the technology. However, stakeholders and literature identified various methods that could help mitigate differences in performance among demographic groups. Privacy. Stakeholders and literature identified concerns related to privacy, such as the inability of individuals to remain anonymous in public or the use of the technology without individuals' consent. Facial recognition technology may collect or store facial images, posing varying levels of risk. Some federal and state laws and the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation impose requirements on U.S. companies related to facial recognition technology. However, as we reported in 2015, there is no comprehensive federal privacy law governing the collection, use, and sale of personal information by private-sector companies. Some stakeholders, including privacy and industry groups, have developed voluntary frameworks that seek to address privacy concerns. Most of these frameworks were consistent with internationally recognized principles for protecting the privacy and security of personal information. However, U.S. companies are not required to follow these voluntary frameworks. Facial recognition technology can verify or identify an individual from a facial image. Advocacy groups and others have raised privacy concerns related to private companies' use of the technology, as well as concerns that higher error rates among some demographic groups could lead to disparate treatment. GAO was asked to review the commercial use of facial recognition technology and related accuracy and privacy issues. Among other issues, this report examines how companies use the technology, its accuracy and how accuracy differs across demographic groups, and how privacy issues are addressed in laws and industry practices. GAO analyzed laws; reviewed literature and company documentation; interviewed federal agency officials; and interviewed representatives from companies, industry groups, and privacy groups. GAO also reviewed selected privacy frameworks, chosen based on expert recommendations and research. GAO reiterates its previous suggestion from a 2013 report ( GAO-13-663 ) that Congress consider strengthening the consumer privacy framework to reflect changes in technology and the marketplace. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.
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  • Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request: U.S. Government Accountability Office
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    In fiscal year (FY) 2020, GAO’s work yielded $77.6 billion in financial benefits, a return of about $114 for every dollar invested in GAO. We also identified 1,332 other benefits that led to improved services to the American people, strengthened public safety, and spurred program and operational improvements across the government. In addition, GAO reported on 35 areas designated as high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or because they face economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. In FY 2020 GAO’s High Risk Series products resulted in 168 reports, 26 testimonies, $54.2 billion in financial benefits, and 606 other benefits. In this year of GAO’s centennial, GAO’s FY 2022 budget request seeks to lay the foundation for the next 100 years to help Congress improve the performance of government, ensure transparency, and save taxpayer dollars. GAO’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget requests $744.3 million in appropriated funds and uses $50.0 million in offsets and supplemental appropriations. These resources will support 3,400 full-time equivalents (FTEs). We will continue our hiring focus on boosting our Science and Technology and appropriations law capacity. GAO will also maintain entry-level and intern positions to address succession planning and to fill other skill gaps. These efforts will help ensure that GAO recruits and retains a talented and diverse workforce to meet the priority needs of the Congress. In FY 2022, we will continue to support Congressional oversight across the wide array of government programs and operations. In particular, our science and technology experts will continue to expand our focus on rapidly evolving issues. Hallmarks of GAO’s work include: (1) conducting technology assessments at the request of the Congress; (2) providing technical assistance to Congress on science and technology matters; (3) continuing the development and use of technical guides to assess major federal acquisitions and technology programs in areas such as technology readiness, cost estimating, and schedule planning; and (4) supporting Congressional oversight of federal science programs. With our requested funding, GAO will also bolster capacity to review the challenges of complex and growing cyber security developments. In addition, GAO will continue robust analyses of factors behind rising health care costs, including costs associated with the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. Internally, the funding requested will make possible priority investments in our information technology that include the ability to execute transformative plans to protect data and systems. In FY 2022 GAO will continue to implement efforts to increase our flexibility to evolve IT services as our mission needs change, strengthen information security, increase IT agility, and maintain compliance. We will increase speed and scalability to deliver capabilities and services to the agency. This request will also help address building infrastructure, security requirements, as well as tackle long deferred maintenance, including installing equipment to help protect occupants from dangerous bacteria, viruses, and mold. As reported in our FY 2020 financial statements, GAO’s backlog of deferred maintenance on its Headquarters Building had grown to over $82 million as of fiscal year-end. Background GAO’s mission is to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. We provide nonpartisan, objective, and reliable information to Congress, federal agencies, and to the public, and recommend improvements across the full breadth and scope of the federal government’s responsibilities. In fiscal year 2020. GAO issued 691 products, and 1,459 new recommendations. Congress used our work extensively to inform its decisions on key fiscal year 2020 and 2021 legislation. Since fiscal year 2000, GAO’s work has resulted in over: $1.2 trillion dollars in financial benefits; and 25,328 program and operational benefits that helped to change laws, improve public services, and promote sound management throughout government. As GAO recognizes 100 years of non-partisan, fact-based service, we remain committed to providing program and technical expertise to support Congress in overseeing the executive branch; evaluating government programs, operations and spending priorities; and assessing information from outside parties.
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  • COVID-19: Urgent Actions Needed to Better Ensure an Effective Federal Response
    In U.S GAO News
    The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the global economy, stability, and security. According to federal data, the U.S. had an average of 116,000 new COVID-19 cases per day from November 1 through November 12, 2020. Between January 2020 and October 2020, at least 237,000 more deaths occurred from all causes, including COVID-19, than would normally be expected, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further, while the economy has improved since July 2020, many people remain unemployed, including both those temporarily laid off and those who have permanently lost their job (see figure). Also, more households have become seriously delinquent on mortgage payments during the pandemic. In addition, GAO’s review of academic studies suggests the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity. Number of Unemployed Workers Permanently Losing Jobs and on Temporary Layoff, January 2019 through October 2020 In response to the pandemic and its effects, Congress and the administration have taken a series of actions to protect the health and well-being of Americans. However, as the end of 2020 approaches, urgent actions are needed to help ensure an effective federal response on a range of public health and economic issues. Medical Supplies While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have made numerous efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain, shortages of certain supplies persist. In September 2020, GAO reported that ongoing constraints with the availability of certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. In October 2020, GAO surveyed public health and emergency management officials from all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories (hereafter states) and found the following: Testing supplies. Most states reported no shortages of swabs or transport media, but about one-third to one-half reported shortages in other types of testing supplies (see figure). State-Reported Testing Supply Shortages, as of October 2020   GAO surveyed officials in the 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and the five U.S. territories and received responses from 47 of the 56 locations, representing 41 states; Washington, D.C.; and all five territories. Not all states responded to every question. PPE. The majority of states that responded were mainly able to fulfill requests for supplies from organizations and entities within their states. However, availability constraints continue with certain PPE, such as nitrile gloves. Supplies for future vaccine needs. About one-third of states that responded stated that they were “greatly” or “completely” concerned about having sufficient vaccine-related supplies to administer COVID-19 vaccines. An additional 21 states indicated that they were moderately concerned. In September 2020, GAO recommended that HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic; immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain; and devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security disagreed with these recommendations, noting, among other things, the work that they had done to manage the medical supply chain and increase supply availability. In November 2020, HHS repeated its disagreement with GAO’s recommendations and noted its efforts to meet the needs of states. In light of the surge in COVID-19 cases, along with reported shortages, including GAO’s nationwide survey findings, GAO underscores the critical imperative for HHS and FEMA to implement GAO’s September 2020 recommendations. Vaccines and Therapeutics In a recent GAO report (GAO-21-207), GAO found that there has been significant federal investment to accelerate vaccine and therapeutic development, such as through Operation Warp Speed, a partnership between the Department of Defense and HHS that aims to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Separately, Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA), which allow for the emergency use of medical products without Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval or licensure provided certain statutory criteria are met, have also been used for therapeutics. As of November 9, 2020, FDA had made four therapeutics available to treat COVID-19 through EUAs. In that report, GAO recommended that FDA identify waysto uniformly discloseinformation from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO’s goal of transparency. COVID-19 Testing Guidance HHS and its component agencies have taken several key actions to document a federal COVID-19 testing strategy and provide testing-related agency guidance. However, this guidance has not always been transparent, raising the risk of confusion and eroding trust in government. In particular, while it is expected that guidance will change as new information about the novel virus evolves, frequent changes to general CDC testing guidelines have not always been communicated with a scientific explanation. GAO recommends that HHS ensure that CDC clearly discloses the scientific rationale for any change to testing guidelines at the time the changeis made. HHS concurred with this recommendation. Types of COVID-19 Testing Approaches Nursing Home Care In September 2020, the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes (established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in June 2020) made 27 recommendations to CMS on topics such as testing, PPE, and visitation. CMS released a response to the commission that broadly outlined the actions it has taken to date, but it has not fully addressed the commission’s recommendations or provided an implementation plan to track and report progress toward implementing them. While CMS is not obligated to implement all of the commission’s recommendations, the agency has not indicated any areas where it does not plan to take action. GAO recommends that CMS quickly develop a plan that further details how it intends to respond to and implement, as appropriate, the commission’s recommendations. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation and said it would refer to and act upon the commission’s recommendations, as appropriate. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) partners with state governments to provide nursing home care to more than 20,000 veterans in over 150 state veterans homes. In March 2020, VA instructed its contractor to stop in-person inspections due to concerns about COVID-19. As of September 2020, these inspections had not resumed, leaving veterans at risk of receiving poor quality care. Additionally, VA does not collect timely data on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths occurring at each state veterans home, hindering its ability to monitor and take steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in these homes. GAO recommends that VA (1) develop a plan to resume inspections of state veterans homes, which may include using in-person, a mix of virtual and in-person, or fully virtual inspections, and (2) collect timely data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in each state veterans home. VA concurred with both recommendations. Economic Impact Payments The CARES Act included economic impact payments (EIP) for eligible individuals to address financial stress due to the pandemic. As of September 30, 2020, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had disbursed over 165.8 million payments to individuals, totaling $274.7 billion. According to IRS data, more than 26 million non-filers—individuals who do not normally file a tax return and may be hard to reach—received a payment (see figure). However, everyone that was supposed to receive a payment was not reached. Starting in September 2020, IRS sent notices to nearly 9 million individuals who had not yet received an EIP. Number of Filers and Non-Filers Issued an Economic Impact Payment, as of September 30, 2020 Treasury and IRS officials did not plan to track and analyze the outcomes of their EIP notice mailing effort until 2021. The lack of timely analysis deprives Treasury and IRS of data they could use to assess the effectiveness of their notice strategy and redirect resources as needed to other outreach and communication efforts. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, should begin tracking and publicly reporting the number of individuals who were mailed an EIP notification letter and filed for and received an EIP, and use that information to inform ongoing outreach and communications efforts. Treasury agreed with this recommendation. Unemployment Insurance The CARES Act created three federally funded temporary programs for unemployment insurance (UI) that expanded benefit eligibility and enhanced benefits. In its weekly news releases, the Department of Labor (DOL) publishes the number of weeks of unemployment benefits claimed by individuals in each state during the period and reports the total count as the number of people claiming benefits nationwide. DOL officials told GAO that they have traditionally used this number as a proxy for the number of individuals claiming benefits because they were closely related. However, the number of claims has not been an accurate estimate of the number of individuals claiming benefits during the pandemic because of backlogs in processing a historic volume of claims, among other data issues. Without an accurate accounting of the number of individuals who are relying on these benefits in as close to real time as possible, policymakers may be challenged to respond to the crisis at hand. GAO recommends that DOL (1) revise its weekly news releases to clarify that in the current unemployment environment, the numbers it reports for weeks of unemployment claimed do not accurately estimate the number of unique individuals claiming benefits, and (2) pursue options to report the actual number of distinct individuals claiming benefits, such as by collecting these already available data from states. DOL agreed with the recommendation to revise its weekly news releases, and partially agreed with the recommendation to pursue options to report the actual number of distinct individuals claiming benefits. Tax Relief for Businesses To provide liquidity to businesses during the pandemic, the CARES Act included tax measures to help businesses receive cash refunds or other reductions to tax obligations. Some taxpayers need to file an amended income tax return to take advantage of these provisions; at the same time, IRS faces an increase in mail and paper processing delays due to the pandemic, which may delay the timely processing of this paperwork and issuance of these refunds. GAO recommends that IRS update its form instructions to include information on its electronic filing capability for tax year 2019. IRS agreed with this recommendation. Program Integrity Although the extent and significance of improper payments associated with COVID-19 relief funds have not yet been determined, the impact of these improper payments, including those that are the result of fraud, could be substantial. For example, numerous individuals are facing federal charges related to attempting to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), UI program, or other federal programs, and many more investigations are underway. To address the risk of improper payments due to fraud and other causes, GAO previously recommended the following: The Small Business Administration (SBA) should develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in the PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with Treasury, should issue timely guidance for auditing new and existing COVID-19-related programs, including Coronavirus Relief Fund payments, as soon as possible. Audits of entities that receive federal funds are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds.Also, Congress should amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to prevent payments to ineligible individuals. GAO maintains that implementing these recommendations fully is critically important in order to protect federal funds from improper payments resulting from fraud and other risks. In this report, GAO also identifies new concerns about the timely reporting of improper payments for COVID-19 programs. The COVID-19 relief laws appropriated over a trillion dollars that may be spent through newly established programs to fund response and recovery efforts, such as SBA’s PPP. However, unlike the supplemental appropriations acts that provided for disaster relief related to the 2017 hurricanes and California wildfires, the COVID-19 relief laws did not require agencies to deem programs receiving these relief funds that expend more than a threshold amount as "susceptible to significant improper payments." In addition, based on OMB guidance, improper payment estimates associated with new COVID-19 programs established in March 2020 may not be reported until November 2022, in some instances. GAO is making two recommendations: OMB should develop and issueguidance directingagencies to include COVID-19 relief funding with associated key risks, such as changes to existing program eligibility rules, as part of their improper payment estimation methodologies, especially for existing programs that received COVID-19 relief funding. SBA should expeditiously estimate improper payments and report estimates and error rates for PPP due to concerns about the possibility that improper payments, including those resulting from fraudulent activity, could be widespread. GAO is also suggesting that Congress consider, in any future legislation appropriating COVID-19 relief funds, designating all executive agency programs and activities making more than $100 million in payments from COVID-19 relief funds as “susceptible to significant improper payments.” Aviation Assistance and Preparedness GAO identified concerns about efforts to monitor CARES Act financial assistance to the aviation sector. Treasury’s Payroll Support Program (PSP) provides $32 billion in payroll support payments and loans to help the aviation industry retain its employees. While recipients have begun submitting required compliance reports, Treasury has not yet finalized a monitoring system to identify and respond to the risk of noncompliance with PSP agreement terms, potentially hindering its ability to detect program misuse in a timely manner. GAO is recommending that Treasury finish developing and implement acompliance monitoringplan that identifies and responds to risks in the PSP. Treasury neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation, but committed to reviewing additional measures that may further enhance its compliance monitoring and ensure that PSP funds are used as intended. In June 2020, GAO suggested that Congress take legislative action to require the Secretary of Transportation to work with relevant agencies, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security, and other stakeholders, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to limit the spread of communicable diseasethreats and minimize traveland trade impacts. GAO originally made this recommendation to the Department of Transportation in December 2015. GAO urges Congress to take swift action to require such a plan, without which the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to ongoing and future communicable disease events. As of November 12, 2020, the U.S. had over 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of September 30, 2020, of the $2.6 trillion appropriated by these acts, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.8 trillion and expended $1.6 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials. GAO also sent a survey to public health and emergency management officials in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the five U.S. territories regarding medical supplies. GAO is making 11 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. GAO is also raising one matter for congressional consideration. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202)512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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