Assistant Secretary Schenker’s Travel to Oman and Saudi Arabia

Office of the Spokesperson

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker will travel to Muscat, Oman, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from December 1-7.  In Muscat, he will meet with leaders to discuss regional security and economic cooperation, as well as a way forward on the conflict in Yemen.  On December 5, the Assistant Secretary will travel to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with senior officials to discuss the Yemen conflict and Gulf unity, and to bolster economic partnerships.

 

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    In U.S GAO News
    Limited nationwide data hinder a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and costs of workplace sexual harassment. According to GAO's analysis of available federal data and literature review, the few reliable nationwide estimates of sexual harassment's prevalence vary substantially due to differences in methodology, including the question structure and time period the survey used. Moreover, the likelihood of experiencing workplace sexual harassment can vary based on an individual's demographic characteristics—such as gender, race, and age—and whether the workplace is male- or female-dominated. For example, women, younger workers, and women in male-dominated workplaces were more likely to say they experienced harassment. GAO did not find any recent cost estimates of workplace sexual harassment, but identified four broad categories of costs: health, productivity, career, and reporting and legal costs (see figure). Examples of Costs Associated with Workplace Sexual Harassment The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as part of its mission to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination, maintains data on sexual harassment and retaliation charges filed against employers, but cannot systematically analyze the relationship between the two for all charges filed nationwide. After filing sexual harassment charges or engaging in other protected activity, employees may experience retaliation, such as firing or demotion, and EEOC data show that retaliation charges constitute a growing portion of its workload. EEOC's planning documents highlight its intention to address retaliation and use charge data to inform its outreach to employers. However, while EEOC can review electronic copies of individual charges for details, such as whether a previously filed sexual harassment charge led to a retaliation charge, its data system cannot aggregate this information across all charges. Without the capacity to fully analyze trends in the relationship between sexual harassment and retaliation charges, EEOC may miss opportunities to refine its work with employers to prevent and address retaliation. Experts at GAO's roundtable said nationally representative surveys would help to improve available information on workplace sexual harassment. Expert recommendations focused on three main areas: (1) survey administration and resources, including advantages and disadvantages to various federal roles; (2) methods to collect data, such as using stand-alone surveys or adding questions to existing surveys; and (3) content of data to be collected, including employee and employer characteristics and specific costs. While many workers in the United States experience workplace sexual harassment—resulting in substantial costs to them and their employers—the extent of sexual harassment and the magnitude of its effects are not fully understood. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which reliable information is available on workplace sexual harassment's prevalence and costs. This report examines (1) what is known about the prevalence and costs of U.S. workplace sexual harassment, including the federal workforce, (2) the extent to which EEOC collects sexual harassment data, and (3) data collection approaches experts recommend to improve available information. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed EEOC data and survey data from other federal agencies, interviewed officials and reviewed documentation from multiple federal agencies, and interviewed experts on sexual harassment. GAO also convened a 2-day roundtable of experts, with assistance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and conducted a literature review. GAO recommends that EEOC assess the feasibility of systematically analyzing its data on retaliation charges and the associated protected activities, including those related to sexual harassment. EEOC did not state whether or not it concurred with GAO's recommendation. GAO continues to believe this recommendation is appropriate, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.
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  • Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Plans to Modernize Critical Depleted Uranium Capabilities and Improve Program Management
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is taking steps to establish a new supply of high-purity depleted uranium (DU) to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile. DU for fabrication of weapons components must be in high-purity metal form. Producing DU metal generally involves first converting a byproduct of uranium enrichment, known as “tails,” into a salt “feedstock,” which is then converted into metal. (See figure.) To reestablish a supply of feedstock, NNSA plans to install conversion equipment in an existing facility at DOE's Portsmouth site in Ohio. DOE initially estimated costs of $12 million to $18 million to design and install the equipment, with operations beginning in fiscal year 2022. However, in March 2020, NNSA requested an increase in conversion capacity, and an updated proposal in July 2020 estimated costs of $38 million to $48 million and a slight delay to the start of operations. NNSA plans to convert the feedstock into DU metal using a commercial vendor at a cost of about $27 million annually. Conversion of a Byproduct of Uranium Enrichment into Metal NNSA is also taking steps to reestablish and modernize DU component manufacturing capabilities, but it risks delays that could affect the timelines of nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to officials. NNSA has reestablished processes for manufacturing some DU components but not for components made with a DU-niobium alloy, a material for which NNSA has no alternative. Thus, restarting the alloying process—a complicated, resource-intensive process that has not been done in over a decade—is NNSA's top priority for DU and presents a very high risk to timely supply of components for certain nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to NNSA documents and officials. NNSA is also developing more efficient manufacturing technologies, in part because the current alloyed component process wastes a very high percentage of the materials and NNSA cannot recycle the waste. For its DU activities, NNSA has requested an increase in funding from about $61 million in fiscal year 2020 to about $131 million in fiscal year 2021. Until recently, NNSA had not managed DU activities as a coherent program in a manner fully consistent with NNSA program management policies. Since October 2019, however, NNSA has taken actions to improve program management. For example, NNSA has consolidated management and funding sources for DU activities under a new office and DU Modernization program with the goal of better coordinating across the nuclear security enterprise. Further, NNSA appointed two dedicated Federal Program Managers to gather and organize information for required program management and planning documents. High-purity DU is an important strategic material for ongoing and planned modernizations of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. However, according to NNSA estimates, NNSA has a very limited supply of DU feedstock, and its current supply of DU metal will be exhausted in the late 2020s. NNSA also does not have the full range of capabilities needed to manufacture DU into weapon components needed for modernizing the stockpile. GAO has previously reported that NNSA has experienced challenges in restarting some technical manufacturing processes. A Senate committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to examine NNSA's management of DU for nuclear stockpile modernization. GAO's report examines (1) the status of NNSA's efforts to obtain the necessary quantities of DU to meet stockpile modernization requirements; (2) the status of NNSA efforts to develop DU component manufacturing capabilities to meet stockpile modernization requirements; and (3) the extent to which NNSA is managing DU activities as a program, consistent with agency policy. GAO reviewed relevant agency documents; interviewed NNSA officials and contractor representatives; and conducted site visits at headquarters and at research, development, and production locations. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Effective Use of Fiscal Rules and Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    In fiscal year 2019, debt held by the public reached 79 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The government's fiscal response to COVID-19 combined with the severe economic contraction from the pandemic will substantially increase federal debt. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that debt held by the public will reach 98 percent of GDP by the end of fiscal year 2020. The nation's fiscal challenges will require attention once the economy has substantially recovered and public health goals have been attained. GAO has previously reported that a long-term plan is needed to put the government on a sustainable fiscal path. Other countries have used well-designed fiscal rules and targets—which constrain fiscal policy by controlling factors like expenditures or revenue—to contain excessive deficits. For example, Germany's constitution places limits on its deficits. The U.S. federal government has previously enacted fiscal rules, such as those in the Budget Control Act of 2011. However, current fiscal rules have not effectively addressed the misalignment between spending and revenues over time. GAO identified key considerations to help Congress if it were to adopt new fiscal rules and targets, as part of a long-term plan for fiscal sustainability (see table). Key Considerations for Designing, Implementing, and Enforcing Fiscal Rules and Targets Setting clear goals and objectives can anchor a country's fiscal policy. Fiscal rules and targets can help ensure that spending and revenue decisions align with agreed-upon goals and objectives. The weight given to tradeoffs among simplicity, flexibility, and enforceability depends on the goals a country is trying to achieve with a fiscal rule. In addition, there are tradeoffs between the types and combinations of rules, and the time frames over which the rules apply. The degree to which fiscal rules and targets are binding, such as being supported through a country's constitution or nonbinding political agreements, can impact their permanence, as well as the extent to which ongoing political commitment is needed to uphold them. Integrating fiscal rules and targets into budget discussions can contribute to their ongoing use and provide for a built-in enforcement mechanism. The budget process can include reviews of fiscal rules and targets. Fiscal rules and targets with limited, well-defined exemptions, clear escape clauses for events such as national emergencies, and adjustments for the economic cycle can help a country address future crises. Institutions supporting fiscal rules and targets need clear roles and responsibilities for supporting their implementation and measuring their effectiveness. Independently analyzed data and assessments can help institutions monitor compliance with fiscal rules and targets. Having clear, transparent fiscal rules and targets that a government communicates to the public and that the public understands can contribute to a culture of fiscal transparency and promote fiscal sustainability for the country. Source: GAO analysis of literature review and interviews. | GAO-20-561 Our nation faces serious challenges at a time when the federal government is highly leveraged in debt by historical norms. The imbalance between revenue and spending built into current law and policy have placed the nation on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Fiscal rules and targets can be used to help frame and control the overall results of spending and revenue decisions that affect the debt. GAO was asked to review fiscal rules and targets. This report (1) assesses the extent to which the federal government has taken action to contribute to long-term fiscal sustainability through fiscal rules and targets, and (2) identifies key considerations for designing, implementing, and enforcing fiscal rules and targets in the U.S. GAO compared current and former U.S. fiscal rules to literature on the effective use of rules and targets; reviewed CBO reports and relevant laws; and interviewed experts. GAO conducted case studies of national fiscal rules in Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. Congress should consider establishing a long-term fiscal plan that includes fiscal rules and targets, such as a debt-to-GDP target, and weigh GAO's key considerations to ensure proper design, implementation, and enforcement of these rules and targets. The Department of the Treasury and other entities provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin, at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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  • Time and Attendance: Agencies Generally Compiled Data on Misconduct, and Reported Using Various Internal Controls for Monitoring
    In U.S GAO News
    Agencies compiled a variety of data on time and attendance misconduct and fraud. Specifically, 22 of the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act) had some data on instances of time and attendance misconduct—including potential fraud—from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. However, because agencies tracked data differently, the data could not be aggregated across the 22 agencies (see table). The remaining two agencies reported that they did not compile misconduct data agency-wide but began using systems to collect this data in fiscal year 2020. Scope of Agency Data on Time and Attendance Misconduct for Fiscal Years 2015–2019 Level of data compiled; number of years included Number of agencies Data compiled 22 Agency-wide data; all 5 years included 13 Agency-wide data; less than 5 years of data 5 Component-level data; all 5 years included 4 Data not compiled 2 Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-20-640 Most (19 of 24) agency Inspectors General (IG) reported that they substantiated five or fewer allegations of time and attendance misconduct or fraud over the 5-year period. In total, these IGs substantiated 100 allegations, ranging from zero substantiated allegations at six agencies to more than 10 at four agencies. IGs stated that they might not investigate allegations for several reasons, including resource constraints and limited financial impact. In addition, 20 of 24 agencies reported that they considered fraud risks in payroll or time and attendance, either through assessments of these functions, or as part of a broader agency risk management process, including their annual agency financial reports. Also, 14 of 15 agencies that reported a risk level determined that time and attendance fraud risk was low once they accounted for existing controls. Agencies reported using various internal controls, including technologies, to monitor time and attendance, which can also prevent and detect misconduct. According to agencies and IGs, first-line supervisors have primary responsibility for monitoring employee time and attendance. Additional internal controls include policies, procedures, guidance, and training. Agencies also reported using controls built into their timekeeping system to provide reasonable assurance that time and attendance information is recorded completely and accurately. These controls include requiring supervisory approval of timecards, and using time and attendance system reports to review abnormal reporting. According to agencies and stakeholders GAO spoke with, technology for monitoring time and attendance can help prevent and detect fraud, but may not help when an employee is intent on circumventing controls. Technology alone, they said, cannot prevent fraud. Agencies and IGs also reported using a mix of other technologies to assess allegations of time and attendance misconduct, such as badge-in and -out data, video surveillance, network login information, and government-issued routers. However, agency and IG officials also stated that these technologies have limitations. For example, many of the technologies may not account for when an employee is in training or at an off-site meeting. The federal government is the nation's biggest employer, with about 2.1 million non-postal civilian employees. Misconduct is generally considered an action by an employee that impedes the efficiency of the agency's service or mission. Fraud involves obtaining something of value through willful misrepresentation. In 2018, GAO reported that, on average, less than 1 percent of the federal workforce each year is formally disciplined for misconduct—of which time and attendance misconduct is a subcomponent. Misconduct can hinder an agency's efforts to achieve its mission, and fraud poses a significant risk to the integrity of federal programs and erodes public trust in government. GAO was asked to review agencies' efforts to prevent and address time and attendance misconduct, including fraud. This report describes 1) what is known about the extent of time and attendance misconduct and potential fraud across the 24 CFO Act agencies, and 2) controls and technologies these agencies reported using to monitor employee time and attendance. GAO collected misconduct data from the 24 CFO Act agencies and their IGs. GAO also collected information on fraud risk reporting but did not independently assess agencies' fraud risk. Using a semi-structured questionnaire, GAO obtained information on controls and technologies that agencies reported using to monitor time and attendance and any challenges associated with their use. For more information, contact Chelsa Kenney Gurkin at (202) 512-2964 or gurkinc@gao.gov, or Vijay A. D'Souza at (202) 512-6240 or dsouzav@gao.gov.
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  • 2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Assess Data Quality Concerns Stemming from Recent Design Changes
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) responded to COVID-19 in multiple phases. The Bureau first suspended field operations in March 2020 for two successive 2-week periods to promote the safety of its workforce and the public. In April 2020, the Bureau extended this suspension to a total of 3 months for Non-response Follow-up (NRFU), the most labor-intensive decennial field operation that involves hundreds of thousands of enumerators going door-to-door to collect census data from households that have not yet responded to the census. At that time, the Department of Commerce also requested from Congress a 120-day extension to statutory deadlines providing census data for congressional apportionment and redistricting purposes, and the Bureau developed and implemented plans to deliver the population counts by those requested deadlines. The Bureau implemented NRFU in multiple waves between July 16 and August 9, 2020, to ensure that operational systems and procedures were ready for nationwide use. The Bureau considered COVID-19 case trends, the availability of personal protective equipment, and the availability of staff in deciding which areas to start NRFU first. On August 3, 2020, the Bureau announced that, as directed by the Secretary of Commerce, it would accelerate its operational timeframes to deliver population counts by the original statutory deadlines. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in September 2020 issued an injunction that reversed the Secretary's August 2020 directions for design changes and the Bureau's adherence to the statutory deadlines, but the Supreme Court ultimately stayed this injunction in October 2020 and allowed the Bureau to proceed with its August 2020 design changes. As a result, the Bureau shortened NRFU by over 2 weeks and reduced the time allotted for response processing after NRFU from 153 days to 77 days. GAO has previously noted that late design changes create increased risk for a quality census. The Bureau is examining ways to share quality indicators of the census in the near term and has a series of planned operational assessments, coverage measurement exercises, and data quality teams that are positioned to retrospectively study the effects of design changes made in the response to COVID-19 on census data quality. The Bureau is still in the process of updating its plans for these efforts to examine the range of operational modifications made in response to COVID-19, including the August 2020 and later changes. As part of the Bureau's assessments, it will be important to address a number of concerns GAO identified about how late changes to the census design could affect data quality. These concerns range from how the altered time frames have affected population counts during field data collection to what effects, if any, compressed and streamlined post-data collection processing of census data may have on the Bureau's ability to detect and fully address processing or other errors before releasing the apportionment and redistricting tabulations. Addressing these concerns as part of the overall 2020 assessment will help the Bureau ensure public confidence in the 2020 Census and inform future census planning efforts. As the Bureau was mailing out invitations to respond to the decennial census and was preparing for fieldwork to count nonresponding households, much of the nation began closing down to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, the Bureau has made a series of changes to the design of the census. Understanding the chronology of events and the Bureau's decisions, along with the factors and information sources that it considered, can help to shed light on the implications and tradeoffs of the Bureau's response. This report, the first in a series of retrospective reviews on the 2020 Census, examines the key changes that the Bureau made in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and how those changes affect the cost and quality of the census. GAO performed its work under the authority of the Comptroller General to conduct evaluations on the 2020 Census to assist Congress with its oversight responsibilities. GAO reviewed Bureau decision memos, interviewed Bureau officials, and consulted contemporaneous COVID-19 case data for context on the Bureau's COVID-19 response. GAO is recommending that the Bureau update and implement its assessments to address data quality concerns identified in this report, as well as any operational benefits. In its comments, the Department of Commerce agreed with GAO's findings and recommendation. The Bureau also provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov or Nick Marinos at 202-512-9342 or by email at marinosn@gao.gov.
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    Most commercial aircraft undergo voluntary inspections to ensure that galleys and lavatories are constructed and assembled to meet the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) sanitation standards, according to industry representatives. Twenty-seven percent of the inspections FDA conducted between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 found objectionable conditions. But in nearly all of these instances, the conditions identified, such as the need for additional sealant in areas where there was a gap or seam, were corrected by the airline or aircraft manufacturer during the inspection. However, some regional airline representatives told GAO that their aircraft do not receive these construction inspections, either because larger airlines with which they have contracts told them the inspections were unnecessary or because they did not believe the inspections were relevant to them. FDA provides these inspections free of charge, upon request of aircraft manufacturers or airlines, and aircraft passing inspection receive a certificate of sanitary construction. Representatives of one aircraft manufacturer said they view the certificate as beneficial because their customers see it as a guarantee that the aircraft was constructed in a way that decreases the likelihood of microbial contamination, pests, and insects. While the construction inspections are important, they are not required, and FDA does not proactively encourage airlines to request them. By developing a process for communicating directly to all U.S.-based commercial airlines, including regional airlines, to encourage them to receive construction inspections, FDA could better ensure that aircraft meet FDA sanitation standards to protect passenger health. An Airline Representative Applying Additional Sealant in Response to an FDA Inspection FDA faces several challenges in providing construction inspections and is taking steps to address these challenges. For example, the demand for inspections by manufacturers and airlines is unpredictable, and FDA inspectors are responsible for inspections at multiple locations. To help mitigate these challenges, officials we interviewed from four FDA field offices said they usually request advance notice from industry to allow the agency time to allocate the necessary resources for construction inspections. Voluntary construction inspections are the primary mechanism by which FDA oversees compliance with its required sanitation standards for the construction of aircraft galleys and lavatories. A report accompanying the House 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill included a provision for GAO to review FDA's process for ensuring proper sanitation in aircraft galleys and lavatories. This report (1) examines the extent to which aircraft are inspected to ensure compliance with FDA's sanitation standards, and (2) discusses challenges FDA faces in providing aircraft inspections and how FDA is addressing such challenges. GAO reviewed FDA guidance, interviewed FDA officials in headquarters and four selected field offices with high volumes of construction inspections, conducted site visits to meet with FDA inspectors, and interviewed representatives of selected aircraft manufacturers and airlines. GAO recommends that FDA develop a process for communicating directly with all U.S.-based commercial airlines to encourage them to request construction inspections. FDA generally agreed with our recommendation. For more information, contact Steve Morris (202) 512-3841 MorrisS@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    Although more than one-third of adults aged 50 or older have experienced divorce, few people seek and obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), according to large plan sponsors GAO surveyed. A QDRO establishes the right of an alternate payee, such as a former spouse, to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under a retirement plan upon separation or divorce. There are no nationally representative data on the number of QDROs, but plans and record keepers GAO interviewed and surveyed reported that few seek and obtain QDROs. For example, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation administered retirement benefits to about 1.6 million participants, and approved about 16,000 QDROs in the last 10 years. GAO's analysis of other survey data found about one-third of those who experienced a divorce from 2008 to 2016 and reported their former spouse had a retirement plan also reported losing a claim to that spouse's benefits. Many experts stated that some people—especially those with lower incomes—face challenges to successfully navigating the process for obtaining a QDRO, including complexity and cost. Individuals seeking a QDRO may be charged fees for preparation and review of draft orders before they are qualified as QDROs and, according to experts GAO interviewed, these fees vary widely. These experts cited concerns about QDRO review fees that they said in some cases were more than twice the amount of typical fees, and said they may discourage some from pursuing QDROs. Department of Labor (DOL) officials said the agency generally does not collect information on QDRO fees. Exploring ways to collect and analyze information from plans on fees could help DOL ensure costs are reasonable. Divorcing parties who pursue QDROs often had orders not qualified due to lacking basic information, according to plans and record keepers we surveyed (see figure). Plan Administrators and Record Keepers Reported Reasons for Not Qualifying a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) DOL provides some information to help divorcing parties pursue QDROs. However, many experts cited a lack of awareness about QDROs by the public and said DOL could do more to make resources available to divorcing parties. Without additional outreach by DOL, divorcing parties may spend unnecessary time and resources drafting orders that are not likely to be qualified, resulting in unnecessary expenditures of time and money. A domestic relations order (DRO) is a court-issued judgment, decree, or order that, when qualified by a retirement plan administrator, can divide certain retirement benefits in connection with separation or divorce and as such provide crucial financial security to a former spouse. DOL has authority to interpret QDRO requirements. GAO was asked to review the process for obtaining QDROs. This report examines what is known about (1) the number of QDRO recipients, (2) the fees and other expenses for processing QDROs, and (3) the reasons plans do not initially qualify DROs and the challenges experts identify regarding the QDRO process. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed available data, and a total of 14 responses from two surveys of large private sector plans and account record keepers, and interviewed 18 experts including practitioners who provide services to divorcing couples. GAO is recommending that DOL (1) explore ways to collect information on QDRO-related fees charged to participants or alternate payees, and (2) take steps to ensure information about the process for obtaining a QDRO is accessible. DOL generally agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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  • Higher Education: Children’s Savings Account Programs Can Help Families Build Savings and Envision College
    In U.S GAO News
    Eighty-two Children's Savings Account (CSA) programs operated and had collectively enrolled about 700,000 children in 2019, according to survey data from the nonprofit organization Prosperity Now. These programs—operated by states, cities, and other organizations—use a variety of strategies to enroll families, especially those with lower incomes, and help them save and prepare for college. For example, CSA programs enroll families by partnering with trusted organizations (e.g., schools) or through automatic enrollment, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and CSA experts. In addition, these programs help families build savings once children are enrolled by, for example, providing initial deposits or financial education. While experts GAO interviewed said savings may be modest given lower-income families' and programs' limited resources, CSA programs also aim to help lower-income families prepare for college, such as by increasing financial knowledge. There is evidence that CSA program strategies have positive short-term effects on families, including those with lower incomes. These effects include increased CSA program enrollment and participation, amounts saved, and educational expectations, based on research GAO reviewed (see figure). For example, strategies such as automatically enrolling families and providing financial contributions (e.g., initial deposits) may help CSA programs reach more families and encourage saving. Several studies of a CSA program that used both these strategies found increases in the number of children enrolled and the amount saved by enrolled families. One study found that families who were enrolled for 7 years saved over four times more of their own money, on average, than families who were not enrolled—$261 compared to $59. When including financial contributions from the CSA program, enrolled families had about six times more total savings ($1,851) compared to other families ($323). Enrollment and participation in CSA programs may also increase families' educational expectations for their children. For example, a study found that parents with children enrolled in one CSA program were nearly twice as likely to expect their children to attend college. However, information on college enrollment and other long-term effects on families participating in CSA programs is limited because most of the children have not yet reached college age. Effects of CSA Program Strategies in Three Commonly Assessed Areas Rising college costs have outpaced federal grant aid and placed more of the financial burden on students and their families. CSA programs help families, especially lower-income families, save for college—and other postsecondary education—by providing financial contributions and possibly other supports. A Senate Appropriations Committee report included provisions for GAO to examine various aspects of college savings account programs and their effectiveness. This report examines (1) the number of CSA programs and how they use strategies to help families, especially lower-income families, save and prepare for college; and (2) what is known about the effects of these strategies on families, including lower-income families. GAO reviewed 2016–2019 annual CSA program survey data collected by the nonprofit Prosperity Now. GAO also analyzed CFPB documents and the findings of 33 peer-reviewed studies from 2010 through 2019—and one working paper from 2017—that met GAO's criteria for inclusion, for example, used data from the United States. In addition, GAO interviewed officials from CFPB, the Department of Education, and four organizations that have expertise on these programs. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.
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  • GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO began 37 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of GAO's 37 requested entrance conferences for those audits, DOD scheduled 33 within 14 days and held 34 within 30 days of GAO's notification. Entrance conferences are initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff that allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. The four entrance conferences that were scheduled more than 14 days after notification were scheduled late due to either difficulties in identifying a primary action officer or aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. The three entrance conferences that were held more than 30 days after notification were scheduled late due to difficulties in aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of their receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the final of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first three quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that it sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received GAO's notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the GAO team conducting each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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