Attorney General Launches Review to Reinvigorate the Justice Department’s Commitment to Access to Justice

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today announced that the Justice Department will immediately begin work to reinvigorate its Office for Access to Justice and to restore the Justice Department’s role in leading efforts across government to seek and secure meaningful access to justice.

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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid, on average, 54 percent less per unit for a sample of 399 brand-name and generic prescription drugs in 2017 as did Medicare Part D, even after accounting for applicable rebates and price concessions in the Part D program. GAO also found that 233 of the 399 drugs in the sample were at least 50 percent cheaper in VA than in Medicare, and 106 drugs were at least 75 percent cheaper. Only 43 drugs were cheaper in Medicare than in VA. The percent difference in price between the two programs was greater on average for generic drugs. Specifically, VA's prices were 68 percent lower than Medicare prices for the 203 generic drugs (an average difference of $0.19 per unit) and 49 percent lower for the 196 brand-name drugs (an average difference of $4.11 per unit). Average Per-Unit Net Prices Paid by Department of Veterans Affairs and Medicare Part D for Selected Drugs, 2017 Note: GAO's sample of 399 drugs included the top 100 brand-name and generic drugs in Medicare Part D in 2017, by: (1) highest expenditures; (2) highest utilization (by quantities dispensed); and (3) highest cost-per use. Per-unit prices are weighted to reflect differences in utilization in the two programs. Medicare prices reflect expenditures after accounting for rebates and other price concessions. While there are many factors that impact prices in the complex drug market, GAO identified several key program features that may contribute to the consistent price differential between VA and Medicare Part D. For example, Medicare's beneficiaries are divided among numerous prescription drug plans, which each negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. In contrast, VA is a single integrated health system with a unified list of covered drugs—thereby possibly strengthening its bargaining position when negotiating. In addition, VA has access to significant discounts defined by law, and can then negotiate further for lower prices. These discount prices are not available to Medicare Part D plans. GAO provided a draft of this product to HHS and VA for comment. Both agencies provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. In 2017, combined, Medicare Part D and VA accounted for approximately $105 billion in prescription drug sales—nearly one-third of total U.S. expenditures—and covered nearly 52 million individuals. The two programs use different methods to pay for prescription drugs. Medicare reimburses Part D plan sponsors, which in turn pay pharmacies to dispense drugs. VA primarily uses a direct purchase approach to acquire drugs from manufacturers. GAO was asked to examine differences in the amounts major federal programs paid for prescription drugs. This report: (1) compares average unit prices for prescription drugs in Medicare Part D to those in the VA; and (2) describes factors affecting prices in the two programs. GAO analyzed (1) CMS data for Medicare Part D payments to retail pharmacies as well as rebates and other price concessions Part D plans received and (2) VA drug purchasing data. These data were from 2017, the most recent data available at the time of GAO's analysis. To select a sample of drugs GAO identified the top 100 brand-name and 100 generic drugs in Medicare Part D in 2017 for three categories: (1) highest expenditure, (2) highest utilization, and (3) highest cost-per use. In total, this yielded 399 non-duplicate drugs (203 generic and 196 brand-name), which represented 44 percent of Medicare Part D spending in 2017. GAO compared weighted average unit prices for these drugs. GAO interviewed CMS and VA officials, and reviewed academic and government reports to understand factors that may affect prices in the two programs. For more information, contact John Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    Modern airplanes are equipped with networks and systems that share data with the pilots, passengers, maintenance crews, other aircraft, and air-traffic controllers in ways that were not previously feasible (see fig. 1). As a result, if avionics systems are not properly protected, they could be at risk of a variety of potential cyberattacks. Vulnerabilities could occur due to (1) not applying modifications (patches) to commercial software, (2) insecure supply chains, (3) malicious software uploads, (4) outdated systems on legacy airplanes, and (5) flight data spoofing. To date, extensive cybersecurity controls have been implemented and there have not been any reports of successful cyberattacks on an airplane's avionics systems. However, the increasing connections between airplanes and other systems, combined with the evolving cyber threat landscape, could lead to increasing risks for future flight safety. Figure 1: Key Systems Connections to Commercial Airplanes The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established a process for the certification and oversight of all US commercial airplanes, including the operation of commercial air carriers (see fig. 2). While FAA recognizes avionics cybersecurity as a potential safety issue for modern commercial airplanes, it has not fully implemented key practices that are necessary to carry out a risk-based cybersecurity oversight program. Specifically, FAA has not (1) assessed its oversight program to determine the priority of avionics cybersecurity risks, (2) developed an avionics cybersecurity training program, (3) issued guidance for independent cybersecurity testing, or (4) included periodic testing as part of its monitoring process. Until FAA strengthens its oversight program, based on assessed risks, it may not be able to ensure it is providing sufficient oversight to guard against evolving cybersecurity risks facing avionics systems in commercial airplanes. Figure 2: Federal Aviation Administration's Certification Process for Commercial Transport Airplanes GAO has previously identified key practices for interagency collaboration that can be used to assess interagency coordination. FAA coordinates with other federal agencies, such as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security (DHS), and with industry to address aviation cybersecurity issues. For example, FAA co-chairs the Aviation Cyber Initiative, a tri-agency forum with DOD and DHS to address cyber risks across the aviation ecosystem. However, FAA's internal coordination activities do not fully reflect GAO's key collaboration practices. FAA has not established a tracking mechanism for monitoring progress on cybersecurity issues that are raised in coordination meetings, and its oversight coordination activities are not supported by dedicated resources within the agency's budget. Until FAA establishes a tracking mechanism for cybersecurity issues, it may be unable to ensure that all issues are appropriately addressed and resolved. Further, until it conducts an avionics cybersecurity risk assessment, it will not be able to effectively prioritize and dedicate resources to ensure that avionics cybersecurity risks are addressed in its oversight program. Avionics systems, which provide weather information, positioning data, and communications, are critical to the safe operation of an airplane. FAA is responsible for overseeing the safety of commercial aviation, including avionics systems. The growing connectivity between airplanes and these systems may present increasing opportunities for cyberattacks on commercial airplanes. GAO was asked to review the FAA's oversight of avionics cybersecurity issues. The objectives of this review were to (1) describe key cybersecurity risks to avionics systems and their potential effects, (2) determine the extent to which FAA oversees the implementation of cybersecurity controls that address identified risks in avionics systems, and (3) assess the extent to which FAA coordinates internally and with other government and industry entities to identify and address cybersecurity risks to avionics systems. To do so, GAO reviewed information on key cybersecurity risks to avionics systems, as reported by major industry representatives as well as key elements of an effective oversight program, and compared FAA's process for overseeing the implementation of cybersecurity controls in avionics systems with these program elements. GAO also reviewed agency documentation and interviewed agency and industry representatives to assess FAA's coordination efforts to address the identified risks. GAO is making six recommendations to FAA to strengthen its avionics cybersecurity oversight program: GAO recommends that FAA conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment of avionics systems cybersecurity within its oversight program to identify the relative priority of avionics cybersecurity risks compared to other safety concerns and develop a plan to address those risks. Based on the assessment of avionics cybersecurity risks, GAO recommends that FAA identify staffing and training needs for agency inspectors specific to avionics cybersecurity, and develop and implement appropriate training to address identified needs. develop and implement guidance for avionics cybersecurity testing of new airplane designs that includes independent testing. review and consider revising its policies and procedures for monitoring the effectiveness of avionics cybersecurity controls in the deployed fleet to include developing procedures for safely conducting independent testing. ensure that avionics cybersecurity issues are appropriately tracked and resolved when coordinating among internal stakeholders. review and consider the extent to which oversight resources should be committed to avionics cybersecurity. FAA concurred with five out of six GAO recommendations. FAA did not concur with the recommendation to consider revising its policies and procedures for periodic independent testing. GAO clarified this recommendation to emphasize that FAA safely conduct such testing as part of its ongoing monitoring of airplane safety. For more information, contact Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov, or Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    During fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) obligated about $421 million through two grant programs to state and local governments to help identify and control lead paint hazards in housing for low-income households. HUD also issued guidelines for evaluating and controlling lead paint hazards, generally encouraging abatement (such as replacing building components containing lead) as the preferred long-term solution. HUD has supported research on lead paint hazard control and provided education and outreach to public housing agencies, property owners, and the public through publications and training events. HUD monitors lead paint-related risks in its Project-Based Rental Assistance Program, one of HUD's three largest rental assistance programs, through management reviews and periodic physical inspections, but has not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment to identify properties posing the greatest risk to children under the age of 6. HUD's management reviews include assessing property owners' compliance with lead paint regulations—such as by reviewing lead disclosure forms, records of lead inspections, and plans to address lead paint hazards. Inspectors from HUD's Real Estate Assessment Center also assess the physical condition of properties, including identifying damaged paint that could indicate lead paint risks. According to HUD officials, they have not conducted risk assessments in project-based rental assistance housing because they believe the program has relatively few older and potentially riskier properties. However, GAO's analysis of HUD data found that 21 percent of project-based rental assistance properties have at least one building constructed before 1978 (when lead paint was banned in homes) and house over 138,000 children under the age of 6. If HUD used available program data to inform periodic risk assessments, HUD could identify which of the properties pose the greatest risk of exposure to lead paint hazards for children under the age of 6. Unless HUD develops a strategy for managing the risks associated with lead paint and lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing, it may miss the opportunity to prevent children under the age of 6 from being inadvertently exposed to lead paint in those properties. Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties with at Least One Building Built before 1978 and That House Children under Age 6, as of December 31, 2019 Note: Children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk of lead exposure because they have frequent hand-to-mouth contact, often crawl on the floor, and ingest nonfood items. Lead paint exposure in children under the age of 6 can cause brain damage, slowed development, and learning and behavioral problems. Exposure to lead paint hazards can cause serious harm to children under 6 years old. HUD is required by law to reduce the risk of lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted rental housing—including project-based rental assistance (subsidies to make privately owned multifamily properties affordable to low-income households). The 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act Joint Explanatory Statement includes a provision for GAO to review, among other things, HUD's oversight of lead paint and related hazards in affordable rental housing. This report (1) describes how HUD programs and guidance address lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted and other low-income rental housing, and (2) examines HUD's oversight procedures for assessing risk for lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing. GAO reviewed HUD and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead paint regulations and documents on lead programs and methods for addressing lead paint hazards. GAO reviewed HUD oversight policies and procedures and analyzed HUD data on building and tenant age. GAO interviewed staff at HUD, EPA, and organizations that advocate for safe affordable housing. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct periodic risk assessments for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Program and (2) develop and implement plans to proactively manage identified lead paint risks. HUD agreed to conduct periodic risk assessments and develop and implement a plan to proactively manage risks. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
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  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: DOD Needs to Update Modernization Schedule and Improve Data on Software Development
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) delayed the completion of key testing until problems with the F-35 aircraft simulator are resolved, which GAO also reported last year, and will again delay its full-rate production decision. In August 2020, the program office determined the aircraft simulator—to be used to replicate complex test scenarios that could not be accomplished in real-world environment testing—did not fully represent F-35 capabilities and could not be used for further testing until fixed. Since then, program officials have been developing a new plan to ensure the simulator works as intended. Until they finalize the plan and fix the simulator, the next production milestone date—which would formally authorize DOD's transition from development to full production—remains undetermined (see figure). F-35 Operational Test Schedule and Key Events through 2021, as of November 2020 DOD is now in its third year of its modernization effort, known as Block 4, to upgrade the hardware and software of the aircraft. While DOD added another year to the schedule, GAO found the remaining development time frame is not achievable. The program routinely underestimated the amount of work needed to develop Block 4 capabilities, which has resulted in delays, and has not reflected historical performance into its remaining work schedule. Unless the F-35 program accounts for historical performance in the schedule estimates, the Block 4 schedule will continue to exceed estimated time frames and stakeholders will lack reliable information on when capabilities will be delivered. GAO found the F-35 program office collects data on many Block 4 software development metrics, a key practice from GAO's Agile Assessment Guide, but has not met two other key practices for monitoring software development progress. Specifically, the F-35 program office has not implemented tools to enable automated data collection on software development performance, a key practice. The program's primary reliance on the contractor's monthly reports, often based on older data, has hindered program officials' timely decision-making. The program office has also not set software quality performance targets, inconsistent with another key practice. Without these targets, the program office is less able to assess whether the contractor has met acceptable quality performance levels. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program remains DOD's most expensive weapon system program. DOD is 3 years into a development effort that is loosely based on Agile software development processes to modernize the F-35 aircraft's capabilities. With this approach, DOD intends to incrementally develop, test, and deliver small groups of new capabilities every 6 months. Congress included provisions in two statutes for GAO to review the F-35 program. This report addresses the F-35 operational testing status, DOD's Block 4 modernization development schedule, and how the F-35 program office implements key practices for evaluating Agile software development progress. To assess cost and schedule concerns identified in prior years, GAO selected three key practices that focus on evaluating Agile software development progress. GAO reviewed DOD and contractor documentation and interviewed DOD officials and contractor representatives.
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    To alert the audit community to changes in professional standards, we periodically issue Professional Standards Updates (PSU). The purpose of these updates is to highlight the effective dates and issuance of recent standards and guidance related to engagements conducted in accordance with Government Auditing Standards. PSUs contain summary information only, and those affected by a change should refer to the respective standard or guidance for details. This PSU has three sections.
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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 March 2021, GAO reported on 36 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 (S&T) experts will continue to expand our focus on rapidly evolving (S&T) issues. Hallmarks of GAO's (S&T) 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. For more information, contact Gene L. Dodaro at (202) 512-5555 or dodarog@gao.gov.
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