By: Xavier Becerra, Secretary
I remember working alongside my father during my youth paving and repairing Sacramento roads. My father was a strong man who woke up in the early morning hours every day, went to work, and returned home to do more work around the house. As he grew older, his body might have aged, but his resilient and hard-working spirit stayed the same. “Don’t confuse them with your lean in,” he would tell me when I drafted remarks to constituents. “Tell them about GANAS!” In my home GANAS mean guts, grits, and game, and my father had a lot of GANAS.
Throughout his life and until his passing two years ago, my father remained committed to his community and to his family. And despite the sadness of having to say goodbye, I took satisfaction in being able to care for him and assist him as he led a plentiful life during his golden years.
Like my father, since the beginning of the pandemic, older Americans have shown a lot of GANAS through the disproportionate challenges they have faced. Isolated from their families and friends, separated from community resources, and under siege from a pandemic that put them at far greater risk of serious illness and even death, millions of older Americans set an example of resilience for us all to follow, by overcoming hardships and even finding new ways to thrive. Older Americans are themselves a “Community of Strength,” and our nation is stronger when they can contribute their knowledge, skills and example to the communities in which they live. Older Americans have played an important role in helping our nation weather this crisis, and they will continue to play an important role as we recover. Now it is important that we assist our older adults in their later years.
During Older Americans Month, we recognize and celebrate these contributions, and recommit to our work to empower older adults, so they can live as independently as possible and continue to participate fully in their communities and our country. Here is how:
- HRSA-funded health centers deliver affordable accessible, quality, and cost-effective primary health care to nearly 30 million people each year, including more than 8 million people age 50 and older.
- Vaccination is critical for older adults, but many have had difficulty making or traveling to vaccination appointments or have faced other barriers to taking this important step to protect themselves from COVID-19. With funding from CDC, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) issued nearly $100 million in grants to the aging and disability networks to provide critical services to help older adults and people with disabilities overcome these barriers. ACL, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) published several new resources and guidance on April 13, 2021 to help states, vaccination providers, and others leading COVID-19 response activities improve access to vaccines for older adults and people with disabilities.
- Funded through the American Rescue Plan, ACL issued grants totaling $1.4B to help older adults recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other benefits, these grants will help accelerate vaccinations of older adults, support family caregivers, provide meals and other nutrition services, help older adults connect and engage with others to reduce social isolation, and re-open senior centers.
- Building on work they have done throughout the pandemic to uphold the rights of older adults and people with disabilities to non-discriminatory access to medical resources, OCR this week announced the successful resolution of a complaint against the State of Arizona. As a result, Arizona’s crisis standards of care guidelines were revised to reflect legal requirements and best practices regarding the needs of older adults and people with disabilities.
- The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has provided grants to all states, territories, and several tribes over the past several years to establish, expand and evaluate kinship navigator programs, which provide an important mechanism to support kinship caregivers, such as grandparents. The Census Bureau estimates that there are 2.7 million grandparent caregivers in the United States.
- The CDC and the Alzheimer’s Association, with contributions from the Indian Health Service and guidance from tribes and tribal organizations, produced the Healthy Brain Initiative Roadmap for Indian Country, the first-ever public health guide focused on dementia in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
- The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in collaboration with OCR, developed the Guide to Getting and Using Your Health Records to help everyone – patients and their caregivers – learn about their rights to get, check and use their health information to take control of their health, well-being, and safety.
- The CDC’s Division of Injury Prevention launched the national Still Going Strong Campaign on May 6, 2021 to raise awareness of the leading causes of unintentional injuries and deaths in older adults, age 65 and older, so that older adults can stay healthy and independent longer.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided states with guidance for receiving increased federal funding for home and community-based services (HCBS) through the American Rescue Plan. HCBS make it possible for millions of seniors and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to live in the community and to avoid institutions.
Growing old is a road that we all travel if we are fortunate, and most of us will need assistance – whether that is from family or friends, or through services provided in our homes – to travel it in our own communities. As we build back better, the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to ensuring that we build the infrastructure we need to provide those services and support informal caregivers. This Older Americans Month, I think of my father and his example and guidance, and as a Department we recommit to doing our part to honor older adults and to empowering them to continue living full, healthy and independent lives.
- Maryland Man Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claim to Steal Funds Intended for Afghanistan ReconstructionBy Sam NewsDecember 4, 2020A Maryland man pleaded guilty today to filing a false claim for his role in a scheme to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars in State Department funds to his own use.[Read More…]
- Hardrock Mining Management: Selected Countries, U.S. States, and Tribes Have Different Governance Structures but Primarily Use LeasingBy Sam NewsJuly 26, 2021What GAO Found Australia, Canada, and Chile—three top mineral-producing countries as of 2018—generally own the minerals on private and government lands and manage hardrock mining at the national or regional (state, provincial, or territorial) government levels. Australia and Canada use national and regional governments to manage mining, whereas Chile uses national governance structures. All three countries primarily use leasing to manage mining. However, some Canadian provinces allow mineral exploration using a location system that provides open access to land to stake a mining claim. Australia, Canada, and Chile collect royalties and corporate income taxes on mineral extraction; however, the types and rates vary. For example, Canada and Chile's royalties are based on operators' net proceeds, while some Australian regional governments' royalties are also based on net market value. Primary Stages of Hardrock Mining In 11 western states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming—responsibility for managing mining on state-owned lands, including trust lands, is decentralized among multiple governance structures. These states primarily use leasing, although Alaska also allows operators to stake mine claims on certain lands, according to state officials. All states collect royalties, or taxes that are similar to royalties, on mining. The types and rates vary, but states typically base their rates on quantity or weight, gross revenue, net smelter returns (based on the value of minerals extracted, with deductions for processing), or net proceeds. Hardrock mining on trust and restricted fee lands (tribal lands) is managed by governance structures at the tribal and federal government levels, in accordance with the approaches established in tribal and federal law. Tribes decide whether to allow hardrock mining on their lands. If so, multiple governance structures at the tribal level may be involved in managing the mining, depending on the requirements of tribal law, which may vary by tribe. In addition, governance structures at the federal level are involved in managing mining. Two federal laws—the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 and the Indian Mineral Leasing Act—require the use of minerals agreements, as defined in regulation, or leases, respectively. However, few tribes allow hardrock mining on their lands, according to the Department of the Interior. Why GAO Did This Study Hardrock minerals such as gold, silver, and copper play a significant role in U.S. and global economies—in 2018, hardrock minerals extracted worldwide were valued at about $981 billion. However, extracting these minerals creates the potential for public health, safety, and environmental hazards. Different approaches exist to manage these hazards and hardrock mining. GAO recently reported on the number and characteristics of mining operations on federal lands in GAO-20-461R and was also asked to review the methods different governments use to manage mining. This report describes the governance structures and approaches used to manage mining on (1) selected mineral-producing countries' land, (2) state-owned land in selected U.S. states, and (3) tribal lands subject to federal laws and regulations. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, government documents, legal guides, and nongovernmental and industry reports. GAO also interviewed nongovernmental and mining association representatives and officials from selected states and countries. GAO selected countries that were top mineral producers, perceived by researchers to have good mining governance, and were attractive to mining investors. GAO selected states in the western region of the U.S. that produced the highest value of hardrock minerals compared with other U.S. regions. GAO examined federal laws and regulations that generally govern mining on tribal land and interviewed one tribe on mining approaches used. For more information, contact Mark E. Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- COVID-19: Continued Attention Needed to Enhance Federal Preparedness, Response, Service Delivery, and Program IntegrityBy Sam NewsJuly 19, 2021What GAO Found The nation is concurrently responding to, and recovering from, the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have declined in recent months. Among the factors that have contributed to the decline in these metrics, the development and administration of multiple vaccines across the nation have been key. About 53.1 percent of the U.S. population 12 years and older—almost 150.7 million individuals—had been fully vaccinated as of June 23, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Continuing to deliver “shots in arms” will be a priority for the federal government, as individuals yet to be vaccinated remain at risk from COVID-19 and as new variants of the virus continue to emerge. A successful vaccination program is seen as essential to further stabilizing the economy and safely returning to prepandemic activities, such as in-person learning for students in the 2021–22 school year. The economic and public health recovery from the pandemic and its effects remains fragile. Data from the Department of Labor show that labor market conditions improved in March, April, May, and June 2021 but remained worse relative to the prepandemic period. Additionally, new reported COVID-19 cases from June 5 to June 18, 2021, averaged about 13,000 per day—less than a tenth of the peak reported in January 2021 (see figure). Reported COVID-19 Cases per Day in the U.S., Mar. 1, 2020–June 18, 2021 Since GAO began reporting on the federal response to the pandemic in June 2020, it has made 72 recommendations. The agencies generally agreed with 57 of these recommendations and are in the process of implementing a majority of them; 16 of these recommendations have been fully implemented. GAO also made four matters for congressional consideration, three of which remain open. In this report, GAO is making 15 new recommendations in the areas of federal preparedness and response, delivery of benefits and services, and program integrity. GAO’s recommendations, if effectively implemented, can help improve the government’s ongoing response and recovery efforts as well as help it to prepare for future public health emergencies. GAO’s new recommendations are discussed below. COVID-19 Testing CDC has opportunities to improve collaboration and communication with stakeholders. Prior to the COVID-19 response, CDC had not developed a plan for enhancing laboratory testing capacity that identifies objectives and outlines agency and stakeholder roles and responsibilities for achieving these objectives within defined time frames. 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. The Department of Health and Humans Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) oversees the SNS. The Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE), an interagency group of experts, advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services in prioritizing, developing, procuring, deploying, and effectively using medical supplies and other countermeasures for the SNS. In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, ASPR began restructuring the PHEMCE. This led to concerns from interagency partners regarding the effectiveness of interagency collaboration and transparency, such as a lack of clarity on how ASPR makes decisions about medical countermeasure issues, including for the SNS inventory. In addition, while the PHEMCE was being restructured, ASPR did not conduct SNS annual reviews from 2017 through 2019; these reviews result in recommendations to HHS regarding SNS procurement and are provided to Congress. According to the former Assistant Secretary who initiated the restructure, although PHEMCE was successful in advancing the development of medical countermeasures, its consensus-driven process did not reflect the urgency needed and PHEMCE proceedings created security vulnerabilities. ASPR officials acknowledged that the changes ASPR made to the PHEMCE from 2018 to 2020 did not fully achieve the desired aims and created other challenges. The office is in the process of reassessing and reestablishing new organizational processes for the PHEMCE, but it has not yet finalized planning documents, including an organizational charter and implementation plan, to guide those efforts. GAO recommends that ASPR develop and document its plans for restructuring the PHEMCE. The plans should describe how ASPR will ensure a transparent and deliberative process that engages interagency partners in PHEMCE responsibilities outlined in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019, including those related to SNS annual reviews. These plans should also incorporate GAO’s leading practices to foster more effective collaboration, while ensuring that sensitive information is appropriately protected. HHS—which includes ASPR—agreed with this recommendation. PHEMCE interagency partners raised concerns about the transparency of PHEMCE activities and deliberations, and ASPR lacked documentation of PHEMCE activities and deliberations after 2017. ASPR was unable to provide documentation to GAO regarding PHEMCE decisions or recommendations made from 2018 to 2020; the rationale for the changes to the PHEMCE; or PHEMCE meeting agendas and minutes from 2018 to 2020. Not maintaining such documentation is inconsistent with HHS’s policy for records management and leaves Congress and key stakeholders without assurance that steps taken are advancing national preparedness for natural, accidental, and intentional threats. GAO recommends that ASPR implement records management practices that include developing, maintaining, and securing documentation related to PHEMCE activities and deliberations, including those related to the SNS. HHS, including ASPR, agreed with this recommendation. The nationwide need for supplies to respond to COVID-19 quickly exceeded the quantity of supplies contained in the SNS. Thus, ASPR used procurement processes in addition to its standard process, including direct shipment of supplies from vendors. Through this direct shipment process, supplies purchased by ASPR were not used to replenish the SNS but instead were primarily distributed from vendors directly to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. Although ASPR has documented policies and procedures for its standard procurement process, ASPR did not have documented policies and procedures, including related control and monitoring activities, to address payment integrity risks for its direct shipment procurement process. Without written policies and procedures documenting how ASPR tracks the direct shipment and receipt of supplies before issuing payments, there is an increased risk that ASPR may make improper payments to vendors for incorrect supplies or quantities or for supplies that the intended recipients did not receive. In addition, it is difficult for management to assess the adequacy of controls over the direct shipment procurement process, and ASPR lacks assurance that its staff fully understand the process and properly and consistently perform their duties. 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. Officials from Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education stated that because of time and staffing constraints and the high volume of grants administered, they did not regularly perform quality assurance reviews after obligation to identify and correct erroneous obligations. GAO recommends Education design and implement procedures for regularly conducting quality assurance reviews of obligated amounts for higher education grants, including HEERF, to help identify and correct erroneous obligations in a timely manner. Education agreed with this recommendation. Coronavirus State and Local Relief and Recovery Funds COVID-19 relief laws appropriated $500 billion to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to provide direct funding to states, localities, tribal governments, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories to help them respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. GAO also interviewed federal officials; representatives from organizations for states and localities; and other stakeholders, including manufacturers of PPE (e.g., N95 respirators, surgical masks, and nitrile gloves).[Read More…]
- American Contractor Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Steal Government Equipment from U.S. Military Base in AfghanistanBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2020An American military contractor pleaded guilty today to her role in a theft ring on a military installation in Kandahar, Afghanistan.[Read More…]
- Two Individuals Charged with Bribery Related to Iraq ContractsBy Sam NewsSeptember 18, 2020Two individuals have been charged with bribery offenses in connection with Department of Defense contracts as part of the Fraud Section’s ongoing efforts to combat corruption and fraud in contracting on U.S. military installations overseas.[Read More…]
- The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Effective Use of Fiscal Rules and TargetsBy Sam NewsSeptember 23, 2020In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Afghanistan: Changes to Updated U.S. Civil-Military Strategic Framework Reflect Evolving U.S. RoleBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found Although the October 2012 and the August 2013 versions of the U.S. Civil-Military Strategic Framework for Afghanistan have similarities, the two versions differ in several aspects. These differences reflect, among other things, the U.S. government's heightened emphasis on the transition, through the end of 2014, of security responsibility for Afghanistan to Afghan security institutions and the Afghan National Security Forces as well as the transition in U.S. policy toward a more traditional diplomatic and development model. Both versions of the framework address four categories of U.S. efforts in support of U.S. national goals in Afghanistan, with security, the first category, as the foundation for the other three categories, or "pillars"--governance, rule of law, and socioeconomic development. Both versions also address the same crosscutting issues. Differences between the two versions include the following: In the August 2013 version, the framework's function and statement of U.S. national goals have been modified to reflect changes in U.S. civilian and military efforts during and after the transition. The August 2013 version contains new information about the U.S.-Afghan partnership during the transition. The August 2013 version includes new, transition-focused subsections for each of the three strategic pillars--governance, rule of law, and socioeconomic development--assessing the impact of reduced U.S. resources and presence on U.S. objectives and priorities. The August 2013 version provides fewer details about the future U.S. government footprint in Afghanistan, reflecting uncertainty affecting the U.S. post-2014 strategy. The August 2013 version replaces a section about measuring progress with a new section about civil-military cooperation. The August 2013 framework excludes a list of strategic risks and of factors that could mitigate those risks. Why GAO Did This Study Section 1220 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA) mandates GAO to report on any substantial updates to the campaign plan for Afghanistan, which the U.S. Civil-Military Strategic Framework for Afghanistan has replaced. To satisfy the mandate, this report broadly compares the August 2013 version of the framework with the October 2012 version, summarizing the differences between them. For more information, contact Michael J. Courts at (202) 512-8980 or CourtsM@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Enactment of Legal Peace Legislation to Restore Sudan’s Sovereign ImmunitiesBy Sam NewsDecember 30, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Upholding Research Integrity at HHSBy Sam NewsFebruary 17, 2021February 17, 2021 By: [Read More…]
- Joint Press Statement on the 11th U.S.-Japan Policy Cooperation Dialogue on the Internet EconomyBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Office of the [Read More…]
- Designation of Al-Qa’ida-Linked Financial FacilitatorsBy Sam NewsJuly 28, 2021
- Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to ISISBy Sam NewsJanuary 25, 2021In San Antonio today, 22-year-old Cost resident Jaylyn Christopher Molina, aka Abdur Rahim, admitted to conspiring to provide material support to the designated foreign terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Syria (ISIS), announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Gregg N. Sofer and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio Division Christopher Combs.[Read More…]
- Tax Filing: Actions Needed to Address Processing Delays and Risks to the 2021 Filing SeasonBy Sam NewsMarch 1, 2021The 2020 filing season occurred during the global COVID-19 pandemic, introducing challenges that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had to respond to quickly to fulfill its mission-essential functions. IRS took steps to protect the integrity of its operations, help ensure the health and safety of its employees, and provide relief to taxpayers. For example, IRS closed all its processing and service facilities for several weeks before re-opening with health and safety measures and extended the filing season deadline to July 15, 2020. IRS's 2020 processing of e-filed returns was generally on par with prior years. However, IRS's overall 2020 performance was significantly impacted by its reliance on manual processes such as for paper returns, and its limited ability to process returns remotely while processing centers were closed. As a result, as of December 2020, IRS had a significant backlog of unprocessed returns and taxpayer correspondence. Additionally, costs increased including interest on delayed refunds which exceeded $3 billion in fiscal year 2020. IRS has not revised its estimates for addressing all of the backlog due to operational uncertainties created by the pandemic. Doing so would help IRS determine how best to address the backlog and perform 2021 filing season activities. Refund Interest Paid to Taxpayers, Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 GAO also found that about 23 percent of business tax returns were filed on paper even though an e-file option is available. IRS has not comprehensively identified barriers to business-related e-filing nor taken specific actions to increase e-filing. Doing so would help reduce the volume of costly paper-based work and improve services to business filers. Further, during the filing season, IRS transitioned nearly two-thirds of its phone customer service staff to telework, but was unable to do so for returns processing staff because most of its paper-based work is not set up to be performed remotely. As of late October 2020, about one-third of these staff remained on paid leave. Identifying and implementing alternative work assignments for staff that remain on paid leave would better support IRS operations and reduce costs. IRS has not fully identified and assessed all risks to the 2021 filing season—including those exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic—consistent with enterprise risk management practices. IRS identified some risks in October 2020 after GAO raised concerns, but did not fully address all essential elements of enterprise risk management, such as identifying options for risk response. Doing so would better position IRS to respond to risks during the 2021 filing season. In early 2021, after receiving a draft of this report, IRS provided additional information on its risk management efforts. GAO will review this information to determine if these efforts are sufficient to address its recommendation. During the annual tax filing season, generally from January to mid-April, IRS processes more than 150 million individual and business tax returns and provides telephone, correspondence, online, and in-person services to tens of millions of taxpayers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide relief to taxpayers, IRS extended the 2020 filing and payment deadline by 3 months to July 15, 2020. GAO was asked to review IRS's performance during the 2020 filing season. This report (1) describes the changes IRS made to operations and services for the 2020 filing season due to the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) assesses IRS's performance on providing customer service and processing individual and business income tax returns during the 2020 filing season and compare to prior filing seasons, where appropriate; and (3) evaluates IRS's plans to prepare for the 2021 filing season. GAO analyzed IRS documents, filing season performance data, and employee timecard data; assessed IRS's plans for the 2021 filing season; and interviewed cognizant officials. GAO is making seven recommendations, including that IRS revise estimates for addressing its backlog; identify and address barriers to e-filing for business taxpayers; identify and consider implementing alternative work assignments for returns processing staff on paid leave; and identify and assess risks to the 2021 filing season. IRS agreed with four recommendations and disagreed with three. GAO believes that the recommendations remain warranted. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-6806 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Announces Closing of Investigation into 2014 Officer Involved Shooting in Cleveland, OhioBy Sam NewsDecember 29, 2020The Justice Department announced today that the career prosecutors reviewing the independent federal investigation into the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice on Nov. 22, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio, found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges against Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback. Yesterday the department notified counsel for Mr. Rice’s family of the decision and today sent a letter to Mr. Rice’s family explaining the findings of the investigation and reasons for the decision.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Greenlandic Premier Mute Egede, Greenlandic Foreign Minister Pele Broberg, And Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod At a Joint Press AvailabilityBy Sam NewsMay 22, 2021
- Indiana Man Pleads Guilty to Distributing PesticidesBy Sam NewsAugust 20, 2020An Indiana man who distributed unregistered pesticides to the tenants and managers of an apartment building he owned has pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken to U.S. Mission CanadaBy Sam NewsFebruary 26, 2021
- Compounding Pharmacy Mogul Sentenced for Multimillion-Dollar Health Care Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsJanuary 15, 2021A Mississippi businessman was sentenced today for his role in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud TRICARE, the health care benefit program serving U.S. military, veterans, and their respective family members, as well as private health care benefit programs.[Read More…]
- Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General on Responsible Encryption and Lawful AccessBy Sam NewsSeptember 18, 2020Good afternoon, everyone. First, I would like to thank Amie Ely and the wonderful team at NAAG for all of their amazing work, and for hosting this event on such an important topic. Thank you as well to everyone in the audience for taking the time to join virtually for what should be a truly interesting conversation. Perhaps it’s fitting that we are having a discussion — via webcam — that highlights the importance of digital evidence.[Read More…]
- Kyrgyz Republic National DayBy Sam NewsAugust 30, 2021