DRL FY19 Countering Corruption Amid COVID-19

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

United States Department of State
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL)
Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): 
DRL FY19 Countering Corruption amid COVID-19

This is the announcement of funding opportunity number SFOP0006927

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number:  19.345

Type of Solicitation: Open Solicitation

Application Deadline:  11:59 PM EST on Friday, June 12, 2020

Funding Floor:  $1,000,000

Funding Ceiling:  $1,000,000

Anticipated Number of Awards:  1

Type of Award: Grant

Period of Performance:  24 – 36 months

Anticipated Time to Award, Pending Availability of Funds:  4 – 5 months

A. Project Description

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces an open competition for organizations interested in submitting applications in support of the goal of combatting corruption arising in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countries around the world are grappling with unprecedented challenges as they tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.  While the first responsibility of every government is to care for its people, an effective response to a public health crisis like COVID-19 requires government transparency and accountability, the full participation of civil society, and access to information.  Corruption in particular thrives during times of crisis and makes governments and the international community less able to respond swiftly and effectively.  Governments and international donors are now providing unprecedented sums of money to support COVID-19 response efforts, sometimes without necessary anti-corruption safeguards.  Emergency procurement processes and the suspension of oversight measures in many cases are further heightening corruption risks.  This is providing new opportunities for corrupt government officials and criminal organizations to enrich themselves at the expense of public health, as well as raising the potential for public officials to become involved in bribery and corruption by virtue of their position and influence, which can further erode public trust in government and undermine the COVID-19 response.

DRL seeks a project to enhance transparency and empower civil society and media to monitor and promote accountability of government responses to COVID-19.  A competitive applicant will be able to work across multiple countries with a consortium of civil society organizations, media entities, and anti-corruption advocates to support enhanced transparency and accountability in public procurement processes; take advantage and build upon recently-launched multilateral and multi-stakeholder initiatives to promote government transparency in government responses to COVID-19, including the “Open Response + Open Recovery” campaign initiated by the Open Government Partnership; increase the effectiveness of civil society-led advocacy to promote accountability of government response and the use of public funds to combat COVID-19; strengthen existing national and regional anti-corruption frameworks and government oversight mechanisms; and expand space for freedom of expression and access to information including by protecting corruption whistleblowers from criminal prosecution, arrest, and other forms of retaliation.

A competitive project will demonstrate substantial experience with anti-corruption programming, including on open government and public procurement issues; proven connections to a range of anti-corruption advocates and organizers, including local organizations, investigative media entities, and civil society organizations; and capacity to administer sub-grants in varied contexts to support national and transnational transparency and anti-corruption advocacy.  DRL seeks a project that includes a responsive small grants component to support innovative anti-corruption initiatives that advance the outcomes outlined above in order to ensure local buy-in.  Other illustrative project activities can include:

  • Supporting civil society and media to foster public demand for accountability, including by shedding light on corrupt practices and engaging citizens and others regarding its impact;
  • Mobilizing local civil society to advocate for transparent procurement standards and compliance with anti-corruption and competition laws;
  • Advocating for the inclusion of transparency and anti-corruption measures in COVID-19-related emergency relief efforts to ensure resources go to support those most vulnerable and at risk;
  • Partner with governments to enhance measures intended to increase transparency in public procurement;
  • Promoting dialogue and joint actions among civil society, local communities, and other relevant stakeholders to strengthen community oversight and accountability of government response to COVID-19;
  • Identify areas where existing procurement processes and government response to COVID-19 are inadequate to safeguarding against corruption and work with civil society, government, and regional and international experts to address those weaknesses.

Where appropriate, competitive proposals may include:

  • Opportunities for beneficiaries to apply their new knowledge and skills in practical efforts;
  • Solicitation of feedback and suggestions from beneficiaries when developing activities in order to strengthen the sustainability of programs and participant ownership of project outcomes;
  • Input from participants on sustainability plans and systematic review of the plans throughout the life of the project, with adjustments made as necessary;
  • Inclusion of vulnerable populations;
  • Joint identification and definition of key concepts with relevant stakeholders and stakeholder input into project activities;
  • Systematic follow up with beneficiaries at specific intervals after the completion of activities to track how beneficiaries are retaining new knowledge as well as applying their new skills.

Activities that are not typically allowed include, but are not limited to:

  • The provision of humanitarian assistance;
  • English language instruction;
  • Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware;
  • Purely academic exchanges or fellowships;
  • External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six months;
  • Off-shore activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary per security concerns;
  • Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;
  • Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives;
  • Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of targeted countries.

This notice is subject to availability of funding.

B. Federal Award Information

Primary organizations can submit 1 application in response to the NOFO.

The U.S. government may (a) reject any or all applications, (b) accept other than the lowest cost application, (c) accept more than one application, and (d) waive irregularities in applications received.

The U.S. government may make award(s) on the basis of initial applications received, without discussions or negotiations.  Therefore, each initial application should contain the applicant’s best terms from a cost and technical standpoint.  The U.S. government reserves the right (though it is under no obligation to do so), however, to enter into discussions with one or more applicants in order to obtain clarifications, additional detail, or to suggest refinements in the project description, budget, or other aspects of an application.

DRL anticipates awarding either a grant or cooperative agreement depending on the needs and risk factors of the program.  The final determination on award mechanism will be made by the Grants Officer.  The distinction between grants and cooperative agreements revolves around the existence of “substantial involvement.”  Cooperative agreements require greater Federal government participation in the project.  If a cooperative agreement is awarded, DRL will undertake reasonable and programmatically necessary substantial involvement.  Examples of substantial involvement can include, but are not limited to:

  • Active participation or collaboration with the recipient in the implementation of the award.
  • Review and approval of one stage of work before another can begin.
  • Review and approval of substantive provisions of proposed subawards or contracts beyond existing Federal policy.
  • Approval of the recipient’s budget or plan of work prior to the award.

The authority for this funding opportunity is found in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (FAA).

To maximize the impact and sustainability of the award(s) that result from this NOFO, DRL retains the right to execute non-competitive continuation amendment(s).  The total duration of any award, including potential non-competitive continuation amendments, shall not exceed 60 months, or five years.  Any non-competitive continuation is contingent on performance and pending availability of funds.  A non-competitive continuation is not guaranteed and the Department of State reserves the right to exercise or not to exercise this option.

C. Eligibility Information

For application information, please see the proposal submission instructions (PSI) on our website.

C.1 Eligible Applicants

DRL welcomes applications from U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses.  DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited.

Applications submitted by for-profit entities may be subject to additional review following the panel selection process.  Additionally, the Department of State prohibits profit to for-profit or commercial organizations under its assistance awards.  Profit is defined as any amount in excess of allowable direct and indirect costs.  The allowability of costs incurred by commercial organizations is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at 48 CFR 30, Cost Accounting Standards Administration, and 48 CFR 31 Contract Cost Principles and Procedures.

Please see 2 CFR 200.307 for regulations regarding program income.

C.2 Cost Sharing or Matching

Providing cost sharing, matching, or cost participation is not an eligibility factor or requirement for this NOFO, and providing cost share will not result in a more favorable competitive ranking.

C.3 Other

Applicants should have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders, including private sector partners and NGOs, and have demonstrable experience in administering successful and preferably similar projects.  DRL encourages applications from foreign-based NGOs headquartered in the geographic regions/countries relevant to this NOFO.  Applicants may form consortia in order to bring together organizations with varied expertise to propose a comprehensive program in one proposal.  However, one organization should be designated in the proposal as the lead applicant, with the other members designated as sub-award partners.  DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on applicants that do not have previous experience administering federal grant awards, and these applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis.

DRL is committed to an anti-discrimination policy in all of its projects and activities.  DRL welcomes applications irrespective of race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other status.

Any applicant listed on the Excluded Parties List System in the System for Award Management (SAM.gov) (www.sam.gov) and/or has a current debt to the U.S. government is not eligible to apply for an assistance award in accordance with the OMB guidelines at 2 CFR 180 that implement Executive Orders 12549 (3 CFR,1986 Comp., p. 189) and 12689 (3 CFR,1989 Comp., p. 235), “Debarment and Suspension.”  Additionally, no entity or person listed on the Excluded Parties List System in SAM.gov can participate in any activities under an award.  All applicants are strongly encouraged to review the Excluded Parties List System in SAM.gov to ensure that no ineligible entity or person is included in their application.

D. Application and Submission Information

D.1 Address to Request Application Package

Applicants can find application forms, kits, or other materials needed to apply on www.grants.gov and SAMS Domestic (https://mygrants.servicenowservices.com) under the announcement title “DRL FY19 Countering Corruption amid COVID-19,” funding opportunity number “SFOP0006927.”  Please contact the DRL point of contact listed in Section G if requesting reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities or for security reasons.  Please note that reasonable accommodations do not include deadline extensions.

D.2 Content and Form of Application Submission

For all application documents, please ensure:

  • All documents are in English and all costs are in U.S. dollars.  If an original document within the application is in another language, an English translation must be provided (please note the Department of State, as indicated in 2 CFR 200.111, requires that English is the official language of all award documents.  If any document is provided in both English and a foreign language, the English language version is the controlling version);
  • All pages are numbered, including budgets and attachments;
  • All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper; and,
  • All documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins.  Captions and footnotes may be 10-point Times New Roman font.  Font sizes in charts and tables, including the budget, can be reformatted to fit within 1 page width.

D.2.1 Application Requirements

Complete applications must include the following:

  • Completed and signed SF-424, SF-424A, and SF-424B forms.  Please see SF-424 instructions in Section 2B of the PSI.
  • If your organization engages in lobbying the U.S. government, including Congress, or pays another entity to lobby on your behalf, the SF-LLL “Disclosure of Lobbying Activities” form is also required (only if applicable).  Please see SF-LLL guidance in Section 2B of the PSI.
  • Cover Page (not to exceed one (1) page, preferably as a Word Document) that includes a table with the organization name, project title, target country/countries, project synopsis, and name and contact information for the application’s main point of contact.  Please see Cover Page Section 2C of the PSI for a template and more details.
  • Executive Summary (not to exceed one (1) page, preferably as a Word Document) that outlines project goals, objectives, activities, etc.
    • The Executive Summary should include a brief section that explicitly states (1) the problem statement addressed by the project, (2) research-based evidence justifying the unique project approach, and (3) quantifiable project outcomes and impacts.
  • Table of Contents (not to exceed one (1) page, preferably as a Word Document) listing all documents and attachments with page numbers.
  • Proposal Narrative (not to exceed ten (10) pages, preferably as a Word Document).  Please note the ten-page limit does not include the Cover Page, Executive Summary, Table of Contents, Attachments, Detailed Budget, Budget Narrative, Audit, or NICRA.  Applicants are encouraged to combine multiple documents in a single Word Document or PDF (i.e. Cover Page, Table of Contents, Executive Summary, and Proposal Narrative in one file).  Please see Proposal Narrative Guidelines in Section 2F of the PSI for more details.
    • The Proposal Narrative should demonstrate the Applicant’s commitment to ensuring the participation of all people as a strategy for implementation.  Please integrate inclusion strategies in all sections of the Proposal Narrative to enhance programmatic impact.
  • Budget (preferably as an Excel workbook) that includes three (3) columns containing the request to DRL, any cost sharing contribution, and the total budget.  A summary budget should also be included using the OMB-approved budget categories (see SF-424A as a sample) in a separate tab.  Costs must be in U.S. dollars.  Detailed line-item budgets for subgrantees should be included as additional tabs within the Excel workbook (if available at the time of submission).  Please see Budget Guidelines Section 2G of the PSI for more information.
    • The programming approach should be dedicated to strengthening inclusive societies as a necessary pillar of strong democracies.  Please include costs associated with this commitment in the budget and budget narrative.
  • Budget Narrative (preferably as a Word Document) that includes substantive explanations and justifications for each line item in the detailed budget spreadsheet, as well as the source and a description of all cost-share offered.  Please see Budget Guidelines Section 2G of the PSI for more information.
  • Your organization’s most recent audit, if applicable.  This should be a single audit, program-specific audit, or other audit in accordance with Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS).  Please see Audit Section 2H of the PSI for more information.
  • Logic Model (preferably as a Word Document).  Please see Logic Model Section 2I of the PSI for more information.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation Narrative (not to exceed four (4) pages, preferably as a Word Document).  Please see Monitoring and Evaluation Narrative Section 2J of the PSI for more information.
    • As stated within the DRL Guide to Program Monitoring and Evaluation (p. 6): DRL strongly encourages applicants to consider whether their monitoring and evaluation systems are utilizing human rights-based approaches, applying a gender and equity lens, or include the participation of sub-grantees and project participants.  Within the Monitoring and Evaluation Narrative, applicants should demonstrate their commitment to inclusive strategies and consider whether evaluation design, data collection, analysis, reporting and learning are conducted in an ethical and responsible way with all project participants (e.g. direct beneficiaries, sub-grantees).  Applicants should still make adequate provisions to protect the privacy of human subjects when collecting data from individuals. For instance, when collecting data from project participants, consider whether your organization will have the necessary informed consent forms, confidentiality agreements, and data security protocols.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (preferably as a Word Document or Excel Sheet).  Please see Monitoring and Evaluation Plan Section 2J of the PSI for more information.
  • Risk Analysis (preferably as a Word Document).  Please see Risk Analysis Section 2K of the PSI for more information.
  • Key Personnel (not to exceed two (2) pages, preferably as a Word Document).  Please include short bios that highlight relevant professional experience.  Given the limited space, CVs are not recommended for submission.
  • Timeline (not to exceed one (1) page, preferably as a Word Document or Excel Sheet).  The timeline of the overall proposal should include activities, evaluation efforts, and program closeout.
  • Gender Analysis (not to exceed five (5) pages, preferably as a Word Document) that identifies and examines the relevance of gender norms and power relations in target countries and addresses how the organization will account for these dynamics throughout program design and implementation.  The analysis should consider institutional practices and barriers, cultural norms, gender roles, access to and control over assets and resources, and patterns of decision-making.  In conflict settings, the gender analysis should examine how gender norms interact with other factors to drive or mitigate conflict, the differential impact of conflict on women and men, and an understanding of the roles of women and men in conflict, peacebuilding, and transitional processes.  A set of guiding questions can be found in Section L of the PSI.
  • Burma Due Diligence Assessment (not to exceed one (1) page, preferably in Microsoft Word) that outlines existing organizational practices for vetting program beneficiaries and capacity to conduct due diligence vetting as outlined in the solicitation. 

Applications that do not include the elements listed above will be deemed technically ineligible.  

D.2.2 Additional Application Documents

Strong applications will also contain the following:

  • Individual Letters of Support and/or Memorandum of Understanding.  Letters of support and MOUs must be specific to the project implementation (e.g. from proposed partners or sub-award recipients) and will not count towards the page limit.

Please refer to the Proposal Submission Instructions on DRL’s website for detailed guidance on the documents above:  https://www.state.gov/bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/programs-and-grants/.  For an application checklist and sample templates please see the Resources page on DRL’s website:  https://www.state.gov/resources-for-programs-and-grants/.  The sample templates provided on the DRL website are suggested, but not mandatory.

DRL reserves the right to request additional documents not included in this NOFO.  Additionally, to ensure that all applications receive a balanced evaluation, the DRL Review Panel will review from the first page of each section up to the page limit and no further.

Note:  If ultimately provided with a notification of non-binding intent to make a Federal award, applicants typically have two to three weeks to provide additional information and documents requested in the notification of intent.  The deadlines may vary in each notification of intent and applicants must adhere to the stated deadline in the notification of intent.

D.2.3 Additional Information Requested For Those Receiving Notification of Intent

Successful applicants must submit after notification of intent to make a Federal award, but prior to issuance of a Federal award:

  • Written responses and revised application documents addressing conditions and recommendations from the DRL Review Panel;
  • If your organization has a NICRA and includes NICRA charges in the budget, your latest NICRA as a PDF file;
  • Completion of the Department’s Financial Management Survey, if receiving DRL funding for the first time;
  • Submission of required documents to register in the Payment Management System managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, if receiving DRL funding for the first time (unless an exemption is provided);
  • Other requested information or documents included in the notification of intent to make a Federal award or subsequent communications prior to issuance of a Federal award;
  • Applicants who submit their applications through Grants.gov will be required to create a SAMS Domestic account in order to accept the final award.  Accounts must be logged in to every 60 in order to maintain an active account.

D.3 Unique Entity Identifier and System for Award Management (SAM)

All prime organizations, whether based in the United States or in another country, must have a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI), formerly referred to as DUNS, and an active registration with the SAM.gov before submitting an application.  DRL may not review applications from or make awards to applicants that have not completed all applicable UEI and SAM.gov requirements.  A UEI is one of the data elements mandated by Public Law 109-282, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), for all Federal awards.

The 2 CFR 200 requires that subgrantees obtain a UEI number.  Please note the UEI for subgrantees is not required at the time of application but will be required before the award is processed and/or directed to a subgrantee. 

Note:  The process of obtaining a SAM.gov registration may take anywhere from 4-8 weeks.  Please begin your registration as early as possible.

  • If you are based in the United States or pay employees within the United States, prior to registering in SAM.gov you will need an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code.
  • If you are based outside of the United States and do not pay employees within the United States, you do not need an EIN from the IRS.  However, you will need a NATO CAGE (NCAGE) code before you can have an active registration in SAM.gov.

All prime organizations must also continue to maintain active SAM.gov registration with current information at all times during which they have an active Federal award or application under consideration by a Federal award agency.  SAM.gov requires all entities to renew their registration once a year in order to maintain an active registration status in SAM.  It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure it has an active registration in SAM.gov and to maintain that active registration.  If an applicant has not fully complied with the requirements at the time of application, the applicant may be deemed technically ineligible to receive an award and use that determination as a basis for making an award to another applicant.

For further guidance on the registration process, please see the SAM.gov Registration Guide on DRL’s website: https://www.state.gov/resources-for-programs-and-grants/.  Please refer to 2 CFR 25.200 for additional information.  Also, please refer to Section D.5 – Funding Restriction of the NOFO.

Note:  SAM.gov is not the same as SAMS Domestic.  It is free to register in both systems, but the registration processes are different.

In October 2017, new information was added to the www.SAM.gov website to help international registrations, including “Quick Start Guide for International Registrations” and “Helpful Hints.”  Navigate to SAM.gov, click HELP in the top navigation bar, then click International Registrants in the left navigation panel.  Please note, guidance on SAM.gov and the guidance on GSA’s website about requirement for registering in SAM.gov is subject to change.  Applicants should review the website for the most up-to-date guidance.

D.3.1 Exemptions

An exemption from these requirements may be permitted on a case-by-case basis if:

  • An applicant’s identity must be protected due to potential endangerment of their mission, their organization’s status, their employees, or individuals being served by the applicant. 

** Organizations requesting exemption from UEI or SAM.gov requirements must email the point of contact listed in the NOFO at least two weeks prior to the deadline in the NOFO providing a justification of their request.  Approval for a SAM.gov exemption must come from the warranted Grant Officer before the application can be deemed eligible for review. **

Note:  Foreign organizations will be required to register with the NATO Support Agency (NSPA) to receive a NCAGE code in order to register in SAM.gov.  NSPA will forward your registration request to the applicable National Codification Bureau (NCB) if your organization is located in a NATO or Tier 2 Sponsored Non-NATO Nation.  As of October 2019, NATO nations included Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.  As of October 2019, Tier 2 nations included Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Finland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Serbia, Singapore, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, and Ukraine.  

NSPA and/or the appropriate NCB forwards all NCAGE code information to all Allied Committee 135 (AC/135) nations, which as of October 2019 also included Afghanistan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Egypt, Georgia, Japan, Jordan, North Macedonia, Oman, Peru, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Thailand.  All organizations are strongly advised to take this into consideration when assessing whether registration may result in possible endangerment.

D.4 Submission Dates and Times

Applications are due no later than 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST), on Friday, June 12, 2020 on https://www.grants.gov/ or SAMDomestic (https://mygrants.servicenowservices.comunder the announcement title DRL FY19 Countering Corruption amid COVID-19,” funding opportunity number “SFOP0006927.” 

Grants.gov and SAMS Domestic automatically log the date and time an application submission is made, and the Department of State will use this information to determine whether an application has been submitted on time.  Late applications are neither reviewed nor considered unless the DRL point of contact listed in Section G is contacted prior to the deadline and is provided with evidence of system errors caused by Grants.gov or SAMS Domestic (https://mygrants.servicenowservices.com) that is outside of the applicant’s control and is the sole reason for a late submission.  Applicants should not expect a notification upon DRL receiving their application.

D.5 Funding Restrictions

DRL will not consider applications that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization. Please refer the link for Foreign Terrorist Organizations:  https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/

Project activities whose direct beneficiaries are foreign militaries or paramilitary groups or individuals will not be considered for DRL funding given purpose limitations on funding.

In accordance with Department of State policy for terrorism, applicants are advised that successful passing of vetting to evaluate the risk that funds may benefit terrorists or their supporters is a condition of award.  If chosen for an award, applicants will be asked to submit information required by DS Form 4184, Risk Analysis Information (attached to this solicitation) about their company and its principal personnel.  Vetting information is also required for all sub-award performance on assistance awards identified by the Department of State as presenting a risk of terrorist financing.  Vetting information may also be requested for project beneficiaries and participants.  Failure to submit information when requested, or failure to pass vetting, may be grounds for rejecting your proposal prior to award.

The Leahy Law prohibits Department foreign assistance funds from supporting foreign security force units if the Secretary of State has credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.  Per 22 USC §2378d(a) (2017), “No assistance shall be furnished under this chapter or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”  Restrictions may apply to any proposed assistance to police or other law enforcement.  Among these, pursuant to section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (FAA), no assistance provided through this funding opportunity may be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country when there is credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.  In accordance with the requirements of section 620M of the FAA, also known as the Leahy law, project beneficiaries or participants from a foreign government’s security forces may need to be vetted by the Department before the provision of any assistance.  If a proposed grant or cooperative agreement will provide assistance to foreign security forces or personnel, compliance with the Leahy Law is required.

U.S. foreign assistance for Burma or Burmese beneficiaries is subject to restrictions.  This includes restrictions, pursuant to section 7043(a)(1)(C) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2019 (Div. F, P.L. 116-6)(SFOAA), on funds appropriated under title III of the act for assistance for Burma.  Section 7043(a)(1)(C) provides that such funds “may not be made available to any individual or organization if the Secretary of State has credible information that such individual or organization has committed a gross violation of human rights (GVHR), including against Rohingya and other minority groups, or that advocates violence against ethnic or religious groups or individuals in Burma.”  It further provides that such funds “may not be made available to any organization or entity controlled by the armed forces of Burma.”

Organizations should be cognizant of these restrictions when developing project proposals as these restrictions will require appropriate due diligence of program beneficiaries and collaboration with DRL to ensure compliance with these restrictions.  Program beneficiaries subject to GVHR due diligence vetting will include any individuals who are part of or were formerly part of the government, military, or nongovernmental armed groups.  Program beneficiaries subject to advocating or otherwise promoting violence due diligence vetting will include any individuals or entities that are beneficiaries of foreign assistance funding or support.  Due diligence vetting will include a review of open source materials.

Federal awards generally will not allow reimbursement of pre-award costs; however, the Grants Officer may approve pre-award costs on a case-by-case basis.  Generally, construction costs are not allowed under DRL awards.  For additional information, please see the DRL Proposal Submission Instructions for Applications: https://www.state.gov/bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/programs-and-grants/.

D.6 Application Submission

All application submissions must be made electronically via www.grants.gov or SAMS Domestic (https://mygrants.servicenowservices.com).  Both systems require registration by the applying organization.  Please note:  the Grants.gov registration process can take ten  business days or longer, even if all registration steps are completed in a timely manner.

It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that it has an active registration in SAMS Domestic or Grants.gov.  Applicants are required to document that the application has been received by SAMS Domestic or Grants.gov in its entirety.  DRL bears no responsibility for disqualification that result from applicants not being registered before the due date, for system errors in either SAMS Domestic or Grants.gov, or other errors in the application process.  Additionally you must save a screen shot of the checklist showing all documents submitted in case any document fails to upload successfully.

Faxed, couriered, or emailed documents will not be accepted.  Reasonable accommodations may, in appropriate circumstances, be provided to applicants with disabilities or for security reasons.  Applicants must follow all formatting instructions in the applicable NOFO and these instructions.

DRL encourages organizations to submit applications during normal business hours (Monday – Friday, 9:00AM – 5:00PM Eastern Standard Time (EST)).  If an applicant experiences technical difficulties and has contacted the appropriate helpdesk but is not receiving timely assistance (e.g. if you have not received a response within 48 hours of contacting the helpdesk), you may contact the DRL point of contact listed in the NOFO in Section G.  The point of contact may assist in contacting the appropriate helpdesk.

Note:  The Grants Officer will determine technical eligibility of all applications.

SAMS Domestic Applications:

Applicants using SAMS Domestic for the first time should complete their “New Organization Registration.”  To register with SAMS Domestic, click “Login to https://mygrants.servicenowservices.com” and follow the “create an account” link.

Organizations must remember to save a screen shot of the checklist showing all documents submitted in case any document fails to upload successfully.

SAMS Domestic Help Desk:  
For assistance with SAMS Domestic accounts and technical issues related to the system, please contact the ILMS help desk by phone at +1 (888) 313-4567 (toll charges apply for international callers) or through the Self Service online portal that can be accessed from https://afsitsm.service-now.com/ilms/home.  Customer support is available 24/7.

Grants.gov Applications:
Applicants who do not submit applications via SAMS Domestic may submit via www.grants.gov.

Please be advised that completing all the necessary registration steps for obtaining a username and password from Grants.gov can take more than two (2) weeks.

Please refer to the Grants.gov website for definitions of various “application statuses” and the difference between a submission receipt and a submission validation.  Applicants will receive a validation e-mail from Grants.gov upon the successful submission of an application.  Validation of an electronic submission via Grants.gov can take up to two business days.  Additionally, you must remember to save a screenshot of the checklist showing all documents submitted in case any document fails to upload successfully.

Grants.gov Helpdesk: 

For assistance with Grants.gov, please call the Contact Center at +1 (800) 518-4726 or email support@grants.gov.  The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.

See https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/  for a list of federal holidays.

E. Application Review Information

E.1 Proposal Review Criteria

The DRL Review Panel will evaluate each application individually against the following criteria, listed below in order of importance, and not against competing applications.  Please use the below criteria as a reference, but do not structure your application according to the sub-sections.

Quality of Project Idea

Applications should be responsive to the program framework and policy objectives identified in the NOFO, appropriate in the country/regional context, and should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to DRL’s mission of promoting human rights and democracy.  Projects should have the potential to have an immediate impact leading to long-term, sustainable reforms. DRL prefers new approaches that do not duplicate efforts by other entities.  This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way.  In countries where similar activities are already taking place, an explanation should be provided as to how new activities will not duplicate or merely add to existing activities and how these efforts will be coordinated.  Proposals that promote creative approaches to recognized ongoing challenges are highly encouraged.  DRL prioritizes project proposals with inclusive approaches for advancing these rights.

Project Planning/Ability to Achieve Objectives

A strong application will include a clear articulation of how the proposed project activities contribute to the overall project objectives, and each activity will be clearly developed and detailed.  A comprehensive monthly work plan should demonstrate substantive undertakings and the logistical capacity of the organization.  Objectives should be ambitious yet measurable, results-focused and achievable in a reasonable time frame.  A complete application must include a logic model to demonstrate how the project activities will have an impact on its proposed objectives.  The logic model should match the objectives, outcomes, key activities, and outputs described in the narrative.  Applications should address how the project will engage relevant stakeholders and should identify local partners as appropriate.

If local partners have been identified, DRL strongly encourages applicants to submit letters of support from proposed in-country partners.  Additionally, applicants should describe the division of labor among the direct applicant and any local partners.  If applicable, applications should identify target geographic areas for activities, target participant groups or selection criteria for participants, and the specific roles of sub-awardees, among other pertinent details.

DRL recognizes that all programs have some level of risk due to internal/external variables that have the potential to adversely affect a program.  Risk management should address how the program design incorporates the identification, assessment, and management of key risk factors.  DRL will review the risk analysis based on the organization’s ability to identify risks that could have an impact on the overall program as well as how the organization will manage these risks.

Institution’s Record and Capacity

DRL will consider the past performance of prior recipients and the demonstrated potential of new applicants.  Applications should demonstrate an institutional record of successful democracy and human rights programs, including responsible fiscal management and full compliance with all reporting requirements for past grants.  Proposed personnel and institutional resources should be adequate and appropriate to achieve the project’s objectives.  Projects should have potential for continued funding beyond DRL resources.

Addressing Barriers to Equal Participation

DRL strives to ensure its projects advance the rights and uphold the dignity of all persons.  As the U.S. government’s lead bureau dedicated to promoting democratic governance, DRL requests a programming approach dedicated to strengthening inclusive societies as a necessary pillar of strong democracies.  Violence targeting any members of society undermines collective security and threatens democracy.  DRL prioritizes inclusive and integrated program models that assess and address the barriers to access for individuals and groups based on their religion, gender, disabilities, ethnicity, or sexual orientation and gender identity.  Applicants should describe how programming will impact all of its beneficiaries, including support that specifically targets communities facing discrimination, and which may be under threat of violence.  This approach should be an integral part of both the concept and explicit design, and implementation of all proposed project activities, objectives, and monitoring.  Strong proposals will provide specific analysis, measures, and corresponding targets as appropriate.  Stakeholders shall identify the difference between opportunities and barriers to access, and design programs accordingly to not perpetuate these inequalities, but rather enhance programmatic impact by including all people in society.  The goal of this approach is to bring communities and those in power together in support of more stable and secure societies.

Cost Effectiveness

DRL strongly encourages applicants to clearly demonstrate project cost-effectiveness in their application, including examples of leveraging institutional and other resources.  However, cost-sharing or other examples of leveraging other resources are not required.  Inclusion of cost-sharing in the budget does not result in additional points awarded during the review process.  Budgets should have low and/or reasonable overhead and administration costs, and applicants should provide clear explanations and justifications for these costs in relation to the work involved.  All budget items should be clearly explained and justified to demonstrate necessity, appropriateness, and connection to the project objectives.

Please note:  If cost-share is included in the budget, the recipient must maintain written records to support all allowable costs that are claimed as its contribution to cost-share, as well as costs to be paid by the Federal government.  Such records are subject to audit.  In the event the recipient does not meet the minimum amount of cost-sharing as stipulated in the recipient’s budget, DRL’s contribution may be reduced in proportion to the recipient’s contribution.

Multiplier Effect/Sustainability

Applications should clearly delineate how elements of the project will have a multiplier effect and be sustainable beyond the life of the grant.  A good multiplier effect will have an impact beyond the direct beneficiaries of the grant (e.g. participants trained under a grant go on to train other people; workshop participants use skills from a workshop to enhance a national level election that affects the entire populace).  A strong sustainability plan may include demonstrating continuing impact beyond the life of a project or garnering other donor support after DRL funding ceases.

Project Monitoring and Evaluation

Complete applications will include a detailed M&E Narrative and M&E Plan, which detail how the project’s progress will be monitored and evaluated.  Incorporating well-designed monitoring and evaluation processes into a project is an efficient method for documenting the change (intended and unintended) that a project seeks.  Applications should demonstrate the capacity to provide objectives with measurable outputs and outcomes.

The quality of the M&E sections will be judged on the narrative explaining how both monitoring and evaluation will be carried out and who will be responsible for those related activities.  The M&E Narrative should explain how an external evaluation will be incorporated into the project implementation plan or how the project will be systematically assessed in the absence of one.  Please see the section on Monitoring and Evaluation Narrative in the Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for more information on what is required in the narrative.

The output and outcome-based performance indicators should not only be separated by project objectives but also should match the objectives, outcomes, and outputs detailed in the logic model and proposal narrative.  Performance indicators should be clearly defined (i.e., explained how the indicators will be measured and reported) either within the table or with a separate Performance Indicator Reference Sheet (PIRS).  For each performance indicator, the table should also include baselines and quarterly and cumulative targets, data collection tools, data sources, types of data disaggregation, and frequency of monitoring and evaluation.  There should also be metrics to capture how project activities target those discriminated against or marginalized populations or addresses their concerns, where applicable.  Please see the section on Monitoring and Evaluation Plan in the Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for more information on what is required in the plan.

E.2 Review and Selection Process

DRL strives to ensure that each application receives a balanced evaluation by a DRL Review Panel.  The Department’s Office of Acquisitions Management (AQM) will determine technical eligibility for all applications.  All technically eligible applications for a given NOFO are reviewed against the same seven criteria, which include quality of project idea, project planning/ability to achieve objectives, institutional record and capacity, inclusive programming, cost effectiveness, multiplier effect/sustainability, and project monitoring and evaluation.

Additionally, the DRL Review Panel will evaluate how the application addresses the NOFO request, U.S. foreign policy goals, and the priority needs of DRL overall.  DRL may also take into consideration the balance of the current portfolio of active projects, including geographic or thematic diversity, if needed.

In most cases, the DRL Review Panel includes representatives from DRL, the appropriate Department of State regional bureau (to include feedback from U.S. embassies), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) (to include feedback from USAID missions).  In some cases, additional panelists may participate, including from other Department of State bureaus or offices; U.S. government departments, agencies, or boards; representatives from partner governments; or representatives from entities that are in a public-private partnership with DRL.  At the end of the panel’s discussion about an application, the Panel votes on recommending the application for approval by the DRL Assistant Secretary.  If more applications are ultimately recommended for approval than DRL can fund, the Panel will rank the recommended applications in priority order for consideration by the DRL Assistant Secretary.  The Grants Officer Representative (GOR) for the eventual award does not vote on the panel.  All Panelists must sign non-disclosure agreements and conflicts of interest agreements.

DRL Review Panels may provide conditions and recommendations on applications to enhance the proposed project, which must be addressed by the applicant before further consideration of the award.  To ensure effective use of DRL funds, conditions or recommendations may include requests to increase, decrease, clarify, and/or justify costs and project activities.

F. Federal Award Administration Information

F.1 Federal Award Notices

DRL will provide a separate notification to applicants on the result of their applications.  Successful applicants will receive a letter electronically via email requesting that the applicant respond to Panel conditions and recommendations.  This notification is not an authorization to begin activities and does not constitute formal approval or a funding commitment.

Final approval is contingent on the applicant successfully responding to the Panel’s conditions and recommendations, being registered in required systems, including the U.S. government’s Payment Management System (PMS), unless an exemption is provided, and completing and providing any additional documentation requested by DRL or AQM.  Final approval is also contingent on Congressional notification requirements being met and final review and approval by the Department’s warranted Grants Officer.

The notice of Federal award signed by the Department’s warranted Grants Officers is the sole authorizing document.  If awarded, the notice of Federal award will be provided to the applicant’s designated Authorizing Official via SAMS Domestic to be electronically counter-signed in the system.

F.2 Administrative and National Policy and Legal Requirements

DRL requires all recipients of foreign assistance funding to comply with all applicable Department and Federal laws and regulations, including but not limited to the following:

The Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards set forth in 2 CFR Chapter 200 (Sub-Chapters A through F) shall apply to all non-Federal entities, except for assistance awards to Individuals and Foreign Public Entities.  Sub-Chapters A through E shall apply to all foreign organizations, and Sub-Chapters A through D shall apply to all U.S. and foreign for-profit entities. The applicant/recipient of the award and any sub-recipient under the award must comply with all applicable terms and conditions, in addition to the assurance and certifications made part of the Notice of Award.  The Department’s Standard Terms and Conditions can be viewed at https://www.state.gov/m/a/ope/index.htm.

Additionally, DRL supports implementation of the Women Peace and Security Act of 2017, which highlights the U.S. commitment to the meaningful participation of women in conflict prevention, management, and resolution.  For additional information, please refer to the link: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1141

Due to the determination made under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) for FY 2020, assistance that benefits the governments of the following countries may be subject to a restriction under the TVPA.  The Department of State determines on a case-by-case basis what constitutes assistance to a government; the general principles listed below apply.

Assistance to the government includes:

  • All branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial) at all levels (national, regional, local);
  • Public schools, universities, hospitals, and state-owned enterprises, as well as government employees;
  • Cash, training, equipment, services, or other assistance provided directly to the government, assistance provided to an NGO or other implementer for the benefit of the government, and assistance to government employees.

Subject to TVPA for funds obligated during FY 2020:

AF:  Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, The Gambia, Mauritania, South Sudan

EAP:  Burma, China (PRC), North Korea, Papua New Guinea

EUR:  Belarus, Russia

SCA:  Bhutan, Turkmenistan

NEA:  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria

WHA:  Cuba, Venezuela

Additional requirements may be included depending on the content of the program.

F.3 Reporting

Applicants should be aware that DRL awards will require that all reports (financial and progress) are uploaded to the grant file in SAMS Domestic on a quarterly basis.  The Federal Financial Report (FFR or SF-425) is the required form for the financial reports and must be submitted in PMS, as well as a copy from PMS then uploaded to the grant file in SAMS Domestic.  The progress reports uploaded to the grant file in SAMS Domestic must include a narrative as described below and Project Indicators (or other mutually agreed upon format approved by the Grants Officer) for the F Framework indicators. The F Framework indicators will be reviewed and negotiated during the final stages of issuing an award.

Narrative progress reports should reflect the focus on measuring the project’s impact on the overarching objectives and should be compiled according to the objectives, outcomes, and outputs as outlined in the award’s Scope of Work (SOW) and in the Monitoring & Evaluation Narrative.  An assessment of the overall project’s impact should be included in each progress report.  Where relevant, progress reports should include the following sections:

  • Relevant contextual information (limited);
  • Explanation and evaluation of significant activities of the reporting period and how the activities reflect progress toward achieving objectives, including meeting benchmarks/targets as set in the M&E plan.  In addition, attach the M&E Plan, comparing the target and actual numbers for the indicators;
  • Any tangible impact or success stories from the project, when possible;
  • Copy of mid-term and/or final evaluation report(s) conducted by an external evaluator; if applicable;
  • Relevant supporting documentation or products related to the project activities (such as articles, meeting lists and agendas, participant surveys, photos, manuals, etc.) as separate attachments;
  • Description of how the Recipient is pursuing sustainability, including looking for sources of follow-on funding;
  • Any problems/challenges in implementing the project and a corrective action plan with an updated timeline of activities;
  • Reasons why established goals were not met;
  • Data for the required F Framework indicator(s) for the quarter as well as aggregate data by fiscal year:  Program Indicators or other mutually agreed upon format approved by the Grants Officer;
  • Proposed activities for the next quarter; and,
  • Additional pertinent information, including analysis and explanation of cost overruns or high unit costs, if applicable.

A final narrative and financial report must also be submitted within 90 days after the expiration of the award.

Please note:  Delays in reporting may result in delays of payment approvals and failure to provide required reports may jeopardize the recipient’s’ ability to receive future U.S. government funds.

DRL reserves the right to request any additional programmatic and/or financial project information during the award period.

G. Contact Information

For technical submission questions related to this NOFO, please contact DRL-GP-EAP@state.gov.

For assistance with SAMS Domestic accounts and technical issues related to the system, please contact the ILMS help desk by phone at +1 (888) 313-4567 (toll charges apply for international callers) or through the Self Service online portal that can be accessed from https://afsitsm.service-now.com/ilms/home.  Customer support is available 24/7.

Please note that establishing an account in SAMS Domestic may require the use of smartphone for multi-factor authentication (MFA).  If an applicant does not have accessibility to a smartphone during the time of creating an account, please contact the helpdesk and request instructions on MFA for Windows PC.

For assistance with Grants.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at +1 (800) 518-4726 or email support@grants.gov.  The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.

For a list of federal holidays visit:

https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/

Except for technical submission questions, during the NOFO period U.S. Department of State staff in Washington and overseas shall not discuss this competition with applicants until the entire proposal review process has been completed and rejection and approval letters have been transmitted.

H. Other Information

Applicants should be aware that DRL understands that some information contained in applications may be considered sensitive or proprietary and will make appropriate efforts to protect such information.  However, applicants are advised that DRL cannot guarantee that such information will not be disclosed, including pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or other similar statutes.

The information in this NOFO and “DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions for Applications Updated January 2020” is binding and may not be modified by any DRL representative.  Explanatory information provided by DRL that contradicts this language will not be binding.  Issuance of the NOFO and negotiation of applications does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the U.S. government.  DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets.

This NOFO will appear on www.grants.gov, SAMS Domestic, and DRL’s website https://www.state.gov/bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/programs-and-grants/.

Background Information on DRL and General DRL Funding

DRL has the mission of promoting democracy and protecting human rights globally.  DRL supports projects that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, prevent atrocities, combat and prevent violent extremism, and build civil society around the world.  DRL typically focuses its work in countries with egregious human rights violations, where democracy and human rights advocates are under pressure and where governments are undemocratic or in transition.

Additional background information on DRL and its efforts can be found on https://www.state.gov/bureaus-offices/under-secretary-for-civilian-security-democracy-and-human-rights/bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/.

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    What GAO Found Under Medicare Advantage (MA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with private MA plans to provide health care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. MA beneficiaries in the last year of life disenrolled to join Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) at more than twice the rate of all other MA beneficiaries, GAO's analysis found. MA plans are prohibited from limiting coverage based on beneficiary health status, and disproportionate disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last of year life may indicate potential issues with their care. Stakeholders told GAO that, among other reasons, beneficiaries in the last of year life may disenroll because of potential limitations accessing specialized care under MA. While CMS monitors MA disenrollments, the agency does not specifically review disenrollments by beneficiaries in the last year of life. Doing so could help CMS better ensure the care provided to these beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage Beneficiary Disenrollments to Join Fee-for-Service, 2016-2017 Beneficiaries in the last year of life who disenrolled from MA to join FFS increased Medicare costs as they moved from MA's fixed payment arrangement to FFS, where payments are based on the amount and cost of services provided. GAO's analysis shows that FFS payments for such beneficiaries who disenrolled in 2016 were $422 million higher than their estimated MA payments had they remained in MA, and were $490 million higher for those that disenrolled in 2017. Estimated Medicare Advantage Payments for Beneficiaries in Last Year of Life that Disenrolled Compared to Fee-for-Service Payments, 2016-2017 Why GAO Did This Study In contrast to Medicare FFS, which pays providers for claims for services, CMS pays MA plans a fixed monthly amount per beneficiary to provide health care coverage. For beneficiaries with higher expected health care costs, MA payments are increased. In 2019, CMS paid MA plans about $274 billion to cover about 22 million beneficiaries. Prior GAO and other studies have shown that beneficiaries in poorer health are more likely to disenroll from MA to join FFS, which may indicate that they encountered issues with their care under MA. Beneficiaries in the last year of life are generally in poorer health and often require high-cost care. GAO was asked to review disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last year of life. In this report, GAO examined (1) disenrollments from MA to join FFS by beneficiaries in the last year of life, and CMS's associated monitoring; and (2) the costs of such disenrollments to Medicare. GAO analyzed CMS disenrollment and mortality data for 2015 through 2018—the most current data at the time of the analysis—to examine the extent of MA beneficiary disenrollment in the last year of life. To estimate the costs of disenrollment, GAO used CMS data to estimate payments for disenrolled beneficiaries had they remained in MA, and compared those estimates against those beneficiaries' actual FFS costs.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Most school and veteran service organization (VSO) officials GAO interviewed stated that when given the choice between the Post 9/11 GI Bill (GI Bill) and the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program, veterans with disabilities will base their choice on which program best suits their unique goals, preferences, and circumstances. For example, certain veterans may prefer the GI Bill's flexibility to independently select courses of study, whereas others may prefer to have the assistance of a counselor to select a course of study as part of an employment plan, as provided under VR&E. However, most officials GAO interviewed said veterans with disabilities often use the GI Bill for education benefits without knowing that the VR&E program exists, or that it can pay for education, provide assistive equipment for their disability, or offer unique benefits of working with a counselor. Selected Comments Regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Veteran Readiness & Employment Programs “Had I known about VR&E I would have [used it.]” -Veteran with disabilities “I often think of VR&E as sort of a hidden program when it comes to education benefits.” -VSO official ”Veterans with disabilities are often not aware of the differences between the two programs.” -School official Source: GAO survey of veterans and GAO interviews with school and VSO officials | GAO-21-450 VA provides information about education benefits to veterans with disabilities through various methods, including in-person communication, online materials, and written communications. However, on the agency website, VA.gov, few webpages devoted to VR&E explicitly mention that it can help pay for a college degree. In addition, the letters that VA sends to veterans when they receive their disability rating do not specifically mention that VR&E can cover education costs for a college degree. VA's online GI Bill Comparison Tool allows veterans to learn more about the tuition amounts each program will cover for certain schools, but it does not inform veterans on the key differences in program features across the programs. Most school and VSO officials GAO interviewed said VA's efforts do not adequately inform veterans with disabilities about their potential education benefit options, as evidenced by the number of veterans with disabilities they encounter who are unaware that VR&E exists or who do not fully understand the benefits VR&E can provide. Including more information about how VR&E can help veterans pay for higher education, and facilitating direct comparison between the features of the GI Bill and VR&E, would help better position veterans with disabilities to choose the program that best meets their needs. Why GAO Did This Study VA offers education benefits to veterans with disabilities through the GI Bill, VA's largest education program, and VR&E, which helps veterans with service-connected disabilities re-enter the workforce. Each offers distinct features that may better serve veterans depending on their individual circumstances. However, veterans with disabilities may not know that VR&E can help pay for education as part of its employment services. GAO was asked to what extent eligible veterans are aware of the comparative features of the programs. This report examines (1) the reported factors that influence whether veterans with disabilities select the Post-9/11 GI Bill or VR&E, and (2) how VA informs veterans with disabilities about the education benefits available to them from each program, and the effectiveness of those efforts. For both programs, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws; analyzed participant data; conducted semi-structured interviews with officials from schools and VSOs selected for their depth of knowledge about veteran affairs, and reviewed relevant VA informational materials.
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    What GAO Found To help government contractors keep their workforce in a ready state during the COVID-19 pandemic, section 3610 of the CARES Act generally authorized government agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to contractor personnel and subcontractors during the national emergency. Section 3610 did not appropriate specific funding for this purpose. The four agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and NASA—reported use of section 3610 authority totaling at least $882.8 million over 14 months. The extent to which the agencies used the authority varied, from $1.4 million at Homeland Security to $760.7 million at Energy. Further, Defense officials estimated that defense contractors have more than $4 billion in paid leave costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement under section 3610. Defense officials also noted, however, that the department does not plan to reimburse this full amount using existing funding. Agencies also based their reimbursement decisions on the nature of the work performed by contractors, such as whether telework was an option. Twelve out of the 15 contractors GAO interviewed reported that paid leave reimbursement had a great or moderate effect on their ability to retain employees (see figure), in particular those with specialized skills or clearances. Selected Contractors' Views on the Effect of Paid Leave Reimbursement on Workforce Retention Given the urgency of the pandemic, agencies prioritized quick implementation of section 3610 over a more deliberative process, resulting in variations such as how agencies tracked use of the authority. Officials from all four agencies said that they either have captured or intend to capture lessons learned from implementing section 3610 and are willing to share these with other federal agencies. However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which coordinates government-wide contracting policy—has not collected and shared lessons learned. With coordination from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the government could seize an opportunity to enhance implementation of paid leave reimbursement provisions that may be enacted as part of rapid federal responses to future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance for those affected by COVID-19. Section 3610 of the CARES Act enables agencies, at their discretion, to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to their employees and subcontractors who are unable to access work sites due to facility closures or other restrictions, and whose duties cannot be performed remotely during the pandemic. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. In September 2020, GAO found that agencies had not made much use of section 3610 authority as of July 2020, and expectations of future use varied. This report (1) examines how selected federal agencies have used section 3610 authority and (2) presents selected contractors' perspectives on COVID-19 paid leave reimbursement. GAO reviewed guidance and data and interviewed cognizant officials from four agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO also selected a non-generalizable sample of 15 contractors that received or requested section 3610 reimbursements from one or more of the selected agencies and conducted semi-structured interviews of contractor representatives.
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    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took steps—such as issuing guidance and trainings—to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Community Living Centers (CLC), which are VA-owned and -operated nursing homes. This guidance focused on, for example, limiting CLC entry and testing residents and staff for COVID-19, while the trainings were intended to prepare staff for, among other things, a surge in cases. However, the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in these facilities during the first year of the pandemic, from March 2020 through February 2021. In particular, the agency suspended annual in-person inspections of CLCs before resuming them virtually in February 2021. The agency also required that CLCs conduct a one-time self-assessment of their infection prevention and control practices but did not review the results in a timely manner to make more immediate improvements. VA officials acknowledged these shortcomings as the agency responded in real time to the rapidly evolving pandemic. As VA has described this time as a “learning period,” it could benefit from assessing its decisions and actions related to oversight of infection prevention and control during the pandemic to identify any lessons learned. Such an assessment would align with VA's plans to assess and report on the agency's overall response to the pandemic as well as its strategic goal to promote continuous quality improvement in CLCs. Results from such an assessment—which could look at both successes and missed opportunities—could help VA better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks in CLCs. Why GAO Did This Study Close to 8,000 veterans per day received nursing home care provided by VA in CLCs in fiscal year 2020. COVID-19 has posed significant risks to nursing home residents and staff, as residents are often in frail health, and residents and staff have close daily contact with each other. The CARES Act includes a provision that GAO monitor the federal response to the pandemic. This report describes, among other objectives, guidance and training VA has issued to help CLCs respond to the pandemic and examines VA's oversight of infection prevention and control in CLCs during the pandemic. GAO analyzed documents, including guidance, training-related materials, and CLC self-assessments of their infection prevention and control practices. GAO also interviewed VA officials and CLC staff, the latter from five facilities selected based on factors such as having been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies prior to the pandemic.
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    What GAO Found The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) developed a process in July 2018 to review tariff exclusion requests for some imported products from China and later developed a process to extend these exclusions. From 2018 to 2020, U.S. stakeholders submitted about 53,000 exclusion requests to USTR for specific products covered by the tariffs. USTR's process consisted of a public comment period to submit requests, an internal review, an interagency assessment, and the decision publication. USTR documented some procedures for reviewing exclusion requests. However, it did not fully document all of its internal procedures, including roles and responsibilities for each step in its review process. GAO reviewed selected exclusion case files and found inconsistencies in the agency's reviews. For example, USTR did not document how reviewers should consider multiple requests from the same company, and GAO's case file review found USTR performed these steps inconsistently. Another case file lacked documentation to explain USTR's final decision because the agency's procedures did not specify whether such documentation was required. Federal internal control standards state that agencies should document their procedures to ensure they conduct them consistently and effectively, and to retain knowledge. Without fully documented internal procedures, USTR lacks reasonable assurance it conducted its reviews consistently. Moreover, documenting them will help USTR to administer any future exclusions and extensions. USTR evaluated each exclusion request on a case-by-case basis using several factors, including product availability outside of China and the potential economic harm of the tariffs. According to USTR officials, no one factor was essential to grant or deny a request. For example, USTR might grant a request that demonstrated the tariffs would cause severe economic harm even when the requested product was available outside of China. USTR denied about 46,000 requests (87 percent), primarily for the failure to show that the tariffs would cause severe economic harm to the requesters or other U.S. interests (see figure). Further, USTR did not extend 75 percent of the tariff exclusions it had granted. USTR's Primary Reasons for Denying Exclusion Requests for Section 301 Tariffs on Products from China, 2018-2020 Note: Totals may not sum due to rounding. Why GAO Did This Study In July 2018, USTR placed tariffs on certain products from China in response to an investigation that found certain trade acts, policies, and practices of China were unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce. As of December 2020, the U.S. imposed tariffs on roughly $460 billion worth of Chinese imports under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. Because these tariffs could harm U.S. workers and manufacturers that rely on these imports, USTR developed a process to exclude some products from these additional tariffs. U.S. businesses and members of Congress have raised questions about the transparency and fairness of USTR's administration of this process. GAO was asked to review USTR's tariff exclusion program. This report (1) examines the processes USTR used to review Section 301 tariff exclusion requests and extensions and (2) describes how USTR evaluated those tariff exclusion requests and extensions, and the outcomes of its decisions. GAO analyzed USTR's public and internal documents relating to the exclusion and extension processes, including 16 randomly selected nongeneralizable case files, and data from USTR and the U.S. Census Bureau. GAO also interviewed agency officials.
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