Rule of Law Assistance: Agency Efforts Are Guided by Various Strategies, and Overseas Missions Should Ensure that Programming Is Fully Coordinated

What GAO Found

The Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated more than $2.7 billion for rule of law assistance from fiscal years 2014 through 2018—the latest available data as of GAO’s review. Of that, State allocated over $2 billion and USAID allocated over $700 million. State and USAID funded some of these programs through the Department of Justice (DOJ). Rule of law assistance funded a variety of activities including improving justice institutions, legal reform, and promoting a culture of lawfulness. The agencies implemented these programs globally but allocated most funds to the Western Hemisphere and Afghanistan.

Global Distribution of Bilateral Rule of Law Assistance Allocations, Fiscal Years 2014–2018

After Congress appropriates funding, agencies determine rule of law allocations through the foreign assistance budget process. State and USAID identify rule of law as a goal in agency-wide strategic documents and hold an annual interagency roundtable regarding rule of law assistance to determine those allocations. Rule of law assistance is guided by national and agency-, bureau-, and mission-specific strategies that are linked to the national security goals of the United States. These strategies discuss the agencies’ roles and responsibilities in improving the rule of law.

State and USAID guidance highlights the importance of coordination between agencies as they design and implement rule of law assistance, but not all agencies are included in some of the key coordination mechanisms used in four countries GAO selected for review. Agency officials in the selected countries cited the use of some informal and formal coordination practices, such as the use of law enforcement working groups, but State policy does not require all entities that may be involved in rule of law assistance to participate in these working groups. For example, in three of the four selected countries, officials described coordinating rule of law assistance, in part, through these working groups, which may not include critical agencies such as USAID. According to State policy, these working groups are designed to achieve other goals using agencies and offices that are not involved in providing rule of law assistance. Without verifying that interagency coordination includes all relevant entities, missions may not know whether they are fully leveraging interagency resources or ensuring that they do not duplicate or overlap rule of law assistance.

Why GAO Did This Study

Rule of law strengthens protection of fundamental rights, ensures a robust civil society, and serves as a foundation for democratic governance and economic growth. According to State, countries with a strong rule of law provide a more level playing field for American businesses to engage and compete, and countries with a weak rule of law can potentially export transnational threats and economic insecurity, undermining the interests of the United States.

GAO was asked to review U.S. rule of law assistance around the world. This report examines (1) how State and USAID allocated funds for this assistance in fiscal years 2014 through 2018, (2) how agencies strategically plan and allocate this assistance globally, and (3) what processes agencies have to design, implement, and coordinate this assistance in selected countries.

GAO reviewed State, USAID, and DOJ documents and data for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 and interviewed officials in Colombia, Kosovo, Liberia, the Philippines, and Washington, D.C. GAO chose these countries on the basis of funding amounts and other factors.

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    What GAO Found In June 2019, GAO identified 10 critical federal information technology (IT) legacy systems that were most in need of modernization. These legacy systems provided vital support to agencies' missions. According to the agencies, these legacy systems ranged from about 8 to 51 years old and, collectively, cost about $337 million annually to operate and maintain. Several of the systems used older languages, such as Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL). GAO has previously reported that reliance on such languages has risks, such as a rise in procurement and operating costs, and a decrease in the availability of individuals with the proper skill sets. Further, several of the legacy systems were operating with known security vulnerabilities and unsupported hardware and software. Of the 10 agencies responsible for these legacy systems, GAO reported in June 2019 that seven agencies (the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, the Interior, the Treasury; as well as the Office of Personnel Management; Small Business Administration; and Social Security Administration) had documented plans for modernizing the systems (see table). Of the seven agencies with plans, only the Departments of the Interior's and Defense's modernization plans included all of the key elements identified in best practices (milestones, a description of the work necessary to complete the modernization, and a plan for the disposition of the legacy system). The other five agencies lacked complete modernization plans. The Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Transportation did not have documented modernization plans. Table: Extent to Which Agencies' Had Documented Modernization Plans for Legacy Systems That Included Key Elements, as of June 2019 Agency Included milestones to complete the modernization Described work necessary to modernize system Summarized planned disposition of legacy system Department of Defense Yes Yes Yes Department of Education n/a – did not have a documented modernization plan Department of Health and Human Services n/a – did not have a documented modernization plan Department of Homeland Security No Yes No Department of the Interior Yes Yes Yes Department of the Treasury Partial Yes No Department of Transportation n/a – did not have a documented modernization plan Office of Personnel Management Partial Partial No Small Business Administration Yes No Yes Social Security Administration Partial Partial No Source: GAO analysis of agency modernization plans. | GAO-21-524T Agencies received a “partial” if the element was completed for a portion of the modernization. GAO stressed that, until the eight agencies established complete plans, their modernizations would face an increased risk of cost overruns, schedule delays, and project failure. Accordingly, GAO recommended that each of the eight develop such plans. However, to date, seven of the agencies had not done so. It is essential that agencies implement GAO's recommendations and these plans in order to meet mission needs, address security risks, and reduce operating costs. Why GAO Did This Study Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on IT and cyber-related investments. Of this amount, agencies have typically spent about 80 percent on the operations and maintenance of existing IT investments, including legacy systems. However, federal legacy systems are becoming increasingly obsolete. In May 2016, GAO reported instances where agencies were using systems that had components that were at least 50 years old or the vendors were no longer providing support for hardware or software. Similarly, in June 2019 GAO reported that several of the federal government's most critical legacy systems used outdated languages, had unsupported hardware and software, and were operating with known security vulnerabilities. GAO was asked to testify on its June 2019 report on federal agencies' legacy systems. Specifically, GAO summarized (1) the critical federal legacy systems that we identified as most in need of modernization and (2) its evaluation of agencies' plans for modernizing them. GAO also provided updated information regarding agencies' implementation of its related recommendations.
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  • Statement by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division on Veterans Day
    In Crime News
    The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and its Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative would like to wish a happy Veterans Day to our soldiers, both past and present. We owe you our thanks, but more than that, we owe you our freedom. As the head of the Civil Rights Division, I am entrusted with enforcing laws that protect the rights of the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, and the veterans who have served in the past. Enforcement of these very important federal civil rights laws helps ensure that these men and women can continue to safeguard our freedom. 
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Medicaid: HHS’s Preliminary Analyses Offer Incomplete Picture of Behavioral Health Demonstration’s Effectiveness
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 (PAMA) established the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) demonstration and tasked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with its implementation. CCBHCs aim to improve the behavioral health services they provide, particularly for Medicaid beneficiaries. Initially established for a 2-year period, the demonstration has been extended by law a number of times; most recently, it was extended to September 2023. States participating in the demonstration can receive Medicaid payments, consistent with federal requirements, for CCBHC services provided to beneficiaries. PAMA also required HHS to assess the effect of the demonstration on service access, costs, and quality. HHS's preliminary assessments of the demonstration in eight states, with 66 participating CCBHCs, found the following: Access. CCBHCs commonly added services related to mental and behavioral health, such as medication-assisted treatment, and took actions to provide services outside the clinic setting, such as through telehealth. Costs. States' average payments to CCBHCs typically exceeded CCBHC costs for the first 2 years of the demonstration. CCBHC payments and costs were more closely aligned in the second year for most states, better reflecting the payment methods prescribed under the demonstration. Quality. States and CCBHCs took steps, such as implementing electronic health records systems, to report performance on 21 quality measures. GAO found data limitations complicated—and will continue to affect—HHS's efforts to assess the effectiveness of the demonstration. For example: Lack of baseline data. PAMA requires HHS to assess the quality of services provided by CCBHCs compared with non-participating areas or states. The demonstration marked the first time these clinics reported performance on quality measures, so no historical baseline data exist. HHS officials noted that with time, additional data may provide insight on the quality of services. Lack of comparison groups. PAMA requires HHS to compare CCBHCs' efforts to increase access and improve quality with non-participating clinics and states. HHS was unable to identify comparable clinics or states due to significant differences among the communities. Lack of detail on Medicaid encounters. PAMA requires HHS to assess the effect of the demonstration on federal and state costs and on Medicaid beneficiaries' access to services. HHS plans to use Medicaid claims and encounter data to assess such changes. However, GAO has previously identified concerns with the accuracy and completeness of Medicaid data and has made numerous recommendations aimed at improving their quality. HHS's decisions in implementing the demonstration also complicated its assessment efforts. HHS allowed states to identify different program goals and target populations, and to cover different services. HHS also did not require states to use standard billing codes and billing code modifiers it developed. The lack of standardization across states limited HHS's ability to assess changes in a uniform way. Why GAO Did This Study Behavioral health conditions—mental health issues and substance use disorders—affect millions of people. HHS estimates that 61 million adults had at least one behavioral health condition in 2019—41 million of whom did not receive any related treatment in the prior year. Many individuals with behavioral health conditions rely on community mental health centers for treatment, but the scope and quality of these services vary. To improve community-based behavioral health services, PAMA created the CCBHC demonstration and provided HHS with $25 million to support its implementation. PAMA directed HHS to assess the demonstration and to provide recommendations for its continuation, modification, or termination. To date, HHS has issued three annual reports assessing the initial demonstration period, which ran from 2017 to 2019. HHS plans to issue a fourth annual report and a final report by December 2021. This report describes HHS's assessment of the demonstration regarding access, costs, and quality. Under the CARES Act, GAO is to issue another report on states' experiences by September 2021. GAO reviewed federal laws and regulations; HHS guidance; and HHS's assessments of the demonstration, including three issued reports, interim reports, and the analysis plan for future reports. GAO also interviewed HHS officials and officials from organizations familiar with community health clinics. HHS provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to Sri [Read More…]