Transportation Research: Additional Actions Could Improve DOT’s Internal Collaboration and Reliability of Information on Research Activities

What GAO Found

The Department of Transportation (DOT) uses a multistep, centralized process to prioritize and select research activities it will fund. DOT’s modal administrations—which focus on specific modes of transportation like air, rail, and highways—conduct and manage most of DOT’s research. The modal administrations GAO spoke to used a variety of methods to prioritize and select research, including soliciting stakeholders’ feedback on research needs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R) is responsible for reviewing this proposed research to ensure alignment with DOT’s strategic plans and to prevent duplicative research efforts, as required by statute.

DOT has multiple efforts to facilitate research collaboration both externally and internally, but in guidance to promote collaboration, OST-R did not incorporate all leading practices. Specifically, OST-R established topical-research working groups on 12 multimodal subject areas in October 2018 and issued accompanying guidance. This guidance incorporated some leading collaboration practices, such as directing working groups to identify leadership roles and relevant participants. However, the guidance did not incorporate two leading practices—defining and monitoring progress toward long-term outcomes and regularly updating and monitoring written agreements. Taking steps to ensure the working groups follow these practices could provide OST-R greater assurance that the groups coordinate their efforts effectively, better plan long-term research, and better position themselves to address future transportation challenges.

OST-R has taken some steps to help ensure that its public database on DOT-funded research projects (the Research Hub) contains complete and accurate information, as required by DOT’s data management policy; however, data reliability issues remained. For example, as of July 2019—the latest available data at the time of GAO’s analysis—36 percent of records in the database were missing research partners’ contact information, hindering the research community’s ability to obtain current project details. Taking additional steps, such as providing instructions to the modal administrations on how to improve the completeness and accuracy of the information they give OST-R for the Research Hub, would help ensure the database is fulfilling DOT’s intended purpose that it serve as a reliable source of information on the department’s research portfolio.

Examples of Research Activities on Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems and Connected Vehicles Funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation

Why GAO Did This Study

DOT’s research activities are critical to DOT’s mission to make the nation’s transportation system safer and more efficient. To meet current research needs and prepare for emerging technologies, DOT partners with public and private entities. In fiscal year 2018, DOT funded about 2,300 partners and had a research budget exceeding $1 billion.

GAO was asked to review DOT’s research activities. This report addresses: (1) how DOT prioritizes and selects which research activities it will undertake; (2) the extent to which DOT facilitates research collaboration with external stakeholders and across the department; and (3) the extent to which DOT ensures its Research Hub database contains complete and accurate project information. GAO reviewed documents and analyzed data from DOT; observed DOT-funded research; interviewed DOT officials from OST-R and four selected modal administrations; and used GAO’s leading collaboration practices to assess the extent of collaboration. GAO also interviewed 17 DOT research partners, including universities and associations.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that OST-R (1) take steps to ensure the topical-research working groups follow all leading collaboration practices, and (2) take additional steps to ensure the information in the Research Hub is complete and accurate. DOT concurred with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or repkoe@gao.gov.

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    Presented is GAO's Performance and Accountability Report for fiscal year 2020. In the spirit of the Government Performance and Results Act, this annual report informs the Congress and the American people about what we have achieved on their behalf. The financial information and the data measuring GAO's performance contained in this report are complete and reliable. This report describes GAO's performance measures, results, and accountability processes for fiscal year 2020. In assessing our performance, we compared actual results against targets and goals that were set in our annual performance plan and performance budget and were developed to help carry out our strategic plan. An overview of our annual measures and targets for 2020 is available here, along with links to a complete set of our strategic planning and performance and accountability reports. This report includes A Fiscal Year 2020 Performance and Financial Snapshot for the American Taxpayer, an introduction, four parts, and supplementary appendixes as follows: A Fiscal Year 2020 Performance and Financial Snapshot for the American Taxpayer This section provides an overview of GAO's performance and financial information for fiscal year 2020 and outlines GAO's near-term and future work priorities. Introduction This section includes the letter from the Comptroller General and a statement attesting to the completeness and reliability of the performance and financial data in this report and the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. This section also includes a summary discussion of our mission, strategic planning process, and organizational structure, strategies we use to achieve our goals, and process for assessing our performance. Management's Discussion and Analysis This section discusses our agency-wide performance results and use of resources in fiscal year 2020. It also includes, among other things, information on our internal controls and the management challenges and external factors that affect our performance. Performance Information This section includes details on our performance results by strategic goal in fiscal year 2020 and the targets we are aiming for in fiscal year 2021. Financial Information This section includes details on our finances in fiscal year 2020, including a letter from our Chief Financial Officer, audited financial statements and notes, and the reports from our external auditor and Audit Advisory Committee. This section also includes an explanation of the information each of our financial statements conveys. Inspector General's View of GAO's Management Challenges This section includes our Inspector General's perspective on our agency's management challenges. Appendixes This section provides the report's abbreviations and describes how we ensure the completeness and reliability of the data for each of our performance measures. For more information, contact Timothy Bowling (202) 512-6100 or bowlingt@gao.gov.
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    Each weekday, the Department of Justice will highlight a case that has resulted from Operation Legend.  Today’s case is out of the Northern District of Illinois.  Operation Legend launched in Chicago on July 22, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.
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    In GAO's opinion, the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) fiscal years 2020 and 2019 financial statements are fairly presented in all material respects, and although certain controls could be improved, IRS maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting as of September 30, 2020. GAO's tests of IRS's compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements detected no reportable instances of noncompliance in fiscal year 2020. Limitations in the financial systems IRS uses to account for federal taxes receivable and other unpaid assessment balances, as well as other control deficiencies that led to errors in taxpayer accounts, continued to exist during fiscal year 2020.These control deficiencies affect IRS's ability to produce reliable financial statements without using significant compensating procedures. In addition, unresolved information system control deficiencies from prior audits, along with application and general control deficiencies that GAO identified in IRS's information systems in fiscal year 2020, placed IRS systems and financial and taxpayer data at risk of inappropriate and undetected use, modification, or disclosure. IRS continues to take steps to improve internal controls in these areas. However, the remaining deficiencies are significant enough to merit the attention of those charged with governance of IRS and therefore represent continuing significant deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting related to (1) unpaid assessments and (2) financial reporting systems. Continued management attention is essential to fully addressing these significant deficiencies. The CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, and other COVID-19 pandemic relief laws contained a number of tax relief provisions to address financial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Economic Impact Payments provisions in the CARES Act provided for direct payments for eligible individuals to be implemented through the tax code. Implementing the provisions related to these Economic Impact Payment required extensive IRS work, and resulted in it issuing approximately $275 billion in payments as of September 30, 2020. IRS faced difficulties in issuing these payments as rapidly as possible, such as in identifying eligible recipients, preventing improper payments, and combating fraud based on identity theft. IRS discusses the challenges in carrying out its responsibilities under the CARES Act in its unaudited Management's Discussion and Analysis, which is included with the financial statements. As part of monitoring and oversight of the federal government's efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO has issued a number of reports on federal agencies' implementation of the CARES Act and other COVID-19 pandemic relief laws, including reports providing information on, and recommendations to strengthen, IRS's implementation of the tax-related provisions. In accordance with the authority conferred by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, as amended, GAO annually audits IRS's financial statements to determine whether (1) the financial statements are fairly presented and (2) IRS management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting. GAO also tests IRS's compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements. IRS's tax collection activities are significant to overall federal receipts, and the effectiveness of its financial management is of substantial interest to Congress and the nation's taxpayers. Based on prior financial statement audits, GAO made numerous recommendations to IRS to address internal control deficiencies. GAO will continue to monitor, and will report separately, on IRS's progress in implementing prior recommendations that remain open. Consistent with past practice, GAO will also be separately reporting on the new internal control deficiencies identified in this year's audit and providing IRS recommendations for corrective actions to address them. In commenting on a draft of this report, IRS stated that it continues its efforts to improve its financial systems controls. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it is requiring Intuit Inc. and Credit Karma Inc. (Credit Karma) to divest Credit Karma’s tax business, Credit Karma Tax, to Square Inc. in order for Intuit, the creator of TurboTax, to proceed with its $7.1 billion acquisition of Credit Karma.  The department said that without this divestiture, the proposed transaction would substantially lessen competition for digital do-it-yourself (DDIY) tax preparation products, which are software programs used by American taxpayers to prepare and file their federal and state returns.
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