The nation’s grid delivers electricity that is essential for our modern life.
However, risks such as extreme weather, cyberattacks, and electromagnetic events like solar storms can damage our electrical infrastructure (like power lines) and communications systems. The resulting power outages can threaten the nation’s economic and national security.
With examples drawn from several GAO reports, we describe these risks and highlight key opportunities to improve federal efforts in this area.
- The Extraordinary Sample-Gathering System of NASA’s Perseverance Mars RoverBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020Two astronauts collected [Read More…]
- The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Publish Final Rule to Restrict Certain Criminal Aliens’ Eligibility for AsylumBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced the publication of a Final Rule amending their respective regulations to prevent certain categories of criminal aliens from obtaining asylum in the United States. The rule takes effect 30 days after publication of the Final Rule in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, Oct. 21.[Read More…]
- Briefing With Senior State Department Official On the New STARTBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Office of the [Read More…]
- Secretary Blinken Delivers Virtual Remarks at the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating AntisemitismBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Insitu Inc. to Pay $25 Million to Settle False Claims Act Case Alleging Knowing Overcharges on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ContractsBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021Insitu Inc., headquartered in Bingen, Washington, has agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting materially false cost and pricing data for contracts with the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Department of the Navy (Navy) to supply and operate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the Department of Justice announced today.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Chris Wallace of Fox News SundayBy Sam NewsJune 13, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- NASA Telescope Named for ‘Mother of Hubble’ Nancy Grace RomanBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020At the agency’s [Read More…]
- Department of Justice Issues Statement Regarding Federal Civil Rights Review Into March 2020 Police Encounter with Daniel PrudeBy Sam NewsFebruary 23, 2021Pamela Karlan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, James P. Kennedy Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, and Stephen A. Belongia, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Buffalo Field Office, released the following statement:[Read More…]
- Mozambique Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsIn TravelSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
- DAG Monaco Delivers Remarks at Press Conference on Darkside Attack on Colonial PipelineBy Sam NewsJune 7, 2021Today, the Department of Justice is announcing a significant development in the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline.[Read More…]
- Small Business Administration: Physical Disaster Loan Performance Before and After Changes in Statutory Collateral RequirementsBy Sam NewsAugust 27, 2021Why GAO Did This Study SBA assists most types of businesses regardless of size and others affected by natural and other declared disasters through its Disaster Loan Program. The Rebuilding Small Businesses After Disasters Act included a provision for GAO to review the performance of SBA's physical disaster loan portfolio and compare the performance of loans made before changes to the collateral requirements because of the RISE After Disaster Act of 2015 to loans made after the changes were in effect. To perform this work, GAO obtained and analyzed loan data made under SBA disaster declarations from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2020; reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations; and interviewed SBA officials. What GAO Found When disaster strikes, the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Disaster Loan Program provides direct assistance in the form of low-interest loans. Physical disaster loans can be used to rebuild and replace uninsured or underinsured property damaged in a declared disaster area, helping homeowners, renters, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. But in order for an applicant to qualify for SBA's physical disaster loans, the property damage must occur in a federally declared disaster area. The President can issue a major disaster declaration in response to a request by the governor of a state or territory or the chief executive of a tribal government. For an event that does not rise to the level of a presidential disaster declaration, the SBA Administrator can issue an agency disaster declaration in response to a timely request by a state governor. The Recovery Improvements for Small Entities (RISE) After Disaster Act of 2015 temporarily modified collateral requirements for loans approved under SBA disaster declarations. Specifically, the act temporarily raised the limit for loans without collateral from $14,000 to $25,000. The increase expires on November 25, 2022, when, absent further revision of the statute, the amount will revert back to $14,000. GAO reviewed SBA's $855 million of approved physical disaster loans made under SBA disaster declarations from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2020. GAO found that default and charge-off rates were higher for loans that were approved before the collateral changes that the RISE After Disaster Act of 2015 made when compared to loans approved after these changes were in effect. However, as the loans made after the RISE After Disaster Act of 2015 have more time to mature, their default and charge-off rates may increase. Loans made before the RISE After Disaster Act of 2015 have had approximately 5 to 20 years to mature, while the loans made after have all had less than 5 years. GAO's analysis did not isolate the contribution the collateral changes made to the difference in loan performance from other contributing factors, such as the state of the economy or changes in SBA lending practices. To minimize the effect of the difference in time of performance of the two groups of loans, GAO assessed the performance for the initial 4 years following loan disbursement of subsets of loans made approximately 5 years before and after the RISE After Disaster Act of 2015. GAO found that for these subsets of loans, the default and charge-off rates varied by less than one percentage point for each of the years. In addition, GAO compared the performance of loans with collateral to the performance of loans without collateral and found that loans with collateral did not necessarily perform better than those without collateral. For more information, contact Cheryl Clark at (202) 512-9377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Electricity Grid: Opportunities Exist for DOE to Better Support Utilities in Improving Resilience to HurricanesBy Sam NewsMarch 5, 2021Since 2012, utilities have taken steps to improve grid resilience to severe hurricanes, such as (1) implementing storm hardening measures to enable the grid to better withstand the effects of hurricanes; (2) adopting technologies to enhance operational capacity and help quickly restore service following disruptions; and (3) participating in mutual aid programs with other utilities and training and planning exercises. For example, utilities have implemented storm hardening measures that include elevating facilities and constructing flood walls to protect against storm surges. Utilities have also adopted technologies that enhance communication capabilities and monitor systems to detect, locate, and repair sources of disruptions. However, these utilities reported challenges justifying grid resilience investments to obtain regulatory approval, and some utilities have limited resources to pursue such enhancements. Example of Hurricane Resilience Improvement: Elevated Substation Various federal agencies can provide funding for efforts to enhance grid resilience to hurricanes, including the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, eligibility for most federal funding for grid resilience, including some USDA and FEMA funding, is limited to publicly owned utilities and state, tribal, and local governments. The Department of Energy (DOE) does not provide direct funding for grid resilience improvements, but it has efforts under way, including through its National Laboratories, to provide technical assistance and promote research and collaboration with utilities. DOE has also initiated preliminary efforts to develop tools for resilience planning, including resilience metrics and other tools such as a framework for planning, but DOE does not have a plan to guide these efforts. Without a plan to guide DOE efforts to develop tools for resilience planning, utilities may continue to face challenges justifying resilience investments. In addition, DOE lacks a formal mechanism to inform utilities about the efforts of its National Laboratories. Such a mechanism would help utilities leverage existing resources for improving grid resilience to hurricanes. Hurricanes pose significant threats to the electricity grid in some U.S. coastal areas and territories and are a leading cause of major power outages. In recent years, hurricanes have impacted millions of customers in these areas. Adoption of technologies and other measures could improve the resilience of the grid so that it is better able to withstand and rapidly recover from severe weather; this could help mitigate the effects of hurricanes. This report examines (1) measures utilities in selected states have adopted to enhance grid resilience following major hurricanes since 2012 and any challenges utilities face funding such measures; and (2) federal efforts to support the adoption of measures to enhance grid resilience to hurricanes and any opportunities that exist to improve these efforts. For this report, GAO assessed agency and industry actions; reviewed relevant reports, policies, and documents; and interviewed federal, industry, and local officials. GAO recommends that DOE (1) establish a plan to guide its efforts to develop tools for resilience planning, and (2) develop a mechanism to better inform utilities about grid resilience efforts at the National Laboratories. DOE agreed in principle with these recommendations, but its proposed actions do not fully address GAO's concerns. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Macroprudential Oversight: Principles for Evaluating Policies to Assess and Mitigate Risks to Financial System StabilityBy Sam NewsJanuary 28, 2021GAO is providing a framework for evaluating macroprudential policy—that is, activities designed to assess and mitigate risks to financial system stability. The framework presents six general components of macroprudential policy and 18 principles (see table), as well as related standards, for establishing the foundation of such policy and putting it into operation. Government actors—such as the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and its member agencies—are responsible for meeting or contributing to framework principles as they relate to the actors' individual areas of macroprudential responsibility or authority. GAO refers to government actors with collective macroprudential policy responsibilities as the macroprudential entity. GAO Framework for Evaluating Macroprudential Policy Component Principles The macroprudential entity should: Mandate and scope Have a clear mandate Have a scope of responsibilities that extends across the financial system Establish measurable and specific intermediate objectives reflecting the full scope of its responsibilities Governance Have a governance structure promoting willingness to mitigate risks to financial stability in a timely manner Have authorities promoting ability to act consistent with mandate and scope Have transparency requirements promoting the effectiveness, legitimacy, and predictability of macroprudential policy Risk assessment Establish a risk-assessment program corresponding to the scope of the financial system and the entity’s intermediate objectives Identify and analyze potential sources of systemic risk Develop criteria to evaluate significance of risk Establish policies and procedures to conduct systematic risk assessments Risk mitigation Develop a range of macroprudential tools consistent with mandate and scope of responsibilities Develop policies and procedures for conducting risk-mitigation activities Evaluation Evaluate effectiveness of its efforts Document and communicate evaluation findings and promptly remediate issues Data and information Use quality data Develop useful information for decision-making Document information appropriately Establish policies and procedures for sharing data and information Source: GAO. | GAO 21 230SP The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act established FSOC to identify and respond to threats to financial stability in the United States. Other countries have created similar entities, and a growing body of research has developed around these macroprudential structures and approaches. This report presents a principles-based framework to serve as criteria for assessing the financial stability efforts of FSOC and its member agencies. It is intended as a resource for GAO and other auditors, FSOC and its member agencies, and Congress. It also may be useful to others, both domestically and internationally. In developing this framework, GAO reviewed literature on macroprudential policy, prior GAO reports, relevant laws and regulations, and international risk-management guidelines. GAO also interviewed or held discussion groups with representatives of FSOC and its member agencies; international financial stability entities, supreme audit institutions, and international organizations; public interest and industry groups; former regulators and civil servants; and academic and regulatory experts. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- California Man Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Defraud Afghan Government on U.S. Funded ContractBy Sam NewsApril 28, 2021A California man pleaded guilty Tuesday for his role in a scheme to defraud the government of Afghanistan of over $100 million. These funds were provided to Afghanistan by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of constructing an electric grid in Afghanistan, in connection with the long-standing U.S. effort to strengthen that country’s basic infrastructure.[Read More…]
- Stafford County, Virginia, to Allow Islamic Cemetery in Response to Justice Department LawsuitBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2021The Justice Department today announced that it is dismissing its Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) lawsuit against Stafford County, Virginia, because it achieved the relief it sought in the case. Specifically, in response to the department’s complaint, the County repealed ordinances that prevented the All Muslim Association of America (AMAA) from developing a religious cemetery for persons of the Islamic faith, approved the AMAA’s site plan for the cemetery, and, in a private settlement with the AMAA to resolve the AMAA’s lawsuit, agreed to pay $500,000 in damages to the AMAA.[Read More…]
- Defendants Charged in Connection with Multi-State Racketeering Conspiracy Involving the Forced Labor of Mexican Agricultural H-2A WorkersBy Sam NewsSeptember 22, 2021A federal grand jury in the Middle District of Florida has returned a six-count indictment against three defendants for their alleged roles in a federal racketeering conspiracy that victimized Mexican H-2A workers who, between 2015 and 2017, had worked in the United States harvesting fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products.[Read More…]
- Prescription Drugs: U.S. Prices for Selected Brand Drugs Were Higher on Average than Prices in Australia, Canada, and FranceBy Sam NewsApril 28, 2021What GAO Found GAO's analysis of 2020 data found that, for 20 selected brand-name prescription drugs, estimated U.S. prices paid at the retail level by consumers and other payers (such as insurers) were more than two to four times higher than prices in three selected comparison countries. The U.S. prices GAO estimated for comparison reflect confidential rebates and other price concessions, which GAO refers to as net prices. Publicly available prices for the comparison countries were gross prices that did not reflect potential discounts. As a result, the actual differences between U.S. prices and those of the other countries were likely larger than GAO estimates. The price differences varied by drug. Specifically, while estimated U.S. net prices were mostly higher than the gross prices in other countries (by as much as 10 times), some were lower. The following figure illustrates comparisons for two of GAO's selected drugs. GAO found similar differences in estimated prices paid by final payers at the manufacturer level. Estimated U.S. Net Prices and Selected Comparison Countries' Gross Prices at the Retail Level for Two Selected Drugs and Package Sizes, 2020 GAO's analysis found consumers' out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs varied across and within all four countries but likely more within the U.S. and Canada where multiple payers had a role setting prices and designing cost-sharing for consumers, and not all consumers had prescription drug coverage. In Australia and France, prescription drug pricing was nationally regulated and prescription drug coverage was universal; thus, consumers' out-of-pocket costs within these countries for each drug were generally less varied. For example, in Australia, consumers typically paid one of two amounts for prescription drugs—either about 5 or 28 U.S. dollars in 2020. In the U.S., potential out-of-pocket costs for consumers could have varied much more widely depending on the type of coverage they had. For example, for one drug in GAO's analysis, considering only a few coverage options, consumers' out-of-pocket costs in 2020 could have ranged from a low of about 22 to a high of 514 U.S. dollars. GAO provided a draft to the Department of Health and Human Services for review and incorporated the Department's technical comments as appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study While spending on prescription drugs continues to grow worldwide, studies indicate the U.S. spends more than other countries. However, various factors—such as country-specific pricing strategies, confidential rebates to payers, and other price concessions—may obscure the actual prices of prescription drugs. GAO was asked to review U.S. and international prescription drug prices. This report (1) examines how prices at the retail and manufacturer levels in the U.S. compare to prices in three selected comparison countries—Australia, Canada, and France, and (2) provides information on consumers' out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs in these countries. GAO analyzed 2020 price data for a non-generalizable sample of 41 brand-name drugs among those with the highest expenditures and use in the U.S. Medicare Part D program in 2017. Twenty of these drugs had price data available in all four countries. For U.S. prices, GAO estimated the net prices paid using data from various sources, including estimates of Medicare Part D rebates and other price concessions, and commercially available data. Prices for the selected comparison countries were obtained from publicly available government sources. National prices were not available for Canada, so GAO used the prices from Ontario, Canada's most populous province, as a proxy for Canadian prices. GAO also reviewed country-specific guidance and other relevant information and interviewed researchers, manufacturers, and government officials. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Military Personnel: Army Needs to Better Enforce Requirements and Improve Record Keeping for Soldiers Whose Medical Conditions May Call for Significant Duty LimitationsBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021The increasing need for warfighters for the Global War on Terrorism has meant longer and multiple deployments for soldiers. Medical readiness is essential to their performing needed duties, and an impairment that limits a soldier's capacities represents risk to the soldier, the unit, and the mission. Asked to review the Army's compliance with its guidance, GAO examined the extent to which the Army is (1) adhering to its medical and deployment requirements regarding decisions to send soldiers with medical conditions to Iraq and Afghanistan, and (2) deploying soldiers with medical conditions requiring duty limitations, and assigning them to duties suitable for their limitations. GAO reviewed Army guidance, and medical records for those preparing to deploy between April 2006 and March 2007; interviewed Army officials and commanders at Forts Benning, Stewart, and Drum, selected for their high deployment rates; and surveyed deployed soldiers with medical limitations.Army guidance allows commanders to deploy soldiers with medical conditions requiring duty limitations, subject to certain requirements, but the Army lacks enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all requirements are met, and medical record keeping problems obstruct the Army's visibility over these soldiers' conditions. A soldier diagnosed with an impairment must be given a physical profile form designating numerically the severity of the condition and, if designated 3 or higher (more severe), must be evaluated by a medical board. Commanders must then determine proper duty assignments based on soldiers' profile and commanders' staffing needs. From a random projectable sample, GAO estimates that 3 percent of soldiers from Forts Benning, Stewart, and Drum who had designations of 3 did not receive required board evaluations prior to being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for the period studied. In some cases, soldiers were not evaluated because commanders lacked timely access to profiles; in other cases, commanders did not take timely actions. The Army also had problems with retention and completeness of profiles; although guidance requires that approved profiles be retained in soldiers' medical records, 213 profiles were missing from the sample of 685 records reviewed. The Army was not consistent in assigning numerical designations reflecting soldiers' abilities to perform functional activities. GAO estimates from a random projectable sample that 7 percent of soldiers from these three installations had profiles indicating their inability to perform certain functional activities, yet carrying numerical designators below 3. While medical providers can "upgrade" numerical designations discretionarily based on knowledge of soldiers' conditions, the upgrades can mask limitations and cause commanders to deploy soldiers without needed board evaluations. While GAO found no evidence of widespread revision in profile designations, some soldiers interviewed or surveyed disagreed with their designations yet were reluctant to express concerns for fear of prejudicial treatment. The Army has instituted a program to provide ombudsmen to whom soldiers can bring medical concerns, but it is targeted at returning soldiers and is not well publicized as a resource for all soldiers with medical conditions. Without timely board evaluations and retention of profile information for deploying soldiers with medical conditions, the Army lacks full visibility and commanders must make medical readiness, deployment, and duty assignment decisions without being fully informed of soldiers' medical limitations. GAO estimates that about 10 percent of soldiers with medical conditions that could require duty limitations were deployed from the three installations, but survey response was too limited to enable GAO to project the extent to which they were assigned to suitable duties. Along with interviews, however, responses suggest that both soldiers and commanders believe soldiers are generally assigned to duties that accommodate their medical conditions. Occasional exceptions have occurred when a profile did not reflect all necessary medical information or a soldier's special skill was difficult to replace. Officials said soldiers sometimes understate their conditions to be deployed with their units, or overstate them to avoid deployment.[Read More…]
- Congratulations to Bolivia’s President-Elect Luis ArceBy Sam NewsOctober 21, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Rebuilding Iraq: Actions Needed To Improve Use of Private Security ProvidersBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The United States is spending billions of dollars to reconstruct Iraq while combating an insurgency that has targeted military and contractor personnel and the Iraqi people. This environment created a need for those rebuilding Iraq to obtain security services. GAO evaluated the extent to which (1) U.S. agencies and contractors acquired security services from private providers, (2) the U.S. military and private security providers developed a working relationship, and (3) U.S. agencies assessed the costs of using private security providers on reconstruction contracts.The civilian U.S. government agencies and reconstruction contractors in Iraq that GAO evaluated have obtained security services, such as personal and convoy security, from private security providers because providing security to them is not the U.S. military's stated mission. U.S. military forces provide security for those Department of Defense (DOD) civilians and contractors who directly support the combat mission. In Iraq, the Department of State and other federal agencies contract with several private security providers to protect their employees. Under their contracts, contractors rebuilding Iraq are responsible for providing their own security and have done so by awarding subcontracts to private security providers. As of December 2004, the agencies and contractors we reviewed had obligated more than $766 million for private security providers. The contractors' efforts to obtain suitable security providers met with mixed results, as they often found that their security provider could not meet their needs. Overall, GAO found that contractors replaced their initial security providers on more than half the 2003 contracts it reviewed. Contractor officials attributed this turnover to various factors, including the absence of useful agency guidance. While the U.S. military and private security providers have developed a cooperative working relationship, actions should be taken to improve its effectiveness. The relationship between the military and private security providers is one of coordination, not control. Prior to October 2004 coordination was informal, based on personal contacts, and was inconsistent. In October 2004 a Reconstruction Operations Center was opened to share intelligence and coordinate military-contractor interactions. While military and security providers agreed that coordination has improved, two problems remain. First, private security providers continue to report incidents between themselves and the military when approaching military convoys and checkpoints. Second, military units deploying to Iraq are not fully aware of the parties operating on the complex battle space in Iraq and what responsibility they have to those parties. Despite the significant role played by private security providers in enabling reconstruction efforts, neither the Department of State, nor DOD nor the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have complete data on the costs of using private security providers. Even at the contract level, the agencies generally had only limited information readily available, even though agency and contractor officials acknowledged that these costs had diverted a considerable amount of reconstruction resources and led to canceling or reducing the scope of some projects. For example, in March 2005, two task orders for reconstruction worth nearly $15 million were cancelled to help pay for security at a power plant. GAO found that the cost to obtain private security providers and security-related equipment accounted for more than 15 percent of contract costs on 8 of the 15 reconstruction contracts it reviewed.[Read More…]