Economic Adjustment Assistance: Experts’ Proposed Reform Options to Better Serve Workers Experiencing Economic Disruption

What GAO Found

U.S. workers have faced considerable changes in how they work and in the skills they need because of economic changes created by emerging technologies, disruptive business models, and other economic forces. Federal economic adjustment assistance (EAA) programs were established, in part, to help workers adjust to these economic disruptions. Consistent with GAO’s prior work on EAA programs, experts in GAO’s roundtable identified a range of challenges to using EAA programs to effectively respond to economic disruptions workers might experience.

In light of these challenges, experts identified reform actions that could better serve workers (see table). The actions fell into six interrelated reform areas.

Examples of Potential Reform Actions That Could Better Serve Workers Who Experience Economic Disruption, as Identified by Experts in GAO’s Roundtable

Reform area

Examples of potential reform actions identified by experts

Proactive efforts to address disruption

  • Establish lifelong learning accounts for workers through contributions of individual workers, employers, and government agencies to fund continuous education and training opportunities.
  • Establish a tax credit to help incentivize employers to retrain rather than lay off employees.

Access to Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) programs

  • Use the existing unemployment insurance system to better inform dislocated workers about the availability of and their eligibility for EAA programs.

Worker training

  • Expand the number of short-term, high-demand skills-based training opportunities.
  • Prompt employers to develop apprenticeship programs. For example, require employers to operate apprenticeship programs of their own or pay a tax to fund the creation of apprenticeship programs.

Income and other supports

  • Create more opportunities for workers to co-enroll in training and financial safety-net programs.
  • Develop supportive services programs for dislocated workers at the community colleges in which they are enrolled.

EAA service delivery

  • Provide dislocated workers ready access to easy-to-navigate data on high-demand skills, earnings in various occupations, and the number of available jobs in those occupations in their area.
  • Provide community colleges with additional state or federal resources to deliver more career guidance to dislocated workers.

Structure of the EAA system

  • Invest in training infrastructure, such as publicly funded regional universities, community colleges, and other institutions.
  • Reduce barriers to accessing existing national datasets to facilitate the evaluation of EAA program effectiveness.

Source: GAO analysis of expert statements. | GAO-21-324

Note: These potential reform actions are not listed in any specific rank or order and their inclusion in this report should not be interpreted as GAO endorsing any of them. GAO did not assess how effective the potential reform actions may be or the extent to which program design modifications, legal changes, and federal financial support would be needed to implement any given reform action or combination of reform actions.

Why GAO Did This Study

Various economic disruptions, such as policy changes that affect global trade or the defense or energy industries and shifts in immigration, globalization, or automation, can lead to widespread job loss among workers within an entire region, industry, or occupation. GAO was asked about options for reforming the current policies and programs for helping workers weather economic disruption.

This report describes a range of options, identified by experts, to reform the current policies and programs for helping workers weather economic disruption. With the assistance of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, GAO convened a 2-day, virtual roundtable in August 2020 with 12 experts, selected to represent a broad spectrum of views and expertise and a variety of professional and academic fields. They included academic researchers, program evaluators, labor economists, former federal agency officials, and state and local practitioners. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws, prior GAO reports, and other research.

For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.

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    In response to the Department of Labor's Home Care Rule—which extended Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime protections to more home care workers—some states made changes in their Medicaid programs, according to studies and GAO interviews with stakeholders and selected state officials. Many stakeholders said the rule led some states to limit home care workers' hours in their Medicaid programs to avoid overtime costs. For example, in Oregon, newly hired home care workers provided through Medicaid were generally limited to 40 hours per week, according to state documentation. Some states also budgeted additional funds for overtime pay. In addition, according to a few stakeholder groups, some states changed service delivery in their Medicaid programs, for example, by discontinuing services such as live-in care. In contrast, several stakeholders said some states did not make any major changes to their Medicaid programs' home care services. Provider agencies, workers, and consumers experienced changes after the Home Care Rule took effect. Specifically, some provider agencies restricted workers' hours to limit overtime costs, though this can result in the need to hire more workers, leading to increased costs of recruiting, training, and scheduling, according to several stakeholders. GAO's analysis of national survey data found that home care workers, when compared to occupations with similar education and training requirements, were more likely to work full-time but did not earn significantly higher earnings following the Home Care Rule (see figure). Many stakeholders GAO spoke with described ongoing challenges consumers face in obtaining home care services, such as difficulty finding workers to hire. Estimated Median Weekly Earnings of Employed Workers, 2010 through 2019 Note: The margins of error at the 95 percent confidence level are within plus or minus 7.2 percent of the estimate itself. Employment in home care is projected to grow nearly 40 percent over the next decade to meet demand from an increasing population of older adults and people with disabilities. Home care workers help those who need assistance with activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, or bathing. State Medicaid programs may allow home care for eligible individuals as an alternative to institutional care. The Department of Labor's (DOL) Home Care Rule, which went into effect in 2015, extended FLSA protections to more home care workers. GAO was asked to review the implementation and effects of the Home Care Rule. This report examines what is known about (1) changes states made to their Medicaid programs in response to the Home Care Rule; and (2) the Home Care Rule's effect on home care provider agencies, workers, and consumers. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed 2010 through 2019 national survey data on workers' hours and wages; interviewed stakeholders from 15 organizations that represent the different groups affected, DOL officials, and home care program officials from three states selected based on variation in their Medicaid programs and minimum wage levels; and reviewed studies on state strategies to implement the Home Care Rule. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.
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    The First Step Act of 2018 made new, nonfederal markets and potential buyers available to Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a government corporation organized within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); however, various challenges could limit FPI's ability to sell to customers in these markets. FPI makes apparel, personal protective equipment, and furniture, among other products. FPI may now sell to the District of Columbia government, including, for example, to its firefighters; nonfederal, governmental entities for use in correctional settings or in response to a disaster or emergency, such as local jails and first responders; and nonprofit organizations, such as universities. However, a lack of information makes it difficult to estimate the dollar value of these new markets. The following figure depicts the new markets made available to FPI. New Markets for Federal Prison Industries' Products under the First Step Act Data on the size of most of the new markets are very limited. For example, GAO found no existing national information to help estimate the size and scope of relevant spending by nonfederal entities on disaster relief and emergencies. Also, challenges related to state and local government operations, for example, could limit FPI's ability to sell products in the new markets made available under the First Step Act. Specifically, state-level prison industries and in-state vendors often have preferential access to many of the procurement markets now available to FPI. FPI and the private sector share some similar operating requirements, such as those related to keeping workers safe. They also face different requirements and business practices, such as those related to the legal framework, security, and costs. Available data indicate that buyers are generally satisfied with the delivery and quality of FPI products. GAO analyzed 231 performance reports on FPI in the federal government's database for contractor performance, as of August 2019. Customers rated FPI's performance in the delivery schedule and quality categories as exceptional, very good, or satisfactory on about 80 and 90 percent, respectively, of performance reports. There were too few ratings on cost to analyze them. FPI aims to assist inmates in their reentry into society by providing marketable job skills, but BOP has not reviewed FPI's impact on recidivism in over 2 decades. BOP relies on outdated studies that assessed the impact of FPI on inmates released in the 1980s. In January 2020, BOP cited a 1992 study as the basis for the Attorney General's designation of FPI as an Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Program under the First Step Act 0f 2018 . BOP made a plan to evaluate FPI but the plan's timeline passed and the BOP has not set a new one. Without an updated plan for evaluating FPI, BOP continues to rely on outdated evaluations of FPI and has limited information about FPI's effectiveness amidst changes to its inmate population Additionally, while BOP has reported some descriptive statistics on recidivism rates, it has not developed a goal. Without a timeline for evaluation and a goal for reducing recidivism, BOP's ability to assess the effectiveness of FPI will be limited. FPI is a government owned corporation that, as a national reentry program, manages, trains, and rehabilitates inmates through employment. FPI sells inmate-produced goods and services primarily to federal government agencies. The First Step Act of 2018 authorized FPI to sell its products to new markets. A provision in the First Step Act of 2018 required GAO to review various aspects of FPI. This report addresses (1) the potential size and scope of the additional markets made available to FPI under the First Step Act; (2) the similarities and differences in selected requirements and business practices of FPI and private sector sellers of products and services; (3) customers' satisfaction with FPI regarding quality, price, and timely delivery of its products and services; and (4) the extent to which BOP has evaluated the effectiveness of FPI and other vocational programs in reducing recidivism and the results. GAO examined recidivism studies and data, analyzed performance data, conducted fieldwork at four FPI facilities selected based on security level and type of products produced, met with industry associations, and interviewed agency officials and employed inmates. GAO is making two recommendations: (1) BOP should update its evaluation plan for FPI by setting a new timeline for evaluation and (2) BOP should set a goal to reduce recidivism. DOJ concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or goodwing@gao.gov or William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov.
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    Through Operation Warp Speed—a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD)—the federal government is accelerating efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. A typical vaccine development process can take approximately 10 years or longer, but efforts under Operation Warp Speed seek to greatly accelerate this process by completing key steps simultaneously (see figure). As of October 15, 2020, Operation Warp Speed publicly announced financial support for the development or manufacturing of six COVID-19 vaccine candidates totaling more than $10 billion in obligations. It has also announced financial support for the development of therapeutics, such as a $450 million award to manufacture a monoclonal antibody treatment (a treatment that uses laboratory-made antibodies, which also may be able to serve as a prevention option). Operation Warp Speed Timeline for a Potential Vaccine Candidate Note: An Emergency Use Authorization allows for emergency use of medical products without FDA approval or licensure during a declared emergency, provided certain statutory criteria are met. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may temporarily allow the use of unlicensed or unapproved COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics through emergency use authorizations (EUA), provided there is evidence that the products may be effective and that known and potential benefits outweigh known and potential risks. For vaccines, FDA issued guidance in October 2020 to provide vaccine sponsors with recommendations regarding the evidence FDA needed to support issuance of an EUA. For therapeutics, FDA has issued four EUAs as of November 9, 2020. The evidence to support FDA's COVID-19 therapeutic authorization decisions has not always been transparent, in part because FDA does not uniformly disclose its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data for EUAs, as it does for approvals for new drugs and biologics. Given the gravity of the pandemic, it is important that FDA identify ways to uniformly disclose this information to the public. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. The U.S. had about 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths as of November 12, 2020. Given this catastrophic loss of life as well as the pandemic's effects on the U.S. economy, effective and safe vaccines and therapeutics are more important than ever. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, (1) efforts of Operation Warp Speed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic development; and (2) FDA's use of EUAs for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, among other objectives. GAO reviewed federal laws and agency documents, including HHS and DOD information on vaccine and therapeutic development and EUAs as of November 2020. GAO interviewed or received written responses from HHS and DOD officials, and interviewed representatives from vaccine developers and manufacturers, as well as select public health stakeholders and provider groups covering a range of provider types. FDA should identify ways to uniformly disclose to the public the information from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO's goal of transparency and would explore approaches to achieve this goal. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov, or Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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  • VA Health Care: Better Data Needed to Assess the Health Outcomes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Veterans
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) analyzes national-level data by birth sex to assess health outcomes for women veterans. For example, it analyzes frequency data to identify their most common health conditions. However, VHA is limited in its assessment of health outcomes for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) veteran population because it does not consistently collect sexual orientation or self-identified gender identity (SIGI) data. VHA officials stated that providers may record veterans' sexual orientation—which can be used to identify lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans—in non-standardized clinical notes in electronic health records. However, without a standardized field, providers may not be consistently collecting these data, and VHA does not know the total number of these veterans in its system. VHA officials recognize the importance of consistently collecting these data, but have yet to develop and implement a field for doing so. VHA collects SIGI data—which can be used in part to identify transgender veterans—in enrollment, administrative, and electronic health record systems. Although VHA has worked to improve the collection of these data, GAO found inconsistencies in how VHA records SIGI and, according to VA, 89 percent of veterans' records lack SIGI information. VHA added a field to collect this information in the administrative system; however, these data are not linked to electronic health records. As such, VHA providers cannot see the data during clinical visits when determining the appropriate services for transgender veterans, such as screening certain transgender men for breast and cervical cancers, as required by VHA policy. VHA's plan to link SIGI data across both systems has been postponed several times, and the data remain unlinked. VHA Sexual Orientation and Self-Identified Gender Identity (SIGI) Data Collection Limitations, Fiscal Year 2020 Until VHA can more consistently collect and analyze sexual orientation and SIGI data for the veteran population served, it will have a limited understanding of the health care needs of LGBT veterans, including any disparities they may face. VHA provides care to a diverse population of veterans, including women and LGBT veterans. These veterans may experience differences in health outcomes that are closely linked with social or economic disadvantage, and VA considers it important to analyze the services they receive as well as their health outcomes to improve health equity. House Report 115-188 included a provision for GAO to review VA's data collection and reporting procedures for information on veterans' gender and sexual orientation. This report describes how VHA assesses health outcomes for women veterans and examines the extent to which VHA assesses health outcomes for LGBT veterans. GAO reviewed VHA directives and VHA's Health Equity Action Plan. GAO interviewed officials from VHA's Women's Health Services and LGBT Health Program, VHA researchers who focus on women and LGBT veterans, and representatives from other health care systems with experience collecting gender and sexual orientation information. GAO is making four recommendations to VA to consistently collect sexual orientation and SIGI data, and analyze these data to assess health outcomes for LGBT veterans. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations and identified actions it is taking to address them. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    To combat money laundering, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a geographic targeting order (GTO) in 2016 that required title insurers to report information on certain all-cash purchases of residential real estate by legal entities in specified areas. According to FinCEN analysis, the use of legal entities to purchase high-value real estate, particularly in certain U.S. cities, was prone to abuse. FinCEN determined that imposing the real estate GTO reporting requirements on title insurers would cover a large number of transactions without unnecessary complexity. FinCEN renewed the real estate GTO multiple times—finding it has yielded information useful to law enforcement investigations—and periodically expanded the types of monetary instruments and geographic areas included and decreased the price reporting threshold (see fig.). Issuance and Renewals of the Real Estate Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) Unlike prior GTOs, which FinCEN officials said they issued at the request of and with the involvement of law enforcement agencies, FinCEN issued the real estate GTO on its own initiative. Thus, FinCEN had to take the lead in implementing and evaluating the GTO but lacked detailed documented procedures to help direct the GTO's implementation and evaluation—contributing to oversight, outreach, and evaluation weaknesses. For example, FinCEN did not begin examining its first title insurer for compliance until more than 3 years after issuing the GTO and did not assess whether insurers were filing all required reports. Similarly, while FinCEN initially coordinated with some law enforcement agencies, it did not implement a systematic approach for outreach to all potentially relevant law enforcement agencies until more than 2 years after issuing the GTO. FinCEN also has not yet completed an evaluation of the GTO to determine whether it should address money laundering risks in residential real estate through a regulatory tool more permanent than the GTO, such as a rulemaking. Strengthening its procedures for self-initiated GTOs should help FinCEN more effectively and efficiently implement and manage them as an anti-money laundering tool. Bad actors seeking to launder money can use legal entities, such as shell companies, to buy real estate without a loan. Doing so potentially can conceal the identities of bad actors and avoid banks' anti-money laundering programs. To better understand this risk and help law enforcement investigate money laundering, FinCEN issued its real estate GTO. Although GTOs are limited to 180 days, they may be renewed if FinCEN finds reasonable grounds for doing so. Because of concerns about the potential for bad actors to exploit regulatory gaps to launder money through the U.S. real estate market, GAO was asked to review FinCEN's real estate GTO. This report examines, among other things, the GTO's issuance and renewal, oversight, outreach, and evaluation. GAO reviewed FinCEN's records, orders, and policies and procedures; laws and regulations; and studies and other related materials. GAO also interviewed FinCEN, federal law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders. GAO recommends that FinCEN provide additional direction for self-initiated GTOs, including how to plan for oversight, outreach, and evaluation. FinCEN concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements, (202) 512-8678, ClementsM@gao.gov.
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    Market research and other data suggest that the market for facial recognition technology has increased in the number and types of businesses that use it since GAO's 2015 report on the topic (GAO-15-621 ). For example, newer functions of the technology identified by stakeholders and literature included authorizing payments and tracking and monitoring attendance of students, employees, or those attending events. Functions of Facial Recognition Technology Accuracy. Although the accuracy of facial recognition technology has increased dramatically in recent years, differences in performance exist for certain demographic groups. National Institute of Standards and Technology tests found that facial recognition technology generally performs better on lighter-skin men and worse on darker-skin women, and does not perform as well on children and elderly adults. These differences could result in more frequent misidentification for certain demographics, such as misidentifying a shopper as a shoplifter when comparing the individual's image against a data set of known shoplifters. There is no consensus on what causes performance differences, including physical factors (such as lighting) or factors related to the creation or operation of the technology. However, stakeholders and literature identified various methods that could help mitigate differences in performance among demographic groups. Privacy. Stakeholders and literature identified concerns related to privacy, such as the inability of individuals to remain anonymous in public or the use of the technology without individuals' consent. Facial recognition technology may collect or store facial images, posing varying levels of risk. Some federal and state laws and the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation impose requirements on U.S. companies related to facial recognition technology. However, as we reported in 2015, there is no comprehensive federal privacy law governing the collection, use, and sale of personal information by private-sector companies. Some stakeholders, including privacy and industry groups, have developed voluntary frameworks that seek to address privacy concerns. Most of these frameworks were consistent with internationally recognized principles for protecting the privacy and security of personal information. However, U.S. companies are not required to follow these voluntary frameworks. Facial recognition technology can verify or identify an individual from a facial image. Advocacy groups and others have raised privacy concerns related to private companies' use of the technology, as well as concerns that higher error rates among some demographic groups could lead to disparate treatment. GAO was asked to review the commercial use of facial recognition technology and related accuracy and privacy issues. Among other issues, this report examines how companies use the technology, its accuracy and how accuracy differs across demographic groups, and how privacy issues are addressed in laws and industry practices. GAO analyzed laws; reviewed literature and company documentation; interviewed federal agency officials; and interviewed representatives from companies, industry groups, and privacy groups. GAO also reviewed selected privacy frameworks, chosen based on expert recommendations and research. GAO reiterates its previous suggestion from a 2013 report ( GAO-13-663 ) that Congress consider strengthening the consumer privacy framework to reflect changes in technology and the marketplace. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found The federal government has taken several actions to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses and indicated it expects to have enough doses available for all adults in the United States by the end of May. As of April 1, 2021, the government had purchased 1.2 billion doses of one- and two-dose regimen vaccines. Also, vaccine companies reported making additional manufacturing sites operational, among other actions to expand capacity and mitigate challenges. Federal officials said projecting future availability of vaccine doses can be difficult, in part because of uncertainty surrounding complex manufacturing processes. Given this uncertainty, coupled with the significant manufacturing and distribution increases needed to have enough vaccine doses available for all adults, managing public expectations is critical. GAO's prior work has found that timely, clear, and consistent communication about vaccine availability is essential to ensure public confidence and trust, especially as initial vaccine implementation did not match expectations. COVID-19 Vaccination Site Stakeholders GAO interviewed identified challenges with initial COVID-19 vaccine implementation. For example, some stakeholders said states often did not have information critical to distribution at the local level, such as how many doses they would receive and when. The federal government has begun initiatives—outlined in a national response strategy—to improve implementation, such as creating new vaccination sites. In its March 2021 distribution strategy, CDC provided a high-level description of its activities and noted that more details would be included in future reports to Congress. To meet the expectations set by recent announcements, such as the planned expansion of vaccine eligibility to all adults and the introduction of tools to help individuals find vaccines, it will be imperative that the federal government effectively coordinate and communicate its plans, as GAO recommended in September 2020. Why GAO Did This Study Providing the public with safe and effective vaccines to prevent COVID-19 is crucial to mitigating the public health and economic impacts of the disease. The U.S. had almost 30 million reported cases and over 545,000 reported deaths as of March 27, 2021. The federal government took a critical step in December 2020 in authorizing the first two COVID-19 vaccines and beginning distribution of doses across the nation. The government had distributed about 180.6 million vaccine doses, and about 147.8 million doses had been administered, as of March 27, 2021, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other issues, actions the federal government has taken to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses, and challenges with initial vaccine implementation—that is, prioritizing, allocating, distributing, and administering vaccine doses—identified by stakeholders and steps the federal government has taken to improve vaccine implementation. GAO reviewed documents from the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, transcripts of public briefings, data from CDC, and interviewed or received written responses from federal officials, vaccine company representatives, and select public health stakeholders. GAO incorporated technical comments from the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as appropriate. For more information, contact Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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  • Combating Wildlife Trafficking: Agencies Work to Address Human Rights Abuse Allegations in Overseas Conservation Programs
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    U.S. agencies primarily use Leahy vetting as the enforcement mechanism to prevent U.S. funding for combating wildlife trafficking from supporting human rights abuses. Statutory provisions commonly referred to as "Leahy Laws" prohibit the U.S. government from using certain funds to assist units of foreign security forces where there is credible information they have committed a gross violation of human rights. The Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) generally consider park rangers to be foreign security forces that are authorized to search, detain, arrest, or use force against people, and thus subject to Leahy vetting, according to agency officials. State or USAID may provide funding to the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that it then uses to support park ranger activities. In those instances, FWS submits the candidates' applications to State for Leahy vetting. According to a State official, Leahy approval of a security force unit is good for 1 year, and State must vet individuals again if their unit continues to receive support from State or USAID funding sources. Both U.S. agencies and implementing partners took a variety of steps in response to recent allegations of human rights abuses by overseas park rangers. For example, a State official in the Central Africa region told GAO that while the Democratic Republic of the Congo embassy's vetting program has very strict control mechanisms, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau requested quarterly reports to facilitate a review of all assistance to park rangers to ensure that any reported activities were vetted according to Leahy Laws. USAID officials told GAO that in addition to continuing Leahy vetting, the agency's response included strengthening human rights training and conducting a site visit to a park in the DRC where human rights abuses had allegedly occurred. According to officials, the visit involved speaking with beneficiaries to further understand the allegations and efforts to assess root causes, mitigate impacts, and stop future occurrences, including making referrals to appropriate law enforcement authorities if warranted. FWS officials also stated that they take seriously allegations that U.S implementing partners have supported park rangers who have committed human rights abuses. Since June 2019, the Department of the Interior has approved no new awards to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)—one of the implementing partners which has supported park rangers alleged to have committed human rights abuses. Moreover, the International Affairs program within FWS has put all new funding on hold since September 2019, pending a departmental review. Agencies are also implementing various changes in response to congressional directives on safeguarding human rights. For example, State officials told GAO that they have added language to all notices for countering wildlife trafficking awards that requires implementing partners to include social safeguards plans in their projects. The plans will articulate an understanding of how their work could negatively affect local communities. USAID officials stated that USAID has included provisions in new agreements with FWS that require adherence to the congressional directives. FWS officials also confirmed that they are cooperating with USAID in these efforts. Implementing partners—WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and African Parks (AP)—have all conducted investigations to address allegations of human rights abuses by park rangers, according to officials from these organizations. They have also developed grievance mechanisms to report human rights abuses. For example, WWF has received 50 complaints in roughly the past year related to its project work, according to WWF representatives. WWF has responded to complaints of human rights abuses through this mechanism by reporting the allegations to relevant authorities and meeting with community representatives. U.S. agencies provide training and equipment for park rangers overseas to combat wildlife trafficking. From fiscal years 2014 through 2020, the U.S. government provided approximately $554 million to undertake a range of activities through federal agencies and in cooperation with implementing partner organizations in the field. Multiple non-governmental organization and media reports, however, have alleged that organizations that have received U.S. funds have supported park rangers engaged in combating wildfire trafficking who have committed human rights violations since the mid-2000s. GAO was asked to review human rights protection mechanisms related to U.S. efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. This report examines 1) what enforcement mechanisms agencies have to prevent U.S. funded efforts to combat wildlife trafficking from supporting human rights abuses and how they implement them, and 2) how agencies and implementing partners address allegations of human rights abuses. GAO spoke with agency officials and implementing partner representatives locally in person and overseas by phone, and collected and analyzed information related to program implementation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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