Priority Open Recommendations: Department of State

What GAO Found

In April 2020, GAO identified 12 priority recommendations for the Department of State. Since then, State has implemented 3 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to improve embassy construction planning and agency reform efforts.

In May 2021, GAO identified 2 additional priority recommendations for State, bringing the total number to 11. These recommendations involve the following areas:

  • improving the security assistance vetting process;
  • improving data quality;
  • improving workforce management;
  • improving embassy construction planning;
  • improving cybersecurity; 
  • complying with congressional reporting requirements.

State’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in its operations.

Why GAO Did This Study

Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations.

For more information, contact Thomas Melito at (202) 512-9601 or melitot@gao.gov.

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    The U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and six other federal law enforcement agencies announced the completion of the third annual Money Mule Initiative, a coordinated operation to disrupt the networks through which transnational fraudsters move the proceeds of their crimes.  Money mules are individuals who assist fraudsters by receiving money from victims of fraud and forwarding it to the fraud organizers, many of whom are located abroad.  Some money mules know they are assisting fraudsters, but others are unaware that their actions enable fraudsters’ efforts to swindle money from consumers, businesses, and government unemployment funds.  Europol announced a simultaneous effort, the European Money Mule Action (EMMA) today.
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  • Joint Statement on the Situation in Libya
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • United States Seizes 27 Additional Domain Names Used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Further a Global, Covert Influence Campaign
    In Crime News
    The United States has seized 27 domain names that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unlawfully used to further a global covert influence campaign.
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  • COVID-19: Emergency Financial Aid for College Students under the CARES Act
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As of November 2020, the Department of Education (Education) had distributed $6.19 billion in grants to 4,778 schools (colleges and other institutions of higher education) that had applied for emergency student aid funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) established by the CARES Act, which was enacted in March 2020. After many schools closed their physical campuses in spring 2020 in response to COVID-19, Education provided these grants to schools, based on a statutory formula, to give emergency financial assistance (student aid) to students who incurred related expenses, such as for housing, technology, and course materials. The majority of these HEERF student aid funds have been awarded to public schools (see figure). The average amount Education awarded per school was about $1.3 million, while amounts schools received ranged from less than $2,000 to more than $27 million, with half of schools receiving awards of $422,000 or less. Education data show that, as of November 2020, schools had drawn down about 90 percent—or $5.6 billion—of their HEERF student aid funds. About 70 percent of schools had drawn down all of their student aid funds, and an additional 24 percent of schools had drawn down at least half. Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Awards to Schools for Emergency Student Aid under the CARES Act, by School Sector Notes: Schools of less than 2 years are included in the 2-year school categories above. The Department of Education also awarded about $24 million to 2-year private, nonprofit schools and about $1.7 million to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Department of Education. Sector-level figures do not add up to $6.19 billion because of rounding. Schools used a variety of approaches to determine student eligibility and distribute funds to students. According to GAO’s analysis of a sample of school websites and data from Education, schools had distributed approximately 85 percent of all emergency student aid funds by fall 2020, with an average amount per student of about $830. Determining student eligibility. Approximately half of schools reported that they required a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—the form used to apply for federal financial aid—to determine student eligibility for HEERF student aid. For example, one school reported requiring students who did not have a FAFSA on file to complete one by June 2020 to be eligible for student aid. Other schools did not require a FAFSA to establish eligibility, according to their websites, but reported using alternative methods. For example, a 4-year public school reported that graduate students applying for emergency aid had the option of submitting a school-provided affidavit certifying they were eligible to receive federal financial aid, an option described in Education’s interim final rule on student eligibility. Awarding funds to students. Schools reported using two main methods for awarding HEERF emergency student aid to students: requiring students to complete a school-developed application or using existing school records. Approximately 18 percent of schools used a combination of both methods. For example, a 4-year nonprofit school reported on its website that it awarded $300 to $500 to eligible students in its first round of funding based on existing student financial aid records, and then allowed students who had more expenses related to COVID-19 to apply for additional funding. Determining award amounts. Schools reported using various factors to determine award amounts for HEERF-eligible students. Over half of schools reported on their websites that amounts were based on individual circumstances, such as students’ general financial need, access to essential items such as food or housing, or a combination of these factors. About 20 percent of schools also reported using full-time or part-time status to determine aid amounts. For example, a 4-year public school reported that it distributed grants, ranging from $150 to $1,000, to all eligible students based on their enrollment status and financial need based on students’ FAFSA information. Why GAO Did This Study In June 2020, GAO issued the first of a series of reports on federal efforts to address the pandemic, which included a discussion of HEERF student aid grants to schools. At that time, limited information on how schools distributed HEERF funds to students was available. This report provides additional information and examines (1) how HEERF emergency student aid funds were provided to schools under the CARES Act, and (2) how schools distributed emergency student aid to eligible students. GAO analyzed Education’s obligation data as of November 2020, after Education had obligated most of the HEERF emergency student aid funds. GAO also analyzed information about HEERF student aid that Education requires schools to report on their websites by selecting a generalizable random sample of 203 schools for website reviews. These schools were representative of the more than 4,500 schools that received HEERF student aid funds as of August 2020. GAO also collected non-generalizable narrative details about how schools distributed funds to eligible students.
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  • Lead Paint in Housing: Key Considerations for Adopting Stricter Lead Evaluation Methods in HUD’s Voucher Program
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO found that the Housing Choice Voucher program had 1.1 million voucher holders living in units built before 1978, the year the U.S. banned lead paint in housing. Of these units, roughly 171,000 were occupied by approximately 229,000 young children (under age 6)––putting these children at an increased risk of lead exposure. The voucher program requires visual assessments for identifying deteriorated paint, with no testing of paint or dust. Any change to stricter evaluation methods would need to consider that certain states have a larger portion of pre-1978 voucher units occupied by families with young children. Estimated costs for adopting stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program would vary substantially depending on the method used and what units were included (see figure). Estimated initial costs range from about $60 million for a less expensive method applied only to units with young children to about $880 million for a more expensive method applied to all pre-1978 units. These estimated costs range from 3 percent to 41 percent, respectively, of the fiscal year 2021 budget dedicated to public housing agencies' administrative expenses for the voucher program. Total costs would also depend on the mobility of voucher households and the frequency of any additional lead evaluations. Total Estimated Cost to Change the Lead Evaluation Methods for Housing Choice Voucher Units Would Vary by Evaluation Method Used and Units Included Note: A combination evaluation includes all components of a lead inspection and a risk assessment. Estimated costs may vary by up to plus or minus 14 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. GAO analysis estimated that nearly 6,000 lead professionals can conduct lead evaluations in the U.S. While there is no indication of a national shortage of lead professionals, areas with high numbers of pre-1978 voucher units and low numbers of lead professionals may face implementation challenges. Selected cities offer observations from their implementation of a change in lead evaluation method. For example, education of landlords can help clarify new evaluation requirements and encourage landlords to continue to rent to voucher holders. Further, implementing a new method in phases could target areas with the greatest need and help landlords and the industry adapt to the new requirement and the increased demand for lead evaluations. Why GAO Did This Study Exposure to lead paint, which was used in housing built before 1978, can have serious health effects, especially for young children. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has primary responsibility for identifying lead paint hazards in housing receiving HUD assistance, including private rental units in the voucher program. Some members of Congress have raised questions about whether the voucher program should change from visual assessments to a stricter lead evaluation method. The 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Joint Explanatory Statement, includes a provision for GAO to review HUD's efforts to address lead paint hazards. This report identifies considerations for policymakers related to changing to stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program, specifically regarding the (1) number and characteristics of voucher housing units and their occupants, (2) costs for lead evaluations based on method used and units included, (3) availability of lead professionals, and (4) observations from selected cities that use lead evaluation methods stricter than visual assessments. GAO analyzed HUD data on the voucher program (as of year-end 2019, the most recent available) and information on lead professionals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states. GAO also conducted a nationwide, generalizable survey of lead professionals to estimate the costs of lead evaluation methods. In addition, GAO interviewed staff from HUD, EPA, and public housing agencies, and representatives from two national organizations that represent lead professionals. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Concludes Its Investigation of D.C.-Area Private High Schools’ Decision to Stop Offering Advanced Placement Courses
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has completed its investigation into whether Georgetown Day School, Holton-Arms School, Landon School, Maret School, National Cathedral School, The Potomac School, St. Albans School, and Sidwell Friends School (jointly, “the Schools”) collectively agreed to stop offering Advanced Placement (AP) courses by 2022 in violation of the Sherman Act.  The Schools announced in June 2018 that they would eliminate AP courses from their curricula by 2022. 
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  • Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Remarks at Georgetown Law’s Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium
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  • VA Construction: VA Should Enhance the Lessons-Learned Process for Its Real-Property Donation Pilot Program
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has received one real property donation through a partnership pilot program authorized by the Communities Helping Invest through Property and Improvements Needed for Veterans Act of 2016 (CHIP-IN Act) and is planning for a second. This Act authorized VA to accept donated real property—such as buildings or facility construction or improvements—and to contribute certain appropriated funds to donors that are entering into donation agreements with VA. Under VA's interpretation, its ability to contribute to such funds is limited to major construction projects (over $20 million). The first CHIP-IN project—an ambulatory care center in Omaha, Nebraska—opened in August 2020. Pending requested appropriations for a second CHIP-IN project, VA intends to partner with another donor group to construct an inpatient medical center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (See figure.) Other potential donors have approached VA about opportunities that could potentially fit the CHIP-IN pilot, but these project ideas have not proceeded for various reasons, including the large donations required. VA officials told us they have developed a draft legislative proposal that seeks to address a challenge in finding CHIP-IN partnerships. For example, officials anticipate that a modification allowing VA to make funding contributions to smaller projects of $20 million and under would attract additional donors. Completed Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Ambulatory Care Center in Omaha, NE, and Rendering of Proposed Inpatient Facility in Tulsa, OK VA has discussed and documented some lessons learned from the Omaha project. For example, VA officials and the Omaha donor group identified and documented the benefits of a design review software that helped shorten timeframes and reduce costs compared to VA's typical review process. However, VA has not consistently followed a lessons-learned process, and as a result, other lessons, such as the decision-making that went into developing the Omaha project's donation agreement, have not been documented. Failure to document and disseminate lessons learned puts VA at risk of losing valuable insights from the CHIP-IN pilot that could inform future CHIP-IN projects or other VA construction efforts. VA has pressing infrastructure demands and a backlog of real property projects. VA can accept up to five real property donations through the CHIP-IN pilot program, which is authorized through 2021. GAO previously reported on the CHIP-IN pilot program in 2018. The CHIP-IN Act includes a provision for GAO to report on donation agreements entered into under the pilot program. This report examines: (1) the status of VA's efforts to execute CHIP-IN partnerships and identify additional potential partners and (2) the extent to which VA has collected lessons learned from the pilot, among other objectives. GAO reviewed VA documents, including project plans and budget information, and interviewed VA officials, donor groups for projects in Omaha and Tulsa, and selected non-profits with experience in fundraising. GAO compared VA's efforts to collect lessons learned with key practices for an overall lessons-learned process. GAO is making two recommendations to VA to implement a lessons-learned process. Recommendations include documenting and disseminating lessons learned from CHIP-IN pilot projects. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • Public Health: Federal Programs Provide Screening and Treatment for Breast and Cervical Cancer
    In U.S GAO News
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operates the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (the Early Detection Program) to provide cancer screening and diagnostic services to people who are low-income and uninsured or underinsured. For those screened under the program who require treatment, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000 (the Treatment Act) allows states to extend Medicaid eligibility to individuals not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. GAO analysis of CDC data show that the Early Detection Program screened 296,225 people in 2018, a decrease from 550,390 in 2011 (about 46 percent). The largest decrease occurred from 2013 to 2014 (see figure). According to a CDC-funded study, the number of people eligible for the Early Detection Program decreased from 2011 through 2017, by about 48 percent for breast cancer and about 49 percent for cervical cancer. CDC officials attributed these declines in screening and eligibility, in part, to improved access to screening under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). For example, PPACA required health plans to cover certain women's preventive health care with no cost sharing. Number of People Screened by CDC's Early Detection Program, 2011-2018 GAO analysis of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) data found that, in 2019, 43,549 people were enrolled in Medicaid under the Treatment Act to receive treatment for breast or cervical cancer, a decrease from 50,219 in 2016 (13.3 percent). Thirty-seven states experienced a decrease in Medicaid enrollment under the Treatment Act during this time period, 13 states experienced an increase, and one state had no change. CMS officials noted that Medicaid expansion to adults with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level under PPACA (the new adult group) is a key factor that contributed to these enrollment trends. CMS officials said that, in Medicaid expansion states, there were some people who previously would have enrolled in Medicaid based on eligibility under the Treatment Act who instead became eligible for Medicaid in the new adult group. The CMS data show that total enrollment under the Treatment Act in Medicaid expansion states decreased by 25.6 percent from 2016 to 2019. In contrast, total enrollment under the Treatment Act in non-expansion states increased by about 1 percent during this time period. According to the CDC, tens of thousands of people die each year from breast or cervical cancer. Early screening and detection, followed by prompt treatment, can improve outcomes and, ultimately, save lives. Federal programs, like CDC's Early Detection Program, are intended to improve access to these services. GAO was asked to examine the implementation of the Early Detection Program and the states' use of Medicaid under the Treatment Act. This report provides information on the number of people who were 1) screened through the Early Detection Program and 2) enrolled in Medicaid under the Treatment Act. GAO analyzed CDC data on the number of people screened by the Early Detection Program from calendar years 2011 through 2018—the most recent available. GAO also analyzed CMS Medicaid enrollment data from 2016 through 2019—the most recent available. Additionally, GAO reviewed a 2020 study funded by CDC that examines the number of people eligible for the Early Detection Program from 2011 through 2017. Finally, GAO interviewed CDC and CMS officials and reviewed relevant CDC and CMS documents. For more information, contact John E. Dicken, (202) 512-7114, dickenj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Seizes $2.3 Million in Cryptocurrency Paid to the Ransomware Extortionists Darkside
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that it has seized 63.7 bitcoins currently valued at over $2.3 million.
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  • Supreme Court Fellows Set to Begin New Term
    In U.S Courts
    Four new Supreme Court Fellows are set to begin their 2020-2021 fellowships in September working virtually, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
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  • Former Owners of Telemarketing Company Agree to Pay At Least $4 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations
    In Crime News
    Two Florida men have agreed collectively to pay at least $4 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by engaging in schemes to generate prescriptions for compounded drugs and refer those prescriptions to pharmacies in exchange for illegal kickbacks. Many of those prescriptions were billed to TRICARE, the federal health care program providing insurance for active duty military personnel, military retirees, and military dependents.
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  • Researcher Pleaded Guilty to Conspiring to Steal Scientific Trade Secrets from Ohio Children’s Hospital to Sell in China
    In Crime News
    Former Ohio woman Li Chen, 46, pleaded guilty today via video conference in U.S. District Court today to conspiring to steal scientific trade secrets and conspiring to commit wire fraud concerning the research, identification and treatment of a range of pediatric medical conditions.
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  • Statement by Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson on the Pakistani Supreme Court’s Ruling Relating to the Abduction and Murder of Daniel Pearl
    In Crime News
    Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson has released the following statement:
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  • Deputy Secretary Biegun’s Call with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akiba
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