Federal judges are working to make highly sought-after law clerkships and judicial internships more accessible to a diverse pool of law students.
Among the hiring tools are a digital hiring platform, partnerships with legal organizations, and outreach events for potential applicants.
“Diversity on the bench and among our courtroom and chambers staff is critical to serving a diverse population,” said Judge Raymond A. Jackson, of the Eastern District of Virginia. “It’s important that the court is reflective of the community it serves.”
Judiciary clerkships and internships are highly coveted positions in which law school students and recent graduates gain valuable career experience and directly assist judges in legal work, such as drafting memoranda, orders, and opinions.
“Taking steps to broaden the range of applicants that we receive for clerkships helps make the process more equitable for people of different backgrounds and gives more people a pathway into a career in the legal field that may not otherwise be available to them,” said Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain, of the Southern District of New York.
“My clerkship with Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman to serve on the federal bench, shaped my understanding of the intersection of law and life, and of how service to the federal Judiciary as a law clerk can open doors to professional opportunities for people from all backgrounds,” she said.
Many judges are using the recently updated Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR), an online database that enables candidates to upload applications and send them to all judges with open clerkship positions. OSCAR’s improved user-friendly interface makes the application and selection process easier than ever for judges and prospective clerks.
“OSCAR makes the hiring process more accessible and transparent, giving judges the opportunity to view applicants of all backgrounds from law schools across the country,” Swain said. “The service effectively broadens the applicant pool beyond a posting to the court’s website or through word of mouth, making it more likely to attract a diverse group of highly qualified candidates.”
Chief Judge Juan R. Sánchez, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is mindful not to limit his clerkship hiring criteria to certain law schools, class rankings, or general experiences.
“There are many qualifications that make a great law clerk, and by keeping an open mind, I am able to find talented law clerks with a variety of different backgrounds and experiences,” Sánchez said. “I’ve been able to select for these interviews bright people with excellent academic records, compelling personal stories, and unique experiences from a broad spectrum of candidates. The key is to invest the time to look through all of the applications. I choose not to overlook candidates, and because of this, I’ve been successful in hiring law clerks who reflect the many communities the Judiciary serves.”
To make the judicial clerkship hiring process more transparent and uniform, some judges are also participating in the Judiciary’s Federal Law Clerk Hiring Pilot Plan. The voluntary plan, extended through June 2022, ensures that all judges receive applications on the same day and gives them a 24-hour window to review applications before they can begin the interview process. The plan also delays the hiring of students for clerkships until after their second year of law school.
“Law school deans have told me that the plan has led to a more diverse pool of applicants and has helped level the playing field, especially as to those law students who enter law school without any background in the law and really shine in their second year of law school,” said Judge Robert A. Katzmann, of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who sits on the Ad Hoc Committee on Law Clerk Hiring, which works to make the hiring process more transparent and uniform.
Remote interviewing prompted by the pandemic helped eliminate travel costs of in-person interviewing, and many judges look to continue the option beyond the pandemic to help alleviate the financial burdens that travel may impose on applicants.
Judges also regularly attend events geared to getting people interested in the law, often partnering with law schools, local bar associations, and pipeline organizations to generate a pool of qualified applicants from different backgrounds.
“Exposing students to the law early on through outreach, internships, and collaboration with bar associations and pipeline organizations is key to building a more diverse Judiciary and diverse group of legal professionals,” said Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Bailey, of the District of Massachusetts. “I enjoy participating in these events and showing young people that a career in the law or as a judge is attainable. I like to tell students that ‘judges put their pants on one leg at a time too.’”
Pipeline organizations, like Just the Beginning (JTB), encourage students from underrepresented groups to pursue careers and leadership opportunities in the law. For the past 10 years, the Judiciary has partnered with JTB to expand the pool of qualified applicants for judges to consider for judicial internships. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the 92 students selected for internships last summer were transitioned to virtual work with judges across the country.
Some judges also participate in JTB’s Share the Wealth Clerkship Program, which acts as a selection and referral program to help judges attract diverse candidates for clerkships. Judge Jackson, who has worked with JTB for the last 15 years, currently serves as the clerkship program coordinator helping to arrange interviews for candidates with interested judges.
“Having people from different cultural backgrounds working alongside you changes perceptions and broadens your understanding of the world around you,” Bailey said. “The National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges has had an excellent experience partnering with groups like Just the Beginning to help us diversify the pipeline of applicants applying for opportunities in the courts.”
Some judges say that a more diverse workplace makes them better judges in the long run.
“Each of us are shaped by our own unique life experiences, and those life experiences shape our decision-making,” Jackson said. “Working with people of different life experiences better shapes our understanding of the unique circumstances facing the many different people that appear before the court.”
Related Topics: Judges & Judgeships
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A successful vaccination program is seen as essential to further stabilizing the economy and safely returning to prepandemic activities, such as in-person learning for students in the 2021–22 school year. The economic and public health recovery from the pandemic and its effects remains fragile. Data from the Department of Labor show that labor market conditions improved in March, April, May, and June 2021 but remained worse relative to the prepandemic period. Additionally, new reported COVID-19 cases from June 5 to June 18, 2021, averaged about 13,000 per day—less than a tenth of the peak reported in January 2021 (see figure). Reported COVID-19 Cases per Day in the U.S., Mar. 1, 2020–June 18, 2021 Since GAO began reporting on the federal response to the pandemic in June 2020, it has made 72 recommendations. The agencies generally agreed with 57 of these recommendations and are in the process of implementing a majority of them; 16 of these recommendations have been fully implemented. GAO also made four matters for congressional consideration, three of which remain open. In this report, GAO is making 15 new recommendations in the areas of federal preparedness and response, delivery of benefits and services, and program integrity. GAO’s recommendations, if effectively implemented, can help improve the government’s ongoing response and recovery efforts as well as help it to prepare for future public health emergencies. GAO’s new recommendations are discussed below. COVID-19 Testing CDC has opportunities to improve collaboration and communication with stakeholders. Prior to the COVID-19 response, CDC had not developed a plan for enhancing laboratory testing capacity that identifies objectives and outlines agency and stakeholder roles and responsibilities for achieving these objectives within defined time frames. Doing so would be consistent with the stated goal of its own memorandum of understanding with public health and private laboratory partners and would also be consistent with other leading principles on sound planning that GAO has identified in its prior work. GAO recommends that CDC work with appropriate stakeholders to develop a plan to enhance surge capacity for laboratory testing. CDC agreed with this recommendation. CDC initially developed a flawed COVID-19 diagnostic test, which caused challenges for the rollout of testing nationwide. CDC has taken steps to improve its process for developing tests, but additional actions could help strengthen CDC’s preparedness and enhance the nation’s testing capacity during a future infectious disease outbreak. For example, establishing contracts with test kit manufacturers prior to a public health emergency could allow CDC to supplement the supply produced by CDC and aid in the rapid manufacturing and deployment of test kits during a future public health emergency. GAO recommends that CDC assess the agency’s needs for goods and services for the manufacturing and deployment of diagnostic test kits in public health emergencies, including the potential role of establishing contracts in advance of an emergency. CDC agreed with this recommendation. Strategic National Stockpile The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) contains a multibillion dollar inventory of medical countermeasures—drugs, vaccines, supplies, and other materials—to respond to a broad range of public health emergencies. The SNS can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the supply of materials may not be immediately available in affected areas during a public health emergency. The Department of Health and Humans Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) oversees the SNS. The Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE), an interagency group of experts, advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services in prioritizing, developing, procuring, deploying, and effectively using medical supplies and other countermeasures for the SNS. In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, ASPR began restructuring the PHEMCE. This led to concerns from interagency partners regarding the effectiveness of interagency collaboration and transparency, such as a lack of clarity on how ASPR makes decisions about medical countermeasure issues, including for the SNS inventory. In addition, while the PHEMCE was being restructured, ASPR did not conduct SNS annual reviews from 2017 through 2019; these reviews result in recommendations to HHS regarding SNS procurement and are provided to Congress. According to the former Assistant Secretary who initiated the restructure, although PHEMCE was successful in advancing the development of medical countermeasures, its consensus-driven process did not reflect the urgency needed and PHEMCE proceedings created security vulnerabilities. ASPR officials acknowledged that the changes ASPR made to the PHEMCE from 2018 to 2020 did not fully achieve the desired aims and created other challenges. The office is in the process of reassessing and reestablishing new organizational processes for the PHEMCE, but it has not yet finalized planning documents, including an organizational charter and implementation plan, to guide those efforts. GAO recommends that ASPR develop and document its plans for restructuring the PHEMCE. The plans should describe how ASPR will ensure a transparent and deliberative process that engages interagency partners in PHEMCE responsibilities outlined in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019, including those related to SNS annual reviews. These plans should also incorporate GAO’s leading practices to foster more effective collaboration, while ensuring that sensitive information is appropriately protected. HHS—which includes ASPR—agreed with this recommendation. PHEMCE interagency partners raised concerns about the transparency of PHEMCE activities and deliberations, and ASPR lacked documentation of PHEMCE activities and deliberations after 2017. ASPR was unable to provide documentation to GAO regarding PHEMCE decisions or recommendations made from 2018 to 2020; the rationale for the changes to the PHEMCE; or PHEMCE meeting agendas and minutes from 2018 to 2020. Not maintaining such documentation is inconsistent with HHS’s policy for records management and leaves Congress and key stakeholders without assurance that steps taken are advancing national preparedness for natural, accidental, and intentional threats. GAO recommends that ASPR implement records management practices that include developing, maintaining, and securing documentation related to PHEMCE activities and deliberations, including those related to the SNS. HHS, including ASPR, agreed with this recommendation. The nationwide need for supplies to respond to COVID-19 quickly exceeded the quantity of supplies contained in the SNS. Thus, ASPR used procurement processes in addition to its standard process, including direct shipment of supplies from vendors. Through this direct shipment process, supplies purchased by ASPR were not used to replenish the SNS but instead were primarily distributed from vendors directly to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. Although ASPR has documented policies and procedures for its standard procurement process, ASPR did not have documented policies and procedures, including related control and monitoring activities, to address payment integrity risks for its direct shipment procurement process. Without written policies and procedures documenting how ASPR tracks the direct shipment and receipt of supplies before issuing payments, there is an increased risk that ASPR may make improper payments to vendors for incorrect supplies or quantities or for supplies that the intended recipients did not receive. In addition, it is difficult for management to assess the adequacy of controls over the direct shipment procurement process, and ASPR lacks assurance that its staff fully understand the process and properly and consistently perform their duties. GAO recommends that, to strengthen the current procedures for the SNS, HHS update its policies and procedures for the SNS, including related control and monitoring activities, to document the direct shipment procurement process and address payment integrity risks. Although HHS, including ASPR, did not agree with GAO regarding the need to address payment integrity risks, it stated that HHS will update its policies and procedures, including related control and monitoring activities to document the direct shipment procurement process. Domestic Medical Supply Manufacturing Before the pandemic, the U.S. generally depended on foreign suppliers for certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE), including nitrile gloves and surgical gowns. Multiple stakeholders representing manufacturers, distributors, and other purchasers noted that meaningful, transparent federal engagement with industry could enhance the resilience of domestic manufacturing and the supply chain. According to some stakeholders, such engagement with the private sector could help ramp up private investment in domestic PPE manufacturing, among other things. In January 2021, GAO reported that HHS had not developed a process for engaging with key nonfederal stakeholders and Congress for development of a supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, including the role of the SNS. GAO recommended that HHS do so, and the department generally agreed with GAO’s recommendation. However, as of May 2021, HHS had not implemented this recommendation. GAO continues to underscore that engaging with key nonfederal stakeholders—in meaningful, proactive ways to obtain their business and industry expertise—and with Congress is critical for developing strategies to build a sustainable domestic medical supply manufacturing base. HHS COVID-19 Funding As of May 31, 2021, Congress had appropriated to HHS approximately $484 billion in COVID-19 funds in six relief laws. The majority of HHS’s appropriations from the first five relief laws had been obligated and about half had been expended. Specifically, as of May 31, 2021, the department reported the following (see figure): Of the $324 billion appropriated in the first five COVID-19 relief laws, about $253 billion had been obligated (about 78 percent) and about $168 billion had been expended (about 52 percent). Of the $160 billion appropriated in the sixth law, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), about $75 billion had been obligated (about 47 percent) and about $3 billion had been expended (about 2 percent). HHS’s Reported COVID-19 Relief Appropriations, Obligations, and Expenditures from COVID-19 Relief Laws, as of May 31, 2021 The percentage of obligations and expenditures varied across selected COVID-19 response activities for a variety of reasons, including the nature of the activities, their planned uses, and the timing of the funds provided through the six COVID-19 relief laws. HHS uses spend plans to communicate information about its COVID-19 spending. The first five COVID-19 relief laws generally require the department to develop, update, and provide these spend plans to Congress every 60 days. The sixth relief law, ARPA, does not require a spend plan, but according to HHS officials, the department is preparing a consolidated plan that captures the first five relief laws and a separate spend plan for funding provided through ARPA. The consolidated spend plan is under internal review at HHS and the ARPA spend plan is still being finalized. As of May 2021, GAO had received and reviewed a total of 15 spend plans—the original spend plans and subsequent updates—provided by HHS. GAO found that the most current spend plans generally do not include time frames for obligating the remaining funds, which is useful information for oversight and informing future funding decisions by Congress. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget to federal agencies, including HHS, noted the importance of spending transparency and regular reporting to help safeguard taxpayer dollars. GAO recommends that HHS communicate information about, and facilitate oversight of, the department’s use of COVID-19 relief funds by providing projected time frames for its planned spending in the spend plans it submits to Congress. HHS partially concurred with the recommendation and stated that the department would aim to incorporate some time frames on planned spending where that information may be available such as time frames for select grants to states. Higher Education Grants The Department of Education (Education) has faced inherent challenges that increase the risk of improper payments for its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants to institutions of higher education to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. For example, funding needed to be processed and distributed expeditiously because of health and economic threats to institutions of higher education posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO tested Education’s procedures for approving and processing HEERF grants through a sample of obligations and found that the department had not effectively designed and implemented procedures needed to identify erroneous obligations after awarding the grants. GAO estimated that for 5.5 percent of schools receiving HEERF grants (about 262 of 4,764 schools in GAO’s sample), Education awarded grants that exceeded the amounts allocated—including three instances in GAO’s sample for which Education obligated $20 million more than was allocated. Officials from Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education stated that because of time and staffing constraints and the high volume of grants administered, they did not regularly perform quality assurance reviews after obligation to identify and correct erroneous obligations. GAO recommends Education design and implement procedures for regularly conducting quality assurance reviews of obligated amounts for higher education grants, including HEERF, to help identify and correct erroneous obligations in a timely manner. Education agreed with this recommendation. Coronavirus State and Local Relief and Recovery Funds COVID-19 relief laws appropriated $500 billion to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to provide direct funding to states, localities, tribal governments, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories to help them respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. This amount includes $150 billion that the CARES Act appropriated to Treasury for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) in March 2020 as well as $350 billion that ARPA appropriated to Treasury for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF) in March 2021. Recipients can use CRF payments to offset costs related to either the pandemic’s direct effects (e.g., public health needs) or its indirect effects (e.g., harm to individuals or businesses as a result of COVID-19-related closures). The CSLFRF provides payments to these recipients to cover a broader range of costs stemming from the fiscal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Single Audit Act establishes requirements for states, localities, Indian tribes, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and nonprofit organizations that receive federal awards to undergo single audits of those awards annually when their expenditures meet a certain dollar threshold. Single audits are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard the use of the billions of dollars distributed through the CRF and CSLFRF. Auditors who conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which provides guidelines and policy for performing single audits. After consultation with federal agencies, OMB annually updates and issues the supplement. Auditors have reported that the timing of the supplement is critical in allowing them to effectively plan their work. The timely issuance of single audit guidance is critical to ensuring timely completion and reporting of single audits to inform the federal government about actions needed to help safeguard the use of the billions of dollars distributed through the CRF and CSLFRF. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue timely and sufficient single audit guidance for auditing recipients’ uses of payments from the CSLFRF. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Economic Impact Payments The CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and ARPA authorized Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue three rounds of economic impact payments (EIP) as direct payments to help individuals alleviate financial stress due to the pandemic. (See figure.) To publicize information about how to file a tax return with the IRS to receive an EIP, IRS partners with organizations that work with communities that may not traditionally interact with IRS, such as lower-income families, senior citizens, veterans, tribal communities, and families with mixed-immigration status. According to officials from IRS partner organizations, ensuring eligible nonfilers receive their payments continues to be a challenge. Partners also told GAO their outreach efforts to nonfilers could be more effective if the partners had current data that could help identify specific communities of nonfilers who may need assistance. Total Number and Amount of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) Disbursed, Rounds 1, 2, and 3, as of May 28, 2021 In January 2021, Treasury began analyzing nearly 9 million notices it had sent to nonfilers who may be eligible for the first round of EIP payments. However, Treasury does not plan to complete this analysis until fall 2021, more than 6 months after the third round of EIP payments began to be issued. This timing would limit the findings’ usefulness for informing EIP outreach efforts. By waiting to complete the analysis, Treasury and IRS are missing an opportunity to identify communities that may have a higher number of nonfilers and to use that information to inform their outreach efforts as well as the efforts of their outreach partners.GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, release interim findings on the effectiveness of the notices it sent in September 2020 to potentially EIP-eligiblenonfilers; incorporate that analysis into IRS outreach efforts as appropriate; and then, if necessary, release an update based on new analysis after the 2021 filing season. Treasury neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Tax Relief for Businesses To provide liquidity to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES Act and other COVID-19 relief laws included tax measures to reduce certain tax obligations, including measures related to net operating loss carryback claims. In some cases, these reductions of obligations led to cash refunds. The Internal Revenue Code and the CARES Act generally require IRS to issue certain refunds within 90 days from the date when a complete application for a tentative carryback adjustment is filed or 90 days from the last day of the month in which the return is due, whichever is later. IRS data show that the agency is not meeting the statutory refund requirement for these relief measures and that as of May 1, 2021, the average processing time for refunds was 154 days, excluding additional time for final processing and distribution. IRS officials said it is taking longer to process returns because IRS facilities that process paper returns continue to operate at reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing. In the meantime, transparent communication about these issues could help taxpayers know when to expect their refunds. Specifically, an explanation on IRS’s website that processing times for tentative refunds may exceed the expected 90 days because of service disruptions would provide taxpayers with more accurate information and expectations for receiving a refund. GAO recommends that IRS clearly communicate on its website that there are delays beyond the statutory 90-day timeline in processing tentative refunds. IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. 2021 Tax Filing Season IRS is experiencing delays in processing certain returns received in 2021, resulting in extended time frames for processing returns for some taxpayers. IRS reported that it is taking longer than usual to manually review some of these returns. Specifically, as of the end of the 2021 filing season, IRS had about 25.5 million unprocessed individual and business returns, including about 1.2 million returns from its 2020 backlog, and 13.7 million returns that it had suspended because of errors. IRS staff must manually review these returns with errors. IRS typically has unprocessed returns in its inventory at the end of the filing season, but not to this extent. For example, at the end of the 2019 filing season, IRS had 8.3 million unprocessed individual and business returns, including 2.7 million returns suspended for errors. IRS’s annual tax filing activities include processing more than 150 million individual and business tax returns electronically or on paper. With significantly more returns currently being held for manual review than in prior years, more taxpayers are trying to get information about the status of their returns and refunds. However, taxpayers have had difficulty obtaining status updates on their refunds from IRS, either by phone or online. IRS’s website does not contain all of the relevant information regarding delays in processing 2021 returns and issuing taxpayers’ refunds. Additionally, IRS’s automated message on its toll-free telephone line for individual taxpayers has not been updated to explain refund delays or to include any other alerts associated with the 2021 filing season.GAO recommends that IRS update relevant pages of its website and, if feasible, add alerts to its toll-free telephone lines to more clearly and prominently explain the nature and extent of individual refund delays occurring for returns that taxpayers filed in 2021. IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. This report contains additional recommendations related to disseminating information related to leave benefits for employees. Why GAO Did This Study As of mid-June 2021, the U.S. had about 33.4 million reported cases of COVID-19 and about 593,000 reported deaths, according to CDC. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions from the pandemic. Six relief laws, including the CARES Act, had been enacted as of May 31, 2021, to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of May 31, 2021, of the $4.7 trillion appropriated by these six laws for COVID-19 relief—including about $1.6 trillion appropriated by ARPA, which was enacted in March 2021—the federal government had obligated a total of $3.5 trillion and had expended $3.0 trillion, as reported by federal agencies. 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 the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities. GAO also interviewed federal officials; representatives from organizations for states and localities; and other stakeholders, including manufacturers of PPE (e.g., N95 respirators, surgical masks, and nitrile gloves).[Read More…]
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- Disaster Block Grants: Factors to Consider in Authorizing a Permanent ProgramBy Sam NewsMay 19, 2021What GAO Found In March 2019, GAO reported that because the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program lacks permanent authority and regulations—unlike other disaster assistance programs—appropriations require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to customize grant requirements for each disaster in Federal Register notices—a time-consuming process. GAO identified challenges associated with the lack of permanent statutory authority, including delays in disbursal of funds and the need for grantees to manage multiple grants with different rules. For example, GAO found it took HUD 5 months after the first appropriation for the 2017 hurricanes (Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria) for HUD to issue the first Federal Register notice establishing the grant requirements. Officials from one of the 2017 CDBG-DR grantees told GAO of challenges managing multiple CDBG-DR grants it received over the years because each grant had different rules. HUD officials noted then that permanently authorizing CDBG-DR would allow HUD to issue permanent regulations for disaster recovery. GAO identified factors to consider when weighing whether and how to permanently authorize a program for unmet disaster assistance needs. These factors, which are based on GAO's body of work on emergency management and past observations of broader government initiatives, include the following: Clarify how the program would fit into the broader federal disaster framework. GAO has emphasized the importance of articulating a program's relationship to other programs and of aligning the program within organizations with compatible missions and goals. This is particularly important with disaster programs, given the approximately 30 agencies involved in disaster recovery. Clarify the purpose and design the program to address it. Greater clarity about the purpose of CDBG-DR could help resolve implementation issues GAO has previously identified, such as how much time grantees should have to spend funds and the proportion of funds that should be distributed to renters. Consider the necessary capacity and support infrastructure to implement the program. GAO's prior work found that state, local, territorial, and tribal grantees and federal agencies faced capacity challenges in administering and overseeing federal grant funds, including CDBG-DR. Capacity challenges for grantees may contribute to fraud risks and slow expenditure of funds. Why GAO Did This Study Legislation proposed over the years would permanently authorize CDBG-DR or a similar program, but no proposal has been enacted. Since 1993, Congress has provided over $90 billion in supplemental appropriations through HUD's CDBG program to help communities recover from disasters. Just since 2001, HUD has issued over 100 Federal Register notices linked to these funds. Communities use these funds to address unmet needs for housing, infrastructure, and economic revitalization. HUD is one of approximately 30 federal agencies tasked with disaster recovery. This testimony discusses (1) challenges associated with the lack of permanent statutory authority for CDBG-DR and (2) factors to consider when weighing whether and how to permanently authorize CDBG-DR or a similar program. It is based primarily on GAO's March 2019 and May 2021 reports on CDBG-DR (GAO-19-232 and GAO-21-177) and GAO reports issued between February 2004 and June 2019 that identified factors to consider in making critical federal policy decisions. For those reports, GAO reviewed documentation on CDBG-DR and its observations of efforts to reorganize or streamline government, among other things.[Read More…]
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- Defense Transportation: DOD Can Better Leverage Existing Contested Mobility Studies and Improve TrainingBy Sam NewsFebruary 26, 2021From 2016 through 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted or sponsored at least 11 classified or sensitive studies on contested mobility— the ability of the U.S. military to transport equipment and personnel in a contested operational environment. The studies resulted in more than 50 recommendations, and DOD officials stated they believed that some of the recommendations had been implemented. However, officials did not know the exact disposition of the recommendations, as they are not actively tracking implementation activities. Further, no single DOD oversight entity evaluated the studies' recommendations and tracked implementation across the department. As a result, DOD may be missing an opportunity to leverage existing knowledge on mobility in contested environments across organizations, and strengthen its mobility efforts for major conflicts as envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. DOD has updated aspects of wargame exercises and mobility training to prepare for a contested environment, but has not updated training for the surge sealift fleet—ships owned by DOD and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) and crewed by contracted mariners. These crews are primarily trained and qualified to operate the ship, but receive limited contested mobility training. While DOD has updated air mobility training and other aspects of mobility training, sealift crew training requirements have not been updated by DOD and MARAD to reflect contested environment concerns because DOD has not conducted an evaluation of such training. Since sealift is the means by which the majority of military equipment would be transported during a major conflict, it is important that crews be trained appropriately for contested mobility to help ensure that ships safely reach their destinations and complete their missions. C-17 Performing Defense Maneuvers DOD has begun to mitigate contested environment challenges through improved technology and related initiatives. The Navy is acquiring improved technologies to deploy on surge sealift ships and replacement ships. The Air Force is equipping current mobility aircraft (see photo above) with additional defensive technologies and planning for the development of future replacement aircraft. According to U.S. Transportation Command, the command is revising its contracts with commercial partners to address cyber threats, and funding research and development projects that address contested mobility concerns. Many of these efforts are nascent and will take years to be put in place. China and Russia are strengthening their militaries to neutralize U.S. strengths, including mobility—the ability of U.S. military airlift and air refueling aircraft and sealift ships to rapidly move equipment and personnel from the United States to locations abroad to support DOD missions. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's ability to operate in a contested mobility environment. This report assesses the extent to which DOD has studied contested mobility and tracked the implementation of study recommendations, assesses the extent to which DOD has revised its training to incorporate contested mobility challenges, and describes the technologies that DOD uses to mitigate contested mobility challenges. GAO identified contested mobility studies conducted or sponsored by DOD; evaluated DOD's processes for monitoring implementation of study recommendations; analyzed training and exercise documents from DOD combatant commands, the Air Force, and the Navy; and reviewed DOD plans for technological improvements to its mobility forces. GAO recommends that DOD designate an oversight entity to track the implementation of study recommendations, and that DOD and MARAD evaluate and update sealift training. DOD and the Department of Transportation concurred or partially concurred with each recommendation. GAO believes each recommendation should be fully implemented, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Physical Infrastructure: Preliminary Observations on Options for Improving Climate Resilience of Transportation InfrastructureBy Sam NewsMay 13, 2021What GAO Found GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework serves as a guide for analysis of federal actions to facilitate and promote resilience to natural disasters and changes in the climate across many policy areas, including transportation. The framework is organized around three guiding principles—information, integration, and incentives—and a series of questions that can help identify opportunities to enhance federal efforts to promote disaster resilience. Specifically, the integration principle states that integrated analysis and planning can help decision makers take coherent and coordinated actions to promote resilience. For example, in October 2019, GAO reported that no federal agency, interagency collaborative effort, or other organizational arrangement has been established to implement a strategic approach to climate resilience investment that includes periodically identifying and prioritizing projects. Such an approach could supplement individual agency climate resilience efforts and help target federal resources toward high-priority projects. GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a federal organizational arrangement to periodically identify and prioritize climate resilience projects for federal investment. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has taken steps to encourage states to enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads by developing agency policy, providing technical assistance to states, and supporting climate resilience research funding, among other actions. In addition, as part of ongoing work on FHWA's federal-aid highway program, GAO identified options that could further enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads, based on a literature review and interviews with knowledgeable stakeholders (see table). Some of these options are similar to recommendations made previously by GAO. Further, according to FHWA officials, some of these options would likely require additional congressional direction or authority to implement. Options to further enhance resilience of federally funded roads, as suggested by relevant literature and knowledgeable stakeholders Option Integrate climate resilience into Federal Highway Administration policy and guidance. Update design standards to account for climate change and resilience best practices. Provide authoritative, actionable, forward-looking climate information. Add climate resilience funding eligibility requirements, conditions, or criteria to formula grant programs. Expand the availability of discretionary funding for climate resilience improvements. Alter the Emergency Relief (ER) program by providing incentives for, or conditioning funding on, pre-disaster resilience actions. Expand the availability of ER funding for post-disaster climate resilience improvements. Establish additional climate resilience planning or project requirements. Link climate resilience actions or requirements to incentives or penalties. Condition eligibility, funding, or project approval on compliance with climate resilience policy and guidance. Source: GAO analysis of literature and interviews with knowledgeable stakeholders. | GAO-21-561T Why GAO Did This Study Since 2013, GAO has included Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks in its High Risk List. In addition, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a changing climate threatens the performance of the U.S. transportation system across all modes, including roads. Congress authorized approximately $43 billion of fiscal year 2021 formula funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation's FHWA's federal-aid highway program, which primarily funds highway planning and construction. This testimony discusses (1) GAO's framework for identifying opportunities to enhance the climate resilience of transportation infrastructure; and (2) preliminary observations on actions taken and options to further enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads. This work is based on GAO reports issued from 2014 through 2019, a review of literature, and interviews conducted with FHWA officials and knowledgeable stakeholders conducted as part of on-going work. GAO expects to issue a report on the results of its ongoing work in summer 2021.[Read More…]
- Defense Reform: DOD Has Made Progress, but Needs to Further Refine and Formalize Its Reform EffortsBy Sam NewsNovember 5, 2020The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in establishing valid and reliable cost baselines for its enterprise business operations and has additional efforts ongoing. DOD's January 2020 report responding to section 921 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 addressed most of the key requirements from that section but also had some limitations, which DOD acknowledged. For example, the baselines included only labor and information technology costs because DOD's financial data do not attribute costs to other specific activities required under section 921. However, DOD officials told GAO they have developed and are continuing to refine baselines for all of the department's enterprise business operations, such as financial and human resource management, to enable DOD to better track the resources devoted to these operations and the progress of reform. While still in progress, this effort shows promise in addressing the weaknesses in DOD's section 921 report and in meeting the need for consistent baselines for DOD's reform efforts that GAO has previously identified. GAO found that DOD's reported savings of $37 billion from its reform efforts and a Defense-Wide Review to better align resources are largely reflected in its budget materials; however, the savings were not always well documented or consistent with the department's definitions of reform. Specifically: DOD had limited information on the analysis underlying its savings estimates, including (1) economic assumptions, (2) alternative options, and (3) any costs of taking the actions to realize savings, such as opportunity costs. Therefore, GAO was unable to determine the quality of the analysis that led to DOD's savings decisions. Further, some of the cost savings initiatives were not clearly aligned with DOD's definitions of reform, and thus DOD may have overstated savings that came from its reform efforts rather than other sources of savings, like cost avoidance. For example, one initiative was based on the delay of military construction projects. According to DOD officials, this was done to fund higher priorities. But if a delayed project is still planned, the costs will likely be realized in a future year. Without processes to standardize development and documentation of savings and to consistently identify reform savings based on reform definitions, decision makers may lack reliable information on DOD's estimated reform savings. In coordinating its reform efforts, DOD has generally followed leading practices for collaboration, but there is a risk that this collaboration may not be sustained in light of any organizational changes that Congress or DOD may make. This risk is increased because the Office of the Chief Management Officer (OCMO) and other offices have not formalized and institutionalized these efforts through written policies or agreements. Without written policies or formal agreements that define how organizations should collaborate with regard to DOD's reform and efficiency efforts, current progress may be lost, and future coordination efforts may be hindered. DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain key business operations. Section 921 of the NDAA for FY 2019 established requirements for DOD to reform these operations and report on their efforts. DOD has also undertaken additional efforts to reform its operations in recent years. Section 921 called for GAO to assess the accuracy of DOD's reported cost baselines and savings, and section 1753 of the NDAA for FY 2020 called for GAO to report on the OCMO's efficiency initiatives. This report assesses the extent to which DOD has (1) established valid and reliable baseline cost estimates for its business operations; (2) established well-documented cost savings estimates reflecting its reforms; and (3) coordinated its reform efforts. GAO assessed documents supporting costs, savings estimates, and coordination efforts; interviewed DOD officials; observed demonstrations of DOD's reform tracking tools; and assessed DOD's efforts using selected criteria. GAO is making three recommendations—specifically, that DOD establish formal processes to standardize development and documentation of cost savings; ensure that reported savings are consistent with the department's definition of reform; and formalize policies or agreements on its reform efforts. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Department of Defense: Eating Disorders in the MilitaryBy Sam NewsAugust 7, 2020The Department of Defense (DOD) screens for eating disorders for all applicants entering into the military but does not specifically screen servicemembers for eating disorders after entrance. However, after joining the military, servicemembers receive annual health screenings, and medical personnel may be able to diagnose eating disorders during in-person physical exams. Service branch behavioral health specialists told GAO that DOD medical personnel are trained to notice signs of eating disorders, such as changes in vital signs and emaciated appearance. DOD is examining ways to improve its screening of eating disorders in the military and recently expanded the available research funding for eating disorders in its Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP). DOD provides health care services to approximately 9.5 million eligible beneficiaries, including services to treat those diagnosed with eating disorders, through TRICARE, DOD’s regionally structured health care system. Servicemembers can obtain these services at military treatment facilities—referred to as direct care—or receive care purchased from civilian providers—referred to as purchased care. DOD officials told us that the specialized level of care necessary to treat eating disorders is available to TRICARE beneficiaries through purchased care, rather than direct care. The Defense Health Agency (DHA), which oversees the TRICARE program, uses two contractors to develop regional provider networks. According to the two TRICARE contractors’ data for purchased care, as of spring 2020, there were 166 eating disorder facilities located in 32 states throughout the country and the District of Columbia. The facilities vary by geographic location, population served, and level of treatment provided: Geography: About half of the 166 facilities (79) are located in the following five states: California (24), Florida (18), Illinois (15), Texas (13), and Virginia (nine). Population: Of the 166 eating disorder facilities, over three-quarters provide treatment to both adult (132 facilities) and child and adolescent (132 facilities) populations. Level of Treatment: Most facilities provide inpatient hospitalization programs, which are for serious cases requiring medical stabilization (81 facilities); partial hospitalization, which are day programs providing treatment 5 to 7 days a week (133 facilities); or intensive outpatient programs, which are treatment programs providing therapy 2 to 6 days a week (107 facilities). About one-fifth of the facilities (35) provide residential treatment services, which are living accommodations providing intensive therapy and 24-hour supervision. TRICARE contractors have met with some challenges entering into contracts with eating disorder treatment facilities in certain areas of the country, according to DHA officials and both contractors. However, both contractors told GAO they consider it their responsibility to ensure beneficiaries receive the care they need regardless of the location of the facility. No access-to-care complaints related to eating disorder treatment were reported by TRICARE beneficiaries, according to the most recent DHA data for years 2018 through 2019. Eating disorders are complex conditions affecting millions of Americans and involve dangerous eating behaviors, such as the restriction of food intake. They can have a severe impact on heart, stomach, and brain functionality, and they significantly raise the risk of mortality. Many with eating disorders also experience co-occurring conditions such as depression. Research has yielded a range of estimates of the number of servicemembers with an eating disorder, due to differences in research methods. For example, a 2018 DOD study concluded that servicemembers likely experienced eating disorders at rates that are comparable to rates in the general population, while other survey-based research suggested the number of servicemembers with eating disorders may be higher than those with a medical diagnoses of such disorders. The potential effects that eating disorders can have on the health and combat readiness of servicemembers and their dependents underscores the importance of screening and treating this population. GAO was asked to provide information on eating disorders among servicemembers and their dependents. To describe how DOD screens for eating disorders among servicemembers, GAO reviewed DOD policies related to health screening and interviewed behavioral health specialists from the military branches. To understand approaches and challenges with implementing screening in a military environment, any planned or ongoing DOD-sponsored research related to this topic, and available eating disorder treatment, GAO interviewed representatives from the Eating Disorder Coalition, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and the University of Kansas. To describe how DOD provides eating disorder treatment to servicemembers and their dependents, GAO interviewed DHA officials and TRICARE contractors and reviewed the TRICARE policy manual to identify the types of eating disorder diagnoses and treatments that are covered through direct and purchased care. GAO received data from the two TRICARE contractors related to the availability of eating disorder treatment services as of spring 2020. For more information, contact Sharon Silas at (202) 512-7114 or Silass@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Medicaid: Data Completeness and Accuracy Have Improved, Though Not All Standards Have Been MetBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021GAO found that the completeness and accuracy of Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS) data have improved. Over the past decade, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been implementing T-MSIS, which is the agency's initiative to improve state-reported data available for overseeing Medicaid. CMS's assessment of two key T-MSIS data sources reflect these improvements. I. Priority items. Priority items are areas of data CMS identified as critical for program oversight, such as beneficiary eligibility and managed care. CMS's assessment of states' data submissions for the first 12 priority items identified significant improvement in meeting CMS data standards over a 22-month period. CMS's assessments of additional priority items similarly indicate improved completeness and accuracy. Improvements in the Number of States Meeting CMS Standards for Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System Priority Items One through 12 Number of priority items that met standards Number of states as of October 2018 Number of states as of August 2020 10 or more 6 41 7 to 9 26 10 6 or less 18 0 Source: GAO analysis of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) priority item data. │ GAO-21-196 Note: CMS assessed data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. CMS excluded Wisconsin from its October 2018 assessment, because the state had not submitted sufficient data. II. Analytic files. Analytic files are publicly available, research-ready T-MSIS data. GAO's review of CMS's assessments found that all states submitted some data for 67 of the 69 topics relevant to their Medicaid programs. This is an improvement from what GAO found in 2017, when none of the six states reviewed submitted all T-MSIS data applicable to their programs. GAO also found that states' data for 52 of the 69 topics were acceptable—meaning that CMS determined most states' data did not have significant problems that would affect their usability. While CMS's assessments of priority item and analytic file data indicate improvement in the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data, GAO also found that these assessments highlight areas where data do not meet the agency's standards. For example, 30 states did not submit acceptable data for inpatient managed care encounters. Accurate encounter data are critical to ensuring that Medicaid managed care beneficiaries obtain covered services and that payments to managed care organizations are appropriate. GAO has made at least 13 recommendations related to improving T-MSIS data and expediting their use for program oversight. CMS has addressed five of these recommendations, and has not fully addressed eight—including recommendations to improve data for overseeing payments to providers and managed care organizations. Implementing these recommendations would help CMS strengthen program oversight through improved T-MSIS data. Since adding Medicaid to its High Risk List in 2003, GAO has identified multiple limitations in program data affecting CMS's ability to ensure beneficiaries' access to care and proper payments to health care providers. CMS intends T-MSIS be a national repository of data to manage and oversee Medicaid, which served approximately 77 million individuals at an estimated cost of $673 billion in fiscal year 2020. Prior GAO work found issues with the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data and recommended that CMS expedite efforts to improve T-MSIS data and to use them for program oversight. CMS has taken steps to improve T-MSIS data and has made some T-MSIS data publicly available. Yet, questions remain about the usability of T-MSIS data for program oversight. Under the Comptroller General's authority, GAO initiated this review to examine what is known about the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data. GAO reviewed CMS's assessments of two T-MSIS data sources: (1) states' submissions of T-MSIS priority items; and (2) the 2016 T-MSIS analytic files, which was the most recent analytic file data available when GAO began this work. GAO also reviewed CMS documents, prior GAO reports, and reports published by others examining T-MSIS data. GAO interviewed officials from CMS and seven states selected based on variation in their progress submitting complete and accurate priority item data, among other factors. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]