Justice Department Applauds the Passage and Enactment of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020

On Jan. 5, 2021, President Donald J. Trump signed H.R. 8354, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020, a bill to permanently establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, or “SVI”, within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

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    The Department of Defense (DOD) continues to face financial management issues and challenges that have prevented it from obtaining a clean audit opinion on the fair presentation of its financial statements. Specifically, financial statement auditors issued disclaimers of opinion on DOD's and the military services' fiscal year 2018 and 2019 financial statements. These disclaimers resulted from numerous material weaknesses based on thousands of notices of findings and recommendations (NFR) that the auditors issued. Of the 2,409 NFRs issued to DOD and its components in fiscal year 2018, DOD's auditors were able to close 623 (26 percent) in fiscal year 2019; the remaining 1,786 (74 percent) remained open. These results provide useful insights on DOD's remediation progress since beginning department-wide full audits in fiscal year 2018; it is important for DOD to equal or exceed this progress in the future. Financial statement audits have value beyond the audit opinion and can help management save resources and improve military readiness. DOD leadership identified a number of benefits that resulted from these financial statement audits. For example, the Navy identified a warehouse that was not in its property records that contained approximately $126 million in aircraft parts. The Navy was able to fill over $20 million in open orders for these parts. By using these parts, aircraft were repaired quicker and made available for use, which improved military readiness. To help guide and prioritize department-wide efforts, DOD identified eight audit remediation priority areas (four in 2019 and four in 2020), seven of which specifically related to material weaknesses that its auditor reported. The military services also developed methodologies to prioritize NFRs and determined that over half of their fiscal year 2018 NFRs are high priority and significant to their financial statement audits. DOD and its components have taken steps to develop corrective action plans (CAP) to address NFRs. However, most of the CAPs that GAO tested did not include at least one data element or evidence that a root-cause analysis was performed, as directed by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other related guidance, in part, because DOD guidance and monitoring efforts did not clearly identify the need for such documentation. As a result, DOD and its components may lack sufficient information and assurance that their remediation efforts will resolve the underlying causes associated with the NFRs and related material weaknesses. Based on these issues, DOD and its components are at increased risk that their actions may not effectively address identified deficiencies in a timely manner. DOD developed an NFR Database that contains useful information on deficiencies that financial auditors identified and actions to address them, which has improved its ability to monitor and report on audit remediation efforts using dashboard reports based on real-time data contained in the database. However, certain database information on which these reports are based may not be accurate, reliable, and complete. For example, although DOD reviews NFR Database information monthly, it does not follow up on instances of outdated information or other exceptions identified to ensure components resolve them timely. Without complete and reliable information on DOD's audit remediation efforts, internal and external stakeholders may not have quality information to effectively monitor and measure DOD's progress. DOD is responsible for about half of the federal government's discretionary spending, yet it remains the only major federal agency that has been unable to receive a clean audit opinion on its financial statements. After years of working toward financial statement audit readiness, DOD underwent full financial statement audits in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. This report, developed in connection with fulfilling GAO's mandate to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements, examines the (1) actions taken by DOD and the military services to prioritize financial statement audit findings; (2) extent to which DOD and its components developed CAPs to address audit findings in accordance with OMB, DOD, and other guidance; and (3) extent to which DOD improved its ability to monitor and report on audit remediation efforts. GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed officials about DOD's and the military services' audit remediation prioritization, monitoring, and reporting. GAO selected a generalizable sample of 98 NFRs to determine whether CAPs to address them were developed according to established guidance. GAO is making five recommendations to DOD to improve the quality of CAPs to address audit findings and information in the NFR Database and related reports provided to internal and external stakeholders to monitor and assess audit remediation efforts. DOD concurred with three of GAO's recommendations, partially concurred with one recommendation, and disagreed with one recommendation. GAO continues to believe that all the recommendations are valid. For more information, contact Asif A. Khan at (202) 512-9869 or khana@gao.gov.
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    The Defense Health Agency (DHA) within the Department of Defense (DOD) has established processes for preventing and responding to quality and safety concerns about individual providers delivering health care in military treatment facilities (MTF). Specifically, DHA's August 2019 policy standardized processes for managing health care quality in the Military Health System, which superseded the policies of each of the military services (Air Force, Army, and Navy). These processes include 1) initial and ongoing monitoring of providers; 2) taking action to deny, limit, or remove individual providers' ability to practice, known as adverse privileging action; and 3) reviewing the care delivered by individual providers involved in certain patient safety events, known as potentially compensable event reviews. For example, DHA policy establishes requirements for taking adverse privileging actions against a provider that either limit the care a provider is allowed to deliver at a facility or prevent the provider from delivering care altogether, when warranted. In particular, DHA policy specifies that the provider's privileges should be placed in summary suspension—a temporary removal of all or a portion of the provider's privileges—while a peer conducts an investigation of the concerns. DHA policy also specifies that summary suspensions lasting greater than 30 days, as well as any final adverse privileging actions, must be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The NPDB is an electronic repository that collects and releases information on certain adverse actions and medical malpractice payments related to providers. According to DOD officials, 27 DOD providers were reported to the NPDB for a summary suspension lasting greater than 30 days between February 1, 2020—when this requirement was implemented—and September 30, 2020. DHA supports the delivery of health care to servicemembers and their families throughout the Military Health System. As in all health care delivery settings, concerns may arise about the quality and safety of care delivered by individual health care providers at MTFs. For example, patient safety events—incidents that could have resulted or did result in harm to a patient—may occur during the course of providing health care services and may raise questions about the quality and safety of care delivered. DHA is responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of health care delivered by military and civilian health care providers, including contractors, through its clinical quality management program. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review aspects of DOD's clinical quality management program, including its processes for reviewing the quality and safety of providers' care. This report describes DHA's processes for preventing and responding to quality and safety concerns about individual health care providers at MTFs. In future work, GAO will examine the implementation of these processes at MTFs. GAO reviewed documentation that contains policy and guidance for these processes, including DHA's August 2019 procedure manual for managing clinical quality management in the Military Health System. GAO also interviewed officials from DHA and each of the military services. We provided a draft of this report to DOD for review and comment. DOD concurred with our report and provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at(202)512-7114 or Silass@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
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  • Sexual Harassment and Assault: Guidance Needed to Ensure Consistent Tracking, Response, and Training for DOD Civilians
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to track reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault involving its federal civilian employees, but its visibility over both types of incidents is hindered by guidance and information-sharing challenges. While employees may not report all incidents for a variety of reasons, DOD also lacks visibility over those incidents that have been reported. For example, from fiscal years 2015 through 2019, DOD recorded 370 civilian employees as victims of sexual assault and 199 civilian employees as alleged offenders. However, these data do not include all incidents of sexual assault reported over this time period. Specifically, based on DOD guidance, examples of incidents that could be excluded from these data include those involving civilian employee victims (1) occurring in the continental United States, (2) employed by DOD components other than the military services, such as defense agencies, and (3) who are also military dependents. Without guidance that addresses these areas, DOD does not know the extent to which its civilian workforce has reported work-related sexual assault worldwide. Number of Department of Defense Federal Civilian Employees Recorded as Victims or Alleged Offenders in Reported Sexual Assault Incidents, Fiscal Years 2015-2019 While DOD has developed policies and procedures to respond to and resolve sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents involving federal civilian employees, gaps exist. For example, DOD issued guidance in June 2020 directing components to establish anti-harassment programs, but it lacks details regarding how such programs should be structured. Without clarifying guidance, components can establish programs that do not align with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance for model anti-harassment programs. Additionally, GAO found that DOD civilian employees' ability to make restricted reports of sexual assault—confidential disclosures that do not initiate official investigations, but allow the victim to receive DOD-provided sexual assault support services—varies across components. According to DOD officials, they have not taken action to resolve this variation due to conflicts with federal statute, among other things. By reporting to and requesting any needed actions from Congress to resolve any conflicts with statute, the department can alleviate such inconsistencies and minimize legal risks for DOD components. With nearly 900,000 federal civilian employees around the world, DOD has responsibilities for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault within its workforce. In fiscal year 2018, DOD estimated that about 49,700 civilian employees experienced sexual harassment and about 2,500 civilian employees experienced work-related sexual assault in the prior year. House Report 116-120 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's prevention of and response to sexual harassment and assault involving DOD federal civilian employees. GAO's report examines, among other things, the extent to which DOD has (1) visibility over such reported incidents, and (2) developed and implemented policies and procedures to respond to and resolve these incidents. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; analyzed program data from fiscal years 2015 through 2019; interviewed officials at a nongeneralizable sample of five military installations; evaluated DOD training materials; and interviewed DOD, service, and civilian officials. GAO is making 19 recommendations, including that DOD issue guidance for comprehensive tracking of civilian work-related sexual assaults, enhance guidance on the structure of anti-harassment programs for civilians, and report to and request any needed actions from Congress on the ability of civilian employees to make restricted reports of sexual assault. As discussed in the report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.
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