Joel Maybury, Acting Director, Office of Global Women’s Issues
Good afternoon everyone. I am thrilled to be here today at the fifth Papua New Guinea Women’s Forum. I would like to begin by thanking Ambassador Ebert-Gray for your continued leadership in this space and by acknowledging the women of Papua New Guinea who are here in full-force today and who work tirelessly to improve the rights and status of women and girls every day.
I would especially like to acknowledge Papua New Guinea’s Veronica Simogun, whose work to protect women from gender-based violence became known worldwide when she won the 2017 Department of State’s International Women of Courage Award. We recognize there have been outstanding women nominated every year from PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and we salute all these courageous women.
For those of you who don’t know, I previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy here in Papua New Guinea. During my years in this position, I was continually impressed and inspired by the women activists, community leaders, civil servants, and entrepreneurs I encountered, and I am so happy to be back for this year’s Forum, and pleased to see so many familiar faces in the audience.
This Forum is a powerful space for the women of Papua New Guinea and the surrounding region, as well as for those of us who consider ourselves to be your allies in the cause to advance the social, economic, and political status and rights of women and girls.
The theme of this year’s Forum is ‘Empowering through Partnership’ and the United States is proud to be a committed and long-standing partner for advancing the cause of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Papua New Guinea.
Women’s economic empowerment, the focus of today’s sessions, is a priority for the United States. We firmly believe that when women are empowered economically, there is greater economic prosperity and stability around the world, and all members of society stand to gain. Women’s participation in the economy serves as an important driver of global economic growth, job creation, and economic prosperity.
Countries cannot succeed if women are excluded nor when they continue to face barriers that hold them back from fully participating at all aspects and levels of economic life.
We know this to be true because studies have shown time and time again that when women are economically empowered, they reinvest in the needs of their communities and their families, creating a more stable and prosperous environment. Yet,despite the evidence, women continue to face major challenges when entering and participating in the workforce. From increasing access to capital to improving opportunities for participation in the workforce, and providing capacity building and skills training – there is much still to be done. The United States fully supports these efforts and earlier this year we launched the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), the first ever whole-of-government approach to global women’s economic empowerment. This Initiative aims to economically empower 50 million women in the developing world by 2025 through three key pillars: (1) Women Prospering in the Workforce; (2) Women Succeeding as Entrepreneurs; and (3) Women Enabled in the Economy.
To promote women’s economic empowerment here in Papua New Guinea, and in line with the W-GDP initiative, the United States supports the Women’s Business Resource Center in partnership with Australia.
This center is celebrating almost three years of ground-breaking work and has empowered more than one thousand women by strengthening their leadership skills and deepening their knowledge on business, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement topics. The United States is pleased to maintain its support for the WBRC and the services it provides to women in Papua New Guinea.
The United States also supports the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs in partnership with Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, and the Pacifika Women Network. This program provides Papua New Guinean women the opportunity to learn business fundamentals, including creating business plans and raising capital, with the goal of building a better future for their families and communities.
We are proud to support such exciting and innovative work to encourage women’s economic empowerment here in Papua New Guinea.
However, we can’t talk about women’s economic empowerment without also raising the issue of gender-based violence. We know that this is a serious issue here in Papua New Guinea and that gender-based violence, whether it occurs in the home or in the workplace, can hinder women’s economic empowerment.
The United States works with governments, international organizations, members of the private sector, and civil society groups to promote and advocate for women’s rights in and outside of the workplace across the globe in order to end gender-based violence and harassment, including right here in Papua New Guinea.
Experiencing physical or sexual violence or harassment in the workplace can discourage and impede women’s economic engagement in their communities. In turn, women who experience gender-based violence in their homes or relationships may miss days of work and struggle to maintain a steady source of income. In 2016, the UN estimated the global cost of violence against women to be US $1.5 trillion, the equivalent of approximately two percent of the global GDP.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their families without the fear of being harassed or assaulted. Addressing deeply entrenched social norms is critical to advancing women’s participation in the economy and overcoming the barriers that hold them back.
This is why our efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment must also address the social and cultural norms that inhibit their economic participation in the first place. Similarly, we must also address the cultural barriers that prevent girls from receiving the education they need to participate in the economy of tomorrow. These include domestic violence, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation and cutting.
I encourage you all to focus your efforts not only on individual women, but also on their families, households, and entire communities to establish a supportive and enabling environment for the achievement of full economic empowerment.
I will close here by saying that although this work is not easy, it is critical and it is worth it. Women have a key role to play in the future and prosperity of Papua New Guinea and as we have seen time and time again, when women do better, families do better, communities do better, and countries do better.
I again commend each one of you for your efforts and reiterate that the United States is, and will continue to be, your partner to advance the social, economic, and political status of women and girls in Papua New Guinea.
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- Weapon Systems Annual Assessment: Updated Program Oversight Approach NeededBy Sam NewsJune 8, 2021GAO's 19th annual assessment of the Department of Defense's (DOD) weapon programs comes at a time of significant internal changes to the department's acquisition process. Specifically, DOD began implementing its new acquisition framework intended to, among other things, deliver solutions to the end user in a timely manner. However, GAO found that many programs have planned acquisition approaches that, unless properly managed and overseen, could result in cost and schedule challenges similar to those GAO has reported on for nearly the past 2 decades. DOD's new acquisition framework allows program managers to use one or more of six acquisition pathways—including the major capability acquisition and middle-tier acquisition (MTA) pathways used by the programs GAO reviewed. Each pathway is governed by separate policies for milestones, cost and schedule goals, and reporting. Program managers can tailor, combine, and transition between pathways based on program goals and risks associated with the weapon system being acquired (see figure). Notional Use of Multiple Efforts and Multiple Pathways DOD's framework also introduces new considerations to program oversight. In particular, DOD has yet to develop an overarching data collection and reporting strategy for programs transitioning between acquisition pathways or conducting multiple efforts using the same pathway to deliver the intended capability. The lack of a strategy not only limits DOD's visibility into these programs but also hinders the quality of its congressional reporting and makes the full cost and schedule of the eventual weapon system more difficult to ascertain. DOD Plans to Invest Over $1.79 Trillion in Its Costliest Weapon Programs, but Not All Costs Are Reported DOD's reported costs primarily reflect major defense acquisition program (MDAP) investments (see table). However, DOD is increasingly using the MTA pathway to acquire weapon programs . The totals do not include all expected costs because, among other things, MTA estimates do not reflect any potential investments after the current MTA effort, and cost figures do not include programs that have yet to formally select a pathway or are classified or sensitive. Department of Defense Total Investments in Selected Weapon Programs GAO Reviewed (fiscal year 2021 dollars in billions) Procurement reductions in DOD's costliest program—the F-35—drove an MDAP portfolio cost decrease since GAO's last annual report (see figure). Excluding this program, quantity changes and other factors such as schedule delays contributed to one-year portfolio cost growth. Sixteen MDAPs also showed schedule delays since GAO's 2020 report. Such delays are due, in part, to delivery or test delays and poor system performance. Major Defense Acquisition Program One-Year Cost Change Including and Excluding the F-35 Program (fiscal year 2021 dollars in billions) F-35 reported an overall procurement cost decrease of $23.9 billion in fiscal year 2020, primarily due to lower prime and subcontractor labor rates. As GAO found last year, DOD continues to expand its portfolio of the costliest MTA programs, expecting to spend $30.5 billion on current efforts. Due to inconsistent cost reporting by MTA programs, GAO could not assess cost trends across the MTA portfolio. However, GAO observed examples of cost changes on certain MTA programs compared with last year. Weapon Programs Do Not Consistently Plan to Attain Knowledge That Could Limit Cost Growth and Deliver Weapon Systems Faster Most MDAPs continue to forgo opportunities to improve cost and schedule outcomes by not adhering to leading practices for weapon system acquisitions. Some MTA programs also reported planning to acquire only limited product knowledge during program execution, leading to added risks to planned follow-on efforts. Further, while both MDAPs and MTA programs increasingly reported using modern software approaches and cybersecurity measures, they inconsistently implemented leading practices, such as frequently delivering software to users and conducting certain types of cybersecurity assessments during development. Why GAO Did This Study Title 10, section 2229b of the U.S. Code contains a provision for GAO to review DOD's weapon programs. This report assesses the following aspects of DOD's costliest weapon programs: their characteristics and performance, planned or actual implementation of knowledge-based acquisition practices, and implementation of selected software and cybersecurity practices. The report also assesses oversight implications of DOD's changes to its foundational acquisition guidance. GAO identified programs for review based on cost and acquisition status; reviewed relevant legislation, policy, guidance, and DOD reports; collected program office data; and interviewed DOD officials .[Read More…]
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- Veterans Health Care: Agency Efforts to Provide and Study Prosthetics for Small but Growing Female Veteran PopulationBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides veterans with prosthetic services to assist with their mobility, vision, and hearing needs. The proportion of prosthetics VHA provided to female veterans has been small compared to the share provided to male veterans. However, in fiscal years 2015 to 2019, this proportion grew from 6.8 percent to 7.9 percent and accounted for about $889.1 million of the $15.4 billion total cost of prosthetics. Artificial limbs comprised a relatively small number of the total prosthetics VHA provided to veterans in fiscal years 2015 to 2019; however, veterans who use artificial limbs have complex needs and are significant users of health care services. VHA provided prosthetic services to a small but growing female veteran amputee population (almost 3 percent of veteran amputees in fiscal year 2019), who were generally younger than male veteran amputees. VHA has established an individualized patient care approach in its Amputation System of Care that seeks to address the prosthetic needs of each veteran, including accounting for gender-specific factors. VHA officials said that using a standardized, multidisciplinary approach across VA medical facilities also helps them incorporate the concerns and preferences of female veterans. For example, veterans are provided care by a team that includes a physician, therapist, prosthetist (clinician who helps evaluate prosthetic needs and then designs, fabricates, fits, and adjusts artificial limbs), and other providers as needed. Female veteran amputees GAO spoke with at one VA medical facility said they were satisfied with their VHA care. They also noted a lack of commercially available prosthetic options that VHA providers can use to meet women's needs. Examples of Female Veterans' Artificial Limb Prosthetics Women are generally studied less than their male counterparts in prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation research. VHA designated prosthetics for female veterans a national research priority in 2017, and has funded eight related studies as of May 2020: four pertain to lower limb amputation, three pertain to upper limb amputation, and one pertains to wheelchairs. VHA officials noted the importance of this research priority and the ongoing challenge of recruiting study participants due to the small female veteran population. VHA researchers said they employ various tactics to address this challenge, such as using multi-site studies and recruiting participants from the non-veteran population. Women are the fastest growing veteran subpopulation, with the number of female veterans using VHA health care services increasing 29 percent from 2014 to 2019. Female veterans accounted for an estimated 10 percent of the total veteran population in fiscal year 2019. They are eligible to receive a full range of VHA health care services, including obtaining prosthetics. House Report 115-188 included a provision for GAO to review VHA's prosthetic services for female veterans. This report examines 1) trends in prosthetics provided by VHA to female veterans; 2) characteristics of the female veteran population with limb loss and how VHA provides prosthetic services to these veterans through its Amputation System of Care; and 3) VHA's research efforts and the challenges that exist in studying prosthetics for female veterans with limb loss. GAO analyzed VHA documents, as well as data from fiscal years 2015 to 2019 on prosthetics and veterans with amputations. GAO interviewed agency officials from VHA central office and officials and female veteran amputees at two VA medical facilities selected for expertise in amputation care and prosthetics research activities. In addition, GAO interviewed VHA researchers conducting studies on prosthetics for female veterans. GAO provided a draft of this report to VA. VA provided general and technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Retirement Savings: Federal Workers’ Portfolios Should Be Evaluated For Possible Financial Risks Related to Climate ChangeBy Sam NewsJune 24, 2021What GAO Found Retirement plans' investments, including those of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for federal employees, could be exposed to financial risks from climate change, according to GAO's literature review and interviews with stakeholders knowledgeable about climate change and financial markets. Stakeholders said climate-related events, from natural disasters to changes in government policy, are expected to impact much of the economy and thereby investment returns (see figure). Retirement plans can assess their exposure to these risks by analyzing the potential financial performance of holdings in their portfolios under projected climate change scenarios. How Climate Change Could Impact Retirement Plan Investments GAO reviewed retirement plans in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Sweden that had taken steps to incorporate climate change risks into their plan management. Officials from these plans described using engagement—such as outreach to corporate boards—to encourage companies in which they invest to address their financial risks from climate change. Officials had taken other steps as well, such as incorporating climate change as a financial risk into their policies and practices. Officials communicate information on climate-related investment risks through public disclosures and reports. The agency that oversees TSP, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), has not taken steps to assess the risks to TSP's investments from climate change as part of its process for evaluating investment options. Officials told us that they use a passive investment strategy and do not focus on risks to a specific industry or company. FRTIB is required by statute to invest TSP's funds passively, however, it has previously identified and addressed investment risks. For example, in the 1990s, FRTIB reviewed its investment policies and recommended adding an international equities fund and a small- and medium-capitalization stock fund, both passively managed, to incorporate classes of assets that it determined were missing from TSP's investment mix. Stakeholders in the financial sector, including an advisory panel to a federal financial regulator, have stated that it is important to consider the investment risks from climate change. Evaluating such risks is also consistent with GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework. Taking action to understand the financial risks that climate change poses to the TSP would enhance FRTIB's risk management and help it protect the retirement savings of federal workers. Why GAO Did This Study Climate change is expected to have widespread economic impacts and pose risks to investments held by retirement plans, including the federal government's TSP. As of November 2020, TSP had 6 million active and retired federal employee participants and nearly $700 billion in assets. GAO was asked to examine how the agency that oversees TSP has addressed its exposure to such risks. This report examines (1) what is known about retirement plans' exposure to climate change-related investment risks, (2) what comparable retirement plans in other countries have done to address risks from climate change and how they communicate this information to the public, and (3) what steps FRTIB has taken to address investment risks from climate change. GAO reviewed relevant literature and interviewed representatives from investment consulting firms and other stakeholders knowledgeable about climate change and its possible financial impacts. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from selected retirement plans for public- and private-sector employees in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Sweden identified as examples of plans that are addressing climate risks. GAO also reviewed TSP documents, and interviewed FRTIB officials.[Read More…]
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- Businessman Charged in Scheme to Hoard Personal Protective Equipment and Price Gouge Health Care ProvidersBy Sam NewsJanuary 27, 2021A Mississippi businessman was charged with defrauding the United States and other health care providers in a $1.8 million scheme related to acquiring and hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE) and price gouging health care providers, including numerous U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in critical need of PPE.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Commends ASCAP and BMI’s Launch of SONGVIEWBy Sam NewsDecember 22, 2020On Dec. 21, 2020, The American Society of Composers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), the two largest performance rights organizations (PROs) in the United States, announced the launch of SONGVIEW, a “comprehensive data platform that provides music users with an authoritative view of public performance copyright ownership and administration shares for the vast majority of music licensed in the United States.”[Read More…]
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- COVID-19: HHS Should Clarify Agency Roles for Emergency Return of U.S. Citizens during a PandemicBy Sam NewsApril 19, 2021What GAO Found At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. returned, or repatriated, about 1,100 U.S. citizens from abroad and quarantined them domestically to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) experienced coordination and safety issues that put repatriates, HHS personnel, and nearby communities at risk. This occurred because HHS component agencies—the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—did not follow plans or guidance delineating their roles and responsibilities for repatriating individuals during a pandemic—an event these agencies had never experienced. While they had general repatriation plans, there was disagreement as to whether the effort was in fact a repatriation. This led to fundamental problems for HHS agencies and their federal partners, including at the March Air Reserve Base quarantine facility in California where the first repatriated individuals were quarantined prior to widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S. These problems included the following: Lack of clarity as to which agency was in charge when the first repatriation flight from Wuhan, China, arrived at the quarantine facility, which caused confusion among the HHS component agencies. Coordination issues among HHS component agencies resulted in component agencies operating independently of each other, and led to frustration and complications. HHS's delay in issuing its federal quarantine order, during which time a repatriate tried to leave the quarantine facility. HHS personnel's inconsistent use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and HHS officials' disagreement on which agency was responsible for managing infection prevention and control. An HHS official also directed personnel to remove their PPE as it created “bad optics,” according to an HHS report that examined the repatriation effort. The National Response Framework, a guide to how the U.S. responds to disasters and emergencies, instructs agencies to understand their respective roles and responsibilities, know what plans apply, and develop appropriate guidance for emergency responses. Until HHS revises or develops new plans that clarify agency roles and responsibilities during a repatriation in response to a pandemic, it will be unable to prevent the coordination and health and safety issues it experienced during the COVID-19 repatriation response in future pandemic emergencies. HHS also did not include repatriation in its pandemic planning exercises. As a result, agencies lacked experience deploying together to test repatriation plans during a pandemic, which contributed to serious coordination issues. GAO has previously reported that exercises play an important role in preparing for an incident by providing opportunities to test response plans and assess the clarity of roles and responsibilities. Until HHS conducts such exercises, it will be unable to test its repatriation plans during a pandemic and identify areas for improvement. Why GAO Did This Study HHS provides temporary assistance to U.S. citizens repatriated by the Department of State (State) from a foreign country because of destitution, illness, threat of war, or similar crises through the U.S. Repatriation Program. In January and February 2020, HHS assisted State in repatriating individuals from Wuhan, China, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, to the U.S. HHS quarantined repatriates at five Department of Defense (DOD) installations to ensure they did not infect others with COVID-19. GAO was asked to examine HHS's COVID-19 repatriation efforts to ensure the health and safety of those involved in the response. This report examines HHS's coordination and management of its COVID-19 repatriation response. GAO reviewed relevant documentation from HHS, State, and DOD related to repatriation planning, including documentation on pandemic planning exercises. GAO also interviewed officials from HHS, State, and DOD.[Read More…]
- MS-13’s Highest-Ranking Leaders Charged with Terrorism Offenses in the United StatesBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021Earlier today, an indictment was unsealed in Central Islip, New York charging 14 of the world’s highest-ranking MS-13 leaders who are known today as the Ranfla Nacional, which operated as the Organization’s Board of Directors, and directed MS-13’s violence and criminal activity around the world for almost two decades.[Read More…]
- Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Illegal Exports to Northwestern Polytechnical UniversityBy Sam NewsApril 28, 2021A Chinese national pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston in connection with illegally procuring and causing the illegal export of $100,000 worth of U.S. origin goods to Northwestern Polytechnical University (NWPU), a Chinese military university that is heavily involved in military research and works closely with the People’s Liberation Army on the advancement of its military capabilities.[Read More…]
- Imposing Visa Restrictions on Additional Individuals Undermining Belarusian DemocracyBy Sam NewsFebruary 18, 2021
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- Farmworkers: Additional Information Needed to Better Protect Workers from Pesticide ExposureBy Sam NewsJanuary 15, 2021The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states ensure compliance with the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) primarily through inspections of farms. The states collect some information—such as the number of inspections they conduct—and provide that information to EPA as part of cooperative agreements between EPA and the states. The extent of use of the designated representative provision of the WPS, and its effect on the availability of pesticide information, are not known because EPA does not collect information on the use of the provision and does not coordinate with states to do so. EPA's guidance to states for conducting inspections encourages, but does not require, state inspectors to ask farmers and farmworkers about whether a designated representative has been used. EPA officials said that the agency has not asked states to collect information on the provision because the agency has focused on compliance with other aspects of the WPS. By coordinating with states, through the cooperative agreements or some another mechanism, to collect information on the use of the designated representative provision, EPA would be better positioned to determine whether the provision is serving its intended purpose. Some stakeholders have raised concerns about potential misuse of pesticide information, such as other farmers using the information obtained by a designated representative to gain a competitive advantage. However, EPA officials, state officials, and stakeholders told us they did not know of any instance in which a person serving as a designated representative misused the pesticide information obtained from farmers. Neither EPA's guidance nor its website explain the agency's expectations for appropriate use or describe how such information could be misused. EPA officials said that the agency has not explained what constitutes misuse. By explaining, in the agency's guidance, on its website, or through another mechanism, EPA's expectations about appropriate use of pesticide information obtained by designated representatives, including the misuse of such information, the agency could ensure designated representatives understand the importance of the information in reducing the consequences of pesticide exposure. Farmworkers Picking Strawberries at a Farm The use of pesticides contributes to U.S. agricultural productivity by protecting crops against pests or weeds, but this use may pose risks to human health. To reduce the consequences of pesticide exposure to farmworkers' health, EPA revised the WPS in 2015 to include a provision that allows a farmworker to identify a person who can request, for their benefit, certain pesticide information from their employer—this is called the designated representative provision. This report examines (1) what is known about the extent of use and effect of the designated representative provision on the availability of pesticide information and (2) what is known about any misuse of information obtained through the provision. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and guidance, and interviewed officials from EPA and 13 selected states about how they implement and oversee compliance with the standard. GAO also interviewed stakeholders, such as farmer groups and farmworker advocacy groups. GAO is making two recommendations to EPA to (1) coordinate with states to collect information on the use of the designated representative provision and (2) take steps to explain, in guidance, on its website, or through another mechanism, the agency's expectations about appropriate use of pesticide information obtained by a designated representative and describe potential misuse of such information. EPA agreed, in part, to both recommendations. For more information, contact Steve D. Morris at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Minnesota Man Pleads Guilty to Providing Material Support to ISISBy Sam NewsJanuary 13, 2021The Justice Department today announced the guilty plea of Abdelhamid Al-Madioum, 24, to one count of providing material support and resources, namely personnel and services, to ISIS, a designated foreign terrorist organization.[Read More…]
- COVID-19: Brief Update on Initial Federal Response to the PandemicBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2020As of August 20, 2020, the U.S. had over 5.5 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19, and 158,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted between March and July 2020 to provide appropriations for the response to COVID-19. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to COVID-19. This second report examines federal spending on the COVID-19 response; indicators for monitoring public health and the economy; and the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations from GAO’s June 2020 report (GAO-20-625). GAO reviewed data through June 30, 2020 (the latest available) from USAspending.gov, a government website with data from government agencies. GAO also obtained, directly from the agencies, spending data, as of July 31, 2020, for the six largest spending areas, to the extent available. To develop the public health indicators, GAO reviewed research and federal guidance. To understand economic developments, GAO reviewed data from federal statistical agencies, the Federal Reserve, and Bloomberg Terminal, as well as economic research. To update the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations, GAO reviewed agency and congressional actions. In response to the national public health and economic threats caused by COVID-19, four relief laws making appropriations of about $2.6 trillion had been enacted as of July 31, 2020. Overall, federal obligations and expenditures government-wide of these COVID-19 relief funds totaled $1.5 trillion and $1.3 trillion, respectively, as of June 30, 2020. GAO also obtained preliminary data for six major spending areas as of July 31, 2020 (see table). COVID-19 Relief Appropriations, Obligations, and Expenditures for Six Major Spending Areas, as of July 2020 Spending area Appropriationsa ($ billions) Preliminary obligationsb ($ billions) Preliminary expendituresb ($ billions) Business Loan Programs 687.3 538.1 522.2c Economic Stabilization and Assistance to Distressed Sectors 500.0 30.4 19.2c Unemployment Insurance 376.4 301.1 296.8 Economic Impact Payments 282.0 273.5 273.5 Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund 231.7 129.6 95.9 Coronavirus Relief Fund 150.0 149.5 149.5 Total for six spending areas 2,227.4 1,422.2 1,357.0 Source: GAO analysis of data from the Department of the Treasury, USAspending.gov, and applicable agencies. | GAO-20-708 aCOVID-19 relief appropriations reflect amounts appropriated under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-123, 134 Stat. 146; Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Pub. L. No. 116-127, 134 Stat. 178 (2020); CARES Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (2020); and Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, Pub. L. No. 116-139, 134 Stat. 620 (2020). These data are based on appropriations warrant information provided by the Department of the Treasury as of July 31, 2020. These amounts could increase in the future for programs with indefinite appropriations, which are appropriations that, at the time of enactment, are for an unspecified amount. In addition, this table does not represent transfers of funds that federal agencies may make between appropriation accounts or transfers of funds they may make to other agencies. bObligations and expenditures data for July 2020 are based on preliminary data reported by applicable agencies. cThese expenditures relate to the loan subsidy costs (the loan’s estimated long-term costs to the United States government). The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to assess the impact of the federal response on public health and the economy. The following are examples of health care and economic indicators that GAO is monitoring. Health care. GAO’s indicators are intended to assess the nation’s immediate response to COVID-19 as it first took hold, gauge its recovery from the effects of the pandemic over the longer term, and determine the nation’s level of preparedness for future pandemics, involving subsequent waves of either COVID-19 or other infectious diseases. For example, to assess the sufficiency of testing—a potential indicator of the system’s response and recovery—GAO suggests monitoring the proportion of tests in a given population that are positive for infection. A higher positivity rate can indicate that testing is not sufficiently widespread to find all cases. That is higher positivity rates can indicate that testing has focused on those most likely to be infected and seeking testing because they have symptoms, and may not be detecting COVID-19 cases among individuals with no symptoms. Although there is no agreed-upon threshold for the test positivity rate, governments should target low positivity rates. The World Health Organization recommends a test positivity rate threshold of less than 5 percent over a 14-day period. As of August 12, 2020, 12 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (38 states had not). Resolve to Save Lives, another organization, recommends a threshold of less than 3 percent over a 7-day period, and 11 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (39 states had not) as of August 12, 2020. GAO also suggests monitoring mortality from all causes compared to historical norms as an indicator of the pandemic’s broad effect on health care outcomes. Mortality rates have tended to be consistent from year to year. This allows an estimation of how much mortality rose with the onset of the pandemic, and provides a baseline by which to judge a return to pre-COVID levels. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, about 125,000 more people died from all causes January 1–June 13 than would normally be expected (see figure). CDC Data on Higher-Than-Expected Weekly Mortality, January 1 through June 13, 2020 Note: The figure shows the number of deaths from all causes in a given week that exceeded the upper bound threshold of expected deaths calculated by CDC on the basis of variation in mortality experienced in prior years. Changes in the observed numbers of deaths in recent weeks should be interpreted cautiously as this figure relies on provisional data that are generally less complete in recent weeks. Data were accessed on July 16, 2020. Economy. GAO updated information on a number of indicators to facilitate ongoing and consistent monitoring of areas of the economy supported by the federal pandemic response, in particular the COVID-19 relief laws. These indicators suggest that economic conditions—including for workers, small businesses, and corporations—have improved modestly in recent months but remain much weaker than prior to the pandemic. In June and July initial regular unemployment insurance (UI) claims filed weekly averaged roughly 1.4 million (see figure), which was six and a half times higher than average weekly claims in 2019, but claims have decreased substantially since mid-March, falling to 971,000 in the week ending August 8, 2020. Increasing infections in some states and orders to once again close or limit certain businesses are likely to pose additional challenges for potentially fragile economic improvements, especially in affected sectors, such as the leisure and hospitality sector. National Weekly Initial Unemployment Insurance Claims, January 2019–July 2020 Note: See figure 5 in the report. As GAO reported in June, consistent with the urgency of responding to serious and widespread health issues and economic disruptions, federal agencies gave priority to moving swiftly where possible to distribute funds and implement new programs designed to help small businesses and the newly unemployed, for example. However, such urgency required certain tradeoffs in achieving transparency and accountability goals. To make mid-course corrections, GAO made three recommendations to federal agencies: To reduce the potential for duplicate payments from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—a program that provides guaranteed loans through lenders to small businesses—and unemployment insurance, GAO recommended that the Department of Labor (DOL), in consultation with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), immediately provide information to state unemployment agencies that specifically addresses PPP loans, and the risk of improper unemployment insurance payments. DOL issued guidance on August 12, 2020, that, among other things, clarified that individuals working full-time and being paid through PPP are not eligible for UI. To recoup economic impact payments totaling more than $1.6 billion sent to decedents, GAO recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients of economic impact payments how to return payments. IRS has taken steps to address this recommendation. According to a Treasury official, nearly 70 percent of the payments sent to decedents have been recovered. However, GAO was unable to verify that amount before finalizing work on this report. GAO is working with Treasury to determine the number of payments sent to decedents that have been recovered. Treasury was considering sending letters to request the return of remaining outstanding payments but has not moved forward with this effort because, according to Treasury, Congress is considering legislation that would clarify or change payment eligibility requirements. To reduce the potential for fraud and ensure program integrity, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA has begun developing oversight plans for PPP but has not yet finalized or implemented them. In addition, to improve the government’s response efforts, GAO suggested three matters for congressional consideration: GAO urged Congress to take legislative action to require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to work with relevant agencies and stakeholders, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and international organizations, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to ensure safeguards are in place to limit the spread of communicable disease threats from abroad, while also minimizing any unnecessary interference with travel and trade. In early July 2020, DOT collaborated with HHS and DHS to issue guidance to airports and airlines for implementing measures to mitigate the public health risks associated with COVID-19, but it has not developed a preparedness plan for future communicable disease threats. DOT has maintained that HHS and DHS should lead such planning efforts as they are responsible for communicable disease response and preparedness planning, respectively. In June 2020, HHS stated that it is not in a position to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan as it does not have primary jurisdiction over the entire aviation sector or the relevant transportation expertise. In May 2020, DHS stated that it had reviewed its existing plans for pandemic preparedness and response activities and determined it is not best situated to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan. Without such a plan, the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to future communicable disease events. GAO also urged Congress to amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to help prevent payments to ineligible individuals. In June 2020, the Senate passed S.4104, referred to as the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. If enacted, the bill would allow SSA to share these data with Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service to avoid paying deceased individuals. Finally, GAO urged Congress to use GAO's Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) formula for any future changes to the FMAP—the statutory formula according to which the federal government matches states' spending for Medicaid services—during the current or any future economic downturn. Congress has taken no action thus far on this issue. GAO incorporated technical comments received the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury; the Federal Reserve; Office of Management and Budget; and Internal Revenue Service. The Small Business Administration commented that GAO did not include information on actions taken and controls related to its loan forgiveness program or its plans for loan reviews. GAO plans to provide more information on these topics in its next CARES Act report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Six Defendants Charged in Scheme to Defraud Student Loan Programs of More Than $12 Million.By Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020Six former administrators from the Columbus, Georgia, campus of the Apex School of Theology were charged in an indictment unsealed Monday for their alleged participation in a scheme to defraud student loan programs of more than $12,000,000.[Read More…]
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- Concrete Contractor Agrees to Settle False Claims Act Allegations for $3.9 MillionBy Sam NewsFebruary 17, 2021COLAS Djibouti SARL (Colas Djibouti) ¬has agreed to resolve for $3.9 million civil allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by selling substandard concrete used to construct U.S. Navy airfields in the Republic of Djibouti, the Department of Justice announced today. Colas Djibouti, a French limited liability company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Colas SA, a French civil engineering company.[Read More…]
- Former Oilfield Manager Pleads Guilty in Connection with OSHA Worker Fatality InvestigationBy Sam NewsMarch 8, 2021A Montana man pleaded guilty in federal court in the District of North Dakota to a felony charge of obstructing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proceeding stemming from the 2014 death of an oilfield worker in Williston, North Dakota.[Read More…]