From cities to deserts, the intense heat gripping California is being closely monitored by an Earth-observing mission aboard the International Space Station.
As record temperatures and large wildfires scorch California, NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) has been tracking the heat wave from low Earth orbit. While ECOSTRESS’s primary mission is to measure the temperature of plants heating up as they run out of water, it can also measure and track heat-related phenomena like heat waves, wildfires, and volcanoes.
At 3:56 p.m. PDT (6:56 p.m. EDT) on Aug. 14, as the space station passed over Los Angeles, ECOSTRESS was able to take a snapshot of the soaring land surface temperatures across the county, home to more than 10 million people. (Land surface temperature is the temperature of the ground rather than the air above it.) In the first image, ECOSTRESS measured a temperature range of about 70-125 degrees Fahrenheit (21-52 degrees Celsius), with the coolest being at the coasts and mountains. The highest surface temperatures, in dark red, were found northwest of downtown Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. (The instrument also captured the Ranch fire, seen in the center of the image, as it burned.) Land surface temperatures there reached over 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius), with a peak of 128.3 degrees Fahrenheit (53.5 degrees Celsius) between the cities of Van Nuys and Encino.
Those afternoon peaks were within range of morning surface temperatures ECOSTRESS gauged two days later in Death Valley, part of California’s Mojave Desert. As shown in the second image, from Aug. 16 at 8:50 a.m. PDT (11:50 a.m. EDT), ECOSTRESS recorded a maximum temperature of 122.52 degrees Fahrenheit (50.29 degrees Celsius) near Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park.
ECOSTRESS observations have a spatial resolution of about 77 by 77 yards (70 by 70 meters), which enables researchers to study surface-temperature conditions down to the size of a football field. Due to the space station’s unique orbit, the mission can acquire images of the same regions at different times of day, as opposed to crossing over each area at the same time of day like satellites in other orbits do. This is advantageous when monitoring plant stress in the same area throughout the day, for example.
The ECOSTRESS mission launched to the space station on June 29, 2018. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages the mission for the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
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- Information Environment: DOD Operations Need Enhanced Leadership and Integration of CapabilitiesBy Sam NewsMay 1, 2021What GAO Found At its core, information operations (IO) are the integration of information-related capabilities during military operations to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own. (See figure.) For example, in seeking to facilitate safe and orderly humanitarian assistance, the Department of Defense (DOD) would conduct IO by influencing host nation and regional cooperation through the integration of public affairs activities and military information support operations. Information Operations and Selected Information-Related Capabilities GAO found, in 2019, that DOD had made limited progress in implementing the 2016 DOD IO strategy and faced a number of challenges in overseeing the IO enterprise and integrating its IO capabilities. Specifically: In seeking to implement the strategy, DOD had not developed an implementation plan or an investment framework to identify planning priorities to address IO gaps. DOD has established department-wide IO roles and responsibilities and assigned most oversight responsibilities to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The Under Secretary had exercised some responsibilities, such as establishing an executive steering group. However, the Under Secretary had not fulfilled other IO oversight responsibilities, such as conducting an assessment of needed tasks, workload, and resources. Instead, the Under Secretary delegated these responsibilities to an official whose primary responsibilities are focused on special operations and combatting terrorism. DOD had integrated information-related capabilities in some military operations, but had not conducted a posture review to assess IO challenges. Conducting a comprehensive posture review to fully assess challenges would assist DOD in effectively operating while using information-related capabilities. Why GAO Did This Study U.S. potential adversaries—including near-peer competitors Russia and China—are using information to achieve objectives below the threshold of armed conflict. DOD can use information operations to counter these activities. This testimony summarizes GAO's past work related to DOD's IO capabilities. Specifically, it discusses: (1) DOD's information operation terms and concept, and (2) DOD's actions to implement the 2016 DOD IO strategy and address oversight and integration challenges. This statement is based on GAO's August and October 2019 reports (GAO-19-510C and GAO-20-51SU) and updates conducted in April 2021.[Read More…]
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The full spectrum training mile metric also is based on multiple vehicles including the M1 Abrams tank, M2/M3 Bradley, Stryker, up-armored high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle, medium tactical vehicle, and palletized load system, while the tank mile metric is limited to the M1 Abrams tank. According to Army officials, the full spectrum training mile metricand its incorporation of a wider array of vehiclesis more reflective of the type of vehicles the Army is actually using to train its ground forces for full spectrum operations.The Armys full spectrum training mile metric is based on certain assumptions associated with standards set in the Armys training strategy and force-generation model. Because the metric is a standard for actual training to be measured against, the metrics assumptions are based on desired or expected conditions and may not fully align with actual conditions. For example, the Army made certain assumptions about the length of time units would spend in each stage of the ARFORGEN cycle, assumed that units would have all the vehicles that were included in their modified table of organization and equipment, and assumed units would accomplish all the training in the Armys training strategy. However, prior GAO reports and Army readiness reports have both shown that units do not always have all the equipment, including vehicles included in their modified table of organization and equipment, available when they are conducting training. Army officials have also acknowledged that many units are not currently executing the ARFORGEN training cycle and the Armys training strategy as envisioned. To the extent that units do not have all of their equipment, including vehicles, or complete all recommended training, the units actual miles driven may differ from the Armys full spectrum training mile metric. According to a responsible Army official, the Army tracks historical data on actual miles driven and has, in the past, adjusted assumptions used to develop its tank mile metric to more closely reflect actual conditions. The Army plans to continue this practice now with the new metric in place. For example, when conducting its 2010 training strategy review, the Army reduced its estimated miles per training day and event to more closely reflect actual miles driven.The Army uses the full spectrum training mile metric to measure training activity. Specifically, the Army compares the actual miles its units have driven to conduct ground force training to its full spectrum training mile metric to determine how well it executed its training strategy. However, the Army does not use the full spectrum training mile metric to develop its training cost estimates or related funding needs. The Army uses its Training Resource Model, rather than its full spectrum training mile metric, to develop its training cost estimates and funding needs. While some of the inputs to the full spectrum training mile metric and the Training Resource Model are the same (i.e., the number and duration of training events and the numbers of units and vehicles available for training) the Training Resource Model contains unique inputs, such as cost factors that are not related to the full spectrum training mile metric. Specifically, the cost calculation in the Training Resource Model includes the cost to drive a vehicle, expressed as cost per mile, that are linked to the number of units and vehicles, as well as other indirect nonmileage support costs, such as civilian pay. The Training Resource Model, like the full spectrum training mile metric, assumes, among other things, that all recommended training events will be fully executed. To the extent that all training does not occur or other assumptions do not hold true, requirements could differ from estimates derived from the Training Resource Model. According to an Army official, the Training Resource Model is one of several sources of information the Army considers when developing its funding requests for training. For example, the official stated the Army uses historical data on actual miles driven to adjust its funding requests to more closely reflect actual conditions.Why GAO Did This StudyIn 2008, the Army issued a field manual that identified the need to expand its training focus so units would be trained and ready to operate across a full spectrum of operations including offensive, defensive, stability, and civil support operations. To support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the last several years, the Army has focused its ground force training on preparing units for counterinsurgency operations. With the withdrawal from operations in Iraq, fewer units are engaged in counterinsurgency operations and now have more time to train for full spectrum operations.To reflect the shift in training focus, the Army, in April 2011, updated its training strategy and also established a new metric to measure training activityreferred to as the full spectrum training mile metric. This metric replaced the Armys traditional tank mile metric, which represented the average number of miles the Army expected to drive its tanks while conducting training. In its fiscal year 2012 budget materials, the Army provided background information on its transition to the new metric, and, starting in fiscal year 2012, began using the new metric.House report 112-78 directed GAO to review the Armys transition to the full spectrum training mile metric and report its findings by February 28, 2012. To address this mandate, we determined (1) how the Army's full spectrum training mile metric differs from its traditional tank mile metric; (2) the key assumptions associated with the full spectrum training mile metric and to what extent these assumptions reflect actual conditions; and (3) to what extent the Army uses the full spectrum training mile metric to measure training execution and develop training cost estimates and related funding needs. Additionally, for background purposes, this report includes information on how training is reflected in the Armys operation and maintenance budget-justification materials.For more information, contact Sharon L. Pickup at 202-512-9619 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Foreign Aid: USAID Has Increased Funding to Partner-Country Organizations but Could Better Track ProgressBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) reporting on its principal Local Solutions indicator—the percentage of mission program funds obligated to local organizations in partner countries—lacks clarity, complicating the assessment of the agency's progress toward its fiscal year 2015 target of 30 percent. The March 2013 USAID Forward progress report states that these obligations increased from about 10 percent of mission program funds in fiscal year 2010 to about 14 percent in fiscal year 2012—a $465 million increase. However, the agency also has reported progress on the principal Local Solutions indicator in three other ways, depending on whether two key types of funding—cash transfers and certain qualifying trust funds—are included (see figure). These reporting differences make it difficult to compare the indicator from year to year and to quantify the progress needed to achieve the 30 percent target by fiscal year 2015. Moreover, USAID's approach to tracking the Local Solutions indicator has evolved since the launch of the initiative. For example, USAID included funds in Afghanistan and Pakistan, missions the agency previously had planned to exclude. If these missions are excluded, the percentage of mission program funds obligated to local organizations in fiscal year 2012, including qualifying trust funds and cash transfers, decreases by 10 percentage points. Reported USAID Mission Program Funds Obligated to Partner-Country Local Organizations, by Type of Funding Included, Fiscal Year 2012 USAID's principal Local Solutions indicator does not fully reflect activities the agency has undertaken to implement the initiative, and USAID does not have a means to track relevant mission-led evaluations of programs implemented by partner-country organizations. USAID relied primarily on its principal Local Solutions indicator to demonstrate progress. While this principal indicator reflects, to some degree, the steps missions are required to take before obligating funds to local organizations, it provides no information about the status of activities both prior to and following obligation of funds, such as assessing risk and monitoring programs. Furthermore, although USAID has laid some groundwork for evaluating the Local Solutions initiative, the agency does not currently have the means to determine the extent to which missions are conducting performance evaluations to assess the effectiveness of programs implemented through local organizations. Such evaluations can provide evidence needed to demonstrate progress toward the initiative's goals related to local partners' capacity, country ownership, and program sustainability. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2010, USAID has undertaken a series of reforms, collectively called USAID Forward. One key reform, the Local Solutions initiative, aims to shift program implementation from U.S.- based and international organizations to partner-country organizations, including governments and for-profit and nonprofit organizations. The three overarching goals of the initiative are to strengthen the capacity of partner countries, to enhance and promote country ownership, and to increase the sustainability of development efforts. GAO was asked to review the implementation of this initiative. GAO assessed the extent to which USAID (1) has demonstrated progress toward achieving its fiscal year 2015 target for the principal Local Solutions indicator, and (2) is tracking progress in achieving the initiative's goals related to local partners' capacity, country ownership, and program sustainability. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed funding data and documents and interviewed USAID officials.[Read More…]
- Indian Education: Schools Need More Assistance to Provide Distance LearningBy Sam NewsApril 29, 2021What GAO Found The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), within the Department of the Interior (Interior), has not provided BIE-funded schools with comprehensive guidance on distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, BIE issued a short memo directing schools to “deliver flexible instruction” and “teach content,” but did not offer specific guidance on how to do so. In July 2020, 13 of the 25 schools that responded to GAO's survey said they wanted BIE to provide information on developing and implementing distance learning programs. In addition, 12 schools responded that they wanted information on distance learning methods for areas without broadband internet access. In August 2020, after some schools had already begun the school year, BIE issued a re-opening guide for the 2020-2021 school year. BIE's guidance focused primarily on preparations for in-person instruction at schools, although nearly all schools provided distance learning during the fall of 2020. The guidance contained little information on distance learning. Providing schools with comprehensive distance learning guidance will help them better navigate the current pandemic as well as potential future emergencies that lead to school building closures. BIE helped improve internet access for students at BIE-operated schools during the pandemic, but many students had not received laptops to access online learning by the end of fall 2020. BIE and other Interior offices provided over 7,000 hotspots to students to improve home internet access, but they did not order laptops for most students until September 2020. Interior officials said a nationwide IT supply shortage contributed to the delayed order for about 10,000 laptops. GAO found, however, that delays were also caused in part by BIE not having complete and accurate information on schools' IT needs. Most schools received laptops from late October 2020 to early January 2021, although some laptops still had not been delivered as of late March 2021. Once laptops were delivered, however, schools also faced challenges configuring them, leading to further delays in distributing them to students. BIE officials told GAO that to address schools' challenges with configuring laptops, they are assessing schools' IT workforce needs. Most BIE students did not receive laptops until months after the school year began, according to GAO's analysis of Interior information. Specifically, none of the laptops Interior ordered in early September 2020 arrived in time to distribute to students by the start of the school year in mid-September; by the end of December 2020, schools had not distributed over 80 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered; and as of late March 2021, schools had not distributed about 20 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered. Without accurate, complete, and up-to-date information on schools' IT needs, BIE was unable to ensure that students received laptops when they needed them. Establishing policies and procedures for assessing schools' IT needs would help guide the agency's IT purchases now and in the future, and position schools to integrate technology into their everyday curricula. Why GAO Did This Study BIE's mission is to provide quality education to approximately 41,000 students at 183 schools it funds on or near Indian reservations in 23 states. About two-thirds of these schools are operated by tribes and the remaining third are operated by BIE. In March 2020, all BIE schools closed their buildings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed distance learning at BIE schools as part of its oversight responsibilities under the CARES Act. This testimony examines the extent to which (1) BIE has provided schools with guidance to develop and implement distance learning programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) students have had the technology they need to participate in such programs. GAO analyzed the guidance BIE provided to schools on distance learning, examined BIE's provision of technology to schools and students, surveyed a non-generalizable sample of 30 schools—including 19 operated by tribes and 11 operated by BIE— with 25 schools responding, selected for geographic diversity and level of community broadband access, among other criteria, reviewed relevant federal statutes, regulations, and agency documentation, and interviewed BIE and school officials.[Read More…]
- Freshwater Programs: Federal Agencies’ Funding in the United States and AbroadBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021As the world's population tripled during the past century, demand for the finite amount of freshwater resources increased six-fold, straining these resources for many countries, including the United States. The United Nations estimates that, worldwide, more than 1 billion people live without access to clean drinking water and over 2.4 billion people lack the basic sanitation needed for human health. Freshwater supply shortages--already evident in the drought-ridden western United States--pose serious challenges and can have economic, social, and environmental consequences. Multiple federal agencies share responsibility for managing freshwater resources, but consolidated information on the federal government's financial support of these activities is not readily accessible. GAO was asked to determine for fiscal years 2000 through 2004 how much financial support federal agencies provided for freshwater programs in the United States and abroad. For the purposes of this report, freshwater programs include desalination, drinking water supply, flood control, irrigation, navigation, wastewater treatment, water conservation, water dispute management, and watershed management.Of the over $52 billion in total financial support provided by federal agencies for freshwater programs during fiscal years 2000 through 2004, about $49 billion was directed to domestic programs and about $3 billion supported programs abroad. Domestic program activities involved 27 federal agencies, but 3 agencies--the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Agriculture's (Agriculture) Rural Utilities Service--accounted for over 70 percent of the financial support. Eighteen agencies supported domestic drinking water supply programs and 16 supported domestic wastewater treatment and watershed management programs. Grant programs of over $22 billion and direct federal spending of about $22 billion accounted for most of the domestic financial support. In addition to the about $49 billion that directly support freshwater activities in the United States, some agencies also have programs that may indirectly support such activities, but it is difficult to determine the dollar value of this indirect support. For example, Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program supports multiple activities, including irrigation, but information on each activity supported by the program is not readily available. Also included in the domestic program is about $175 million that the United States provided to three commissions that conduct freshwater activities along U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada. Of the estimated $3 billion in total financial support directed toward freshwater programs abroad between fiscal years 2000 through 2004, about $1 billion was recently provided for freshwater projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of the financial support for international freshwater programs was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Foreign wastewater treatment and watershed management programs were the ones that most of the agencies supported. The vast majority of the U.S. support for international programs was provided through grants. Not included in the $3 billion for international support are the contributions that the United States made to the general budgets of numerous international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank. The international organizations used some portion of the U.S. contributions to support freshwater activities around the globe.[Read More…]
- Defense Health Care: Actions Needed to Define and Sustain Wartime Medical Skills for Enlisted PersonnelBy Sam NewsJune 18, 2021What GAO Found The military departments have not fully defined, tracked, and assessed wartime medical skills for enlisted medical personnel. The departments have defined these skills for 73 of 77 occupations. However, among other issues, the Army and the Air Force have not defined skills for numerous highly-skilled subspecialties that require additional training and expertise, such as Army Critical Care Flight Paramedics. Subspecialty personnel are key to supporting lifesaving medical care during deployed operations. The Army does not consistently track wartime medical skills training for enlisted medical personnel in its official system. The military departments are not able to fully assess the preparedness of enlisted medical personnel because, according to officials, they have not developed performance goals and targets for skills training completion. As a result, the military departments lack reasonable assurance that all enlisted medical personnel are ready to perform during deployed operations. The Department of Defense (DOD) has not fully developed plans and processes to sustain the wartime medical skills of enlisted medical personnel. While the Defense Health Agency (DHA) has initiated planning efforts to assess how the military departments' three primary training approaches sustain readiness (see figure), these efforts will not fully capture needed information. For example, DHA's planned metrics to assess the role of military hospitals and civilian partnerships in sustaining readiness would apply to a limited number of enlisted occupations. As a result, DHA is unable to fully assess how each training approach sustains readiness and determine current and future training investments. Approaches to Train Enlisted Medical Personnel's Wartime Medical Skills DOD officials have identified challenges associated with implementing its training approaches. For example, DOD relies on civilian partnerships to sustain enlisted medical personnel's skills, but DOD officials stated that licensing requirements and other issues present challenges to establishing and operationalizing civilian partnerships. DOD has not analyzed or responded to such risks, and may therefore be limited in its ability to sustain wartime medical skills. Why GAO Did This Study DOD has over 73,000 active-duty enlisted medical personnel who must be ready to provide life-saving care to injured and ill servicemembers during deployed operations, using their wartime medical skills. Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's efforts to maintain enlisted personnel's wartime medical skills. This report examines, among other objectives, the extent to which (1) the military departments have defined, tracked, and assessed enlisted personnel's wartime medical skills, and (2) DOD has developed plans and processes to sustain these skills and assessed risks associated with their implementation. GAO analyzed wartime medical skills checklists and guidance; reviewed plans for skills sustainment; and interviewed officials from DOD and military department medical commands and agencies, and nine inpatient military medical treatment facilities.[Read More…]
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- Follow-up on 2011 Report: Status of Actions Taken to Reduce Duplication, Overlap, and Fragmentation, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance RevenueBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found GAO’s specific assessment of progress as of February 10, 2012, showed that 4 (or 5 percent) of the 81 areas GAO identified were addressed; 60 (or 74 percent) were partially addressed; and 17 (or 21 percent) were not addressed. Enclosure I presents GAO’s assessment of the overall progress made in each area. GAO applied the following criteria in making these overall assessments for the 81 areas. We determined that an area was: “addressed” if all actions needed in that area were addressed; “partially addressed” if at least one action needed in that area showed some progress toward implementation, but not all actions were addressed; and “not addressed” if none of the actions needed in that area were addressed. As of February 10, 2012, the majority of 176 actions needed within the 81 areas identified by GAO have been partially addressed. Specifically, 23 (or 13 percent) were addressed; 99 (or 56 percent) were partially addressed; 54 (or 31 percent) were not addressed. Streamlining federal efforts, reducing government costs, and enhancing revenue collections can offer financial and other benefits. Today, and concurrently with this report, GAO issued its second annual report to Congress in response to the statutory requirement that GAO identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals or activities. That report identifies 51 additional issue areas and numerous actions within those issue areas that, if implemented, may further improve programs’ effectiveness and efficiency, achieve cost savings, and enhance revenues. Opportunities exist for the Congress and federal agencies to continue to address the identified actions needed in our March 2011 and February 2012 reports. Collectively, these reports show that, if the actions are implemented, the government could save tens of billions of dollars annually. A number of the issues are difficult to address and implementing many of the actions identified will take time and sustained leadership. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2011, GAO issued its first annual report to the Congress on potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation in the federal government. The report also identified opportunities to achieve cost savings and enhance revenues. We identified 81 areas—which span a wide range of government missions—with a total of 176 actions that the Congress and the executive branch could take to reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication, overlap, and fragmentation or achieve other potential financial benefits. We also presented areas where programs may be able to achieve greater efficiencies or become more effective in providing government services. In many areas, we suggested actions— identifying some new options, as well as underscoring numerous existing GAO recommendations—that policymakers could consider. This status report provides an overall assessment of progress in implementing actions for the 81 areas, as well as an assessment of each of the 176 suggested actions. As of February 10, 2012, the Congress and the executive branch had made some progress in addressing the majority of the 81 areas that we identified, including the implementation of all actions in 4 areas; however, additional steps are needed to fully implement the remaining actions to achieve associated benefits. GAO suggested a wide range of actions for the Congress and the executive branch to consider, such as developing strategies to better coordinate fragmented efforts, implementing executive initiatives to improve oversight and evaluation of overlapping programs, considering enactment of legislation to facilitate revenue collection, and examining opportunities to eliminate potential duplication through streamlining, collocating, or consolidating program efforts or administrative services. For more information, contact Janet St. Laurent at (202) 512-4300, or email@example.com and Zina Merritt, at (202) 512-4300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- The United States Sanctions Libyan Individual and Militia Connected to Serious Human Rights Abuse in LibyaBy Sam NewsNovember 27, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Afghanistan: Actions Needed to Improve Accountability of U.S. Assistance to Afghanistan GovernmentBy Sam NewsAugust 23, 2021The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Defense (DOD) award direct assistance to Afghanistan, using bilateral agreements and multilateral trust funds that provide funds through the Afghan national budget. GAO assessed (1) the extent to which the United States, through USAID and DOD, has increased direct assistance, (2) USAID and DOD steps to ensure accountability for bilateral direct assistance, and (3) USAID and DOD steps to ensure accountability for direct assistance via multilateral trust funds for Afghanistan. GAO reviewed USAID, DOD, and multilateral documents and met with U.S. officials and staffs of multilateral trust funds in Washington, D.C., and Afghanistan.The United States more than tripled its awards of direct assistance to Afghanistan in fiscal year 2010 compared with fiscal year 2009. USAID awards of direct assistance grew from over $470 million in fiscal year 2009 to over $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2010. USAID awarded $1.3 billion to the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) in fiscal year 2010, of which the bank has received $265 million as of July 2011. DOD direct assistance to two ministries grew from about $195 million in fiscal year 2009 to about $576 million in fiscal year 2010, including contributions to fund police salaries through the United Nations Development Program-administered (UNDP) Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA). USAID and DOD have taken steps to help ensure the accountability of their bilateral direct assistance to Afghan ministries, but USAID has not required risk assessments in all cases before awarding these funds. For example, USAID did not complete preaward risk assessments in two of the eight cases GAO identified. Although current USAID policy does not require preaward risk assessments in all cases, these two awards were made after the USAID Administrator's July 2010 commitment to Congress that USAID would not proceed with direct assistance to an Afghan public institution before assessing its capabilities. In these two cases, USAID awarded $46 million to institutions whose financial management capacity were later assessed as "high risk." USAID has established various financial and other controls in its bilateral direct assistance agreements, such as requiring separate bank accounts and audits of the funds. USAID has generally complied with these controls, but GAO identified instances in which it did not. For example, in only 3 of 19 cases did USAID document that it had approved one ministry's prefinancing contract documents. DOD personnel in Afghanistan assess the risk of providing funds to two security ministries through quarterly reviews of each ministry's capacity. DOD officials also review records of ministry expenditures to assess whether ministries have used funds as intended. DOD established formal risk assessment procedures in June 2011, following GAO discussions with DOD about initial findings. USAID and DOD generally rely on the World Bank and UNDP to ensure accountability over U.S. direct assistance provided multilaterally through ARTF and LOTFA, but USAID has not consistently complied with its risk assessment policies in awarding funds to ARTF. During GAO's review, DOD established procedures in June 2011 requiring that it assess risks before contributing funds to LOTFA. The World Bank and UNDP use ARTF and LOTFA monitoring agents to help ensure that ministries use contributions as intended. However, security conditions and weaknesses in Afghan ministries pose challenges to their oversight. For example, the ARTF monitoring agent recently resigned due to security concerns. The World Bank is now seeking a new monitoring agent and does not anticipate a gap in monitoring. In addition, weaknesses in the Ministry of Interior's systems for paying wages to police challenge UNDP efforts to ensure that the ministry is using LOTFA funds as intended. GAO recommends that USAID (1) establish and implement policy requiring risk assessments in all cases before awarding bilateral direct assistance funds, (2) take additional steps to help ensure it implements controls for bilateral direct assistance, and (3) ensure adherence to its risk assessment policies for ARTF. In commenting on the first recommendation, USAID stated that its existing policies call for some form of risk assessment for all awards and that it has taken new steps to ensure risk assessment. GAO retained its recommendation because existing USAID policies do not require preaward risk assessments in all cases. USAID concurred with GAO's other recommendations.[Read More…]
- Special Operations Forces: Management Actions Are Needed to Effectively Integrate Marine Corps Forces into the U.S. Special Operations CommandBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) has relied on special operations forces to conduct military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and to perform other tasks such as training foreign military forces. To meet the demand for these forces, DOD established a Marine Corps service component under the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to integrate Marine Corps forces. Under the authority of the Comptroller General, GAO assessed the extent to which (1) the Marine Corps special operations command has identified its force structure requirements, (2) the Marine Corps has developed a strategic human capital approach to manage personnel in its special operations command, and (3) USSOCOM has determined whether Marine Corps training programs are preparing its forces for assigned missions. GAO performed its work with the Marine Corps and USSOCOM and analyzed DOD plans for this new command.While the Marine Corps has made progress in establishing its special operations command (Command), the Command has not yet fully identified the force structure needed to perform its assigned missions. DOD developed initial force structure plans to establish the Command; however, it did not use critical practices of strategic planning, such as the alignment of activities and resources and the involvement of stakeholders in decision-making processes when developing these plans. As a result of limitations in the strategic planning process, the Command has identified several force structure challenges that will likely affect the Command's ability to perform its full range of responsibilities, and is working to revise its force structure. Although preliminary steps have been taken, the Marine Corps has not developed a strategic human capital approach to manage the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in its special operations command. While the Command has identified some skills needed to perform special operations missions, it has not conducted a comprehensive analysis to determine all of the critical skills and incremental training required of personnel in its special operations forces units. These analyses are critical to the Marine Corps' efforts to develop a strategic human capital approach for the management of personnel in its special operations forces units. Without the benefit of these analyses, the Marine Corps has developed an interim policy to assign some personnel to special operations forces units for extended tour lengths to account for the additional training and skills; however, the policy is inconsistent with the Command's goal for the permanent assignment of some personnel within the special operations community. Until the Command completes an analysis to identify and document the critical skills and competencies needed by its future workforce to perform its full range of special operations missions, the Marine Corps will not have a sound basis for developing or evaluating alternative strategic human capital approaches for managing personnel assigned to its special operations forces units. USSOCOM does not have a sound basis for determining whether the Command's training programs are preparing units for their missions because it has not established common training standards for many special operations skills and it has not formally evaluated whether these programs prepare units to be fully interoperable with other special operations forces. The Command is providing training to its forces that is based on training programs for conventional units that were assigned some special operations missions prior to the Command's activation and incorporates the training that USSOCOM's other service components provide to their forces. However, USSOCOM has not validated that the training for Marine Corps forces prepares them to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces. Without an evaluation, USSOCOM cannot demonstrate the needed assurances that Marine Corps forces are fully interoperable with its other forces, which may jeopardize the success of future joint missions.[Read More…]
- Judicial and Legislative Branches to Continue Discussions on Judiciary Case Management BillBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsDecember 9, 2020The Judicial Conference of the United States expressed its opposition to the version of a bill passed by the House this week, saying it “will have devastating budgetary and operational impact on the Judiciary and our ability to serve the public” by imposing radical and costly changes on the Third Branch’s electronic case management system without adequate funding.[Read More…]
- Covid-19 Housing Protections: Moratoriums Have Helped Limit Evictions, but Further Outreach Is NeededBy Sam NewsMarch 15, 2021What GAO Found Eviction moratoriums at the federal, state, and local levels reduced eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, some eligible renters may not have benefitted from a recent federal moratorium. GAO's analysis of 63 jurisdictions found that the median rate of eviction filings was about 74 percent lower in the last week of July 2020—when a moratorium included in the CARES Act expired—than in the same week in 2019. Eviction filings remained lower throughout 2020 (relative to 2019) but gradually increased during a separate moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020 (see fig.). During this moratorium, jurisdictions without separate state or local moratoriums experienced larger increases in eviction filings, which suggests that some renters may not fully understand how to use the CDC moratorium (completing required documentation). CDC extended its moratorium through March 31, 2021, but has taken few steps to promote awareness and understanding of the moratorium and its requirements. Clear, accurate, and timely information is essential to keep the public informed during the pandemic. Without a communication and outreach plan, including federal coordination, CDC will be missing an opportunity to ensure that eligible renters avoid eviction. Year-over-Year Percentage Change in Eviction Filings in 63 Jurisdictions Note: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) moratorium is active through March 31, 2021. Local moratoriums include separate state or local eviction moratoriums. Unlike the CARES Act, CDC's moratorium does not prohibit eviction filings, which could explain some increases. By late January 2021, Treasury had disbursed 99 percent of the $25 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance funds to state and other eligible grantees responsible for making rent and utility payments to recipients. Treasury's initial program guidance issued that month did not fully define some program requirements and included requirements that could have delayed the delivery of funds or deter participation. In late February 2021, Treasury updated its guidance to address several of these concerns, such as by providing grantees with flexibility for prioritizing lower income applicants and allowing written attestation of income. Although the guidance did not clarify certain data collection and spending requirements, officials said they will continue to update guidance to address stakeholder concerns and strike a balance between accountability and administrative efficiency. GAO will continue to actively monitor these efforts. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of renters and property owners continue to experience housing instability and financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, Congress and CDC created eviction moratoriums, and Congress appropriated $25 billion to Treasury to disburse to state and local grantees to administer emergency rental assistance programs to help those behind on their rent. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) how eviction moratoriums have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic and (2) Treasury's implementation of the Emergency Rental Assistance program. GAO analyzed data on eviction filings and local policies in a sample of 63 jurisdictions (selected based on data availability) from January to December 2020. GAO also analyzed Census Bureau survey data on rental payments and data from federal housing entities on mortgage forbearance. GAO interviewed officials from CDC, Treasury, and organizations representing renters, property owners, and rental assistance grantees.[Read More…]
- Serbia Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to [Read More…]