Officials Announce International Operation Targeting Transnational Criminal Organization QQAAZZ that Provided Money Laundering Services to High-Level Cybercriminals

U.S. Victims of Various Cybercriminal Malware Schemes throughout the United States Had Stolen Multi-Million Dollar Funds Laundered by QQAAZZ

Fourteen members of the transnational criminal organization, QQAAZZ, were charged by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania in an indictment unsealed today.  A related indictment unsealed in October 2019 charged five members of QQAAZZ.  One additional conspirator, a Russian national, was arrested by criminal complaint in late March 2020 while visiting the United States, bringing the total number of charged defendants to 20.  Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady for the Western District of Pennsylvania, made the announcement today.

The QQAAZZ members, acting in concert with cybercriminals across the world, are accused of conspiring to launder money stolen from victims of computer fraud in the United States and elsewhere.  More than 40 house searches were conducted in Latvia, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, with criminal prosecutions initiated in the United States, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.  The largest number of searches and arrests were carried out in Latvia by the Latvian State Police (Latvijas Valsts Policija), and an extensive bitcoin mining operation associated with the group was seized in Bulgaria.  Today’s announcement is in coordination with announcements by Europol and several law enforcement agencies across Europe who collaborated with the United States to develop parallel investigations and prosecutions of the QQAAZZ members in their own countries. 

“Today’s charges, brought in coordination with our European law enforcement partners, reflect the Criminal Division’s steadfast efforts to work with authorities worldwide to protect the public from fraudsters and the money launderers who help them hide their stolen money,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt.  “Our message to money laundering organizations like QQAAZZ is simple: international borders will not stop the dedicated efforts of law enforcement across the globe to bring you to justice.  In addition to the Criminal Division team, I would like to recognize the outstanding efforts of the team led by U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, FBI Pittsburgh, and our European partners.”

“Cybercrime victimizes individuals and companies all over the world, so our work to identify and disrupt cybercriminals requires global collaboration,” said U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  “For the past several years, law enforcement from 16 countries has been conducting coordinated investigations of this criminal gang, and now parallel prosecutions will commence in the United States, Portugal, United Kingdom and Spain.  As this case demonstrates, we will be relentless in our pursuit of cybercriminals regardless of where they reside.”

“This was an extensive investigation that had implications around the world,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman. “Partnerships are essential, as no one agency can combat cybercrime alone. This case highlights the FBI’s strategy to target and dismantle the most significant cybercriminal enterprises through a global task force approach. I can assure everyone that the FBI and our partners will continue to work tirelessly to combat these cyber threats.”

“Cybercriminals are constantly exploring new possibilities to abuse technology and financial frameworks to victimize millions of users in a moment from anywhere in the world,” said Fernando Ruiz, Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre.  “Today’s operation shows how through a proper law enforcement international coordination we can turn the table on these criminals and bring them to justice.”

The indictment alleges that the QQAAZZ network laundered, or attempted to launder, tens of millions of dollars’ worth of stolen funds from victims of cybercrimes since 2016.

Comprised of several layers of members from Latvia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Belgium, among other countries, the QQAAZZ network opened and maintained hundreds of corporate and personal bank accounts at financial institutions throughout the world to receive money from cybercriminals who stole it from bank accounts of victims.  The funds were then transferred to other QQAAZZ-controlled bank accounts and sometimes converted to cryptocurrency using “tumbling” services designed to hide the original source of the funds.  After taking a fee of up to 40 to 50 percent, QQAAZZ returned the balance of the stolen funds to their cybercriminal clientele.  

The QQAAZZ members secured these bank accounts by using both legitimate and fraudulent Polish and Bulgarian identification documents to create and register dozens of shell companies which conducted no legitimate business activity. Using these registration documents, the QQAAZZ members then opened corporate bank accounts in the names of the shell companies at numerous financial institutions around the world, thereby generating hundreds of QQAAZZ-controlled bank accounts available to receive stolen funds from cyber thieves.

QQAAZZ advertised its services as a “global, complicit bank drops service” on Russian-speaking online cybercriminal forums where cybercriminals gather to offer or seek specialized skills or services needed to engage in a variety of cybercriminal activities. The criminal gangs behind some of the world’s most harmful malware families (e.g.: Dridex, Trickbot, GozNym, etc.) are among those cybercriminal groups that benefited from the services provided by QQAAZZ. 

The 14 defendants named in the indictment unsealed today are:

  1. Nika Nazarovi, aka “Nika Utiashvili,” aka “Mihail Atansov,” aka “Stefan Trifonov Zhelyazkov,” 32, of Georgia;
  2. Martins Ignatjevs, aka “Yordan Angelov Stoyanov,” aka “Aleksander Tihomirov,” aka “Svetlin Iliyanov Asenov,” 33, of Latvia;
  3. Aleksandre Kobiashvili, aka “Antonios Nastas,” aka “Ognyan Krasimirov Trifonov,” 32, of Georgia;
  4. Dmitrijs Kuzminovs, aka “Parush Gospodinov Genchev,” 35, of Latvia;
  5. Valentins Sevecs, aka “Marek Jaswilko,” aka “Rafal Szczytko,” 32, of Latvia;
  6. Dmitrijs Slapins, 35, of Latvia;
  7. Armens Vecels, 24, of Latvia;
  8. Artiom Capacli, 31, of Bulgaria;
  9. Ion Cebanu, 26, of Romania;
  10. Tomass Trescinkas, 25, of Latvia;
  11. Ruslans Sarapovs, 19, of Latvia;
  12. Silvestrs Tamenieks, 21, of Latvia;
  13. Abdelhak Hamdaoui, 48, of Belgium; and
  14. Petar Iliev, 37, of Bulgaria.

The five defendants charged in the indictment unsealed in October 2019 are:

  1. Aleksejs Trofimovics, aka “Aleksejs Trofimovich,” aka “Alexey Trofimovich,” aka “Aleko Stoyanov Angelov,” 24, of Latvia;
  2. Ruslans Nikitenko, aka “Krzysztof Wojciech Lewko,” aka “Milen Nikolchev Nikolov,” aka “Rafal Zimnoch,” 41, of Latvia;  
  3. Arturs Zaharevics, aka “Piotr Ginelli,” aka “Arkadiusz Szuberski,” 33, of Latvia;
  4. Deniss Ruseckis, aka “Denis Rusetsky,” aka “Sevdelin Sevdalinov Atanasov,” 24, of Latvia; and
  5. Deinis Gorenko, 25, of Latvia.                

The Russian national charged by criminal complaint and arrested in late March 2020 while visiting the United States is Maksim Boiko, aka “Maxim Boyko” aka “gangass,” 30, of Russia.

The U.S. victims who had funds stolen, or attempted to be stolen, from their online bank accounts (including from banks headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and destined for QQAAZZ-controlled bank accounts overseas include:

  • a technology company in Windsor, Connecticut;
  • a Jewish Orthodox Synagogue in Brooklyn, New York;
  • a medical device manufacturer in York, Pennsylvania;
  • an individual in Montclair, New Jersey;
  • an architecture firm in Miami, Florida;
  • an individual in Acworth, Georgia;
  • an automotive parts manufacturer in Livonia, Michigan;
  • a homebuilder in Skokie, Illinois;
  • an individual in Carrollton, Texas; and
  • an individual in Villa Park, California.  

Acting Assistant Attorney General Rabbitt and U.S. Attorney Brady praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office and their law enforcement partners from Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, Sweden, Austria, Germany and Belgium.  Acting Assistant Attorney General Rabbitt and U.S. Attorney Brady also thanked Europol in The Hague, Netherlands for coordinating the investigative efforts of the law enforcement agencies from the 15 participating countries.  The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division provided significant assistance by coordinating requests to foreign countries for searches, arrests, extraditions and evidence sharing.  Assistance was also provided by the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) in Pittsburgh.   

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles A. “Tod” Eberle, Chief of the National Security and Cybercrime Section for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Czarnecki of the Western District of Pennsylvania, and Trial Attorney Michael Parker of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.

An indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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    Through Operation Warp Speed—a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD)—the federal government is accelerating efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. A typical vaccine development process can take approximately 10 years or longer, but efforts under Operation Warp Speed seek to greatly accelerate this process by completing key steps simultaneously (see figure). As of October 15, 2020, Operation Warp Speed publicly announced financial support for the development or manufacturing of six COVID-19 vaccine candidates totaling more than $10 billion in obligations. It has also announced financial support for the development of therapeutics, such as a $450 million award to manufacture a monoclonal antibody treatment (a treatment that uses laboratory-made antibodies, which also may be able to serve as a prevention option). Operation Warp Speed Timeline for a Potential Vaccine Candidate Note: An Emergency Use Authorization allows for emergency use of medical products without FDA approval or licensure during a declared emergency, provided certain statutory criteria are met. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may temporarily allow the use of unlicensed or unapproved COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics through emergency use authorizations (EUA), provided there is evidence that the products may be effective and that known and potential benefits outweigh known and potential risks. For vaccines, FDA issued guidance in October 2020 to provide vaccine sponsors with recommendations regarding the evidence FDA needed to support issuance of an EUA. For therapeutics, FDA has issued four EUAs as of November 9, 2020. The evidence to support FDA's COVID-19 therapeutic authorization decisions has not always been transparent, in part because FDA does not uniformly disclose its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data for EUAs, as it does for approvals for new drugs and biologics. Given the gravity of the pandemic, it is important that FDA identify ways to uniformly disclose this information to the public. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. The U.S. had about 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths as of November 12, 2020. Given this catastrophic loss of life as well as the pandemic's effects on the U.S. economy, effective and safe vaccines and therapeutics are more important than ever. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, (1) efforts of Operation Warp Speed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic development; and (2) FDA's use of EUAs for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, among other objectives. GAO reviewed federal laws and agency documents, including HHS and DOD information on vaccine and therapeutic development and EUAs as of November 2020. GAO interviewed or received written responses from HHS and DOD officials, and interviewed representatives from vaccine developers and manufacturers, as well as select public health stakeholders and provider groups covering a range of provider types. FDA should identify ways to uniformly disclose to the public the information from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO's goal of transparency and would explore approaches to achieve this goal. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov, or Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
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    In Crime News
    Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to be here in the Great Hall with the dedicated staff of the Civil Rights Division, joined by our Deputy and Associate Attorneys General, and by our newly-arrived Assistant Attorney General, Kristen Clarke. Welcome. I have tremendous respect for the work you do every day to protect civil rights for everyone in America.
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  • VA Disability Exams: Actions Needed to Improve Program Management
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has significantly expanded the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) use of contractors to perform disability medical exams instead of relying on Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical centers. According to VBA officials, VA's policy is to continue using contractors for most exams. GAO previously identified sound practices agencies can use to plan for significant programmatic changes. However, VBA has not applied several of these practices to its plans for allocating workloads among its contractors and VHA medical centers. For example, VBA has not assessed potential risks to capacity and exam quality in allocating the bulk of exams to contractors. Employing such practices could help VBA identify potential risks stemming from this long-term program change and better plan for addressing future workload needs. Percent of Disability Exams Performed by VBA Contractors and by VHA Medical Centers, Fiscal Years 2017-2021 Over time, VA has also permitted contractors to complete exams for more complex disability claims—such as Gulf War Illness—according to VBA officials, but VBA does not conduct targeted reviews specifically to assess the quality of the exam reports completed for these exams. VBA data show that exam reports for selected complex claims were returned to examiners for correction or clarification at about twice the rate that exam reports were returned overall. Disability medical examiners told GAO that these types of exams can be challenging. Without specifically assessing how well contractors perform on exams for complex claims, VBA is missing an opportunity to identify actions that could help ensure veterans receive high quality exams and that exam reports are completed correctly. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's March 2021 report, entitled VA Disability Exams: Better Planning Needed as Use of Contracted Examiners Continues to Grow (GAO-21-444T). This testimony also builds upon prior GAO reporting on VBA's contract exam program in October 2018 (GAO-19-13).
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  • Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Future Rulemaking Should Provide Greater Detail on Paperwork Burden and Economic Effects of International Business Provisions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's interviews with officials representing eight selected U.S.-based companies revealed considerable uncertainty in how the international business provisions of Public Law 115-97—commonly known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA)—may be affecting business planning decisions. Some companies reported making specific changes, such as moving intellectual property back to the U.S. in response to a new deduction for income earned from certain foreign-derived sales of property or services attributed to assets located in the U.S. Preliminary studies on another provision taxing net income earned by foreign subsidiaries exceeding a specified threshold of certain assets hypothesized that this provision could encourage moving tangible property outside the U.S. Other business representatives emphasized the importance of nontax factors in business planning decisions, such as entering foreign markets where executives believe potential customers may be located. The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) proposed eight regulations and finalized six of them to implement four international provisions of TCJA between December 2017 and October 2020 (the most current information available at the time of GAO's review) and used guidance to supplement the regulations. The agency generally complied with legal requirements for issuing regulations and offered public comment opportunities for some guidance. However, Treasury and IRS did not fully address expectations set in government-wide guidance related to Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) burden estimates, economic analysis requirements for regulations, and public comment on significant guidance: IRS generally did not provide specific estimates of the incremental paperwork burden of TCJA's international regulations and instead estimated the total burden for all business tax forms. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs' PRA guide says agencies should estimate the time and money required for an information collection. GAO's interviews with representatives of selected companies show why it is important for IRS to consider burden because representatives reported challenges, such as gathering required information from foreign subsidiaries. Anticipated economic benefits and costs of Treasury's and IRS's regulations were generally not quantified. An executive order requires agencies to provide such information to the extent feasible for regulations with the largest anticipated economic effects. As a result, Treasury and IRS made important decisions about regulations, such as whether to allow foreign military sales to be eligible for a U.S. deduction, without more specific information about the potential economic effects. IRS did not provide an opportunity for public comment before issuing revenue procedures related to TCJA's international provisions. The Office of Management and Budget identified ensuring public comment opportunities for significant guidance when appropriate as a leading practice that agencies should follow. The President recently directed a government-wide review of agency guidance processes. Why GAO Did This Study TCJA made sweeping changes to taxing U.S. corporations' international activities: (1) a transition tax on untaxed overseas earnings of foreign subsidiaries that accrued prior to 2017; (2) a tax on the net income earned by foreign subsidiaries exceeding a specified threshold of certain assets; (3) a deduction for income from certain foreign-derived sales of property or services exceeding a specified threshold of certain assets; and (4) a tax on certain payments made to a related foreign party referred to as base erosion payments. GAO was asked to review IRS's implementation of TCJA and early effects of the law. This report: (1) describes how TCJA's international provisions may be affecting U.S.-based corporations' international business activities; and (2) assesses IRS's and Treasury's development of relevant regulations and guidance to implement the provisions. GAO interviewed representatives from eight companies' tax departments randomly selected from among the 100 largest U.S.-based companies and compared relevant regulations and guidance against procedural requirements.
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  • Hanford Cleanup: DOE’s Efforts to Close Tank Farms Would Benefit from Clearer Legal Authorities and Communication
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy (DOE) has retrieved nuclear waste from all the tanks at C-farm—the first of 18 tank farms (i.e., groupings of tanks) at DOE's Hanford site in southeastern Washington State. The waste is a byproduct of decades of nuclear weapons production and research. DOE is obligated under agreements with the state's Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move waste from older, single-shell tanks to newer, more durable, double-shell tanks and ultimately to dispose of it. Example of a Tank and of Waste in a Tank at Hanford DOE intends to “close” the C-farm by leaving the nearly empty tanks in place and filling them with grout. However, DOE faces challenges, in part because this approach depends on: (1) DOE's determination under its directives that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than high-level waste (HLW) and (2) Ecology's approval. DOE has started the determination process, but as GAO has previously found, DOE is likely to face a lawsuit because of questions about its legal authority. Ecology has raised concerns that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has not independently reviewed DOE's analysis for this determination. By Congress clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW, DOE would be in a better position to move forward. Another challenge DOE faces in closing C-farm is how to address contaminated soil caused by leaks or discharges of waste from the tanks. DOE and Ecology officials do not agree on a process for evaluating contaminated soil at C-farm or on what role NRC should play in this process. They interpret their agreement differently, particularly regarding whether NRC must review DOE's analysis of contaminated soil. If the two parties cannot resolve this issue, Ecology may deny DOE a permit for C-farm closure. By using an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on how to assess soil contamination, including NRC's role, DOE would be better positioned to avoid future cleanup delays. DOE has not developed a long-term plan for tank-farm closure, in part, because a plan is not required. However, leading practices in program management call for long-term planning. In addition, DOE faces technical challenges that may take years to address as noted by representatives from various entities or tribal governments. For example, an internal DOE document states there is a 95 percent probability DOE will run out of space in its double shell tanks—space needed to continue retrieval operations. Planning for and building new tanks requires years of work. By developing a long-term plan, DOE could better prepare to address technical challenges. The Hanford site in Washington State contains about 54 million gallons of nuclear waste, which is stored in 177 underground storage tanks. In fiscal years 1997 through 2019, DOE spent over $10 billion to maintain Hanford's tanks and retrieve waste from them. DOE expects to spend at least $69 billion more on activities to retrieve tank waste and close tanks, according to a January 2019 DOE report. Senate Report 116-48, accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to review the status of tank closures at Hanford. GAO's report examines the status of DOE's efforts to retrieve tank waste, challenges DOE faces in its effort to close the C-farm, as well as DOE's approach for closing the remaining tank farms. GAO toured the site; reviewed DOE documents, laws, and regulations; and interviewed officials and representatives from local, regional, and national entities and tribal governments. Congress should consider clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, whether residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOE (1) use an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on a process for assessing soil contamination, including NRC's role and (2) develop a long-term plan for its tank waste cleanup mission at Hanford. DOE concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact David C. Trimble at (202) 512-3841 or trimbled@gao.gov.
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  • Financial Audit: Office of Financial Stability’s (Troubled Asset Relief Program) FY 2020 and FY 2019 Financial Statements
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found (1) the Office of Financial Stability's (OFS) financial statements for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as of and for the fiscal years ended September 30, 2020, and 2019, are presented fairly, in all material respects, in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles; (2) OFS maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting for TARP as of September 30, 2020; and (3) no reportable noncompliance for fiscal year 2020 with provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements GAO tested. In commenting on a draft of this report, OFS stated that it is proud to receive an unmodified opinion on its financial statements and its internal control over financial reporting. OFS also stated that it is committed to maintaining the high standards and transparency reflected in these audit results. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) that authorized TARP on October 3, 2008, includes a provision for TARP, which is implemented by OFS, to annually prepare and submit to Congress and the public audited fiscal year financial statements that are prepared in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. EESA further states that GAO shall audit TARP's financial statements annually. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
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  • Freedom of Information Act: Actions Needed to Improve Agency Compliance with Proactive Disclosure Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 expanded the requirement for agencies to proactively disclose certain records—making the records publicly available without waiting for specific requests. Of the three agencies GAO reviewed—Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Health Administration (VHA)—only VHA aligned its policies and procedures with applicable Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) proactive disclosure requirements. Although FAA officials stated that the agency has processes to identify and post proactive disclosures, it has not documented these processes. HUD has FOIA regulations, updated in 2017, that address proactive disclosure, but its standard operating procedures have outdated sections that do not reflect statutory requirements. GAO also found that HUD, VHA, and FAA did not fully comply with the statutory reporting requirements and Department of Justice's (DOJ) guidance to accurately report proactive disclosures. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires agencies to report the number of records the FOIA and program offices proactively disclosed each fiscal year. From fiscal years 2017 through 2019, HUD incorrectly reported zero proactive disclosures, while VHA and FAA did not track and report all required categories of proactive disclosures in fiscal year 2019 (see table). Selected Agencies' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Offices' Reported Proactive Disclosures Fiscal year Federal Aviation Administration Housing and Urban Development Veterans Health Administration 2019 8 0 16 2018 89,687 0 0 2017 90,486 0 58 2016 68,046 12 0 Source: FOIA.gov. | GAO-21-254 DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP) is responsible for encouraging agencies' compliance with FOIA, including overseeing the Annual FOIA Report that agencies submit to OIP. OIP told GAO that it asked agencies that report zero proactive disclosures to confirm that this was accurate, but it did not follow up with these agencies. For example, OIP asked HUD officials to confirm that HUD intentionally reported zero proactive disclosures, but did not ask why HUD had zero proactive disclosures. In addition, GAO's review of annual FOIA data found that 25 of 118 agencies reported zero proactive disclosures in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. OIP said that agencies with a low volume of requests may have fewer records to proactively disclose. However, by not following up with agencies that report zero proactive disclosures, OIP is not using an available tool that may strengthen its efforts to encourage agencies to make required disclosures. OIP and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)'s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) officials stated that making proactive disclosures accessible is a challenge for agencies. To assist agencies in addressing such challenges, OGIS periodically reviews agencies' compliance with FOIA and recently issued a report that included strategies for making proactive disclosures accessible. Why GAO Did This Study FOIA, enacted into law more than 50 years ago, requires federal agencies to provide the public with access to government records and information, including through proactive disclosures. FOIA proactive disclosures enhance transparency by ensuring that certain information about the operations and activities of the government is publicly available. GAO was asked to review federal agencies' efforts to implement FOIA requirements regarding proactive disclosures. This report assesses the extent to which selected agencies (1) aligned their policies and procedures with FOIA requirements, and (2) tracked and reported these disclosures. GAO also assessed the effectiveness of the tools, resources, and oversight provided by DOJ and NARA to address known challenges to agencies' FOIA compliance. GAO selected three agencies—FAA, HUD, and VHA—that reflect, among other things, a range in the agency-reported number of FOIA requests received and records proactively disclosed. GAO reviewed DOJ, NARA, FAA, HUD, and VHA documents and interviewed agency officials.
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  • Foreign Assistance: State Department Should Better Assess Results of Efforts to Improve Financial and Some Program Data
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of State has implemented most of the Foreign Assistance Data Review (FADR) plan to improve the tracking and reporting of its foreign assistance data. According to State officials, they began developing the FADR plan in 2014 and focused on modifying State's existing agency-wide data systems to improve financial and related programmatic data for foreign assistance. As of December 2020, State had completed most of the activities detailed in the FADR plan, except for some FADR-related training initiatives that will continue in 2021. For example, State created the FADR Data Dictionary, which standardizes foreign assistance budget terminology and definitions across the agency, and added two data fields—benefitting country and program area—to its data systems. Other activities included updating system design; conducting integration testing between source systems and financial systems; and developing training materials. State's FADR plan generally or partially addressed key elements of sound planning. GAO evaluated the FADR plan against nine key elements of sound planning it identified as relevant to implementation plans. GAO found that the plan generally addressed four elements and partially addressed five (see figure). Evaluation of the Department of State's Foreign Assistance Data Review (FADR) Plan by Key Elements of Sound Planning Identified by GAO Element Did the FADR plan address the element? Purpose and scope ● Desired results ● Hierarchy of goals and subordinate objectives ● Activities to achieve results ● Roles and responsibilities ◓ Intra-agency coordination mechanisms ◓ Resources to implement the plan ◓ Milestones and performance indicators ◓ Monitoring and evaluation ◓ Legend: ● Generally addressed ◓Partially addressed ○ Did not address Source: GAO analysis of Department of State documentation. | GAO-21-373 Since State has nearly completed implementation of its FADR plan, the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) component is the most critical remaining element of the partially addressed elements. GAO found that the M&E component of the plan was not well developed. The plan identifies some performance indicators and monitoring activities, but it does not clearly link those indicators to the desired results. The M&E component also does not identify how State plans to evaluate and use the monitoring data, such as better identification of benefiting country. Nor does it provide information on timeframes associated with the performance targets for the identified indicators. Identifying how the performance indicators link to desired results and the timeframes associated with performance targets, and periodically evaluating its monitoring data would help State assess the plan's effectiveness. Why GAO Did This Study Members of Congress, the State Inspector General, and GAO have raised concerns about State's ability to adequately track and report its foreign assistance data. These concerns include State's ability to retrieve timely and accurate data necessary to provide central oversight, meet statutory and regulatory reporting requirements, manage resources strategically, and assess program performance. In response, State began an initiative in 2014 to improve the quality and availability of foreign assistance data. GAO was asked to review State's plan to improve the tracking and reporting of its foreign assistance data. This report assesses (1) the status of State's plan to improve the tracking and reporting of its foreign assistance data and (2) the extent to which State's plan adheres to sound planning practices. GAO reviewed State documents on the plan to improve the tracking and reporting of its foreign assistance data. GAO reviewed implementation of the State plan against specific milestones in the plan. GAO also evaluated if the plan included key elements for sound management and strategic planning. In addition, GAO interviewed State officials in Washington, D.C.
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