Statement from Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made the following statement after President Biden’s signing of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law:

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    What GAO Found Strengthening human capital management at federal agencies, particularly those with science and technology missions, can help agencies build a diverse, highly qualified, and agile workforce. GAO's past work demonstrates three key areas for strengthening and sustaining the federal science and technology workforce. Strategic workforce planning to identify gaps and future needs. To successfully implement their missions, agencies need to identify current skill gaps and future needs in their workforce, and select the right human capital strategies to address them. However, GAO's prior work has identified science and technology workforce strategic planning challenges that agencies have not fully addressed. For example, in October 2019, GAO evaluated major agencies' implementation of cybersecurity workforce planning strategies for information technology (IT) workers. GAO found that most of the 24 federal agencies had not fully implemented five of the eight key workforce activities that GAO identified because of reasons such as competing priorities and limited resources. GAO recommended that the 18 agencies fully implement the eight key IT workforce planning activities. Thirteen agencies agreed with the recommendation, while the other five expressed a range of views; however, while some agencies have made progress, none have fully implemented the recommendation. Improving federal pay and hiring. Agencies may experience challenges in recruiting and retaining a diverse, highly-qualified workforce due to differences in pay compared to private sector employers and challenges related to the hiring process. Generally, federal agencies have seven broadly available government-wide special payment authorities to help address recruitment and retention challenges. In December 2017, GAO reported that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) collects data on use of these authorities but had not analyzed how much the authorities help improve recruitment and retention. GAO also reported that the agency may be missing opportunities to promote strategic use of these authorities by providing guidance and tools on assessing effectiveness. Similarly, in August 2016, GAO reported that OPM and hiring agencies had not used hiring data to analyze the effectiveness of hiring authorities. Across these reports, GAO made six recommendations to assess and improve the use of pay and hiring authorities. OPM generally agreed with GAO's recommendations, and has implemented two of the six recommendations, but has not fully implemented the other four. Addressing factors that affect the federal work environment. Factors affecting the working environment may also influence agencies' ability to attract, hire, and retain personnel. For example, GAO reported in September 2020 that individuals who experience sexual harassment are more likely to leave their jobs. Also, in March 2015, GAO reported that impediments to interacting with non-federal scientific peers because, for example, of restrictions on conference participation can be a disincentive to federal employment. Agency officials told GAO that scientists and engineers establish their professional reputations by presenting research at conferences to have their work published and, without such opportunities, researchers may find federal employment less desirable. Addressing such factors could help agencies build and sustain a diverse, highly-skilled science and technology workforce. Why GAO Did This Study The federal workforce is critical to agencies' ability to address the complex social, economic, and security challenges facing the United States. However, across government, mission critical skill gaps are undermining the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions. Federal agencies face the difficult task of staying apace of advances in science and technology while competing for talent with the private sector, universities, and non-profit research centers. GAO has had long-standing concerns about federal agencies' strategic human capital management, an issue highlighted in GAO's High Risk Series since 2001. This testimony summarizes GAO's insights based on a wide range of GAO work covering various human capital management- and science and technology-related issues from March 2015 through February 2021. In particular, the statement focuses on (1) workforce planning to help ensure agencies are better positioned to implement their missions; (2) opportunities and challenges to recruiting a diverse, high-qualified science and technology workforce; and (3) factors that can affect the work environment. For this testimony, GAO selected prior work across human capital management- and science and technology-related topics.
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    What GAO Found In 2019, the Department of Energy's (DOE)'s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) provided a report to Congress on its findings from its survey of the seven contractors that manage and operate its nuclear security enterprise sites to identify requirements the contractors viewed as burdensome. This survey was congressionally mandated after reports by external groups found that the environment in which NNSA carried out its oversight of such management and operating (M&O) contractors was strained. GAO reviewed information on the following three areas related to NNSA's report: Comparison of NNSA's findings with related reports. GAO found that during the past 10 years, three external groups carried out studies and assessments of the nuclear security enterprise and issued reports citing ways NNSA's oversight has contributed to burden for M&O contractors. These groups were all directed by Congress to complete their studies, which were published between 2014 and 2020. Their reports also cite ways in which NNSA's oversight may have contributed to increased costs or reduced mission capabilities. NNSA's Burdensome Regulatory Requirements report explicitly identifies 91 requirements that M&O contractors found burdensome; these include requirements found in sources such as DOE and NNSA directives, federal regulations, and statutes. NNSA's approach to collecting and reporting information on requirements that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. NNSA first collected information on the requirements the contractors viewed as burdensome, and second, asked the contractors to rate these requirements based on the likelihood that the requirement could be changed and the effects such a change would have on cost savings, morale, recruitment and retention, and mission capability. While NNSA did not provide a definition to its contractors of what constituted a "burdensome" requirement, some contractors created their own definitions, while others told us the definition was understood based on the previously published related reports. GAO interviewed M&O contractor representatives and found that their definitions of what constituted a "burdensome requirement" varied. Also, the seven M&O contractors used different approaches to identify and rate requirements they considered burdensome. However, multiple M&O contractors identified the same requirements, or sources of those requirements, as burdensome. For example, one contractor identified the entire DOE Order for Program and Project Management of the Acquisition of Capital Assets (DOE Order 413.3B) as burdensome, while another contractor identified specific requirements within the same order as burdensome. NNSA actions to address matters that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. In its report, NNSA included a list of 16 matters that it committed to reviewing based on the rating data it collected from M&O contractors and input from members of the Operations and Efficiencies Board, an internal body established to improve coordination and collaboration across NNSA's sites. According to NNSA officials, 10 matters are under revision or have been changed; two matters were reviewed, but no changes were made; and four matters were reviewed, and M&O contractor input will be considered should the regulation undergo a revision in the future. NNSA's list of matters included DOE directives, federal requirements, and an M&O contract change. According to agency officials, NNSA chose to prioritize its review of certain matters because the agency did not have the resources to review all 91 requirements that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. NNSA provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study NNSA is responsible for maintaining a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile and relies on and oversees contractors who manage and operate its laboratory and production sites. NNSA's M&O contracts include requirements for contractors to adhere to laws, regulations, and DOE and NNSA directives. NNSA also has processes to hold contractors accountable for meeting these requirements. Senate Report 115-262, accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, directed NNSA to collect information from its M&O contractors on specific requirements they deemed particularly burdensome and to publish this information in a report. Senate Report 115-262 also included a provision for GAO to review NNSA's report. GAO's report provides information on (1) a comparison of NNSA's findings with findings reported by external groups, (2) NNSA's approach to collecting and reporting information on requirements the M&O contractors identified as burdensome, and (3) NNSA's actions to address the requirements that the M&O contractors identified. GAO reviewed NNSA's 2019 report and supplemental documents and interviewed NNSA officials and M&O contractor representatives. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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Vaccine Platform Technologies Supported by Operation Warp Speed, as of January 2021 As of January 30, 2021, five of the six OWS vaccine candidates have entered phase 3 clinical trials, two of which—Moderna's and Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccines—have received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For vaccines that received EUA, additional data on vaccine effectiveness will be generated from further follow-up of participants in clinical trials already underway before the EUA was issued. Technology readiness. GAO's analysis of the OWS vaccine candidates' technology readiness levels (TRL)—an indicator of technology maturity— showed that COVID-19 vaccine development under OWS generally followed traditional practices, with some adaptations. FDA issued specific guidance that identified ways that vaccine development may be accelerated during the pandemic. Vaccine companies told GAO that the primary difference from a non-pandemic environment was the compressed timelines. To meet OWS timelines, some vaccine companies relied on data from other vaccines using the same platforms, where available, or conducted certain animal studies at the same time as clinical trials. However, as is done in a non-pandemic environment, all vaccine companies gathered initial safety and antibody response data with a small number of participants before proceeding into large-scale human studies (e.g., phase 3 clinical trials). The two EUAs issued in December 2020 were based on analyses of clinical trial participants and showed about 95 percent efficacy for each vaccine. These analyses included assessments of efficacy after individuals were given two doses of vaccine and after they were monitored for about 2 months for adverse events. Manufacturing. As of January 2021, five of the six OWS vaccine companies had started commercial scale manufacturing. OWS officials reported that as of January 31, 2021, companies had released 63.7 million doses—about 32 percent of the 200 million doses that, according to OWS, companies with EUAs have been contracted to provide by March 31, 2021. Vaccine companies face a number of challenges in scaling up manufacturing to produce hundreds of millions of doses under OWS's accelerated timelines. DOD and HHS are working with vaccine companies to help mitigate manufacturing challenges, including: Limited manufacturing capacity: A shortage of facilities with capacity to handle the vaccine manufacturing needs can lead to production bottlenecks. Vaccine companies are working in partnership with OWS to expand production capacity. For example, one vaccine company told GAO that HHS's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority helped them identify an additional manufacturing partner to increase production. Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing construction projects to expand capacity at vaccine manufacturing facilities. Disruptions to manufacturing supply chains: Vaccine manufacturing supply chains have been strained by the global demand for certain goods and workforce disruptions caused by the global pandemic. For example, representatives from one facility manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines stated that they experienced challenges obtaining materials, including reagents and certain chemicals. They also said that due to global demand, they waited 4 to 12 weeks for items that before the pandemic were typically available for shipment within one week. Vaccine companies and DOD and HHS officials told GAO they have undertaken several efforts to address possible manufacturing disruptions and mitigate supply chain challenges. These efforts include federal assistance to (1) expedite procurement and delivery of critical manufacturing equipment, (2) develop a list of critical supplies that are common across the six OWS vaccine candidates, and (3) expedite the delivery of necessary equipment and goods coming into the United States. Additionally, DOD and HHS officials said that as of December 2020 they had placed prioritized ratings on 18 supply contracts for vaccine companies under the Defense Production Act, which allows federal agencies with delegated authority to require contractors to prioritize those contracts for supplies needed for vaccine production. Gaps in the available workforce: Hiring and training personnel with the specialized skills needed to run vaccine manufacturing processes can be challenging. OWS officials stated that they have worked with the Department of State to expedite visa approval for key technical personnel, including technicians and engineers to assist with installing, testing, and certifying critical equipment manufactured overseas. OWS officials also stated that they requested that 16 DOD personnel be detailed to serve as quality control staff at two vaccine manufacturing sites until the organizations can hire the required personnel. As of February 5, 2021, the U.S. had over 26 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 449,020 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions, with the unemployment rate and number of unemployed in January 2021 at nearly twice their pre-pandemic levels in February 2020. In May 2020, OWS was launched and included a goal of producing 300 million doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with initial doses available by January 2021. Although FDA has authorized two vaccines for emergency use, OWS has not yet met its production goal. Such vaccines are crucial to mitigate the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. GAO was asked to review OWS vaccine development efforts. This report examines: (1) the characteristics and status of the OWS vaccines, (2) how developmental processes have been adapted to meet OWS timelines, and (3) the challenges that companies have faced with scaling up manufacturing and the steps they are taking to address those challenges. GAO administered a questionnaire based on HHS's medical countermeasures TRL criteria to the six OWS vaccine companies to evaluate the COVID-19 vaccine development processes. 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According to a State official, Leahy approval of a security force unit is good for 1 year, and State must vet individuals again if their unit continues to receive support from State or USAID funding sources. Both U.S. agencies and implementing partners took a variety of steps in response to recent allegations of human rights abuses by overseas park rangers. For example, a State official in the Central Africa region told GAO that while the Democratic Republic of the Congo embassy's vetting program has very strict control mechanisms, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau requested quarterly reports to facilitate a review of all assistance to park rangers to ensure that any reported activities were vetted according to Leahy Laws. USAID officials told GAO that in addition to continuing Leahy vetting, the agency's response included strengthening human rights training and conducting a site visit to a park in the DRC where human rights abuses had allegedly occurred. According to officials, the visit involved speaking with beneficiaries to further understand the allegations and efforts to assess root causes, mitigate impacts, and stop future occurrences, including making referrals to appropriate law enforcement authorities if warranted. FWS officials also stated that they take seriously allegations that U.S implementing partners have supported park rangers who have committed human rights abuses. Since June 2019, the Department of the Interior has approved no new awards to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)—one of the implementing partners which has supported park rangers alleged to have committed human rights abuses. Moreover, the International Affairs program within FWS has put all new funding on hold since September 2019, pending a departmental review. Agencies are also implementing various changes in response to congressional directives on safeguarding human rights. For example, State officials told GAO that they have added language to all notices for countering wildlife trafficking awards that requires implementing partners to include social safeguards plans in their projects. The plans will articulate an understanding of how their work could negatively affect local communities. USAID officials stated that USAID has included provisions in new agreements with FWS that require adherence to the congressional directives. FWS officials also confirmed that they are cooperating with USAID in these efforts. Implementing partners—WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and African Parks (AP)—have all conducted investigations to address allegations of human rights abuses by park rangers, according to officials from these organizations. They have also developed grievance mechanisms to report human rights abuses. For example, WWF has received 50 complaints in roughly the past year related to its project work, according to WWF representatives. WWF has responded to complaints of human rights abuses through this mechanism by reporting the allegations to relevant authorities and meeting with community representatives. U.S. agencies provide training and equipment for park rangers overseas to combat wildlife trafficking. From fiscal years 2014 through 2020, the U.S. government provided approximately $554 million to undertake a range of activities through federal agencies and in cooperation with implementing partner organizations in the field. Multiple non-governmental organization and media reports, however, have alleged that organizations that have received U.S. funds have supported park rangers engaged in combating wildfire trafficking who have committed human rights violations since the mid-2000s. GAO was asked to review human rights protection mechanisms related to U.S. efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. This report examines 1) what enforcement mechanisms agencies have to prevent U.S. funded efforts to combat wildlife trafficking from supporting human rights abuses and how they implement them, and 2) how agencies and implementing partners address allegations of human rights abuses. GAO spoke with agency officials and implementing partner representatives locally in person and overseas by phone, and collected and analyzed information related to program implementation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) Order 140.1 included provisions inconsistent with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's (DNFSB) original enabling statute—the statute in place when the order was issued—and with long-standing practices. For example, GAO found that Order 140.1 contained provisions restricting DNFSB's access to information that were not included in the statute. GAO also found Order 140.1 to be inconsistent with long-standing DNFSB practices regarding staff's access to certain National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) meetings at the Pantex Plant in Texas, where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled (see fig.). In December 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20 NDAA) amended DNFSB's statute to clarify and confirm DNFSB's authority and long-standing practices between the agencies. DOE replaced Order 140.1 with Order 140.1A in June 2020. National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant, Located Near Amarillo, Texas DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials that GAO interviewed identified concerns with Order 140.1 that GAO found are not addressed under DOE's Order 140.1A. In particular, DOE's Order 140.1A was not part of a collaborative effort to address DNFSB's remaining concerns related to access to information and other regular interagency interactions. For example, DNFSB officials cited concerns that DOE could interpret a provision of DNFSB's statute authorizing the Secretary of Energy to deny access to information in a way that could limit DNFSB access to information to which it has had access in the past. GAO has previously recommended that agencies develop formal written agreements to enhance collaboration. By collaborating to develop an agreement that, among other things, incorporates a common understanding of this provision, DOE and DNFSB could lessen the risks of DNFSB being denied access to information important for conducting oversight. DOE and NNSA officials, as well as contractor representatives involved in operating the facilities, also raised concerns that insufficient training on Order 140.1 contributed to uncertainties about how to engage with DNFSB staff when implementing the order, a problem that GAO found could persist under Order 140.1A. Providing more robust training on Order 140.1A would help ensure consistent implementation of the revised order at relevant facilities. Established by statute in 1988, DNFSB has broad oversight responsibilities regarding the adequacy of public health and safety protections at DOE defense nuclear facilities. In May 2018, DOE issued Order 140.1, a new order governing DOE's interactions with DNFSB. DNFSB raised concerns that the order could affect its ability to perform its statutory mandate. Congressional committee reports included provisions for GAO to review DOE Order 140.1. This report examines (1) the extent to which the order was consistent with DNFSB's original enabling statute and with long-standing practices, as well as actions DOE has taken in light of changes to the statute outlined in the FY20 NDAA; and (2) outstanding areas of concern that DNFSB and DOE identified, and the potential effects of these concerns on how the two agencies cooperate. GAO reviewed legislation and agency documents; visited DOE sites; and interviewed DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials and contractor representatives. GAO is making a recommendation to DOE and DNFSB that they collaborate to develop a written agreement, and an additional two recommendations to DOE, including that it develop more robust training on Order 140.1A. DOE and DNFSB agreed to develop a written agreement. DOE agreed with one of the other two recommendations, but did not agree to provide more robust training. GAO maintains that the recommended action is valid. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's analysis of 2020 data found that, for 20 selected brand-name prescription drugs, estimated U.S. prices paid at the retail level by consumers and other payers (such as insurers) were more than two to four times higher than prices in three selected comparison countries. The U.S. prices GAO estimated for comparison reflect confidential rebates and other price concessions, which GAO refers to as net prices. Publicly available prices for the comparison countries were gross prices that did not reflect potential discounts. As a result, the actual differences between U.S. prices and those of the other countries were likely larger than GAO estimates. The price differences varied by drug. Specifically, while estimated U.S. net prices were mostly higher than the gross prices in other countries (by as much as 10 times), some were lower. The following figure illustrates comparisons for two of GAO's selected drugs. GAO found similar differences in estimated prices paid by final payers at the manufacturer level. Estimated U.S. Net Prices and Selected Comparison Countries' Gross Prices at the Retail Level for Two Selected Drugs and Package Sizes, 2020 GAO's analysis found consumers' out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs varied across and within all four countries but likely more within the U.S. and Canada where multiple payers had a role setting prices and designing cost-sharing for consumers, and not all consumers had prescription drug coverage. In Australia and France, prescription drug pricing was nationally regulated and prescription drug coverage was universal; thus, consumers' out-of-pocket costs within these countries for each drug were generally less varied. For example, in Australia, consumers typically paid one of two amounts for prescription drugs—either about 5 or 28 U.S. dollars in 2020. In the U.S., potential out-of-pocket costs for consumers could have varied much more widely depending on the type of coverage they had. For example, for one drug in GAO's analysis, considering only a few coverage options, consumers' out-of-pocket costs in 2020 could have ranged from a low of about 22 to a high of 514 U.S. dollars. GAO provided a draft to the Department of Health and Human Services for review and incorporated the Department's technical comments as appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study While spending on prescription drugs continues to grow worldwide, studies indicate the U.S. spends more than other countries. However, various factors—such as country-specific pricing strategies, confidential rebates to payers, and other price concessions—may obscure the actual prices of prescription drugs. GAO was asked to review U.S. and international prescription drug prices. This report (1) examines how prices at the retail and manufacturer levels in the U.S. compare to prices in three selected comparison countries—Australia, Canada, and France, and (2) provides information on consumers' out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs in these countries. GAO analyzed 2020 price data for a non-generalizable sample of 41 brand-name drugs among those with the highest expenditures and use in the U.S. Medicare Part D program in 2017. Twenty of these drugs had price data available in all four countries. For U.S. prices, GAO estimated the net prices paid using data from various sources, including estimates of Medicare Part D rebates and other price concessions, and commercially available data. Prices for the selected comparison countries were obtained from publicly available government sources. National prices were not available for Canada, so GAO used the prices from Ontario, Canada's most populous province, as a proxy for Canadian prices. GAO also reviewed country-specific guidance and other relevant information and interviewed researchers, manufacturers, and government officials. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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    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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