The New U.S. Policy on UAS Exports Under the MTCR

Dr. Christopher Ashley Ford, Assistant SecretaryBureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

Hudson Institute

As Delivered

Good afternoon, Rebecca.  It’s a pleasure to be back at Hudson Institute, where I myself spent five years as a Senior Fellow.  I’m sorry that we are still having to do events like this through video connectivity, so our audience is just a “virtual” one, but I’m glad to have the chance to speak to you.

It’s been some time since I was on the rostrum at Hudson with my colleague Tim Morrison — who was then at the White House but is now a Senior Fellow with Hudson — to talk about U.S. efforts to reform the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).  That was back in February of 2019, so what I’d like today is to let you know how that effort has been developing since then.

The problem about which we spoke at that event was that the 1980s-era technological benchmark built into the MTCR Guidelines — which urge a “strong presumption of denial” for exports of “Category I” systems, which are defined as unmanned craft capable of carrying a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a range of at least 300 kilometers — has not held up well.  Advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), have led to a great explosion in the capabilities and beneficial uses of UAS that technically meet this Category I definition, but which don’t present the kind of nuclear weapon delivery threat that the MTCR was established to help forestall.  As applied to many UAS, in other words, the MTCR is in danger of becoming out of date.

With respect to actual missiles and rockets, or the sort of high performance cruise missile that one might actually use to deliver a nuclear weapon, of course, we had – and have – no quarrel with the MTCR standard.  Quite to the contrary: we still believe that a strong presumption of denial for transfers of such systems makes eminent sense.

The difficulty came with less capable varieties of UAS, in connection with which the presumption of denial has had the effect of largely shutting MTCR partners out of an important and growing UAS market.  Since non-MTCR partners remain free to sell whatever they wish, however, this was not only a net loss for those countries responsible enough to join the MTCR, but also a net loss for the cause of nonproliferation — as the market for such non-threatening UAS was effectively ceded to the least proliferationresponsible international players, who don’t worry about things such as MTCR standards.

This is why, in March 2018, the United States proposed an adjustment to MTCR controls that would carve out a subset of Category I UAS, based on their maximum airspeed, for treatment as if they were Category II systems — thus making these slower, less-threatening systems no longer subject to the “strong presumption of denial.”  This reform proposal would have protected what needed to be protected in that important regime, while yet allowing a degree of relaxation for transfers of lower-threat systems in order to permit all of humanity to take better advantage of the myriad ways in which UAS are increasingly used in both governmental and private sector applications.

For more than two years, therefore, we have been promoting this reform initiative in MCTR fora.  We have also repeatedly made technical changes and various other adjustments to our reform proposal in response to issues raised and ideas suggested by other MTCR partners.

Nevertheless, the MTCR is a consensus-based organization, in which even a single country can hold things up indefinitely.  We are pleased that many of our partners have supported our reform proposal, but thanks to foot-dragging by some, it is not yet possible to amend the MTCR controls by consensus.

We will still keep promoting this reform proposal, for we still feel it represents the right way to update the MTCR regime in the face of technological change and thus save it from obsolescence, while yet preserving what is most important in it and protecting nonproliferation equities.

But as Tim and I signaled at our February 2019 event here at Hudson, the United States isn’t willing to let U.S interests be forever held hostage by consensus decision-making.  While we’ll still keep pushing MTCR reform, therefore, we are now announcing a modest adjustment to U.S. national policy as to when the “strong presumption of denial” can be overcome in exporting slower, and thus less threatening, UAS.

The key to the new U.S. policy lies in remembering that a presumption can sometimes be rebutted.  A “presumption of denial” is not a prohibition, and it has always been permissible to make Category I transfers when there is a compelling reason to overcome the presumption and such a step is well justified in terms of the nonproliferation factors specified in the MTCR Guidelines.

We are all familiar with this idea in other contexts; presumptions are used in lots of policy areas.  Perhaps most famous is the “presumption of innocence” in criminal law — that is, the principle that one should be presumed innocent of wrongdoing until actually proven guilty.  As that example makes clear, however, the central feature of any presumption is that it can be overcome.  If not, it wouldn’t be a presumption at all, but rather just an ordinary rule.

“Rebuttability,” if you will, is thus inherent in the concept of a presumption.  There would be no criminal justice system at all, for example, if the presumption of innocence could not be overcome by appropriate evidence, and it is a central purpose of criminal procedure to provide a way to determine when that has occurred.  That’s just one example of how presumptions are used, but the point should be clear: presumptions, by their nature, are things that can be overcome in sufficiently compelling circumstances.

So while observers of the MTCR scene often casually assume that the “strong presumption of denial” for Category I exports is simply a prohibition, it clearly isn’t – and this understanding is built in to the MTCR Guidelines.  And so, with our new policy on Category I UAS exports, the United States is now setting forth a careful and balanced approach, within the MTCR Guidelines, that for the first time offers a clear explication of certain circumstances in which the “strong presumption of denial” can be overcome.

This new U.S. policy largely tracks the basic structure of the reform initiative we proposed for the MTCR a couple of years ago, except that we are implementing the MTCR’s “strong presumption of denial” within the national discretion permitted us in the MTCR Guidelines.

Under this new policy, the “strong presumption of denial” for MTCR Category I UAS transfers will be overcome for a subset of unmanned aerial systems with a maximum airspeed of less than 800 kilometers per hour.  This policy will change nothing about how we handle faster UAS, which present higher risks for WMD delivery – systems such as cruise missiles, hypersonic aerial vehicles, and advanced unmanned combat aerial vehicles.  Those systems will continue to be effectively non-exportable, except perhaps on rare occasions.

Our new approach will merely mean that we will deal with lower-threat, lower-speed UAS more flexibly, as if they were Category II systems.

I should also emphasize that this new policy does not mean that we will subject transfers of these slower, lower-threat systems to a strong presumption of approval; all we are doing is exempting them from the strong presumption of denial.  There will be no presumption of approval, and all proposals will be evaluated on their own merits.

Nothing will change, moreover, in the strict U.S. standards that today go into deciding whether or not a transfer should occur.  We will continue to approach each transfer on a case-by-case basis as a whole-of-government decision that takes into account all relevant factors and policies, including U.S. national security, nonproliferation, and foreign policy objectives, as well as the recipient country’s capability and willingness to effectively and responsibly use and safeguard U.S.-origin technology.

We will continue our extensive assessments of the risk of controlled items falling into the hands of unauthorized end-users, irresponsible actors, state adversaries, and terrorists.  We will continue to evaluate all transfers against the MTCR Guidelines, and to require appropriate end-use and end-user certifications and end-use monitoring.  All military UAS transfers will continue to be subject to State Department-led assessments under the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, as well as to Defense Department-led assessments of technology security, as applicable.  And all civil UAS exports will continue to be subject to the Export Administration Regulations.

The United States will continue to abide by its MTCR commitments, including those related to pre-notifying Category I transfers.  We will also continue to promote responsible standards of behavior in UAS export and use, such as in the “Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled ” and we’ll seek to develop further international standards for the export and use of armed UAS.

It is true that that the best way to proceed would have been to clarify these issues across the entire MTCR regime through adoption of our modest reform proposal there, so that all partners could harmonize approaches around a sensible maximum airspeed threshold.  As I indicated, however, at least one MTCR participant seems to have prioritized reflexive opposition to anything the United States proposes over sensible reform of the MTCR Guidelines in the face of technological change.  That’s unfortunate for the regime, for unless naysayers change course, the MTCR’s technological standards — set more than three decades ago, in 1987 — will simply become more and more out of date with the passage of time, and stress upon the regime will needlessly increase.

In this context, we’re pleased to be able to take a small step forward on our own, by implementing an analogous reform entirely consistent both with the letter and with the spirit of the MTCR Guidelines.  We continue strongly to support the MTCR as an important element of the broader global nonproliferation regime.

Thank you.

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    The roles and responsibilities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a multistate foodborne illness outbreak include analyzing federal foodborne illness surveillance networks to identify outbreaks, leading investigations to determine the food causing the outbreak, and communicating with the public. CDC also works to build and maintain federal, state, territorial, and local capacity to respond to foodborne illness outbreaks by awarding funds to state and local public health agencies and through other initiatives. In identifying and responding to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, CDC faces challenges related to clinical methods and communication, and it has taken some steps to respond to these challenges. One challenge stems from the increasing clinical use of culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs). CIDTs diagnose foodborne illnesses faster and cheaper than traditional methods, but because they do not create DNA fingerprints that can specify a pathogen, they may reduce CDC's ability to identify an outbreak. A CDC working group recommended in May 2018 that CDC develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs. By developing a plan, CDC will have greater assurance of continued access to necessary information. CDC also faces a challenge in balancing the competing needs for timeliness and accuracy in its outbreak communications while maintaining public trust. CDC has an internal framework to guide its communications decisions during outbreaks, and it recognizes that stakeholders would like more transparency about these decisions. By making its framework publicly available, CDC could better foster public trust in its information and guidance during outbreaks. CDC has taken steps to evaluate its performance in identifying and responding to multistate outbreaks. Specifically, CDC has developed general strategic goals (see fig.) and taken initial steps to develop performance measures. However, CDC has not yet established other elements of a performance assessment system—an important component of effective program management. CDC's Use of Elements of Program Performance Assessment Systems In particular, CDC has not set specific performance goals, used performance measures to track progress, or conducted a program evaluation of its multistate foodborne illness outbreak investigation efforts. By implementing all elements of a performance assessment system, CDC could better assess its progress toward meeting its goals, identify potentially underperforming areas, and use that information to improve its performance. CDC has estimated that each year, one in six people in the United States gets a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. CDC data show increases in the number of reported multistate foodborne illness outbreaks—groups of two or more linked cases in multiple states—in recent years. Such outbreaks are responsible for a disproportionate number of hospitalizations and deaths, compared with single-state outbreaks. GAO was asked to review CDC's response to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks. This report examines (1) CDC's roles and responsibilities, (2) challenges that CDC faces and the extent to which it has addressed these challenges, and (3) the extent to which CDC evaluates its performance. GAO reviewed agency documents and data; conducted site visits and case studies; and interviewed federal, state, and local public health officials, as well as representatives of stakeholder groups. GAO is recommending that CDC (1) develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs, (2) make publicly available its decision-making framework for communicating about multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, and (3) implement all the elements of a performance assessment system. CDC concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Steve D. Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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  • Federal Research Grants: OMB Should Take Steps to Establish the Research Policy Board
    In U.S GAO News
    As of January 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had not established the Research Policy Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. The act requires OMB to establish the Board within 1 year of the December 13, 2016 enactment of the act. The Board is to provide information on the effects of regulations related to federal research requirements. OMB stated that it had not established the Board because of issues with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) and other federal agencies’ full participation in the Board’s potential activities to develop or implement a modified approach to indirect cost policies. According to OMB, “the Board would necessarily delve into issues related to compliance burden and indirect cost reimbursement to entities that receive federal funding for research.” Specifically, OMB pointed to a statutory provision appearing in annual appropriations bills that it believes prohibits HHS and other agencies from taking action on issues that could implicate certain indirect cost provisions. According to OMB, this provision could, if continued in future bills, “complicate or even possibly prohibit HHS from participating in major elements of the Board’s process.” OMB stated that, without representation of a major research agency such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of HHS, “OMB would not be equipped to meet the statutory goals of the Board.” However, HHS stated in October 2020 that the indirect cost provision would not prohibit NIH’s participation on the Board and that the department was not aware of any other appropriations law provision that would prohibit such participation. GAO has no basis to disagree with HHS’s position. The 21st Century Cures Act does not specifically direct the Board to examine issues related to indirect costs, and we identified other issues that may fall within the scope of the Board’s activities. For example, the act specifies five activities that the Board may conduct, including creating a forum for the discussion of research policy or regulatory gaps, and identifying regulatory process improvements and policy changes. The Board could consider examining these or other issues related to streamlining and harmonizing regulations and reducing administrative burden in federally funded research in accordance with the 21st Century Cures Act. By not having established the Board, OMB is missing opportunities for the Board to provide information on the effects of regulations related to requirements for federally funded research, and to make recommendations to harmonize and streamline such requirements. Further, OMB has limited time to establish the Board and the Board may have insufficient time to complete its work before the Board is set to terminate on September 30, 2021. The 21st Century Cures Act requires OMB to establish an advisory committee, to be known as the Research Policy Board, that is responsible for making recommendations on modifying and harmonizing regulation of federally funded research to reduce administrative burden. The Board is to consist of both federal and non-federal members and include not more than 10 members from federal agencies, including officials from OMB, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), HHS, the National Science Foundation, and other departments and agencies that support or regulate scientific research, as determined by the OMB Director. The 21st Century Cures Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct an independent evaluation of the Board’s activities. This report examines the steps OMB has taken to establish the Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO reviewed written responses and other information from OMB, HHS, and OSTP; the 21st Century Cures Act and other laws related to the Board and its establishment; relevant reports on issues related to administrative burden; and related documents such as memoranda and agency guidance. GAO submitted a draft report containing the results of its evaluation to Congress on December 10, 2020. Congress should consider extending the period of authorization for the Research Policy Board, giving OMB additional time to establish the Research Policy Board and complete its statutory mission under the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO recommends that OMB establish the Research Policy Board as mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act and report to Congress on the Board’s activities. OMB did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. We maintain that the evidence in this report shows the need for our recommendation. For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or neumannj@gao.gov.
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    Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) met its goal to expand the 287(g) program. However, ICE has not established performance goals that cover all program activities, such as ICE's oversight of its law enforcement agency (LEA) partners, or measures to assess the program's performance, such as the percentage of LEA partners in compliance with annual training requirements. As a result, ICE is not well-positioned to determine the extent to which the program is achieving intended results. ICE considers a number of factors, such as LEAs' capability to act as an ICE force multiplier, when reviewing their suitability to join the program; however, ICE has not assessed how to optimize the use of its resources and program benefits to guide its recruitment of future 287(g) participants. For example, ICE has two models in which LEAs can participate with varying levels of immigration enforcement responsibilities. In the Jail Enforcement Model (JEM), designated state or local officers identify and process removable foreign nationals who have been arrested and booked into the LEA's correctional facility, whereas in the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) model, the designated officers only serve warrants to such individuals. However, ICE has not assessed the mix of participants for each model that would address resource limitations, as each model has differing resource and oversight requirements. By assessing how to leverage its program resources and optimize benefits received, ICE could approach recruitment more strategically and optimize program benefits. 287(g) Participants in January 2017 and September 2020 ICE uses a number of mechanisms to oversee 287(g) JEM participants' compliance with their agreements, such as conducting inspections and reviewing reported complaints. However, at the time of GAO's review, ICE did not have an oversight mechanism for participants' in the WSO model. For example, ICE did not have clear policies on 287(g) field supervisors' oversight responsibilities or plan to conduct compliance inspections for WSO participants. An oversight mechanism could help ICE ensure that WSO participants comply with their 287(g) agreement and other relevant ICE policies and procedures. The 287(g) program authorizes ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to assist with enforcing immigration laws. The program expanded from 35 agreements in January 2017 to 150 as of September 2020. GAO was asked to review ICE's management and oversight of the program. This report examines (1) the extent to which ICE has developed performance goals and measures to assess the 287(g) program; (2) how ICE determines eligibility for 287(g) program participation and considers program resources; and (3) how ICE conducts oversight of 287(g) program participant compliance and addresses noncompliance. GAO reviewed ICE policies and documentation, and interviewed officials from ICE headquarters and field offices. GAO also interviewed 11 LEAs selected based on the type of 287(g) agreement, length of participation, and facility type (e.g. state or local).While not generalizable, information collected from the selected LEAs provided insights into 287(g) program operations and oversight of program participants. GAO analyzed data on 287(g) inspection results and complaints from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. GAO recommends that ICE (1) establish performance goals and related performance measures; (2) assess the 287(g) program's composition to help leverage its resources and optimize program benefits; and (3) develop and implement an oversight mechanism for the WSO model. DHS concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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  • Cyber Diplomacy: State Should Use Data and Evidence to Justify Its Proposal for a New Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of State (State) did not demonstrate that it used data and evidence to develop its proposal for establishing a new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET). In response to GAO requests for such data and evidence, State provided GAO with briefing slides outlining different options for the new bureau and an action memo, approved by the Secretary of State. The memo recommended that CSET focus on cyberspace security and the security aspects of emerging technologies and report to the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, while the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB) would continue to have responsibility for digital economy issues. However, State did not explain how it would address any challenges associated with the decision on CSET's organizational placement. For example, the memo did not address how State would coordinate internally on the cybersecurity aspects of digital economy policy issues with cyber diplomacy functions split between CSET and EB. The memo also did not specify how State would develop consolidated positions and set priorities for State's international cyberspace efforts, given the separation of these issues. Moreover, neither the briefing nor the action memo contained analyses supporting the additional details laid out in State's 2019 notification to Congress on CSET, including support for proposed resource allocations for the new bureau. Without developing data and evidence to support its proposal for the new bureau, State lacks assurance that its proposal will effectively set priorities and allocate appropriate resources for the bureau to achieve its intended goals. State needs to develop these areas further to better ensure the success of any new organizational arrangement. The United States and its allies are facing expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure become increasingly dependent on cyberspace. State leads U.S. government international efforts to advance the full range of U.S. interests in cyberspace. The Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 (H.R. 739, 116th Cong.), co-sponsored by 29 members of Congress, proposed the establishment of a new office within State that would have consolidated responsibility for digital economy and internet freedom issues, together with international cybersecurity issues. While the House Foreign Affairs Committee reported out this bill in March 2019, the full House of Representatives did not consider the bill prior to expiration of the 116th Congress. State subsequently notified Congress in June 2019 of its plan to establish CSET, with a narrower focus on cyberspace security and emerging technologies. On January 7, 2021, State announced that the Secretary had approved the creation of CSET and directed the department to move forward with establishing the bureau. However, as of the date of this report, State had not created CSET. GAO was asked to review State's efforts to advance U.S. interests in cyberspace. This report examines the extent to which State used data and evidence to develop and justify its proposal to establish CSET. GAO reviewed available documentation and interviewed State officials. To determine the extent to which State used data and evidence to develop and justify its proposal to establish CSET, GAO assessed State's documentation against a relevant key practice for agency reforms compiled in GAO's June 2018 report on government reorganization. The Secretary of State should ensure that State uses data and evidence to justify its current proposal, or any new proposal, to establish the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies to enable the bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources to achieve its goals. While State disagreed with GAO's characterization of its use of data and evidence to develop its proposal for CSET, it agreed that reviewing such information to evaluate program effectiveness can be useful. State commented that it has provided GAO with appropriate material on its decision to establish CSET and has not experienced challenges in coordinating cyberspace security policy across the department while the CSET proposal has been in discussion. State concluded that this provides assurance that CSET will allow the new bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources. The documents State provided in response to GAO's requests, including a set of briefing slides and an action memo to the Secretary, did not sufficiently demonstrate that it used data and evidence in developing its proposal. In addition, State's comment that it has not experienced coordination challenges in recent years is not sufficient evidence that the potential for such challenges does not exist. Without evidence to support the creation of the new bureau, State lacks needed assurance that the bureau will effectively set priorities and allocate appropriate resources to achieve its intended goals. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or MazanecB@gao.gov, or Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19 Loans: SBA Has Begun to Take Steps to Improve Oversight and Fraud Risk Management
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) quickly implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and expedited the processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and a new EIDL advance program. These important programs have helped businesses survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to move quickly on these programs, SBA initially put limited internal controls in place, leaving both susceptible to program integrity issues, improper payments, and fraud. Because of concerns about program integrity, GAO added PPP and the EIDL program onto its High-Risk List in March 2021. SBA has begun to take steps to address these initial deficiencies: PPP oversight. Because ongoing oversight is crucial, GAO recommended in June 2020 that SBA develop plans to respond to PPP risks to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. Since then, SBA has developed a loan review process and added up-front verifications before it approves new loans. Improper payments for PPP. GAO recommended in November 2020 that SBA expeditiously estimate improper payments for PPP and report estimates and error rates. SBA has now developed a plan for the testing needed to estimate improper payments. Analyzing EIDL data. Based on evidence of widespread potential fraud for EIDL, GAO recommended in January 2021 that SBA conduct portfolio-level analysis to detect potentially ineligible applications. SBA has not announced plans to implement this recommendation. EIDL oversight. GAO recommended in March 2021 that SBA implement a comprehensive oversight plan for EIDL to ensure program integrity. SBA agreed to implement such a plan. Assessment of fraud risks. SBA has not conducted a formal fraud risk assessment for PPP or the EIDL program. GAO made four recommendations in March 2021, including that SBA conduct a formal assessment and develop a strategy to manage fraud risks for each program. SBA said it would work to complete fraud risk assessments for PPP and EIDL and continually monitor fraud risks. Financial statement audit. In December 2020, SBA's independent financial statement auditor issued a disclaimer of opinion on SBA's fiscal year 2020 consolidated financial statements because SBA could not provide adequate documentation to support a significant number of transactions and account balances related to PPP and EIDL. GAO continues to review information SBA recently provided, including data on PPP loan forgiveness and details on the PPP and EIDL loan review processes. In addition, GAO has obtained additional information from a survey of PPP participating lenders, interviews with SBA's PPP contractors, and written responses to questions provided by SBA's EIDL contractor and subcontractors. Why GAO Did This Study SBA has made or guaranteed about 18.7 million loans and grants through PPP and the EIDL program, providing about $968 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. PPP provides potentially forgivable loans to small businesses, and EIDL provides low-interest loans of up to $2 million for operating and other expenses, as well as advances (grants). This testimony discusses the lack of controls in PPP and the EIDL program and SBA's efforts to improve its oversight of these programs. It is based largely on GAO's June 2020–March 2021 reports on the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 (GAO-20-625, GAO-20-701, GAO-21-191, GAO-21-265, GAO -21-387). For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and SBA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports; analyzed SBA data; and interviewed officials from SBA, the SBA OIG, and the Department of the Treasury.
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  • Retirement Security: DOL Could Better Inform Divorcing Parties About Dividing Savings
    In U.S GAO News
    Although more than one-third of adults aged 50 or older have experienced divorce, few people seek and obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), according to large plan sponsors GAO surveyed. A QDRO establishes the right of an alternate payee, such as a former spouse, to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under a retirement plan upon separation or divorce. There are no nationally representative data on the number of QDROs, but plans and record keepers GAO interviewed and surveyed reported that few seek and obtain QDROs. For example, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation administered retirement benefits to about 1.6 million participants, and approved about 16,000 QDROs in the last 10 years. GAO's analysis of other survey data found about one-third of those who experienced a divorce from 2008 to 2016 and reported their former spouse had a retirement plan also reported losing a claim to that spouse's benefits. Many experts stated that some people—especially those with lower incomes—face challenges to successfully navigating the process for obtaining a QDRO, including complexity and cost. Individuals seeking a QDRO may be charged fees for preparation and review of draft orders before they are qualified as QDROs and, according to experts GAO interviewed, these fees vary widely. These experts cited concerns about QDRO review fees that they said in some cases were more than twice the amount of typical fees, and said they may discourage some from pursuing QDROs. Department of Labor (DOL) officials said the agency generally does not collect information on QDRO fees. Exploring ways to collect and analyze information from plans on fees could help DOL ensure costs are reasonable. Divorcing parties who pursue QDROs often had orders not qualified due to lacking basic information, according to plans and record keepers we surveyed (see figure). Plan Administrators and Record Keepers Reported Reasons for Not Qualifying a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) DOL provides some information to help divorcing parties pursue QDROs. However, many experts cited a lack of awareness about QDROs by the public and said DOL could do more to make resources available to divorcing parties. Without additional outreach by DOL, divorcing parties may spend unnecessary time and resources drafting orders that are not likely to be qualified, resulting in unnecessary expenditures of time and money. A domestic relations order (DRO) is a court-issued judgment, decree, or order that, when qualified by a retirement plan administrator, can divide certain retirement benefits in connection with separation or divorce and as such provide crucial financial security to a former spouse. DOL has authority to interpret QDRO requirements. GAO was asked to review the process for obtaining QDROs. This report examines what is known about (1) the number of QDRO recipients, (2) the fees and other expenses for processing QDROs, and (3) the reasons plans do not initially qualify DROs and the challenges experts identify regarding the QDRO process. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed available data, and a total of 14 responses from two surveys of large private sector plans and account record keepers, and interviewed 18 experts including practitioners who provide services to divorcing couples. GAO is recommending that DOL (1) explore ways to collect information on QDRO-related fees charged to participants or alternate payees, and (2) take steps to ensure information about the process for obtaining a QDRO is accessible. DOL generally agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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