October 19, 2021

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United States Returns to Iraq Rare Tablet Bearing Portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh

20 min read
<div>The United States has returned to the Republic of Iraq a rare cuneiform tablet bearing a portion of the epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian poem considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature.</div>
The United States has returned to the Republic of Iraq a rare cuneiform tablet bearing a portion of the epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian poem considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature.

More from: September 23, 2021

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  • Information Technology: Agencies Need to Develop and Implement Modernization Plans for Critical Legacy Systems
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In June 2019, GAO identified 10 critical federal information technology (IT) legacy systems that were most in need of modernization. These legacy systems provided vital support to agencies' missions. According to the agencies, these legacy systems ranged from about 8 to 51 years old and, collectively, cost about $337 million annually to operate and maintain. Several of the systems used older languages, such as Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL). GAO has previously reported that reliance on such languages has risks, such as a rise in procurement and operating costs, and a decrease in the availability of individuals with the proper skill sets. Further, several of the legacy systems were operating with known security vulnerabilities and unsupported hardware and software. Of the 10 agencies responsible for these legacy systems, GAO reported in June 2019 that seven agencies (the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, the Interior, the Treasury; as well as the Office of Personnel Management; Small Business Administration; and Social Security Administration) had documented plans for modernizing the systems (see table). Of the seven agencies with plans, only the Departments of the Interior's and Defense's modernization plans included all of the key elements identified in best practices (milestones, a description of the work necessary to complete the modernization, and a plan for the disposition of the legacy system). The other five agencies lacked complete modernization plans. The Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Transportation did not have documented modernization plans. Table: Extent to Which Agencies' Had Documented Modernization Plans for Legacy Systems That Included Key Elements, as of June 2019 Agency Included milestones to complete the modernization Described work necessary to modernize system Summarized planned disposition of legacy system Department of Defense Yes Yes Yes Department of Education n/a – did not have a documented modernization plan Department of Health and Human Services n/a – did not have a documented modernization plan Department of Homeland Security No Yes No Department of the Interior Yes Yes Yes Department of the Treasury Partial Yes No Department of Transportation n/a – did not have a documented modernization plan Office of Personnel Management Partial Partial No Small Business Administration Yes No Yes Social Security Administration Partial Partial No Source: GAO analysis of agency modernization plans. | GAO-21-524T Agencies received a “partial” if the element was completed for a portion of the modernization. GAO stressed that, until the eight agencies established complete plans, their modernizations would face an increased risk of cost overruns, schedule delays, and project failure. Accordingly, GAO recommended that each of the eight develop such plans. However, to date, seven of the agencies had not done so. It is essential that agencies implement GAO's recommendations and these plans in order to meet mission needs, address security risks, and reduce operating costs. Why GAO Did This Study Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on IT and cyber-related investments. Of this amount, agencies have typically spent about 80 percent on the operations and maintenance of existing IT investments, including legacy systems. However, federal legacy systems are becoming increasingly obsolete. In May 2016, GAO reported instances where agencies were using systems that had components that were at least 50 years old or the vendors were no longer providing support for hardware or software. Similarly, in June 2019 GAO reported that several of the federal government's most critical legacy systems used outdated languages, had unsupported hardware and software, and were operating with known security vulnerabilities. GAO was asked to testify on its June 2019 report on federal agencies' legacy systems. Specifically, GAO summarized (1) the critical federal legacy systems that we identified as most in need of modernization and (2) its evaluation of agencies' plans for modernizing them. GAO also provided updated information regarding agencies' implementation of its related recommendations.
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  • Military Personnel: DOD Needs Data to Determine if Active Duty Service Has an Impact on the Ability of Guard and Reservists to Maintain Their Civilian Professional Licenses or Certificates
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2001, the Department of Defense (DOD) has relied on more than 600,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve components to support various operations abroad and at home. In particular, from September 2001 to July 2007, the department deployed more than 434,000 reservists to support operations in DOD's Central Command area of responsibility that includes Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, DOD has modified its mobilization policy, which had previously limited the cumulative amount of time that reservists could be involuntarily called to active duty for the Global War on Terrorism. Under DOD's new policy, which went into effect in January 2007, involuntary mobilizations for reserve component service members are generally limited to no more than 12 months, and there are no cumulative limits on these involuntary mobilizations. While on active duty, reservists may be unable to take the required professional development courses or periodic tests needed to retain their professional currency in fields such as accounting or software engineering. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects rights of qualifying National Guard members, reservists, and certain other members of the uniformed services returning to their civilian employment after being absent due to military service. The act, however, does not explicitly address issues related to licenses and certifications. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Congress mandated that we examine the number and type of professional or other licensure or certification requirements that may be adversely affected by extended periods of active duty, and identify options that would help provide relief. Specifically for this report, our objectives were to examine (1) DOD's efforts to identify the extent to which active duty service has had an impact on the ability of reservists to maintain professional licenses or certifications in their civilian careers, and (2) current relief options for addressing these issues if needed.The degree to which reservists serving on active duty have had difficulty maintaining professional licenses or certifications in their civilian careers is unclear, because neither DOD's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs nor the reserve components collect the necessary data to track and monitor the issue. While all members of the Ready Reserve are required to provide their civilian employment information upon joining the reserves and to review and update that information each year, the required information includes employment status, the employer's name, the employer's mailing address, the civilian's job title, and the total number of years in the current occupation, but does not include information on the impact active duty service potentially has on maintaining licenses and certifications. Officials at DMDC, which administers DOD's departmentwide Status of Forces Survey, confirmed that surveys of reservists conducted to date have not inquired about the impact of active duty service on a reservist's ability to maintain civilian professional licenses and certifications. Without any initial information on the scope of the issue, DOD is unable to identify the extent, if any, of the impact of active duty on the ability of reservists to maintain professional licenses or certifications in their civilian careers. DOD's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs has not established relief policies and practices specifically designed to assist reservists in maintaining their civilian credentials. However, relief mechanisms do exist that may be applicable or serve as a model if DOD determines that a need exists to address the issue of expired professional licenses and certification. Some states, for example, have enacted provisions to provide relief to reservists in certain circumstances. In addition, different entities within DOD have developed programs and initiatives to assist servicemembers in obtaining licenses and certification. Further, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness administers a program for military spouses who have experienced similar challenges maintaining civilian professional licenses and certifications because of their partner's active duty obligations. Although the focus of that program is on providing assistance to military spouses to acquire new licenses and certifications, military spouses who need to renew their credentials upon relocating, such as nurses, are also eligible. DOD reviewed a draft of this report but did not provide formal agency comments. DOD did provide technical comments and we made changes to the report where appropriate.
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  • Small Business Research Programs: Agencies Should Further Improve Award Timeliness
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Most federal agencies that participate in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs did not consistently issue timely awards to small businesses in fiscal year 2020. The Small Business Administration's (SBA) SBIR/STTR policy directive recommends that most agencies issue such awards within 180 days of the closing date of the solicitation. On the one hand, timeliness across agencies has improved since fiscal year 2017. Agencies issued 69 percent of awards within the recommended time that year, compared to 82 percent of awards that we reviewed for fiscal year 2020. On the other hand, only nine of the 29 participating agencies were consistently on time in fiscal year 2020, meaning they issued at least 90 percent of their awards within 180 days. This lack of timeliness dates back at least 5 years: 20 agencies were routinely late during that period, issuing fewer than 90 percent of their awards on time for 3 or more of the 5 fiscal years since 2016 (see figure). Total Number and Value of Late Awards Issued by Routinely Late Agencies Nearly all of the agencies that were routinely late in issuing awards to small businesses have taken some steps to address risks to the timeliness of their awards. Such risks included not having standardized proposal review procedures and a lack of dedicated staff to issue awards. Agencies have taken some steps to improve timeliness by, for example, streamlining proposal reviews and the award contracting process. However, they have not fully addressed risks they identified or evaluated steps already taken and may continue to issue late awards until they do so. Although the Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some steps to improve timeliness, it has not established a required pilot program. According to officials, DOD has not done so, in part, because it would be too difficult to standardize practices across the department. GAO found that 12 of the 13 DOD participating agencies are not consistently issuing timely awards to small businesses. Without addressing the pilot program requirements, or by not reporting to Congress if the requirements are infeasible, DOD may be missing an opportunity to obtain technologies more quickly, as well as sustain small businesses that can provide such technologies. Why GAO Did This Study SBIR and STTR participating agencies awarded over $3 billion to small businesses in fiscal year 2020 to develop and commercialize new technologies. Timely issuance of these awards can affect the speed with which small businesses receive funds and begin work, according to the SBA. SBA's SBIR/STTR policy directive provides time frames for notification and award issuance—90 days for award notification and 180 days for award issuance. The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision for GAO to review the timeliness of award notification and issuance. The Fiscal Year 2021 NDAA conference report included a provision for GAO to review instances of agencies not following through with awards. This report, GAO's third, examines, among other things: (1) agencies' timeliness in notification and issuance, (2) the extent to which agencies have addressed risks to award timeliness, and (3) the extent to which DOD established a pilot program to improve timeliness. GAO analyzed SBIR and STTR award data, reviewed documentation, interviewed SBA officials, and sent a questionnaire to all 29 participating agencies and select small businesses.
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  • Military Pay: Army National Guard Personnel Mobilized to Active Duty Experienced Significant Pay Problems
    In U.S GAO News
    In light of the recent mobilizations associated with the war on terrorism, GAO was asked to determine if controls used to pay mobilized Army Guard personnel provided assurance that such pays were accurate and timely. This testimony focuses on the pay experiences of Army Guard soldiers at selected case study units and deficiencies with respect to controls over processes, human capital, and automated systems.The existing processes and controls used to provide pay and allowances to mobilized Army Guard personnel are so cumbersome and complex that neither DOD nor, more importantly, the mobilized Army Guard soldiers could be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payroll payments. Weaknesses in these processes and controls resulted in over- and underpayments and late active duty payments and, in some cases, large erroneously assessed debts, to mobilized Army Guard personnel. The end result of these weaknesses is to severely constrain DOD's ability to provide active duty pay to these personnel, many of whom were risking their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, these pay problems have had a profound impact on individual soldiers and their families and may adversely impact on decisions to stay in the Army Guard. For example, many soldiers and their families were required to spend considerable time, sometimes while the soldiers were deployed in remote, hostile environments overseas, seeking corrections to active duty pays and allowances. The pay process, involving potentially hundreds of DOD, Army, and Army Guard organizations and thousands of personnel, was not well understood or consistently applied with respect to determining (1) the actions required to make timely, accurate pays to mobilized soldiers, and (2) the organization responsible for taking the required actions. With respect to human capital, we found weaknesses including (1) insufficient resources allocated to pay processing, (2) inadequate training related to existing policies and procedures, and (3) poor customer service. Several systems issues were also significant factors impeding accurate and timely payroll payments to mobilized Army Guard soldiers, including (1) nonintegrated systems, (2) limitations in system processing capabilities, and (3) ineffective system edits.
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  • Public Transportation: Identifying Lessons Learned Could Help Improve FTA’s Process to Manage Safety Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Of the twelve selected transit agencies GAO spoke with, most faced challenges incorporating the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) requirements to develop and document its Safety Management Systems (SMS) in their new agency safety plans. SMS is a performance-based, data-driven framework to manage safety risks throughout an organization. Some rail transit agencies noted difficulties transitioning from the former 21-element safety plan to SMS and its four required components. However, most transit agencies said they benefited from FTA's assistance. FTA's assistance included guidance documents, webinars, and training. Upon request, FTA also reviewed transit agencies' draft safety plans, providing lessons learned from those reviews. FTA established a Safety Risk Management (SRM) process to identify, assess, and mitigate safety risks across the nation's transit agencies. During the initial implementation, FTA selected four safety concerns to review (see fig. below). According to FTA, the use of cameras on rail transit was a pilot project, and FTA has completed four of the five steps in its process for the camera safety pilot. Though FTA continues to evaluate that pilot and work on the other three safety concerns, it has not completed actions to prepare for future rounds of the SRM process. In particular, FTA has not identified and documented lessons learned from the pilot. Documenting and incorporating such lessons could enhance the effectiveness and timeliness of FTA's SRM process and thus FTA's ability to address transit-wide safety risks. GAO's Assessment of the Status of the Safety Risk Management (SRM) Process for Four Safety Issues under Review by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) FTA continues to gather information while it considers whether to mandate certain transit safety standards. FTA has issued safety bulletins for rail cameras and end-of-railcar signage. These bulletins suggest but do not require certain actions related to the installation of cameras and signage in rail transit cars. FTA, however, has not yet initiated a rulemaking for any mandatory federal safety standards. While the diverse nature of the transit industry can make setting federal safety standards challenging, transit agencies GAO spoke with were generally open to mandatory safety standards for some safety issues. For example, many of the selected transit agencies expressed support for requiring medical examinations of employees, as well as other so-called human-factor safety risks. Why GAO Did This Study In recent years, new laws gave the Department of Transportation's FTA additional requirements and authorities to oversee transit safety. In turn, FTA now requires, among other things, transit agencies to develop new safety plans that incorporate SMS to manage and mitigate safety risk. FTA also incorporated SMS in its transit agency oversight to better identify and assess safety risks, and determine appropriate mitigation efforts, including mandatory safety standards. GAO was asked to examine how FTA is implementing its new responsibilities and authorities. This report examines (1) selected transit agencies' experiences in incorporating SMS in their new safety plans; (2) steps FTA is taking to identify, assess, and mitigate safety risks; and (3) FTA's status on mandating safety standards and stakeholders' views on the benefits and challenges of such standards. GAO reviewed FTA documents on safety oversight policies and practices and interviewed officials from 12 transit agencies and their 9 respective state oversight agencies. GAO selected transit agencies to reflect a variety of modes, sizes, age, and geographic diversity.
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  • Department of Justice Launches Global Action Against NetWalker Ransomware
    In Crime News
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  • Government Efficiency and Effectiveness: Opportunities for Improvement and Considerations for Restructuring
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundOn February 17th, Chairman Lieberman and Senator Warner introduced S. 2129, entitled “Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012”, a bill renewing the Presidential authority to propose government organizational changes and obtain congressional approval through an expedited process. From 1932 to 1984, Congress provided the President with some form of reorganization authority. S. 2129 renews most of the statutory framework as it existed before the authority lapsed in 1984. However, S. 2129 proposes noteworthy changes, both in terms of eliminating restrictions on the scope of a President’s plan and placing additional requirements on such plans.Unlike the 1984 version of the law, under S. 2129, the President would be permitted to propose the creation of a new department (or renaming of an existing department), the abolishment or transfer of an executive department, or the consolidation of two or more departments. There are currently fifteen departments, including the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, the President would be permitted to propose the creation of a new agency, a restriction which was included by the 1984 amendment of this authority.The reorganization authority proposed under this bill would permit the President, as in the 1984 version of the law, to prepare and submit to Congress reorganization plans that call for the (1) transfer of an agency or some of its functions to another agency, (2) abolishment of all or some functions of an agency, (3) consolidation of an agency or its functions or parts of an agency or some of its functions with another agency or part of another agency, (4) consolidation of part of an agency or some of its functions with another part of the same agency, or (5) authorization of an officer to delegate his or her functions.In our 2012 annual report, we identified a total of 51 areas, including 32 areas of potential duplication, overlap, or fragmentation, as well as 19 opportunities for agencies or Congress to consider taking action that could either reduce the cost of government operations or enhance revenue collections for the Treasury. These areas involve a wide range of government missions including agriculture, defense, economic development, education, energy, general government, health, homeland security, international affairs, science and the environment, and social services. Within and across these missions, the 2012 annual report touches on virtually all major federal departments and agencies.In our 2011 annual report, we suggested a wide range of actions for Congress and the executive branch to consider such as developing strategies to better coordinate fragmented efforts, implementing executive initiatives to improve oversight and evaluation of overlapping programs, considering enactment of legislation to facilitate revenue collection and examining opportunities to eliminate potential duplication through streamlining, collocating, or consolidating efforts or administrative services. For our 2011 follow-up report, we assessed the extent to which Congress and the executive branch addressed the 81 areas—including a total of 176 actions—to reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation or achieve other potential financial benefits.Our assessment of progress made as of February 10, 2012, found that 4 (or 5 percent) of the 81 areas GAO identified were addressed; 60 (or 74 percent) were partially addressed; and 17 (or 21 percent) were not addressed.Why GAO Did This StudyThis testimony discusses the need to reexamine the structures and operations of the federal government. Congress also asked that we address the “Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012” (S. 2129), first proposed by the President and introduced in the Senate by Chairman Lieberman and Senator Warner. The federal government faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. A number of overarching trends, such as fiscal sustainability and debt challenges, demographic and societal changes, developments in science and technology, diffuse security threats, global interdependence, and the rapid expansion of collaborative networks, underscore the need for a fundamental reconsideration of the role, operations, and structure of the federal government for the 21st century. This testimony is based on our work on government reorganization, transformation, and management issues as well as our recently issued reports that identify additional opportunities and progress made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. Specifically, it addresses:issues related to reexamining the structure of the federal government and its operations, including the President’s request that Congress grant authority to reorganize the executive branch agencies;federal programs or functional areas where unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation exists as well as opportunities for potential cost savings or enhanced revenues identified in our 2012 annual report; andthe status of actions taken by Congress and the executive branch to address the issues we identified in 2011.For further information on this testimony, please contact Janet St. Laurent, Managing Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, who may be reached at (202) 512-4300, or StLaurentJ@gao.gov; and Zina Merritt, Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, who may be reached at (202) 512-4300, or MerrittZ@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice sued today to block Geisinger Health’s partial acquisition of its close rival, Evangelical Community Hospital. The complaint alleges that the agreement fundamentally alters the relationship between the parties, raising the likelihood of coordination and reducing Defendants’ incentives to compete aggressively against each other. As a result, the transaction is likely to lead to higher prices, lower quality, and reduced access to high-quality inpatient hospital services for patients in central Pennsylvania. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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    A California man was arrested today in Los Angeles on criminal charges related to his alleged bank fraud, false statements in a loan application and money laundering arising from the submission of fraudulent applications for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds.
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  • Data Security: Recent K-12 Data Breaches Show That Students Are Vulnerable to Harm
    In U.S GAO News
    A cybersecurity incident is an event that actually or potentially jeopardizes a system or the information it holds. According to GAO's analysis of K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center (CRC) data from July 2016 to May 2020, thousands of K-12 students were affected by 99 reported data breaches, one type of cybersecurity incident in which data are compromised. Students' academic records, including assessment scores and special education records, were the most commonly compromised type of information (58 breaches). Records containing students' personally identifiable information (PII), such as Social Security numbers, were the second most commonly compromised type of information (36 breaches). Financial and cybersecurity experts say some PII can be sold on the black market and can cause students significant financial harm. Breaches were either accidental or intentional, although sometimes the intent was unknown, with school staff, students, and cybercriminals among those responsible (see figure). Staff were responsible for most of the accidental breaches (21 of 25), and students were responsible for most of the intentional breaches (27 of 52), most frequently to change grades. Reports of breaches by cybercriminals were rare but included attempts to steal PII. Although the number of students affected by a breach was not always available, examples show that thousands of students have had their data compromised in a single breach. Responsible Actor and Intent of Reported K-12 Student Data Breaches, July 1, 2016-May 5, 2020 Notes: The actor or the intent may not be discernible in public reports. For this analysis, a cybercriminal is defined as an actor external to the school district who breaches a data system for malicious reasons. Of the 287 school districts affected by reported student data breaches, larger, wealthier, and suburban school districts were disproportionately represented, according to GAO's analysis. Cybersecurity experts GAO spoke with said one explanation for this is that some of these districts may use more technology in schools, which could create more opportunities for breaches to occur. When a student's personal information is disclosed, it can lead to physical, emotional, and financial harm. Organizations are vulnerable to data security risks, including over 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools. As schools and districts increasingly rely on complex information technology systems for teaching, learning, and operating, they are collecting more student data electronically that can put a student's information, including PII, at risk of disclosure. The closure of schools and the sudden transition to distance learning across the country due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic also heightened attention on K-12 cybersecurity. GAO was asked to review the security of K-12 students' data. This report examines (1) what is known about recently reported K-12 cybersecurity incidents that compromised student data, and (2) the characteristics of school districts that experienced these incidents. GAO analyzed data from July 1, 2016 to May 5, 2020 from CRC (the most complete source of information on K-12 data breaches). CRC is a non-federal resource sponsored by an educational technology organization that has tracked reported K-12 cybersecurity incidents since 2016. GAO also analyzed 2016-2019 Department of Education data on school district characteristics (the most recent available), and interviewed experts knowledgeable about cybersecurity. We incorporated technical comments from the agencies as appropriate. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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  • Afghanistan: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The United States has provided approximately $38.6 billion in reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan and has over 35,000 troops in the country as of February 2009. Some progress has occurred in areas such as economic growth, infrastructure development, and training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but the overall security situation in Afghanistan has not improved after more than 7 years of U.S. and international efforts. In response, the new administration plans to deploy approximately 21,000 additional troops1 to Afghanistan this year, and has completed a strategic review of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Based on our past work and the significance of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan to the overall U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, we have highlighted Afghanistan as an urgent oversight issue facing this Congress. The government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of the international community, developed the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), which was finalized in June 20083, as a guiding document for achieving Afghanistan's reconstruction goals. The ANDS articulates the priorities of the government of Afghanistan as consisting of four major areas: (1) security; (2) governance, rule of law, and human rights; (3) economic and social development; and (4) counternarcotics. The United States adopted the ANDS as a guiding document for its efforts, and has also identified an end state for Afghanistan using four strategic goals: namely, that Afghanistan is: (1) never again a safe haven for terrorists and is a reliable, stable ally in the Global War on Terror (GWOT); (2) moderate and democratic, with a thriving private sector economy; (3) capable of governing its territory and borders; and (4) respectful of the rights of all its citizens. In discussing his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2009, the President noted his goals were to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. In addition, according to Department of State (State) officials, the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is assembling provincial plans for security and development. Department of Defense (DOD), State, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officials have suggested that securing, stabilizing, and reconstructing Afghanistan will take at least a decade and require continuing international assistance.Security in Afghanistan has worsened significantly in the last 3 years, impeding both U.S. and international partners' efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country. The security situation, including the overall increase in insurgent attacks from 2005 to 2008, is the result of a variety of factors including a resurgence of the Taliban in the south, the limited capabilities of Afghan security forces, a continuing and thriving illicit drug trade in the south, and the threat emanating from insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2009, the United States provided approximately $38.6 billion to support Afghanistan's reconstruction goals, which can often be characterized as construction. According to DOD, $22 billion of the $38.6 billion has been disbursed. Over half of the $38.6 billion was provided to support the development of the Afghan national army and police forces. Almost a third of the funding was provided to support economic and social development efforts, such as the construction of roads and schools, and the remainder was provided to governance, rule of law, and human rights and counternarcotics programs. Since 2003, we have issued 21 reports and testimonies on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Over the course of this work we have identified improvements that were needed as well as many obstacles that affect success and should be considered in program planning and implementation. In most of the U.S. efforts in the past, we found the need for improved planning, including the development of coordinated interagency plans that include measurable goals, specific time frames, cost estimates, and identification of external factors that could significantly affect efforts in key areas such as building Afghanistan's national security forces. We also concluded that several existing conditions, such as worsening security; the lack of a coordinated, detailed interagency plan; and the limited institutional capacity of the Afghanistan government continue to create challenges to the U.S. efforts to assist with securing, stabilizing, and rebuilding Afghanistan. To assist the 111th Congress, GAO is highlighting key issues for consideration in developing oversight agendas and determining the way forward in securing and stabilizing Afghanistan. Significant oversight will be needed to help ensure visibility over the cost and progress of these efforts. The suggested areas for additional oversight include the following topics: (1) U.S. and international commitments, (2) Security environment, (3) U.S. forces and equipment, (4) Afghan national security forces, (5) Counternarcotics efforts, (6) Economic development, (7) Government capacity, (8) Accountability for U.S. provided weapons, and (9) Oversight of contractor performance.
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  • Military Personnel: Reserve Component Servicemembers on Average Earn More Income while Activated
    In U.S GAO News
    Since September 2001, the Department of Defense (DOD) has relied heavily on the reserve component primarily in support of ongoing contingency operations for the Global War on Terrorism, which is now known as the Overseas Contingency Operation. As of February 2009, approximately 691,000 reserve servicemembers have been activated in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, with many of these servicemembers being called for multiple deployments or extended for more than one year. This increased use of the reserve component servicemembers has led to questions by Congress about whether reserve component servicemembers might be experiencing a decline in earnings as a result of extended and frequent activations. Citing the nation's increased reliance on the reserve component, Congress mandated in 2002 that we review compensation programs available to reserve component servicemembers serving on active duty. In September 2003, we reported that DOD lacked sufficient information to determine the need for compensation programs and recommended that DOD obtain more complete information on the magnitude of income change, the causes of any such identified change, and the effect of income change on retention. The results of DOD's 2004 Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Component Members showed that about 51 percent of reserve component servicemembers responding to the survey reported that they had experienced a decline in earnings while activated. However, our 2003 report noted that survey data are questionable primarily because it is unclear what survey respondents considered as income loss or gain in determining their financial status. The Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 20056 directed DOD to conduct a survey to determine the extent to which such members sustained a reduction in monthly income during their active duty service compared to their average monthly civilian income during the 12 months preceding their mobilization. DOD was also required to include a survey question that would solicit information regarding the likely effect that a reoccurring monthly active duty income differential while serving on active duty would have on the servicemember's decision to remain in the armed forces. The Secretary was required to analyze the data and to submit a report, containing the results of the survey, results of the required analysis, and any recommendations the Secretary considered to be appropriate regarding alternatives for the restoration of any lost income.Although most reserve component servicemembers in response to surveys conducted in 2004 and 2005 reported earnings losses when activated, DOD-sponsored technical studies determined that for calendar years 2004 and 2005, on average, reserve component servicemembers earned more income while serving on active duty than they had earned as civilians before being activated. In 2008, RAND Corporation (RAND) produced its most recent technical study on the effect of activation on reserve component servicemembers' income, which compared survey responses with pay reported to the Social Security Administration and with military pay records. RAND determined that on average, reserve component servicemembers experienced a net gain of approximately $1,400 a month in 2004 and approximately $1,600 a month in 2005, after activation. However, RAND found that reserve component servicemembers in three enlisted military occupations--sonar operator, general; investigations; and military training instructor--earned less income on average after activation in 2005 than they earned before activation in 2004. Further, the study also identified 48 enlisted military occupations and 14 officer occupations for which more than 20 percent of sampled reserve component servicemembers experienced any earnings loss after activation. RAND noted that these identified occupations represented 18 percent of activated enlisted members and 31 percent of activated officers. Seniorlevel reserve component servicemembers and officials from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs told us that they concurred with RAND's findings. The studies cited underreporting of military earnings by omitting tax-free earnings as the main reason for the difference between the self-reported income amounts in survey responses and the studies' analysis of military pay and civilian earnings. Importantly, after 2005, Congress passed several pieces of legislation providing additional compensation and financial protections to deployed servicemembers, including benefits provided under the Reserve Income Replacement Program, to help alleviate income loss by reserve component servicemembers activated for frequent or extended periods. Although DOD has not yet provided its report to Congress determining whether income loss while serving on active duty has an effect on a servicemember's decision to remain in the reserve component, we found no correlation between attrition rates and income loss in the military occupations identified by RAND as having over 20 percent of reserve component servicemembers who experienced a decline in income when activated. Even though over 70 percent of reserve component servicemembers responded in the 2004 Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Component Members that both income loss and insufficient pay would be reasons to leave the service, these responses were not provided by military occupation, and subsequent Status of Forces Surveys did not include questions specifically gauging reserve component servicemembers' opinions on whether insufficient pay or income loss constituted reasons for leaving the service. DOD has not determined whether attrition can be attributed specifically to income loss. In discussions with Reserve and National Guard personnel officials, they told us that reserve component servicemembers leave the service for many reasons other than income loss, such as length of deployment, frequency of deployment, and degree of support from employers and family members.
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  • Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Should Further Develop Cost, Schedule, and Risk Information for the W87-1 Warhead Program
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not consider cost estimates in early major design decisions for the W87-1 warhead because it was not required to do so, but NNSA has since changed its guidance to require that cost be considered, according to a May 2019 NNSA review of program documentation. The design decisions that remain for features that would achieve either minimum or enhanced requirements for the W87-1 could affect cost, according to NNSA officials (see table). We found, however, that NNSA did not yet have study plans for assessing the costs and benefits of the remaining decisions consistent with best practices as detailed in NNSA's analysis of alternatives business procedure. NNSA does not require and only recommends that programs such as the W87-1 follow these best practices. By directing the W87-1 program and future weapons programs to follow best practices for design studies, or to justify and document deviations, NNSA would have better assurance that design studies apply consistent, reliable, and objective approaches. NNSA Cost Estimates for W87-1 Warhead Design Variations That Meet Minimum and Enhanced Requirements, as of December 2018 (Dollars in billions) W87-1 design variations Cost estimate rangea Design includes features that meet minimum safety and security requirements 7.7 - 13.3 Design includes enhanced safety and security features 8.6 - 14.8 Difference between the above estimate ranges 0.9 - 1.5 Source: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) documentation | GAO-20-703 aThe cost ranges reflect low and high estimates for a single design variation. The ranges represent technical and production risk and uncertainty. It is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits—the fissile cores of the primary—to meet the W87-1 warhead's planned production schedule. Recent NNSA and independent studies have cast doubt on NNSA's ability to ready its two planned pit production facilities in time. If one facility is not ready to produce pits in the early 2030s, for example, NNSA would likely produce fewer weapons than planned, according to GAO's analysis of NNSA plans. We were unable to fully assess the extent to which the two pit production facilities will be ready to produce pits for the W87-1 because NNSA's plutonium program—which is managing the facility readiness efforts—has not yet completed an integrated schedule for the overall pit production effort. An integrated schedule is important, according to best practices, because it integrates the planned work, resources, and budget. An NNSA official stated that the program was building a schedule, but could not provide documentation that it would meet best practices. A schedule consistent with best practices would provide NNSA with better assurance that it will have adequate pits to meet planned W87-1 production. This is a public version of a classified report that GAO issued in February 2020. Information that NNSA or DOD deemed classified or sensitive has been omitted. The Department of Defense (DOD) and NNSA restarted a program in fiscal year 2019 to replace the capabilities of the aging W78 nuclear warhead with the W87-1. NNSA made key design decisions for this weapon from 2010 until the program was paused in 2014. NNSA estimated in December 2018 that the W87-1 would cost $8.6 billion to $14.8 billion, which could make it the most expensive warhead modernization program to date. NNSA plans to newly manufacture the entire warhead, including the two major nuclear components, called the primary and secondary, using facilities it is modernizing or repurposing. You asked us to examine plans for the W87-1 warhead. This report examines, among other things, the extent to which NNSA (1) considered cost estimates in prior design decisions for the W87-1 and the potential effects of remaining design decisions on program cost, and (2) will be able to produce sufficient numbers of key nuclear components to meet W87-1 production needs. GAO reviewed NNSA documentation on prior and remaining design decisions and preliminary cost estimates, reviewed warhead and component production schedules, and interviewed NNSA and DOD officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that NNSA require programs such as the W87-1 to follow analysis of alternatives best practices when studying design options and that the plutonium program build an integrated schedule consistent with schedule best practices. NNSA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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