What GAO Found
The District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995, as amended, (School Reform Act) authorizes the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) to review and approve applications to establish charter schools. Using a multi-step process, including interviews and public hearings, PCSB requires applicants to demonstrate that a school was needed in the proposed location and would be able to recruit and retain students. However, in line with a revised application process stemming from its 2021-2024 strategic plan, beginning in 2023 PCSB plans to approve or deny new applications, in part, based on a school’s ability to fill a need not already met by a traditional public school or charter school elsewhere in the district. PCSB staff said they plan to assess the district’s need for charter schools by conducting an annual needs assessment and collaborating closely with DC government. Staff said PCSB is not accepting new applications until 2023.
PCSB uses several mechanisms to monitor charter schools’ academic performance and compliance with applicable legal requirements (see figure). PCSB is revising one of these mechanisms—its performance management framework—to incorporate equity measures and address concerns that top-rated schools are not meeting the needs of all their students. For example, rather than reporting performance measures for all students as a single group, PCSB plans to begin reporting this information by student subgroups, such as race/ethnicity, gender, and disability status. PCSB uses an escalating system of actions to encourage schools to correct issues identified through monitoring.
DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) Monitoring Mechanisms
PCSB’s 2021 Annual Report fully included 12 of the 15 elements required by the School Reform Act. Staff gave a range of reasons for excluding parts of three required elements. For example, staff said that much of the excluded information is available on PCSB’s website and is more comprehensive than could be presented in the Annual Report; however, the Annual Report does not include web addresses that link to the information. By including all elements in its annual report and providing links to information on its website, as appropriate, PCSB can meet its reporting requirements while providing parents and stakeholders with access to comprehensive information on DC’s charter schools.
Why GAO Did This Study
Almost one-half of DC’s public school students were enrolled in 128 charter schools during school year 2020-21, according to PCSB. The School Reform Act requires PCSB—DC’s sole chartering authority—to approve charters, monitor schools, and submit annual reports on its work.
The District of Columbia Appropriations Act of 2005, as amended, included a provision for GAO to review DC’s chartering authorities every 5 years. This report describes how PCSB reviews applications, monitors charter schools and takes corrective actions, and examines the extent to which PCSB complies with its annual reporting requirements, among other objectives.
GAO reviewed PCSB policies and procedures, including the 2021 Charter Application Guidelines, 2020-21 Charter Review and Charter Renewal guidelines, and PCSB’s 2021-2024 strategic plan, known as the Strategic Roadmap. GAO also compared PCSB’s 2021 Annual Report to School Reform Act requirements and interviewed PCSB’s board chair and staff and DC government officials.
- Foreign National Sentenced for Money Laundering Funds to Promote Turtle Trafficking
October 6, 2021A Chinese citizen was sentenced today to 38 months in prison and one year of supervised release on a federal money laundering conviction.
- Stafford County, Virginia, to Allow Islamic Cemetery in Response to Justice Department Lawsuit
October 14, 2021The Justice Department today announced that it is dismissing its Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) lawsuit against Stafford County, Virginia, because it achieved the relief it sought in the case. Specifically, in response to the department’s complaint, the County repealed ordinances that prevented the All Muslim Association of America (AMAA) from developing a religious cemetery for persons of the Islamic faith, approved the AMAA’s site plan for the cemetery, and, in a private settlement with the AMAA to resolve the AMAA’s lawsuit, agreed to pay $500,000 in damages to the AMAA.
- COVID-19: Emergency Financial Aid for College Students under the CARES Act
April 20, 2021What GAO Found As of November 2020, the Department of Education (Education) had distributed $6.19 billion in grants to 4,778 schools (colleges and other institutions of higher education) that had applied for emergency student aid funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) established by the CARES Act, which was enacted in March 2020. After many schools closed their physical campuses in spring 2020 in response to COVID-19, Education provided these grants to schools, based on a statutory formula, to give emergency financial assistance (student aid) to students who incurred related expenses, such as for housing, technology, and course materials. The majority of these HEERF student aid funds have been awarded to public schools (see figure). The average amount Education awarded per school was about $1.3 million, while amounts schools received ranged from less than $2,000 to more than $27 million, with half of schools receiving awards of $422,000 or less. Education data show that, as of November 2020, schools had drawn down about 90 percent—or $5.6 billion—of their HEERF student aid funds. About 70 percent of schools had drawn down all of their student aid funds, and an additional 24 percent of schools had drawn down at least half. Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Awards to Schools for Emergency Student Aid under the CARES Act, by School Sector Notes: Schools of less than 2 years are included in the 2-year school categories above. The Department of Education also awarded about $24 million to 2-year private, nonprofit schools and about $1.7 million to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Department of Education. Sector-level figures do not add up to $6.19 billion because of rounding. Schools used a variety of approaches to determine student eligibility and distribute funds to students. According to GAO’s analysis of a sample of school websites and data from Education, schools had distributed approximately 85 percent of all emergency student aid funds by fall 2020, with an average amount per student of about $830. Determining student eligibility. Approximately half of schools reported that they required a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—the form used to apply for federal financial aid—to determine student eligibility for HEERF student aid. For example, one school reported requiring students who did not have a FAFSA on file to complete one by June 2020 to be eligible for student aid. Other schools did not require a FAFSA to establish eligibility, according to their websites, but reported using alternative methods. For example, a 4-year public school reported that graduate students applying for emergency aid had the option of submitting a school-provided affidavit certifying they were eligible to receive federal financial aid, an option described in Education’s interim final rule on student eligibility. Awarding funds to students. Schools reported using two main methods for awarding HEERF emergency student aid to students: requiring students to complete a school-developed application or using existing school records. Approximately 18 percent of schools used a combination of both methods. For example, a 4-year nonprofit school reported on its website that it awarded $300 to $500 to eligible students in its first round of funding based on existing student financial aid records, and then allowed students who had more expenses related to COVID-19 to apply for additional funding. Determining award amounts. Schools reported using various factors to determine award amounts for HEERF-eligible students. Over half of schools reported on their websites that amounts were based on individual circumstances, such as students’ general financial need, access to essential items such as food or housing, or a combination of these factors. About 20 percent of schools also reported using full-time or part-time status to determine aid amounts. For example, a 4-year public school reported that it distributed grants, ranging from $150 to $1,000, to all eligible students based on their enrollment status and financial need based on students’ FAFSA information. Why GAO Did This Study In June 2020, GAO issued the first of a series of reports on federal efforts to address the pandemic, which included a discussion of HEERF student aid grants to schools. At that time, limited information on how schools distributed HEERF funds to students was available. This report provides additional information and examines (1) how HEERF emergency student aid funds were provided to schools under the CARES Act, and (2) how schools distributed emergency student aid to eligible students. GAO analyzed Education’s obligation data as of November 2020, after Education had obligated most of the HEERF emergency student aid funds. GAO also analyzed information about HEERF student aid that Education requires schools to report on their websites by selecting a generalizable random sample of 203 schools for website reviews. These schools were representative of the more than 4,500 schools that received HEERF student aid funds as of August 2020. GAO also collected non-generalizable narrative details about how schools distributed funds to eligible students.
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- Over-The-Counter Drugs: Information on FDA’s Regulation of Most OTC Drugs
July 30, 2020The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulated most over-the-counter (OTC) drugs—that is, drugs available without a prescription—through the OTC monograph process. FDA has described an OTC monograph as a “rulebook” for marketing safe and effective OTC drugs, such as aspirin, cough and cold medicine, and hand sanitizer. OTC monographs established conditions—such as active ingredients, indications for use, dosage forms, and product labeling—under which an OTC drug was generally recognized as safe and effective. According to FDA officials, before the CARES Act, which was enacted in March 2020, the agency’s ability to update and finalize monographs in response to safety issues and to reflect new scientific information was limited by the rulemaking process the agency was required to follow, as well as insufficient resources. Agency officials estimated that it took at least 6 years to complete the required rulemaking process. Additionally, the agency reported it was critically under-resourced to regulate the estimated 100,000 OTC drugs marketed through the monograph process. However, the CARES Act provided for a new process to regulate these OTC drugs rather than the rulemaking process. FDA officials expect it will take less time to update and finalize requirements for OTC drugs using the new process. The CARES Act also authorized FDA to assess user fees to provide additional resources to regulate OTC drugs. Although FDA officials said this new process and user fees should improve its regulation of OTC drugs, the agency’s analysis of the effect of the CARES Act is still ongoing. FDA officials told GAO that prior to the CARES Act, they used various methods to identify and respond to safety issues related to OTC drugs. For example, to identify these issues, FDA officials said they read medical literature related to safety issues and reviewed reports submitted to the agency’s adverse event reporting system. To respond to these issues, FDA took steps such as issuing drug safety communications to consumers and requesting that manufacturers make changes to a drug’s labeling. For example, in 2015, two FDA advisory committees recommended that cough and cold drugs with codeine be removed from the relevant OTC monograph for use in drugs in children. In 2018, FDA also issued a drug safety communication stating the risks outweighed the benefits for the use of these drugs in children. However, FDA officials said these methods were not a substitute for rulemaking because manufacturers could legally market their OTC drugs without making requested safety changes until the rulemaking process was completed. According to FDA officials, the new process for regulating OTC drugs included in the CARES Act could improve FDA’s ability to address identified safety risks in a more timely and efficient manner in the future. The act established an expedited process to address safety issues that pose an imminent hazard to public health or to change a drug’s labeling to mitigate a significant or unreasonable risk of a serious adverse event. OTC drugs prevent and treat a variety of conditions; for example, sunscreen is used to help prevent sunburn. FDA officials and stakeholders, such as industry representatives and patient and provider groups, have questioned whether the monograph process used to regulate most OTC drugs has been overly burdensome and has limited FDA’s ability to quickly update and finalize monographs in response to potential safety issues for consumers. Enacted in March 2020, the CARES Act changed how FDA regulates OTC drugs. The Sunscreen Innovation Act included a provision for GAO to review FDA’s regulation of OTC drugs. This report describes, among other issues, (1) the factors that affected FDA’s ability to regulate OTC drugs and (2) how FDA identified and responded to safety issues associated with these drugs. GAO reviewed federal statutes and agency documents and interviewed FDA officials and stakeholders familiar with the monograph process. These stakeholders included representatives from the OTC drug industry, health care provider and consumer groups, and researchers. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.
- Contingency Contracting: Improvements Needed in Management of Contractors Supporting Contract and Grant Administration in Iraq and Afghanistan
August 25, 2021The Departments of Defense (DOD) and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have relied extensively on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, including using contractors to help administer other contracts or grants. Relying on contractors to perform such functions can provide benefits but also introduces potential risks, such as conflicts of interest, that should be considered and managed. Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, GAO reviewed (1) the extent to which DOD, State, and USAID rely on contractors to perform contract and grant administration in Iraq and Afghanistan; (2) the reasons behind decisions to use such contractors and whether the decisions are guided by strategic workforce planning; and (3) whether agencies considered and mitigated related risks. GAO analyzed relevant federal and agency policies and agency contract data, and conducted file reviews and interviews for 32 contracts selected for case studies.DOD, State, and USAID’suse of contractors to help administer contracts and grants was substantial, although the agencies did not know the full extent of their use of such contractors. GAO found that the agencies had obligated nearly $1 billion through March 2009 on 223 contracts and task orders active during fiscal year 2008 or the first half of fiscal year 2009 that included the performance of administration functions for contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan. The specific amount spent to help administer contracts or grants in Iraq and Afghanistan is uncertain because some contracts or task orders included multiple functions or performance in various locations and contract obligation data were not detailed enough to allow GAO to isolate the amount obligated for other functions or locations. Overall, the agencies relied on contractors to provide a wide range of services, including on-site monitoring of other contractors’ activities, supporting contracting or program offices on contract-related matters, and awarding or administering grants. For example, Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment officials noted that contractors performed quality assurance for all of the center’s construction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. In another example, USAID contractors awarded and administered grants on USAID’s behalf to support development efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Decisions to use contractors to help administer contracts or grants are largely made by individual contracting or program offices on a case-by-case basis. In doing so, the offices generally cited the lack of sufficient government staff, the lack of in-house expertise, or frequent rotations of government personnel as key factors contributing to the need to use contractors. Offices also noted that using contractors in contingency environments can be beneficial, for example, to meet changing needs or address safety concerns regarding the use of U.S. personnel in high-threat areas. GAO has found that to mitigate risks associated with using contractors, agencies have to understand when, where, and how contractors should be used, but offices’ decisions were generally not guided by agencywide workforce planning efforts. DOD, State, and USAID took actions to mitigate conflict of interest and oversight risks associated with contractors helping to administer other contracts or grants, but did not always fully address these risks. For example, agencies generally complied with requirements related to organizational conflicts of interest, but USAID did not include a contract clause required by agency policy to address potential conflicts of interest in three cases. Also, some State officials were uncertain as to whether federal ethics laws regarding personal conflicts of interest applied to certain types of contractors. In almost all cases, the agencies had designated personnel to provide contract oversight. DOD, State, and USAID contracting officials generally did not, however, ensure enhanced oversight as required for situations in which contractors provided services closely supporting inherently governmental functions despite the potential for loss of government control and accountability for mission-related policy and program decisions.
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- Advertising Platform OpenX Agrees to Injunctive Relief and $2 Million Payment in Case Alleging Violations of Children’s Privacy Law
December 28, 2021Online advertising platform OpenX Technologies Inc. (OpenX) has agreed to a court order requiring it to pay $2 million and to be bound by injunctive relief provisions mandating its compliance with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule. This stipulated order resolves a lawsuit the government filed against OpenX in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
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- Tax Filing: Preliminary Observations on IRS’s Efforts to Address Persistent Challenges
February 17, 2022What GAO Found IRS experienced multiple challenges during the 2021 filing season as it struggled to respond to an unprecedented workload that included delivering COVID-19 relief. IRS began the filing season with a backlog of 8 million individual and business returns from the prior year that it processed alongside incoming returns. IRS reduced the backlog of prior year returns, but as of late December 2021, had about 10.5 million returns to process from 2021. For the current filing season, IRS will need to process the remaining returns from 2021 along with incoming returns from 2022 and may need to rely on overtime to do so. IRS also expects about 21 million returns to be stopped for errors associated with recent tax law changes. Challenges with IRS Customer Service during the 2021 Filing Season In 2021 IRS answered more phone calls than in recent years, but taxpayers had a difficult time reaching IRS due to high call volumes. IRS expects customer service representatives to answer about 35 percent of incoming calls during the 2022 filing season. To help manage high call volumes, IRS urged taxpayers to access its “Where’s My Refund” online tool to get refund status information. This tool provides limited information on refund status and delays. GAO’s preliminary observations indicate IRS has no plans to modernize “Where’s My Refund,” although this could help IRS better serve taxpayers, lower call volume, and reduce costs. In ongoing work, GAO plans to further review this issue. IRS also struggled to respond to taxpayer correspondence. IRS’s correspondence inventory grew to more than 8 million by the start of 2022. IRS expects this inventory to exceed 10 million by the end of fiscal year 2022—more than triple what it was as of the end of fiscal year 2020. This backlog will be difficult to manage as IRS balances prioritizing telephone calls from taxpayers with responding to incoming correspondence in 2022. Finally, in-person service visits have significantly declined since 2015. IRS officials attributed the decline to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and the option for taxpayers to use services via the phone and online. Why GAO Did This Study During the annual tax filing season, generally from January to mid-April, IRS processes more than 150 million individual and business tax returns and provides telephone, correspondence, online, and in-person services to tens of millions of taxpayers. To accommodate new tax legislation and provide additional relief to taxpayers, IRS extended the 2021 individual filing and payment deadline by 1 month to May 17, 2021. GAO was asked to testify on IRS’s performance during the 2021 filing season. This statement summarizes GAO’s findings from prior reports and preliminary observations from ongoing work describing IRS’s performance during the 2021 filing season on (1) processing individual and business income tax returns, and implications for the 2022 filing season; and (2) providing customer service to taxpayers. GAO analyzed IRS documents and data on filing season performance, refund interest payments, hiring, and employee overtime; and interviewed cognizant officials. GAO also updated selected information from March 2021 (GAO-21-251), January 2020 (GAO-20-55), and March 2019 (GAO-19-176) reports. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Department of Justice Files Complaint Against California Company To Stop Distribution of Adulterated Animal Drugs
October 27, 2020The United States filed a civil complaint to stop a California company from manufacturing and distributing adulterated animal drugs, the Department of Justice announced today.
- Former Construction Executive Sentenced to 38 Months in Prison
January 19, 2021A former senior New York construction official was sentenced to 38 months in prison today for tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.