Remarks as Prepared
Thank you, for that kind introduction and for the invitation to speak here this afternoon. It is always wonderful to be back in my hometown with the National Action Network.
I’m particularly honored to be together during this historic week when the first Black woman in American history is expected be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.
Seeing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson become Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is a moment I hope we all savor. Of course, representation alone is never sufficient to make progress. But it is always, always necessary.
As the first Senate-confirmed Black woman to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, I know that all too well. Each step along my journey was paved by the women – especially the Black women – who came before me.
None of us got where we are today on our own. I know I didn’t. I stand on the shoulders of giants. One of those giants is a woman named Constance Baker Motley, a key strategist of the Civil Rights Movement and the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.
I think about Judge Motley a lot because the two of us have a lot in common. We’re both children of Caribbean immigrants. We both grew up in the Northeast. We both worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. But there is one way in which our lives were profoundly different. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a time when I could look up to a woman like Judge Motley. I could see the path she blazed and know that I could do that, too.
Judge Motley may not have the name recognition of other civil rights leaders, but her work was critical. She helped lead the fight to desegregate colleges, public schools, and public amenities; to ensure equal pay for Black teachers; to include Black people in juries; and to protect all Americans’ right to peacefully protest.
For generations, Black women like Judge Motley have been the backbone of the movement for justice. I work hard every day to uphold that legacy at the Department of Justice.
And let me tell you, the threats to our basic constitutional rights are real and they are urgent. We are at a critical moment. As a mother, I see the future of America through the eyes of my son. And, honestly, I am at times worried.
Will he have full and equal access to the extraordinary opportunities of American life? Will he be able to embrace those opportunities in safety and dignity? Will all of America’s children be able to do the same?
I keep those questions close to my heart. There is no doubt that we are facing profound challenges in our nation. But we are facing them together.
In the summer of 2020, millions of Americans of all ages, races and creeds took to the streets to demand justice – justice for George Floyd, yes, but also to build a new foundation of racial justice in America. I am and never have been under any illusion that America has struggled to live up to the promise of her ideals. But it is up to all of us to push this nation closer to those ideals – without limit or fear.
For me, that work begins with voting rights. I came up as a voting rights attorney. That’s been my life’s work. And I feel privileged and humbled to be heading the Civil Rights Division at this moment of profound challenge for our democracy.
In his famous “Give us the ballot” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged that voting alone isn’t enough – that we must use the power of the ballot to spark real change. But he also knew that without that power to vote, justice is impossible.
The Department of Justice is committed to making sure that all eligible voters can cast a vote; that all lawful votes are counted; and that every voter has access to accurate election information. We have taken action across the country and we will not stop doing all that we can to safeguard the right to vote.
The division also recently issued significant guidance documents, which provide our formal legal interpretation of certain voting rights laws. One provides guidance on federal laws that affect methods of voting, including early voting and voting by mail, and last month, we released guidance that helps election officials ensure that ballot drop boxes are accessible to voters with disabilities. Another lays out the protections against racial vote dilution under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act that apply nationwide to the redistricting cycle that is now underway.
The Department of Justice will use all the tools it has available to ensure that each eligible citizen can register, cast a ballot and have that ballot counted free from racial discrimination.
But I have to admit we are fighting without our most effective tool. The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder eliminated preclearance, the single most powerful and effective enforcement mechanism we had to protect the right to vote. That is why it is imperative that Congress pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to finally ensure every American can participate in our democracy.
When talking about voting, I often am drawn back to a quote from President Lyndon B. Johnson: “A [wo]man without a vote is a [wo]man without protection.” While President Johnson’s statement was focused on the voting rights of men— I have improved on his original statement — but I think he summarizes precisely what is at stake. If people cannot access the ballot, then the state of our fundamental rights will always be vulnerable.
Racial justice must also extend to the communities in which we live. For many people in marginalized communities, however, simply walking through their neighborhood may not feel safe amid the surge of hate crimes in recent years.
FBI statistics show that, show that, during the pandemic, there was a rise in hate crimes committed against Black Americans, already the group most often targeted. Anti-Asian violence has also risen by over 70%. Tragically, we have seen some of the most disturbing crimes in this very city.
Attacks on people because of their race, national origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation are unacceptable. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s very first directive in office was to determine how the department could deploy all the tools at our disposal to counter this rise in hate crimes.
The division that I lead serves as the prosecutors of federal hate crimes. We have significantly stepped up our prosecution of these cases, including securing guilty verdicts on hate crime charges against the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery.
The evidence at trial revealed that the defendants had strongly held racist beliefs that led them to make assumptions and decisions about Mr. Arbery because he was Black. For instance, the evidence showed that one defendant had referred to his daughter’s Black boyfriend as a “monkey” and used the “n-word” that a second had made deeply racist comments, including that he wished that Julian Bond, a prominent Black civil rights leader, “had been put in the ground years ago,” and that “those Blacks are nothing but trouble,” and that the third had expressed on social media and in text messages that he associated Black people with criminality and wanted to see them harmed or killed.
The tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery illustrates why robust enforcement of our federal hate crimes laws is essential. Enforcing hate crimes laws sends a powerful message to those who are affected, and to the broader community: that they are valued, that their communities are important, and that the federal government will not stand by idly when they are targeted.
But we know that work to confront hate in this era requires that we use every tool available to us. That is why the department is also hard at work maximizing the use of our non-criminal resources to address acts of bias where appropriate. For example, in October 2021, the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for Utah announced a settlement agreement with the Davis School District in Utah to address race discrimination in the district’s schools, including serious and widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students. Our investigation in that case revealed persistent failures to respond to reports of race-based harassment of Black and Asian American students, by district staff and other students. Between 2015 and 2020, the department found hundreds of documented uses of the “N-word,” among other racial epithets, derogatory racial comments, and physical assaults targeting district students at dozens of schools. The investigation also showed that the school district disciplined Black students more harshly than their white peers for similar behavior. The department’s resolution of this case requires the school district to enact significant institutional reforms to address discrimination and protect vulnerable students.
Racial justice also requires that the people are able to trust the police who serve them. That is why my division has worked to hold individual police officers accountable for misconduct. In the past this year, we secured convictions of four former Minneapolis police officers for federal civil rights violations in the death of George Floyd. Those convictions sent a clear message to police departments across the country that they must use only reasonable force and that they have a proactive duty to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.
And where there is evidence of systemic violations of civil rights laws, we have tools available to address that pattern of misconduct as well. These investigations are formally known as “pattern or practice investigations,” and they reflect a unique and critically important authority vested in the Department of Justice. In the last year, the department has opened pattern or practice investigations of the police departments in Louisville, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Mount Vernon, New York. That work is ongoing.
Ensuring police are held accountable to the people they serve will remain a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division.
We are also dedicated to ensuring economic justice by enforcing federal civil rights laws that protect fair housing, equal employment opportunity and the rights of people with disabilities.
Earlier this year, the division filed another statement of interest in an ongoing lawsuit where the plaintiffs, a Black couple, sought to refinance their home. When the appraiser visited their home the first time it was valued around a million dollars. However, a few weeks later, they had their house re-appraised but this time with their white friend posing as the homeowner. The same exact house, was now appraised nearly a half million dollars more. This discrimination is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act and the division, and the division is determined to protect communities of color and ensure economic justice.
Relatedly, we are committed to tackling the pervasive problem of redlining, which remains a major historic and present-day driver of racial wealth disparities. You may know that the term “redlining” originates with actual red lines drawn on maps that identified predominantly-Black neighborhoods as “hazardous.” Starting in the 1930s, government-sponsored programs and private lenders used these maps and related practices to deny credit to neighborhoods because of their racial demographics. This formalized a system that significantly limited homeownership opportunities for communities of color.
Federal laws like the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act were intended to help address this history of housing segregation and discriminatory lending practices. But the battle to combat redlining is ongoing.
This is why the Justice Department launched a new initiative to investigate lenders across the country and analyze whether they are engaging in unlawful redlining. The Combatting Redlining Initiative represents the department’s most aggressive and coordinated effort yet to address this problem. To date, the department has resolved redlining allegations against Trustmark National Bank in Memphis and Cadence Bank in Houston. Collectively these two banks will invest over $10 million to increase credit opportunities to residents of those neighborhoods. While there is more to do, we are committed to the task.
Let me be clear: none of this is easy. And none of the rights and protections we have should be taken for granted.
I am sometimes struck that the Civil Rights Division that I now oversee did not always exist. It’s nearly 65 years old and was borne of the activism and organizing of the early Civil Rights Movement. The division was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 – a bill so sweeping that New York’s own Adam Clayton Powell Jr called it, quote, “the second emancipation.”
Justice is built one brick at a time. And it can be dismantled the same way. When it comes to ensuring equal justice in America, we are on the case.
I want to thank you again for having me here to speak with you today. It is an extraordinary honor to talk to so many passionate, successful Black women. It reminds me of a quote from the great Constance Baker Motley, the civil rights leader and federal judge I spoke about earlier.
When asked about how she felt having to face so many systemic and institutional barriers, she said, “The lack of encouragement never deterred me. I was the kind of person who would not be put down.”
That’s the spirit I seek to reflect as I lead the Civil Rights Division. I will not be put down. The incredibly talented people on my team will not be put down. And the millions of Americans demanding equal justice will not be put down.
I’m proud to stand with you all in this vital, urgent work. Thank you again for having me here today.
- Social Security Disability: Information on Wait Times, Bankruptcies, and Deaths among Applicants Who Appealed Benefit Denials
August 13, 2020GAO found that most applicants for disability benefits who appealed the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) initial disability determination from fiscal years 2008 through 2019 waited more than 1 year for a final decision on their claim. Median wait times reached 839 days for claims filed in fiscal year 2015, following an increase of applications during the Great Recession. Wait times have decreased since then as SSA made substantial progress in reducing the wait for a hearing before an administrative law judge prior to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Individuals who filed appeals of disability benefits decisions were older and had less education than the overall population of working-age adults. Among these disability applicants, wait times for a final decision did not significantly vary by age, sex, or education levels. GAO’s analysis of available data from SSA and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) found that from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, about 48,000 individuals filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a final decision on their disability appeals. This represents about 1.3 percent of the approximately 3.6 million disability applicants who filed appeals during those years. The applicants who filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a disability appeals decision were disproportionately female, older, and had more than a high school education as compared to the total population of disability applicants who filed appeals. Bankruptcies among individuals who were awaiting decisions about disability appeals may have been unrelated to the applicant’s claimed disability. GAO’s analysis of SSA disability administrative data and death data found that of the approximately 9 million disability applicants who filed an appeal from fiscal year 2008 through 2019, 109,725 died prior to receiving a final decision on their appeal. This represents about 1.2 percent of the total number of disability applicants who filed an appeal during those years. The annual death rate of applicants awaiting a final disability decision has increased in recent years. From fiscal years 2011 through 2018, the annual death rate for applicants pursuing appeals increased from 0.52 percent to 0.72 percent. Applicants who filed their initial disability claim during years of peak wait times and appealed their initial decision died at a higher rate while awaiting a final decision than applicants who filed their initial claim in years with shorter wait times. Disability applicants awaiting a final decision about their appeal who were male died at higher rates than applicants who were female and those who were older died at higher rates than those who were younger. Death rates were largely similar across reported education levels. Deaths among individuals who were awaiting decisions about disability appeals may have been unrelated to the applicant’s claimed disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages two large disability benefit programs–Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As of December 2019, these programs provided benefits to approximately 12.3 million adults living with disabilities and their eligible dependents. A disability applicant who is dissatisfied with SSA’s initial disability determination can appeal the decision to multiple escalating levels of review. From fiscal years 2008 through 2019, SSA received approximately 9 million appeals of initial DI or SSI decisions. GAO has previously reported that applicants who appeal a benefits denial can potentially wait years to receive a final decision, during which time an applicant’s health or financial situation could deteriorate. Given the heightened risk of worsening medical and financial conditions for disability applicants, GAO was asked to examine the incidence of such events while applicants await a final decision on their disability claim. This report examines the status of disability applicants while they awaited a final benefits decision including 1) their total wait times across all levels of disability appeals within SSA, 2) their incidence of bankruptcy, and 3) their incidence of death. For wait times, bankruptcies, and deaths, GAO also examined variations across certain demographic characteristics of applicants. GAO obtained administrative data from SSA for all adult disability applicants from fiscal years 2008 through 2019 who filed an appeal to their initial disability determination. GAO used these data to calculate wait times across appeals levels, rates of approvals and denials, and appeals caseloads, and examined changes in these three areas over time. To describe the incidence of bankruptcy among individuals awaiting a disability appeals decision, GAO matched SSA disability data to AOUSC bankruptcy data for fiscal years 2014 through 2019. To describe the incidence of death among individuals awaiting a disability appeals decision, GAO matched the disability data to SSA’s Death Master File. For all of these analyses, GAO also examined variations across demographic characteristics of applicants, including age, sex, and reported education level. GAO also reviewed relevant policies, federal laws and regulations, and agency publications, and interviewed agency officials. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or CurdaE@gao.gov.
- Defense Acquisitions: An Analysis of the Special Operations Command’s Management of Weapon System Programs
August 25, 2021Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) duties have greatly increased since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Today, Special Operations Forces are at work in Afghanistan and Iraq, and SOCOM has been assigned to lead U.S. efforts in the Global War on Terrorism. SOCOM’s acquisitions budget has also greatly increased in this period–more than doubling from $788 million in 2001 to approximately $1.91 billion in 2006. In light of SOCOM’s expanded duties, Congress requested that GAO review SOCOM’s management of its acquisition programs. GAO’s evaluation includes an assessment of: the types of acquisition programs SOCOM has undertaken since 2001 and whether the programs are consistent with its mission; the extent to which SOCOM’s programs have progressed as planned; and the challenges SOCOM faces in managing its acquisition programs.SOCOM has undertaken a diverse set of acquisition programs that are consistent with the command’s mission to provide equipment that addresses the unique needs of the Special Operations Forces. SOCOM has committed to spend about $6 billion on these programs. About 88 percent of the programs are relatively small, have short acquisition cycles, and use modified commercial off-the-shelf and nondevelopmental items or modify existing service equipment and assets. SOCOM’s acquisition plans–as reflected in its current 5-year plan–continue to focus on relatively small-scale, short-cycle programs with modest development efforts. Overall, SOCOM’s acquisition program performance has been mixed. About 60 percent of the acquisition programs SOCOM has undertaken since 2001 have progressed as planned, staying within the original cost and schedule estimates. Included in this grouping are programs that had cost increases because of the need to buy additional quantities of equipment for ongoing combat operations. The other 40 percent of SOCOM’s acquisition programs have not progressed as planned and experienced modest to, in a small number of cases, significant cost increases and schedule delays because of a range of technical and programmatic issues. Although fewer in number, the programs that experienced problems comprise about 50 percent of acquisition funding because they tend to be the larger and costlier, platform-based programs that SOCOM is acquiring and those where SOCOM depends on one of the military departments for equipment and program management support. SOCOM faces management and workforce challenges to ensure its acquisition programs are consistently completed on time and within budget. Urgent requirements to support SOCOM’s ongoing combat missions have and will continue to challenge SOCOM’s ability to balance near- and long- term needs against available funding resources. In addition, SOCOM has difficulty tracking progress on programs where it has delegated management authority to one of the military departments and has not consistently applied a knowledge-based acquisition approach in executing programs, particularly the larger and more complex programs. Furthermore, SOCOM has encountered challenges ensuring it has the workforce size and composition to carry out its acquisition work.
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau Statements to the Press
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- High-Performance Computing: NNSA Could Improve Program Management Processes for System Acquisitions
April 29, 2021What GAO Found The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) analysis of alternatives (AOA) process for its $600 million El Capitan HPC acquisition did not fully follow agency policy that states that AOA processes should be consistent with GAO best practices, where possible, and any deviations must be justified and documented. According to GAO best practices, a reliable AOA process should meet four characteristics: it should be comprehensive, well documented, unbiased, and credible. As seen in the table, the AOA process for El Capitan partially met one of these characteristics and minimally met the other three. NNSA did not justify or document the deviations from these best practices, as required by NNSA policy. GAO also found that the AOA process was conducted by the contractor that manages the El Capitan acquisition program, contrary to agency policy and guidance stating that AOAs should be conducted by an independent entity. Without following AOA best practices where possible; justifying and documenting any deviations; and ensuring AOA processes are conducted by an independent entity, as required, NNSA cannot be assured of a reliable assessment of options for meeting critical mission needs. Extent to Which the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Met the Characteristics of a Reliable Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) Process AOA characteristic GAO assessment Example of deviation Comprehensive Partially met Cost estimates are incomplete and did not follow best practices. Well documented Minimally met The alternatives’ descriptions are not detailed enough for a robust analysis. Unbiased Minimally met NNSA had a predetermined solution, acquiring an HPC system, before performing the AOA process. Credible Minimally met The selection criteria appear to have been written for the preferred alternative. Source: GAO analysis of NNSA information. | GAO-21-194 GAO found that, in the second year of the El Capitan acquisition program’s 5-year acquisition life cycle, NNSA has fully implemented selected key practices related to program monitoring and control. However, NNSA has only partially implemented key practices related to requirements management. Specifically, El Capitan program officials did not update and maintain acquisition program documents to include current requirements. NNSA officials stated that once the program developed its program plan early in the program’s life cycle, they did not require the program to update and maintain that program plan. However, NNSA’s own program management policy requires programs to update program documents throughout the duration of the program. Without updating and maintaining El Capitan program documents to include current requirements, NNSA officials may be limited in their ability to ensure that all mission requirements are met. Why GAO Did This Study NNSA is responsible for maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile. To analyze the performance, safety, and reliability of nuclear weapons, it acquires high-performance computing (HPC) systems to conduct simulations. The latest system, El Capitan, is expected to be fully deployed by March 2024. The committee report accompanying the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review NNSA’s management of its Advanced Simulation and Computing program. This report examines, among other things, (1) the extent to which NNSA’s AOA process for the El Capitan acquisition met best practices and followed agency policy and guidance and (2) the extent to which NNSA is implementing selected acquisition best practices in carrying out the El Capitan acquisition program. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed NNSA officials and laboratory representatives involved in carrying out the AOA and acquisition processes.
- Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the White House Roundtable on the State of Labor Market Competition in the U.S. Economy
March 7, 2022Thank you, Secretary Yellen. I am grateful to you and your team for collaborating on producing this really terrific report. Thank you to Worth Green and Shannon Wait and Paula Stellabotte and Josue Alvarez for being with us today to share your experiences and to help us understand the impact that anticompetitive labor practices have had on your lives and on your careers.
- Opening Remarks by Secretary Antony J. Blinken Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
September 13, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Federal Contractor Agrees to Pay $18.98 Million for Alleged False Claims Act Caused by Overcharges and Unqualified Labor
November 20, 2020Cognosante LLC has agreed to pay the United States $18,987,789 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by using unqualified labor and overcharging the United States for services provided to government agencies under two General Services Administration (GSA) contracts, the Justice Department announced today. Cognosante, which is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, provides health care and IT services and solutions to federal agencies.
- Information Security and Privacy: HUD Needs a Major Effort to Protect Data Shared with External Entities
September 21, 2020The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not effectively protecting sensitive information exchanged with external entities. Of four leading practices for such oversight, HUD did not address one practice and only minimally addressed the other three in its security and privacy policies and procedures (see table). For example, HUD minimally addressed the first leading practice because its policy required federal agencies and contractors with which it exchanges information to implement risk-based security controls; however, the department did not, among other things, establish a process or mechanism to ensure all external entities complied with security and privacy requirements when processing, storing, or sharing information outside of HUD systems. HUD’s weaknesses in the four practices were due largely to a lack of priority given to updating its policies. Until HUD implements the leading practices, it is unlikely that the department will be able to mitigate risks to its programs and program participants. Extent to Which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Policies and Procedures Address Leading Practices for Overseeing the Protection of Sensitive Information Practice Rating Require risk-based security and privacy controls ◔ Independently assess implementation of controls ◌ Identify and track corrective actions needed ◔ Monitor progress implementing controls ◔ Legend: ◔=Minimally addressed—leading practice was addressed to a limited extent; ◌=Not addressed—leading practice was not addressed. Source: GAO analysis of HUD data. | GAO-20-431 HUD was not fully able to identify external entities that process, store, or share sensitive information with its systems used to support housing, community investment, or mortgage loan programs. HUD’s data were incomplete and did not provide reliable information about external entities with access to sensitive information from these systems. For example, GAO identified additional external entities in system documentation beyond what HUD reported for 23 of 32 systems. HUD was further limited in its ability to protect sensitive information because it did not track the types of personally identifiable information or other sensitive information shared with external entities that required protection. This occurred, in part, because the department did not have a comprehensive inventory of systems, to include information on external entities. Its policies and procedures also focused primarily on security and privacy for internal systems and lacked specificity about how to ensure that all types of external entities protected information collected, processed, or shared with the department. Until HUD develops sufficient, reliable information about external entities with which program information is shared and the extent to which each entity has access to personally identifiable information and other sensitive information, the department will be limited in its ability to safeguard information about its housing, community investment, and mortgage loan programs. To administer housing, community investment, and mortgage loan programs, HUD collects a vast amount of sensitive personal information and shares it with external entities, including federal agencies, contractors, and state, local, and tribal organizations. In 2016, HUD reported two incidents that compromised sensitive information. House Report 115-237, referenced by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, included a provision for GAO to evaluate HUD’s information security framework for protecting information within these programs. The objectives were to (1) assess the effectiveness of HUD’s policies and procedures for overseeing the security and privacy of sensitive information exchanged with external entities; and (2) determine the extent to which HUD was able to identify external entities that process, store, and share sensitive information with applicable systems. GAO compared HUD’s policies and practices for systems’ security and privacy to four leading practices identified in federal legislation and guidance. GAO also assessed HUD’s practices for identifying external entities with access to sensitive information. GAO is making five recommendations to HUD to fully implement the four leading practices and fully identify the extent to which sensitive information is shared with external entities. HUD did not agree or disagree with the recommendations, but described actions intended to address them. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or email@example.com.
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Spanish Foreign Minister González Laya
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- Afghanistan: Key Oversight Issues for USAID Development Efforts
August 24, 2021What GAO Found In 2010, the United States pledged to provide at least 50 percent of its development aid directly through the Afghan government budget within 2 years. This direct assistance is intended to help develop the capacity of Afghan government ministries to manage programs and funds. Using bilateral agreements and multilateral trust funds, the United States more than tripled its direct assistance awards to Afghanistan in the first year of the pledge, going from over $470 million in fiscal year 2009 to over $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2010. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) most current reporting shows that for fiscal year 2012 the agency provided over $800 million in mission funds through direct assistance. In 2013, GAO reported that while USAID had established and generally complied with various financial and other controls in its direct assistance agreements, it had not always assessed the risks in providing direct assistance before awarding funds. USAID has taken steps in response to GAO’s recommendations to help ensure the accountability of direct assistance funds provided to the Afghan government. Recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported that USAID determined that seven ministries were unable to manage direct assistance funds without a risk mitigation strategy in place. However, SIGAR reported that USAID approved assistance for the ministries, but did not mitigate for all identified risks. GAO has previously reported on systemic weaknesses in USAID’s monitoring and evaluation of programs carried out by its implementing partners in Afghanistan. For example, although USAID collected progress reports from implementing partners for agriculture and water projects, it did not always analyze and interpret data to, among other things, inform future decisions. USAID has undertaken some efforts to improve its monitoring and evaluation of the billions of dollars invested towards development projects in Afghanistan. GAO and other oversight agencies, however, have highlighted gaps that show USAID continued to inconsistently apply performance management procedures, falls short in maintaining institutional knowledge, and needs to improve oversight of contractors. USAID’s ability to conduct its mission and the challenges it has faced in providing oversight and monitoring of its development projects in Afghanistan are likely to be exacerbated by the planned withdrawal of U.S. and coalition combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. The United States is currently transitioning from counterinsurgency and stability operations toward more traditional diplomatic and development activities. As U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan, provincial reconstruction teams will continue to decline in number, thus challenging USAID’s opportunities to directly monitor and evaluate programs in certain parts of Afghanistan. To prepare for the possible lack of USAID personnel in the field, USAID has undertaken various planning efforts to mitigate against potential challenges. For example, USAID is planning to implement a remote monitoring program that will use contractors to verify activities that implementing partners have completed. As the United States plans for the withdrawal of its combat troops and the transition from an integrated civilian and military effort to a civilian-led presence, GAO believes it is important to have safeguards in place to help ensure sustainment of the gains made by U.S. and coalition investments. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. government has been engaged in efforts in Afghanistan since declaring a global war on terrorism that targeted al Qaeda, its affiliates, and other violent extremists. The U.S. effort has involved a whole of government approach to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates and strengthen Afghanistan so that it can never again be a haven for terrorists. This approach includes USAID’s development assistance and reconstruction efforts, which to date have invested over $15 billion in Afghanistan since 2002. To assist Congress in its oversight, GAO has issued over 50 products in the past 5 years focusing on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. This testimony summarizes the findings from those products related to USAID efforts in Afghanistan and discusses: (1) levels of U.S. direct assistance and need for continued oversight, (2) the importance of routine monitoring and evaluation of USAID projects in Afghanistan, and (3) the need for mitigation planning for how USAID will continue to operate in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.
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- Surface Transportation Security: TSA Has Taken Steps to Improve its Surface Inspector Program, but Lacks Performance Targets
July 30, 2020According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Surface Transportation Security Inspector Operations Plan (TSA’s plan), surface transportation security inspectors—known as surface inspectors—are to enter key details for program activities in the Performance and Results Information System (PARIS)—TSA’s system of record for all surface inspector activities. In December 2017, GAO reported that TSA was unable to fully account for surface inspector time spent assisting with non-surface transportation modes, including aviation, due to data limitations in PARIS, and recommended TSA address these limitations. Since GAO’s report, TSA updated PARIS to better track surface inspector activities in non-surface transportation modes. Transportation Security Administration Surface Inspectors Assess Security of a Bus System TSA’s plan outlines steps to align work plan activities with risk assessment findings. However, TSA cannot comprehensively ensure surface inspectors are targeting program resources to high-risk modes and locations because it does not consistently collect information on entity mode or location in PARIS. According to officials, TSA plans to update PARIS and program guidance to require inspectors to include this information in the system by the end of fiscal year 2020. TSA’s plan outlines performance measures for the surface inspector program, but does not establish quantifiable performance targets for all activities. Targets indicate how well an agency aspires to perform and could include, for example, entity scores on TSA security assessments, among others. By developing targets, TSA would be better positioned to assess the surface inspector program’s progress in achieving its objective of increasing security among surface transportation entities. Surface transportation—freight and passenger rail, mass transit, highway, maritime and pipeline systems—is vulnerable to global terrorism and other threats. TSA is the federal agency primarily responsible for securing surface transportation systems. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires TSA to submit a plan to guide its Surface Transportation Security Inspectors Program. The Act includes a provision for GAO to review TSA’s plan. This report examines the extent to which TSA’s plan and its implementation: (1) address known data limitations related to tracking surface inspector activities among non-surface modes, (2) align surface operations with risk assessments, and how, if at all, TSA ensures inspectors prioritize activities in high-risk modes and locations, and (3) establish performance targets for the surface inspector program. GAO reviewed TSA’s June 2019 plan and analyzed data on inspector activities for fiscal years 2017 through 2019. GAO interviewed officials in headquarters and a non-generalizable sample of 7 field offices selected based on geographical location and the presence of high-risk urban areas. GAO recommends that TSA establish quantifiable performance targets for the surface inspector program’s activity-level performance measures. DHS concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Triana McNeil at (202) 512-8777 or McNeilT@gao.gov.
- Science & Tech Spotlight: Agile Software Development
September 29, 2020Why This Matters Agile software development has the potential to save the federal government billions of dollars and significant time, allowing agencies to deliver software more efficiently and effectively for American taxpayers. However, the transition to Agile requires an investment in new tools and processes, which can be costly and time consuming. The Methodology What is it? Agile is an approach to software development that encourages collaboration across an organization and allows requirements to evolve as a program progresses. Agile software development emphasizes iterative delivery; that is, the development of software in short, incremental stages. Customers continuously provide feedback on the software’s functionality and quality. By engaging customers early and iterating often, agencies that adopt Agile can also reduce the risks of funding failing programs or outdated technology. Figure 1. Cycle of Agile software development How does it work? Agile software development is well suited for programs where the end goal is known, but specific details about their implementation may be refined along the way. Agile is implemented in different ways. For example, Scrum is a framework focused on teams, Scaled Agile Framework focuses on scaling Agile to larger groups, and DevOps extends the Agile principle of collaboration and unites the development and operation teams. Scrum, one of the most common Agile frameworks, organizes teams using defined roles, such as the product owner, who represents the customer, prioritizes work, and accepts completed software. In Scrum, development is broken down into timed iterations called sprints, where teams commit to complete specific requirements within a defined time frame. During a sprint, teams meet for daily stand-up meetings. At the end of a sprint, teams present the completed work to the product owner for acceptance. At a retrospective meeting following each sprint, team members discuss lessons learned and any changes needed to improve the process. Sprints allow for distinct, consistent, and measurable progress of prioritized software features. How mature is it? Organizations have used versions of incremental software development since the 1950s, with various groups creating Agile frameworks in the 1990s, including Scrum in 1995. In 2001, a group of software developers created the Agile Manifesto, which documents the guiding principles of Agile. Following this, Agile practitioners introduced new frameworks, such as Kanban, which optimizes work output by visualizing its flow. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), enacted in 2014, includes a provision for the Office of Management and Budget to require the Chief Information Officers of covered agencies to certify that IT investments are adequately implementing incremental development. This development approach delivers capabilities more rapidly by dividing an investment into smaller parts. As a result, more agencies are now adopting an incremental, Agile, approach to software development. For example, in 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced five Agile pilot programs. In 2020, at least 22 Department of Defense major defense acquisition programs reported using Agile development methods. As the federal government continues to adopt Agile, effective oversight of these programs will be increasingly crucial. Our GAO Agile Assessment Guide, released in 2020, takes a closer look at the following categories of best practices: Agile adoption. This area focuses on team dynamics, program operations, and organization environments. One best practice for teams is to have repeatable processes in place such as continuous integration, which automates parts of development and testing. At the program operations level, staff should be appropriately trained in Agile methods. And at an organizational level, a best practice is to create a culture that supports Agile methods. Requirements development and management. Requirements—sometimes called user stories—are important in making sure the final product will function as intended. Best practices in this area include eliciting and prioritizing requirements and ensuring work meets those requirements. Acquisition strategy. Contractors may have a role in an Agile program in government. However, long timelines to award contracts and costly changes are major hurdles to executing Agile programs. One way to clear these hurdles is for organizations to create an integrated team with personnel from contracting, the program office, and software development. Clearly identifying team roles will alleviate bottlenecks in the development process. Figure 2. Different roles come together to make an Agile software development team. Program monitoring and control. Many Agile documents may be used to generate reliable cost and schedule estimates throughout a program’s life-cycle. Metrics. It is critical that metrics align with and prioritize organization-wide goals and objectives while simultaneously meeting customer needs. Such metrics in Agile include the number of features delivered to customers, the number of defects, and overall customer satisfaction. Opportunities Flexibility. An Agile approach provides flexibility when customers’ needs change and as technology rapidly evolves. Risk reduction. Measuring progress during frequent iterations can reduce technical and programmatic risk. For example, routine retrospectives allow the team to reflect upon and improve the development process for the next iteration. Quicker deliveries. Through incremental releases, agencies can rapidly determine if newly produced software is meeting their needs. With Agile, these deliveries are typically within months, instead of alternative development methods, which can take years. Challenges GAO has previously reported on challenges the federal government faces in applying Agile methods; for the full report see GAO-12-681. Lack of organizational commitment. For example, organizations need to create a dedicated Agile team, which is a challenge when there is an insufficient number of staff, or when staff have several simultaneous duties. Resources needed to transition to Agile. An organization transitioning to Agile may need to invest in new tools, practices, and processes, which can be expensive and time consuming. Mistrust in iterative solutions. Customers who typically see a solution as a whole may be disappointed by the delivery of a small piece of functionality. Misaligned agency practices. Some agency practices, such as procurement, compliance reviews, federal reporting, and status tracking are not designed to support Agile software development. Policy and Context Questions In what ways can Agile help the federal government improve the management of IT acquisitions and operations, an area GAO has identified as high risk for the federal government? How can policymakers implement clear guidance about the use of Agile software development, such as reporting metrics, to better support Agile methods? How might resources need to shift to accommodate the adoption of Agile in federal agencies? What risks could those shifts pose? What updates to agency practices are worth pursuing to support Agile software development? For more information, contact Tim Persons at (202) 512-6888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Releases Status Report
December 10, 2020The Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) today released a status report detailing accomplishments during its first year and outlining its strategy for the next 12 months. The President’s Executive Order (E.O.) 13898, set forth a range of tasks to be completed over the two-year life of the Task Force, with required reports at the end of each year. Attorney General William P. Barr and Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt transmitted the status report to President Trump, and notably characterized these accomplishments as, “a productive first year of Task Force operations.”
- DOD Financial Management: Air Force Needs to Improve Its System Migration Efforts
February 28, 2022What GAO Found The Air Force relies on its financial management systems to help manage department operations and support core accounting activities, such as maintaining financial records and making payments. Its environment is complex and consists of multiple systems that are not fully integrated, preventing Air Force management from obtaining timely, accurate, and reliable information on the results of its business operations. To address these issues, the Air Force has been migrating from its legacy, or aging, financial management systems to more modern target systems. One such key target is the Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System (DEAMS), which is to be the Air Force’s core accounting and finance system. DEAMS has been deployed incrementally to Air Force users since 2005, and the Air Force plans to expand its use in the future (see figure). Air Force’s Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System (DEAMS) Timeline The Air Force has not followed leading practices, such as developing a migration plan to guide its transition from the existing legacy system to DEAMS. Instead, the Air Force decided to pursue a dual processing policy in which the legacy and target systems would both continue to operate for at least the next 10 years. The continued use of the legacy system means that resolution of its deficiencies would be delayed for many years. Further, associated internal control weaknesses would also persist. Auditors have identified numerous issues related to the Air Force’s broader financial management systems, including DEAMS. For fiscal year 2020, auditors reported deficiencies including nonintegrated Air Force financial systems, an insufficient financial reporting process, and a lack of controls in the design of information systems. While the Air Force has some efforts under way to address financial management system–related deficiencies, it does not have a comprehensive strategy encompassing the entirety of its financial management systems modernization efforts. Without such a comprehensive financial management system strategy, it will be more difficult for the Air Force to report accurate and reliable financial information. Moreover, the Air Force will continue to face difficulties developing and fully implementing Air Force–wide corrective action plans to address the system-related issues that auditors identified. These issues have led to the Air Force not being able to provide sufficient, appropriate audit evidence to support the reported amounts in its financial statements. Why GAO Did This Study The Air Force is currently modernizing and migrating its financial management systems as part of a broader effort to improve financial management operations and prepare auditable financial statements. Successful system migration is key to the Air Force addressing weaknesses that financial statement auditors have identified. The Government Management Reform Act of 1994 includes a provision for GAO to audit the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statements. This report examines the extent to which the Air Force is (1) following leading practices for its financial management system migration and (2) planning to address the financial management system–related issues that auditors identified. GAO reviewed guidance on system migration leading practices; observed DEAMS program operations; reviewed documentation related to the Air Force’s migration efforts and strategy, financial statement audit results, and efforts to resolve system deficiencies; and interviewed cognizant officials.
- IRS Reorganization: Planning Addressed Key Reform Practices, but Goals and Measures for the Plan Have Not Been Finalized
November 18, 2020GAO identified advantages of, challenges related to, and options for improving the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) current organizational structure, based on GAO’s review of prior work and interviews with IRS officials and stakeholders. For example, one advantage of the current structure, according to several interviewees, is that IRS’s divisions have developed specialized expertise on different types of taxpayers with similar needs, such as small businesses. Several interviewees also believed that addressing some of IRS’s challenges may not require significant changes to IRS’s organizational structure. GAO and others have identified challenges and options to improve IRS’s structure, processes, and operations in the following areas: (1) customer service; (2) communication and coordination within IRS; (3) technology; and (4) strategic human capital management and training. While developing its reorganization plan required by the Taxpayer First Act, IRS addressed or partially addressed all six of the key practices for agency reforms that GAO reviewed (see table below). GAO Assessment of IRS’s Reorganization Planning Process against Key Reform Practices Key reform practice Extent addressed Establishing goals and outcomes ◑ Involving employees and key stakeholders ● Using data and evidence ● Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication ◑ Addressing high-risk areas and long-standing management challenges ◑ Leadership focus and attention ● Legend: ● Generally addressed ◑ Partially addressed ○ Not addressed Source: GAO analysis of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information. | GAO-21-18 IRS established a senior-level team—the Taxpayer First Act Office—to lead the reorganization planning, involved employees and key stakeholders, and used multiple sources of data and evidence to inform its planning. Although IRS has developed preliminary goals for the plan, it has not yet finalized and communicated the goals and performance measures for the plan. IRS has also researched potential actions it could take to address long-standing management challenges at IRS, such as those related to areas of fragmentation, overlap, duplication, and high risk that GAO has identified. However, IRS has not yet decided on specific actions to address those areas in its plan. IRS officials told us that they intend to take these additional steps, but COVID-19 delayed the completion of their reorganization plan to December 2020. As a result, it is still unclear whether the reorganization plan will have outcome-oriented goals and performance measures or whether it will identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. Taking these steps could help IRS identify and achieve the intended outcomes of the reorganization plan, and identify reforms that can create long-term gains in efficiency and effectiveness. The Taxpayer First Act required that a comprehensive written plan to redesign IRS be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2020. Reforming and reorganizing a federal agency as large and complex as IRS is not an easy task. However, a potential reorganization could provide IRS with an opportunity to address emerging and long-standing challenges. GAO was asked to review IRS’s organizational structure and IRS’s plans to reform it. This report examines (1) reported advantages of, challenges related to, and options for potentially improving IRS’s organizational structure; and (2) the extent to which IRS’s reorganization planning process is consistent with selected leading practices. GAO reviewed documents from IRS and other sources; interviewed IRS officials and stakeholders, including three former IRS commissioners; and assessed IRS’s reorganization planning process against selected key practices for agency reform efforts developed by GAO. GAO is making three recommendations to IRS as it finalizes its reorganization plan, including that IRS should finalize goals and performance measures, and identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. IRS responded that it plans to implement GAO’s recommendations when it submits its final reorganization plan to Congress in December 2020. For more information, contact James R. McTigue, Jr. at (202) 512-9110 or email@example.com.
- Software Development: DOD Faces Risks and Challenges in Implementing Modern Approaches and Addressing Cybersecurity Practices
June 24, 2021What GAO Found According to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request, DOD spent $2.8 billion on the 29 selected major business information technology (IT) programs in FY 2019. The department also reported that it planned to invest over $9.7 billion on these programs between FY 2020 and FY 2022. In addition, 20 of the 29 programs reported experiencing cost or schedule changes since January 2019. Program officials attributed cost and schedule changes to a variety of reasons, including modernization changes and requirements changes or delays. Seventeen of the 29 programs also reported experiencing challenges associated with the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the slowdown of contractors’ software development efforts. DOD and GAO’s assessments of program risk identified a range of program risk levels and indicated that some programs could be underreporting risks. Specifically, of the 22 programs that were actively using a register to manage program risks, DOD rated nine programs as low risk, 12 as medium risk, and one as high risk. In contrast, GAO rated seven as low risk, 12 as medium risk, and three as high risk. In total, GAO found 10 programs for which its numerical assessments of program risk reflected greater risk than reported by DOD, while DOD had three programs with greater reported risk than GAO. DOD officials noted that differences in risk levels might be associated with a variety of factors, including different risk assessment approaches. However, the differences in risk level GAO identified highlight the need for DOD to ensure that it is accurately reporting program risks. Until the department does so, oversight of some programs could be limited by overly optimistic risk perspectives. As of December 2020, program officials for the 22 major DOD business IT programs that were actively developing software reported using approaches that may help to limit cost and schedule risks. (See table.) Selected Software Development and Cybersecurity Approaches That May Limit Risks and Number of Major DOD Business IT Programs That Reported Using the Approach Software development and cybersecurity approaches that may limit risk Number of programs that reported using the approach Using off-the-shelf software 19 of 22 Implementing continuous iterative software development 18 of 22 Delivering software at least every 6 monthsa 16 of 22 Developing or planning to develop a cybersecurity strategy 21 of 22 Conducting developmental cybersecurity testing 16 of 22 Conducting operational cybersecurity testing 15 of 22 Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense questionnaire responses. | GAO-21-351aThe Defense Innovation Board encourages more frequent delivery of working software to users for Agile and DevOps practices. Program officials also reported facing a variety of software development challenges while implementing these approaches. These included difficulties finding and hiring staff, transitioning from waterfall to Agile software development, and managing technical environments. DOD’s continued efforts to address these challenges will be critical to the department’s implementation of modern software development approaches. DOD has also made organizational and policy changes intended to improve the management of its IT acquisitions, such as taking steps to implement Agile software development and improve data transparency. In addition, to address statutory requirements, DOD has taken steps to remove the department’s chief management officer (CMO) position. However, the department had not yet sufficiently implemented these changes. Officials from many of the 18 programs GAO assessed that reported using Agile development reported that DOD had implemented activities associated with Agile transition best practices to only some or little to no extent, indicating that the department had not sufficiently implemented best practices. For example, 12 of the 18 programs reported that DOD’s life-cycle activities only supported Agile methods to some or little to no extent. Program officials also reported challenges associated with implementing Agile software development. The department has a variety of efforts underway to help with its implementation of Agile software development. DOD officials stated that the department’s transition to Agile will take years and will require sustained engagement throughout DOD. In addition, DOD has taken steps aimed at improving the sharing and transparency of data it uses to monitor its acquisitions. According to a November 2020 proposal from the Office of the Under Secretary for Acquisition and Sustainment, DOD officials are to develop data strategies and metrics to assess performance for the department’s acquisition pathways. However, as of February 2021, DOD did not have data strategies and had not finalized metrics for the two pathways associated with the programs discussed in this report. Officials said they were working with DOD programs and components to finalize initial pathway metrics. They stated that they plan to implement them in fiscal year 2021 and continue to refine and adjust them over the coming years. Without important data from acquistion pathways and systems, DOD risks not having timely quantitative insight into program performance, including its acquisition reform efforts. Finally, DOD’s CMO position was eliminated by a statute enacted in January 2021. This position was responsible for key efforts associated with the department’s business systems modernization, which has been on GAO’s High Risk List since 1995. DOD plans to take steps to address the uncertainty associated with the recent elimination of the position. Why GAO Did This Study For fiscal year 2021, DOD requested approximately $37.7 billion for IT investments. These investments included major business IT programs, which are intended to help the department carry out key business functions, such as financial management and health care. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 included a provision for GAO to assess selected IT programs annually through March 2023. GAO’s objectives for this review were to (1) summarize DOD’s reported performance of its portfolio of IT acquisition programs and the reasons for this performance; (2) evaluate DOD’s assessments of program risks; (3) summarize DOD’s approaches to software development and cybersecurity and identify associated challenges; and (4) evaluate how selected organizational and policy changes could affect IT acquisitions. To address these objectives, GAO selected 29 major business IT programs that DOD reported to the federal IT Dashboard (a public website that includes information on the performance of major IT investments) as of September 2020. GAO reviewed planned expenditures for these programs, from fiscal years 2019 through 2022, as reported in the department’s FY 2021 budget request. It also aggregated program office responses to a GAO questionnaire that requested information about cost and schedule changes that occurred since January 2019 and the early impacts of COVID-19. GAO also analyzed the risks of the 22 programs that were actively using central repositories known as risk registers to manage program risks. GAO used these registers to create program risk ratings, and then compared its ratings to those of the DOD chief information officer (CIO). In addition, GAO aggregated DOD program office responses to the questionnaire that requested information about the software and cybersecurity practices used by 22 of the 29 IT programs that were actively developing software. GAO compared the responses to relevant guidance and leading practices. GAO reviewed selected IT-related organizational and policy changes and reviewed reports and documentation related to the effects of these changes on IT acquisitions. GAO also aggregated program office responses to the questionnaire that requested information about DOD’s implementation of these changes. This included information on DOD’s implementation of best practices as part of its efforts to implement Agile software development. GAO met with relevant DOD officials to discuss each of the topics addressed in this report.
- The Space Station’s Coolest Experiment Gets Astronaut-Assisted Upgrade
September 26, 2020The Cold Atom Lab is [Read More…]