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GAO — Electricity: Generation Mix Has Shifted, and Growth in Consumption Has Slowed, Affecting System Operations and Prices

June 30, 2015 Comments off

Electricity: Generation Mix Has Shifted, and Growth in Consumption Has Slowed, Affecting System Operations and Prices
Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office

The mix of energy sources for electricity generation has changed, and the growth in electricity consumption has slowed. As shown in the figure below, from 2001 through 2013, natural gas, wind, and solar became larger portions of the nation’s electricity generation, and the share of coal has declined. These changes have varied by region. For example, the majority of wind and solar electricity generation is concentrated in a few states—in 2013, California and Arizona accounted for over half of electricity generated at solar power plants. Regarding consumption, national retail sales of electricity grew by over 1 percent per year from 2001 through 2007 and remained largely flat from that time through 2014.
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GAO — 401(K) Plans: Frequent and Collective Trading Are Uncommon and Not a Significant Concern for Plan Participants, Sponsors, or Mutual Funds

June 16, 2015 Comments off

401(K) Plans: Frequent and Collective Trading Are Uncommon and Not a Significant Concern for Plan Participants, Sponsors, or Mutual Funds
Source: Government Accountability Office

401(k) plan participants often face trading policies that restrict frequent or collective trading in mutual funds. The most common restrictions were (1) discretionary provisions found in mutual fund prospectuses that allow mutual funds to reject purchases or exchanges of mutual fund shares they find inappropriate or disruptive to the fund’s investment and management strategy and (2) time limits on how quickly a participant can purchase additional shares after trading out of a fund.

Frequent and collective trading by plan participants are uncommon. Since the market timing abuses in mutual funds of the early 2000s, neither frequent nor collective trading by participants has been a concern for plan sponsors, mutual funds, or participant advocates that GAO interviewed.

There was general agreement among industry representatives, participant advocates, and other stakeholders that GAO interviewed that current regulation strikes an appropriate balance between a participant’s ability to manage his or her retirement investments and the duty of plan fiduciaries to operate and manage their plans prudently, at low cost, and solely in the interest of participants, and the obligations of mutual funds with respect to all their investors.

Electronic Cigarettes: Imports, Tariffs, and Data Collection

June 10, 2015 Comments off

Electronic Cigarettes: Imports, Tariffs, and Data Collection
Source: Government Accountability Office

Why GAO Did This Study
E-cigarettes are becoming more popular and widely used. At present, the federal government does not systematically collect data on e-cigarette sales, numbers of manufacturers and importers, or types of products sold. Although information about the e-cigarette market is incomplete, most e-cigarettes sold in the United States are thought to be imported. CBP enforces U.S. customs laws and collects tariffs for goods imported into the United States.

In conducting its work, GAO analyzed CBP’s classification rulings related to e-cigarette imports and tariff revenue data for fiscal year 2014. GAO assessed the reliability of the data by performing data checks for inconsistency errors and by interviewing cognizant officials. GAO determined that CBP’s tariff revenue data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this report. In addition, GAO interviewed officials from CBP, USITC, and Census as well as industry experts, such as financial analysts and researchers.tional Trade Commission (USITC), U.S. Census Bureau (Census), and CBP. According to USITC officials, no entity had requested statistical reporting numbers for e-cigarettes, parts, or liquid as of April 1, 2015.

What GAO Found
Import volume and tariff revenue for electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, are unknown, because the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS)—which is used to classify U.S. imports and exports for tariff and other purposes—does not contain statistical reporting numbers specific to e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes, e-cigarette parts, and e-cigarette liquid are imported under HTS statistical reporting numbers for residual or basket categories that cover a range of goods, such as special effects strobe lights, seaweed extracts, and hand sanitizer. As a result, although U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) collects data on import volume and tariff revenue for the basket categories that include e-cigarettes, parts, and liquid, CBP officials said they are unable to identify the volume of and tariff revenue from e-cigarette imports within these categories.

The interagency Committee for Statistical Annotation of Tariff Schedules, if requested, can create statistical reporting numbers to classify specific goods to improve an industry’s or the federal government’s ability to track import and export volume and tariff revenue for imported goods, but there are currently no statistical reporting numbers specific to e-cigarette imports. The committee consists of the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), U.S. Census Bureau (Census), and CBP. According to USITC officials, no entity had requested statistical reporting numbers for e-cigarettes, parts, or liquid as of April 1, 2015.

GAO — Broadband: Intended Outcomes and Effectiveness of Efforts to Address Adoption Barriers Are Unclear

June 2, 2015 Comments off

Broadband: Intended Outcomes and Effectiveness of Efforts to Address Adoption Barriers Are Unclear
Source: Government Accountability Office

Home broadband adoption can provide a number of social and economic benefits, according to literature from academic, government, and other research sources and interviews GAO held with researchers, consumer and industry organizations, and government officials. For example, broadband provides access to employment opportunities by providing the means to search and apply for jobs and participate in online job training. It also provides access to a number of government benefits, serves as a conduit for civic participation, and provides a means to connect family members, among other benefits.

Affordability, lack of perceived relevance, and lack of computer skills are the principal barriers to broadband adoption identified by literature and stakeholders GAO interviewed. Efforts to address these barriers include projects to increase broadband adoption that were funded by grants from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP) and outreach and other efforts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and NTIA. GAO identified three key approaches used to address adoption barriers:

  • Discounts on computer equipment and broadband subscriptions.
  • Outreach efforts to promote broadband availability and benefits.
  • Training to help people develop skills in using computers and broadband.

High Interest GAO Report — Advance Directives: Information on Federal Oversight, Provider Implementation, and Prevalence

April 29, 2015 Comments off

Advance Directives: Information on Federal Oversight, Provider Implementation, and Prevalence
Source: Government Accountability Office

Advance directives, such as living wills or health care powers of attorney, specify—consistent with applicable state law—how individuals want medical decisions to be made for them should they become unable to communicate their wishes. Many individuals receive medical care from Medicare and Medicaid funded providers during the last 6 months of life, and may benefit from having advance directives that specify treatment preferences. According to IOM, advance directives are most effective when part of a comprehensive approach to end-of-life care called advanced care planning.

GAO was asked to review information related to advance directives. This report examines (1) how CMS oversees providers’ implementation of the PSDA requirement; (2) what is known about the approaches providers use and challenges they face to inform individuals about advance directives; and (3) what is known about the prevalence of advance directives and how it varies across provider types and individuals’ demographic characteristics. To do this work, GAO reviewed CMS documents and survey data reported by state survey agencies into CMS’s Certification and Survey Provider Enhanced Reporting system about covered providers’ implementation of the PSDA requirement. GAO also conducted a literature review of peer reviewed articles and federal government reports. In addition, GAO interviewed CMS officials and stakeholders representing providers and individuals likely to benefit from advance directives.

GAO — 2015 ANNUAL REPORT: Additional Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits

April 15, 2015 Comments off

GAO — 2015 ANNUAL REPORT: Additional Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits
Source: Government Accountability Office

GAO’s 2015 Annual Report identified 12 new areas of fragmentation, overlap, and duplication in federal programs and activities. GAO also identified 12 new opportunities for cost savings and revenue enhancement. Related work and GAO’s Action Tracker—a tool that tracks progress on GAO’s specific suggestions for improvement—are available here.

What GAO Found
+ In its 2015 report, GAO presents 66 actions that the executive branch or Congress could take to improve efficiency and effectiveness across 24 areas that span a broad range of government missions and functions.

+ GAO suggests 20 actions to address evidence of fragmentation, overlap, or duplication in 12 new areas across the government missions of defense, health, income security, information technology, and international affairs.

+ GAO also presents 46 opportunities for executive branch agencies or Congress to take actions to reduce the cost of government operations or enhance revenue collections for the Treasury across 12 areas of government.

High Interest GAO Report — Library of Congress: Strong Leadership Needed to Address Serious Information Technology Management Weaknesses

March 31, 2015 Comments off

Library of Congress: Strong Leadership Needed to Address Serious Information Technology Management Weaknesses
Source: Government Accountability Office

What GAO Found

The Library of Congress has established policies and procedures for managing its information technology (IT) resources, but significant weaknesses across several areas have hindered their effectiveness:

Strategic planning: The Library does not have an IT strategic plan that is aligned with the overall agency strategic plan and establishes goals, measures, and strategies. This leaves the Library without a clear direction for its use of IT.

Investment management: Although the Library obligated at least $119 million on IT for fiscal year 2014, it is not effectively managing its investments. To its credit, the Library has established structures for managing IT investments—including a review board and a process for selecting investments. However, the board does not review all key investments, and its roles and responsibilities are not always clearly defined. Additionally, the Library does not have a complete process for tracking its IT spending or an accurate inventory of its assets. For example, while the inventory identifies over 18,000 computers currently in use, officials stated that the Library has fewer than 6,500. Until the Library addresses these weaknesses, its ability to make informed decisions will be impaired.

Information security and privacy: The Library assigned roles and responsibilities and developed policies and procedures for securing its information and systems. However, its implementation of key security and privacy management controls was uneven. For example, the Library’s system inventory did not include all key systems. Additionally, the Library did not always fully define and test security controls for its systems, remediate weaknesses in a timely manner, and assess the risks to the privacy of personal information in its systems. Such deficiencies also contributed to weaknesses in technical security controls, putting the Library’s systems and information at risk of compromise.

Service management: The Library’s Information Technology Services (ITS) division is primarily responsible for providing IT services to the agency’s operating units. While ITS has catalogued these services, it has not fully developed agreements with the other units specifying expected levels of performance. Further, the other units were often not satisfied with these services, which has contributed to them independently pursuing their own IT activities. This in turn has resulted in units purchasing unnecessary hardware and software, maintaining separate e-mail environments, and managing overlapping or duplicative IT activities.

Leadership: The Library does not have the leadership needed to address these IT management weaknesses. For example, the agency’s chief information officer (CIO) position does not have adequate authority over or oversight of the Library’s IT. Additionally, the Library has not had a permanent CIO since 2012 and has had five temporary CIOs in the interim.

In January 2015, at the conclusion of GAO’s review, officials stated that that the Library plans to draft an IT strategic plan within 90 days and hire a permanent CIO. If it follows through on these plans, the Library will be in a stronger position to address its IT management weaknesses and more effectively support its mission.

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