Podcast on DOD Weapons Programs

Each year, we review the Department of Defense’s (DOD)thumbnail_defense portfolio of major weapons system acquisitions. Our 2015 review was published on March 12th, and this week, we released our podcast on this work.

Listen to Mike Sullivan, a director in GAO’s Acquisition and Sourcing Management team, who recently completed this year’s review.


Highlights include that the overall size of the portfolio has decreased by $7.6 billion,  shrinking to the lowest spending levels in a decade. This is partially a result of 2 changes:

  1. ordering fewer Littoral Combat Ships and
  2. shrinking a communications program, the Warfighter Information Network.

Despite the overall cost decrease, this year’s Quick Look also showed a decrease in buying power for these programs. The 78 programs collectively lost $2.2 billion in buying power, meaning the DOD must spend more money to buy the same materials and equipment.

Learn more in this blog post, or check out the full report for short summaries of the weapons programs we examined, including photos and stats.


•    Questions on the content of this post? Contact Michael Sullivan at sullivanm@gao.gov.
•    Comments on the WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.

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A Closer Look at Privacy as a High Risk Area – When Advancing Technology Meets Increasing Concerns

From online health care exchanges to mobile devicethumbnail_information_security location data, the privacy of personally identifiable information (PII) is a major concern when it comes to information technology. Today, we take a closer look at the privacy of PII, and why we added it as a key component of one of our longstanding High Risk areas—federal cybersecurity.

More Data, More Security Breaches

Advances in technology, such as new search technology and data analytics software for searching and collecting information, have allowed both government and private sector entities to collect and process extensive amounts of PII more easily.

As the amount of PII collected has grown, so has the threat of security breaches. We have found that the reported number of security incidents involving PII at federal agencies has increased significantly, as shown below.

GAO-15-290(Excerpted from GAO-15-290)

In addition, recent high-profile breaches of PII have heightened concerns that personal privacy is not being adequately protected. For example,

  • a cyber attack on the Office of Personnel Management’s system for maintaining security clearance information last March may have exposed the PII of thousands of federal employees.
  • hackers stole credit and debit card information for 40 million Target customers in November and December 2013.

Multiple Threats to Privacy

Revelations about the extent to which private companies collect detailed information about people’s activities have raised concerns about the potential for significant erosion of personal privacy. For example, consumers may be unaware of how third parties can share and use smartphone location data, potentially putting people at risk of identity theft or other harm.

Your personal information that the federal government exchanges, collects, and uses is protected by the Privacy Act of 1974 and the E-Government Act of 2002, as well as federal guidance that requires government agencies to safeguard your PII. However, modern technology has rendered some of the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974 inadequate to fully protect all PII. Further, federal agencies inconsistently notified individuals affected by high-risk data breaches.

Rogue entities may also threaten your privacy. For example, mobile devices may be vulnerable to malicious software applications that can threaten privacy by

  • accessing location and other sensitive information,
  • initiating telephone calls, or
  • activating the device’s microphone or camera to surreptitiously record information.

What’s Next?

PII remains at risk and improved protections are needed to ensure the privacy of information collected by the government and private sector.

As legislation in cybersecurity continues to expand, Congress should also consider amending applicable laws, such as the Privacy Act, to more fully protect PII and also ensure a consistent approach to implementing privacy controls.

For more, read our post on federal cybersecurity or listen to our podcast on the contractors responsible for protecting federal systems and information:


•    Questions on the content of this post? Contact Greg Wilshusen at wilshuseng@gao.gov.
•    Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.

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Infographic on Guidance Documents from Federal Agencies

Infographic_IconFederal agencies issue many documents targeted to the general public. These guidance documents help explain things like how employers can comply with workplace safety laws or how Head Start grantees can meet requirements.

Continue reading

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Podcast on North Korea Sanctions

North Korean tests of nuclear weapons and ballisticGAO Podcast Icon missiles threaten the United States and other United Nations member states. These types of actions have prompted the U.S. and the U.N. to impose sanctions on North Korea.

Hear our podcast with Tom Melito, a director in GAO’s International Affairs and Trade team, who led a recent review of U.S. and U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

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Shortages of Drugs Containing Controlled Substances

As we have previously discussed, in the last decade, Thumbnail Health Careshortages of prescription drugs have increased nationwide. In recent years, the number of new shortages reported has declined, but the number of active shortages of drugs containing controlled substances—a subset of prescription drugs such as narcotics, stimulants, and sedatives—remains high. Today’s WatchBlog explores what’s behind the shortages of prescription drugs containing controlled substances. Continue reading

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Our Quick Look at Homeland Security Acquisition Programs

We recently released our “quick lookthumbnail_homeland_securityat Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acquisitions, assessing 22 major programs created to help secure the border, enhance cyber security, improve disaster response, and execute a wide variety of other operations.

The good news? Two of the programs are on track to meet key cost and schedule goals. But where does that leave the other 20? Today’s WatchBlog explores. Continue reading

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Podcast on Medicaid Payments to Health Care Providers

GAO Podcast IconUnder Medicaid, states pay health care providers and receive federal matching funds for their payments. We have previously found that some states’ excessive Medicaid payments to certain provider institutions shifted costs inappropriately from states to the federal government.

Hear our podcast with Katherine Iritani, a director in GAO’s Health Care team, who led a recent review of state Medicaid payments to government and private health care provider institutions in selected states.

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Traveling Quickly but Safely This Summer

thumbnail_homeland_securityCurious how to pack for your next trip, or how to get into one of those TSA Pre ✔TM lines at the airport? For National Travel and Tourism Week, today’s WatchBlog highlights our recent reports on Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security efforts that could affect your airport experience. Continue reading

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Reflections on the Federal Workforce

This weekPSRW_logo_600x268 is Public Service Recognition Week, which honors federal workers’ competence and dedication, and reminds us of the important work federal employees perform every day. In honor of this week, today’s WatchBlog reflects on federal workforce management progress and challenges. Continue reading

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Contractors in Iraq & Afghanistan

thumbnail_defenseAt the peak of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of military contractors sometimes met or exceeded the number of U.S. military personnel in service. Since then, contracted support in these areas has decreased, but contractors continue to play an important role in sustaining U.S. forces abroad. To help understand how the Department of Defense (DOD) oversees these contractors, today’s WatchBlog shines a light on operational contract support (OCS). Continue reading

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