Combating Sexual Assault in the Military

thumbnail_defenseThousands of military servicemembers have reported experiencing sexual assaults. Beyond the serious and long-lasting implications for the victims, sexual assault in the military can also negatively affect unit readiness, cohesion, and morale. For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the WatchBlog shares our findings on sexual assault in the military.

Sexual Assaults of Servicemembers

Thousands of men and women in uniform have reported being sexually assaulted, but many more likely never file a report. In fiscal year 2014, the Department of Defense (DOD) received 5,284 reports of sexual assault involving both male and female military servicemember victims, as shown below.

fig1(Excerpted from GAO-15-284)

However, DOD estimates that the majority of sexual assaults within the military go unreported. Based on active duty servicemembers’ responses to a 2012 survey on workplace and gender relations, DOD estimated that 26,000 military servicemembers experienced unwanted sexual contact in the prior year.

DOD’s Plans for Addressing Sexual Assaults

In 2004, in response to congressional action, DOD established its sexual assault prevention and response program. This program promotes prevention and encourages increased reporting of sexual assault crimes, such as through posters like the ones below, and improves victim response capabilities.

fig2(Excerpted from GAO-15-284)

Since 2008, we have made 38 recommendations regarding DOD’s sexual assault prevention and response efforts. In response to some of our recommendations, the department has

  • reviewed its sexual assault prevention and response training for servicemembers, particularly for new servicemembers and commanders;
  • examined its policy to determine whether changes were needed to effectively implement the sexual assault prevention and response program in joint and deployed environments; and
  • established standardized data for the military services’ annual report submissions to enhance visibility over the incidence of sexual assaults involving servicemembers.

More to Be Done

While DOD has addressed some areas of concern surrounding sexual assault, we have found that more needs to be done. Specifically,

  • to address sexual assaults on male servicemembers, we recommended that DOD incorporate information about victimization of men in its sexual assault awareness materials. We found that the materials the department currently uses, such as the posters above, generally either didn’t identify the gender of the perpetrator or the victim, or specifically portrayed a man as the perpetrator and a woman as the victim;
  • to prevent sexual assault in initial military training, we recommended that the department provide more information to decisionmakers about sexual assault and other sexual misconduct during initial military training and subsequent career-specific training; and
  • to enhance care for sexual assault victims in deployed environments, we recommended that DOD provide department-level guidance to victims of sexual assault on the provision of medical and mental health care, whether at home or abroad.

You can track the status of these and all of our open recommendations in our recommendations database, and learn more in our podcast:

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Safe and Clean Water

thumbnail environmentSafe, clean water is essential for human and environmental health. However, our supply of clean water is at risk from pollution and droughts, like the current one in California. And, even when clean water is available at the source, aging infrastructure may affect water quality or supply.

On the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, the WatchBlog directs attention to some of our work on water issues.

Freshwater Shortages and Availability

The nation’s water bodies have long supplied Americans with abundant freshwater. However, in May 2014, we found that water managers and experts are concerned about issues like:

  • how population growth could strain water supplies;
  • the lack of information on water availability and use; and
  • the effects of climate change and extreme weather events, including droughts and floods.

The first two issues are longstanding concerns, remaining largely unchanged since our earlier report in 2003.

We also reported that water shortages are expected to continue into the future. In particular, 40 of 50 state water managers we surveyed expected shortages in some portion of their states, as shown below. We also found that uncertainty about economic growth and land use complicates state efforts to plan for these shortages.


(Excerpted from GAO-14-430)

Pollution and the Clean Water Act

Our lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water may be at risk for pollution from a variety of sources. The figure below shows how water bodies may become polluted, including

  • “point sources,” single, identifiable factors that introduce pollutants to specific areas; and
  • “nonpoint sources,” more variable factors that introduce pollutants over larger areas.


(Excerpted from GAO-14-80)

Under the Clean Water Act:

  • States must establish water quality standards.
  • States must develop pollutant budgets, known as “total maximum daily loads” (TMDL)—the maximum amount of each pollutant that a body of water can contain and still comply with water quality standards.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states must issue permits for point sources of pollution and provide incentives to reduce nonpoint source pollution.

In December 2013, we concluded that more than 40 years after passing the Clean Water Act, many of the nation’s bodies of water are still polluted, and the goals of the act are not being met. For example, while states have completed more than 50,000 TMDL documents—outlining the waters at risk for pollution, the sources of pollution, and how to address and monitor the risk—many didn’t demonstrate that they would achieve water quality standards, based on water resource experts’ reviews of a sample of the documents.

Water Infrastructure

Even when clean water is available at the source, aging infrastructure may affect water quality or supply. In March 2015, we testified about efforts to maintain and upgrade the nation’s aging and deteriorating drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. EPA estimated that, nationwide, infrastructure repairs and replacement will cost

  • $384 billion (in 2011 dollars) for drinking water systems, and
  • $298 billion (in 2008 dollars) for wastewater systems.

While many rural communities face significant challenges financing upgrades to water systems, we found 7 federal agencies provide funding or technical assistance to help.

Interested in more? Check out our Key Issues pages on managing natural resources, water quality, and the energy-water nexus.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Policymaker’s Duplication and Cost Savings Toolkit

Duplication iconOn Tuesday’s WatchBlog, we highlighted our new guide on assessing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication, as identified in our duplication and cost savings reports. We looked at what analysts should do, but congressional decision makers and executive branch leaders are also a major part of the equation.

Today, we’re focusing on the steps that policymakers can take to address analysts’ findings, as shown on the right side of this figure:

Steps for Analysts and Policymakers: Evaluating and Managing Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication

chart1(Excerpted from GAO-15-49SP)

Guidance for Congressional Decision Makers

chartAs we saw on Tuesday, analysts should generally propose specific options to increase program efficiency. It is up to decision makers to review the results of the analysis and the recommendations in order to make decisions.

Some questions they can ask include:

  • Which programs or aspects of programs are the most and least effective at meeting goals?
  • What are the benefits, potential trade-offs, and unintended consequences of the recommendations?
  • What legal restrictions or limitations in agency authorities might prevent implementation of these recommendations?

The guide also can help congressional decision makers determine next steps. Options may include

  • suggesting improvements in coordination and collaboration directly to agencies;
  • revising or explicitly defining roles and responsibilities in program administration; or
  • consolidating, streamlining, or eliminating programs.

chart2Even after reviewing the analysis and options, it may still be unclear which option is best. If further program information could help, decision makers could get it by establishing deadlines for agencies to provide the information, and consequences for noncompliance (such as reducing funding in future appropriations).

Guidance for Executive Branch Leaders

chart3Executive branch leaders have different authorities and tools than congressional leaders when faced with duplicative, fragmented, or overlapping programs. Some steps for executive branch leaders include:

  • engaging in performance management activities,
  • initiating and participating in collaborative efforts both within and among agencies,
  • identifying and implementing (through guidance or rulemaking) efficiencies and other streamlining measures, and
  • identifying and communicating to congressional decision makers opportunities for increasing efficiency that require congressional action to implement.

For more information, check out our report, which features interactive navigation to easily move among the steps and other resources in the guide.

You can also find more duplication and cost savings work on our website, including an Action Tracker that monitors the progress agencies and Congress have made in addressing the actions we identified, and our most recent annual report.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Effects of IRS Challenges on Taxpayers

taxes thumbnailFor most people, today is the last day to file your taxes. IRS has faced many challenges this filing season, including finding better ways to help taxpayers, combating identity theft refund fraud, and navigating new health insurance tax reporting requirements—while facing a continued decline in resources. What does this mean for taxpayers? We break down these issues for you in today’s WatchBlog.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Analyst’s Duplication and Cost Savings Toolkit

thumbnail_duplication_medallionFor 5 years, our annual reports have identified areas of fragmentation, overlap, and duplication in the federal government, as well as opportunities to achieve cost savings or enhance revenue. We also track how agencies and Congress address these proposed actions. This year, we are releasing a step-by-step guide that can help analysts, federal agencies, and policymakers identify and address fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative programs.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Projecting the Future of Federal Finances: Long-Term Fiscal Simulations

Fiscal Outlook graphicSince 1992, we have prepared long-term fiscal simulations to show federal deficits and debt under different sets of policy assumptions. Our latest update shows that the federal government continues to face a long-term fiscal sustainability challenge.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , ,

Coordinating Programs Serving Those with Serious Mental Illness

Thumbnail Health CareEach year, the first full week of April marks National Public Health Week—a time to highlight issues that are important to improving health across the country. Within the week, each day has a theme, and today’s theme is “Building Broader Communities.” In the spirit of the day, we are sharing our work on coordinating care in the community and elsewhere for adults with serious mental illness.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Keeping Alcohol Out of the Driver’s Seat—Ignition Interlocks

thumbnail_transportationIn 2012, more than 10,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers. While these types of fatalities have dropped over the last decade, almost a third of all traffic fatalities in that time involved alcohol. As we’ve reported, installing “ignition interlocks” in the cars of those convicted of drunk driving is one tool in the quest for safer roads. For Alcohol Awareness Month, today’s WatchBlog explores these devices.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

3, 2, 1…Liftoff of Our 2015 Assessment of NASA’s Major Space Projects!

thumbnail_spaceEach year, we report on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) major projects. Last week, we issued our latest “Quick Look” report, with updates on projects that are expected to cost at least $250 million. This year, 16 projects met that threshold, and among the 12 with firm budgets, the total expected cost is at almost $19 billion. Read on for our latest findings.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Halfway to the 2020 Census

census3Today marks the halfway point between the last decennial census and the next one in 2020. The census is a massive undertaking, and its costs have increased by more than 500 percent over the past 50 years. The Census Bureau is considering new approaches to save money. However, mistakes from the last census—specifically the abandoned handheld data collection devices with $3 billion in cost overruns—loom large. Today’s WatchBlog explores the issues.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , ,