Safe Gift-Giving this Holiday Season

thumbnail businessWith the holidays just around the corner, you may be thinking about whether the toys and gifts on the shelves are safe for your families and friends. Considering the wide range of products available for sale, we wanted to share some of our findings on consumer product safety.

Many Federal Agencies Play Roles in Oversight

Our recent report on consumer product safety found fragmented oversight of the thousands of types of products on the market. Eight agencies have direct oversight over consumer products, and at least 12 others—such as public health and law enforcement agencies—play support roles. The graphic below shows some of the types of products that have multiple agencies involved in oversight.

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(The above graphic from GAO-15-52 shows examples of consumer products regulated by more than one agency. To access interactive features of the graphic, download the PDF version of the report, and go to page 16.)

Having so many agencies involved can lead to a sometimes inefficient or ineffective oversight system. In some cases, different agencies regulate different components of the same product. For example, at least 3 agencies are responsible for overseeing toy laser guns:

  1. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sets safety standards and testing requirements for children’s products, including toys;
  2. The National Institute of Standards and Technology regulates the markings of toy and imitation firearms to distinguish them from real firearms; and
  3. The Food and Drug Administration regulates products that emit radiation, including laser products, by ensuring manufacturers comply with applicable safety performance standards and certification requirements.

In other cases, different agencies regulate different uses of the same product. For example, at least 2 agencies are responsible for hand-held infant carriers, depending on their use:

  1. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates these carriers when used as car seats; and
  2. CPSC regulates them when used outside of motor vehicles.

Without a more formal coordination mechanism, some potential safety hazards may go unregulated. To learn more, listen to our podcast:

 

Taking Action on Hazardous Products

We also examined how quickly CPSC takes action once it identifies a safety hazard.

CPSC generally regulates consumer products after they enter the market, and the growth of global and interconnected supply chains, as well as the sheer number and diversity of goods entering U.S. ports, presents CPSC with challenges.

Some of the options we identified to improve CPSC’s timeliness include:

  • premarket approvals for certain products like cribs, and other preventive approaches to regulating consumer products;
  • allowing CPSC to detain products at the ports, and other enhancements to its authorities to address unsafe imports;
  • better data for identifying injuries or death from products, such as more recent death certificate data, as CPSC’s current sources can be more than 2 years old; and
  • expedited rulemaking authority for setting and promulgating product safety standards.

  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Alicia Puente Cackley at cackleya@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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What You Need to Know about FraudNet

fraudnetFraudulent spending, waste, abuse, or mismanagement of federal funds erodes public trust in government. Since 1979, GAO has provided an outlet for anyone—federal employees, contractors, or members of the general public—to report allegations of such activities. FraudNet offers ways for anonymous citizens to get sensitive information to the people who are trained

  1. to protect that information from unauthorized disclosure, and
  2. to use that information to fight fraud.

See this video for more on how to report allegations to FraudNet.

History of FraudNet

In 1979, we established the GAO Fraud Hotline, a toll-free telephone number. In 1996, we expanded the program to receive allegations via the Internet, fax, and letter. At that time, the program was renamed “FraudNet” to reflect that expansion.

How does it work?

Upon receiving allegations, FraudNet staff and investigators from our Forensic Audits and Investigative Service team analyze and research the allegations. If they find that further investigation is warranted, FraudNet staff assign a case number and determine whether to refer that allegation to the relevant executive-branch agency, typically an Office of Inspector General (IG), or to pursue the allegation within GAO. FraudNet staff can use LexisNexis investigative tools and resources from the National Crime Information Center (the nation’s clearinghouse for crime-related data) to follow up on allegations.

What kinds of allegations does FraudNet receive?

FraudNet has received an average of 1,850 allegations a year over the past 5 years. About 80% of the allegations received in fiscal year 2013 received a case number for further investigation, and below is a breakdown of the types of allegations in those cases. As you can see, most of the allegations are about government mismanagement and waste:

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FraudNet in Action

FraudNet’s work has contributed to executive branch IG and GAO audits and investigations. For example:

  • FraudNet referred 3 cases to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) IG. In these cases, contractors falsified information to gain access to programs intended to benefit service-disabled veterans and businesses located in historically underused business zones. Consequently, four companies that had received $11 million in contracts pled guilty to charges including wire fraud and misrepresentation.
  • FraudNet staff performed substantial research that tracked registered sex offenders leaving and entering the United States. One of the recommendations from GAO’s report helped Immigration and Customs Enforcement and INTERPOL’s U.S. National Central Bureau share data to monitor sex offenders’ international travel.
  • FraudNet staff provided GAO with information about people who applied for passports using the identities of dead or jailed individuals, as well as those with active felony warrants. In the course of completing the report, GAO referred some high-risk cases to the Department of State, which may help them strengthen the integrity of the passport program.
  • FraudNet received allegations regarding potential fraud and abuse in the National School Lunch Program. GAO’s work following up on these allegations led to recommendations in a GAO report for improving integrity and oversight of the school-meals programs.

  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Steve Lord at LordS@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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Podcast on Health Care Price Transparency

GAO Podcast IconAs consumers pay for a growing proportion of their health care, they have an increased need for information on cost and quality before receiving care, to help them plan and make informed decisions. Transparency tools from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and from private websites can provide such information to consumers and others.

Hear our podcast with Linda Kohn, a director in GAO’s Health Care team, who led a recent review of the availability of cost and quality information and CMS’s tools for consumers.

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Showing You the Money: GAO’s 2014 Performance and Accountability Report

PARWhat is GAO’s audit work worth to you, the taxpayer? Today, we can tell you that in fiscal year 2014, our work led to $54.4 billion in financial benefits—a $100 return for every $1 Congress invested in us. We also found 1,288 ways to make government more efficient. All this information, and more, is available in our 2014 Performance and Accountability Report.

As you’ll see in the report, GAO doesn’t just hold other agencies accountable. Each year, we measure our performance to hold ourselves accountable. In this report, we share our progress and illustrate the benefits of our work for Congress and the nation.

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GAO’s Financial Management and Assurance Mission Team

thumbnail_financeGAO’s workforce is organized largely by subject area, with many of its employees working in 1 of 14 mission teams. Today we’ll be putting the spotlight on the Financial Management and Assurance (FMA) team, which helps improve and transform the government’s financial management and operations.

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Services for Veterans

Veterans thumbnailAs we express gratitude to the men and women who have served in our nation’s military this Veterans Day, we also reflect on how our nation helps prepare service members and veterans for a transition from military to civilian life. Having sound federal transition programs can help veterans return to family, workplaces, and communities, and mitigate the harmful effects of war-related injuries.

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Better Living through the Audit Process

IMG_0154GAO’s auditing process is rigorous, but the work literally pays off: in fiscal year 2013, we identified $51.5 billion in financial benefits as a result of our work—a return of about $100 for every $1 we spent.

How do we do this? We use a 5-phase audit process that helps ensure our accountability, integrity, and reliability.

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Responding to Infectious Diseases

Thumbnail Health CareAlthough this is the first time Ebola has been diagnosed in the United States, it’s not the first infectious disease we’ve faced. From flu and SARS, to Lyme disease and West Nile Virus, we have had opportunities to learn from past outbreaks so we can prepare for the next. Here, we present lessons from a past outbreak, ways to prepare for infectious diseases, and a review of one option for potentially developing an Ebola vaccine: flexible manufacturing.

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Podcast on Timely Access to Outpatient Specialty Health Care for Veterans

GAO Podcast IconDelays in VA medical center care have reportedly harmed some veterans. In 2012, VA found that its consult data were not adequate to determine the extent to which veterans received timely outpatient specialty care.

Hear our podcast with Debra Draper, a director in GAO’s Health Care team, who led a recent review of VA’s management of the consult process and veterans’ access to specialty care.

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GAO’s Acquisition and Sourcing Management Team

thumbnail_gaoGAO’s workforce is organized largely by subject area, with most employees working in 1 of 14 mission teams, many of which we have highlighted on the WatchBlog. Today we’ll be putting the spotlight on the Acquisition and Sourcing Management (ASM) team, which determines how efficiently and effectively the federal government is spending hundreds of billions in tax dollars to acquire what it needs.

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