GAO Reports That Help Protect Vulnerable Elders

thumbnail retirement securityNews stories about older adults whose trusted family members or other caretakers deny them food and water, leave them to live under deplorable conditions, or physically and psychologically abuse them are all too common.  Neglect and abuse can often go hand in hand with financial exploitation, which can rob older adults of the life savings and property they count on to support them in old age.

Our new elder abuse key issue page provides a detailed overview of our findings and recommendations on elder abuse, financial exploitation, and federal fiduciary and guardianship programs.

Our reports on elder abuse:


Excerpted from GAO-13-110

  • review federal fiduciary programs and report on state guardianship programs, both of which are dedicated to protecting incapacitated adults.

The incidence of elder abuse is expected to increase as the size of the older population grows, further straining the social service and criminal justice systems charged with protecting that population. Our reports provide recommendations that can inform federal agencies’ and other stakeholders’ efforts to better prevent, identify, and stop the abuse and financial exploitation of our nation’s vulnerable elders.

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Podcast on Expectations of Government Support for Large Bank Holding Companies

GAO Podcast IconThe perception among investors and credit agencies that a bank is “too big to fail” may affect how that bank’s holding company competes in financial markets.

Hear our podcast with Lawrance Evans, Jr., a director in GAO’s Financial Markets and Community Investment team, who led a recent look at how expectations of government support affect large bank holding companies.

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The Evolution of GAO Graphics


As GAO has produced reports over the years, we’ve used graphics to help showcase our findings. With innovations in how we publish our reports, our graphic style has changed dramatically over the past 30 years.

The 1980s and 1990s

We used rapidograph pens and Letraset machines to set graphics into typewritten reports. This example of a graphic from 1981 used a rapidograph pen to create simple shading to differentiate between the bars. In the mid-1980’s, a switch to computers led us to develop Instant Chart—our own software program that allowed analysts to create simple data graphics.


Excerpted from GGD-81-79

The Comptroller General at the time, Charles Bowsher, introduced a visual standards manual intended to standardize the look of GAO printed products across divisions. This manual influenced the look and feel of today’s GAO graphics, as you can see in the example below with the heavy black line above the figure title, and the typefaces used. These changes were intended to ensure the accuracy and clarity of our graphics. A feature introduced in the standards manual that is no longer required is the drop shadow—the black partial border that gives boxes and bars a three-dimensional feel.


Excerpted from GAO-02-648T

2000 to Today

To respond to our clients’ needs and concerns about resources and costs, we moved from a print publishing model to a PDF/online model. Once we didn’t have to worry about the printing costs of using color, we were able to use it more often and to greater effect. In 2010, we started using a standard color palette. See the graphic below on total loans outstanding for an idea of how color can be used to compare multiple data sets.


Excerpted from GAO-11-696

We also began using interactive graphics in our report PDFs during this period. Explore the interactivity of the graphic below by downloading this report:


Excerpted from GAO-11-730

In recent years, we have been producing more reports than ever. Our graphics staff has grown in size and broadened its capabilities to meet this demand. As a result, we have been able to make more customized graphics, including original illustrations, interactive PDF graphics, and single figures that combine multiple types of data graphics.

Check out this example of an original illustration:



Excerpted from GAO-14-237

In the example below, you can see how the sliding bar charts and pie charts work together to give a more complete picture of Social Security, income, and wealth:


Excerpted from GAO-14-311

As we go forward, we’re moving toward more web-based interactive graphics, such as the ones on this page about the federal debt. We have also published several infographics, such as this one about Duplication and Cost Savings in the federal government.

Check out more than 1,000 GAO graphics on our frequently-updated Flickr page.

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Sharing Health Records for Servicemembers and Veterans

Thumbnail Health CareThe Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) operate two of the nation’s largest health care systems, providing care to more than 9.6 million active-duty servicemembers and 6.3 million veterans. For many years, DOD and VA have known that better sharing of health care data could help them: Continue reading

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Podcast on Medical Credit Cards

GAO Podcast IconFinancial institutions offer medical credit cards through participating providers to pay for services not covered by health insurance. These services may include dental and cosmetic procedures, or veterinary care.

Hear our latest podcast with Cindy Brown Barnes, a director in GAO’s Financial Markets and Community Investment team, who led a recent look at the marketplace for medical credit cards.

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Tracking Progress on Financial Stability and Reform

thumbnail_financeIn response to the worst financial crisis in more than 75 years, U.S. policymakers undertook wide-ranging reforms. For example, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) aims, among other things: Continue reading

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Celebrating GAO’s 93 Years with Some Glimpses into History

thumbnail_gaoHere at GAO, we strive for accountability, integrity, and reliability in the work we do, but the way we do it evolves with time. As the month of July marks GAO’s 93rd anniversary, we thought we would share a few snapshots of GAO’s office culture over the years. Continue reading

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The Risks of Virtual Currencies

GAO Podcast IconIn February 2014, the Mt. Gox virtual currency exchange filed for bankruptcy, stating that a security breach resulted in the loss of bitcoins worth more than $460 million at the time. This incident is one of many real-world illustrations of the risks involved in using virtual currencies. In June, we released a report on virtual currencies and related consumer protection, regulatory, and law enforcement challenges. You can hear our podcast on it below.

Continue reading

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Questionable Business Practices and Pension Advances

thumbnail retirement securityPensions, in addition to Social Security, are what allow millions of middle-class retirees to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Any loss of pension benefits (partial or otherwise) can significantly affect a retiree’s ability to pay monthly living expenses, medical bills, or other unexpected expenses. Unfortunately, some companies may be attempting to take advantage of financially distressed retirees by offering pension advances. We released a report earlier this week that identified at least 38 companies that offered lump-sum payments in exchange for receiving part or all of a retiree’s pension payments. Continue reading

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Climate Change Adaptation and National Security

thumbnail_defenseIn a new report, we assessed the Department of Defense’s (DOD) actions to adapt its U.S. infrastructure to the challenges of climate change. While it’s not possible to link any individual weather event to climate change, these events provide insight into potential climate-related vulnerabilities. Continue reading

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