Treating Behavioral Health Conditions in the United States

Nearly 57 million American adults had a mental health condition (such as depression), a substance use disorder, or both in 2017—and 70% of them didn’t receive treatment for these conditions.

Left untreated, these behavioral health conditions can cause other health complications, such as drug overdoses.

So, for Mental Illness Awareness Week, the WatchBlog looks at why so many people with these conditions go untreated, and efforts to increase access to treatment.

An untreated majority

Treatment for behavioral health conditions can help people reduce or stop substance abuse, manage their symptoms, and improve their quality of life. However, we found that the vast majority of people with these disorders don’t think they need treatment.

Possible reasons for this include:

  • Inability or unwillingness to recognize a behavioral health condition
  • Pessimism about the effectiveness of treatments
  • Preference for self-reliance

There are also millions of people who know they need help but still don’t get treatment for their conditions. These individuals cite reasons like cost, stigma, and not being able to access treatments (e.g., not knowing where to go for care or not having treatment options nearby).

Access challenges

Certain groups, such as low-income adults, have more trouble accessing treatment for behavioral conditions than others. For example, hourly wage workers may not be able to get time off from work for treatment, and those who are homeless may have to put other priorities first—such as finding shelter.

Some people also find it hard to access treatment because they aren’t close to treatment providers. This is partly due to a national shortage of behavioral health care professionals. For instance, 55% of the counties in the United States—all rural—don’t have any practicing behavioral health workers, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

A way forward

To help address this shortage, states have been increasingly turning to peer support specialists—people who use their own experiences recovering from mental illnesses to support others. (Their services are meant to complement, not replace, clinical services.)

These specialists work in a variety of settings, such as emergency rooms, independent peer-run organizations, and in housing agencies that help low-income families and people with disabilities find rental housing.

Some states receive federal funding from HHS for peer support specialist programs. We reviewed how these programs screen, train, and certify specialists, and identified 6 leading practices—such as training specialists in person and requiring continuing education. Learn more in our report.


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Proving You’re You: How Federal Agencies Can Improve Online Verification

So much of how we collect and share information in today’s world is done online. We get our news. We do our shopping and banking. We book appointments. And online access has even made it easier for us to apply for benefits and services within the federal government. But just how safe is our information out there in the federal cyber world?

In today’s WatchBlog, we look at our report on federal online verification processes. Read on and listen to our podcast with Nick Marinos, a director in our Information Technology & Cybersecurity team.

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Photo of a Person Working at a Computer

Verifying you are really you

When you apply online for benefits and services, many federal agencies rely on consumer reporting agencies to help verify your identity through a process called knowledge-based verification. This process usually involves answering a series of personal questions derived from information found in your credit files and is largely based on the assumption that only the true owner of the identity would know the answers. If you answer the questions correctly, your identity is considered verified.

For example, the Social Security Administration uses this technique to verify the identities of anyone seeking access to the “My Social Security” online service, which allows users to request a replacement Social Security or Medicare card, check the status of benefit applications, or request various other services.

However, data stolen in recent breaches, such as the 2017 Equifax data breach, has raised new questions about the safety of this practice. The risk is greater now that someone other than you may know the answers to questions about your personal credit history—leaving the door open for possible fraud and identify theft.

How the federal government is responding

This fraud risk prompted the National Institute of Standards and Technology to issue guidance in 2017 that prohibits federal agencies from using such knowledge-based verification process for sensitive applications. Alternative methods are available that offer stronger security, such as comparing a photo of an ID card captured on a cell phone to documentation on file.

Image Showing Examples of Alternative Identity Verification and Validation Methods that Federal Agencies Have Reported Using

However, these alternative methods can be limited by cost, convenience, and technological maturity. In addition, they may not be viable for everyone to use—for example, not all applicants may have cell phones to allow them to share their photo and verify their identity.

A closer look at federal identity proofing practices

We recently reviewed remote identify proofing practices for 6 agencies—all of which have major public-facing web applications that provide access to benefits or services.

We found that:

  • The Internal Revenue Service and General Services Administration had eliminated knowledge-based verification and began using alternative methods.
  • Veterans Affairs partially implemented an alternative method, but still relied on knowledge-based verification for some individuals.
  • The Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service intended to reduce or eliminate knowledge-based verification in the future, but didn’t yet have specific plans. The U.S. Postal Service has recently addressed our recommendation by implementing a remote identity verification solution for its Informed Delivery service that does not rely on knowledge-based verification.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had no plans to reduce or eliminate knowledge-based verification, citing high costs and challenges with implementing new practices.

Until these agencies take steps to eliminate their use of knowledge-based verification, however, the public that they serve may remain at increased risk of identity fraud. We made 6 recommendations, including that the National Institute of Standards and Technology provide guidance on implementing these alternative methods. The U.S. Postal Service has recently addressed one of our recommendations by implementing a remote identity verification solution for its Informed Delivery service that does not rely on knowledge-based verification.

Check out our report to learn more.


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Our New “Science & Tech Spotlights”

GAO has launched a new line of science and tech quick reads, 2-pagers providing brief overviews of key topics in the field. To complement our more in-depth evaluations and assessments, these “Science & Tech Spotlights” summarize emerging innovations and the relevant policy context.

In today’s WatchBlog we provide a thumbnail sketch of the first 4, released in September.

Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies allow users to carry out digital transactions without the need for a centralized authority. These technologies could fundamentally change the way government and industry conduct business, but questions remain about how to mitigate fraud, money laundering, and excessive energy use.

Hypersonic weapons, once developed, would fly faster than 3,800 mph and be extremely difficult to defend against. Advances in hypersonic technologies have significant implications for national security, as well as for transportation and space systems. Research and development of offensive and defensive capabilities in hypersonics is and will remain critically important.

An Artist’s Rendering of the Experimental X-51A Waverider, Which Used a “Scramjet” to Reach Hypersonic Speeds.

Opioid vaccines are an emerging approach to the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States. More than 10 million people abused opioids in 2017, with more than 47,000 opioid-related deaths — a nearly 6-fold increase since 1999. Opioid vaccines could offer advantages over current treatment options.

Probabilistic genotyping software is a tool that could greatly facilitate criminal investigators involving contaminated or partly degraded DNA. However, the validity of the analyses being used and the implications for constitutional due process protections remain unsettled.

Photo Evidence on a Shelf

We are planning for a steady stream of Spotlights to meet the need for reliable information on this complex, constantly changing field. To see them as soon as they come out, subscribe to our Science and Technology email updates.


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A Closer Look at GAO’s Watchdog Report for International Podcast Day

It’s International Podcast Day! Did you know GAO has been podcasting since 2010? In addition to traditional podcasts about significant issues in our reports, we’ve also experimented with video podcasts and done podcasts about internal GAO operations, such as the bid protest process. But in each format, our goal is the same—to hear from our experts about the work we do.

Today we’re celebrating by taking a closer look at the Watchdog Report. And what better way to do it than a podcast about our podcasts?

Listen to GAO’s Managing Director of Public Affairs, Chuck Young, talk about where we’ve been and what’s ahead for the Watchdog Report.

 

Watchdog Report Logo

You can peruse our catalog of podcasts on our website. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to the Watchdog report on iTunes or our RSS feed so you don’t miss out on future episodes.


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A Look at How the Government Acquires Public Lands

This Saturday is National Public Lands Day—the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort aimed at restoring and celebrating national parks, refuges, and forests. Many of these lands have belonged to the public for decades while others have been added recently as the government continues to acquire land for public use.

In today’s WatchBlog, we discuss our recent report on one of the ways the federal government acquires public lands—the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Photo of a Lake

What is the LWCF?

The LWCF was established in 1965 to help preserve, develop, and ensure accessibility to outdoor recreation.

Four federal land management agencies have access to the LWCF:

  • Bureau of Land Management manages public lands to support activities such as recreation, grazing, timber, mining, and conservation.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service manages national wildlife refuges, wetlands, and other special management areas dedicated to conserving and restoring wildlife habitat.
  • National Park Service manages land units, such as national parks, national monuments, and national battlefields, to conserve lands and resources and make them available for public use.
  • Forest Service manages national forests and grasslands that support, among other things, recreation, grazing, timber, and conservation.

Almost all of the LWCF’s funding comes from royalties and other fees that companies pay for oil and gas leasing. From FY 2014-2018, the 4 agencies received nearly $1.9 billion from the LWCF: about half of the funds went to land acquisition and the other half to conservation and recreation purposes.

Acquiring public lands

Agencies generally acquire land by:

  • purchasing the land from a landowner
  • accepting donations of land from a landowner
  • exchanging federal land for privately-owned land or other property, such as timber

In FY 2013-2017, the 4 agencies used LWCF appropriations to acquire more than 850,000 acres—mostly within the boundaries of their land units. For example, federal land can encompass land that’s owned by other entities.

Figure Showing Land Ownership in the Northern Section of the Bureau of Land Management's Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico, as of January 2018

During this time, the LWCF was used for projects such as:

  • preserving critical wildlife habitat and migration routes, and preventing private development within Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • supporting access for hunters, backpackers, and others in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico
  • protecting key forest habitat for the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel and songbirds in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland

Selecting land to acquire

We looked at the process for selecting land to acquire and found that, generally, staff at land units identify projects and send them to regional offices for review. From there, headquarters assesses and submits the projects to Congress.

We also found that, unlike other agencies, BLM doesn’t maintain centralized data on how it obtains land with LWCF funds. It also couldn’t identify all lands it acquired with LWCF funds. We recommended that the bureau improve its data collection efforts.


  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Anne-Marie Fennell at fennella@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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The State of Recovery Two Years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria

It’s been 2 years since hurricanes Irma and Maria caused extensive damage to several areas, including Puerto Rico, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928, destroying highways and buildings, and causing total failure of energy and communication systems, among other things.

In today’s WatchBlog, we share findings from some of our recent reports on federal disaster relief efforts.

A Spanish translation of this blog post follows below the English version. Para leer este blog en español, desplácese hacia abajo.

Coordinating mass care

When disaster strikes, FEMA and the Red Cross are primarily responsible for coordinating mass care for survivors, such as providing food and shelter.

We looked at how these agencies coordinated with each other in response to the 2017 hurricanes and found that they benefited from co-locating with key partners during disaster response. In addition to setting up a joint operation center in Washington, D.C., they worked side-by-side in state and local emergency operations centers with partners such as the Salvation Army and other voluntary organizations active in disaster relief.

Figure Showing Example of Co-Location of Mass Care Providers in an Emergency Operations Center

Co-locating key partners was especially beneficial to helping maintain communication in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the face of lengthy power outages and major damage to public structures.

Photo Showing Public School in Puerto Rico Damaged by Hurricane Maria

However, some needs like shelter, food, and supply distribution, were unmet. Providing mass care services was challenging in part because the written agreements between state and local governments with voluntary organizations didn’t always detail which services each could provide.

To address these issues, we recommended that FEMA emphasize the importance of clearly defining roles and responsibilities when developing written agreements.

Disaster assistance for those who are older or have disabilities

We also reported on the challenges that people who are older or have disabilities faced after the 2017 hurricanes. For example, we found that these individuals faced challenges accessing food, water, medicine, and oxygen.

Photo Showing Wheelchairs and Crates with Various Emergency Supplies Ready for Use at Shelters in Sarasota, FL.

In addition, these individuals faced challenges applying for assistance from FEMA. For example, survivors and local government officials told us that they faced long wait times and could not access the online applications due to power outages.

We recommended that FEMA implement new registration-intake questions to better identify and address survivors’ disability-related needs, among other things.

Continuing the recovery effort

With FEMA’s assistance, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are continuing their recovery efforts. As of April 2019, FEMA has obligated $7.4 billion for emergency work–such as debris removal and generators–and permanent work repairing or replacing roads and public infrastructure.

Figure Showing Collapsed Segment of Road Near Maricao, Puerto Rico, September 2018

To learn more, check out our webpage on federal disaster recovery efforts, including a Facebook Live chat and various facts and photos.


El Estado de la Recuperación Dos Años después de los Huracanes Irma y Maria

Han pasado dos años desde que los huracanes Irma y María causaron daños extensos en varias regiones, incluso Puerto Rico, Florida, y las Islas Vírgenes de los Estados Unidos (vea nuestro informe en inglés aquí). El huracán María fue el huracán más intenso a tocar tierra en Puerto Rico desde 1928, destruyendo carreteras y edificios y causando la falla total de unos sistemas de electricidad y comunicación, entre otras cosas (vea nuestro informe en inglés sobre los sistemas de electricidad).

En el Watchblog de hoy, compartimos los resultados de algunos de nuestros informes recientes sobre los esfuerzos implementados por el gobierno estadounidense para proveer asistencia en casos de desastres.

Coordinando el cuidado en masa

Cuando ocurre un desastre, la Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, por sus siglas en inglés) y la Cruz Roja Americana son las entidades responsables para coordinar el cuidado en masa de los sobrevivientes, tal como proveer la alimentacion y el refugio.

Analizamos cómo estas agencias se coordinaron entre sí para responder a los huracanes de 2017 y determinamos que se beneficiaron de la ubicación conjunta con socios interesados cruciales. Además de establecer un centro de operaciones en Washington, D.C., las agencias trabajaron codo a codo en centros de operaciones de emergencia estatales y locales con socios claves como el Ejército de Salvación y otras organizaciones voluntarias activas en la asistencia en casos de desastre.

Ejemplo de la ubicación conjunta de proveedores del cuidado en masa en un centro de operaciones de emergenciaEjemplo de la ubicación conjunta de proveedores del cuidado en masa en un centro de operaciones de emergenciaFuente: Foto de la GAO | GAO-19-256 (informe en inglés)

La ubicación conjunta de socios cruciales fue especialmente beneficiosa para ayudar a mantener comunicación en Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes, ante largos cortes de electricidad y daños extensos a las estructuras públicas.

Escuela Pública en Puerto Rico que Sufrió Daño Fisico por el Huracán María

Sin embargo, algunas necesidades como el refugio, alimentos y la distribución de suministros no fueron satisfechas. Proveer los servicios del cuidado en masa fue un desafío en parte porque los acuerdos escritos entre los gobiernos estatales y locales y las organizaciones voluntarias no siempre especificaron cuáles servicios cada uno podía proporcionar.

Para abordar estos asuntos, recomendamos que FEMA enfatice la importancia de definir claramente los papeles y las responsabilidades al desarrollar  acuerdos escritos.

La asistencia para sobrevivientes de edad avanzada o los con discapacidades

También informamos sobre los desafíos que enfrentaron las personas de edad avanzada y personas con discapacidades después de los huracanes del 2017 (vea a nuestro informe en inglés aquí). Por ejemplo, descubrimos que estos individuos enfrentaron desafíos para acceder a alimentos, agua, medicamentos y oxígeno.

Sillas de ruedas en un almacén de suministros para los refugiosSillas de ruedas en un almacén de suministros para los refugiosFuente: Foto de la GAO | GAO-19-256 (informe en inglés)

Además, estos individuos se enfrentaron con dificultades para solicitar asistencia de FEMA. Por ejemplo, los sobrevivientes y los funcionarios locales nos dijeron que ellos enfrentaron largos tiempos de espera o no pudieron acceder a las aplicaciones en línea debido a cortes de electricidad.

Recomendamos que FEMA implemente nuevas preguntas de inscripción para identificar y abordar mejor las necesidades de los sobrevivientes, entre otras cosas.

Continuando el esfuerzo de la recuperación

Con la asistencia de FEMA, Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes continúan sus esfuerzos de recuperación (vea a nuestro informe más reciente en inglés sobre la recuperación). A partir de abril de 2019, FEMA ha comprometido $7.4 mil millones para obras de emergencia —como la remoción de escombros y generadores– y obras permanentes para reparar y reemplazar las carreteras y la infraestructura pública.

Tramo de carretera dañada cerca de Maricao, Puerto RicoTramo de carretera dañada cerca de Maricao, Puerto RicoFuente: Foto de la GAO | GAO-19-662T (informe en inglés)

Para obtener más información, visite nuestra página de web (en inglés) sobre los esfuerzos federales de  recuperación de desastres, incluso un video de una plática por Facebook Live y varios datos y fotos.


 

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And the Emmy Goes to…

What do primetime television shows have to do with the work we do? More than you might think!

We’re gearing up for this Sunday’s Emmys by looking at how some of the nominated shows deal with issues we’ve reported about.

Today’s Watchblog explores.

Bodyguard

In the thriller Bodyguard, viewers are kept on the edge of their seats as Sergeant David Budd—a specialist protection officer with London’s Metropolitan Police—tries to protect the British Home Secretary from threats and physical harm.

Similarly, Secret Service agents are tasked with protecting the President, Vice President, and the White House. After an intruder jumped the fence and entered the White House in 2014, an independent panel made 19 recommendations to the Secret Service to help address issues with training, leadership, and perimeter security.

We recently reviewed the Secret Service’s progress in implementing these recommendations and found that it has more work to do. For example, the panel recommended that certain Secret Service agents train for 25% of their work time, but these agents trained for 6% or less of their work hours in FY 2018.

Orange Is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black provides an intimate look at the day-to-day ups and downs of a fictional group of inmates at a women’s federal prison. We recently reviewed a Department of Education pilot program that would allow inmates to be eligible for Pell grants (which provide financial aid to low-income students).

We found that the department should evaluate this pilot and report on the results—which could help decide the future of Pell grants for students in prison.

Photos Showing Incarcerated Students in Classrooms at Correctional Facilities

Ozark

When Ozark’s lead character, Marty Byrde, gets himself into hot water in a money laundering scheme gone bad, he and his family move to Osage Beach, Missouri—a town upriver from Bagnell Dam.

Dams like Bagnell are overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. To help FERC understand the risks at individual dams, engineers inspect the structures and review engineering studies of dam performance to analyze safety.

However, we found that a lack of standard language and procedures for recording inspection results limits FERC’s ability to identify safety risks at dams.

Graphic Showing a Dam and Related Key Structures

Russian Doll

Russian Doll follows Nadia as she tries to escape a time loop that restarts at the same moment during her birthday party. Each time she wakes up (to the infectious Harry Nilsson tune,“gotta get up, gotta out, gotta get home before the morning comes…”), she tries to remember what happened in previous loops so she can break the cycle.

We found that if Nadia had taken memory supplements to help, she may not have gotten what she expected. We tested 3 memory supplements and found that 2 of them didn’t contain the main ingredient stated on the label. We sent our results to the Food and Drug Administration for review and possible investigation.

A Photo of Pills and a Pill Bottle

To learn more about GAO or our reports, check us out at www.gao.gov.


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The Decentralized Structure of the Federal Reserve System

This week, a key component of the Federal Reserve System—the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)—will meet to review U.S. economic and financial conditions and determine monetary policy.

In today’s WatchBlog, we explore how the Federal Reserve System is structured and why.

Photo of the Federal Reserve Building

What is the Federal Reserve System?

The Federal Reserve System—or, “the Fed”—is the country’s central bank.

Its unique public-private organization includes:

  • the Board of Governors—an independent federal agency
  • 12 regional Reserve Banks—private corporations acting as fiscal agents of the government
  • the FOMC—a committee comprising Reserve Bank presidents and members of the Board of Governors

Figure Showing Twelve Federal Reserve Districts, Board of Governors, and Reserve Banks and Their Branch Locations, as of December 2016
Reserve Banks operate the System

The Fed is divided into 12 districts, with each district served by a regional Reserve Bank. Reserve Banks are the operating arms of the Fed. They:

  • distribute currency and coins
  • provide short-term loans to banks
  • supervise banks
  • provide educational information on consumer protection rights and laws

Reserve Banks aren’t federal agencies—they’re individually incorporated. Each has a board of directors and stockholders from commercial banks operating within their district. In most cases, each regional Reserve Bank also operates one or more branch offices.

The Board manages the System

The Board of Governors’ main goal is to monitor and promote the stability of financial markets. Among other things, it supervises Reserve Banks and sets the interest rate commercial banks are charged on loans from their regional Reserve Banks. It also submits reports to and testifies before Congress about monetary policy decisions and economic prospects for the future.

The Board, located in Washington, D.C., is led by 7 members who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

FOMC directs open market operations

FOMC influences the total amount of money and credit available in the economy by purchasing or selling securities in the secondary market on behalf of the Fed. FOMC consists of the 7 members of the Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, and 4 other Reserve Bank presidents who serve on a rotating basis.

Why is the Federal Reserve System structured this way?

The Fed was designed as a decentralized independent agency to ensure that monetary policy decisions would be representative of all regions of the country and free from political influence. Research shows that countries with high central bank independence usually maintain lower levels of inflation.

The Fed’s monetary policy decisions don’t have to be approved by the President, the executive branch of the government, or Congress. However, the Fed is subject to oversight by Congress and is required to conduct monetary policy to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.

Check out our full report for more information on the Fed.


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How Chernobyl Jump-Started the Global Nuclear Safety Regime

Have you been catching up on all the Emmy-nominated shows before the big event next Sunday, September 22?

With the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” nominated for 19 Emmy awards this year, we took the opportunity to look back at some of our reports on the accident. Today’s WatchBlog explores the U.S. role in responding to Chernobyl and the accident’s effect on worldwide nuclear safety.

The local response to a global emergency

After the accident, the U.S. helped build a protective concrete shelter, or sarcophagus, to cover the destroyed reactor to prevent further contamination.

Chernobyl Shelter(Excepted from GAO/RCED-00-97. See Figure 2, p. 23)

This initial shelter was never intended to serve as a permanent fix for confining the long-lived, highly radioactive material and continued to deteriorate.

The Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility at Chernobyl(Excepted from GAO-07-923. See Figure 5, p. 33)

Disagreements between stakeholders and technical uncertainties delayed the completion of a permanent shelter, as we reported in 2007, but the “New Shelter”—built in 2018 at 32,000 tons and $2.3 billion—is intended to stand for at least a century.

Design of the Proposed New Chernobyl Shelter(Excepted from GAO-07-923. See Figure 2, p. 3)

“A nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere”

Chernobyl’s after-effects resulted in global efforts to improve nuclear safety worldwide (and the aforementioned saying). Questions arose about the safety of nuclear reactors and what could be done to prevent a similar disaster–especially since there were still similar reactors in use in several places around the world.

To help address risks, the U.S. and other countries and international organizations provided assistance—such as equipment and training for nuclear reactor operators and regulators—to improve the safety of these reactors and make sure people were prepared if something did go awry.

Fire-Fighting Suits Provided to Smolensk Nuclear Power Plant(Excepted from GAO/RCED-97-5. See Figure III.6, p. 43)

Analytical Simulator Used by Ukrainian Nuclear Regulators(Excepted from GAO/RCED-00-97. See Figure 9, p. 49)

There was also a feeling among some members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an autonomous agency affiliated with the United Nations, that the agency should take a greater role in nuclear safety. To that end, IAEA convened a conference that led to the adoption of the Convention on Nuclear Safety—a treaty developed in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident to promote the safety of nuclear power reactors around the world. IAEA administers the Convention. In 2010, countries told us that the Convention had indeed contributed to global nuclear safety.

The world continues to learn

Nearly 25 years after Chernobyl, an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan prompted another global reckoning among nuclear safety regulators, who thought about what more could be done to improve nuclear safety—such as requiring backup electric generators in case a site lost power, similar to the Fukushima plant, and planning for previously unimagined accident scenarios.

Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Following the March 11, 2011, Earthquake and Tsunami(Excepted from GAO-14-109. See Figure 1, p. 7)

Like Chernobyl, Fukushima brought home the importance of safety culture: even as emerging nuclear technologies become “inherently” safer, humans will always have a role in nuclear safety.


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Following the Federal Dollar… geographically

When you think of the federal government, Washington, D.C. likely comes to mind. But the truth is that federal agencies and programs actually operate throughout the nation—from disaster recovery efforts to naval shipyards and federal data centers.

What you might not know, is that we at GAO are also spread across the country. In today’s WatchBlog, we offer a glimpse into our field offices from coast to coast.

From sea to shining sea

It’s valuable to have staff covering the U.S. to gather firsthand information and insight into different regions for our engagements. Setting up shop in different cities also allows us to recruit talented people who might not want or be able to relocate to Washington, D.C.

While 71% of our over 3,000 employees are based in our D.C. headquarters, the rest work in our 11 field offices across the country. In addition, GAO staff in all of our locations have telework opportunities.

Analyst staff in field offices are aligned with our mission teams, and work with our headquarters and other field office staff on our engagements. Operations staff also work in our field offices to help support our mission.

Field offices vary in size—both in the number of staff and number of mission teams they house. For example, our Atlanta office has staff from 8 of our mission teams, while our Dayton office only has staff from our Contracting and National Security Acquisitions team.

GAO’s Atlanta (left) and Dayton (right) field offices

Staying connected

GAO is committed to inclusion and valuing all of our staff. Since our staff work with colleagues in other areas of the country every day, it’s important that everyone have means for staying connected and that remote staff feel in touch with the goings-on in our headquarters.

We rely heavily on technology—such as video conferencing and screen-sharing software—to bring teams together virtually. We also offer opportunities for field staff to visit headquarters for training and important events, such as Congressional briefings.

To foster a sense of community, field offices also have social committees that coordinate events, like knowledge-sharing brown bags, potlucks, and after-hours volunteer activities.

Seattle field office cookie exchange event and Los Angeles field office charity drive

Learn more about what we do here.


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