Bottom’s Up to Clean Drinking Water!

In honor of World Water Day, today’s WatchBlog takes a look at our recent work on efforts to keep drinking water free of lead and other contaminants in homes, businesses, and military installations.

Lead in Drinking Water

No level of lead is safe in drinking water. Lead accumulates in the body over time, causing long-lasting effects, particularly for children and pregnant women. Our recent video explains how lead can enter drinking water, and what you can do to reduce your risks.

Given how damaging lead is to the human body, what’s being done to keep it out of your drinking water?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule requires local water systems to monitor drinking water at locations where lead may be present and periodically obtain tap water samples. Single family homes are the highest priority. Where lead levels are too high, water systems are to take action to control corrosion, inform the public, and (in some cases) replace lead pipes. Some aspects of the rule are complex, and responsibilities for implementing it are generally shared by EPA, states and local water systems.

Figure 3: Typical Responsibilities of Key Stakeholders in Implementing the Lead and Copper Rule
Although the rule requires water systems to test in high-risk homes and buildings with lead pipes, the locations of many lead pipes are unknown. Among other things, we recommended that the EPA collect additional data on lead pipes to improve its oversight of the rule.

Example of Potential Lead in the Pipe Infrastructure from Source to Homes

Military Installations and Drinking Water Contamination

Firefighters on military installations depend on firefighting foam to stop fires, but what happens when drinking water on and around military installations is contaminated with firefighting chemicals?

DOD and EPA have found perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water at or near military installations.  These chemicals are found in firefighting foam along with other items used by DOD, like rocket propellants, and may cause cancer and other health issues. Our recent report looks at DOD’s efforts to comply with and report on its compliance with drinking water regulations.

In general, we found that DOD public water systems comply with federal and state health-based drinking water regulations. However, we found military departments did not report all violations of health-based drinking water standards to the appropriate DOD office for at least 16 installations, as required by military policy. These installations serve approximately 180,000 people.

In addition, the military departments identified 391 active and closed installations with known or suspected releases of two perfluorinated firefighting chemicals (called PFOS and PFOA) into drinking water, for which DOD initiated environmental investigations and mitigation actions, and which we describe next.

DOD’s Efforts to Cleanup Drinking Water

DOD has taken steps to limit individuals’ exposure to some chemicals, including providing alternative drinking water supplies and installing water treatment systems.

Figure 1: Locations Where DOD Has Initiated Actions to Address Elevated Levels of PFOS and PFOA in Drinking Water on Military Installations, as of March 2017

Environmental investigations and mitigation activities occurred at about 67% of affected locations, where DOD spent almost $200 million. Shutting down wells, providing alternate water sources, or installing water treatment systems are all ways DOD has responded to elevated chemical levels.

Still, DOD’s incomplete internal reporting limits its ability to monitor installation compliance with safe drinking water regulations.

We made 5 recommendations to improve DOD’s data, reporting, and oversight of drinking water regulations.

For more information about GAO’s work on drinking water, visit our water quality key issues page.

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What Does It Take to Work on Wall Street?

Is the financial field still a “boys only” club? And who has the skills and credentials to work on Wall Street?

Today’s WatchBlog explores these questions and our recent report on the management-level representation of women and minorities and diversity practices in the financial services sector.

Who works in finance, anyway?

Women made up about 45% of managers across the financial services industry—companies that focus on banking, insurance, securities and other financial services—in the period we examined, 2007 through 2015.

Among managers, there are those at the senior-level (the decision makers) and those in the first- and mid-level manager category (managers who oversee day-to-day operations and report to senior-level managers).  Women made up about 29% of senior-level managers and about 48% of first- and mid-level managers.

In addition, the overall representation of racial and ethnic minorities in management positions in the financial services industry increased from 17% to 21% in this period. Minority representation rose from nearly 11% to about 12% of senior-level managers, and from nearly 19% to about 22% of first- and mid-level managers.

You don’t necessarily need a finance background or MBA

Financial firm representatives and other stakeholders we spoke with, and research we reviewed described a variety of practices financial firms take to recruit a more diverse workforce—one that includes women, racial and ethnic minorities, and those who may not have a financial background.

Some of the strategies include:

  • recruiting students from a variety of academic disciplines, such as liberal arts or science and technology;
  • establishing relationships with student and professional organizations;
  • intentionally recruiting diverse candidates; and,
  • offering programs to increase awareness of financial services.

Financial firm representatives told us that those with MBA degrees are still an important talent pool, but they recognize that top talent can come from a wide variety of schools and academic disciplines.

Some executives with whom we met explained they are interested in candidates with strong critical thinking skills, and that technical skills can be taught to new employees.

We found that among women, the pool of potential talent—those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees—has been consistent from 2011 through 2015.  Women have consistently earned about 58% of bachelor’s degrees and just over 60% of master’s degrees.

Figure 16: Percentages of Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees Earned by Women, 2011 –2015The potential talent pool of minorities increased from 2011 through 2015. For example, of all master’s degrees earned, the proportion awarded to minorities increased from nearly 29% in 2011 to 33% in 2015.

Ongoing Challenges

While some financial firms are implementing targeted practices to increase workforce diversity—and the pool of potential candidates for the industry appears to be strong—the financial services industry continues to face challenges with recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.

These challenges include:

  • negative perceptions of the financial services industry;
  • resistance from firm leadership to recruiting at a broad group of schools; and
  • difficulty retaining women and minorities.

Want to know more about diversity trends in the financial services sector and the practices firms are using to attract a more diverse workforce? Check out our report.

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What Are You Doing this Pi Day?

Hanging out with us on 3/14? Sweet!

How do you like to eat your pie? Crust-first? With whipped cream? As you enjoy your slice of pie on Pi Day, join us as we take a look at some of our latest pie charts on federal programs and spending.

Pie as an award

We recently examined how much money U.S. agencies pledged for democracy assistance in FY12-16 and how they obligated the funds. This pie chart illustrates the type and number of awards from USAID. Continue reading

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911 – What Is Your Emergency?

Each year, Americans make approximately 240 million calls to 911—of those, 80% are from wireless devices. The existing 911 system, however, relies on aging infrastructure that is not designed to accommodate modern communications technologies.

As a result, states and localities are upgrading to the next generation of services, commonly known as Next Generation 911.

We looked at what the federal government is doing to help states implement these new systems. Continue reading

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Are Your Online Purchases Legit?

Suspected Counterfeit MerchandiseMore counterfeit goods, drugs, and other illegal or prohibited items may be entering the United States as people increasingly buy things online. So, today’s WatchBlog explores how Customs and the Postal Service screen packages coming into the United States and what Customs does to stop counterfeit goods from reaching consumers.

Needles in a haystack Continue reading

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Women in Tech

information technologyResearch has shown that diversity brings new information and perspectives to a group, leading to better decision-making. But women comprise less than a quarter of the tech workforce, despite the fact that the tech sector continues to grow.

Why? And what can be done about it?

For Women’s History Month, today’s WatchBlog explores our recent report on representation of women in the tech sector. Listen to our podcast and read on to learn what we found. Continue reading

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The Shape of Water and U.S. Labs—Must Be Time for the Oscars!

Are you getting ready to watch the Academy Awards? In today’s WatchBlog, we take a look at the current crop of Oscar nominees and consider the cinematic side of some of the important issues we cover.

Spoiler alert: The papers got published

Accountability. That’s the idea that people should be able to hold their government accountable for their actions. In The Post, major newspapers turned to the Supreme Court and argued their Pentagon Papers reporting was helping to hold the government accountable. Accountability is our middle name! We’ve helped Congress hold agencies accountable in part through the use of federal data. For example, in one recent report we identified ways government agencies could make it easier for the public to see how they spend their budgets. Continue reading

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Navigating Auto Recalls

Is your car one of the over 50 million affected by safety recalls in 2016? How would you know?

In December 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration  began consolidating its various websites (including into to provide a single place for auto recall information.

So, how usable is this website? Today’s WatchBlog explores our recent report on auto recalls. Continue reading

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U.S. Government’s Financial Report

cover of 2017 Financial ReportDid you know that there’s a single document that contains nearly all of the federal government’s yearly financial information? It’s called the 2017 Financial Report of the United States Government and the Department of the Treasury published it today.

Treasury, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, annually consolidates individual agency financial statements to provide a comprehensive overview of the federal government’s finances. Every year, GAO audits the consolidated financial statements of the federal government and our report is included in the 2017 Financial Report of the United States Government. Continue reading

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For Valentine’s Day – A GAO Love Song Mixtape

photo of a mix tapeValentine’s Day brings out our romantic side here at GAO. We’ve come up with a few musical suggestions for you as you sit on the couch with your main squeeze, open a nice bottle of wine, and snuggle up with some golden (not very) oldie GAO reports.

So press play to listen to our Valentine’s Day mixtape.

A bit of advice from us here at GAO: Don’t leave your sweetheart singing Please Mr. Postman on February 14th because instead of a card or even a passionate Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) letter you sent a text. Just not the same. In a recent testimony to Congress, we discussed less romantic issues such as how the decline in cards and letters is posing serious fiscal challenges to the U.S. Postal Service. Continue reading

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