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.

Total Obligations and Number of Awards for USAID Democracy Assistance, by Award Type, for Fiscal Years 2012 through 2016

Global gourmet?

This pie chart from our report on government procurement shows that when it comes to procuring DHS uniforms, it’s an international “recipe.”

DHS Procurement of Uniform Items by Country, October 2014 to June 2017

Divvying up the pie

The pie charts in our America’s Fiscal Future collection show some of the largest categories of government spending and revenue and depict the scale of action that would need to be taken to close the fiscal gap—the difference between program spending and revenue. (Sample our interactive pie charts on our webpage.)

spending and revenue pie charts

Comparing one pie to another

DOD civilian employees who get hurt on the job are covered under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act program, which works to return injured employees to work and provides compensation for work-related disabilities. These pie charts in our report show how DOD’s cash payments to beneficiaries compared to other federal agencies in 2015.

Figure 5: Percentage of Department of Defense (DOD) and NonDOD Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) Cash Benefits Paid, by Beneficiary Type, 2015

Banking may not be as easy as…

Banks are increasingly closing their branches along the U.S./Mexico border—due in part to increased money laundering risks and because of banks’ efforts to comply with federal anti-money laundering requirements. The pie charts in our report on banking regulations show the magnitude of bank closures in 3 border communities—which may lead to decreased services for residents and businesses.

Figure 9: Bank Branch Closures in Selected Southwest Border Communities, 2013–2016
A closer look at that slice of pie

The Affordable Care Act helps subsidize health-care coverage for qualifying applicants. But the pie chart in our report on enrollments in this subsidy program shows that a small percentage—about 1 percent—were potentially improper or fraudulent in 2015. What makes up that 1 percent?

About 1 Percent of Plan Year (PY) 2015 Enrollments Were Potentially Improper or Fraudulent

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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.

What’s new?

In 2015 about half of all states had started transitioning to the new system, according to responses to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National 911 Program’s survey of states that year.

Benefits of these new systems include better communication with callers, more resilient 911 operations, and enhanced information sharing among 911 call centers and first responders. Call centers using these new systems will be able to receive voice calls and accept various forms of data, such as text messages, images, video, and vehicle crash data. Such information can help to facilitate quick and accurate dispatch of first responders, and can help in situations where a 911 caller is unable to speak.

How does it work?

Dialing 911 triggers a series of events that result in a first responder’s coming to help you. That doesn’t change under the new system. Calls will still reach call centers and trained personnel will still dispatch first responders.

However, Next Generation 911 is capable of routing calls and other data through internet protocol–based networks instead of traditional telephone networks. As you can see in the figure, this allows call centers to process and share more information about emergencies, including more accurate location information.

Figure 1: Overview of 911 Communications and Dispatch Process

Making the switch

States and localities—the primary providers of 911 services—are responsible for implementing the new system, but federal agencies are helping too. For example, the National 911 Program leads the national effort to eventually connect approximately 6,000 independently operated 911 call centers into a nationwide Next Generation 911 system. The National 911 Program also provides national leadership for the transition, as well as information on grant resources, technology standards, and planning guides for states and localities.

Next steps

The National 911 Program is planning to work with other agencies to figure out what the federal government should do next in order to support implementation. As part of this process, we recommended that the National 911 Program make sure it identifies who will do what and develops an implementation plan for moving forward to improve this lifesaving service. NHTSA agreed with our recommendation.

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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 safercar.gov) into NHTSA.gov 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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Asking the Right Questions: How Many Medicare Participants Are At Risk of Harm from Prescription Opioids?

prescription drug bottlesOver 14 million Medicare participants received opioid prescriptions in 2016—which cost the government over $4 billion. Because of the recent increase in opioid overdoses, Medicare monitors participants that might be overutilizing opioids.

However, we found that there are more Medicare participants at risk of harm from opioids than the program monitors. Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, nearly three quarters of a million Medicare participants were potentially at risk of harm from opioids in 2015—but Medicare would have only monitored about 33,000 of them. Continue reading

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Increasing U.S. Military Posture in Europe

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014—and the Department of Defense has since requested over $4.5 billion to increase U.S. military presence in Europe. These funds were initially intended to reassure European allies, but DOD has also started to make plans to deter potential future aggression from Russia.

So, what do these changes look like? And can DOD afford to make them?

Today’s WatchBlog explores what we found in our report on the European Reassurance Initiative (now called the European Deterrence Initiative). Continue reading

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