FindLaw Opinion Summaries - Family Law
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Testimony of Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, United States Senate
April 9, 2014
Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Moran and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the invitation to testify today. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you to discuss the Fiscal Year 2015 budget request for the Department of Labor.
President Obama’s 2015 Budget builds on his vision of opportunity for all Americans of which he spoke in January in the State of the Union address. The President’s budget sets forth concrete, practical investments and proposals to achieve his vision by growing the economy, strengthening the middle-class, and empowering all those hoping to join the ranks of the middle-class. It is an agenda of opportunity, action, and optimism. It is the agenda for our work at the Department of Labor over the next three years.
The core principle is as American as they come if you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed. In America, your ability to get ahead should be determined by hard work and personal responsibility not by the circumstances of your birth.
Making good on the promise of opportunity has always been central to the Labor Department’s mission to help create jobs and build a stronger middle class, to invest in human capital to build a skills infrastructure that supports business growth, to give every American the chance to retire with dignity and a measure of economic security, to promote a fair wage and safe working conditions, to help our nation’s veterans find a place in the civilian economy, and to help historically marginalized populations, like immigrant communities and people with disabilities, move into the economic mainstream. But now, more than ever, as the President’s agenda is our agenda, working to fulfill the promise of opportunity is fundamental to what we do, and the budget proposal would provide the investments necessary to enable us to help fulfill the promise.
We have come a long way since the depths of the Great Recession. We have seen 48 consecutive months of private sector job growth, which has added 8.7 million jobs, and the unemployment rate has reached its lowest point in over five years. Moreover, our manufacturing sector is experiencing the largest and most consistent growth since the mid-1990s. Over 600,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since February 2010. We have cut our deficits by more than half to their lowest share of GDP since before President Obama took office.
By those measures, we are well on our way to a full recovery. But the statistics do not tell the whole story as economic growth is still hamstrung by stubbornly high unemployment. They are cold comfort to the underemployed construction worker who continues to be laid off in between sporadic jobs. They do not encourage the factory worker whose application never gets a second look after the human resources department sees she has been unemployed for six months; or the waitress or bank teller who works full-time but must depend on public assistance to feed her family. They do not help the country’s youth for whom so much depends on that critical first job. So while we have come a long way, much work remains.
The President’s budget outlines a comprehensive agenda to make America a magnet for middle class jobs and business investment. Equipping workers with the skills they need and for which employers are hiring is not just a workforce development issue, it is an economic development issue. No matter what your political party, we can all agree on one thing: good jobs and low unemployment are good for the country. As part of the effort to achieve this shared goal, the President is acting on a set of specific, concrete proposals that will make sure American workers have the skills they need for in-demand jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow. These initiatives will allow industry to identify the skills and credentials required for jobs they are seeking to fill now and tomorrow; give workers and job seekers access to education and training that meets those needs; and provide employers with easy ways to find workers who have or can acquire those skills. Some of these proposals will require new legislation while others can be done within existing program authorities. I am eager to work with all who are willing to roll up their sleeves with me to enact these critical programs.
The President’s budget also supports the extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. If not extended, 3.6 million additional people are estimated to lose access to extended UI benefits by the end of 2014, despite remaining unemployed and looking for work. As I will explain, the President’s budget request creates opportunity for all Americans while continuing long term deficit reduction through:
OPPORTUNITY, GROWTH AND SECURITY INITIATIVE
While the 2015 Budget will adhere to the spending levels agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and reflect the tradeoffs that are required to maintain those levels of spending, the Budget also presents the President’s vision for an economy that promotes opportunity for all Americans. As part of this vision, the Budget sets forth a fully paid for Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI), which will include additional policies to grow the economy and create jobs without adding a dime to the deficit. The OGSI would increase the FY 2015 discretionary caps to make room for priority defense and non-defense investments, paying for $ 56 billion in funding with a balanced package of spending reforms and closed tax loopholes. It will increase employment, while achieving important economic outcomes in education, research, manufacturing and public health and safety. Although not included in our budget totals before the Committee, the OGSI envisions a significant role for the Department. At DOL, the OGSI includes:
INVESTING IN A COMPETITIVE WORKFORCE
To continue the economic recovery, the 2015 Budget proposes a set of initiatives that would reduce long-term unemployment and hasten reemployment including the New Career Pathways program (formerly the Universal Displaced Workers initiative), reemployment services and eligibility assessments and services, and the three-pronged Job-Driven Training legislative proposal comprising the following programs: Bridge to Work; Back to Work Partnerships; and Summer Jobs Plus.
To invest in the Nation’s youth and the long-term unemployed, the 2015 Budget also includes a package of mandatory funding for job-driven training proposals. These proposals would be designed with employer needs in mind, putting an end to what I call the “train and pray” era of training workers for jobs with limited demand or with credentials employers do not value. This $ 8.5 billion package of proposals includes:
I am working closely with the Vice President to continue other evidence-based efforts to replicate approaches that have been proven to work, move funds from those that have not, and continue to encourage and evaluate innovative and promising strategies. As that process unfolds, there are steps that we can take right away. The Budget proposes to maintain a strong foundation with funding for existing programs, while taking steps to foster innovation and improvement. The Budget includes:
PROTECTING AMERICA’S WORKERS AND THEIR INCOME AND RETIREMENT SECURITY
Worker protection programs are crucial to protecting the health, safety, wages and working conditions of America’s workers. The American people rely on the Department to fulfill our responsibility to make these protections not just words in the statute books, but real safeguards against threats to their lives and livelihoods. The Budget includes nearly $ 1.9 billion for the Department’s worker protection agencies. Some highlights of our worker protection request include:
In addition, the Budget request includes legislative proposals to modernize two worker benefit programs to improve the operation of both programs.
The Department’s budget request also includes other programmatic increases outside the training and employment services and worker protection areas that support the well-being of American workers.
In FY 2015 the Department of Labor will strive to advance our mission of serving American workers and employers and to build the foundation for our next 100 years. Our request helps create opportunities for working Americans by investing in skills and our enforcement infrastructure. The Budget will help ensure that the Department has the resources to lead the job-driven workforce system to hone the job skills of American workers; bolster efforts that address long-term unemployment; maintain safe and healthy workplaces; strengthen worker voice in the workplace; safeguard critical minimum wage and overtime protections for workers; and ensure secure retirements. The Department’s budget request is really a request to invest in the opportunity and potential of the American people.
That’s why I am so eager to tackle these challenges every single day. As it’s been for all 101 years of our existence, I believe the work of the Labor Department is the work of America.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me today. I look forward to working with you during the coming year and I am happy to respond to any questions that you may have.
What GAO Found Federal legislation passed in 2007 created a schedule of periodic increases to minimum wages in American Samoa. During the previous 50 years, special industry committees had periodically recommended industry-specific minimum wages. Historically, minimum wages in the U.S. territory have generally remained below the federal minimum wage (see fig.). The current schedule of increases would raise all American Samoa minimum wages to the current federal hourly rate of $ 7.25 by 2036. However, any new increase in the federal rate will lengthen the time required to achieve convergence. Minimum Wages in American Samoa Relative to the Federal Minimum Wage, 1957-2016 American Samoa’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is less than a quarter of the U.S.’s GDP per capita and, adjusted for inflation, has declined over the past decade. Local government and tuna canneries are the largest employers, accounting in 2014 for 42 percent and 14 percent of the workforce, respectively. From 2007 to 2014, overall employment fell by 4 percent, and workers’ average inflation-adjusted earnings fell by about 11 percent. During the same period, cannery employment decreased by 50 percent, and the minimum wage for cannery workers rose. Cannery officials reported labor costs and fisheries access among the challenges of operating in the territory, and one of the two canneries announced plans to suspend operations indefinitely in December 2016. The American Samoa government has expressed concern that continued minimum wage increases are at odds with sustainable economic development. There are two basic approaches for increasing American Samoa’s minimum wages to keep pace with the cost of living in American Samoa and to eventually equal the federal minimum wage—the criteria included in the provision for GAO to report on this issue. The first approach relies on indexing minimum wages to the cost of living. The second approach relies on using a schedule of future adjustments. Aspects of each approach could also be combined, as needed, with respect to the amount and timing of future increases to the territory’s minimum wages. Given concerns about potential negative effects of increasing American Samoa’s minimum wage on the territory’s economy, other design options could be incorporated to safeguard against such effects. For example, minimum wage increases could be reduced or suspended based on economic indicators that reflect the general health of the American Samoa economy or critical sectors. Why GAO Did This Study The federal minimum wage, established by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, has not been applied in American Samoa for many years. In 2007, Congress passed legislation to incrementally raise minimum wages in American Samoa to the federal level. Subsequent legislation postponed or reduced these increases. Pub. L. No. 114-61, enacted in October 2015, included a provision for GAO to report on alternative ways of increasing minimum wages in American Samoa to keep pace with the territory’s cost of living and eventually equal the federal minimum wage. In addition, Pub. L. No. 111-5, enacted in February 2009, included a provision for GAO to report periodically on the economic impact of minimum wage increases in the territory. This report examines (1) the history of minimum wage implementation in American Samoa; (2) the status of the American Samoa economy, including changes in employment, earnings, and key industries since scheduled minimum wage increases began in 2007; and (3) alternative approaches for increasing minimum wages in American Samoa to meet GAO’s two reporting criteria in Pub. L. No. 114-61. GAO reviewed American Samoa local and federal earnings information; collected data from American Samoa employers in a key industry through a questionnaire; and reviewed methods used to set minimum wages in the United States and around the world. Commenting on a draft of this report, the Department of the Interior suggested further study and the American Samoa government suggested creating a committee to set minimum wages in the territory. For more information, contact David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or email@example.com.
What GAO Found To help emergency responders safely handle rail accidents involving hazardous materials, selected railroads transporting hazardous materials typically carry two sources of information: the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Emergency Response Guidebook ( ERG ) and information in the trains’ documents. Federal Hazardous Material Regulations require railroads and other hazardous material transporters to carry emergency response information that describes immediate hazards to health and risks of fire or explosion, among other things. Representatives from all 18 railroads GAO interviewed told us that they carry the ERG on their trains. According to DOT officials, the ERG’s use is not required by regulation, but the rail industry views it as a national standard for emergency response information. Our review of selected train documents showed that they always have a basic description of each hazardous material being transported, including the identification number and proper shipping name, as well as an emergency response telephone number. Six of the 7 Class I railroads and 5 of the 11 selected Class II and III railroads also included emergency response information in these documents. According to four emergency response associations, in the first 30 minutes after a rail incident, emergency responders primarily use the train documents to locate and identify hazardous materials and use the ERG to identify potential response actions. Emergency Response Information Used in the First 30 Minutes of a Rail Accident GAO found that the emergency-response information in the ERG and the GAO-reviewed train documents of the selected railroads were generally similar, but differed somewhat in the level of specificity and type of information. For the 72 frequently shipped hazardous materials GAO selected, the train documents at times described hazards, mitigation measures, and protective-clothing requirements more specifically than the ERG . The ERG provided more detail on evacuation distances. However, for 6 selected hazardous materials, the recommended evacuation distances in the ERG differed from the supplemental emergency response information which is provided by the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Database. AAR decided in August 2016 to discontinue the database, removing the potential for discrepancies between the ERG and the supplemental emergency response information from AAR going forward. Why GAO Did This Study In November 2012, a train derailed in Paulsboro, New Jersey, releasing about 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, a hazardous material. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found, among other issues, that the supplemental information in the train’s documents on responding to emergencies involving vinyl chloride was inconsistent with and less protective than emergency response guidance in the ERG . Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to evaluate the differences between the emergency response information carried by trains transporting hazardous materials and the ERG guidance. This report examines (1) what emergency response information is carried on trains by selected railroads transporting hazardous materials and how responders use it, and (2) how selected railroads’ supplemental emergency response information compares to information in the ERG . GAO reviewed the ERG and other relevant literature and met with DOT and NTSB officials, among others. GAO interviewed all 7 larger Class I railroads and 11 smaller Class II and III railroads that carried hazardous materials in 2015. GAO compared the supplemental emergency response information with ERG information for 72 frequently shipped hazardous materials from a nonprobability sample of train documents provided by 10 of the 18 selected railroads. What GAO Recommends GAO is not making recommendations. DOT and NTSB provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated. For more information, contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natural Resources and Environment
Based on an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, the department filed a civil complaint against XAF Inc., asking for the distribution of more than $ 310,000 in assets to the remaining participants in the 401(k) plan. Specifically, the complaint alleged that as fiduciary of the plan, XAF Inc., formerly known as G&H Technology Inc., failed to properly complete the plan’s termination prior to the company’s assets being sold, preventing participants from obtaining distributions due to them. As of September 12, 2014, the plan still had eight participants and remaining assets totaling $ 310,899.
2015 EBSA News Releases
What GAO Found GAO’s nongeneralizable survey of 80 401(k) plans ranging in size from fewer than 100 participants to more than 5,000 and its review of industry data found that many plans have policies that affect workers’ ability to (1) save in plans (eligibility policies), (2) receive employer contributions, and (3) keep those employer contributions if they leave their job (vesting policies). Thirty-three of 80 plans surveyed had policies that did not allow workers younger than age 21 to participate in the plan. In addition, 19 plans required participants to be employed on the last day of the year to receive any employer contribution for that year. Fifty-seven plans had vesting policies requiring employees to work for a certain period of time before employer contributions to their accounts are vested. Plan sponsors and plan professionals GAO surveyed identified lowering costs and reducing employee turnover as the primary reasons that plans use these policies. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) allows plan sponsors to set eligibility and vesting policies. Specifically, federal law permits 401(k) plan sponsors to require that workers be at least age 21 to be eligible to join the plan. The law also permits plans to use rules affecting 401(k) plan participants’ receipt of employer contributions and the vesting of contributions already received. However, over time workers have come to rely less on traditional pensions and more on their 401(k) plan savings for retirement security. Further, while the rules were designed, in part, to help sponsors provide profit sharing contributions, today 401(k) plan sponsors are more likely to provide matching contributions and today’s workers may be likely to change jobs frequently. GAO’s projections for hypothetical scenarios suggest that these policies could potentially reduce workers’ retirement savings. For example, assuming a minimum age policy of 21, GAO projections estimate that a medium-level earner who does not save in a plan or receive a 3 percent employer matching contribution from age 18 to 20 could have $ 134,456 less savings by their retirement at age 67 ($ 36,422 in 2016 dollars). Saving early for retirement is consistent with Department of Labor guidance as well as previous legislation and allows workers to benefit from compound interest, which can grow their savings over decades. In addition, the law permits plans to require that participants be employed on the last day of the year to receive employer contributions each year, which could reduce savings for today’s mobile workforce. For example, GAO’s projections suggest that if a medium-level earner did not meet a last day policy when leaving a job at age 30, the employer’s 3 percent matching contribution not received for that year could have been worth $ 29,297 by the worker’s retirement at age 67 ($ 8,150 in 2016 dollars). GAO’s projections also suggest that vesting policies may also potentially reduce retirement savings. For example, if a worker leaves two jobs after 2 years, at ages 20 and 40, where the plan requires 3 years for full vesting, the employer contributions forfeited could be worth $ 81,743 at retirement ($ 22,143 in 2016 dollars).The Department of Treasury (Treasury) is responsible for evaluating and developing proposals for legislative changes for 401(k) plan policies, but has not recently done so for vesting policies. Vesting caps for employer matching contributions in 401(k) plans are 15 years old. A re-evaluation of these caps would help to assess whether they unduly reduce the retirement savings of today’s mobile workers. Why GAO Did This Study ERISA allows sponsors to opt to set up 401(k) plans—which are the predominant type of plan offered by many employers to promote workers’ retirement savings—and to set eligibility and vesting policies for the plans. GAO was asked to examine 401(k) plans’ use of these policies. Among other objectives, this report examines 1) what is known about the prevalence of these policies and why plans use them, and 2) the potential effects of these policies on workers’ retirement savings. GAO conducted a nongeneralizable survey of 80 plan sponsors and plan professionals regarding plans’ use of eligibility and vesting policies and the reasons for using them; reviewed industry data on plans’ use of eligibility and vesting policies; and projected potential effects on retirement savings based on hypothetical scenarios. GAO also interviewed federal officials and 21 retirement professionals and academic researchers. What GAO Recommends GAO suggests Congress consider a number of changes to ERISA, including changes to the minimum age for plan eligibility and plans’ use of a last-day policy. GAO is also making two recommendations, including that Treasury reevaluate existing vesting policies to assess if current policies are appropriate for today’s mobile workforce. Treasury had no comment on the recommendation. GAO believes that such an evaluation would be beneficial, given the potential for vesting policies to reduce retirement savings. For more information, contact Charles Jeszeck at (202) 512-7215 or email@example.com.
Remarks at the DOL Salute to Veterans, Washington, D.C., November 5, 2015
[as prepared for delivery]
Good morning, and thanks for being here. For those of you from outside DOL, let me extend my welcome to the Frances Perkins Building. We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedules to help us honor not only our own veterans here at DOL, but all of those who have served our nation in uniform. Thanks especially to our VSO partners who are here with us, our colleagues from across the government, as well as the members of our Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment, Training, and Employer Outreach, who are so helpful in providing us the outside perspective we need to make good decisions and develop programs that are effective and impactful.
I especially want to thank you, Terry, for your service to our country and your leadership here at DOL. Your advice and counsel have been invaluable to me, and I’ve enjoyed our trips together to visit military service members and veterans around the country. I know this work means a lot to you, not only because of your own service, but that of your husband and now your daughter, a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy.
We really could celebrate and salute veterans every day at DOL — because every day, our staff around the country is helping service members, veterans, their families, and survivors in so many ways, from preparing for and finding work, to helping employers better accommodate veterans with disabilities, and everything in between. We also have the blessing of more than 3400 veterans on the staff here at DOL, which is more than 21% of our total workforce. And in FY15, more than 32% of our new hires were veterans.
In addition to our own hiring efforts, the rest of the economy has figured out that veterans are great employees as well. The unemployment rate for veterans has fallen to 4.3%, from a high of 8.7% during the recession, and even “Gulf War Era II” veterans, or Post 9/11 veterans, have seen their unemployment rate come below the rest of the civilian population at 5.0%. We certainly can’t take credit for all of that wonderful progress, but DOL helps more than a million veterans every year, and in 2014, we helped more than 150,000 veterans through our Jobs for Veterans State Grants program alone. We also helped more than 17,000 formerly homeless veterans find employment in 2014, with an average starting wage of almost $ 12 an hour.
We also have a program at American Job Centers in 27 states called the Disability Employment Initiative, which focuses on improving coordination and services for jobseekers with disabilities, and we have spent more than $ 110 million supporting Americans with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, over the last 6 years. And that is money that has been money well spent.
Now, these numbers should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever heard me talk about veterans, because I love this work. This past summer, Terry and I went to Hawaii to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring our Heroes Job Summit, and I got to see every branch of our military in action. I saw the Army’s 25th Infantry Division practice a medevac out of a jungle in a Blackhawk helicopter. I went to the Coast Guard’s 24-hour operations center in Honolulu and toured a Cutter. I sat down with Marines and their spouses to talk about their transitions. I toured a nuclear submarine with our silent sailors at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. And I got to fly an Air Force C-17. Don’t worry, it was a simulator. I also joined the Commander of PACOM in paying my respects at the USS Arizona, which sank and still rests at Pearl Harbor, as you know.
This was a very moving and informative trip. And in addition to being in a really beautiful part of our country, it gave me the opportunity to see every branch of the military all in one place. I’ve been to other facilities around the country, but I don’t think there is anywhere else besides Washington, D.C. that you can see them all together. It also gave me an appreciation for the transitions that our military service members and their families go through. It might sound great to be stationed in Hawaii — and many of them said as much — but they also commented that it makes leaving the military very hard, because they are so far away from their families and also where they want to work when they get out. With a 6-hour time difference to the East Coast, for example, it’s hard to find a good time to talk to future employers on the phone, and it’s not like they can just take one day of leave to go to a job interview. I wouldn’t have thought of that, and that is why I like getting out there to make house calls, to hear about their hopes and their difficulties firsthand.
VA Secretary McDonald joined me for parts of this visit as well, and we co-hosted roundtables of disabled veterans, women veterans, and Native Hawaiian veterans. DOL and VA work hand-in-hand to support veterans of all walks of life, but especially disabled veterans, which is the theme of this year’s Salute to Vets. All veterans get priority of service in our American Job Centers, and we have dedicated staff members in many of the AJCs to help veterans with disabilities get all of the help they need. We even have some staff members at VA Medical Centers across the country, because we want to find and serve veterans where we are! Secretary McDonald and I speak regularly, and have gotten to travel together a fair bit to bring attention to issues like ending veterans’ homelessness, as well as supporting transitioning service members.
Before I close, I want to just call attention to the fact that 25 years ago this past summer, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George Herbert Walker Bush. Likely everyone here knows someone who has benefitted from this historical legislation, or has themselves, and this is especially true for our disabled veterans. We want to get folks focused on the last 7 letters of the word disability, instead of the first 3 letters. In honor of the ADA’s 25th, Terry and I went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center this summer to spend time with some of our wounded warriors and those caring for them, and it was nothing short of inspirational.
It was early in the morning, when most people weren’t even in work yet, but already the Military Advanced Training Center, or MATC, was full. You might call the MATC a gym, and I guess technically it is, but it is so much more than that. You see, the MATC is where our wounded warriors, and their families, learn how to cope with and overcome their injuries. This is where our Olympic athlete-level military service members learn how to walk and run again after losing a leg, or learn to do push-ups and pull-ups again with a new prosthetic arm, or even rock climb or swim with no limbs at all.
The MATC is a magical place, and it is so full of hope. Every one of the young men and women that I met that morning told me three things. First, they all just wanted to get back to their units; to get back out there and finish the mission. Second, they said they were exceptionally well cared for by the world-class staff, which was readily apparent and obviously well-deserved. And third, they also told me that while they were very optimistic about the future, they didn’t quite know what they were going to do next if they weren’t able to stay in the military. It’s not that they were afraid of the change. They had already conquered a lot of change. It’s that they had something happen to them very suddenly and they didn’t want it to slow them down.
Well, that is why we’re here folks. Who wouldn’t want someone with that kind of determination on their team? With leaders like Terry Gerton at VETS and Jennifer Sheehy at ODEP, we are there for our disabled veterans at every point along the way, and that makes me so proud. My dad earned his citizenship through military service in the Army, and then spent the rest of his life as a VA doctor, caring for men and women in Buffalo just like those I met that day at Walter Reed. I’m so honored to be part of an organization that contributes to that mission, because those young men and women aren’t going to be young forever, and they might need help from time to time, and the dedicated public servants at DOL and across our whole government are going to be there for them no matter what they need; so that everyone has access to opportunity.
Because we all know that America is truly strongest when we field a full team and our veterans are some of our most valuable players. Disabled veterans contribute every day to so many workplaces, which we know firsthand here at DOL, but I know there is more we can do to help companies and government recruit and retain them, so we aren’t going to stop.
So on this Salute to Veterans 2015, this is an opportunity to say thank you to all of our nation’s veterans. To say thank you for all of our employees who are serving so many people in so many different ways. We are making a ton of progress, but we still have work to do.
Thank you again for being here this morning, and for all you do every day to support our service members, our veterans, and their families and survivors. Happy Veterans Day!
What GAO Found Establishing a system that would provide incentives for trucking companies to self-report equipment problems may not necessarily yield safety benefits. Most stakeholders GAO interviewed—including selected carriers and drivers—thought a self-reporting system would be unlikely to produce safety benefits, stating that it would not incentivize quicker repairs. If repairs are not made more quickly, there would be no positive impact on safety. Three drivers, however, thought a self-reporting system could yield some safety benefits if it incentivized drivers to do more thorough inspections of their vehicles. Officials from industry groups and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) noted that a self-reporting system could negatively impact safety, such as by encouraging distracted driving if drivers report equipment problems on their cell phones while driving. Moreover, estimating the potential safety impacts of such a system requires information that is not currently available, such as how equipment problems that would be permitted to be self-reported are related to crashes. Example of a Driver Receiving a Violation for a Previously Identified Equipment Problem under Current System and under a Self-Reporting One FMCSA has the statutory and regulatory authority to establish a system for self-reporting equipment problems, and technology exists to create it, but its costs are unknown. Also, establishing such a system could pose challenges for FMCSA, carriers, and drivers. For example, developing a new system could delay efforts FMCSA has under way to improve its information technology, and carriers or drivers may have difficulty selecting their specific equipment problem from the more than 300 potential vehicle maintenance violations. Further, without information on key design features of a self-reporting system, such as whether reporting would be through a telephone hotline or a web-application, it is not possible to estimate costs with any reasonable degree of confidence. FMCSA developed a rough estimate that a self-reporting system would cost between $ 5 and $ 10 million to establish and operate for the first year. Why GAO Did This Study In 2015, more than 4,000 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks. To identify carriers with the highest crash risk, FMCSA uses information from roadside inspections and crashes to rank each carrier’s safety performance relative to other carriers in seven categories, including one on vehicle maintenance. Some stakeholders have proposed a system for carriers or their drivers to self-report en route vehicle equipment problems to FMCSA. Reported equipment problems that were repaired within a certain time period would not affect the carrier’s relative ranking, potentially incentivizing carriers to make repairs more quickly. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act included a provision for GAO to examine the cost and feasibility of establishing a system for carriers or drivers to self-report vehicle equipment problems to FMCSA. This report examines (1) the potential safety impacts of a self-reporting system and (2) factors that could affect its feasibility and cost. GAO reviewed relevant regulations, information on other existing DOT self-reporting systems, and prior related GAO work. GAO also interviewed a non-generalizable sample of representatives from six industry and safety associations, six carriers, and six drivers about this potential system for self-reporting equipment problems. GAO selected carriers to include those with diverse fleet sizes and average distances traveled, and drivers from six additional carriers. DOT provided technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued the following statement about the November 2016 Employment Situation report released today:
“Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. economy continued to demonstrate steady growth in November, with the addition of 178,000 jobs and the decline of the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent. This latest report is one more positive indicator of economic resilience, as American businesses have added 15.6 million jobs since February 2010, in the longest recorded streak of job growth in U.S. history.
“We have made incredible progress since the depths of the recession. It’s particularly encouraging to see employment increases in industries like professional and business services, which has added 571,000 new jobs over the past year, as well as health care and construction, which have added 407,000 and 59,000 jobs respectively over the same period. Other economic indicators provide additional reason for confidence. As we head into the holiday shopping season, retail sales and consumer confidence are strong. Average hourly earnings have risen by 2.5 percent over the past year.
“Despite this steady and sustained growth, there is more work to do to ensure that job growth and economic strength translate into sustaining wages for American workers and the families they support. Too many hardworking families struggle to make ends meet.
“We must remain committed to building and sustaining a sturdy economic foundation for America’s future: expanding opportunity for all Americans; providing widespread access to meaningful, prosperous employment; and creating an economy that works for everyone – because we all succeed only when we all succeed.”
What GAO Found The use of electronic health information can allow providers to more efficiently share information and give patients easier access to their health information, among other benefits. Nonetheless, systems storing and transmitting health information in electronic form are vulnerable to cyber-based threats. The resulting breaches—involving over 113 million records in 2015—can have serious adverse impacts such as identity theft, fraud, and disruption of health care services, and their number has increased steadily in recent years, from 0 in 2009 to 56 in 2015 (see figure). Number of Reported Hacking and Information Technology Breaches Affecting Health Care Records of 500 or More Individuals The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has established guidance for covered entities, such as health plans and care providers, for use in their efforts to comply with HIPAA requirements regarding the privacy and security of protected health information, but it does not address all elements called for by other federal cybersecurity guidance. Specifically, HHS’s guidance does not address how covered entities should tailor their implementations of key security controls identified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to their specific needs. Such controls include developing risk responses, among others. Further, covered entities and business associates have been challenged to comply with HHS requirements for risk assessment and management. Without more comprehensive guidance, covered entities may not be adequately protecting electronic health information from compromise. HHS has established an oversight program for compliance with privacy and security regulations, but actions did not always fully verify that the regulations were implemented. Specifically, HHS’s Office of Civil Rights investigates complaints of security or privacy violations, almost 18,000 of which were received in 2014. It also has established an audit program for covered entities’ security and privacy programs. However, for some of its investigations it provided technical assistance that was not pertinent to identified problems, and in other cases it did not always follow up to ensure that agreed-upon corrective actions were taken once investigative cases were closed. Further, the office has not yet established benchmarks to assess the effectiveness of its audit program. These weaknesses result in less assurance that loss or misuse of health information is being adequately addressed. Why GAO Did This Study As a digital version of a patient’s medical record or chart, an EHR can make pertinent health information more readily available and usable for providers and patients. However, recent data breaches highlight the need to ensure the security and privacy of these records. HHS has primary responsibility for setting standards for protecting electronic health information and for enforcing compliance with these standards. GAO was asked to review the current health information cybersecurity infrastructure. The specific objectives were to (1) describe expected benefits of and cyber threats to electronic health information, (2) determine the extent to which HHS security and privacy guidance for EHRs are consistent with federal cybersecurity guidance, and (3) assess the extent to which HHS oversees these requirements. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed relevant reports, federal guidance, and HHS documentation and interviewed subject matter experts and agency officials. What GAO Recommends GAO is making five recommendations, including that HHS update its guidance for protecting electronic health information to address key security elements, improve technical assistance it provides to covered entities, follow up on corrective actions, and establish metrics for gauging the effectiveness of its audit program. HHS generally concurred with the recommendations and stated it would take actions to implement them. For more information, contact Gregory C. Wilshusen at (202) 512-6244 or email@example.com.
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