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Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Justice

Statistical Analysis of Presidential Pardons

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Trafficking in Persons and Responses to the Challenged: A Global Study of Emerging Evidence


Priority Open Recommendations: U.S. Department of Education

Putting Scaling Principles Into Practice: Resources to Expand and Sustain Impact in Education


F-35 Sustainment: U.S. Department of Defense Needs to Cut Billions in Estimated Costs to Achieve Affordability

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Searching for Supply-Side Effects

Ethics and Empathy in Using Imputation to Disaggregate Data for Racial Equity: Recommendations and Standards Guide


Birth Cohort Trends in Health Disparities by Sexual Orientation

Mortality Among Persons Entering HIV Care Compared With the General U.S. Population

July 16, 2021


In April 2020, the authors identified 18 priority recommendations for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Since then, DOJ has implemented nine of those recommendations by, among other things, improving the accuracy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) face recognition capabilities and the public's understanding of how the FBI uses and protects personal information, assessing its progress in its efforts to more efficiently handle FBI whistleblower retaliation complaints, developing better ways to assess its ability to combat illicit opioids, better addressing immigration judge staffing needs, and overseeing implementation of an electronic-filing system for immigration courts. In June 2021, the authors identified three additional priority recommendations for DOJ, bringing the total number to 12. The 12 recommendations fall into the areas of efforts to combat illicit opioid abuse, federal prison system, FBI whistleblower retaliation complaints, immigration courts, cybersecurity, and improper payments. Examples of recommendations include that the Drug Enforcement Administration establish outcome-oriented goals and associated measurable performance targets related to opioid diversion activities, and assess how the data supports its diversion control activities. Another example is that DOJ clarify all current relevant DOJ guidance and communications to clearly convey to whom FBI employees can make protected disclosures. The DOJ's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations.

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office

This report is a study of pardon-petition evaluations performed by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, a unit in the U.S. Department of Justice. The Office of the Pardon Attorney processes thousands of requests for executive clemency each year. Federal executive clemency encompasses four different types of presidential actions. These are: (1) A pardon to remove or mitigate all or part of punishment (such as imprisonment or voting restrictions); (2) The commutation of a sentence (either ending punishment outright or reducing its severity); (3) The remission (i.e., cancellation) of a fine, restitution, or forfeiture required as part of a sentence but not yet fully satisfied or relinquished; and (4) A reprieve that temporarily suspends or postpones the imposition of a sentence. Researchers conducted a statistical examination of how the office screens incoming petitions, investigates the facts underlying the petitions, and evaluates the merits of petitions when crafting recommendations to the President to grant or deny a pardon. Data were analyzed for any patterns in the office’s decisions that indicated racial or ethnic bias. The report found that the office appears to be having increased difficulty in keeping up with the incoming pardon caseload. As of the beginning of June 2018, over 2,000 pardon petitions were classified as pending, but for most years prior to 2016, the pending caseload was no more than half that amount. The increase in the pardon evaluation backlog was in part due to a notable spike in incoming pardon petitions during the last full fiscal year of the Obama Administration, in which the count of new applications was more than triple the previous 12 months. Even if only the petitions included in this analysis are considered (ones with final actions taken by the office during a time of relative calm in the clemency system), it typically took 16 months in a denied case for the office to send a report and recommendation to the Deputy Attorney General.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected countries and people globally; it has also exacerbated existing disadvantages, poverty, and vulnerabilities. The initial measures to contain the health crisis have not always considered those most vulnerable and affected by violence and exploitation. This report seeks to bring to the forefront the challenges for anti-trafficking during the pandemic and share promising practices and lessons learned in order to prepare for a more inclusive crisis-response in the future, leaving no one behind. In particular, the report explores the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on (1) the scale and characteristics of trafficking in persons; (2) victims of trafficking; and (3) frontline organizations (law enforcement, prosecution services, the judiciary and the protection and reintegration services provided by non-government organizations (NGOs)). The report also examines the different initiatives developed in response to the challenges created by COVID-19 and identifies promising practices.

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


In April 2020, the authors identified six priority recommendations for the U.S. Department of Education. Since then, the department has implemented three of those recommendations by taking action to: (1) raise awareness of the threat of lead in school drinking water and collaborate with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to encourage testing; (2) help borrowers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program better understand eligibility requirements; and (3) improve its cyber risk management framework to better protect the agency's systems and data. In May 2021, the authors identified four additional priority recommendations for the department, bringing the total number to seven. These recommendations involve protecting the investment in higher education and ensuring the well-being and education of the nation's school-age children. Examples include that the secretary of the department should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review its methods of providing instructions and guidance to servicers, identifying areas to improve clarity and sufficiency, and ensure consistent delivery of instructions and guidance to ensure program integrity and improve service to borrowers. Another recommendation example is that the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights should develop and implement a civil rights data collection business rule that targets schools and school districts that report very low numbers of incidents and set data-driven thresholds to detect such incidents. The department's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations.

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office

Education challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated include learning inequalities between and within countries, youths dropping out of school, and students in school but not learning. These challenges require transforming education systems at large scale to meet all children’s needs. The process of adapting what works to address these problems so that programs can be effectively implemented for a larger group of students and communities with a lasting impact is called scaling. How can programs that work be effectively, equitably, and sustainably scaled to ensure more children are learning? In response to these questions, the authors launched a series of Real-time Scaling Labs (RTSLs) with local institutions in several countries to generate more evidence and practical guidance for policymakers, practitioners, and funders on how to scale evidence-based education initiatives. To provide concrete guidance based on key scaling principles and respond to gaps identified through the RTSLs, the authors have developed scaling-related tools in collaboration with lab partners and other colleagues. Based on empirical research, these resources are designed to foster an iterative, reflective, and data-driven scaling process, with each tool supporting different phases of the scaling journey.

Source: Brookings Institute

Government Operations

The F-35 aircraft, with its advanced capabilities, represents a growing portion of the U.S. Department of Defense’s tactical aviation fleet—with about 400 of the aircraft fielded. F-35 mission capable rates—a measure of the readiness of an aircraft fleet—have recently improved, but still fall short of warfighter requirements. Specifically, from Fiscal Year 2019 to Fiscal Year 2020, the U.S. F-35 fleet's average annual (1) mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can fly and perform one of its tasked missions—improved from 59% to 69%; and (2) full mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can perform all of its tasked missions—improved from 32% to 39%. Both metrics fall below the services' objectives. For example, in Fiscal Year 2020 the Air Force F-35A full mission capable rate was 54%, versus a 72% objective. Since 2012, F-35 estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year life cycle have increased steadily, from $1.11 trillion to $1.27 trillion, despite efforts to reduce costs. The services face a substantial and growing gap between estimated sustainment costs and affordability constraints—i.e., costs per tail (aircraft) per year that the services project they can afford—totaling about $6 billion in 2036 alone. The services will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program.

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) instituted the most substantial changes in taxation in decades and was designed to boost the economy via supply-side incentives. This paper reviews these changes and examines the impacts on economic aggregates through 2019. The act clearly reduced revenue. The effect on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is difficult to tease out of the data. Investment growth rose after TCJA was enacted but was driven by trends in aggregate demand, oil prices, and intellectual capital that were unrelated to TCJA’s supply-side incentives. Growth in business formation, employment, and median wages slowed after TCJA was enacted. International profit shifting fell only slightly, and the boost in repatriated profits primarily led to increased share repurchases rather than new investment.

Source: Brookings Institute

To identify, and subsequently address, racial disparities, changemakers need access to high-quality data disaggregated by race and ethnicity. In many important policy questions, data disaggregated by race and ethnicity are unavailable, and efforts to collect new, self-reported data to fill these gaps is costly, time-consuming, or impermissible. Imputation and other methods for appending or integrating different data sources are critical tools for filling these gaps. However, these methods do not typically require the input of the people whose data are being combined or augmented, creating ethical risks and a potential lack of empathy for people whose data are used in the process. This report explains what imputation is, why it is an important and needed tool for disaggregated data and race-conscious policy making, and how to approach it with ethics and empathy. It explores key questions that stakeholders should weigh when creating and using imputed race and ethnicity data, including whether imputation is the right approach for disaggregating data in a particular use case, who should be involved in the process (for example, researchers, community partners and representatives, and end users), and how to ethically apply imputation methods for racial equity analysis. The authors recommend that the field adopt standards on relevance, interpretability, coherence, accuracy, privacy, and institutional environment when using imputation to disaggregate data by race and ethnicity. They also recommend that stakeholders incorporate community-engaged methods into any imputation project, drawing on insights from impacted communities to inform the use, design, and application of imputation to create disaggregated data for their community.

Source: Urban Institute

Health and Human Services

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual-identified people experience worse mental and physical health than their straight-identified counterparts. Given remarkable social and legal changes regarding lesbian, gay, and bisexual-identified status in recent decades, the authors theorize that this health disadvantage may be changing across cohorts. Using data from the 2013–2018 National Health and Interview Surveys, the authors analyze five mental and physical health outcomes—psychological distress, depression, anxiety, self-rated physical health, and activity limitation—across three birth cohorts colloquially known as (1) Millennials, (2) Generation Xers, and (3) Baby Boomers and pre-Boomers. They find no evidence of reduced health disparities by sexual orientation across cohorts. Instead, relative to straight-identified respondents, the health disadvantages of gay, lesbian, and—most strikingly—bisexual-identified people have increased across cohorts. Findings highlight the importance of identifying the causes of increased health disparities as well as designing and implementing more direct public policies and programs to eliminate health disparities among more recent cohorts.

Source: Demography

Understanding advances in the care and treatment of adults with HIV as well as remaining gaps requires comparing differences in mortality between persons entering care for HIV and the general population. The purpose of this study was to assess the extent to which mortality among persons entering HIV care in the United States is elevated over mortality among matched persons in the general U.S. population and trends in this difference over time. The authors found that overall 5-year mortality among persons entering HIV care was 10.6%, and mortality among the matched U.S. population was 2.9%, for a difference of 7.7 percentage points. This difference decreased over time, from 11.1 percentage points among those entering care between 1999 and 2004 to 2.7 percentage points among those entering care between 2011 and 2017.

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine

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