Office of the Spokesperson
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will meet with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton on Thursday, September 16, when they co-host the 2021 Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN) consultations at the Department of State.
The meetings provide an opportunity for the United States and Australia to discuss ways in which our two countries can cooperate on strengthening peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.
Before the meetings, there will be an AUSMIN principals photo spray at 9 a.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State. This event will be pooled press coverage only.
The Secretaries and Ministers will participate in a joint press availability on the outcomes of this year’s ministerial meeting at 1:30 p.m. The press availability will take place in the Department of State’s Dean Acheson Auditorium following the AUSMIN meetings. This event will be pooled press coverage only and livestreamed on www.state.gov.
For more information, please contact the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at EAP-Press@state.gov.
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- Capitol Police: Applying Effective Practices to Address Recommendations Will Improve Oversight and ManagementBy Sam NewsJune 15, 2021What GAO Found The U.S. Capitol Police (Capitol Police) may benefit from applying practices to help implement recommendations from auditing entities, such as those from GAO and the Capitol Police Office of the Inspector General (OIG). These effective practices include the following: Provide management oversight over the prompt remediation of deficiencies and delegate authority. Federal internal control standards state that management should oversee the prompt remediation of deficiencies. This should be done by communicating the corrective actions to the appropriate personnel and delegating authority for completing these actions. Communicate regularly with auditing entities on the status of recommendations. Engagement between Capitol Police and auditing agency leaders could provide important leadership attention to help ensure actions are taken to implement recommendations. Work with Congress to address recommendations. Congress plays a key role in providing oversight and maintaining focus on recommendations from audit entities. For example, federal agencies, including the Capitol Police, are required to report on the implementation status of public recommendations. Further, agencies can also assess the need for legislation to address recommendations and report their findings to Congress. Follow key organizational transformation practices . As the Capitol Police takes steps to implement recommendations from auditing entities, the agency may benefit from following key organizational transformation practices, such as (1) setting implementation goals and a timeline, (2) dedicating an implementation team to manage the transformation process, and (3) involving employees to obtain their ideas and gain their ownership for the transformation. Coordination between the Capitol Police and its Board is critical to addressing its recommendations. The Capitol Police Board (the Board) is charged with oversight of the Capitol Police. Given the oversight role of the Board, the Capitol Police may need approval from the Board in order to take actions to address recommendations from auditing entities. GAO's 2017 work on the Board assessed whether the Board, in fulfilling its role in overseeing the Capitol Police, had developed and implemented policies that incorporate leading practices to facilitate accountability, transparency, and effective external communication. In that effort, GAO examined the Board's main governing document, its Manual of Procedures, and determined that it fully incorporated one leading practice and partially incorporated five others. Specifically, the Board's manual did develop processes for the internal functions of the Board but did not address any Board responsibilities in ensuring that any audit findings and recommendations to the Capitol Police were promptly resolved. By incorporating leading practices into its manual, the Board can ensure it is facilitating accountability, transparency, and effective external communication as it fulfills its oversight role of the Capitol Police. Why GAO Did This Study The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, highlighted the critical need to identify and address deficiencies in the management and security functions of the Capitol Police. Various auditing entities have work ongoing related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, including GAO and the Capitol Police OIG. It is important that the Capitol Police is well positioned to respond to existing and future recommendations from auditing entities. To do so, Capitol Police will also need to work closely with the Capitol Police Board, which has varied and wide-ranging oversight roles and responsibilities per statute. This statement discusses (1) effective practices for addressing recommendations from auditing agencies and (2) GAO's open recommendation to the Capitol Police Board from February 2017. To identify effective practices for addressing recommendations, GAO reviewed reports and testimonies issued from July 2003 through March 2021 that discussed the implementation of GAO recommendations, federal internal control standards, and organizational transformation. GAO also reviewed its February 2017 report on the Capitol Police Board, and used information gathered from its recommendation follow up efforts with the Capitol Police Board in 2020 and 2021.[Read More…]
- Military Operations: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight and Interagency Coordination for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program in AfghanistanBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DOD) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have spent billions of dollars to develop Afghanistan. From fiscal years 2004 to 2008, DOD has reported obligations of about $1 billion for its Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which enables commanders to respond to urgent humanitarian and reconstruction needs. As troop levels increase, DOD officials expect the program to expand. Under the authority of the Comptroller General, GAO assessed DOD's (1) capacity to manage and oversee the CERP in Afghanistan and (2) coordination of projects with USAID. Accordingly, GAO interviewed DOD and USAID officials, and examined program documents to identify workload, staffing, training, and coordination requirements. In Afghanistan, GAO interviewed key military personnel on the sufficiency of training, and their ability to execute assigned duties.Although DOD has used CERP to fund projects that it believes significantly benefit the Afghan people, it faces significant challenges in providing adequate management and oversight because of an insufficient number of trained personnel. GAO has frequently reported that inadequate numbers of management and oversight personnel hinders DOD's use of contractors in contingency operations. GAO's work also shows that high-performing organizations use data to make informed decisions about current and future workforce needs. DOD has not conducted an overall workforce assessment to identify how many personnel are needed to effectively execute CERP. Rather, individual commanders determine how many personnel will manage and execute CERP. Personnel at all levels, including headquarters and unit personnel that GAO interviewed after they returned from Afghanistan or who were in Afghanistan in November 2008, expressed a need for more personnel to perform CERP program management and oversight functions. Due to a lack of personnel, key duties such as performing headquarters staff assistance visits to help units improve contracting procedures and visiting sites to monitor project status and contractor performance were either not performed or inconsistently performed. Per DOD policy, DOD personnel should receive timely and effective training to enable performance to standard during operations. However, key CERP personnel at headquarters, units, and provincial reconstruction teams received little or no training prior to deployment which commanders believed made it more difficult to properly execute and oversee the program. Also, most personnel responsible for awarding and overseeing CERP contracts valued at $500,000 or less received little or no training prior to deployment and, once deployed, received a 1-hour briefing, which did not provide detailed information on the individual's duties. As a result, frequent mistakes occurred, such as the omission of key clauses from contracts, which slowed the project approval process. As GAO has reported in the past, poorly written contracts and statements of work can increase DOD's cost risk and could result in payment for projects that do not meet project goals or objectives. While mechanisms exist to facilitate coordination, DOD and USAID lack information that would provide greater visibility on all U.S. government development projects. DOD and USAID generally coordinate projects at the headquarters and unit level as well as through military-led provincial reconstruction teams which include USAID representatives. In addition, in November 2008, USAID, DOD and the Department of State began participating in an interagency group composed of senior U.S. government civilians and DOD personnel in Afghanistan to enhance planning and coordination of development plans and related projects. However, complete project information is lacking, because DOD and USAID use different databases. USAID has been tasked to develop a common database and is coordinating with DOD to do so, but development is in the early stages and goals and milestones have not been established. Without clear goals and milestones, it is unclear how progress will be measured or when it will be completed[Read More…]
- Defense Real Property: DOD-Wide Strategy Needed to Address Control Issues and Improve Reliability of RecordsBy Sam NewsSeptember 9, 2020As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, the Department of Defense (DOD) for fiscal year 2019 underwent a financial statement audit. In the military services' full financial statement audit reports for fiscal year 2019, the independent public accountants reported serious control issues related to events that occur during the life cycle of real property, consisting of adding, disposing, reconciling, valuing, and performing physical inventory counts. These control issues affect not only the reliability of financial statement reporting but also the quality of property record data that DOD officials need to make decisions for budget and mission planning, space management, and buying versus leasing options. Further, with DOD having almost half of the government's buildings, better data could help the federal government identify opportunities to dispose of unneeded buildings and reduce lease costs, thus potentially saving it millions of dollars. DOD has not yet developed a comprehensive, department-wide strategy—an element of leading practices for enterprise-wide real property management—to address the reported real property issues. Instead, each of the military services is independently developing corrective actions to address control issues, without applying common solutions among the services or department-wide. A department-wide strategy for remediating control issues would better position DOD to develop sustainable, routine processes that help ensure accurate real property records and, ultimately, auditable information for financial reporting for the department. Additionally, a DOD-wide strategy could help the military services more effectively and efficiently address reported control issues, particularly for those categorized as DOD-wide issues. The Acting Secretary, noting that the services had not accurately accounted for DOD's buildings and structures, required existence and completeness (E&C) verifications to be performed for all real property for fiscal year 2019. Given the lack of department-wide instructions for how to carry out the requirement, the military services independently developed approaches for performing the E&C verifications. Their approaches differed in both scope (what assets were verified) and methodology (how the assets were verified), including the extent to which instructions were written. Reporting and monitoring of the results by service and department-level management also differed. Without department-wide instructions for performing the fiscal year 2019 E&C verifications, the results were not comparable among the military services. Further, DOD and the military services did not obtain the complete and consistent information needed to create a DOD real property baseline or to help ensure that the department's real property records are reliable. DOD-wide instructions would help DOD obtain complete and comparable E&C verifications results, which would help DOD achieve an auditable real property baseline and, ultimately, its objective of an unmodified (“clean”) audit opinion. DOD manages one of the federal government's largest portfolios of real property. This engagement was initiated in connection with the statutory requirement for GAO to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements. DOD's uncorrected deficiencies, including those affecting real property, prevent DOD from having auditable financial statements, one of the three major impediments preventing GAO from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. This report (1) identifies the real property control issues that independent public accountants reported that may affect the ability of the military services to establish and maintain accurate and complete real property records, (2) examines the extent to which DOD had a strategy to address the control issues, and (3) assesses the extent to which DOD provided guidance for the required E&C verifications during fiscal year 2019 and how each military service implemented the directive. GAO analyzed fiscal year 2019 audit findings, reviewed key DOD documents, and interviewed DOD and military service officials. GAO is recommending that DOD (1) develop and implement an enterprise-wide strategy to remediate real property control issues and (2) issue DOD-wide instructions for the E&C verifications. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- COVID-19 Contracting: Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursements Could Provide Lessons Learned for Future Emergency ResponsesBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2021What GAO Found To help government contractors keep their workforce in a ready state during the COVID-19 pandemic, section 3610 of the CARES Act generally authorized government agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to contractor personnel and subcontractors during the national emergency. Section 3610 did not appropriate specific funding for this purpose. The four agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and NASA—reported use of section 3610 authority totaling at least $882.8 million over 14 months. The extent to which the agencies used the authority varied, from $1.4 million at Homeland Security to $760.7 million at Energy. Further, Defense officials estimated that defense contractors have more than $4 billion in paid leave costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement under section 3610. Defense officials also noted, however, that the department does not plan to reimburse this full amount using existing funding. Agencies also based their reimbursement decisions on the nature of the work performed by contractors, such as whether telework was an option. Twelve out of the 15 contractors GAO interviewed reported that paid leave reimbursement had a great or moderate effect on their ability to retain employees (see figure), in particular those with specialized skills or clearances. Selected Contractors' Views on the Effect of Paid Leave Reimbursement on Workforce Retention Given the urgency of the pandemic, agencies prioritized quick implementation of section 3610 over a more deliberative process, resulting in variations such as how agencies tracked use of the authority. Officials from all four agencies said that they either have captured or intend to capture lessons learned from implementing section 3610 and are willing to share these with other federal agencies. However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which coordinates government-wide contracting policy—has not collected and shared lessons learned. With coordination from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the government could seize an opportunity to enhance implementation of paid leave reimbursement provisions that may be enacted as part of rapid federal responses to future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance for those affected by COVID-19. Section 3610 of the CARES Act enables agencies, at their discretion, to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to their employees and subcontractors who are unable to access work sites due to facility closures or other restrictions, and whose duties cannot be performed remotely during the pandemic. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. In September 2020, GAO found that agencies had not made much use of section 3610 authority as of July 2020, and expectations of future use varied. This report (1) examines how selected federal agencies have used section 3610 authority and (2) presents selected contractors' perspectives on COVID-19 paid leave reimbursement. GAO reviewed guidance and data and interviewed cognizant officials from four agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO also selected a non-generalizable sample of 15 contractors that received or requested section 3610 reimbursements from one or more of the selected agencies and conducted semi-structured interviews of contractor representatives.[Read More…]
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- Global War on Terrorism: Reported Obligations for the Department of DefenseBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Since 2001, Congress has provided the Department of Defense (DOD) with hundreds of billions of dollars in supplemental and annual appropriations for military operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). DOD's reported annual obligations for GWOT have shown a steady increase from about $0.2 billion in fiscal year 2001 to about $139.8 billion in fiscal year 2007. To continue GWOT operations, the President requested $189.3 billion in appropriations for DOD in fiscal year 2008. As of May 2008, Congress has provided DOD with about $86.8 billion of this request, including $16.8 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Congress has not finalized action on the remaining $102.5 billion. In addition, the President also requested about $66 billion in appropriations for DOD in fiscal year 2009 for GWOT, which was submitted along with DOD's annual budget request. The United States' commitments to GWOT will likely involve the continued investment of significant resources, requiring decision makers to consider difficult trade-offs as the nation faces an increasing long-range fiscal challenge. The magnitude of future costs will depend on several direct and indirect cost variables and, in some cases, decisions that have not yet been made. DOD's future costs will likely be affected by the pace and duration of operations, the types of facilities needed to support troops overseas, redeployment plans, and the amount of equipment to be repaired or replaced. DOD compiles and reports monthly and cumulative incremental obligations incurred to support GWOT in a monthly Supplemental and Cost of War Execution Report. DOD leadership uses this report, along with other information, to advise Congress on the costs of the war and to formulate future GWOT budget requests. DOD reports these obligations by appropriation, contingency operation, and military service or defense agency. The monthly cost reports are typically compiled within the 45 days after the end of the reporting month in which the obligations are incurred. DOD has prepared monthly reports on the obligations incurred for its involvement in GWOT since fiscal year 2001. Section 1221 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 requires us to submit quarterly updates to Congress on the costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom based on DOD's monthly Supplemental and Cost of War Execution Reports. This report, which responds to this requirement, contains our analysis of DOD's reported obligations for military operations in support of GWOT through March 2008. Specifically, we assessed (1) DOD's cumulative appropriations and reported obligations for military operations in support of GWOT and (2) DOD's fiscal year 2008 reported obligations through March 2008, the latest data available for GWOT by military service and appropriation account.From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007, and for the first quarter of fiscal year 2008 through December 2007, Congress has provided DOD with a total of about $635.9 billion for its efforts in support of GWOT. DOD has reported obligations of about $562 billion for military operations in support of the war from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007 and for the second quarter of fiscal year 2008 through March 2008. The $73.9 billion difference between DOD's GWOT appropriations and reported obligations can generally be attributed to certain fiscal year 2008 appropriations and multiyear funding for procurement; military construction; and research, development, test, and evaluation from previous GWOT-related appropriations that have yet to be obligated and obligations for classified and other activities, which are not reported in DOD's cost-of-war reports. As part of our ongoing work, we are reviewing DOD's rationale for reporting its GWOT related obligations. Of DOD's total cumulative reported obligations for GWOT through March 2008 (about $562 billion), about $435.1 billion is for operations in and around Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and about $98.9 billion is for operations in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The remaining about $28 billion is for operations in defense of the homeland as part of Operation Noble Eagle. In fiscal year 2008, through March 2008, DOD's total reported obligations of about $69.8 billion are about half of the total amount of obligations it reported for all of fiscal year 2007. Reported obligations for Operation Iraqi Freedom continue to account for the largest portion of total reported GWOT obligations by operation--about $57 billion. In contrast, reported obligations associated with Operation Enduring Freedom total about $12.7 billion, and reported obligations associated with Operation Noble Eagle total about $89.3 million.[Read More…]
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- Priority Open Recommendations: Federal Deposit Insurance CorporationBy Sam NewsJune 1, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified three priority recommendations for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Since then, FDIC has implemented two of those recommendations. As of April 2021, the remaining open priority recommendation for FDIC involves the following area: Collaborating with other financial regulators to communicate with banks that have third-party relationships with financial technology lenders about using alternative data in underwriting. FDIC's continued attention to this issue could improve its ability to more effectively oversee risks to consumers and the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system. We are not adding any additional priority recommendations this year. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at 202-512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Emergency Responder Safety: States and DOT Are Implementing Actions to Reduce Roadside CrashesBy Sam NewsDecember 17, 2020Move Over laws vary by state but generally require motorists to move over a lane or slow down, or both, when approaching emergency response vehicles with flashing lights stopped on the roadside. U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data provide limited information on whether crashes involved violations of these state laws, but the agency is taking steps to collect additional data. For instance, NHTSA's 2018 data show 112 fatalities from crashes involving emergency vehicles, representing 0.3 percent of all traffic fatalities that year, but these data cannot be used to definitively identify which crashes involved a violation of Move Over laws. NHTSA is proposing updates to the data that it encourages states to include on crash report forms to better identify crashes involving violations of Move Over laws, and plans to convene an expert panel and initiate a pilot project to study further data improvements. Selected state officials reported that they have taken actions to improve public education and enforcement of Move Over laws but still face challenges in both areas. Such actions include education through various forms of media and regional coordination among states to conduct targeted enforcement of Move Over laws within their respective borders during the same time period. State officials cited raising public awareness as the most prevalent challenge, as motorists may not know the law exists or its specific requirements. Variation in the requirements of some Move Over laws—such as for which emergency vehicles motorists are required to move over—may contribute to challenges in educating the public about these laws, according to state officials. DOT has taken actions and is planning others to help improve emergency responder roadside safety. NHTSA helps states promote public awareness of Move Over laws by developing and disseminating marketing materials states can use to develop their own traffic safety campaigns. NHTSA also administers funding that states can use for public awareness activities or enforcement initiatives related to emergency responder safety. FHWA has coordinated with a network of stakeholders across the country to train emergency responders on traffic incident management best practices. Finally, in response to congressional direction, NHTSA officials are planning several research efforts intended to enhance emergency responder safety, including studies on motorist behaviors that contribute to roadside incidents and technologies that protect law enforcement officials, first responders, roadside crews and other responders. General Requirements of Move Over Laws for Motorists on a Multiple Lane Roadway Police, fire, medical, towing, and other responders risk being killed or injured by passing vehicles when responding to a roadside emergency. To protect these vulnerable workers and improve highway safety, all states and the District of Columbia have enacted Move Over laws. GAO was asked to review issues related to Move Over laws and emergency responder roadside safety. This report: (1) examines data NHTSA collects on crashes involving violations of Move Over laws, (2) describes selected states' actions and challenges related to Move Over laws, and (3) describes DOT efforts to improve emergency responder roadside safety. GAO analyzed NHTSA's 2018 crash data, which were the latest data available; reviewed federal and state laws and regulations, and DOT initiatives to improve emergency responder roadside safety; reviewed state reports to DOT; and interviewed NHTSA and FHWA officials, traffic safely and law enforcement officials in seven selected states, and stakeholders from traffic safety organizations and occupational groups, such as the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. GAO selected states based on a variety of factors, including traffic fatality rates per vehicle mile traveled and recommendations from stakeholders. DOT provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or RepkoE@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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