Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Ian Brownlee Travels to Tucson, El Paso, Nogales (Sonora), and Ciudad Juárez

Office of the Spokesperson

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Ian Brownlee will travel July 19-23 to Tucson, Arizona, El Paso, Texas, and Nogales and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.  In Tucson and El Paso, he will observe U.S. passport facility operations and meet with staff. In Nogales (Sonora) and Ciudad Juárez, he will observe consular operations and meet with consular staff.

For press inquiries please contact CAPRESSREQUESTS@state.gov.

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    What GAO Found The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has substantially completed three of five planned phases to renovate the Cannon House Office Building (Cannon project). AOC completed Phase 0 utility work; the Phase 1 work to renovate the building's west side, the Phase 2 work to renovate the building's north side; and work is underway on Phase 3 of the building's east side. Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D. C. From 2009 to 2018, AOC consistently estimated the project cost at $753 million, In 2014, GAO found that AOC's cost estimate of $753 million reflected several of GAO's leading practices for high-quality, reliable cost estimates, including that AOC had conducted a risk and uncertainty analysis. GAO found that AOC's cost estimating policies and guidance did not require a quantitative risk and uncertainty analysis nor the reporting of the resulting confidence level of the estimate. GAO made recommendations for AOC to incorporate leading practices into agency guidance and submit confidence levels of cost estimates to Congress. AOC implemented our recommendations. In January 2018, AOC updated its analysis of risks by undertaking an integrated cost-schedule risk analysis. AOC's 2018 analysis arrived at the same conclusion as its earlier analysis—that the project's estimated $753 million total cost was adequate to complete the project. However, AOC's 2018 analysis indicated that inaccurate estimates of costs for risk mitigations, unknown risks, and optimistic assumptions about the effect of risk mitigations on the project's cost and schedule could affect its total cost. AOC updated the analysis in December 2019 and estimated the project cost at $890 million. Two unknown risks materialized after the December 2019 estimate: the effect of COVID-19 and the January 2021 security events–their impact on the project is uncertain. In its March 2021 project summary, AOC reported that a revised budget would be formulated after the completion of an analysis in December 2021. Toward this end, in May 2021, AOC began updating its integrated cost-schedule risk analysis, with the aim of more accurately determining the extent to which the project's costs are increasing and its estimated cost at completion. Why GAO Did This Study In its Cannon project, the AOC intends to preserve the historic character while improving the functionality of the 113 year-old Cannon Building—the oldest congressional office building—as well as address deterioration to the building and its components. The project—nearing year 7 of its planned 10-year duration—is being implemented in five sequential phases with an initial phase (Phase 0) for utility work and four subsequent phases (Phases 1 through 4) to renovate the north-, south-, east-, and west-facing sides of the building. Each phase is scheduled around a 2-year congressional session. This statement describes: (1) the status of the Cannon project and (2) changes to the project's estimated cost at completion. This statement is based on GAO's prior reports in 2009 and 2014 and ongoing monitoring of the project. To monitor the project, GAO has been observing the ongoing construction, attending project meetings, and analyzing AOC documents.
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Top Loan Applicants and Approval Rates by Business Industry In addition, small businesses in counties with higher median household income, better internet access, and more diverse populations generally received more loans per 1,000 businesses and larger loans. EIDL applicants have faced a number of challenges, according to applicants and other business stakeholders GAO interviewed between August 2020 and February 2021. For example, applicants from five discussion groups and several stakeholders cited lack of information and uncertainty about application status as major concerns. In addition, until February 2021, SBA did not provide important information to potential applicants, such as limits on loan amounts and definitions of certain program terms. Lack of important program information and application status put pressure on SBA's resources and negatively affected applicants' experience. For example, SBA's customer service line experienced call surges that resulted in long wait times, and SBA's data showed that 5.3 million applications were duplicates. SBA's planning documents describe in general terms the public outreach to be conducted following disasters, but they do not detail the type or timing of the information to be provided. Developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that includes these details could improve the quality, clarity, and timeliness of information SBA provides to its applicants and resource partners following catastrophic disasters. GAO's ongoing review of the EIDL program related to COVID-19 has found that the program is susceptible to providing funding to ineligible and fraudulent applicants. For example, as GAO reported in January 2021, SBA had approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to businesses that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as real estate developers and multilevel marketers, as of September 30, 2020. In addition, GAO found that between May and October 2020, over 900 U.S. financial institutions filed more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports related to the EIDL program with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Further, GAO's analysis of 51 Department of Justice cases involving fraud charges for EIDL loans as of March 2021 found that these cases involved identity theft, false attestation, fictitious or inflated employee counts, and misuse of proceeds. Over the course of its COVID-19 response, SBA has made some changes to address these risks. For example, beginning in June 2020, SBA took actions to improve loan officers' ability to withhold funding for applicants suspected of fraud. However, SBA has not yet implemented recommendations GAO has previously made to address EIDL program risks. In January 2021, GAO recommended that SBA conduct data analytics across the EIDL portfolio to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications (GAO-21-265). SBA did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. However, in May 2021, SBA officials stated the agency was in the process of developing analysis to apply certain fraud indicators to all application data.   In March 2021, GAO recommended that SBA (1) implement a comprehensive oversight plan to identify and respond to risks in the EIDL program, (2) conduct and document a fraud risk assessment, and (3)  develop a strategy to address the program’s assessed fraud risks on a continuous basis (GAO-21-387). SBA agreed with all three recommendations. In May 2021, SBA officials stated that the agency had started to assess fraud risk for the program. Fully implementing these recommendations would help SBA to safeguard billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and improve the operation of the EIDL program. Why GAO Did This Study Between March 2020 and February 2021, SBA provided about 3.8 million low-interest EIDL loans and 5.8 million grants (called advances) totaling $224 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. Borrowers can use these low-interest loans and advances to pay for operating and other expenses. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor funds provided for the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other objectives, the characteristics of program applicants and recipients; the challenges EIDL applicants experienced and the extent to which SBA has addressed them; and the steps SBA has taken to address risks of fraud and provision of funds to ineligible applicants. GAO reviewed documents from SBA, an EIDL contractor, and two of its subcontractors. In addition, GAO analyzed loan application data, conducted five discussion groups with applicants, and interviewed staff from SBA, six Small Business Development Centers, and six business associations. GAO also analyzed socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic data on EIDL program participants.
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  • Economic Development: Opportunities Exist for Further Collaboration among EDA, HUD, and USDA
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Federal economic development programs and state business incentives approach economic development in different ways. In GAO's review of six large state business incentive packages ($50 million or more) in four states, federal economic development program funds were not directly used. Reasons for limited use could include differences in purposes and goals, and limitations on how federal funds can be used. For example, the goals of economic development programs administered by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not completely align with the goals of state business incentives, the latter of which include attracting and retaining individual businesses. Although these incentive packages were not funded with federal economic development program funds, some of the businesses that received a large incentive package were highlighted in federal strategic plans as opportunities for investment and job growth in the local economy. The economic development programs of EDA, HUD, and USDA each encourage or require state and local communities to conduct strategic planning, which includes obtaining input from a range of public and private stakeholders and identifying ways to leverage other available resources, such as federal and state funding. Recognizing the similarities in what they require of grantees, in 2016, EDA and HUD entered into an interagency agreement to align planning requirements under their programs. The agencies implemented certain aspects of the agreement, such as issuing joint guidance to applicants. However, they have not implemented selected leading practices for effective interagency collaboration: Updating written agreements: EDA and HUD have not regularly monitored or updated their interagency agreement to reflect changing priorities of either agency. Officials stated the agencies have prioritized other areas for coordination, such as disaster relief, instead of state and local strategic planning processes. Including relevant participants: EDA and HUD have made limited efforts to involve USDA in their collaborative efforts. USDA also encourages strategic planning for local communities. Monitoring progress towards outcomes: EDA and HUD's agreement identifies specific outcomes, including effectively aligning federal, state, and local resources for economic development. However, the agencies have not monitored progress or addressed any related challenges in meeting the stated outcomes of the collaboration. By incorporating selected leading practices for effective collaboration, EDA and HUD can help grantees and local communities better manage fragmented efforts to meet federal requirements for strategic planning and more effectively align federal and state resources. Why GAO Did This Study States spend billions of dollars annually in business incentives to attract and retain individual businesses or industries. EDA, HUD, and USDA administer programs that support states' economic development goals and encourage strategic planning. In previous reports, we have identified concerns related to fragmentation in these agencies' efforts to collaborate on economic development programs with each other. GAO was asked to review issues related to these state and federal economic development efforts. This report examines the use of federal economic development programs to support state business incentives and how selected federal agencies collaborate on these programs, among other issues. GAO reviewed information on federal economic development programs and business incentives in four states (selected because the states offer incentives of $50 million or more and vary geographically). GAO interviewed federal and state agency officials and policy organizations.
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime News
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