Acting Assistant Secretary of State Joey Hood Visits Tunisia

Office of the Spokesperson

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood visited Tunisia from May 17–20. Acting Assistant Secretary Hood met with Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi and underscored the United States government’s commitment to partnering with Tunisia to advance its democratic, economic, and security goals.  They also discussed regional issues of mutual importance, including support for the UN-led Libyan peace process.  Acting Assistant Secretary Hood also met with civil society and attended an event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Program.

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    GAO began 37 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of GAO's 37 requested entrance conferences for those audits, DOD scheduled 33 within 14 days and held 34 within 30 days of GAO's notification. Entrance conferences are initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff that allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. The four entrance conferences that were scheduled more than 14 days after notification were scheduled late due to either difficulties in identifying a primary action officer or aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. The three entrance conferences that were held more than 30 days after notification were scheduled late due to difficulties in aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of their receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the final of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first three quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that it sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received GAO's notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the GAO team conducting each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan: Improved Communication and Adaptive Management Strategy Could Help Address Stakeholder Concerns
    In U.S GAO News
    The International Joint Commission's (IJC) process for developing and selecting the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan 2014 (Plan 2014) was generally consistent with relevant essential elements of risk-informed decision-making. During the 18-year process, IJC took steps to define objectives and performance measures to be used in its decision-making, identify various options, assess uncertainties like climate change, and engage with stakeholders, among other steps. These steps are all essential elements of risk-informed decision making. Plan 2014 Affects Various Users of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, Including (from Left to Right) Commercial Navigation, Coastal Development, and Recreational Boating, Including Marinas IJC uses two mechanisms—a communications committee and a strategic communication plan—and a variety of methods—such as its website, social media, and public meetings—to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014. Nevertheless, 12 of the 14 stakeholders GAO interviewed expressed concerns about IJC's communication. GAO found that IJC's strategic communication plan and related documents partially align with best practices. For example, the communication plan and related documents do not comprehensively identify target audiences or include mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the effectivness of their communication efforts. Updating its strategic communication plan to align with best practices and principles for risk communication could help IJC ensure improved stakeholder communication. Of the 14 stakeholders interviewed, nine expressed concerns about the rules and criteria in Plan 2014 and 10 expressed concerns about its implementation. For example, seven stakeholders told us that they do not believe that the Plan allows IJC to act proactively in anticipation of future water conditions. IJC has taken initial steps to develop an adaptive management process that may help address stakeholder concerns and approved a long-term adaptive management strategy in March 2020. However, the document does not fully incorporate the key elements and essential characteristics of an adaptive management process that could help IJC transparently and effectively assess Plan 2014 and adjust future actions to achieve the plan's objectives. For example, the Plan does not fully incorporate a communication strategy for engaging stakeholders throughout the process or information on how IJC will determine if adjustments to the Plan's rules and criteria are warranted. Water releases from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River are determined by a set of regulatory rules and criteria called Plan 2014—issued pursuant to IJC's Supplementary Order of Approval and the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The IJC—a binational commission—developed and issued the Plan and Order with the concurrence of the United States and Canada. The rules affect a variety of users of the waterway, including ecosystems, hydropower, and municipal and industrial water use. After flooding from the lake and river in 2017, GAO was asked to examine the process IJC used to develop and evaluate Plan 2014 and how IJC has addressed stakeholder concerns. This report examines (1) the extent to which IJC's process to develop and select Plan 2014 was consistent with essential elements of risk-informed decision-making, (2) actions IJC has taken to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014 and stakeholder concerns regarding IJC's communication, and (3) stakeholder concerns about Plan 2014 and the extent to which IJC has developed a process to assess and adjust Plan 2014. GAO reviewed Plan 2014 and other IJC documents, interviewed IJC and federal officials and a nongeneralizable sample of 14 stakeholders, selected for a variety of user interests and stakeholder types. GAO is making three recommendations, including that the U.S. Section of the IJC work with its Canadian counterpart to ensure that the communication plan aligns with best practices and the adaptive management strategy fully incorporates key elements. IJC agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • Littoral Combat Ship: Unplanned Work on Maintenance Contracts Creates Schedule Risk as Ships Begin Operations
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a class of small surface ships with two unique design variants. Both LCS variants carry smaller crews and rely more on contractors for maintenance than any other Navy ship. While this strategy was intended to reduce operating costs, it contributes to challenges in the Navy's strategy for contracted maintenance. Specifically: Contractor travel. U.S. law states that foreign contractors generally cannot conduct certain types of LCS maintenance. This results in the Navy paying for contractors to regularly travel overseas to perform routine maintenance. GAO's sample of 18 delivery orders showed estimated travel costs for the orders reviewed ranged from a few thousand dollars to over $1 million. Heavy reliance on original equipment manufacturers. LCS includes numerous commercial-based systems that are not used on other Navy ships. However, the Navy lacks sufficient manufacturer technical data to maintain many of these systems. This can lead to longer maintenance periods due to extra coordination needed for the manufacturers to assist with or complete the work. Although the Navy is establishing teams of its personnel to take on routine maintenance, contractors will continue performing some of this work. Littoral Combat Ship Variants under Maintenance The Navy is beginning to implement contracting approaches for LCS maintenance in order to help mitigate schedule risk, while taking steps to avoid it in the future. GAO found in the 18 LCS maintenance delivery orders it reviewed that the Navy had to contract for more repair work than originally planned, increasing the risk to completing LCS maintenance on schedule. A majority of this unplanned work occurred because the Navy did not fully understand the ship's condition before starting maintenance. The Navy has begun taking steps to systematically collect and analyze maintenance data to determine the causes of unplanned work, which could help it more accurately plan for maintenance. The Navy has also recently begun applying some contracting approaches to more quickly incorporate unplanned work and mitigate the schedule risk, such as (1) setting a price for low-dollar value unplanned work to save negotiation time and (2) procuring some materials directly instead of waiting for contractors to do so. Such measures will be important to control cost and schedule risks as additional LCS enter the fleet in the coming years. Why GAO Did This Study The Navy plans to spend approximately $61 billion to operate and maintain LCS, a class of small surface ships equipped with interchangeable sensors and weapons. With limited operations to date, these ships have entered the Navy's maintenance cycle. Since 2005, GAO has reported extensively on LCS issues, including ships delivered late and with increased costs and less capability than planned. The Navy also encountered problems as LCS entered the fleet, including higher than expected costs for contractor maintenance and numerous mechanical failures. In 2020, GAO reported that major maintenance on other surface ships using the same contracting approach as LCS was 64 days late, on average. The Navy acknowledges the importance of reducing maintenance delays in order to improve the readiness of its surface fleet. A House Report included a provision for GAO to review long-term contracting strategies and challenges for LCS repair and maintenance. This report (1) describes the effect of the LCS program's acquisition and sustainment strategies on its contracted maintenance and (2) assesses the extent to which the Navy is using contracting approaches to address any cost and schedule risks in maintaining LCS. To conduct this assessment, GAO reviewed relevant Navy documentation, including a sample of 18 delivery orders for LCS maintenance from fiscal year 2018 through April 2020 selected to cover each availability type and each LCS variant. GAO also interviewed Navy officials and contractor representatives. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or OakleyS@gao.gov.
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  • Amateur Athletes: The U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Response and Resolution Process for Reporting Abuse
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Center for SafeSport (the Center), an independent nonprofit organization, was established in response to concerns about the consistency of investigations conducted and resolutions reached by amateur sports organizations of allegations of misconduct and abuse. According to Center staff, their response to allegations of misconduct are guided by the SafeSport Code, which establishes acceptable standards of conduct for all individuals who participate in U.S. Olympic and Paralympic events and training, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and other tools. The SafeSport Code defines the scope of the Center's jurisdiction, establishes the standard of proof for its decisions, identifies types of prohibited conduct, describes possible temporary measures and sanctions, and outlines the resolution process and requirements to report to law enforcement. SOPs outline intake and investigation staff roles and responsibilities and provide a step-by-step guide of processes, and a case management system is used by intake and investigation staff to document their work. The Center seeks to ensure its intake and investigation process is fair by taking steps to ensure anonymity and privacy; providing opportunities for claimants (the persons alleged to have experienced misconduct) and respondents (the individuals accused of misconduct) to participate in investigations; and providing parties with the right to consult with an advisor and to seek arbitration of sanctions or other measures imposed by the Center. The Center refers to allegations of misconduct as cases when it establishes that it has enough information to proceed with intake and investigation. From February 2018 through June 2020, the Center created and resolved 3,909 cases. Most of the Center’s cases were resolved through administrative closure or jurisdictional closure. Administrative closure may occur as a result of insufficient evidence, claimants who elect not to participate in the resolution process, or other factors. Jurisdictional closure occurs when the Center does not have jurisdiction or the Center chooses not to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction, as defined in the SafeSport Code. As of June 30, 2020, approximately 1,300 individuals were listed in the Center’s Centralized Disciplinary Database; this number includes individuals placed on temporary restriction(s) or temporary suspension, as well as individuals suspended or rendered permanently ineligible to participate. On February 14, 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 was enacted, which codified the Center’s jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its affiliated organizations with regard to safeguarding amateur athletes against abuse in sports. It also required the Center to develop resources and policies to prevent abuse of amateur athletes. The Center investigates and resolves allegations of sexual misconduct by coaches, trainers, managers, peers, and others that may be in violation of the Center’s policies and procedures. In addition, the Center may, at its discretion, investigate and resolve allegations of other policy violations, including non-sexual child abuse and emotional and physical misconduct. The Center plays a key role in ensuring the safety of amateur athletes, many of whom are minors, who participate in Olympic, Paralympic, and Pan-American events and training. GAO was asked to describe the process the Center uses in responding to, investigating, and resolving allegations of misconduct. This report describes (1) how the Center responds to allegations of misconduct in amateur athletics and seeks to ensure its process for investigating and resolving allegations is fair, and (2) what is known about incidents reported to the Center from February 2018 through June 2020. GAO reviewed documents relevant to Center intake and investigation policies and practices and interviewed the Center's leadership, including individuals responsible for the intake and investigation of allegations of misconduct. In addition, GAO requested summary data for the period February 2018 through June 2020—the most recent data available—including information about allegations of misconduct and abuse, and the investigation and resolution of cases. For more information, contact Kathy A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • Veterans Community Care Program: Immediate Actions Needed to Ensure Health Providers Associated with Poor Quality Care Are Excluded
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has implemented contracts with Optum and TriWest to set up networks of community providers as part of the new Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP). However, the two contractors' processes for implementing eligibility restrictions established by the VA MISSION Act, as outlined in their policies and reflected in their contracts, may not consistently exclude all ineligible providers from participating in the VCCP. The VA MISSION Act prohibits providers from participating in the VCCP if they have lost a state medical license, for example, as a result of revocation or termination for cause or due to concerns about poor quality of care. However, VA's contracts with these contractors do not require the verification of providers' history of license sanctions, including a revoked license, in all states during credentialing. Only one of the two contractors has a process that includes verifying providers' licensure history in all states and neither has a sufficient process for continuously monitoring provider licenses. Contractor Processes for Implementing VA MISSION Act Restrictions on Community Care Provider Eligibility In May 2019, VA began tracking providers who do not meet the eligibility restrictions established by the VA MISSION Act. However, this tracking does not address providers removed from VA prior to this date. As of September 2020, VA had deactivated 136 ineligible VA providers from VCCP participation. GAO reviewed data going back to July 1, 2016 and identified an additional 227 providers that had been removed from VA employment and are potentially providing care in the VCCP. VA stated it has no plans to further review these providers. VA officials said these providers were eligible to participate in the VCCP because they were removed from VA employment before the VA MISSION Act restrictions were effective. Thus, there is a continued risk that former VA providers associated with quality of care concerns are participating in the VCCP. The VA MISSION Act of 2018 established a new community care program, the VCCP, aimed at providing care to veterans when it could not reasonably be delivered by providers at VA medical facilities. The act also requires VA to exclude from participation in the VCCP providers who lost a license for violating medical license requirements in any state or who VA removed from employment for quality of care concerns or otherwise suspended from VA employment. The VA MISSION Act included provisions for GAO to report on the implementation of restrictions on certain health care providers' participation in the VCCP. This report examines, among other issues, VA and contractor processes to implement these eligibility restrictions on provider participation in the VCCP. GAO reviewed VA's contracts and contractor policies related to VCCP provider credentialing, interviewed VA and contractor officials, and assessed the provider credentialing requirements and processes. In addition, GAO collected data on former VA providers and compared these data to the database of VCCP providers. GAO is making three recommendations to VA, including that VA require its contractors to have credentialing and monitoring policies that ensure compliance with VA MISSION Act license restrictions and that it assess the risk to veterans when former VA providers with quality concerns continue to provide VCCP care. VA generally agreed with GAO's three recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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  • Information Technology and Cybersecurity: Significant Attention Is Needed to Address High-Risk Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed to improve the federal government's management of information technology (IT) acquisitions and operations, and ensure the nation's cybersecurity. Regarding management of IT, overall progress in addressing this area has remained unchanged. Since 2019, GAO has emphasized that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and covered federal agencies need to continue to fully implement critical requirements of federal IT acquisition reform legislation, known as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. For example: OMB continued to demonstrate leadership commitment by issuing guidance to implement FITARA statutory provisions, but sustained leadership and expanded capacity were needed to improve agencies' management of IT. Agencies continued to make progress with reporting FITARA milestones and plans to modernize or replace obsolete IT investments, but significant work remained to complete these efforts. Agencies improved the involvement of their agency Chief Information Officers in the acquisition process, but greater cost savings could be achieved if IT acquisition shortcomings, such as reducing duplicative IT contracts, were addressed. In March 2021, GAO reiterated the need for agencies to address four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. GAO identified 10 actions for agencies to take to address these challenges. However, since 2019, progress in this area has regressed—GAO's 2021 rating of leadership commitment declined from met to partially met. To help address the leadership vacuum, in January 2021, Congress enacted a statute establishing the Office of the National Cyber Director. Although the director position has not yet been filled, on April 12 the President announced his intended nominee. Overall, the federal government needs to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace. In September 2020, GAO reported that the cyber strategy and implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks. In December 2020, GAO reported that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Enhance the federal response to cyber incidents. In July 2019, GAO reported that most of 16 selected federal agencies had deficiencies in at least one of the activities associated with incident response processes. Why GAO Did This Study The effective management and protection of IT has been a longstanding challenge in the federal government. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on IT and cyber-related investments; however, many of these investments have failed or performed poorly and often have suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations as a high-risk area in February 2015. Information security has been on the high-risk area since 1997. In its March 2021 high-risk update, GAO reported that significant actions were required to address IT acquisitions and operations. Further, GAO noted the urgent need for agencies to take 10 specific actions on four major cybersecurity challenges. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address the management of IT and cybersecurity. For this testimony, GAO relied primarily on its March 2021 high-risk update and selected prior work across IT and cybersecurity topics.
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