Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the United States of America, I congratulate the people of Andorra as they celebrate their patron saint, Our Lady of Meritxell.
This year marks 21 years since Andorra began its participation in the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange effort. More than 80 Andorran and U.S. alumni have participated in the program over the last two decades. Their academic collaboration and cultural exchanges reflect the many values that our two countries share, including the promotion of democracy and human rights. Even as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, we look forward to deepening our friendship and cooperation with Andorra.
My best wishes to the people of Andorra for a joyous national day and a successful year ahead.
- Rebuilding Iraq: Actions Needed To Improve Use of Private Security ProvidersBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The United States is spending billions of dollars to reconstruct Iraq while combating an insurgency that has targeted military and contractor personnel and the Iraqi people. This environment created a need for those rebuilding Iraq to obtain security services. GAO evaluated the extent to which (1) U.S. agencies and contractors acquired security services from private providers, (2) the U.S. military and private security providers developed a working relationship, and (3) U.S. agencies assessed the costs of using private security providers on reconstruction contracts.The civilian U.S. government agencies and reconstruction contractors in Iraq that GAO evaluated have obtained security services, such as personal and convoy security, from private security providers because providing security to them is not the U.S. military's stated mission. U.S. military forces provide security for those Department of Defense (DOD) civilians and contractors who directly support the combat mission. In Iraq, the Department of State and other federal agencies contract with several private security providers to protect their employees. Under their contracts, contractors rebuilding Iraq are responsible for providing their own security and have done so by awarding subcontracts to private security providers. As of December 2004, the agencies and contractors we reviewed had obligated more than $766 million for private security providers. The contractors' efforts to obtain suitable security providers met with mixed results, as they often found that their security provider could not meet their needs. Overall, GAO found that contractors replaced their initial security providers on more than half the 2003 contracts it reviewed. Contractor officials attributed this turnover to various factors, including the absence of useful agency guidance. While the U.S. military and private security providers have developed a cooperative working relationship, actions should be taken to improve its effectiveness. The relationship between the military and private security providers is one of coordination, not control. Prior to October 2004 coordination was informal, based on personal contacts, and was inconsistent. In October 2004 a Reconstruction Operations Center was opened to share intelligence and coordinate military-contractor interactions. While military and security providers agreed that coordination has improved, two problems remain. First, private security providers continue to report incidents between themselves and the military when approaching military convoys and checkpoints. Second, military units deploying to Iraq are not fully aware of the parties operating on the complex battle space in Iraq and what responsibility they have to those parties. Despite the significant role played by private security providers in enabling reconstruction efforts, neither the Department of State, nor DOD nor the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have complete data on the costs of using private security providers. Even at the contract level, the agencies generally had only limited information readily available, even though agency and contractor officials acknowledged that these costs had diverted a considerable amount of reconstruction resources and led to canceling or reducing the scope of some projects. For example, in March 2005, two task orders for reconstruction worth nearly $15 million were cancelled to help pay for security at a power plant. GAO found that the cost to obtain private security providers and security-related equipment accounted for more than 15 percent of contract costs on 8 of the 15 reconstruction contracts it reviewed.[Read More…]
- Ascension Michigan to Pay $2.8 Million to Resolve False Claims Act AllegationsBy Sam NewsIn Crime NewsAugust 5, 2021Ascension Michigan and related hospitals, Providence Park Hospital, St. John Hospital and Medical Center, St. John Macomb Oakland Hospital and Ascension Crittenton Hospital (collectively, Ascension Michigan), all located in Michigan, have agreed to pay $2.8 million to resolve claims that they violated the False Claims Act by submitting or causing the submission of false claims for payment to federal health care programs related to alleged medically unnecessary procedures performed by a gynecologic oncologist (the “Doctor”).[Read More…]
- The Promise of AmericaBy Sam NewsNovember 10, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Information Security: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Has Made Progress, but Further Actions Are Needed to Protect Financial DataBy Sam NewsApril 13, 2021What GAO FoundAlthough FDIC had implemented numerous controls in its systems, it had not always implemented access and other controls to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its financial systems and information. FDIC has implemented controls to detect and change default user accounts and passwords in vendor-supplied software, restricted access to network management servers, developed and tested contingency plans for major systems, and improved mainframe logging controls. However, the corporation had not always (1) required strong passwords on financial systems and databases; (2) reviewed user access to financial information in its document sharing system in accordance with policy; (3) encrypted financial information transmitted over and stored on its network; and (4) protected powerful database accounts and privileges from unauthorized use. In addition, other weaknesses existed in FDICs controls that were intended to appropriately segregate incompatible duties, manage system configurations, and implement patches.An underlying reason for the information security weaknesses is that FDIC had not always implemented key information security program activities. To its credit, FDIC had developed and documented a security program and had completed actions to correct or mitigate 26 of the 33 information security weaknesses that were previously identified by GAO. However, the corporation had not assessed risks, documented security controls, or performed periodic testing on the programs and data used to support the estimates of losses and costs associated with the servicing and disposal of the assets of failed institutions. Additionally, FDIC had not always implemented its policies for restricting user access or for monitoring the progress of security patch installation.Because FDIC had made progress in correcting or mitigating previously reported weaknesses and had implemented compensating management and reconciliation controls during 2010, GAO concluded that FDIC had resolved the significant deficiency in internal control over financial reporting related to information security that was reported in GAOs 2009 audit, and that the remaining unresolved issues and the new issues identified did not individually or collectively constitute a material weakness or significant deficiency in 2010. However, if left unaddressed, these issues will continue to increase FDICs risk that its sensitive and financial information will be subject to unauthorized disclosure, modification, or destruction.Why GAO Did This StudyThe Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has a demanding responsibility enforcing banking laws, regulating financial institutions, and protecting depositors. Because of the importance of FDICs work, effective information security controls are essential to ensure that the corporations systems and information are adequately protected from inadvertent misuse, fraudulent use, or improper disclosure.As part of its audits of the 2010 financial statements of the Deposit Insurance Fund and the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corporation Resolution Fund administrated by FDIC, GAO assessed the effectiveness of the corporations controls in protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its financial systems and information. To perform the audit, GAO examined security policies, procedures, reports, and other documents; tested controls over key financial applications; and interviewed key FDIC personnel.[Read More…]
- Cameroon Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsIn TravelSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Japanese National Security Secretariat Secretary General Shigeru KitamuraBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- Judiciary Seeks 2022 Funding, Cites Caseload Resurgence and Security NeedsBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsFebruary 24, 2021Federal Judiciary officials have asked Congress for $8.12 billion to fund judicial branch operations for fiscal year 2022. The request includes funding to keep pace with inflationary and other budget adjustments, and to pay for program increases, including projected workload changes, courthouse security, cybersecurity, and new magistrate judges.[Read More…]
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy BorrellBy Sam NewsMay 17, 2021
- Department of Energy: Environmental Liability Continues to Grow, but Opportunities May Exist to Reduce Costs and RisksBy Sam NewsJune 9, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Energy's (DOE) environmental liability is large and growing. In managing cleanup responsibilities related to this liability, DOE faces challenges in contract and project management, and has opportunities to reduce costs and risks. Why GAO Did This Study DOE is tasked with cleaning up hazardous and radioactive waste created by nuclear weapons research and production sites across the country dating back to World War II and the Cold War. DOE's cleanup mission includes addressing contaminated soil and groundwater, deactivating and decommissioning contaminated facilities, and building facilities to treat millions of gallons of radioactive waste. DOE's estimate of the probable costs for this future cleanup is known as its environmental and disposal liability (or environmental liability). This report describes the status of DOE's environmental liability, and challenges and opportunities GAO has identified that DOE faces in managing its cleanup responsibilities. GAO reviewed its prior reports and synthesized key findings and recommendations related to DOE's environmental liability. For more information, contact Nathan Anderson at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Security Force Assistance: Additional Actions Needed to Guide Geographic Combatant Command and Service EffortsBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO FoundThe Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to establish its concept for conducting security force assistance, including broadly defining the term and identifying actions needed to plan for and prepare forces to execute these activities. For example, in October 2010, the department issued an instruction that broadly defines security force assistance and outlines responsibilities for key stakeholders, including the geographic combatant commands and military services. DOD also identified gaps in key areas of doctrine, organization, and training related to the implementation of security force assistance and tasks needed to address those gaps. The tasks include reviewing joint and service-level doctrine to incorporate security force assistance as needed and developing measures to assess progress in partner nations. Citing a need to clarify the definition of security force assistance beyond the DOD Instruction, DOD published a document referred to as a Lexicon Framework in November 2011 that included information to describe how security force assistance relates to other existing terms, such as security cooperation.The geographic combatant commands conduct activities to build partner nation capacity and capability, but face challenges planning for and tracking security force assistance as a distinct activity. Notwithstanding DODs efforts to present security force assistance as a distinct and potentially expansive activity and clarify its terminology, the commands lack a common understanding of security force assistance, and therefore some were unclear as to what additional actions were needed to meet DODs intent. Specifically, officials interviewed generally viewed it as a recharacterization of some existing activities, but had different interpretations of what types of activities should be considered security force assistance. Further, some command officials stated that they were not clear as to the intent of DODs increased focus on security force assistance and whether any related adjustments should be made in their plans and scope or level of activities. As a result, they do not currently distinguish security force assistance from other security cooperation activities in their plans. DOD intended the Lexicon Framework to provide greater clarity on the meaning of security force assistance and its relationship to security cooperation and other related terms. However, some officials said that they found the distinctions to be confusing and others believed that additional guidance was needed. GAOs prior work on key practices for successful organizational transformations states the necessity to communicate clear objectives for what is to be achieved. Without additional clarification, the geographic combatant commands will continue to lack a common understanding, which may hinder the departments ability to meet its strategic goals. Moreover, the system that the commands are directed to use to track security force assistance activities does not include a specific data field to identify those activities. The commands also face challenges planning for and executing long-term, sustained security force assistance plans within existing statutory authorities, which contain some limitations on the types of activities that can be conducted.The services are taking steps and investing resources to organize and train general purpose forces capable of conducting security force assistance based on current requirements. For example, to conduct activities with partner nation security forces, the Army and the Air Force are aligning certain units to geographic regions, and the Marine Corps has created tailored task forces. However, the services face certain challenges. Due to a lack of clarity on how DODs increased emphasis on security force assistance will affect future requirements, they are uncertain whether their current efforts are sufficient or whether additional capabilities will be required. Further, services face challenges in tracking personnel with security force assistance training and experience, particularly in identifying the attributes to track.Why GAO Did This StudyDOD is emphasizing security force assistance (e.g., efforts to train, equip, and advise partner nation forces) as a distinct activity to build the capacity and capability of partner nation forces. In anticipation of its growing importance, DOD has identified the need to strengthen and institutionalize security force assistance capabilities within its general purpose forces. Accordingly, a committee report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directed GAO to report on DODs plans. GAO evaluated: (1) the extent to which DOD has established its concept for conducting security force assistance, including defining the term and identifying actions needed to plan for and prepare forces to execute it; (2) the extent to which the geographic combatant commands have taken steps to plan for and conduct security force assistance, and what challenges, if any, they face; and (3) what steps the services have taken to organize and train general purpose forces capable of conducting security force assistance, and what challenges, if any, they face. GAO reviewed relevant documents, and interviewed officials from combatant commands, the services, and other DOD organizations.[Read More…]
- Joint Statement by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the Expansion of Access to the Central American Minors ProgramBy Sam NewsJune 15, 2021
- Update to Secretary Pompeo’s Travel to AsiaBy Sam NewsOctober 4, 2020Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
- Wife of “El Chapo” Arrested on International Drug Trafficking ChargesBy Sam NewsIn Crime NewsFebruary 22, 2021The wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, leader of a Mexican drug trafficking organization known as the Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested today in Virginia on charges related to her alleged involvement in international drug trafficking.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar After Their MeetingBy Sam NewsMay 5, 2021
- Detention of Armenian SoldiersBy Sam NewsMay 27, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
- Aircraft Carriers: Homeport Changes Are Primarily Determined by Maintenance RequirementsBy Sam NewsApril 22, 2021What GAO Found The Navy has a process for proposing and implementing homeport changes that considers a range of factors. The first key step in this process involves the Navy developing and updating an annual plan, known as the Strategic Laydown and Dispersal Plan, that guides the Navy's positioning of operating forces worldwide. Based on the plan, fleet commanders then identify requirements for any changes to homeports and submit requests to schedule a homeport change. Throughout the process, Navy leadership and a working group of stakeholders from across the Navy provide input and analysis. Among other things , the working group develops and assesses proposed changes among the possible aircraft carrier homeports based on their expertise and evaluates various homeport installation factors, such as maintenance dry docks (see figure) or ship power and maintenance facilities. The Navy also considers local factors including crew support and quality of life, such as schools and morale, and possible impacts to the natural and physical environment. The Navy has strengthened its process by implementing prior GAO recommendations, and has other planned actions underway to further improve and update its guidance. Recent Navy Aircraft Carrier Homeport Locations and Dry Dock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard The Navy made 15 aircraft carrier homeport changes in fiscal years 2011 through 2020 among the five available homeports. The driving factor for all 15 changes was maintenance. For example, 10 of the 15 changes involved ships moving to or returning from shipyards in Bremerton or Norfolk for planned dry-dock maintenance or midlife refueling. In 2015 and 2019, the Navy decided to homeport aircraft carriers in Bremerton and San Diego because Everett lacked nuclear maintenance facilities, which were available at the Navy's other aircraft carrier homeport locations. Previously, carriers homeported in Everett received regularly scheduled maintenance at the shipyard in Bremerton but did not conduct an official homeport change. The Navy reported that during these maintenance periods that lasted 6 months or more, the crew commuted 3 to 4 hours daily, which negatively affected maintenance and crew morale. As a result, the Navy decided not to return an aircraft carrier to Everett. According to Navy officials, factors in addition to maintenance needs also informed the changes, including a long-held plan to homeport three aircraft carriers in San Diego. Why GAO Did This Study The Navy relies on 11 aircraft carriers homeported on the East and West Coasts and in Japan to support U.S. defense strategic objectives and operations. These nuclear-powered ships require complex infrastructure, technology, and maintenance, some of which may not be available near their homeport. Changing an aircraft carrier's homeport means moving the ship's approximately 3,200 sailors, a fluctuation of 5,000 or more people depending on the number of family members involved. In House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the House Armed Services Committee noted that the Navy reversed previous plans to homeport an aircraft carrier at Naval Station Everett, Washington. The House Report also included a provision for GAO to review the Navy's process to assign aircraft carriers' homeports. This report examines, for Navy aircraft carriers, (1) the extent to which the Navy has a process for making homeport changes, and considers local installation and other factors in the homeporting process, and (2) homeport changes from fiscal years 2011 through 2020 and the reasons for them. GAO analyzed Navy instructions and related policies, laws, and regulations; homeport plans and maintenance schedules; and fiscal years 2011–2020 documentation of homeport changes. GAO also interviewed Navy officials, including from relevant commands and homeports. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or MaurerD@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Former employee sentenced for stealing over $400,000By Sam NewsIn Justice NewsAugust 19, 2021The former controlling [Read More…]
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- Chief Standing Bear: A Hero of Native American Civil RightsBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsOctober 29, 2020A new Moments in History video, in recognition of Native American Heritage Month, recounts how Chief Standing Bear persuaded a federal judge in 1879 to recognize Native Americans as persons with the right to sue for their freedom, establishing him as one of the nation’s earliest civil rights heroes.[Read More…]
- At the One Year Anniversary of the Abraham Accords: Normalization Agreements in ActionBy Sam NewsSeptember 17, 2021