Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
The United States is deeply concerned by the continued violence in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. We continue to call for both the Cameroonian government and separatist armed groups to end the violence and engage in a dialogue without preconditions to peacefully resolve the crisis. It is important that children can attend school and that humanitarian aid can be delivered. We urge all relevant stakeholders in Cameroon and in the diaspora to engage constructively and seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
We condemn those who undermine peace through engaging in or inciting violence, human rights violations and abuses, and threats against advocates for peace or humanitarian workers.
I am establishing a policy imposing visa restrictions on individuals who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. This decision reflects our commitment to advance a dialogue to peacefully resolve the Anglophone crisis and support respect for human rights. The United States strongly supports the Cameroonian people, and we remain committed to working together to advance democracy and mutual prosperity for both our countries.
- Final Defendant Sentenced in $7 Billion Investment Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsFebruary 24, 2021The former chief of Antigua’s Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC) was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for his role in connection with a $7 billion Ponzi scheme involving the Stanford International Bank (SIB).[Read More…]
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- Electricity Grid Cybersecurity: DOE Needs to Ensure Its Plans Fully Address Risks to Distribution SystemsBy Sam NewsMarch 18, 2021What GAO Found The U.S. grid's distribution systems—which carry electricity from transmission systems to consumers and are regulated primarily by states—are increasingly at risk from cyberattacks. Distribution systems are growing more vulnerable, in part because their industrial control systems increasingly allow remote access and connect to business networks. As a result, threat actors can use multiple techniques to access those systems and potentially disrupt operations. (See fig.) However, the scale of potential impacts from such attacks is not well understood. Examples of Techniques for Gaining Initial Access to Industrial Control Systems Distribution utilities included in GAO's review are generally not subject to mandatory federal cybersecurity standards, but they, and selected states, had taken actions intended to improve distribution systems' cybersecurity. These actions included incorporating cybersecurity into routine oversight processes and hiring dedicated cybersecurity personnel. Federal agencies have supported these actions by, for example, providing cybersecurity training and guidance. As the lead federal agency for the energy sector, the Department of Energy (DOE) has developed plans to implement the national cybersecurity strategy for the grid, but these plans do not fully address risks to the grid's distribution systems. For example, DOE's plans do not address distribution systems' vulnerabilities related to supply chains. According to officials, DOE has not fully addressed such risks in its plans because it has prioritized addressing risks to the grid's generation and transmission systems. Without doing so, however, DOE's plans will likely be of limited use in prioritizing federal support to states and industry to improve grid distribution systems' cybersecurity. Why GAO Did This Study Protecting the reliability of the U.S. electricity grid, which delivers electricity essential for modern life, is a long-standing national interest. The grid comprises three functions: generation, transmission, and distribution. In August 2019, GAO reported that the generation and transmission systems—which are federally regulated for reliability—are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks. GAO was asked to review grid distribution systems' cybersecurity. This report (1) describes the extent to which grid distribution systems are at risk from cyberattacks and the scale of potential impacts from such attacks, (2) describes selected state and industry actions to improve distribution systems' cybersecurity and federal efforts to support those actions, and (3) examines the extent to which DOE has addressed risks to distribution systems in its plans for implementing the national cybersecurity strategy. To do so, GAO reviewed relevant federal and industry reports on grid cybersecurity risks and analyzed relevant DOE documents. GAO also interviewed a nongeneralizable sample of federal, state, and industry officials with a role in grid distribution systems' cybersecurity.[Read More…]
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- Justice Department Settles with Gates Chili Central School District to Ensure Equal Access for Students with Service AnimalsBy Sam NewsAugust 20, 2020The Justice Department announced today that it reached an agreement with the Gates Chili Central School District in Rochester, New York, to resolve the department’s lawsuit alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).[Read More…]
- Federal Oil and Gas Revenue: Actions Needed to Improve BLM’s Royalty Relief PolicyBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020In reaction to falling domestic oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed a temporary policy in spring 2020 for oil and gas royalty relief. The policy aimed to prevent oil and gas wells from being shut down in way that could lead to permanent losses of recoverable oil and gas. During March through June 2020, BLM gave companies the opportunity to apply for a reduction in the royalty rates for certain oil and gas leases on federal lands. BLM approved reductions from 12.5 percent of total revenue on oil and gas sold from those leases to an average of less than 1 percent for a period of 60 days. However, BLM did not establish in advance that royalty relief was needed to keep applicants' wells operating, according to BLM officials. BLM also did not assess the extent to which the temporary policy kept oil and gas companies from shutting down their wells or the amount of royalty revenues forgone by the federal government. By evaluating the extent to which the policy met BLM's objective of preventing unrecoverable loss of oil and gas resources–and likely costs, such as forgone revenues—BLM could better inform its decisions about granting royalty relief that provides a fair return to the government, should the agency decide to consider such relief in the future. BLM officials told GAO that BLM state offices implementing the temporary policy for royalty relief made inconsistent decisions about approving applications for relief because the temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making. The officials added that their state offices did not have recent experience in processing applications for oil and gas royalty relief. Several of the officials had never received or processed royalty relief applications. In addition, GAO found that ongoing guidance for processing royalty relief decisions—within BLM's Fees, Rentals and Royalties Handbook , last revised in 1995—also does not contain sufficient instructions for approving royalty relief. For example, the handbook does not address whether to approve applications in cases where the lease would continue to be uneconomic, even after royalty relief. As a result, some companies that applied for royalty relief were treated differently, depending on how BLM officials in their state interpreted the policy and guidance. In particular, officials from two state offices told GAO they denied royalty relief to applicants because the applicants could not prove that royalty relief would enable their leases to operate profitably. However, two other state offices approved royalty relief in such cases. The fifth state office denied both of the applications it received for other reasons. BLM's existing royalty relief guidance did not address this issue, and BLM's temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making in these situations. BLM's directives manual states that BLM should provide BLM employees with authoritative instructions and information to implement BLM programs and support activities. Until BLM updates the royalty relief guidance, BLM cannot ensure that future relief decisions will be made efficiently and equitably across the states and provide a fair return to the federal government. BLM manages the federal government's onshore oil and gas program with the goals of facilitating safe and responsible energy development while providing a fair return for the American taxpayer. In April 2020, oil and gas producers faced financial challenges from a drop in demand for oil during the COVID-19 pandemic. If oil and gas prices decline, it places financial stress on oil and gas companies, thereby increasing bankruptcies and the risk of wells being shut down. BLM developed a temporary policy to provide oil and gas companies relief from royalties that they owe to the federal government when they sell oil and gas produced on federal lands. This testimony discusses (1) BLM's development of the temporary policy for royalty relief and what is known about the policy's effects, and (2) BLM's implementation of this policy across relevant states. To do this work, GAO reviewed BLM documents; analyzed royalty data; and interviewed BLM officials from headquarters and the five BLM state offices with jurisdiction over states that account for 94 percent of royalties from oil and gas production on federal lands. GAO is making two recommendations. BLM should (1) evaluate the effects of its temporary royalty relief policy and use the results to inform its ongoing royalty relief program, and (2) update its guidance to provide consistent policies for royalty relief. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Combating Terrorism: Increased Oversight and Accountability Needed over Pakistan Reimbursement Claims for Coalition Support FundsBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021The United States has reimbursed Pakistan, a key ally in the global war on terror, about $5.56 billion in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) for its efforts to combat terrorism along its border with Afghanistan. The Department of Defense (Defense) provides CSF to 27 coalition partners for costs incurred in direct support of U.S. military operations. Pakistan is the largest recipient of CSF, receiving 81 percent of CSF reimbursements as of May 2008. This report focuses on (1) the extent to which Defense has consistently applied its guidance to validate the reimbursements claimed by Pakistan and (2) how the Office of the Defense Representative to Pakistan's (ODRP) role has changed over time. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed CSF oversight procedures, examined CSF documents, and interviewed Defense officials in Washington, D.C., U.S. Central Command in Florida, and Pakistan.Defense Comptroller issued new guidance in 2003 to enhance CSF oversight. The guidance calls for, among other things, CSF reimbursement claims to contain quantifiable information that indicates the incremental nature of support (i.e., above and beyond normal operations), validation that the support or service was provided, and copies of invoices or documentation supporting how the costs were calculated. While Defense generally conducted macro-level analytical reviews called for in its guidance, such as determining whether the cost is less than that which would be incurred by the United States for the same service, for a large number of reimbursement claims Defense did not obtain detailed documentation to verify that claimed costs were valid, actually incurred, or correctly calculated. GAO found that Defense did not consistently apply its existing CSF oversight guidance. For example, as of May 2008, Defense paid over $2 billion in Pakistani reimbursement claims for military activities covering January 2004 through June 2007 without obtaining sufficient information that would enable a third party to recalculate these costs. Furthermore, Defense may have reimbursed costs that (1) were not incremental, (2) were not based on actual activity, or (3) were potentially duplicative. GAO also found that additional oversight controls were needed. For example, there is no guidance for Defense to verify currency conversion rates used by Pakistan, which if performed would enhance Defense's ability to monitor for potential overbillings. Defense's guidance does not specifically task ODRP with attempting to verify Pakistani military support and expenses, despite recognition by Defense officials that such verification is best performed by U.S. officials in Pakistan, who have access to Pakistani officials and information. As such, ODRP did not try to verify Pakistan CSF claims from January 2004 through August 2006. Beginning in September 2006, without any formal guidance or directive to do so from U.S. Central Command or the Defense Comptroller, ODRP began an effort to validate Pakistani military support and expenses. This increased verification effort on the part of ODRP contributed to an increase in the amount of Pakistani government CSF claims disallowed and deferred. Prior to ODRP's increased verification efforts, the average percentage of Pakistani claims disallowed or deferred for January 2004 through August 2006 was a little over 2 percent. In comparison, the average percentage of Pakistani claims disallowed or deferred for September 2006 through February 2007 was 6 percent and for the most recent claims (March 2007 through June 2007) processed in February 2008, was approximately 22 percent. However, ODRP's continued oversight activity is not assured, as Defense had not developed formal guidance delineating how and to what degree ODRP should attempt to verify Pakistani claims for reimbursement. GAO recognizes that Defense may not be able to fully verify every Pakistani claim without the ability to access Pakistani records or do onsite monitoring. However, such ability would enhance CSF oversight.[Read More…]
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- Covid-19 In Nursing Homes: HHS Has Taken Steps in Response to Pandemic, but Several GAO Recommendations Have Not Been ImplementedBy Sam NewsMarch 17, 2021What GAO Found GAO's review of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that winter 2020 was marked by a significant surge in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes. However, CDC data as of February 2021, show that both cases and deaths have declined by more than 80 percent since their peaks in December 2020. With the introduction of vaccines, observers are hopeful that nursing homes may be beginning to see a reprieve. Nevertheless, the emergence of more highly transmissible virus variants warrants the need for continued vigilance, according to public health officials. GAO's prior work has found that nursing homes have faced many difficult challenges battling COVID-19. While challenges related to staffing shortages have persisted through the pandemic, challenges related to obtaining Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and conducting COVID-19 tests—although still notable—have generally shown signs of improvement since summer 2020. Further, with the decline in nursing homes cases, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) updated its guidance in March 2021 to expand resident visitation, an issue that has been an ongoing challenge during the pandemic. Some new challenges have also emerged as vaccinations began in nursing homes, such as reluctance among some staff to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), primarily through CMS and the CDC, has taken steps to address COVID-19 in nursing homes. However, HHS has not implemented several relevant GAO recommendations, including: HHS has not implemented GAO's recommendation related to the Nursing Home Commission report, which assessed the response to COVID-19 in nursing homes. CMS released the Nursing Home Commission's report and recommendations in September 2020. When the report was released, CMS broadly outlined the actions the agency had taken, but the agency did not provide a plan that would allow it to track its progress. GAO recommended in November 2020 that HHS develop an implementation plan. As of February 2021, this recommendation had not been implemented. HHS has not implemented GAO's recommendation to fill COVID-19 data voids. CMS required nursing homes to begin reporting the number of cases and deaths to the agency effective May 8, 2020. However, CMS made the reporting of the data prior to this date optional. GAO recommended in September 2020 that HHS develop a strategy to capture more complete COVID-19 data in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. As of February 2021, this recommendation had not been implemented. Implementing GAO's recommendations could help address some of the challenges nursing homes continue to face and fill important gaps in the federal government's understanding of, and transparency around, data on COVID-19 in nursing homes. In addition to monitoring HHS's implementation of past recommendations, GAO has ongoing work related to COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and CMS's oversight of infection control and emergency preparedness. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the 1.4 million elderly or disabled residents in the nation's more than 15,000 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes, who are often in frail health and living in close proximity to one another. HHS, primarily through CMS and CDC, has led the pandemic response in nursing homes. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct monitoring and oversight of the federal government's efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO has examined the government's response to COVID-19 in nursing homes through its CARES Act reporting (GAO-21-265, GAO-21-191, GAO-20-701, and GAO-20-625). This testimony will summarize the findings from these reports. Specifically, it describes COVID-19 trends in nursing homes and their experiences responding to the pandemic, and HHS's response to the pandemic in nursing homes. To conduct this previously reported work, GAO reviewed CDC data, agency guidance, and other relevant information on HHS's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO interviewed agency officials and other knowledgeable stakeholders. In addition, GAO supplemented this information with updated data from CDC on COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by nursing homes as of February 2021. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]