Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David F. Helvey on the Secretaries’ Upcoming Trip to Japan and Republic of Korea

Sung Kim, Acting Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

David F. Helvey, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE: Great, thank you very much. And good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining. Thanks for joining this call to discuss the upcoming trip by Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin to Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, Republic of Korea.

With us today, we’re really fortunate to have two speakers. We have Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim. We also have with us Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey.

As a reminder, this call is on the record. We are embargoing the contents of this call until the completion of the call, but you are welcome to report the contents thereafter. You may enter the question queue at any time by dialing 1 and then 0. And with that, I will turn it over to Acting Assistant Secretary Kim.

Ambassador Kim, please, go ahead.

AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you very much, Ned. Good afternoon, everyone. Great to be with you. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy, and we are working to strengthen America’s relationships with our allies as well as the relationships among them. And none are more important than Japan and the Republic of Korea. To highlight the vital importance of our three countries – the United States, Japan, and Korea – in promoting peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin will make their first overseas visit to Tokyo and Seoul from March 15th through 18th.

In Tokyo and Seoul, Secretary Blinken will work with leaders to expand cooperation on tackling COVID-19, strengthening deterrence against regional threats, and addressing climate change, as well as enhancing trilateral cooperation on a broad range of global issues, including denuclearization of the DPRK.

He will also discuss our efforts to promote high standards for human rights and fundamental freedoms, establish effective international rules, and promote accountability for countries like China when they fail to adhere to their international commitments and obligations.

On March 16th and 17th in Tokyo, Secretary Blinken will meet with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and other senior officials. Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin will attend the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee 2+2 meeting hosted by Foreign Minister Motegi and Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi. Secretary Blinken will also meet virtually with business leaders and women entrepreneurs to highlight the importance of U.S.-Japan economic ties.

On March 17th and 18th in Seoul, Secretary Blinken will meet with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and other senior officials. Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin will attend a U.S.-ROK Foreign and Defense Ministerial, or 2+2, hosted by Foreign Minister Chung and Minister of Defense Suh Wook. Secretary Blinken will also meet virtually with Korean youth leaders to discuss the importance of the U.S.-ROK alliance in promoting peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe.

In both capitals, Secretary Blinken will meet virtually with journalists to discuss the Biden-Harris administration’s vision for America’s place in the world as well as the role of a free press in promoting human rights and defending democracy.

The American, Japanese, and Korean people share deeply rooted values of defending freedom, championing economic and social opportunity and inclusion, upholding human rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity. Our cooperation with both Tokyo and Seoul to promote these universal values is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

This trip is an important opportunity to engage on critical national security issues and to strengthen our engagement with our key allies. Secretary Blinken looks forward to his trip as we work to build a future of peace, prosperity, and security together with our allies and partners.

So with that, I am pleased to turn the telephone over to my good friend, Assistant Secretary Helvey. Thank you.

MR HELVEY: Well, thank you. And good afternoon, everyone. As my colleague Ambassador Kim has described, the Biden administration has made clear the criticality that attaches to promoting peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond through engaging with and investing in alliances and partnerships; and strengthening our foundation at home to maintain our innovation edge and to rebuild our industrial base.

The upcoming trips by the Secretaries of State and Defense signal the importance of our alliance and partner relationships, which are a real force multiplier in advancing our shared interests in the United States commitment to a rules-based international order, an order that places all nations on a level playing field and holds them responsible for preserving the principles that underpin it.

As our department’s priority theater, we’re committed to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty and pursue economic opportunity, resolve disputes without coercion, and have the freedom to navigate and fly consistent with international rules and norms.

At a time when the region is facing mounting pressure from People’s Republic of China and the continued threat from North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, this trip sends an important signal of resolve to work with allies, partners, and like-mindeds to promote a peaceful, stable, and resilient order that benefits us all.

Secretary Austin will be joining Secretary Blinken for the Security Consultative Committee meeting, or 2+2, in Japan, the highest platform for alliance management that we have with Japan. Our alliance is the cornerstone for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. In addition to the 2+2, Secretary Austin will meet with Minister Kishi and other officials to discuss the continued transformation of this critical alliance and deepen our interoperability.

Secretary Austin, likewise, will join Secretary Blinken for a 2+2 meeting in the Republic of Korea. Our alliance with South Korea is the linchpin of peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula but across the region.

In addition, he’ll meet with Minister Suh Wook and other officials to review alliance priorities and the readiness of forces there to ensure that we maintain an effective combined deterrence and response capability.

From there, Secretary Austin will travel onward to India, an important strategic partnership that involves cooperation with likeminded nations committed to protecting the rules-based international order. In India, he’ll meet with Minister Rajnath Singh and others to discuss operationalizing the major defense partnership that we have with India, including through enhanced information sharing, regional security cooperation, defense trade, and cooperation in new domains.

And so to second Ambassador Kim’s point, this is a critically important trip and an opportunity to advance our alliance and partner relationships in our priority region at a very early time in this new administration. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Okay, thank you both. Just a reminder, you may ask a question by dialing 1 and then 0. We will start our questions with the line of Humeyra Pamuk from Reuters.

QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you for doing this. My question is for Acting Assistant Secretary Sung Kim. I was wondering, in your talks with Japan specifically, is Myanmar going to come up? Because, I mean, Japan has put out a couple of statements, but in terms of action so far, they haven’t done a whole lot. And Japanese investments are quite big in Myanmar, so I was just wondering how forcefully are you going to push them to be more vocal about what’s happening in Myanmar? And also, in your talks with – secondly, in your talks with Japan and South Korea, how forcefully you will encourage them to be more vocal about what’s happening in Xinjiang and human rights? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you very much. I expect that Burma will be an important topic in Secretary Blinken’s discussions with his Japanese counterparts. In fact, we have stayed in very close touch with our Japanese colleagues from the very beginning of the coup and the difficulties that the Burmese people are facing in Burma.

I think Japanese colleagues share our concerns, and they have tried very hard to engage the military leaders in Burma to try to persuade them to restore democracy, refrain from violence against peaceful demonstrators, and to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners that they’re holding. And we expect that the Japanese will stay closely aligned with us and will continue to work with us to change the course in Burma.

Regarding Xinjiang, I think you have heard on many occasions the Secretary express his deep concerns about the egregious human rights violations that are happening in Xinjiang. I believe our partner – our allies share our concerns, and so I expect that the topic of Xinjiang will come up in both Seoul and Tokyo.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Ambassador Kim. We will go to the line of Lara Seligman from Politico.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. This question is for both of you, kind of a broad question. Many administrations have tried to pivot to Asia. What is your – the Biden administration’s strategy to do this? How is it different from your predecessors, and how does this upcoming trip fit into that effort?

AMBASSADOR KIM: Well, thank you. I’ll start first, and then I’m sure David will have additions. I think just the fact that the first cabinet-level overseas trip by the Biden administration is to our two close allies in the Indo-Pacific region reflect the depth of this administration’s commitment to promoting our relations and interests in the Indo-Pacific region. As you might have noticed, both the President and Secretary Blinken reached out very early to our close allies and partners in the region in their series of phone calls in the early weeks of the administration.

I think the commitment is quite clear. I expect that through rebuilding our alliances and partnerships with key countries in the region, and being engaged in regional efforts of great concern to both the United States and our partners in the region, that we will clearly demonstrate our strong commitment to the Indo-Pacific region.

MR HELVEY: I would have little to add to what Ambassador Kim has said. I think for Secretary Austin’s part, he likewise also has engaged with our key allies and partners across the region very early on in his tenure, having phone calls with him, and has now committed to do this first trip, his first cabinet-level trip of the administration to the Indo-Pacific.

The Secretary, as you know, has also signaled a very early interest in focusing the department on China. He has identified China as the pacing threat and the pacing challenge for the department. He’s done things like establish the task force that Dr. Ely Ratner is running to look at that. And I think his initial steps kind of demonstrate that this is going to be an area of continued focus, and the participation in this trip, follow-on travel to India, will provide an opportunity for exchange of views early on with key allies and partners about how we can work together and expand cooperation to support a regional – pardon me, a rules-based international order, and continue developments of these critical relationships which enable us to do that.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Christina Ruffini from CBS.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Ned, we asked you about this earlier in the week, but I was wondering, for anybody who’d like to answer it. If – we asked if China was going to dominate the conversations on this trip, and Ned, you’ve said, well, no, there’s so many other topics to talk about – economics, trade, the environment. But in that region, doesn’t China kind of underly all of those issues, and isn’t it fair to say that even when you’re addressing other issues, China, for better or worse, will dominate a lot of these bilats and a lot of these meetings? And what is the objective in that vein that you want to come out of it?

And then I don’t know if you guys can answer this, but when it comes to the meeting in Alaska with China, were there any preconditions to that meeting? And can anybody say anything about how exactly that came about and why that location was chosen? Thank you so much.

AMBASSADOR KIM: I’ll start. You are absolutely right that China will come up prominently, but I wouldn’t say it would dominate the conversations in Tokyo also. There is a whole host of issues of importance to our partnerships with both Korea and Japan – cooperation on COVID-19, climate change, coordination on our North Korea policy, our efforts to promote human rights and rule of law, as well as our efforts to hold countries that violate obligations and challenge our interests and values accountable. And in many these issues, obviously China will come up. But I think it would be – I don’t think it would be accurate to say that China would dominate the dialogue in Tokyo or Seoul. There are just so many other issues of importance to our countries, our countries’ partnerships, and to the region.

I think in terms of objectives, I mean, obviously how we cooperate with these close partnerships have direct impact on our national security and interests. And so through this very first overseas trip to our allies, I expect that our coordination on all of these important issues will strengthen.

And with regards to Anchorage, I mean, I think the purpose of today’s call is to focus on the upcoming trips to Japan and Korea, and I believe that there will be opportunities in the coming days to talk about the various aspects related to the Anchorage meetings.

MR PRICE: Great. We will go to the line of Dan Lamothe.

QUESTION: Sort of a two-part related question, but the first is: Do you anticipate anything that needs to be buttoned up or that might be expanded upon when it comes to the cost-sharing agreement on the military side in South Korea out of this trip?

And then relatedly, there obviously are long-term tensions at times between South Korea and Japan. What’s the message for those two nations coming out of this trip given the shared concerns about China? Thanks.

AMBASSADOR KIM: Thanks very much. So we’re very pleased that U.S. and Korean negotiators have reached agreement on a proposed text for a new special measures agreement. We believe that this new agreement will be fair, reasonable, and equitable. I think it’s also a positive that it would be a multi-year agreement, which gives the alliance more predictability and stability. So we’re very pleased with the effort so far. I think what remains is to some procedure or requirements that need to be met by both sides in order to fully finalize the agreement. But I commend the work of the negotiators from both sides to come up with this fair agreement.

On Japan and Korea, I think Secretary Blinken has been very committed in not only improving our relations with our allies, but also relations among them, and obviously relations within Japan and Korea are critically important for our security and stability. And so we would like to see an improvement in the relations. I think in terms of what our message to them is that we will try to create opportunities for us to enhance trilateral cooperation, and that we know that there are some very difficult issues between them, but we also know that there is a great deal of mutual respect and affection between Koreans and America and Japanese, and very strong interest in both Tokyo and Seoul and working with us and also strengthening our trilateral cooperation.

So I remain hopeful that our two close allies will maintain very strong relations going forward. Thanks.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Lara Jakes.

QUESTION: You’re both talking about the importance of these partnerships with Japan and South Korea, and I’m wondering if you could each characterize the state of those alliances after the last four years; i.e. both from the diplomatic and the military perspective.

AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you. I mean, I think the President and the Secretary have made it very clear that one of our goals in our foreign policy is to restore confidence, trust with our allies and partners not just in the Indo-Pacific region, but globally. That is obviously an important responsibility for us to carry out. And because diplomacy’s back at the center of our foreign policy and because we are reaching out early to our allies and partners on a whole host of issues, I am quite confident that we will be able to restore confidence and trust with our allies and partners in the region and beyond.

Dave.

MR HELVEY: Well, thank you. I think obviously we’re – Secretary Austin is very much looking forward to getting out early to meet and interact with our two most critical allies in Northeast Asia and supporting Secretary Blinken and the efforts of this administration to truly invest in and engage actively with our – with all of our alliances and partnerships. And these two are – there are no more important than these two.

We do have strong alliance relationships with both, and this trip and future interactions will be opportunities to continue developing, improving, and transforming these alliances to ensure they’re oriented on the types of challenges that we and all others face in the 21st century.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Jack Decsch, Foreign Policy.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Great. I’m just curious to get both of you on how you specifically hope the allies will improve on regional defense when it comes to deterring China. Specifically, are you hoping for more defense activity in the Quad, exercises, or more access agreements for the U.S.? Thanks.

AMBASSADOR KIM: Dave, I think I’ll defer to you.

MR HELVEY: Sure. What I’d like to do is obviously let the Secretary kind of have the space to talk to his counterparts and engage in the upcoming meetings. And I’m sure we’ll have more to be able to talk about after the meetings are done, but certainly talking about the range of alliance cooperation and where we can look to deepen and enhance not only our dialogue but how we can operationalize this cooperation to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the region is an important part of the discussion.

MR PRICE: Let’s go to the line of Jennifer White, NHK.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Secretaries discuss the Host Nation Support Agreement with their counterparts in Tokyo? The U.S. and South Korea reached a multi-year deal with the 13.9 percent increase in contributions. So does the U.S. anticipate negotiating a similar deal with Japan?

And second, I was wondering if you could discuss the details about the Secretaries’ itineraries in Tokyo. You discussed the 2+2 meetings, but will Secretary Austin visit U.S. troops stationed near Tokyo, and will Secretary Blinken have any other items on his itinerary while in Japan?

AMBASSADOR KIM: So we’re pleased that we made progress towards a one year SMA agreement, Special Measures Agreement, with Japan. The two sides are starting discussions for a multi-year agreement following the current agreement. And I think that would be a very good thing for the alliance because as I mentioned in the Korea context, having a multi agreement gives more predictability, more consistency, and more stability to the alliance management. So we hope that we will be able to accomplish a multi-year agreement in the near future.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Hyn Young Park with Joongang.

QUESTION: Am I online?

MR PRICE: Yes, we can hear you.

QUESTION: Yes. Yes. Sorry. Yes. To what extent will the topic of Quad plus be discussed between Secretary Blinken and Minister Chung? And in relation to that, to what extent was it discussed this morning during the Quad summit. And my second question is you’ve mentioned that you will be discussing the denuclearization of North Korea. Where are you in the process of this full review of North Korea policy? Have you come up with some kind of interim assessment that you would be able to have a concrete discussion with the Korean counterpart? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you. As you mentioned, the Quad summit took place just this morning. And I believe Secretary Blinken will be pleased to offer Foreign Minister Chung a readout of those discussions when they meet in Seoul.

With the North Korea policy review, as you know we’re conducting a thorough review – a thorough and comprehensive review. We’re not finished yet. But throughout the review, we have stayed in very close touch with our colleagues and friends in both Tokyo and Seoul because we wanted to make sure to incorporate their input as I – as we review all of the important aspects of our North Korea policy.

And in fact, when the Secretary is in the region, I think this will be another great opportunity for our allies to provide senior-level input into our process. I don’t have an exact timeline for the completion of the review, but we’re working expeditiously, and I think maybe in the coming weeks we’ll be able to complete the review.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line Sangmin Lee with VOA.

QUESTION: Yeah. So you mentioned that the nuclearization of the DPLK will be discussed during this visit. So can you tell me specifically which issue or topic will be going to be focused on when it comes to the denuclearization of the DPRK?

AMBASSADOR KIM: Well, and I don’t – I don’t want to get into too much detail of what the Secretary – what the two Secretaries will be discussing with their counterparts. But obviously, in the context of dealing – of cooperation on regional challenges, the topic of the North Korea nuclear program will come up, and I think the Secretary will give them an update on where we stand with our North Korea review – North Korea policy review, and have a good exchange about how we can cooperate together.

I should mention that even as we conduct this comprehensive review of our North Korea policy, our commitment – and this is a commitment shared by both Japan and Korea – our commitment to seeking a compete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula or the DPRK has not changed. So I think that will obviously be a central feature of our North Korea policy going forward.

MR PRICE: We have time for a final question or two. We’ll go to Mitch Tanaka with Kyodo News. Do we have Mitch Tanaka?

OPERATOR: Mitch Tanaka’s line is open.

QUESTION: Hello? Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, go – go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I was muted. So I have a question with Mr. Helvey. Can you elaborate a little bit more about Mr. Austin’s other trips, other events that he’s scheduled to conduct during his visit to Tokyo and Seoul other than on 2+2?

MR HELVEY: Thank you. As I indicated, he will – in Tokyo, he will be having a meeting with Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi in addition to the – in addition to the Security Consultative Committee meeting. He’ll also have an opportunity to meet with the Commander of U.S. Forces Japan Lieutenant General Kevin Schneider and be meeting with other officials there in Japan.

In Korea, in addition to the 2+2 meeting, he’ll be meeting – engaging in with Secretary Blinken, he will also meet separately with the Minister of Defense Suh Wook, as well as he’ll have an opportunity to meet with General Robert Abrams, who is the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and he also is dual-hatted as commander of the Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command.

MR PRICE: Great, and we’ll conclude with the line of Sylvie Lanteaume with AFP.

QUESTION: Hello. Do you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, good, good. This week, Admiral Davidson said that China could invade Taiwan within six years, and I was wondering what makes the administration think that China has accelerated its ambitions about Taiwan that much. Do you have any – can you elaborate on that date of six years?

AMBASSADOR KIM: I defer to Dave.

MR HELVEY: Yeah, I think the focus of our conversation today is about the upcoming trips to Japan and Korea for the 2+2 meetings and other meetings. If you do have questions about Admiral Davidson’s statement, I would respectfully refer you to our OSD Public Affairs Office or the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Public Affairs Office and they’ll be able to help you out.

MR PRICE: Great. Well, thank you to everyone for joining, especially thank you to our two speakers. As a reminder, they were Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey. This call was on the record and the embargo is now lifted.

Thanks very much and we’ll talk to you all soon.

More from: Sung Kim, Acting Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, David F. Helvey, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs

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    The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on contractors to provide a wide array of services, including support for management, information technology, and weapon systems. DOD obligated about $190 billion on service acquisitions in fiscal year 2019 (see figure). Department of Defense Obligations for Service Acquisitions by Military Department and Defense Agencies and Field Activities, Fiscal Year 2019 Since 2001, GAO has highlighted service acquisitions as an issue for oversight within the DOD Contract Management area in its High-Risk List. Among other things, the High-Risk List and GAO's prior work have identified that: DOD's service requirements reviews were narrowly focused on individual contracts rather than entire capability portfolios, DOD's efforts to use its inventory of contracted services to inform management decisions were hindered by data collection issues, and DOD's budget exhibits did not clearly identify service acquisitions. In October 2020, DOD issued a report to Congress describing its current mechanisms and plans for managing and overseeing service contracts. GAO found that this report addresses some of the key issues identified in GAO's High-Risk List, but does not address others. Requirement reviews. The DOD report summarizes guidance the department issued in January 2020 that links requirements reviews to budget trade-offs, and clarifies the relationship between service acquisition management and category management activities. Category management is an Office of Management and Budget-led, government-wide initiative to reorganize government spending around fewer, larger contracts and use the government's purchasing power to buy like a single enterprise. These efforts have the potential to improve how requirements reviews support budget trade-off decisions within and across capability portfolios. Inventory of contracted services. The DOD report discusses the department's recent transition to the government-wide system other federal agencies use to collect data for their inventories of contracted services, and explains that this transition is intended to reduce the burden of data collection for defense contractors and improve compliance. However, the report does not discuss how DOD plans to use this data to inform decision-making and workforce planning, the key issues GAO has identified in past work. Future-year spending plans. The DOD report does not discuss our finding in a prior report that DOD could improve its ability to strategically manage service acquisitions by improving visibility on future budgetary requirements. Instead, DOD's report states that DOD plans to address capability gaps in budget planning for service contracts in a separate effort in response to a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that might address GAO's recommendations. DOD officials told GAO they are working to better understand that provision before initiating their effort. The Senate report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on current mechanisms for overseeing defense service contracts, and for GAO to assess this report. DOD issued its report to Congress in the second week of October 2020. This GAO report assesses the extent to which that DOD report addresses service acquisition issues identified in GAO's High-Risk List and other products. GAO reviewed DOD's report to Congress on defense service acquisitions and GAO's past reports on defense service acquisitions, including GAO's 2019 High-Risk List and 11 other products issued between 2011 and 2018. GAO collected and assessed additional documentation from DOD offices and military departments, and interviewed officials from these offices and departments to collect additional information about DOD plans to improve service acquisitions. For more information, contact Timothy DiNapoli at (202) 512-4841 or DiNapoliT@gao.gov.
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  • Fixed-Price-Incentive Contracts: DOD Has Increased Their Use but Should Assess Contributions to Outcomes
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has encouraged the use of fixed-price-incentive (FPI) contracts where appropriate. These contracts can provide defense contractors with a profit incentive for effective cost control and performance depending on how they are structured. Over the 10-year period from fiscal years 2010 through 2019, obligations on FPI contracts for major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) grew to account for almost half of the $65 billion in obligations for fiscal year 2019. Percentage of Obligations by Contract Type for Major Defense Acquisition Programs from Fiscal Years 2010 through 2019 DOD guidance, including Better Buying Power initiatives, influenced DOD's use of FPI contracts over the last decade for the selected contracts GAO reviewed. In addition, when selecting a contract type, contracting officers also considered factors including the availability of cost or pricing data, previous experience with the contractor, and the previously used contract type. DOD has not assessed the extent to which use of FPI contracts has contributed to achieving desired cost and schedule performance outcomes. DOD spends billions of dollars annually using fixed-price type contracts to acquire its MDAPs, among other things. In 2010, DOD's Better Buying Power guidance encouraged the use of FPI contracts as a way to obtain greater efficiency and productivity in defense spending. Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to report on DOD's use of fixed-price type contracts, including FPI. This report examines (1) the extent to which DOD has awarded FPI contracts associated with MDAPs from fiscal years 2010 through 2019, and (2) the factors that influenced DOD's decision to use FPI contracts and the extent to which DOD assesses their use, among other objectives. GAO analyzed government contracting data by contract type for fiscal years 2010 through 2019 on contracts for 101 MDAPs. GAO further analyzed a non-generalizable sample of 12 contracts including six FPI and six firm-fixed-price (two of each type from each of the three military departments); conducted file reviews; reviewed policy documentation; and interviewed DOD officials. GAO recommends that DOD conduct an assessment of its use of FPI contracts for major defense acquisition programs, including the extent to which share lines and other contract elements contributed to achieving desired cost and schedule performance outcomes. DOD agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact W. William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
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  • Taxpayer Service: IRS Could Improve the Taxpayer Experience by Using Better Service Performance Measures
    In U.S GAO News
    The Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) mission and strategic plan state expectations for IRS to improve the taxpayer experience and services it provides. However, IRS and its divisions that manage programs serving the largest taxpayer groups—the Wage and Investment (W&I) and the Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) divisions—did not have performance goals to specify the desired improvements. For example, W&I aligned its service programs to IRS's strategic objectives for taxpayer services that state broad types of management activities such as monitoring the taxpayer experience and addressing issues. However, it did not have performance goals that specify outcomes to improve the taxpayer experience, such as reducing taxpayer wait times for telephone assistance. Because IRS and these two divisions do not have performance goals for improving the taxpayer experience, IRS does not have related performance measures. IRS has many performance measures—including more than 80 for W&I and SB/SE—for assessing the services it provides, such as related to timeliness and accuracy of information provided to taxpayers. However, these existing measures do not assess improvements to the taxpayer experience, such as whether tax processes were simpler or specific services met taxpayers' needs. The division-level measures also lack targets for improving the taxpayer experience. Further, the existing measures do not capture all of the key factors identified in Office of Management and Budget guidance for how customers experience federal services, including customer satisfaction and how easy it was to receive the services. As a result, IRS does not have complete information about how well it is satisfying taxpayers and improving their experiences. IRS analyzes its taxpayer service measures to compare performance with targets but the analyses provide few insights and no recommendations to improve the taxpayer experience, such as to provide more timely tax filing guidance. Also, IRS does not have a process to use service measures to guide decisions on allocating resources to improve the taxpayer experience. As a result, IRS is challenged to use performance data to balance resource allocation for efforts to improve the taxpayer experience compared with other IRS efforts. Finally, IRS reports limited information to the public about performance related to the taxpayer experience for transparency and accountability. The table below summarizes important management practices that IRS did not fully follow to provide taxpayers a top-quality service experience. According to IRS, providing top-quality service is a critical part of its mission to help taxpayers understand and meet their tax responsibilities. Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate, and the administration have recognized the importance of improving how taxpayers experience IRS services. Setting goals and objectives with related performance measures and targets are important tools to focus an agency's activities on achieving mission results. GAO was asked to review IRS's customer service performance measures. This report assesses IRS's (1) goals and objectives to improve the taxpayer experience; (2) performance measures to support improved experiences; and (3) use of performance information to improve the experience, allocate resources, and report performance. To assess IRS's goals, measures, targets, and use of them, GAO compared IRS's practices to key practices in results-oriented management. GAO is making 7 recommendations, including that IRS identify performance goals, measures, and targets; as well as analyze performance; develop processes to make decisions on resources needed; and report performance on improving the taxpayer experience. IRS indicated that it generally agreed with the recommendations, but that details around their implementation were under consideration and would be provided at a later date. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or LucasJudyJ@gao.gov.
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  • Cybersecurity: DHS and Selected Agencies Need to Address Shortcomings in Implementation of Network Monitoring Program
    In U.S GAO News
    Selected agencies—the Federal Aviation Administration, Indian Health Services, and Small Business Administration—had generally deployed tools intended to provide cybersecurity data to support the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program. As depicted in the figure, the program relies on automated tools to identify hardware and software residing on agency networks. This information is aggregated and compared to expected outcomes, such as whether actual device configuration settings meet federal benchmarks. The information is then displayed on an agency dashboard and federal dashboard. Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program Data Flow from Agencies to the Federal Dashboard However, while agencies reported that the program improved their network awareness, none of the three agencies had effectively implemented all key CDM program requirements. For example, the three agencies had not fully implemented requirements for managing their hardware. This was due in part to contractors, who install and troubleshoot the tools, not always providing unique identifying information. Accordingly, CDM tools did not provide an accurate count of the hardware on their networks. In addition, although most agencies implemented requirements for managing software, they were not consistently comparing configuration settings on their networks to federal core benchmarks intended to maintain a standard level of security. The agencies identified various challenges to implementing the program, including overcoming resource limitations and not being able to resolve problems directly with contractors. DHS had taken numerous steps to help manage these challenges, including tracking risks of insufficient resources, providing forums for agencies to raise concerns, and allowing agencies to provide feedback to DHS on contractor performance. In 2013, DHS established the CDM program to strengthen the cybersecurity of government networks and systems by providing tools to agencies to continuously monitor their networks. The program, with estimated costs of about $10.9 billion, intends to provide capabilities for agencies to identify, prioritize, and mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities. GAO was asked to review agencies' continuous monitoring practices. This report (1) examines the extent to which selected agencies have effectively implemented key CDM program requirements and (2) describes challenges agencies identified in implementing the requirements and steps DHS has taken to address these challenges. GAO selected three agencies based on reported acquisition of CDM tools. GAO evaluated the agencies' implementation of CDM asset management capabilities, conducted semi-structured interviews with agency officials, and examined DHS actions. GAO is making six recommendations to DHS, including to ensure that contractors provide unique hardware identifiers; and nine recommendations to the three selected agencies, including to compare configurations to benchmarks. DHS and the selected agencies concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Vijay A. D'Souza at (202) 512-6240 or dsouzav@gao.gov.
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  • The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Effective Use of Fiscal Rules and Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    In fiscal year 2019, debt held by the public reached 79 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The government's fiscal response to COVID-19 combined with the severe economic contraction from the pandemic will substantially increase federal debt. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that debt held by the public will reach 98 percent of GDP by the end of fiscal year 2020. The nation's fiscal challenges will require attention once the economy has substantially recovered and public health goals have been attained. GAO has previously reported that a long-term plan is needed to put the government on a sustainable fiscal path. Other countries have used well-designed fiscal rules and targets—which constrain fiscal policy by controlling factors like expenditures or revenue—to contain excessive deficits. For example, Germany's constitution places limits on its deficits. The U.S. federal government has previously enacted fiscal rules, such as those in the Budget Control Act of 2011. However, current fiscal rules have not effectively addressed the misalignment between spending and revenues over time. GAO identified key considerations to help Congress if it were to adopt new fiscal rules and targets, as part of a long-term plan for fiscal sustainability (see table). Key Considerations for Designing, Implementing, and Enforcing Fiscal Rules and Targets Setting clear goals and objectives can anchor a country's fiscal policy. Fiscal rules and targets can help ensure that spending and revenue decisions align with agreed-upon goals and objectives. The weight given to tradeoffs among simplicity, flexibility, and enforceability depends on the goals a country is trying to achieve with a fiscal rule. In addition, there are tradeoffs between the types and combinations of rules, and the time frames over which the rules apply. The degree to which fiscal rules and targets are binding, such as being supported through a country's constitution or nonbinding political agreements, can impact their permanence, as well as the extent to which ongoing political commitment is needed to uphold them. Integrating fiscal rules and targets into budget discussions can contribute to their ongoing use and provide for a built-in enforcement mechanism. The budget process can include reviews of fiscal rules and targets. Fiscal rules and targets with limited, well-defined exemptions, clear escape clauses for events such as national emergencies, and adjustments for the economic cycle can help a country address future crises. Institutions supporting fiscal rules and targets need clear roles and responsibilities for supporting their implementation and measuring their effectiveness. Independently analyzed data and assessments can help institutions monitor compliance with fiscal rules and targets. Having clear, transparent fiscal rules and targets that a government communicates to the public and that the public understands can contribute to a culture of fiscal transparency and promote fiscal sustainability for the country. Source: GAO analysis of literature review and interviews. | GAO-20-561 Our nation faces serious challenges at a time when the federal government is highly leveraged in debt by historical norms. The imbalance between revenue and spending built into current law and policy have placed the nation on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Fiscal rules and targets can be used to help frame and control the overall results of spending and revenue decisions that affect the debt. GAO was asked to review fiscal rules and targets. This report (1) assesses the extent to which the federal government has taken action to contribute to long-term fiscal sustainability through fiscal rules and targets, and (2) identifies key considerations for designing, implementing, and enforcing fiscal rules and targets in the U.S. GAO compared current and former U.S. fiscal rules to literature on the effective use of rules and targets; reviewed CBO reports and relevant laws; and interviewed experts. GAO conducted case studies of national fiscal rules in Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. Congress should consider establishing a long-term fiscal plan that includes fiscal rules and targets, such as a debt-to-GDP target, and weigh GAO's key considerations to ensure proper design, implementation, and enforcement of these rules and targets. The Department of the Treasury and other entities provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin, at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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  • Federal Tactical Teams: Characteristics, Training, Deployments, and Inventory
    In U.S GAO News
    Within the executive branch, GAO identified 25 federal tactical teams, and the characteristics of these teams varied. The 25 tactical teams were across 18 agencies, such as agencies within the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Energy, and the Interior. The number of reported team members per team ranged from two to 1,099. More than half (16 of 25) of the teams reported that they are composed of team members working for the team on a collateral basis. Most teams (17 of 25) had multiple units across various locations. Photos of Federal Tactical Teams in Action Tactical teams generally followed a similar training process, with initial training, specialty training, and ongoing training requirements. Nearly all teams (24 of 25) reported that new team members complete an initial tactical training course, which ranged from 1 week to 10 months. For example, potential new team members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hostage Rescue Team complete a 10-month initial training that includes courses on firearms; helicopter operations; and surveillance, among others. Nearly all teams (24 of 25) reported offering specialized training to some team members, such as in sniper operations and breaching. Nearly all teams (24 of 25) also reported having ongoing training requirements, ranging from 40 hours per year to over 400 hours per year. The number and types of deployments varied across the 25 tactical teams for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. The number of reported deployments per tactical team during this time period ranged from 0 to over 5,000. Teams conducted different types of deployments, but some types were common among teams, such as: supporting operations of other law enforcement entities, such as other federal, state, and local law enforcement (16 of 25); providing protection details for high-profile individuals (15 of 25); responding to or providing security at civil disturbances, such as protests (13 of 25); and serving high-risk search and arrest warrants (11 of 25). Four teams reported that they had deployed in response to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and 16 teams reported deployments related to nationwide civil unrest and protests in May and June 2020. Tactical teams reported having various types of firearms, tactical equipment, and tactical vehicles in their inventories. Team members generally have a standard set of firearms (e.g., a pistol, a backup pistol, and a rifle), but some may also have specialized firearms (e.g., a shotgun designed to breach doors). Tactical teams also have a variety of tactical equipment, such as night vision devices to maintain surveillance of suspects or tactical robots that can go into locations to obtain audio and video information when team members cannot safely enter those locations. Tactical teams may also have tactical vehicles, such as manned aircraft (e.g., helicopters) and armored vehicles to patrol locations. The figure below identifies the number of tactical teams that reported having such items in their inventories. Number of Federal Tactical Teams That Reported Having Firearms, Tactical Equipment, and Tactical Vehicles in Their Inventories, as of January 2020 Appendix I of the report provides details on each of the 25 tactical teams, such as each team's mission; staffing; types and frequency of training; and number and types of deployments from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. This is a public version of a sensitive report issued in August 2020. Information deemed to be sensitive by the agencies in this review, such as the quantities of firearms, tactical equipment, and tactical vehicles in team inventories, has been omitted from this report. Many federal agencies employ law enforcement officers to carry out the agency's law enforcement mission and maintain the security of federal property, employees, and the public. Some of these agencies have specialized law enforcement teams—referred to as federal tactical teams in this report—whose members are selected, trained, equipped, and assigned to prevent and resolve critical incidents involving a public safety threat that their agency's traditional law enforcement may not otherwise have the capability to resolve. This report provides information on the (1) federal tactical teams and their characteristics; (2) training team members receive; (3) deployments of such teams from fiscal years 2015 through 2019; and (4) firearms, tactical equipment, and tactical vehicles in team inventories, as of January 2020. To identify federal tactical teams, GAO contacted executive branch agencies with at least 50 federal law enforcement officers. GAO administered a standardized questionnaire and data collection instrument to the identified teams to gather information on team missions, staffing, training, deployments, and inventories. GAO reviewed team documents, such as standard operating procedures, and interviewed agency officials. GAO collected descriptive information on reported deployments as of June 2020 in response to COVID-19 and nationwide civil unrest, which were ongoing during the review. GAO incorporated agency technical comments as appropriate. For more information, contact Gretta L. 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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
    What 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 garciadiazd@gao.gov.
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  • Environmental Liabilities: NASA’s Reported Financial Liabilities Have Grown, and Several Factors Contribute to Future Uncertainties
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimated cleanup and restoration across the agency would cost $1.9 billion as of fiscal year 2020, up from $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019. This reflects an increase of $724 million, or 61 percent, from 2014. NASA identified contamination at 14 centers around the country, as of 2019. Five of the 14 centers decreased their environmental liabilities from 2014 to 2019, but liability growth at the other centers offset those decreases and contributed to the net increase in environmental liabilities. Santa Susana Field Laboratory, California, had about $502 million in environmental liabilities growth during this period (see fig.). Nearly all this growth resulted from California soil cleanup requirements that NASA did not anticipate. These NASA Centers Reported Increases or Decreases in Restoration Project Environmental Liabilities Greater Than $10 Million Between Fiscal Years 2014 and 2019 NASA's reported fiscal year 2019 environmental liabilities estimate for restoration projects does not include certain costs, and some factors may affect NASA's future environmental liabilities, potentially increasing or decreasing the federal government's fiscal exposure. Certain costs are not included in the fiscal year 2019 estimate because some projects are in a developing stage where NASA needs to gather more information to fully estimate cleanup costs. Further, NASA limits its restoration project estimates to 30 years, as the agency views anything beyond 30 years as not reasonably estimable. Sixty of NASA's 115 open restoration projects in fiscal year 2019 are expected to last longer than 30 years. With regard to factors that could affect future environmental liabilities, NASA is assessing its centers for contamination of some chemicals it had not previously identified but does not yet know the impact associated cleanup will have on the agency's liabilities in part because standards for cleaning up these chemicals do not yet exist. New cleanup requirements for emerging contaminants could increase NASA's environmental liabilities and create additional fiscal exposure for the federal government. Additionally, NASA is committed, through an agreement with the state of California, to clean soil at Santa Susana Field Laboratory to a certain standard, but the agency issued a decision in September 2020 to pursue a risk-based cleanup standard, which the state of California has opposed. According to NASA, a risk-based cleanup standard at Santa Susana Field Laboratory could decrease NASA's environmental liabilities and reduce the federal government's fiscal exposure by about $355 million. Decades of NASA's research for space exploration relied on some chemicals that can be hazardous to human health and the environment. NASA identified 14 centers around the country with hazardous chemicals that require environmental cleanup and restoration. NASA's Environmental Compliance and Restoration Program oversees the agency's environmental cleanup. NASA's environmental liabilities estimate is reported annually in the agency's financial statement. Federal accounting standards require agencies responsible for contamination to estimate and report their future cleanup costs when they are both probable and reasonably estimable. This report describes (1) NASA's environmental liabilities for restoration projects from fiscal years 2014 to 2019—the most recent data available at the time of our review—and (2) factors that could contribute to uncertainties in NASA's current or future environmental liabilities. GAO reviewed NASA financial statements, guidance, and other relevant reports and interviewed NASA officials from headquarters and three centers, selected because of changes in their reported liabilities. NASA provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • United States Designates Senior Iranian Official in Iraq
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Cybersecurity: Federal Agencies Need to Implement Recommendations to Manage Supply Chain Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Federal agencies continue to face software supply chain threats. In December 2020, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an emergency directive requiring agencies to take action regarding a threat actor that had been observed leveraging a software supply chain compromise of a widely used enterprise network management software suite—SolarWinds Orion. Subsequently, the National Security Council staff formed a Cyber Unified Coordination Group to coordinate the government response to the cyberattack. The group took a number of steps, including gathering intelligence and developing tools and guidance, to help organizations identify and remove the threat. During the same month that the SolarWinds compromise was discovered, GAO reported that none of 23 civilian agencies had fully implemented selected foundational practices for managing information and communication technology (ICT) supply chain risks—known as supply chain risk management (SCRM) (see figure). Twenty-three Civilian Agencies' Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Practices GAO stressed that, as a result of not fully implementing the foundational practices, the agencies were at a greater risk that malicious actors could exploit vulnerabilities in the ICT supply chain, causing disruptions to mission operations, harm to individuals, or theft of intellectual property. Accordingly, GAO recommended that each of the 23 agencies fully implement these foundational practices. In May 2021, GAO received updates from six of the 23 agencies regarding actions taken or planned to address its recommendations. However, none of the agencies had fully implemented the recommendations. Until they do so, agencies will be limited in their ability to effectively address supply chain risks across their organizations. Why GAO Did This Study Federal agencies rely extensively on ICT products and services (e.g., computing systems, software, and networks) to carry out their operations. However, agencies face numerous ICT supply chain risks, including threats posed by malicious actors who may exploit vulnerabilities in the supply chain and, thus, compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an organization's systems and the information they contain. Recent events involving a software supply chain compromise of SolarWinds Orion, a network management software suite, and the shutdown of a major U.S. fuel pipeline due to a cyberattack highlight the significance of these threats. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to manage ICT supply chain risks. Specifically, GAO (1) describes the federal government's actions in response to the compromise of SolarWinds and (2) summarizes its prior report on the extent to which federal agencies implemented foundational ICT supply chain risk management practices. To do so, GAO reviewed its previously published reports and related information. GAO has ongoing work examining federal agencies' responses to SolarWinds and plans to issue a report on this in fall 2021.
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    In Travel
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