Briefing With Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor P. Nagy and U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael A. Raynor on the Situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

Tibor P. Nagy, Jr., Assistant SecretaryBureau of African Affairs

Michael A. Raynor, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia

Via Teleconference

MR ICE: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for this briefing on the situation in Ethiopia. I’m sure you’ve all seen Secretary’s Pompeo’s statements on the issue where the United States has clearly expressed our deep concern over the continued fighting and the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Today, I am very happy to have with us Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor Nagy and the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Raynor, who both have extensive knowledge of Ethiopia and can share insights into the current situation, provide the U.S. perspective, and elaborate on the U.S. policy behind our current response. Assistant Secretary Nagy is going to begin with some opening remarks, and then we’re going to take a few questions.

Just as a reminder, this briefing is on the record but embargoed until the end of the call. Okay. If you would like to go ahead and get into our question queue, I invite you to dial 1-0 and that will put you into the queue. The operator will give us those same instructions before we go to the Q&A. With that, I am going to turn it over to Assistant Secretary Nagy. Sir.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Thanks so, so much, J.T., and thanks also for mentioning the Secretary’s statement. From the first attacks on November 3rd by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, TPLF, on Ethiopian National Defense Force bases in the Tigray region, we have publicly and privately highlighted our grave concern. We strongly urge an immediate de-escalation of tensions, a cessation of hostilities, and a return to peace. The protection and security of all civilians is essential. Our top priority is ensuring the welfare, protection, and security of U.S. citizens. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa continues to work closely with the United Nations and others to relocate U.S. citizens in Tigray, as conditions permit. We appreciate the UN’s support in this regard. The United States continues to coordinate with the Ethiopian Government, local authorities, and our international partners to ensure that civilians in and around the Tigray region have access to needed humanitarian assistance.

As of today, the fighting in Tigray continues, and events last weekend suggest that the TPLF seeks to internationalize the conflict. The TPLF leadership has admitted responsibility for the November 13 missile launches at airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar, in the Amhara region, and the November 14 attack in Eritrea. These unacceptable attacks make the situation more dangerous, and the Secretary condemned them in his most recent statement. We have been in contact with Eritrean Government officials and are urging their continued restraint.

In Addis Ababa, Washington, across the region, and internationally, we are working with partners toward a quick end to the conflict. We’ve also been in close communication with representatives of the Ethiopian diaspora regarding the situation in Tigray. We continue to press the Ethiopian Government to restore communication in the region as an act of accountability and transparency and to enable greater contact with civilians, including American citizens in the region. We also urge both sides to maintain access for humanitarian organizations to provide essential assistance to vulnerable groups in the region. We have been unequivocal with the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF that civilian lives must be protected and humanitarian access must be ensured.

We remain deeply concerned over reports that civilians have been purposely targeted and attacked. We condemn the November 12 massacre in Mai-Kadra, apparently perpetrated by TPLF soldiers and militia as they retreated from the town. We urge independent investigations of all reports of atrocities and attacks against civilians. Those found responsible must be held accountable in accordance with the law. Additionally, we are working with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Ethiopian Government to ascertain why several journalists were recently arrested, their current status and well-being, and what charges they are facing.

We are also closely tracking the outflow of civilians to neighboring countries and are in close contact with UN and other humanitarian officials regarding contingency plans on their response. We urge neighboring countries to keep their borders open to asylum seekers fleeing the violence.

We welcome the generosity demonstrated by the people of Sudan in hosting Ethiopian refugees. The United States has been one of the largest contributors to humanitarian assistance to the region, providing more than $320 million in FY2020 to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR; the World Food Program; UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF; the International Organization for Migration, IOM; and other humanitarian organization partners to provide protection and assistance for refugees, internally displaced persons, and conflict victims in Sudan. U.S. humanitarian assistance provides refugees and IDPs in Sudan with shelter, food, and access to clean water and sanitation, health care, and other lifesaving support. Some of this assistance is already being deployed by our partners to respond to the urgent needs of newly arrived Ethiopian asylum seekers.

Before I turn over to questions, I do want to mention one personal note. As some of you know, this situation absolutely breaks my heart. I had several tours in Ethiopia, including ambassador during the Ethio-Eritrean War. Just like Ambassador Raynor, I know the region very well. We have the highest regard, admiration for the people of Ethiopia and especially for the Tigrayans who suffered the most during that war.

So with that, we welcome your questions.

MR ICE: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Nagy. Just as a reminder, to get into the question queue I invite you to dial 1-0. And at this point, let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin at The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for having this call. I was wondering if you could just help maybe set this into context in the region what surrounding countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea have at stake or have been involved – how they’ve been involved in the conflict for some of us who don’t know the region as well, and how they’ve been involved in the relief efforts. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Sure. That’s a great question and thank you. Ethiopia, most especially since Prime Minister Abiy has taken power, is the linchpin in the region, of course, with over a hundred million people and a 2,000-year-old history as a state – the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that was never colonized. It is a key strategic partner for the United States. It’s a land that’s also the largest landlocked country on earth, Djibouti critically important because the Port of Djibouti is the main source for all overland transport to Ethiopia.

Ethiopians have been very much involved in trying to re-establish the state in Somalia by contributing both to AMISOM, the peacekeeping operation, but also providing some additional troops, because Ethiopia itself has a large region which is inhabited by ethnic Somalis. The other borders – South Sudan, Sudan – Sudan and Ethiopia, of course, have a long, long history of their relations, and the Sudanese have provided refuge for Ethiopians fleeing a whole series of conflicts in Ethiopia going back to the time of the emperor.

And then, of course, the other border is Eritrea. As you know, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter, bitter war, 1998 to 2000. Now with Prime Minister Abiy, relations have been normalized. And one of the goals coming out of this is the United States very much wants Ethiopia to be able to continue playing a positive role in the region, exporting stability, and hopefully at some point in the not-too-distant future prosperity as well, as one of the prime minister’s goals is to transform Ethiopia from a state-led economy to an open market economy. Over.

MR ICE: Hey, Mike, do you have anything to add to that?

AMBASSADOR RAYNOR: Just maybe a couple of minor points. Nothing to – nothing to detract from what you said. Certainly, our embassies in the region are engaging with their host countries, coordinating perceptions, talking about possible approaches towards solutions. And as Tibor mentioned that Ethiopia is basically a net exporter of security to the broader region, and so there have been expressions of concerns by neighboring countries about what the current dynamics might mean for their stability as well.

And in terms of the Sudan generosity in hosting refugees, just to note that already that’s over 35,000 refugees at a rate that had been between 4- and 5,000 a day. That seems to have gone down a bit over the last day or so to about 1,500 a day. So we don’t know that that suggests any trend. But certainly, we’re gauging that the countries in the region are looking very hard at having to play a constructive role in fostering peace and a quick end to the conflict. Over.

MR ICE: Okay. Let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon, AFP.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a little bit of Will’s question. Have you seen any evidence of foreign military involvement in this conflict, whether in terms of troops, obviously, or in terms of military equipment?

And if I could follow up on something that Tibor said at the beginning. You mentioned being in touch with Eritrean officials. What do you see, if anything, coming out of this diplomatically? I mean, could this be part of a greater reconciliation between the United States and Eritrea? Do you see that as a possibility or are there still major obstacles to improving the relationship with Eritrea? Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Yeah, thanks. When I visited Eritrea a little over a year ago, I mentioned at the time that from the United States point of view, we would be delighted to have the same type of positive relations with Eritrea that we have with Ethiopia.

As far as internationalizing the conflict goes, that is one absolute danger that we are doing our best, and I think the entire region is doing its best, to avoid. As I mentioned, we expressed our thanks to Eritrea for not being provoked when they were attacked by missiles because apparently, one of the aims of the TPLF hardcore leadership was to try to internationalize the conflict so that they could – that that would be a way to try to really fan the flames of patriotism within the general population of Tigray, and we appreciate the fact that Eritrea has been restrained.

Obviously, the Ethiopian Government is also very keen to keep the situation from being internationalized because that would be destabilizing to the entire region, which, as you guys note, historically has been one of the most unstable regions in Africa, if not the world.

MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s go to the line of Carol Morello at The Washington Post. Carol.

QUESTION: You mentioned – Tibor, you mentioned you’ve seen there have been atrocities committed. Have you seen any evidence that genocide has happened in Tigray? And is there any hope at this stage of mediation, or is Prime Minister Abiy going to fight on until he has full control of Tigray?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Well, because of the lack of communications, the reports – we have heard the sporadic reports of incidents, which some of the human rights organizations have characterized could be labeled as war crimes, but that’s why one of the things we very much want is an independent investigation, which will be very important when the means are available for that.

What was the second part of your question?

MR ICE: Operator, Carol will have to get back into the queue. Would you open up her line again, please?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Yeah, she had a second question.

AMBASSADOR RAYNOR: This is Mike. I think – sorry.

QUESTION: Is there any hope of mediation at this stage —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Oh, yeah, but – yeah, excellent.

QUESTION: — or is Prime Minister Abiy going to fight on until he has full control?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Yeah, excellent, okay, that’s very important. And we get that question immediately: “What about mediation?” “Why don’t you hop on an airplane, get over there?”

Mediation, I think it’s very important to underscore – it’s a tactic, it’s a way to get to the goal. It’s not a goal in itself. I mean, our goal is a quick end to the conflict, restoration of peace, protection of civilians. At a point where mediation will become useful, i.e. that the two parties indicate an interest in mediation, you can bet that the United States would be there in an instant. A whole series of regional leaders, continental leaders, other international leaders have reached out with offers of mediation. At this point, neither party, from everything we hear, is interested in mediation.

However, having said that, I think it’s also very important to keep in mind that on the one hand, everybody focuses on the military campaign. But alongside the military campaign, there are indications that there’s very much a political campaign going on within Ethiopia, because you talk about Tigrayans; Tigrayans are not the enemy, and the Ethiopian Government acknowledges this very strongly that Tigrayans are one of the many ethnic groups in Ethiopia. And even the TPLF – you talk about the TPLF; it is a – it’s a large, large party. You have hundreds of thousands of members.

The – from my conversations, the Ethiopian Government is in very strong opposition during this campaign to some of the leadership of the TPLF, and Ambassador Raynor can add additional details, but I understand that the Ethiopian Government has already appointed an interim administration to start administering those parts of Tigray which are being returned to state authority from the TPLF regime. Mike, is that correct?

AMBASSADOR RAYNOR: That’s correct.

MR ICE: Very well. Let’s go to Simon Ateba at Today News Africa.

QUESTION: Simon Ateba from Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has jailed most of his political opponents. He has used the excuse of COVID-19 to postpone the election. On Thursday, Abiy accused the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros, of seeking to procure weapons for the TPLF, and right now his army continues to bomb civilians in Tigray. Have you seen any evidence that the WHO chief is trying to procure weapons for the TPLF? And what else can the U.S. Government do to end the ongoing war and also to protect civilians? And do you think that the U.S. Government has not done enough to check Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed? The humanitarian organizations say that almost 7,000 people are in jail right now, and he refuses to release them because they oppose him politically. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Thanks very much. The U.S. Government is doing everything possible to end the conflict, to return to peace, to urge for the protection of civilians. We’ve called for restoring communications. It’s not the United States Government that has to stop the fighting. It’s the two sides that are going to have to stop the fighting.

Regarding any allegations about charges made, you have to go to the sources for those charges because those are not coming from the United States Government. But as I said, we have engaged with all sides in Ethiopia. We have engaged in the region. We have spoken and we continue to speak. We are looking for opportunities wherever those opportunities come up to promote a return to peace.

So when it comes to stopping the fighting, as I have to say, it’s the people engaged in the fighting that have to stop the fighting. Over, thank you.

MR ICE: Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan at ABC News.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Just following up on Carol’s question, and maybe the idea of more that the U.S. Government could do to push those two sides so that you don’t need mediation, can you speak at all to the Secretary’s involvement? Has he been in touch with Prime Minister Abiy? And would more higher-level pressure from the U.S. help here? And just to be clear, when you say you’ve been in touch with all sides, have you had contact with the TPLF yourself? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: First of all, I have not, but Ambassador Raynor has. As far as the Secretary’s involvement, the Secretary right now is on travel, and we are obviously discussing on what more higher-level U.S. engagement we can propose as events unfold. Anybody who has worked with these two sides I think can appreciate the fact that they have very, very strong opinions on what they want to do and when they want to do it. As I said before, to us, mediation is not the goal. Resumption of peace is the goal. Mediation, in fact, is a very good tactic, but it can only be used when the people involved or the sides involved are prepared for mediation. Over.

AMBASSADOR RAYNOR: Tibor, maybe I could just add a little bit to that, first to note that over the past week, though I certainly don’t put my stature up with the Secretary, over the past week I have spoken with Prime Minister Abiy and with TPLF Chairman Debretsion. And of course, the central and, again, and the first point I made was the importance of military de-escalation and cessation of fighting. And of course, I explored with both of them the extent to which mediation or dialogue or negotiation might be a tool toward that end. And I will tell you that at the time of my conversations there was no receptivity to that approach. There was a strong commitment on both sides to see the military conflict through. And in fact, neither side felt they could articulate a basis for a negotiated or a mediated solution at that time.

That said, we continue to be very closely attuned to developments on the ground and to opportunities they might create, to press additionally and then perhaps in different ways toward that possibility. As Tibor noted, that’s not the end. That’s a potential tool toward an end, and we remain attuned to that and then to raise that however we think constructive. Over.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Thanks, Mike.

MR ICE: Let’s go to Anna Kara of Associated Press.

OPERATOR: One moment, please.

QUESTION: Can you hear me okay?

OPERATOR: Your line is open, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Even if there’s no appetite for dialogue from either side, aren’t there other efforts toward a humanitarian ceasefire or a humanitarian corridor underway, and what progress are they making? And also, what is your best guess of the number of combatants killed and civilians killed? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Okay. On the last part there, unfortunately, because of a lack of communications, as far as casualty figures are concerned, I don’t want to give you bad numbers. I would suggest, if you want to get an exact count, ask directly of the Ethiopians, because they’re the ones that have the exact number.

Mike, you want to talk about the humanitarian corridor aspect? Because that’s very, very important.

AMBASSADOR RAYNOR: It is indeed, and it’s an aspect that we, along with other humanitarian governments, including the United Nations, have been pressing from the outside: establishing humanitarian access for commodities – fuel, gas, other items; establishing a (inaudible) corridor to enable the insertion of those supplies but also to facilitate and monitor civilians. That – we raised that with the government. They said they would look at that. When I raised that with the TPLF, they did not really engage on that possibility. But we continue to press it very hard.

Another aspect of this is the Ethiopian Government continues to articulate a vision of the military conflict coming to an end fairly soon, a week or two from now, which isn’t to say that (inaudible) there isn’t a humanitarian crisis on the ground, because there absolutely is. And we continue to press very hard in concert with the donor community, the international community, the United Nations, to get access immediately to the region and to establish safe egress from the region. Over.

MR ICE: Now let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour at Middle East Broadcast Network. Over.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. A follow-up question on the Ethiopian chief of staff saying that WHO Director Tedros used his position to lobby foreign governments to support the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Do you have anything on that?

And on Sudan, any comment on the news saying that Russia will build a naval base there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Okay. First of all, on the whole WHO issue, you have to go to the Ethiopians for that. That is coming straight from Ethiopia, so we absolutely have no comment.

And as far as anything having to do with Sudan, we meant for this briefing to be talking about the current situation in Ethiopia and Tigray, so we’ll leave it at that.

MR ICE: Very well. Let’s go to Lara Jakes at the New York Times.

QUESTION: Thanks. Based on what you just said, I feel a little sheepish asking this, but I did want to talk about Sudan and the knock-on effects that the refugee influx has had on a very tenuous time for the transitional government. So I’m wondering if you can tell us a little more and with some specificity what level of (inaudible) support is being given to help Sudan (inaudible) the refugee influx. And also, to what extent you think that this could future disrupt the transitional government there? Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Okay. Very quickly, I don’t believe that this is going to disrupt the very successful transition which is going on in Sudan. I mean, my gosh, Sudan’s the good news story of the year. And again, on the refugee flow, we’re – USAID, U.S. Agency for International Development, is very much involved in there, in that, as are a number of other partners, looking at what we can do, how we can move quickly. The Sudanese Government also is obviously cooperating very closely.

And it’s a sad truth, but unfortunately Sudan has had to go through with this a number of times. Again, I mean, I give the highest credit to the Government of Sudan. And this has been through a number of their various regimes. Immaterial of what the regimes in Sudan were or what the regimes in Ethiopia were, whenever there were these humanitarian emergencies, the Sudanese have provided just an incredibly welcoming and supportive refuge for the refugees coming out of Ethiopia. Whether they were escaping the emperor or the Marxist Derg or the TPLF government or now, it just a very long history of genuine cordiality and welcome from the people of Sudan for the people of Ethiopia. Over.

MR ICE: Let’s go to the line of Katharine Houreld, Reuters.

OPERATOR: Ms. Houreld’s line has dropped.

MR ICE: Very well. Let’s go to Conor Finnegan at ABC News again.

QUESTION: Thank you for indulging me. Just to follow up on something Ambassador Raynor said about the government signaling this could end shortly, do you expect that fighting in Ethiopia ends with that? Or do you fear that Prime Minister Abiy will push to consolidate elsewhere, in other regions?

And then secondly, the TPLF chairman told the Financial Times at some point this week that a breakup of Ethiopia could be one of the consequences of this. Can you speak to fears of that? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Okay. I obviously can’t make any comments on any possible boycott of Ethiopia. I mean, you can imagine that the Ethiopian – the global diaspora is – probably has some very, very divergent views. All you have to do is look at some of the comments that we get on our Twitters.

As far as the fighting leading to other ethnic conflict, you have to say – okay, I’m not privy to the thinking of the TPLF leadership when they started this, but this was not to secede and create an independent state from Ethiopia, because the Ethiopian constitution has a provision for the states to be able to secede peacefully. I mean, again, difficult to tell motivation, but it seems like they were doing this more to depose the prime minister from power and to reassert themselves into the prominent position that they had atop the Ethiopian political spectrum for the last 27 years.

So hopefully right now I think that their tactic has had the opposite effect from what they were planning. And Mike can confirm this, but it seems like this has brought the Ethiopian nation together, at least for the time being, in support of the prime minister, because this has really stoked Ethiopian nationalism, and hopefully that that – those positive forces will remain.

But again, I want to make it very clear that this is not about Tigray. There is no equivalency here. This is not two sovereign states fighting against each other. This is a faction of the government running a region in Ethiopia that has decided to undertake hostilities against the central government, and it has not – in my view – has had the effect that they thought that they were going to get. And Mike, I’ll turn it over to you for the last word, my friend.

AMBASSADOR RAYNOR: Very, very little to add to that. We – again, it comes back to why we’ve been impressing the importance of having de-escalation and cessation of hostilities – not because we necessarily think there’s a risk of expanded (inaudible) engagement beyond the region, but simply because the longer fighting persists, the more risk there is of destabilization of one kind or another.

We, as Tibor said, note that the rest of the country actually remains quite calm at present, no indications of anyone taking up comparable actions elsewhere, and in fact the opposite. Seemingly both regional governments, federal governments, and large swaths of the people galvanizing around the government – the federal government and the national (inaudible). Over.

MR ICE: Okay, I believe we have time for one or two more questions, maybe just one. Operator, I see Katharine Houreld is in the queue. Can we make her connection? Reuters.

OPERATOR: Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Yep.

QUESTION: Hi there. I just wanted to ask: We’ve received several reports from the rebels about airstrikes in Mekelle, including one that’s just come in saying that there was an airstrike on the university in the center of town. Is the U.S. able to verify any of this through satellite imagery or anything like this? And if you did, would there be any kind of statement on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: I – again, from my point of view, communications in the region have been cut. We’re getting very little information, aside from anecdotal evidence. So I wish I could give you more information, I just cannot. From what you say, I certainly hope it’s not true about the University of Mekelle. I actually have a honorary doctorate from the University of Mekelle, so again, obvious that that would be tragic, but my information is extremely limited on that. Mike, I’ll turn it over to you in case you can be a little – you have more information. Over.

AMBASSADOR RAYNOR: Thank you. No specific information on specific reports of individual airstrikes. What we will – what we – what I guess I will add is that while fighting persists, we are pressing very hard, both sides, to maximize protections for civilians. From the government, we are getting strong reassurances that they are planning their military campaign around civilians. They’ve told us that they have passed up TPLF targets that they felt would have put civilians at risk. We are pressing at every opportunity, and every time there’s a report that we can engage on, we’re trying to get the details and using those as opportunities to reinforce our messaging about the importance of civilian safety. Over.

MR ICE: Okay. And for our last question, let’s go to Robbie Gramer at Foreign Policy.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Robbie? Yeah, sure can.

QUESTION: Great, thanks. I know Carol had asked about genocide before, and I understand that you’re calling for an independent investigation. But already even without one, the UN’s acting special advisor for genocide prevention issued a rare statement expressing concern at these developments – the reported massacre of civilians and how they heighten the risk of genocide. So just to put a finer point on it, do you share this concern, and do you believe what we are seeing in Ethiopia can be considered early warning signs of ethnic cleansing? Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: I cannot honestly say yes to that. We are very concerned with every single example, incident of any of the alleged atrocities. That’s why we want to get an absolute clear handle on them. And that’s why we call for an independent investigation, not an investigation by either side, and then absolutely hold people accountable who committed these acts.

The ethnic dimension is one that everybody is very concerned about. In my own conversations with Ethiopian officials, they are just as concerned, obviously, as people outside the country. We have followed closely the ethnic fractures which have erupted over the last several years as the lid of the previous dictatorship has been loosened over the country and there have been more personal freedoms. And that is absolutely a huge challenge for Prime Minister Abiy and the Ethiopian Government, not just now but definitely going forward. So we obviously are going to monitor this very, very closely, as will our embassy, and report on all incidents, which we take extremely seriously. Over.

MR ICE: Okay. Well, we are over our time at this point. We actually took a couple more questions than we were originally scheduled to take, so appreciate that very much. We appreciate everyone dialing in today. I’d also like to thank Assistant Secretary Nagy and Ambassador Raynor for their time. With that, we’re closing the briefing and the embargo is now lifted. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Thanks, J.T., and thanks, Mike.

Hits: 6

News Network

  • U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Lenderking’s Return from Saudi Arabia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Sanctioning Cuban Police in Response to Violent Repression of Peaceful Protests
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • United States and Canada Forge Ahead on Critical Minerals Cooperation
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Harassment of Foreign Journalists in the People’s Republic of China
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Public Schedule – July 30, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth, and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator and Executive Director of the USAID Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri On the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy and Root Causes Strategy Toward Migration
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Marta Costanzo Youth, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah At a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • July 29, 2021, letter commenting on AICPA’s February 2021 Exposure Draft, “Proposed Statements on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management”
    In U.S GAO News
    This letter provides GAO's response to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Auditing Standards Board's (ASB) Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management: A Firm's System of Quality Management (SQMS No. 1); Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Engagement Quality Reviews (SQMS No. 2); and Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards, Quality Management for an Engagement Conducted in Accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (QM SAS). GAO provides standards for performing high-quality audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions and of government assistance to contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernment organizations with competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence. These standards, often referred to as generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS), are to be followed when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. For financial audits, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Auditing Standards (SAS). For attestation engagements, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Communication with Applicants and Address Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applicants and recipients varied in terms of business size, years in operation, and industry, based on GAO's analysis of Small Business Administration (SBA) data from March 2020 through February 2021: Business size. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 81 percent) and EIDL recipients (about 86 percent) were smaller businesses (10 or fewer employees). Years in operation. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 63 percent) had been in operation for less than 5 years. However, businesses in operation for more than 5 years received the majority of total EIDL loan dollars and had higher approval rates compared to newer businesses. Industry. Businesses in the personal services and transportation industries made up the largest share of applicants, while those in the legal services and lodging industries were approved for loans at the highest rates (see figure). Top Loan Applicants and Approval Rates by Business Industry In addition, small businesses in counties with higher median household income, better internet access, and more diverse populations generally received more loans per 1,000 businesses and larger loans. EIDL applicants have faced a number of challenges, according to applicants and other business stakeholders GAO interviewed between August 2020 and February 2021. For example, applicants from five discussion groups and several stakeholders cited lack of information and uncertainty about application status as major concerns. In addition, until February 2021, SBA did not provide important information to potential applicants, such as limits on loan amounts and definitions of certain program terms. Lack of important program information and application status put pressure on SBA's resources and negatively affected applicants' experience. For example, SBA's customer service line experienced call surges that resulted in long wait times, and SBA's data showed that 5.3 million applications were duplicates. SBA's planning documents describe in general terms the public outreach to be conducted following disasters, but they do not detail the type or timing of the information to be provided. Developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that includes these details could improve the quality, clarity, and timeliness of information SBA provides to its applicants and resource partners following catastrophic disasters. GAO's ongoing review of the EIDL program related to COVID-19 has found that the program is susceptible to providing funding to ineligible and fraudulent applicants. For example, as GAO reported in January 2021, SBA had approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to businesses that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as real estate developers and multilevel marketers, as of September 30, 2020. In addition, GAO found that between May and October 2020, over 900 U.S. financial institutions filed more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports related to the EIDL program with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Further, GAO's analysis of 51 Department of Justice cases involving fraud charges for EIDL loans as of March 2021 found that these cases involved identity theft, false attestation, fictitious or inflated employee counts, and misuse of proceeds. Over the course of its COVID-19 response, SBA has made some changes to address these risks. For example, beginning in June 2020, SBA took actions to improve loan officers' ability to withhold funding for applicants suspected of fraud. However, SBA has not yet implemented recommendations GAO has previously made to address EIDL program risks. In January 2021, GAO recommended that SBA conduct data analytics across the EIDL portfolio to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications (GAO-21-265). SBA did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. However, in May 2021, SBA officials stated the agency was in the process of developing analysis to apply certain fraud indicators to all application data.   In March 2021, GAO recommended that SBA (1) implement a comprehensive oversight plan to identify and respond to risks in the EIDL program, (2) conduct and document a fraud risk assessment, and (3)  develop a strategy to address the program’s assessed fraud risks on a continuous basis (GAO-21-387). SBA agreed with all three recommendations. In May 2021, SBA officials stated that the agency had started to assess fraud risk for the program. Fully implementing these recommendations would help SBA to safeguard billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and improve the operation of the EIDL program. Why GAO Did This Study Between March 2020 and February 2021, SBA provided about 3.8 million low-interest EIDL loans and 5.8 million grants (called advances) totaling $224 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. Borrowers can use these low-interest loans and advances to pay for operating and other expenses. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor funds provided for the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other objectives, the characteristics of program applicants and recipients; the challenges EIDL applicants experienced and the extent to which SBA has addressed them; and the steps SBA has taken to address risks of fraud and provision of funds to ineligible applicants. GAO reviewed documents from SBA, an EIDL contractor, and two of its subcontractors. In addition, GAO analyzed loan application data, conducted five discussion groups with applicants, and interviewed staff from SBA, six Small Business Development Centers, and six business associations. GAO also analyzed socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic data on EIDL program participants.
    [Read More…]
  • National Flood Insurance Program: Congress Should Consider Updating the Mandatory Purchase Requirement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The mandatory purchase requirement mandates flood insurance for certain high-risk properties and was established to increase the number of households with flood insurance. Lenders must verify that certain properties have flood insurance. At least 10 federal entities oversee lenders' compliance, including the federal banking regulators, among others (see figure). The most frequent violation the regulators identified was related to a lack of or insufficient flood insurance coverage for properties subject to the requirement. If regulators identify violations, lenders are required to take corrective actions, and if a pattern or practice of certain flood insurance violations is found, monetary penalties may be assessed against them. Oversight of the Mandatory Purchase Requirement The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), engages in a variety of efforts to help increase consumer participation in the flood insurance market (one of the agency's goals). However, FEMA does not effectively use information related to compliance with the requirement to identify ways to meet this goal. Information currently maintained by FEMA and other federal entities could help inform FEMA on noncompliance trends and patterns and help FEMA to develop strategies to address them. By using internal and external information to better understand compliance with the requirement, and facilitating the sharing of this information among the federal entities with responsibilities related to the requirement, FEMA may help reduce instances of noncompliance, increase consumer participation, and limit the federal government's fiscal exposure to future flood losses. FEMA's floodplain maps—which, by law, delineate those properties subject to the requirement—have limitations. For example, they may not reflect current flood hazards or the potential for flooding from some types of events, such as heavy rainfall. FEMA has efforts underway that can assess flood risk more comprehensively. However, FEMA has not evaluated how the new information could be incorporated into the requirement because the agency believes it has a limited role in implementing the requirement. In addition, changes to the maps for the purpose of implementing the requirement could impact other aspects of NFIP. An evaluation by FEMA of how its new flood risk information could be used to designate which properties are subject to the requirement could help Congress revise the requirement to better increase consumer participation and reduce future federal disaster assistance expenditures. Why GAO Did This Study Flood insurance plays a key role in helping homeowners reduce the financial effects of floods, reduces the need for federal disaster assistance, and lowers costs for American taxpayers. NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to property owners in qualifying communities. The mandatory purchase requirement requires property owners in NFIP communities to purchase flood insurance if, among other things, they have mortgages from federally regulated lenders. GAO was asked to review the implementation of the mandatory purchase requirement. This report (1) describes federal entities' oversight of the requirement, (2) examines the extent to which FEMA uses information about compliance with the requirement, and (3) examines the use of FEMA floodplain maps to determine who must purchase flood insurance. GAO reviewed documentation from federal entities, analyzed data on lender violations of the requirement, and interviewed officials and other stakeholders.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Development: Opportunities Exist for Further Collaboration among EDA, HUD, and USDA
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Federal economic development programs and state business incentives approach economic development in different ways. In GAO's review of six large state business incentive packages ($50 million or more) in four states, federal economic development program funds were not directly used. Reasons for limited use could include differences in purposes and goals, and limitations on how federal funds can be used. For example, the goals of economic development programs administered by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not completely align with the goals of state business incentives, the latter of which include attracting and retaining individual businesses. Although these incentive packages were not funded with federal economic development program funds, some of the businesses that received a large incentive package were highlighted in federal strategic plans as opportunities for investment and job growth in the local economy. The economic development programs of EDA, HUD, and USDA each encourage or require state and local communities to conduct strategic planning, which includes obtaining input from a range of public and private stakeholders and identifying ways to leverage other available resources, such as federal and state funding. Recognizing the similarities in what they require of grantees, in 2016, EDA and HUD entered into an interagency agreement to align planning requirements under their programs. The agencies implemented certain aspects of the agreement, such as issuing joint guidance to applicants. However, they have not implemented selected leading practices for effective interagency collaboration: Updating written agreements: EDA and HUD have not regularly monitored or updated their interagency agreement to reflect changing priorities of either agency. Officials stated the agencies have prioritized other areas for coordination, such as disaster relief, instead of state and local strategic planning processes. Including relevant participants: EDA and HUD have made limited efforts to involve USDA in their collaborative efforts. USDA also encourages strategic planning for local communities. Monitoring progress towards outcomes: EDA and HUD's agreement identifies specific outcomes, including effectively aligning federal, state, and local resources for economic development. However, the agencies have not monitored progress or addressed any related challenges in meeting the stated outcomes of the collaboration. By incorporating selected leading practices for effective collaboration, EDA and HUD can help grantees and local communities better manage fragmented efforts to meet federal requirements for strategic planning and more effectively align federal and state resources. Why GAO Did This Study States spend billions of dollars annually in business incentives to attract and retain individual businesses or industries. EDA, HUD, and USDA administer programs that support states' economic development goals and encourage strategic planning. In previous reports, we have identified concerns related to fragmentation in these agencies' efforts to collaborate on economic development programs with each other. GAO was asked to review issues related to these state and federal economic development efforts. This report examines the use of federal economic development programs to support state business incentives and how selected federal agencies collaborate on these programs, among other issues. GAO reviewed information on federal economic development programs and business incentives in four states (selected because the states offer incentives of $50 million or more and vary geographically). GAO interviewed federal and state agency officials and policy organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces Award for Worldwide Architectural and Engineering Support Services
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Russian Government Actions Impacting U.S. Mission Russia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Iranian National Charged with Illegally Exporting Laboratory Equipment to Iran
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment today charging a Canadian national with the unlawful export of laboratory equipment from the United States to Iran, through Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
    [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced for COVID-19 Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Florida man was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for fraudulently seeking over $7,263,564 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • United States Seizes Oil Tanker Used to Violate Sanctions Against North Korea
    In Crime News
    A New York federal court today entered a judgment of forfeiture regarding the M/T Courageous, a 2,734-ton oil-products tanker used to make illicit deliveries of petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers with vessels flagged in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Promoter of Foreign Cryptocurrency Companies Pleads Guilty for Role in Multimillion-Dollar Securities Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A California man pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York for his participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency and securities fraud scheme through purported digital currency platforms and foreign-based financial accounts.
    [Read More…]
  • Antitrust Division Observes National Whistleblower Appreciation Day
    In Crime News
    The Antitrust Division today commemorates National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, which celebrates individuals who act with courage to speak out and report crimes, including antitrust violations like price-fixing, bid rigging and market allocation conspiracies.
    [Read More…]
  • Government Intervenes in False Claims Act Lawsuits Against Kaiser Permanente Affiliates for Submitting Inaccurate Diagnosis Codes to the Medicare Advantage Program
    In Crime News
    The United States has intervened in six complaints alleging that members of the Kaiser Permanente consortium violated the False Claims Act by submitting inaccurate diagnosis codes for its Medicare Advantage Plan enrollees in order to receive higher reimbursements.
    [Read More…]
  • Corpus Christi woman gets 30 years for sexual exploitation of a child
    In Justice News
    A 55-year-old local [Read More…]
  • Trafficking meth with firearm lands felon back in prison
    In Justice News
    A Texas Syndicate gang [Read More…]
  • COVID-19 Pandemic: Actions Needed to Improve Federal Oversight of Assistance to Individuals, Communities, and the Transportation Industry
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Department of the Treasury (Treasury), among others, continue to provide financial assistance to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA reported obligating over $79 billion from its Disaster Relief Fund to respond to COVID-19. Through several programs, FEMA is providing help to individuals with funeral costs; reimbursing communities for vaccine distribution; and funding federal agencies' efforts to support communities, including National Guard deployments. DOT and Treasury continue to make available the over $200 billion appropriated by COVID-19 relief laws for financial assistance to the transportation sector, including to air carriers, airports and airport tenants, Amtrak, and transit agencies. Through several financial assistance programs, GAO's work has found DOT and Treasury have provided critical support to the transportation sector during a period of sharp declines in travel demand and uncertainty about the pace and nature of the recovery. Depending on the program, financial assistance has reportedly enabled recipients to avoid layoffs, maintain service, and ramp up operations as demand for their services improves. Based on GAO's prior work examining responses to public health and fiscal emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO has (1) identified key lessons learned that could improve the federal response to emergencies, and (2) made several related recommendations, including ones that highlight the importance of applying these lessons learned. For example, DOT has not developed a national aviation preparedness plan to coordinate, establish, and define roles and responsibilities for communicable diseases across the federal government. GAO recommended in 2015 that DOT work with federal partners to develop such a plan, but it has not taken any action. Without such a plan, the U.S. is less prepared to respond to future communicable disease events. In addition, FEMA has faced challenges collecting and analyzing data on requests for supplies, such as personal protective equipment, made through the federal government. In 2020, GAO recommended that FEMA work with relevant stakeholders to develop an interim solution to help states track the status of their supply requests and plan for supply needs. FEMA has not taken action on this recommendation, and until the agency develops a solution, states, tribes, and territories will likely continue to face challenges that hamper the effectiveness of their COVID-19 response. Why GAO Did This Study In response to the public health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided billions of dollars across a range of agencies to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. This included billions to: FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to provide assistance to individuals as well as state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and DOT and Treasury to provide financial assistance to the transportation sector. This statement describes: (1) the federal response and selected relief programs administered by FEMA, DOT, and Treasury and (2) lessons learned based on GAO's reviews of selected COVID-19 relief programs, including related recommendations and their implementation status. This statement is based on GAO's body of work on the CARES Act issued from June 2020 through July 2021.To update this information, GAO reviewed agency documentation; and interviewed agency officials, industry associations, and selected businesses that applied to these programs on the latest implementation efforts.
    [Read More…]
  • Private Security Contractors: DOD Needs to Better Identify and Monitor Personnel and Contracts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has been unable to comprehensively identify private security contractor (PSC) contracts and personnel supporting contingency, humanitarian, peace-keeping, or other similar operations, limiting DOD's ability to readily and accurately identify the use of PSCs. DOD uses PSCs, which include companies and their personnel, hired to provide security services for the U.S. government. However, neither DOD nor GAO was able to use DOD's three PSC data sources to readily determine the universe of PSCs, the type of operation or exercise they support, or their functions, activities, and armed or unarmed status. For example, queries of DOD databases using the term “security guard” to identify PSC personnel excluded eight other job titles that may also perform private security functions. DOD has not comprehensively determined and communicated the contracted activities that fall within its definition of private security functions. Further, DOD does not have a means of readily identifying the contracts and personnel performing those activities in data sources. Without better identifying and tracking its PSC contracts and personnel, DOD will not be able to accurately determine its use of PSCs. Since 2009, DOD has established an oversight framework for its use of PSC contracts, but has not fully monitored the implementation of this framework. DOD's framework distributes oversight functions across the department as well as to organizations outside the department (see fig.). Roles and Functions of Entities to Oversee DOD's Use of Private Security Contractor (PSC) Contracts and Personnel However, DOD has not fully monitored whether and how it and the other entities have carried out their PSC oversight roles and functions. For example, GAO reviewed data for deployed contractor personnel with the job title of “security guard” and found that about 12 percent of those individuals were employed by companies not on a DOD list of certified PSC companies. Independent, third-party certification is a key oversight mechanism DOD relies on to ensure it contracts with companies that use approved personnel hiring, screening, training, and reporting practices. DOD lacks a single, senior-level position assigned to fully monitor whether DOD and various entities are carrying out their respective PSC oversight roles and functions. Without assigning this position, DOD increases the risk of incidents that its framework aims to prevent.  Why GAO Did This Study During Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001–2014 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003–2011, DOD significantly increased its use of PSCs. In 2008, the Swiss Government and the Red Cross issued the Montreux Document, which generally reaffirmed the obligation nations have to ensure that their PSCs respect international humanitarian law. PSCs supporting DOD have faced international attention resulting from incidents allegedly involving their personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's use of PSCs. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified PSC contracts and personnel used to support contingency operations and (2) established a framework to oversee the department's use of PSC contracts. GAO analyzed DOD contract and personnel data for PSCs from 2009 through 2019, reviewed DOD guidance on PSC use, and conducted interviews with DOD officials and representatives from standards organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Kuwait Television
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Saad Al-Enezi of Sky News Arabia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Osman Ayfarah of Al Jazeera
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • South Padre Island man sentenced for child pornography convictions
    In Justice News
    A 25-year-old local man [Read More…]
  • Three charged in conspiracy to purchase $500,000 in weapons for cartel
    In Justice News
    Three men are now facing [Read More…]
  • Former Colorado Judge Sentenced for Obstructing Federal Investigation of Drug Trafficking Organization
    In Crime News
    A former Colorado state court judge was sentenced Wednesday in the District of Colorado to a year and one day in prison for obstructing a federal task force investigation of a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization.
    [Read More…]
  • Four Executives and Company Charged with Price Fixing in Ongoing Investigation into Broiler Chicken Industry
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Denver, Colorado, returned an indictment yesterday charging Koch Foods, headquartered in Park Ridge, Illinois, for participating in a nationwide conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Indrani Bagchi of The Times of India
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Local man guilty in $317 million N95 mask scam
    In Justice News
    A 56-year-old Houston [Read More…]
  • Cybersecurity and Informtion Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Strengthen Efforts to Address High-Risk Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In March 2021, GAO issued its high-risk series update and emphasized that federal agencies' needed to implement numerous critical actions to strengthen the nation's cybersecurity and information technology (IT) management efforts. In the update, GAO reiterated the importance of agencies addressing four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. Overall, the federal government has to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address key cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace . In September 2020, GAO reported that the White House's national cyber strategy and associated implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks . GAO reported in December 2020 that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Address weaknesses in federal agencies information security programs. GAO reported in July 2019 that 23 agencies almost always designated a risk executive, but had not fully incorporated other key risk management practices, such as establishing a process for assessing agency-wide cybersecurity risks. In its March update, GAO also stressed the importance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies fully implementing critical actions recommended to improve the management of IT to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. GAO emphasized, for example, that OMB had demonstrated its leadership commitment to improving IT management, but sustaining this commitment was critically important; twenty-one of 24 federal agencies had not yet implemented recommendations to fully address the role of Chief Information Officers, including enhancing their authorities; OMB and agencies needed to address modernization challenges and workforce planning weaknesses; and agencies could take further action to reduce duplicative IT contracts and reduce the risk of wasteful spending. Until OMB and federal agencies take critical actions to strengthen efforts to address these important high-risk areas, longstanding and pervasive weaknesses will likely continue to jeopardize the nation's cybersecurity and management of IT. Why GAO Did This Study The nation's critical infrastructures and federal agencies are dependent on IT systems and electronic data to carry out operations and to process, maintain, and report essential information. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on cybersecurity and IT investments. GAO has long stressed the continuing and urgent need for effective cybersecurity, as underscored by recent events that have illustrated persistent and evermore sophisticated cyber threats and incidents. Moreover, many IT investments have failed, performed poorly, or suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO has included information security on its high-risk list since 1997 and added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations in 2015. In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed in both of these important areas. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address cybersecurity and the management of IT. For this testimony, GAO relied on selected products it previously issued.
    [Read More…]
  • Medicare Advantage: Beneficiary Disenrollments to Fee-for-Service in Last Year of Life Increase Medicare Spending
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Under Medicare Advantage (MA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with private MA plans to provide health care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. MA beneficiaries in the last year of life disenrolled to join Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) at more than twice the rate of all other MA beneficiaries, GAO's analysis found. MA plans are prohibited from limiting coverage based on beneficiary health status, and disproportionate disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last of year life may indicate potential issues with their care. Stakeholders told GAO that, among other reasons, beneficiaries in the last of year life may disenroll because of potential limitations accessing specialized care under MA. While CMS monitors MA disenrollments, the agency does not specifically review disenrollments by beneficiaries in the last year of life. Doing so could help CMS better ensure the care provided to these beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage Beneficiary Disenrollments to Join Fee-for-Service, 2016-2017 Beneficiaries in the last year of life who disenrolled from MA to join FFS increased Medicare costs as they moved from MA's fixed payment arrangement to FFS, where payments are based on the amount and cost of services provided. GAO's analysis shows that FFS payments for such beneficiaries who disenrolled in 2016 were $422 million higher than their estimated MA payments had they remained in MA, and were $490 million higher for those that disenrolled in 2017. Estimated Medicare Advantage Payments for Beneficiaries in Last Year of Life that Disenrolled Compared to Fee-for-Service Payments, 2016-2017 Why GAO Did This Study In contrast to Medicare FFS, which pays providers for claims for services, CMS pays MA plans a fixed monthly amount per beneficiary to provide health care coverage. For beneficiaries with higher expected health care costs, MA payments are increased. In 2019, CMS paid MA plans about $274 billion to cover about 22 million beneficiaries. Prior GAO and other studies have shown that beneficiaries in poorer health are more likely to disenroll from MA to join FFS, which may indicate that they encountered issues with their care under MA. Beneficiaries in the last year of life are generally in poorer health and often require high-cost care. GAO was asked to review disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last year of life. In this report, GAO examined (1) disenrollments from MA to join FFS by beneficiaries in the last year of life, and CMS's associated monitoring; and (2) the costs of such disenrollments to Medicare. GAO analyzed CMS disenrollment and mortality data for 2015 through 2018—the most current data at the time of the analysis—to examine the extent of MA beneficiary disenrollment in the last year of life. To estimate the costs of disenrollment, GAO used CMS data to estimate payments for disenrolled beneficiaries had they remained in MA, and compared those estimates against those beneficiaries' actual FFS costs.
    [Read More…]
  • Veterans with Disabilities: VA Could Better Inform Veterans with Disabilities about Their Education Benefit Options
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Most school and veteran service organization (VSO) officials GAO interviewed stated that when given the choice between the Post 9/11 GI Bill (GI Bill) and the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program, veterans with disabilities will base their choice on which program best suits their unique goals, preferences, and circumstances. For example, certain veterans may prefer the GI Bill's flexibility to independently select courses of study, whereas others may prefer to have the assistance of a counselor to select a course of study as part of an employment plan, as provided under VR&E. However, most officials GAO interviewed said veterans with disabilities often use the GI Bill for education benefits without knowing that the VR&E program exists, or that it can pay for education, provide assistive equipment for their disability, or offer unique benefits of working with a counselor. Selected Comments Regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Veteran Readiness & Employment Programs “Had I known about VR&E I would have [used it.]” -Veteran with disabilities “I often think of VR&E as sort of a hidden program when it comes to education benefits.” -VSO official ”Veterans with disabilities are often not aware of the differences between the two programs.” -School official Source: GAO survey of veterans and GAO interviews with school and VSO officials | GAO-21-450 VA provides information about education benefits to veterans with disabilities through various methods, including in-person communication, online materials, and written communications. However, on the agency website, VA.gov, few webpages devoted to VR&E explicitly mention that it can help pay for a college degree. In addition, the letters that VA sends to veterans when they receive their disability rating do not specifically mention that VR&E can cover education costs for a college degree. VA's online GI Bill Comparison Tool allows veterans to learn more about the tuition amounts each program will cover for certain schools, but it does not inform veterans on the key differences in program features across the programs. Most school and VSO officials GAO interviewed said VA's efforts do not adequately inform veterans with disabilities about their potential education benefit options, as evidenced by the number of veterans with disabilities they encounter who are unaware that VR&E exists or who do not fully understand the benefits VR&E can provide. Including more information about how VR&E can help veterans pay for higher education, and facilitating direct comparison between the features of the GI Bill and VR&E, would help better position veterans with disabilities to choose the program that best meets their needs. Why GAO Did This Study VA offers education benefits to veterans with disabilities through the GI Bill, VA's largest education program, and VR&E, which helps veterans with service-connected disabilities re-enter the workforce. Each offers distinct features that may better serve veterans depending on their individual circumstances. However, veterans with disabilities may not know that VR&E can help pay for education as part of its employment services. GAO was asked to what extent eligible veterans are aware of the comparative features of the programs. This report examines (1) the reported factors that influence whether veterans with disabilities select the Post-9/11 GI Bill or VR&E, and (2) how VA informs veterans with disabilities about the education benefits available to them from each program, and the effectiveness of those efforts. For both programs, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws; analyzed participant data; conducted semi-structured interviews with officials from schools and VSOs selected for their depth of knowledge about veteran affairs, and reviewed relevant VA informational materials.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19 Contracting: Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursements Could Provide Lessons Learned for Future Emergency Responses
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found To help government contractors keep their workforce in a ready state during the COVID-19 pandemic, section 3610 of the CARES Act generally authorized government agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to contractor personnel and subcontractors during the national emergency. Section 3610 did not appropriate specific funding for this purpose. The four agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and NASA—reported use of section 3610 authority totaling at least $882.8 million over 14 months. The extent to which the agencies used the authority varied, from $1.4 million at Homeland Security to $760.7 million at Energy. Further, Defense officials estimated that defense contractors have more than $4 billion in paid leave costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement under section 3610. Defense officials also noted, however, that the department does not plan to reimburse this full amount using existing funding. Agencies also based their reimbursement decisions on the nature of the work performed by contractors, such as whether telework was an option. Twelve out of the 15 contractors GAO interviewed reported that paid leave reimbursement had a great or moderate effect on their ability to retain employees (see figure), in particular those with specialized skills or clearances. Selected Contractors' Views on the Effect of Paid Leave Reimbursement on Workforce Retention Given the urgency of the pandemic, agencies prioritized quick implementation of section 3610 over a more deliberative process, resulting in variations such as how agencies tracked use of the authority. Officials from all four agencies said that they either have captured or intend to capture lessons learned from implementing section 3610 and are willing to share these with other federal agencies. However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which coordinates government-wide contracting policy—has not collected and shared lessons learned. With coordination from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the government could seize an opportunity to enhance implementation of paid leave reimbursement provisions that may be enacted as part of rapid federal responses to future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance for those affected by COVID-19. Section 3610 of the CARES Act enables agencies, at their discretion, to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to their employees and subcontractors who are unable to access work sites due to facility closures or other restrictions, and whose duties cannot be performed remotely during the pandemic. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. In September 2020, GAO found that agencies had not made much use of section 3610 authority as of July 2020, and expectations of future use varied. This report (1) examines how selected federal agencies have used section 3610 authority and (2) presents selected contractors' perspectives on COVID-19 paid leave reimbursement. GAO reviewed guidance and data and interviewed cognizant officials from four agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO also selected a non-generalizable sample of 15 contractors that received or requested section 3610 reimbursements from one or more of the selected agencies and conducted semi-structured interviews of contractor representatives.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: VA Should Assess Its Oversight of Infection Prevention and Control in Community Living Centers
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took steps—such as issuing guidance and trainings—to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Community Living Centers (CLC), which are VA-owned and -operated nursing homes. This guidance focused on, for example, limiting CLC entry and testing residents and staff for COVID-19, while the trainings were intended to prepare staff for, among other things, a surge in cases. However, the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in these facilities during the first year of the pandemic, from March 2020 through February 2021. In particular, the agency suspended annual in-person inspections of CLCs before resuming them virtually in February 2021. The agency also required that CLCs conduct a one-time self-assessment of their infection prevention and control practices but did not review the results in a timely manner to make more immediate improvements. VA officials acknowledged these shortcomings as the agency responded in real time to the rapidly evolving pandemic. As VA has described this time as a “learning period,” it could benefit from assessing its decisions and actions related to oversight of infection prevention and control during the pandemic to identify any lessons learned. Such an assessment would align with VA's plans to assess and report on the agency's overall response to the pandemic as well as its strategic goal to promote continuous quality improvement in CLCs. Results from such an assessment—which could look at both successes and missed opportunities—could help VA better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks in CLCs. Why GAO Did This Study Close to 8,000 veterans per day received nursing home care provided by VA in CLCs in fiscal year 2020. COVID-19 has posed significant risks to nursing home residents and staff, as residents are often in frail health, and residents and staff have close daily contact with each other. The CARES Act includes a provision that GAO monitor the federal response to the pandemic. This report describes, among other objectives, guidance and training VA has issued to help CLCs respond to the pandemic and examines VA's oversight of infection prevention and control in CLCs during the pandemic. GAO analyzed documents, including guidance, training-related materials, and CLC self-assessments of their infection prevention and control practices. GAO also interviewed VA officials and CLC staff, the latter from five facilities selected based on factors such as having been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies prior to the pandemic.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S.-China Trade: USTR Should Fully Document Internal Procedures for Making Tariff Exclusion and Extension Decisions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) developed a process in July 2018 to review tariff exclusion requests for some imported products from China and later developed a process to extend these exclusions. From 2018 to 2020, U.S. stakeholders submitted about 53,000 exclusion requests to USTR for specific products covered by the tariffs. USTR's process consisted of a public comment period to submit requests, an internal review, an interagency assessment, and the decision publication. USTR documented some procedures for reviewing exclusion requests. However, it did not fully document all of its internal procedures, including roles and responsibilities for each step in its review process. GAO reviewed selected exclusion case files and found inconsistencies in the agency's reviews. For example, USTR did not document how reviewers should consider multiple requests from the same company, and GAO's case file review found USTR performed these steps inconsistently. Another case file lacked documentation to explain USTR's final decision because the agency's procedures did not specify whether such documentation was required. Federal internal control standards state that agencies should document their procedures to ensure they conduct them consistently and effectively, and to retain knowledge. Without fully documented internal procedures, USTR lacks reasonable assurance it conducted its reviews consistently. Moreover, documenting them will help USTR to administer any future exclusions and extensions. USTR evaluated each exclusion request on a case-by-case basis using several factors, including product availability outside of China and the potential economic harm of the tariffs. According to USTR officials, no one factor was essential to grant or deny a request. For example, USTR might grant a request that demonstrated the tariffs would cause severe economic harm even when the requested product was available outside of China. USTR denied about 46,000 requests (87 percent), primarily for the failure to show that the tariffs would cause severe economic harm to the requesters or other U.S. interests (see figure). Further, USTR did not extend 75 percent of the tariff exclusions it had granted. USTR's Primary Reasons for Denying Exclusion Requests for Section 301 Tariffs on Products from China, 2018-2020 Note: Totals may not sum due to rounding. Why GAO Did This Study In July 2018, USTR placed tariffs on certain products from China in response to an investigation that found certain trade acts, policies, and practices of China were unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce. As of December 2020, the U.S. imposed tariffs on roughly $460 billion worth of Chinese imports under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. Because these tariffs could harm U.S. workers and manufacturers that rely on these imports, USTR developed a process to exclude some products from these additional tariffs. U.S. businesses and members of Congress have raised questions about the transparency and fairness of USTR's administration of this process. GAO was asked to review USTR's tariff exclusion program. This report (1) examines the processes USTR used to review Section 301 tariff exclusion requests and extensions and (2) describes how USTR evaluated those tariff exclusion requests and extensions, and the outcomes of its decisions. GAO analyzed USTR's public and internal documents relating to the exclusion and extension processes, including 16 randomly selected nongeneralizable case files, and data from USTR and the U.S. Census Bureau. GAO also interviewed agency officials.
    [Read More…]
  • Protests in Iran
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken Travels to Kuwait to Advance Regional Security and Economic Ties
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Finalists Announced for 2021 P3 Impact Award
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Zakka Jacob of CNN-News18
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Designation of Al-Qa’ida-Linked Financial Facilitators
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Imposing Sanctions in Defense of Human Rights in Syria
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to Mission India Staff
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Opening Remarks at a Civil Society Roundtable
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Texas Man Sentenced for $24 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Texas man was sentenced today to more than 11 years in prison for wire-fraud and money-laundering offenses in connection with his fraudulent scheme to obtain approximately $24.8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
    [Read More…]
  • Louisiana Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Second Tax Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Louisiana woman pleaded guilty today to a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Requires Substantial Divestitures in Gray’s Acquisition of Quincy to Protect American Consumers and Small Businesses
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it will require Gray Television Inc. and Quincy Media Inc. to divest 10 broadcast television stations in seven local markets as a condition of resolving a challenge to Gray’s proposed $925 million acquisition of Quincy.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Retaliation Lawsuit Against Wilson County, North Carolina, Emergency Communications
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Wilson County, North Carolina, alleging that Wilson County Emergency Communications (WCEC) engaged in unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it terminated an employee after she disclosed to supervisors that she had been sexually harassed while on the job.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Issues Guidance on Federal Statutes Regarding Voting Methods and Post-Election “Audits”
    In Crime News
    Today the U.S. Department of Justice announced the release of two guidance documents to ensure states fully comply with federal laws regarding elections, specifically federal statutes affecting methods of voting and federal constraints related to post-election “audits.”
    [Read More…]
  • Nine MS-13 Gang Members Indicted in Racketeering and Violent Crime Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, has returned a 60-count indictment charging nine members of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) with a racketeering conspiracy spanning more than seven years.
    [Read More…]
  • Defense attorney convicted
    In Justice News
    A 48-year-old resident [Read More…]
  • Mobile Passport Control
    In Travel
      */ Mobile Passport [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Peru President-Elect Castillo
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Election of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as Prime Minister of Samoa
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • U.S. Special Envoy and Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland’s Visit to Tripoli
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Tunisian President Kais Saied
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Supplemental Material for GAO-21-536: 2020 Federal Managers Survey: Results on Government Performance and Management Issues
    In U.S GAO News
    This product is a supplement to Evidence-Based Policymaking: Survey Data Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Capacity across Federal Agencies (GAO-21-536). Between July and December 2020, GAO surveyed nearly 4,000 federal managers on various organizational performance and management issues. The survey asked managers for their perspectives on their agencies' capacities to develop and use different types of data and information in decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources. In addition, the survey sought views on agency efforts to maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a 56 percent response rate, the results are generalizable to the 24 major agencies included in the survey, and across the federal government. This product makes available the results from GAO's 2020 survey—at a government-wide level and for each agency. It also provides information about how and why GAO conducted the survey, and identifies other GAO products that analyzed and reported these survey results. For more information, contact Alissa H. Czyz at 202-512-6806 or czyza@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]