Briefing with Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Acting Assistant Secretary Julie J. Chung On Secretary Blinken’s Upcoming Virtual Trip to Canada and Mexico

Julie J. Chung, Acting Assistant SecretaryBureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE: Thanks very much for that. And good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining this on-the-record call to preview Secretary Blinken’s virtual travel tomorrow to Mexico and Canada. As I mentioned, this will take place tomorrow, February 26, and this will be his first virtual trip as Secretary of State.

Today we’re really thrilled to have with us Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung. She’ll provide a rundown of the itinerary for tomorrow, discuss our objectives for the Secretary’s first virtual trip as Secretary of State, and offer some detail on his forthcoming engagements with our North American neighbors and partners.

The acting assistant secretary will begin with a short introductory statement, and then we’ll have some time for your questions. Just a reminder, the content of this briefing is embargoed until the end of the call, but it will be on the record after that.

So with that, and without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Acting Assistant Secretary Chung. Go ahead.

MS CHUNG: Great. Good morning. Thanks, Ned.

Good morning, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you today to preview Secretary Blinken’s virtual visit to Mexico and Canada tomorrow. This is his first trip as Secretary of State. I’ll start with an overview of the itinerary and our trip objectives, and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.

The Biden administration values our longstanding partnerships with Mexico and Canada. Both President Biden and Secretary Blinken made their very first calls with their counterparts from these countries. And this first world trip by Secretary Blinken is another sign of our commitment to these relationships.

The trip also follows President Biden’s meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday of this week, his first bilateral visit with a foreign leader. Our relationships with Canada and Mexico touch on so many areas critical to our security and prosperity. Through this trip, we hope to reaffirm our strong partnerships with our Mexican and Canadian counterparts, and to deepen conversations at the most senior levels about our shared priorities. Whether it’s combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the global climate crisis, expanding trade and economic opportunities, or strengthening cooperation on defense and security, Mexico and Canada are critical partners and key to our success.

Secretary Blinken will begin his trip to Mexico at the Paso del Norte border crossing between El Paso, Texas and Ciuadad Juarez, Mexico, where he will meet with CBP counterparts and tour the port of entry. While at the port of entry, Secretary Blinken will speak on our continued partnership with Mexico and efforts to ensure safe, orderly, and humane immigration processing at our southern border. Secretary Blinken will also speak with Mexican Foreign Secretary Ebrard, and this will be the third call actually between the two. And they’re expected to speak about continued collaboration on shared concerns such as migration issues, including the winding down of the MPP, the migration protection protocols, as well as COVID-19 security, regional economic competitiveness, climate change, and other issues of mutual interest.

Secretary Blinken’s final meeting in Mexico is with the Mexican Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier. The two are expected to discuss various economic topics, including how to strengthen even further our deep and dynamic trade and investment relationship.

Finishing his trip to Mexico, Secretary Blinken will host a town hall at our embassy in Mexico City and with our nine consulates throughout Mexico to thank the men and women, both Mexican and American, whose hard work contributes to making Americans safer and more prosperous.

Then Secretary Blinken will meet one-on-one with Foreign Minister Garneau to continue conversations about our bilateral partnership and our close cooperation to advance democracy and protect human rights throughout the hemisphere and around the world. Following his meeting with the foreign minister, members of the Canadian cabinet will also join Secretary Blinken to discuss a range of issues, including COVID-19, climate change, rebuilding our economy, continental security, the Arctic, and multilateralism.

In Canada, Secretary Blinken will also host a town hall with staff from our embassy and seven consulates to thank them for their contributions to our bilateral relationship, and work to improve the lives of Americans and Canadians alike.

Prior to concluding his trip, Secretary Blinken will also meet with the Students on Ice Foundation to discuss our shared responsibility for the North American Arctic, engage with local leaders and youth from the Arctic region on climate change, and appreciate a performance of Inuit cultural tradition.

At the conclusion of this trip, Secretary Blinken will host a press avail to share the accomplishment from the trip and answer questions.

So as you can see, we’re very excited this week in the Western Hemisphere, both engagements with Canada and Mexico by the Secretary, and earlier in the week by President Biden with Canada.

And with that, I’ll stop there and take questions.

MR PRICE: Great. Operator, if you want to offer instructions for asking questions.

OPERATOR: Certainly. Just as a reminder, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0. Pressing 1 then 0 will remove you from the queue.

MR PRICE: Okay. We will start with Nick Wadhams of Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. Can you guys hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

MS CHUNG: Yes.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks. Can – I just have a logistical question. Can you tell me how the virtual visit differs from just doing essentially a bunch of Zoom calls? He’s not actually going anywhere, is he? This will all be done from the State Department. Is that right?

MS CHUNG: That’s right. The visit is virtual. And because we are concerned about the current state of COVID, and so the – in order to protect our staff both out at the embassies and here, we decided to do this virtually instead of waiting for the time when it would be safer to travel. But we really came up with a creative agenda of events, again, the engagements. And this is the new world we live in through virtual platforms, but we thought it was really important to engage with both Canada and Mexico early on.

MR PRICE: Thanks. We’ll go to the line of Will Mauldin, Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for having this. Will Mauldin. Wanted to ask, just would the whole thing be accessible publicly, or which parts would be at YouTube or at state.gov, and just curious how we could cover this and whether they’ll be pooled coverage, or whether we’ll all be able to watch the whole thing, and whether the final press conference – how that would work, exactly.

MR PRICE: I’m happy to take that one. It will be – Will, it’ll be a combination of BNET coverage, camera and press sprays. And then as the acting assistant secretary mentioned, there will be a press avail at the end of the trip that will be pooled between U.S., Mexican, and Canadian journalists. So we’ll have more information on all of that. And I know the Correspondents’ Association is working on it as well.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) doing this. I was wondering whether we can expect any sort of joint statements or resolutions or concrete actions out of either or both of the meetings tomorrow.

MS CHUNG: We won’t be having a joint statement, but we are going to be discussing a range of the priorities that affect both of our countries, relationships with Canada and Mexico. So again, as I’ve said, we’ll touch upon security, immigration, climate change, economic prosperity. We’ll just touch upon all those issues and both of the bilateral meetings with both countries.

MR PRICE: Okay. We’ll go to Matt Lee, AP.

QUESTION: Hey, Ned. Hey, Julie. Thanks. I just want to follow up extremely briefly on Nick’s original question about the idea of this virtual trip. I mean, it’s a bit odd, and it’s not really any different than a Zoom call, so why did you guys decide that you wanted to do this? I get the COVID thing, and – but I just wonder advertising it as a trip just seems a little bit weird.

And then policy-wise, Julie, on the – with Canada, how much do you expect the Keystone decision to play here? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Julie, I’ll take the first question. Matt, we have advertised this as a virtual trip. And obviously, as the acting assistant secretary said, we have an important diplomatic mission to accomplish, but we also have another prerogative, and that is to protect the health and safety of not only of our staff but also those with whom the Secretary would be coming into contact, were we to do a physical trip. And so we’re calling it a virtual trip because it will include many of the elements that a physical trip would – embassy meet and greets; meeting with civil society; bilateral meetings; meetings with other government ministers; and then a press avail at the end of the day. So we have designed this trip to be – to resemble as closely as we can a physical trip. And we’re doing the best we can to fulfill our diplomatic mission and to further our relationships with our close North American partners, given the reality in which we currently live.

So Julie, over to you on the other question.

MS CHUNG: Thanks. Yes, the Biden administration revoked the presidential plan for the Keystone. But we’re going to have a whole range of issues related to energy between the United States and Canada that we’ll continue to engage upon. Canada and the United States are each other’s largest energy trading partners, and there’s a lot we need to discuss on shared economic security and environmental priorities. So energy in terms of – comprehensively between the United States and Canada. We’ll continue to discuss our top priorities on those issues.

MR PRICE: Great. Let’s go to Deirdre Shesgreen, of USA Today.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this. Could you talk about whether Secretary Blinken plans to discuss reopening the borders and map out a way forward on that?

MS CHUNG: Are you talking about both on the Canada and Mexico borders?

QUESTION: Right.

MS CHUNG: For COVID? Yes. Right now, the borders are closed except for essential travel. And we have consistently been engaging both leaders about COVID and addressing the emergency situation of the pandemic. Now, we want to make sure to ensure that essential services and essential travel and trade continue. And we’re very proud of that, that we’ve been able to continue on that with a lot of the trade continuing unimpeded. And so we will just continue to consult each other, because this is a dynamic issue, and there are constantly changes, whether it’s COVID variants or other issues that we need to address. But we fully respect those measures that Mexico and Canada have taken. We’ll constantly assess whether we need to take new measures in terms of the border.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Ariel Moutsatsos of Televisa.

QUESTION: Yeah. Hi. Thank you for doing this. I’d like to ask – I have a doubt – it’s not clear to me the part in which he is – they are going to visit – I assume it’s a virtual visit – the border in El Paso. Are they – what does that entail? Are they going to have a talk with someone else there? Is someone else going to be included in the conversation in both sides, and who would that be? How is that going to play out, that part of the agenda? Thank you.

MS CHUNG: Well, for the El Paso visit, we chose that port of entry because it is so significant for the Mexico-U.S. border in terms of the trade, but also the people-to-people ties. So the virtual visit, he will enter and be greeted by our charge d’affaires and the consulate general, and also be greeted by the port director at the site and have a discussion there with the folks who are working at the border – at the port of entry site.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Jose Diaz, Reforma.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it. This is a question for Ms. Chung: Do you expect that Secretary Blinken will be addressing the proposed changes in the Mexican electricity sector that U.S. companies think is a breach to the USMCA?

MS CHUNG: Yeah, there are a whole host of issues related to USMCA implementation that’s ongoing. In terms of the electricity and energy issues, that’s another area that we’ll be discussing in the medium term and long term because there are many aspects that we’re hearing from the private sector about their concerns. But this is where we encourage Mexico to listen to the stakeholders, to listen to the private sector companies and really provide that culture, the atmosphere of free investment and transparency so that companies will continue to invest in Mexico.

MR PRICE: Go to the line of Nike Ching, VOA.

QUESTION: Morning. Thank you, Ned, and thank you, Julie, for this call. The United States recently joined Canada for a statement against arbitrary detention with regard to the campaign to free the two Michaels, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. How much is that going to be addressed during Secretary Blinken’s virtual meeting with his Canadian counterparts? Should we expect further actions from both the U.S. and Canada? Thank you.

MS CHUNG: Yeah, the issue of arbitrary detention has been high-priority for the United States Government. As you saw earlier this week, we joined Canada and more than 50 countries on that declaration against the arbitrary detention. And we’ve been consistently for the past year talking about the two Michaels, Michael Spavor and Kovrig, and calling for Beijing to release these two individuals and stop the arbitrary detention. Human beings should not be used as pawns. And we stand by Canada, our strong friend and partner, in the issues of arbitrary detention and for the release of the two Canadian citizens.

MR PRICE: We’ll got to Tehinder (ph) Singh.

QUESTION: Is that me? Tejinder Singh?

MR PRICE: Yes. Yes, that’s you.

QUESTION: Yes. Yes, the question is that there is a secessionist movement, Khalistan movement, that’s going on from the U.S. and Canada, and for which the Canadian prime minister was not very well treated during his trip to India. So will the Secretary be talking to his Canadian counterpart to how to counter this particular movement? It’s called Khalistani movement, the secessionist movement that wants to take Punjab out of India.

MS CHUNG: Well, I think that the Secretary will discuss with his counterparts a range of global and regional issues, but I think that just speaks back to what President Biden said about the United States being back in diplomacy, using all multilateral tools, being back in international fora like the World Health Organization and the Human Rights Council. We want to consult very closely with our great likeminded partner Canada across a range of global and regional issues.

MR PRICE: And we’ll take a final question here from Conor Finnegan of ABC.

QUESTION: Hey, thank you for doing this. I was wondering if you expect the two sides to discuss the U.S. arrest of Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of El Chapo. And more broadly, can you speak to this administration’s satisfaction or not with the Mexican Government’s counter-drug trafficking operations, especially after the last administration released the former defense minister, Cienfuegos? Thank you.

MS CHUNG: Thanks. We continue to have a very strong level of cooperation across all levels between the United States and Mexico. We have a range of programs, capacity building programs with our International Law Enforcement and Narcotics Bureau, but across law enforcement agencies in the United States Government. We will continue on that whether it’s arms trafficking, trafficking in persons, carrying drugs. We share a large border and a lot of that, the porous border, also causes the trafficking of malign products and people.

So we’re going to make sure we address those law enforcement issues together, and we’re committed more than ever to utilizing every tool to address that. And just to add, the U.S. and Mexico, be sure – 2,000 miles of that border, but 55 active ports of entry. With Canada, it’s over 5,000 miles with 120 land ports of entry. So to ensure the security and safety of people and across both borders, we need to be engaged and we will continue to be engaged across a whole range of security and economic fronts.

MR PRICE: Well, thank you very much to you, Assistant Secretary Chung, for your time today. And thank you very much for everyone for dialing in. We’ll obviously be speaking to you in the coming hours, and obviously tomorrow as well as this goes forward. As a reminder, this call was on the record and the embargo is now lifted. Thanks very much.

MS CHUNG: Thank you, everybody.

More from: Julie J. Chung, Acting Assistant SecretaryBureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

Hits: 8

News Network

  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Gallegos
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General Okuliar Delivers Remarks to the Telecommunications Industry Association
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to join you today, thank you for the invitation. I’d like to begin with some prepared remarks addressing the importance of predictability and transparency to antitrust enforcement, particularly as it relates to standards-essential patents, give an overview of the Division’s recent activity in this space, and then turn to some questions.
    [Read More…]
  • 2020 Indo-Pacific Business Forum Promotes Free and Open Indo-Pacific
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Awards $144 Million to Improve Services for Crime Victims
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today awarded grants totaling over $144 million to enhance services for victims of crime across the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Removal Order Upheld Against Tennessee Man Who Served as Nazi Concentration Camp Guard During WWII
    In Crime News
    The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has dismissed the appeal of Tennessee resident Friedrich Karl Berger, a German citizen who was ordered removed from the United States earlier this year on the basis of his service in Nazi Germany in 1945 as an armed guard of concentration camp prisoners in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp system (Neuengamme).
    [Read More…]
  • NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Gets Balanced
    In Space
    The mission team [Read More…]
  • Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Meeting on ISIS Threats in West Africa
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Virtual Remarks to Embassy Kyiv Staff
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks at the Florida Family Policy Council Dinner Gala: Respecting Life in America’s Foreign Policy
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Two U.S. Citizens, One Pakistani National Charged with Moving U.S. Currency to Iran
    In Crime News
    A complaint was unsealed today, charging two U.S. citizens with federal crimes related to Iran. Muzzamil Zaidi, 36, a U.S. citizen who resides in Qom, Iran, was charged with acting in the United States as an agent of the government of Iran without first notifying the Attorney General. Zaidi, Asim Naqvi, 36, a U.S. citizen who lives in Houston, Texas, and Ali Chawla, 36, a Pakistani national who lives in Qom, Iran, were all charged with violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The complaint alleges that both charges stem from the defendants’ campaign to transport U.S. currency from the United States to Iran on behalf of the Supreme Leader of Iran in 2018 and 2019. Both Zaidi and Naqvi were arrested in Houston yesterday, Aug. 18, 2020.
    [Read More…]
  • Jury Convicts Iranian National for Illegally Exporting Military Sensitive Items
    In Crime News
    A federal jury convicted an Iranian citizen and a resident of the United Arab Emirates and Germany, for scheming to obtain military sensitive parts for Iran in violation of the Iranian Trade Embargo.
    [Read More…]
  • Florida Man Sentenced for Evading Taxes on Millions in Secret Offshore Bank Accounts
    In Crime News
    A resident of Palm Beach County, Florida, was sentenced to 24 months in prison for not reporting his foreign financial accounts from 2006 through 2015 and for willfully evading the assessment of millions in taxes from 2007 through 2014.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Territories: Public Debt Outlook – 2021 Update
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico): Puerto Rico remains in default. It has finalized three debt restructuring agreements or settlements to date, pursuant to three distinct legal approaches, and it is using one of these approaches to restructure additional debt. Puerto Rico's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross National Product increased slightly from 93 to 95 percent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. Puerto Rico's total revenue remained consistent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at about $30.0 billion and the territory operated with a $3.1 billion deficit in fiscal year 2017. Puerto Rico's future capacity for debt repayment depends primarily on the outcomes of the ongoing debt restructuring process, its ability to generate sustained economic growth, and the disbursement of federal funding. American Samoa: American Samoa's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from 19 to 37 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. This increase was partially due to a series of general revenue bonds issued in late 2018 to fund infrastructure projects. During this period, American Samoa's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 24 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a surplus of $34.0 million in fiscal year 2019. Continued reliance on a single industry and significant pension liabilities remain fiscal risks in American Samoa. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI): CNMI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP remained constant at about 8 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. During this period, CNMI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 27 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a deficit of $33.3 million in fiscal year 2019. Worsening economic conditions and significant pension liabilities may affect CNMI's future debt repayment capacity. COVID-19 has hurt tourism, CNMI's primary industry. Guam: Guam's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP decreased slightly from 44 to 42 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. Guam's total revenue increased 7 percent during this period and the territory had a surplus of $112.6 million in fiscal year 2019. Guam faces fiscal risks such as COVID-19's negative impact on tourism, Guam's primary industry, and significant pension liabilities. United States Virgin Islands (USVI): USVI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP increased slightly from 68 to 69 percent of GDP between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. During this period, USVI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 36 percent higher in fiscal year 2018 compared to fiscal year 2016, and the territory had a deficit of $29.4 million in fiscal year 2018. USVI's capacity for future debt repayment may be affected by its ability to create economic growth and its ability to manage its pension liabilities and address the pending insolvency of its public pension system. USVI's ability to create economic growth may be hampered by the adverse impact of COVID-19 on tourism, USVI's primary industry. Why GAO Did This Study The five permanently inhabited U.S. territories–Puerto Rico, USVI, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam–borrow through financial markets. Puerto Rico, in particular, has amassed large amounts of debt, and began to default on debt payments in 2015. In 2017, hurricanes caused widespread damage in Puerto Rico and USVI. Further, in 2018, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam experienced typhoons and cyclones. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the territories' economies is not yet fully known. In June 2016, Congress passed and the President signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. It contains a provision for GAO to review the public debt of the five territories every 2 years. In this report, for each of the five territories, GAO updates (1) trends in public debt and its composition; (2) trends in revenue and its composition, and in overall financial condition; and (3) the fiscal risk factors that affect each territory's ability to repay public debt. GAO analyzed the territories' single audit reports for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019, as available; reviewed relevant documentation and analyses; and interviewed officials from the territories' governments, federal agencies, and industry groups. For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-6806 or jonesy@gao.gov or David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or gootnickd@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Celebrating Older Americans Month by Empowering Our Older Adults
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    May 31, 2021 By: Xavier [Read More…]
  • Opening Remarks by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Priority Open Recommendations: U.S. Agency for International Development
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified three priority recommendations for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Since then, USAID has implemented all three of those recommendations by taking actions to improve management and oversight of international food assistance projects, project performance data collection, and reform efforts. In May 2021, GAO identified three additional priority recommendations for USAID, bringing the total number to three. These recommendations involve the following areas: Complying with Equal Employment Opportunity requirements Improving financial information USAID's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/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 Thomas Melito at (202) 512-9601 or melitot@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Judges Appreciate Jurors as Their Partners in Justice
    In U.S Courts
    In a new, five-minute installment in the Court Shorts video series, 11 federal judges bring attention to the central role of citizens in maintaining public trust in the justice system.
    [Read More…]
  • Military Personnel: DOD’s Transition Assistance Program at Small or Remote Installations
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides counseling, employment assistance, and information on federal veterans benefits, among other support, to transitioning servicemembers who are separating from the military. From fiscal years 2018 through 2020, seven of the nine selected small or remote installations exceeded, on average, DOD's TAP compliance target of 85 percent of separated servicemembers completing all TAP requirements. The information delivered during TAP and the components of the program are standard across all military installations, regardless of the size or location of the installation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only certain servicemembers were eligible to participate in TAP virtually, including those servicemembers in remote or geographically isolated locations. According to officials of the Military-Civilian Transition Office (MCTO), servicemembers who attended TAP sessions virtually prior to the pandemic received the same transition information as those who attended TAP sessions in person. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all nine of the small or remote installations in GAO's review shifted to virtual delivery of TAP sessions for all servicemembers, according to officials at those installations. DOD monitors TAP across all installations, regardless of size or geographic location, through a standard form used by all four military services and by conducting course surveys. DOD officials told GAO that there are no additional monitoring activities or metrics specific to small or remote installations. Officials whom GAO interviewed—including those of the military services and at the nine selected small or remote installations—discussed common challenges with TAP delivery and participation, as well as ways they were mitigating these challenges where possible. For example, TAP officials at several remote installations stated there were limited local employment opportunities available to servicemembers post-separation. However, a few officials stated that they had built relationships with local employers to provide networking opportunities to servicemembers. Also, Army officials stated that they provide virtual career fairs that are available to all servicemembers regardless of location. The shift to fully virtual delivery of TAP support at the start of the pandemic also presented common challenges among the installations in GAO's review, including not having a live virtual option for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits briefing and having caps on the number of servicemembers in virtual classes. An official at one installation said the installation was able to provide servicemembers access to informal VA information sessions with their local VA office to supplement the self-paced virtual VA briefing. Why GAO Did This Study Approximately 200,000 servicemembers each year leave the military and transition to civilian life. To help servicemembers with potential challenges they may face during this transition, such as finding and maintaining employment, DOD is mandated by law to require that eligible separating servicemembers participate in TAP. House Report 116-442, accompanying a bill for the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, directed GAO to review servicemember participation in formal Transition Assistance Programs at small and remote military installations in the United States. This report describes: (1) the extent to which active-duty servicemembers at selected small or remote military installations within the United States are receiving required transition services; (2) the extent to which DOD is monitoring TAP at small or remote military installations; and (3) challenges that exist in implementing TAP at selected small or remote military installations. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance documents, and analyzed data provided by the Military-Civilian Transition Office (MCTO) and the military services. GAO also interviewed officials from MCTO, the military services, and TAP staff at nine small or remote installations in the United States selected to achieve at least two installations for each military service and for variation in geographic location. GAO identified remote military installations as those 50 or more miles from a city of 50,000 people or more, and small installations as those with 350 or fewer projected servicemember separations for fiscal year 2021.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Releases Report On Modernizing The Administrative Procedure Act
    In Crime News
    WASHINGTON – The Justice Department released a report today on the need for Congress to update and improve the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the 74-year-old statute setting forth the procedures agencies must follow when regulating individuals, businesses, non-profits, and state and local government entities. The report, entitled Modernizing the Administrative Procedure Act, discusses how the administrative state has developed in ways not foreseen by the APA in 1946, how the APA might be legislatively improved, and how this Administration’s improvements to agencies’ regulatory processes could inform modernizing the APA. The Justice Department, which significantly shaped the original APA, hopes that the ideas and insights discussed in the report will encourage and inform much needed action by Congress to modernize the APA.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Requires Divestiture of Credit Karma Tax for Intuit to Proceed with Acquisition of Credit Karma
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it is requiring Intuit Inc. and Credit Karma Inc. (Credit Karma) to divest Credit Karma’s tax business, Credit Karma Tax, to Square Inc. in order for Intuit, the creator of TurboTax, to proceed with its $7.1 billion acquisition of Credit Karma.  The department said that without this divestiture, the proposed transaction would substantially lessen competition for digital do-it-yourself (DDIY) tax preparation products, which are software programs used by American taxpayers to prepare and file their federal and state returns.
    [Read More…]
  • Mexican national indicted for transporting people that resulted in death
    In Justice News
    A federal grand jury has [Read More…]
  • Electrical Engineer Sentenced to More Than Five Years in Prison for Conspiring to Illegally Export to China Semiconductor Chips with Military Uses
    In Crime News
    A California man was sentenced today to 63 months, or more than five years, in prison for his role in a scheme to illegally export integrated circuits with military applications to China the required filing of electronic export information. As part of his sentence, the Judge ordered Shih to pay $362,698 in restitution to the IRS and fined him $300,000.
    [Read More…]
  • Michigan Insurance Salesman Indicted for Tax and Bankruptcy Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, returned an indictment charging a Michigan man with filing false tax returns, making false statements to a bankruptcy court, and making a false statement to the Department of Justice.
    [Read More…]
  • Company President and Employee Arrested in Alleged Scheme to Violate the Export Control Reform Act
    In Crime News
    Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Audrey Strauss, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Jonathan Carson, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement (OEE), announced the arrests today of Chong Sik Yu, a/k/a “Chris Yu,” and Yunseo Lee.  Yu and Lee are charged with conspiring to unlawfully export dual-use electronics components, in violation of the Export Control Reform Act, and to commit wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering.  Yu and Lee were arrested this morning and are expected to be presented later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox in Manhattan federal court.
    [Read More…]
  • Houthi Attacks Impacting Civilians
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Imposter sent to prison after claiming to be federal immigration officer
    In Justice News
    A 53-year-old Laredoan [Read More…]
  • On the 32nd Anniversary of Tiananmen Square
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Sembremos Seguridad Site Visit
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • The China Initiative: Year-in-Review (2019-20)
    In Crime News
    On the two-year anniversary of the Attorney General’s China Initiative, the Department continues its significant focus on the Initiative’s goals and announced substantial progress during the past year in disrupting and deterring the wide range of national security threats posed by the policies and practices of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government.
    [Read More…]
  • VA Disability Benefits: VA Should Continue to Improve Access to Quality Disability Medical Exams for Veterans Living Abroad
    In U.S GAO News
    The number of disability claims for veterans living abroad—in foreign countries or U.S. territories—increased 14 percent from fiscal years 2014 to 2019. During this time period, claims processing time frames improved. In fiscal year 2019, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approved comparable percentages of disability claims for veterans living abroad and domestically—63 percent and 64 percent respectively. However, for a subset of these claims—those where veterans likely received a disability medical exam scheduled by Department of State (State) embassy staff—approval rates were often lower. Veterans' access to disability medical exams abroad improved as VBA has increasingly relied on contracted examiners, rather than embassy-referred examiners, to conduct these exams. According to VBA, this shift expanded the pool of trained examiners abroad and increased the frequency and depth of VBA's quality reviews for contract exams. These quality reviews help VBA and its contractor identify and address common errors, according to VBA and contractor officials. However, several factors continue to limit some veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams (see figure). Factors That Impair the Access of Veterans Living Abroad to Quality Disability Medical Exams Unknown quality of certain exams: A subset of veterans living abroad receive disability medical exams from an embassy-referred provider. VBA does not systematically assess the quality of these exams. Without doing so, VBA cannot determine if such exams affect the approval rates of veterans who receive them or contribute to longer processing times and are unable to make informed decisions about their use. Travel reimbursement: Under current VA regulations, VA is not authorized to reimburse veterans for travel expenses for certain services incurred in foreign countries as it is for those incurred within the United States, including U.S. territories. Consequently, some veterans living in foreign countries may be unable to afford to travel to exams. Examiner reimbursement: The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Foreign Medical Program reimburses examiners referred by embassy staff via paper checks in U.S. currency. These checks may be slow to arrive and not accepted by foreign banks, according to State and other officials and staff we interviewed. Such payment issues can deter examiners from being willing to conduct disability medical exams and thus limit veterans' access to these exams in foreign countries. Of the roughly 1 million disability claims VBA processed in fiscal year 2019, 18,287 were for veterans living abroad. Veterans living abroad are entitled to the same disability benefits as those living domestically, but GAO previously reported that veterans living abroad may not be able to access disability medical exams as readily as their domestic counterparts. VBA uses medical exam reports to help determine if a veteran should receive disability benefits. GAO was asked to review the disability claims and exam processes for veterans living abroad. Among other things, this report examines disability claims trends for veterans living abroad and these veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams. GAO analyzed VBA claims data for fiscal years 2014 to 2019; assessed data reliability; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, policies, and contract documents; and interviewed employees of VBA, State, and other stakeholders. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VBA assess the quality of embassy-referred exams, VBA and VHA assess whether to reimburse beneficiaries for travel to disability medical exams in foreign countries, and that VBA and VHA pay examiners located by embassy staff electronically. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – March 18, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Jalina Porter, Principal [Read More…]
  • Notice of Meeting: U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Veterans Affairs
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 33 priority recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Since then, VA has implemented 13 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to ensure that veterans receive evidence-based mental health treatment. In May 2021, GAO identified 8 additional priority recommendations for VA, bringing the total number to 28. These recommendations involve the following areas: response to the COVID-19 pandemic; veterans’ access to timely health care; the veterans community care program; human capital management; information technology; appeals reform for disability benefits; quality of care and patient safety; veteran suicide prevention; efficiency within the VA health care system; national policy documents; procurement policies and practices; and capital planning. Addressing the high priority recommendations identified above has the potential to significantly improve VA's operations, including those related to COVID-19. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/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 A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Announces Civil Investigation into Louisiana’s Prisoner Release Practices
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it has opened a statewide civil investigation into Louisiana’s prisoner release practices.
    [Read More…]
  • The Department of Justice Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Owner of Rental Properties in Elizabeth, New Jersey
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the owner of rental properties in Elizabeth, New Jersey violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting tenants to sexual harassment. 
    [Read More…]
  • Detention of Armenian Soldiers
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Publish Final Rule to Restrict Certain Criminal Aliens’ Eligibility for Asylum
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced the publication of a Final Rule amending their respective regulations to prevent certain categories of criminal aliens from obtaining asylum in the United States.  The rule takes effect 30 days after publication of the Final Rule in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
    [Read More…]
  • Brunei National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Owner of Queens Acupuncture Business Pleads Guilty to Aiding and Assisting the Preparation of a False Tax Return
    In Crime News
    The co-owner of a New York acupuncture business pleaded guilty yesterday to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]
  • Open Data: Agencies Need Guidance to Establish Comprehensive Data Inventories; Information on Their Progress is Limited
    In U.S GAO News
    The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act of 2018 (OPEN Government Data Act) codifies and expands open data policy and generally requires agencies to publish information as open data by default, as well as develop and maintain comprehensive data inventories. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not issued statutorily-required guidance for agencies to implement comprehensive data inventories, which could limit agencies' progress in implementing their requirements under the act. OMB also has not met requirements to publicly report on agencies' performance and compliance with the act. Access to this information could inform Congress and the public about agencies' open data progress and statutory compliance. Implementation Status of Selected OPEN Government Data Act Requirements   Assessment Federal data catalogue: By July 2019, the General Services Administration (GSA) must maintain a point of entry dedicated to sharing agency data assets with the public, known as the “Federal data catalogue”. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and GSA must ensure agencies can publish data assets or links on the website. ✓ Online repository: By July 2019, OMB, GSA, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) must collaborate to develop and maintain an online repository of tools, best practices, and schema standards to facilitate the adoption of open data practices across the federal government. ✓ Implementation guidance: By July 2019, OMB must issue guidance for agencies to implement comprehensive inventories. ✖ Biennial report: By January 2020, and biennially thereafter, OMB must electronically publish a report on agency performance and compliance with this act. ✖ Legend: ✓Requirement fully met I ✖ Requirement not met Source: GAO analysis of Pub. L. No. 115-435, 132 Stat. 5529(Jan. 14, 2019), resources.data.gov, www.data.gov , and an interview with OMB staff. | GAO-21-29. GAO found that all 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies display their data inventories on their websites, as well as on an online catalogue of federal data assets. Agencies took a variety of approaches to providing public access to individual data assets such as using Data.gov as the human-readable public interface, hosting searchable inventories on their own agency websites and providing lists of data or downloadable files on their websites. Information on the extent to which agencies regularly update their data inventories is limited. OMB and GSA do not have a policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in electronically published information. The absence of such a policy limits publicly available information on agency progress. As of September 2020, seven of the 24 CFO Act agencies had also publicly released COVID-19 related datasets or linked to related information from their open data web pages as required by the Federal Data Strategy. These datasets provide data on a range of COVID-19 related topics including data on disease transmission and loans provided to businesses. Federal agencies create and collect large amounts of data in support of fulfilling their missions. Public access to open data—data that are free to use, modify, and share—holds great promise for promoting government transparency and engendering public trust. Access to open data is particularly important in the current pandemic environment as government agencies, scientists, and the public work to understand and respond to COVID-19 using data-focused approaches. The OPEN Government Data Act includes a provision for GAO to report on federal agencies' comprehensive data inventories. This report examines the extent to which 1) OMB, GSA, and NARA met their statutory requirements to facilitate the establishment of federal agencies' comprehensive data inventories; and 2) CFO Act agencies developed data inventories in accordance with OMB guidance. GAO reviewed agencies' websites and related documentation, and interviewed OMB staff and GSA and NARA officials. GAO is making two recommendations to OMB to issue required implementation guidance and report on agency performance. GAO also recommends that OMB and GSA establish policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in agency data. GSA concurred with GAO's recommendation and OMB did not comment on the report. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or SagerM@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Promoting Accountability for Those Responsible for Violence Against Protestors in Burma
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on the 19th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks
    In Crime News
    Attorney General William [Read More…]
  • Switzerland Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • United States-Japan Extended Deterrence Dialogue
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Federal Research: NIH Should Take Further Action to Address Foreign Influence
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found U.S. research may be subject to undue foreign influence in cases where a researcher has a foreign conflict of interest. Federal grant-making agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), can address this threat by implementing conflict of interest policies and requiring the disclosure of information that may indicate potential conflicts. GAO found that NIH's policy focuses on financial conflicts of interest but does not specifically address or define non-financial interests, which may include multiple professional appointments. In the absence of agency-wide policies and definitions on non-financial interests, universities that receive federal grant funding may lack sufficient guidance to identify and manage conflicts appropriately, potentially increasing the risk of undue foreign influence. In its report, GAO noted that NIH also requires researchers to disclose information—such as foreign support for their research—as part of grant proposals, and that such information could be used to determine if certain conflicts exist. National Institutes of Health Disclosure Requirements for Grantees as of December 2020 NIH relies on universities to monitor financial conflicts of interest, and the agency collects information, such as foreign collaborations, that could be used to identify non-financial conflicts. NIH has taken action in cases where it identified researchers who failed to disclose financial or non-financial information. Such actions included referring cases to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. Additionally, NIH has written procedures for addressing allegations of failures to disclose required information. In interviews, stakeholders identified opportunities to improve agency responses to prevent undue foreign influence in federally funded research. For example, agencies could harmonize grant application requirements and better communicate identified risks. NIH has taken steps to address the issue of foreign influence in the areas stakeholders identified. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government reported expending about $44.5 billion on university science and engineering research in fiscal year 2019. The Department of Health and Human Services funds over half of all such federal expenditures, and NIH accounts for almost all of this funding. Safeguarding the U.S. research enterprise from threats of foreign influence is of critical importance. Recent reports by GAO and others have noted challenges faced by the research community to combat undue foreign influence, while maintaining an open research environment. This testimony discusses (1) NIH's conflict of interest policy and disclosure requirements that address potential foreign influence, (2) NIH's mechanisms to monitor and enforce its policy and requirements, and (3) the steps NIH has taken to address concerns about foreign influence in federally funded research identified by stakeholders. It is based on a report that GAO issued in December 2020 (GAO-21-130).
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Georgia-Based Staffing Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with Pyramid Consulting, Inc., an IT staffing company based in Georgia.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Announcement of Pattern or Practice Investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department
    In Crime News
    Good morning.  Like so many of you, I have closely watched the events in Minnesota. Although the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death. My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss. 
    [Read More…]
  • Congratulations on Seychelles’ Elections
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
  • 2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Ensure Transparency over Data Quality
    In U.S GAO News
    This 2020 Census was taken under extraordinary circumstances. In response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and related executive branch decisions, the Bureau made a series of late changes to the design of the census. The report GAO is releasing today discusses a number of concerns regarding how late changes to the census design could affect data quality. The Bureau has numerous planned assessments and evaluations of operations which, in conjunction with its post-enumeration survey (PES)—a survey conducted independently of each census to determine how many people were missed or counted more than once—help determine the overall quality of the census and document lessons for future censuses. As the 2020 Census continues, GAO will continue to monitor the Bureau's response processing operations. GAO was asked to testify on the Census Bureau's progress to deliver apportionment counts for the 2020 Decennial Census. This testimony summarizes information contained in GAO's December 2020 report, entitled 2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Assess Data Quality Concerns Stemming from Recent Design Changes and discusses key quality indicators the Bureau can share, as it releases apportionment counts and redistricting data. These key indicators discussed are consistent with those recommended by the American Statistical Association and Census Scientific Advisory Committee for the Bureau. In the accompanying report being issued today, GAO is recommending that the Bureau update and implement its assessments to address data quality concerns identified in this report, as well as any operational benefits. In its comments, the Department of Commerce agreed with GAO's findings and recommendation. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • The United States and Ukraine: Strategic Partners
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • On Transparency and Foreign Funding of U.S. Think Tanks
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Texas-Based Industrial Contractor to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with Tecon Services Inc. (Tecon), an industrial insulation, fireproofing and painting contractor based in Texas. The settlement resolves claims that Tecon discriminated against a naturalized U.S. citizen based on her Venezuelan national origin by rejecting her U.S. passport and requiring other documents to prove her work authorization, in violation of the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
    [Read More…]
  • Local repairman sent to prison for defrauding customers
    In Justice News
    A 36-year-old resident [Read More…]
  • Owner of Seafood Processor Sentenced to Prison for Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Rhode Island man was sentenced to three years in prison today for tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Aaron L. Weisman for the District of Rhode Island, and Special Agent in Charge Kristina O’Connell of IRS Criminal Investigation.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • How We Transformed Public Health Data for COVID-19 and the Futur
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Data is the lifeblood of [Read More…]
  • Texas man headed to prison for trying to sexually entice minor
    In Justice News
    A 49-year-old Austin man [Read More…]