Briefing with Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services Julie M. Stufft on the Current Status of Immigrant Visa Processing at Embassies and Consulates

Julie M. Stufft, Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE:  Good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining us for this briefing to discuss the current status of immigrant visa processing at our embassies and consulates around the world, especially given the recent recission of Presidential Proclamation 10014.  To help us explain the nuances of the current situation, we have joining us today Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services Julie Stufft.  Just a reminder the contents of this briefing are embargoed until the conclusion of the call, but it will be on the record after that.

So without further ado, I will turn it over to Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Stufft.

MS STUFFT:  Thank you so much, Ned, and good morning, everyone.  I’m really pleased to be here to brief you on where we are in the State Department’s efforts to process immigrant visa cases during this challenging period and to reduce the current backlog of those cases.

I want to first outline three important principles that underpin our work on this.  First, I want to acknowledge that petitioners and applicants who are going through the immigrant visa process are much more than just statistics to us.  We do acknowledge the stress and hardships borne by petitioners and applicants both due to reduced capacity to adjudicate visas during the pandemic and the various restrictions on visa issuance as well as the COVID-related limitations on their travel.  No less important to us, of course, is the health and safety of our personnel and our applicants who come into our consular sections abroad.  This is our highest priority during the pandemic.

And finally, we understand the President’s very strong message, as laid out in his initial actions on immigration, in particular Executive Order 14012 on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems.  The State Department is committed to do everything we can to resolve the backlogs and complete the visa process as efficiently as possible within the process designed to secure our nation’s borders.

Let me tell you a little bit about where we are in the current status of immigrant visa processing.  Last week’s recission of Presidential Proclamation 10014 means that there are no general restrictions remaining on issuing immigrant visas.  However, many immigrant visa applicants are subject to presidential proclamations remaining in place that restrict issuance of visas, including for those who have been in certain countries during the preceding 14 days before entry or attempted entry to the United States.  There are, of course, exceptions to these restrictions for spouses and children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

While Presidential Proclamation 10014 is no longer in effect, there are still restrictions in place on visa issuance and entry into the United States for individuals physically present in those countries, which are China, Iran, Brazil, UK, Ireland, South Africa, and the 26 countries of the Schengen Area.

You may have also seen the announcement that the Secretary of State granted a blanket exception for individuals in possession of valid FY2020 diversity visas who were subject to those geographic restrictions so that they can travel to the United States before their visas imminently expire, which would end their opportunity to immigrate.

And of course, we are still in the midst of this global pandemic, which has had a dramatic impact on our visa processing operations.  I want to give you some background on the scope of those operations.

Before COVID-19, the department issued approximately 10 million visas a year.  Just over half a million, 500,000 of those, were immigrant visas while the rest were shorter-term, nonimmigrant visas.  The pandemic, though, has severely constrained us in two ways:  It’s drastically decreased the number of people we can safely move through our facilities overseas; and just like the majority of workplaces in the United States, it has also reduced the number of staff we can safely have in the office at the same time.

The department has instructed our embassies and consulates overseas to follow federal government-wide requirements based on CDC protocols in terms of masking, hygiene, physical distancing, other measures to keep applicants and our personnel as safe as possible.  As you can imagine, the guidance differs based on the location of the post and how well the pandemic is contained in that location.  I don’t know if any of you have visited a visa waiting room in one of our embassies or consulates overseas.  They vary according to location, of course, but in many places, even most places, they were built to hold hundreds of people at a time so that we could serve thousands of people in any given day.

In this era of social distancing, we’ve had to reduce the number of people we can allow into our waiting rooms, which also reduces the number of people who we can safely interview, of course, in a day.  We generally must conduct immigrant visa interviews in person, and we are also required to collect fingerprints.  Again, these are key actions we take to protect national security.  And of course, we must adhere also to local host government restrictions on activities.

So given these challenges, we’re taking three key steps to address the situation.

First, we’ve prioritized the processing of immigrant visas, full stop, at every post.  As there is capacity, these will be the first visas adjudicated.  Among those, we will continue to prioritize the processing of immigrant visas for spouses and children of U.S. citizens, including fiance(e) visas not subject to regional restrictions.

Second, we’re constantly seeking creative ways to increase the number of immigrant visa appointments that we can offer safely.  A number of our posts have taken various steps to do this.  And given that our overseas physical spaces are quite different, many of these solutions, of course, are context-specific.  One embassy, though, has outfitted alternative spaces within the embassy complex to create physical distance – physically distanced workspaces to process more applications.  Other embassies and consulates are cross-training personnel who may typically work on other types of visas so that they can process immigrant visas as well.  As we collect and share these best practices, we’ll find new ways, we hope, to serve as many applicants as we can safely.

I do want to emphasize that we are committed to transparently sharing the current status of our worldwide visa operations.  By way of statistics, in January 2020 there were about 75,000 immigrant visa cases pending at the National Visa Center ready for interviews.  Thirteen months later, in February 2021, there were 473,000 – about six to seven times greater.  The snapshot gives you an idea of how much longer the line has gotten since the beginning of the pandemic.  It’s important to note, too, that this number doesn’t include the entirety of that queue.  It doesn’t include cases already at embassies and consulates that have not yet been interviewed or applicants still gathering the necessary documents before they can be interviewed, and also, of course, petitions awaiting USCIS approval.

Our priority in the visa office and at the State Department is reducing the backlog while ensuring the safety of our staff and applicants and protecting national security.  We’re also committed to being transparent, as I said, about our process.  I can’t promise you that the numbers will decline month to month.  There are many factors that can have an impact, including the progression of the pandemic in countries worldwide.  We expect this effort will take time.  Our work, like that of everyone, continues to face real and persistent challenges related to the pandemic.  What I can promise you is that we’re working to serve as many people safely as we can to resolve this backlog.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your question.

MR PRICE:  Wonderful.  Operator, if you want to offer instructions for asking questions, we’ll go to questions from there.

OPERATOR:  Very good.  We have several in the queue.  Once again, it’s 1 then 0 to queue up for a question.  Repeating the 1-0 command will remove you from the question queue.  So 1 then 0 for questions.

MR PRICE:  Great.  We’ll start with the line of Jennifer Hansler.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks so much for doing this.  I was wondering if you could give us an update on the State Department’s review of applicants whose visas were denied under Presidential Proclamations 9645 or 9983 and what the steps the administration might take to amend that could look like.  Thank you.

MS STUFFT:  Jennifer, thanks so much for the question.  For the record, some immigrant visa applicants were refused under 9645 and 9983, the travel ban, were also subject to this Presidential Proclamation 10014, and therefore before would not – last week would not have been able to travel to the United States.  But I want to tell you that our consular sections overseas are prioritizing the processing of these cases that were affected by these previous proclamations in their operations, full stop.  So the cases are being prioritized if they were previously refused under those proclamations you mentioned.  Thanks.

MR PRICE:  Next we will go to the line of Ted Hesson.

OPERATOR:  And Mr. Hesson, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  We can.

QUESTION:  Oh yes, thank you.  Thank you for having the call and good morning.  I wanted to just be clear, the policy of prioritizing immigrant visas, is that a shift in current policy?  And then what is that going to mean for the processing of nonimmigrant visas?  Do you expect longer wait times in that arena?

MS STUFFT:  That’s a great question.  As we look at the backlog and how to resolve it, we do – all of our posts are actually able to process IVs if they’re able to process any.  So just to give you an example, more than 90 percent of our 136 immigrant visa processing posts are processing at least some immigrant visa services.  The remainder of those are able to do just emergency services.  But only 43 of 233 nonimmigrant visa processing posts are processing routine nonimmigrants, with the rest are closed for all but emergency services.

So our posts know – it’s not a new thing, this is something that we’ve given guidance on during the summer – once you’ve processed or once you have control and are able to assist American citizens in those services that IVs, immigrant visas, are the next priority.  Will this come at the expense of nonimmigrant visa interviews?  We really have to just – the pandemic is our bottleneck at this point, so we’re really focused on making sure that those immigrant visas begin being processed.  And we’re making appointments for them that were affected under 10014 starting in April.

MR PRICE:  Go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much for doing this interview.  I have two questions.  Yesterday President Trump criticized the lifting of the ban on majority-Muslim countries.  He said that these countries don’t have a security record of verifying people who might have link to extremism or terrorists.  Can you tell us what system do you use to verify that?

And second on the prioritization of visas, I’m glad to know that you are putting the K-1, which is the fiance(e) visa, as a priority category.  I understand this is a reflection of COVID, but can you tell us when exactly are you planning to start with this?  For example, the people who have been put online to be interviewed last year, are they going to start soon?  When is the starting date?  Thank you so much.

MS STUFFT:  Thank you very much, Nadia.  We’ll take that first question so I can be sure to get you a response that my colleagues have also contributed to.

The – your second point about prioritization though, you’re asking about fiance(e)s specifically?

OPERATOR:  Nadia, if you can please repeat the 1-0.

MR PRICE:  Are you there, Nadia?

MS STUFF:  I apologize.  I can just answer.  I think that’s what she was saying.  I didn’t realize – okay.  No, those – so those immigrant visa applications are being conducted now.  I want to make that very clear, that these posts are actually conducting IV interviews to the extent that they can.  The capacity really is and the health and safety of the applicants and the personnel are the piece that we really need to know for each post, but the interviews are being conducted, appointments are being made, and if – and there’s a long queue of applicants waiting, of course, and they’re being processed in the order that they’ve been waiting.

MR PRICE:  Let’s go to the line of Michael Lipin with VOA.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line’s open.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi, can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  We can.

MS STUFFT:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Great, thank you.  After President Biden revoked the travel ban on January 20th, there was a note saying that there’s a review period underway to see how visa issuances and applications can be sort of expedited.  I wanted to see, regarding the recission on the ban on Iranian nationals, whether the Trump administration is considering lifting any of the ongoing existing bans against specific groups of Iranians, such as family members of senior Iranian Government officials, people with links to the IRGC, and also students seeking to study nuclear and energy-related subjects in the U.S.

MS STUFFT:  Thank you very much for that.  I would refer you to the White House for any updates on presidential proclamations on travel.

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

OPERATOR:  One moment for Lara’s line to be opened.  Please, go ahead, Lara.

QUESTION:  Hello.  I’m just wondering – and maybe this is because I don’t know the differences between all of the EOs and proclamations that have been declared – but when we’re talking about reopening or prioritizing immigrant visas, I’m wondering if there’s any kind of special section or special prioritization for refugee visas, or if that is just generally accepted as an immigrant visa.

MS STUFFT:  That is a different category.  Allow me to take that question so we can get back to you and talk to some colleagues who handle refugee operations.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to Mouhamed Al-Ahmed.

OPERATOR:  One moment for Mouhamed’s line.

MR PRICE:  It sounds like he may have dropped out of the queue.

OPERATOR:  Okay.

QUESTION:  If that’s the case, we’ll go to Michelle Hackman.

OPERATOR:  Michelle, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for doing this.  I’m just wondering if you can address – you mentioned that you will continue not to process immigrant visas for people subject to the COVID ban (inaudible) Schengen ban.

I’m wondering if you can address why, because those bans are structured not as sort of bans on nationals of countries, but of – if they’ve been present there in the previous 14 days.  And I know some folks with non-immigrant visas that are not – that are – that were not subject to other bans were able to go to places like Turkey or Mexico for two weeks before entering the United States lawfully.

MS STUFFT:  There certainly is the opportunity – because you’re right, those are based on presence, not citizenship.  So if there is capacities in other posts, the situation that you lay out is possible.  We definitely advise people to check with other embassies and the consulates to find out if there is capacity in those places.  Of course, in the – in both the NIV and the IV context, they would have to get into the line that exists at that post for processing, but yes, it’s possible.  Thanks.

MR PRICE:  Great, and we’ll take a final question from Ben Marks.

OPERATOR:  Mr. Marks, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you for doing today’s briefing.  I’d just like to ask, back in September of 2020, the Trump administration proposed new rules for S, J, and I visas to put fixed periods of stay.  I’m particularly interested in the I visas.  Are those proposals still being processed or did the Biden administration do away with them?

MS STUFFT:  Thanks for that question.  Please allow me to take that so that we can confer here for you.

MR PRICE:  All right.  Well, thank you very much, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Stufft.  Thanks, everyone, for joining this call.  Just a reminder it was on the record and the embargo is now lifted, and we’ll talk to you soon.

MS STUFFT:  Thank you, everyone.

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    The Navy and Marine Corps continue to face significant readiness challenges that have developed over more than a decade of conflict, budget uncertainty, and reductions in force structure. These challenges prevent the services from reaping the full benefit of their existing forces and attaining the level of readiness called for by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Both services have made encouraging progress identifying the causes of their readiness decline and have begun efforts to arrest and reverse it (see figure). However, GAO's work shows that addressing these challenges will require years of sustained management attention and resources. Recent events, such as the ongoing pandemic and the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard affect both current and future readiness and are likely to compound and delay the services' readiness rebuilding efforts. Selected Navy and Marine Corps Readiness Challenges Continued progress implementing GAO's prior recommendations will bolster ongoing Navy and Marine Corps efforts to address these readiness challenges. The 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasizes that restoring and retaining readiness is critical to success in the emerging security environment. The Navy and Marine Corps are working to rebuild the readiness of their forces while also growing and modernizing their aging fleets of ships and aircraft. Readiness recovery will take years as the Navy and Marine Corps address their multiple challenges and continue to meet operational demands. This statement provides information on readiness challenges facing (1) the Navy ship and submarine fleet and (2) Navy and Marine Corps aviation. GAO also discusses its prior recommendations on Navy and Marine Corps readiness and the progress that has been made in addressing them. This statement is based on previous work published from 2016 to November 2020—on Navy and Marine Corps readiness challenges, including ship maintenance, sailor training, and aircraft sustainment. GAO also analyzed data updated as of November 2020, as appropriate, and drew from its ongoing work focused on Navy and Marine Corps readiness. GAO made more than 90 recommendations in prior work cited in this statement. The Department of Defense generally concurred with most of GAO's recommendations. Continued attention to these recommendations can assist the Navy and the Marine Corps as they seek to rebuild the readiness of their forces. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.
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    As of August 20, 2020, the U.S. had over 5.5 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19, and 158,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted between March and July 2020 to provide appropriations for the response to COVID-19. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to COVID-19. This second report examines federal spending on the COVID-19 response; indicators for monitoring public health and the economy; and the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations from GAO’s June 2020 report (GAO-20-625). GAO reviewed data through June 30, 2020 (the latest available) from USAspending.gov, a government website with data from government agencies. GAO also obtained, directly from the agencies, spending data, as of July 31, 2020, for the six largest spending areas, to the extent available. To develop the public health indicators, GAO reviewed research and federal guidance. To understand economic developments, GAO reviewed data from federal statistical agencies, the Federal Reserve, and Bloomberg Terminal, as well as economic research. To update the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations, GAO reviewed agency and congressional actions. In response to the national public health and economic threats caused by COVID-19, four relief laws making appropriations of about $2.6 trillion had been enacted as of July 31, 2020. Overall, federal obligations and expenditures government-wide of these COVID-19 relief funds totaled $1.5 trillion and $1.3 trillion, respectively, as of June 30, 2020. GAO also obtained preliminary data for six major spending areas as of July 31, 2020 (see table). COVID-19 Relief Appropriations, Obligations, and Expenditures for Six Major Spending Areas, as of July 2020 Spending area Appropriationsa ($ billions) Preliminary obligationsb ($ billions) Preliminary expendituresb ($ billions) Business Loan Programs 687.3 538.1 522.2c Economic Stabilization and Assistance to Distressed Sectors 500.0 30.4 19.2c Unemployment Insurance 376.4 301.1 296.8 Economic Impact Payments 282.0 273.5 273.5 Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund 231.7 129.6 95.9 Coronavirus Relief Fund 150.0 149.5 149.5 Total for six spending areas 2,227.4 1,422.2 1,357.0 Source: GAO analysis of data from the Department of the Treasury, USAspending.gov, and applicable agencies. | GAO-20-708 aCOVID-19 relief appropriations reflect amounts appropriated under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-123, 134 Stat. 146; Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Pub. L. No. 116-127, 134 Stat. 178 (2020); CARES Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (2020); and Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, Pub. L. No. 116-139, 134 Stat. 620 (2020). These data are based on appropriations warrant information provided by the Department of the Treasury as of July 31, 2020. These amounts could increase in the future for programs with indefinite appropriations, which are appropriations that, at the time of enactment, are for an unspecified amount. In addition, this table does not represent transfers of funds that federal agencies may make between appropriation accounts or transfers of funds they may make to other agencies. bObligations and expenditures data for July 2020 are based on preliminary data reported by applicable agencies. cThese expenditures relate to the loan subsidy costs (the loan’s estimated long-term costs to the United States government). The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to assess the impact of the federal response on public health and the economy. The following are examples of health care and economic indicators that GAO is monitoring. Health care. GAO’s indicators are intended to assess the nation’s immediate response to COVID-19 as it first took hold, gauge its recovery from the effects of the pandemic over the longer term, and determine the nation’s level of preparedness for future pandemics, involving subsequent waves of either COVID-19 or other infectious diseases. For example, to assess the sufficiency of testing—a potential indicator of the system’s response and recovery—GAO suggests monitoring the proportion of tests in a given population that are positive for infection. A higher positivity rate can indicate that testing is not sufficiently widespread to find all cases. That is higher positivity rates can indicate that testing has focused on those most likely to be infected and seeking testing because they have symptoms, and may not be detecting COVID-19 cases among individuals with no symptoms. Although there is no agreed-upon threshold for the test positivity rate, governments should target low positivity rates. The World Health Organization recommends a test positivity rate threshold of less than 5 percent over a 14-day period. As of August 12, 2020, 12 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (38 states had not). Resolve to Save Lives, another organization, recommends a threshold of less than 3 percent over a 7-day period, and 11 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (39 states had not) as of August 12, 2020. GAO also suggests monitoring mortality from all causes compared to historical norms as an indicator of the pandemic’s broad effect on health care outcomes. Mortality rates have tended to be consistent from year to year. This allows an estimation of how much mortality rose with the onset of the pandemic, and provides a baseline by which to judge a return to pre-COVID levels. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, about 125,000 more people died from all causes January 1–June 13 than would normally be expected (see figure). CDC Data on Higher-Than-Expected Weekly Mortality, January 1 through June 13, 2020 Note: The figure shows the number of deaths from all causes in a given week that exceeded the upper bound threshold of expected deaths calculated by CDC on the basis of variation in mortality experienced in prior years. Changes in the observed numbers of deaths in recent weeks should be interpreted cautiously as this figure relies on provisional data that are generally less complete in recent weeks. Data were accessed on July 16, 2020. Economy. GAO updated information on a number of indicators to facilitate ongoing and consistent monitoring of areas of the economy supported by the federal pandemic response, in particular the COVID-19 relief laws. These indicators suggest that economic conditions—including for workers, small businesses, and corporations—have improved modestly in recent months but remain much weaker than prior to the pandemic. In June and July initial regular unemployment insurance (UI) claims filed weekly averaged roughly 1.4 million (see figure), which was six and a half times higher than average weekly claims in 2019, but claims have decreased substantially since mid-March, falling to 971,000 in the week ending August 8, 2020. Increasing infections in some states and orders to once again close or limit certain businesses are likely to pose additional challenges for potentially fragile economic improvements, especially in affected sectors, such as the leisure and hospitality sector. National Weekly Initial Unemployment Insurance Claims, January 2019–July 2020 Note: See figure 5 in the report. As GAO reported in June, consistent with the urgency of responding to serious and widespread health issues and economic disruptions, federal agencies gave priority to moving swiftly where possible to distribute funds and implement new programs designed to help small businesses and the newly unemployed, for example. However, such urgency required certain tradeoffs in achieving transparency and accountability goals. To make mid-course corrections, GAO made three recommendations to federal agencies: To reduce the potential for duplicate payments from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—a program that provides guaranteed loans through lenders to small businesses—and unemployment insurance, GAO recommended that the Department of Labor (DOL), in consultation with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), immediately provide information to state unemployment agencies that specifically addresses PPP loans, and the risk of improper unemployment insurance payments. DOL issued guidance on August 12, 2020, that, among other things, clarified that individuals working full-time and being paid through PPP are not eligible for UI. To recoup economic impact payments totaling more than $1.6 billion sent to decedents, GAO recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients of economic impact payments how to return payments. IRS has taken steps to address this recommendation. According to a Treasury official, nearly 70 percent of the payments sent to decedents have been recovered. However, GAO was unable to verify that amount before finalizing work on this report. GAO is working with Treasury to determine the number of payments sent to decedents that have been recovered. Treasury was considering sending letters to request the return of remaining outstanding payments but has not moved forward with this effort because, according to Treasury, Congress is considering legislation that would clarify or change payment eligibility requirements. To reduce the potential for fraud and ensure program integrity, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA has begun developing oversight plans for PPP but has not yet finalized or implemented them. In addition, to improve the government’s response efforts, GAO suggested three matters for congressional consideration: GAO urged Congress to take legislative action to require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to work with relevant agencies and stakeholders, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and international organizations, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to ensure safeguards are in place to limit the spread of communicable disease threats from abroad, while also minimizing any unnecessary interference with travel and trade. In early July 2020, DOT collaborated with HHS and DHS to issue guidance to airports and airlines for implementing measures to mitigate the public health risks associated with COVID-19, but it has not developed a preparedness plan for future communicable disease threats. DOT has maintained that HHS and DHS should lead such planning efforts as they are responsible for communicable disease response and preparedness planning, respectively. In June 2020, HHS stated that it is not in a position to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan as it does not have primary jurisdiction over the entire aviation sector or the relevant transportation expertise. In May 2020, DHS stated that it had reviewed its existing plans for pandemic preparedness and response activities and determined it is not best situated to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan. Without such a plan, the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to future communicable disease events. GAO also urged Congress to amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to help prevent payments to ineligible individuals. In June 2020, the Senate passed S.4104, referred to as the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. If enacted, the bill would allow SSA to share these data with Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service to avoid paying deceased individuals. Finally, GAO urged Congress to use GAO's Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) formula for any future changes to the FMAP—the statutory formula according to which the federal government matches states' spending for Medicaid services—during the current or any future economic downturn. Congress has taken no action thus far on this issue. GAO incorporated technical comments received the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury; the Federal Reserve; Office of Management and Budget; and Internal Revenue Service. The Small Business Administration commented that GAO did not include information on actions taken and controls related to its loan forgiveness program or its plans for loan reviews. GAO plans to provide more information on these topics in its next CARES Act report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The electromagnetic spectrum (the spectrum) consists of frequencies worldwide that support many civilian and military uses, from mobile phone networks and radios to navigation and weapons. This invisible battlespace is essential to Department of Defense (DOD) operations in all domains—air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. The interruption of U.S. forces' access to the spectrum can result in a military disadvantage, preventing U.S. forces from operating as planned and desired. According to the studies by DOD and others that GAO reviewed for its December 2020 report on military operations in the spectrum, adversaries, such as China and Russia, are also aware of the importance of the spectrum and have taken significant steps to improve their own capabilities that challenge DOD and its operations. For example, studies described how China has formed new military units and fielded new unmanned aerial vehicles with spectrum warfare capabilities, and Russian electromagnetic warfare forces have demonstrated their effectiveness through successful real-world applications against U.S. and foreign militaries. These developments are particularly concerning in the context of challenges to DOD's spectrum superiority. GAO's analysis of the studies highlighted DOD management challenges such as dispersed governance, limited full-time senior-level leadership, outdated capabilities, a lengthy acquisition process, increased spectrum competition and congestion, and a gap in experienced staff and realistic training. GAO found that DOD had issued strategies in 2013 and 2017 to address spectrum-related challenges, but did not fully implement either strategy because DOD did not assign senior leaders with appropriate authorities and resources or establish oversight processes for implementation. DOD published a new strategy in October 2020, but GAO found in December 2020 the department risks not achieving the new strategy's goals because it had not taken key actions—such as identifying processes and procedures to integrate spectrum operations across the department, reforming governance structures, and clearly assigning leadership for strategy implementation. Also, it had not developed oversight processes, such as an implementation plan, that would help ensure accountability and implementation of the 2020 strategy goals (see figure). Actions to Ensure DOD Superiority in the Electromagnetic Spectrum Why GAO Did This Study The spectrum is essential for facilitating control in operational environments and affects operations in the air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace domains. Spectrum use is pervasive across warfighting domains and thus maintaining or achieving spectrum superiority against an adversary is critical to battlefield success. This statement summarizes: (1) the importance of the spectrum; (2) challenges to DOD's superiority in the spectrum; and (3) the extent to which DOD has implemented spectrum-related strategies and is positioned to achieve future goals. This statement is based on GAO's December 2020 report (GAO-21-64) and updates conducted in March 2021. For the report, GAO analyzed 43 studies identified through a literature review, reviewed DOD documentation, and interviewed DOD officials and subject matter experts. For the updates, GAO reviewed materials that DOD provided in March 2021.
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  • Department of Justice Files Complaint Against California Company To Stop Distribution of Adulterated Animal Drugs
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a civil complaint to stop a California company from manufacturing and distributing adulterated animal drugs, the Department of Justice announced today.
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