October 21, 2021

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Briefing with Senior State Department Official On the Release of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report

28 min read

Office of the Spokesperson

Via Teleconference

MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone, and thanks very much for joining us today as we are previewing the forthcoming release of the State Department 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report.  Just as a reminder, this call is on background.  You can attribute what you hear to a senior State Department official.  It’s also embargoed.  The embargo will be lifted upon the start of the formal event we are convening later today with Secretary Blinken.  We expect that event will start around 1 p.m. and the embargo will lift as soon as that event starts.

So just for the purposes of your background information, today’s speaker will be .  But again, she should be referred to as a senior State Department official for the purposes of your reporting.  And again, this call is embargoed until around 1 p.m. when we expect Secretary Blinken will start the formal event.

So with that, I will turn it over to our senior State Department official, and we’ll take your questions from there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thank you, , and good morning.  Thank you all for joining this briefing and for your interest in the Trafficking in Persons Report.  I’ll begin just by sharing a little background information and some context on the report itself.

So the Trafficking in Persons Report, also known as the TIP Report, is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic and diagnostic tool to guide relations with foreign governments on human trafficking.  It is also the world’s most comprehensive resource on governmental anti-trafficking efforts, and it reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights, law enforcement, and national security issue.

This year’s report, which is the 21st installment, includes narratives for 188 countries and territories, including the United States.

A country’s tier ranking reflects the State Department’s assessment of that government’s efforts during the reporting period to meet the Trafficking Victim Protection Act minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons.  The department strives to make the report as accurate and objective as possible, documenting the successes and shortcomings of government anti-trafficking efforts, and it does not make assessments based on political considerations.

The TIP Report assesses a country’s efforts against those TVPA minimum standards and against its own efforts during the previous reporting period; it does not compare countries.  It also takes into account a country’s resources and capacity when weighing factors.

And just to clarify, the reporting period is from April 1, 2020 through March 31st of 2021 for this year’s report.

All governments should strive to continually improve their efforts across what are referred to as the 3Ps of the anti-trafficking framework – of prosecution, protection, and prevention.  In fact, the TVPA requires governments to demonstrate continual progress, especially to retain rankings on Tier 1 or Tier 2.

Tier 2 Watch List rankings are time-limited by U.S. law, as governments can only retain this ranking for a maximum of three consecutive years; thus, here too ongoing efforts to improve are critical.  For Tier 3 governments – those that are assessed as failing to make significant efforts to meet the minimum standards and do not, in fact, meet the minimum standards – also Tier 3 countries include countries whose governments have a policy or pattern of trafficking.  For those countries on Tier 3, restrictions on assistance may apply.

The TIP Report introduction focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trafficking trends and anti-trafficking efforts around the world.  It outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated trafficking situations and significantly increased the number of people worldwide at risk to exploitation, as well as how traffickers adapted their methods to take advantage of these circumstances.

The introduction also illustrates the innovative ways that many have adapted their anti-trafficking efforts.  It emphasizes lessons learned from practitioners, offers ways to rebuild strong anti-trafficking strategies, and focuses on ways governments can prevent the compounding effects of crises on trafficking victims and vulnerable individuals.

We saw, for example, that the governments of countries such as Paraguay identified significantly more trafficking victims through routine screening at pandemic quarantine facilities, or in Turkey, where the government trained shelter staff on pandemic mitigation efforts and provided COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment to victims staying at those shelters.  Mexico secured its first trafficking in persons conviction from a virtual court session in June 2020, just weeks after resuming legal proceedings following a two-month shutdown related to the pandemic.  Lebanon and the Czech Republic extended the ability of migrants to stay in those countries for their safety related to the pandemic and also adjusted the limits of their respective visa regimes – all to help ensure the victims were protected during the pandemic.  These are just a few of many examples that the report outlines.

The introduction to this year’s report also seeks to elevate other important themes, such as the struggle to realize racial equity, the importance of survivor leadership, the harmful effects of conspiracy theories related to trafficking, and the reality of familial trafficking.

We also included a box in the introduction this year on state-sponsored trafficking in persons and, due to the scale of the problem, one specifically on forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region and beyond.

I would also like to share some noteworthy results and tier movement within this year’s report.  Overall, there are approximately the same number of downgrades and upgrades as in prior years.

On a positive note, there were several upgrades due to tangible progress that governments made to combat trafficking around the world despite the pandemic.  We saw progress even in countries where the trafficking challenges have been intractable over many years.

Several governments received upgrades to Tier 2 for increasing efforts to address trafficking, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

Not all countries made such progress.  Six countries received downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2 as the department assessed that the governments of the Republic of Cyprus, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, and Switzerland did not meet all four of the minimum standards and were therefore not making “appreciable progress” compared to the previous year and no longer met the minimum standards to stay on Tier 1.

Twelve countries were also downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watchlist.  I won’t list the full number, but I’ll note a couple that may attract your attention include South Africa and Thailand.

There were also two countries that were downgraded this year from the Watch List to Tier 3.  Those two countries are Guinea-Bissau and Malaysia.

There is also an important provision in the TVPA, the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, that requires the department to make a determination whether countries have a policy or pattern of the government engaged in trafficking.

This year, the department made that determination that 11 countries continued to have a government policy or pattern of trafficking and inadequate enforcement mechanisms; some government officials in these countries were themselves part of the problem, directly compelling citizens or foreign nationals into sex trafficking, forced labor, or use as child soldiers.

We found that officials used their power to exploit their citizens or foreign nationals ranging from forced labor in local or national public works projects, military operations, economically important sectors, or as part of government-funded projects or missions abroad, to sexual slavery on government compounds.

I’m happy to share the list of 11 countries, but in the interest of time I’ll probably not read the full list now.  But I will note a couple of particular interest.  China remained on Tier 3 and is again noted for having a government policy of forced labor, particularly in Xinjiang detention in camps that is intended to erase ethnic and religious identities under the pretext of “vocational training,” and forced labor is a central tactic used for this repression.

Also, the Cuban Government increased the number and size of overseas medical missions.  Dozens of country reports include information regarding the program’s lack of transparency, unaddressed labor violations, and forced labor.

Finally, just two more points I wanted to raise at the beginning.

This year, 15 countries are included on the 2021 Child Soldier Prevention Act List for having governmental armed groups or supporting nongovernmental armed groups that recruit or use children in armed conflict.

And finally, the department is recognizing eight TIP Report heroes who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking.

The 2021 heroes come from Albania, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Qatar, and Spain.  These individuals inspire each of us to do more to advance the global fight against human trafficking and protect the victims and survivors of this crime.  The ceremony today that Secretary Blinken will host will highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of these extraordinary individuals.

And with that, thank you very much.  I’ll be happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you very much.  Operator, if you want to repeat the instructions for asking questions.

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.  Please ensure your line is open before starting your question.  Once again, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.  One moment, please.

MODERATOR:  Okay, let’s start with the line of Missy Ryan, please.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  And thanks very much for this briefing.  I just had a question about Afghanistan, and I see that – so if I understood correctly, it’s on Tier 3 for the – is it – am I correct to say second year?  And so I’m wondering what the impact, if any, is on American assistance to Afghanistan currently or in the future, and what the situation is around that.  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yes, thank you so much for that question.  Afghanistan did again demonstrate a government policy or pattern of human trafficking and will therefore again appear on Tier 3.  As you noted, Tier 3 countries may carry restrictions for non-humanitarian and non-trade-related assistance.  The president may waive those restrictions, as he did for Afghanistan when it was placed on Tier 3 in the 2020 TIP Report.  Those restrictions go into effect for the next fiscal year, so he waived the restrictions for this fiscal year that went into – that began in October.  This summer, there will be a process of preparing recommendations to inform the President’s decisions for the countries that appear on Tier 3 in the 2021 TIP Report, and we expect that the President will make those decisions before the beginning of the next fiscal year in October.

And you are right, this is the second year that Afghanistan is on Tier 3 for a government policy or pattern of human trafficking.  Specifically, the report notes in the area of the use and recruitment of child soldiers as well as a widespread practice of bacha bazi, which is essentially sexual slavery on government compounds.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to the line of Matt Lee.

QUESTION:  Hello?

MODERATOR:  Matt, I think – yeah, I think your line’s open.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  All right.  I assume you can hear me, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it.  I’m sorry, these are kind of logistical questions.  Could you just repeat the list of six countries downgraded from Tier 1 to Tier 2?  And also, were there any countries that moved from Tier 3 up?  And then the last one is:  For Guinea-Bissau and Malaysia, are those – those were demoted because of the statutory time that they could be exempted or put into the Watch List, or was there demonstrable regression in their approach?  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thank you for all those questions.  I hope I got them all.  If I missed any, feel – please feel free to repeat them.

The six countries that were downgraded from Tier 1 to Tier 2 include Cyprus, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, and Switzerland.  There were four countries upgraded from Tier 3 this year.  They include Belarus, Burundi, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea.  And the two countries that were downgraded to Tier 3, Guinea-Bissau and Malaysia, were in fact both out of time on the Watch List.  They had exceeded their time.  They had been on the Watch List for three years, and therefore were no longer able legally to stay on the Watch List and did not make enough progress to support an upgrade to Tier 2, and therefore were automatically downgraded to Tier 3.

Did I get all your questions?

MODERATOR:  Sounded like you did.  Let’s go on to the line of Lara Jakes, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, good morning.  Is my line open?

MODERATOR:  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Great, thanks.  In terms of the pandemic’s impact on human trafficking, can you give us a little more sense of what kind of trends you saw that were more prevalent or more alarming than in years past that were directly caused by the pandemic?  I was looking in the – kind of the executive summary.  I see that there was a trend of the – perhaps the pandemic had spurred more migration and made people more vulnerable to trafficking.  I also saw a large section on stay-at-home sex trafficking victims.

And I’m just wondering, which – not that this is a zero-sum game, but which one of these trends seemed to grow at a more alarming rate directly caused by the pandemic?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thank you for those important questions.  We have spent a lot of time this year gathering information and carefully analyzing the effects of the pandemic on trafficking trends, on trafficking victims and survivors, as well as government and service providers’ response to trafficking.

Overall, the concurrence of the increased number of individuals at risk due to the pandemic, traffickers’ ability to capitalize on competing crises, and the diversion of resources to pandemic response efforts has resulted, in many ways, in an ideal environment for human trafficking to flourish and evolve.

Despite these added challenges and risks that the pandemic presented, we have also witnessed the adaptability among those continuing to fight human trafficking and their dedication to ensuring the continuation of anti-trafficking efforts and minimize the effects of the pandemic on victims and the broader anti-trafficking community.

To your question about some of the specific effects, we did see that during the pandemic, anti-trafficking stakeholders experienced a number of conditions that made work to combat trafficking in persons exceptionally difficult.  Governments faced reduced capacities as priorities shifted to focus on growing health and economic concerns.  Victims and survivors faced heightened risk of re-victimization and obstacles accessing assistance and support as lockdowns, social distancing protocols, and a lack of resources caused survivor service providers to close shelters and reduce services.

Technology, as you noted, was widely utilized both to safely continue to combat trafficking such as to – you noted the negatives.  I’ll note the positives first and then the negatives.  Technology was also used to resume prosecution efforts and investigation efforts and to prevent further court backlogs through virtual investigative and court proceedings.

We did, unfortunately, also see that the increased use of technology created more vulnerability that traffickers unfortunately also exploited, as you noted, through online sex trafficking.  Also traffickers used the internet and other remote connectivity options to recruit trafficking victims, often with fraudulent job offers, so we did see, unfortunately, that that was a trend.  Thankfully, we saw the governments, service providers, NGOs, and many survivors themselves were resilient and adapted to the evolving situation as well.

MODERATOR:  Go the line of Humeyra Pamuk.  Humeyra Pamuk.

QUESTION:  I’m assuming everyone can hear me, so I’ll just go ahead.  I just want to ask – I see that Turkey has moved to the list of countries who are implicated in the use of child soldiers.  I just want to confirm if this is the first time a NATO member is on this list, and I just want to also ask a little bit about methodology.  There have been reports that the – some of the Syrian factions that Turkey has supported have been involved in various human rights abuses, use of child soldiers.  The fact that the country made it to this list this year, does that mean the United States has now independently verified these reports?

And my final question is:  How does this impact any military cooperation with Turkey?  I’m well aware that there is a specific distinction in attribution to the armed groups that it supports and not the country’s armed forces, but still, U.S. is in the middle of negotiating a really important deal for Turkey to run the Kabul airport, and I’m looking at the report and it says – it talks about a number of restrictions on security assistance and a few other things, and Turkey is seeking financial and various military support to run the Kabul airport from United States.  Would that have any impact on it if that’s the case?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thank you very much for that important question.  The United States places considerable attention on the issue of the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers.  The United States condemns the practice of unlawfully recruiting or using child soldiers and work to end this practice, which is considered a form of human trafficking in certain circumstances, and we work to do so wherever it occurs.  Through this abhorrent practice, governments and government-supported armed groups rob innocent children of their childhoods and may cause them to commit terrible violence, in some cases against their own loved ones.

Across the globe, wherever we see this occurring, we raise this issue through both military and civilian channels, and we work with concerned citizens, the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations.  Our aim is to monitor, report on, and prevent the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, as well as to protect, assist, and rehabilitate these children, including by working with civil society and governments of countries where governments or government-supported armed groups unlawfully recruit or use child soldiers.

And I want to pause on that last sentence just to note that that is the legal standard, that the Child Soldier Prevention Act requires the State Department to list countries on this list where either governments or government-supported armed groups are unlawfully recruiting or using child soldiers.  And through this list, the United States puts on notice those countries where we do have credible information of the recruitment or use of child soldiers.  We take these allegations very seriously.  We conduct in-depth research on all relevant information and engage directly with governments year-round regarding these concerns.

With respect to Turkey in particular, you are correct that this is the first time a NATO member has been listed on the Child Soldier Prevention Act list.  As a respected regional leader and member of NATO, Turkey has the opportunity to address this issue, the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria and Libya.  We did determine and document in this report that the Government of Turkey provided support to the Sultan Murad Division, a non-state armed group that recruited and used child soldiers.  This division is a Syrian armed opposition group that operates under the umbrella of the Turkish-supported Syrian National Army.  The Government of Turkey provided tangible support to the Sultan Murad Division which included transit through Turkish territory during the reporting period of – as I said before, that reporting period is April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021.  The United States hopes to work with Turkey to encourage all groups involved in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts not to use child soldiers, and we hope to work with Turkey to address this issue in the long run.

MODERATOR:  Let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION:  Yes.  What does the Tier 3 list include other than China, Cuba, and Afghanistan?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  There – it’s a fairly long list.  There are 15 countries, I think, on the list.  I’m happy to read you the list of countries that are on Tier 3 in alphabetical order.  They include Afghanistan, as we already discussed; Algeria, Burma, China, Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Iran, North Korea, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.  Sorry, it’s 17; I counted wrong.

MODERATOR:  We’ll take a couple final questions.  Let’s go to Jiha Ham, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, I hope you can hear me.

MODERATOR:  We can.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.  Thank you for doing this.  Thank you for taking my question.  I have a question on North Korea.  So the report on North Korea, it says the Chinese Government often sends North Korea defectors back to North Korea forcibly.  But according to the report, because of the COVID, North Korean authorities in 2020 refused to accept more than 200 defectors.  I’m sure they are still in China, because the border is still closed between the two countries.  So my question is:  Were there any efforts that the U.S. Government tried to intervene the situation or directly at China not to send these defectors back to North Korea?  If not, what will be your message to China?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thank you for that question.  We have long noted concerns in the TIP Report in both the China and the North Korea narrative for many years, our concerns about defectors or other North Korean nationals being returned to North Korea and the risk that they face to forced labor, other forms of trafficking, and other human rights abuses, if they are returned.  We have included a recommendation in the China narrative for many years and have raised this issue with the Chinese Government.  We encourage them not to return people back to North Korea, particularly without screening for human trafficking, since we know this is a population that’s particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.  Obviously, we have much broader human rights concerns in North Korea, and this is one of many issues that we raise with the Chinese Government.  And we publicly note our concerns about North Korea.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to the line of Mouhamed Elahmed.

QUESTION:  Hi, .  Thank you for doing this.  I have couple of questions, please.  I was skimming over the report, and it seems that the Syrian refugees, especially women and children, have been trafficked, used, and exploited in so many countries in the Middle East, like Egypt for example.  So how does this represent the challenge to the U.S. efforts to address this issue in the Middle East?  Are there any programs that the USAID, for example, is planning to provide to help those victims to rehabilitate?

And finally, do you think that by solving the refugee crisis in Syria or even in Yemen, would that help in reduce or eliminate the trafficking persons in the Middle East that has been increased in the recent years?  Thank you so much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thank you for that question.  You are right that – to point out that Syrian refugees are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and all kinds of other hostilities throughout the region.  We have long documented those concerns and trafficking abuses that occur, that traffickers target Syrian refugees, as they do many other refugees and migrants, both in the Middle East region and more broadly in the world.  They comprise a group of people that traffickers recognize often do not have a safety net around them. They may not have family relatives; they may not have a lot of other options to seek help and support.  And therefore, traffickers often prey and target specifically refugees and migrants.  And sadly, that is very true for Syrian refugees and migrants in the region as well.

We have included recommendations for many years for countries in the region, both the Middle East and I would also say European countries that have also hosted or through which Syrian migrants and refugees have traveled, and urge those governments to screen for trafficking indicators and identify proactively trafficking victims among this group so that they can get them the care that they need, that is tailored for trafficking victims to prevent their future exploitation and potential re-trafficking as well.  We’ve also used some of our foreign assistance funds specifically to raise awareness and build governments’ capacity in the region to identify and provide care for those trafficking victims among this group.

MODERATOR:  Well, we will leave it there.  I want to thank our speaker.  Again, this call was on background.  You can refer to our speaker as a senior State Department official, and the call is embargoed until approximately one o’clock today, when the event with Secretary Blinken begins.  We will have additional opportunities for you to hear from the Secretary and from senior State Department officials today, including at the press briefing on the rollout of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report.  Thanks, everyone, for joining, and we’ll talk to you later today.

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    Limited nationwide data hinder a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and costs of workplace sexual harassment. According to GAO's analysis of available federal data and literature review, the few reliable nationwide estimates of sexual harassment's prevalence vary substantially due to differences in methodology, including the question structure and time period the survey used. Moreover, the likelihood of experiencing workplace sexual harassment can vary based on an individual's demographic characteristics—such as gender, race, and age—and whether the workplace is male- or female-dominated. For example, women, younger workers, and women in male-dominated workplaces were more likely to say they experienced harassment. GAO did not find any recent cost estimates of workplace sexual harassment, but identified four broad categories of costs: health, productivity, career, and reporting and legal costs (see figure). Examples of Costs Associated with Workplace Sexual Harassment The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as part of its mission to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination, maintains data on sexual harassment and retaliation charges filed against employers, but cannot systematically analyze the relationship between the two for all charges filed nationwide. After filing sexual harassment charges or engaging in other protected activity, employees may experience retaliation, such as firing or demotion, and EEOC data show that retaliation charges constitute a growing portion of its workload. EEOC's planning documents highlight its intention to address retaliation and use charge data to inform its outreach to employers. However, while EEOC can review electronic copies of individual charges for details, such as whether a previously filed sexual harassment charge led to a retaliation charge, its data system cannot aggregate this information across all charges. Without the capacity to fully analyze trends in the relationship between sexual harassment and retaliation charges, EEOC may miss opportunities to refine its work with employers to prevent and address retaliation. Experts at GAO's roundtable said nationally representative surveys would help to improve available information on workplace sexual harassment. Expert recommendations focused on three main areas: (1) survey administration and resources, including advantages and disadvantages to various federal roles; (2) methods to collect data, such as using stand-alone surveys or adding questions to existing surveys; and (3) content of data to be collected, including employee and employer characteristics and specific costs. While many workers in the United States experience workplace sexual harassment—resulting in substantial costs to them and their employers—the extent of sexual harassment and the magnitude of its effects are not fully understood. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which reliable information is available on workplace sexual harassment's prevalence and costs. This report examines (1) what is known about the prevalence and costs of U.S. workplace sexual harassment, including the federal workforce, (2) the extent to which EEOC collects sexual harassment data, and (3) data collection approaches experts recommend to improve available information. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed EEOC data and survey data from other federal agencies, interviewed officials and reviewed documentation from multiple federal agencies, and interviewed experts on sexual harassment. GAO also convened a 2-day roundtable of experts, with assistance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and conducted a literature review. GAO recommends that EEOC assess the feasibility of systematically analyzing its data on retaliation charges and the associated protected activities, including those related to sexual harassment. EEOC did not state whether or not it concurred with GAO's recommendation. GAO continues to believe this recommendation is appropriate, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.
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  • Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Remarks at Virtual MOU Signing Ceremony with Korean Prosecution Service
    In Crime News
    It is with great pleasure that I sign this Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the Department of Justice alongside my good friend, Prosecutor General Yoon. Enhancing the ties between our agencies has been an important priority for me during my tenure as Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division. While only a few years ago we knew comparatively little about one another, our relationship has quickly blossomed into a strong and enduring friendship. I am extremely pleased that we have succeeded in developing important and lasting ties between our agencies, as underscored by our signing of this Memorandum of Understanding today.
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  • High-Performance Computing: Advances Made Towards Implementing the National Strategy, but Better Reporting and a More Detailed Plan Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Ten agencies took steps to implement all 71 efforts across the five objectives of the 2016 National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) strategic plan and characterized most as ongoing. According to officials, agencies generally did not receive funding to implement the 2016 strategic plan and undertook efforts as part of existing programs or research that were aligned with the plan's objectives. As part of the largest NSCI investment, the Department of Energy (DOE) obligated $2.2 billion for exascale computing from fiscal years 2016 through 2020. This includes three exascale computing systems, which are expected to be among the most powerful computers in the world when completed (see figure). DOE also collaborated with other agencies to develop exascale-ready software applications for use on those systems to address problems beyond the capability of current high-performance computers. Other agency efforts include funding workforce development and conducting research on future computing technologies. Figure: Department of Energy's Three Expected Exascale Computing Systems The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and agencies inconsistently reported on progress towards the 2016 strategic plan's objectives. OSTP reported 2016 strategic plan accomplishments in a 2018 budget report but did not do so in subsequent years. It was also not aware of the NSCI executive council reporting on progress as called for by the NSCI executive order. Academic and industry stakeholders stated that a lack of progress reports limited their visibility into accomplishments and remaining work. Having such information could help them better align their activities with agency efforts. The 2020 strategic plan—which superseded the 2016 strategic plan—fully or substantially addressed two desirable characteristics of a national strategy identified by GAO to help ensure accountability and more effective results. For example, the plan described how agencies will partner with academia and industry but partially addressed or did not address four other characteristics, such as the resources needed to implement it or a process for monitoring and reporting on progress. OSTP and agency officials said they plan to release a more detailed implementation roadmap later in 2021 but have not described what details this plan will include. By more fully addressing the desirable characteristics of a national strategy through the implementation plan or other means, including reporting on progress, OSTP and agencies could improve efforts to sustain and enhance U.S. leadership in high-performance computing. Why GAO Did This Study In 2015, Executive Order 13702 established the NSCI to maximize the benefits of high-performance computing for economic competitiveness and scientific discovery. The order directed 10 agencies to implement the NSCI and pursue five strategic objectives, including accelerating delivery of a capable exascale computing system, which is anticipated to be at least three times more powerful than the current top-ranked system. The NSCI Executive Council, established by the executive order and co-chaired by OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget, issued a strategic plan in 2016, which was updated in 2020. GAO was asked to review the status of the NSCI. This report examines (1) agencies' efforts and OSTP's and agencies' reporting on progress towards meeting the objectives of the 2016 strategic plan and (2) the extent to which the 2020 strategic plan includes desirable characteristics of a national strategy. GAO analyzed key NSCI documents, administered a questionnaire to 10 NSCI agencies, and interviewed OSTP and other agency officials and nonfederal stakeholders.
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  • Child Care: Subsidy Eligibility and Receipt, and Wait Lists
    In U.S GAO News
    An estimated 1.9 million children received child care subsidies in fiscal year 2017, representing approximately 14 percent of all children estimated to be eligible under federal rules – and 22 percent of all children estimated to be eligible under state rules -- in an average month. These figures are from the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) analysis of fiscal year 2017 data, the most recent year for which such analysis is available. Generally, fewer families qualify for subsidies under state eligibility rules than under federal eligibility rules since most states use flexibility provided by HHS to set their income eligibility limits below the federal maximum. Health and Human Services’ Estimated Number of Children Eligible Under Federal and State Rules, and Estimated Number Receiving Child Care Subsidies, Fiscal Year 2017 GAO found that the extent to which children who meet federal child care eligibility requirements also meet state eligibility requirements varies by state as does the share of eligible children who receive Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) subsidies. Under state requirements, the CCDF subsidy receipt rate ranged from 5 percent to 32 percent of eligible children. Under federal requirements, the CCDF subsidy receipt rate ranged from 4 percent to 18 percent of federally eligible children. According to HHS estimates, among families who met federal child care eligibility criteria, children from lower-income families were more likely to receive child care subsidies compared to children from higher-income families. These estimates also showed that preschool-age children were more likely to receive subsidies compared to older, school-age children and that Black children were more likely to receive subsidies compared to children of other races / ethnicities. As reported in previous GAO work, states have varied strategies for managing their wait lists. Some states have a single statewide list while others have sub-state lists that allow sub-state areas to have their own policies. Some states conduct full or partial eligibility determinations prior to placing families on wait lists, and many states require periodic reviews of their wait lists. According to state administrators GAO interviewed, the strategies that states use to manage their wait lists pose certain challenges. For example, state administrators told GAO that sub-state lists can contain duplication, making state-wide estimates of families in need difficult. And administrators told GAO that maintaining up-to-date contact information is challenging, in part due to insufficient technology. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted child care in several ways, including cost, eligibility and subsidy receipt, according to some members of the National Association of State Child Care Administrators (NASCCA). These members told GAO that despite initial declines in the number of families receiving subsidies, some states are seeing their child care costs increase due to, for example, more school-age children using full-day care; increased expenses for additional health and safety measures; paying for more absences and for parent co-pays; and families applying for subsidies for relative care. NASCCA members noted that some states have made changes to policies to help families and providers. To help families access child care, some states have increased income eligibility for subsidies to 85 percent of the state median income; temporarily waived work requirements to receive subsidies; and covered family fees for parents when a family must quarantine due to a COVID-19 exposure. Changes to some state policies aimed at helping providers include providing funds to providers to help with increased costs, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and additional cleaning supplies; paying providers based on their pre-COVID-19 level authorized enrollments; and raising the state's provider reimbursement rate to help providers cover overhead costs. The federal child care subsidy program known as CCDF is one of the primary sources of federal funding dedicated to assisting low-income families with child care who are working or participating in education and training. Funding for CCDF, which is administered by HHS at the federal level, comes from two funding streams: discretionary funding in the form of block grants authorized by the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG Act) of 1990, as amended, and mandatory and matching funding authorized under section 418 of the Social Security Act. CCDF was appropriated more than $8 billion in federal funds in 2019. For more information, contact Kathryn Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • North Carolina Tax Preparer Sentenced to Prison for Defrauding IRS and Co-Conspirator Pleads Guilty
    In Crime News
    A North Carolina return preparer was sentenced today to 22 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the IRS and one of her co-conspirators pleaded guilty on Wednesday for her role in the scheme.
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  • Government Performance Management: Key Considerations for Implementing Cross-Agency Priority Goals and Progress Addressing GAO Recommendations
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The enactment of the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) aimed to create an integrated, crosscutting federal performance planning and reporting framework. The act requires the establishment of 4-year outcome-oriented goals known as cross-agency priority (CAP) goals. CAP goals cover a limited number of mission and management areas, such as improving customer experiences with federal services. The next set of CAP goals is due no later than February 2022. GAO identified key considerations to facilitate CAP goal implementation, for example: Establish the goal: Establish a balanced set of outcome-oriented mission and management-focused goals that reflect the government's highest policy priorities. Identify goal leaders and contributors: Identify co-leaders and sub-goal leaders to facilitate leadership, continuity, and agency buy-in. Identify resources to support implementation: Dedicate resources to goal implementation, including funding, staffing, and technology. Use performance information: Focus on improving the quality and use of data to routinely assess goal progress and a shared commitment to continuous improvement. Report results: Develop communications strategies to help share success stories and outcomes of the goals. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and agencies have made notable progress in implementing 82 of 106 GAO GPRAMA-related recommendations made since 2012 (see figure). Status of GAO Recommendations Related to Implementation of the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010, from Fiscal Year 2012-2021 as of July 2021 For example, OMB issued guidance to agencies to expand the use of data-driven performance reviews, and agencies took steps to report on the quality of their performance information. However, OMB and agencies have not fully implemented 24 GAO recommendations in areas such as creating an inventory of federal programs and improving the transparency of publicly reported performance information. Implementing remaining recommendations would help OMB and agencies more effectively manage performance. Why GAO Did This Study The nation faces unprecedented challenges that require the federal government to perform better, be more responsive to the American people, and achieve greater results. GPRAMA provides important tools that can help decision makers address crosscutting challenges facing the federal government. GPRAMA includes a provision for GAO to periodically report on the act's implementation. This report (1) identifies key considerations that can facilitate CAP goal implementation; and (2) assesses OMB's and agencies' progress in addressing GAO recommendations related to GPRAMA. To identify key considerations, GAO conducted focus groups with subject matter specialists with expertise in performance management and with White House Leadership Development fellows who had a role in implementing CAP goals. GAO also obtained views from OMB staff and reviewed information on OMB's role in CAP goal implementation. GAO also reviewed prior work on GPRAMA implementation. To identify progress made to address GAO recommendations, GAO reviewed actions OMB and agencies took since 2012.
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  • Afghanistan Security: U.S.-Funded Equipment for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In 2003, the United States began funding a variety of key equipment for the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP)--collectively known as the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). GAO's analysis of Department of Defense (DOD) data identified six categories of key equipment that the United States funded for the ANDSF from fiscal years 2003 through 2016. Communications equipment and vehicles were first authorized by DOD for procurement in fiscal year 2003; weapons in 2004; explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) equipment in 2006; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment and aircraft in 2007. GAO's analysis also shows the following details about the six categories of key equipment: About 163,000 communications equipment items were funded for the ANDSF--approximately 95,000 for the ANA and nearly 68,000 for the ANP. The majority of this equipment consisted of tactical radios.  The nearly 76,000 U.S.-funded vehicles included a range of combat and support vehicles for the ANA and ANP. Over half of the U.S.-funded vehicles were light tactical vehicles, such as pickup trucks.  Almost 600,000 ANDSF weapons were funded by the United States--about 322,000 for the ANA and 278,000 for the ANP. Of these 600,000 weapons, almost 81 percent were rifles and pistols.  The United States has funded a variety of EOD equipment for the ANDSF--such as mine rollers, electronic countermeasure devices, hand-held mine detectors, bomb suits, and related equipment--totaling about 30,000 items.  There were slightly more than 16,000 U.S.-funded ISR equipment items, consisting almost entirely of night vision devices: about 10,200 such devices for the ANA and 5,800 for the ANP. The United States has also funded biometrics and positioning equipment for the ANDSF.  Finally, the United States has funded 208 aircraft for the ANDSF; more than half were helicopters, and more than a quarter were transport/cargo airplanes. In addition, the United States has funded air-to-ground munitions, including nearly 2 million cannon rounds, more than 200,000 unguided rockets, and about 9,800 general-purpose bombs and guided bomb kits for the ANDSF. The figure below shows the total quantities of key equipment that the United States funded for the ANDSF in fiscal years 2003 through 2016. Total Quantity of Key U.S.-Funded Equipment for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, by Fiscal Year, 2003–2016 Why GAO Did This Study Developing an independently capable ANDSF is a key component of U.S. and coalition efforts to counter terrorist threats and create sustainable security and stability in Afghanistan. Since 2002, the United States has worked to train and equip these forces, with assistance from North Atlantic Treaty Organization members and other coalition nations. Since fiscal year 2002, more than $76 billion has been appropriated or allocated for various DOD and Department of State (State) programs to support Afghan security, and DOD has disbursed almost $18 billion for equipment and transportation. House Report 114-537 associated with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to review U.S. assistance to the ANDSF, including equipment. In this report, GAO describes key equipment--weapons and equipment DOD considers critical to the missions of the ANDSF--that DOD and State have funded for the ANDSF. GAO collected and analyzed agency data, reviewed agency documents and reports, and interviewed agency officials. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-6991 or FarbJ@gao.gov. 
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  • Pennsylvania Attorney Sentenced for Role in $2.7 Million Ponzi Scheme
    In Crime News
    An Allentown, Pennsylvania, attorney was sentenced today to 78 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his role in a $2.7 million investment fraud scheme that victimized his law clients.
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