Briefing with Senior State Department Officials on Diplomacy to Constrain Iran’s Nuclear Program

Office of the Spokesperson

Via Teleconference

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, and thanks to everyone for joining the call on fairly short notice. As you probably saw, we issued a very short statement from me just a moment ago, and we wanted to take a moment to offer some context around that statement. And to do so, we have two speakers on this call, which will be conducted on background. You can attribute what you hear to State Department officials. But for your awareness only, our two speakers are ; we also have with us . Again, both will be identified as State Department officials.

The contents of this call will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call, and we will take questions after and have a moment to offer some initial thoughts. So with that, I will turn it over to our first official. Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Hi, thanks for joining us. So let me just say a few words about some of the things – the developments of the day. And from the outset, President Biden, even candidate Biden, has said that he is committed to resuming a American multilateral diplomatic role in trying to resolve the issues that we have with Iran, and that among those goals was going to be to see whether we could get to a situation where Iran is back in compliance with the JCPOA and the U.S. is back in compliance with the JCPOA, and use that as a platform to then negotiate a longer, stronger deal, and also to deal with some of the regional security concerns that we have and that our partners in the region have.

And today, I think we’ve seen some of the logical steps in implementing and even materializing that commitment. First, Secretary Blinken met with his E3 counterparts, and I think what is among the most significant outcomes was – and a joint statement is probably the first time in a long time that – in several years that the U.S. and its E3 allies were able to come together and produce a joint statement, a unified vision on how to address the Iran nuclear issue.

And I think it was clear that we’re on the same page in saying that we’re prepared to come back to talks to get back into compliance if Iran will get back into compliance; and also calling collectively on Iran not to take the steps that it is threatening to take February 23rd in terms of no longer implementing the Additional Protocol and reducing or ending some of the JCPOA verification mechanisms; and saying that it would be a mistake to take – at a time when there’s an opportunity to move forward, for Iran to take a step that is decidedly moving backwards; and also, a consensus on the part of all four of us that if we can get back into the – back to the JCPOA, that should be a step on which we should build to both, as I said, strengthen and lengthen the deal and address some of the regional issues of concern. And of course, Iran would bring its concerns to the table.

In the wake of that joint statement, the EU political director in a tweet said that he would be ready as a convener of the joint commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to convene a meeting of the – informal meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to talk about the way forward in terms of Iran’s nuclear program and dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. And the State Department issued a response saying that, if invited, we would be there and we’d be prepared – I mean, now I’m – this is not in the statement, but the goal of coming together would be to sit down and to see – start what could be a prolonged path of trying to get back to a situation where both the U.S. and Iran were back into compliance. But that’s not going to happen without a meeting, and therefore we’d be prepared to sit down and talk about what are the steps that need to be taken to get back to that point, and then, as I said, build on that to broaden and strengthen the deal.

So that’s what today was about. It’s about taking diplomatic steps to see whether we can get to the point that President Biden has said he was committed to for years now. And some other diplomatic steps were also taken today, and for that I would turn to my colleague.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Great, thank you, and I’ll be very brief before we get to your questions. Just a couple actions up in New York today related to Iran that we would like to highlight as well. The acting representative of the United States to the United Nations, Ambassador Mills, submitted a letter today to the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the United Nations in her capacity as president of the UN Security Council for the month of February reversing the previous administration’s position on the UN Security Council Iran sanctions snapback issue. In so doing, the United States is affirming that UN Security Council Resolution 2231 remains in full effect. And that letter was circulated to the full Security Council and has now taken effect.

Separately, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations up in New York has notified the Iranian mission that the United States is bringing the domestic travel controls on Iranian representatives back in line with those in place for several other missions to the UN. So essentially, returning to the status quo of the last few years before the last administration.

Today’s actions return our longstanding posture with regard to Iran at the UN and, in our view, will strengthen our ability to work with allies and partners in the UN Security Council to address Iran’s nuclear program and other destabilizing activities.

I’ll stop there, and with that, happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks very much to both of you. Operator, if you want to repeat one more time the instructions for asking questions, then we’ll take our first question.

OPERATOR: Certainly, If you’d like to ask a question, please press 1 and then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. If using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, press 1 and then 0 at this time.

MODERATOR: All right, we’ll start with the line of Nick Schifrin from PBS.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in substance. These are significant announcements and a shift from what you’ve been saying, but we’re doing this in a background call. I just noticed that the Secretary just put out a tweet about a totally different topic, and the EU political director, with all due respect to him, is not the most senior official. So I wanted to know what the style of how this is being made says about what you’re trying to say through the style.

And on substance, do you believe this should be enough to prevent Iran from following – from following through on its threat to evict inspectors on Sunday, because it does not meet Iran’s threshold of the U.S. coming back into compliance that it demanded before Sunday? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So let me take those, Nick. Well, first of all, the style, how it was made – listen, I think we recognize that this is just a very first initial step to say that we are prepared to attend the meeting that would be convened by the EU. We recognize that that’s not in and of itself a breakthrough. Even the first meeting itself may not be a breakthrough. So we’re not going to hype it for what it isn’t, but it is a step. Until we sit down and talk, nothing’s going to happen. It doesn’t mean that when we sit down and talk we’re going to succeed, but we do know that if we don’t take that step, the situation’s just going to go from bad to worse. So I think the style of this, as you said, I think is reflecting – reflective of the fact that it’s a meaningful step, but we recognize that it’s just one of many that are going to have to be taken by all sides if we’re going to get to where we say we want to go.

On whether this is – would be enough to prevent Iran to – not to take its step, frankly, that was not part of the calculation. I think President Biden wasn’t particularly eager or in the mode of trying to take unilateral steps to try to prevent Iran from doing what it shouldn’t do in the first place. So these are steps that we took because we felt they were the right steps in order to resume diplomacy, whether the steps that my colleague mentioned or the steps that were – or the joint statement with the E3 or our expressed willingness to sit down with Iran and the P5+1, which are all the right steps in order to get back to diplomacy.

I think it will be up to Iran to decide whether it wants to take its own step, which will be viewed in this context as moving backwards, as a step in the wrong direction when we’re indicating and I think others are indicating that they are willing to move forward.

So Iran will make its own decision. I think it would be – I think we’re not alone and that the E3 feel the same, that it would be a dangerous step if they were further eroding not just the JCPOA but sort of the architecture of the nonproliferation arrangements by diminishing the ability of the IAEA to know what they’re doing. So – but this was not done in a sort of a – in a – with the intent or the – or calculated in order to see whether we could measure what we needed to do to get them to stop. We hope they won’t do it because we think it would be a mistake, but these steps are steps that we’re taking because we think they’re the right ones.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much. We’ll go to the line of Andrea Mitchell, please.

OPERATOR: One moment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that they are willing to take any steps, including some of the issues that were raised in the statement released by the E3 today —

MODERATOR: Andrea, I’m sorry to interrupt. We missed the first part of your question. Could – do you mind just starting over?

QUESTION: No, I’m so sorry. Is there any indication from Tehran that they are willing to take any steps, including some of the issues that were raised by the E3 in their statement today, such as the processing of uranium fuel and metals, to get back into compliance before you resume or as you resume negotiations, in addition to not taking these next threatening steps?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I think the notion that either side is going to take steps in anticipation of the meeting or as a sort of down payment before the meeting, I think that’s probably not realistic. I know President Biden doesn’t think that the United States should take steps simply for the – as a entry ticket to get back to the table with Iran. Getting back to the table is where we will discuss all these issues, including the ones that we and the E3 have asked Iran to reverse. And as we know, Iran has made a number of requests about the U.S. and its sanctions. So – but we’re not going to resolve it unilaterally. We’re not going to resolve these in a vacuum. We’re not going to resolve it by assuming that one side is going to take steps on its own.

The only way this is going to happen – if it’s going to happen – I assume this is going to be a painstaking and difficult process that’s going to take some time for it to see whether both sides agree on what they will define as compliance or compliance. What does it mean? What’s the sequence? What steps does the U.S. have to take? What steps does Iran have to take? That’s not – that doesn’t – it’s not something that is sort of preordained. It’s going to involve getting together and talking about those, which is why the EU invitation is important and why we said that we would be prepared to go if, in fact, the EU were able to organize such a meeting.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to Anne Gearan, Washington Post.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) answer, . When you said that President Biden doesn’t believe the U.S. should take steps just to get back to the table, does that close off some of these sort of creative solutions that various people have come up with – the IMF loan, different ways that Iran could get a cash infusion in the short term, ways to – or ways for Iran to get rid of excess uranium, which would require new waivers? Are those steps and things like it potential things to talk about at this meeting, or do you close those off ahead of time?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, just to be clear, I think all kinds of things could be discussed at the table. That’s why we thought it would – was a good idea when the EU proposed – said that they were ready to invite. We thought, now, this is the right next step, is to sit down to talk about all these issues.

I think the Iranians have the expectation and the desire that the U.S. would take these steps in anticipation of any meeting, sort of as a prerequisite to or as a down payment, if you will. And I think the President’s view, the Secretary’s view, is we’re prepared to talk about all these things, but let’s talk about them to work through them together, to see what we would need to do and what they would need to do in order to get back to the point where we’re both in compliance. So nothing is off the table in that sense. We want to sit down and see what it is that we could work out together, together with the other P5+1 members.

So yeah, that’s my answer. Just that it’s not steps that we are considering taking sort of now unilaterally. We think they’re the kind of steps that we should talk about and see whether we could reach an understanding about what gets done.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Shaun Tandon.

OPERATOR: Just one moment. Your line is open, sir.

QUESTION: Sure, thanks. Straightforward question: Do you have any indications whether Iran will agree to a meeting? And have you had any informal consultations in any way with the Iranians so far, “so far” meaning since the new administration took office? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So, I think as we’ve said, we have consulted broadly with all sides. I’m not going to get into sort of the logistics of exactly who we spoke to, but I have to say, no, we don’t have an indication of whether Iran will agree to a meeting. They’ve said that they want – they would go back into compliance if we did too, the mirror image of what we’ve said. Unless – if they think that that could happen simply by both sides separately taking steps, I think that would be unrealistic. So if they genuinely mean what they say, which is that they are prepared to reverse their steps if the U.S. gets back in compliance with the JCPOA, then it’s hard to see how that can be done without sitting down. It will be up to them to decide what they do, but I think it would be sort of both unfortunate and at odds with their stated view that they want to come back if we come back. That’s not going to happen simply by one side telling the other one what to do. It’s going to happen if we sit down together.

So we’ll find out, I assume, in the coming days whether they are prepared to join a meeting that the EU would convene. And of course, our hope is that they would, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

MODERATOR: Take a couple final questions here. Christina Ruffini, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) colleagues got a couple of mine, but just very simply, through the timeline for the meeting, a location in person or virtual, any other details you could provide would be great. Thank you, guys.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So really, that’s not up to us; it’s up to the EU. And I think all we’ve seen today is a first indication – the first that we’ve seen since President Biden has been in office that the EU thinks that the conditions are ready, that they are ready to invite the parties to talk. So timing I don’t know, and location I don’t know. What I can say it would not be at the ministers level; it would be at the political directors level. So in our case, it would be – well, in our case, it would be the special envoy for Iran and others would – it would be at political directors level. But beyond that, we don’t have any – it’s not up to us, and so we don’t know about either the timing or the location.

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

QUESTION: Thank you, guys, very much for doing this. A couple really, really brief ones. One, because back in September when the Trump administration said that it had invoked snapback, basically the rest of the world said, “Well, no you didn’t.” So is there any practical effect to the decision that you made today in terms of what the UN has – how the UN has been treating this?

And secondly, on the travel restrictions of the UN, does this mean now – when you say that they go back to the others, they’re kind of like the North Korean ones where they’re allowed to travel within that 25-mile radius of the UN, is that correct? Because as I recall, the Trump administration’s restrictions basically limited them to going to the UN and to their mission, and that was about it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, let me just say a couple words about that. On the travel restrictions, the idea here is to take steps to remove unnecessary obstacles to multilateral diplomacy by amending the restrictions on domestic travel. Those had been extremely restrictive, as you just indicated, and essentially this just reverses the last administration’s imposition of those additional travel restrictions and returns the domestic travel controls on Iranian representatives back in line with those of several other missions to the UN. And that’s just a return to our longstanding posture that we’ve had with regard to the domestic travel of Iranian representatives at the UN.

On snapback, snapback was designed to help ensure that Iran performed its commitments under the JCPOA. And as your question indicated, no other member of the UN Security Council agreed that the previously terminated provisions of prior resolutions had snapped back last September, despite the prior administration’s position. So that essentially isolated the United States on the Security Council and in the UN system and weakened our ability to work with our allies and partners on the Security Council to address Iran’s destabilizing activity. So by reversing this position, it basically puts us back in good stead with our allies and partners and strengthens our ability to engage other Security Council members on Iran, and work within the format of 2231 as we pursue the diplomacy that my colleague has been talking about.

MODERATOR: I’ll try to impose on my colleagues for just a couple final questions given the demand. We’ll go to – excuse me, Nick Wadhams. Go ahead.

OPERATOR: Just one moment. Your line is open, sir.

QUESTION: Hey, thank you. and , can you respond to the criticism that’s already coming in from Republicans that you’re essentially making concessions to Iran while their bad behavior continues and that you’re only rewarding bad Iranian behavior with these decisions? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I’ll let my colleague talk about those decisions. I would – as a general matter, I’d say these are not concessions to Iran. These are concessions for common sense, talking to Iran to try to resolve the nuclear issue. I think we’ve seen what four years of maximum pressure and not talking to Iran have yielded: an accelerated Iranian nuclear program and a more aggressive Iranian posture in the region. And removing gratuitous counterproductive obstacles to diplomacy are not in the U.S. interest either, but I’ll let my colleague address those.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Not much more to add other than, again, this is a common-sense shift that would allow us to effectively use the UN Security Council to address Iran’s nuclear program. So this is about getting back to diplomacy, as my colleague was talking about, but also making sure that we can work effectively in the UN system. When we’re outvoted 14 to 1, it’s very hard for us to work effectively in the Security Council. This gets us back into a position where we can work within that framework and work with our closest allies in particular on addressing our concerns with Iran going forward.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to Michele Kelemen, please.

QUESTION: Do you have me?

OPERATOR: Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Okay, great. So, one, are Russia and China playing any kind of positive role here? What have your consultations been like with them? And then the statement with the EU mentioned hostages. Has the U.S. reached out to Iran on that subject separately? Are you working together with the EU on that? And do you see the Iranian mission at the UN as a place to have those kinds of talks?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So, Michele, on Russia and China, they are – they say that they want to see Iran come back into compliance and the U.S. come back into compliance. They have also – they said – so the general posture has been positive. I think in terms of seeing whether the sides could take steps that are more productive than what’s occurred in the past, we’ll have to see when we get to the table how that unfolds. They have taken the position that they wanted the U.S. to take some steps in advance, and we’ve told them that’s – they shouldn’t – we – the U.S. shouldn’t need to take steps simply to get back to the table. Once we’re back at the table, all these issues will be up for discussion.

So in the past, Russia and China during the JCPOA negotiations played a productive, constructive role because they didn’t – they didn’t have an interest in seeing Iran acquire a nuclear weapon and they didn’t have an interest in seeing the conflict in the region. One would expect that those same interests are at play and that despite other serious differences we may have with them on other files, that and on this one we could work together.

On the hostages, I mean, that is a absolute priority for the President and for everyone who works for him. It’s obviously outrageous that Iran would be playing with the lives of innocent Americans simply for the sake of seeking to extract other concessions from the U.S. And so we’re going to be very firm and resolute in getting them out. We will have our way of reaching out to Iran on that issue, and I’ll leave it at that.

MODERATOR: Well, thanks very much. Just a reminder this call was on background to State Department officials. The embargo is now lifted. We look forward to additional opportunities to speak to all of you about this and other issues in the coming days. Thanks very much to our speakers, and operator, we can conclude the call.

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Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 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 as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the 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
    The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a variety of sources to assess the user experience with USAJOBS, the central website for posting federal job openings. GAO found that OPM's assessments generally track key measures in accordance with selected government-wide guidance. Specifically, OPM collects data on most of the website performance measures recommended by selected guidance from Digital.gov, including the number of times pages were viewed, the percentage of users who use the USAJOBS search box, and overall customer experience. Additionally, consistent with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OPM surveys USAJOBS users about their experiences with the site. OPM also assesses user experience through usability testing, focus groups, and analysis of data on questions submitted to the USAJOBS help desk. Through these assessments, OPM found variations in user experience across the job search and application process, including variations in how people find job announcements and how long it takes them to complete job applications. Since the agency's redesign of USAJOBS in 2016, OPM has taken a number of actions in an effort to address feedback from these assessments and improve the USAJOBS user experience. For example, in 2017, OPM created a set of categories, called Hiring Paths, that describe who is eligible to apply for specific federal jobs and guide job seekers to positions for which they are eligible. Other OPM actions taken from 2016 to 2020 include implementing a new process for logging in to the system to improve website security; updating job search filters and adding a keyword autocomplete function, which suggests search terms as a job seeker types in the search box; revising its job announcement template for hiring agencies to help eliminate duplicative language, increase clarity, and avoid jargon; adding guidance to help job seekers complete federal applications and understand federal hiring authorities; and highlighting jobs related to COVID-19 response. OPM continues to update and refine these efforts. OPM also expects to take a number of additional actions intended to help enhance the USAJOBS website. For example, according to OPM officials, in early fiscal year 2021 they expect to add a “job status” indicator for each job announcement posted on USAJOBS. The job status indicator would provide information such as the number of applicants and when the job has been filled. According to OPM, this would improve transparency and accountability and also provide applicants with updates at each stage of the hiring process. GAO provided a draft of this report to OPM for review and comment. OPM stated that it did not have comments. The USAJOBS website, which is managed by OPM, is the entry point to the federal hiring process for most agencies. It facilitates hiring of new employees as well as the movement of talent across government through merit-based promotions and transfers. OPM uses USAJOBS to help achieve the agency's mission to recruit and retain a world-class government workforce. OPM is responsible for ensuring the usability of USAJOBS and collecting feedback on the user experience. Hiring agencies are responsible for the content of job opportunity announcements. Report language accompanying the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2020, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 included provisions for GAO to review the user experience on USAJOBS. This report examines (1) the extent to which OPM assesses the user experience with USAJOBS and the results of OPM's assessments; and (2) actions OPM has taken to improve the user experience with USAJOBS. GAO reviewed OPM data and documentation, interviewed OPM officials, and compared OPM's assessments of user experience to OMB guidance for federal service providers and selected guidance from Digital.gov on performance measures for federal websites. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or rosenbergm@gao.gov.
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  • Aviation Sanitation: FDA Could Better Communicate with Airlines to Encourage Voluntary Construction Inspections of Aircraft Galleys and Lavatories
    In U.S GAO News
    Most commercial aircraft undergo voluntary inspections to ensure that galleys and lavatories are constructed and assembled to meet the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) sanitation standards, according to industry representatives. Twenty-seven percent of the inspections FDA conducted between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 found objectionable conditions. But in nearly all of these instances, the conditions identified, such as the need for additional sealant in areas where there was a gap or seam, were corrected by the airline or aircraft manufacturer during the inspection. However, some regional airline representatives told GAO that their aircraft do not receive these construction inspections, either because larger airlines with which they have contracts told them the inspections were unnecessary or because they did not believe the inspections were relevant to them. FDA provides these inspections free of charge, upon request of aircraft manufacturers or airlines, and aircraft passing inspection receive a certificate of sanitary construction. Representatives of one aircraft manufacturer said they view the certificate as beneficial because their customers see it as a guarantee that the aircraft was constructed in a way that decreases the likelihood of microbial contamination, pests, and insects. While the construction inspections are important, they are not required, and FDA does not proactively encourage airlines to request them. By developing a process for communicating directly to all U.S.-based commercial airlines, including regional airlines, to encourage them to receive construction inspections, FDA could better ensure that aircraft meet FDA sanitation standards to protect passenger health. An Airline Representative Applying Additional Sealant in Response to an FDA Inspection FDA faces several challenges in providing construction inspections and is taking steps to address these challenges. For example, the demand for inspections by manufacturers and airlines is unpredictable, and FDA inspectors are responsible for inspections at multiple locations. To help mitigate these challenges, officials we interviewed from four FDA field offices said they usually request advance notice from industry to allow the agency time to allocate the necessary resources for construction inspections. Voluntary construction inspections are the primary mechanism by which FDA oversees compliance with its required sanitation standards for the construction of aircraft galleys and lavatories. A report accompanying the House 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill included a provision for GAO to review FDA's process for ensuring proper sanitation in aircraft galleys and lavatories. This report (1) examines the extent to which aircraft are inspected to ensure compliance with FDA's sanitation standards, and (2) discusses challenges FDA faces in providing aircraft inspections and how FDA is addressing such challenges. GAO reviewed FDA guidance, interviewed FDA officials in headquarters and four selected field offices with high volumes of construction inspections, conducted site visits to meet with FDA inspectors, and interviewed representatives of selected aircraft manufacturers and airlines. GAO recommends that FDA develop a process for communicating directly with all U.S.-based commercial airlines to encourage them to request construction inspections. FDA generally agreed with our recommendation. For more information, contact Steve Morris (202) 512-3841 MorrisS@gao.gov.
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  • Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers: Observations on the Navy’s Hybrid Electric Drive Program
    In U.S GAO News
    In 2009, the Secretary of the Navy set goals to reduce fuel consumption and, 2 years later, initiated a program to install Hybrid Electric Drive (HED) systems on its fleet of Arleigh Burke class (DDG 51 Flight IIA) destroyers. The HED system draws surplus power from the ship's electric system and uses it to propel the ship. This allows the crew to turn off the propulsion engines and save fuel. Since 2011, Navy officials told us that they have spent over $100 million on the development, purchase, and upgrade of six HED systems. In October 2018, the Navy completed installation of one of the systems on the USS Truxtun (DDG 103). However, the Navy has yet to install the remaining five HED systems and now plans to use them to support another research effort. The Navy issued a January 2020 report to Congress on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun, but did not include some requested information. For example, while the report included performance information from operations on board the USS Truxtun, it did not include sufficient information to determine the overall performance of the HED system. A comprehensive test and evaluation could have assessed the system's performance, reliability, and cyber survivability to inform program decision-making. Further, the report did not include a summary of planned investment that includes: an assessment of the costs and benefits of the HED system, or a projection of the funding needed to execute the program. The Navy stated that it did not include a summary of the planned investments in the report because the HED program was not included in the President's fiscal year 2020 budget and also due to the need for additional HED data. However, Congress appropriated $35 million in funding for the HED program in 2020, which was available to support ship installation of the five previously purchased HEDs. The Navy stated that it can only use a small portion of this funding before it expires in September 2022 since the systems cannot be upgraded and incorporated into a ship's maintenance schedule in the next 3 years. In summer 2020, Navy requirements officials informed GAO and Congress that they plan to suspend the HED program and send the five surplus HED systems to support research into a new electric motor, known as Propulsion Derived Ship Service (PDSS). Navy requirements officials identified several reasons for suspending the HED program, but these reasons differ from information GAO obtained during the course of this review. For example: Navy officials stated that it is expensive to maintain the HED system. However, the commanding officer and crew of the USS Truxtun and senior Navy engineers stated that the system requires little maintenance. Navy officials also stated that the HED is not used very often in operations. According to the Navy's January 2020 report, the system was designed for low-speed operations (speed up to 11 knots), which comprise more than one-third of a typical DDGs operating profile. GAO did not assess the Navy's decision to use the HED systems for PDSS research because the Navy did not have documentation regarding the requirements, testing, schedule, or costs of the PDSS effort. GAO could not determine the merits of suspending the HED program and using the other five HED systems for the PDSS effort because the Navy has yet to complete analysis that determines the costs, benefits, and performance necessary to support such a decision. If the Navy completes a further assessment—which has been requested by Congress—it could provide the information necessary to inform future decisions about the HED program. This report assesses the Navy's HED program. Senate Report 115-262 accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 asked the Navy to submit a report on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun. GAO was asked to review the Navy's report and the Navy's recent decision to suspend the HED program to pursue the PDSS research project. This report (1) examines the extent to which the Navy's report on the USS Truxtun included information regarding the assessment areas as requested by Congress; and (2) describes the Navy's decision to suspend the HED program and use the HED systems for the PDSS research effort. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed the Navy's 2020 report on the HED system, analyzed data and documentation the Navy used to guide investments, and assessed HED performance information. GAO also interviewed relevant Navy officials, such as the commanding officer and other senior crew of the USS Truxtun, and Navy engineers. GAO is not making any recommendations. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or oakleys@gao.gov.
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  • Grants Management: Agencies Provided Many Types of Technical Assistance and Applied Recipients’ Feedback
    In U.S GAO News
    Technical assistance refers to programs, activities, and services provided by federal agencies to strengthen the capacity of grant recipients and to improve their performance of grant functions. Technical assistance can improve the performance or management of grant program recipients. Technical assistance includes the improvement of grant outcomes, grant management, grantee compliance, project monitoring and evaluation, and interactions with stakeholders. The technical assistance provided by the selected agencies—the Department of Education (Education), the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA)—is designed to align with the requirements of each agency's grant programs and the individual grantee's needs. The types of technical assistance provided by agencies varied and included a range of delivery methods shown below. Types of Technical Assistance Provided by Selected Agencies Education tailors its approach to provide technical assistance to grantees based on recipients' needs and their efforts to obtain technical assistance. According to ACF, some grant programs have extensive, dedicated technical assistance that is grant specific, while other grant programs share technical assistance resources provided by multiple technical assistance centers. ACF's technical assistance can be based on program office oversight of the grantees that includes financial and internal control reviews and site visits. For ETA, state and local grantees administer ETA-funded programs throughout the country and technical assistance plays a role in ensuring these programs' successful implementation. According to ETA officials, technical assistance activities are based on grant program objectives. The 10 grant programs GAO reviewed evaluated technical assistance, collected feedback from recipients of the technical assistance, and incorporated feedback into technical assistance. For example, a School Safety National Activities evaluation of one of its national centers included targets for multiple performance measures and the actual performance for each measure. These measures included the percentage of milestones achieved and the percentage of technical assistance and dissemination products and services deemed to be high quality by an independent review panel. The overall goal of technical assistance is to enhance the delivery of agency programs and help ensure grantee compliance. GAO was asked to review issues related to technical assistance for grants at Education, ACF, and ETA. This report (1) describes how Education, ACF, and ETA provide technical assistance to grantees; and (2) examines to what extent these agencies evaluate the technical assistance. For this review, GAO selected 10 grant programs from the three agencies based on fiscal year 2018 funding information and the purpose of the grant. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed agency officials about the technical assistance provided, the provider and recipient of technical assistance, and the amount obligated in fiscal year 2018 for the 10 grant programs reviewed. GAO also reviewed documents and interviewed agencies about the extent to which they evaluated technical assistance, whether they gathered feedback from the recipients of technical assistance, and whether feedback was included in the evaluations for the 10 grant programs reviewed. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or SagerM@gao.gov.
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    The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (Goldman Sachs or the Company), a global financial institution headquartered in New York, New York, and Goldman Sachs (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. (GS Malaysia), its Malaysian subsidiary, have admitted to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in connection with a scheme to pay over $1 billion in bribes to Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to obtain lucrative business for Goldman Sachs, including its role in underwriting approximately $6.5 billion in three bond deals for 1Malaysia Development Bhd. (1MDB), for which the bank earned hundreds of millions in fees.  Goldman Sachs will pay more than $2.9 billion as part of a coordinated resolution with criminal and civil authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and elsewhere. 
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  • K-12 Education: School Districts Need Better Information to Help Improve Access for People with Disabilities
    In U.S GAO News
    Two-thirds of U.S. public school districts have schools with physical barriers that may limit access for people with disabilities, according to GAO's survey of district officials. Barriers, such as a lack of accessible door hardware and steep ramps, can make it challenging for students, teachers, and others with disabilities to use public school facilities (see fig.). In 55 schools across six states, the most common areas with barriers GAO observed were restrooms, interior doorways, and classrooms. GAO also observed barriers related to safety and security. For example, for security, some schools had installed double-door vestibules with limited maneuvering space that could trap people who use wheelchairs. Examples of Doorway and Auditorium Barriers GAO Observed in Schools Note: Barriers presented in this figure potentially limit physical access for people with disabilities, but taken alone, would not necessarily establish whether a legal violation has occurred. An estimated 70 percent of districts had large-scale renovations, small-scale upgrades, or accessibility evaluations planned in the next 3 calendar years, but frequently cited funding constraints as a challenge to these efforts. Districts also identified the need to prioritize projects that keep buildings operational, such as roofing and heating projects. In addition, GAO's survey, observations during site visits, and interviews with national disability groups revealed a tension between making safety and security upgrades and improving physical accessibility. The Department of Justice (Justice) has not provided technical assistance on physical accessibility in schools, and GAO's surveys indicate such help is needed. Justice has authority to provide information on interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), including for public schools, and it has provided technical assistance regarding other public facilities, such as stadiums. In addition, Justice, along with the Department of Education (Education) and other federal agencies, recently launched a new website on school safety, but it does not include specific information on how to improve accessibility of public school facilities or provide information on ADA requirements in the context of school safety upgrades. Without such information, federal agencies may miss opportunities to help ensure that people with disabilities have safe and secure access to public school facilities. National reports have raised concerns about the physical accessibility of public school facilities for people with disabilities. These facilities serve important roles as schools, voting locations, and emergency shelters, among other things. GAO was asked to examine the physical accessibility of public school facilities. This report examines the extent to which (1) school districts have school facilities with physical barriers that may limit access for people with disabilities, (2) districts plan to improve the accessibility of school facilities and the challenges they face, and (3) Justice and Education assist districts and states in improving school facilities' physical accessibility. GAO conducted a nationally representative survey of school districts; surveyed states and the District of Columbia; examined 55 schools across six states, selected for variation in size and other characteristics; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; and interviewed federal, state, and school district officials, and national disability groups. GAO recommends that Justice work with Education to (1) provide information specific to accessibility of public school facilities and (2) provide information on federal accessibility requirements in the context of public school safety and security. Justice neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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