Briefing with Senior State Department Officials to Traveling Press

Office of the Spokesperson

London, United Kingdom

Grosvenor House Hotel

MODERATOR:  So we’ll go ahead and get started.  We’ll do this on background, two U.S. officials, if everyone is comfortable with that.  As I think you all know, was deeply engaged in the preparations for this and the G7.  has been engaged on the bilateral aspect and in different areas as well.

So , if you want to start just with broad thoughts about the G7 and a quick sketch of the day today, and then maybe a preview of tomorrow, what’s to come.  And then we’ll turn it over to .

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Sure.  So, obviously, today was the launch of the foreign minister and development minister G7 conference.  We actually started last night.  There was a dinner that the ministers had on their own, and literally with no notetakers, no one present.  And the political directors met and we were continuing our negotiations on the communique which will be released at the end of the meeting.

And I’ll go through the schedule in a minute, but I just kind of want to underscore what the G7 represents.  I mean, this is – obviously you know the membership of it, but this is an organization that goes back to the 1970s that brings probably the most likeminded group, at least of those countries of that caliber, most likeminded group on a planet together.  And I think that the atmosphere that I observed today – and I’ve been to many of these G7 conferences in various capacities, probably five or six of them over the years – this is an incredibly positive and collegial gathering.  People were very happy to get together physically.  The British leadership and – of this year’s G7 was very well organized.  Obviously, there were a lot of procedures and protocols we had to honor to make sure we’re all safe and healthy with COVID, so that changed the – some of the atmosphere unless there were fewer people around.  But I just thought people were relieved to be able to get together and talk about the weighty issues that we all are confronting.

The program was held at the Lancaster House, which is, of course, a very impressive conference facility that – here in London.  And we covered just an incredible range of issues.  The phrases I heard throughout the day were about coherence, about collaboration, about cooperation.  The emphasis was very much on shared values and shared goals.  The ministers really – I can’t think of a single topic where there was a real disagreement of any meaning.  Obviously at the – at our level we’re still working on the communique to get the language just right.  Those things have to be worked out.  But the atmosphere is just incredibly collaborative, and there was a lot of work that went into getting to this point, which I can go into if you’re interested in that.  But I just – I said I’d go through the summary of topics today.

We started at 8:45 in the morning and we went through for an hour-and-a-half discussion of China, and then smaller sessions, 30-minute sessions on Myanmar, on Libya, on Syria; an hour and 30 minutes on Russia, including tackling Ukraine and Belarus; 30 minutes on Afghanistan, and that wrapped up the session of the ministers.  And throughout this period we had breakout sessions in which we were able to do bilats, which I think will address.

And then tonight we’re going to be joined – the British theme of course, which I’ll come back to, is building back better and open society, but they also wanted to include, and we’re all enthusiastic about it, a component on the Indo-Pacific.  So Australia, India, South Korea, South Africa, and the ASEAN chair Brunei will be joining for dinner tonight, and they’ll be attending throughout the schedule tomorrow as well.  So tonight we’ll be hearing from them rather than talking to them about their priorities and how we can all cooperate in the Indo-Pacific.

Tomorrow’s schedule will bring in the development ministers virtually, and Administrator Samantha Power will be joining by videoconference, and we will discuss open societies, then we will have an open lunch discussion, and then in the afternoon vaccines and health priorities with one session, and then climate and girls’ education is another session, and then we’ll wrap things up.

As I said a moment ago, there is a lot of work that goes into these things.  And just to give you a flavor for it, my colleague is sort of the day-to-day negotiator, and at his level they have met every week since the British took the presidency in January to prepare what is now about a 90-page communique, which I know you’ll read every word of – (laughter) – and weigh carefully.  But again, it reflects our shared values, how we see the world today.

And what’s interesting, again, about the G7 is that each of us has a global perspective, which is not true of every country in the world, and we all have things at stake and all the agenda topics that I just went through.  So that’s why we had to discuss it on this regular basis to get ready for this.  Political directors met three times as were preparing to come to London, and we have been in continuous contact since we got here in order to wrap things up and make sure that this was the best possible forum for the Secretary of State and his colleagues.

Obviously, we’re preparing for the summit that’s just going to be held in June, also virtually, here in the UK.  And there’s going to be a second foreign ministerial meeting in late summer, early fall, with a focus on Africa and the development issues there.  And the health ministers will be meeting as well just before the summit.  I am not involved in those negotiations.

So those are the themes that we covered on today and be happy to answer any questions as I turn it over to .

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Sure.  I can just add to what was saying about the most likeminded group on the planet.  I mean, this is – you hear the Secretary talk frequently about the world – the rules-based international order.  And this is the group, of course, that has helped define that, these countries and others as well, and shape that and defend that.  And so that was a theme I think that came up in a lot of the bilats.  The great thing about this format is not only can they meet together, but then they can break out in smaller groups.  We obviously started yesterday with a bilat with Foreign Secretary Raab that was two, two and a half hours I think we spent together, just going through the whole range of issues – international issues, global issues – that the U.S. and the UK work on together, as well as some of our bilateral issues.

The G7 itself, with the UK, as the Secretary put it, doing an absolutely terrific job in pulling this together in a difficult year, given the pandemic that creates all of these protocols but also is a major theme and focus of discussion.  They talked about the broader scope of likeminded countries, speaking about things like open societies in the multilateral systems.  That’s been the theme, and you’ve heard Secretary Blinken raise that repeatedly as his and President Biden’s focus on re-engaging, revitalizing partnerships and alliances, and even reimagining the kinds of things we can accomplish together, particularly in the transatlantic space.

I think the Secretary and foreign secretary found themselves, as they put it, in “violent agreement” on the agenda of things that we needed to look at.  Another C word that could be added to the ones used, like collaborative, would certainly be consensus in terms of things like China where we find the – convergence, actually, is another – C words abound – convergence among the G7 on the challenges of China and how we approach that.

Again, as I said, the international rules-based order was a main theme that came up in every one of the bilateral meetings that included EU high rep and Vice President Josep Borrell.  These were short meetings.  These are also opportunities – probably the third or fourth time they’ve had a chance to meet.  They speak quite regularly.  You’ll recall that the Secretary was with a number of these partners – the British, French, UK, and the Canadians, of course, too – at the NATO meetings just a couple weeks ago and the NATO ministerial in March when he also saw Borrell.  And then they talked about the summit that will emerge not only at the G7 in June but the NATO summit the President will attend and the U.S.-EU meetings.

Those are really the primary themes.  In each of the bilats we ran through the various subtopics; looking at Ukraine, for instance, where we’re all in agreement and stand in solidarity with Ukraine against Russian aggression, which is the external threat they face, but also the internal aggression that they face from corruption and the challenges of moving ahead on the reform process.  So we all stand with the same messages there, and obviously the Secretary going to Kyiv from here will give him an opportunity to raise those points with President Zelenskyy and other interlocutors there.

Strong agreement across the board on that.  Also on Russia.  The Secretary was able to underscore what he and the President have said, that we want a stable, predictable relationship with Russia.  We’re not trying to escalate, but that we will respond to their reckless and aggressive behavior.  And as you’ve seen, we’ve had strong support from partners and allies in terms of our response to Russian actions.

In all of the meetings, we talked about Afghanistan.  It was a clear topic with Foreign Minister Maas, the fact that you saw the Allies and others embrace the President’s decision for our troop pullout, but everybody underscored that that doesn’t mean we as nations in support of Afghanistan and the Afghan people are pulling out.  We talked about stepping up our diplomacy, things the Secretary has referred to in other fora.

They also talked in each of those meetings about Iran.  As you know, the EU has convened the talks in Vienna, for which the Secretary expressed thanks to them.  We keep working on that.  The French, British, and Germans are all part of the JCPOA process.

And we talked about Africa not only in the G7 contact but in some of the – context but in some of our – in each of the bilats, actually, whether it was the Horn of Africa, where we have a new special envoy, Jeff Feltman, including the Ethiopia-Sudan border issue, the Tigray issue.  There’s a whole range of issues of great concern there.  And France, of course, with a major focus on the Sahel; talked about the developments in Chad.

So really a great opportunity to just exchange notes, touch base on things that we’re engaged upon regularly, and then return to these broader sessions where they speak among the whole group.  And that’s, I think, a good summary of what we covered in those.  Can also take questions.

MODERATOR:  Shaun.

QUESTION:  Sure.  Thanks for doing this.  Could I ask a little bit more on China?  You mentioned that there was quite a bit of agreement among all the countries.  Was there any thought of doing things more collectively on China, sort of have a – having a broader – broader policy goals, whether it’s sanctions or not necessarily that or other things?  Was there some talk of – beyond agreement of what countries can do together, and really just about – I think there’s news coming out today that the EU is not going forward with ratification of the investment pact with Beijing.  Is that something that figured into the talks here? Or is there any broader take that you have on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, China was the dominant topic today, I would say.  We opened with it because it was the most important agenda item for us, out of the many important things that we had to discuss.  And as I said, there was broad agreement, both the fact that we all want China to be an integral member of the international order, but to do that, it has to play by the rules of that international order.  So no one’s asking people to choose to be with China or against China.  It’s a question of ensuring that China is abiding by those rules and competing fairly with us.

But also there was a great deal of concern about China’s behavior in terms of human rights and honoring the commitments it itself has made through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other formats.  This is not an internal affair.  This is a matter of living up to international obligations that China signed up for, and there was a unanimity in the G7 on that score as well.

And also a great deal of concern about Chinese economic coercion, behavior that China – the story – the ways in which China uses economic initiatives to actually coerce their opponents or even, in some instances, their allies into certain behavior patterns that are unacceptable.

And, of course, China’s threatening and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and other areas around its border.  And again, there was a strong discussion of how we can – what we can do together to counter that, to build alliances, to recognize that these are shared concerns by all of us, not just the G7, but also how we can – and this goes to your question – how we can reach out to other likeminded states as we approach this problem.  And I think that’ll be a very rich discussion tonight with the Indo-Pacific group.

And again, what we’re trying to do in the Indo-Pacific is about inclusivity, about making sure that there are robust alternatives to Chinese investment, that the West is present and offering the alternative path built on our model of development growth, of individuals and societies, not the Chinese model, which, again, I know you know well.

QUESTION:  Sure.  The investment pact – was that something that —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  That broke I think – I first saw the – one of you probably sent it, the news on that, while we were at the prime minister’s.  So that didn’t come up specifically today, but particularly with Borrell, they did recall in March they had relaunched the U.S.-EU dialogue on China, where we had developed a framework to discuss all these issues and talked about looking forward, probably in the coming weeks, to move ahead with a higher-level – not minister level, but another level – meeting of that.  So that may come up too.

QUESTION:  Can I – just two quickies, one on Nord Stream.  I saw the readout of the Maas meeting, and it mentioned that you had – or the Secretary had brought up Nord Stream.  Can you say whether that was just sort of a pro forma, hey, continuing to stress opposition, or whether there was any change in the German position or any movement on that score?

And then on China, is there anything you’re actually asking countries to do on economic coercion, certain commitments or certain dialogue that might proceed on that?  And I think Daleep Singh had said one point in an interview that the U.S. was also looking for specific commitments from the G7 on cutting off trade on Xinjiang, specifically cotton from Xinjiang.  Is that – was that part of the discussion today, seeking commitments from Europe?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Do you want to start?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Certainly.  On the Nord Stream 2, as he has I think in every conversation with Foreign Minister Maas that I’ve been privy to, the Secretary raised Nord Stream 2 again, reminded him of our position on it and the legal requirements we have and the President’s views of that, and that this remains a real issue, clearly for us, obviously, in the context of a broader partnership, where we’re dealing with, as we’ve described here, lots and lots of other issues.  But we are able, through these relationships that the Secretary has built in these first 100 days to engage with each of these counterparts and speak openly and clearly about areas where we have differences and concerns, Nord Stream 2 being one with the Germans, obviously.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  To answer the second question on economic coercion, one of the processes we’ve embarked on and included in our discussion today was building awareness of just what economic coercion looks like and being aware of a connectivity between certain Chinese actions and what their ultimate objective is in doing that.  Some of the economic coercion is directed toward individuals who have stood up and spoken out against Chinese policies and then they try to use their economic power as a threat against people who do that and as a deterrent – a hoped-for deterrent against others doing likewise.

Another instance is it’s using their development strategies of the Belt and Road Initiative to basically make these societies highly dependent on China in ways that essentially compromise the sovereignty of those countries.  And if you look at the – and we often encourage countries to look at the fine print of agreements that they’ve signed or that have been put in front of them to recognize the extent to which it’s not just a debt trap, but actual formulations in which access to parts of their country will be closed to them and open to Chinese.  I am a firsthand witness to this in my last assignment in Pakistan.  And then so just airing that, making it clear to everyone what the problem is and then developing strategies, and in some cases using our regulations and laws to make sure that we’re working against that.

And a very important part of the – the Chinese economic coercion I’ve mentioned briefly is finding alternatives so that – because often when you go to a country, a leader of a country that’s trying to develop their economy, they’ll say I understand the problem; I don’t have an alternative.  What can you do?  So we are honing our DFC, the Development Finance Corporation, and we’re talking to other partners who have similar organizations on how we can collaborate on this regard.

I don’t believe that there was a discussion today – I know there wasn’t – of the specific sanction you touched on in Xinjiang.  But the G7 is a process; it’s not just a meeting.  And it continues all year round.  It depends really on the presidency to a certain extent.  The British have been an extremely active and forward-leaning president.  We’ve had – and this is unprecedented in my experience.  We’ve already had four standalone statements, including on Hong Kong in the case of China, but also Navalny, on Burma, and on Ethiopia.  And you can expect continued statements like that over the course of the year.  And we definitely – in terms of promoting democratic values, we – sanctions is a clear tool that we all, I think, value, and the EU is increasingly – —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICAL TWO:  Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Increasingly prepared to use that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  And Borrell noted that, the things they have developed, and you’re really seeing an evolution.  I mean, I’ve been at this for a little over two years and we’ve seen the EU, first of all, gain an awareness – which means that member-states are gaining that as well as the institutions in Brussels – of the challenges, what exactly we’re talking about with China, whether it’s 5G or other behaviors, including human rights.  And they’re developing a number of tools; the 5G toolkit, for example, was something that they developed for their member-states in how to deal with that challenge.

MODERATOR:  Barbara.

QUESTION:  Just a question about the Ukraine.  You mentioned solidarity against external aggression and internal aggression.  Did that get – did that move beyond statements of principle?  Or will the Secretary be bringing something more specific to Ukraine on both those issues after talks here?  So for example, you know the president in Ukraine in the last few weeks again raised the issue of NATO membership or a plan for NATO membership, in terms of what solidarity against external aggression actually means in practice, which is never quite completely spelled out.  And then internal aggression, presumably in response to the moves with the energy board and so on, has – was there anything – was there a joint statement on that?  Like was that – was there a joint response to that that the Secretary will be taking with him?

And then just a broad question.  You’re talking – both mentioned a lot – like you stressed the likemindedness, you brought in these extra countries for this meeting.  I mean, do you feel that there’s – this is a real evolution of the G7?  Do you feel that it is entering a new phase, sort of obviously focused by the concern about what you call the international rules-based order, but it’s China really propelling —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I would say the mood in the meeting today was more of a restoration of the G7, that the commitment to multilateralism that is I think a core foreign policy element here for the Biden-Harris administration and certainly Secretary Blinken’s approach just was pronounced and great endorsement and encouragement by all the delegations of that reality.

So I think – and there have been times when the G7’s been extremely active.  I don’t want to compare it to every single chapter, but this – under the British presidency, it’s clear that we’re going to have a lot of significant meetings over the course of the year.  And we sure need them given the fact that multilateralism needs to be restored, but also we’re facing global challenges that can only be dealt with through multilateral methods on a global basis.  And these are the countries that are the strongest and the richest democracies with shared values, so who else is better positioned to begin to play a leadership role on issues like health and climate, economic recovery, and the security challenges that, of course, we’ve already covered?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  And that’s actually a great segue to the Ukraine question, because in Ukraine and with Ukraine, the G7 plus the EU – which, of course, has been here with us today in the shape of the high rep – played a role in terms of engaging together on the ground with the Ukrainian Government, sharing the sort of agenda for things particularly on the internal challenges that we talked about.  And they regularly meet to review with the government certain things.

So for instance, on this issue that we’ve raised, it was likeminded concern about what we see as really a step back in terms of corporate governance, something that they’ve worked very hard on over a period of time, with help from ourselves as well as the international financial institutions – the World Bank, IMF – and so we’ll be raising that collectively through our embassies that work so closely together in Kyiv, but obviously with the Secretary going tomorrow night and having meetings on Thursday, he’ll be raising that as well.

The security issues, while everybody is likeminded, observed the steps we’ve seen from Russia since most of us met, certainly the NATO members just a couple weeks ago – that’s not really this fora in terms of that.  Obviously, the Secretary will talk in his meetings there the whole range of issues with President Zelenskyy.

MODERATOR:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  Oh, sorry.  None of the readouts with the Asian nations included conversations about Taiwan, which surprised me.  Any conversations about getting Taiwan-specific assurances, anything you can say about that?

And then the – if I – on a totally different topic, the British papers, the days we were – before we were arriving were all buzzing about whether Secretary Raab was going to really push a trade deal again, whether that was going to be a big part of the one-on-one meetings.  Anything you can tell us?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  They mentioned still wanting to look at a trade deal.  Obviously, we now have – since some of the earlier meetings, we have a U.S. trade rep who the Secretary’s been in touch with.  Broad agenda – the prime minister also mentioned some of these tariff issues where the Biden-Harris administration took steps to – on both sides with our European friends to suspend some of the tariffs that were in place to see if we can’t work those things out, say, with the Airbus – Boeing-Airbus tariffs.  But we didn’t delve into specifics of trade at all.  That wouldn’t be the – this wouldn’t be the place or the people to do that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  On Taiwan, it did come up.  I don’t have anything really specific to say about it except that, obviously, everyone is focused, looks at it, and we have our stated policies on Taiwan.  That hasn’t changed.  And one of the things that we’re going to see in the communique is strong support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations like the WHO and WHA, where they really – it’s not just that Taiwan should have a right to be there, because you don’t have to be a state to be a participant in it, but that they have a lot to bring to the table, particularly on COVID.  I mean, they have a lot of experience in this that can help all of us, and it just seems really self-defeating to exclude them.  So that’s one of the themes you’ll see in the communique.

QUESTION:  Did I miss – was there a session or is there a session tomorrow on technology, high technology?  And if not, can you talk about the role that has played?  I mean, particularly, when it comes to China, you have AI, super-computing, semiconductor manufacturing.  I mean, anything you can just say to give us a flavor of how people are thinking or talking about that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  There was not a session on that today.  Obviously, it’s woven through in sort of underlying themes on China, and also on economic development for all of us.  Because again, there’s this reality that while we want to make sure China’s playing by the rules of the road, we also all want to benefit from Chinese economic activity, so long as they’re not stealing our IPR and that kind of thing or using that technology to invade into our societies like we’ve – see with Huawei, 5G.

There are – the reason I was looking at is there are other formats of the G7 where we have these discussions.  I’m not – I know this much about technology, so —

STAFF:  Sure.  I believe last week there was a meeting of G7 digital and technology ministers.  We don’t have one in the United States that would participate at that level.  We had a White House representative.

QUESTION:  Okay.

STAFF:  And – yeah.

QUESTION:  Okay.  That makes sense.

MODERATOR:  A final question or two, maybe?

QUESTION:  On Myanmar, the UK said it was going to urge those present to take stronger action against the military to increase humanitarian assistance, but obviously, sanctions have not had a great impact as far as stopping the military’s violent actions.  Is there – was there discussion of taking a different approach outside of sanctions, whatever that might be, or – what was the discussion around moving forward considering that the violence continues?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Yeah.  Well, there are a lot of ideas that are out there.  I think a lot of the focus on the diplomatic process is looking toward ASEAN right now.  You may have seen that they came out with an initiative.  At some level anyway, the Burmese regime has responded to that.  There was announced intent to appoint an envoy, an ASEAN envoy, so we would like to see that develop.  We’ll discuss that further tonight when we’re with the ASEAN chair, Brunei.

We talked about sanctions, and there are two ways, both important, to look at sanctions.  One is to see if it changes behavior.  The other is that if something’s happened that is so contradictory to our values, we feel leaders and democratic societies often see no choice but to register our displeasure with that through the vehicle of sanctions.  So I think you see both of those happening in the case of Burma.  And I don’t mean this as a cop out, but sanctions do take time. And – but you’re right that it is not – we’ve not seen the military leadership behave the way we’d like.

A third point I would make, maybe related to the second one, is that sanctions also are a signal and a message to the people who are suffering this repression that we’re with them and that we’re trying to be with them in as meaningful a way as we can, but in a targeted way so that it doesn’t make their own economic lives and well-being even worse than it already is.  So one of the themes we discussed today was how can we best target our sanctions so that they really are focused on the military, and then how can we get the non-G7 states, particularly in Asia, to play a role in that.

QUESTION:  Can I ask a follow-up on Ukraine quickly?  So you said, of course, that the Europeans are deeply engaged in Ukraine and monitoring and so on?  Did you get any new insights from Ukraine’s neighbors about (a) what they thought Russia was actually up to with that military deployment, and (b) what the president was up to with that move last week?  I mean, it seemed to take the State Department by surprise.  Did you get any further insight into how they were looking at both of those issues?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  By “move,” you mean —

QUESTION:  The anti – the – changing the energy board.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  The dismissal of the Naftogaz —

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah.  The Naftogaz.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  — board?  It was – I wouldn’t say a complete surprise.  There were rumors and talk about that, and something we certainly had advised against, which – which they did, and we put out a statement saying exactly how we felt about it, which was shared by everybody in that sense.  Talked about the G7 being – sort of working together through our embassies on the ground in Kyiv, but, of course, the French and the Germans are part of the Normandy Format.  And in the conversations with both Foreign Minister Maas and Foreign Minister Le Drian, the pull-aside bilateral meetings, that came up, both of them realizing the difficulty in moving forward on that, largely because Russia won’t really participate.

QUESTION:  Did they have a view on this other platform?  You know how the – Navalny has talked about a different platform or expanding a platform?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I’m not sure — Navalny —

QUESTION:  No, not Navalny.  Is it – what’s his name?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Sorry.

QUESTION:  The president.  The president —

QUESTION:  Zelenskyy.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Oh, Zelenskyy.  Zelenskyy.

QUESTION:  Zelenskyy, sorry.  Long day.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  It’s okay.  I do it too.

QUESTION:  Did they have any view on changing the format?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  We hadn’t – we didn’t get into that today.  Maybe I’ve heard him talk – and that – these may be good questions – you’re coming to Kyiv, right?

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  So we’ll talk in 48 hours or something.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Just one more quickly.

MODERATOR:  Final question.

QUESTION:  , you mentioned, if I remember you – if I remember what you said correctly, that there’ll be another G7 meeting on Africa later in the year.  I presume this is a British initiative, but could you explain a bit more about the reasoning for that?  Is this to focus on particular conflicts there?  Is there a particular impetus?  Why Africa?  Or is it to bring more Africans to the table?  What’s the thinking behind having that (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, it’s a British decision to do that, but it’s one we warmly embrace.  It’s always a region of huge potential but also many, many conflicts.  And I think that all of us feel a responsibility to interact, engage on Africa, see where we – what we can do to help them resolve conflicts.  We obviously are very focused right now on Ethiopia, on the Horn of Africa – you see the appointment of Jeff Feltman, which was very welcomed in the gathering today – and hear from Africans.  So again, I haven’t heard the details yet on how the British plan to formulate this, but I hope that we’ll be hearing African voices as well, because we also want to see African solutions to these issues.  But the G7 I think has a very strong role to play and that many of these countries have long historic relations.

Today, we talked about the Sahel at great length, as well as Ethiopia, and the terrorist threat emanating from there.  So there will be lots to talk about.  And then we all recognize that when we’re talking about economic coercion and China, Africa is part of that story, and again, making sure that we provide a positive alternative to countries seeking the best way to develop the – and meet the aspirations of their citizens.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I’d just add – maybe just quickly, because it’s something that has come up a couple times – the G7 is a great format too for countries that might not normally or through – historically have aligned views.  So the French and the Italians, for instance, on some of the North Africa and Sahel issues, or Libya, for instance, have used that, have come together very well with that.  And the Italians have expanded their diplomatic engagement not just in Libya, but into the Sahel, because they understand that that’s necessary for a lot of things that are of key interest to them, including migration and terrorist threats and other things.  So I think it’s been a good platform on that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, , .  Thanks so much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Thank you.  Thanks a lot.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Enjoy the rest of your trip.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

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    Today, the Department of Justice announced two new steps to help address the continuing epidemic of gun violence affecting communities across the country. First, the department issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that makes clear that when individuals use accessories to convert pistols into short-barreled rifles, they must comply with the heightened regulations on those dangerous and easily concealable weapons. Second, the department published model legislation to help states craft their own “extreme risk protection order” laws, sometimes called “red flag” laws. By sending the proposed rule to the Federal Register and publishing the model legislation today, the department has met the deadlines that the Attorney General announced alongside President Biden in April. 
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  • Federal Court Orders New York Company and its Operators to Stop Distributing Adulterated Dietary Supplements
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    A federal court permanently enjoined a New York company and its operators from manufacturing or distributing dietary supplements unless and until they comply with the law.
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  • Justice Department and FTC Announce First Enforcement Actions for Violations of the Better Online Ticket Sales Act
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    The Department of Justice, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced three settlements resolving alleged violations of the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act. These are the first enforcement actions that the department and the FTC have brought under the BOTS Act.
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  • Man Sentenced for his Role in Directing COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme
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  • Social Security Disability: Process Needed to Review Productivity Expectations for Administrative Law Judges
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Social Security Administration's (SSA) administrative law judges review, process, and adjudicate requests for hearings on disability benefits. In 2007, the agency set an expectation—which SSA reported was based on trend data and some regional managers' input—for judges to issue 500-700 dispositions (decisions and dismissals) each year, and the extent to which they have met this expectation has varied over time. SSA did not document the expectation-setting process in 2007, nor has it formally reviewed the expectation since. Judges in discussion groups held by GAO questioned the basis of the expectation and 87 percent of judges GAO surveyed (47 of 54) said the expectation was too high. The extent to which judges met the annual and related expectations has fluctuated over the years (see figure). Without periodic reviews, SSA cannot be assured that its expectations appropriately allow judges to balance productivity with other expectations, such as quality, given changing conditions over time. Administrative Law Judges Who Met or Exceeded SSA's Annual Productivity Expectation, Fiscal Years 2014-2020 Judges in selected hearing offices cited a variety of factors affecting their ability to meet the annual expectation. The top factor cited by judges GAO surveyed was the size of case files, which have increased five-fold on average since the expectation was established, according to SSA data. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced other factors in 2020, resulting in fewer hearings being conducted. SSA monitors judges' productivity and takes various actions when expectations are not met, ranging from informal conversations to formal discipline. In addition, judges in 11 of 13 discussion groups viewed telework restrictions as a consequence for not meeting expectations. Additionally, judges GAO surveyed reported feeling pressured to meet the expectations. For instance, 87 percent of judges surveyed (47 of 54) said that SSA placed too much emphasis on productivity, and some expressed concerns about their work quality and work-life balance. SSA officials said they do not formally seek feedback from judges on the expectations. However, without feedback or other gauges of pressure, SSA lacks information that could help it appropriately balance timely case processing while maintaining high-quality work and employee morale. Why GAO Did This Study SSA's approximately 1,350 judges play a major role in processing and adjudicating requests for hearings to help ensure individuals who do not agree with the determination on their claim for Social Security disability benefits receive due process. SSA receives hundreds of thousands of hearing requests each year and has historically had a large backlog. GAO was asked to review SSA's productivity expectations for its judges. This report examines (1) how SSA set productivity expectations for judges and the extent to which judges have met them over time, (2) reported factors affecting the ability of judges in selected offices to meet the annual productivity expectation, and (3) SSA's management of judges' productivity. GAO obtained and analyzed SSA data on judges' productivity from fiscal years 2005-2020; surveyed and held 13 virtual discussion groups with judges in six hearing offices selected for geographic location, average productivity, and average case size; reviewed relevant federal laws and agency policies and documents; and interviewed officials from SSA and the association representing judges.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Department of State
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 12 priority recommendations for the Department of State. Since then, State has implemented 3 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to improve embassy construction planning and agency reform efforts. In May 2021, GAO identified 2 additional priority recommendations for State, bringing the total number to 11. These recommendations involve the following areas: improving the security assistance vetting process; improving data quality; improving workforce management; improving embassy construction planning; improving cybersecurity;  complying with congressional reporting requirements. State’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in its operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Thomas Melito at (202) 512-9601 or melitot@gao.gov.
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  • Pharmacy Owner Pleads Guilty to $6.5 million Health Care Fraud Schemes
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    A New York woman pleaded guilty today to perpetrating schemes to defraud health care programs, including obtaining more than $6.5 million from Medicare Part D Plans and Medicaid drug plans.
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  • Two Companies and Nine Individuals Indicted for Alleged Large-Scale Visa Fraud Employment Scheme
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    An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia has been unsealed charging two businesses and nine of their officers and managers located across the country for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and commit various fraud and criminal immigration offenses for profit.
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  • Nuclear Weapons: Action Needed to Address the W80-4 Warhead Program’s Schedule Constraints
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), has identified a range of risks facing the W80-4 nuclear warhead life extension program (LEP)—including risks related to developing new technologies and manufacturing processes as well as reestablishing dormant production capabilities. NNSA is managing these risks using a variety of processes and tools, such as a classified risk database. However, NNSA has introduced potential risk to the program by adopting a date (September 2025) for the delivery of the program's first production unit (FPU) that is more than 1 year earlier than the date projected by the program's own schedule risk analysis process (see figure). NNSA and Department of Defense (DOD) officials said that they adopted the September 2025 date partly because the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 specifies that NNSA must deliver the first warhead unit by the end of fiscal year 2025, as well as to free up resources for future LEPs. However, the statute allows DOE to obtain an extension, and, according to best practices identified in GAO's prior work, program schedules should avoid date constraints that do not reflect program realities. Adopting an FPU date more consistent with the date range identified as realistic in the W80-4 program's schedule risk analysis, or justifying an alternative date based on other factors, would allow NNSA to better inform decision makers and improve alignment between schedules for the W80-4 program and DOD's long-range standoff missile (LRSO) program. W80-4 Life Extension Program Phases and Milestone Dates NNSA substantially incorporated best practices in developing the preliminary lifecycle cost estimate for the W80-4 LEP, as reflected in the LEP's weapon design and cost report. GAO assessed the W80-4 program's cost estimate of $11.2 billion against the four characteristics of a high quality, reliable cost estimate: comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible. To develop a comprehensive cost estimate, NNSA instituted processes to help ensure consistency across the program. The program also provided detailed documentation to substantiate its estimate and assumptions. To help ensure accuracy, the cost estimate drew on historic data from prior LEPs. Finally, to support a credible estimate, NNSA reconciled the program estimate with an independent cost estimate. GAO considers a cost estimate to be reliable if the overall assessment ratings for each of the four characteristics are substantially or fully met—as was the case with the W80-4 program's cost estimate in its weapon design and cost report, which substantially met each characteristic. To maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, NNSA and DOD conduct LEPs. In 2014, they began an LEP to produce a warhead, the W80-4, to be carried on the LRSO missile. In February 2019, NNSA adopted an FPU delivery date of fiscal year 2025 for the W80-4 LEP, at an estimated cost of about $11.2 billion over the life of the program. The explanatory statement accompanying the 2018 appropriation included a provision for GAO to review the W80-4 LEP. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) the risks NNSA has identified for the W80-4 LEP, and processes it has established to manage them, and (2) the extent to which NNSA's lifecycle cost estimate for the LEP aligned with best practices. GAO reviewed NNSA's risk management database and other program information; visited four NNSA sites; interviewed NNSA and DOD officials; and assessed the program's cost estimate using best practices established in prior GAO work. GAO is making two recommendations, including that NNSA adopt a W80-4 program FPU delivery date based on the program's schedule risk analysis, or document its justification for not doing so. NNSA generally disagreed with GAO's recommendations. GAO continues to believe that its recommendations are valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Graduate Medical Education Reimbursement
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides training to more than 45,000 medical and dental residents annually through its Graduate Medical Education (GME) program. VHA has established policy for its GME program that details many roles and responsibilities for overseeing VA medical facilities' reimbursements to affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. However, this policy does not define key roles and responsibilities for VHA's central office components, its regional networks, or its medical facilities. For example, VHA's regional networks do not have defined roles and responsibilities for overseeing GME disbursements—contributing to noninvolvement or inconsistent involvement in disbursement agreement oversight. VHA officials reported that they are in the process of updating disbursement agreement policy, but did not indicate if the updates would address all identified concerns. While VHA officials said that VHA's two disbursement agreement oversight mechanisms—facility periodic audits and the Resident Disbursement Audit Process (ReDPro) checklist—are meant to have distinct but complementary purposes, GAO found that VHA policy, guidance, and the tools distributed for these oversight mechanisms did not reflect the distinct purposes officials described. VHA officials said that periodic audits are intended to be a first level of defense and to review actual payments to affiliates, whereas the ReDPro checklist is intended to be a second level of defense, aimed at reviewing the process to see if the rules related to disbursement agreements are being followed by VA medical facilities. However, the ReDPro checklist tool and VHA's recommended periodic audit tool have numerous areas of overlap, including duplicative questions. This overlap causes inefficiencies and unnecessary burden on VA medical facility staff. GAO also found additional weaknesses in the tools, guidance, and training for the two oversight mechanisms. For example, GAO found an unclear ReDPro checklist tool, along with insufficient guidance and training related to conducting the ReDPro reviews. Officials from eight of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that the ReDPro checklist instructions were unclear regarding appropriate supporting documents for checklist responses. These weaknesses contributed to errors and inconsistencies in ReDPro responses. the lack of a standard audit tool, and inadequate guidance and training for periodic audit teams that contributed to problematic inconsistencies in the methodologies used by the audit teams and deficiencies in some of the audits conducted. Officials from 10 of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that they would benefit from more tools, guidance, or training related to conducting periodic audits. These weaknesses limit the effectiveness of VHA's oversight mechanisms, and put VHA at increased risk of both not being able to identify and correct facilities' lack of adherence to disbursement agreement policy and of possible improper payments to GME affiliates. Under VHA's GME program, VA medical facilities use disbursement agreements to reimburse affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. VHA developed policy related to establishing and administering disbursement agreements, but audits have found that facilities have not always adhered to VHA policy—resulting in improper payments to affiliates. GAO was asked to review VHA policies and procedures related to reimbursements to affiliates for GME. This report examines (1) oversight roles and responsibilities for GME disbursement agreements and (2) VHA's mechanisms for ensuring VA medical facilities adhere to policy. GAO reviewed relevant VHA documents and federal internal control standards and interviewed VHA officials. GAO also reviewed ReDPro checklist responses and documentation from 13 VA medical facilities—selected based on factors including geographic variation, GME program size, and number of affiliates. GAO also visited four of the 13 facilities and interviewed officials at the other nine facilities. GAO is making seven recommendations to VA to define key roles in policy, reduce overlap between the ReDPro checklist and facility periodic audits, and improve the oversight mechanisms' tools, guidance, and training. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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  • 2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Ensure Transparency over Data Quality
    In U.S GAO News
    This 2020 Census was taken under extraordinary circumstances. In response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and related executive branch decisions, the Bureau made a series of late changes to the design of the census. The report GAO is releasing today discusses a number of concerns regarding how late changes to the census design could affect data quality. The Bureau has numerous planned assessments and evaluations of operations which, in conjunction with its post-enumeration survey (PES)—a survey conducted independently of each census to determine how many people were missed or counted more than once—help determine the overall quality of the census and document lessons for future censuses. As the 2020 Census continues, GAO will continue to monitor the Bureau's response processing operations. GAO was asked to testify on the Census Bureau's progress to deliver apportionment counts for the 2020 Decennial Census. This testimony summarizes information contained in GAO's December 2020 report, entitled 2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Assess Data Quality Concerns Stemming from Recent Design Changes and discusses key quality indicators the Bureau can share, as it releases apportionment counts and redistricting data. These key indicators discussed are consistent with those recommended by the American Statistical Association and Census Scientific Advisory Committee for the Bureau. In the accompanying report being issued today, GAO is recommending that the Bureau update and implement its assessments to address data quality concerns identified in this report, as well as any operational benefits. In its comments, the Department of Commerce agreed with GAO's findings and recommendation. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov.
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  • Drinking Water: EPA Could Use Available Data to Better Identify Neighborhoods at Risk of Lead Exposure
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's statistical analysis indicates that areas with older housing and vulnerable populations (e.g., families in poverty) have higher concentrations of lead service lines in the selected cities GAO examined. By using geospatial lead service line data from the selected water systems and geospatial data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), GAO identified characteristics of neighborhoods with higher concentrations of lead service lines. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) guidance for water systems on how to identify the location of sites at high-risk of having lead service lines has not been updated since 1991 and many water systems face challenges identifying areas at risk of having lead service lines. By developing guidance for water systems that outlines methods for identifying high-risk locations using publicly available data, EPA could better ensure that public water systems test water samples from locations at greater risk of having lead service lines and identify areas with vulnerable populations to focus lead service line replacement efforts. (See figure for common sources of lead in home drinking water.) Common Sources of Lead in Drinking Water within Homes and Residences EPA has taken some actions to address the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act requirement, which include developing a strategic plan regarding lead in public water systems. However, EPA's published plan did not satisfy the statutory requirement that the agency's strategic plan address targeted outreach, education, technical assistance, and risk communication undertaken by EPA, states, and public water systems. For example, the plan does not discuss public education, technical assistance or risk communication. Instead, EPA's plan focused solely on how to notify households when EPA learns of certain exceedances of lead in their drinking water. Moreover, EPA's plan is not consistent with leading practices for strategic planning. For example, EPA's plan does not set a mission statement or define long-term goals. Developing a strategic plan that meets the statutory requirement and fully reflects leading practices for strategic planning would give EPA greater assurance that it has effectively planned for how it will communicate the risks of lead in drinking water to the public. Lead in drinking water comes primarily from corrosion of service lines connecting the water main to a house or building, pipes inside a building, or plumbing fixtures. As GAO reported in September 2018, the total number of lead service lines in drinking water systems is unknown, and less than 20 of the 100 largest water systems have such data publicly available. GAO was asked to examine the actions EPA and water systems are taking to educate the public on the risks of lead in drinking water. This report examines, among other things: (1) the extent to which neighborhood data on cities served by lead service lines can be used to focus lead reduction efforts; and (2) actions EPA has taken to address WIIN Act requirements, and EPA's risk communication documents. GAO conducted a statistical analysis combining geospatial lead service line and ACS data to identify characteristics of selected communities; reviewed legal requirements and EPA documents; and interviewed EPA officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that EPA develop (1) guidance for water systems on lead reduction efforts, and (2) a strategic plan that meets the WIIN Act requirement. EPA agreed with one recommendation and disagreed with the others. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are warranted, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • Freedom of Information Act: Actions Needed to Improve Agency Compliance with Proactive Disclosure Requirements
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    What GAO Found The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 expanded the requirement for agencies to proactively disclose certain records—making the records publicly available without waiting for specific requests. Of the three agencies GAO reviewed—Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Health Administration (VHA)—only VHA aligned its policies and procedures with applicable Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) proactive disclosure requirements. Although FAA officials stated that the agency has processes to identify and post proactive disclosures, it has not documented these processes. HUD has FOIA regulations, updated in 2017, that address proactive disclosure, but its standard operating procedures have outdated sections that do not reflect statutory requirements. GAO also found that HUD, VHA, and FAA did not fully comply with the statutory reporting requirements and Department of Justice's (DOJ) guidance to accurately report proactive disclosures. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires agencies to report the number of records the FOIA and program offices proactively disclosed each fiscal year. From fiscal years 2017 through 2019, HUD incorrectly reported zero proactive disclosures, while VHA and FAA did not track and report all required categories of proactive disclosures in fiscal year 2019 (see table). Selected Agencies' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Offices' Reported Proactive Disclosures Fiscal year Federal Aviation Administration Housing and Urban Development Veterans Health Administration 2019 8 0 16 2018 89,687 0 0 2017 90,486 0 58 2016 68,046 12 0 Source: FOIA.gov. | GAO-21-254 DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP) is responsible for encouraging agencies' compliance with FOIA, including overseeing the Annual FOIA Report that agencies submit to OIP. OIP told GAO that it asked agencies that report zero proactive disclosures to confirm that this was accurate, but it did not follow up with these agencies. For example, OIP asked HUD officials to confirm that HUD intentionally reported zero proactive disclosures, but did not ask why HUD had zero proactive disclosures. In addition, GAO's review of annual FOIA data found that 25 of 118 agencies reported zero proactive disclosures in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. OIP said that agencies with a low volume of requests may have fewer records to proactively disclose. However, by not following up with agencies that report zero proactive disclosures, OIP is not using an available tool that may strengthen its efforts to encourage agencies to make required disclosures. OIP and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)'s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) officials stated that making proactive disclosures accessible is a challenge for agencies. To assist agencies in addressing such challenges, OGIS periodically reviews agencies' compliance with FOIA and recently issued a report that included strategies for making proactive disclosures accessible. Why GAO Did This Study FOIA, enacted into law more than 50 years ago, requires federal agencies to provide the public with access to government records and information, including through proactive disclosures. FOIA proactive disclosures enhance transparency by ensuring that certain information about the operations and activities of the government is publicly available. GAO was asked to review federal agencies' efforts to implement FOIA requirements regarding proactive disclosures. This report assesses the extent to which selected agencies (1) aligned their policies and procedures with FOIA requirements, and (2) tracked and reported these disclosures. GAO also assessed the effectiveness of the tools, resources, and oversight provided by DOJ and NARA to address known challenges to agencies' FOIA compliance. GAO selected three agencies—FAA, HUD, and VHA—that reflect, among other things, a range in the agency-reported number of FOIA requests received and records proactively disclosed. GAO reviewed DOJ, NARA, FAA, HUD, and VHA documents and interviewed agency officials.
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  • Reagan National Airport: Information on Effects of Federal Statute Limiting Long-Distance Flights
    In U.S GAO News
    Airlines serving Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Reagan National) are subject to, among other federal operational requirements, (1) a “perimeter rule,” limiting nonstop flights to a distance of 1,250 miles unless there is an exemption, and (2) a “slot” or operating authorization requirement for each takeoff and landing. GAO found that while the 40 daily beyond-perimeter flights to or from Reagan National accounted for about 6 percent of flights and 10 percent of passengers at the airport in 2019, the additional flights may have had some limited effects, including further reducing the airport's landside capacity (e.g., ticketing and gates). GAO's analysis of the Department of Transportation's (DOT) data from 2010 through 2019 showed that airlines used larger aircraft on beyond-perimeter flights carrying, on average, about 75 more passengers than within-perimeter flights. While these larger aircraft may use more capacity, they did not contribute to a substantial increase in flight delays at Reagan National. The beyond-perimeter flights may have also had other effects, such as drawing a few flights and passengers from Washington Dulles International Airport (Dulles). 2020 Beyond-Perimeter Flight Exemptions at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Several factors—existing slot control rules; capacity at Reagan National; and potential effects on noise, other area airports, passengers, and airline competition—should be considered in any decision to modify Reagan National's perimeter rule, according to GAO's prior work and stakeholder interviews. GAO examined these factors under three scenarios: (1) no changes to the current perimeter rule or beyond-perimeter flights, (2) adding a small number of beyond-perimeter flights, and (3) completely lifting the perimeter rule. Many stakeholders who provided a perspective did not support changes to the perimeter rule, citing concerns about increased congestion at Reagan National or drawing passengers from other airports, primarily Dulles. Some stakeholders supported adding a small number of beyond-perimeter flights, citing increased competition if airlines added service to existing routes. No stakeholders supported lifting the perimeter rule, saying it would disadvantage airlines with a small number of flights at Reagan National. Regardless of their position on the rule, many stakeholders said airlines would add beyond-perimeter flights if allowed. Reagan National's perimeter and slot control rules were designed in part, respectively, to help increase use of Dulles and manage congestion at Reagan National by limiting the number of flights. On three occasions—2000, 2003, and 2012—federal statutes have provided exemptions to the perimeter rule, collectively allowing 40 daily beyond-perimeter flights (20 round trips) at Reagan National. Of these exemptions, 32 were new beyond-perimeter flights and eight allowed airlines to convert existing slots to beyond-perimeter flights. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) operates Reagan National and Dulles, and DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversee these rules. GAO was asked to update its past work on the perimeter rule. This report describes (1) the effects of beyond-perimeter flights at Reagan National, and (2) key considerations if additional beyond-perimeter flights are allowed. GAO analyzed DOT data for the most recent 10-year period (2010 through 2019) on passengers and flights at Reagan National and Dulles, and MWAA data on airport capacity at Reagan National in 2019. GAO also reviewed relevant statutes and regulations, and interviewed DOT and FAA officials, and a non-generalizable sample of 32 stakeholders: 9 airlines, 4 airport authorities, 7 academics, 5 associations, 5 community groups, and 2 consumer advocates. Selected airlines included those that operate out of Reagan National or Dulles; other stakeholders were recommended or selected, in part, from prior GAO work and their expertise on the topic. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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  • Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request: U.S. Government Accountability Office
    In U.S GAO News
    In fiscal year (FY) 2020, GAO’s work yielded $77.6 billion in financial benefits, a return of about $114 for every dollar invested in GAO. We also identified 1,332 other benefits that led to improved services to the American people, strengthened public safety, and spurred program and operational improvements across the government. In addition, GAO reported on 35 areas designated as high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or because they face economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. In FY 2020 GAO’s High Risk Series products resulted in 168 reports, 26 testimonies, $54.2 billion in financial benefits, and 606 other benefits. In this year of GAO’s centennial, GAO’s FY 2022 budget request seeks to lay the foundation for the next 100 years to help Congress improve the performance of government, ensure transparency, and save taxpayer dollars. GAO’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget requests $744.3 million in appropriated funds and uses $50.0 million in offsets and supplemental appropriations. These resources will support 3,400 full-time equivalents (FTEs). We will continue our hiring focus on boosting our Science and Technology and appropriations law capacity. GAO will also maintain entry-level and intern positions to address succession planning and to fill other skill gaps. These efforts will help ensure that GAO recruits and retains a talented and diverse workforce to meet the priority needs of the Congress. In FY 2022, we will continue to support Congressional oversight across the wide array of government programs and operations. In particular, our science and technology experts will continue to expand our focus on rapidly evolving issues. Hallmarks of GAO’s work include: (1) conducting technology assessments at the request of the Congress; (2) providing technical assistance to Congress on science and technology matters; (3) continuing the development and use of technical guides to assess major federal acquisitions and technology programs in areas such as technology readiness, cost estimating, and schedule planning; and (4) supporting Congressional oversight of federal science programs. With our requested funding, GAO will also bolster capacity to review the challenges of complex and growing cyber security developments. In addition, GAO will continue robust analyses of factors behind rising health care costs, including costs associated with the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. Internally, the funding requested will make possible priority investments in our information technology that include the ability to execute transformative plans to protect data and systems. In FY 2022 GAO will continue to implement efforts to increase our flexibility to evolve IT services as our mission needs change, strengthen information security, increase IT agility, and maintain compliance. We will increase speed and scalability to deliver capabilities and services to the agency. This request will also help address building infrastructure, security requirements, as well as tackle long deferred maintenance, including installing equipment to help protect occupants from dangerous bacteria, viruses, and mold. As reported in our FY 2020 financial statements, GAO’s backlog of deferred maintenance on its Headquarters Building had grown to over $82 million as of fiscal year-end. Background GAO’s mission is to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. We provide nonpartisan, objective, and reliable information to Congress, federal agencies, and to the public, and recommend improvements across the full breadth and scope of the federal government’s responsibilities. In fiscal year 2020. GAO issued 691 products, and 1,459 new recommendations. Congress used our work extensively to inform its decisions on key fiscal year 2020 and 2021 legislation. Since fiscal year 2000, GAO’s work has resulted in over: $1.2 trillion dollars in financial benefits; and 25,328 program and operational benefits that helped to change laws, improve public services, and promote sound management throughout government. As GAO recognizes 100 years of non-partisan, fact-based service, we remain committed to providing program and technical expertise to support Congress in overseeing the executive branch; evaluating government programs, operations and spending priorities; and assessing information from outside parties.
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  • Border Security: CBP’s Response to COVID-19
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found According to data from the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), through February 2021, over 7,000 Office of Field Operations (OFO) and U.S. Border Patrol employees reported being infected with COVID-19, and 24 died due to COVID-19-related illnesses. In addition, over 20,000 OFO and Border Patrol employees were unable to work at some point due to COVID-19-related illnesses or quarantining in the same time period. OFO officials noted that employee absences due to COVID-19 did not generally have a significant impact on port operations, given relatively low travel volumes. In contrast, officials interviewed by GAO at three of four Border Patrol locations said that COVID-19 absences had impacted operations to some extent. COVID-19 Cases within Customs and Border Protection, through February 2021 CBP regularly updated guidance, used workplace flexibilities, and implemented safety precautions against COVID-19. Between January and December 2020, CBP updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions and how managers should address possible exposures. CBP also used a variety of workplace flexibilities, including telework and weather and safety leave to minimize the number of employees in the workplace, when appropriate. Meanwhile, CBP field locations moved some processing functions outdoors, encouraged social distancing, and provided protective equipment to employees and the public. In addition, some field locations took steps to modify infrastructure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as installing acrylic barriers or improving airflow in facilities. Challenges implementing operational changes included insufficient equipment for telework at three field locations, and shortages of respirators at a quarter of the ports of entry GAO contacted. CBP adjusted operations in response to COVID-19 and executive actions. As travel and trade volumes declined, some ports of entry reallocated personnel to other operations, such as cargo processing. In contrast, starting in May 2020 Border Patrol encounters with noncitizens steadily increased. As a result, Border Patrol requested additional resources. It also shifted its deployment strategy to operate as closely to the border as practical to intercept individuals who could be infected with COVID-19. Accordingly, some Border Patrol sectors modified interior operations, such as limiting resources at immigration checkpoints. CBP also assisted in implementing a Centers for Disease Control order that provided the ability to quickly expel apprehended individuals. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of society, including travel to and from the U.S. In response to COVID-19, the administration issued executive actions with the intention of decreasing the number of individuals entering the U.S. and reducing transmission of the virus. Within CBP, OFO is responsible for implementing these actions at ports of entry through which travelers enter the U.S., and Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling the areas between ports of entry to prevent individuals and goods from entering the U.S. illegally. Based on their role in facilitating legitimate travel and trade and securing the borders, CBP employees risk exposure to COVID-19 in the line of duty. GAO was asked to review how CBP managed its field operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes: (1) available data on the number of CBP employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and unable to work; (2) actions CBP has taken related to protecting its workforce and the public from COVID-19; and (3) the extent to which CBP adjusted operations in response to the pandemic and related travel restrictions. GAO reviewed key guidance documents and analyzed data on travel and trade at ports of entry, Border Patrol enforcement, and COVID-19 exposures among CBP employees. GAO also interviewed officials at CBP headquarters, employee unions' representatives, and 12 CBP field locations, selected for factors such as geographic diversity, traffic levels, and COVID-19 infection rates. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Pain Clinic Owner Sentenced for Role in Operating Pill Mills in Tennessee and Florida
    In Crime News
    A pain clinic owner was sentenced today to over 33 years in prison for her role in operating several pill mills in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Hollywood, Florida.
    [Read More…]
  • Southern Colorado Man Sentenced to More Than 19 Years for Plotting to Blow Up Synagogue
    In Crime News
    A Colorado man was sentenced today in federal court in Colorado for plotting to blow up a synagogue.
    [Read More…]
  • Engineer Pleads Guilty to More Than $10 Million of COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Texas engineer pleaded guilty today for filing fraudulent bank loan applications seeking more than $10 million dollars in forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles With Texas Based Furniture and Appliances Chain for Charging Servicemembers Excess Interest
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department reached an agreement today with Conn Credit I, LP, Conn Appliances, Inc., and Conn’s, Inc. (“Conn’s”), to resolve allegations that they violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) by charging at least 184 servicemembers excess interest on their purchases. 
    [Read More…]
  • The Department of Justice Alleges Conditions at Cumberland County Jail Violate the Constitution
    In Crime News
    Today, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions at the Cumberland County Jail in Bridgeton, New Jersey violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.
    [Read More…]
  • Vermont Man Charged with Hiring Person to Kidnap and Kill a Man in a Foreign Country, and Producing and Receiving Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Vermont returned a third superseding indictment today against a Burlington man for conspiring to kidnap and kill a man in a foreign country, murder for hire, and five child pornography offenses.
    [Read More…]
  • Department of State Participation in Taiwan-hosted Event on Open Government and Anti-Corruption
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Armenian Independence Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • The Justice Department Unveils Proposed Section 230 Legislation
    In Crime News
    Today, on behalf of the [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Releases Report on its Efforts to Disrupt, Dismantle, and Destroy MS-13
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice released “Full Scale Response: A Report on the Department’s Efforts to Combat MS-13 from 2016-2020.”  This report describes the Department’s work to dismantle La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in the United States and abroad.  The data show that since 2016, the Department has prosecuted approximately 749 MS-13 gang members.  So far, more than 500 of these MS-13 gang members have been convicted, including 37 who received life sentences.  Department prosecutors are using more than 20 federal criminal statutes to prosecute MS-13 members, including, for the first time, filing terrorism charges against MS-13’s leadership.  The data also show that for decades MS-13 has exploited weaknesses in border enforcement policies, as approximately 74 percent of the defendants prosecuted were unlawfully present in the United States.  The report also describes the Department’s efforts to combat MS-13 internationally through increased partnerships with law enforcement in Mexico and Central America.  Through international cooperation, hundreds of MS-13 members have been arrested abroad and more than 50 MS-13 members have been extradited to the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Promoting Accountability and Responding to Violence against Protestors in Burma
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Owner of Michigan Payroll Tax Services Firm Charged With Employment Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, returned an indictment today charging a Farwell, Michigan, businessman with failing to pay payroll taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and failing to file his own returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider for the Eastern District of Michigan.
    [Read More…]
  • The United States Welcomes the Breakthrough To Restore Gulf and Arab Unity
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Study: 2019 Sees Record Loss of Greenland Ice
    In Space
    After a brief period of [Read More…]
  • Former U.S. Army Reservist Sentenced to 40 years in Prison for Sex Trafficking and a Related Offense
    In Crime News
    U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr. of the Western District of North Carolina sentenced Xaver M. Boston, 31, of Charlotte, North Carolina, today to serve 40 years in prison and 30 years of supervised release. Judge Conrad also ordered Boston to pay $354,000 in restitution and $25,000 pursuant 18 U.S.C. 3014 and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. A federal jury in Charlotte previously convicted Boston on Oct. 11, 2018, of six counts of sex trafficking and one count of using an interstate facility to promote a prostitution enterprise.  
    [Read More…]
  • Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute Release of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume E–15, Part 2, Documents on Western Europe, 1973–1976, Second, Revised Edition
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  •  Acting UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Stephanie Turco Williams 
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – March 15, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • U.S.-Armenia-Azerbaijan Joint Statement
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Workrite Companies to Pay $7.1 Million to Settle Alleged Furniture Overcharges
    In Crime News
    Ergonomic office furniture maker Workrite Ergonomics LLC, a Delaware company, and its parent, Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Co. (collectively, Workrite), have agreed to pay $7.1 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that they overcharged the federal government for office furniture under General Services Administration (GSA) contracts, the Department of Justice announced today. 
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Trustee Program Reaches Agreements with Three Mortgage Servicers Providing More than $74 Million in Remediation to Homeowners in Bankruptcy
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP announced today that it has entered into national agreements with three mortgage servicers to address past mortgage servicing deficiencies impacting homeowners in bankruptcy.
    [Read More…]
  • Request for Statements of Interest: DRL FY20 Iraq Programs
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Bureau of Democracy, [Read More…]