Brunei National Day

Office of the Spokesperson

On behalf of American people, I congratulate the people of Brunei Darussalam on the occasion of your National Day.

The United States and Brunei have enjoyed a long-lasting and prosperous friendship since we signed our treaty of Peace, Friendship, Commerce and Navigation over 170 years ago.  I am proud of our exemplary cooperation which is based on our mutual desire for peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.  I look forward to working closely with your government both bilaterally and in multilateral fora, especially during Brunei’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year.  Brunei’s ASEAN chair theme of “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper” reflects the shared interest of the United States, Brunei, and ASEAN in building back better together from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The United States welcomed the ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific and looks forward to supporting Brunei and ASEAN in realizing the organization’s goals and advancing our shared vision for the region.

Please accept our warm wishes and congratulations.

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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
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  • Department of Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Accounting of Intradepartmental Transactions
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has a long-standing material weakness related to intradepartmental transactions. Intradepartmental transactions occur when trading partners within the same department engage in business activities—such as the Department of the Army as a seller and the Department of the Navy as a buyer within DOD. As part of the standard process of preparing department-wide financial statements, intradepartmental transaction amounts are eliminated to avoid overstating accounts for DOD. For the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, DOD eliminated approximately $451 billion of net intradepartmental activity. Auditors continue to report a material weakness related to DOD's processes for recording and reconciling intradepartmental transaction amounts that are necessary to eliminate the transactions and prepare reliable consolidated financial statements. DOD has identified implementation of the Government Invoicing (G-Invoicing) system as its long-term solution to account for and support its intradepartmental activities. In fiscal year 2020, DOD issued a policy requiring all DOD components to use G-Invoicing's General Terms and Conditions (GT&C) functionality for initiating and approving GT&C agreements—a necessary step for using subsequent G-Invoicing functionalities (see figure). GAO found the use of this functionality varied among selected DOD components because of issues such as inconsistency in DOD policies and numerous changes to G-Invoicing system specifications. If DOD components do not implement the GT&C functionality, there is an increased risk of delay in full implementation of G-Invoicing to help remediate the intradepartmental eliminations material weakness. General Terms and Conditions Agreement Process in Government Invoicing Although DOD has identified G-Invoicing as its long-term solution, GAO found that DOD has not implemented an overall department-wide strategy to address its intradepartmental eliminations material weakness in the short term. Further, GAO found that while DOD issued a department-wide policy in May 2019 with new requirements for reconciling intradepartmental transactions, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and selected DOD components have not updated their policies or implemented several of the new requirements. Without a short-term strategy that includes identifying the causes of issues and consistently implementing department-wide policies across DOD, DOD's efforts to resolve differences in intradepartmental transaction amounts—including its efforts in the long term—will likely be inefficient and ineffective. Since 1995, GAO has designated DOD financial management as high risk because of pervasive weaknesses in its financial management systems, controls, and reporting. DOD's long-standing intradepartmental eliminations material weakness reflects DOD's inability to adequately record and reconcile its intradepartmental transactions, and has affected DOD's ability to prepare auditable financial statements. GAO was asked to evaluate DOD's process for performing intradepartmental eliminations. This report examines the extent to which DOD has (1) identified and taken steps to address issues related to intradepartmental eliminations and (2) established and implemented policies and procedures related to intradepartmental eliminations. GAO interviewed DOD officials about intradepartmental eliminations processes and reviewed DOD policies and procedures to identify the extent to which procedures have been implemented to record and reconcile intradepartmental transactions. GAO is making five recommendations to DOD, including that DOD should (1) take actions to ensure that its components follow its policy for using G-Invoicing's GT&C functionality and (2) develop short-term solutions that address causes for trading partner differences before G-Invoicing is fully implemented. DOD agreed with all five recommendations and cited actions to address them. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or kociolekk@gao.gov.
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  • VA Medical Center Security: Progress Made, but Improvements to Oversight of Risk Management and Incident Analysis Still Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently identified improvements for its physical security risk management policy and oversight process for its medical centers but has yet to implement them. In January 2018, GAO reported that VA's risk management policy did not fully reflect federal standards for facility security, such as a requirement to consider all of the undesirable events described in the standards (e.g. active shooter incidents). GAO also reported that while VA conducted some limited oversight of medical centers' risk management activities, it lacked a system-wide oversight strategy. GAO recommended that VA revise its policy to reflect federal standards and develop a system-wide oversight strategy to help to ensure that its approach to risk management will yield the appropriate security posture relative to the different risks at each of its medical centers. In response, as of June 2021, VA has begun to take actions to revise its policy to reflect the standards and fully deploy a risk assessment tool to help oversee risk management processes across medical centers. VA officials said they plan to implement the revised policy and assessment tool in fiscal year 2022. VA has improved its data collection to support the management and oversight of police officers' use of force but could better track and analyze investigations. VA policy contains a use of force continuum scale to define and clarify the categories of force that officers can use to gain control of a situation. In September 2020, GAO reported that VA's records of use of force incidents were not complete or accurate. For example, GAO found that 176 out of 1,214 use of force incident reports did not include the specific type of force used. Further, VA did not track incidents by individual medical centers. GAO also reported that VA did not systematically collect or analyze use of force investigation findings from local medical centers or have a database designed for such purposes, limiting VA's ability to provide effective oversight. GAO recommended that VA improve the completeness and accuracy of its data on use of force, analyze that data by facility and geographic region, and implement plans to obtain a database to collect and analyze use of force investigations. As of June 2021, VA took steps to improve the accuracy and completeness of its use of force incident data, and officials stated VA is working to obtain a suitable database to track use of force investigation trends. GAO will continue to review VA's steps to address recommendations from both reports. Why GAO Did This Study The Veterans Health Administration provides critical health services to approximately 9-million enrolled veterans at its nearly 170 medical centers. Ensuring safety and security at these medical centers can be complicated because VA has to balance the treatment and care of veterans—a vulnerable population with high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse—while also maintaining order and enforcing the law. Officers may need to use physical force to help bring a violent or hostile situation under control. This statement focuses on how VA manages and oversees (1) the physical security of medical centers and (2) use of force incidents by police officers. The statement is primarily based on GAO-18-201, issued in January 2018, and GAO-20-599, issued in September 2020. To update this information, GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed VA officials on actions taken to address these reports' recommendations.
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime News
    A former Gulfport, Mississippi, tax return preparer was sentenced to 46 months in prison today for aiding and assisting in the preparation of false returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst for the Southern District of Mississippi.
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    In Crime News
    Today, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall issued the following statement on the passing of former Solicitor General Drew S. Days III:
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    In Crime News
    A resident of Newburgh, New York, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • 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.
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  • VA Disability Benefits: Actions Needed to Better Manage Appeals Workload Risks, Performance, and Information Technology
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In March 2018, GAO made recommendations to address gaps in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans for reform of its appeals process for disability compensation claims. This reform was intended to offer veterans who are dissatisfied with VA's initial decision on their claim more timely options to appeal. Since then, VA has implemented new options for appeals in February 2019, reduced the backlog of preexisting appeals from 425,445 in fiscal year 2019 to 174,688 in fiscal year 2020, and addressed aspects of GAO's recommendations. However, opportunities exist for VA to more fully address GAO's recommendations and thus better (1) manage workload risks; (2) monitor and assess performance; and, (3) plan for further development of information technology (IT). Specifically: Managing workload risks fully. Since 2018, VA has made strides to manage appeals and address GAO's recommendations. For example, VA has taken steps to monitor workloads and calibrate its staffing needs. However, further efforts are needed to sustain progress and manage workload risks. Specifically, VA has not fully developed mitigation strategies for certain risks, such as veterans using the new hearing appeals option at higher rates than the options that do not require a hearing. The lack of a risk mitigation strategy is significant because in mid-June 2021, VA reported that this resource-intensive new hearing option accounted for nearly 60 percent of the new appeals inventory, but VA has made relatively few hearing option decisions in fiscal year 2021. This could mean veterans have longer wait times and increasing backlogs under the new hearing option. VA's ability to effectively manage workloads lies, in part, in planning ahead and in proactively addressing risks that may impact timeliness of decisions. Monitoring and assessing performance. VA has made progress to address GAO's recommendations, but it is not monitoring or assessing important aspects of performance. VA recently established timeliness goals for all new appeals options, which better positions VA to monitor this aspect of performance and define resources needed to process appeals. However, VA lacks a quality assurance program and related measures to assess the accuracy of its appeals decisions. Planning for further technology development. Since 2018, VA has deployed a new IT system to support its new appeals process, but has yet to address issues GAO identified with VA's IT planning, such as specifying more fully how and when the new IT system will achieve all needed functionality. VA implemented appeals reform in February 2019, but continues to report that the new IT system provides “minimum functionality” and to identify functionality yet to be implemented. Also, a May 2021 VA report itemized over 35 problems with the new IT system, such as the need to reconcile records contained in multiple IT systems. VA officials told GAO that they are working on a plan to address the identified IT shortfalls. These shortfalls and VA's response suggest opportunities exist for VA to identify all key and necessary IT activities, responsibilities, interdependencies and resources, as GAO previously recommended. Why GAO Did This Study In fiscal year 2020, VBA paid about $88.5 billion in disability compensation benefits to over 5 million veterans injured in service to our country. Prior to 2018, veterans who appealed decisions on their initial claims for benefits often experienced long waits for resolution of their appeals—up to 7 years on average. These long waits are one reason GAO designated VA's disability workloads as a high risk issue. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 made changes to improve VA's appeals process. The act required VA to submit to Congress and GAO a plan for implementing a new appeals process (which VA submitted in November 2017) and periodic progress reports. The act also included a provision for GAO to assess VA's original plan. In March 2018, GAO found that VA could help ensure successful implementation of appeals reform by addressing gaps in planning and made several recommendations, with which VA agreed. This testimony examines the extent to which VA (1) manages workloads and associated risks for processing appeals, (2) monitors and assesses performance, and (3) plans for further development of information technology. For this statement, GAO reviewed its prior reports on disability appeals; VA's progress reports to Congress; and information VA provided for GAO's ongoing monitoring of this high-risk issue and about steps VA has taken to implement GAO's prior recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth H. Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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  • Electricity Grid Resilience: Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. GAO was asked to examine U.S. energy infrastructure resilience. This report describes: (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • United States Reaches Proposed Settlement with Ranch Owner to Restore Creek and Wetlands and Pay Damages for Trespass
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  • Federal Oil and Gas Revenue: Actions Needed to Improve BLM’s Royalty Relief Policy
    In U.S GAO News
    In reaction to falling domestic oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed a temporary policy in spring 2020 for oil and gas royalty relief. The policy aimed to prevent oil and gas wells from being shut down in way that could lead to permanent losses of recoverable oil and gas. During March through June 2020, BLM gave companies the opportunity to apply for a reduction in the royalty rates for certain oil and gas leases on federal lands. BLM approved reductions from 12.5 percent of total revenue on oil and gas sold from those leases to an average of less than 1 percent for a period of 60 days. However, BLM did not establish in advance that royalty relief was needed to keep applicants' wells operating, according to BLM officials. BLM also did not assess the extent to which the temporary policy kept oil and gas companies from shutting down their wells or the amount of royalty revenues forgone by the federal government. By evaluating the extent to which the policy met BLM's objective of preventing unrecoverable loss of oil and gas resources–and likely costs, such as forgone revenues—BLM could better inform its decisions about granting royalty relief that provides a fair return to the government, should the agency decide to consider such relief in the future. BLM officials told GAO that BLM state offices implementing the temporary policy for royalty relief made inconsistent decisions about approving applications for relief because the temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making. The officials added that their state offices did not have recent experience in processing applications for oil and gas royalty relief. Several of the officials had never received or processed royalty relief applications. In addition, GAO found that ongoing guidance for processing royalty relief decisions—within BLM's Fees, Rentals and Royalties Handbook , last revised in 1995—also does not contain sufficient instructions for approving royalty relief. For example, the handbook does not address whether to approve applications in cases where the lease would continue to be uneconomic, even after royalty relief. As a result, some companies that applied for royalty relief were treated differently, depending on how BLM officials in their state interpreted the policy and guidance. In particular, officials from two state offices told GAO they denied royalty relief to applicants because the applicants could not prove that royalty relief would enable their leases to operate profitably. However, two other state offices approved royalty relief in such cases. The fifth state office denied both of the applications it received for other reasons. BLM's existing royalty relief guidance did not address this issue, and BLM's temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making in these situations. BLM's directives manual states that BLM should provide BLM employees with authoritative instructions and information to implement BLM programs and support activities. Until BLM updates the royalty relief guidance, BLM cannot ensure that future relief decisions will be made efficiently and equitably across the states and provide a fair return to the federal government. BLM manages the federal government's onshore oil and gas program with the goals of facilitating safe and responsible energy development while providing a fair return for the American taxpayer. In April 2020, oil and gas producers faced financial challenges from a drop in demand for oil during the COVID-19 pandemic. If oil and gas prices decline, it places financial stress on oil and gas companies, thereby increasing bankruptcies and the risk of wells being shut down. BLM developed a temporary policy to provide oil and gas companies relief from royalties that they owe to the federal government when they sell oil and gas produced on federal lands. This testimony discusses (1) BLM's development of the temporary policy for royalty relief and what is known about the policy's effects, and (2) BLM's implementation of this policy across relevant states. To do this work, GAO reviewed BLM documents; analyzed royalty data; and interviewed BLM officials from headquarters and the five BLM state offices with jurisdiction over states that account for 94 percent of royalties from oil and gas production on federal lands. GAO is making two recommendations. BLM should (1) evaluate the effects of its temporary royalty relief policy and use the results to inform its ongoing royalty relief program, and (2) update its guidance to provide consistent policies for royalty relief.  For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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