Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
The United States condemns the October 3 Houthi missile attack on the densely populated neighborhood of al-Rawdha in Marib, Yemen, which killed two children and injured an estimated 33 civilians, including women and children, according to UN agencies. Civilians will suffer as long as the brutal Houthi military offensives continue. There is an international consensus that now is the time to end the conflict, and the Republic of Yemen Government and Saudi Arabia have committed to stop fighting and resume political talks. The Houthis are standing in the way of peace.
Since the beginning of the year, the Houthis have intensified their attacks, both inside Yemen and against Saudi Arabia, endangering the lives of civilians, including more than 70,000 U.S. citizens living in Saudi Arabia. These actions exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, which has already reached historic proportions.
We call on the Houthis to stop fighting and engage in UN-led talks to bring an end to this devastating war.
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- Contingency Contracting: DOD Has Taken Steps to Address Commission Recommendations, but Should Better Document Progress and Improve Contract Data [Reissued with revisions on Oct. 1, 2021.]By Sam NewsOctober 1, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to implement the 16 of 30 recommendations it agreed to address and that were made by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (Commission). The Commission was established by law to develop recommendations to improve various aspects of contingency contracting, which is the process of obtaining goods, services, and construction and comprises contractor personnel that provided support to operations that may include combat and other activities that are considered contingency operations. However, DOD's documentation on the status of half of the 16 recommendations as part of an action plan it issued in 2013 was inconsistent or incomplete. By fully documenting the progress of the department's efforts to implement the recommendations, DOD could help achieve the Commission's vision for improving the oversight and management of contingency contracting operations. DOD's information system—Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker-Enterprise Suite (SPOT-ES)—tracks and reports information about contracts and contractor personnel supporting applicable contingency operations. However, GAO found that SPOT-ES is not able to track and report information by the type of applicable contingency operations that DOD contracts and contractors have supported. DOD officials told GAO that there is no definitive list of such contingencies from one authoritative source. In addition, DOD has not designated a single office responsible for monitoring and reporting which operations, exercises, and other activities are associated with an applicable contingency operation in SPOT-ES. Without the ability to identify data on operations, exercises, and other activities that are considered applicable contingency operations within SPOT-ES, DOD planners may find it more difficult to identify and make decisions on contractor personnel or capabilities to support them. Additionally, an office that is designated with the responsibility could provide additional oversight to DOD by better monitoring and reporting on the department's contractor personnel. GAO also found that information on the status of thousands of quarterly deployment records on contractor personnel supporting applicable contingency operations was missing in SPOT-ES at the time of our review. DOD guidance requires various SPOT-ES users to enter or review information related to contracts and contractor personnel supporting applicable contingency operations. However, it does not clearly specify who is responsible for resolving missing information. Without clarifying the responsibility for resolving missing or inaccurate data in SPOT-ES within DOD guidance, communicating such information to contracting organizations, and taking steps to improve data completeness and accuracy, the reliability of data in SPOT-ES is at risk. Further, DOD's ability will be hindered when there is a need to locate the whereabouts of contractor personnel during an emergency or when contractors exit at a contingency location. Why GAO Did This Study DOD has relied on contingency contracting to conduct a wide range of activities worldwide. DOD projects that factors, such as the use of high-tech equipment and military force structure reductions, will require contract support in most future operations. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review the use of contractors in contingency operations, exercises, and other activities since 2009. This report evaluates the extent to which DOD 1) documented its actions to implement the recommendations made by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, and 2) tracked and reported on contracts and contractor personnel supporting contingencies. GAO performed a content analysis of DOD actions to address the Commission's recommendations, reviewed laws and DOD guidance, and analyzed contract and personnel data reported from calendar years 2009 through 2020.[Read More…]
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- Small Business Research Programs: Agencies Should Further Improve Award TimelinessBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2021What GAO Found Most federal agencies that participate in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs did not consistently issue timely awards to small businesses in fiscal year 2020. The Small Business Administration's (SBA) SBIR/STTR policy directive recommends that most agencies issue such awards within 180 days of the closing date of the solicitation. On the one hand, timeliness across agencies has improved since fiscal year 2017. Agencies issued 69 percent of awards within the recommended time that year, compared to 82 percent of awards that we reviewed for fiscal year 2020. On the other hand, only nine of the 29 participating agencies were consistently on time in fiscal year 2020, meaning they issued at least 90 percent of their awards within 180 days. This lack of timeliness dates back at least 5 years: 20 agencies were routinely late during that period, issuing fewer than 90 percent of their awards on time for 3 or more of the 5 fiscal years since 2016 (see figure). Total Number and Value of Late Awards Issued by Routinely Late Agencies Nearly all of the agencies that were routinely late in issuing awards to small businesses have taken some steps to address risks to the timeliness of their awards. Such risks included not having standardized proposal review procedures and a lack of dedicated staff to issue awards. Agencies have taken some steps to improve timeliness by, for example, streamlining proposal reviews and the award contracting process. However, they have not fully addressed risks they identified or evaluated steps already taken and may continue to issue late awards until they do so. Although the Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some steps to improve timeliness, it has not established a required pilot program. According to officials, DOD has not done so, in part, because it would be too difficult to standardize practices across the department. GAO found that 12 of the 13 DOD participating agencies are not consistently issuing timely awards to small businesses. Without addressing the pilot program requirements, or by not reporting to Congress if the requirements are infeasible, DOD may be missing an opportunity to obtain technologies more quickly, as well as sustain small businesses that can provide such technologies. Why GAO Did This Study SBIR and STTR participating agencies awarded over $3 billion to small businesses in fiscal year 2020 to develop and commercialize new technologies. Timely issuance of these awards can affect the speed with which small businesses receive funds and begin work, according to the SBA. SBA's SBIR/STTR policy directive provides time frames for notification and award issuance—90 days for award notification and 180 days for award issuance. The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision for GAO to review the timeliness of award notification and issuance. The Fiscal Year 2021 NDAA conference report included a provision for GAO to review instances of agencies not following through with awards. This report, GAO's third, examines, among other things: (1) agencies' timeliness in notification and issuance, (2) the extent to which agencies have addressed risks to award timeliness, and (3) the extent to which DOD established a pilot program to improve timeliness. GAO analyzed SBIR and STTR award data, reviewed documentation, interviewed SBA officials, and sent a questionnaire to all 29 participating agencies and select small businesses.[Read More…]
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- Military Operations: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight and Interagency Coordination for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program in AfghanistanBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DOD) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have spent billions of dollars to develop Afghanistan. From fiscal years 2004 to 2008, DOD has reported obligations of about $1 billion for its Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which enables commanders to respond to urgent humanitarian and reconstruction needs. As troop levels increase, DOD officials expect the program to expand. Under the authority of the Comptroller General, GAO assessed DOD's (1) capacity to manage and oversee the CERP in Afghanistan and (2) coordination of projects with USAID. Accordingly, GAO interviewed DOD and USAID officials, and examined program documents to identify workload, staffing, training, and coordination requirements. In Afghanistan, GAO interviewed key military personnel on the sufficiency of training, and their ability to execute assigned duties.Although DOD has used CERP to fund projects that it believes significantly benefit the Afghan people, it faces significant challenges in providing adequate management and oversight because of an insufficient number of trained personnel. GAO has frequently reported that inadequate numbers of management and oversight personnel hinders DOD's use of contractors in contingency operations. GAO's work also shows that high-performing organizations use data to make informed decisions about current and future workforce needs. DOD has not conducted an overall workforce assessment to identify how many personnel are needed to effectively execute CERP. Rather, individual commanders determine how many personnel will manage and execute CERP. Personnel at all levels, including headquarters and unit personnel that GAO interviewed after they returned from Afghanistan or who were in Afghanistan in November 2008, expressed a need for more personnel to perform CERP program management and oversight functions. Due to a lack of personnel, key duties such as performing headquarters staff assistance visits to help units improve contracting procedures and visiting sites to monitor project status and contractor performance were either not performed or inconsistently performed. Per DOD policy, DOD personnel should receive timely and effective training to enable performance to standard during operations. However, key CERP personnel at headquarters, units, and provincial reconstruction teams received little or no training prior to deployment which commanders believed made it more difficult to properly execute and oversee the program. Also, most personnel responsible for awarding and overseeing CERP contracts valued at $500,000 or less received little or no training prior to deployment and, once deployed, received a 1-hour briefing, which did not provide detailed information on the individual's duties. As a result, frequent mistakes occurred, such as the omission of key clauses from contracts, which slowed the project approval process. As GAO has reported in the past, poorly written contracts and statements of work can increase DOD's cost risk and could result in payment for projects that do not meet project goals or objectives. While mechanisms exist to facilitate coordination, DOD and USAID lack information that would provide greater visibility on all U.S. government development projects. DOD and USAID generally coordinate projects at the headquarters and unit level as well as through military-led provincial reconstruction teams which include USAID representatives. In addition, in November 2008, USAID, DOD and the Department of State began participating in an interagency group composed of senior U.S. government civilians and DOD personnel in Afghanistan to enhance planning and coordination of development plans and related projects. However, complete project information is lacking, because DOD and USAID use different databases. USAID has been tasked to develop a common database and is coordinating with DOD to do so, but development is in the early stages and goals and milestones have not been established. Without clear goals and milestones, it is unclear how progress will be measured or when it will be completed[Read More…]
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