Department Press Briefing – April 22, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:43 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Earth Day, everyone. With that in mind, just a couple things at the top. I’ll start on that subject.

We are grateful to each and every leader who has participated in today’s Leaders Summit on Climate. And of course, we look forward to the summit’s continuation tomorrow.

I think President Biden’s announcement speaks for itself: The United States has put forward a more ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent below the 2005 levels by 2030.

I do want to highlight just a few encouraging announcements by several key allies. With ambitious new 2030 commitments by Japan and Canada, and the European Union’s move to put their 2030 target into law, and the UK’s new pace-setting 2035 goal, more than half of the world’s economy is now committed to the pace of emission reductions required globally to keep a 1.5 degree Celsius future within reach. And we know this coalition is growing – including with South Korea’s newly announced commitment that it will strengthen its 2030 target.

We saw a variety of other announcements today about the increasing scope and pace of action around the world. For example, Argentina announced an increase in its nationally determined contribution, or NDC, as well as new steps to make it happen, including scaling renewables and addressing deforestation as well as methane pollution. India is formally stepping up its commitment to accelerate renewable energy deployment. South Africa is strengthening its own NDC. The Republic of Korea announced an end to external coal finance. And countries are moving in the right direction, but of course, we know there is more to do.

Again, we are grateful to each nation that has contributed to the summit’s success thus far and, most importantly, we look forward to working with all nations to increase ambition during this decade of action to put the world on a sustainable path towards climate reduction.

Next, April 25th will mark the 32nd birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – the 11th Panchen Lama – the Panchen Lama who is forced to spend another year disappeared, separated from his community, and denied his rightful place as a prominent Tibetan Buddhist leader. The United States supports Tibetans’ religious freedom and their unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity. We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference.

We call on the PRC Government to immediately make public the Tibetan-venerated Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and to give us this opportunity to meet with the Panchen Lama in person.

With that, I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, actually I’ve got a bunch of kind of minor things but nothing that really merits leading off, so I’ll pass to – as long as I can come back.

QUESTION: Russia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: That’s unexpected. Russia and Myanmar actually. So Russia said it was ordering troops back to base from the area near the border with Ukraine. What is the U.S. assessment on this view? Are you seeing some weaponry also being moved back? What do you think this is?

MR PRICE: Well, we have heard Russia’s announcement – its announcement that it would begin withdrawing troops from the border of Ukraine. As I’ve said, we’ve heard words. I think what we’ll be looking for is action. The United States will continue to monitor the situation. We’ll do that closely and we’ll – we’ll coordinate closely with Ukrainian officials as well as other – as well as allies and partners throughout.

We have made clear in our engagement with the Russian Government that it needs to refrain from escalatory actions and immediately cease all its aggressive activity in and around Ukraine, including its recent military buildup in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s border and its intention to block specific vessels in the parts of the Black Sea. We of course reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrities, and of course that extends to Ukraine’s territorial waters. So our message is we’ve heard the announcement. We’ll be watching closely for that follow-through.

QUESTION: So yesterday, before this, Ukrainian foreign minister gave an interview with Reuters, and he talked about how they needed more Western support. What else the United States could do about that?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Well, he – do you want me to go —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. What —

QUESTION: What else the United States can do about that? He reiterated that Ukraine needs more Western support.

MR PRICE: I see.

QUESTION: Obviously, there was, like, a NATO meeting, and there has been a serious of statements, but he – nevertheless, he mentioned this again yesterday that he needs more from the West. What can the U.S. do?

MR PRICE: Well, we have provided our partner, Ukraine, with significant support since 2014. We have stood by Ukraine. We have committed more than $2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine over the years. And of course, we’ll continue working to provide Ukraine the security assistance it needs to defend itself against Russian aggression, including the lethal defensive weapons based on an evolving assessment of Kyiv’s needs.

QUESTION: Is there a specific new plan on that assistance?

MR PRICE: It is something we are always taking a close look at. It’s something we’re always evaluating. Of course, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba, just a few days ago in Brussels. We discussed continuing to work closely together and to standing by as a partner, including when it comes to Ukraine’s security needs.

QUESTION: Two on Russia?

QUESTION: Can I ask (inaudible) follow-up on that? So just to put a finer point on it, are you currently considering the option of sending more lethal weaponry to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to get ahead of any additional moves we might make. But look, the Ukrainian Government has no doubt where we stand. Similarly, I think it is also fair to say that Moscow has no doubt where we stand, and that is firmly in support with our partner, Ukraine, including its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and that includes in the maritime domain.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border, was this signaled in any way ahead of time? In other words, was the Biden administration surprised to see this happen? And then also, I see that Slovakia and the Czech Republic have both expelled more Russian diplomats over the last 12 hours. Notwithstanding the expulsions that were announced here last week, I’m wondering if there’s any additional considerations to shut down more consulates in – Russian consulates in the United States to bring it in line with the American consulates that have been shut down in Russia.

MR PRICE: Well, as we said yesterday, we have had an opportunity to engage in discussion in Moscow. Our embassy took part in a discussion with Moscow authorities, and we expect those discussions will continue in the coming days, perhaps even the coming weeks. So we’re not going to get ahead of where those discussions might lead. Of course, President Biden announced just a few days ago a very strong response to the different categories of Russia’s malign activity, and that includes its interference in our democracy; that includes what we have seen vis-a-vis Mr. Navalny; it includes the reports of bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan; and of course, it includes SolarWinds. And so we will continue to have discussions in Moscow, but again, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to get ahead of those discussions right now.

QUESTION: How about were you all surprised about the troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border? Was this —

MR PRICE: Well, again, we’ve heard the announcement. And to the best of our knowledge, it remains an announcement. That’s why we’re going to continue to watch very closely.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I just need to be clear on this. I mean, were you all signaled ahead of time that this might be happening?

MR PRICE: We’ve heard the announcement, but you’ll have to speak to Russian authorities when it comes to their future plans or their motives.

Yeah.

QUESTION: To follow up on my colleague’s question, were you signaled ahead of time that there would be the announcement?

MR PRICE: Did the Russians tell us ahead of time that they planned to make an announcement that —

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s the question.

MR PRICE: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s not a ridiculous question.

QUESTION: In the phone call, for example, between the two presidents, was there a hint that some kind of drawdown might be coming?

MR PRICE: We have – we have read out the phone call between President Biden and his counterpart, Russian President Putin. We’ve read out the phone call between National Security Advisor Sullivan and his counterpart. I’ll have to refer you to those readouts. I don’t have any more to add to that. But look, our point is that we have heard words from Moscow. The entire world has heard those words. It’s an announcement insofar as we know yet. We’ll be looking for follow-through when it comes to what the Russians actually do.

QUESTION: Okay, can I try a different one then?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Russian MFA has said that it’s going to prohibit local staff from working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Can you give us an idea of how many people that is? Is there a deadline for when they have to stop working? Some of these people have worked there for more than decades. Is this going to force a drawdown of the embassy, and how is it going to impact operations?

MR PRICE: Well, it is true that we have had discussions with the Russian Government, and they have relayed their – elements of their response. We were – we have received the official diplomatic correspondence, as I mentioned yesterday, that lists the diplomats that the Russian Government has PNG’d. Now, the Russian Government has made a public announcement when it comes to locally employed staff. That is an unfortunate announcement. As we have said, steps to prohibit locally employed staff will impact our personnel. It will impact the community. We know that locally employed staff in Moscow and around the world – they are key members of our workforce and their contributions are important to our operations. They’re also important to the bilateral mission.

Even as we have these profound disagreements with Moscow, even as we enact our own policy response in the aftermath of Russia’s malign activity and behavior, we know that only through continued engagement and diplomacy will we be able to aspire to have that predictable and that stable relationship with Moscow that we seek to have. Now, locally employed staff are a key component of our embassy operations. That, in turn, makes them a key component of that ability to engage diplomatically. So again, we haven’t received formal notification when it comes to locally employed staff, but we’ve heard the announcement and we continue to consider that quite unfortunate.

QUESTION: Just on climate, you asked people – countries to come to the summit with more ambitious targets. You’ve mentioned allies that did; Australia did not. Is that a disappointment to you?

MR PRICE: Well, what is true is that we have heard ambitious announcements from partners, allies, even some countries that don’t often fall into either of those categories. Now, of course, Australia is a very close ally and we’re pushing countries around the world, including ourselves, to be as ambitious as we can be, knowing the stakes of this existential threat. We know that we can solve this, but we know that in order to do it we’ll have to work together.

Australia is a strong ally across the board, in technology development and the opportunities – and in opportunities for policy development. We have a long history of cooperation with our Australian allies, and we see enormous potential for joint work between our two countries.

At the same time, we know that cooperation on technology or any other innovative climate solutions will only achieve the necessary scale if they are, in fact, coupled with ambitious climate policy and commitment. And that’s why we know that the coming decade will be decisive. The steps that countries commit to now will set us up for success or they will set us up for failure. And to keep that goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach we know we have to get on that right path now. That’s why we’ve been pushing our allies, our partners, even countries that don’t fall – typically don’t fall into either category towards that direction.

QUESTION: So you’re saying you would have liked to have seen Australia commit to a more ambitious target?

MR PRICE: The entire world needs to do more. That is precisely why President Biden and the White House announced an ambitious NDC on our part; it’s precisely why we have encouraged countries around the world to do more. We’ll keep doing that. This climate summit is not the end of the road. This is, in fact, the start of the road to Glasgow, and of course we’ll continue from there. So we will keep this up. We will keep the pressure on ourselves as well, knowing that what the United States does tends to have a catalytic effect. And that’s why, for us, it was so important to announce an ambitious NDC, 50 to 52 percent below the 2005 levels by 2030. And that’s what we hope to see from countries around the world.

QUESTION: Just to follow up. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was pretty far down the list of speakers, I think 21 out of 27, even behind Bhutan for instance. Is that any sort of reflection on Australia’s perceived lack of commitment to climate change?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t read more into the order or the sequence than is necessary. Of course, Australia is a close ally. We have an incredibly close partnership across many realms, and just as we do with all countries, we hope and expect Australia will commit to bold ambition when it comes to climate. It’s what we have sought to do ourselves and we’ll continue to have those conversations going forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Wait. How much is necessary?

MR PRICE: How much is necessary? Well —

QUESTION: Well, you said don’t read anything more into the placement of speakers than is necessary. So how much is necessary? It clearly wasn’t alphabetical if she’s right and Bhutan went ahead of Australia; I’m pretty sure B comes after A. So how much do we read into the fact that he was – whatever he was – 21st, or 27th?

MR PRICE: I do not think order was indicative of anything other than temporal sequencing. So I think you’re probably reading too much into it.

QUESTION: I’m not reading anything into it. You’re the one who said don’t read more into it than you should, and so how much should we read into it?

MR PRICE: Well, I think just the fact that the question is being asked is perhaps parsing things. But look, we are gratified at the 39 other countries that have showed up at this summit. We are gratified at the commitments that we’ve heard today, the commitments that we’ve heard preceding this, and – knock on wood – the commitments that we’ll hear going forward as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: On climate, in your opening remarks you didn’t mention China. Has China’s commitment today met your expectation, and what role do you like to see China to play in the next phase?

MR PRICE: Well, we know that every major economy, every country that is responsible for a large share of global emissions – and China would certainly fall into that category as the world’s largest emitter – has a special responsibility. That is precisely why we have not shirked our own responsibility as the world’s second-largest emitter. It’s precisely why President Biden and the White House put forward that ambitious nationally determined contribution in the last day or so.

So I’m not going to speak to what we would like to see specifically from Beijing, but it is absolutely true that China, the United States, other major emitting countries do have a special responsibility to step up, if we are going to remain – to keep that target of 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.

QUESTION: So at this summit, while the former secretary, the – Special Envoy Kerry is talking about cooperation, but this week Secretary Blinken, he actually said the USA is falling behind on the renewable energy, and it’s difficult to imagine the United States winning the long-term strategic competition with China. Are you sending a mixed message?

MR PRICE: No. I think if you look at the fuller context of what he said, that the – that we see climate both as an existential threat, which is what has in many ways galvanized our action, but we also see it – and this may sound like a paradox, but it’s absolutely true – as an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to create opportunity within this country – good-paying, green jobs for American workers. That is what Secretary Blinken was speaking to, the two sides of this climate coin, the threat and the opportunity.

And certainly I think it is fair to say that the United States has not done enough yet to seek to seize that opportunity, to seek to seize what this climate challenge has put before us in terms of the economic opportunities for American workers, in terms of our ability to demonstrate our own ambition, and to galvanize the rest of the world to action. That’s precisely what this administration has sought to do really since day one by rejoining Paris, by putting forward this NDC, by convening this summit of 40 countries from around the world, to focus the world’s attention on the threat while also making clear that here at home domestically, this presents an opportunity for us that we would be unwise to pass up.

QUESTION: I have a last question. Two days ago, you said the department has completed deployment of vaccines to all the posts abroad. Does it mean that the United States embassies and consulates around the world are going to restore the full capacity of your visa service? And also, are you considering ease the travel restriction between United States and China, given the United States is the most vaccinated country, and China has controlled the virus pretty successfully?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re always going to listen to science. We’re always going to listen to medical professionals and public health professionals when it comes to that guidance. That is why CDC is in the lead on these issues. And so this isn’t a question of politics; it is a question of public health. And that’s how we’re going to treat it. So when the science says that it is safe to ease restrictions or if the science requires that we impose additional barriers, whether that pertains to China or any other country, I suspect that’s what you’ll see us do.

When it comes – remind me of your first question.

QUESTION: The embassy and the consulates, are they going to restore the full capacity?

MR PRICE: So certainly our hope is that over time, we will be able to restore the capacity within our embassies, our posts, missions, consulates around the world. We need to take into account not only the vaccination status of our own employees, but also the rate of the virus, the virus’s toll in that particular country. So there are a number of factors that go into this, but certainly our hope going forward in the coming months is that we will be able to restore a good deal of that functionality in our missions around the world.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Any comment on the pressure between Israel and Syria, and on the Iranian announcement that the missile that targeted Israel and landed near Dimona facility is an old generation Iranian? Do you view an Iranian escalation or an escalation in the region?

MR PRICE: Well, we support Israel’s ability to exercise its inherent right of self-defense. We condemn any actions that threaten Israel and regional security more broadly. I would need to refer you to the Government of Israel for more details about its operations. I know they’ve spoken to it, but I would need to refer you there for a reaction.

QUESTION: Do you view any Iranian role, and especially after confirming that the missile was Iranian?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a confirmation of that that I’m prepared to offer from here. What I would say is that we condemn any action that threatens Israel and regional security more broadly.

QUESTION: And one more, please. Do you welcome the meetings between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Iraq, and it looks like there’s another meeting?

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to those two governments to speak to that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Australia has moved to cancel two projects that the Victorian government had with China regarding the Belt and Road Initiative. Of course, it has been labeled by critics as a debt trap diplomacy, and also a scheme to take over parts of the world. Is the U.S. looking at taking similar sort of moves, or has the U.S. spoken to Australia at all about that move?

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to that move, this is a decision made by the Australian Government. We would refer all questions on Australian law and the substance of these decisions to the Australian Government, our ally there. We continue to stand with the people of Australia as they bear the brunt of the PRC’s coercive behavior. I believe it was Foreign Minister Payne who made clear in her statement that the Australian Government has determined that the agreements you refer to – to be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to Australia’s foreign relations. The government’s cancellation of these additional arrangements with entities in Iran and entities in Syria further demonstrate that Australia is focused on protecting its national interest from all international concerns – this is not unique to the PRC – but these are decisions by the Australian Government.

QUESTION: But is the U.S. talking to partners about potentially pushing back against the Belt and Road Initiative?

MR PRICE: What we’ve made clear is that what unites us are our shared values, are our shared interests. We know that allies around the world, we know that partners around the world are going to have relationships with Beijing that may look slightly different than the relationship that we have. That’s okay. As Secretary Blinken said recently, we’re not going to put our allies or our partners in a position to choose between the United States and Beijing. We are going to focus on what unites us. There is much more that unites us with our partners and certainly our allies, and certainly that’s the case with Australia, than any disagreement we may have when it comes to China or any other issue.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. express its concerns about this agreement? Did the U.S. induce the Australians in any way to consider canceling these agreements?

MR PRICE: This is an – again, this is an action that is internal to Australia, so we would need to refer you there. Of course, it is also true that Australia has borne a tremendous toll of the coercive actions on the part of the PRC. So this is a country that has been really on the front lines of this coercive diplomacy. But when it comes to their actions, we would need to refer you to Australian authorities.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. pleased that the Australians have canceled this deal?

MR PRICE: Look, we continue to work closely with our ally Australia on any number of fronts. We – a number of senior officials have made comments that the United States is standing with Australia in the face of coercive action, coercive diplomacy by the PRC. But these decisions to cancel arrangements at the sub-national level, that’s a matter for the Australian Government.

QUESTION: Are you then having conversations with Australia regarding the cancellation of the contracts?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any conversations to read out on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Two questions, if I may. The first is on Japan’s announced targets of 46 percent cut to emissions by 2030. During Prime Minister Suga’s visit, there were some reports that the U.S. was seeking a 50 percent cut. So I just wanted to ask if the U.S. is satisfied with Japan’s announced target of 46 percent.

And then separately on Taiwan, on Monday, the head of Taiwan’s defense ministry’s strategic planning office said that he was seeking U.S. long-range cruise missiles. Is this something that Taiwan has been in contact with the State Department about? Is this something that the U.S. is open to providing Taiwan?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Japan and Tokyo’s target, just as the question that pertained to Beijing, I’m not going to prescribe from here. The United States Government is not going to prescribe specifically what targets certain countries should have. Our goal is to raise ambition across the board. And again, we have sought to do that in any number of ways, including through conversations, but also including through the catalytic power of our example. And that is why President Biden thought it was so important and the White House released the United States NDC, which is quite ambitious, for the rest of the world to see. And so we will continue these conversations, whether it is with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, our allies in Europe, and in some cases, countries that have not been allies nor would not be allies going forward.

When it comes to Taiwan, our commitment, I would say, to Taiwan is rock solid. It contributes to the maintenance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait and within the region. It has been longstanding U.S. policy and it is reflected in the Taiwan Relations Act that the United States maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, social, or economic system of the people on Taiwan. We’ll continue to work with allies and partners in support of our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific and that includes peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Taiwan? Is it possible for the U.S. to speed up the delivery of arms to Taiwan that have already been sold but have not yet been delivered there?

MR PRICE: I am not in a position to speak to the logistics of that or what might be required there.

QUESTION: Right, but is it under consideration?

MR PRICE: Look, I – again, our support for Taiwan is rock solid. We continue to have a dialogue with Taiwan on a range of issues. Security, of course, is one of them. But I’m not going to get into the details of that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then can I just ask a question on Navalny? So yesterday National Security Advisor Sullivan said that he reiterated that in private conversations, Navalny’s been discussed. And he said that U.S. officials have told Russian officials, quote, what would unfold should the worst befall Navalny. I’m just wondering what the strategy is behind that. Why tell the Russians privately what the U.S. would do if Navalny dies but not publicly? Describe that – what’s the benefit there?

MR PRICE: Well, I think what – and by the fact that you’re asking about it, what you heard is that we have had those private discussions. I think the National Security Advisor made the point that sometimes points are conveyed and have more effectiveness when they are conveyed privately, in private channels, and perhaps in a different level of detail as well. But also, he made the point that we’ve had these discussions privately, that we have made very clear to the Russians in private and now we’ve made this public for all the world to know that we – that we consider Russia, Moscow, responsible for anything that would befall Mr. Navalny while he is in detention.

I don’t think it does Mr. Navalny any good, I don’t think it does the United States any good for us to forecast specifically what that might look like if something were to befall Mr. Navalny. The point we have made to the Russians privately and the broader point we have made publicly is that there would be consequences, there would be severe consequences were something to happen to him in their custody.

QUESTION: Can you describe for us an example of when having these private discussions with Russia has actually benefited a situation and produced tangible results?

MR PRICE: Well, look, I would hesitate to do that in any specific case. I will say, broadly speaking, there are certain cases when private diplomatic exchanges and keeping a matter in those channels could be to our benefit. Hostage negotiations, for example, or the negotiations over a wrongful detainee, someone who is wrongfully held, could be one such example of it. But when it comes to our relationship with Russia, I wouldn’t want to go into those details.

QUESTION: So this strategy hasn’t worked during the Biden administration to date yet?

MR PRICE: You certainly didn’t hear me say that.

QUESTION: Well, no Americans have been released from Russia since the Biden administration came in.

MR PRICE: We – this is now month three, I suppose. It is certainly the case when it comes to Trevor Reed, when it comes to Paul Whelan, when it comes to the Americans who are being held unjustly in Russia that we have regularly raised their cases, that we have continued to work closely with their families. Our embassy in Moscow continues to provide the level of support that we can, and it remains a priority for us to see them safely and quickly reunited with their families.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Mr. Navalny. Given all these high-level conversations about him recently, is it fair to assume that his fate has become a national security priority for the Biden administration?

MR PRICE: Certainly, human rights in Russia has always been a concern for us. Mr. Navalny, I think, embodies and in many ways personifies what has befallen to the broader issue of human rights in Russia. The fact that the Russian Government has sought to silence Mr. Navalny, has literally attempted to assassinate him using a banned chemical weapon; the fact that he now sits in their custody, is in their custody; the fact that the Russian Government has clamped down, including even in recent hours, on those Russians who have peacefully taken to the street to do nothing more than to exercise the rights that are guaranteed to them under their own constitution, the Russian constitution, I think is emblematic of what has become of human rights in Russia. That is what we are standing up for. Mr. Navalny has long sought to be an advocate and has long been an advocate for human rights, for anticorruption in Moscow. It’s precisely why he now sits in Russian custody.

So that is why his case is of such interest to us, but we also would note that it is not just an interest to us. It’s an interest to our allies, to our partners around the world. We’ve seen multilateral statements, very powerful multilateral statements on paper. You have seen messaging from some of our closest allies and partners that has been coordinated to make clear that this is not a question of the United States, of Washington versus Moscow. This is a question of countries standing up for basic values, universal human rights, values that have come under tremendous threat, tremendous strain from President Putin and Moscow.

QUESTION: Armenia?

QUESTION: Can I —

MR PRICE: I heard Armenia.

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So ahead of this Saturday’s Armenian Remembrance Day, does this administration has anything new to say about what happened in 1915 regarding the deportations and massacres against Armenians?

MR PRICE: I know that the White House press secretary was asked about this. I know that she said that there would be more to say in the coming days, so I would just leave it there.

QUESTION: Well, in 2019 – the end of 2019, the U.S. Senate adopted unanimously S.Res. 150 to recognize the Armenian genocide. Does the State Department endorse this congressional action?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m going to defer to the White House. I know that, as the press secretary said, there will be more to say on this subject, but I’m going to leave it there for now.

QUESTION: One more on Turkey and Ukraine.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you support Turkey providing drones to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: I – we’ll – if we have anything to say on that, we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay, I’ll ask —

QUESTION: Can we go to Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Oh, let me follow up on Turkey then.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So the expectation is that the President is going to recognize Armenian genocide. Relations with Turkey are already in a pretty bad situation. Where do you think that is going to leave things on – after this? How do you expect to have any further leverage on Ankara?

MR PRICE: Well, I’m not going to weigh in on a hypothetical. Again, when it comes to any announcements that the White House would make, I would refer to and defer to the White House. What I would say more broadly and taking a step back from the immediate question is that Turkey, as you know, is a longstanding and valued ally and NATO ally.

QUESTION: That we have a lot of problems with.

MR PRICE: We have shared interests with Ankara, and that includes countering terrorism. It includes ending the conflict in Syria. It includes deterring broader malign influence in the region. And we seek that cooperation on common priorities because, again, Turkey is an ally. And where we do have disagreements, as you referred to, we engage in dialogue as allies do.

QUESTION: So what is the current dialogue then?

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: What is it about? Is it about S-400s?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with his Turkish counterpart twice recently. They met in – they were together in Brussels. They had a bilateral meeting at our – during our first trip to Brussels. And so the bilateral – the dialogue there reflects the bilateral relationship in that —

QUESTION: Have you gotten any indications from Turks that they might back down from the S-400s or even if they wouldn’t back down, there would be a way going forward?

MR PRICE: What I will say is that bilateral meeting that they had reflected the relationship. We talked about those shared interest. We talked about security challenges. We talked about terrorism and countering terrorism. But Secretary Blinken, as he does in all engagements, as appropriate, does not hesitate to raise those areas of disagreement. And of course, there are some when it comes to our alliance with Turkey: the S-400 you raised; human rights is another. And we won’t shy away from raising those. We know that we can do those two things simultaneously. As friends, as allies, when we have disagreements, we raise those. We discuss those. And there’s no – there’s no papering over them.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go to vaccine diplomacy?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So India is currently facing a horrible surge in coronavirus infections.

MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And we reported that they’ve asked United States to lift a ban on the export of —

MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — vaccine raw materials, which basically threatens to slow the country’s vaccination drive. When will the administration decide on that?

MR PRICE: So we’ve addressed this a couple times in the briefing. As I’ve said, this is a question for USTR when it comes to —

QUESTION: But why is it a question for USTR? Blinken had – Secretary Blinken had a phone call with his counterpart.

MR PRICE: That’s right. And they did discuss COVID. But when it comes —

QUESTION: And this didn’t come up?

MR PRICE: We issued a readout of that call. And as that call – as the readout of the call notes, they did discuss the COVID-19 response. You asked about intellectual property and certain controls. That was – is within the purview of USTR. What I will say broadly is that the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people. That campaign is well underway, and we’re doing that for a couple of reasons.

Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people. Number two, the American people, this country has been hit harder than any other country around the world – more than 550,000 deaths, tens of millions of infections in this country alone. But there’s also a broader point here that I made yesterday that it’s, of course, not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated; it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated. The point the Secretary has made repeatedly is that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere. So as long as the virus is spreading uncontrolled in this country, it can mutate and it can travel beyond our borders. That, in turn, poses a threat well beyond the United States.

It is true that even as we focus on this, we have also played a leadership role when it comes to containing, seeking to contain the virus beyond our borders. We have re-engaged with the WHO on day one, the $2 billion we’ve contributed to COVAX, with 2 billion more on the way. When it comes to our own hemisphere, the loan arrangement with Canada and Mexico, and when it comes to India, the Quad and the arrangement with the Quad, including to increase production capacity in India.

So as we are more comfortable in our position here at home, as we are confident that we are able to address any contingencies as they may arise, I expect we’ll be able to do more. And we will, of course, always do as much as we can, consistent with our first obligation.

QUESTION: Can I ask you two really brief ones?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Well, they should be really brief, I think. Yesterday, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared off on two more State Department nominees, but also at the same time unanimously approved an amendment that would kind of force the administration’s hand on Nord Stream 2 sanctions. So I’m wondering, while you – I’m sure you welcome the movement to the floor for votes on Toria Nuland and Uzra Zeya. What do you think of the Nord Stream 2 provisions?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Matt, we don’t comment on legislation. But I think the – what is true is that this administration, the President, Secretary Blinken, we share an overall attitude towards Nord Stream 2 with many on Capitol Hill. And that is the position that it is a bad deal. We have called it a Russian geopolitical project that threatens European energy security, and that of Ukraine and the eastern flank of our NATO Allies. That’s why the Secretary has emphasized that he opposes it, the President opposes it, and will continue to do everything we can, including consistent with legislation that’s already on the books, to oppose its construction and finalization.

QUESTION: So you do comment on legislation?

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: You comment on legislation all the time.

MR PRICE: No.

QUESTION: It’s only when you don’t want to that you say, we never – oh, no, no, we never comment on legislation.

MR PRICE: That’s not true. That’s not true. That’s not true. I didn’t – I did not comment on legislation that is pending.

QUESTION: You do it all the time.

MR PRICE: I commented on the law that’s on the book – on the books, PEESA and PEESCA

QUESTION: That’s legislation. Anyway, number two. Yesterday, a senior State Department official talked about this administration’s belief that the previous administration had disingenuously or improperly imposed sanctions on Iran for terrorism, ostensibly for terrorism reasons, but they were really designed to make it harder for any future administration to return to the nuclear deal. In other words, they labeled what – nuclear sanctions as terrorism sanctions, or human rights sanctions, things that would be exempted or wouldn’t be allowed to be done under the deal. Can you give us an example of one sanction, or set of sanctions, that you think fits that category?

MR PRICE: Well, your question is a very good way, device, to seek me to – an attempt to elicit some more detail on the various sanctions —

QUESTION: No.

MR PRICE: — and the categories of sanctions. But let me make the broader point —

QUESTION: I’m not. I just want one example of a sanction, or set of sanctions, that you think was improperly or illegitimately or that the – that the Trump administration imposed with an ulterior motive of tying your – of tying this administration or any other administration’s hands in returning to the deal. Just one. Just one. I’m not asking for the whole set.

MR PRICE: I would make – I would make the point that there are sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. And as we have said, if Iran resumes its compliance with the nuclear deal – meaning that if Iran once again becomes subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated – we would be prepared to lift those sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. There are sanctions that are consistent with the JCPOA. I —

QUESTION: And then there’s the third category that this official talked about. And all I’m asking for is one example. There are —

MR PRICE: There are sanctions that are consistent with the JCPOA. And the point —

QUESTION: No, one example of what you think was duplicitously or disingenuously imposed.

MR PRICE: The point I made yesterday is that there is nothing in the JCPOA that does not, that prohibits us from countering Iran’s broader malign behavior – its ballistic missiles program, support for terrorism, support for proxies in the region.

Now, the point of these negotiations, and the point of these talks, is that if it were very clear if sanctions were – came to us, came to this administration, labeled green or red, it would be a much easier proposition for us to resume compliance, to do what we would need to do to resume compliance if Iran committed to do the same. As you know, sanctions do not come pre-packaged. The diplomacy did not come pre-arranged for us. And that’s why we’re engaging in these talks in Vienna. This is precisely —

QUESTION: Yeah, but then you can’t have it – make an accusation like this official did that the previous administration acted in bad faith, that it was only attempting to screw over anyone who came after them who might want to get back into the deal by mislabeling or improperly labeling nuclear sanctions as terrorism sanctions, I think you have an obligation to give one example of the kind of sanction that you think needs further study so that you can determine what the motive is. I mean, it’s a pretty serious allegation, right? Is it not?

MR PRICE: The challenge, though, Matt, is that this is very much the subject of diplomacy in Vienna. And again —

QUESTION: You’ve already identified the three baskets, according to this official. You’ve got these three baskets: consistent, inconsistent, and gray area that you’re trying to determine. I don’t see what the problem is in identifying one example of something that falls into a gray area.

MR PRICE: It’s a little more complicated than that, in part because there are going to be differences of opinion between the United States and Iran as to what may fall within that gray area as you —

QUESTION: But Ned, there’s clearly a difference of opinion between this administration and the previous administration.

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: Okay? So talk – let’s forget about the Iranians for a second. What does this administration – give me one example of what this administration thinks was a – is a sanction that may have been duplicitously imposed by the previous administration for – in an attempt to tie your hands.

MR PRICE: The reason I am hesitant to do that is because you’re asking me to prejudge what may happen withing —

QUESTION: You already have decided which there – which sanctions fit into that third basket.

MR PRICE: No, Matt, I think that the comments yesterday made very clear that this is a subject of ongoing diplomacy, ongoing discussions in Vienna. Again, if it were clear cut, if they came pre-labeled and pre-packaged for us, it would be a much easier proposition. It’s precisely why —

QUESTION: But they did come pre – they came pre-labeled. You’re saying you don’t agree with the label and that they were acting in bad faith when they did it. So just one.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: All right. Really —

MR PRICE: This is the point of diplomacy.

QUESTION: Just a follow up. So when you guys do roll out this sanctions relief, can you identify some of those as having been disingenuously put into place by the Trump administration?

MR PRICE: I would suspect that if, and that remains a big “if,” we are able to get to a point where Iran has committed to resume its compliance with the nuclear deal, that is to say, once again be subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime of a nuclear program ever negotiated, and we have found a way for us and devise what it is that we would need to do to resume our own compliance with the JCPOA, that that roadmap will become clear. Because if we get back to that point, we will need to lift sanctions that are inconsistent with the deal.

QUESTION: Can we – can I go at it a slightly different way? Can you define what makes the sanction inconsistent? What are the qualifications that make it inconsistent versus – is it they’ve sanctioned a certain group, a certain military group, for example, a certain individual, versus consistent? How are you defining those two baskets?

MR PRICE: The JCPOA, the original agreement, makes that very clear. It lays out precisely what the sides would need to do. So this is not something that we are writing on the fly. Again, our – the proposition that has always been on the table is compliance for compliance. If Iran were to resume its full compliance with the JCPOA, we would do the same. So the JCPOA, that original agreement, spells out precisely what is allowed, precisely what is prohibited in order for a country to be in compliance with it. That remains the blueprint for all of this.

QUESTION: But that’s up for interpretation, as we’ve all been discussing. So if you’re narrowing that, can you say what would make something consistent? Could you give us an example of what would make a sanction inconsistent?

MR PRICE: What would make a sanction consistent?

QUESTION: Inconsistent. Sorry, masks.

MR PRICE: Inconsistent. There are very clear cases, as you heard yesterday. Sanctions – nuclear sanctions would be inconsistent.

Anyone else? Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)

# # #

 

More from: Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

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    Mission Capable Rates for Selected Department of Defense Aircraft GAO examined 46 types of aircraft and found that only three met their annual mission capable goals in a majority of the years for fiscal years 2011 through 2019 and 24 did not meet their annual mission capable goals in any fiscal year as shown below. The mission capable rate—the percentage of total time when the aircraft can fly and perform at least one mission—is used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet. Number of Times Selected Aircraft Met Their Annual Mission Capable Goal, Fiscal years 2011 through 2019 aThe military departments did not provide mission capable goals for all nine years for these aircraft. Aggregating the trends at the military service level, the average annual mission capable rate for the selected Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft decreased since fiscal year 2011, while the average annual mission capable rate for the selected Army aircraft slightly increased. While the average mission capable rate for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter showed an increase from fiscal year 2012 to 2019, it trended downward from fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2018 before improving slightly in fiscal year 2019. For fiscal year 2019, GAO found only three of the 46 types of aircraft examined met the service-established mission capable goal. Furthermore, for fiscal year 2019: six aircraft were 5 percentage points or fewer below the goal; 18 were from 15 to 6 percentage points below the goal; and 19 were more than 15 percentage points below the goal, including 11 that were 25 or more percentage points below the goal. Program officials provided various reasons for the overall decline in mission capable rates, including aging aircraft, maintenance challenges, and supply support issues as shown below. Sustainment Challenges Affecting Some of the Selected Department of Defense Aircraft aA service life extension refers to a modification to extend the service life of an aircraft beyond what was planned. bDiminishing manufacturing sources refers to a loss or impending loss of manufacturers or suppliers of items. cObsolescence refers to a lack of availability of a part due to its lack of usefulness or its no longer being current or available for production. Operating and Support Costs for Selected Department of Defense Aircraft Operating and support (O&S) costs, such as the costs of maintenance and supply support, totaled over $49 billion in fiscal year 2018 for the aircraft GAO reviewed and ranged from a low of $118.03 million for the KC-130T Hercules (Navy) to a high of $4.24 billion for the KC-135 Stratotanker (Air Force). The trends in O&S costs varied by aircraft from fiscal year 2011 to 2018. For example, total O&S costs for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (Navy) increased $1.13 billion due in part to extensive maintenance needs. In contrast, the F-15C/D Eagle (Air Force) costs decreased by $490 million due in part to a reduction in the size of the fleet. Maintenance-specific costs for the aircraft types we examined also varied widely. Why This Matters The Department of Defense (DOD) spends tens of billions of dollars annually to sustain its weapon systems in an effort to ensure that these systems are available to simultaneously support today's military operations and maintain the capability to meet future defense requirements. This report provides observations on mission capable rates and costs to operate and sustain 46 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. How GAO Did This Study GAO was asked to report on the condition and costs of sustaining DOD's aircraft. GAO collected and analyzed data on mission capable rates and O&S costs from the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force for fiscal years 2011 through 2019. GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed program office officials to identify reasons for the trends in mission capability rates and O&S costs as well as any challenges in sustaining the aircraft. This is a public version of a sensitive report issued in August 2020. Information on mission capable and aircraft availability rates were deemed to be sensitive and has been omitted from this report. For more information, contact Director Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.
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  • Military Personnel: DOD’s Transition Assistance Program at Small or Remote Installations
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides counseling, employment assistance, and information on federal veterans benefits, among other support, to transitioning servicemembers who are separating from the military. From fiscal years 2018 through 2020, seven of the nine selected small or remote installations exceeded, on average, DOD's TAP compliance target of 85 percent of separated servicemembers completing all TAP requirements. The information delivered during TAP and the components of the program are standard across all military installations, regardless of the size or location of the installation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only certain servicemembers were eligible to participate in TAP virtually, including those servicemembers in remote or geographically isolated locations. According to officials of the Military-Civilian Transition Office (MCTO), servicemembers who attended TAP sessions virtually prior to the pandemic received the same transition information as those who attended TAP sessions in person. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all nine of the small or remote installations in GAO's review shifted to virtual delivery of TAP sessions for all servicemembers, according to officials at those installations. DOD monitors TAP across all installations, regardless of size or geographic location, through a standard form used by all four military services and by conducting course surveys. DOD officials told GAO that there are no additional monitoring activities or metrics specific to small or remote installations. Officials whom GAO interviewed—including those of the military services and at the nine selected small or remote installations—discussed common challenges with TAP delivery and participation, as well as ways they were mitigating these challenges where possible. For example, TAP officials at several remote installations stated there were limited local employment opportunities available to servicemembers post-separation. However, a few officials stated that they had built relationships with local employers to provide networking opportunities to servicemembers. Also, Army officials stated that they provide virtual career fairs that are available to all servicemembers regardless of location. The shift to fully virtual delivery of TAP support at the start of the pandemic also presented common challenges among the installations in GAO's review, including not having a live virtual option for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits briefing and having caps on the number of servicemembers in virtual classes. An official at one installation said the installation was able to provide servicemembers access to informal VA information sessions with their local VA office to supplement the self-paced virtual VA briefing. Why GAO Did This Study Approximately 200,000 servicemembers each year leave the military and transition to civilian life. To help servicemembers with potential challenges they may face during this transition, such as finding and maintaining employment, DOD is mandated by law to require that eligible separating servicemembers participate in TAP. House Report 116-442, accompanying a bill for the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, directed GAO to review servicemember participation in formal Transition Assistance Programs at small and remote military installations in the United States. This report describes: (1) the extent to which active-duty servicemembers at selected small or remote military installations within the United States are receiving required transition services; (2) the extent to which DOD is monitoring TAP at small or remote military installations; and (3) challenges that exist in implementing TAP at selected small or remote military installations. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance documents, and analyzed data provided by the Military-Civilian Transition Office (MCTO) and the military services. GAO also interviewed officials from MCTO, the military services, and TAP staff at nine small or remote installations in the United States selected to achieve at least two installations for each military service and for variation in geographic location. GAO identified remote military installations as those 50 or more miles from a city of 50,000 people or more, and small installations as those with 350 or fewer projected servicemember separations for fiscal year 2021.
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  • Missile Defense: Observations on Ground-based Midcourse Defense Acquisition Challenges and Potential Contract Strategy Changes
    In U.S GAO News
    The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing a system to defend the U.S. from long-range missile attacks. As MDA continues to develop this system, called Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), it has opportunities to incorporate into its approach lessons learned from over 2 decades of system development. MDA has made progress in developing and fielding elements of the GMD system. For example, MDA is constructing a new missile field to expand the fleet of interceptors. However, MDA has also experienced significant setbacks. Most recently, the Department of Defense canceled development of a key GMD element, the Redesigned Kill Vehicle, in 2019 because of fundamental problems with the system's design. Ongoing Construction of a New Ground-based Midcourse Defense Interceptor Field (July 16, 2019) Over the years, GAO has identified practices that MDA could apply to the GMD program to improve acquisition outcomes, such as: Using knowledge-based acquisition practices Involving stakeholders early and often Providing effective oversight Promoting competition Performing robust testing GAO has also made numerous recommendations to improve MDA's acquisition outcomes and reduce risk. As of July 2020, the department has concurred with most of the recommendations GAO made since MDA's inception in 2002. Although the department has implemented many of the recommendations, it has further opportunities to implement the remaining open recommendations and apply lessons learned on a major, new effort to develop a next-generation GMD interceptor. Since the late 1990s, DOD has executed the GMD program through a prime contractor responsible for developing and integrating the entire weapon system. MDA is considering taking over these responsibilities for GMD for the next phase of the program. GAO found that this approach offers potential benefits to the agency, such as more direct control over and greater insight into GMD's cost, schedule, and performance. However, the approach has some challenges that, if not addressed, could outweigh the benefits. For example, MDA may encounter challenges obtaining the technical data and staffing levels necessary to manage this complex weapon system, which could ultimately affect its availability or readiness. As of October 2020, MDA has not yet determined an acquisition strategy for the next phase of the GMD program. The GMD system aims to defend the U.S. against ballistic missile attacks from rogue states like North Korea or Iran. DOD has been developing this system since the 1990s and has spent $53 billion on the system so far. GMD is a complex system that includes interceptors and a ground system, and MDA has largely relied on a contractor, Boeing, to manage development and system integration. MDA is considering moving away from this approach as the program embarks on developing a key element of the GMD, a new interceptor. The House Armed Services Committee included a provision in a report for GAO to assess the GMD contract structure and identify potential opportunities to improve government management and contractor accountability. This report addresses (1) the lessons learned from challenges MDA encountered acquiring the GMD system and (2) the potential benefits and risks of MDA taking over system integration responsibilities for GMD. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed GMD program documentation, prior GAO reports on missile defense, GAO interviews with other DOD components, and expert panel reviews of GMD. GAO also spoke with officials from MDA and other DOD components. GAO has 17 open recommendations aimed at improving missile defense acquisition outcomes and reducing risk. Recently, DOD has taken steps to address some of these open recommendations, but further action is needed to fully implement the remaining recommendations. For more information, contact W. William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19 Contracting: Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursements Could Provide Lessons Learned for Future Emergency Responses
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found To help government contractors keep their workforce in a ready state during the COVID-19 pandemic, section 3610 of the CARES Act generally authorized government agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to contractor personnel and subcontractors during the national emergency. Section 3610 did not appropriate specific funding for this purpose. The four agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and NASA—reported use of section 3610 authority totaling at least $882.8 million over 14 months. The extent to which the agencies used the authority varied, from $1.4 million at Homeland Security to $760.7 million at Energy. Further, Defense officials estimated that defense contractors have more than $4 billion in paid leave costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement under section 3610. Defense officials also noted, however, that the department does not plan to reimburse this full amount using existing funding. Agencies also based their reimbursement decisions on the nature of the work performed by contractors, such as whether telework was an option. Twelve out of the 15 contractors GAO interviewed reported that paid leave reimbursement had a great or moderate effect on their ability to retain employees (see figure), in particular those with specialized skills or clearances. Selected Contractors' Views on the Effect of Paid Leave Reimbursement on Workforce Retention Given the urgency of the pandemic, agencies prioritized quick implementation of section 3610 over a more deliberative process, resulting in variations such as how agencies tracked use of the authority. Officials from all four agencies said that they either have captured or intend to capture lessons learned from implementing section 3610 and are willing to share these with other federal agencies. However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which coordinates government-wide contracting policy—has not collected and shared lessons learned. With coordination from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the government could seize an opportunity to enhance implementation of paid leave reimbursement provisions that may be enacted as part of rapid federal responses to future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance for those affected by COVID-19. Section 3610 of the CARES Act enables agencies, at their discretion, to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to their employees and subcontractors who are unable to access work sites due to facility closures or other restrictions, and whose duties cannot be performed remotely during the pandemic. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. In September 2020, GAO found that agencies had not made much use of section 3610 authority as of July 2020, and expectations of future use varied. This report (1) examines how selected federal agencies have used section 3610 authority and (2) presents selected contractors' perspectives on COVID-19 paid leave reimbursement. GAO reviewed guidance and data and interviewed cognizant officials from four agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO also selected a non-generalizable sample of 15 contractors that received or requested section 3610 reimbursements from one or more of the selected agencies and conducted semi-structured interviews of contractor representatives.
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