Department Press Briefing – April 23, 2021

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:06 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining today’s briefing. I just have a few announcements at the top, and we’ll resume to taking your questions.

This morning, the Secretary hosted a virtual ministerial with the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. He emphasized our commitment to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Central Asian countries. The Secretary highlighted the importance of a just and durable settlement in Afghanistan for our efforts to support stability, regional growth, and development.

Additionally, the Secretary announced a project supporting women business associations across Central Asia, proposed a future P5+1 meeting on climate change with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry, and discussed a range of issues, including the COVID-19 recovery.

The State Department also announced today that Jeffrey Feltman will serve as the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. This appointment underscores the administration’s commitment to lead an international diplomatic effort to address the interlinked political, security, and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa. Having held senior positions in both the State Department and the United Nations, Special Envoy Feltman is uniquely suited to bring decades of experience in Africa and the Middle East, multilateral diplomacy, and negotiation and mediation to develop and execute an integrated U.S. strategy to address these complex regional issues. His work will also build on our ongoing effort to address the escalating conflict in Ethiopia and provide opportunities for reform.

I’ll give just a minute of time for you all to filter in the queue before we start taking your questions.

OPERATOR: And as a reminder, to join the Q&A queue, you may press 1 then 0.

MS PORTER: Let’s start with the line of Michael Lavers.

QUESTION: Hi —

OPERATOR: Michael Lavers, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay, fantastic. Thank you so much for the call today. I just wanted to see if you had any additional information about the cable that Secretary Blinken sent out regarding pride flags at the U.S. embassies and consulates and if you can confirm any further details about that.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Michael. I just want to start off by saying that Secretary Blinken is committed to the rights and prosperity of our LGBTQ+ community, both our employees at State and in all around the world.

When it comes to the cable that you mentioned, of course, the department issues pride guidance to our missions on a regular basis, and pride displays at overseas facilities actually don’t require Washington approval. However, flying a flag over the Foreign Service – from the same flagpole as the U.S. actually doesn’t require approval as well. In prior years, the department has issued a blanket authorization or requested that posts request permission from Washington to fly a pride flag from the same flagpole as the U.S. flag.

Let’s go to the line of Rosiland Jordan.

OPERATOR: Rosiland Jordan, your line’s open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina, thanks for the call. A couple of questions. First, is there any reaction from the U.S. Government to the news that Aleksey Navalny, on the advice of his doctors, is ending his hunger strike? And what concern has been given to the Russian Government about his continued well-being?

And then in terms of the meeting that the Belarusian President Lukashenko had with Vladimir Putin, what concerns does the U.S. Government have about that meeting, especially in light of rumors that they’re looking at some sort of closer political affiliation, although Putin is rejecting calls that the two countries merge?

And then finally, is there any overall progress in U.S.-Russian discussions on employee staff, the status of the diplomats who have been declared PNG, and so on? Thanks so much.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Rosiland. I’m going to start backwards from forward with your questions, addressing the third one initially, and just say that the Russian Government, as we know, has made an unfortunate decision to announce regarding locally employed staff. These steps prohibit the employment of local staff, community members, and past personnel, as well as the community. We know that our locally employed staff are key members of the workforce all around the world. Their contributions are important not only to our operations but our bilateral missions.

When it comes to your question on Belarus and their meeting with Russia, we have nothing to preview or read out for that at this time.

But when it comes to Mr. Navalny, we’re certainly aware of the report that he is planning to end his weeklong hunger strike, and we remain deeply concerned about his health as well as his safety, and we continue to call for his unconditional and immediate release.

Let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis.

OPERATOR: Simon Lewis, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, I have a question about Myanmar, or Burma. There’s a summit in ASEAN coming up, and the regional countries are trying to – trying to address the coup that’s happened in Myanmar. And there’s been some controversy about them inviting or meeting with the commander-in-chief, so I guess I’m interested in if the U.S. has any take on the regional summit and what you’d like to see there regarding the coup.

And separately, the – there’s a national unity government that’s been formed in opposition to the coup, and they’re sort of calling for them to be recognized as the legitimate government of the country rather than inviting the commander-in-chief to these kind of diplomatic events. I wonder what the U.S. position is on – who do you recognize as the Government of Myanmar, and are you going to extend any form of – formal recognition to this national unity government? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Simon. When it comes to your question about the ASEAN summit as well as when it pertains to a specific government, I mean, we – the United States, again, we maintain our strong support for the people of Burma through and through. We maintain support for them overcoming their crisis as well as them restoring their – Burma’s path to democracy and eventually achieving lasting peace. We’ll continue to commend the steadfast courage demonstrated by the people of Burma in opposition to the military coup. They’ve made their voices heard, quite frankly, in the face of horrific violence and oppression from their military regime.

Let’s go to the line of Tejinder Singh.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay, this is more of a request for an update. After the spokesperson yesterday elaborated on the requests from India about raw materials for vaccines, there’s been a big outcry in the Indian media and everywhere. So I just wanted to know if there has been any update in the U.S. position on the raw materials for the vaccine, and any more concrete answer to the requests for the raw materials embargo lifting? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So we don’t have any specific update to raw materials, but we’ll just reiterate that we understand that the COVID situation in India remains a global concern. And as we look to our Indian friends battling this pandemic, we’ll also acknowledge the toll that it’s taking not only on the people of India but as well as all throughout South Asia and, quite frankly, all over the world.

We have continued to work closely with India to facilitate the movement of essential supplies and also address the bottlenecks of their supply chains. But we’ll also continue to collaborate with our partners in India to battle this at the highest level. We know Secretary Blinken spoke to his counterpart on Tuesday, and we remain deeply engaged with India at all levels as we work to combat this crisis of the pandemic together.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neill.

OPERATOR: Casey O’Neill, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Happy Friday, and thanks for doing this, Jalina. Couple of questions for you. Firstly, on Iran. We’ve heard from a lot of officials that the United States continues to raise the issue of arbitrarily detained Americans during the indirect JCPOA negotiations with the Iranians. Just curious as to what, if anything, the Iranians had to say in response to those voiced concerns.

And then second, just quickly on Belarus, there’s been some reporting that Ambassador Fisher is going to be taking up temporary residence in Lithuania. Just wondering if you can confirm that for us. Thank you.

MS PORTER: So I don’t have any updates as – when it pertains to Ambassador Fisher. But I will say to your question on Iran, the State Department takes seriously the health and safety of all those wrongfully detained, especially U.S. citizens, both in Iran and all over the world. When it comes to your question about the Iranians saying anything, we certainly can’t preview or say anything that they have said. But again, we will call – continue to call for the release of all those who were unjustly detained, not only in Iran but, again, all over the world.

Let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Hope you’re well. Could I ask another question about Russia? Yesterday, Ned mentioned that the United States was looking for action rather than words regarding the pullback of troops near the Ukrainian border. The Russian defense ministry says that that has gone ahead, the pullback. Do you have any further reaction today? Do you see this as a positive sign and easing of tensions in any way? And have there been any discussions with the Russians or, for that matter, with the Ukrainians on this? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Shaun. So we don’t have any specific updates, but I’ll just continue to underscore that we’ve made clear in our engagement with Russia, with their government that they need to restrain – refrain from their aggression and escalatory actions, and they need to immediately cease all of their aggressive activity in and around Ukraine. And that includes their recent military buildup in occupied Crimea as well as along Ukraine’s border.

The United States, of course, reaffirms its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as its territorial integrity, extending to its territorial waters.

Let’s go to the line of Luis Rojas.

QUESTION: Yes. Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have only one question. What is (inaudible) by the United States Government regarding the case of Colombian Alex Saab who is detained in Cabo Verde? Have you a new update, a new information about this?

MS PORTER: We don’t have any new updates to issue about this, but certainly we will make sure that when we do, we’ll either release them on our website or release them through one of our daily press briefings.

Let’s go to the line of Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for doing this. I want to ask about what we are expecting tomorrow about the recognition of the Armenian genocide. What is the position of the State Department? And I read several reports that Secretary Blinken had a call with his Turkish counterpart. Can you confirm that?

MS PORTER: So at this time, we don’t have anything to read out as far as the Secretary’s call with his Turkish counterpart. But when it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow, and we would have to refer you to the White House.

Let’s go to the line of Kristina Anderson.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my call. I wonder if you could speak to some of the top line diplomatic issues between the U.S. and Turkey, just looking forward to the President’s visit next month on the margins of the NATO summit. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, what we’ll say is, obviously, that Turkey is a valued and longstanding NATO Ally. And we obviously have shared interests, and those shared interests include, of course, counterterrorism and ending the conflict in Syria as well as deterring any malign influence in the region. We also seek cooperation with Turkey on common priorities such as like engaging in dialogue to address any disagreements. Then at the same time, we’ll always uphold our values, which includes human rights and rule of law and protecting the interests of those while keeping Turkey as well aligned with the transatlantic alliance on all of these critical issues.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.

OPERATOR: Jiha Ham, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Okay, thank you. Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. My question is about the policy review on North Korea. It’s been more than a month now since the administration officials told reporters that the review would be completed in the coming weeks. So I have to ask you reasons for this delay. And some predict that the administration is going to wait until the South Korean president’s visit at the end of May. So is there any connection between the policy review and the president’s – President Moon’s visit? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. Again, while we don’t have a specific timeline for the review, again, what I’ll say is that the Biden administration is conducting a thorough interagency review of our policy towards North Korea, and that would include implementation of ongoing pressure measures as well as options for future diplomacy. And again, we have nothing to preview since that review is still ongoing.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak.

OPERATOR: Janne Pak, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Jalina, for doing this, and Happy Friday. Currently, South Korea is in a difficult situation due to a lack of vaccines. So the South Korean Government is trying to introduce Russian-made vaccines. I think that unproven Russian vaccines are dangerous to the South Korean people. If the U.S. has enough vaccines, can the U.S. cooperate with its ally South Korea to support the vaccines? And when can we expect it to be able to supply U.S. vaccines to South Korea? Thank you very much.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions, Janne. So right now, we don’t have anything to announce as far as getting U.S. vaccines to South Korea. I mean, we certainly value South Korea as a strategic partner, and our relationship with South Korea – as you know, Secretary Blinken has traveled to the region and underscored our commitment to the Indo-Pacific, but right now, we have nothing to announce when it comes to vaccines in the region.

I’ll take one last question from Mr. Arshad Mohammed.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Two things, just to follow up on Turkey and Armenia. You said, quote, “At this time, we don’t have anything to read out as far as the Secretary’s call with his Turkish counterpart, but when it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow.”

Question one: Are you confirming that the Secretary has indeed had a call with his Turkish counterpart?

And second: Are you – in referring to the events as, quote, the “Armenian genocide,” are you seeking to tell us that that is what the announcement will be tomorrow? I don’t think the department normally refers to those events with those terms.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. Again, when it comes to the previous question raised that you reiterated on Armenia, I have nothing to preview, nothing to announce, and I would have to refer you to the White House.

To your previous question, kind of summarizing what I’ve said before, again, though, I – my words spoke for themselves. I have nothing else to preview at this time.

I’m sorry. We actually have one last question from Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Hi —

MS PORTER: Said, are you there?

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m here. Can you hear me? Yeah.

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) thanks for taking my question. I wanted to ask you, for the last three, four nights, throngs of settlers and orthodox – that’s what they call them, that’s what Israel calls them – orthodox adherents and so on – they have been attacking Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. They are calling death to the Arabs and so on. And I know that the embassy in Jerusalem issued the – a statement that is really not very clear. What is your position on this?

MS PORTER: Well, we’re certainly deeply concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Jerusalem, and that includes the clashes in Old City, which left over 100 people injured, as reported. But again, when it comes to reports of extremist protestors chanting hateful, racist, and violent slogans, they are extremely disturbing, and they must be firmly rejected. We’ll call on the authorities in Jerusalem to take all appropriate steps to – not only to de-escalate the tensions, but also ensure the safety, security, as well as the rights of all of Jerusalem’s residents, as well as call on voices to urge calm and unity in the face of these hateful attacks.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you all for joining today. I wish you a safe and productive weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)

 

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    The U.S. Center for SafeSport (the Center), an independent nonprofit organization, was established in response to concerns about the consistency of investigations conducted and resolutions reached by amateur sports organizations of allegations of misconduct and abuse. According to Center staff, their response to allegations of misconduct are guided by the SafeSport Code, which establishes acceptable standards of conduct for all individuals who participate in U.S. Olympic and Paralympic events and training, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and other tools. The SafeSport Code defines the scope of the Center's jurisdiction, establishes the standard of proof for its decisions, identifies types of prohibited conduct, describes possible temporary measures and sanctions, and outlines the resolution process and requirements to report to law enforcement. SOPs outline intake and investigation staff roles and responsibilities and provide a step-by-step guide of processes, and a case management system is used by intake and investigation staff to document their work. The Center seeks to ensure its intake and investigation process is fair by taking steps to ensure anonymity and privacy; providing opportunities for claimants (the persons alleged to have experienced misconduct) and respondents (the individuals accused of misconduct) to participate in investigations; and providing parties with the right to consult with an advisor and to seek arbitration of sanctions or other measures imposed by the Center. The Center refers to allegations of misconduct as cases when it establishes that it has enough information to proceed with intake and investigation. From February 2018 through June 2020, the Center created and resolved 3,909 cases. Most of the Center’s cases were resolved through administrative closure or jurisdictional closure. Administrative closure may occur as a result of insufficient evidence, claimants who elect not to participate in the resolution process, or other factors. Jurisdictional closure occurs when the Center does not have jurisdiction or the Center chooses not to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction, as defined in the SafeSport Code. As of June 30, 2020, approximately 1,300 individuals were listed in the Center’s Centralized Disciplinary Database; this number includes individuals placed on temporary restriction(s) or temporary suspension, as well as individuals suspended or rendered permanently ineligible to participate. On February 14, 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 was enacted, which codified the Center’s jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its affiliated organizations with regard to safeguarding amateur athletes against abuse in sports. It also required the Center to develop resources and policies to prevent abuse of amateur athletes. The Center investigates and resolves allegations of sexual misconduct by coaches, trainers, managers, peers, and others that may be in violation of the Center’s policies and procedures. In addition, the Center may, at its discretion, investigate and resolve allegations of other policy violations, including non-sexual child abuse and emotional and physical misconduct. The Center plays a key role in ensuring the safety of amateur athletes, many of whom are minors, who participate in Olympic, Paralympic, and Pan-American events and training. GAO was asked to describe the process the Center uses in responding to, investigating, and resolving allegations of misconduct. This report describes (1) how the Center responds to allegations of misconduct in amateur athletics and seeks to ensure its process for investigating and resolving allegations is fair, and (2) what is known about incidents reported to the Center from February 2018 through June 2020. GAO reviewed documents relevant to Center intake and investigation policies and practices and interviewed the Center's leadership, including individuals responsible for the intake and investigation of allegations of misconduct. In addition, GAO requested summary data for the period February 2018 through June 2020—the most recent data available—including information about allegations of misconduct and abuse, and the investigation and resolution of cases. For more information, contact Kathy A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO began 37 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of GAO's 37 requested entrance conferences for those audits, DOD scheduled 33 within 14 days and held 34 within 30 days of GAO's notification. Entrance conferences are initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff that allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. The four entrance conferences that were scheduled more than 14 days after notification were scheduled late due to either difficulties in identifying a primary action officer or aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. The three entrance conferences that were held more than 30 days after notification were scheduled late due to difficulties in aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of their receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the final of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first three quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that it sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received GAO's notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the GAO team conducting each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found (1) the Office of Financial Stability's (OFS) financial statements for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as of and for the fiscal years ended September 30, 2020, and 2019, are presented fairly, in all material respects, in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles; (2) OFS maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting for TARP as of September 30, 2020; and (3) no reportable noncompliance for fiscal year 2020 with provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements GAO tested. In commenting on a draft of this report, OFS stated that it is proud to receive an unmodified opinion on its financial statements and its internal control over financial reporting. OFS also stated that it is committed to maintaining the high standards and transparency reflected in these audit results. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) that authorized TARP on October 3, 2008, includes a provision for TARP, which is implemented by OFS, to annually prepare and submit to Congress and the public audited fiscal year financial statements that are prepared in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. EESA further states that GAO shall audit TARP's financial statements annually. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
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  • Aircraft Noise: Information on a Potential Mandated Transition to Quieter Airplanes
    In U.S GAO News
    Based on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data and GAO estimates, most U.S. large commercial jet airplanes are certificated at the minimum required stage 3 noise standards, but nearly all of them are able to meet more stringent noise standards. Sixty-three percent of large commercial airplanes in the United States are certificated as meeting the stage 3 standards; however, 87 percent of them were manufactured with technologies that are able to meet more recent and stringent stage 4 or 5 standards as currently configured, according to FAA's 2017 analysis. By analyzing updated data from airlines and aviation manufacturers, GAO estimated that this proportion is even higher: 96 percent of large commercial airplanes are able to meet stage 4 or 5 standards (see figure). According to FAA officials and aviation stakeholders, the primary reason many large commercial airplanes certificated as stage 3 produce lower than stage 3 noise levels is because engine and airframe technology has outpaced the implementation of noise standards. More recently, some airlines have accelerated retirement of certain airplanes, some of which are certificated as stage 3, due to the decrease in travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the generally smaller regional commercial jets (i.e., generally with less than 90 seats), 86 percent are able to meet stage 4 or stage 5 standards, according to manufacturers' data. With regard to general aviation (which are used for personal or corporate flights), 73 percent of the jet airplanes in that fleet are able to meet the more stringent stage 4 or 5 standards, according to manufacturers' data. GAO Estimate of The Number of Large Airplanes in the U.S. Commercial Fleet That Are Able to Meet Stage 3 or Stage 4 and 5 Noise Standards, January 2020 According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, a phase-out of jet airplanes that are certificated as meeting stage 3 standards would provide limited noise reduction and limited other benefits, and could be costly and present other challenges. A phase-out could require recertificating the vast majority of stage 3 airplanes to comply with stage 4 or 5 standards. This process could be costly for operators and manufacturers but would provide little reduction in noise. Further, airplanes currently unable to meet more stringent standards would require modifications or face retirement. For older airplanes that could not be recertificated to meet stage 4 or 5 standards, some operators could incur costs for replacement airplanes sooner than originally planned. Although stakeholders indicated that a phase-out would not substantially reduce noise, they identified other limited benefits newer airplanes generate, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption. Although advances in technology have led to quieter aircraft capable of meeting increasingly stringent noise standards, airport noise remains a concern. FAA regulates aircraft noise by ensuring compliance with relevant noise standards. In 1990, federal law required large jet airplanes to comply with stage 3 noise standards by 1999, leading to a phase-out of the noisiest airplanes (stage 1 and 2 airplanes). Later, federal law required smaller airplanes to comply with stage 3 standards by 2016. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review a potential phase-out of stage 3 airplanes—the loudest aircraft currently operating in the United States. This report describes (1) the proportion of stage 3 airplanes in the U.S. fleet, and what proportion of these stage 3 airplanes are able to meet more stringent noise standards and (2) selected stakeholders' views on the potential benefits, costs, and challenges of phasing out stage 3 airplanes. GAO reviewed FAA's analysis of December 2017 fleet data, analyzed January 2020 fleet data from select airlines and airframe and engine manufacturers, and interviewed FAA officials. GAO also interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 35 stakeholders, including airlines; airframe and engine manufacturers; airports; and industry associations, selected based on fleet and noise data, stakeholder recommendations, or prior GAO knowledge. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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  • Opioid Use Disorder: Treatment with Injectable and Implantable Buprenorphine
    In U.S GAO News
    Of the medications used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), only buprenorphine is both a controlled substance and available as an injection or implant. Buprenorphine is used to treat patients with OUD because it reduces or eliminates opioid withdrawal symptoms and blunts the euphoria or dangerous side effects of other opioids, such as heroin. When used to treat OUD, buprenorphine, in any form, is subject to additional laws and regulations that are overseen by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), within the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). To ensure patient safety when injectable and implantable buprenorphine is used, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), within HHS has also required drug companies to establish risk evaluation and mitigation strategies to help ensure the benefits of these medications outweigh their risks. Providers and pharmacies must follow a number of specific steps based on federal requirements when providing treatment with injectable and implantable buprenorphine. Providers are responsible for prescribing, storing, and administering injectable and implantable buprenorphine, while pharmacies are responsible for dispensing these medications (see figure). Representatives GAO interviewed from provider groups and pharmacies said they did not find the steps involved in treating patients to be difficult overall. However, they stated that careful and timely coordination with each other and patients is needed at key steps of the process to ensure that the patient receives treatment. Representatives from provider groups and pharmacies reported that the risk of diversion of injectable and implantable buprenorphine is low. For example, all of the provider groups GAO spoke with said that diversion of injectable or implantable buprenorphine is unlikely, and representatives from three of the six provider groups said that the design of these formulations reduces opportunities for diversion due to how they are administered. Process for Treating Opioid Use Disorder with Injectable and Implantable Buprenorphine The use of injectable and implantable buprenorphine to treat OUD is relatively low compared to oral forms of buprenorphine. HHS has reported that about 7,250 prescriptions were issued for injectable and implantable buprenorphine in fiscal year 2019, compared to over 700,000 patients who received buprenorphine prescriptions for oral formulations to treat OUD or pain in that year. In 2018, SAMHSA estimated that about one-quarter of the estimated 2 million people with OUD had received some form of substance use treatment in the prior year. One form of treatment—medication-assisted treatment (MAT)— combines behavioral therapy with the use of certain medications. HHS has identified expanding access to treatment for OUD as an important strategy for reducing opioid morbidity and mortality, which includes increasing the number of injectable and implantable buprenorphine prescriptions. Congress included a provision in the SUPPORT Act for GAO to review access to and the potential for the diversion of controlled substances administered by injection or implantation. This report focuses on injectable and implantable controlled substances that can be used to treat OUD and specifically, describes the process for treating OUD with injectable and implantable buprenorphine and what is known about their use. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and documentation from DEA, FDA, and SAMHSA governing the process of providing treatment with buprenorphine and interviewed officials from those agencies. GAO also interviewed representatives from stakeholder groups representing MAT providers; drug companies that manufacture injectable or implantable buprenorphine; and pharmacies that dispense these medications. HHS and DOJ reviewed a draft of this report, and GAO incorporated their technical comments, as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.
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  • Workplace Sexual Harassment: Experts Suggest Expanding Data Collection to Improve Understanding of Prevalence and Costs
    In U.S GAO News
    Limited nationwide data hinder a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and costs of workplace sexual harassment. According to GAO's analysis of available federal data and literature review, the few reliable nationwide estimates of sexual harassment's prevalence vary substantially due to differences in methodology, including the question structure and time period the survey used. Moreover, the likelihood of experiencing workplace sexual harassment can vary based on an individual's demographic characteristics—such as gender, race, and age—and whether the workplace is male- or female-dominated. For example, women, younger workers, and women in male-dominated workplaces were more likely to say they experienced harassment. GAO did not find any recent cost estimates of workplace sexual harassment, but identified four broad categories of costs: health, productivity, career, and reporting and legal costs (see figure). Examples of Costs Associated with Workplace Sexual Harassment The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as part of its mission to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination, maintains data on sexual harassment and retaliation charges filed against employers, but cannot systematically analyze the relationship between the two for all charges filed nationwide. After filing sexual harassment charges or engaging in other protected activity, employees may experience retaliation, such as firing or demotion, and EEOC data show that retaliation charges constitute a growing portion of its workload. EEOC's planning documents highlight its intention to address retaliation and use charge data to inform its outreach to employers. However, while EEOC can review electronic copies of individual charges for details, such as whether a previously filed sexual harassment charge led to a retaliation charge, its data system cannot aggregate this information across all charges. Without the capacity to fully analyze trends in the relationship between sexual harassment and retaliation charges, EEOC may miss opportunities to refine its work with employers to prevent and address retaliation. Experts at GAO's roundtable said nationally representative surveys would help to improve available information on workplace sexual harassment. Expert recommendations focused on three main areas: (1) survey administration and resources, including advantages and disadvantages to various federal roles; (2) methods to collect data, such as using stand-alone surveys or adding questions to existing surveys; and (3) content of data to be collected, including employee and employer characteristics and specific costs. While many workers in the United States experience workplace sexual harassment—resulting in substantial costs to them and their employers—the extent of sexual harassment and the magnitude of its effects are not fully understood. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which reliable information is available on workplace sexual harassment's prevalence and costs. This report examines (1) what is known about the prevalence and costs of U.S. workplace sexual harassment, including the federal workforce, (2) the extent to which EEOC collects sexual harassment data, and (3) data collection approaches experts recommend to improve available information. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed EEOC data and survey data from other federal agencies, interviewed officials and reviewed documentation from multiple federal agencies, and interviewed experts on sexual harassment. GAO also convened a 2-day roundtable of experts, with assistance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and conducted a literature review. GAO recommends that EEOC assess the feasibility of systematically analyzing its data on retaliation charges and the associated protected activities, including those related to sexual harassment. EEOC did not state whether or not it concurred with GAO's recommendation. GAO continues to believe this recommendation is appropriate, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19 Loans: SBA Has Begun to Take Steps to Improve Oversight and Fraud Risk Management
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) quickly implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and expedited the processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and a new EIDL advance program. These important programs have helped businesses survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to move quickly on these programs, SBA initially put limited internal controls in place, leaving both susceptible to program integrity issues, improper payments, and fraud. Because of concerns about program integrity, GAO added PPP and the EIDL program onto its High-Risk List in March 2021. SBA has begun to take steps to address these initial deficiencies: PPP oversight. Because ongoing oversight is crucial, GAO recommended in June 2020 that SBA develop plans to respond to PPP risks to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. Since then, SBA has developed a loan review process and added up-front verifications before it approves new loans. Improper payments for PPP. GAO recommended in November 2020 that SBA expeditiously estimate improper payments for PPP and report estimates and error rates. SBA has now developed a plan for the testing needed to estimate improper payments. Analyzing EIDL data. Based on evidence of widespread potential fraud for EIDL, GAO recommended in January 2021 that SBA conduct portfolio-level analysis to detect potentially ineligible applications. SBA has not announced plans to implement this recommendation. EIDL oversight. GAO recommended in March 2021 that SBA implement a comprehensive oversight plan for EIDL to ensure program integrity. SBA agreed to implement such a plan. Assessment of fraud risks. SBA has not conducted a formal fraud risk assessment for PPP or the EIDL program. GAO made four recommendations in March 2021, including that SBA conduct a formal assessment and develop a strategy to manage fraud risks for each program. SBA said it would work to complete fraud risk assessments for PPP and EIDL and continually monitor fraud risks. Financial statement audit. In December 2020, SBA's independent financial statement auditor issued a disclaimer of opinion on SBA's fiscal year 2020 consolidated financial statements because SBA could not provide adequate documentation to support a significant number of transactions and account balances related to PPP and EIDL. GAO continues to review information SBA recently provided, including data on PPP loan forgiveness and details on the PPP and EIDL loan review processes. In addition, GAO has obtained additional information from a survey of PPP participating lenders, interviews with SBA's PPP contractors, and written responses to questions provided by SBA's EIDL contractor and subcontractors. Why GAO Did This Study SBA has made or guaranteed about 18.7 million loans and grants through PPP and the EIDL program, providing about $968 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. PPP provides potentially forgivable loans to small businesses, and EIDL provides low-interest loans of up to $2 million for operating and other expenses, as well as advances (grants). This testimony discusses the lack of controls in PPP and the EIDL program and SBA's efforts to improve its oversight of these programs. It is based largely on GAO's June 2020–March 2021 reports on the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 (GAO-20-625, GAO-20-701, GAO-21-191, GAO-21-265, GAO -21-387). For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and SBA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports; analyzed SBA data; and interviewed officials from SBA, the SBA OIG, and the Department of the Treasury.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other DHS entities use, in part, inspections to oversee detention facilities and address identified deficiencies. As shown below, in fiscal year 2019, most of ICE's 179 facilities that housed adults for over 72 hours underwent inspections by contractors or its Office of Detention Oversight, while smaller facilities conducted self-assessments. ICE also conducted onsite monitoring at facilities. Further, two DHS offices conducted inspections related to certain aspects of facilities. ICE collects the results of its various inspections, such as deficiencies they identify, but does not comprehensively analyze them to identify trends or record all inspection results in a format conducive to such analyses. By ensuring inspection results are recorded in a format conducive to analysis and regularly conducting comprehensive analyses of results, ICE would be better positioned to identify and address potential trends in deficiencies. Detention Facility Oversight by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Entities at 179 Facilities, Fiscal Year 2019 ICE and DHS entities have various mechanisms for receiving and addressing detention-related complaints from detainees and others. However, while some of these entities conduct some analyses of the complaint data they maintain, ICE does not regularly analyze detention-related complaint data across all of its relevant offices. By regularly conducting such analyses, ICE could identify and address potential trends in complaints. Additionally, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices—which oversee and manage detention facilities—address and record outcomes of detention-related complaints referred to them for resolution, or do so in a timely manner. For example, GAO's analysis of data from one referring office—the Administrative Inquiry Unit—indicated that for certain noncriminal complaints the unit refers, ERO field offices did not provide resolutions back to the unit for 99 percent of referrals. Without requiring that ERO field offices record any actions taken on, and the resolutions of, detention-related complaints, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that field offices are addressing them. ICE is the lead agency responsible for providing safe, secure, and humane confinement for detained foreign nationals in the United States. ICE has established standards for immigration detention related to complaint processes, medical care, and other areas. The joint explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review ICE's management and oversight of detention facilities and detention-related complaints. This report examines ICE and other DHS entities' mechanisms for (1) overseeing compliance with immigration detention facility standards and how ICE uses oversight information to address any identified deficiencies; and (2) receiving and addressing detainee complaints, and how ICE uses complaint information. GAO analyzed documentation and data on inspections and complaints at facilities that held detainees for over 72 hours during the last 3 fiscal years—2017 through 2019; visited 10 facilities selected based on inspection results and other factors; and interviewed officials. GAO is making six recommendations, including that ICE ensures oversight data are recorded in a format conducive to analysis, regularly conducts trend analyses of oversight data and detention-related complaint data, and requires that ERO field offices record the resolutions of detention-related complaints. DHS concurred. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler, (202) 512-8777) or gamblerr@gao.gov.
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  • Defense Transportation: DOD Can Better Leverage Existing Contested Mobility Studies and Improve Training
    In U.S GAO News
    From 2016 through 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted or sponsored at least 11 classified or sensitive studies on contested mobility— the ability of the U.S. military to transport equipment and personnel in a contested operational environment. The studies resulted in more than 50 recommendations, and DOD officials stated they believed that some of the recommendations had been implemented. However, officials did not know the exact disposition of the recommendations, as they are not actively tracking implementation activities. Further, no single DOD oversight entity evaluated the studies' recommendations and tracked implementation across the department. As a result, DOD may be missing an opportunity to leverage existing knowledge on mobility in contested environments across organizations, and strengthen its mobility efforts for major conflicts as envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. DOD has updated aspects of wargame exercises and mobility training to prepare for a contested environment, but has not updated training for the surge sealift fleet—ships owned by DOD and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) and crewed by contracted mariners. These crews are primarily trained and qualified to operate the ship, but receive limited contested mobility training. While DOD has updated air mobility training and other aspects of mobility training, sealift crew training requirements have not been updated by DOD and MARAD to reflect contested environment concerns because DOD has not conducted an evaluation of such training. Since sealift is the means by which the majority of military equipment would be transported during a major conflict, it is important that crews be trained appropriately for contested mobility to help ensure that ships safely reach their destinations and complete their missions. C-17 Performing Defense Maneuvers DOD has begun to mitigate contested environment challenges through improved technology and related initiatives. The Navy is acquiring improved technologies to deploy on surge sealift ships and replacement ships. The Air Force is equipping current mobility aircraft (see photo above) with additional defensive technologies and planning for the development of future replacement aircraft. According to U.S. Transportation Command, the command is revising its contracts with commercial partners to address cyber threats, and funding research and development projects that address contested mobility concerns. Many of these efforts are nascent and will take years to be put in place. China and Russia are strengthening their militaries to neutralize U.S. strengths, including mobility—the ability of U.S. military airlift and air refueling aircraft and sealift ships to rapidly move equipment and personnel from the United States to locations abroad to support DOD missions. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's ability to operate in a contested mobility environment. This report assesses the extent to which DOD has studied contested mobility and tracked the implementation of study recommendations, assesses the extent to which DOD has revised its training to incorporate contested mobility challenges, and describes the technologies that DOD uses to mitigate contested mobility challenges. GAO identified contested mobility studies conducted or sponsored by DOD; evaluated DOD's processes for monitoring implementation of study recommendations; analyzed training and exercise documents from DOD combatant commands, the Air Force, and the Navy; and reviewed DOD plans for technological improvements to its mobility forces. GAO recommends that DOD designate an oversight entity to track the implementation of study recommendations, and that DOD and MARAD evaluate and update sealift training. DOD and the Department of Transportation concurred or partially concurred with each recommendation. GAO believes each recommendation should be fully implemented, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
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  • North Carolina Man Sentenced for Violating Fair Housing Act and Threatening a Family Because of Their Race
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that Douglas Matthew Gurkins, 34,was sentenced to 28 months in prison, followed by three years supervised release, for using threats of force against an African American family because of the family members’ race and because they were renting a dwelling.
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  • Joint Statement of the 47th U.S.-Israel Joint Political-Military Group
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of Alabama for Unconstitutional Conditions in State’s Prisons for Men
    In Crime News
    Today, the Justice Department filed suit against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections. The complaint alleges that the conditions at Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Constitution because Alabama fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff. 
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