Department Press Briefing – February 17, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:37 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. We have a few scheduling announcements here at the top concerning the Secretary’s upcoming engagements with our global partners.

This administration has made clear that the United States values our alliances and will work with our partners and friends around the world to pursue common interests across the globe.

I’m pleased to announce that tomorrow morning Secretary Blinken and his counterparts from Japan, Australia, and India will speak together.

The Quad, as it’s known, and this discussion with the Quad foreign ministers, is critical to advancing our shared goals of a free and open Indo-Pacific and rising to the defining challenges of our time, including coordinating our efforts on COVID-19 response as well as climate change.

The Secretary will also participate tomorrow in a virtual meeting with his counterparts from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – the so-called E3 – to discuss our shared global challenges. This engagement this week is a follow up to the February 5 meeting of this same group, the E3.

And on Monday, February 22, Secretary Blinken will participate in the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council at the invitation of EU High Representative Josep Borrell. The Secretary is pleased to accept the invitation as an opportunity to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to repair, to revitalize, and to raise the level of ambition in the U.S.-EU relationship and relations with EU member-states.

We look forward to providing readouts for each of these meetings. And we’ll of course have more to say on all of them in the coming hours and days.

So with that —

QUESTION: Wait. In the coming hours?

MR PRICE: Well, it is obvious that tomorrow morning is hours away, Matt, yes.

QUESTION: No, I mean, are you going to give us a preview of —

MR PRICE: No, I do not expect we’ll give you a preview, but after the fact.

QUESTION: Okay. So you got the Quad, the V – the E3 —

MR PRICE: And the FAC, the Foreign Affairs Council.

QUESTION: — and the FAC. So what’s next, the quint, the quartet, the sextet?

MR PRICE: Right now we have the Quad, the E3, and the FAC.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I start with Iran?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: So you will have seen probably that the head of the IAEA is going to Tehran. You may have also – at least I hope you have – seen that Rouhani has said that if you guys gradually back into meeting your – meeting the obligations of the deal, that they will also do it. And I know, and please don’t say that you’re not going to negotiate it from the podium, but, I mean, is this something that is acceptable to you, I mean, or is it just something that is just out of – it’s just not going to work? It’s all or nothing.

MR PRICE: Sorry, the antecedent – what is the “this?”

QUESTION: The – if they return gradually, then you will return gradually.

MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, let me just start – because you referenced Iran and the IAEA, so let me just start with a bit of context. And, of course, we are aware of Iran’s threat to cease the provisional application of its Additional Protocol obligations as well as other inspections provided for under the 2015 deal, the JCPOA. This, of course, comes on top of other steps Iran has taken that exceed, go beyond what the JCPOA allows in terms of limits on its nuclear programs.

The good news, of course, is that all of these steps are reversible and the path for diplomacy remains open. And I would say that as we and our partners have underscored, Iran should reverse these steps and refrain from taking others that would impact the IAEA assurances on which not only the United States, not only our allies and partners in the region, but the entire world relies. Iran should provide full and timely cooperation with the IAEA.

Of course, the proposition that you have heard from this podium, that you have heard from the President of the United States, that you have heard from Secretary Blinken, it of course remains on the table: If Iran resumes its full compliance with the deal, we will do the same. Importantly, as you have also heard us say, that the deal for us, it is a floor, it’s not a ceiling, and we want to go beyond the 2015 deal, lengthen and strengthen it, and build on it with follow-on arrangements to address other areas of concern when it comes to our relationship with Iran and concern that our allies and partners share, including Iran’s ballistic missile program.

So, of course, the path for diplomacy remains there. We hope to be able to pursue it together with our allies and partners.

QUESTION: So the previous administration, before the former president pulled out of the deal in 2018, but there was a year, almost a year – 14 months in between then when the previous administration tried to do exactly what you’re talking about, which was to lengthen and strengthen and to go on to – to go beyond that to get into missile activity and what they term malign activity in the region. How is it that you – that you think that your – this administration is going to do that any differently? Because the previous administration was not successful in its attempts and they tried pretty hard.

MR PRICE: Well, you’re right about that. You are also right about the fact that – I guess you didn’t say this explicitly, but I will – when the JCPOA was in place, the breakout time – that is, the time that Iran would require to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon – was 12 months. Published reports today put that at much closer to a few months, although those reports vary. But we know that Iran is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to that, and so that’s why we are so insistent as the JCPOA, with its verifiable – with its permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program, with the inspections that it affords not only the United States, again, but the international community – that’s why it’s so important for us that this be the floor and not the ceiling.

Now, when it comes to our approach, I think what I would point to that distinguishes our approach in the context of Iran, but also in the context of just about any other challenge we face, is that we understand that we need to bring our allies and partners along with us. The Secretary, the President of the United States, others in this administration – to include the Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley – they have spent the past few weeks working the phones, working the VTC, ensuring that we are addressing this challenge in lockstep with our allies and partners. We know that for every challenge we face, our partners and our allies are going to be force multipliers.

When it comes to the challenge of Iran, we entered into this deal in 2015 in the context of the P5+1. Those partners and allies are indispensable to this effort. Of course, there’ll be an E3 meeting tomorrow. I would expect – E3 meeting tomorrow, yes. I would expect Iran to be a topic of discussion there, but it’s just one element of that coordination with our partners and allies. I think if – we can’t be successful if we don’t have that coordination. It is a necessary but insufficient element of our approach, but we are getting the fundamentals right, or at least we’re in the course of doing that. And that’s why we focus so concertedly on that coordination.

QUESTION: Okay, last – last one real quick. So you said yes, it’s going to be a part of the E3 conversation tomorrow. So in the first year of the previous administration, Brian – do you know if Rob Malley has talked to Brian Hook at all about —

MR PRICE: I haven’t had that discussion with —

QUESTION: — his efforts during that first year of the Trump administration to try to get the Europeans on board with extending – you don’t know?

MR PRICE: If Special Envoy Malley has spoken with Brian Hook?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: I haven’t had the discussion with the special envoy.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Ned.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: On the E3 and —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — Secretary Blinken meeting tomorrow, they will discuss the security in the Middle East, too. What can you say exactly about these topics?

MR PRICE: So I think it’s – well, of course, they met on February 5th, I believe it was, earlier this month. And in the context of that meeting, they did discuss shared challenges. They discussed Iran, they discussed climate, they discussed COVID, they discussed Russia, they discussed China, they discussed Burma. I know the French, I believe, announced the E3 recently, and I know they have said in the context of that Iran, broader regional challenges will be on the table. In that regard, I, of course, would point you to the joint statement that was released last night by the Secretary, by his French counterpart, by his German counterpart, by his Italian counterpart, and by the UK foreign secretary condemning the attack in Erbil and noting our united views – united view, excuse me – that attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated. So I expect in the context of regional challenges that will be one of them, but I expect there will also be other items on the agenda as well.

QUESTION: And on this topic, do you have any update on the investigation?

MR PRICE: So the investigation, of course, is ongoing. We’re in the early days of this. As you know, the Secretary has spoken with his Kurdish counterpart, with his Iraqi counterpart. Others within the administration have reached out to their counterparts. We are moving is – as quickly as we can, knowing that the safety and security of U.S. Government personnel and U.S. citizens and the security of our facilities is a top priority for us. I think it is also safe to say that, of course, we’re not going to preview a response, but it is fair to say that there will be consequences for any group responsible for this attack. As I spoke to it yesterday, our Kurdish partners, our Iraqi partners, together they are working on this investigation to determine who precisely was responsible. Any response we take will be in full coordination with the Government of Iraq and with our coalition partners as well.

Lara.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Follow-up on Iraq? How would you characterize how the department balances the inherent risks of working in Iraq versus any kind of diplomatic benefits it may yield?

MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, this is a challenge I think that goes well beyond Iraq. And we know that in order for America to pursue our values and to pursue our interests around the world, we have to be engaged in the world. And, of course, engagement in some corners of the world carries added risks. Diplomacy is not a risk-free venture, and we are absolutely grateful to our colleagues who are on the front lines, in war zones, in places where violence is high, in places where political instability is rife. The Secretary has been able to speak to some of them virtually. He made a point of reaching out to missions – he has made a point of reaching out to missions around the world and has spoken to some of our officers deployed in conflict zones precisely for that reason: knowing that we need to be engaged, just as we take every prudent precaution we can to protect our facilities, our people, our dependents, and, of course, those of our partners and allies.

QUESTION: Can we come back to Iran?

MR PRICE: Sure. Iran? I didn’t hear – so, yes, Rosiland.

QUESTION: Yeah. Keeping in mind that you’re not going to tell us everything that comes up during the E3 meeting on Thursday, as part of trying to return to the JCPOA and expand it, what is this building doing to bring Congress along, one, to make certain that there is political –domestic political support for a deal with Iran, and two, to send the signal to Iran that should the administration change hands in four years, that whatever work is done now isn’t upended again in four years’ time?

MR PRICE: Well, you will know from the Secretary’s confirmation hearing that he was adamant about the need for a constructive partnership with Congress. The Secretary has, of course, been, as he likes to say, on the family plan with his partners and allies around the world, but also with members of Congress. And he’s held a number of conversations with relevant lawmakers, both as – when he was the designate, as courtesy calls, but also since his time in office, to include substantive discussions on some of these issues. The Secretary has also been clear with the staff in the building that as an institution, we need to ensure that we are prioritizing this partnership with Congress. It is good for the department. It is good for the Article I branch of government, but it’s also indispensable to our democracy.

We need a Congress, and we in fact want a Congress, that is actively engaged in foreign policy and that is a constructive partner with us. And I think the Secretary would tell you that he has heard a lot of constructive feedback from those members that he has spoken with and will continue to prioritize that engagement. Just in recent days, the Secretary has underscored for all of us that we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prioritize that relationship, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Sorry, on the family plan —

QUESTION: Does that mean that – does that mean —

QUESTION: In that respect refers to what, a cell phone – like kind of a —

MR PRICE: It was a turn of phrase, but —

QUESTION: Right, but that’s – that’s what you’re talking about?

MR PRICE: Correct. Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: Like he’s talking to them so much that —

MR PRICE: Correct. Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

QUESTION: On Iran?

MR PRICE: On Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: When will Rob Malley start traveling and where will be his first stops? And then to follow up on Matt’s question, are you ruling out a gradual return to compliance as an option to coming back to the JCPOA?

MR PRICE: You’re not going to hear me rule anything in or rule anything out, certainly not today, certainly not from the podium. I think when it comes to Rob Malley, his travel is consistent with our policy for department – senior department leadership across the board. There is a general disposition, as I’ve said before, against travel. Of course, if there are exigent or urgent circumstances and Special Envoy Malley needs to travel, I’m quite certain he will be able to avail himself of that opportunity. But, of course, we are doing everything we can to protect our people, to protect those with whom we may come into contact, and to minimize travel consistent with an administration-wide policy.

Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Follow-up on Rob Malley. The Chinese ministry of foreign affairs said that he spoke to the vice foreign minister of China last week, but you guys didn’t read out that call. Is there some reason why you haven’t confirmed that? Are you able to confirm that now?

MR PRICE: We often don’t speak to individual engagements, but what I can say – and what I have said, in fact – is that Rob Malley has been engaging in ongoing consultations with members of Congress, with our allies, with our partners, and with others, including members of the P5+1. And I can confirm that does include Vice Minister Ma of China. Of course, China was – is a member of the P5+1, so that engagement is an important one.

QUESTION: And did he speak to Martin Griffiths before his visit to Iran, the UN envoy?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, did Special Envoy Malley? I don’t know the timing of that. We can see if there’s anything to provide there.

QUESTION: Just briefly on Iran – the role of the European Union. As you know, Foreign Minister Zarif has spoken about a role for Josep Borrell in trying to coordinate action. Is that something that’s going to be in the discussions tomorrow? What’s the role that you see for the EU when – going forward?

MR PRICE: Well, the role of the EU is an important one, and it is important precisely because the P5+1 includes the EU in addition to the European member states. And so it’s going to be on the agenda for the E3 tomorrow. It’s going to be – and it has been on our bilateral agenda with the individual member states who are part of the P5+1 with the Brits, the French, and the Germans, but also with the EU, precisely because the EU was there at the inception, and the EU has an important role to play going forward.

Anything else on Iran, or should we move on? Okay.

QUESTION: Egypt?

MR PRICE: Egypt? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday you raised some human rights concerns in Egypt regarding the family of Mohamed Soltan. But you also notified Congress about a big arms deal with Egypt. So why is the – why is the State Department moving ahead with these arms sales despite these human rights concerns?

MR PRICE: Well, as a general matter, what I would say is that we are committed to supporting Egypt’s efforts to meet its self-defense requirements while also ensuring that respect for democracy and human rights returns to the forefront of U.S. policy, not only toward Egypt, but as I have said before, to every single relationship we have around the world. You are right that on February 16th, the department approved a proposed FMS, a foreign military sale, for rolling airframe missiles and related equipment for slightly less than $200 million. This proposed sale is a routine replenishment of naval defense surface-to-air missiles. It serves U.S. and global interests by enhancing the Egyptian navy’s ability to defend Egypt’s coastal areas and approaches to the Suez. And, of course, the Egyptian navy plays an important role in ensuring freedom of navigation and safe passage through the Suez.

This was a process that had started – I believe it was late last week when we started notifications with Congress. And again, this was a routine replenishment of defensive weapons. That in no way prevents us from continuing to uphold our focus on democracy and human rights. You heard me say – speak yesterday to the reports of Egypt’s reported actions against the family members of Mohamed Soltan. We are raising these reports with the Egyptian Government, and we won’t tolerate assaults or threats by foreign governments against American citizens or their family members. Such behavior is against our values, it’s against our interests, and it very much undermines our bilateral partnerships around the world.

QUESTION: Do you at least get that the optics —

MR PRICE: Let’s – I want to move it around a little bit. Rich.

QUESTION: Well —

MR PRICE: Matt, Matt, if there is time —

QUESTION: Can we stay at – can we stay on Egypt for one second? Can you at least —

MR PRICE: Does anyone else have an Egypt question?

QUESTION: Can I ask something related?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: If – related to this – you were talking about the weapons to Egypt. Is there any update on the F-35s to the United Arab Emirates? Is that —

QUESTION: That has nothing to do with Egypt. Can I ask you about the optics of —

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: — after you come out and say that you have concerns —

MR PRICE: Shaun, I will answer your question. As you know, in – a couple weeks ago when the President was here and shortly thereafter, the White House spoke of a new process we would undertake to review sensitive arms transfers. This was a process that’s being led by the NSC to ensure that when it comes to particularly sensitive proposed transfers – sales and transfers – that they are consistent not only with our interests, but also with our values.

Now, you raise the Emirati F-35 sale. Of course, this is a longer-term proposition. As I understand it, it is years away. So I don’t have an update for you there, especially given that long timeframe we are working with.

Yes, (inaudible).

QUESTION: On North Korea. The Secretary had ordered a review of U.S. policy on North Korea. Could you give us a look at where is that right now? Have there been consultations with Japan and South Korea? And also, is the U.S. position still the same – total and irreversible denuclearization – or is there room for arms control talks, that idea?

MR PRICE: Well, and that will begin with the thorough policy review that you refer to. We are doing that in close consultation with our South Korean allies, with our Japanese allies, and with other allies and partners both in the Indo-Pacific and more broadly as well, knowing that, again, just as we said in the case of Iran, we need to have them with us if we are going to take an effective and ultimately successful approach vis-a-vis the challenge of North Korea’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles program, its other areas of concerns. And, of course, you heard from the Department of Justice this morning on another of those areas of concern.

Our focus will be on reducing the threat to the United States and of our allies, as well as improving the lives of the North and South Korean people. And to your other point, we do remain committed to the principle of denuclearization. It is a – it is very much a part of that approach that we will have going forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Also on North Korea, you just mentioned the Justice Department announcement today on the hackers, and earlier this week South Korean officials said that North – or alleged that North Koreans had attacked the U.S. drug maker Pfizer for data on COVID-19 vaccines. First, specifically about the Pfizer attack, do you have any response to that or information about it? And second, more broadly, how is cyber security factoring into your policy review on North Korea?

MR PRICE: Sure. When it comes to the specific report you mentioned, we’re aware of these reports, but we don’t have a specific comment on this particular case. I would say that in general, North Korea’s malicious cyber activities threaten the United States, they threaten our allies and partners and other countries around the world. We know from previous cases – and I’m not speaking about the indictment that the Department of Justice unsealed today – but that North Korea poses a significant cyber threat to financial institutions. It remains a cyber espionage threat. It retains the ability to conduct disruptive cyber attacks, and several of those cases in the past are quite profile – high-profile and prominent.

So our review of our policy to North Korea will take into account the totality of the malign activity and the threats that are emanating from North Korea. Of course, most frequently we speak of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, but of course, its malicious cyber activity is something we are carefully evaluating and looking at as well.

Rich.

QUESTION: Ned, on the WHO, in the announcement this morning, the Secretary acknowledged that there need to be reforms at the WHO. Did the United States work to or did confirm any commitments as a part of agreeing to release the $200-plus million in funds by the end of the month?

MR PRICE: Well, look, the Secretary of State has said that we will swiftly review and develop options for key reforms in the early stage of this administration. We’ll partner with countries to build support for priority reforms as well. In that same vein, I would point you to what the National Security Advisor said over the weekend in a statement. I thought it was quite poignant. He said we are – “re-engaging with the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards.” And so, of course, our re-engagement with the WHO was – we did so knowing that in order to staunch outbreaks before they become epidemics, in order to staunch epidemics before they become pandemics, it’s not something we can do ourselves, certainly not when a disease that starts in a country halfway around the world can soon find itself on our shores without prudent international and multilateral cooperation. The WHO is an important international institution. I think it’s fair to say that it has never been more important and we have deep respect for its experts and the work they are doing every day to fight COVID-19 and to advance global health and global health security.

At the same time, we know there are areas for reform, and this is something that the State Department is prioritizing. We’re working very closely with our partners in the interagency to identify ways we can strengthen this institution, something that is manifestly in our interests and also the interests of our partners and allies, but also the WHO itself.

Michel.

QUESTION: But there are no – nothing confirmed for – as part of this $200 million payment? Which I know is something unfrozen from the previous administration.

MR PRICE: That’s right. I don’t have anything specific to announce right now, but clearly, it’s something we believe in. We want to strengthen and improve this institution, again, for the interests of the American people, but also for our allies and partners and the WHO itself.

Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Yemen, the Houthis are still advancing and fighting in Marib. Did you reach out to them? And do you have any message to them?

MR PRICE: Well, Special Envoy Lenderking was virtually behind me, I suppose, yesterday, and he spoke to his engagement with the Yemeni Government officials, with Saudi Government officials, with Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy. He went into great detail about the meetings he had undertaken in Riyadh in recent days.

I wouldn’t want to go beyond what he offered yesterday, but he made the broad point that we know there is no military solution to this conflict. We are prioritizing a diplomatic approach that will bring peace, security, and stability to the long-suffering people of Yemen. We’re cognizant that Yemen is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, and that is why the President elevated Special Envoy Lenderking himself to take on this role, a role that previously did not exist. It is precisely why he is empowered within this building and throughout the administration to represent the United States on the global stage with our allies and with our partners to try and find that diplomatic solution to this conflict.

Anything else on Yemen or Middle East? Middle East-ish or —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Well, yeah. I had an Egypt question.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: So —

QUESTION: Oh – oh, no?

QUESTION: I have a question from a colleague who can’t be here, just —

QUESTION: I don’t get to ask it?

MR PRICE: Matt, I want to make sure everyone has a chance to ask a question.

QUESTION: Yeah, everyone had a chance.

QUESTION: So this is for a colleague since we are pooling. Joel Gehrke asks: Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan has said that there is an agreement for a U.S.-China-Russia meeting. He says Ambassador Khalilzad is on board, and it sounds like Moscow would like a bigger role in the talks. Can you confirm any of that?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, confirm —

QUESTION: Confirm that there are – there’s an agreement from U.S.-China-Russia talks on Afghanistan.

MR PRICE: I don’t have any additional announcements to make. I know that, of course, we have spoken to the defense ministerial that Secretary Austin is taking part in today, and tomorrow, of course, there will be a focus on Afghanistan. But nothing further to announce at this time.

QUESTION: I have another on Afghanistan.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Does Secretary Blinken intend to engage directly with the Taliban as Secretary Pompeo did?

MR PRICE: Well, the peace process is ongoing. We are – and the special representative and his team are supporting those ongoing negotiations between the parties. I don’t have anything to say in terms of direct engagement with the Taliban at this point but, of course, we support those ongoing discussions as part of our effort to – just as we said in the context of Yemen, to bring peace and security to – and stability to Afghanistan in the form of a just and durable negotiated settlement.

QUESTION: On those talks, though, General Miller said today that if violence isn’t reduced, it will make it very, very difficult for those talks to succeed. Does this building agree with that assessment?

MR PRICE: Well, we agree with the fact that violence is unacceptably high. The current level of violence throughout the country is unacceptable. As we have said, we are coordinating closely with our allies and partners. One example of that is Secretary Austin’s meeting tomorrow with his counterpart – with his NATO counterparts. That will be a topic of discussion tomorrow, just as we within our own system evaluate the U.S.-Taliban agreement and measure the parties’ compliance with what they have already agreed to.

QUESTION: Staying in the Middle East?

MR PRICE: Has anyone not asked a question? Okay, Rosiland.

QUESTION: U.S.-Saudi relations. Your White House colleague Jen Psaki said yesterday the President was going to be engaging directly with King Salman, and a lot of the punditry are reading that as a snub of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan. And she went on to say that there is an overarching reassessment of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Can you expand on Jen’s comments from yesterday?

MR PRICE: Well, I think what Jen said – in fact, I know what she said – is that the President would be engaging with his counterpart, and this – his counterpart is the king – just as the Secretary here has been engaging with his counterpart, and we have read out those conversations that he has had with the Saudi foreign minister.

The President, the White House, Secretary Blinken, and from this podium as well, we’ve spoken broadly to our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. President Biden has said that we’ll review the entirety of that relationship to make sure that it advances the interests and is respectable – and is respectful of the values that we bring to that partnership. We, of course, know that Saudi is an important partner on many different fronts. Regional security, counterterrorism are just two of them.

At the same time, the strategic partnership needs to reflect and to be respectful of the values that we bring to the table as well as our interests, and the American people expect that U.S. policy towards Riyadh prioritize the rule of law, respect for human rights. And that’s why we will cooperate with Saudi Arabia where our priorities align, but just as we won’t shy away from making clear and defending our interests and our values when they do not. We can do both of these things. We can cooperate, we can help defend our Saudi partners from the outrageous attacks they continue to face from Yemen, just as we continue to speak out for our own interests, and importantly, our own values.

We’ll take a final question. Anyone who has not asked a question? Yes, please.

QUESTION: I do have a question concerning Iran. You – the U.S. approach seemed to have – the U.S. approach towards Iran seemed to have been an indirect one through the Yemen conflict, yet the regime in Tehran doesn’t seem to be very responsive. Do you think they do not want to have that linkage between them and the Yemen conflict?

MR PRICE: Well, it is – it has not been our intent, nor has it been our strategy, to engage on the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program through the context of Yemen. That is not at all how we see it. Again, how we see it is the proposition that the President has put on the table, the shorthand for which is compliance for compliance. That is the context in which we have undertaken consultations with allies, with partners, with members of Congress in order to see to it that that diplomatic path remains open. Yemen, in our view, is about bringing peace and stability and an end to the conflict for the long-suffering people of Yemen. So we see these as largely distinct.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Just briefly, Rwanda. The trial of Paul Rusesabagina – he has been charged with terrorism, among other things. Do you have any concerns about the trial? His family says he was abducted. Do you believe that that’s a concern as well in this case?

MR PRICE: Well, I would say broadly that the department and our embassy in Kigali, we’ve continued to urge the Rwandan Government to provide humane treatment, respect for the rule of law, and to provide a fair and transparent legal process, including access to legal counsel of his choosing for Mr. Rusesabagina. We continue to underscore that. We continue to underscore that the legal process adjudicating the charges against Mr. Rusesabagina must be fair, transparent, respect the rule of law, and be consistent with Rwanda’s own international human rights obligations and commitments. We have engaged at the highest levels in Kigali and with Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States on this matter.

When it comes to how Mr. Rusesabagina arrived in Rwanda, we certainly do urge the Government of Rwanda to be fully transparent about the circumstances of his arrival in Rwanda.

I think we have had enough for —

QUESTION: Wait, can I ask one personnel question?

MR PRICE: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Because a lot of us were writing these stories about how hollowed out the State Department was. Now that you’ve been here, the Secretary’s been here for a few weeks, is there anything that surprised him about the status of the Foreign Service, the Civil Service here? He talks about wanting it to be nonpartisan again. Are you worried about how partisan it’s become, or how political the building was in the previous administration?

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to speak to the leadership of the previous administration. I think what I can speak to is the excitement and the enthusiasm that the career women and men of the department have greeted – with which they’ve greeted the Secretary. I think we’ve said this before, but Secretary Blinken has conducted some 50 calls with his foreign counterparts. And just before about each one of those calls, he has a chance to speak to the career – in most cases the career desk officers responsible for those accounts. And he has found them uniformly to be talented, to be energetic, to be excited, to be engaged in the work, and to be expert in their area of focus. As I said before during the session today, the Secretary has had the chance to meet virtually with missions and embassies around the world, and he has found the same from ambassadors to more junior officials who are posted in some cases to places that may carry additional risk.

So look, the – we know that there are thousands of people in this building and in our installations around the world who, over the past four years, in many cases for years and even decades before that, have worked diligently, have kept their nose to the grindstone. They may be Democrats. They may be Republicans. We wouldn’t know it, and quite frankly, we don’t care, because they are here because they are the experts at what they do. They have the background, they have the experience, they have the know-how, and we have found they have the enthusiasm and the eagerness to be put to work, and to be put to work in constructive ways that advance the values of the United States, that advance our interests, and that ultimately moves forward with the foreign policy that delivers for the American people. That is something I think we have found across the board in our few weeks here.

Thank you very much, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)

 

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  • Federal Contractor Agrees to Pay $18.98 Million for Alleged False Claims Act Caused by Overcharges and Unqualified Labor
    In Crime News
    Cognosante LLC has agreed to pay the United States $18,987,789 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by using unqualified labor and overcharging the United States for services provided to government agencies under two General Services Administration (GSA) contracts, the Justice Department announced today.  Cognosante, which is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, provides health care and IT services and solutions to federal agencies.   
    [Read More…]
  • ‘Shallow Lightning’ and ‘Mushballs’ Reveal Ammonia to NASA’s Juno Scientists
    In Space
    The spacecraft may have [Read More…]
  • The Scripps Research Institute To Pay $10 Million To Settle False Claims Act Allegations Related To Mischarging NIH-Sponsored Research Grants
    In Crime News
    The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has agreed to pay the U.S. $10 million to settle claims that it improperly charged NIH-funded research grants for time spent by researchers on non-grant related activities such as developing, preparing, and writing new grant applications, teaching, and engaging in other administrative activities, the Department of Justice announced today. 
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  • Department of Justice Files Nationwide Lawsuit Against Walmart Inc. for Controlled Substances Act Violations
    In Crime News
    Complaint Alleges [Read More…]
  • Seven MS-13 Gang Members Indicted in Violent Crime and Drug Distribution Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, returned a 16-count superseding indictment Wednesday, charging seven MS-13 gang members with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and serious firearm-related offenses, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.
    [Read More…]
  • Attorney General William P. Barr Announces the Appointment of Gregg N. Sofer as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas
    In Crime News
    Attorney General William [Read More…]
  • U.S. Decision To Reengage with the UN Human Rights Council
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Commends ASCAP and BMI’s Launch of SONGVIEW
    In Crime News
    On Dec. 21, 2020, The American Society of Composers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), the two largest performance rights organizations (PROs) in the United States, announced the launch of SONGVIEW, a “comprehensive data platform that provides music users with an authoritative view of public performance copyright ownership and administration shares for the vast majority of music licensed in the United States.”[1]
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  • Two Louisiana Return Preparers Plead Guilty to Tax Fraud Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    Two Louisiana tax preparers pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Peter G. Strasser for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
    [Read More…]
  • Request Denied for Preliminary Injunction on the Administration’s Landmark New Regulations Implementing under the National Environmental Policy Act
    In Crime News
    On Friday, Sept. 11, Judge James T. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the Administration’s landmark new regulations implementing under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will modernize environmental review, enhance the information-gathering process, and facilitate more meaningful public participation in the protection of our environment. These regulations had not been subject to a major revision since 1978, when they were first promulgated, and they were in need of modernization to improve the infrastructure permitting process.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Maine Man Sentenced for Federal Hate Crime Convictions
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced the sentencing of Maurice Diggins, 36, of Biddeford, Maine, in federal court for his role in a series of racially motivated assaults against black men in Maine.
    [Read More…]
  • Somalia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to Somalia [Read More…]
  • Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Satellite Prepared for Launch
    In Space
    The newest satellite to [Read More…]
  • Rural Hospital Closures: Affected Residents Had Reduced Access to Health Care Services
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found that when rural hospitals closed, residents living in the closed hospitals' service areas would have to travel substantially farther to access certain health care services. Specifically, for residents living in these service areas, GAO's analysis shows that the median distance to access some of the more common health care services increased about 20 miles from 2012 to 2018. For example, the median distance to access general inpatient services was 3.4 miles in 2012, compared to 23.9 miles in 2018—an increase of 20.5 miles. For some of the less common services that were offered by a few of the hospitals that closed, this median distance increased much more. For example, among residents in the service areas of the 11 closed hospitals that offered treatment services for alcohol or drug abuse, the median distance was 5.5 miles in 2012, compared to 44.6 miles in 2018—an increase of 39.1 miles to access these services (see figure). Median Distance in Miles from Service Areas with Rural Hospital Closures to the Nearest Open Hospital that Offered Certain Health Care Services, 2012 and 2018 Notes: GAO focused its analysis on the health care services offered in 2012 by the 64 rural hospitals that closed during the years 2013 through 2017 and for which data were available. For example, in 2012, 64 closed hospitals offered general inpatient services, 62 offered emergency department services, 11 offered treatment services for alcohol or drug abuse, and 11 offered services in a coronary care unit. To examine distance, GAO calculated “crow-fly miles” (the distance measured in a straight line) from the geographic center of each closed rural hospital's service area to the geographic center of the ZIP Code with the nearest open rural or urban hospital that offered a given service. GAO also found that the availability of health care providers in counties with rural hospital closures generally was lower and declined more over time, compared to those without closures. Specifically, counties with closures generally had fewer health care professionals per 100,000 residents in 2012 than did counties without closures. The disparities in the availability of health care professionals in these counties grew from 2012 to 2017. For example, over this time period, the availability of physicians declined more among counties with closures—dropping from a median of 71.2 to 59.7 per 100,000 residents—compared to counties without closures—which dropped from 87.5 to 86.3 per 100,000 residents. Rural hospitals face many challenges in providing essential access to health care services to rural communities. From January 2013 through February 2020, 101 rural hospitals closed. GAO was asked to examine the effects of rural hospital closures on residents living in the areas of the hospitals that closed. This report examines, among other objectives, how closures affected the distance for residents to access health care services, as well as changes in the availability of health care providers in counties with and without closures. GAO analyzed data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program (NC RHRP) for rural hospitals (1) that closed and those that were open during the years 2013 through 2017, and (2) for which complete data generally were available at the time of GAO's review. GAO also interviewed HHS and NC RHRP officials and reviewed relevant literature. GAO defined hospitals as rural according to data from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. GAO defined hospital closure as a cessation of inpatient services, the same definition used by NC RHRP. GAO defined service areas with closures as the collection of ZIP Codes that were served by closed rural hospitals and service areas without closures as the collection of ZIP Codes served only by rural hospitals that were open. GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for comment. The Department provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • On the First Anniversary of the Death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi 
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Tunisia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel [Read More…]
  • Monaco National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Burkina Faso Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to Burkina [Read More…]
  • Two Men Charged in Multi-million Dollar Darknet Drug Distribution Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    Two Texas men were charged in a complaint unsealed today for their alleged participation in a drug distribution conspiracy perpetrated over the Darknet.
    [Read More…]
  • Promoting and Protecting Human Rights: A Re-Dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell on the Secretary’s Travel to Japan, Mongolia, and the Republic of Korea
    In Crime Control and Security News
    David R. Stilwell, [Read More…]
  • 15 Named In $26 Million International Trade Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Houston, Texas, has returned a criminal indictment against eight individuals, while a related civil complaint has charged 14 individuals and one company relating to international trade fraud violations stemming from a decade-long scheme involving tires from China.  
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Files Complaint Against California Company To Stop Distribution of Adulterated Animal Drugs
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a civil complaint to stop a California company from manufacturing and distributing adulterated animal drugs, the Department of Justice announced today.
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  • Ecuador Travel Advisory
    In Travel
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  • Black Hole Collision May Have Exploded With Light
    In Space
    In a first, astronomers [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Awards $16 Million in Grants to Advance Community Policing Efforts and Provide Active Shooter Training to First Responders Across the Country
    In Crime News
    The Department of [Read More…]
  • International Competition Network Addresses Enforcement And Policy Challenges of the Digital Economy at United States-Hosted 19th Annual Conference
    In Crime News
    The International Competition Network (ICN) held its 19th annual conference on September 14-17, 2020.  Co-hosted by the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the conference was the ICN’s first virtual conference.  
    [Read More…]
  • President Trump’s Executive Order on Ensuring Access to United States Government COVID-19 Vaccines
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Texas-Based Staffing Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with National Systems America, LP (National Systems), a Dallas, Texas-based staffing agency.  
    [Read More…]
  • Reagan National Airport: Information on Effects of Federal Statute Limiting Long-Distance Flights
    In U.S GAO News
    Airlines serving Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Reagan National) are subject to, among other federal operational requirements, (1) a “perimeter rule,” limiting nonstop flights to a distance of 1,250 miles unless there is an exemption, and (2) a “slot” or operating authorization requirement for each takeoff and landing. GAO found that while the 40 daily beyond-perimeter flights to or from Reagan National accounted for about 6 percent of flights and 10 percent of passengers at the airport in 2019, the additional flights may have had some limited effects, including further reducing the airport's landside capacity (e.g., ticketing and gates). GAO's analysis of the Department of Transportation's (DOT) data from 2010 through 2019 showed that airlines used larger aircraft on beyond-perimeter flights carrying, on average, about 75 more passengers than within-perimeter flights. While these larger aircraft may use more capacity, they did not contribute to a substantial increase in flight delays at Reagan National. The beyond-perimeter flights may have also had other effects, such as drawing a few flights and passengers from Washington Dulles International Airport (Dulles). 2020 Beyond-Perimeter Flight Exemptions at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Several factors—existing slot control rules; capacity at Reagan National; and potential effects on noise, other area airports, passengers, and airline competition—should be considered in any decision to modify Reagan National's perimeter rule, according to GAO's prior work and stakeholder interviews. GAO examined these factors under three scenarios: (1) no changes to the current perimeter rule or beyond-perimeter flights, (2) adding a small number of beyond-perimeter flights, and (3) completely lifting the perimeter rule. Many stakeholders who provided a perspective did not support changes to the perimeter rule, citing concerns about increased congestion at Reagan National or drawing passengers from other airports, primarily Dulles. Some stakeholders supported adding a small number of beyond-perimeter flights, citing increased competition if airlines added service to existing routes. No stakeholders supported lifting the perimeter rule, saying it would disadvantage airlines with a small number of flights at Reagan National. Regardless of their position on the rule, many stakeholders said airlines would add beyond-perimeter flights if allowed. Reagan National's perimeter and slot control rules were designed in part, respectively, to help increase use of Dulles and manage congestion at Reagan National by limiting the number of flights. On three occasions—2000, 2003, and 2012—federal statutes have provided exemptions to the perimeter rule, collectively allowing 40 daily beyond-perimeter flights (20 round trips) at Reagan National. Of these exemptions, 32 were new beyond-perimeter flights and eight allowed airlines to convert existing slots to beyond-perimeter flights. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) operates Reagan National and Dulles, and DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversee these rules. GAO was asked to update its past work on the perimeter rule. This report describes (1) the effects of beyond-perimeter flights at Reagan National, and (2) key considerations if additional beyond-perimeter flights are allowed. GAO analyzed DOT data for the most recent 10-year period (2010 through 2019) on passengers and flights at Reagan National and Dulles, and MWAA data on airport capacity at Reagan National in 2019. GAO also reviewed relevant statutes and regulations, and interviewed DOT and FAA officials, and a non-generalizable sample of 32 stakeholders: 9 airlines, 4 airport authorities, 7 academics, 5 associations, 5 community groups, and 2 consumer advocates. Selected airlines included those that operate out of Reagan National or Dulles; other stakeholders were recommended or selected, in part, from prior GAO work and their expertise on the topic. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA Maps Beirut Blast Damage
    In Space
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  • National Nuclear Security Administration: Information on the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request and Affordability of Nuclear Modernization Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is in the midst of a long-term effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile and its supporting production infrastructure. NNSA's modernization plans and budgets are communicated to Congress on an annual basis primarily through two key documents—the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) and DOE's budget justification—together referred to as NNSA's nuclear security budget materials. GAO reviewed four areas related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as described in these budget materials: Funding for nuclear modernization activities. Congress funds NNSA's nuclear modernization activities through the Weapons Activities appropriation account, which falls under the National Defense budget function along with other NNSA, DOE, and Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations related to the common defense and security of the United States. Discretionary defense spending for fiscal year 2021 may not exceed a certain statutory limit, or else a sequestration—a cancellation of budgetary resources—would be triggered. Therefore, a proposed increase for a given program under the National Defense budget function may need to be offset by reductions in other defense programs to keep the defense budget within statutory spending limits. Comparison of modernization activities in budget materials for fiscal year 2021 and earlier. The proposed funding in DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA's nuclear modernization activities for fiscal years 2021 through 2025 is about $81 billion, which is about $15 billion more (or about 23 percent greater) compared to NNSA's estimate for the same period in its fiscal year 2020 budget materials. The main factor contributing to this large increase in proposed funding for fiscal year 2021 was NNSA's reevaluation of the funding needed to meet existing requirements, rather than costs associated with new requirements outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Affordability discussion in the Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP. The Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP included a new section entitled, "Affordability Analysis." NNSA added this section in response to GAO's April 2017 recommendation that the agency include an assessment of its portfolio of modernization programs in future versions of the SSMP. The recommendation addressed a shortfall between NNSA's projected budget needs to meet program requirements and projections of the President's budget, a condition that could recur in the future. GAO found that NNSA's new section on affordability does not fully respond to its recommendation because the section does not provide information about how potential misalignment between NNSA's estimates of future modernization funding needs and projections of the President's modernization budgets may be addressed, or about the potential impacts of adjusting program schedules or cost or schedule overruns. Implications of potential New START expiration for modernization activities. New START is a treaty between the United States and Russia for the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, and it will expire in February 2021 unless both parties agree to extend it for no more than 5 years. DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure. NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification. GAO was asked to review issues related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as reflected in its nuclear security budget materials. DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA includes a proposed $3.1 billion increase for nuclear modernization activities. The budget justification states that it supports the modernization efforts and the scientific tools necessary to execute the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Nuclear posture reviews are issued periodically to assess the global threat environment and establish policy on U.S. nuclear forces. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo And Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Cincinnati, Ohio Landlord
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that landlord John Klosterman and his wife, Susan Klosterman, will pay $177,500 to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that John Klosterman sexually harassed female tenants since at least 2013 at residential properties the couple owned in Cincinnati, Ohio. 
    [Read More…]
  • Sanctioning Companies Supporting Iran’s Metal Industry
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • New Data Confirm 2020 SO to Be the Upper Centaur Rocket Booster From the 1960’s
    In Space
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  • Justice Department Awards over $9 Million to Combat Elder Fraud and Abuse
    In Crime News
    The Department of [Read More…]
  • Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planet Found Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data
    In Space
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  • Justice Department Applauds the Passage and Enactment of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020
    In Crime News
    On Jan. 5, 2021, President Donald J. Trump signed H.R. 8354, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020, a bill to permanently establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, or “SVI”, within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
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  • Steel and Aluminum Tariffs: Commerce Should Improve Its Exclusion Request Process and Economic Impact Reviews
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Commerce (Commerce) has a four-phase process to review companies' requests to be excluded from having to pay Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs. Commerce ensures an exclusion request is complete, accepts public input, evaluates materials submitted, and issues a final decision. Between March 2018 and November 2019, Commerce received over 106,000 requests; it rejected over 19,000 of them prior to decision due to incorrect or incomplete information. Although rejections may delay relief for requesters and can increase work for Commerce, the agency has not identified, analyzed, or taken steps to fully address the causes of these submission errors. In deciding exclusion requests, Commerce examines objections from steel and aluminum producers to find whether the requested products are reasonably available domestically in a sufficient amount. Commerce may also decide exclusion requests based on national security issues, but has not done so. While Commerce approved two-thirds of exclusion requests, it most often denied requests that had technical errors or where a domestic producer had objected. Commerce did not decide about three quarters of requests within its established timeliness guidelines, as shown in the figure, taking more than a year to decide 841 requests. Commerce took steps to improve timeliness, such as streamlining the review process for some requests and creating a new submission website, but continues not to meet guidelines and had a backlog of 28,000 requests as of November 2019. Until Commerce takes additional steps, companies will continue to encounter delays in obtaining relief. Most Steel and Aluminum Exclusion Decisions Did Not Meet the Department of Commerce's Established Timeliness Guidelines from March 2018 to November 2019 Commerce has not documented the results from any reviews of the tariffs' impacts or assigned responsibility for conducting regular reviews. GAO found evidence of changes in U.S. steel and aluminum imports and markets. For example, imports covered by the tariffs declined after an initial surge and prices dropped after significant increases in earlier years. Evaluating whether the tariffs have achieved the intended goals and how they affect downstream sectors requires more in-depth economic analysis. Without assigning responsibility for conducting regular reviews and documenting the results, Commerce may be unable to consistently assess if adjustments to the tariffs are needed. Citing national security concerns over excess global supply of steel and aluminum, in March 2018 the President placed tariffs on the import of some products using Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. At the President's direction, Commerce established a process to provide relief, or exclusion, from the tariffs. GAO was asked to review Commerce's Section 232 tariff exclusion process. This report assesses (1) the process Commerce uses to decide exclusion requests and to what degree it has accepted submitted requests; (2) what criteria and factors affected Commerce's decisions; (3) how often Commerce met established guidelines for the timely resolution of requests; and (4) the extent to which Commerce reviewed the impacts of the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, as directed. GAO analyzed Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security and International Trade Administration records from March 2018 to November 2019, as well as data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security, and spoke with agency officials. GAO recommends that Commerce (1) identify, analyze, and respond to factors in the process that may cause submission errors; (2) take steps to improve timeliness of exclusion request decisions and address the backlog; and (3) assign responsibility for reviewing the tariffs' impact and document the results. Commerce concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or GianopoulosK@gao.gov .
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  • Joint Statement Regarding the Vision for Advancing the U.S.-Bangladesh Economic Partnership
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen Attends Security Briefing at FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center on Inauguration Planning and Recent Capitol Attack
    In Crime News
    Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen attended a briefing today at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) on the recent attack on the Capitol building and law enforcement preparations for the upcoming presidential inauguration. Following the briefing, he addressed the assembled law enforcement partners and thanked them for their efforts.
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  • Texas Woman Charged with Fraudulently Obtaining Nearly $2 Million in COVID Relief Funds
    In Crime News
    A Texas woman has been taken into custody on allegations she fraudulently obtained more than $1.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas.
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  • Designation of Iranian Procurement Networks
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Telecommunications: FCC Should Enhance Performance Goals and Measures for Its Program to Support Broadband Service in High-Cost Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a program, known as the high-cost program, to promote broadband deployment in unserved areas. Although the performance goals for the high-cost program reflect principles in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, not all of the goals are expressed in a measurable or quantifiable manner and therefore do not align with leading practices. Furthermore, FCC's measures for its performance goals do not always align with leading practices, which call for measures to have linkage with the goal they measure and clarity, objectivity, and measurable targets, among other key attributes. For example, as shown below for two of FCC's five goals, GAO found that FCC's measures met most, but not all, of the key attributes. By establishing goals and measures that align with leading practices, FCC can improve the performance information it uses in its decision-making processes about how to allocate the program's finite resources. Leading practices also suggest that agencies publicly report on progress made toward performance goals. FCC does so, however, only in a limited fashion which may lead to stakeholder uncertainty about the program's effectiveness. Examples of FCC’s Performance Measures Compared with a Selection of Key Attributes of Successful Performance Measures According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, FCC faces three key challenges to accomplish its high-cost program performance goals: (1) accuracy of FCC's broadband deployment data, (2) broadband availability on tribal lands, and (3) maintaining existing fixed-voice infrastructure and attaining universal mobile service. For example, although FCC adopted a more precise method of collecting and verifying broadband availability data, stakeholders expressed concern the revised data would remain inaccurate if carriers continue to overstate broadband coverage for marketing and competitive reasons. Overstating coverage impairs FCC's efforts to promote universal voice and broadband since an area can become ineligible for high-cost support if a carrier reports that service already exists in that area. FCC has also taken actions to address the lack of broadband availability on tribal lands, such as making some spectrum available to tribes for wireless broadband in rural areas. However, tribal stakeholders told GAO that some tribes are unable to secure funding to deploy the infrastructure necessary to make use of spectrum for wireless broadband purposes. Millions of Americans do not have access to broadband. Within the Universal Service Fund, FCC's high-cost program provided about $5 billion in 2019 to telecommunications carriers to support broadband deployment in unserved areas where the cost to provide broadband service is high. In 2011, FCC established five performance goals and related measures for the high-cost program. GAO was asked to review the high-cost program's performance goals and measures. This report examines: (1) the extent to which the program's performance goals and measures align with leading practices to enable the effective use of performance information and (2) the key challenges selected stakeholders believe FCC faces in meeting the program's goals. GAO reviewed FCC's program goals and measures and assessed them against applicable criteria, including GAO's leading practices for successful performance measures. GAO interviewed FCC officials and representatives from industry, tribal carriers, consumer advocates, and other stakeholders, to obtain a variety of non-generalizable viewpoints. GAO is making four recommendations, including that FCC should ensure its high-cost program's performance goals and measures align with leading practices and publicly report on progress measured toward the goals. FCC concurred with all four recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • NASA’s Curiosity Keeps Rolling As Team Operates Rover From Home
    In Space
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  • U.S. Government Collects $7 Million in Iranian Assets for Victims of Terrorism Fund
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced the United States has collected $7 million of Iranian funds that will be allocated to provide compensation to American victims of international state-sponsored terrorism.
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  • On U.S. Dedication to Human Rights
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Statement of Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen
    In Crime News
    “Yesterday, our Nation watched in disbelief as a mob breached the Capitol Building and required federal and local law enforcement to help restore order. The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that those responsible for this attack on our Government and the rule of law face the full consequences of their actions under the law. Our criminal prosecutors have been working throughout the night with special agents and investigators from the U.S. Capitol Police, FBI, ATF, Metropolitan Police Department and the public to gather the evidence, identify perpetrators, and charge federal crimes where warranted. Some participants in yesterday’s violence will be charged today, and we will continue to methodically assess evidence, charge crimes and make arrests in the coming days and weeks to ensure that those responsible are held accountable under the law.”
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  • Laboratory Safety: FDA Should Strengthen Efforts to Provide Effective Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken steps intended to improve safety at its laboratories, including those that work with hazardous biological agents. Specifically, FDA created the Office of Laboratory Safety (OLS) in 2017 as a safety oversight body for all FDA laboratories. Establishment of FDA's Office of Laboratory Safety (OLS) Note: Prior to March 2019, OLS was referred to as the Office of Laboratory Science and Safety. In coordination with FDA's operating divisions—known as centers—OLS has standardized safety policies, incident reporting, inspections, and safety training. However in creating OLS, FDA did not implement key reform practices that could have helped ensure OLS's effectiveness. For example, FDA's centers and OLS did not reach a shared understanding of OLS's roles and responsibilities—a key practice for effective agency reforms. Although senior agency leaders were involved in developing OLS's strategic plan, disagreements about OLS's role raised by center directors at that time still remain. For example, center directors told GAO that OLS's mission should not include science, laboratory quality management, or inspections. Conversely, the director of OLS said OLS remains committed to its mission as envisioned in the strategic plan, which includes these areas of responsibility. FDA officials said they plan to update the plan in 2021, which presents an opportunity for FDA to address areas of disagreement. In its current form, FDA's laboratory safety program also does not meet the key elements of effective oversight identified in GAO's prior work. For example, The oversight organization should have clear authority to ensure compliance with requirements. However, as part of a 2019 reorganization, FDA placed the OLS director at a lower level than the center directors. Also, OLS does not directly manage the center safety staff responsible for ensuring the implementation of safety policies that OLS develops. As a result, OLS has limited ability to access centers' laboratories—in part because they cannot inspect them unannounced—or to ensure compliance with safety policies. The oversight organization should also be independent from program offices to avoid conflict between program objectives and safety. However, OLS depends on the centers for much of its funding and has had to negotiate with the centers annually for those funds, which can allow center directors to influence OLS priorities through the funding amounts they approve. FDA has not assessed potential independence risks from using center funds for OLS. Without taking steps to do so, FDA's laboratory safety program will continue to compete with the centers' mission objectives and priorities. In 2014, FDA discovered improperly stored boxes of smallpox virus, posing a risk to individuals who might have been exposed. This raised concerns about the oversight of FDA's laboratories that conduct research on hazardous biological agents. In 2016, GAO made five recommendations to improve FDA's laboratory safety, four of which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had not fully implemented as of July 2020. GAO was asked to examine FDA's efforts to strengthen laboratory safety. This report examines FDA's efforts since GAO's 2016 report to improve safety in its laboratories that work with hazardous biological agents. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed FDA documents; assessed FDA's safety oversight practices against key reform practices and oversight elements GAO identified in prior work; and interviewed FDA officials, including staff and senior leaders at OLS and the three centers that work with hazardous biological agents. GAO is making five recommendations to FDA, including to resolve disagreements over roles and responsibilities, to provide OLS with the authority and access to facilities necessary to oversee laboratory safety, and to take steps to assess and mitigate any independence risks posed by how OLS is funded. HHS agreed with all five recommendations. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers Delivers Remarks Announcing People’s Republic of China Related Arrests
    In Crime News
    Good morning.  Today, I’m joined by FBI Director Chris Wray and, remotely, by the  Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Seth DuCharme, to announce charges against eight individuals for acting as agents of the People’s Republic of China while taking part in an illegal Chinese law enforcement operation known as Fox Hunt here in the United States.  Five of these individuals were arrested across the country this morning.  The rest, we believe, are in China.
    [Read More…]
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  • Medical Device Maker Merit Medical To Pay $18 Million To Settle Allegations Of Improper Payments To Physicians
    In Crime News
    Medical device maker Merit Medical Systems Inc. (MMSI), of South Jordan, Utah, has agreed to pay $18 million to resolve allegations that the company caused the submission of false claims to the Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE programs by paying kickbacks to physicians and hospitals to induce the use of MMSI products, the Department of Justice announced today. 
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  • Restaurant Chain Manager Pleads Guilty to Employment Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    The manager of the San Diego Home Cooking restaurant chain pleaded guilty today to employment tax fraud, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. for the Southern District of California.
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  • West Virginia Woman Sentenced for Willful Retention of Top Secret National Defense Information and International Parental Kidnapping
    In Crime News
    Elizabeth Jo Shirley, of Hedgesville, West Virginia, was sentenced today to 97 months of incarceration for unlawfully retaining documents containing national defense information and 36 months of incarceration for international parental kidnapping. Shirley, 47, pleaded guilty to one count of willful retention of national defense information and one count of international parental kidnapping in July 2020. Shirley admitted to unlawfully retaining a National Security Agency (NSA) document containing information classified at the Top Secret/Secret Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) level relating to the national defense that outlines intelligence information regarding a foreign government’s military and political issues. Shirley also admitted to removing her child, of whom she was the non-custodial parent, to Mexico with the intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of the custodial father’s parental rights.
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  • Remarks at World Sustainable Development Summit 2021
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    John Kerry, Special [Read More…]
  • Fifteen Members and Associates of Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra Indicted on Federal Racketeering Charges
    In Crime News
    A superseding indictment [Read More…]
  • Transportation Research: Additional Actions Could Improve DOT’s Internal Collaboration and Reliability of Information on Research Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Transportation (DOT) uses a multistep, centralized process to prioritize and select research activities it will fund. DOT's modal administrations—which focus on specific modes of transportation like air, rail, and highways—conduct and manage most of DOT's research. The modal administrations GAO spoke to used a variety of methods to prioritize and select research, including soliciting stakeholders' feedback on research needs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R) is responsible for reviewing this proposed research to ensure alignment with DOT's strategic plans and to prevent duplicative research efforts, as required by statute. DOT has multiple efforts to facilitate research collaboration both externally and internally, but in guidance to promote collaboration, OST-R did not incorporate all leading practices. Specifically, OST-R established topical-research working groups on 12 multimodal subject areas in October 2018 and issued accompanying guidance. This guidance incorporated some leading collaboration practices, such as directing working groups to identify leadership roles and relevant participants. However, the guidance did not incorporate two leading practices—defining and monitoring progress toward long-term outcomes and regularly updating and monitoring written agreements. Taking steps to ensure the working groups follow these practices could provide OST-R greater assurance that the groups coordinate their efforts effectively, better plan long-term research, and better position themselves to address future transportation challenges. OST-R has taken some steps to help ensure that its public database on DOT-funded research projects (the Research Hub) contains complete and accurate information, as required by DOT's data management policy; however, data reliability issues remained. For example, as of July 2019—the latest available data at the time of GAO's analysis—36 percent of records in the database were missing research partners' contact information, hindering the research community's ability to obtain current project details. Taking additional steps, such as providing instructions to the modal administrations on how to improve the completeness and accuracy of the information they give OST-R for the Research Hub, would help ensure the database is fulfilling DOT's intended purpose that it serve as a reliable source of information on the department's research portfolio. Examples of Research Activities on Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems and Connected Vehicles Funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation DOT's research activities are critical to DOT's mission to make the nation's transportation system safer and more efficient. To meet current research needs and prepare for emerging technologies, DOT partners with public and private entities. In fiscal year 2018, DOT funded about 2,300 partners and had a research budget exceeding $1 billion. GAO was asked to review DOT's research activities. This report addresses: (1) how DOT prioritizes and selects which research activities it will undertake; (2) the extent to which DOT facilitates research collaboration with external stakeholders and across the department; and (3) the extent to which DOT ensures its Research Hub database contains complete and accurate project information. GAO reviewed documents and analyzed data from DOT; observed DOT-funded research; interviewed DOT officials from OST-R and four selected modal administrations; and used GAO's leading collaboration practices to assess the extent of collaboration. GAO also interviewed 17 DOT research partners, including universities and associations. GAO recommends that OST-R (1) take steps to ensure the topical-research working groups follow all leading collaboration practices, and (2) take additional steps to ensure the information in the Research Hub is complete and accurate. DOT concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or repkoe@gao.gov.
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  • Just the Facts: Trends in Pro Se Civil Litigation from 2000 to 2019
    In U.S Courts
    Most federal pro se cases are civil actions filed by persons serving time in prison. Pro se prisoner petitions spiked in 2016 after a pair of Supreme Court rulings made it possible for certain prisoners to petition to have their sentences vacated or remanded. Non-prisoners who file pro se actions most often raise civil rights claims.
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