Department Press Briefing – February 25, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:32 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A few things at the top. To start things off, you probably saw and heard that Secretary Blinken is making his first virtual visit as Secretary of State to Mexico and Canada tomorrow, February 26th. Expanding on his previous calls with the Foreign Secretary Ebrard and Foreign Minister Garneau, this visit will include a series of meetings in each country.

In Mexico, Secretary Blinken will meet individually with Foreign Secretary Ebrard and Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier to discuss a number of issues, including the bilateral trade relationship, shared security challenges, regional migration, climate change, and other issues of mutual interest.

In Canada, Secretary Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Trudeau, Foreign Minister Garneau, and other cabinet members to follow up on the outcomes of President Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden’s first virtual bilateral meeting as President, including the U.S.-Canada partnership roadmap the leaders jointly announced on Tuesday. Secretary Blinken and Canadian leaders will continue conversations about the pandemic and reinvigorating our economies and discuss taking bold action on climate change, defending human rights in the Western Hemisphere and around the world, and bolstering our shared defense and security.

In addition to government meetings, Secretary Blinken will also tour the border crossing between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and will meet with students in Canada to discuss opportunities and policy options for our two Arctic nations. And we’ll obviously have much more for you on that tomorrow.

I also want to highlight that yesterday President Biden rescinded presidential proclamation 10014, entitled Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risks to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak. The President also suspended the sections of presidential proclamation 10052 and 10131 which continued presidential proclamation 10014 past its original expiration. These proclamations restricted the issuance of certain immigrant visas. We recognize the impact on families and individuals affected by these proclamations.

We also recognize that COVID-19 has delayed visa processing operations around the world. I want to emphasize: The Department of State is committed to serving the American people and to restoring our visa operations to normal as soon as possible, always prioritizing the health and safety of our applicants, their loved ones, and our staff. Many recipients of diversity visas in 2020 were unable to travel to the United States due to this and the other travel restrictions. Diversity visa recipients holding valid and unexpired visas may now seek immediate entry into the United States, as they are covered by a blanket national interest exception.

On Monday, March 1st, officials from the Bureau of Consular Affairs will be holding a briefing to discuss this and other recent visa developments in more depth. We’ll be sharing details of this calls – of this call shortly.

And finally, we welcome a joint – the joint statement between India and Pakistan that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the Line of Control starting on February 25th. We encourage continued efforts to improve communication between the two sides and to reduce tensions and violence along the Line of Control.

So with that, I would be happy to take your questions. I normally look right there, but —

QUESTION: I know, it’s weird, right?

MR PRICE: It’s very weird.

QUESTION: Matt, I’m just warming your seat. (Laughter.) Don’t put a horse head in my bed. I will ask you, just because you ended with India and Pakistan, if we could start off there. To what extent, if any, did the United States play a role in helping broker this new ceasefire agreement? And I’m curious, I mean, when President Biden was vice president, he had a very warm relationship with Pakistan, especially to the extent that he saw Pakistan as a vital partner in the war in Afghanistan, and I’m just kind of wondering how his policy – how this is going to portend to his policy towards Pakistan now that he’s President and how that will interplay with his relationship with India.

MR PRICE: Well, to your first question, I think what I can say and what you’ve heard me say from this podium and others from this administration say is that we had called on the parties to reduce tensions along the Line of Control by returning to that 2003 ceasefire agreement. We have been very clear that we condemn the terrorists who seek to infiltrate across the Line of Control.

When it comes to the U.S. role, we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern. And as I said just a moment ago, we certainly welcome the arrangement that was announced that will take place – go into effect, I should say, on February 25th.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship that this administration is going to have with Pakistan specifically, but also how it intends to walk what, as you know, is a very fine line between trying to stay neutral between the two states?

MR PRICE: Well, Pakistan is an important partner with whom we share many interests. We, as I said, have been clear in terms of this issue. Obviously, Pakistan has an important role to play when it comes to Afghanistan and what takes place across its other border. So clearly we will be paying close attention, and we urge the Pakistanis to play a constructive role in all of these areas of mutual interest, including in Afghanistan, including with Kashmir, including with our other shared interests.

Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions, Ned. The first one is to know the reaction of the United States to the Venezuelan Government to expel the European Union ambassador to Caracas in the last hours. They gave 72 hours to leave the country. And is the main U.S. objective the departure or removal of Maduro from power?

And the second question is regarding to Secretary Blinken virtual tour tomorrow. In his meetings with the Mexican counterparts, is the situation of Emma Coronel, the wife of El Chapo Guzman, be part of the conversations? Is the Venezuelan situation be part of the conversations?

MR PRICE: So on the question about the wife of El Chapo, that’s an issue that I would need to refer you to the Department of Justice on. I wouldn’t want to go further from here.

To your first question, the expulsion that I believe was announced yesterday – by expelling the EU ambassador to Venezuela, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, the Maduro regime has removed one of the more international – one of the international champions standing up for democracy in Venezuela and human rights of the Venezuelan people. This action will only further isolate the Maduro regime, and the world remains united in calling for a return to democracy in Venezuela.

Maduro knows, of course, that his record can’t stand up to scrutiny. And so he’s expelled Europe’s ambassador because of the EU’s February 22nd, I believe it was, announcement of new sanctions on 19 additional individuals for their role in human rights abuses and the rule of law in Venezuela. We are committed to working with our partners in the international community – that includes, of course, Europe, but that also includes partners in this hemisphere – to promote accountability for these human rights abuses. We have seen human rights abuses continue to escalate at the hands of Maduro and his allies. They have used violence to maintain control and to further undermine democracy. And the result is that millions of Venezuelans are suffering as a consequence.

The Secretary has called for strengthening coordination with likeminded partners to rebuild multilateral pressure, including through targeted sanctions against those responsible for corruption and human rights abuses in Venezuela. We feel strongly that coordinated action with our allies and partners – and again, our allies and partners in this hemisphere, in Europe, and elsewhere – is crucial to supporting the Venezuelan people as they work to build the democratic future that they very much deserve.

QUESTION: Is the removal or departure of Maduro the U.S. objective?

MR PRICE: We believe that Maduro is a dictator, that Maduro is corrupt, that Maduro is responsible for the suffering of his people. And we will continue to support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I move to Armenia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. What is your assessment of what’s going on in Armenia, and do you believe, as the prime minister said, that there was an attempted military coup? And do you support him as prime minister?

MR PRICE: Well, we are, of course, aware of recent developments in Armenia. We’re following the situation very closely. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any escalatory or violent actions. We remind all parties of the bedrock democratic principle that states’ armed forces should not intervene in domestic politics. The United States has been a steadfast supporter of the development of democratic processes and institutions in Armenia. We continue to support Armenia’s democracy and its sovereignty, and we urge its leaders to resolve their differences peacefully while respecting the rule of law, Armenia’s democracy, and its institutions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. So follow up, so how about the statement from the General Staff of the Armenia Armed Forces? Would you consider it as an incitement or attempt – a coup attempt?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the Department of State has a process to determine whether a coup has transpired. We talked about that process in the context of a very different setting, and that was Burma and the coup determination that we arrived at in the aftermath of the military’s overthrow of Burma’s democratic civilian leadership on February 1st. I think I said at the time that there are three criteria that this department looks for in making that determination. Of course, there has been no such determination in this case. We continue to support Armenia’s democracy and its sovereignty, and we’ll continue to watch developments very closely as they unfold.

QUESTION: Go to Saudi Arabia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you give us any more information, Ned, on the timing of the release of the Khashoggi report?

And then secondly, in 2018, Secretary Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, said there was no direct evidence linking the crown prince to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Does Secretary Blinken have – has he come to a conclusion on whether the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi’s killing?

MR PRICE: Secretary Blinken has full faith and confidence in our Intelligence Community. It is our Intelligence Community, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, that has put this report together. They will be the ones who will issue this report at the appropriate moment. Secretary Blinken will have full faith and confidence in their findings.

I, of course, wouldn’t want to characterize those findings, because that is at the center of the report in question here.

QUESTION: And do you have a sense about when it might be released?

MR PRICE: I would want to refer to the DNI. I understand that my White House counterpart Jen Psaki has said it will be soon, but I wouldn’t want to go beyond that.

QUESTION: Staying on Saudi Arabia, the Saudi state news agency said that the foreign minister has spoken to his counterpart. Can you tell us about that call and what Secretary Blinken conveyed during that?

MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary has had a – has had at least a couple opportunities to speak to his Saudi counterpart. We’ve read out, I believe it has been, two of those calls. If there is another call we’re in a position to read out, we will absolutely do so.

I think I’ve mentioned this statement before, but when it comes to our discussions with the Saudis, I would point you to what the President has said, and he first said this as a candidate for high office; namely, that across every relationship we have, including with our closest security partners, human rights and universal values will always feature in those relationships. And so I have every expectation that Secretary Blinken will continue to convey that message to his Saudi counterpart but also his counterparts across the world.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this? The National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the release of the report would be accompanied by the answer of this administration to ensure full accountability. Do you think this administration is ready to take sanctions or actions against anyone found responsible in the intelligence assessment of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MR PRICE: Do we think that this administration is —

QUESTION: Is this administration ready to take actions or sanctions against anyone found by the U.S. intelligence responsible for the murder?

MR PRICE: The United States – first of all, I should say we’ve been very clear that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it was a horrific crime. That, of course, is going to be at the center of the report that we have been speaking to. This was enshrined in legislation that the administration should provide an unclassified version of the report to Congress. As then DNI-designate Avril Haines first said, we intend to comply with the law. And as my White House counterpart has said, we will do that – we will be in a position to do that very soon.

Of course, this is a crime that, as I said before, shocked the conscience. I expect that we will be in a position in – before long to speak to steps to promote accountability going forward for this horrific crime.

QUESTION: How do you think it will change the relationship between the United States and the kingdom, assuming that the President agrees with what the IC conclusions are?

MR PRICE: Well, I think as I said, when it comes to Secretary Blinken, the same applies to President Biden, that he has full faith and confidence in our Intelligence Community, and I think you will see that respected – reflected, I should say, in the aftermath of the release of this report.

When it comes to the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has said that we will review the entirety of that relationship to make sure that it advances the interests of the American people, and to ensure that it reflects the values the United States brings to that partnership.

Since very early in this administration, we have taken steps to bring that relationship in accord with our interests and our values. We have spoken of our efforts to end the military conflict in Yemen, the changes we have made to the relationship in that regard, including when it comes to future arms transfers. We have spoken to concerns when it comes to human rights. We have welcomed certain steps that the Saudis have taken to move that in a better direction. And we continue to call on Saudi Arabia to take additional such steps.

At the same time, we also know that Saudi Arabia is a key partner on many priorities. We, of course, have been very clear that we condemn the attacks on Saudi territory that have been perpetrated from Yemen by Houthi terrorists. And we will continue to stand with our Saudi partners as they defend themselves from these outrageous attacks.

This relationship, to be sure, is multifaceted, but want to ensure that we bring those facets much closer in line with our interests and our values. And this is an important part of that, this being the release of that report and the accountability that will ensue.

Conor.

QUESTION: On that point, accountability, does the administration believe that so far there has been accountability for the death of – for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MR PRICE: Conor, look, I think the release of this report, when that time comes, will be an important step in that direction. It’s an important step in the direction of transparency. Transparency, as it often is, is an element of accountability. I wouldn’t expect the accountability to stop there, however. But I wouldn’t want to go beyond that at this stage.

QUESTION: Can I ask just one more question on Tim Lenderking’s visit to Saudi Arabia? He met with the finance minister yesterday, and the readout from the department is that he encouraged Saudi Arabia to contribute more towards the humanitarian assistance. Are you pressuring the Saudis and the Emiratis to do more, to provide the funding that they pulled back on last year?

MR PRICE: We have made very clear to our partners in the region and even beyond that collectively we need to raise our ambition when it comes to ending or at least alleviating the humanitarian plight of the people of Yemen, now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. I believe I spoke to this yesterday, but, of course, there is a donors conference on March 1st. We’ll have more details there. But that will be an important venue for our allies and partners around the world to signal their commitment to helping to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Yemen. It’s certainly something we are committed to. It’s something that Special Envoy Lenderking has prioritized in his engagements with our partners in the region.

But I think you will hear a very similar message from Secretary Blinken and other senior officials in this administration, because we do consider it a pressing priority for us, as we also prioritize our efforts to bring a diplomatic conclusion to this long-running conflict in Yemen.

QUESTION: On Rwanda, on behalf of a colleague, can you say whether the U.S. believes it’s possible for Paul Rusesabagina to get a fair trial? And why is the Biden administration not planning to join a bipartisan group of senators calling for his release?

MR PRICE: Well, we – I think we addressed this last week, and we have continued since then to underscore for the Rwandan Government that the legal process adjudicating the Government of Rwanda’s charges against Mr. Rusesabagina must be fair; they must be transparent; they must reflect the rule of law. They must be consistent with Rwanda’s international human rights obligations and commitment. The United States – the State Department, I should say, has engaged the Government of Rwanda at the highest levels, both here in Washington as well as in Kigali, and it is something we will continue to do as the proceedings run apace.

QUESTION: But do you believe he should be released? I mean —

MR PRICE: We believe that the legal process adjudicating his case should be fair and transparent, should respect the rule of law, and it must be consistent with Rwanda’s own commitments and human rights obligations internationally.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. You said yesterday from this podium that the U.S. would not wait forever, and that the American patience towards Iran is not unlimited. What are the limits under which the U.S. Government would consider putting more pressure on Iran, if not imposing sanctions on Tehran if it didn’t comply with the U.S. calls to resume the diplomatic talks?

MR PRICE: Well, to be clear, Tehran is under significant pressure, sanctions pressure from the United States and well beyond that. I made the point yesterday, the point you refer to, precisely because for us this is an urgent challenge. And again, to be clear, I’m not speaking of the urgency of rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. For us, that is a tactic. It is a tactic to achieve our strategic aim, and that strategic aim is to ensure that Iran can never be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon. President Biden has been clear on that, candidate Biden was clear on that, Vice President Biden was clear on that, Secretary Blinken has been clear on that.

The President, starting as a candidate and more recently, has also been very clear that the most effective, the most durable way to ensure that end state, the idea that Iran can never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, is through diplomacy. That is why we have put this tactical way forward on the table – shorthand is “compliance for compliance.” If Iran resumes its full performance of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the United States would be prepared to do the same. We would then seek to lengthen and strengthen the parameters of that deal, as we then seek to – see to it that it is the floor, not the ceiling. And that’s follow-on agreements addressing Iran’s other malign activities, that we negotiate them together with our closest allies and partners.

We are so focused on this challenge because of the stakes, and the stakes, of course, are very clear. Iran, as it has distanced itself from the nuclear agreement, has advanced in its nuclear program in ways that would have been impermissible when it was in full compliance with the nuclear deal. We can speak about that in any number of ways. I’ve spoken about that here in terms of the breakout time, again, the time it would take for Iran to acquire, to develop enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to develop one. When Iran was in full compliance with the deal, that breakout time was 12 months. That breakout time was significantly lengthened under the deal from a period of just about a few months before that deal went into effect in January of 2016, on implementation day.

QUESTION: I have another question on the Palestinian issue, please. There are some reports about the U.S. Government intention to postpone reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem until after the Israeli elections. Do you confirm those reports?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that we look forward to deepening our engagement with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership. As part of that, we are reviewing our diplomatic presence on the ground to ensure that that diplomatic presence enables us to fully conduct our complete range of activities. And that includes engagement, public diplomacy, assistance to the Palestinian people, and diplomatic reporting.

QUESTION: On Iran, just as – question on how the administration views the current situation as – the maximum pressure campaign over the last four years, now that – a number of administration officials opposed what the previous administration was doing, but now that you are in this position, does the administration view max pressure and the sanctions that have been built up over Iran almost as leverage or just four years of misguided policy?

MR PRICE: Rich, I think when you look at the results of maximum pressure, you can only be left with one conclusion. Maximum pressure was supposed to result in a better deal. It was supposed to cow Tehran and its proxies, it was supposed to isolate Iran from the rest of the world, and it was supposed to leave America’s interests in a better position.

In fact, every single one of those, the opposite has been true. We are – over the last four years, we came nowhere close to anything resembling a better deal. Those negotiations never even got off the ground. Iran today and Iran at the end of the Trump administration – at the last – at the end of the last administration, I should say – was much closer to a nuclear weapon if it chose to develop one than it was on the first day of the last administration.

Rather than cowing Tehran and its proxies into submission, Tehran and its proxies, as we’ve talked about in this briefing room and as we saw starting really in 2018 and 2019, have been emboldened. And we’ve seen the heinous attacks and violence directed at our partners and some that have even been directed at the United States, or at least have taken the lives of Americans. So I think however you look at maximum pressure, you can only be left with that one conclusion.

Now, our approach recognizes that maximum pressure accompanied by the lack of diplomatic engagement got us to where we are. That is why we are embarking on a different path, one that prioritizes real, principled, clear-eyed diplomacy – clear-eyed diplomacy with our partners and allies. It is also notable that under maximum pressure, we were sitting at the opposite side of the table of our closest European partners and allies. I’ve mentioned this before, but with the E3+1 meeting – the meeting that Secretary Blinken had with our European allies last week – what was so notable about that was that there was a joint statement emanating from that meeting. It was a clear signal that for the first time in years, the United States was on precisely the same page as our closest allies and partners.

And with that unanimity, with that cooperation, with those consultations, we enter this phase of diplomacy from a position of strength and we are confident that this is the sort of position of strength that will allow us to achieve our strategic goal. And that goal, again, is to ensure that Iran cannot ever acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) why not just roll back the sanctions and comply with what Iran wants? Or does the administration not trust Iran to go back into the deal if the U.S. moves first?

MR PRICE: I think it is fair to say that we do not – there is a lack of trust in this relationship, and I think it’s an appropriate lack of trust. The Iran deal, when it was in effect, was not predicated on the idea of “trust but verify.” I think the better moniker for it was “distrust and verify.” That’s precisely what the Iran deal did. It is precisely what we seek to do. It is precisely why we seek to have verifiable, permanent constraints on Iran’s ability to build or acquire a nuclear weapon. That’s what we’re looking for. It’s pretty simple.

QUESTION: I know there’s – just on Iran, if I may quickly – I know there’s a lot of discussion right now on how it will be that the two sides, Iran and the United States, end up back at the Joint Commission talks again with the E3. I’m just wondering, at the end of the day, regardless of this lever or that lever or this concession or that offer, is this building confident – what is the level of confidence that this building has that such talks will in fact happen?

MR PRICE: Look, we believe diplomacy is the most effective way to achieve that end state. We have put an offer on the table together with our European partners. Under the auspices of the P5+1, we would be willing to take part in these principled, clear-eyed negotiations. We have done the needful. I don’t believe that we have heard a firm response from Iran just yet.

QUESTION: So low confidence level?

MR PRICE: Look, I think we are realistic. Certainly, I don’t think you will find anyone wearing rose-colored glasses in this building. But what we know and what we are committed to is the sort of principled, clear-eyed diplomacy that we can most effectively conduct, walking in lockstep with our European allies and partners. That’s precisely why this offer was put on the table in the aftermath of that session with the E3. It’s precisely why we’ve indicated our willingness to take part in such discussions under the auspices of the P5+1. I don’t want to say we’re pessimistic, I don’t want to say we’re optimistic, I want to say what we’re committed to, and we’re committed to this potential offer under the auspices of the P5+1 pending a response from Iran.

Anyone – yes. I don’t think you’ve asked – yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, you mentioned the donor conference in Yemen next week. Can you give us an update on U.S. aid to Houthi-held parts of Yemen which the Trump administration froze last year? Does the Biden administration plan to restore any or all of that funding?

MR PRICE: Well, the fact of the matter is that some 80 percent of Yemen’s population lives under Houthi control, and that is the point that we have been making for some time now in speaking to the profound humanitarian implications that the broad – overly broad, we should say – designation of Ansarallah inflicted upon the people of Yemen. The revocation of that, again, had nothing to do with the reprehensible conduct of Yemen’s Houthi leadership. It had everything to do with the humanitarian implications on the some 80 percent of Yemen’s population who lived under that Houthi leadership.

When it comes to our humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the United States was the largest donor in 2020, having provided almost $800 million, $790 million, since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2020. This includes nearly 16.7 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to COVID-19, to assist refugees, to assist vulnerable migrants, internally displaced persons, and host communities.

Our assistance does, in fact, reach all corners of Yemen, and it is used for vital programs – food assistance, nutrition, protection, education, health, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and other needed resources for the people of Yemen. Of course, there is this donors conference next week. We are hopeful and we will continue to encourage our allies and partners around the world to raise that level of ambition, just because we know how dire the circumstances are for the people of Yemen. It’s something we’ve worked to alleviate over the course of time and something we remain committed to.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Yemen?

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iran. I just wanted to follow up on some of my colleagues’ questions. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, the National Iranian Oil Company, some other institutions, and they did that under counterterrorism authorities. Does the Biden administration believe that it is necessary to lift these sanctions in order to be considered back in compliance with the nuclear deal?

MR PRICE: Well, the nuclear deal, when it was in effect, implicated nuclear sanctions. We have – we were – the previous administration – the penultimate administration, I should say, the Obama-Biden administration, was very clear that we could do two things at once, two things that were very much in our interests. We could have a diplomatic framework that provided limited sanctions relief in return for these verifiable and permanent restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. That was the core idea of the JCPOA, just as we continued to push back and to hold Iran accountable for its malign activity in other realms. And of course, counterterrorism and its support to terrorist groups in the region remains a profound concern for the United States. So rest assured that we will continue to, in concert with our allies and partners, hold Iran accountable for its malign influence in that regard.

QUESTION: But just very specifically, you don’t think that you need to remove those terror designations? There were things like in 2019 and 2020 that were – that hit institutions that had been affected by the JCPOA-related nuclear sanctions that were then – then lifted when – on implementation of the JCPOA.

MR PRICE: What I’m saying very clearly is that we can and we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its support to terrorism in the region and beyond.

Anyone who has not asked a question? I think everyone has. Gustau.

QUESTION: On Columbia, this week, one former FARC guerrilla leader, Jesus Santrich, released video that was reproduced by the international news channel NTN24, making death threats against President Duque. How serious the United States is taking this threat, that threats and is worried about his security, the security of President Duque?

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to weigh in on the security of a foreign leader. I would want to defer to our Colombian counterparts to speak to that.

What I would say broadly is that Colombia, it’s a vital strategic partner. The United States is proud to stand with the people of Colombia as they continue down the path to just and lasting peace and prosperity. We, of course, have many overlapping priorities and shared interests, and that includes supporting sustainable peace and reconciliation; combating narcotrafficking and transnational crime; coordinating a regional response to the crisis in Venezuela, including the refugee crisis; expanding our two-way trade and economic ties; and increasing U.S. investment in Colombian infrastructure and people-to-people ties. So it’s an important relationship. Colombia is an important partner with whom we share these important interests.

Let’s see, anyone? I think – yes, I don’t believe you have. Yes.

QUESTION: China?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: China?

MR PRICE: China, sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Biden signed an executive order essentially cutting off supply chains. Can you talk about the work the U.S. will be doing with its allies as a part of this review to eliminate supply chain dependence on China?

MR PRICE: This is – this gets back – and I believe the White House spoke to this yesterday – but our strategy to compete and to outcompete with the Chinese Government ultimately relies on our core sources of strength, and I’ve said this before, and we bring to the table any number of sources of strength.

Our values is certainly one of them, and you’ve heard us speak to our values in the context of our – of the bilateral relationship and our approach to China more broadly: our system of alliances and partnerships around the world, the way in which we confront China not only on a bilateral basis, but we bring much of the world with us, certainly our likeminded partners and allies – those in Europe, those in the Indo-Pacific – with us as we do that.

But there’s also a big component of this that is domestic, that is our domestic sources of strength. Part of that is the resilience and the creativity and the education of the American people. Part and parcel of that is the security of our supply chains. And so that is why that you saw the White House make the announcement that they did, knowing that as long as our supply chains are left unprotected, as long as China is able to take advantage of our vibrant economic system, the vibrant marketplace we have here, our open economy and our open society more broadly, one of those core sources of strength – perhaps the core source of strength – that domestic strength, is sapped.

And so that is why President Biden committed very early on and actually spoke about this on the campaign trail, to – committed to protecting and building on those sources of strength, and yesterday’s step was a key element in that direction.

All right. We have gone on for a very long time, so why don’t we call it a day. I see a very eager question in the back, so —

QUESTION: Yeah, I was requested to ask this question about Russia.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Aleksey Navalny’s supporters say he’s being moved from Moscow jail to un-named – an un-named prison somewhere in Russia. What is the U.S. view of this development, and does the U.S. feel Navalny’s life is in great danger? And has the U.S. raised this development with Moscow? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, what I would say is that we renew our calls for Russia to release those detained for exercising nothing more than their human rights; in many cases, nothing more than what they’re guaranteed under Russia’s own constitution, and that includes Mr. Navalny. We condemn the Russian Government’s sustained efforts to silence the voices of the Russian people, including of the opposition. There was a – this is one of those issues where we have spoken with one voice with our international partners. There was a G7 statement on this issue last month. We will continue to speak clearly together with our partners and allies, standing up and demanding the release of Mr. Navalny, but also supporting the rights and the democratic aspirations of the Russian people, including the brave Russians who have peacefully taken to the streets to exercise the rights they are guaranteed under their own constitution.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)

# # #

 

More from: Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Hits: 3

News Network

  • U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Lenderking’s Return from Saudi Arabia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Sanctioning Cuban Police in Response to Violent Repression of Peaceful Protests
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • United States and Canada Forge Ahead on Critical Minerals Cooperation
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Harassment of Foreign Journalists in the People’s Republic of China
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Public Schedule – July 30, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth, and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator and Executive Director of the USAID Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri On the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy and Root Causes Strategy Toward Migration
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Marta Costanzo Youth, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah At a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • July 29, 2021, letter commenting on AICPA’s February 2021 Exposure Draft, “Proposed Statements on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management”
    In U.S GAO News
    This letter provides GAO's response to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Auditing Standards Board's (ASB) Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management: A Firm's System of Quality Management (SQMS No. 1); Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Engagement Quality Reviews (SQMS No. 2); and Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards, Quality Management for an Engagement Conducted in Accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (QM SAS). GAO provides standards for performing high-quality audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions and of government assistance to contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernment organizations with competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence. These standards, often referred to as generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS), are to be followed when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. For financial audits, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Auditing Standards (SAS). For attestation engagements, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Communication with Applicants and Address Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applicants and recipients varied in terms of business size, years in operation, and industry, based on GAO's analysis of Small Business Administration (SBA) data from March 2020 through February 2021: Business size. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 81 percent) and EIDL recipients (about 86 percent) were smaller businesses (10 or fewer employees). Years in operation. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 63 percent) had been in operation for less than 5 years. However, businesses in operation for more than 5 years received the majority of total EIDL loan dollars and had higher approval rates compared to newer businesses. Industry. Businesses in the personal services and transportation industries made up the largest share of applicants, while those in the legal services and lodging industries were approved for loans at the highest rates (see figure). Top Loan Applicants and Approval Rates by Business Industry In addition, small businesses in counties with higher median household income, better internet access, and more diverse populations generally received more loans per 1,000 businesses and larger loans. EIDL applicants have faced a number of challenges, according to applicants and other business stakeholders GAO interviewed between August 2020 and February 2021. For example, applicants from five discussion groups and several stakeholders cited lack of information and uncertainty about application status as major concerns. In addition, until February 2021, SBA did not provide important information to potential applicants, such as limits on loan amounts and definitions of certain program terms. Lack of important program information and application status put pressure on SBA's resources and negatively affected applicants' experience. For example, SBA's customer service line experienced call surges that resulted in long wait times, and SBA's data showed that 5.3 million applications were duplicates. SBA's planning documents describe in general terms the public outreach to be conducted following disasters, but they do not detail the type or timing of the information to be provided. Developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that includes these details could improve the quality, clarity, and timeliness of information SBA provides to its applicants and resource partners following catastrophic disasters. GAO's ongoing review of the EIDL program related to COVID-19 has found that the program is susceptible to providing funding to ineligible and fraudulent applicants. For example, as GAO reported in January 2021, SBA had approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to businesses that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as real estate developers and multilevel marketers, as of September 30, 2020. In addition, GAO found that between May and October 2020, over 900 U.S. financial institutions filed more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports related to the EIDL program with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Further, GAO's analysis of 51 Department of Justice cases involving fraud charges for EIDL loans as of March 2021 found that these cases involved identity theft, false attestation, fictitious or inflated employee counts, and misuse of proceeds. Over the course of its COVID-19 response, SBA has made some changes to address these risks. For example, beginning in June 2020, SBA took actions to improve loan officers' ability to withhold funding for applicants suspected of fraud. However, SBA has not yet implemented recommendations GAO has previously made to address EIDL program risks. In January 2021, GAO recommended that SBA conduct data analytics across the EIDL portfolio to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications (GAO-21-265). SBA did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. However, in May 2021, SBA officials stated the agency was in the process of developing analysis to apply certain fraud indicators to all application data.   In March 2021, GAO recommended that SBA (1) implement a comprehensive oversight plan to identify and respond to risks in the EIDL program, (2) conduct and document a fraud risk assessment, and (3)  develop a strategy to address the program’s assessed fraud risks on a continuous basis (GAO-21-387). SBA agreed with all three recommendations. In May 2021, SBA officials stated that the agency had started to assess fraud risk for the program. Fully implementing these recommendations would help SBA to safeguard billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and improve the operation of the EIDL program. Why GAO Did This Study Between March 2020 and February 2021, SBA provided about 3.8 million low-interest EIDL loans and 5.8 million grants (called advances) totaling $224 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. Borrowers can use these low-interest loans and advances to pay for operating and other expenses. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor funds provided for the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other objectives, the characteristics of program applicants and recipients; the challenges EIDL applicants experienced and the extent to which SBA has addressed them; and the steps SBA has taken to address risks of fraud and provision of funds to ineligible applicants. GAO reviewed documents from SBA, an EIDL contractor, and two of its subcontractors. In addition, GAO analyzed loan application data, conducted five discussion groups with applicants, and interviewed staff from SBA, six Small Business Development Centers, and six business associations. GAO also analyzed socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic data on EIDL program participants.
    [Read More…]
  • National Flood Insurance Program: Congress Should Consider Updating the Mandatory Purchase Requirement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The mandatory purchase requirement mandates flood insurance for certain high-risk properties and was established to increase the number of households with flood insurance. Lenders must verify that certain properties have flood insurance. At least 10 federal entities oversee lenders' compliance, including the federal banking regulators, among others (see figure). The most frequent violation the regulators identified was related to a lack of or insufficient flood insurance coverage for properties subject to the requirement. If regulators identify violations, lenders are required to take corrective actions, and if a pattern or practice of certain flood insurance violations is found, monetary penalties may be assessed against them. Oversight of the Mandatory Purchase Requirement The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), engages in a variety of efforts to help increase consumer participation in the flood insurance market (one of the agency's goals). However, FEMA does not effectively use information related to compliance with the requirement to identify ways to meet this goal. Information currently maintained by FEMA and other federal entities could help inform FEMA on noncompliance trends and patterns and help FEMA to develop strategies to address them. By using internal and external information to better understand compliance with the requirement, and facilitating the sharing of this information among the federal entities with responsibilities related to the requirement, FEMA may help reduce instances of noncompliance, increase consumer participation, and limit the federal government's fiscal exposure to future flood losses. FEMA's floodplain maps—which, by law, delineate those properties subject to the requirement—have limitations. For example, they may not reflect current flood hazards or the potential for flooding from some types of events, such as heavy rainfall. FEMA has efforts underway that can assess flood risk more comprehensively. However, FEMA has not evaluated how the new information could be incorporated into the requirement because the agency believes it has a limited role in implementing the requirement. In addition, changes to the maps for the purpose of implementing the requirement could impact other aspects of NFIP. An evaluation by FEMA of how its new flood risk information could be used to designate which properties are subject to the requirement could help Congress revise the requirement to better increase consumer participation and reduce future federal disaster assistance expenditures. Why GAO Did This Study Flood insurance plays a key role in helping homeowners reduce the financial effects of floods, reduces the need for federal disaster assistance, and lowers costs for American taxpayers. NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to property owners in qualifying communities. The mandatory purchase requirement requires property owners in NFIP communities to purchase flood insurance if, among other things, they have mortgages from federally regulated lenders. GAO was asked to review the implementation of the mandatory purchase requirement. This report (1) describes federal entities' oversight of the requirement, (2) examines the extent to which FEMA uses information about compliance with the requirement, and (3) examines the use of FEMA floodplain maps to determine who must purchase flood insurance. GAO reviewed documentation from federal entities, analyzed data on lender violations of the requirement, and interviewed officials and other stakeholders.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Development: Opportunities Exist for Further Collaboration among EDA, HUD, and USDA
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Federal economic development programs and state business incentives approach economic development in different ways. In GAO's review of six large state business incentive packages ($50 million or more) in four states, federal economic development program funds were not directly used. Reasons for limited use could include differences in purposes and goals, and limitations on how federal funds can be used. For example, the goals of economic development programs administered by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not completely align with the goals of state business incentives, the latter of which include attracting and retaining individual businesses. Although these incentive packages were not funded with federal economic development program funds, some of the businesses that received a large incentive package were highlighted in federal strategic plans as opportunities for investment and job growth in the local economy. The economic development programs of EDA, HUD, and USDA each encourage or require state and local communities to conduct strategic planning, which includes obtaining input from a range of public and private stakeholders and identifying ways to leverage other available resources, such as federal and state funding. Recognizing the similarities in what they require of grantees, in 2016, EDA and HUD entered into an interagency agreement to align planning requirements under their programs. The agencies implemented certain aspects of the agreement, such as issuing joint guidance to applicants. However, they have not implemented selected leading practices for effective interagency collaboration: Updating written agreements: EDA and HUD have not regularly monitored or updated their interagency agreement to reflect changing priorities of either agency. Officials stated the agencies have prioritized other areas for coordination, such as disaster relief, instead of state and local strategic planning processes. Including relevant participants: EDA and HUD have made limited efforts to involve USDA in their collaborative efforts. USDA also encourages strategic planning for local communities. Monitoring progress towards outcomes: EDA and HUD's agreement identifies specific outcomes, including effectively aligning federal, state, and local resources for economic development. However, the agencies have not monitored progress or addressed any related challenges in meeting the stated outcomes of the collaboration. By incorporating selected leading practices for effective collaboration, EDA and HUD can help grantees and local communities better manage fragmented efforts to meet federal requirements for strategic planning and more effectively align federal and state resources. Why GAO Did This Study States spend billions of dollars annually in business incentives to attract and retain individual businesses or industries. EDA, HUD, and USDA administer programs that support states' economic development goals and encourage strategic planning. In previous reports, we have identified concerns related to fragmentation in these agencies' efforts to collaborate on economic development programs with each other. GAO was asked to review issues related to these state and federal economic development efforts. This report examines the use of federal economic development programs to support state business incentives and how selected federal agencies collaborate on these programs, among other issues. GAO reviewed information on federal economic development programs and business incentives in four states (selected because the states offer incentives of $50 million or more and vary geographically). GAO interviewed federal and state agency officials and policy organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces Award for Worldwide Architectural and Engineering Support Services
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Russian Government Actions Impacting U.S. Mission Russia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Iranian National Charged with Illegally Exporting Laboratory Equipment to Iran
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment today charging a Canadian national with the unlawful export of laboratory equipment from the United States to Iran, through Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
    [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced for COVID-19 Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Florida man was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for fraudulently seeking over $7,263,564 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • United States Seizes Oil Tanker Used to Violate Sanctions Against North Korea
    In Crime News
    A New York federal court today entered a judgment of forfeiture regarding the M/T Courageous, a 2,734-ton oil-products tanker used to make illicit deliveries of petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers with vessels flagged in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Promoter of Foreign Cryptocurrency Companies Pleads Guilty for Role in Multimillion-Dollar Securities Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A California man pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York for his participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency and securities fraud scheme through purported digital currency platforms and foreign-based financial accounts.
    [Read More…]
  • Antitrust Division Observes National Whistleblower Appreciation Day
    In Crime News
    The Antitrust Division today commemorates National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, which celebrates individuals who act with courage to speak out and report crimes, including antitrust violations like price-fixing, bid rigging and market allocation conspiracies.
    [Read More…]
  • Government Intervenes in False Claims Act Lawsuits Against Kaiser Permanente Affiliates for Submitting Inaccurate Diagnosis Codes to the Medicare Advantage Program
    In Crime News
    The United States has intervened in six complaints alleging that members of the Kaiser Permanente consortium violated the False Claims Act by submitting inaccurate diagnosis codes for its Medicare Advantage Plan enrollees in order to receive higher reimbursements.
    [Read More…]
  • Corpus Christi woman gets 30 years for sexual exploitation of a child
    In Justice News
    A 55-year-old local [Read More…]
  • Trafficking meth with firearm lands felon back in prison
    In Justice News
    A Texas Syndicate gang [Read More…]
  • COVID-19 Pandemic: Actions Needed to Improve Federal Oversight of Assistance to Individuals, Communities, and the Transportation Industry
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Department of the Treasury (Treasury), among others, continue to provide financial assistance to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA reported obligating over $79 billion from its Disaster Relief Fund to respond to COVID-19. Through several programs, FEMA is providing help to individuals with funeral costs; reimbursing communities for vaccine distribution; and funding federal agencies' efforts to support communities, including National Guard deployments. DOT and Treasury continue to make available the over $200 billion appropriated by COVID-19 relief laws for financial assistance to the transportation sector, including to air carriers, airports and airport tenants, Amtrak, and transit agencies. Through several financial assistance programs, GAO's work has found DOT and Treasury have provided critical support to the transportation sector during a period of sharp declines in travel demand and uncertainty about the pace and nature of the recovery. Depending on the program, financial assistance has reportedly enabled recipients to avoid layoffs, maintain service, and ramp up operations as demand for their services improves. Based on GAO's prior work examining responses to public health and fiscal emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO has (1) identified key lessons learned that could improve the federal response to emergencies, and (2) made several related recommendations, including ones that highlight the importance of applying these lessons learned. For example, DOT has not developed a national aviation preparedness plan to coordinate, establish, and define roles and responsibilities for communicable diseases across the federal government. GAO recommended in 2015 that DOT work with federal partners to develop such a plan, but it has not taken any action. Without such a plan, the U.S. is less prepared to respond to future communicable disease events. In addition, FEMA has faced challenges collecting and analyzing data on requests for supplies, such as personal protective equipment, made through the federal government. In 2020, GAO recommended that FEMA work with relevant stakeholders to develop an interim solution to help states track the status of their supply requests and plan for supply needs. FEMA has not taken action on this recommendation, and until the agency develops a solution, states, tribes, and territories will likely continue to face challenges that hamper the effectiveness of their COVID-19 response. Why GAO Did This Study In response to the public health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided billions of dollars across a range of agencies to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. This included billions to: FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to provide assistance to individuals as well as state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and DOT and Treasury to provide financial assistance to the transportation sector. This statement describes: (1) the federal response and selected relief programs administered by FEMA, DOT, and Treasury and (2) lessons learned based on GAO's reviews of selected COVID-19 relief programs, including related recommendations and their implementation status. This statement is based on GAO's body of work on the CARES Act issued from June 2020 through July 2021.To update this information, GAO reviewed agency documentation; and interviewed agency officials, industry associations, and selected businesses that applied to these programs on the latest implementation efforts.
    [Read More…]
  • Private Security Contractors: DOD Needs to Better Identify and Monitor Personnel and Contracts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has been unable to comprehensively identify private security contractor (PSC) contracts and personnel supporting contingency, humanitarian, peace-keeping, or other similar operations, limiting DOD's ability to readily and accurately identify the use of PSCs. DOD uses PSCs, which include companies and their personnel, hired to provide security services for the U.S. government. However, neither DOD nor GAO was able to use DOD's three PSC data sources to readily determine the universe of PSCs, the type of operation or exercise they support, or their functions, activities, and armed or unarmed status. For example, queries of DOD databases using the term “security guard” to identify PSC personnel excluded eight other job titles that may also perform private security functions. DOD has not comprehensively determined and communicated the contracted activities that fall within its definition of private security functions. Further, DOD does not have a means of readily identifying the contracts and personnel performing those activities in data sources. Without better identifying and tracking its PSC contracts and personnel, DOD will not be able to accurately determine its use of PSCs. Since 2009, DOD has established an oversight framework for its use of PSC contracts, but has not fully monitored the implementation of this framework. DOD's framework distributes oversight functions across the department as well as to organizations outside the department (see fig.). Roles and Functions of Entities to Oversee DOD's Use of Private Security Contractor (PSC) Contracts and Personnel However, DOD has not fully monitored whether and how it and the other entities have carried out their PSC oversight roles and functions. For example, GAO reviewed data for deployed contractor personnel with the job title of “security guard” and found that about 12 percent of those individuals were employed by companies not on a DOD list of certified PSC companies. Independent, third-party certification is a key oversight mechanism DOD relies on to ensure it contracts with companies that use approved personnel hiring, screening, training, and reporting practices. DOD lacks a single, senior-level position assigned to fully monitor whether DOD and various entities are carrying out their respective PSC oversight roles and functions. Without assigning this position, DOD increases the risk of incidents that its framework aims to prevent.  Why GAO Did This Study During Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001–2014 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003–2011, DOD significantly increased its use of PSCs. In 2008, the Swiss Government and the Red Cross issued the Montreux Document, which generally reaffirmed the obligation nations have to ensure that their PSCs respect international humanitarian law. PSCs supporting DOD have faced international attention resulting from incidents allegedly involving their personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's use of PSCs. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified PSC contracts and personnel used to support contingency operations and (2) established a framework to oversee the department's use of PSC contracts. GAO analyzed DOD contract and personnel data for PSCs from 2009 through 2019, reviewed DOD guidance on PSC use, and conducted interviews with DOD officials and representatives from standards organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Kuwait Television
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Saad Al-Enezi of Sky News Arabia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Osman Ayfarah of Al Jazeera
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • South Padre Island man sentenced for child pornography convictions
    In Justice News
    A 25-year-old local man [Read More…]
  • Three charged in conspiracy to purchase $500,000 in weapons for cartel
    In Justice News
    Three men are now facing [Read More…]
  • Former Colorado Judge Sentenced for Obstructing Federal Investigation of Drug Trafficking Organization
    In Crime News
    A former Colorado state court judge was sentenced Wednesday in the District of Colorado to a year and one day in prison for obstructing a federal task force investigation of a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization.
    [Read More…]
  • Four Executives and Company Charged with Price Fixing in Ongoing Investigation into Broiler Chicken Industry
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Denver, Colorado, returned an indictment yesterday charging Koch Foods, headquartered in Park Ridge, Illinois, for participating in a nationwide conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Indrani Bagchi of The Times of India
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Local man guilty in $317 million N95 mask scam
    In Justice News
    A 56-year-old Houston [Read More…]
  • Cybersecurity and Informtion Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Strengthen Efforts to Address High-Risk Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In March 2021, GAO issued its high-risk series update and emphasized that federal agencies' needed to implement numerous critical actions to strengthen the nation's cybersecurity and information technology (IT) management efforts. In the update, GAO reiterated the importance of agencies addressing four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. Overall, the federal government has to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address key cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace . In September 2020, GAO reported that the White House's national cyber strategy and associated implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks . GAO reported in December 2020 that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Address weaknesses in federal agencies information security programs. GAO reported in July 2019 that 23 agencies almost always designated a risk executive, but had not fully incorporated other key risk management practices, such as establishing a process for assessing agency-wide cybersecurity risks. In its March update, GAO also stressed the importance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies fully implementing critical actions recommended to improve the management of IT to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. GAO emphasized, for example, that OMB had demonstrated its leadership commitment to improving IT management, but sustaining this commitment was critically important; twenty-one of 24 federal agencies had not yet implemented recommendations to fully address the role of Chief Information Officers, including enhancing their authorities; OMB and agencies needed to address modernization challenges and workforce planning weaknesses; and agencies could take further action to reduce duplicative IT contracts and reduce the risk of wasteful spending. Until OMB and federal agencies take critical actions to strengthen efforts to address these important high-risk areas, longstanding and pervasive weaknesses will likely continue to jeopardize the nation's cybersecurity and management of IT. Why GAO Did This Study The nation's critical infrastructures and federal agencies are dependent on IT systems and electronic data to carry out operations and to process, maintain, and report essential information. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on cybersecurity and IT investments. GAO has long stressed the continuing and urgent need for effective cybersecurity, as underscored by recent events that have illustrated persistent and evermore sophisticated cyber threats and incidents. Moreover, many IT investments have failed, performed poorly, or suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO has included information security on its high-risk list since 1997 and added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations in 2015. In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed in both of these important areas. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address cybersecurity and the management of IT. For this testimony, GAO relied on selected products it previously issued.
    [Read More…]
  • Medicare Advantage: Beneficiary Disenrollments to Fee-for-Service in Last Year of Life Increase Medicare Spending
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Under Medicare Advantage (MA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with private MA plans to provide health care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. MA beneficiaries in the last year of life disenrolled to join Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) at more than twice the rate of all other MA beneficiaries, GAO's analysis found. MA plans are prohibited from limiting coverage based on beneficiary health status, and disproportionate disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last of year life may indicate potential issues with their care. Stakeholders told GAO that, among other reasons, beneficiaries in the last of year life may disenroll because of potential limitations accessing specialized care under MA. While CMS monitors MA disenrollments, the agency does not specifically review disenrollments by beneficiaries in the last year of life. Doing so could help CMS better ensure the care provided to these beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage Beneficiary Disenrollments to Join Fee-for-Service, 2016-2017 Beneficiaries in the last year of life who disenrolled from MA to join FFS increased Medicare costs as they moved from MA's fixed payment arrangement to FFS, where payments are based on the amount and cost of services provided. GAO's analysis shows that FFS payments for such beneficiaries who disenrolled in 2016 were $422 million higher than their estimated MA payments had they remained in MA, and were $490 million higher for those that disenrolled in 2017. Estimated Medicare Advantage Payments for Beneficiaries in Last Year of Life that Disenrolled Compared to Fee-for-Service Payments, 2016-2017 Why GAO Did This Study In contrast to Medicare FFS, which pays providers for claims for services, CMS pays MA plans a fixed monthly amount per beneficiary to provide health care coverage. For beneficiaries with higher expected health care costs, MA payments are increased. In 2019, CMS paid MA plans about $274 billion to cover about 22 million beneficiaries. Prior GAO and other studies have shown that beneficiaries in poorer health are more likely to disenroll from MA to join FFS, which may indicate that they encountered issues with their care under MA. Beneficiaries in the last year of life are generally in poorer health and often require high-cost care. GAO was asked to review disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last year of life. In this report, GAO examined (1) disenrollments from MA to join FFS by beneficiaries in the last year of life, and CMS's associated monitoring; and (2) the costs of such disenrollments to Medicare. GAO analyzed CMS disenrollment and mortality data for 2015 through 2018—the most current data at the time of the analysis—to examine the extent of MA beneficiary disenrollment in the last year of life. To estimate the costs of disenrollment, GAO used CMS data to estimate payments for disenrolled beneficiaries had they remained in MA, and compared those estimates against those beneficiaries' actual FFS costs.
    [Read More…]
  • Veterans with Disabilities: VA Could Better Inform Veterans with Disabilities about Their Education Benefit Options
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Most school and veteran service organization (VSO) officials GAO interviewed stated that when given the choice between the Post 9/11 GI Bill (GI Bill) and the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program, veterans with disabilities will base their choice on which program best suits their unique goals, preferences, and circumstances. For example, certain veterans may prefer the GI Bill's flexibility to independently select courses of study, whereas others may prefer to have the assistance of a counselor to select a course of study as part of an employment plan, as provided under VR&E. However, most officials GAO interviewed said veterans with disabilities often use the GI Bill for education benefits without knowing that the VR&E program exists, or that it can pay for education, provide assistive equipment for their disability, or offer unique benefits of working with a counselor. Selected Comments Regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Veteran Readiness & Employment Programs “Had I known about VR&E I would have [used it.]” -Veteran with disabilities “I often think of VR&E as sort of a hidden program when it comes to education benefits.” -VSO official ”Veterans with disabilities are often not aware of the differences between the two programs.” -School official Source: GAO survey of veterans and GAO interviews with school and VSO officials | GAO-21-450 VA provides information about education benefits to veterans with disabilities through various methods, including in-person communication, online materials, and written communications. However, on the agency website, VA.gov, few webpages devoted to VR&E explicitly mention that it can help pay for a college degree. In addition, the letters that VA sends to veterans when they receive their disability rating do not specifically mention that VR&E can cover education costs for a college degree. VA's online GI Bill Comparison Tool allows veterans to learn more about the tuition amounts each program will cover for certain schools, but it does not inform veterans on the key differences in program features across the programs. Most school and VSO officials GAO interviewed said VA's efforts do not adequately inform veterans with disabilities about their potential education benefit options, as evidenced by the number of veterans with disabilities they encounter who are unaware that VR&E exists or who do not fully understand the benefits VR&E can provide. Including more information about how VR&E can help veterans pay for higher education, and facilitating direct comparison between the features of the GI Bill and VR&E, would help better position veterans with disabilities to choose the program that best meets their needs. Why GAO Did This Study VA offers education benefits to veterans with disabilities through the GI Bill, VA's largest education program, and VR&E, which helps veterans with service-connected disabilities re-enter the workforce. Each offers distinct features that may better serve veterans depending on their individual circumstances. However, veterans with disabilities may not know that VR&E can help pay for education as part of its employment services. GAO was asked to what extent eligible veterans are aware of the comparative features of the programs. This report examines (1) the reported factors that influence whether veterans with disabilities select the Post-9/11 GI Bill or VR&E, and (2) how VA informs veterans with disabilities about the education benefits available to them from each program, and the effectiveness of those efforts. For both programs, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws; analyzed participant data; conducted semi-structured interviews with officials from schools and VSOs selected for their depth of knowledge about veteran affairs, and reviewed relevant VA informational materials.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19 Contracting: Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursements Could Provide Lessons Learned for Future Emergency Responses
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found To help government contractors keep their workforce in a ready state during the COVID-19 pandemic, section 3610 of the CARES Act generally authorized government agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to contractor personnel and subcontractors during the national emergency. Section 3610 did not appropriate specific funding for this purpose. The four agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and NASA—reported use of section 3610 authority totaling at least $882.8 million over 14 months. The extent to which the agencies used the authority varied, from $1.4 million at Homeland Security to $760.7 million at Energy. Further, Defense officials estimated that defense contractors have more than $4 billion in paid leave costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement under section 3610. Defense officials also noted, however, that the department does not plan to reimburse this full amount using existing funding. Agencies also based their reimbursement decisions on the nature of the work performed by contractors, such as whether telework was an option. Twelve out of the 15 contractors GAO interviewed reported that paid leave reimbursement had a great or moderate effect on their ability to retain employees (see figure), in particular those with specialized skills or clearances. Selected Contractors' Views on the Effect of Paid Leave Reimbursement on Workforce Retention Given the urgency of the pandemic, agencies prioritized quick implementation of section 3610 over a more deliberative process, resulting in variations such as how agencies tracked use of the authority. Officials from all four agencies said that they either have captured or intend to capture lessons learned from implementing section 3610 and are willing to share these with other federal agencies. However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which coordinates government-wide contracting policy—has not collected and shared lessons learned. With coordination from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the government could seize an opportunity to enhance implementation of paid leave reimbursement provisions that may be enacted as part of rapid federal responses to future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance for those affected by COVID-19. Section 3610 of the CARES Act enables agencies, at their discretion, to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to their employees and subcontractors who are unable to access work sites due to facility closures or other restrictions, and whose duties cannot be performed remotely during the pandemic. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. In September 2020, GAO found that agencies had not made much use of section 3610 authority as of July 2020, and expectations of future use varied. This report (1) examines how selected federal agencies have used section 3610 authority and (2) presents selected contractors' perspectives on COVID-19 paid leave reimbursement. GAO reviewed guidance and data and interviewed cognizant officials from four agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO also selected a non-generalizable sample of 15 contractors that received or requested section 3610 reimbursements from one or more of the selected agencies and conducted semi-structured interviews of contractor representatives.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: VA Should Assess Its Oversight of Infection Prevention and Control in Community Living Centers
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took steps—such as issuing guidance and trainings—to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Community Living Centers (CLC), which are VA-owned and -operated nursing homes. This guidance focused on, for example, limiting CLC entry and testing residents and staff for COVID-19, while the trainings were intended to prepare staff for, among other things, a surge in cases. However, the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in these facilities during the first year of the pandemic, from March 2020 through February 2021. In particular, the agency suspended annual in-person inspections of CLCs before resuming them virtually in February 2021. The agency also required that CLCs conduct a one-time self-assessment of their infection prevention and control practices but did not review the results in a timely manner to make more immediate improvements. VA officials acknowledged these shortcomings as the agency responded in real time to the rapidly evolving pandemic. As VA has described this time as a “learning period,” it could benefit from assessing its decisions and actions related to oversight of infection prevention and control during the pandemic to identify any lessons learned. Such an assessment would align with VA's plans to assess and report on the agency's overall response to the pandemic as well as its strategic goal to promote continuous quality improvement in CLCs. Results from such an assessment—which could look at both successes and missed opportunities—could help VA better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks in CLCs. Why GAO Did This Study Close to 8,000 veterans per day received nursing home care provided by VA in CLCs in fiscal year 2020. COVID-19 has posed significant risks to nursing home residents and staff, as residents are often in frail health, and residents and staff have close daily contact with each other. The CARES Act includes a provision that GAO monitor the federal response to the pandemic. This report describes, among other objectives, guidance and training VA has issued to help CLCs respond to the pandemic and examines VA's oversight of infection prevention and control in CLCs during the pandemic. GAO analyzed documents, including guidance, training-related materials, and CLC self-assessments of their infection prevention and control practices. GAO also interviewed VA officials and CLC staff, the latter from five facilities selected based on factors such as having been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies prior to the pandemic.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S.-China Trade: USTR Should Fully Document Internal Procedures for Making Tariff Exclusion and Extension Decisions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) developed a process in July 2018 to review tariff exclusion requests for some imported products from China and later developed a process to extend these exclusions. From 2018 to 2020, U.S. stakeholders submitted about 53,000 exclusion requests to USTR for specific products covered by the tariffs. USTR's process consisted of a public comment period to submit requests, an internal review, an interagency assessment, and the decision publication. USTR documented some procedures for reviewing exclusion requests. However, it did not fully document all of its internal procedures, including roles and responsibilities for each step in its review process. GAO reviewed selected exclusion case files and found inconsistencies in the agency's reviews. For example, USTR did not document how reviewers should consider multiple requests from the same company, and GAO's case file review found USTR performed these steps inconsistently. Another case file lacked documentation to explain USTR's final decision because the agency's procedures did not specify whether such documentation was required. Federal internal control standards state that agencies should document their procedures to ensure they conduct them consistently and effectively, and to retain knowledge. Without fully documented internal procedures, USTR lacks reasonable assurance it conducted its reviews consistently. Moreover, documenting them will help USTR to administer any future exclusions and extensions. USTR evaluated each exclusion request on a case-by-case basis using several factors, including product availability outside of China and the potential economic harm of the tariffs. According to USTR officials, no one factor was essential to grant or deny a request. For example, USTR might grant a request that demonstrated the tariffs would cause severe economic harm even when the requested product was available outside of China. USTR denied about 46,000 requests (87 percent), primarily for the failure to show that the tariffs would cause severe economic harm to the requesters or other U.S. interests (see figure). Further, USTR did not extend 75 percent of the tariff exclusions it had granted. USTR's Primary Reasons for Denying Exclusion Requests for Section 301 Tariffs on Products from China, 2018-2020 Note: Totals may not sum due to rounding. Why GAO Did This Study In July 2018, USTR placed tariffs on certain products from China in response to an investigation that found certain trade acts, policies, and practices of China were unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce. As of December 2020, the U.S. imposed tariffs on roughly $460 billion worth of Chinese imports under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. Because these tariffs could harm U.S. workers and manufacturers that rely on these imports, USTR developed a process to exclude some products from these additional tariffs. U.S. businesses and members of Congress have raised questions about the transparency and fairness of USTR's administration of this process. GAO was asked to review USTR's tariff exclusion program. This report (1) examines the processes USTR used to review Section 301 tariff exclusion requests and extensions and (2) describes how USTR evaluated those tariff exclusion requests and extensions, and the outcomes of its decisions. GAO analyzed USTR's public and internal documents relating to the exclusion and extension processes, including 16 randomly selected nongeneralizable case files, and data from USTR and the U.S. Census Bureau. GAO also interviewed agency officials.
    [Read More…]
  • Protests in Iran
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken Travels to Kuwait to Advance Regional Security and Economic Ties
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Finalists Announced for 2021 P3 Impact Award
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Zakka Jacob of CNN-News18
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Designation of Al-Qa’ida-Linked Financial Facilitators
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Imposing Sanctions in Defense of Human Rights in Syria
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to Mission India Staff
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Opening Remarks at a Civil Society Roundtable
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Texas Man Sentenced for $24 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Texas man was sentenced today to more than 11 years in prison for wire-fraud and money-laundering offenses in connection with his fraudulent scheme to obtain approximately $24.8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
    [Read More…]
  • Louisiana Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Second Tax Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Louisiana woman pleaded guilty today to a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Requires Substantial Divestitures in Gray’s Acquisition of Quincy to Protect American Consumers and Small Businesses
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it will require Gray Television Inc. and Quincy Media Inc. to divest 10 broadcast television stations in seven local markets as a condition of resolving a challenge to Gray’s proposed $925 million acquisition of Quincy.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Retaliation Lawsuit Against Wilson County, North Carolina, Emergency Communications
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Wilson County, North Carolina, alleging that Wilson County Emergency Communications (WCEC) engaged in unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it terminated an employee after she disclosed to supervisors that she had been sexually harassed while on the job.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Issues Guidance on Federal Statutes Regarding Voting Methods and Post-Election “Audits”
    In Crime News
    Today the U.S. Department of Justice announced the release of two guidance documents to ensure states fully comply with federal laws regarding elections, specifically federal statutes affecting methods of voting and federal constraints related to post-election “audits.”
    [Read More…]
  • Nine MS-13 Gang Members Indicted in Racketeering and Violent Crime Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, has returned a 60-count indictment charging nine members of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) with a racketeering conspiracy spanning more than seven years.
    [Read More…]
  • Defense attorney convicted
    In Justice News
    A 48-year-old resident [Read More…]
  • Mobile Passport Control
    In Travel
      */ Mobile Passport [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Peru President-Elect Castillo
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Election of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as Prime Minister of Samoa
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • U.S. Special Envoy and Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland’s Visit to Tripoli
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Tunisian President Kais Saied
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Supplemental Material for GAO-21-536: 2020 Federal Managers Survey: Results on Government Performance and Management Issues
    In U.S GAO News
    This product is a supplement to Evidence-Based Policymaking: Survey Data Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Capacity across Federal Agencies (GAO-21-536). Between July and December 2020, GAO surveyed nearly 4,000 federal managers on various organizational performance and management issues. The survey asked managers for their perspectives on their agencies' capacities to develop and use different types of data and information in decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources. In addition, the survey sought views on agency efforts to maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a 56 percent response rate, the results are generalizable to the 24 major agencies included in the survey, and across the federal government. This product makes available the results from GAO's 2020 survey—at a government-wide level and for each agency. It also provides information about how and why GAO conducted the survey, and identifies other GAO products that analyzed and reported these survey results. For more information, contact Alissa H. Czyz at 202-512-6806 or czyza@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]