Department Press Briefing – February 5, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:47 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Thank you very much and good afternoon, everyone. You’ve heard me say it before, but again, I apologize we’re running a couple minutes late here. We have a couple things at the top.

First, the State Department was honored to host President Biden and Vice President Harris yesterday. It was their first visit to a cabinet agency, which was a powerful signal of their commitment to diplomacy as well as to the career women and men of this institution. President Biden outlined the administration’s foreign policy priorities, making clear that diplomacy will always be at the forefront of those efforts. He made the point that diplomacy will be central not just because it is the right thing to do for the world, but because it’s in our own self-interest. And he talked about how American values are a great source of strength and our abiding advantage. It will be those interests and those values that guide us as we pursue a foreign policy that delivers for the American people going forward.

Now moving on to Belarus. The United States welcomes the opportunity to recognize a Day of Solidarity with the people of Belarus this Sunday, February 7th. This coming week will mark six months of peaceful protest following the fraudulent election last August. We continue to be amazed by the exceptional strength, resilience, and courage of the Belarusian people. In the face of unyielding repression, they continue to demand freedom and democracy. The world has been inspired by the people of Belarus, especially Belarusian women, peacefully demonstrating for the right to have a voice in Belarus’ future. We support a peaceful and inclusive dialogue that bolsters an independent, sovereign Belarus with a government that preserves its people’s fundamental rights. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus and those around the world who face tremendous brutality as they exercise their democratic freedoms.

And with that, Operator, if you want to provide the instructions for raising hands.

OPERATOR: All right, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, that is to press 1 then 0.

MR PRICE: Great. We will start, Operator, with Matt Lee of the AP.

QUESTION: Yes, hello?

OPERATOR: Thank you. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: You can hear me? Okay. Hey Ned, I have a couple, but they’ll be really brief.

One, do you have any reaction to the ICC judge’s decision today to recognize Palestine as a state party to the Rome Statute and basically say that the do have jurisdiction over what happens over potential or alleged crimes in the West Bank and Gaza?

Secondly, do you have any comment on the new leadership in Libya?

And then third, as it relates to the Secretary’s phone call with the E3 foreign ministers today, did – and I saw the note that you guys put out earlier about the topics that he expected to cover. On Iran specifically, do you know, did he have an opportunity to raise the case of this Iranian diplomat who was sentenced – convicted and sentenced yesterday in Belgium for plotting the attack in Paris? And that’s it.

MR PRICE: Okay. Well, why don’t I take those in order.

First, when it comes to the ICC decision on jurisdiction, this decision just came out. We are aware of it and we are reviewing it. A three-judge panel of the Pre-trial Chamber One of the ICC issued a decision affirming that the ICC may exercise territorial jurisdiction in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza; however, we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. We have always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or that are referred by the UN Security Council.

Number two, on Libya, we welcome this news. We fully support this outcome of the UN-facilitated process that will lead to a stable, secure Libya and elections in December of 2021.

When it comes to Iran, Matt, and the E3 meeting that you referenced, as we have said, one of our – in fact, our earliest approach will be to ensure that we are consulting and coordinating very closely with first and foremost our allies, but also our partners, and of course, with members of Congress.

Secretary Blinken, Rob Malley, as I have spoken to, others in this building have gotten off to a running start when it comes to that consultation. I also would refer you to what we have said about the need to coordinate especially closely with our European partners.

I think when it comes to the substance of this, I wouldn’t want to go into it. But clearly, we want to make sure that we are working in lockstep with our European partners and to ensure that we know – they know exactly where we are and we know exactly where they are, and we will move forward together.

I don’t want to – I wouldn’t want to go into the verdict you mentioned in the Belgian court, and I couldn’t speak to whether the Secretary raised it. What I can say broadly is that we’ve seen the verdict. We universally condemn acts of terrorism used to undermine freedom of opinion and expression anywhere in the world. We welcome all efforts to hold the planners and perpetrators of these heinous crimes accountable.

Next question, please. Let’s go to – we’ll go to Barak Ravid.

OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Yeah. Hi, Ned. Thanks. I want to continue what Matt – the question Matt started with about the ICC. The previous administration threatened that it would sanction the ICC judges if they go forward with such decisions. Does this administration have any intention on sanctioning the ICC or any members of the ICC for such a decision?

MR PRICE: Well, Barak, when it comes to the ICC, I just gave you our response to this. I don’t think I would want to go any further. Obviously, we are taking a close look at the decision today. I think broadly when it comes to the ICC, as we’ve said, we share the goals of the ICC in promoting accountability for the worst crimes known to humanity. At the same time, and you heard me allude to this just a moment ago, we have always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or that are referred to by the UN Security Council. I think I would – I need to leave it at that.

We will go to Joseph Haboush.

OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for this. There have been no mentions, at least I may have missed them, on Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon in readouts of Secretary Blinken’s calls with foreign leaders. I understand it’s still very early on in the administration, but is this a sign that the Biden administration considers these three countries to be a part of the bigger problem in dealing with Iran?

And just a second one. Will the issue of Lebanon’s Hizballah and its arms be a priority for the Biden administration in dealing with Lebanon, or do you – do they plan on distinguishing between the need to form a competent government and looking to deal with Hizballah’s arms at a later time? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to Lebanon specifically, I would refer you to the quite lengthy statement that Secretary Blinken and his French counterpart issued yesterday on the six-month anniversary of the explosion in Beirut. That offers a pretty robust explanation of where we stand, of where we stand with the people of Lebanon, and so I would refer you there.

We will go to Nick Schifrin.

OPERATOR: I’m sorry, to Nick Allen?

MR PRICE: Nick Schifrin of PBS.

OPERATOR: One moment. Thank you. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks very much, Ned, and happy Friday. Has the State Department made a decision as to whether it will lift the designation of the Houthis in Yemen as a global terrorist group?

And staying on Yemen, I want to confirm that given President Biden’s statement yesterday that the U.S. is pulling support for Saudi operation, can you respond to the criticism that even though that support is only for intelligence and for guidance, that that support actually prevents the Saudis from being even worse at targeting, and that pulling support will mean the Saudi bombs may kill more civilians? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Well, Nick, to your first question, when it comes to the Houthi designation, I believe in his first appearance in the press room Secretary Blinken was asked among those moves by – the last-minute moves by the last administration that were under review what his priority would be, and he spoke at length about the designation of Ansarallah. He said at the time that we would move expeditiously through that review given the humanitarian implications of that last-minute move. I think he actually cited the fact at the time that some 80 percent of Yemen’s civilian population lives under Houthi control. And so in the first instance, we want to make sure that we are not doing anything to make life worse or even more miserable for the long-suffering people of Yemen, which by most accounts is home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

So people in this building, people across the interagency have been taking a very close but swift look at these issues. Before we would be able to make any sort of decision to lift this, we would need to notify Congress as the first step, because we intend to get back to regular order in that regard. Don’t have anything to announce there, but as soon as we do we will be sure to let you know.

When it comes to Yemen and what you heard from President Biden yesterday, it is true that we are stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen, which I mentioned before, a war that has created both a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe. And he spoke about a few elements to that. First, you heard him say that the main focus of our efforts will be the diplomatic effort to end the war in Yemen via the UN-led process to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels, and restore long-dormant peace talks. Working closely with the UN envoy, Martin Griffiths, and led now, as you heard the President announce yesterday, by Special Envoy Tim Lenderking, our primary objective is to bring the parties together for a negotiated settlement that will end the war and the suffering of the Yemeni people. We have no illusions about how challenging this will be, but it is our priority and we recognize that there is no military solution to the war in Yemen.

Second, as the President said, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales. Importantly, this does not apply to offensive operations against either ISIS or AQAP, but it does include both materiel and restricting, as you alluded to, our intelligence sharing arrangement with Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition in accordance with the President’s guidance. All arms sales to Saudi Arabia will return to standard procedures and orders, including with appropriate legal reviews at the State Department. We’ve re-established an interagency process for working through the details of these individual cases. It will be led by the White House and with all relevant agencies at the table bringing expertise, discipline, and inclusivity back to our policymaking on these issues.

And then finally, a final element to this: We understand that Saudi Arabia faces genuine security threats from Yemen and from others in the region, and so as part of that interagency process, we’ll look for ways to improve support for Saudi Arabia’s stability, to defend its territory against threats.

Next question. Why don’t we go to Robbie Gramer?

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.

MR PRICE: Yeah – yup.

QUESTION: Oh, great, thanks. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called on the Biden administration to reverse Trump’s redesignation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terror. I’m wondering, has the State Department made a decision to do so yet? Or if not, and it’s still under review, what does that review entail, and do you have a timeline on when that review might be wrapped up? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Well, let me speak a little bit about our overall overarching policy when it comes to Cuba, and it’s a policy that will be governed by two principles. First is the support for democracy and human rights. It will be at the core of our efforts through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. And second, we believe that Americans, and especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. We’re committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. foreign policy. That certainly applies to Cuba, just as you’ve heard me reference it across the board, and includes redoubling our dedication to human rights throughout our own hemisphere.

Despite, human rights defenders around the world continue to look to the United States to – for support against authoritarian regimes. This is one of those issues that we will continue to rally our allies and partners against. And in the administration we’ve also committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision by the outgoing administration to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. I wouldn’t want to go into any further details. But as we take a look at this issue into our broader policy with Cuba, those principles will continue to be front of mind.

Why don’t we go to see – let’s see here – Laura Kelly?

QUESTION: (No response.)

MR PRICE: Do we have Laura?

QUESTION: (No response.)

MR PRICE: Okay, all right.

OPERATOR: Apologies. Apologies. Technical difficulties. Laura Kelly, your line’s open.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Thank you for doing this. Going back to Yemen, does the ending of the relevant arms sales – does that include any arms sales to the United Arab Emirates? And if you can, do you have an update on the status with U.S. assistance to the north of Yemen? I’m under the impression that it was halted because of the Houthis. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, thank you very much. When it comes to arms sales, you’ve seen – and I believe it was National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said yesterday that we have paused two arms sales with Saudi Arabia to ensure that while we examine whether – to ensure that we examine whether they meet our objectives and policies. It is also typical, as I think you have heard us say, and standard for an incoming administration to undertake a review of all arms sales, impending transfers to ensure that they are consistent with our interests and our values.

But when it comes to the arms sales that the President – and arms transfers that the President referenced yesterday, they will from here on out follow a regular order, follow a process that is being led in the first instance by the White House, by the NSC, but in coordination with the State Department and our relevant interagency partners.

We will go to – sorry – we’ll go to Rich Edson.

OPERATOR: One moment.

QUESTION: Hello?

MR PRICE: Yes.

OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks guys. Just a quick one on Hong Kong. The previous administration had determined that Hong Kong had lost its autonomy. Is that still consistent with U.S. policy? Is that part of any review on China?

MR PRICE: Rich, let me take that question. We’ll see if we can get you some lines on that.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Bahman Kalbasi.

OPERATOR: One moment. The name again, please?

MR PRICE: Bahman Kalbasi, K-a-l-b-a-s-i.

OPERATOR: I’m trying to find his line.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Hi, I can – I can hear you.

MR PRICE: Great, we have you now.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. Thanks for doing this, Ned. Back in September, President Biden wrote that piece about returning to the Iran deal, and he also mentioned that – and I quote – “I will also take steps to make sure U.S. sanctions do not hinder Iran’s fight against COVID-19.” There was a request by Iran for a $5 billion loan from IMF which the Trump administration fought hard against. Is that or any other move in the discussion – apart from the steps that are being taken to decide how and when to go back into the deal – to send a signal that given the situation with COVID in Iran, that U.S. is prepared to ease some of these pressures on the public in Iran?

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question, Bahman. I believe, as in one of the first executive orders, too, on COVID, there was a requirement that we review our sanctions policy globally to ensure that we weren’t in the first instance doing anything that would increase humanitarian suffering around the world.

But when it comes to Iran, what I would say is that I would actually go back to what I was speaking of in the context of today’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and the E3. Before we take any measures, including measures along the lines of the one you referenced, we would want to make sure that we have coordinated closely with our allies, with our – with partners, and with members of Congress as well. So before we announce any sort of changes in policy along those lines, we would want to make sure we’ve undertaken those consultations, and we’re in the process of doing that right now.

We probably have time for just another question or two. So we can go to Cindy Saine of VOA.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) —

OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: — something’s also shaping up – yeah, can you hear me?

OPERATOR: Please, go ahead. Yes, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, hi there. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can. We have you.

QUESTION: Yes. What is the U.S. position on Haiti’s opposition efforts to oust President Moise this Sunday, which is a disputed date for elections? Have U.S. officials spoken with the opposition about their transition plans? And what is the U.S. position on possible violence against protesters on Sunday?

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to engagement with the opposition, our embassy does maintain regular communication with contacts across the political spectrum. Zooming out a bit and looking at our relationship with Haiti, we have, and together in this case with the OAS and other parties, consistently called on all political forces in Haiti to adhere to the spirit of their constitutional order. We’ve urged the Government of Haiti to organize free and fair legislative elections so that parliament may resume its rightful role.

In accordance with the OAS position on the need to proceed with the democratic transfer of executive power, a new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 2nd, 2022.

STAFF: Seventh.

MR PRICE: Sorry, February 7th, 2022. The Haitian people deserve the opportunity to elect their leaders and restore Haiti’s democratic institutions. The United States continues to maintain that the Haitian Government should exercise restraint in issuing decrees, only using that power to schedule legislative elections and for matters of immediate threats to life, health, and safety until parliament is restored and can resume its constitutional responsibilities.

Why don’t we take one final question here. Let me just see here. Kim Dozier, do you want to go ahead?

OPERATOR: I’m sorry, Kim?

MR PRICE: Kim Dozier, D-o-z-i-e-r.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Ned. I wanted to ask if, by appointing an FSO and Arabist in Tim Lenderking to the Yemen role and keeping past Trump political appointees like Khalilzad and Carstens, are you sending a message to the State Department writ large that there is a departure from the loyalty tests of the past administration? And also, could you give us a round figure of how many political appointees have been asked to stay and what you’re doing to get State Department veterans who may have quit to come back?

MR PRICE: Well, thanks, Kim. I appreciate the question. I think in his first remarks to the workforce a little over a week ago now, Secretary Blinken spoke of his priorities, and the first priority he spoke to was what he called the State Department’s greatest asset, and that’s our people. He spoke of his plans to empower our officers across the board, but also to recruit, retain, and to promote a workforce that looks like the American people, understanding that if we are going to represent the United States around the world, we have to, our workforce has to look like the country we represent.

So you’re absolutely right that in this case, Tim Lenderking is – has been a longtime public servant. He is someone who has served this country with honor and distinction through multiple administrations. He is a career Foreign Service officer, as I understand. And as Secretary Blinken has said, career officials will, in the coming weeks and as nominations and appointments are put forward, fill some of the highest and most senior positions in this building.

When it comes to individuals who served in political positions under the previous administration, there are some areas where continuity is important. We spoke yesterday about Ambassador Carstens, our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. The work that he and his office have done and the success they have had reuniting detained Americans with their families is just tremendous, and Ambassador Carstens has the respect and trust of the families of Americans who are detained overseas.

You mentioned the SRAR, Ambassador Khalilzad, and of course we’re at a very delicate moment as we look forward to May and as we evaluate the U.S.-Taliban agreement as well as our broader approach to Afghanistan. There are just a small handful of officials both in this building and in ambassadorial posts around the world who the Secretary of State has asked to remain because of the distinguished work they have done, because of the continuity we need in key areas. And again, we’ll see if we can get you some more details about how many individuals that entails.

So I think with that, we’ll go ahead and call it a day. Thank you, everyone, for joining us, and we will plan to see you in person or at least see some of you in person on Monday. Have a good weekend.

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

 

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    The Justice Department announced today that three Sri Lankan citizens have been charged with terrorism offenses, including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (ISIS).  The men were part of a group of ISIS supporters which called itself “ISIS in Sri Lanka.”  That group is responsible for the 2019 Easter attacks in the South Asian nation of Sri Lanka, which killed 268 people, including five U.S. citizens, and injured over 500 others, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed today.
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    Thirteen district courts around the country will livestream audio of select proceedings in civil cases of public interest next year as part of a two-year pilot program.
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  • Justice Department Applauds Passage of the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act
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    On Dec. 23, 2020, President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act (the “Act”), which prohibits employers from retaliating against certain individuals who report criminal antitrust violations. The Act was sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley, passed the Senate on Oct. 17, 2019, and passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 8, 2020.
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  • Twenty-Two Charged in Connection with a More than $11-Million Paycheck Protection Program Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    Seventeen more individuals have been charged in connection with a fraudulent scheme to obtain approximately $11.1 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and to use those funds to purchase luxury vehicles, jewelry and other personal items.
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  • GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO began 37 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of GAO's 37 requested entrance conferences for those audits, DOD scheduled 33 within 14 days and held 34 within 30 days of GAO's notification. Entrance conferences are initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff that allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. The four entrance conferences that were scheduled more than 14 days after notification were scheduled late due to either difficulties in identifying a primary action officer or aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. The three entrance conferences that were held more than 30 days after notification were scheduled late due to difficulties in aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of their receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the final of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first three quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that it sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received GAO's notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the GAO team conducting each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Commercial Space Transportation: FAA Should Examine a Range of Options to Support U.S. Launch Infrastructure
    In U.S GAO News
    Launch providers support the deployment of people and payloads, such as national security and commercial satellites or research probes, into space. The majority of these providers told GAO that U.S. space transportation infrastructure—located at sites across the country—is generally sufficient for them to meet their customers' current requirements. This situation is in part a result of the launch providers' investments in launch sites, along with state and local funding. Launch providers and site operators alike seek future improvements but differ on the type and location of infrastructure required. Some launch providers said that infrastructure improvements would be required to increase launch capacity at existing busy launch sites, while a few site operators said that new infrastructure and additional launch sites would help expand the nation's overall launch capacity. U.S. Commercial Launch Sites with Number of FAA-Licensed Launches, January 2015 - November 2020 The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was directed by statute to make recommendations to Congress on how to facilitate and promote greater investments in space transportation infrastructure, among other things. However, FAA's initial draft report was limited because it focused only on two existing FAA programs, rather than a range of options. FAA officials stated that they did not examine other options because of limited time and resources, and that the two identified programs could be implemented quickly because FAA has administrative authority to manage them. Leading practices in infrastructure investment emphasize the importance of conducting an examination of potential approaches, which can help identify how best to support national interests; avoid overlap or duplication of federal effort; and enhance, not substitute, participation by non-federal stakeholders. An examination may also help identify alternatives to making funding available, such as increasing efficiency and capacity through technology improvements. By focusing only on these existing programs, FAA may overlook other options that better meet federal policy goals and maximize the effect of any federal investment. Although FAA has already prepared its initial report to respond to the statute, it still has opportunities, such as during subsequent mandated updates, to report separately on potential approaches. Demand for commercial space launches is anticipated to increase in the coming years. FAA, the agency responsible for overseeing the sites where these launches occur, was directed by statute to submit a report—and update it every 2 years until December 2024—that makes recommendations on how to facilitate and promote greater investments in space transportation infrastructure. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review issues related to space transportation infrastructure. This report discusses launch providers' and site operators' views on the sufficiency of infrastructure in meeting market demand and assesses the steps FAA has taken to identify options for federal support of space transportation infrastructure, among other things. GAO reviewed relevant regulations; assessed FAA's actions against GAO-identified leading practices; and interviewed FAA officials, commercial launch providers, and representatives from U.S. commercial launch sites that GAO identified as having hosted an FAA-licensed launch since 2015 or having an FAA launch site operator license as of August 2020. GAO recommends that FAA examine a range of potential options to support space transportation infrastructure and that this examination include a discussion of trade-offs. DOT partially concurred, noting that it would provide its mandated report to Congress but not conduct a new examination of a range of options. GAO continues to believe that such an examination is warranted. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
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  • Six Arrested on Federal Charge of Conspiracy to Kidnap the Governor of Michigan
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that six men have been arrested and charged federally with conspiring to kidnap the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. According to a complaint filed Tuesday, October 6, 2020, Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta conspired to kidnap the Governor from her vacation home in the Western District of Michigan. Under federal law, each faces any term of years up to life in prison if convicted. Fox, Garbin, Franks, Harris, and Caserta are residents of Michigan. Croft is a resident of Delaware.
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  • Department of Justice Marks 20th Anniversary of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act with Comprehensive 20-Year Report
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today marked the 20th Anniversary of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by releasing a comprehensive report detailing how RLUIPA has helped preserve the religious liberty rights of thousands of individuals and institutions. 
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    A federal jury convicted a Georgia resident this week on federal charges stemming from violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
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    In Crime News
    Utah resident Gordon H. Pedersen has been indicted for posing as a medical doctor to sell a baseless treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City late last week, Pedersen fraudulently promoted and sold ingestible silver-based products as a cure for COVID-19 despite having no evidence that his products could treat or cure the disease. Pedersen is also alleged to have claimed to be a physician and worn a stethoscope and white lab coat in videos and photos posted on the Internet to further his alleged fraud scheme.
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  • Judge Rya Zobel to Receive 2020 Devitt Award
    In U.S Courts
    Senior U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel, who grew up in Nazi Germany and later became the first woman to serve as director of the Federal Judicial Center, is the recipient of the 2020 Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award.
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  • Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud the IRS
    In Crime News
    A Maryland tax return preparer pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding in the preparation of a false tax return. According to court documents and statements made in court, Anita Fortune, 56, of Upper Marlboro, provided return preparation services under multiple business names, including Tax Terminatorz Inc. Fortune prepared and filed returns using co-conspirators’ electronic filing identification numbers and identifiers, which they provided in exchange for fees and office space. For the tax years 2011 to 2018, Fortune and her associates fraudulently reduced their clients’ tax liabilities and increased their refunds by adding fictitious or inflated itemized deductions and business losses to the clients’ returns. In total, Fortune caused a tax loss to the IRS of $189,748.
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  • Three Tribal Officials Charged in Bribery Scheme
    In Crime News
    Two current tribal government officials and one former tribal government official of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (MHA Nation) were charged by criminal complaint unsealed today for their alleged acceptance of bribes and kickbacks from a contractor providing construction services on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation (FBIR), which is the home of the MHA Nation.
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    In Crime News
    A Houston-area physician and anesthesiologist at two registered pain clinics, Texas Pain Solutions and Integra Medical Clinic, was sentenced today to seven years in prison for his role in fraudulently billing health care programs for at least $5 million dollars in medical tests and procedures, and for the role his fraud played in multiple patient deaths.
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  • K-12 Education: U.S. Military Families Generally Have the Same Schooling Options as Other Families and Consider Multiple Factors When Selecting Schools
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Traditional public schools were the most commonly available schooling option for military families near military installations, similar to schools available to U.S. families in general, according to GAO's analysis of Department of Education 2018-19 data. Over 90 percent of installations had at least one public schooling option nearby—such as a charter or magnet school—in addition to traditional public schools (see figure). Similar to U.S. schools in general, rural installations generally had fewer schooling options compared to their more highly populated urban counterparts. In addition, about one-half of the military installations GAO analyzed are in states that offer private school choice programs that provide eligible students with funding toward a non-public education. At least two of these states have private school choice programs specifically for military families. Public School Options within Average Commuting Distance of Military Installations, School Year 2018-19 Note: According to GAO's analysis of the Department of Transportation's 2017 National Household Travel Survey, the average commuting distance for rural and urban areas is 20 miles and 16 miles, respectively. For the purposes of this report, the term “military installations” refers to the 890 DOD installations and Coast Guard units included in GAO's analysis. Military families in GAO's review commonly reported considering housing options and school features when choosing schools for their children; however, they weighed these factors differently to meet their families' specific needs. For example, one reason parents said that they accepted a longer commute was to live in their preferred school district, while other parents said that they prioritized a shorter commute and increased family time over access to specific schools. Military families also reported considering academics, perceived safety, elective courses, and extracurricular activities. To inform their schooling decisions, most parents said that they rely heavily on their personal networks and social media. Why GAO Did This Study Approximately 650,000 military dependent children in the U.S. face various challenges that may affect their schooling, according to DOD. For example, these children transfer schools up to nine times, on average, before high school graduation. Military families frequently cite education issues for their children as a drawback to military service, according to DOD. GAO was asked to examine the schooling options available to school-age dependents of active-duty servicemembers. This report describes (1) available schooling options for school-age military dependent children in the U.S.; and (2) military families' views on factors they consider and resources they use when making schooling decisions. GAO analyzed data on federal education, military installation locations, and commuting patterns to examine schooling options near military installations. GAO also conducted six discussion groups with a total of 40 parents of school-age military dependent children; and interviewed officials at nine military installations that were selected to reflect a range of factors such as availability of different types of schooling options, rural or urban designation, and geographic region. In addition, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and guidance, and interviewed officials from DOD, the Coast Guard, and representatives of national advocacy groups for military children. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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  • Russian Project Lakhta Member Charged with Wire Fraud Conspiracy
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    A criminal complaint was filed today charging a Russian national for his alleged role in a conspiracy to use the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to open fraudulent accounts at banking and cryptocurrency exchanges.
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    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that additional charges have been brought in a superseding indictment against members and associates of a white supremacist gang known as the 1488s. The 1488s have been charged as a criminal organization that was involved in narcotics distribution, arson, obstruction of justice, and acts of violence including murder, assault, and kidnapping.
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    In Crime News
    A federal court in the Southern District of Florida has permanently enjoined a West Palm Beach tax return preparer and her business from preparing federal income tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. According to the court’s order, it issued the injunction in response to violations of a prior order in the case that had allowed the preparer and her business to prepare returns subject to certain restrictions. In April 2017, the United States filed a complaint against Lena D. Cotton and Professional Accounting LDC, LLC, that alleged the defendants prepared returns with improper education credits, manipulated filing statuses, and improper vehicle deductions, among other issues. In November 2017, the court permanently enjoined both defendants from this and other specific conduct and required defendants to engage a “neutral monitor” to “determin[e] and/or secur[e] compliance” with injunction.
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  • Military Spouse Employment: DOD Should Continue Assessing State Licensing Practices and Increase Awareness of Resources
    In U.S GAO News
    According to estimates from Department of Defense (DOD) survey data, roughly one-quarter of military spouses who were in the workforce and in career fields that required credentials (state licenses or certifications) were unemployed in 2017. In that same year, about one-quarter of spouses who were employed in credentialed career fields were working outside their area of expertise, and about one in seven were working part-time due to a lack of full-time opportunities—two potential indicators of underemployment. Employment outcomes for military spouses may also vary due to other factors, including their partner's rank and frequent moves, according to DOD survey data and GAO's literature review. In February 2020, the Defense State Liaison Office, which works on key issues affecting military families, assessed states' use of best practices that help military spouses transfer occupational licenses. For example, the Liaison Office found that 34 states could increase their use of interstate compacts, which allow spouses in certain career fields, such as nursing, to work in multiple states without relicensing (see figure). However, the Liaison Office does not plan to continue these assessments, or assess whether states' efforts are improving spouses' experiences with transferring licenses. As a result, DOD may not have up-to-date information on states' actions that help spouses transfer their licenses and maintain employment. Assessment by the Defense State Liaison Office of Number of States Using Interstate Compacts to Improve Military Spouse Employment DOD and the military services use a range of virtual and in-person outreach to promote awareness of employment resources among military spouses. For example, officials GAO interviewed at installations said they promoted resources through social media and at orientation briefings. Nonetheless, GAO found that inconsistent information sharing across DOD and with external stakeholders who help spouses with employment hindered the effectiveness of outreach. For instance, officials from two services said they do not have methods to regularly exchange outreach best practices or challenges, while officials from another service said they have quarterly staff calls to share lessons learned. Without strategies for sharing information among internal and external stakeholders, DOD may miss opportunities to increase spouses' awareness of available resources, and improve their employment opportunities. There were over 605,000 spouses of active duty servicemembers in the U.S. military as of 2018. These spouses may face conditions associated with the military lifestyle that make it challenging to start or maintain a career, including frequent moves and difficulties transferring occupational licenses. House Armed Services Committee Report 116-120 accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review several matters related to military spouse employment. This report examines (1) selected employment outcomes for military spouses, (2) DOD's efforts to evaluate states' licensing policies for spouses, and (3) DOD's outreach efforts to promote awareness of employment resources. GAO reviewed DOD documentation and 2017 survey data (most recent available), relevant literature, and federal laws; interviewed DOD and military services officials and relevant stakeholders; and spoke with staff at six military installations selected based on the numbers of servicemembers, among other factors. GAO is making two recommendations to DOD to continue assessing and reporting on states' efforts to help military spouses transfer occupational licenses, and to establish information sharing strategies on outreach to military spouses about employment resources. DOD concurred with both recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
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    The U.S. Department of Justice today released the following statement from spokesman Anthony Coley on department efforts to provide law enforcement assistance to the people and Government of Haiti:
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  • Indian Health Service: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Provider Misconduct and Substandard Performance
    In U.S GAO News
    The Indian Health Service's (IHS) policies related to provider misconduct and substandard performance outline several key aspects of oversight, such as protecting children against sexual abuse by providers, ethical and professional conduct, and processes for managing an alleged case of misconduct. Although the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or IHS headquarters have established most of these policies, area offices that are responsible for overseeing facility operations and facilities, such as hospitals, may develop and issue their own policies as long as they are consistent with headquarters' policies, according to officials. Although some oversight activities are performed at IHS headquarters, IHS has delegated primary responsibility for oversight of provider misconduct and substandard performance to the area offices. However, GAO found some inconsistencies in oversight activities across IHS areas and facilities. For example, Although all nine area offices require that new supervisors attend mandatory supervisory training, most area offices provided additional trainings related to provider misconduct and substandard performance. The content of these additional trainings varied across area offices. For example, three area offices offered training on conducting investigations of alleged misconduct, while other area offices did not. Officials from IHS headquarters told GAO they do not systematically review trainings developed by the areas to ensure they are consistent with policy or IHS-wide training. Facility governing boards—made up of IHS area office officials, including the Area Director, and facility officials, such as the Chief Executive Officer—are responsible for overseeing each facility's quality of and access to care. They generally review information related to provider misconduct and substandard performance. However, there is no standard format used by governing boards to document their review, making it difficult to determine the extent this oversight is consistently conducted. In some cases, there was no documentation by governing boards of a discussion about provider misconduct or substandard performance. For example, none of the seven governing board meeting minutes provided from one area office documented their discussion of patient complaints. In other cases, there was detailed documentation of the governing board's review. Additionally, governing boards did not always clearly document how or why an oversight decision, such as whether to grant privileges to a provider, had been made based on their review of available information. These inconsistencies in IHS's oversight activities could limit the agency's efforts to oversee provider misconduct and substandard performance. For example, by not reviewing trainings developed by area offices, IHS headquarters may also be unable to identify gaps in staff knowledge or best practices that could be applied across area offices. Addressing these inconsistencies would better position the agency to effectively protect patients from abuse and harm resulting from provider misconduct or substandard performance. IHS provides care to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) through a system of federally and tribally operated facilities. Recent cases of alleged and confirmed misconduct and substandard performance by IHS employees have raised questions about protecting the AI/AN population from abuse and harm. For example, in February 2020, a former IHS pediatrician was sentenced to five consecutive lifetime terms for multiple sex offenses against children. Several studies have been initiated or completed in response, and IHS has reported efforts to enhance safe and quality care for its patients. GAO was asked to review IHS oversight of misconduct and substandard performance. This report (1) describes IHS policies related to provider misconduct and substandard performance and (2) assesses IHS oversight of provider misconduct and substandard performance. GAO reviewed policies and documents, including minutes from 80 governing board meetings from January 2018 to December 2019. GAO also interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, all nine area offices with two or more federally operated facilities, and two federally operated facilities. GAO is making three recommendations, including that IHS should establish a process to review area office trainings as well as establish a standard approach for documenting governing board review of information. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
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    “Four federal judges and three family members have been killed since 1979. These horrific tragedies must stop,” Judge David W. McKeague told the Judicial Conference of the United States today.
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