Department Press Briefing – July 7, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

 

2:56 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Well, a very Lurch-like “good afternoon.” No?

MR PRICE: I just want to make sure everyone is paying attention.

I obviously want to stop – start with the situation in Haiti. The United States strongly condemns, as you heard from President Biden earlier today, the assassination of President Jovenel Moise and the attack on First Lady Martine Moise in Haiti. We extend our deepest condolences to President Moise’s family and his loved ones and to the people of Haiti in the midst of this tragedy.

Those who seek to accomplish their political goals through violence and by subverting the rule of law will not succeed in thwarting the Haitian people and their desire for a better – for a brighter future. We urge Haitian authorities to bring those responsible to justice. The United States calls on all political parties, civil society groups, and stakeholders to echo what we’ve heard from Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph’s call for calm and to work together in the wake of this tragedy to ensure peace and democratic governance.

So with that, I am happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: So I – just before returning to Haiti, I got a extremely brief thing. It’s something else, but it’s a logistical thing, kind of, and that is the Hong Kong consulate, which has been closed for a couple days now because of a COVID case. Do – has that spread, do you know? Is there anything more you can say about that?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position —

QUESTION: And I only ask this now because I’m going to forget about it if I —

MR PRICE: I understand. I’m not in a position to offer an update on the operating status there. As you know, our embassies and posts around the world are constantly calibrating their operations given the state of COVID or any other issue that may affect the workforce. But I don’t have an update to offer.

QUESTION: Okay. On Haiti, then. Is there any – this isn’t exactly – it’s bad, but it’s not exactly a coup. I mean, it’s a – not a – the government hasn’t been overthrown or anything like that. So is there any implication, assistance-wise, or any other wise, for Haiti related to – the administration policy towards Haiti?

MR PRICE: There is – Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph has assumed charge. What we know and what we will continue to do is to preserve Haiti’s democratic institutions. We know that by preserving Haiti’s democratic institutions, that is key to restoring peace. At this time, we don’t have any updates to announce in terms of our assistance, but I can assure you that our partnership with the Haitian people and with their elected government will continue. As you know, that partnership has taken many forms in recent months; in, of course, recent years. In January of this year we announced 75.5 million for – in support for a wide range of issues, and that includes democratic governance, health, education, agricultural development, strengthening pre-election activities through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening program.

We have also been a strong partner for Haiti and the Haitian people when it comes to security and when it comes to law enforcement as well. And much of that has been overseen by our Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. They have provided direct assistance to the Haitian National Police over the years, and as a direct result of this INL support the Haitian National Police have trained officers from a number that was less than 10,000 in 2010 to nearly 15,000 Haitian National Police officers today. We have continued to encourage Haiti to take a holistic approach to countering violence and to countering gangs, and we provided $5 million to strengthen the Haitian National Police’s capacity to work with communities to resist gangs as well.

And I would remiss if I didn’t note our support to Haiti’s pre-election activities. And USAID is providing more than $3 million to the consortium I mentioned before. And those activities for which these funds are earmarked include focusing on improving electoral administration, strengthening the competitiveness of political parties, educating voters on electoral processes, promoting electoral transparency, and ensuring inclusive voter participation as well. So this is just one – these are just several metrics of our support for the Haitian people, and that will not waver in the wake of this.

QUESTION: Given, Ned, the history of U.S. intervention in Haiti – it’s been numerous times over the course of the last century and a half – is there any appetite in this administration for some kind of – to intervene if the situation gets to be dire? This is a relatively close neighbor that has in the past seen massive outflows of people trying to escape, so if it – the situation deteriorates – and I realize this is a hypothetical – but is there any appetite for a return?

MR PRICE: To us, Matt —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: — Haiti is a partner, and that is how we will treat this relationship. It is how we have treated Haiti, it is how we will going forward. We would echo what we have heard from the acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, in his calls for calm, his calls for the Haitian people to work together to ensure peace, to ensure democratic government. The United States has and will continue to stand by to provide assistance to the Haitian people.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: So on Haiti, the ambassador told us that they – he has been in touch with the State Department and a number of different agencies in U.S. Government. Can you at least say – you just said that you can’t give an update on the U.S. assistance, but can you at least say perhaps a new package is being formed and you guys are working on something new on top of these quite little numbers – $5 million, $3 million – that you’ve just mentioned?

MR PRICE: $75.5 million.

QUESTION: Okay. I missed that, sorry.

MR PRICE: We have been in regular contact with the acting prime minister, Claude Joseph. We are prepared to respond to requests for assistance. Our ambassador to Haiti, Ambassador Sison, has been in regular contact with a range of Haitian officials. She has spoken to the acting director general of the Haitian National Police. Of course, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield at the UN this morning spoke to Haiti’s permanent representative to the UN. We have been, as I said before, in regular contact.

Secretary Blinken started his day this morning with a comprehensive update on the situation on the ground, including the latest developments as we knew them at the time, the security situation. He was briefed by Ambassador Sison, who at this moment happens to be in Washington. He was also on the phone with the DCM, who is on the ground in Haiti right now, DCM Nicole Theriot, as well as other members of his team. So we are prepared to receive additional requests for assistance from Haitian authorities.

QUESTION: Can you also confirm if first lady is being flown to Miami for – to receive medical treatment?

MR PRICE: Well, we, of course, are familiar with the reports that the First Lady Martine Moise was injured in the attack. We know that she was taken to receive medical treatment. Out of respect for her privacy, we’re not in a position to comment on – to provide further comment. But as I said, we have made very clear to Haitian authorities the United States is standing ready to provide assistance and we are prepared to provide any and all forms of appropriate assistance to our Haitian partners.

QUESTION: Can you speak to the DEA element of all of this? You – the ambassador also talked about this footage where they’re identifying themselves as DEA agents, and he said that he doesn’t believe in it. I mean, can you say that that’s not the case, that you have an assessment that those are not DEA officials? Can you sort of set the record straight on that?

MR PRICE: Well, as you said, the Haitian ambassador himself has dismissed these allegations. These reports are absolutely false. The United States condemns this heinous act. These false reports are nothing more than that, just false reports.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that? Is there any sense of what the motivation would have been for this? And is – do you think there’s any truth to what the government – to what the acting government is saying, that these were mercenaries, that these were foreigners who were in there?

MR PRICE: Well, Shaun, we just don’t have clear answers at the – at this time. What we do know and what I have said is that Haitian authorities are investigating. We stand ready to offer assistance to that investigation, but obviously, we’re going to let that investigation play out. And, of course, the Haitian authorities are in the lead on that investigation.

QUESTION: Just one more thing on that. You – earlier this year, you were mentioning about the elections in Haiti and you called for them to go on – go ahead and schedule later this year. Is it still the view of the United States that elections in September are a good idea?

MR PRICE: It is still the view of the United States that elections this year should proceed. We know that free and fair elections are the democratic path towards ending Haiti’s irregular and prolonged rule by decree and restoring its parliament, which as of now has lapsed. Free and fair presidential elections will facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected president as well.

We’ve – as you know and as you have heard me say and others say, we have urged Haitian Government and political stakeholders repeatedly both in public and in private to reach a political accord in order to ensure those legislative and presidential elections take place later this year.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Nazira Karimi, Afghan independent journalist.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Haiti?

MR PRICE: Sure. Let’s stay on Haiti for just a moment.

QUESTION: Oh.

MR PRICE: I will come back to you.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ll – I’ll come back to you if that’s okay.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR PRICE: We’ll take a couple more on Haiti.

Will.

QUESTION: Yeah, just two questions on Haiti. I want to ask this a slightly different way. Can you confirm that there currently is a pending request for defense equipment from Haiti?

MR PRICE: We expect to be in receipt of formal requests. We stand ready to receive them. But as of right now, I’m not in a position to confirm that we’ve received a formal request.

QUESTION: Okay. And what was the administration’s position on the president’s legitimacy as a leader of the country? Obviously, the opposition says his five-year term expired last February.

MR PRICE: The Haitian constitution is clear on this point. As we’ve said, we’ve supported elections later this year. We still support those elections later this year, believing and knowing that President Moise’s term was to end next year.

QUESTION: Quick question on Haiti. The current U.S. ambassador to Haiti has been nominated to a different position in the State Department. Is there any plan to speed up the process to naming a new ambassador to that country?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Ambassador Sison is still in that role. She was actually supposed to travel back to Haiti today after consultations here in Washington. She expects to go back to Haiti just as soon as she is able to travel there. We also are very fortunate to have a very capable DCM in Haiti, Nicole Theriot, whom I mentioned before. So if and when Ambassador Sison moves on to her next role, I can assure you we will have a very capable leader in charge of our post in Port-au-Prince.

QUESTION: And I have a quick question asking slightly different way. So the prime – Haiti’s prime minister and ambassador said the attackers were foreigners. If that is so, does the U.S. have any measure in place to prevent them from escaping to the United States?

MR PRICE: So this is another investigative question and, unfortunately, the investigation of course is in the early phases. We are ready and willing to support Haitian authorities in that investigation which they are leading, but we will have to refer investigative questions to Haitian authorities, again, reiterating that we are willing to cooperate with any requests they may put forward.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks. Yes. Haiti still?

QUESTION: No —

MR PRICE: Anything else on Haiti?

I will come back to you on Afghanistan. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Nazira Azim Karimi, Afghan journalist. As you know, sir, since U.S.-NATO withdraw their soldiers in Afghanistan, it’s very complicated. The Afghan people, they are very worried. And recently, Iran hosted the Taliban and Afghan official for a meeting today. They already had a meeting. Any comment about that? In the meantime, Taliban attacked to Badghis Province. Of course, it’s very dangerous. Do you think that it’s not against the agreement between U.S. and Taliban in Doha, Qatar?

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the Iran-hosted talks, we’re of course aware that Iran has hosted a meeting between the Taliban and the Islamic Republic negotiating teams. This is what we’ve always said, that Afghanistan’s neighbors and countries in the region, they too have a stake in Afghanistan’s future. They need to use their influence in ways that are positive, in ways that are constructive, in ways that promote the cause of peace, in ways that support the people of Afghanistan. We know that regional consensus and support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is important for an enduring peace.

When it comes to the recent violence, this is something obviously we have spoken to quite a bit, and the point remains that no government that might come to power in Afghanistan through the use of force, at the barrel of a gun, will have legitimacy or the support – and that can be especially critical – from the international community, nor would a government that comes to power by force have the support of the people of Afghanistan. And what we ultimately hope to help support and will seek to help support is a just and durable settlement. Every party has an interest in a settlement being durable. The Afghan people are – have been burdened and in many cases brutalized by 40 years of civil war. The United States is supporting the efforts ongoing in Doha right now between the parties, where the parties are, in fact, still meeting, still talking, to see to it that we can have a just and durable settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire to finally see an end to this violence.

Yes.

QUESTION: I understand the conference is still postponed. Are you still optimistic?

MR PRICE: Well, obviously the talks in Doha are ongoing. The parties continue to meet in Doha. We’re grateful for Qatar’s role, and Qatar’s role in hosting that talk – those talks. We do welcome Turkey, Qatar, and the UN’s outstanding offer to host negotiations between the parties, but I don’t have any updates to share at that time, especially knowing that talks are ongoing in Doha.

Will. Or – yes. Yes, please. Go ahead, Will.

QUESTION: On Iran.

QUESTION: Could —

MR PRICE: Any – sure.

QUESTION: Well, it’s sort of on Iran. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up briefly? You mentioned about the Iranian role.

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could I just pursue that a little bit?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: After September 11th, obviously, there’s some coordination between the United States and Iran regarding Afghanistan. What’s your assessment now of Iran’s role in Afghanistan? Are you at all hopeful for a positive – from the U.S. perspective, a positive role for Iran in Afghanistan in the future?

MR PRICE: Well, look, I wouldn’t characterize us hopeful. I wouldn’t characterize us as pessimistic. I would characterize us as knowing that in order for there to be a just and durable peace in Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s neighbors need to play a constructive role. What Iran is trying to do or in the – is in the process of doing by hosting this meeting may well be constructive. I think the jury is still out. This is obviously not something we are – we have discussed with the Iranians other than by making the point very publicly that Afghanistan’s neighbors need to be responsible stakeholders.

For too long, many of Afghanistan’s neighbors have been happy to see the United States engaged, and the United States alone engaged. If there is to be a just and durable settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire, it needs to be supported – supported by Afghanistan’s neighbors, and we hope to see them act responsibly.

QUESTION: Just on that.

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Iran.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned the talks in Vienna yesterday, the interrupted talks. Are you certain those talks are going to resume? Have they hit a snag? You mentioned consultations. What are the consultations about? Is it about the new President-elect Raisi or some of Iran’s behavior in the region or some of the political backdrop and concerns that are bubbling up? Can we absolutely commit that those talks are going to continue, and when do you think we might see that?

MR PRICE: What I would say is I would need to direct you to the Iranians for feedback on their consultations, what’s going on in their capital. I can tell you from our part, the team has been back here at the department meeting with officials throughout the building, including with Secretary Blinken, updating him on the progress of those talks. Of course, nothing is certain in the world of diplomacy, but I think we have every expectation that there will be a seventh round of talks at the appropriate moment, at the right time, and our team looks forward to being engaged in that next round of talks when it does begin.

QUESTION: So can you –the consultations with the U.S. team in its capital, those are finished now?

MR PRICE: We are, I think —

QUESTION: Or you’re just waiting for the Europeans to say, okay, come on, guys, let’s go back to Vienna?

MR PRICE: Well, of course the team continues to remain here, continues to engage in discussions, continues to do important work from the department, but that team will be ready, will be prepared to travel back to Vienna when there’s a seventh round of talks.

Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Blinken met with French and Saudi counterparts on the sidelines of the G20 regarding Lebanon. But apart from his tweet, new, further details have been provided. Tomorrow the U.S. and French ambassadors to Lebanon are heading to Saudi in what seems to be a rare diplomatic move. Where does this trilateral coordination stand and what’s the U.S. – what’s Washington hoping to convey during these meetings?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re right and I can confirm that our Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, will in fact travel alongside the French ambassador to Lebanon, Anne Grillo, to Saudi Arabia for meetings with Saudi officials on July 8th. This visit does follow the trilateral consultation that Secretary Blinken had with his French and Saudi counterparts, Foreign Minister Le Drian and Saudi Foreign Minister bin Farhan on June 29th, when we were in Matera for the G20. During her meetings in Saudi Arabia, I expect Ambassador Shea will discuss the gravity of the situation in Lebanon. She’ll emphasize the importance of humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people as well as increased support for the Lebanese Armed Forces and international – internal security forces, excuse me.

In partnership with her French and Saudi counterparts, Ambassador Shea will also continue to develop that trilateral diplomatic strategy, and that strategy is focused on government formation, it’s focused on the imperative of undertaking urgent and necessary reforms that the people of Lebanon so desperately need. As we have said before, Lebanon’s leaders need to come together, need to do the right thing, need to put aside political bickering and squabbling for the benefit of the Lebanese people.

Ambassador Shea will also use the occasion to reiterate the commitment of the United States to helping the people of Lebanon, and she will highlight some of the good work of the over $3.7 billion in economic, humanitarian, and security assistance that the United States has contributed since 2016 and what that has supported.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: And separately, yesterday you mentioned the Saudi deputy defense minister would be at State today. Could you confirm any meetings he had or will have today and how those discussions went, or what they’re expected to touch on?

MR PRICE: Sure. So as we did confirm yesterday, the Saudi deputy defense – Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman is in Washington for a series of meetings. He has so far met with our special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Feltman. He’s also met with Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking. In terms of the former, Special Envoy Feltman and KBS discussed the situation in Ethiopia, in areas where the United States and Saudi Arabia could potentially cooperate to address the crisis and to mitigate instability in the broader region. They also agreed to continue a dialogue on mechanisms to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the Red Sea. As you know, Ambassador Feltman was recently in the Gulf discussing the situation in the Horn of Africa, and this was a continuation of that.

With Special Envoy Lenderking, he took part in a meeting yesterday to discuss steps to mitigate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and steps necessary to end the conflict there, including steps that would ease restrictions at Hudaydah port and Sana’a Airport. Special Envoy Lenderking stressed the need for continued Saudi engagement on Yemen, allowing space for nationwide comprehensive ceasefire followed by a transition to a Yemeni political process that would lead to a permanent solution to this conflict.

Additionally, Special Envoy Lenderking recognized Saudi Arabia for its efforts to improve implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, and he agreed that both the Republic of Yemen Government and the Southern Transition Council must continue to negotiate so that the Yemeni Government can return to Aden to provide the essential services the Yemeni people need and deserve. The deputy defense minister will be in the building later today. He’ll be meeting with a couple senior State Department officials during that session.

QUESTION: Is he —

QUESTION: And with the Secretary?

MR PRICE: I expect the Secretary will have a chance to take part in part of that meeting, yes.

QUESTION: When you talk about urgent and necessary reforms needed in Lebanon, could you give us an example or two of what the most urgent and most necessary reforms are?

MR PRICE: Well, it’s certainly urgent that Lebanon’s leaders set aside their political differences to form a government that is cohesive and a government that is responsive to the needs of the international people. Corruption, impunity, lawlessness have dogged successive governments, and ultimately and most importantly have drained the Lebanese people of much needed resources. So as an initial and necessary step, Lebanon’s leaders need to put the interests of their people first. That’s what we’re calling for. That’s what we hope to see.

QUESTION: But does that mean – I mean, what you talked about, ending or at least trying to fight corruption and the other – impunity and that kind of thing, those are pretty tall orders and can’t be really done overnight. So am I wrong in thinking that what you’re saying is that the first order of business needs to be the formation of a new government that is – that represents and can respond to the demands of the people?

MR PRICE: It’s – it’s —

QUESTION: Is that the first thing that needs to be done?

MR PRICE: It’s certainly necessary, but not sufficient. We know that Lebanon’s leaders, to the point of government formation, need to show flexibility to form a government that is willing and capable of true and fundamental reform. And this gets to the next step. Government formation is one element, but true and necessary reform is the next, again, so that the people of Lebanon can realize that full potential. They deserve, they need a government that will urgently implement those necessary reforms, including to rescue Lebanon’s deteriorating economy. Lebanon’s economy and the economic condition of the country has imposed huge costs, huge burdens on the people of Lebanon. The inflation that has occurred in recent days and weeks has taken a really profound toll on the people there.

And so, yes, government formation is necessary, but yes, so too is reform.

QUESTION: Ned?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss Lebanon with the pope when he saw him last week?

MR PRICE: I – we issued a readout of that meeting. As I do recall, it was addressed, but I would have to refer you to that readout.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about Iraq? There has been quite a bit of an increase in rocket attacks. Iraqi army officials say the pace of recent attacks against U.S. bases and with rockets and drones is unprecedented. Why do you think that is on the rise at this particular moment? What is your assessment on who is behind it?

MR PRICE: Well, I’d have to correct one thing you said. There are no U.S. bases in Iraq.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR PRICE: There are a limited number of U.S. and other coalition advisors —

QUESTION: U.S. and coalition, yeah.

MR PRICE: — at Iraqi bases, at Iraqi Government invitation that, in turn, assist and enable Iraqi Security Forces to confront the remnants of ISIS. Look, I wouldn’t want to speak to the motivation of these attacks. I will say that what we recognize is that these attacks reflect and are representative of the threat that Iran-backed militias present fundamentally to Iraq’s sovereignty and to Iraq’s stability. We —

QUESTION: Do you know for a fact that they’re carried out by Iranian-backed militias, these attacks over the past couple of days?

MR PRICE: So obviously there have been recent attacks, and I wouldn’t want to prejudge investigations that are ongoing. But as we have said in the context of attacks that have taken place in recent months, they have been carried out by Iran-backed militias and President Biden, in turn, has responded – responded in different ways. But of course, perhaps most visibly, by authorizing the military strikes – most recently late last month, but also before that as well – on Iran-backed militia infrastructure in Iraq and Syria.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to confirm information that I got from Brazilian Government. Is the U.S. planning to send more vaccines directly to Brazil in the coming two weeks? If yes, how many vaccines? And when are they getting to Brazil? And also, I would like to know when is the U.S. planning to pick the new ambassador to Brazil and what is the profile that you are looking for, if a political pick or a diplomat – a career diplomat?

MR PRICE: Well, to your first question, we were very pleased to have been able to deliver 3 million doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines that arrived in Campinas, Brazil, late last month – June 25th I believe it was. Presently, as you know, we’re working to support the delivery of the 80 million doses from our own supply that President Biden pledged to allocate last month, mid-last month. We’ll donate additional doses throughout the summer months as supply becomes available.

In doing so, our principles are standard and transparent, and that includes maximizing the number of safe and effective vaccines available equitably for the greatest number of countries and for those most at risk within their countries. It includes preparing for surges and prioritizing health care workers and other vulnerable populations based on public health data and acknowledged best practices, and helping countries in need, including our neighbors. And, of course, Brazil is an important partner of ours in the hemisphere. We have provided non-vaccine support to Brazil in the context of the COVID pandemic as well.

And that brings me to your second question. Because Brazil is such an important partner of the United States, while I can’t give you a name or I can’t give you a timeframe, I assure you that the next U.S. ambassador to Brazil will be someone who has the trust and confidence of Secretary Blinken and the trust and confidence of President Biden. That person will be charged with an incredibly important relationship, and as soon as we have more details, we’ll be sure to share them.

QUESTION: But is there a timeline for this —

QUESTION: That’s as opposed to ambassadors to other countries, who don’t have the – who don’t have the support and – of the President?

MR PRICE: Well, I’m – I am speaking in the context of Brazil, an important partner.

Rich in the back.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said that any Chinese move against Taiwan would be catastrophic and that this administration is sending a clear message of deterrence. China’s Foreign Ministry today responded, warning the U.S. to tread carefully on this issue. Can we expect the U.S. to continue to send this clear message of deterrence or perhaps an even clearer message of deterrence going forward?

MR PRICE: Well, the United States will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, consistent with the longstanding wishes and the best interests of the people on Taiwan. And we have repeatedly urged Beijing to cease its military, its diplomatic, its economic pressure against Taiwan and instead to engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan. Secretary Blinken has addressed the question. He has repeatedly said it would be a profound mistake by any party to try and remake that status quo with the use of force. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid, and we believe that commitment contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the broader region.

For four decades, American policy has been consistent. The “one China” policy is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, the Six Assurances provided to Taipei. That has not changed. As you know, Rich, we also did unveil a couple months ago now updated contact guidance that will allow us to deepen our partnership with the people on Taiwan, consistent with that “one China” policy, the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. seeing any evidence that Beijing is ready to cease this pressure?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize discussions with Beijing or any other country on this. What I will characterize is what we are making very clear, and that is that our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid. We believe it is in the best interests of the people on Taiwan and the broader region as well.

QUESTION: Ned, any comment on the dispute between the UAE and Saudi (inaudible) over oil and OPEC Plus?

MR PRICE: I believe you’ve heard from the White House on this, and I think they had an opportunity to discuss this again yesterday. U.S. officials are closely monitoring these talks, closely watching the progress. We’ve been in touch with several of the parties involved.

Let me move it around. Yes.

QUESTION: On Syria, can you give us an update on negotiations on the cross-border resolution? And given that this is an issue that comes up year after year, has the Biden administration as part of its Syria policy given any consideration to finding a longer-term solution to aid delivery?

MR PRICE: So to your second question, this is to us not a question about geopolitics or bilateral relations with any other member of the UN Security Council or political dynamics on the council. To us, this is a – fundamentally a question of the humanitarian interests of the Syrian people. This boils down to a question of livelihoods and a question of lives for the people of Syria, and that’s why we are and have been acting so urgently now that there are just a few days left until the last remaining humanitarian crossing is set to expire. We’ve been very clear, again, because of the human stakes, the human – the potential human costs of this – millions of Syrians – women, children, men – that the Security Council must renew and expand humanitarian access provided by Bab al-Hawa for 12 months. And we know we must do it now because, of course, the expiration is coming up.

The people of Syria have been brutalized by the Assad regime. They have been further buffeted by the COVID pandemic. What we seek to do – and again, this is not about politics. This is not about geopolitics. This is not about inter-state relations. This is not about great powers. But what we seek to do is to help the people of Syria, millions of whom are at risk of starvation if this last remaining humanitarian crossing is shamefully and tragically allowed to expire.

These discussions have been ongoing at the UN. Of course, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke to this yesterday. She has been engaged privately with the Security Council. And I have every expectation that she will continue to be engaged, as will the broader department and the fuller administration.

As you know, this was one of the issues that President Biden raised directly with President Putin at the summit, again, putting it in terms not of great – not in terms of inter-state relations, but in terms of the human costs and the human toll of this.

QUESTION: On that, has the U.S. actually made any progress in convincing Russia to agree to a renewal?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize discussions that have been behind closed doors. I would refer you to the Russian Federation for their position on this. But I think it goes without saying that any responsible country should be in favor of saving lives, and this is what this is about.

Yes, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yes, another question about Pakistan policy. Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan was a little mad and he said that – he criticized United States that United States had been defeated in Afghanistan and he will not allow CIA base in Pakistan. And also he mentioned that we will not anymore control or – yes, control on Pakistan anymore if – if Taliban try to get the power by force, we will not support them. And I don’t know what’s the relationship. Still Pakistan has influence as to Taliban to bring them on the table in this sensitive time in Doha?

MR PRICE: Well, I think what is true is that Pakistan is an important partner across any number of fronts. Of course, we have shared interests when it comes to Afghanistan, when it comes to peace and stability in Afghanistan. We have – and this goes over the course of successive administrations now – encouraged Pakistan to be a constructive partner when it comes to Afghanistan and our collective efforts to bring about some semblance of peace and security there. Pakistan has been helpful in – recently when it comes to this shared interest. Our shared interests go well beyond that: broader counterterrorism interests as well, not to mention the people-to-people ties that unite our two countries.

But this also goes back to I think where we started with your earlier question, that what we know to be true is that all of Afghanistan’s neighbors need to play a constructive role in helping to bring about a just and durable political settlement as well as a comprehensive ceasefire. For far too long, some of Afghanistan’s neighbors have not played that role. They had been happy to let – content, I should say, to let other countries take responsibility. And right now, we have made clear that we are going to be working very closely to ensure that Afghanistan’s neighbors do play that constructive role, knowing that it will be a necessary ingredient to what I think we all collectively hope to see in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Different issue, on China, WeChat, the popular social media forum. There have been reports that there have been the deletion of LGBTQ content from WeChat. Do you have any comment on that? Does this signal at all a worsening of the climate for sexual minorities in China?

MR PRICE: Well, we are aware of reports that WeChat has deleted several accounts carrying public views of LGBTQI+ topics, and we’re concerned by – that the PRC has restricted the social media accounts of LGBTQI+ student groups and NGOs that were merely expressing their views, exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We oppose the use of network restrictions to suppress freedom of expression online. It does not matter to us whether that it is in China or anywhere else; we oppose it universally. U.S. content moderation issues are addressed in line with the strong protections under U.S. law that align with international standards for, as I said before, that very freedom of expression. And we encourage other governments to develop similar policies respecting freedom of expression.

More broadly, we’re committed to fighting for the human rights of all people. And that, of course, includes LGBTQI+ people around the world. This administration is taking measures to ensure that U.S. diplomacy promotes and protects those rights. As you know, on February 5th, President Biden signed a presidential memorandum making it the policy of the United States to protect and to promote LGBTQI+ rights around the world.

QUESTION: Ned, does that – when you talk about universality of this and you oppose the use of network restrictions to block any content related —

MR PRICE: Well, I didn’t say any content. I —

QUESTION: Well —

MR PRICE: Consistent with the rights of freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well – and I know this is the State Department and you don’t – but you do speak on behalf of the administration. But domestically, today, I think somewhere out there a certain former president has filed lawsuits against several companies that are similar to WeChat and what they do for blocking his – so if that was taking place, if that kind of thing was taking place in a foreign – in another country where you had a remit or a responsibility, would you – would you oppose those kinds of restrictions by private companies on free speech?

MR PRICE: Matt, we believe deeply in the principle of freedom of expression, whether that is at home, whether that is around the world. Obviously, your question has a political tint to it, so I will —

QUESTION: I didn’t mean to be – have a political tint. It’s just that it’s kind of an obvious question to ask, even if the State Department doesn’t do things domestically. But when you speak on behalf of the administration and talk about the President signing legislation that applies domestically, I just wonder if this is the kind – if there was censorship of political views on the left or the right in another country, you would oppose it, correct?

MR PRICE: Well – well, what I mentioned was a presidential memorandum that contours our foreign policy.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I get that. But if you saw this kind of – when you’re talking about WeChat, if that was restrictions on political views either on the left or right or radical centrists – I don’t know, whoever – you would oppose it, correct?

MR PRICE: Freedom of expression is something that we protect and that we promote around the world. The right of people everywhere to live in safety and security is also something we believe deeply in. When it comes to U.S. social media companies or internet service providers, I’d have to refer you to them to speak to their policies.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)

More from: Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Hits: 0

News Network

  • Architect of the Capitol: Efforts Have Begun to Update Cannon House Office Building’s Renovation Cost and Schedule Estimates
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has substantially completed three of five planned phases to renovate the Cannon House Office Building (Cannon project). AOC completed Phase 0 utility work; the Phase 1 work to renovate the building's west side, the Phase 2 work to renovate the building's north side; and work is underway on Phase 3 of the building's east side. Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D. C. From 2009 to 2018, AOC consistently estimated the project cost at $753 million, In 2014, GAO found that AOC's cost estimate of $753 million reflected several of GAO's leading practices for high-quality, reliable cost estimates, including that AOC had conducted a risk and uncertainty analysis. GAO found that AOC's cost estimating policies and guidance did not require a quantitative risk and uncertainty analysis nor the reporting of the resulting confidence level of the estimate. GAO made recommendations for AOC to incorporate leading practices into agency guidance and submit confidence levels of cost estimates to Congress. AOC implemented our recommendations. In January 2018, AOC updated its analysis of risks by undertaking an integrated cost-schedule risk analysis. AOC's 2018 analysis arrived at the same conclusion as its earlier analysis—that the project's estimated $753 million total cost was adequate to complete the project. However, AOC's 2018 analysis indicated that inaccurate estimates of costs for risk mitigations, unknown risks, and optimistic assumptions about the effect of risk mitigations on the project's cost and schedule could affect its total cost. AOC updated the analysis in December 2019 and estimated the project cost at $890 million. Two unknown risks materialized after the December 2019 estimate: the effect of COVID-19 and the January 2021 security events–their impact on the project is uncertain. In its March 2021 project summary, AOC reported that a revised budget would be formulated after the completion of an analysis in December 2021. Toward this end, in May 2021, AOC began updating its integrated cost-schedule risk analysis, with the aim of more accurately determining the extent to which the project's costs are increasing and its estimated cost at completion. Why GAO Did This Study In its Cannon project, the AOC intends to preserve the historic character while improving the functionality of the 113 year-old Cannon Building—the oldest congressional office building—as well as address deterioration to the building and its components. The project—nearing year 7 of its planned 10-year duration—is being implemented in five sequential phases with an initial phase (Phase 0) for utility work and four subsequent phases (Phases 1 through 4) to renovate the north-, south-, east-, and west-facing sides of the building. Each phase is scheduled around a 2-year congressional session. This statement describes: (1) the status of the Cannon project and (2) changes to the project's estimated cost at completion. This statement is based on GAO's prior reports in 2009 and 2014 and ongoing monitoring of the project. To monitor the project, GAO has been observing the ongoing construction, attending project meetings, and analyzing AOC documents.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: HHS’s Collection of Hospital Capacity Data
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made frequent and significant changes to the collection of hospital capacity data. In April 2020, HHS created a new data ecosystem—HHS Protect—to capture, among other things, national- and state-level data on inpatient and intensive care beds in use, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), and COVID-19 treatments. Subsequently, HHS changed the methods through which data could be reported to HHS Protect and also changed reporting requirements. According to HHS officials, this was done to capture more complete data and to capture more information, such as data on influenza-related hospitalizations and COVID-19 vaccines administered. Reporting entities said they experienced multiple challenges implementing the changes, including a lack of clarity on the requirements and logistical challenges such as having to adapt their systems to provide the data. As HHS made changes, HHS issued updated guidance to clarify reporting requirements. HHS uses hospital capacity data to identify and address resource shortages and to inform the public. For example, according to HHS officials, HHS has used the data to provide assistance such as staff resources or supplies in 40 states. Additionally, HHS has shared the hospital capacity data to inform the public. However, public health stakeholders told GAO they have relied on state and local data for their purposes rather than data from HHS Protect. For example, epidemiological association officials said their members relied on state and local data for case investigation because they contained more detailed information and did not use HHS Protect data on hospital capacity. According to HHS officials, some states that may not be collecting their own data rely on HHS Protect capacity data to inform their public health response to the pandemic. HHS agency officials and stakeholders identified the need for stakeholder engagement and improved communication among key lessons learned to better ensure the collection of quality hospital capacity data during a public health emergency. For example, HHS officials told GAO that there is a need for dialogue and external validation to ensure data quality and accuracy. They also noted that the need for a system like HHS Protect will continue beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials GAO interviewed from stakeholder organizations and selected states noted that increased collaboration and communication—as well as more time to implement changes—would have facilitated the implementation of the changes to the data collection process. These lessons learned are consistent with GAO's January 2021 recommendation that HHS engage with stakeholders to review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards through establishing an expert committee. HHS agreed with the recommendation, but as of June 2021, the department has not implemented it. Why GAO Did This Study The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of having quality data to help the federal government understand the health care system's capacity to provide care and to inform the allocation of resources. HHS launched HHS Protect in April 2020 to capture hospital capacity data. Throughout the public health emergency HHS has made changes to how information is collected and used. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing COVID-19 monitoring and oversight efforts. GAO was asked to examine HHS's implementation of HHS Protect. In this report, GAO describes (1) HHS's implementation of HHS Protect hospital capacity reporting requirements and the challenges experienced by reporting entities; (2) HHS's and stakeholders' use of the data, if at all; and (3) lessons learned about ensuring the collection of quality hospital capacity data during a public health emergency. GAO reviewed agency guidance and HHS Protect hospital capacity dashboards and reports, and interviewed HHS officials as well as officials from three states that report or reported directly to HHS Protect on behalf of their hospitals. These states were selected for variation in geography and the mix of rural and non-rural hospital facilities. GAO also interviewed officials from public health stakeholder groups including hospital associations, epidemiological associations, and local health organizations. GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for review and comment. HHS had no comments on the report. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Local man who attempted to smuggle 13,000 rounds of ammunition sent to prison
    In Justice News
    A 40-year old Laredo man [Read More…]
  • Gang “enforcer” sentenced for trafficking a large amount of stolen marijuana
    In Justice News
    A Rio Grande City man [Read More…]
  • Laredo man sentenced for undocumented alien death due to car wreck
    In Justice News
    A 28-year-old Laredoan [Read More…]
  • Human smuggling recruiter sentenced for conspiracy
    In Justice News
    A 58-year-old Chandler [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Biodefense: After-Action Findings and COVID-19 Response Revealed Opportunities to Strengthen Preparedness
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Key federal agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Agriculture (USDA), developed a range of interagency response plans to prepare for nationally significant biological incidents. These strategic, operational, and tactical level plans address responding to a broad spectrum of biological threats, including those that are intentional, accidental, or naturally occurring. DHS, DOD, HHS, and USDA conducted numerous interagency exercises to help prepare for and respond to a wide variety of biological incidents, such as anthrax attacks, influenza pandemics, and diseases affecting plants and animals. Specifically, GAO identified 74 interagency biological incident exercises conducted from calendar years 2009 through 2019. Number of Interagency Biological Incident Exercises Conducted, Calendar Years 2009 through 2019 GAO's analysis of after-action reports for selected interagency biological incident exercises and real-world incidents, as well as the COVID-19 response, identified long-standing biodefense challenges. GAO found that the nation lacked elements necessary for preparing for nationally significant biological incidents, including a process at the interagency level to assess and communicate priorities for exercising capabilities. Further, it determined that agencies do not routinely work together in monitoring results from exercises and real-world incidents to identify patterns and root causes for systemic challenges. Assessing and communicating exercise priorities and routinely monitoring the results of the exercises and incidents will help ensure the nation is better prepared to respond to the next biological threat. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic shows how catastrophic biological incidents can cause substantial loss of life, economic damage, and require a whole-of-nation response involving multiple federal and nonfederal entities. The 2018 National Biodefense Strategy outlines specific goals and objectives to help prepare for and respond to such incidents. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct monitoring and oversight of federal efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from COVID-19. This report addresses: (1) interagency plans key federal agencies developed, and exercises they conducted, to help prepare for biological incidents; and (2) the extent to which exercises and real-world incidents revealed opportunities to better achieve National Biodefense Strategy objectives. GAO reviewed biological incident plans and after-action reports from exercises and real-world incidents from calendar years 2009 through 2019, including a non-generalizable sample of 19 reports selected based on threat scenario and other factors. GAO interviewed federal and state officials to obtain their perspectives on plans, exercises, and the COVID-19 response.
    [Read More…]
  • Human Trafficking: DOD Should Address Weaknesses in Oversight of Contractors and Reporting of Investigations Related to Contracts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The U.S. government has a zero tolerance policy for human trafficking, as established in a presidential directive, but trafficking in persons (TIP) of foreign workers on U.S. government contracts overseas persists. Selected Department of Defense (DOD) components have conducted limited oversight of contractors and not met combating trafficking in persons (CTIP) training requirements for contracts. Twelve of 14 Army and Navy contracting officers and contracting officer representatives (CORs) GAO spoke with said they were not aware of their CTIP oversight responsibilities, as set forth in CTIP guidance. DOD requires CORs to conduct contract oversight, but does not say how they should do so. Moreover, nine of 14 individuals said they took a CTIP training other than the required training for acquisition professionals. DOD CTIP guidance, as of fiscal year 2018, also no longer requires components to report the number or percentage of personnel trained, which may limit DOD's awareness about whether acquisition professionals have taken their required training. Until DOD provides guidance to explain how contracting personnel should oversee contractor CTIP compliance and ensures they take the correct training, contracting personnel may continue to be unaware of their CTIP responsibilities. Department of Defense (DOD) Combatting Trafficking in Persons Awareness Poster The Army, the Navy, and DOD's Office of Inspector General (DODIG) have systems for tracking investigations of TIP incidents, but the Army and DODIG did not report all TIP violations and investigations in contracts in annual self-assessments, as required by DOD guidance. For example, the Army and DODIG had incomplete reporting of closed TIP investigations in their annual reporting from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. Without complete reporting, DOD leadership lacks full information on TIP investigations. GAO also found that two investigations led to DOD taking action against the contractors, but the Army contracting officers did not report them as TIP violations in a federal database, as required. DOD guidance and federal regulations have different requirements for who is responsible for this reporting, and the Army has not developed clarifying guidance. Without accurate reporting of actions taken against contractors in this database, contracting officers will lack complete information when making future award decisions involving contractors that engaged in TIP. Why GAO Did This Study GAO and DODIG reports on overseas U.S. military operations have highlighted TIP among foreign workers employed on contracts. Congress included a provision in the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 for GAO to review DOD's efforts to combat TIP related to contracts. This report examines, among other things: the extent to which selected DOD components have implemented oversight and training requirements for CTIP in contracts and the extent to which selected DOD components have tracked and reported investigations of TIP incidents in contracts from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. GAO analyzed federal laws, and DOD guidance, regulations, contracts, and data related to CTIP. GAO also interviewed DOD officials, including Army and Navy officials responsible for overseeing contracts in U.S. Southern Command.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Palauan President Whipps, Jr.
    In Crime Control and Security News
    The below is [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with UK Foreign Secretary Raab
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and President of Palau Surangel Whipps, Jr. Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Participation in the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • The United States and ASEAN: Strategic Partners for the Indo-Pacific
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced for Receiving, Soliciting and Promoting Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A Virginia man was sentenced today to 240 months, or 20 years, in prison, to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for downloading images and videos depicting children as young as 4 years old being sexually abused, and for utilizing the Dark Net to solicit and promote child pornography.
    [Read More…]
  • Executive Arrested and Charged for Bribery and Money-Laundering Scheme
    In Crime News
    A South Florida resident was arrested yesterday in Miami on charges related to his alleged role in a scheme to bribe Venezuelan officials and launder funds to obtain contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), and Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled food company that purchased food for Venezuela, Corporación de Abastecimiento y Servicios Agrícola (CASA).
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Obtains $1.25 Million Settlement from Oklahoma City Landlords to Resolve Claims of Sexual Harassment Against Female Tenants
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma have reached a $1.25 million agreement with defendants Rosemarie Pelfrey, Omega Enterprises LLC and Pelfrey Investment Company Inc. to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that their agent, Walter Ray Pelfrey (Pelfrey), sexually harassed female tenants and prospective tenants while owning or managing dozens of Oklahoma City – area rental properties. Pelfrey died in 2018.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice and Interior Departments Take Next Steps in Implementation of Not Invisible Act
    In Crime News
    The Departments of Justice and the Interior today announced next steps in the implementation of the Not Invisible Act, including the publication of a solicitation for nominations of non-federal members to join a Joint Commission on reducing violent crime against American Indians and Alaska Natives to address the long-standing missing and murdered indigenous persons crisis. 
    [Read More…]
  • Briefing With Senior State Department Officials Previewing Secretary Blinken’s Participation in This Week’s ASEAN-Related Ministerials
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – August 2, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press on the Announcement of a U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Bankruptcy Filings Plunged to Lowest Number Since 1985
    In U.S Courts
    Personal and business bankruptcy filings plummeted 32.2 percent for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2021. The number of filings was the lowest in a 12-month period since 1985.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Muslim Frontline Workers on the Occasion of Eid al-Adha
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Afghan President Ghani
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Participation in the Mekong-U.S. Partnership Ministers’ Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Las Vegas Couple Indicted for Tax Evasion Scheme
    In Crime News
     A federal grand jury in Las Vegas, Nevada, returned an indictment today charging a Las Vegas husband and wife with conspiring to defraud the IRS, tax evasion, filing a false tax return, assisting in the filing of false tax returns, and failing to file tax returns and pay federal income taxes.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Foreign Service Member Indicted for Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in the Philippines and Possession of Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment today charging a member of the U.S. Foreign Service with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and possession of child pornography.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Florida’s Volusia County School District to Protect Students with Disabilities from Classroom Removals and Other Discrimination
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Florida’s Volusia County School District (VCS) to address the district’s systemic and discriminatory practices that punish students with disabilities for their disability-related behavior and deny them equal access to VCS’s programs and services.
    [Read More…]
  • Leader of Transnational Money-Laundering Network Pleads Guilty to Aiding Drug-Trafficking Organizations, While Co-Conspirator is Sentenced
    In Crime News
    A Chinese national and naturalized U.S. citizen pleaded guilty yesterday to his involvement in a conspiracy to launder at least $30 million in drug proceeds on behalf of foreign drug-trafficking organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • Briefing with Senior State Department Officials On the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 (P-2) Designation for Afghan Nationals
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Virtual Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Federal-State Settlement Resolves Environmental Violations at Hussey Copper Smelting Facility in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania
    In Crime News
    Hussey Copper has agreed to perform a comprehensive environmental audit, implement an updated environmental management system, and pay an $861,500 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law (PCSL) at its smelting facility in Leetsdale, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
    [Read More…]
  • 20 arrested for conspiracy to distribute thousands of pounds of marijuana
    In Justice News
    A total of 16 Laredoans [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Preparing False Returns
    In Crime News
    A Winston-Salem, North Carolina, tax preparer pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return and to filing a false personal income tax return. 
    [Read More…]
  • Former Labor Union Chief of Staff Convicted of Health Care Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia convicted an Arkansas man on Friday for fraudulently arranging for a labor union to provide health plan coverage to his girlfriend, who was never a union employee.
    [Read More…]
  • Mail-Order Diabetic Testing Supplier and Parent Company Agree to Pay $160 Million to Resolve Alleged False Claims to Medicare
    In Crime News
    Arriva Medical LLC (Arriva), at one point the nation’s largest Medicare mail-order diabetic testing supplier, and its parent, Alere Inc. (Alere), have agreed to pay $160 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Chief Financial Officer of Publicly Traded Company Convicted of Securities and Accounting Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal jury in the Eastern District of Wisconsin on Thursday convicted the former chief financial officer of Roadrunner Transportation Systems Inc. (Roadrunner), a publicly traded trucking and logistics company formerly headquartered in Cudahy, Wisconsin, on four counts of violating federal securities laws for his role in a complex securities and accounting fraud scheme.
    [Read More…]
  • Under Secretary Nuland’s Travel to South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Niger
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Attack on Mercer Street Vessel
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Swiss Confederation National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • 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…]