Department Press Briefing – March 15, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:15 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining today’s press call. A few things at the top, and then we’ll get into your questions.

Today, Mathias Cormann of Australia was selected as the next secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD. As a former finance minister and elected official, Cormann brings a wealth of leadership and problem-solving experience to the role. And, as the first secretary general from the Asia-Pacific region to lead the OECD in its 60-year history, we’re confident he also brings a fresh perspective.

Cormann will lead the OECD as it navigates pressing international economic issues including addressing climate change, modernizing international taxation, tackling corruption, and strengthening labor rights.

The United States admires the OECD for its role in enhancing cooperation in the global economy and values it as a unique forum where the United States can work with likeminded, market-driven democracies in developing a shared approach to challenging issues and building a green and inclusive future together.

We also look forward to working with Cormann on the OECD’s 60th anniversary Ministerial Council Meeting, which the United States will be chairing this year.

We want to thank UK Ambassador to the OECD and Dean of Ambassadors Chris Sharrock for leading a well-organized, fair, and transparent selection process, one that resulted in consensus among 37 OECD member-states on the next secretary general: Mathias Cormann.

Congratulations, Mathias. We look forward to working with you.

Ten years ago, the Syrian people peacefully took to the streets calling for basic human rights and an end to government corruption. On this anniversary, we honor the many brave Syrians who spoke out a decade ago against oppression and who continue to act today – documenting atrocities, providing humanitarian aid and medical services, and demanding freedom and dignity for all Syrians.

The United States stands with the Syrian people. Under the Assad regime, they have suffered innumerable atrocities, and we will continue to work with the international community to promote accountability and call for the release of those arbitrarily detained, information on whereabouts of the missing, and unhindered humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

We will also continue to promote a political settlement to end the conflict in Syria in close consultation with our allies, partners, and the United Nations. A political settlement is the only way to sustainably end the conflict, prevent greater suffering, and provide the peace and stability the Syrian people deserve.

This weekend also marked another new low, as Burmese security forces brutally attacked their own people, killing dozens throughout the country. The military junta’s violence against the people of Burma is immoral and indefensible.

The junta has responded to calls for the restoration of democracy in Burma with bullets.

These tactics are a reminder that Burma’s military conducted this coup for their own selfish gains and not to represent the will of the people.

The United States continues to call on all countries to take concrete actions to oppose the coup and its escalating violence.

The United States is following with concern developments surrounding the Bolivian Government’s recent arrests of former officials. We urge our friends and neighbors in Bolivia to uphold all civil rights and due process guarantees of the American Convention on Human Rights and the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Our concern joins those expressed by civic, political, and religious leaders in Bolivia as well as by those in the international community, including the UN secretary general, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bolivia, and the European Union. Many countries in our hemisphere, including the United States, have realized that at one time or another that democratic rule of, by, and for the people is a gift that must be respectfully handled.

And with that, we will go to our questions. Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching of VOA.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Jalina, thanks so much for the briefing. On North Korea, I take note that White House spokesperson has confirmed the Biden administration has reached out to North Korea but has not received a response. As Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are meeting with senior Chinese officials later this week, what does the U.S. ask from China regarding North Korea denuclearization? Is this something the U.S. envisioned it could cooperate with China? And separately, is there discussion to appoint a human rights envoy for North Korea? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Nike. I’ll get to your question on North Korea.

So the Biden administration is conducting a thorough interagency review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, and that includes evaluating all options to address the increased threats that are posed by North Korea to its neighbors as well as the broader international community. We’re continuing to lead a structured and detailed policy process that has integrated a diverse set of voices from throughout the government and incorporates input from think tanks as well as outside experts.

We’ve also consulted with many former government officials, including in North Korea policy, and several from the previous administration. And throughout this review process, we will have and we will continue to engage with our Japanese and South Korean allies to solicit input as well as explore fresh approaches. We’ve listened carefully to their ideas, including through trilateral consultation.

Next, we will go to the line of Simon Lewis, Reuters.

QUESTION: Hi. Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi. Yes, we can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi, yes. So I wanted to ask the – on Thursday this week, there is a Afghan peace conference in Moscow, and we wanted to know whether Special Envoy Khalilzad is planning to attend that. And if the U.S. going to attend this conference under Russian auspices, then what does that mean for the peace process in Afghanistan?

MS PORTER: Well, to answer your question on the peace process in Afghanistan as well as Special Representative Khalilzad, as of last week the Secretary said we are engaging in the region and international partners to try to accelerate progress towards a political settlement, and as a part of our ongoing efforts to encourage this important peace process, Ambassador Khalilzad does plan to attend the meeting in Moscow. This meeting will complement all other international efforts to support the Afghanistan peace process and also reflects the international community’s concerns about the progress to date.

Next we will go to the line of Erin Ji, Radio Free Asia.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi, yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. Great. Thank you. Thank you for doing this. My question is on North Korea as well. Would you – would you be able to elaborate on why the U.S. Government reached out to North Korea behind the scenes at this particular time? And how does diplomatic outreach fit into the ongoing policy review on North Korea? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. Again, I’ll just repeat what we said before that the Biden administration is conducting a thorough interagency review of U.S. – the U.S. policy towards North Korea. And we’ve continued to consult with many former government officials involved in North Korea policy as well as several from the previous administration. And again, through this review process we have and will continue to engage with our allies in the area.

Thank you. We’ll go to the line of Jiha Ham of VOA. Hello?

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me? Hi. Yeah, I have a similar question actually. I have a question on North Korea. So we learned that the U.S. has not received any response from Pyongyang. So a non-responsive North Korea, how would this affect to the ongoing policy review on North Korea? I mean, does it matter in how you shape the policy that they have shown no response? And would it change any directions of the policy towards North Korea?

And if I may, I have one more question. It seems like the U.S. has several channels that can reach out to North Korea. So would sending a direct letter to Kim Jong-un be one of the channels? We know the previous administration regularly exchanged letters with Kim Jong-un. So has President Biden written or will he try to maybe write a similar letter to Kim Jong-un? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, thank you. To answer both of your questions, to reduce the risk of escalation, we’ve reached out to the North Korean Government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York. And to date, we have not received any response from Pyongyang. This follows over a year without active dialogue with North Korea despite several attempts by the U.S. to engage.

We can now go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy.

QUESTION: Jalina, this is Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya Television. As you have seen today, the Houthi militias has launched another rocket towards Khamis Mushait in Saudi Arabia, targeting civilians. I’m wondering if you can update us on Mr. Lenderking (inaudible) an effort of trying to get the Houthis back to the negotiation table.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. Well, I’ll start off by saying that we strongly condemn all egregious Houthi drone and missile attacks in Saudi Arabia. And these attacks are unacceptable. They’re dangerous. They put the lives of civilians at risk. And we remain deeply concerned by the frequency of these attacks, including on Saudi Arabia. We strongly call on all parties to seriously commit to a ceasefire and engage in negotiations under UN auspices in conjunction with UN Special – U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking. And this is a time for, again, the Houthis to come to the table and to commit to peace and diplomacy in the region. Again, the Houthis’ attacks on Saudi Arabia – again, we’ll just repeat – are unacceptable and this – these are not actions of a group who say that they want peace.

We will go to the line of Laura Kelly from The Hill.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. I hope you can hear me.

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: That’s wonderful. House Democrats sent a letter today to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for the State Department to pressure Israel to provide more vaccines and a vaccination campaign for the Palestinians. Have you received the letter? Do you have any comment on it? And if I may just ask a second question. Does the State Department have comment on the UK – the police in London breaking up the peaceful vigils for Sarah Everard over the weekend? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hi, thank you for your questions. To the first question, I haven’t seen the report so I’m unable to comment on that. And when it comes to your second question about the vigil in London, we also don’t have any specific comment on that, but if we do, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Now let’s go to the line of Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I would ask about Sudan. Earlier today, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called for a U.S. mediation to solve the issue of the Nahda dam. Do you have any comment on that? Are you willing to engage?

MS PORTER: So we’ve seen the breaking report, and we continue to support collaborative and constructive efforts to resolve the disagreement on the GERD. We understand the GERD is a major issue for the parties, and we certainly encourage the resumption of a productive dialogue.

We go to the line of Simon Lewis – oh no, we already went and got him. Right. Simon, are you back on the line or is that – he’s back? Okay. The line of Simon Lewis.

QUESTION: Question if you don’t mind. Just you mentioned the violence in Myanmar over the weekend, in Myanmar, Burma over the weekend. Specifically, a lot of the killings happened in the Hlaing Thar Yar neighborhood of Yangon on Sunday. And that seems to be connected to these Chinese diamond factories that were set on fire.

And the Chinese Government has responded by – well, calling for the security forces in Myanmar to handle the situation and protect the Chinese businesses there, and state media in China is sort of warning of more drastic action to protect its interests in the country.

Given the talks that are about to happen with the Secretary and Chinese counterparts, I wonder if the U.S. had some warning or comment to make about China’s seeming involvement in backing the security forces in this case, and any concern that outside foreign actors are getting involved in this situation in Myanmar.

MS PORTER: So I’ll just start off by saying that, again, we are deeply concerned and saddened by the reports and strongly condemn the use of violence in Burma security forces against their people. When it comes to your question about China and the Chinese-owned factories in Burma, we certainly have to refer you to the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs for more information on that, but we again certainly don’t condone any use of violence in Burma. And again, we’ll continue to call on all countries, including neighbors of Burma, to take concrete actions to oppose the coup and urge a return to civilian governance and stability.

Can we go to the line of Jennifer Hansler on CNN?

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this, Jalina. I have two questions. One, it appears that Ambassador Khalilzad is back in Afghanistan meeting with Afghan Government officials. I’m wondering if you have any more information on that stop.

And then separately, there are reports in Hong Kong that two employees of the consulate there tested positive for COVID but refused to be quarantined, citing diplomatic immunity. I was wondering if you could confirm that or if you have any comment. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Jennifer. Going back to Ambassador Khalilzad, he departed Doha today after several days of meetings with negotiating parties and other stakeholders to encourage progress on political settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire as well as immediate reduction of violence. And I’ll repeat what we said earlier about his participation in Moscow, which he plans to attend.

Is she still on the line? What was your second question, Jennifer? Are you still there?

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. On the second one, there were reports that two Hong Kong consulate workers tested positive for COVID but wouldn’t quarantine and they cited diplomatic immunity. I was wondering if you could confirm that or if you have any comment.

MS PORTER: Yes, so we’ve been informed that two consulate general employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but due to privacy concerns, we’re not able to share additional information. When it comes to disinformation about these two not complying to quarantine, that is absolutely false.

Can we go to the line of Michel Ghandour?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for doing the call. I have two questions, one on Libya and one on Lebanon.

On Lebanon, do you have any comment on the visit that the Hizballah delegation has made to Russia and the reception that the foreign minister made for them, Sergey Lavrov?

And second, on Libya, do you have any comment on the new government that swore in today? And how do you view the future of Khalifa Haftar?

MS PORTER: So on Lebanon, generally speaking, we’re concerned about the developments in Lebanon and the apparent inaction of the country’s leadership in the face of multiple ongoing crises. Lebanon’s political leaders need to put aside their partisan brinkmanship and form a government that will quickly – quickly implement critical and long-needed reforms, restore investor confidence, and rescue the country’s economy.

As far as Libya, we don’t have a comment right now. If we do, we’ll be certainly forward those to you as soon as possible.

All right. So we will take one final question from Hadil.

QUESTION: My question is about Yemen. Do you think you have any plans to convince the Houthis to stop their escalation against Saudi Arabia and to assess a political resolution?

Also I have a question about Syria. Are you considering lifting the sanctions applied on Assad regime, especially Caesar Act? And do you think the sanctions have been viable to pressure Assad’s regime to accept the political resolution? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hi, thank you. To address your first question on Syria, President Biden has made it one of his first foreign policy priorities to end the war in Yemen, and by doing so, appointing a high-level envoy dedicated to that purpose, U.S. Special Envoy Lenderking, who has also been engaged with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths on this effort. We now have a sound, fair plan for a nationwide ceasefire with elements that would immediately address Yemen’s dire humanitarian situation. And that plan has been before Houthi leadership for days. Again, the United States is building on a UN framework and amplifying it through our own diplomatic engagement and expanded regional support. And again, we will routinely call on the Houthis to seize this moment and come to the table to diplomacy.

To your second question on Syria, I believe, we’ll just say generally speaking that we believe that stability in Syria and the greater region can only be achieved through a political process that represents the will of all Syrians. And we’re committed to working with allies, partners, as well as the UN to ensure that a durable political solution remains within reach.

All right. That ends our call for today. Thank you for coming and we’ll be back here at this same time tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:36 p.m.)

# # #

  1. Yemen

 

More from: Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Hits: 0

News Network

  • The Gambia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to The [Read More…]
  • Medicaid Long-Term Services and Supports: Access and Quality Problems in Managed Care Demand Improved Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    At the state and federal levels, GAO found weaknesses in the oversight of Medicaid managed long-term services and supports (MLTSS), which assist individuals with basic needs like bathing or eating. Through various monitoring approaches, six selected states identified significant problems in their MLTSS programs with managed care organization (MCO) performance of care management, which includes assessing beneficiary needs, authorizing services, and monitoring service provision to ensure quality and access to care. State efforts may not be identifying all care management problems due to limitations in the information they use to monitor MCOs, allowing some performance problems to continue over multiple years. Performance Problems in Managed Care Organization (MCO) Care Management, Identified by Selected States GAO found that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) oversight of state implementation of its 2016 requirements, and of access and quality in MLTSS more broadly, was limited. This hinders the agency's ability to hold states and MCOs accountable for quality and access problems beneficiaries may face. Oversight did not detect quality and access problems. GAO identified cases where CMS learned about problems not through its regular oversight, but instead from beneficiary complaints, media reports, or GAO. CMS officials said that states had not reported these problems to the agency. Lack of national oversight strategy and assessment of problems in MLTSS. Weaknesses in oversight reflect a broader area of concern—namely, that CMS lacks a strategy for oversight. CMS also has not assessed the nature and extent of access and quality problems across states. Without a strategy and more robust information, CMS risks being unable to identify and help address problems facing beneficiaries. As of July 2020, CMS had convened a new workgroup focused on MLTSS oversight, though the goals and time frames for its work were unclear. An increasing number of states are using managed care to deliver long-term services and supports in their Medicaid programs, thus delegating decisions around the amounts and types of care beneficiaries receive to MCOs. Federal guidance requires that MLTSS programs include monitoring procedures to ensure the appropriateness of those decisions for this complex population, which includes adults and children who may have physical, cognitive, and mental disabilities. GAO was asked to review care management in MLTSS programs. Among other things, this report examines state monitoring of care management, and CMS oversight of state implementation of 2016 requirements related to MLTSS quality and access. GAO examined documentation of monitoring procedures and problems identified in six states selected for variation in program age and location. GAO reviewed federal regulations and oversight documents, interviewed state and federal Medicaid officials, and assessed CMS's policies and procedures against federal internal control standards. GAO is making two recommendations to CMS to (1) develop a national strategy for overseeing MLTSS, and (2) assess the nature and prevalence of MLTSS quality and access problems across states. CMS did not concur with the recommendations. GAO maintains the recommendations are warranted, as discussed in this report. For more information, contact at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Small Business Administration: COVID-19 Loans Lack Controls and Are Susceptible to Fraud
    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership (USASCP): Sharing Expertise Between Cities to Benefit the People of ASEAN
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Sudan Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Resolves Antitrust Case Against Leading Central Pennsylvania Health Care Providers
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement with Geisinger Health (Geisinger) and Evangelical Community Hospital (Evangelical) that will resolve the department’s ongoing civil antitrust litigation challenging Geisinger’s partial acquisition of Evangelical. Among other terms, the settlement requires Geisinger to cap its ownership interest in Evangelical at a 7.5% passive interest and eliminates additional entanglements between the two competing hospitals.
    [Read More…]
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina National Statehood Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Burundi Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to Burundi [Read More…]
  • NASA Telescope Named for ‘Mother of Hubble’ Nancy Grace Roman
    In Space
    At the agency’s [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Bret Baier of Fox News Special Report
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced to Prison for Sextorting Numerous Children Around the Country
    In Crime News
    A Virginia man was sentenced today to 31 years in prison for a years-long sextortion scheme in which he coerced numerous preteen and teenage victims to create and send him images of themselves engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The defendant was further sentenced to a lifetime of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution to the victims.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA’s TESS, Spitzer Missions Discover a World Orbiting a Unique Young Star
    In Space
    The newly discovered [Read More…]
  • Riverside, California Man Who Admitted Planning Mass Casualty Attacks and Purchasing Firearms Later Used in 2015 Terrorist Attack in San Bernardino Ordered to Serve 20-Year Federal Prison Sentence
    In Crime News
    A Riverside man was sentenced today to 20 years in federal prison for conspiring to commit terrorist attacks in the Inland Empire and for providing assault rifles later used in the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack that killed 14 people.
    [Read More…]
  • Celebrating International Women’s Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Toledo Public Schools to Resolve Complaints of Race and Disability Discrimination in Student Discipline
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio today announced a settlement agreement with the Toledo Public Schools to address and prevent discriminatory discipline of students based on race or disability and to require appropriate language services for limited English proficient (LEP) parents on matters essential to their children’s education.  
    [Read More…]
  • Readout of The Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat Hate Crimes Against Asian American and Pacific Island Communities
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today held a listening session with more than a dozen Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community groups as part of its continuing efforts to deter hate crimes and other unlawful acts against the AAPI community.
    [Read More…]
  • Agricultural Developer Agrees to Pay Clean Water Act Fines, Mitigate Impacts to Sensitive Streams and Wetlands
    In Crime News
    A California agricultural developer has agreed to pay a civil penalty, preserve streams and wetlands, effect mitigation, and be subject to a prohibitory injunction to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) on property near the Sacramento River located in Tehama County, California, the Justice Department announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Texas Physician Sentenced for Multi-Million Medicare Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Texas physician was sentenced to five years in prison today for her role in a multi-million Medicare fraud scheme.
    [Read More…]
  • The United States and Turkmenistan Hold Annual Bilateral Consultations
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Sao Tome and Principe Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to Sao [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Bolivian President-elect Arce
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on Senate Resolution
    In Crime News
    Online child sexual exploitation is a global crime that demands a continued global response. 
    [Read More…]
  • Defense Budget: Opportunities Exist to Improve DOD’s Management of Defense Spending
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's previous work has shown that a number of opportunities exist for the Department of Defense (DOD) to strengthen management of defense spending, which would help the department address the challenges it faces, especially in a constrained budget environment. These opportunities include: Improving budgeting execution of funds. DOD does not fully obligate the funds appropriated to it and can improve both its budgeting for and its use of the resources that are provided to it. For example, GAO found that DOD has left billions of dollars in appropriated amounts unspent over the past 10 fiscal years. Better estimating annual budget requirements and obligating appropriations provided by Congress within the period of availability established by Congress would help DOD minimize these cases of under-execution. More clearly determining future resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations. DOD and Congress need a clearer determination of DOD's future resource requirements, in particular how and whether to incorporate enduring Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) costs—costs that will endure beyond ongoing contingency operations—into DOD's base budget. These costs could total tens of billions of dollars a year. However, few details exist as to what makes up these enduring costs or how they were derived, raising questions about how much should be included as future requirements. Reducing improper payments. Addressing improper payments—payments that should not have been made or were made in an incorrect amount—is an area where better financial management could save DOD billions of dollars. In its fiscal year 2020 agency financial report, DOD estimated that it paid about $11.4 billion in improper payments, or about 1.7 percent of all payments it made that year. DOD has taken steps to reduce improper payments in some areas, but DOD's estimates of its improper payments in other areas indicate more remains to be done. Sustaining and refining department-wide business reform efforts. DOD must transform its overall business operations so that it can more efficiently and effectively use its resources. In recent years, DOD reported notable achievements from its most recent department-wide business reform efforts, including $37 billion in savings from fiscal years 2017 to 2021 as a result of these efforts. However, GAO previously found that while DOD's reported savings were largely reflected in its budget materials, the analyses underlying these estimates were not always well documented and the savings were not always the result of business reform. Moreover, uncertainty about the leadership structure at DOD for overseeing and reforming business operations, including the recent elimination of the Chief Management Officer position, calls into question whether efforts to fundamentally transform how the department does business can be realized and sustained. GAO has previously highlighted the importance of DOD providing clear department-wide guidance on roles, responsibilities, authorities, and resources for business reform efforts will be necessary for DOD to make progress in these efforts. Decisions by DOD and Congress regarding long-term defense needs will have a meaningful impact on the nation's fiscal future. As the single largest category of discretionary spending, defense spending is likely to play a large role in any discussion of future federal spending. GAO and others have found that DOD faces challenges that are likely to put pressure on its budget moving forward. DOD is the only major federal agency that has been unable to receive a clean audit opinion on its financial statements. This testimony provides information on how DOD can better manage defense spending, specifically related to its ability to (1) accurately estimate its budgetary requirements and execute its appropriated funds, (2) determine resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations, (3) reduce improper payments, and (4) sustain and refine department-wide reform efforts. For this testimony, GAO reviewed and summarized its recent work on DOD budget and financial management issues and departmental reform efforts. In prior work on which this testimony is based, GAO made recommendations that DOD take steps to better estimate its annual budget requirements and future fiscal needs for OCO, reduce improper payments, and refine and formalize its departmental reform efforts. DOD generally concurred with these recommendations and is working toward implementing them. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • High Ranking MS-13 Gang Member Facing Federal Firearms Charges After Nightclub Shooting
    In Crime News
    A criminal complaint was unsealed Nov. 6 charging the local leader of an MS-13 Gang clique with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.
    [Read More…]
  • Tax Filing: Actions Needed to Address Processing Delays and Risks to the 2021 Filing Season
    In U.S GAO News
    The 2020 filing season occurred during the global COVID-19 pandemic, introducing challenges that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had to respond to quickly to fulfill its mission-essential functions. IRS took steps to protect the integrity of its operations, help ensure the health and safety of its employees, and provide relief to taxpayers. For example, IRS closed all its processing and service facilities for several weeks before re-opening with health and safety measures and extended the filing season deadline to July 15, 2020. IRS's 2020 processing of e-filed returns was generally on par with prior years. However, IRS's overall 2020 performance was significantly impacted by its reliance on manual processes such as for paper returns, and its limited ability to process returns remotely while processing centers were closed. As a result, as of December 2020, IRS had a significant backlog of unprocessed returns and taxpayer correspondence. Additionally, costs increased including interest on delayed refunds which exceeded $3 billion in fiscal year 2020. IRS has not revised its estimates for addressing all of the backlog due to operational uncertainties created by the pandemic. Doing so would help IRS determine how best to address the backlog and perform 2021 filing season activities. Refund Interest Paid to Taxpayers, Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 GAO also found that about 23 percent of business tax returns were filed on paper even though an e-file option is available. IRS has not comprehensively identified barriers to business-related e-filing nor taken specific actions to increase e-filing. Doing so would help reduce the volume of costly paper-based work and improve services to business filers. Further, during the filing season, IRS transitioned nearly two-thirds of its phone customer service staff to telework, but was unable to do so for returns processing staff because most of its paper-based work is not set up to be performed remotely. As of late October 2020, about one-third of these staff remained on paid leave. Identifying and implementing alternative work assignments for staff that remain on paid leave would better support IRS operations and reduce costs. IRS has not fully identified and assessed all risks to the 2021 filing season—including those exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic—consistent with enterprise risk management practices. IRS identified some risks in October 2020 after GAO raised concerns, but did not fully address all essential elements of enterprise risk management, such as identifying options for risk response. Doing so would better position IRS to respond to risks during the 2021 filing season. In early 2021, after receiving a draft of this report, IRS provided additional information on its risk management efforts. GAO will review this information to determine if these efforts are sufficient to address its recommendation. During the annual tax filing season, generally from January to mid-April, IRS processes more than 150 million individual and business tax returns and provides telephone, correspondence, online, and in-person services to tens of millions of taxpayers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide relief to taxpayers, IRS extended the 2020 filing and payment deadline by 3 months to July 15, 2020. GAO was asked to review IRS's performance during the 2020 filing season. This report (1) describes the changes IRS made to operations and services for the 2020 filing season due to the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) assesses IRS's performance on providing customer service and processing individual and business income tax returns during the 2020 filing season and compare to prior filing seasons, where appropriate; and (3) evaluates IRS's plans to prepare for the 2021 filing season. GAO analyzed IRS documents, filing season performance data, and employee timecard data; assessed IRS's plans for the 2021 filing season; and interviewed cognizant officials. GAO is making seven recommendations, including that IRS revise estimates for addressing its backlog; identify and address barriers to e-filing for business taxpayers; identify and consider implementing alternative work assignments for returns processing staff on paid leave; and identify and assess risks to the 2021 filing season. IRS agreed with four recommendations and disagreed with three. GAO believes that the recommendations remain warranted. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-6806 or lucasjudyj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with French Foreign Minister Le Drian
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Remarks on the Future of Antitrust
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, I am pleased to join you today at the ABA Antitrust Fall Forum, my fourth as Assistant Attorney General. I’d like to thank the Chair of the ABA Antitrust Law Section, Gary Zanfagna and the Conference Co-Chairs, Melanie Aitken and Anant Raut for their efforts in organizing this event.
    [Read More…]
  • Escalation of Violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland Addresses the 115,000 Employees of the Department of Justice on His First Day
    In Crime News
    Former Acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson’s Remarks Good morning. It's my honor to welcome Merrick Garland back to the Department of Justice as the 86th Attorney General of the United States. I'd also like to recognize the Attorney General's wife Lynn, his brother-in-law Mitchell and his nieces Laura and Andrea.
    [Read More…]
  • Pain Clinic Owner Sentenced for Role in Operating Pill Mills in Tennessee and Florida
    In Crime News
    A pain clinic owner was sentenced today to over 33 years in prison for her role in operating several pill mills in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Hollywood, Florida.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo with Tony Perkins of Washington Watch with Tony Perkins
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Fair Labor Standards Act: Tracking Additional Complaint Data Could Improve DOL’s Enforcement
    In U.S GAO News
    Over the past 10 years, the number of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime cases has generally ranged between 23,000 and 30,000 each year. The compliance actions the Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) used to address these cases primarily involved either on-site investigations or conciliations that seek a resolution between the employer and the worker by phone. Back wages due to workers for FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations increased from $129 million in fiscal year 2010 to $226 million in fiscal year 2019. Although the number of WHD investigators decreased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2019, WHD maintained its casework by using procedural flexibilities, such as not investigating low-priority complaints and by distributing work across offices to balance workloads. From fiscal years 2014 through 2019, most of WHD's FLSA compliance actions were targeted at priority industries—those WHD identified as low-wage, high violation industries that employ workers who are unlikely to file wage or overtime complaints, such as food services. In 2011, WHD developed a list of 20 priority industries, and encouraged its regional and district offices to focus on these industries by setting and monitoring performance goals as part of its annual enforcement planning process. The percentage of FLSA compliance actions involving the priority industries increased from 75 to 80 percent from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, according to DOL data. WHD uses several strategies, including supervisory reviews, to address FLSA complaints consistently, but does not track uniform data needed to ensure that the reasons complaints are filed with no WHD compliance action are applied consistently. WHD may file complaints without completing a compliance action because they are not within WHD's jurisdiction or for other reasons, such as that they are determined to be low-priority. GAO found that WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019 and the percent varied considerably (from 4 to 46 percent) among district offices (see figure). WHD lacks uniform data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action at intake or the reasons cases are dropped after initial acceptance because there is no data field in WHD's enforcement database that can be used to systematically aggregate that information. Absent this data, WHD is less able to ensure that a consistent process is applied to complaints. Percentage of Fair Labor Standards Act Complaints Filed with No Compliance Action by WHD District Offices, Fiscal Years 2014-2019 Note: WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019, and the percent varied considerably among its district offices. The FLSA sets federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for millions of U.S. workers. WHD may investigate worker complaints of FLSA violations or initiate investigations in industries it prioritizes for enforcement. GAO was asked to review WHD compliance actions. This report examines (1) trends in WHD's FLSA minimum wage and overtime cases, (2) the extent to which WHD's FLSA compliance actions targeted priority industries, and (3) the extent to which WHD's reported efforts and data indicate that WHD applied a consistent process to FLSA complaints. GAO analyzed WHD data on FLSA cases for fiscal years 2010 through 2019, the last full fiscal year of data available when GAO conducted its analysis. GAO also conducted more in-depth reviews of recent efforts (fiscal years 2014-2019). GAO interviewed officials from WHD's national office, five regional offices, and five of WHD's 54 district offices with the largest share of FLSA cases in their regions. GAO also interviewed external stakeholders, including state agencies and organizations that represent workers and employers. GAO recommends DOL's WHD develop a method for systematically aggregating and reviewing data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action or cases are dropped. DOL agreed with GAO's recommendation and stated it would take action to address it. For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Florida and Tennessee Pain Clinic Owner Extradited from Italy to the United States to Face RICO Charges
    In Crime News
    A dual U.S.-Italian national was extradited from Italy to the United States on Nov. 20. The U.S. Marshals Service effectuated the transportation of the defendant from Lamezia Terme, Calabria to Knoxville, Tennessee.
    [Read More…]
  • Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on the Verdict in the Chauvin Trial
    In Crime News
    U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland's statement following the verdict in the state of Minnesota's trial of Derek Chauvin:
    [Read More…]
  • Saudi Arabia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider Travel to [Read More…]
  • Executive Office for Immigration Review Announces Investiture of 20 New Immigration Judges, Resulting in a 70 Percent Expansion of the Immigration Judge Corps Since 2017
    In Crime News
    The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced the investiture of 20 new immigration judges today, including three new assistant chief immigration judges.  The introduction of this class marks the most recent step in the ongoing development and expansion of the nationwide corps of professional adjudicators who resolve questions regarding the legal status of aliens in the United States and adjudicate claims of relief or protection from removal, such as asylum or withholding of removal.
    [Read More…]
  • Statement of Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers on the Public Release of the Department’s Findings with Respect to the 29 FISA Applications that Were the Subject of the March 2020 OIG Preliminary Report
    In Crime News
    “The Department of Justice has completed its review of the 29 FISA applications that were the subject of preliminary findings by the DOJ Inspector General (OIG) in March 2020.  We are pleased that our review of these applications concluded that all contained sufficient basis for probable cause and uncovered only two material errors, neither of which invalidated the authorizations granted by the FISA Court.   These findings, together with the more than 40 corrective actions undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Division, should instill confidence in the FBI’s use of FISA authorities.  We would like to express our appreciation to the OIG for their focus on the Department’s use of its national security authority.  We remain committed to improving the FISA process to ensure that we use these tools consistent with the law and our obligations to the FISA Court.  The ability to surveil and to investigate using FISA authorities remains critical to confronting current national security threats, including election interference, Chinese espionage and terrorism.”      
    [Read More…]
  • Whistleblower Protection: Actions Needed to Strengthen Selected Intelligence Community Offices of Inspector General Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The six Intelligence Community (IC)-element Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) that GAO reviewed collectively received 5,794 complaints from October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2018, and opened 960 investigations based on those complaints. Of the 960 investigations, IC-element OIGs had closed 873 (about 91 percent) as of August 2019, with an average case time ranging from 113 to 410 days to complete. Eighty-seven cases remained open as of August 2019, with the average open case time being 589 days. The number of investigations at each IC-element OIG varied widely based on factors such as the number of complaints received and each OIG's determination on when to convert a complaint into an investigation. An OIG may decide not to convert a complaint into an investigation if the complaint lacks credibility or sufficient detail, or may refer the complainant to IC-element management or to another OIG if the complaint involves matters that are outside the OIG's authority to investigate. Four of the IC-element OIGs—the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) OIG, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) OIG, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) OIG, and the National Security Agency (NSA) OIG—have a 180-days or fewer timeliness objective for their investigations. The procedures for the remaining two OIGs—the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) OIG—state that investigations should be conducted and reported in a timely manner. Other than those prescribed by statute, the ICIG and NGA OIG have not established timeliness objectives for their investigations. Establishing timeliness objectives could improve the OIGs' ability to efficiently manage investigation time frames and to inform potential whistleblowers of these time frames. All of the selected IC-element OIG investigations units have implemented some quality assurance standards and processes, such as including codes of conduct and ethical and professional standards in their guidance. However, the extent to which they have implemented processes to maintain guidance, conduct routine quality assurance reviews, and plan investigations varies (see table). Implementation of Quality Assurance Standards and Practices by Selected IC-element OIG Investigations Units   ICIG CIA OIG DIA OIG NGA OIG NRO OIG NSA OIG Regular updates of investigation guidance or procedures — — — ✓ — ✓ Internal quality assurance review routinely conducted — — ✓ — — — External quality assurance review routinely conducted — ✓ — — — — Required use of documented investigative plans ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ — ✓ Legend: ✓ = standard or practice implemented; — = standard or practice not implemented. Source: GAO analysis of IC-element OIG investigative policies and procedures. | GAO-20-699 The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency's (CIGIE) Quality Standards for Investigations states that organizations should facilitate due professional care by establishing written investigative policies and procedures via handbooks, manuals, or similar mechanisms that are revised regularly according to evolving laws, regulations, and executive orders. By establishing processes to regularly update their procedures, the ICIG, CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NRO OIG could better ensure that their policies and procedures will remain consistent with evolving laws, regulations, Executive Orders, and CIGIE standards. Additionally, CIGIE's Quality Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General requires OIGs to establish and maintain a quality assurance program. The standards further state that internal and external quality assurance reviews are the two components of an OIG's quality assurance program, which is an evaluative effort conducted by reviewers independent of the unit being reviewed to ensure that the overall work of the OIG meets appropriate standards. Developing quality assurance programs that incorporate both types of reviews, as appropriate, could help ensure that the IC-element OIGs adhere to OIG procedures and prescribed standards, regulations, and legislation, as well as identify any areas in need of improvement. Further, CIGIE Quality Standards for Investigations states that case-specific priorities must be established and objectives developed to ensure that tasks are performed efficiently and effectively. CIGIE's standards state that this may best be achieved, in part, by preparing case-specific plans and strategies. Establishing a requirement that investigators use documented investigative plans for all investigations could facilitate NRO OIG management's oversight of investigations and help ensure that investigative steps are prioritized and performed efficiently and effectively. CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NGA OIG have training plans or approaches that are consistent with CIGIE's quality standards for investigator training. However, while ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG have basic training requirements and tools to manage training, those OIGs have not established training requirements for their investigators that are linked to the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities, appropriate to their career progression, and part of a documented training plan. Doing so would help the ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG ensure that their investigators collectively possess a consistent set of professional proficiencies aligned with CIGIE's quality standards throughout their entire career progression. Most of the IC-element OIGs GAO reviewed consistently met congressional reporting requirements for the investigations and semiannual reports GAO reviewed. The ICIG did not fully meet one reporting requirement in seven of the eight semiannual reports that GAO reviewed. However, its most recent report, which covers April through September 2019, met this reporting requirement by including statistics on the total number and type of investigations it conducted. Further, three of the six selected IC-element OIGs—the DIA, NGA, and NRO OIGs—did not consistently document notifications to complainants in the reprisal investigation case files GAO reviewed. Taking steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in such cases occur and are documented in the case files would provide these OIGs with greater assurance that they consistently inform complainants of the status of their investigations and their rights as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers play an important role in safeguarding the federal government against waste, fraud, and abuse. The OIGs across the government oversee investigations of whistleblower complaints, which can include protecting whistleblowers from reprisal. Whistleblowers in the IC face unique challenges due to the sensitive and classified nature of their work. GAO was asked to review whistleblower protection programs managed by selected IC-element OIGs. This report examines (1) the number and time frames of investigations into complaints that selected IC-element OIGs received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established timeliness objectives for these investigations; (2) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have implemented quality standards and processes for their investigation programs; (3) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established training requirements for investigators; and (4) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have met notification and reporting requirements for investigative activities. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in June 2020. Information that the IC elements deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO selected the ICIG and the OIGs of five of the largest IC elements for review. GAO analyzed time frames for all closed investigations of complaints received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018; reviewed OIG policies, procedures, training requirements, and semiannual reports to Congress; conducted interviews with 39 OIG investigators; and reviewed a selection of case files for senior leaders and reprisal cases from October 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018. GAO is making 23 recommendations, including that selected IC-element OIGs establish timeliness objectives for investigations, implement or enhance quality assurance programs, establish training plans, and take steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in reprisal cases occur. The selected IC-element OIGs concurred with the recommendations and discussed steps they planned to take to implement them. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604, farrellb@gao.gov or Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130, mazanecb@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Thailand Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Exercise increased [Read More…]
  • Burkina Faso’s National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks to the Press
    In Crime News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Biofuel Fraudster Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison for Scamming Multiple Federal Agencies and Customers
    In Crime News
    The owner of a biofuel company was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by a three-year term of supervised release and ordered to pay $10,207,000 in restitution for defrauding multiple federal agencies and customers.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Ecuadorian President-Elect Lasso
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Political Donor Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Lobbying and Campaign Contribution Crimes, Tax Evasion, and Obstruction of Justice
    In Crime News
    A venture capitalist and political fundraiser was sentenced today to 144 months in federal prison for falsifying records to conceal his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials, evading the payment of millions of dollars in taxes, making illegal campaign contributions, and obstructing a federal investigation into the source of donations to a presidential inauguration committee. Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, of Arcadia, California, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered him to pay $15,705,080 in restitution and a criminal fine of $1.75 million.
    [Read More…]
  • Department Of Justice Identifies New York City, Portland And Seattle As Jurisdictions Permitting Violence And Destruction Of Property
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice today identified the following three jurisdictions that have permitted violence and destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities: New York City; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. The Department of Justice is continuing to work to identify jurisdictions that meet the criteria set out in the President’s Memorandum and will periodically update the list of selected jurisdictions as required therein.
    [Read More…]
  • Uganda’s Independence Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • NASA’s AIRS Sees Hurricane Douglas, Tropical Storm Hanna From Space
    In Space
    Wild weather sweeping in [Read More…]
  • Hanford Cleanup: DOE’s Efforts to Close Tank Farms Would Benefit from Clearer Legal Authorities and Communication
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy (DOE) has retrieved nuclear waste from all the tanks at C-farm—the first of 18 tank farms (i.e., groupings of tanks) at DOE's Hanford site in southeastern Washington State. The waste is a byproduct of decades of nuclear weapons production and research. DOE is obligated under agreements with the state's Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move waste from older, single-shell tanks to newer, more durable, double-shell tanks and ultimately to dispose of it. Example of a Tank and of Waste in a Tank at Hanford DOE intends to “close” the C-farm by leaving the nearly empty tanks in place and filling them with grout. However, DOE faces challenges, in part because this approach depends on: (1) DOE's determination under its directives that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than high-level waste (HLW) and (2) Ecology's approval. DOE has started the determination process, but as GAO has previously found, DOE is likely to face a lawsuit because of questions about its legal authority. Ecology has raised concerns that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has not independently reviewed DOE's analysis for this determination. By Congress clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW, DOE would be in a better position to move forward. Another challenge DOE faces in closing C-farm is how to address contaminated soil caused by leaks or discharges of waste from the tanks. DOE and Ecology officials do not agree on a process for evaluating contaminated soil at C-farm or on what role NRC should play in this process. They interpret their agreement differently, particularly regarding whether NRC must review DOE's analysis of contaminated soil. If the two parties cannot resolve this issue, Ecology may deny DOE a permit for C-farm closure. By using an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on how to assess soil contamination, including NRC's role, DOE would be better positioned to avoid future cleanup delays. DOE has not developed a long-term plan for tank-farm closure, in part, because a plan is not required. However, leading practices in program management call for long-term planning. In addition, DOE faces technical challenges that may take years to address as noted by representatives from various entities or tribal governments. For example, an internal DOE document states there is a 95 percent probability DOE will run out of space in its double shell tanks—space needed to continue retrieval operations. Planning for and building new tanks requires years of work. By developing a long-term plan, DOE could better prepare to address technical challenges. The Hanford site in Washington State contains about 54 million gallons of nuclear waste, which is stored in 177 underground storage tanks. In fiscal years 1997 through 2019, DOE spent over $10 billion to maintain Hanford's tanks and retrieve waste from them. DOE expects to spend at least $69 billion more on activities to retrieve tank waste and close tanks, according to a January 2019 DOE report. Senate Report 116-48, accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to review the status of tank closures at Hanford. GAO's report examines the status of DOE's efforts to retrieve tank waste, challenges DOE faces in its effort to close the C-farm, as well as DOE's approach for closing the remaining tank farms. GAO toured the site; reviewed DOE documents, laws, and regulations; and interviewed officials and representatives from local, regional, and national entities and tribal governments. Congress should consider clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, whether residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOE (1) use an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on a process for assessing soil contamination, including NRC's role and (2) develop a long-term plan for its tank waste cleanup mission at Hanford. DOE concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact David C. Trimble at (202) 512-3841 or trimbled@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo to Deliver Remarks to the Media in the Press Briefing Room
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Two Former Louisiana Correctional Officers Sentenced for Cover Up Following Death of an Inmate
    In Crime News
    Two Louisiana women, former jail deputies, were sentenced today to over a year in prison and six months in prison respectively for their roles in covering up a civil rights violation arising out of an inmate’s death at the St. Bernard Parish Prison (SBPP).
    [Read More…]
  • Federal Prison Industries: Actions Needed to Evaluate Program Effectiveness
    In U.S GAO News
    The First Step Act of 2018 made new, nonfederal markets and potential buyers available to Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a government corporation organized within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); however, various challenges could limit FPI's ability to sell to customers in these markets. FPI makes apparel, personal protective equipment, and furniture, among other products. FPI may now sell to the District of Columbia government, including, for example, to its firefighters; nonfederal, governmental entities for use in correctional settings or in response to a disaster or emergency, such as local jails and first responders; and nonprofit organizations, such as universities. However, a lack of information makes it difficult to estimate the dollar value of these new markets. The following figure depicts the new markets made available to FPI. New Markets for Federal Prison Industries' Products under the First Step Act Data on the size of most of the new markets are very limited. For example, GAO found no existing national information to help estimate the size and scope of relevant spending by nonfederal entities on disaster relief and emergencies. Also, challenges related to state and local government operations, for example, could limit FPI's ability to sell products in the new markets made available under the First Step Act. Specifically, state-level prison industries and in-state vendors often have preferential access to many of the procurement markets now available to FPI. FPI and the private sector share some similar operating requirements, such as those related to keeping workers safe. They also face different requirements and business practices, such as those related to the legal framework, security, and costs. Available data indicate that buyers are generally satisfied with the delivery and quality of FPI products. GAO analyzed 231 performance reports on FPI in the federal government's database for contractor performance, as of August 2019. Customers rated FPI's performance in the delivery schedule and quality categories as exceptional, very good, or satisfactory on about 80 and 90 percent, respectively, of performance reports. There were too few ratings on cost to analyze them. FPI aims to assist inmates in their reentry into society by providing marketable job skills, but BOP has not reviewed FPI's impact on recidivism in over 2 decades. BOP relies on outdated studies that assessed the impact of FPI on inmates released in the 1980s. In January 2020, BOP cited a 1992 study as the basis for the Attorney General's designation of FPI as an Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Program under the First Step Act 0f 2018 . BOP made a plan to evaluate FPI but the plan's timeline passed and the BOP has not set a new one. Without an updated plan for evaluating FPI, BOP continues to rely on outdated evaluations of FPI and has limited information about FPI's effectiveness amidst changes to its inmate population Additionally, while BOP has reported some descriptive statistics on recidivism rates, it has not developed a goal. Without a timeline for evaluation and a goal for reducing recidivism, BOP's ability to assess the effectiveness of FPI will be limited. FPI is a government owned corporation that, as a national reentry program, manages, trains, and rehabilitates inmates through employment. FPI sells inmate-produced goods and services primarily to federal government agencies. The First Step Act of 2018 authorized FPI to sell its products to new markets. A provision in the First Step Act of 2018 required GAO to review various aspects of FPI. This report addresses (1) the potential size and scope of the additional markets made available to FPI under the First Step Act; (2) the similarities and differences in selected requirements and business practices of FPI and private sector sellers of products and services; (3) customers' satisfaction with FPI regarding quality, price, and timely delivery of its products and services; and (4) the extent to which BOP has evaluated the effectiveness of FPI and other vocational programs in reducing recidivism and the results. GAO examined recidivism studies and data, analyzed performance data, conducted fieldwork at four FPI facilities selected based on security level and type of products produced, met with industry associations, and interviewed agency officials and employed inmates. GAO is making two recommendations: (1) BOP should update its evaluation plan for FPI by setting a new timeline for evaluation and (2) BOP should set a goal to reduce recidivism. DOJ concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or goodwing@gao.gov or William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Four sentenced for roles in ransom scheme
    In Justice News
    Four U.S. citizens have [Read More…]
  • Charleston County School District Agrees to Provide Language Access for Limited English Proficient Parents
    In Crime News
    Today the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the Charleston County School District to resolve its investigation into complaints that the school district failed to communicate essential information to thousands of Spanish-speaking, limited English proficient (LEP) parents, denying their children full and equal access to the district’s education programs and services. The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina conducted the investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.
    [Read More…]
  • Kansas Man Indicted on Federal Child Pornography Charges
    In Crime News
    A resident of Topeka, Kansas, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on federal child pornography charges, Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Statement from Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband on Supreme Court’s Order in Favor of Colorado Church that Challenged COVID Restrictions
    In Crime News
    Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Eric S. Dreiband, issued the following statement:
    [Read More…]
  • Veterans Affairs: VA Needs to Address Persistent IT Modernization and Cybersecurity Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced challenges in its efforts to accomplish three critical information technology (IT) modernization initiatives: the department's health information system, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA); a system for the Family Caregiver Program, which is to support family caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 veterans; and the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) that collects and stores information and is used for processing disability benefit claims. Specifically, GAO has reported on the challenges in the department's three previous unsuccessful attempts to modernize VistA over the past 20 years. However, VA has recently deployed a new scheduling system as part of its fourth effort to modernize VistA and the next deployment of the system, including additional capabilities, is planned in October 2020. VA had taken steps to address GAO's recommendations from its 2014 report to implement a replacement system for the Family Caregiver Program. However, in September 2019, GAO reported that VA had yet to implement a new IT system that fully supports the Family Caregiver Program and that it had not yet fully committed to a date by which it will certify that the new IT system fully supports the program. In September 2015, GAO reported that VA had made progress in developing and implementing VBMS, but also noted that additional actions could improve efforts to develop and use the system. For example, VBMS was not able to fully support disability and pension claims, as well as appeals processing. GAO made five recommendations aimed at improving VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS; however, as of September 2020, VA implemented only one recommendation. VA's progress in implementing key provisions of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (commonly referred to as FITARA) has been uneven. Specifically, VA has made progress toward improving its licensing of software and achieving its goals for closing unneeded data centers. However, the department has made limited progress toward addressing requirements related to IT investment risk management and Chief Information Officer authority enhancement. Until the department implements the act's provisions, Congress' ability to effectively monitor VA's progress and hold it fully accountable for reducing duplication and achieving cost savings will be hindered. In addition, since fiscal year 2016, GAO has reported that VA faces challenges related to effectively implementing the federal approach to, and strategy for, securing information systems; effectively implementing information security controls and mitigating known security deficiencies; and establishing elements of its cybersecurity risk management program. GAO's work stressed the need for VA to address these challenges as well as manage IT supply chain risks. As VA continues to pursue modernization efforts, it is critical that the department take steps to adequately secure its systems. The use of IT is crucial to helping VA effectively serve the nation's veterans. The department annually spends billions of dollars on its information systems and assets—VA's budget for IT now exceeds $4 billion annually. However, over many years, VA has experienced challenges in managing its IT projects and programs, which could jeopardize its ability to effectively support key programs such as the Forever GI Bill. GAO has previously reported on these IT management challenges at VA. GAO was asked to testify on its prior IT work at VA. Specifically, this testimony summarizes results and recommendations from GAO's issued reports that examined VA's efforts in (1) modernizing VistA, a system for the Family Caregiver Program, and VBMS; (2) implementing FITARA; and (3) addressing cybersecurity issues. In developing this testimony, GAO reviewed its recently issued reports that addressed IT management issues at VA and GAO's biannual high-risk series. GAO also incorporated information on the department's actions in response to recommendations. GAO has made numerous recommendations in recent years aimed at improving VA's IT system modernization efforts, implementation of key FITARA provisions, and cybersecurity program. VA has generally agreed with the recommendations and has begun to address them. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • New Jersey Man Sentenced to Prison for Tax Fraud Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A New Jersey man was sentenced to 78 months in prison today for conspiring to defraud the United States, filing false claims, and obstructing the internal revenue laws, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]