Department Press Briefing – March 18, 2021

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:01 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s briefing. I have three updates I’d like to share with you at the top, and then I will resume taking your questions.

Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin had positive meetings in Tokyo and Seoul from March 15th through 18th, reaffirming the United States commitment to strengthening two of our most important alliances and highlighting cooperation that promotes peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.

Later today in Anchorage, Alaska, Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with Director of the Office of Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi.  The meeting will follow the important work we’re doing in the region.

The meetings in Anchorage will be an opportunity to make clear our priorities and interests, and to continue to press the PRC on issues where the U.S. and the international community expect transparency and accountability, and to understand where we may have interests in cooperating, including climate change.

This will be a frank conversation in calling out Beijing’s actions to defy their international commitments, undermine the rule-based international system, and challenge the security, prosperity, and values of the United States and our partners and alliances. We are coming to these discussions clear-eyed about China’s unsettling track record of failure to keep its promises.

Next, the United States welcomes UN Secretary-General Guterres’s announcement yesterday where he named Jean Arnault of France to be his personal envoy on Afghanistan and regional issues.

Mr. Arnault will assist with the achievement of a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, working closely with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as well as regional partners.  He brings decades of experience finding political solutions to some of the world’s most dire conflicts, including past service on Afghanistan and as the Secretary-General’s delegate to the Colombia peace talks.

The UN has a critical role to play in bringing the Afghan sides and regional stakeholders together to find a path toward a just and durable peace, and the United States strongly supports Mr. Arnault’s appointment to this important role.

Finally, today the United States announced nearly $52 million in additional humanitarian assistance to respond to the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. With this announcement, the United States has provided a total of nearly $153 million in humanitarian assistance since the crisis began.

This assistance from the American people will help some of the estimated 4.5 million people in need in Tigray and the nearly 62,000 refugees who have fled to Sudan. It will allow our partners to provide lifesaving aid, including urgently needed food assistance, and also help our partners re-establish contact between family members who have been separated due to the conflict.

We will continue to call for the immediate, full, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations and workers and to emphasize the need for a political solution to the conflict and the immediate cessation of hostilities. We have repeatedly engaged with the Ethiopian Government on the importance of ending the violence and allowing full and independent international investigations into all reports of human rights abuses and atrocities.

And with that, can we go to the line of Michel Ghandour?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) call. I have three questions, in fact. The first one, Iraqi President Barham Salih has said that the presence of the American and the Coalition troops in Iraq is about to end. Is there any American decision in this regard? And I will ask you the two questions later on.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Michel. I don’t have any specific comment to make on the prime minister’s remarks, but what I can say is that the topic is – the Coalition’s troop presence is at the request of our Iraqi partners and that we remain committed to maintaining a security partnership.

All right. Your other two questions, please?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) discuss the possibility of reopening the U.S. embassy in Tripoli with the new leadership with Libya during his last trip to Libya?

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. So our embassy inside Libya suspended operations in 2014. However, we still have an ambassador to the mission and mission to Libya based in our embassy in Tunisia. Ambassador Richard Norland has been the ambassador to Libya since 2019, and even though he works from Tunis, Ambassador Norland and his team travel periodically to Libya for meetings.

And I’ll take your last question.

QUESTION: My last question: Is the U.S. considering providing any humanitarian aid to Lebanon or financial aid to the Lebanese army after the collapse of the financial institutions and the economy in Lebanon?

MS PORTER: Well, the United States has been long – has been a long-term commitment to the Lebanese people over several decades. And again, we’ll continue to stand with them as they face multiple and ongoing crises.

In fact, we’ve been the largest international donor, having donated more than $5.3 billion in foreign assistance since 2006. In the 2020 fiscal year alone, the United States contributed nearly $396 million in humanitarian assistance to provide support for the efforts of refugees in crisis as well as COVID-19.

Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly from The Hill.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for taking my question. It’s on U.S. and Russia relations. How would you describe the U.S. approach to relations with Russia in light of how areas of cooperation compare to areas of confrontation? How much are areas of cooperation at risk because of conflict?

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question, Laura. We’ll say that our relationship with Russia, it will remain a challenge, but it’s something that we’re actually prepared for. But the goal of our relationship with Russia is one that we want to be predictable and stable down the line. When there are opportunities for us to be constructive and it’s in our interest to do so, we’ll definitely pursue them. But given Russia’s conflict – conduct in the past couple months, there will obviously be areas, elements of the relationship, that are adversarial. And we won’t shy away from those.

We believe that the United States as well as our partners must be clear and impose costs on Russia’s behavior that crosses boundaries that are respected by responsible nations, and we also believe that we should be guardrails on how these adversarial aspects of our relationship tend to play out.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neil from Hearst.

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, can you hear me?

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

QUESTION: Perfect. Thanks so much for doing this again. Just two quick questions for you. The first, I was just wondering if you could speak to State’s involvement in Senator Coons’s trip to Tigray that was announced earlier by the White House. And then the second question is just a very granular personnel question that I can ask after.

MS PORTER: Yes, thank you for the question on Senator Coons’s travel. You might have noticed before that NSA Sullivan did issue a statement on that, and we would guide you to that statement because everything about that is up to date. And I’ll take your second question, please.

QUESTION: Yes. So like I said, just a very granular personnel question. Regarding Special Envoy Kerry, I’m just wondering, is he based out of State, or is he working out of the White House?

MS PORTER: So on anything for personnel, I don’t have anything for you. But thank you so much for calling in.

Can we go to the line of Jiha Ham of VOA?

OPERATOR: Apologies. I don’t see that name.

MS PORTER: Okay, let’s go to the line of Michele Kelemen of NPR, please.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I have one question on Russia and one on Belarus.

On Russia, I’m wondering if the kind of spat between Biden and Putin has had any effect on Khalilzad’s diplomacy around Afghanistan in Moscow today.

And then on Belarus, is the State Department planning to have Ambassador Fisher move to Belarus to take up her assignment? Is it possible to do that without presenting credentials to Alexander Lukashenko? Thanks.

MS PORTER: So when it comes to you first question about Ambassador Khalilzad and his participation in Moscow today, again, this is an opportunity for him to explore our relationship with Russia where it can be constructive and, obviously, in our – with the forefront of our mutual interests to do so. When it comes to anything from the President or any of his comments, I have nothing more.

But again, as we engage with Russia that are in ways that advance American interests, we will always be clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses; and even as we do work with them to advance our own interests, we’ll still be able to hold them accountable.

And your second question I believe was on Belarus. What we’ll say to that is, again, the United States strongly condemns the Lukashenko regime for its use of violence and repressive tactics against peaceful protesters and quite simply calls for an end to their crackdown and release of all those who are unjustly detained, including political prisoners; the conduct of free and fair elections; and the peaceful transfer of power.

I believe we have Jiha Ham from VOA back on the line.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me now?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s good. Thank you. So not like the joint statement with Japan, the joint statement with South Korea doesn’t mention denuclearization of North Korea. Also while Secretary Blinken called for denuclearization of North Korea, the South Korean ministers used the term denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. So I was wondering if you had any disagreements with South Korea on this when you were coordinating the joint statement.

Plus, if I may, do you have any response to the statement issued by North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui yesterday? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So to answer your question, North Korea’s WMD programs, as reflected in multiple UN Security Council resolutions, are unlawful and constitute a threat to international peace and security. And again, to reduce tensions and explore potential for full diplomacy, the Biden administration has reached out to North Korea multiple times to restart that dialogue. And your – I didn’t catch the part of your second question, so we’ll have to take that back for you, okay? Thanks.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui yesterday was criticizing the U.S. about the reaching out.

MS PORTER: Yeah. So we don’t have any comment to the rest of your question, so we’ll move right along.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Alex DeMarban from Anchorage Daily.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thank you for taking my question. Our leaders here in Alaska, our state leaders, are asking for some relief on tariffs, including the blanket exclusion for U.S. seafood products. I’m wondering where the administration will fall in these talks on that question and also the removal – also tariff relief when it comes to timber. Can you talk about that?

MS PORTER: Thank you for calling. We’ll have to take that question back for you.

Let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Jalina. I wanted to ask on Myanmar, a couple of points. The European Union is set to issue some sanctions on Monday. And I’m wondering if there’s – if we can expect anything more from the U.S. in line with that and how the – could they be coordinated with the EU for another package of sanctions, because when you’ve released sanctions in the past, you’ve said this – we are urging the junta to reverse course and we’ll ramp this up if they don’t, and things only seem to be getting worse there.

And second part of that, there were charges the other day brought by a Burmese court against Dr. Sasa, who’s the international representative of the CRPH group of MPs, who are sort of operating as a government in exile or an underground government. I wondered if the U.S. wanted to respond to charges of sedition against him, and do you support that effort to create a sort of alternative government rather than engaging with the military regime? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for the question, Simon. So to your first question on the EU and as it aligns with us, we certainly won’t preview sanctions from here, but we’ll just reiterate that the United States will continue to support the people of Burma and call for an end of the violence and atrocities. And we certainly support their right to freedom of assembly and peacefully protest, and we call on other countries, as well as our partners and allies, to speak with a unified voice against the violence in Burma.

Let’s go to the line of Kylie Atwood, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this once again. I am wondering if the administration has decided on what percent of ambassadors will be political versus career, and if there is a commitment on behalf of the administration to try and put career folks into spots where they can.

And then my second question is: Just what prompted Secretary Blinken’s statement on Nord Stream 2 today? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Kylie. So to your first question, we don’t have any personnel announcements regarding any type of staff person here at the department. But yeah, I will say to your second question on Nord Stream 2, and as I’m sure you’ve seen the statement and as the President has said and as Secretary Blinken has said before, that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. And again, the Biden administration is committed to complying with the legislation that’s already been out. That’s bipartisan legislation. And I would refer I think anyone else on the call who hasn’t seen the statement that was recently released to our website for that.

Let’s go to the line of Rosiland Jordan.

OPERATOR: I apologize, I don’t see that party.

MS PORTER: All righty then. Let’s go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on Afghanistan. The first one is on the Moscow meeting. Do you have any readout? Is Special Representative Khalilzad satisfied with the outcome? Do you think that it help put an end to the stalemate of Doha – of the Doha talks?

And the other question is: Next week is the ministerial meeting of NATO. I know you haven’t announced any travel, but whether it’s in person or virtually, is the Secretary ready to share with the NATO allies its – the U.S. decision on the Afghanistan withdrawal that they are waiting for? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. So to your first one, we don’t yet have a readout of Ambassador Khalilzad’s participation in Moscow and the conferences. But again, to your comment on Doha, this meeting won’t replace Doha. I mean, they are – what we’re engaged in are international efforts to support ongoing discussions, so I just definitely want to make sure that’s clear.

As far as your second question, again, there’s – our posture hasn’t changed about anything in Afghanistan, so there’s no announcement at this time.

It looks like Rosiland Jordan from Al Jazeera is back in the queue.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for the call. Regarding the statement on the death of the Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, is the Biden administration concerned that the continuing government is up to the task or not up to the task of dealing with corruption in the wake of his legacy in that arena?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Rosiland. Let me start by saying that this administration strongly condemns corruption not only in Tanzania but anywhere around the world that it’s happening. And again, we’ll continue to extend our sincere condolences to all the Tanzanians who are mourning the passing of their president. And we certainly hope and – that Tanzania can move forward to a more democratic and prosperous path forward.

Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan, please.

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me better today?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can. And let me just apologize for the name slip-up yesterday. I apologize for that.

QUESTION: That’s okay. That’s okay. Thanks, Jalina. I just wanted to try and follow up on my colleague’s questions on Ethiopia. Is there an intended deliverable in sending Senator Coons there, or is it just to convey a message of the seriousness with which the administration takes the issue? And can you clarify, does this trip preclude appointing a special envoy for the Horn of Africa, as the Secretary previewed in his House testimony?

And just quickly as well, do you have any update on the DART from USAID? Has their access to Tigray been adequate in your view?

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. So I’ll just say that Senator Coons on this trip – he’s going there to convey President Biden’s message and his grave concerns about the humanitarian crisis and all the human rights abuses that are going on in the Tigray region and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa. And again, we’re – we continue to be gravely concerned by the reports of atrocities and overall deteriorating situation in Tigray and Ethiopia. We’ll always call for an end to fighting and those responsible for those atrocities and human rights abuses, and we call for those who are responsible to be held accountable.

And again, when it comes to your question on personnel or any envoys, we don’t have anything to announce at that time – at this time.

Can we go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this. I’m sorry I joined late, so I don’t know if you answered my questions, but I have two.

Mr. Malley said that he – you guys are willing to negotiate with Iran through a third party. What does that mean? I mean, do we expect a lot of countries like Switzerland? What do you mean by a third party, and where are we from the negotiation with Iran?

And second, would you consider a decision by the Trump administration to consider products produced at Israeli settlements – to reverse that, because they consider it all Israelis, and that was a clear distinction between products in the settlements and products produced by State of Israel. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions, Nadia. When it comes to your question on what Mr. Malley said, I’ll just want to reiterate that we’re committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, and we believe in diplomacy and we implore them to meet us at the table of diplomacy. Whether that’s in coordination with our allies and regional partners or whether that’s bilaterally, either way, the best way to achieve that path is doing that together.

And to your second question, we just believe that it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions and further undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, such as annexation of a territory, settlement activity or demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) much. I wanted to follow up on my colleague Kylie’s question and see whether there were any conversations with the Hill on Nord Stream 2 prior to the Secretary’s statement being released today. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Jennifer. I wouldn’t be able to comment on any potential or private discussions with our partners on the Hill, but again, I would just guide people to our statement that came out recently, and again just reiterate that we strongly believe that – obviously, President Biden has said it, Secretary Blinken has said it, this has strong bipartisan support – that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for our European allies and partners.

Let’s go to the line of Soyoung Kim, and I’ll take this as our last question. Thank you.

QUESTION: Hi. Actually, I was going to ask similar questions that Jiha did, but if I may, one additional question: Is the U.S. going to give another try to reach out to North Korea soon or waiting until the policy review is done?

QUESTION: Hello? Hello?

MS PORTER: Yes. Thank you, thank you. So again, I’ll just reiterate what we’ve said over the past few days: again, that we’re conducting a thorough interagency review of our policy towards North Korea, which includes evaluating all options available to address an increasing threat that’s posed by North Korea to its neighbors as well as the broader international community. And we’re going to continue to lead a structured and detailed policy process that’s integrated in a diverse set of voices from throughout the government as well as incorporated inputs from think tanks and outside experts.

But what we will say is that we’re – we remain concerned about North Korea’s nuclear activities and we are committed to denuclearization of North Korea.

Thank you, everyone, for joining today, and we will see you at the same – we will listen to you at the same time tomorrow. Have a good afternoon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)

# # #

  1. that
  2. President’s

 

More from: Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Hits: 0

News Network

  • Small Business Loans: SBA Generally Incorporated Key Elements for Estimating Subsidy Cost of 7(a) Program
    In U.S GAO News
    The Small Business Administration (SBA) develops its subsidy cost estimates for the 7(a) loan guarantee program—that is, estimates of the program's net long-term cost to the government—using a cash flow model. The model uses historical data, econometric equations, and macroeconomic projections to estimate cash flows—such as guarantee fees, SBA purchases of defaulted loans, and recoveries on those loans—for the loans SBA expects to guarantee in the next fiscal year. The net present value of the cash flows (value in current dollars) is the subsidy cost estimate. SBA generally incorporated key elements of subsidy cost estimation into its estimates for the 7(a) program for the fiscal year 2020 budget. Specifically, GAO found that SBA's estimation process was largely consistent with eight key elements GAO previously identified that help ensure subsidy estimates are supported, reliable, and reasonable. For example, SBA generally validated historical data, documented the cash flow model and key assumptions, analyzed the sensitivity of estimates to alternative assumptions, and had documented policies and procedures. SBA made changes in its estimation process that collectively increased the 7(a) program's subsidy cost to $99 million for fiscal year 2020 (a 0.33 percent subsidy rate when expressed as the cost per dollar of credit assistance) from $0 for fiscal year 2019 (0 percent subsidy rate). Some of these changes were routine updates to data and economic assumptions used in the cash flow model, while others were revisions to the estimation process. Additionally, some individual changes increased the subsidy costs, while others decreased it. Some of the changes that had the largest impact on the subsidy rate included the following: Incorporating the President's economic assumptions for fiscal year 2020 decreased the rate by 0.27 percentage points. Updating the basis for the size and composition of the loan cohort SBA expected to guarantee in fiscal year 2020 increased the rate by 0.21 percentage points. Revising the methodology for estimating purchase amounts for defaulted loans to better reflect the outstanding loan balance at the time of purchase increased the rate by 0.21 percentage points. The 7(a) program is SBA's largest loan guarantee program for small businesses, with about $95 billion in outstanding loan principal as of the end of fiscal year 2019. Federal agencies that provide credit assistance are generally required to estimate the net long-term cost to the government—known as the subsidy cost—for each annual cohort of loans. SBA initially estimated a zero subsidy cost for each cohort from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, but estimated that the fiscal year 2020 cohort would have a positive subsidy cost and require appropriations. GAO was asked to evaluate SBA's subsidy estimation process for the 7(a) program. This report examines (1) how SBA estimates 7(a) subsidy costs, (2) the extent to which SBA incorporated key elements of subsidy cost estimation into its estimation process for the fiscal year 2020 budget, and (3) the changes SBA made in its estimation process for the fiscal year 2020 budget. GAO reviewed SBA documentation on its estimation process, including information on SBA's cash flow model, and compared SBA's process to key elements that GAO previously identified ( GAO-16-269 ). GAO also interviewed officials from SBA, the Office of Management and Budget, and outside auditors and contractors that annually review SBA's process and model. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-8678 or shearw@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Man Charged with Fraudulently Seeking Over $6 Million in COVID Relief Funds
    In Crime News
    A North Carolina man was charged with fraudulently seeking over $6 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
    [Read More…]
  • The United States Takes Further Action Against Enablers of Venezuelan Oil Transactions, Including Sanctions Evasion Network
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Awards $16 Million in Grants to Advance Community Policing Efforts and Provide Active Shooter Training to First Responders Across the Country
    In Crime News
    The Department of [Read More…]
  • Woman Charged in For-Profit Visa Fraud and Alien Smuggling Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Nevada woman was arrested today for her alleged role in a multi-year scheme to commit visa fraud and money laundering, and to illegally bring Chinese nationals into the United States for financial gain.
    [Read More…]
  • Release and Departure of U.S. Citizen Vitali Shkliarov from Belarus
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Twenty-Four Defendants, Including Alleged Aryan Circle Gang Members and Associates Indicted on Racketeering, Firearms, and Drug Charges in Multiple States
    In Crime News
    Five indictments in three different states were unsealed today as law enforcement officers arrested twenty-four defendants, including alleged Aryan Circle (AC) gang members and associates, on charges of racketeering conspiracy, violent crimes in aid of racketeering, drug conspiracy, and unlawful firearms trafficking. 
    [Read More…]
  • Aryeh Lightstone Designated as U.S. Special Envoy for Economic Normalization
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Aviation Sanitation: FDA Could Better Communicate with Airlines to Encourage Voluntary Construction Inspections of Aircraft Galleys and Lavatories
    In U.S GAO News
    Most commercial aircraft undergo voluntary inspections to ensure that galleys and lavatories are constructed and assembled to meet the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) sanitation standards, according to industry representatives. Twenty-seven percent of the inspections FDA conducted between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 found objectionable conditions. But in nearly all of these instances, the conditions identified, such as the need for additional sealant in areas where there was a gap or seam, were corrected by the airline or aircraft manufacturer during the inspection. However, some regional airline representatives told GAO that their aircraft do not receive these construction inspections, either because larger airlines with which they have contracts told them the inspections were unnecessary or because they did not believe the inspections were relevant to them. FDA provides these inspections free of charge, upon request of aircraft manufacturers or airlines, and aircraft passing inspection receive a certificate of sanitary construction. Representatives of one aircraft manufacturer said they view the certificate as beneficial because their customers see it as a guarantee that the aircraft was constructed in a way that decreases the likelihood of microbial contamination, pests, and insects. While the construction inspections are important, they are not required, and FDA does not proactively encourage airlines to request them. By developing a process for communicating directly to all U.S.-based commercial airlines, including regional airlines, to encourage them to receive construction inspections, FDA could better ensure that aircraft meet FDA sanitation standards to protect passenger health. An Airline Representative Applying Additional Sealant in Response to an FDA Inspection FDA faces several challenges in providing construction inspections and is taking steps to address these challenges. For example, the demand for inspections by manufacturers and airlines is unpredictable, and FDA inspectors are responsible for inspections at multiple locations. To help mitigate these challenges, officials we interviewed from four FDA field offices said they usually request advance notice from industry to allow the agency time to allocate the necessary resources for construction inspections. Voluntary construction inspections are the primary mechanism by which FDA oversees compliance with its required sanitation standards for the construction of aircraft galleys and lavatories. A report accompanying the House 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill included a provision for GAO to review FDA's process for ensuring proper sanitation in aircraft galleys and lavatories. This report (1) examines the extent to which aircraft are inspected to ensure compliance with FDA's sanitation standards, and (2) discusses challenges FDA faces in providing aircraft inspections and how FDA is addressing such challenges. GAO reviewed FDA guidance, interviewed FDA officials in headquarters and four selected field offices with high volumes of construction inspections, conducted site visits to meet with FDA inspectors, and interviewed representatives of selected aircraft manufacturers and airlines. GAO recommends that FDA develop a process for communicating directly with all U.S.-based commercial airlines to encourage them to request construction inspections. FDA generally agreed with our recommendation. For more information, contact Steve Morris (202) 512-3841 MorrisS@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Owner of Medical Laboratory Sentenced to Prison for Filing False Tax Returns
    In Crime News
    A Shreveport, Louisiana, business owner was sentenced to 40 months in prison on Sept. 30, 2020, for filing false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Alexander C. Van Hook.
    [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Justice, and Department of Labor Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its Impact on the American Workforce
    In Crime News
    July 26, 2020, marked the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This landmark civil rights law protects access and opportunity for people with disabilities across community life, including employment.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Republic of Cyprus Foreign Minister Christodoulides
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles Race Discrimination Case Against a Florida City Securing $195,000 in Lost Wages and Damages
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that it has reached a settlement with the City of Venice, Florida, resolving its race discrimination lawsuit against the city. 
    [Read More…]
  • Citizen Scientists Discover Dozens of New Cosmic Neighbors in NASA Data
    In Space
    Using a NASA-designed [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [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…]
  • Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By Katharine T. Sullivan Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Office Of Justice Programs At The Announcement Of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Grants
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for joining us. I’m Katie Sullivan, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice. I’m thrilled to be here today with the outstanding U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott Brady. I’m also very pleased to be joined by Dr. Mary Ellen Glasgow, Dean of the Duquesne School of Nursing, and Dr. Alison Colbert, Associate Professor in the Duquesne School of Nursing. You’ll hear from each of them in just a moment. I also want to introduce my wonderful colleague, Jessica Hart, the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, which is part of my agency.
    [Read More…]
  • Slovenia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Uganda Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Russia and the Assad Regime’s Superficial Support for Syrian Refugees
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Cale Brown, Deputy [Read More…]
  • Five Individuals Charged for Roles in $65 Million Nationwide Conspiracy to Defraud Federal Health Care Programs
    In Crime News
    The owners of four orthotic brace suppliers and several marketing companies were charged in a complaint unsealed yesterday for allegedly orchestrating a nationwide kickback and bribery scheme to order medically unnecessary orthotic braces for Medicare beneficiaries.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Mark Belling of the Mark Belling Show
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • FBI Report on Crime Shows Decline in Violent Crime Rate for Third Consecutive Year
    In Crime News
    Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released its 2019 edition of Crime in the United States, which showed that violent crime decreased nationwide for the third consecutive year.  After decreases in both 2017 and 2018, the violent crime rate dropped an additional one percent this past year and the property crime rate decreased 4.5 percent.
    [Read More…]
  • Michigan Based Wire Fraud Conspiracy and Tax Offenses Charged
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, returned an indictment today charging Michigan businessmen John Angelo from Royal Oak, Cory Justin Mann from West Bloomfield, Michael Daneshvar from Bingham Farms, Glenn Franklin from Harrison Township, and Brent Sitto, from Bloomfield Township with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and further charging John Angelo and bookkeeper Rosina Angelo, also known as Rosina Caruvana, from Mountainside, New Jersey, with one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS. John Angelo and Rosina Angelo were also each charged with three counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return and Cory Mann was charged with two additional counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return.
    [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…]
  • Michigan Restaurant and Strip Club Owner Sentenced to Two Years n Prison for Tax Crimes
    In Crime News
    A Walled Lake, Michigan, business owner was sentenced today to two years in prison, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]
  • Judges, Lawyers Bring Life Skills to Virtual Classroom Activities for Home and School
    In U.S Courts
    High school teachers can bring real-life civics into their virtual lessons when they invite federal judges and volunteer attorneys to facilitate a civil discourse and decision-making simulation with students at home or in the classroom this fall.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S.-ROK-Japan Trilateral Meeting on Shared North Korea-Related Challenges
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • NASA Develops COVID-19 Prototype Ventilator in 37 Days
    In Space
    A high-pressure [Read More…]
  • California Man Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Defraud Afghan Government on U.S. Funded Contract
    In Crime News
    A California man pleaded guilty Tuesday for his role in a scheme to defraud the government of Afghanistan of over $100 million.  These funds were provided to Afghanistan by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of constructing an electric grid in Afghanistan, in connection with the long-standing U.S. effort to strengthen that country’s basic infrastructure.
    [Read More…]
  • Statement by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband on World AIDS Day
    In Crime News
    On December 1, as our country joins in observing World AIDS Day, the Justice Department stands with all people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 30 years ago, the department has worked zealously, through enforcement, outreach, and technical assistance, to protect and advance the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS. This past year is no exception. 
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Trustee Program Reaches Settlement with McKinsey and Company to Withdraw and Waive its Fees in the Westmoreland Coal Bankruptcy Case
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) has entered into a settlement agreement with global consulting firm McKinsey & Company (McKinsey) requiring McKinsey to forego payment of fees in the Westmoreland Coal bankruptcy case pending in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas (Westmoreland Case). 
    [Read More…]
  • Global Health Security: USAID and CDC Funding, Activities, and Assessments of Countries’ Capacities to Address Infectious Disease Threats before COVID-19 Onset
    In U.S GAO News
    Pour la version française de cette page, voir GAO-21-484. What GAO Found As of March 31, 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had obligated a combined total of more than $1.2 billion and disbursed about $1 billion for global health security (GHS) activities, using funds appropriated in fiscal years 2015 through 2019. USAID and CDC supported activities to help build countries' capacities in 11 technical areas related to addressing infectious disease threats. The obligated funding supported GHS activities in at least 34 countries, including 25 identified as Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) partner countries. U.S.-Supported Activities in Ethiopia to Strengthen Global Health Security U.S. officials' assessments of 17 GHSA partner countries' capacities to address infectious disease threats showed that at the end of fiscal year 2019, most countries had some capacity in each of the 11 technical areas but faced various challenges. U.S. interagency country teams produce biannual capacity assessments that USAID and CDC headquarters officials use to track the countries' progress. According to fiscal year 2019 assessment reports, 14 countries had developed or demonstrated capacity in most technical areas. In addition, the reports showed the majority of capacities in each country had remained stable or increased since 2016 and 2017. The technical area antimicrobial resistance showed the largest numbers of capacity increases—for example, in the development of surveillance systems. GAO's analysis of the progress reports found the most common challenges to developing GHS capacity were weaknesses in government institutions, constrained resources, and insufficient human capital. According to agency officials, some challenges can be overcome with additional U.S. government funding, technical support, or diplomatic efforts, but many other challenges remain outside the U.S. government's control. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in February 2021. Information that USAID and CDC deemed sensitive has been omitted. Why GAO Did This Study The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in December 2019 demonstrated that infectious diseases can lead to catastrophic loss of life and sustained damage to the global economy. USAID and CDC have led U.S. efforts to strengthen GHS—that is, global capacity to prepare for, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats and to reduce or prevent their spread across borders. These efforts include work related to the multilateral GHSA initiative, which aims to accelerate progress toward compliance with international health regulations and other agreements. House Report 114-693 contained a provision for GAO to review the use of GHS funds. In this report, GAO examines, for the 5 fiscal years before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, (1) the status of USAID's and CDC's GHS funding and activities and (2) U.S. agencies' assessments, at the end of fiscal year 2019, of GHSA partner countries' capacities to address infectious disease threats and of challenges these countries faced in building capacity. GAO analyzed agency, interagency, and international organization documents. GAO also interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, and in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Senegal, and Vietnam. GAO selected these four countries on the basis of factors such as the presence of staff from multiple U.S. agencies. In addition, GAO analyzed interagency assessments of countries' capacities to address infectious disease threats in fiscal year 2019 and compared them with baseline assessments from 2016 and 2017. For more information, contact David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or gootnickd@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • New York City Man Charged with Nearly $4 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme and Money Laundering
    In Crime News
    A criminal complaint was filed in the District of New Jersey today charging a dual-resident of New York and Florida with fraudulently obtaining and laundering nearly $4 million in funds from the COVID-19 relief Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
    [Read More…]
  • Tunisia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel [Read More…]
  • Costa Rica Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to Costa [Read More…]
  • NASA’s ECOSTRESS Monitors California’s Record-Breaking Heat Wave
    In Space
    From cities to deserts, [Read More…]
  • Federal Court Shuts Down Florida Tax Return Preparer
    In Crime News
    Today, a federal court in Fort Pierce, Florida, permanently barred a Florida tax return preparer from preparing federal tax returns for others.
    [Read More…]
  • Oil and Gas: Onshore Competitive and Noncompetitive Lease Revenues
    In U.S GAO News
    Pursuant to federal law, the Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers leases competitively through auction or noncompetitively for a fee if an adequate bid is not received. Competitive leases for oil and gas development on federal lands produced greater revenues, on average, than noncompetitive leases for fiscal years 2003 through 2019, according to GAO's analysis of revenues reported by Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) and leases from BLM. For this period, about 72,800 competitive leases produced about $14.3 billion in revenues—while total of 100,300 leases produced $16.1 billion. Average revenues from competitive leases over this time period were nearly 3 times greater than revenues from noncompetitive leases; about $196,000 and $66,000, respectively. Based on GAO's analysis of leases that started in fiscal years 2003 through 2009, competitive leases produced oil and gas more often than noncompetitive leases during the leases' 10-year primary term. Further, competitive leases with high bonus bids (bids above $100 per acre) were more likely to produce oil and gas in their 10-year primary terms than both competitive leases with lower bonus bids and noncompetitive leases. Specifically, about 26 percent of competitive leases that sold with bonus bids above $100 per acre produced oil and gas and generated royalties in their primary term compared with about 2 percent for competitive leases that sold at the minimum bid of $2 per acre and about 1 percent for noncompetitive leases. GAO's analysis showed that competitive leases with high bonus bids generated over 3 times the amount of cumulative, or total, royalties by the end of their primary term than all other competitive and noncompetitive leases combined (see fig.). Cumulative Royalties from Competitive Leases, by Bonus Bid, and Noncompetitive Leases That Started in Fiscal Years 2003 through 2009 According to BLM, federal onshore oil and gas leases generate about $3 billion annually in federal revenues, including royalties, one-time bonus bid payments, and rents. The Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987 requires that public lands available for oil and gas leasing first be offered under a competitive bidding process. BLM offers leases with 10-year primary terms competitively through auction or, if the tract of land does not receive an adequate bid, noncompetitively for a fee. The minimum bid is $2 per acre, and bids at or above the minimum are called bonus bids. ONRR is to collect revenues from oil and gas leases in accordance with the specific terms and conditions outlined in the leases, including revenues from rents and royalties. Lessees are to pay rent annually until production begins on the leased land and then pay royalties as a percentage of oil and gas production. Lease terms may be extended beyond the primary term if, for example, the lease is producing oil or gas. GAO was asked to review oil and gas leasing on federal lands. This report describes oil and gas revenues from competitive and noncompetitive leases for fiscal years 2003 through 2019. GAO analyzed federal lease and revenue data and interviewed Interior officials and four experts knowledgeable about federal oil and gas leasing. To consistently compare leases over their lifecycle, GAO analyzed revenues that occurred within the leases' primary term (first 10 years) for leases that started in fiscal years 2003 through 2009. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or RuscoF@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Interagency Council on Homelessness: Governance Responsibilities Need Further Clarification
    In U.S GAO News
    The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) consists of representatives from 19 federal agencies—including a Chair and Vice-Chair—on its governing Council and a full-time staff led by an Executive Director. The Executive Director has led most day-to-day operations, including hiring and managing staff, preparing budget requests, working with private-sector groups, drafting strategic plans, developing performance goals, and drafting agendas for the Council's quarterly meetings. Council members have quarterly meetings to discuss and consider homelessness issues and review the efforts of the Executive Director and USICH staff. Actions taken at Council meetings held from December 2017 through March 2020 included electing the Chair and Vice-Chair, appointing the Executive Director, and approving the USICH strategic plan and activities of interagency working groups. USICH staff also informed the Council of their performance results during the quarterly meetings. Some roles and responsibilities for the governance of USICH, such as the types of matters that require Council approval, are not fully defined or documented. Recent Council Chairs told GAO they generally did not have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and generally based them on their predecessors' activities. For example, the 2019 Chair stated he saw his responsibilities as preparing and chairing quarterly Council meetings and acting as the Council's external spokesperson, but there were no written procedures detailing these responsibilities. The 2019 Chair also stated that he had no involvement in overseeing the USICH budget or operations, staff, and interagency working groups. Standards of Internal Control for the Federal Government state that for an entity's objectives to be achieved the responsibilities and delegations of authority should be clearly established. At its quarterly meeting held in March 2020, the Council approved a charter that addresses voting mechanics, performance evaluations for the Executive Director, and the authority of the Executive Director to oversee personnel. But the charter does not fully clarify the Council's responsibilities in other areas, such as the responsibilities of the Council Chair, types of matters that would require approval by Council vote, and actions that are within the Executive Director's delegated authority. Additional clarity and documentation in these areas may assist the Council in securing a fuller understanding of its oversight role and responsibilities. The mission of USICH is to coordinate the federal response to homelessness and create partnerships with the private sector and state and local governments to reduce and end homelessness. The joint explanatory statement related to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019 includes a provision for GAO to review the management and governance structure of USICH, including the Council's ability to oversee the Executive Director and USICH operations. This report (1) describes the structure and practices for USICH operations and (2) evaluates the extent to which roles and responsibilities for the governance of USICH have been defined and documented. GAO focused primarily on the 2017–2020 time frame and analyzed agency documentation (such as Council meeting transcripts, and USICH's strategic plan and performance reports) and interviewed Council members, current and former Executive Directors, and staff from member agencies. GAO is recommending that the Council further clarify and document its roles and responsibilities for matters requiring the Council's approval, the role of the Council Chair, and actions within the Executive Director's delegated authority. The Council concurred with the recommendation. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley, (202) 512-8678, cackleya@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Disaster Recovery: COVID-19 Pandemic Intensifies Disaster Recovery Challenges for K-12 Schools
    In U.S GAO News
    Local education officials in natural disaster-affected areas told us the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and contributed to lost instructional time, staff burnout, delays in recovery projects, and financial strain in their communities. These officials explained that after the natural disaster, restoring students' mental health was a top priority. Many local education officials said that the services needed to treat trauma and other disaster-related mental health issues were not readily available in their areas, and some noted that providing mental health services has been especially difficult during the pandemic. For example, one official said that because half of her students live in poverty, they usually access mental health services through the school, and were cut off from those services during the pandemic. Some local education officials said they were also particularly worried about the effects of the pandemic on their low-income and other at-risk students, noting that these students are especially vulnerable to learning loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected districts by slowing progress on some disaster recovery projects. For example, an official in a district affected by wildfire said that an effort to restore running water to damaged school buildings was delayed due the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education (Education) supported school recovery efforts by awarding nearly $1.4 billion to assist schools in over 30 states and U.S. territories with recovery from presidentially-declared major disasters occurring between 2017 and 2019, although some local education officials reported difficulty in using these grant funds during the pandemic. Education provided this funding through the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart) and the Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant programs, among others. Local education officials from several districts and counties said that they are using or planning to use Education disaster grants to provide mental health services to students and cover other costs associated with re-opening, such as additional transportation services, but that during the pandemic this was sometimes challenging. For example, officials in two counties said that timeframes for using Restart funds, which expire after 2 years, were too short for long-term recovery needs such as mental health services, particularly with the compounding effects of the pandemic. Education officials said that grantees may request waivers to extend the end dates of these grants and that as of October 2020, no Restart grantees who experienced a 2018 disaster had done so. With regard to oversight, Education officials said they paused on-site monitoring efforts for recent disaster grants as a result of the pandemic, but have continued to hold quarterly phone calls with Restart grantees. These grantees have noted some challenges related to the grant program but have not discussed specific technical assistance needs, according to Education officials. More than 260 presidentially-declared major disasters have occurred since 2017, affecting every state and several U.S. territories, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many of these natural disasters have had devastating effects, including rendering K-12 school facilities unusable for lengthy periods of time. These schools are now experiencing the compounding challenge of recovering from natural disasters while managing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing practices and building closures are meant to keep staff and students safe, but may also complicate recovery efforts for disaster-affected districts. The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 provided funds for GAO to audit issues related to presidentially-declared major disasters that occurred in 2018. We reviewed (1) how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools recovering from recent natural disasters; and (2) support Education has provided to help school recover from recent natural disasters and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools' use of these resources. We interviewed 29 local education officials representing over 50 school districts in California, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, and Hawaii, which were selected because they were affected by a diverse set of major natural disasters in 2018 that occurred in a mix of populated and less-populated areas. In addition, through a national school superintendents association, we convened a discussion group of superintendents who have experienced natural disasters and mentor other affected districts. Finally, we reviewed federal guidance and interviewed Education officials. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Protecting U.S. Investors from Financing Communist Chinese Military Companies
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Florida Resident Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Falsify Clinical Trial Data
    In Crime News
    A Florida resident pleaded guilty to conspiring to falsify clinical trial data regarding an asthma medication, the Department of Justice announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Remarks at World Economic Forum, Davos 2021
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    John Kerry, Special [Read More…]
  • Freedom of Information Act: Actions Needed to Improve Agency Compliance with Proactive Disclosure Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 expanded the requirement for agencies to proactively disclose certain records—making the records publicly available without waiting for specific requests. Of the three agencies GAO reviewed—Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Health Administration (VHA)—only VHA aligned its policies and procedures with applicable Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) proactive disclosure requirements. Although FAA officials stated that the agency has processes to identify and post proactive disclosures, it has not documented these processes. HUD has FOIA regulations, updated in 2017, that address proactive disclosure, but its standard operating procedures have outdated sections that do not reflect statutory requirements. GAO also found that HUD, VHA, and FAA did not fully comply with the statutory reporting requirements and Department of Justice's (DOJ) guidance to accurately report proactive disclosures. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires agencies to report the number of records the FOIA and program offices proactively disclosed each fiscal year. From fiscal years 2017 through 2019, HUD incorrectly reported zero proactive disclosures, while VHA and FAA did not track and report all required categories of proactive disclosures in fiscal year 2019 (see table). Selected Agencies' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Offices' Reported Proactive Disclosures Fiscal year Federal Aviation Administration Housing and Urban Development Veterans Health Administration 2019 8 0 16 2018 89,687 0 0 2017 90,486 0 58 2016 68,046 12 0 Source: FOIA.gov. | GAO-21-254 DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP) is responsible for encouraging agencies' compliance with FOIA, including overseeing the Annual FOIA Report that agencies submit to OIP. OIP told GAO that it asked agencies that report zero proactive disclosures to confirm that this was accurate, but it did not follow up with these agencies. For example, OIP asked HUD officials to confirm that HUD intentionally reported zero proactive disclosures, but did not ask why HUD had zero proactive disclosures. In addition, GAO's review of annual FOIA data found that 25 of 118 agencies reported zero proactive disclosures in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. OIP said that agencies with a low volume of requests may have fewer records to proactively disclose. However, by not following up with agencies that report zero proactive disclosures, OIP is not using an available tool that may strengthen its efforts to encourage agencies to make required disclosures. OIP and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)'s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) officials stated that making proactive disclosures accessible is a challenge for agencies. To assist agencies in addressing such challenges, OGIS periodically reviews agencies' compliance with FOIA and recently issued a report that included strategies for making proactive disclosures accessible. Why GAO Did This Study FOIA, enacted into law more than 50 years ago, requires federal agencies to provide the public with access to government records and information, including through proactive disclosures. FOIA proactive disclosures enhance transparency by ensuring that certain information about the operations and activities of the government is publicly available. GAO was asked to review federal agencies' efforts to implement FOIA requirements regarding proactive disclosures. This report assesses the extent to which selected agencies (1) aligned their policies and procedures with FOIA requirements, and (2) tracked and reported these disclosures. GAO also assessed the effectiveness of the tools, resources, and oversight provided by DOJ and NARA to address known challenges to agencies' FOIA compliance. GAO selected three agencies—FAA, HUD, and VHA—that reflect, among other things, a range in the agency-reported number of FOIA requests received and records proactively disclosed. GAO reviewed DOJ, NARA, FAA, HUD, and VHA documents and interviewed agency officials.
    [Read More…]
  • Protecting and Preserving a Free and Open South China Sea
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • NASA Human Space Exploration: Significant Investments in Future Capabilities Require Strengthened Management Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) again delayed the planned launch date for Artemis I, the first uncrewed test flight involving three closely related human spaceflight programs—the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System (SLS), and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS). Together, these programs aim to continue human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. The most recent delay, to November 2021, resulted in part from manufacturing challenges and represents a 36-month slip since NASA established a schedule to measure performance in 2014. This new launch date does not account for the effects of COVID-19. According to NASA officials, COVID-19 delays and schedule risks will place pressure on NASA's ability to achieve this launch date. Development cost estimates for key programs also increased. The cost of the SLS program increased by 42.5 percent and the EGS program by 32.3 percent since 2014, for a combined increase of over $3 billion, bringing the total to $11.5 billion. NASA does not plan to complete revised estimates for Orion, which are tied to the second, crewed test flight (Artemis II) before spring 2021. Key Parts of Space Launch System Ready for Testing at Stennis Space Center NASA awarded billions of dollars in development and production contracts to support flights beyond Artemis I, but the flight schedule has changed frequently due to a lack of clear requirements and time frames for planned capability upgrades. Limited NASA oversight also places efforts to plan and execute future flights at risk of adverse outcomes, such as increased costs or delays. For example, NASA is committed to establishing cost and schedule performance baselines for these efforts, but it plans to do so too late in the acquisition process to be useful as an oversight tool. In addition, senior leaders do not receive consistent and comprehensive information at quarterly briefings on future efforts, such as a program to begin developing a more powerful upper stage for SLS. This is because current updates provided to NASA management focus primarily on the more short-term Artemis I and II flights. This approach places billions of dollars at risk of insufficient NASA oversight. NASA is pursuing an aggressive goal to return American astronauts to the surface of the Moon by the end of 2024. The success of NASA's plans hinges, in part, on two upcoming test flights. An uncrewed test flight and subsequent crewed test flight are intended to demonstrate the capability of a new launch vehicle, crew capsule, and ground systems. The House Committee on Appropriations included a provision in its 2017 report for GAO to continue to review NASA's human space exploration programs. This is the latest in a series of GAO reports addressing this topic. This report assesses (1) the progress the programs are making towards the first test flight, known as Artemis I, with respect to schedule and cost, and (2) the extent to which NASA's human space exploration programs are positioned to support the planned Artemis flight schedule beyond Artemis I. To do this work, GAO examined program cost and schedule reports, test plans, and contracts, and interviewed officials. GAO also assessed the extent to which the COVID-19 state of emergency has affected schedules for these programs. GAO is making two recommendations to NASA to establish baselines ahead of a key design review and improve internal reporting about capability upgrades for human space exploration programs beyond Artemis I. NASA concurred with the recommendations made in this report. For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice Releases Final Report
    In Crime News
    Today, following months of virtual meetings, testimony and study, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr submitted the final report of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to the White House.  This report represents the first comprehensive study of law enforcement in more than 55 years.
    [Read More…]
  • State Department Designates Two Senior Al-Shabaab Leaders as Terrorists
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Announces Investigation of the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Minneapolis Police Department
    In Crime News
    Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced today the Justice Department has opened a pattern or practice investigation into the City of Minneapolis (the City) and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). The investigation will assess all types of force used by MPD officers, including uses of force involving individuals with behavioral health disabilities and uses of force against individuals engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment. The investigation will also assess whether MPD engages in discriminatory policing. As part of the investigation the Justice Department will conduct a comprehensive review of MPD policies, training and supervision. The department will also examine MPD’s systems of accountability, including complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition and discipline. The Department of Justice will also reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with MPD. “The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests,” said Attorney General Garland. “Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.” This morning, Department of Justice officials informed Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo, City Attorney Jim Rowader, City Coordinator Mark Ruff, and City Council President Lisa Bender of the investigation. The department will continue to work closely with both the City and MPD as the investigation progresses. “One of the Civil Rights Division’s highest priorities is to ensure that every person in this country benefits from public safety systems that are lawful, responsive, transparent and nondiscriminatory,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. “It is essential that police departments across the country use their law enforcement authority, including the authority to use force, in a manner that respects civil rights and the sanctity of human life.” “People throughout the city of Minneapolis want a public safety system that protects and serves all members of our community,” said Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk for the District of Minnesota. “This investigation by the Department of Justice provides a vital step to restore and build trust in the Minneapolis Police Department and its officers.” The investigation is being conducted pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law. The Act allows the Department of Justice to remedy such misconduct through civil litigation. The department will be assessing law enforcement practices under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as under the Safe Streets Act of 1968, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, are jointly conducting this investigation. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the Department of Justice via email at Community.Minneapolis@usdoj.gov or by phone at 866-432-0268. Individuals can also report civil rights violations regarding this or other matters using the Civil Rights Division’s new reporting portal, available at civilrights.justice.gov. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt. Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota is available on its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-mn.
    [Read More…]
  • Countering Violent Extremism: DHS Needs to Improve Grants Management and Data Collection
    In U.S GAO News
    While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) followed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance for announcing the 2016 Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant Program and reviewing applications, DHS did not document the basis for its final award decisions. In June 2017, DHS awarded a total of $10 million in CVE grants to 26 grantees for a 2-year performance period (2017 to 2019). Consistent with OMB guidance, DHS included program priorities and eligibility requirements in its grant announcement and described the process for reviewing and selecting grant applications for award. However, after DHS announced its selection of 31 applications for awards, it ran a new process resulting in revised selections, which was based on additional selection criteria not expressly listed in the grant announcement. While DHS officials explained to GAO how these additional criteria aligned with the grant announcement, these explanations do not appear in DHS's award documentation. Without such documentation, DHS cannot clearly demonstrate that its award decisions were based on the process described in the grant announcement. Figure: Location and Number of Deaths Associated with Domestic Extremist Attacks, 2010-2019 DHS did not obtain the necessary data from grantees to evaluate the overall CVE grant program. DHS required grant organizations to develop, collect, and submit their own output and outcome-related information to help enable the department to evaluate individual grantees and the overall grant program. However, a DHS review of four grant projects concluded that the grantees did not collect the type of performance information DHS needed to determine the grants' effectiveness, such as data at various time intervals to assess change in attitudinal behavior. Taking steps to ensure grantees collect and submit appropriate performance data would enable DHS to evaluate the extent that individual grant projects and the overall grant program are achieving results. Such information would help DHS manage the program and make adjustments as warranted. From 2010 through 2019, data collected through the Extremist Crime Database show that 205 deaths resulted from 59 violent extremist attacks in the United States. DHS received funding in 2016 to establish a new CVE Grant Program to support efforts by state and local governments and nongovernmental organizations to reduce risk factors associated with violent extremism. GAO was asked to review management of the CVE Grant Program. This report examines, among other things, the extent to which DHS (1) announced, reviewed, and awarded CVE grants in accordance with OMB guidance and (2) evaluated the performance of CVE grantees and the overall program. GAO reviewed documentation of DHS's actions in announcing, reviewing and awarding CVE grants; and documentation on steps taken to assess the performance of grantees and the overall program; as compared to requirements in key documents, including the CVE grant announcement, elements of internal control, and a DHS 2017 report to Congress. GAO recommends that DHS, for future CVE-related grant programs: (1) develop policy to document the rationale for award decisions, and (2) take steps to ensure that grantees collect and submit data on project performance that enable evaluation of individual grants and the overall grant program toward intended outcomes. DHS concurred with both recommendations. For more information, contact Triana McNeil at (202) 512-8777 or mcneilt@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Sierra Leone Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Monaco National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Albania Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Enactment of Legal Peace Legislation to Restore Sudan’s Sovereign Immunities
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Colorado Tax Evader Sentenced to Prison for Fleeing to Avoid Previously Imposed Prison Sentence
    In Crime News
    Colorado tax defier Lawrence Martin Birk was sentenced to an additional 78 months in prison for failing to surrender to serve his previously imposed tax evasion prison sentence and for unlawfully possessing firearms, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]
  • Remarks by Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim on the Future of ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon. Thank you very much to Vanderbilt Law School and in particular to the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law for hosting this event. I love Vanderbilt and I love Nashville, and I’m sorry not to be there in person with you today. Someday when COVID-19 is a memory and social distancing is something you do only with people you don’t like, I look forward to returning to Nashville and reconnecting with many of my old friends there. More importantly, I look forward to returning to some of my favorite honky-tonks and showing off my famous dance moves. I’ve been practicing at home in my free time, to make sure I’m ready.
    [Read More…]
  • Former President of Nuclear Transportation Company Sentenced to Prison for Foreign Bribery and Other Offenses
    In Crime News
    The former president of Transport Logistics International Inc. (TLI), a Maryland-based transportation company that provides services for the transportation of nuclear materials to customers in the United States and abroad, was sentenced today to 48 months in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a scheme to bribe a Russian official in exchange for obtaining contracts for the company.
    [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement: The United States and the United Kingdom are Working Together in the Fight Against Climate Change
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Payne
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]