October 21, 2021

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Department Press Briefing – May 4, 2021

24 min read

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:07 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining. I have several updates to announce at the top, and once I am done, I will start taking your questions.

As you are aware, the Secretary is in London for the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting.  Among other priorities, the Secretary is using this event to underscore the democratic values and global challenges we share with our G7 partners.

In the meetings on China, the Secretary reiterated the need to work together to engage from a position of unity and strength, with the goal of upholding the rules-based international order, which has helped to keep peace and spread prosperity for more than seven decades.

Throughout his engagements, Secretary Blinken focused on our commitment to our allies and partners as we work together to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, to address shared global challenges such as climate change, and to counter the aggressive and destabilizing activity of malign actors.

We look forward to continued cooperation with our allies and partners on all fronts.

We’re also delighted to welcome Administrator Samantha Power to the United States Agency for International Development. She was sworn in yesterday by Vice President Harris and immediately hit the ground running.

As a former diplomat, professor, activist, and award-winning author, Administrator Power will help lead America’s effort in revitalizing global partnerships and bolstering international prosperity and security.

She has been a strong and consistent advocate for human rights, atrocities prevention, humanitarian aid, and the rule of law throughout her career, and we look forward to USAID’s achievements under her leadership.

Yesterday was also World Press Freedom Day. The United States joined the international community to celebrate the courageous work of journalists around the world and to acknowledge their efforts to provide the public with factual and accurate information even in the face of violence and adversity, including government-enforced internet shutdowns.

The United States is committed to advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms both online and offline. We called on all governments to honor their commitment under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to freedom of expression including the right of all persons to “seek, impart, and receive information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Governments should not impose partial or complete internet shutdowns, which too many use as a tool to severely restrict the ability of independent journalists to serve the public.

I am pleased to announce that yesterday, May 3rd, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced the end of the most recent Ebola outbreak in the country. This is a monumental achievement, especially given that the first case was reported in North Kivu just three months ago. Congratulations and a heartfelt thank you to the local communities and public health workers in the DRC and beyond who played a role in ending the latest Ebola outbreak.

Immediately after Ebola was reported in Guinea and the DRC in February, the Biden-Harris administration pledged U.S. support to our African partners to stop these separate outbreaks. On March 26th, Secretary Blinken announced that the U.S. Government allocated up to $30 million in assistance to support the governments’ responses in the DRC and Guinea as well as to strengthen Ebola preparedness in nine high-risk border countries across West, Central, and East Africa. Working together with the affected governments, neighboring countries, and international partners, we’ve demonstrated a robust global response toward ending these outbreaks, strengthening health security, and creating better systems for preventing, detecting, and responding to health emergencies.

As we celebrate the DRC’s announcement, I’ll also note that Guinea has had no new Ebola cases since April 3rd. We look forward to marking the end of Guinea’s outbreak in the near future.

I also want to acknowledge that these most recent Ebola outbreaks have killed 18 people and affected many, many more in both countries. We offer our condolences to the families of all of those impacted by the Ebola outbreaks and recognize the traumatic memories that these events have raised for survivors as well as their community.

The United States continues to deliver on its promise to stand with the people of India amidst the COVID-19 surge.

Six air shipments funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development have departed the United States, five of which have already landed in India. These flights include health supplies, oxygen and oxygen supplies, N95 masks, rapid diagnostic tests, and medicine. More flights are on the way with the total assistance expected to exceed $100 million.

Finally, the United States is deeply saddened by the loss of life during protests throughout Colombia in recent days and sends its condolences to the families and friends of all victims.

All over the world, citizens in democratic countries have the unquestionable right to protest peacefully. Violence and vandalism is an abuse of that right.

At the same time, we urge the utmost restraint by the public forces to prevent additional loss of life. We recognize the Government of Colombia’s commitment to investigate reports of police excesses and address any violations of human rights.

We continue to support the Colombian Government – the Colombian Government’s efforts to address the current situation through political dialogue.

And with that, I will start taking your questions in just a minute.

OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, as a reminder, if you do want to queue up for a question, it’s 1 then 0; 1, 0. One moment, please.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Jose Luis Sanz.

OPERATOR: Okay, your line is open. Please, go ahead. One moment, please. Okay, Mr. Sanz, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Jose Luis Sanz from Elsaro in El Salvador. I have a couple of questions about the political crisis in El Salvador. First one, Vice President Harris said this morning that the U.S. must respond to the removal of the constitutional court from the attorney general in El Salvador. What kind of response is the U.S. considering? And was she referring to the withhold of assistance (inaudible) that representatives make some side as – (inaudible) asked for yesterday?

The second one is: Secretary Blinken met today with European Union High Representative Josep Borrell. Was El Salvador situation part of the conversation?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. As far as remarks from the Vice President, we certainly won’t get ahead of Vice President Harris. And for anything further, we will want to refer you to the White House. But Secretary Blinken has previously – Secretary Blinken has made calls – has made clear in his call yesterday to President Bukele the United States is obviously deeply concerned about the rule of law in El Salvador, and we know that it’s – we know the rule of law is essential to a functioning democracy. We also know that Secretary Blinken has made clear that anything outside of that are steps in the wrong direction, and we continue to seek a constructive relationship with El Salvador that not only advances our common values and interests around government and anticorruption, but we also seek a mutual adherence to unity and security and as well as migration and economic opportunity.

Let’s go to Tejinder Singh.

OPERATOR: Okay, one moment. Mr. Singh, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. At the beginning of the briefing you mentioned that you have sent the supplies to India, and even at the White House briefing there was a long list of supplies read out. And you mentioned that USAID is coordinating or sending the supplies. Now, there is an office, very big office of USAID India – in India, so are they coordinating anything to do with the distribution? Because our journalists there are saying that with all these supplies landing the distribution is just going nowhere.

MS PORTER: Well, I’ll just repeat that the United States has provided more than $100 million in assistance to India through the U.S. Agency for International Development. Now, when it comes to distribution, it was actually at the request of the Government of India that USAID provided these urgently needed supplies to the Indian Red Cross, and that was just to ensure that they’re reaching those who are most in need and as fast as possible. So for anything beyond that, we’d have to refer you to the Government of India.

Let’s go to Carol Matibe.

OPERATOR: Okay, one moment, please. Ms. Matibe, please, go ahead. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, good afternoon, Jalina. My question is regarding Ethiopia today, and moving further on the topic you mentioned about furthering democratic values. Yesterday, the EU observer mission announced canceling its observer mission to Ethiopia. I just wanted to find out, given the fact that an observer mission is an element that demonstrates democracy, is the United States thinking at this stage, given the EU cancelation yesterday, of sending an observer mission? Has there been any invitation, any discussions around this? And what are you guys perhaps thinking around sending an observer mission, in terms of Ethiopia’s elections slated for June 5th? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Pearl. So we don’t have any comment directly on EU’s cancelation of their observer mission. But what we will say, as I’m sure you’re already apprised of, is that we have a special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, who will lead our diplomatic – our diplomatic efforts to this area, especially when it comes to the crisis in Ethiopia as well, and as we continue to make clear that the Biden administration has made clear that Africa is a priority for our administration, and actually our special envoy will be traveling to the region soon. Outside of that, we don’t have anything to announce.

Let’s go to Matt Lee.

OPERATOR: Okay. And Mr. Lee, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Tuesday. I want to ask you about World Press Freedom Day and the statement that came out yesterday, particularly in light of the case with Julian Assange. Is this administration looking into his case, his detention, his extradition, the request for extradition here, the charges against him? I realize you can’t speak for DOJ, but from the State Department’s perspective, is the current position still – does that still hold? Do you believe that Mr. Assange is a journalist? And given the importance you place on accurate and factual information being disseminated, do you believe that the information that was published based on the U.S. Government documents that he obtained and put out was either un-factual or inaccurate?

Secondly, on the statement, it mentioned a couple of countries: China, Turkey, Egypt, Russia. This is the Secretary’s statement. I’m wondering why there was no mention of Iran in there.

And then lastly, on a completely unrelated thing, is the U.S. looking for an independent investigation into the stampede that killed some dozens of people in Israel, including several Americans? Or are you guys going to be okay with whatever investigation the Israeli authorities do on their own? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hey, Matt, while I have you, can you repeat your second question quickly?

QUESTION: On Israel or the second one on the press freedom?

MS PORTER: No, it was something about – you mentioned about Iran.

QUESTION: Oh yeah, just that there was no mention of Iran in the Secretary’s statement. It talked about abuse – about repression against journalists in China, Turkey, Egypt, and Russia, but I’m just wondering why there was no mention of Iran in there. That’s the second one. But the first one was about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

MS PORTER: So to your specific on Julian Assange, we’ll have to get back to you on that. But when it comes to world press freedom and the rights and freedoms of journalists worldwide, the State Department certainly supports that, and of course we join our partners in the international community to make sure that they’re able to do their work freely and openly without retribution or without regard for their lives being at risk.

And when it comes to your question about Iran, there was no intention to specifically leave Iran out of it. Obviously, we promote the safety and security and freedoms of journalists all over the world, and that includes Iran as well.

When it comes to your question on the stampede and the investigation, we’ll have to take that back.

Let’s go to Said Arikat.

OPERATOR: One moment, please. We’re not showing Said queued up at this time.

MS PORTER: All right. Then let’s go to Laura Kelly.

OPERATOR: All right. One moment, please. Ms. Kelly, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Jalina. Hope you’re doing well. My question is: What efforts, or are there any more efforts being made, to begin distributing vaccines from the U.S. to countries in Central and South America, in particular Brazil? And, if I may, are there any challenges in Americans wanting to come back to the U.S. from some of these countries in Central or South America, or any consideration to raising the threat level warnings for travel? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Laura. So when it comes to any updates to threat level when it comes to travel, we always encourage people to visit our website, travel.state.gov, or specific embassy pages for countries that they may be traveling to, whether they’re in Central America or anywhere in the world. When it comes to your question specifically on Brazil, of course, the United States is committed to collaborating with our partners in Brazil, as well as the government and the private sector, to support the COVID-19 response effort. And we certainly empathize and lament the loss of life in Brazil due to COVID-19, but we’ll also continue to work together to put an end to the pandemic’s high toll on life as well as any of their social and economic impacts to their livelihoods as well.

QUESTION: And any challenges for Americans —

MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Tracy Wilkinson.

OPERATOR: Okay. One moment, please. All right. And Ms. Wilkinson, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I think my colleague Laura was also asking about Americans trying to return from some of those countries, so maybe you can talk about that.

But my question is: You talked about El Salvador and the Secretary’s comments about their sort of Saturday night massacre, and Kamala Harris, the Vice President, today also. So this raises the question of how can the administration deal with some of these governments who are so far off the rail.

And I understand that she, the Vice President, is going to meet Friday – or virtually meet Friday with the president of Mexico, who just yesterday unleashed this virulent screed against American journalists. So my question, I guess, is how do you – what are you as the State Department advising the Vice President and others in how to deal with these presidents? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So we’re certainly grateful for Vice President Harris in leading our diplomatic efforts when it comes to Central American countries and countries in Mexico as well. When it comes to her upcoming meeting, we certainly won’t get ahead of that. We know she will represent us well and make sure that our voices and our concerns are heard.

I heard you mention too a comment on – made on journalists, and we’ll just go back to what we said about supporting journalists all around the world and supporting their press freedoms. We certainly prioritize supporting their work, making sure that they are safe and free of harm when they’re able to do this work as well.

And going back to your colleague’s questions, I believe it was for Americans who are seeking to travel to some of these countries. Again, I’d just underscore that for Americans who are seeking to either leave or come back or travel to those countries, that they continue to check with local embassy websites as well as updates on specific travel arrangements on travel.state.gov.

It looks like we have Said back, so we’ll go back to him.

OPERATOR: Okay. One moment. Said, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: I can hear you, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Jalina, for taking my question. Very quickly: Has there been any contact from the State Department – maybe the Secretary or anyone, any officer from the State Department – with the Palestinians since the PA President Abbas canceled the elections or postponed the elections?

And second, the COVID situation in the Palestinian territories is very desperate. I think less than 10 percent of the population or even less than that have been inoculated or vaccinated. Are there any plans, maybe, to distribute some of the surplus that the United States has? Thank you very kindly.

MS PORTER: When it comes to COVID-19, we certainly join in solidarity with the entire international community as we grapple with this pandemic together. When it comes to specific vaccine allocations to Israel, we have nothing to announce.

And to your first question – I believe it was on elections and contacts – we’ll have to get back to you on that.

Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan.

OPERATOR: Okay. One moment, please.

MS PORTER: Do we have Rosiland?

OPERATOR: She does not appear to be in queue anymore at this point.

MS PORTER: Okay. Let’s go to Conor Finnegan.

OPERATOR: Okay. One moment. And Mr. Finnegan, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you. I have three follow-up questions, if I could pull a Matt Lee. On Colombia, just on your topper, you urged utmost restraint by security forces. Would you condemn what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called excessive force by those security forces. On El Salvador, just to echo my colleagues, U.S. lawmakers have been urging action at this point, either visa bans or restricting funding through the IMF. Are you considering punitive actions?

And then third, on Ethiopia, can you say who Special Envoy Feltman will meet in Ethiopia and Eritrea? And six months after the Tigray crisis has began, are you considering actions there as well to really increase the pressure on the Abiy government? Is it time to do that? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So to your question on Ethiopia, Special Envoy Feltman will have senior-level engagement, which includes on a range of things. It’ll be on climate change, global health, security, prosperity, and our commitment to these values when it comes to the Horn of Africa. We don’t have anything else to read out at this time for any of his meetings, but certainly, if we do, those will be on our website.

Your – going back to your first question on – I think it was a quote from – I’m sorry, I don’t remember exactly what it was. If you’re still here, can you repeat that?

OPERATOR: One moment, I’ll get him back.

Okay. Mr. Finnegan, one – your line is open again.

MS PORTER: Yeah. I’m sorry. Can you just repeat your first and second question while I have you?

OPERATOR: Just one moment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) And then on El Salvador, U.S. lawmakers of both parties have called for action – visa bans, restricting financing for the IMF, things like that. Are you considering any punitive action at this point?

MS PORTER: So when it comes to any actions, we have nothing to read out or nothing to announce at this time. But again, when it comes to our support for the Colombian Government, we will continue to stand and address these issues not only through peace and political dialogue, but we’ll do so in a way that puts human rights at the core of our foreign policy.

Let’s take one last question from Tracy Wilkinson.

OPERATOR: Okay. One moment, please.

MS PORTER: Do we have Tracy?

OPERATOR: Not showing Ms. Wilkinson in queue at this time.

MS PORTER: Okay. It looks like we’ve actually reached time, so thank you all for joining us today, and that concludes today’s briefing.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

vaccine allocations to Palestinian territories

More from: Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

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    What GAO Found Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico): Puerto Rico remains in default. It has finalized three debt restructuring agreements or settlements to date, pursuant to three distinct legal approaches, and it is using one of these approaches to restructure additional debt. Puerto Rico's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross National Product increased slightly from 93 to 95 percent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. Puerto Rico's total revenue remained consistent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at about $30.0 billion and the territory operated with a $3.1 billion deficit in fiscal year 2017. Puerto Rico's future capacity for debt repayment depends primarily on the outcomes of the ongoing debt restructuring process, its ability to generate sustained economic growth, and the disbursement of federal funding. American Samoa: American Samoa's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from 19 to 37 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. This increase was partially due to a series of general revenue bonds issued in late 2018 to fund infrastructure projects. During this period, American Samoa's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 24 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a surplus of $34.0 million in fiscal year 2019. Continued reliance on a single industry and significant pension liabilities remain fiscal risks in American Samoa. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI): CNMI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP remained constant at about 8 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. During this period, CNMI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 27 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a deficit of $33.3 million in fiscal year 2019. Worsening economic conditions and significant pension liabilities may affect CNMI's future debt repayment capacity. COVID-19 has hurt tourism, CNMI's primary industry. Guam: Guam's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP decreased slightly from 44 to 42 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. Guam's total revenue increased 7 percent during this period and the territory had a surplus of $112.6 million in fiscal year 2019. Guam faces fiscal risks such as COVID-19's negative impact on tourism, Guam's primary industry, and significant pension liabilities. United States Virgin Islands (USVI): USVI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP increased slightly from 68 to 69 percent of GDP between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. During this period, USVI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 36 percent higher in fiscal year 2018 compared to fiscal year 2016, and the territory had a deficit of $29.4 million in fiscal year 2018. USVI's capacity for future debt repayment may be affected by its ability to create economic growth and its ability to manage its pension liabilities and address the pending insolvency of its public pension system. USVI's ability to create economic growth may be hampered by the adverse impact of COVID-19 on tourism, USVI's primary industry. Why GAO Did This Study The five permanently inhabited U.S. territories–Puerto Rico, USVI, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam–borrow through financial markets. Puerto Rico, in particular, has amassed large amounts of debt, and began to default on debt payments in 2015. In 2017, hurricanes caused widespread damage in Puerto Rico and USVI. Further, in 2018, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam experienced typhoons and cyclones. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the territories' economies is not yet fully known. In June 2016, Congress passed and the President signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. It contains a provision for GAO to review the public debt of the five territories every 2 years. In this report, for each of the five territories, GAO updates (1) trends in public debt and its composition; (2) trends in revenue and its composition, and in overall financial condition; and (3) the fiscal risk factors that affect each territory's ability to repay public debt. GAO analyzed the territories' single audit reports for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019, as available; reviewed relevant documentation and analyses; and interviewed officials from the territories' governments, federal agencies, and industry groups. For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-6806 or jonesy@gao.gov or David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or gootnickd@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Obtains Settlement from San Diego Landlord to Resolve Claims Of Sexual Harassment Against Female Tenants
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced it has reached an agreement with defendant Larry Nelson to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that he sexually harassed female tenants while owning and managing San Diego area rental properties.  
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  • Justice Department Finds that Alameda County, California, Violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department concluded today, based upon a thorough investigation, that there is reasonable cause to believe that Alameda County is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in its provision of mental health services, and that conditions and practices at the county’s Santa Rita Jail violate the U.S. Constitution and the ADA.
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  • Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Remarks at Columbia Law School Virtual Event on Combating the Online Exploitation of Children
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us today for a conversation on one of the most pressing challenges we face – the continuing fight against the online exploitation of children.  I want to thank Berit Berger and Columbia Law School for hosting us virtually, and for putting together this event on such an important subject.
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  • Program on VMI Case Recalls Ginsburg’s Crusade for Gender Equality
    In U.S Courts
    A recent program honoring the 25th anniversary of a landmark case allowing women to enroll in the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) also celebrated a broader theme: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decades-long effort to remove gender bias from state and federal laws.
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  • COVID-19: Reviewing Existing Policies Could Help Selected Agencies Better Prepare for Dedicated User Fee Revenue Fluctuations
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Executive branch agencies' revenues from dedicated user fees were lower in fiscal year 2020 and in the first half of fiscal year 2021 compared to average annual revenues in fiscal years 2017 through 2019, the 3 fiscal years prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the declaration of the pandemic as a national emergency in March 2020, these revenues were about 39 percent lower than the previous 3-year average during the same period. Executive Branch Agencies' Revenue from Dedicated User Fees in Fiscal Year 2020 Was Lower Overall than the Previous 3-year Average Note: For more details, see figure 2 in GAO-21-104325. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Park Service (NPS), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) all prioritized spending on essential expenses, sought to increase available funds or operational flexibilities, and relied on carryover balances to cover essential expenses during the pandemic. However, FAA and NPS have not documented plans to review certain management plans and policies. FAA drafted a cash management plan containing measures to help it carry out mission-critical functions in a time of Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) revenue instability. FAA officials told GAO they may revisit the plan to align it with leadership priorities in case of future AATF revenue instability. However, FAA has not documented plans to conduct such a review, which could help FAA better prepare for future periods of revenue instability. NPS parks relied on funds carried over from previous years during the pandemic to various extents, depending on local circumstances. NPS requires many fee-collecting parks to carry over no more than 35 percent of the previous year's revenue from certain fees. The agency has not completed an analysis to determine the efficacy of this policy since its implementation in 2010. Because of this, NPS may not be maintaining its carryover balances in the most effective way. Why GAO Did This Study Each year, federal agencies collect billions of dollars in dedicated user fee revenue from fees charged to users of federal goods and services, which are dedicated by law for a specific purpose or program. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted critical government operations for agencies that rely on these revenues. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to review the effects of the pandemic on public institutions of the U.S. This report examines how dedicated user fee revenues have changed since the onset of the pandemic and how selected agencies managed revenue changes related to the pandemic, among other objectives. To determine revenue changes, GAO compared dedicated user fee revenues in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to amounts from prior years. GAO selected three agencies to review—FAA, NPS, and USCIS—based on whether they relied on dedicated user fee revenue to a high (FAA and USCIS) or low (NPS) extent, among other factors. GAO interviewed officials at the selected agencies and reviewed relevant documents to determine how these agencies managed revenue changes, and compared those actions to internal control standards and leading practices for fee design.
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  • Human Capital: Complete Information and More Analyses Needed to Enhance DOD’s Civilian Senior Leader Strategic Workforce Plan
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundDOD's approach for determining its civilian senior leader workforce projections to meet future requirements incorporated the results of two separate assessments. In its 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan, DOD presented data that projected reductions of 178 civilian senior leader positions within its five career civilian senior leader workforces during fiscal years 2011 and 2012. To conduct its assessment for the strategic workforce plan, DOD used a computer modeling system that is managed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and used by several agencies across the federal government. The system models significant career events, such as promotions, reassignments, and retirements, to produce projections. During this same time period, DOD also completed an efficiency initiative at the direction of the Secretary of Defense to, among other things, ensure that DOD's senior leader workforce is properly sized and aligned with DOD's mission and priorities. For its efficiency initiative, the department devised an internal DOD methodology in which it rank ordered positions in terms of higher and lower priority in order to identify reductions. This assessment identified a reduction of 178 civilian senior leader positions within DOD's civilian senior leader workforce for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. From the plan, it is not clear how these two efforts fit together, or how DOD drew from the strengths of each analysis. DOD officials explained to us, however, that they incorporated the results of the efficiency initiative into the strategic workforce plan when they issued that plan, so that the projections of the workforce plan and the results of the efficiency initiative would be consistent.DOD assessments of the critical skills, competencies, and gaps of its career civilian senior leader workforces did not identify areas that will require increased focus to help the department meet its vital missions. Most of DOD's civilian senior leader workforce can be categorized into five separate workforces, and our review found that DOD conducted assessments of skills, competencies, and gaps for two of them--the Senior Executive Service and Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service workforces. However, the department did not include the results of either assessment in its 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan and only discussed the processes it used for conducting the assessment of its Senior Executive Service workforce. Further, DOD did not conduct assessments of skills, competencies, and gaps for the remaining three career civilian senior leader workforces--its Senior Level, Senior Technical, and Defense Intelligence Senior Level workforces. Officials told us that they did not assess these three workforces because the skills and competencies of these workforces are position-specific. However, section 115b of Title 10 of the United States Code requires that DOD conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all its senior leader workforces. Without conducting such assessments and reporting on them, it is difficult to identify those areas that will require increased focus on recruiting, retention, and training. Therefore, we are recommending that DOD conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all five of its career senior leader workforces and report the results in its future strategic workforce plans.Why GAO Did This StudyThe ability of the Department of Defense (DOD) to achieve its mission and carry out its responsibilities depends in large part on whether it can sustain a civilian senior leader workforce that possesses necessary skills and competencies. Managing civilian senior leaders effectively is imperative, especially in light of DOD’s plans to reduce at least 150 civilian senior leader positions, the department’s current cap on civilian personnel numbers, and the existing pay freeze. Further, as DOD faces fiscal constraints, implements its efficiency initiatives, and prepares for an anticipated drawdown in Afghanistan, the department is faced with the complex task of re-shaping its workforce to meet future needs. This includes assessing the requirements for approximately 2,900 civilian senior leaders who help manage DOD’s overall civilian workforce of more than 780,000 personnel. In managing these senior leaders, the department must ensure that they are sufficient in number and properly prepared to achieve DOD’s mission. One particular challenge, noted in DOD’s 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan, is that more than 60 percent of DOD’s civilian senior leader workforce will be eligible to retire by 2015.Accordingly, section 115b Title 10 of the United States Code, enacted in October 2009, requires DOD to submit to congressional defense committees, on a recurring basis, a strategic workforce plan to shape and improve its civilian senior leader workforces. While this law does not specify a date for DOD to submit the plan, it does stipulate several requirements for the plan. These include an assessment of (1) the critical skills and competencies of the existing workforce of the department and projected trends in that workforce based on expected losses due to retirement and other attrition, and (2) gaps in the existing or projected workforce of the department that should be addressed to ensure that the department has continued access to the critical skills and competencies it needs. DOD's mandate previously required that the department's assessments cover a 7-year period following the year in which the plan is submitted to Congress. Therefore, DOD's latest civilian senior leader workforce plan covered the period 2010-2018.Following the enactment of this legislation, the Secretary of Defense, in August 2010, announced an efficiency initiative to eliminate unnecessary overhead costs by, among other things, reviewing DOD’s entire senior leader workforce and reducing the total number of civilian senior leader positions by at least 150. The Secretary’s guidance called for these reductions to take place in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. After the Secretary’s announcement, DOD’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness created the Civilian Senior Executive Study Group, and directed the group to conduct a DOD-wide survey of the number, placement, skills, and competencies of civilian senior leader positions and to provide recommendations for restructuring civilian senior leader positions to best align with missions and responsibilities. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness also directed the group to consider how to inform follow-on efforts to further analyze civilian senior leader appointment, management, and renewal policies. The Civilian Senior Executive Study Group, which consisted of Senior Executive Service and General Schedule-15 representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, each of the military departments, the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, issued its final report to the Secretary on November 23, 2010. The Secretary of Defense announced his decisions based on recommendations developed as part of the efficiency initiative, including recommendations made in this report on March 14, 2011.Subsequently, on March 27, 2012, DOD issued its 2010-2018 Strategic Workforce Plan, and GAO, as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, is required to report on that plan within 180 days of its submission to Congress. For this report on DOD's 2010-2018 plan we (1) reviewed DOD's approach for determining its civilian senior leader projections to meet future requirements and (2) evaluated the extent to which DOD's assessment of the critical skills, competencies, and gaps in the existing and future civilian senior leader workforces identified areas that will require increased focus to help the department meet its vital missions.
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