Department Press Briefing – May 7, 2021

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:03 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and Happy Friday everyone. Thank you for joining today’s press briefing. I have several updates at the top, and then I will resume taking your questions.

We are saddened and concerned by yesterday’s attack targeting Maldivian Speaker of Parliament and former President Mohammad Nasheed. We wish for a speedy and full recovery for him, his family, and others injured in the attack. We join President Solih in condemning this attack and all acts of terror, and stand ready to assist in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Next, through a massive mobilization effort, the U.S. Government is delivering on its commitment to stand with the people of India as they fight a devastating second wave of COVID‑19. Over the past week, the U.S. Government rapidly deployed six planeloads of lifesaving supplies to New Delhi in six days and mobilized its partners in India to immediately stand up surge support. Together, U.S. Government assistance to combat the current crisis is about $100 million. The United States is continuing to work closely with Indian officials and health experts to identify and respond to emerging trends in this ongoing crisis.

The generosity of American people will have significant, on-the-ground, lifesaving impacts for critically ill patients battling COVID-19. The six emergency airlifts to India, deployed in just six days, delivered 20,000 courses of remdesivir or 120,000 vials to help critically ill patients – to help treat critically ill patients; nearly 1,500 oxygen cylinders to address India’s critical oxygen shortage, which can be repeatedly refilled at local supply centers; nearly 550 mobile oxygen concentrators that obtain oxygen from ambient air. These units have a lifespan of more than five years and can serve multiple patients at once, depending on their oxygen needs; one million rapid diagnostic tests to quickly identify COVID-19 cases and prevent community spread; nearly 2.5 N95 masks to protect health care professionals and other frontline workers; a large-scale Oxygen Concentration System that can provide oxygen to treat 20 or more patients at a time; 210 pulse oximeters to measure oxygen levels in a patient’s blood to determine whether a higher level of care is needed.

This surge of immediate assistance builds on the United States’ 70-year development partnership with India, and USAID’s ongoing response effort in India since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also want to express our sympathy for our friends and partners across the region as they fight another wave of this pandemic. We know the COVID situations in Nepal and Bangladesh are very serious and USAID has been assisting these countries to combat the pandemic since it broke out over a year ago. We’ve made a $73 million investment to date to strengthen the COVID-19 response in Bangladesh. Just last week, USAID provided an additional $8.5 million in emergency funding to Nepal. We’ll continue to seek out ways to build our existing humanitarian and global health response to provide assistance for countries around the world to respond to this crisis.

Next, Secretary Blinken has returned from his travel to Europe. Following the G7 meeting in London, the Secretary traveled to Ukraine where he conveyed strong support for deepening the partnership between our countries.

In Kyiv, the Secretary reaffirmed our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression. We’ll continue to strengthen our partnership – our security partnership with Ukraine to defend itself against aggression.

He met with President Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Shmyhal, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kuleba, and representative of Ukrainian civil society and parliament where they discuss reforms, corruption, and our shared democratic values.

Secretary Blinken also made clear that progress must continue on the internal threat Ukraine faces from corruption. He shared that overcoming the challenges of moving ahead on the reform process and anticorruption agenda is of equal importance to countering the external threat from Russia.

With our international partners, we continue to call on Ukrainian officials to strengthen corporate governance to ensure Ukraine’s state-owned enterprises operate as transparent and accountable institutions be led by qualified personnel.

We continue to support and will work with Ukraine to achieve its Euro-Atlantic aspirations so that all Ukrainians will have a bright and prosperous future.

This morning, Secretary Blinken participated in a UN Security Council open debate on multilateralism.

In his remarks, the Secretary underscored that the United States seeks not only to defend the core principles of a rules-based international order, but also to improve and build upon it to ensure the United Nations remains a vital and effective body.

As the Secretary said, multilateral cooperation is not only possible, it is imperative. It is still our best tool for tackling big global challenges such as COVID-19 and the climate crisis.

Under the Biden-Harris administration, the United States has already re-engaged vigorously in multilateral institutions. We have rejoined the Paris climate accord, recommitted to the World Health Organization, and we’re seeking to rejoin the Human Rights Council. We’re engaged in diplomacy to return to mutual compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. We are by far the largest contributor to COVAX, the best vehicle for the equitable distribution of COVID‑19 vaccines, and we’re making tens of millions of doses available to others without political considerations.

And finally, we are deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem.  As we head into a sensitive period in the days ahead, it is – it will be critical for all sides to ensure calm and act responsibly to de-escalate tensions and avoid violent confrontations.

And with that, we’ll give it a few minutes before we start taking your questions.

OPERATOR: Now, once again to queue up for questions, if you haven’t yet done so, press 1 then 0.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

OPERATOR: Okay, one moment. Okay, your line’s open. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. Can you hear me? Hello?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you. Is this Said Arikat?

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Jalina. I’m responding to your note just a minute ago about calling on all sides to refrain from confrontation and so on. I mean, this seems to be like the routine kind of State Department mantra, “both sides.” There is a clear aggressor in this case. I mean, the Sheikh Jarrah people are being attacked. They’re threatened with evictions. The whole world is saying this should not happen. What is your position on this? Shouldn’t you be urging the Israelis to stop evicting Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah? And I’ll stop with that. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, we are deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in the Silwan neighborhood and in Sheikh Jarrah, of course, many of whom have lived in their homes for generations. But again, as we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace, and that would include evictions, settlement activity, and home demolitions.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to Matt Lee.

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Hi, Matt.

QUESTION: Hey, there. Happy Friday. Couple really brief ones. Just on what Said just asked about – were you guys asked and then decide not to join the statement from the European allies on the situation in Israel and the West Bank? That’s number one. Two, on COVID, and how much of a role, if at all, is the State Department playing in the effort to lobby other governments on the intellectual property issue before the WTO, or is that something that is strictly being handled by USTR? And then lastly, on the Yemen statement that you guys put out earlier and which criticized the Houthis for not meeting with UN Envoy Griffiths. Did Envoy Lenderking seek or try to meet with the Houthis as well? That’s it. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Okay. Matt, we’ll start with your first question. As far as your reference to the statement from European allies, we have nothing to announce on that.

When it comes to your question on the WTO and IP waivers, I mean, I’ll just start with that the top priority for the United States is, of course, is saving lives caused by this pandemic and truly ending the pandemic not only in our country, in the United States, but also around the world. We’re committed to working together with all relevant stakeholders and that would include WTO members to enable rapid and effective response to COVID-19. And just to reiterate as the President and Ambassador Tai said, the extraordinary circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic calls for extraordinary leadership as well as extraordinary measures. But we also know that text based negotiations will take time given the consensus based nature of the WTO, as well as the complexities of the issues that are involved.

If I still have you hear, you asked about Special Envoy Lenderking, can you repeat that question? I’m sorry.

OPERATOR: We released. We’re trying to get him back. One moment, please. Mr. Lee, if you could try 0 again or 1, 0 again, please.

MS PORTER: I think I remember something about him asking or statement about meeting Special Envoy Lenderking in his meetings, but I will just reiterate that the special envoy traveled to Oman to join the U.S. Government interagency delegation. And again, he’s been working closely with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, obviously, with the goal of promoting a lasting ceasefire as well as transitioning the parties to a political process.

And I’ll just end that one there because it doesn’t sound like we’ve got him.

OPERATOR:  We got him back here and he’s open again.  Go ahead, Mr. Lee.  Ready to go.

MS PORTER:  What?

QUESTION:  I wanted to (inaudible).  Oh, for (inaudible).  Hello?

OPERATOR:  You’re audible.  Go ahead.  You’re audible.  Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I just – I can’t tell if you heard the question or not because I was trying to get back in the queue.  So anyway, it sounds like you did, but I don’t know.

Did Ambassador Lenderking, Special Envoy Lenderking, try to meet the Houthis as well as UN Envoy Griffiths?  That was the question.  Thank you.

MS PORTER: There was a little bit of cutting in and out. I don’t have anything further to announce from what was on our statement, but again, Special Envoy Lenderking has always been in close coordination with Special – UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. And obviously, their end goal is promoting a lasting ceasefire and promoting both parties to agree to a political process.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the White House announced today. Has there been a director chosen yet? How many people will be staffing it? And when will it be fully operational? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hi, Jennifer, if you can repeat that? The first part of your question was cut off.

QUESTION: Oh, sure. I was wondering if you have any information about the new Climate Change Support Office that the President established today, and who will lead it and what it’ll look like within State. Thank you.

MS PORTER: So the executive order, it merely facilitates the hiring process for members of the special envoy for climate change team. We don’t have anything else to announce outside of that. It won’t affect the role or function or, quite frankly, the structure within the department.

Let’s go to the line of Tejinder Singh.

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Hi.

QUESTION: Okay. This is – I have one question, and that’s: What is the U.S. reaction to reports over last few weeks about the emergence of a China-Pakistan-Turkey nexus on nuclear proliferation, and Pakistan coordinating on capacity-building of the three countries which has been flagged by watchdogs and media? And we all know about Turkish President Erdogan has been quoted as expressing his desperation on developing the caliphate atom bomb to fulfill his neo-Ottoman aspirations. So what is the U.S. reaction to these reports?

MS PORTER: Hi. We have no – nothing to announce on these reports at this time.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. A question about the situation in Burma or Myanmar: It’s been more than three months since the military coup happened. There is a pretty detailed report in The New York Times describing how things seem to have snapped back to before the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in the last decade – people disappearing, people going through kangaroo courts, police stopping people and harassing them, crackdown on internet freedom and press freedom.

Is the U.S. considering any hardening of its treatment of the military junta, including possibly downgrading diplomatic ties? And if not, why not?

MS PORTER: Well, to start with your last question first, Rosiland, we have nothing to announce when it comes to personnel and our diplomatic ties with Burma. But again, we’ll continue to condemn not only the widespread violence or the suppression of personal freedoms and internet freedom that the people – that’s being used against the people of Burma, and we’ll continue to condemn any of the military-imposed internet shutdowns and efforts to silence the people of Burma. And we also continue to – and urge the military regime to release all those who are unjustly detained; again, refrain from its violence; and, ultimately, restore Burma’s path forward as a democracy.

Let’s go to Casey O’Neil.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Friday. Thanks so much for doing this. I just wanted to follow up again – I know I’ve asked about this issue before – on Americans being arbitrarily detained in Iran. I know, of course, that both the State Department and White House have – excuse me – were very quick to shoot down the reports that a deal had been reached with the Iranians vis-a-vis American detainees there, but just wondering if you could offer any additional insight into concrete steps that both the State Department and the government – the American Government writ large – are taking to address this issue, if Special Envoy Carstens is involved, because it seems like we’re hearing a lot of action is being taken, very – but not a lot of detailed, concrete, substantive details on what’s taking place. So just looking for some additional info there.

MS PORTER: Well, let me start off by saying that the safety and security in – calling for all of those who are unjustly detained, whether they’re in Iran or other places around the world, is of paramount importance to the United States and the State Department, and we’re grateful for the work of Ambassador Carstens and his team that they have been doing for a long time.

But just to reiterate, as we and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain have said, of course – we’ve said that we will always continue to raise the cases of Americans who are detained or missing in Iran, and we’ll – we won’t stop until we’re able to reunite them with their families. Any other specific details I won’t be able to go into from here, but again, we will continue to work until all those who are unjustly detained are reunited and back home with their families.

Let’s go to Francesco Fontemaggi from AFP.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) hear me?

OPERATOR: You’re open. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Hi, Jalina. Thank you. I wanted to follow up on Matt’s question on Yemen. So he was asking if Special Envoy Lenderking was willing to meet with the Houthis. My question is: Would he be willing to meet in the future – even if a meeting couldn’t happen this time, is he ready to meet with the Houthis to make some discussion about the peace process? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, yeah, just to underscore Secretary Lenderking’s commitment to this, this is obviously – and rebuilding Yemen is an effort that’s ongoing and obviously will take significant international effort and support. During his trip, he met with several senior government officials, and just reiterating what I’ve said previously, obviously, it’s – resolving this conflict in Yemen is a top priority, a top U.S. priority. And promoting a lasting ceasefire as well as transitioning the parties to a political process is something that he’s been working very hard with, obviously in coordination with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.

Let’s go to the line of Carmen Rodriguez.

QUESTION: Hello.

OPERATOR: Go ahead, Carmen. Your line’s open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for this conference. Could you give us more details on the position in the Biden-Harris administration regarding the situation in El Salvador? We have a breakthrough, considering that this week the deputies of the official party approved the law that protects officials identified for corruptions during the pandemic.

MS PORTER: Well, more broadly speaking, the United States is – has a longstanding commitment to supporting not only the people but the rule of law in El Salvador, and we’ll continue to make the case for rule of law as well as adhering to democratic norms. You have probably seen statements from Vice President Harris in support of promoting El Salvador’s democracy, but outside of that we have nothing further to announce.

Let’s go to Dan DeLuce.

OPERATOR: One moment. Thank you for your patience. Dan, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to ask, given that there are thousands of Afghans who worked as interpreters and other roles for the U.S. military and U.S. Government who are still waiting to get visas, and given that U.S. troops are due to withdraw within four months, what is the administration considering how to address this problem? Because obviously, they’re not going to be able – you’re not going to be able to process these visas in that short amount of time. And is some kind of an evacuation option being looked at, as was carried out in other situations in the past? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So let me start off by saying that we are certainly aware of the threats that our Afghan colleagues face, and the State Department takes our role seriously in managing our Special Immigrant Visa Program. And you specifically mentioned deadlines. I don’t have anything to announce specific to that or any specific details now, but we’d be happy to take that question back for you.

Let’s take the last question from Simon Lewis, please.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jalina. Hi. Hi – thank you, Jalina. I just wanted to come back to Myanmar/Burma from the earlier question. There was a statement yesterday from the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council that lobbies on behalf of businesses working in the region requesting that the U.S. appoint a special envoy for Myanmar to handle this crisis. I wondered if that’s something that the administration is considering. And given the seriousness of this sort of ongoing situation, and as I think people have been warning in recent days, this is kind of spilling into a regional crisis with refugees and fighting near the border. Doesn’t that justify a U.S. special envoy to handle your efforts in diplomacy in the region? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Well, again, obviously the U.S., we’re certainly committed to helping Burma restore their path to democracy. And we’re also committed to working with ASEAN members on an array of issues, and obviously that would include the situation in Burma. But when it comes to a special envoy or any personnel, we have nothing to announce at this time.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining. I hope you all have a great weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)

More from: Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Hits: 0

News Network

  • Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan: Improved Communication and Adaptive Management Strategy Could Help Address Stakeholder Concerns
    In U.S GAO News
    The International Joint Commission's (IJC) process for developing and selecting the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan 2014 (Plan 2014) was generally consistent with relevant essential elements of risk-informed decision-making. During the 18-year process, IJC took steps to define objectives and performance measures to be used in its decision-making, identify various options, assess uncertainties like climate change, and engage with stakeholders, among other steps. These steps are all essential elements of risk-informed decision making. Plan 2014 Affects Various Users of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, Including (from Left to Right) Commercial Navigation, Coastal Development, and Recreational Boating, Including Marinas IJC uses two mechanisms—a communications committee and a strategic communication plan—and a variety of methods—such as its website, social media, and public meetings—to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014. Nevertheless, 12 of the 14 stakeholders GAO interviewed expressed concerns about IJC's communication. GAO found that IJC's strategic communication plan and related documents partially align with best practices. For example, the communication plan and related documents do not comprehensively identify target audiences or include mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the effectivness of their communication efforts. Updating its strategic communication plan to align with best practices and principles for risk communication could help IJC ensure improved stakeholder communication. Of the 14 stakeholders interviewed, nine expressed concerns about the rules and criteria in Plan 2014 and 10 expressed concerns about its implementation. For example, seven stakeholders told us that they do not believe that the Plan allows IJC to act proactively in anticipation of future water conditions. IJC has taken initial steps to develop an adaptive management process that may help address stakeholder concerns and approved a long-term adaptive management strategy in March 2020. However, the document does not fully incorporate the key elements and essential characteristics of an adaptive management process that could help IJC transparently and effectively assess Plan 2014 and adjust future actions to achieve the plan's objectives. For example, the Plan does not fully incorporate a communication strategy for engaging stakeholders throughout the process or information on how IJC will determine if adjustments to the Plan's rules and criteria are warranted. Water releases from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River are determined by a set of regulatory rules and criteria called Plan 2014—issued pursuant to IJC's Supplementary Order of Approval and the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The IJC—a binational commission—developed and issued the Plan and Order with the concurrence of the United States and Canada. The rules affect a variety of users of the waterway, including ecosystems, hydropower, and municipal and industrial water use. After flooding from the lake and river in 2017, GAO was asked to examine the process IJC used to develop and evaluate Plan 2014 and how IJC has addressed stakeholder concerns. This report examines (1) the extent to which IJC's process to develop and select Plan 2014 was consistent with essential elements of risk-informed decision-making, (2) actions IJC has taken to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014 and stakeholder concerns regarding IJC's communication, and (3) stakeholder concerns about Plan 2014 and the extent to which IJC has developed a process to assess and adjust Plan 2014. GAO reviewed Plan 2014 and other IJC documents, interviewed IJC and federal officials and a nongeneralizable sample of 14 stakeholders, selected for a variety of user interests and stakeholder types. GAO is making three recommendations, including that the U.S. Section of the IJC work with its Canadian counterpart to ensure that the communication plan aligns with best practices and the adaptive management strategy fully incorporates key elements. IJC agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Kansas Man Indicted with Hate Crime for Racially-Motivated Threat of a Minor and for Unlawfully Possessing a Firearm
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Kansas, returned an indictment charging Colton Donner, 25, with threatening an African-American male juvenile, because of the victim’s race and because the victim was living in a home in Paola, Kansas, in violation of Title 42, U.S. Code, Section 3631.
    [Read More…]
  • Puerto Rico: Efforts to Improve Competition for Medicaid Procurement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Like other U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico implements major functions of its Medicaid program by procuring services from contractors, such as the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. In 2018, procurement costs represented $2.4 billion of Puerto Rico's $2.5 billion in total Medicaid expenditures. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—the federal agency that oversees Medicaid—requires states and territories to use the same process for Medicaid procurements as they do for their non-federal procurements. However, in February 2021, GAO found that CMS has not taken steps to ensure Puerto Rico has met this requirement. Instead, CMS has relied on Puerto Rico to oversee the territory’s procurement process and to attest to its compliance. CMS officials told GAO that states and territories are in the best position to ensure compliance with their respective procurement laws. A 2019 federal indictment alleging Puerto Rico officials unlawfully steered Medicaid contracts to certain individuals has also raised questions about Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process, including whether this process helps ensure appropriate competition. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, directed Puerto Rico to publish a Medicaid procurement reform plan to combat fraud, waste, and abuse, which the territory provided to Congress in December 2020. In its procurement reform plan, Puerto Rico acknowledges the need to improve competition and outlines future initiatives and general timeframes to do so. For example, Puerto Rico notes that by August 2021, it will identify the circumstances under which the use of noncompetitive contracts is justified, as well as the factors it might consider in making this determination. By April 2021, Puerto Rico intends to identify procurement information it will make public as part of its competitive procurement process and will make such information public by the end of 2021. Such changes—if implemented as planned—could address some of the issues GAO identified in its review of eight selected Puerto Rico procurements. In its review, GAO found that Puerto Rico did not include important steps to promote competition and mitigate the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, underscoring the need for federal oversight. GAO and others have found that competition is a cornerstone of procurement. Using competition can reduce costs, improve contractor performance, curb fraud, and promote accountability. As Puerto Rico continues to develop and carry out its planned reforms, implementing GAO’s recommendation for ongoing, risk-based oversight of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement process could enable CMS to promote competition and efficiency while preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's February 2021 report, entitled Medicaid: CMS Needs to Implement Risk-Based Oversight of Puerto Rico’s Procurement Process (GAO-21-229). Specifically, the testimony discusses findings from the report as they relate to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement reform plan.
    [Read More…]
  • Areas with High Poverty: Changing How the 10-20-30 Funding Formula Is Applied Could Increase Impact in Persistent-Poverty Counties
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Some federal agencies have been statutorily required to use the “10-20-30 formula” when allocating funding for certain programs. That is, agencies must allocate at least 10 percent of designated funds to counties with poverty rates of at least 20 percent over the last 30 years (persistent-poverty counties). However, GAO found the formula has not always increased the proportion of funding awarded to those counties. The Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) and Department of the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund both awarded at least 10 percent of designated funds to persistent-poverty counties in fiscal years 2017–2020, but generally had done so before 2017. Most of their programs subject to the formula already were required to target funds to economically distressed areas. The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development awarded less than 10 percent of designated funds to persistent-poverty counties in at least one fiscal year for six out of 10 appropriations accounts. Rural Development set aside 10 percent of designated funds for use in those counties, which officials said met the statutory requirement to allocate these funds. Officials said some programs had not received a sufficient number of applications from these counties to meet the threshold because the programs are not well-suited to areas with severe poverty. For example, it may not be financially prudent for local governments in persistent-poverty counties to participate in a loan program to finance community facilities if the governments cannot service the debt. The purpose of the 10-20-30 formula—to increase the proportion of funding awarded to persistent-poverty counties—could be better achieved by focusing its application on programs that do not already target such areas and which can provide meaningful assistance to economically distressed communities. The three agencies GAO reviewed used different datasets and methodologies to identify persistent-poverty counties for the 10-20-30 formula. Appropriations laws for 2017–2020 required the agencies to use data from different years and sources, some outdated, to identify the counties. EDA also used a methodology that identified more than 100 additional persistent-poverty counties, than the other two agencies. Requiring each agency to identify persistent-poverty counties in this way is inefficient, and the inconsistency limits the ability to compare targeted funding across agencies. Using a uniform list of persistent-poverty counties, updated each year, would reduce administrative costs and facilitate assessments of the formula's impact across agencies. Such a measure also could help ensure more consistent investment in areas with current poverty rates of at least 20 percent. USDA's Economic Research Service has the technical capabilities to produce such a list and officials said that doing so each year would not be resource intensive because the agency already publishes other related work using the same data. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2009, the 10-20-30 formula has been applied to appropriations for certain federal programs and accounts. This includes programs and accounts administered by USDA's Rural Development, Treasury's CDFI Fund, and Commerce's EDA that averaged more than $10 billion in each fiscal year from 2017 to 2020. GAO was asked to review certain issues related to the 10-20-30 formula. This report examines (1) the proportion of funds subject to the 10-20-30 formula that these agencies awarded in persistent-poverty counties in 2017–2020 and the effects on funding levels to these areas, and (2) how agencies identify persistent-poverty counties. GAO analyzed agency budget and administrative data for fiscal years 2017—2020. GAO also reviewed documentation, such as program descriptions and funding notices, and interviewed agency officials.
    [Read More…]
  • Michigan Man Indicted for Hate Crimes After Attacking African-American Teenagers
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that Lee Mouat, 42, has been indicted for federal hate crimes. Mouat is charged with two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 249 by willfully causing bodily injury to a Black teenager and attempting to cause bodily injury to another Black teenager, through the use of a dangerous weapon, because of the teenagers’ race. Mouat was previously charged with the former count by criminal complaint in federal district court on Oct. 13, 2020.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Applauds the Passage and Enactment of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020
    In Crime News
    On Jan. 5, 2021, President Donald J. Trump signed H.R. 8354, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020, a bill to permanently establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, or “SVI”, within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
    [Read More…]
  • Designation of Former Prosecutor General Dobroslav Trnka of the Slovak Republic for Involvement in Significant Corruption
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [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…]
  • 5 Hidden Gems Are Riding Aboard NASA’s Perseverance Rover
    In Space
    The symbols, mottos, and [Read More…]
  • Puerto Rico Legislator Indicted for Theft, Bribery, and Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a 13-count indictment against legislator María Milagros Charbonier-Laureano (Charbonier), aka “Tata,” a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, as well as her husband Orlando Montes-Rivera (Montes), their son Orlando Gabriel Montes-Charbonier, and her assistant Frances Acevedo-Ceballos (Acevedo), for their alleged participation in a years-long theft, bribery, and kickback conspiracy.
    [Read More…]
  • Aircraft Noise: Information on a Potential Mandated Transition to Quieter Airplanes
    In U.S GAO News
    Based on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data and GAO estimates, most U.S. large commercial jet airplanes are certificated at the minimum required stage 3 noise standards, but nearly all of them are able to meet more stringent noise standards. Sixty-three percent of large commercial airplanes in the United States are certificated as meeting the stage 3 standards; however, 87 percent of them were manufactured with technologies that are able to meet more recent and stringent stage 4 or 5 standards as currently configured, according to FAA's 2017 analysis. By analyzing updated data from airlines and aviation manufacturers, GAO estimated that this proportion is even higher: 96 percent of large commercial airplanes are able to meet stage 4 or 5 standards (see figure). According to FAA officials and aviation stakeholders, the primary reason many large commercial airplanes certificated as stage 3 produce lower than stage 3 noise levels is because engine and airframe technology has outpaced the implementation of noise standards. More recently, some airlines have accelerated retirement of certain airplanes, some of which are certificated as stage 3, due to the decrease in travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the generally smaller regional commercial jets (i.e., generally with less than 90 seats), 86 percent are able to meet stage 4 or stage 5 standards, according to manufacturers' data. With regard to general aviation (which are used for personal or corporate flights), 73 percent of the jet airplanes in that fleet are able to meet the more stringent stage 4 or 5 standards, according to manufacturers' data. GAO Estimate of The Number of Large Airplanes in the U.S. Commercial Fleet That Are Able to Meet Stage 3 or Stage 4 and 5 Noise Standards, January 2020 According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, a phase-out of jet airplanes that are certificated as meeting stage 3 standards would provide limited noise reduction and limited other benefits, and could be costly and present other challenges. A phase-out could require recertificating the vast majority of stage 3 airplanes to comply with stage 4 or 5 standards. This process could be costly for operators and manufacturers but would provide little reduction in noise. Further, airplanes currently unable to meet more stringent standards would require modifications or face retirement. For older airplanes that could not be recertificated to meet stage 4 or 5 standards, some operators could incur costs for replacement airplanes sooner than originally planned. Although stakeholders indicated that a phase-out would not substantially reduce noise, they identified other limited benefits newer airplanes generate, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption. Although advances in technology have led to quieter aircraft capable of meeting increasingly stringent noise standards, airport noise remains a concern. FAA regulates aircraft noise by ensuring compliance with relevant noise standards. In 1990, federal law required large jet airplanes to comply with stage 3 noise standards by 1999, leading to a phase-out of the noisiest airplanes (stage 1 and 2 airplanes). Later, federal law required smaller airplanes to comply with stage 3 standards by 2016. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review a potential phase-out of stage 3 airplanes—the loudest aircraft currently operating in the United States. This report describes (1) the proportion of stage 3 airplanes in the U.S. fleet, and what proportion of these stage 3 airplanes are able to meet more stringent noise standards and (2) selected stakeholders' views on the potential benefits, costs, and challenges of phasing out stage 3 airplanes. GAO reviewed FAA's analysis of December 2017 fleet data, analyzed January 2020 fleet data from select airlines and airframe and engine manufacturers, and interviewed FAA officials. GAO also interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 35 stakeholders, including airlines; airframe and engine manufacturers; airports; and industry associations, selected based on fleet and noise data, stakeholder recommendations, or prior GAO knowledge. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Facing Long Post-Hurricane Recovery, Court in La. Gets Help From Friends
    In U.S Courts
    Hurricane Laura has left a lasting impact on the Western Louisiana community of Lake Charles, and the federal courthouse could be closed a year or more. Despite the disarray, courts in New Orleans, Texas, and even Alaska have reached out to support the court’s staff in getting back on their feet.  
    [Read More…]
  • Higher Education: IRS and Education Could Better Address Risks Associated with Some For-Profit College Conversions
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified 59 for-profit college conversions that occurred from January 2011 through August 2020, almost all of which involved the college's sale to a tax-exempt organization. In about one-third of the conversions, GAO found that former owners or other officials were insiders to the conversion—for example, by creating the tax-exempt organization that purchased the college or retaining the presidency of the college after its sale (see figure). While leadership continuity can benefit a college, insider involvement in a conversion poses a risk that insiders may improperly benefit—for example, by influencing the tax-exempt purchaser to pay more for the college than it is worth. Once a conversion has ended a college's for-profit ownership and transferred ownership to an organization the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes as tax-exempt, the college must seek Department of Education (Education) approval to participate in federal student aid programs as a nonprofit college. Since January 2011, Education has approved 35 colleges as nonprofit colleges and denied two; nine are under review and 13 closed prior to Education reaching a decision. Figure: Example of a For-Profit College Conversion with Officials in Insider Roles IRS guidance directs staff to closely scrutinize whether significant transactions with insiders reported by an applicant for tax-exempt status will exceed fair-market value and improperly benefit insiders. If an application contains insufficient information to make that assessment, guidance says that staff may need to request additional information. In two of 11 planned or final conversions involving insiders that were disclosed in an application, GAO found that IRS approved the application without certain information, such as the college's planned purchase price or an appraisal report estimating the college's value. Without such information, IRS staff could not assess whether the price was inflated to improperly benefit insiders, which would be grounds to deny the application. If IRS staff do not consistently apply guidance, they may miss indications of improper benefit. Education has strengthened its reviews of for-profit college applications for nonprofit status, but it does not monitor newly converted colleges to assess ongoing risk of improper benefit. In two of three cases GAO reviewed in depth, college financial statements disclosed transactions with insiders that could indicate the risk of improper benefit. Education officials agreed that they could assess this risk through its audited financial statement review process and could develop procedures to do so. Until Education develops and implements such procedures for new conversions, potential improper benefit may go undetected. A for-profit college may convert to nonprofit status for a variety of reasons, such as wanting to align its status and mission. However, in some cases, former owners or other insiders could improperly benefit from the conversion, which is impermissible under the Internal Revenue Code and Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. GAO was asked to examine for-profit college conversions. This report reviews what is known about insider involvement in conversions and to what extent IRS and Education identify and respond to the risk of improper benefit. GAO identified converted for-profit colleges and reviewed their public IRS filings. GAO also examined IRS and Education processes for overseeing conversions, interviewed agency officials, and reviewed federal laws, regulations and agency guidance. GAO selected five case study colleges based on certain risk factors, obtained information from college officials, and reviewed their audited financial statements. In three cases, GAO also reviewed Education case files. Because of the focus on IRS and Education oversight, GAO did not audit any college in this review to determine whether its conversion improperly benefitted insiders. GAO is making three recommendations, including that IRS assess and improve conversion application reviews and that Education develop and implement procedures to monitor newly converted colleges. IRS said it will assess its review process and will evaluate GAO's other recommendation, as discussed in the report. Education agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Proposes New Regulation to Update Firearm Definitions
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would update the definitions of “firearm” and related parts for the first time since 1968.
    [Read More…]
  • Medicaid Information Technology: Effective CMS Oversight and States’ Sharing of Claims Processing and Information Retrieval Systems Can Reduce Costs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has reimbursed billions of dollars to states for the development, operation, and maintenance of claims processing and information retrieval systems—the Medicaid Management Information Systems (MMIS) and Eligibility and Enrollment (E&E) systems. Specifically, from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2018, states spent a total of $44.1 billion on their MMIS and E&E systems. CMS reimbursed the states $34.3 billion of that total amount (see figure). Money Spent by States and Reimbursed by CMS from 2008–2018 for Medicaid Management Information Systems (MMIS) and Eligibility and Enrollment (E&E) Systems For fiscal years 2016 through 2018, CMS approved 93 percent and disapproved 0.4 percent of MMIS funding requests, while for E&E it approved 81 percent and disapproved 1 percent of the requests. The remaining 6.6 percent of MMIS requests and 18 percent of E&E requests were either withdrawn by states or were pending. GAO estimates that CMS had some level of supporting evidence of its review for about 74 percent of MMIS requests and about 99 percent of E&E requests. However, GAO estimates that about 100 percent of E&E requests and 68 percent of MMIS requests lacked pertinent information that would be essential for indicating that a complete review had been performed. Among CMS requirements for system implementation funding is that states submit an alternatives analysis, feasibility study, and cost benefit analysis. However, GAO found that about 45 percent of such requests it sampled for fiscal years 2016 through 2018 did not include these required documents. The above weaknesses were due, in part, to a lack of formal, documented procedures for reviewing state funding requests. CMS also lacked a risk-based process for overseeing systems after federal funds were provided. CMS provided helpful comments and recommendations to states in selected cases, but in other instances it did not. In two states that had contractors struggling to deliver successful projects, state officials said they had not received recommendations or technical assistance from CMS. The states eventually terminated the projects after spending a combined $38.5 million in federal funds. According to CMS officials, they rely largely on states to oversee systems projects. This perspective is consistent with a 2018 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) decision that federal information technology (IT) grants totaling about $9 billion annually would no longer be tracked on OMB's public web site on IT investment performance. Accordingly, the CMS and Health and Human Services chief information officers (CIO) are not involved in overseeing MMIS or E&E projects. Similarly, 21 of 47 states responding to GAO's survey reported that their state CIO had little or no involvement in overseeing their MMISs. Such non-involvement of officials with duties that should be heavily focused on successful acquisition and operation of IT projects could be hindering states' ability to effectively implement systems. To improve oversight, CMS has begun a new outcome-based initiative that focuses the agency's review of state funding requests on the successful achievement of business outcomes. However, as of February 2020, CMS had not yet established a timeline for including MMIS and E&E systems in the new outcome-based process. CMS had various initiatives aimed at reducing duplication of Medicaid systems (see table). Description and Status of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Initiatives Aimed at Reducing Duplication by Sharing, Leveraging, and Reusing Medicaid Information Technology Initiative Description Implementation status Number of surveyed states reporting use of the initiative Reuse Repository Used by states to collect and share reusable artifacts. Made available in August 2017. As of January 2020, CMS was no longer supporting this initiative. 25 of the 50 reporting states Poplin Project Was to provide free, open-source application program interfaces for states to use in developing their modular Medicaid systems. Initiative never fully implemented. As of January 2020, CMS was no longer supporting this initiative. Three of the 50 reporting states Open Source Provider Screening Module Open-source module for states to use at no charge. Made available in August 2018. As of January 2020, CMS was no longer supporting this initiative. One of the 50 states reported attempting to use the module. Medicaid Enterprise Cohort Meetings A forum where states can discuss sharing, leveraging, and/or reuse of Medicaid technologies. As of January 2020, Cohort meetings were being held on a monthly basis. 47 of the 50 states reported participating in the meetings. Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-20-179 However, as of January 2020, the agency was no longer supporting most of these initiatives because they failed to produce the desired results. CMS regulations and GAO's prior work have highlighted the importance of reducing duplication by sharing and reusing Medicaid IT. To illustrate the potential for reducing duplication, 53 percent of state Medicaid officials responding to our survey reported using the same contractor to develop their MMIS. Nevertheless, selected states are taking the initiative to share systems or modules. Further support by CMS could result in additional sharing initiatives and potential cost savings. The Medicaid program is the largest source of health care funding for America's most at-risk populations and is funded jointly by states and the federal government. GAO was asked to assess CMS's oversight of federal expenditures for MMIS and E&E systems used for Medicaid. This report examines (1) the amount of federal funds that CMS has provided to state Medicaid programs to support MMIS and E&E systems, (2) the extent to which CMS reviews and approves states' funding requests for the systems and oversees the use of these funds, and (3) CMS's and states' efforts to reduce potential duplication of Medicaid IT systems. GAO assessed information related to MMIS and E&E systems, such as state expenditure data, federal regulations, and CMS guidance to the states for submitting funding requests, states' system funding requests, and IT project management documents. GAO also evaluated a generalizable sample of approved state funding requests from fiscal years 2016 through 2018 to analyze, among other things, CMS's review and approval process and conducted interviews with agency and state Medicaid officials. GAO also reviewed relevant regulations and guidance on promoting, sharing, and reusing MMIS and E&E technologies; and surveyed 50 states and six territories (hereafter referred to as states) regarding the MMIS and E&E systems, and assessed the complete or partial responses received from 50 states. GAO is making nine recommendations to improve CMS's processes for approving and overseeing the federal funds for MMIS and E&E systems and for bolstering efforts to reduce potential duplication. Among these recommendations are that CMS should develop formal, documented procedures that include specific steps to be taken in the advanced planning document review process and instructions on how CMS will document the reviews; develop, in consultation with the HHS and CMS CIOs, a documented, comprehensive, and risk-based process for how CMS will select IT projects for technical assistance and provide recommendations to assist states that is aimed at improving the performance of the systems; encourage state Medicaid program officials to consider involving state CIOs in overseeing Medicaid IT projects; establish a timeline for implementing the outcome-based certification process for MMIS and E&E systems; and identify, prior to approving funding for systems, similar projects that other states are pursuing so that opportunities to share, leverage, or reuse systems or system modules are considered. In written comments on a draft of this report, the department concurred with eight of the nine recommendations, and described steps it had taken and/or planned to take to address them. The department did not state whether it concurred with GAO's recommendation to encourage state officials to consider involving state CIOs in Medicaid IT projects. HHS stated that it was unable to discern evidence as to whether a certain structure contributed to a specific outcome. GAO believes, consistent with federal law, that CIOs are critically important to the success of IT projects. For more information, contact Vijay D’Souza at (202) 512-6240 or dsouzav@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers Delivers Remarks on the National Security Cyber Investigation into North Korean Operatives
    In Crime News
    Today, the Justice Department is announcing charges following a significant national security cyber investigation first disclosed publicly more than two years ago.
    [Read More…]
  • On Progress Toward Peace
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • The United States Welcomes the Organization of American States Resolution on Nicaragua
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the Atlantic Council’s Front Page Pride Edition Virtual Conversation with Jonathan Capehart on “Pressing for Equality: Engaging on LGBTQI Issues Around the World”
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Virtual Meeting with Japanese Business Leaders 
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Department of Energy: Improved Performance Planning Could Strengthen Technology Transfer
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy (DOE) and its national labs have taken several steps to address potential barriers to technology transfer—the process of providing DOE technologies, knowledge, or expertise to other entities. GAO characterized these barriers as (1) gaps in funding, (2) legal and administrative barriers, and (3) lack of alignment between DOE research and industry needs. For example, the “valley of death” is a gap between the end of public funding and start of private-sector funding. DOE partly addresses this gap with its Technology Commercialization Fund, which provides grants of $100,000 to $1.5 million to DOE researchers to advance promising technologies with private-sector partners. Further, DOE's Energy I-Corps program trains researchers to commercialize new technologies and to identify industry needs and potential customers. However, DOE has not assessed how many and which types of researchers would benefit from such training. Without doing so, DOE will not have the information needed to ensure its training resources target the researchers who would benefit most. Illustration of Funding Gap for Commercializing New Technologies DOE plans and tracks the performance of its technology transfer activities by setting strategic goals and objectives and annually collecting department-wide technology transfer measures, such as the number of patented inventions and licenses. However, the department does not have objective and measurable performance goals to assess progress toward the broader strategic goals and objectives it developed. For example, without a performance goal for the number of DOE researchers involved in technology transfer activities and a measure of such involvement, DOE cannot assess the extent to which it has met its objective to encourage national laboratory personnel to pursue technology transfer activities. Internal control standards for government agencies call for management to define objectives in measurable terms, either qualitative or quantitative, so that performance toward those objectives can be assessed. Moreover, DOE has not aligned the 79 existing measures that it collects with its goals and objectives, nor has it prioritized them. Some lab stakeholders said that collecting and reporting these measures is burdensome. Prior GAO work has found that having a large number of performance measures may risk creating a confusing excess of data that will obscure rather than clarify performance issues. Researchers at DOE and its 17 national labs regularly make contributions to new energy technologies, such as more efficient batteries for electric vehicles. Technology transfer officials at the labs help these researchers license intellectual property and partner with private-sector companies to bring these technologies to market. However, several recent reports have highlighted barriers and inconsistencies in technology transfer at DOE, including a 2015 commission report that found barriers related to the costs of collaboration and low maturity level of many DOE technologies. This report examines (1) steps DOE has taken to address barriers to technology transfer and (2) the extent to which DOE plans and tracks the performance of its technology transfer and commercialization activities. GAO analyzed DOE documents on technology transfer and spoke with officials at DOE and seven national labs, as well as with representatives of universities and private-sector companies. GAO selected labs across a range of DOE activities and based on their technology transfer activities. GAO recommends that DOE assess researchers' needs for commercialization training and develop objective, quantifiable, and measurable performance goals and a limited number of related performance measures for its technology transfer efforts. DOE concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Candice Wright at (202) 512-6888 or WrightC@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • This Hopping Robot Could Explore the Solar System’s Icy Moons
    In Space
    SPARROW, a steam-powered [Read More…]
  • Protests in Russia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General Okuliar Delivers Remarks to the Telecommunications Industry Association
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to join you today, thank you for the invitation. I’d like to begin with some prepared remarks addressing the importance of predictability and transparency to antitrust enforcement, particularly as it relates to standards-essential patents, give an overview of the Division’s recent activity in this space, and then turn to some questions.
    [Read More…]
  • VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Graduate Medical Education Reimbursement
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides training to more than 45,000 medical and dental residents annually through its Graduate Medical Education (GME) program. VHA has established policy for its GME program that details many roles and responsibilities for overseeing VA medical facilities' reimbursements to affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. However, this policy does not define key roles and responsibilities for VHA's central office components, its regional networks, or its medical facilities. For example, VHA's regional networks do not have defined roles and responsibilities for overseeing GME disbursements—contributing to noninvolvement or inconsistent involvement in disbursement agreement oversight. VHA officials reported that they are in the process of updating disbursement agreement policy, but did not indicate if the updates would address all identified concerns. While VHA officials said that VHA's two disbursement agreement oversight mechanisms—facility periodic audits and the Resident Disbursement Audit Process (ReDPro) checklist—are meant to have distinct but complementary purposes, GAO found that VHA policy, guidance, and the tools distributed for these oversight mechanisms did not reflect the distinct purposes officials described. VHA officials said that periodic audits are intended to be a first level of defense and to review actual payments to affiliates, whereas the ReDPro checklist is intended to be a second level of defense, aimed at reviewing the process to see if the rules related to disbursement agreements are being followed by VA medical facilities. However, the ReDPro checklist tool and VHA's recommended periodic audit tool have numerous areas of overlap, including duplicative questions. This overlap causes inefficiencies and unnecessary burden on VA medical facility staff. GAO also found additional weaknesses in the tools, guidance, and training for the two oversight mechanisms. For example, GAO found an unclear ReDPro checklist tool, along with insufficient guidance and training related to conducting the ReDPro reviews. Officials from eight of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that the ReDPro checklist instructions were unclear regarding appropriate supporting documents for checklist responses. These weaknesses contributed to errors and inconsistencies in ReDPro responses. the lack of a standard audit tool, and inadequate guidance and training for periodic audit teams that contributed to problematic inconsistencies in the methodologies used by the audit teams and deficiencies in some of the audits conducted. Officials from 10 of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that they would benefit from more tools, guidance, or training related to conducting periodic audits. These weaknesses limit the effectiveness of VHA's oversight mechanisms, and put VHA at increased risk of both not being able to identify and correct facilities' lack of adherence to disbursement agreement policy and of possible improper payments to GME affiliates. Under VHA's GME program, VA medical facilities use disbursement agreements to reimburse affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. VHA developed policy related to establishing and administering disbursement agreements, but audits have found that facilities have not always adhered to VHA policy—resulting in improper payments to affiliates. GAO was asked to review VHA policies and procedures related to reimbursements to affiliates for GME. This report examines (1) oversight roles and responsibilities for GME disbursement agreements and (2) VHA's mechanisms for ensuring VA medical facilities adhere to policy. GAO reviewed relevant VHA documents and federal internal control standards and interviewed VHA officials. GAO also reviewed ReDPro checklist responses and documentation from 13 VA medical facilities—selected based on factors including geographic variation, GME program size, and number of affiliates. GAO also visited four of the 13 facilities and interviewed officials at the other nine facilities. GAO is making seven recommendations to VA to define key roles in policy, reduce overlap between the ReDPro checklist and facility periodic audits, and improve the oversight mechanisms' tools, guidance, and training. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to ISIS
    In Crime News
    In San Antonio today, 22-year-old Cost resident Jaylyn Christopher Molina, aka Abdur Rahim, admitted to conspiring to provide material support to the designated foreign terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Syria (ISIS), announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Gregg N. Sofer and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio Division Christopher Combs.
    [Read More…]
  • Bankruptcy Filings Fall Sharply for Second Straight Quarter
    In U.S Courts
    Despite continued high unemployment related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, personal and business bankruptcy filings fell 21.1 percent for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2020, according to statistics released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
    [Read More…]
  • The President’s Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Public Health: Federal Programs Provide Screening and Treatment for Breast and Cervical Cancer
    In U.S GAO News
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operates the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (the Early Detection Program) to provide cancer screening and diagnostic services to people who are low-income and uninsured or underinsured. For those screened under the program who require treatment, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000 (the Treatment Act) allows states to extend Medicaid eligibility to individuals not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. GAO analysis of CDC data show that the Early Detection Program screened 296,225 people in 2018, a decrease from 550,390 in 2011 (about 46 percent). The largest decrease occurred from 2013 to 2014 (see figure). According to a CDC-funded study, the number of people eligible for the Early Detection Program decreased from 2011 through 2017, by about 48 percent for breast cancer and about 49 percent for cervical cancer. CDC officials attributed these declines in screening and eligibility, in part, to improved access to screening under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). For example, PPACA required health plans to cover certain women's preventive health care with no cost sharing. Number of People Screened by CDC's Early Detection Program, 2011-2018 GAO analysis of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) data found that, in 2019, 43,549 people were enrolled in Medicaid under the Treatment Act to receive treatment for breast or cervical cancer, a decrease from 50,219 in 2016 (13.3 percent). Thirty-seven states experienced a decrease in Medicaid enrollment under the Treatment Act during this time period, 13 states experienced an increase, and one state had no change. CMS officials noted that Medicaid expansion to adults with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level under PPACA (the new adult group) is a key factor that contributed to these enrollment trends. CMS officials said that, in Medicaid expansion states, there were some people who previously would have enrolled in Medicaid based on eligibility under the Treatment Act who instead became eligible for Medicaid in the new adult group. The CMS data show that total enrollment under the Treatment Act in Medicaid expansion states decreased by 25.6 percent from 2016 to 2019. In contrast, total enrollment under the Treatment Act in non-expansion states increased by about 1 percent during this time period. According to the CDC, tens of thousands of people die each year from breast or cervical cancer. Early screening and detection, followed by prompt treatment, can improve outcomes and, ultimately, save lives. Federal programs, like CDC's Early Detection Program, are intended to improve access to these services. GAO was asked to examine the implementation of the Early Detection Program and the states' use of Medicaid under the Treatment Act. This report provides information on the number of people who were 1) screened through the Early Detection Program and 2) enrolled in Medicaid under the Treatment Act. GAO analyzed CDC data on the number of people screened by the Early Detection Program from calendar years 2011 through 2018—the most recent available. GAO also analyzed CMS Medicaid enrollment data from 2016 through 2019—the most recent available. Additionally, GAO reviewed a 2020 study funded by CDC that examines the number of people eligible for the Early Detection Program from 2011 through 2017. Finally, GAO interviewed CDC and CMS officials and reviewed relevant CDC and CMS documents. For more information, contact John E. Dicken, (202) 512-7114, dickenj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Joint DOJ-EPA Event with EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan: Promoting Justice for Victims of Environmental Crime
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon and thank you so much for those kind words, Kris.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA Engineers Checking InSight’s Weather Sensors
    In Space
    An electronics issue is [Read More…]
  • Owner of Queens Acupuncture Business Pleads Guilty to Aiding and Assisting the Preparation of a False Tax Return
    In Crime News
    The co-owner of a New York acupuncture business pleaded guilty yesterday to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]
  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    Each weekday, the [Read More…]
  • Serbia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Ph.D. Chemist Convicted of Conspiracy to Steal Trade Secrets, Economic Espionage, Theft of Trade Secrets and Wire Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal jury in Greeneville, Tennessee, convicted a U.S. citizen today of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud.
    [Read More…]
  • Remarks at Perth USAsia Center
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    Ambassador Atul Keshap, [Read More…]
  • U.S. Government and the State of Illinois Reach Agreement with Peoria and the Greater Peoria Sanitary District to Reduce Water Pollution from Sewer System
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the state of Illinois today announced an agreement with the city of Peoria and the Greater Peoria Sanitary District (GPSD) that will yield significant reductions of sewage discharges from Peoria’s wastewater systems into the Illinois River and Peoria Lake.
    [Read More…]
  • Attorney General William P. Barr Honors Department of Justice Employees and Others for the 68th Annual Attorney General’s Awards
    In Crime News
    Today, Attorney General [Read More…]
  • Drug Safety: FDA’s Future Inspection Plans Need to Address Issues Presented by COVID-19 Backlog
    In U.S GAO News
    Fiscal year 2015 was the first time that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted more inspections of foreign drug manufacturers than domestic manufacturers, with the majority conducted in China and India. However, in June 2020, GAO reported that from fiscal year 2016 through fiscal year 2018, both foreign and domestic inspections decreased, in part due to staffing vacancies. While foreign inspections increased in 2019, since March 2020, FDA has largely paused foreign and domestic inspections due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, conducting only those deemed mission critical. In January 2021, GAO reported that FDA conducted three foreign inspections in fiscal year 2020 following the pause—significantly less than in recent years. Number of FDA-Conducted Foreign Drug Manufacturing Establishment Inspections, Fiscal Years 2019–2020, by Month FDA has used alternative inspection tools to maintain some oversight of drug manufacturing quality while inspections are paused. These tools include relying on inspections conducted by foreign regulators, requesting and reviewing records and other information, and sampling and testing drugs. FDA has determined that inspections conducted by certain European regulators are equivalent to and can be substituted for an FDA inspection. Other tools provide useful information but are not equivalent. In addition, FDA was unable to complete more than 1,000 of its planned fiscal year 2020 inspections and will likely face a backlog of inspections in future years. In January 2021, GAO recommended that FDA ensure that inspection plans for future fiscal years respond to the issues presented by the backlog and that FDA fully assess the agency's alternative inspection tools. FDA concurred with both recommendations. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, FDA faced persistent challenges conducting foreign inspections. GAO found in December 2019 that there continued to be vacancies among the investigators who conduct foreign inspections. GAO further found that FDA's practice of preannouncing foreign inspections up to 12 weeks in advance could give manufacturers the opportunity to fix problems ahead of the inspection and raised questions about their equivalence to domestic inspections. In light of COVID-19, FDA is now preannouncing both foreign and domestic inspections for the safety of its staff and manufacturers. GAO also found that language barriers can create challenges during foreign inspections as FDA generally relies on the establishment for translation services. The outbreak of COVID-19 has called greater attention to the United States' reliance on foreign drug manufacturers. FDA reports that 74 percent of establishments manufacturing active ingredients and 54 percent of establishments manufacturing finished drugs for the U.S. market were located overseas, as of May 2020. FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and effectiveness of all drugs marketed in the United States, regardless of where they are produced, and it conducts inspections of both foreign and domestic manufacturing establishments. GAO has had long-standing concerns about FDA's ability to oversee the increasingly global pharmaceutical supply chain, an issue highlighted in GAO's High Risk Series since 2009. This statement is largely based on GAO's Drug Manufacturing Inspections enclosure in its January 2021 CARES Act report, as well as GAO's December 2019 and June 2020 testimonies. Specifically, it discusses (1) the number of FDA's foreign inspections, (2) FDA's response to the COVID-19 pandemic pause in inspections, and (3) persistent foreign inspection challenges. For that work, GAO examined FDA data from fiscal years 2012 through 2020, interviewed FDA investigators, and reviewed documents related to drug oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Austrian Foreign Minister Schallenberg
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Yang Man-Hee of Seoul Broadcasting System
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Executions Scheduled for Inmates Convicted of Brutal Murders Many Years Ago
    In Crime News
    Attorney General William P. Barr today directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of three federal-death row inmates sentenced to death for staggeringly brutal murders, including the murder of a child and, with respect to two inmates, the murder of multiple victims.
    [Read More…]
  • Fiji Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Exercise increased [Read More…]
  • 2018 Pacific Island Disasters: Federal Actions Helped Facilitate the Response, but FEMA Needs to Address Long-Term Recovery Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took steps prior to the 2018 disasters in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and Hawaii to facilitate response in the region, where time and distance from the continental United States create unique challenges. For instance, FEMA increased the capacity of two Pacific-area supply distribution centers and helped develop area specific disaster response plans. FEMA and its federal partners, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), had varied response roles, which local officials in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii considered effective. For example, DOD provided temporary roof repair for disaster survivors in the CNMI. Damage from Typhoon Yutu in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (left) and the Kilauea Volcano Eruption in Hawaii (right) As of October 2020, FEMA obligated $877 million—more than 70 percent of which was for Individual and Public Assistance missions—following the 2018 disasters and made progress addressing some region specific challenges. However, FEMA has not fully addressed housing assistance issues in the CNMI. For example, it experienced delays implementing its Permanent Housing Construction program in the CNMI due to contracting shortfalls and lack of experienced staff. As of October 2020, only about 30 percent of homes were completed and returned to survivors. GAO found that these housing assistance challenges are consistent with lessons learned from prior FEMA missions in other remote areas of the U.S. Developing guidance that addresses lessons learned in the Permanent Housing Construction program could help streamline assistance to disaster survivors. GAO also identified delays in FEMA's obligation of Public Assistance program funds—used to repair or replace disaster-damaged public infrastructure such as utilities, roads, and schools—in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii. Specifically, on average, it took over a year for FEMA to approve funds for projects awarded after the 2018 disasters. FEMA and local officials identified potential reasons for the delays, including cost estimation challenges. FEMA established cost factors in the CNMI to account for higher construction costs, and GAO found that FEMA collects some data on the timeliness of individual steps in the process. However, FEMA has not analyzed the data to help identify causes of the delays, which could allow it to target solutions to address them. The CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii experienced an unprecedented number of natural disasters in 2018—including typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides, and volcanic eruptions. FEMA is the lead federal agency responsible for helping states and territories prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. Due to the remoteness of Hawaii and the Pacific territories, disaster response and recovery can be challenging. Title IX of the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 includes a provision for GAO to review FEMA's response and recovery efforts for 2018 natural disasters, including those in the Pacific region. This report examines (1) how FEMA and its federal partners prepared for and responded to the 2018 disasters in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii; and (2) the extent to which FEMA assisted the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii in recovering from the 2018 natural disasters. GAO analyzed program documents, response plans, and data on FEMA obligations, expenditures, and grant process steps as of October 2020; interviewed federal, state, territorial, and local officials; and visited disaster-damaged areas in Hawaii. GAO is making four recommendations, including that FEMA (1) incorporate lessons learned into Permanent Housing Construction guidance; and (2) use performance data to identify and address inefficiencies in the Public Assistance program. The Department of Homeland Security concurred, and FEMA is taking actions in response. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or curriec@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Physician Pleads Guilty in Medicaid Fraud Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A California man pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
    [Read More…]
  • Defense Management: Opportunities Exist to Improve DOD’s Reform Efforts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has long sought to reform its enterprise business operations—such as its processes to manage contracts, finances, and supply chain— but faces challenges in improving department-wide management. DOD has taken some actions to improve its business operations data, but remains limited by the lack of reliable cost data, affecting its ability to monitor and inform its reform efforts. Having reliable data to identify baseline costs of the department's business and management functions and to measure progress has been a key challenge facing DOD, but one the department is trying to address. As GAO reported in November 2020, DOD has made progress in setting baseline costs of certain activities, such as logistics and real estate management. Further, DOD has ongoing efforts to develop baselines for all of the department's enterprise business operations that should enable it to better monitor reform progress. However, DOD needs better data about how it performs its business functions. For example, in September 2018, GAO reported that DOD's efforts to reduce inefficiencies in human resources services were hampered by inconsistent performance data across the six organizations that provide these services. DOD has ongoing efforts to address GAO's recommendations. DOD still needs clear roles, responsibilities, authorities and dedicated resources to support reform. GAO has found that demonstrating sustained leadership commitment—including through ensuring that those responsible for leading change have clearly defined and documented roles, responsibilities, and authorities—is imperative for successful business transformation. GAO has assessed many of DOD's organizational structures over the decades, including the recently eliminated Chief Management Officer (CMO) position. GAO found that, while Congress had given the CMO both significant responsibilities and authorities, DOD had not resolved unanswered questions about how those authorities would be carried out, nor communicated the CMO's roles and responsibilities department-wide. GAO also identified instances where CMO reforms were hampered by a lack of resources. As DOD moves to an organization without the CMO position, which was eliminated in 2021, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of those tasked with managing business reform remains important. DOD could also improve its efforts to reliably demonstrate progress toward meaningful reform. DOD has reported achievements from some of its department-wide efforts, such as its reported $37 billion in savings from fiscal years 2017 to 2021. However, GAO reported in November 2020 that while DOD's reported savings were largely reflected in its budget materials, the underlying analyses were not always well documented and the savings were not always consistent with the department's definitions of reform. For example, one reform initiative was based on delaying military construction projects that, according to DOD officials, allowed DOD to fund higher priorities. If a delayed project is still planned, however, the costs will likely be realized in a future year and are not a reflection of business process reform. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations to establish a process to standardize development and documentation of such cost savings, and ensure that reported savings are consistent with the department's definitions of reform. Why GAO Did This Study DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain key business operations and defense-wide agencies and programs intended to support the warfighter, including systems and processes related to the management of contracts, finances, the supply chain, support infrastructure, and weapon systems acquisition. The department's approach to transforming these business operations is linked to its ability to perform its overall mission, directly affecting the readiness and capabilities of U.S. military forces. This testimony summarizes GAO's past work related to DOD's efforts to improve the management of its business operations. Specifically, this testimony discusses DOD's efforts to (1) improve data and baselines to monitor and inform reform efforts; (2) establish clear roles, responsibilities, and authorities for leading reform efforts, and dedicate resources to these efforts; and (3) reliably demonstrate progress in its reform efforts. This statement is based on GAO's body of work issued from 2017 through 2020 on DOD management and business reform issues.
    [Read More…]
  • 15 Named In $26 Million International Trade Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Houston, Texas, has returned a criminal indictment against eight individuals, while a related civil complaint has charged 14 individuals and one company relating to international trade fraud violations stemming from a decade-long scheme involving tires from China.  
    [Read More…]
  • Soldiers charged with alien smuggling
    In Justice News
    Two Fort Hood active [Read More…]
  • Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt Delivers Remarks at the PPP Criminal Fraud Enforcement Action Press Conference
    In Crime News
    Over the course of the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across our country and presented unprecedented challenges for ordinary Americans from all walks of life. 
    [Read More…]
  • Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s Visit to the United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Arab Republic of Egypt
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Publish Final Rule on Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security (collectively, the Departments) announced the forthcoming publication of a Final Rule that will streamline and enhance procedures for the adjudication of claims for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) regulations. 
    [Read More…]
  • Former Venezuelan National Treasurer and Her Spouse Charged in Connection with International Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme
    In Crime News
    A former Venezuelan National Treasurer and her spouse were charged in a superseding indictment filed Tuesday for their alleged participation in a previously indicted billion-dollar currency exchange and money laundering scheme. An alleged co-conspirator was previously charged in the original indictment.
    [Read More…]
  • Disqualification of Pan-Democratic Lawmakers in Hong Kong
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Arrests Made in Conspiracy to Illegally Manufacture Firearms
    In Crime News
    On Oct. 20, 2020, a former United States Marine Lance Corporal, recently stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and two co-defendants were arrested in Boise, Idaho on the federal charge of conspiracy to unlawfully manufacture, possess, and distribute various weapons, ammunition, and suppressors.  Liam Montgomery Collins, 21, and Paul James Kryscuk, 35, recently of Boise, were charged via an indictment, while Jordan Duncan, 25, a North Carolina native also currently residing in Boise, was charged via a complaint, both obtained in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo with Tony Perkins of Washington Watch with Tony Perkins
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Worldwide Caution
    In Travel
    This latest update to [Read More…]
  • Remarks at the Ministerial on Climate Action
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    John Kerry, Special [Read More…]
  • Lakeway Regional Medical Center LLC And Co-Defendants Agree To Pay Over $15.3 Million To Resolve Allegations They Fraudulently Obtained Government-Insured Loan And Misused Loan Funds
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that Lakeway Regional Medical Center LLC (LRMC) agreed to pay $13,580,822.79, and Surgical Development Partners LLC, Surgical Development Partners of Austin Enterprises LLC, G. Edward Alexander, Frank Sossi, and John Prater collectively agreed to pay $1.8 million, to resolve allegations they violated the False Claims Act and other statutes in connection with the development of Lakeway Regional Medical Center, a hospital in Lakeway, Texas.  LRMC was formed to develop and operate the hospital.  The other settling parties assisted in the development of the hospital and the management and operations of LRMC. 
    [Read More…]
  • Curiosity Mars Rover’s Summer Road Trip Has Begun
    In Space
    After more than a year [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Production of Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A North Carolina man pleaded guilty Monday to production of child pornography. 
    [Read More…]