October 21, 2021

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Department Press Briefing – September 24, 2021

26 min read

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:00 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Thank you for that, and good afternoon, everyone. As you all know, this week Secretary Blinken participated in the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Week. This, of course, was the first one since President Biden took office.

It was an opportunity for the United States to show up, to listen, and, as Secretary Blinken said, to lead as we rally others to work together in tackling the most pressing challenges of our time. You heard the President call for “relentless diplomacy,” and our State Department team – of course, that includes the Secretary, the deputy secretary, our under secretaries, our assistant secretaries, and diplomats and others from across the department – have been doing just that, including here in New York this week.

The Secretary for his part had the opportunity to meet with partners and allies from around the world for a wide range of bilateral and multilateral discussions. You’ve seen the readouts by now, so I won’t bore you with detailing each of them, but I will note the Secretary met with counterparts from six continents, engaging with more than 60 countries in bilateral, regional, or multilateral groupings, and that includes meeting with foreign ministers from the UK, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, France, Pakistan, EU High Representative Borrell, and the president of the DRC.

Among his multilateral engagements were meeting with – meetings of counterparts from the P5 that was hosted by the UN Secretary-General, and the C5+1. He met with foreign ministers from ASEAN nations, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and with foreign ministers from Mexico and Central America. The Secretary also participated in trilateral talks with the Japanese and Korean foreign ministers on the margins of the General Assembly.

In addition, he participated in the ministerial on Libya, hosted by France, Germany, and Italy. He had a productive dialogue with G20 foreign ministers on Afghanistan, and he attended yesterday’s UN Security Council meeting on climate and security. The Secretary also spoke at the Global COVID-19 Summit hosted by the White House where he affirmed the U.S. commitment to fighting the virus at home and around the world.

All of these engagements are essential, because if we are to deliver for the American people – to confront the truly great challenges of our time – we have to work together. We’ve been very clear about that. We know that and we recognize that.

And that’s why you’ve seen the United States making such a determined effort to revitalize our alliances and partnerships. We’ve reaffirmed, for example, our unshakable commitment to NATO, and in particular the sacrosanct notion of Article 5, as well as to the defense of our allies in East Asia. We’re renewing, broadening, and deepening our engagement with the European Union and elevating the Quad partnership, as you’re watching unfold at the White House right now. We’re re-engaging with regional institutions from ASEAN to the African Union to the Organization of American States.

But across all of our diplomatic engagements this week, as you heard from the Secretary yesterday, two challenges really stood out above the rest: COVID-19 and the climate crisis.

On the former, on COVID-19, the President announced new commitments the United States is making to end the pandemic, including purchasing half a billion additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That brings the total number of doses the United States will donate to more than 1.1 billion. We are working with countries around the world to vaccinate billions of people, taking bold steps to save lives, and building back better to prevent the next pandemic.

We know, as you’ve heard, that as long as the virus is circulating anywhere, is it a – it is a threat to people everywhere.

On tackling the climate crisis, only a few weeks away from COP26, you heard the Secretary very clearly state that every nation will need to come to the table with their highest possible ambitions. We must keep within reach the essential goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s precisely why earlier this year the President made an ambitious commitment of our own when it comes to the United States.

The Secretary also had several opportunities – bilaterally and multilaterally – to make the point that all countries and organizations represented here in New York at the UN have a shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan. And together we must stay united in holding the Taliban to their commitments in key areas, and there are five of them that we have talked about.

First, we must hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow foreign nationals and Afghans to travel outside the country if they so choose. We support the safe departure of Afghans who want to leave, and we support our partners in their efforts to relocate Afghan staff and family members. We believe this should be a prerequisite to any meaningful engagement with the Taliban.

Second, we must hold the Taliban accountable to their commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that threaten other countries.

Third, we must be fierce advocates for the human rights of all Afghan people, of all the people of Afghanistan, and that includes women, children, members of minority groups. And the Taliban must make good on their commitment not to carry out reprisal violence and to grant an amnesty to all who worked for the former government or coalition forces.

Fourth, we must keep pressing the Taliban on unimpeded humanitarian access. It is something that is of paramount importance to us that, together with the international community, we are able to continue to deliver these substantial pledges and commitments that collectively we’ve made

And finally, we’ve called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people. And in saying “we,” I use the term collectively, because this is not something that the United States alone has called for or signed onto. This is something that much of the international world has been behind throughout the course of the recent weeks.

High-Level Week at the UN may be ending, but our relentless diplomacy, as you’ve heard, both here at the UN and around the world will continue. So with that, I’m happy to take questions. Operator, do you want to repeat the instructions for asking questions?

OPERATOR: Certainly. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, to ask a question, press 1 0 on your phone, listen for your name to be called, and please wait for confirmation that we’ve opened your line before you start speaking so we won’t miss any of your question. Once again, that’s 1, 0 to queue up for questions. Go ahead, sir.

MR PRICE: We’ll start with Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for doing this —

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

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I wanted to ask on Afghanistan if there have been any additional flights for American citizens and green card holders, and if so, how many LPRs and AMCITs have left the country? Have there been any more overland crossings, and what is your estimate of how many folks still remain there who would like to leave? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Jenny. So I’m happy to offer a recap as it stands when it comes to American citizens and LPRs. Since August 31st, a total of 85 U.S. citizens and 79 lawful permanent residents have departed Afghanistan with our assistance. That includes four Qatar Airways charter flights that have departed Kabul with a total of 78 U.S. citizens and 66 lawful permanent residents. Additionally, since August 31st, seven U.S. citizens and thirteen LPRs have departed Afghanistan with our assistance via overland crossing. I think all of this underscores that we continue to make good on our pledge to U.S. citizens, to LPRs, and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment that we will be relentless in helping them depart Afghanistan if and when they choose to do so.

We’ve spoken about the charters facilitated by our partner Qatar that are leaving from Kabul International Airport. We’ve spoken about the overland crossings. We can also confirm that a few privately organized flights have departed from Mazar-e-Sharif, and we’re continuing to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of U.S. citizens, LPRs, and Afghans to whom we have a special commitment who wish to leave Afghanistan through all of those means.

Go to the line of Nick Wadhams.

OPERATOR: Go ahead, your line is open now, sir.

QUESTION: Ned, can you comment on the announcement that there’s been an agreement in the case of Meng Wanzhou? Is this part of a broader agreement between the United States and China? Did the U.S. get anything in return for the decision involving her case? And this was obviously on the list of irritants that China had presented to Wendy Sherman in the Tianjin meeting a little while ago, so could you comment on that, please? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Nick, but I need to refer you to DOJ to speak to cases that are within their purview.

Let’s go to the line of Katerina Sokou.

QUESTION: Thank you, and thank you for doing this. I was on the previous press briefing, where you just reiterated that Turkey is an important NATO Ally for the U.S., and I know that you have tried to engage with Turkey, including during this week. So I was wondering how you take the Turkish president’s recent comments that the U.S. supports terrorism and his threats for the upcoming trip to Russia, substituting the F-35 with Russian technology aircraft. I would like your comment, please.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. As I mentioned just a moment ago to a different group, we consider Turkey to be an ally and a friend. Turkey is, in fact, an important NATO Ally that has played an important role across any number of challenges over the years. I’ve spoken about Turkey’s ongoing efforts together with our partner Qatar to facilitate operations at Kabul International Airport as one example of that.

We continuously seek opportunities to strengthen our longstanding bilateral partnership even when we disagree, and ours is a relationship with Turkey where we can have important areas of cooperation even as we have disagreements in other areas as well.

We’ll go to Missy Ryan.

QUESTION: Quick question – and I don’t know if you can answer this or whether we do need to go to Treasury or not, but there was this announcement about a general license issued related to – I guess to – related to aid, humanitarian activities in Afghanistan, and also something – it looked like it was about medicine and other kinds of commodity commerce. And I’m just wondering if you can sort of tell us how – how that difference and the specific license that was issued a few weeks ago, and just sort of what this represents in trying to facilitate the humanitarian assistance that you referenced at the beginning of the call. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Missy. So yes, today the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, issued two general licenses to support our continued flow of humanitarian assistance or other activities that support basic human needs for the people of Afghanistan as well as critical food and medicine. As you’ve heard from us, we have been in touch with partners around the world about work in Afghanistan both regarding security conditions on the ground and about their ability to continue that important and critical work.

Humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic needs are conducted by independent organizations like UN agencies and NGOs and are aimed at providing vulnerable Afghans with critically needed food, emergency health needs, and emergency health needs including those related to COVID-19, and other urgently needed humanitarian relief.

And so today, Treasury took further steps to mitigate the impact of sanctions on humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan by issuing, as I said before, those two general licenses and four Frequently Asked Questions. These actions authorize the U.S. Government, certain international organizations including the UN and the World Bank and NGOs and those acting on their behalf, to continue humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan.

These licenses and corresponding FAQs, or Frequently Asked Questions, will enable non-U.S. persons, including NGOs and foreign financial institutions, to continue to support critical and lifesaving activities. This follows past precedent in which the United States has taken steps to address urgent humanitarian needs in jurisdictions subject to U.S. sanctions regulations, as is the case here.

As we maintain our commitment to the Afghan people, we’ve maintained sanctions pressure on the Taliban and its leaders as well as the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system. And this gets back to the core point that even as we maintain pressure on the Taliban and we continue to hold them to account for the commitments they’ve made both publicly and privately, we will not relent in our efforts to provide needed humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan. We can and will do both.

We’ll go to Humeyra Pamuk.

OPERATOR: I apologize for that delay. Go ahead, your line is now open.

QUESTION: Sorry. Okay, I was talking. Sorry about that. Thanks, Ned.

I was just wondering if you saw the latest from the Iranian foreign minister. He says nuclear talks to resume “very soon.” Over the past 24 hours or 12 hours since the Secretary last spoke, have you guys been communicated by the Europeans of any date? Do you have anything more on this “very soon” in terms of timing? And overall, what’s your response to this statement that – him saying this is going to resume pretty soon? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Humeyra, for that question. We’ve, of course, seen Foreign Minister Abdollahian’s statements that Iran will return to the negotiating table. You’ll need to ask them on the meaning of “soon” and “very soon.” That is a message we’ve heard all week, but we have up until this point not received clarity on what precisely that means.

For our part, we are ready to return to Vienna and to conclude our negotiating – negotiations quickly before the window of opportunity to return to the JCPOA closes. We have made very clear that we are ready to do so. And notably, all of the P5+1 in the context of discussions this week and in recent weeks have agreed on the need to resume talks as soon as possible, and important to pick up those talks where they last left off in June. That in our minds and that in the minds of the collective P5+1 needs to be the starting place if we are going to resume talks in Vienna and if we are going to make every effort to conclude those talks as quickly as we can with a joint return to compliance with the JCPOA.

We’ll go to Matt Lee.

OPERATOR: Go ahead, sir. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yeah, hey. Sorry, Humerya asked my question, so I’m okay.

MR PRICE: Okay. All right. We’ll take that.

We’ll go to Elizabeth Hagedorn.

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

QUESTION: Hi. Does the administration have any reaction to Tunisia’s president saying this week that he will rule by decree? And does the State Department – or did the State Department ever make a legal determination as to whether or not a coup occurred in July? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. We share the Tunisian people’s goal of a democratic government that is responsive to the country’s needs as it battles economic and health crises. We are concerned that transitional measures are continuing without a clear end. President Saied should appoint a prime minister to form a government able to address those urgent needs. We echo calls from the Tunisian public for the president to articulate a plan with a clear timeline for an inclusive reform process that includes civil society and diverse political voices.

When it comes to the actions that led to this point, more important than debating what to label these events is the critical work of supporting Tunisia on its democratic path, and that’s what we’re focused on.

We’ll go to Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hello?

OPERATOR: Go ahead. You’re open.

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Hi, Ned. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

QUESTION: Okay. On Quad, the United States attaches a great importance to the Indo-Pacific region. However, there are currently only four countries participating in the Quad. I think more allies should join the Quad to counter China’s power. Are you hoping for the participation of other allies such as South Korea in the near future? And why do you think South Korea is hesitant to join the Quad? Thank you very much.

MR PRICE: Thanks for that question. Of course, there is an important meeting of the Quad today. It will be the first time the leaders of the Quad see each other in person in that context. We believe the Quad is an essential multilateral grouping that convenes four likeminded democracies – the United States, Australia, Japan, and India – to coordinate in the Indo-Pacific, ensuring our collective commitment to peace, to security, to prosperity in the region. The Quad leaders today will be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on a number of areas: combating COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, promoting high standards, infrastructure, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates this administration’s priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century, but it also is true that there are a number of bilateral and multilateral fora that are incredibly important to us, including in the Indo-Pacific. And we seek and welcome cooperation with any number of allies and partners, including the EU, when it comes to the Indo-Pacific and reinforcing the rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Look, when it comes to the Quad, you said something in your question that I think bears a point here. The Quad is not about any single challenge. It’s not about any single competitor. This is an entity formed out of our common interests and our common values. And at the heart of the Quad is the idea that together we should preserve, protect, and strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific. We look forward to doing that – continuing to do that with the Quad. We look forward to doing – continuing to do that with our South Korean allies. We look forward to doing that with our European allies, and we’ll do all of those things together.

Shaun Tandon, please.

OPERATOR: Go ahead, Shaun, you’re open.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I wanted to see if you had anything to say about Taiwan’s application to join the successor to the TPP. I realize the U.S. isn’t involved in that, but does the U.S. have any take on that? And how do you see as well the Chinese reaction to that, including the jets that recently have been flying near Taiwan? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for that, Shaun. We do understand that Taiwan has submitted a formal request to join the CPTPP. As you alluded to, we are not a party to the CPTPP, therefore, we’ll have to defer to CPTPP parties regarding their views on Taiwan’s potential accession. That said, we would expect that Taiwan’s record as a responsible member of the World Trade Organization and Taiwan’s strong embrace of democratic values would factor into the CPTPP’s parties’ evaluations of Taiwan as a potential candidate for accession. Our colleagues at the USTR Office may have more to say on that as well.

When it comes to Taiwan more broadly, we will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues consistent with the wishes and the best interest of people in Taiwan – people on Taiwan, excuse me. We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan.

QUESTION: Hi Ned, thanks for doing this. I had a couple questions about the Taliban. One, I just wanted to see if you had any reaction to the AP’s reporting that Taliban founder Mullah Turabi had declared that executions and amputation of hands and things like that would resume under Taliban rule.

And secondly, just from talking to a lot of Americans who are intimately involved and in direct contact with Afghan families on the ground who are trying to escape the country and have been trying to do so since before the fall of Kabul, when it comes to holding the Taliban accountable if they’re not allowing that to happen – I mean, a lot of these instances from what we’re hearing is that the Taliban are using intimidation and sometimes beatings and detainment to thwart people who want to escape from escaping. So does the State Department already consider the Taliban in breach of those agreements? And if so, what methods are being used to hold them to account?

MR PRICE: Thanks for that and for those questions. When it comes to your first question, the announcement we’ve heard from the Taliban, we condemn in the strongest terms reports of reinstating amputations and executions of Afghans. The acts the Taliban are talking about here would constitute clear gross abuses of human rights, and we stand firm with the international community to hold perpetrators of these – of any such abuses accountable.

We stand with the Afghan people, especially with women, children, journalists, human rights defenders, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, and members of minority groups, and demand that the Taliban immediately cease any such atrocious abuses. The world is watching. The international community is watching very closely. And together we have consistently emphasized the importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for any future government in Afghanistan.

Those rights include freedom from torture and cruel and inhuman – inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as rights related to due process. And so again, we are watching very closely, and not just listening to the announcements that come out but watching very closely as the Taliban conducts itself.

When it comes to – and I should add that over the course of this week, we’ve had any number of occasions to speak with our partners and allies in a bilateral and multilateral basis, including in a G20 ministerial on Afghanistan where one of the key expectations that we heard echoed within that forum was holding the Taliban to account for the human rights of the Afghan people. And of course, that includes the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of minorities. So this is not just the United States offering our voice and putting forward what we will do. This is the international community doing that in concert with us and speaking with one voice.

And that gets us to the second part of your question. Look, the United States has significant leverage when it comes to the Taliban and any future government of Afghanistan, but we have all the more leverage when we work in coordination and in harmony with our allies and partners around the globe. The Taliban will need and in fact want international assistance. They will seek legitimacy. They’ve already sought such legitimacy in important ways already. We have been very clear that the United States and the international community will be watching very closely as things unfold going forward to make sure that we continue to have a unified approach to ensure that we’re best-positioned to assist the people of Afghanistan going forward and into the future.

We’ll go to Eunjung Cho.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. Today North Korea indicated that it is willing to hold constructive talks with South Korea. Can you update us on North Korean reaction to U.S. offers to talk? And also, is – the New York channel through the North Korean Mission to the UN Headquarters in New York, is that channel open and running between Washington and Pyongyang at this point?

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. As you’ve heard from us, our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And our policy, the product of an intensive policy review, calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK in order to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, of our allies, of our deployed forces and other partners in the region.

And so, as we’ve said, we are prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions. We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. We’ve made very clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK.

In the meantime, we’re continuing to consult closely with our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan. And in fact, just yesterday the Secretary had an opportunity to meet on a trilateral basis with his Japanese and ROK counterparts, because we know that our approach to the DPRK will be as effective as we – as it can if we are working in lockstep with our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK.

With that, we’ll conclude today’s briefing. I want to thank everyone for joining, and we will see you on Monday. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:30 p.m.)

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    In U.S GAO News
    The United States has provided approximately $38.6 billion in reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan and has over 35,000 troops in the country as of February 2009. Some progress has occurred in areas such as economic growth, infrastructure development, and training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but the overall security situation in Afghanistan has not improved after more than 7 years of U.S. and international efforts. In response, the new administration plans to deploy approximately 21,000 additional troops1 to Afghanistan this year, and has completed a strategic review of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Based on our past work and the significance of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan to the overall U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, we have highlighted Afghanistan as an urgent oversight issue facing this Congress. The government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of the international community, developed the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), which was finalized in June 20083, as a guiding document for achieving Afghanistan's reconstruction goals. The ANDS articulates the priorities of the government of Afghanistan as consisting of four major areas: (1) security; (2) governance, rule of law, and human rights; (3) economic and social development; and (4) counternarcotics. The United States adopted the ANDS as a guiding document for its efforts, and has also identified an end state for Afghanistan using four strategic goals: namely, that Afghanistan is: (1) never again a safe haven for terrorists and is a reliable, stable ally in the Global War on Terror (GWOT); (2) moderate and democratic, with a thriving private sector economy; (3) capable of governing its territory and borders; and (4) respectful of the rights of all its citizens. In discussing his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2009, the President noted his goals were to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. In addition, according to Department of State (State) officials, the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is assembling provincial plans for security and development. Department of Defense (DOD), State, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officials have suggested that securing, stabilizing, and reconstructing Afghanistan will take at least a decade and require continuing international assistance.Security in Afghanistan has worsened significantly in the last 3 years, impeding both U.S. and international partners' efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country. The security situation, including the overall increase in insurgent attacks from 2005 to 2008, is the result of a variety of factors including a resurgence of the Taliban in the south, the limited capabilities of Afghan security forces, a continuing and thriving illicit drug trade in the south, and the threat emanating from insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2009, the United States provided approximately $38.6 billion to support Afghanistan's reconstruction goals, which can often be characterized as construction. According to DOD, $22 billion of the $38.6 billion has been disbursed. Over half of the $38.6 billion was provided to support the development of the Afghan national army and police forces. Almost a third of the funding was provided to support economic and social development efforts, such as the construction of roads and schools, and the remainder was provided to governance, rule of law, and human rights and counternarcotics programs. Since 2003, we have issued 21 reports and testimonies on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Over the course of this work we have identified improvements that were needed as well as many obstacles that affect success and should be considered in program planning and implementation. In most of the U.S. efforts in the past, we found the need for improved planning, including the development of coordinated interagency plans that include measurable goals, specific time frames, cost estimates, and identification of external factors that could significantly affect efforts in key areas such as building Afghanistan's national security forces. We also concluded that several existing conditions, such as worsening security; the lack of a coordinated, detailed interagency plan; and the limited institutional capacity of the Afghanistan government continue to create challenges to the U.S. efforts to assist with securing, stabilizing, and rebuilding Afghanistan. To assist the 111th Congress, GAO is highlighting key issues for consideration in developing oversight agendas and determining the way forward in securing and stabilizing Afghanistan. Significant oversight will be needed to help ensure visibility over the cost and progress of these efforts. The suggested areas for additional oversight include the following topics: (1) U.S. and international commitments, (2) Security environment, (3) U.S. forces and equipment, (4) Afghan national security forces, (5) Counternarcotics efforts, (6) Economic development, (7) Government capacity, (8) Accountability for U.S. provided weapons, and (9) Oversight of contractor performance.
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Izumi Oguri of Nippon TV
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Department of Homeland Security: Progress Made Strengthening Management Functions, but Work Remains
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Shortly after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed, GAO designated implementing and transforming DHS as a high-risk area to the federal government because it had to transform 22 agencies—several with major management challenges—into one department. Progress made. In 2013, GAO reported that challenges remained for DHS across its range of missions, but that the department had made considerable progress transforming its original component agencies into a single cabinet-level department. As a result, GAO narrowed the scope of the high-risk area to focus on strengthening DHS management functions—specifically acquisition, information technology, financial, and human capital management. DHS's efforts to strengthen and integrate its management functions have resulted in the department meeting 3 of 5 criteria for removal from GAO's High-Risk List—demonstrating leadership commitment, having an action plan, and monitoring the effectiveness of its actions. DHS has partially met the remaining two criteria for removal—having sufficient capacity and demonstrating progress. Several factors contributed to DHS's success in narrowing the scope of the high-risk area. These include: DHS's top leaders demonstrated leadership commitment and support for addressing the department's challenges, which helped ensure sustained, consistent progress in this high-risk area. DHS consistently communicated its efforts and regularly sought constructive and specific feedback from GAO on its strategy and approach to addressing the high-risk area. Work remaining. Continued progress for this high-risk area depends on DHS addressing its remaining management challenges. For example, DHS needs to make additional progress identifying and allocating resources in acquisition and financial management. For instance: DHS lacks acquisition support staffing plans and has not clearly defined which acquisition positions are critical for oversight responsibilities, limiting DHS's insight into whether it has appropriate staff to carry out its duties. DHS's financial statement auditor identified several capacity-related issues, including resource limitations and inadequate staff training, resulting in material weaknesses in its 2020 financial statements. DHS also has work remaining to demonstrate progress implementing corrective measures. Specifically, of the 30 outcome measures GAO uses to gauge the department's progress, DHS has not yet fully addressed 12 of 30 measures. For example, DHS needs to effectively implement its long-term financial systems modernization efforts and use department-wide training data to inform its human capital programs. In the coming years, DHS needs to continue implementing its remaining work and sustaining its progress to-date. Why GAO Did This Study The events of September 11, 2001, led to profound changes in government agendas, policies, and structures to confront homeland security threats. In 2003, DHS began operations, with missions to prevent terrorist attacks and reduce the country's vulnerability to future terrorism. GAO's High-Risk List identifies programs and operations (such as DHS's management functions) that are vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, or in need of transformation. GAO's five criteria for removing areas from the High-Risk List guide the assessment of DHS's progress. This statement addresses DHS's progress and actions needed to strengthen its management functions. It is based on reports in GAO's high-risk series, including its most recent March 2021 update, as well as selected updates on DHS's efforts as of September 2021. For this work, GAO analyzed DHS documents and data and interviewed DHS officials. DHS Progress against High-Risk List Removal Criteria For more information, contact at (404) 679-1875 or curriec@gao.gov.
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  • [Protest of Army Contract Award for Artillery Testing Services]
    In U.S GAO News
    A firm protested an Army contract award for artillery testing services, contending that the Army: (1) should have rejected the awardee's bid as nonresponsive, since its pricing scheme deviated from the solicitation's specifications; and (2) improperly considered the awardee's discounted price in its evaluation of labor costs. GAO held that the: (1) Army reasonably determined that the awardee's bid represented the lowest overall cost to the government; and (2) awardee's pricing scheme did not prejudice the protester. Accordingly, the protest was denied.
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  • Cybersecurity: HHS Defined Roles and Responsibilities, but Can Further Improve Collaboration
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Information Security is responsible for managing department-wide cybersecurity. HHS clearly defined responsibilities for the divisions within that office to, among other things, document and implement a cybersecurity program, as required by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014. For healthcare and public health critical infrastructure sector cybersecurity, HHS also defined responsibilities for five HHS entities. Among these entities are the Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center, which was established to improve cybersecurity information sharing in the sector, and the Healthcare Threat Operations Center, a federal interagency program co-led by HHS and focused on, among other things, providing descriptive and actionable cyber data. Private-sector partners that receive information provided by the Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center informed GAO that they could benefit from receiving more actionable threat information. However, this center does not routinely receive such information from the Healthcare Threat Operations Center, and therefore is not positioned to provide it to sector partners. This lack of sharing is due, in part, to HHS not describing coordination between the two entities in procedures defining their responsibilities for cybersecurity information sharing. Until HHS formalizes coordination for the two entities, they will continue to miss an opportunity to strengthen information sharing with sector partners. Further, HHS entities led, or participated in, seven collaborative groups that focused on cybersecurity in the department and healthcare and public health sector. These entities regularly collaborated on cyber response efforts and provided cybersecurity information, guidance, and resources through these groups and other means during COVID-19 between March 2020 and December 2020. In addition, the HHS entities coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to address cyber threats associated with COVID-19. Further, the HHS entities fully demonstrated consistency with four of the seven leading collaboration practices that GAO identified, and partially addressed the remaining three (see table). Until HHS takes action to fully demonstrate the remaining three leading practices, it cannot ensure that it is improving cybersecurity within the department and the healthcare and public health sector. Extent to Which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Demonstrated Leading Practices for Collaborating Leading practice Extent to which the HHS working groups demonstrated the leading practice Define and track outcomes and accountability ◑ - five groups met this practice Bridge organizational cultures ● – all seven groups met this practice Identify leadership ● – all seven groups met this practice Clarify roles and responsibilities ◑ - six groups met this practice Include relevant participants in the group ● – all seven groups met this practice Identify resources ● – all seven groups met this practice Document and regularly update written guidance and agreements ◑ - six groups met this practice Source: GAO analysis of HHS documentation. | GAO-21-403 Why GAO Did This Study HHS and the healthcare and public health sector rely heavily on information systems to fulfill their missions, including delivering healthcare-related services and responding to national health emergencies, such as COVID-19. Federal laws and guidance have set requirements for HHS to address cybersecurity within the department and the sector. Federal guidance also requires collaboration and coordination to strengthen cybersecurity at HHS and in the sector. GAO was asked to review HHS's organizational approach to address cybersecurity. This report discusses HHS's roles and responsibilities for departmental cybersecurity; HHS's roles and responsibilities for healthcare and public health sector cybersecurity; and HHS's efforts to collaborate to manage its cybersecurity responsibilities. To perform its work, GAO reviewed documentation describing HHS's cybersecurity roles and responsibilities, assessed those responsibilities for fragmentation, duplication, and overlap, and evaluated the department's collaborative efforts against GAO's leading practices for collaboration. GAO also interviewed relevant officials at HHS and CISA, and in the sector.
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  • U.S. Ports of Entry: Update on CBP Public-Private Partnership Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    Since GAO's January 2020 report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security, continued to expand its public-private partnership programs—the Reimbursable Services Program (RSP) and the Donations Acceptance Program (DAP). The RSP allows partners, such as port authorities or local municipalities that own or manage ports, to reimburse CBP for providing services that exceed CBP's normal operations, such as paying overtime for CBP personnel that provide services at ports of entry (POE) outside regular business hours. The DAP enables partners to donate property or provide funding for POE infrastructure improvements. Regarding RSP, in 2020, CBP selected an additional 25 RSP applications for partnerships, bringing the total of RSP selections to 236 since 2013. There are many factors that CBP considers when reviewing applications for RSP including operational feasibility, and CBP may choose to not select certain applications. According to officials, CBP denied three RSP applications since GAO's January 2020 report. For example, CBP denied one application because the proposed agreement site was located too far away from the nearest CBP facility to make CBP officer travel time practicable. As of October 2020, CBP and its partners executed 157 memoranda of understanding (MOU) from RSP partnerships that they entered into from fiscal years 2013 through 2020. These MOUs outline how agreements are to be implemented at one or more POE. Of those 157 MOUs, 11 cover agreements at land POEs, 49 cover agreements at sea POEs, and 99 cover agreements at air POEs. The majority of MOUs executed since 2013 were at air POEs and focused on freight, cargo, and traveler processing. Although the number of RSP partnerships has increased, the growth in the total number of reimbursable CBP officer assignments, officer overtime hours, and the amount of reimbursed funds provided to CBP declined significantly in 2020. CBP officials explained that the decline in trade and travel at U.S. POEs contributed to the decline in requests for RSP services. Regarding DAP, in fiscal year 2020, CBP entered into one new donation acceptance partnership, bringing the total number of agreements to 39 since fiscal year 2015. Partners span a variety of sectors such as government agencies, private companies, and airline companies. Correspondingly, program donations served a variety of purposes such as expanding inspection facility infrastructure, providing biometric detection services, and providing luggage for canine training. As of October 2020, 27 out of 39 these projects, or 69 percent, were at land POEs. CBP officials estimated that the total value of all donations entered into between September 2015 and October 2020 was $218.2 million. On a daily basis in fiscal year 2020, over 650,000 passengers and pedestrians and nearly 78,000 truck, rail, and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately $6.6 billion entered the United States through 328 U.S. land, sea, and air POEs, according to CBP. To help meet demand for CBP inspection services, since 2013, CBP has entered into public-private partnerships under RSP and DAP. The Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2016 included a provision for GAO to annually review the agreements along with the funds and donations that CBP has received under RSP and DAP. GAO has issued three annual reports on the programs—in January 2020, March 2019, and March 2018. This fourth annual report updates key information from GAO's January 2020 report by examining the status of CBP public-private partnership program agreements, including the purposes for which CBP used the funds and donations from these agreements in fiscal year 2020. GAO collected and analyzed all RSP agreements, DAP agreements, and MOUs for both programs for fiscal years 2019 and 2020, excluding those analyzed in GAO's January 2020 report. GAO also analyzed data on use of the programs and interviewed CBP officials to identify any significant changes to how the programs are administered. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
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