October 18, 2021

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Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Meeting with Omani Deputy Foreign Minister Al Harthy

13 min read

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met today in Muscat with Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalifa Al Harthy to discuss advancing peace and security in the region and our shared commitment to bolstering the U.S.- Oman bilateral relationship, including advancing new opportunities for trade and investment. The Deputy Secretary also thanked the Deputy Foreign Minister for Oman’s role in mediating peace in the region and underscored the importance of an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire to help bring the war in Yemen to an end.

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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundOut-of-pocket costs for military families who use DOD-subsidized child care are largely driven by policies that vary by service. DOD establishes income-based fee ranges for on-installation child care, but each service sets its own fees and discounts within these parameters. As a result, in school year 2010 the per-child costs that families from the same income categories paid for on-installation care varied by service and installation. For example, the monthly per-child cost for a family with an income of $50,000 could have ranged from $335 to $518. Families’ costs for off-installation child care through private providers are also affected by policy differences among the services. All services offer subsidies for off-installation care that are intended to make families’ costs comparable to those for on-installation care. In an effort to offer benefits to more families, some services use a fixed cap to limit the subsidy amount. In school year 2010, the Air Force and Navy capped their subsidies at $200 per child per month, and families in these services had higher average monthly costs for off-installation care than Army and Marine Corps families, and also had higher costs than what they would have paid for on-installation care. For example, on average, Navy families using off-installation care paid $87 more per month than they would have paid for on-installation care, while Army families paid $63 less. Other factors, such as the number of children in care, also contributed to families’ costs for off-installation care. DOD and the services’ recent policy changes reduced differences among and within services in families’ costs for on-installation care, and DOD plans to further reduce these differences in the next 3 to 5 years. While the effects of these policy changes on individual families’ costs for off-installation care vary by family, families in services with fixed subsidy caps will likely continue to have higher average costs than families in services that do not.Military families face two main barriers to obtaining DOD-subsidized child care: lack of awareness and insufficient availability. According to DOD officials and based on GAO’s group discussions, some families remain unaware of subsidized child care, particularly off-installation care, despite DOD’s efforts to provide information at pre-deployment briefings, and through other outreach efforts. Families who are geographically isolated from an installation, such as reservists and recruiters, may be less likely to be aware of subsidized care. The individual services have taken steps to increase awareness of DOD-subsidized child care, such as establishing positions for professionals who educate families about child care options. However, even families who are informed about DOD-subsidized child care may face barriers obtaining it due to a lack of available space at on-installation centers and a scarcity of eligible child care providers off installation. The shortage of on-installation child care spaces resulted, in part, from heavy deployment demands, and DOD has responded by approving construction projects that it anticipates will provide over 21,000 new child care spaces using fiscal year 2008 through 2010 funding. DOD and the services have initiatives under way to increase the availability of eligible off-installation providers. In addition, DOD is developing an agencywide system that will provide servicemembers a central place to request both on-installation and off-installation child care. DOD plans to pilot the system in the spring of 2012 and intends to market it DOD-wide to servicemembers once it is fully implemented. The agency is in the process of contracting for the development of a marketing plan.Why GAO Did This StudyAbout a million military servicemembers serve the United States while raising a family, and many need reliable, affordable child care. Paying for high-quality child care can be challenging for these families, so the Department of Defense (DOD) offsets costs by subsidizing on-installation child care centers and offering subsidies for approved off-installation care providers. Deployments related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan increased the demand for child care. The extent of military families’ out-of-pocket child care costs for those using subsidized care are not known, and families may face barriers to obtaining DOD-subsidized care. GAO was mandated to examine: (1) the out-of-pocket child care costs paid by military families who use DOD-subsidized care; and (2) the barriers, if any, to obtaining DOD-subsidized care, and what has DOD done in response.To address these objectives, GAO reviewed DOD policies and guidance; interviewed officials from DOD, its contractor that administers DOD’s off-installation child care subsidies, and organizations that support military families; reviewed DOD fee data for school year 2009-2010 (school year 2010) and school year 2010-2011 (school year 2011); and analyzed child care costs for a random probability sample of 338 families using off-installation care in school year 2010. GAO conducted nongeneralizable discussion groups with military parents at two large military installations.GAO is not making recommendations in this report.DOD generally agreed with the report’s findings and also provided additional information on several specific points in the report.For more information, contact Kay E. Brown at (202) 512-7215 or brownke@gao.gov.
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    The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to track reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault involving its federal civilian employees, but its visibility over both types of incidents is hindered by guidance and information-sharing challenges. While employees may not report all incidents for a variety of reasons, DOD also lacks visibility over those incidents that have been reported. For example, from fiscal years 2015 through 2019, DOD recorded 370 civilian employees as victims of sexual assault and 199 civilian employees as alleged offenders. However, these data do not include all incidents of sexual assault reported over this time period. Specifically, based on DOD guidance, examples of incidents that could be excluded from these data include those involving civilian employee victims (1) occurring in the continental United States, (2) employed by DOD components other than the military services, such as defense agencies, and (3) who are also military dependents. Without guidance that addresses these areas, DOD does not know the extent to which its civilian workforce has reported work-related sexual assault worldwide. Number of Department of Defense Federal Civilian Employees Recorded as Victims or Alleged Offenders in Reported Sexual Assault Incidents, Fiscal Years 2015-2019 While DOD has developed policies and procedures to respond to and resolve sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents involving federal civilian employees, gaps exist. For example, DOD issued guidance in June 2020 directing components to establish anti-harassment programs, but it lacks details regarding how such programs should be structured. Without clarifying guidance, components can establish programs that do not align with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance for model anti-harassment programs. Additionally, GAO found that DOD civilian employees' ability to make restricted reports of sexual assault—confidential disclosures that do not initiate official investigations, but allow the victim to receive DOD-provided sexual assault support services—varies across components. According to DOD officials, they have not taken action to resolve this variation due to conflicts with federal statute, among other things. By reporting to and requesting any needed actions from Congress to resolve any conflicts with statute, the department can alleviate such inconsistencies and minimize legal risks for DOD components. With nearly 900,000 federal civilian employees around the world, DOD has responsibilities for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault within its workforce. In fiscal year 2018, DOD estimated that about 49,700 civilian employees experienced sexual harassment and about 2,500 civilian employees experienced work-related sexual assault in the prior year. House Report 116-120 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's prevention of and response to sexual harassment and assault involving DOD federal civilian employees. GAO's report examines, among other things, the extent to which DOD has (1) visibility over such reported incidents, and (2) developed and implemented policies and procedures to respond to and resolve these incidents. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; analyzed program data from fiscal years 2015 through 2019; interviewed officials at a nongeneralizable sample of five military installations; evaluated DOD training materials; and interviewed DOD, service, and civilian officials. GAO is making 19 recommendations, including that DOD issue guidance for comprehensive tracking of civilian work-related sexual assaults, enhance guidance on the structure of anti-harassment programs for civilians, and report to and request any needed actions from Congress on the ability of civilian employees to make restricted reports of sexual assault. As discussed in the report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found From 2007 through 2020, the Coast Guard conducted 23 major surge operations—high-intensity, short-notice efforts to respond to catastrophic events or emergencies, such as hurricanes, oil spills, and humanitarian events. To support these surge operations, the Coast Guard deployed varying levels of personnel, aircraft, and vessels according to the events’ severity and duration. Photo of Coast Guard Personnel Responding to Hurricane Harvey (2017) The Coast Guard documents lessons learned and best practices from its major surge operations and develops recommended actions to help improve future operations. The Coast Guard also has processes for assigning recommended actions to appropriate headquarters offices and field units. However, GAO’s analysis of Coast Guard data on major surge operations shows that it has not met its goals of (1) resolving 80 percent of recommended actions or (2) resolving the actions within 18 months of being assigned. GAO analysis also found that Coast Guard headquarters offices have a higher proportion of unresolved recommended actions compared with field units. The Coast Guard Strategic Plan for 2018-2022 calls for acting on lessons learned and best practices from surge events as important factors for improving emergency management. However, the Coast Guard lacks assurance that recommended actions to address surge operation deficiencies are tracked, updated, and resolved in line with program goals. Without a more systematic process to help ensure that this occurs, the Coast Guard may not address identified issues that could affect its ability to effectively conduct future surge operations. The Coast Guard was generally able to meet statutory mission performance targets in years that it also conducted surge operations. While Coast Guard data showed variation in mission activities in years with concurrent or back-to-back surge operations, GAO was not able to determine the effect that surge operations had on mission activities because of multiple factors beyond surge operations, such as personnel transfers, that can also affect mission activities. Additionally, Coast Guard officials did not identify any statutory or regulatory impediments to the Coast Guard’s ability to conduct surge operations. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. Coast Guard has multimission responsibilities to support response efforts and help protect life, property, and the environment. The Coast Guard must often rely on surge operations to reduce the impacts of catastrophic events, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017. The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 includes a provision for GAO to review the Coast Guard’s surge capacity to respond to catastrophic events. This report addresses (1) the number of major surge operations the Coast Guard conducted from 2007 through 2020, and what personnel and assets it used to support these operations; (2) the extent the Coast Guard documents lessons learned and best practices from its major surge operations and resolves related recommended actions; and (3) how surge operations have affected the Coast Guard's ability to conduct its statutory missions. GAO reviewed, among other things, documentation from Coast Guard surge operations from 2007 through 2020; analyzed after-action reports and performance metrics; and interviewed Coast Guard officials.
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  • Contingency Contracting: Observations on Actions Needed to Address Systemic Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) obligated about $367 billion in fiscal year 2010 to acquire goods and services to meet its mission and support its operations, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO's work, as well as that of others, has documented shortcomings in DOD's strategic and acquisition planning, contract administration and oversight, and acquisition workforce. These are challenges that need to be addressed by DOD and by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as they carry out their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and prepare for future contingencies. Today's statement discusses (1) contract management challenges faced by DOD, including those that take on heightened significance in a contingency environment; (2) actions DOD has taken and those needed to address these challenges; and (3) similar challenges State and USAID face. The statement is drawn from GAO's body of work on DOD contingency contracting, contract management, and workforce, as well as prior reports on State and USAID's contracting and workforce issues.DOD faces a number of longstanding and systemic challenges that hinder its ability to achieve more successful acquisition outcomes--obtaining the right goods and services, at the right time, at the right cost. These challenges include addressing the issues posed by DOD's reliance on contractors, ensuring that DOD personnel use sound contracting approaches, and maintaining a workforce with the skills and capabilities needed to properly manage acquisitions and oversee contractors. The issues encountered with contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan are emblematic of these systemic challenges, though their significance and impact are heightened in a contingency environment. GAO's concerns regarding DOD contracting predate the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO identified DOD contract management as a high-risk area in 1992 and raised concerns in 1997 about DOD's management and use of contractors to support deployed forces in Bosnia. In the years since then, GAO has continued to identify a need for DOD to better manage and oversee its acquisition of services. DOD has recognized the need to address the systemic challenges it faces, including those related to operational contract support. Over the past several years, DOD has announced new policies, guidance, and training initiatives, but not all of these actions have been implemented and their expected benefits have not yet been fully realized. While DOD's actions are steps in the right direction, DOD needs to (1) strategically manage services acquisition, including defining desired outcomes; (2) determine the appropriate mix, roles, and responsibilities of contractor, federal civilian, and military personnel; (3) assess the effectiveness of efforts to address prior weaknesses with specific contracting arrangements and incentives; (4) ensure that its acquisition workforce is adequately sized, trained, and equipped; and (5) fully integrate operational contract support throughout the department through education and predeployment training. In that regard, in June 2010 GAO called for a cultural change in DOD that emphasizes an awareness of operational contract support throughout all aspects of the department. In January 2011, the Secretary of Defense expressed concerns about DOD's current level of dependency on contractors and directed the department to take a number of actions. The Secretary's recognition and directions are significant steps, yet instilling cultural change will require sustained commitment and leadership. State and USAID face contracting challenges similar to DOD's, particularly with regard to planning for and having insight into the roles performed by contractors. In April 2010, GAO reported that State's workforce plan did not address the extent to which contractors should be used to perform specific functions. Similarly, GAO reported that USAID's workforce plan did not contain analyses covering the agency's entire workforce, including contractors. The recently issued Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review recognized the need for State and USAID to rebalance their workforces and directed the agencies to ensure that they have an adequate number of government employees to carry out their core missions and to improve contract administration and oversight. GAO has made multiple recommendations to the agencies to address contracting and workforce challenges. The agencies have generally agreed with the recommendations and have efforts under way to implement them.
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