Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I congratulate the people of Djibouti as you celebrate the 44th anniversary of your nation’s independence.
The United States and Djibouti are partners in fostering security, stability, and peace in the Horn of Africa. We commend Djibouti’s leadership in the region, from its hosting the Executive Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to its contributions to the African Union Mission in Somalia, and the important mediating role it plays.
We will continue to work with the government and the people of Djibouti to strengthen democratic institutions, expand economic opportunities, and advance our common interests.
- Justice Department Settles with Maine School District to Protect Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities and English LearnersBy Sam NewsMay 27, 2021Today the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the Lewiston Public Schools to end the district’s systemic and discriminatory practice of excluding students from full-day school because of behavior related to their disabilities. The settlement also will require the district to provide equal educational opportunities to its English learner students. The department conducted its investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA) after receiving a complaint from Disability Rights Maine.[Read More…]
- Remarks of Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt at the ACI 37th Annual Conference on the FCPABy Sam NewsDecember 3, 2020Good morning and thank you for that kind introduction. It is an honor to be here with you today, even if only virtually. Just a year ago, addressing a conference of this size and importance via video would have seemed unthinkable. Today, it is — unfortunately — normal. I look forward to the time — hopefully, soon — when we can gather again in person. In the meantime, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak with you, and I look forward to my discussion with Kim after my remarks conclude.[Read More…]
- Missile Warning Satellites: Comprehensive Cost and Schedule Information Would Enhance Congressional OversightBy Sam NewsSeptember 22, 2021What GAO Found The U.S. defense and intelligence communities depend on data from overhead persistent infrared sensors. These sensors provide early warning of ballistic missile launches and contribute to other defense and intelligence missions. The planned Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next Gen OPIR) system is intended to replace the Space Based Infrared System, which began in the mid-1990s. The Space Force plans to launch the first of five Next Gen OPIR satellites in 2025. The figure below presents a notional depiction of current and planned OPIR systems. Notional Depiction of Current and Planned OPIR Satellite Orbits Despite early steps to speed up development, the Next Gen OPIR program faces significant technical and managerial challenges—such as developing a new mission payload and serving as the lead system integrator for the first time in this area—that are likely to delay the initial launch. Significant schedule delays typically result in cost increases. Although officials are aware of schedule risks, they continue to present an on-track timeline and stable cost estimates in reports to congressional committees. More transparency in schedules and costs would contribute to better Department of Defense (DOD) and congressional oversight and decision-making. The first Next Gen OPIR satellites are intended to provide missile warning capabilities and support other mission partners. DOD has initiated multi-agency efforts to determine how to meet future needs. However, coordination mechanisms are not formalized. Without documenting roles, responsibilities, and plans, DOD risks ineffective collaboration and unsynchronized delivery of warfighter capabilities. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. Space Force plans to spend around $14.4 billion over the next 5 years to develop the Next Gen OPIR system, comprised of satellites and a ground system to detect and track missiles, among other things. The Air Force experienced significant problems when it developed the predecessor to Next Gen OPIR—it was roughly 9 years late and cost more than three times its initial estimate. A report to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 contained a provision for GAO to review Next Gen OPIR efforts. This report (1) identifies the challenges Next Gen OPIR acquisition efforts face and the extent to which the Space Force is addressing them, and (2) assesses the extent to which Next Gen OPIR capabilities will address missions supported by the current system. GAO reviewed program documentation, acquisition strategies, and Air Force and DOD acquisition guidance, and interviewed DOD officials. GAO assessed this information against acquisition and collaboration best practices. Information that DOD deemed to be sensitive has been omitted.[Read More…]
- Reserve Forces: Army National Guard and Army Reserve Readiness for 21st Century ChallengesBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021Ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have required the deployment of large numbers of Army National Guard and Army Reserve personnel. The Department of Defense (DOD) faces the unprecedented challenge of sustaining large-scale, long-duration operations with an all-volunteer military force. In addition, DOD's homeland defense missions have taken on higher priority, and National Guard forces have state responsibilities for homeland security activities as well as their traditional roles in responding to natural disasters. Over the past few years, GAO has examined the effects of ongoing military operations and domestic missions on the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. This statement, which draws on prior GAO work, focuses on (1) challenges in sustaining Army reserve component equipment and personnel readiness while supporting ongoing operations and (2) the extent to which the Army's planned transformation initiatives will alleviate equipment and personnel shortages and enhance readiness.The Army National Guard and Army Reserve have made significant contributions to ongoing military operations, but equipment shortages and personnel challenges have increased and, if left unattended, may hamper the reserves' preparedness for future overseas and domestic missions. To provide deployable units, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve have transferred large quantities of personnel and equipment to deploying units, an approach that has resulted in growing shortages in nondeployed units. Also, reserve units have left significant quantities of equipment overseas and DOD has not yet developed plans to replace it. The Army National Guard reports that its units have less than one-third of their required equipment, and the Army Reserve reports that its units have about half of the modern equipment they need to deploy. These shortages could also adversely affect reserve units' ability to perform homeland defense missions and provide support to civil authorities in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. The Army also faces shortages of personnel trained in some high-demand skills. These readiness challenges have occurred because the Army reserve components' role has shifted from a strategic reserve force to an operational force that is being used on an ongoing basis. However, DOD has not fully reassessed its equipment, personnel, and training needs and developed a new model for the reserves appropriate to the new strategic environment. GAO has made recommendations that DOD conduct a comprehensive reassessment of equipment, personnel, training, and funding requirements given the reserve components' shift to an operational role, but DOD's progress to date in addressing them has been limited. Without a comprehensive reassessment of equipment and personnel policies, the Army's reserve components may not be well prepared to deal with future events at home or abroad. The Army has begun two transformational initiatives intended to enhance reserve units' ability to conduct 21st century operations and plans to spend over $24 billion for equipment over the next 5 years. These initiatives are significant, but the extent to which they will alleviate equipment and personnel challenges is unclear. The Army faces challenges in managing both initiatives' costs and achieving intended capabilities. First, although the Army is making progress in transforming its forces to more flexible modular units, it has not provided detailed information on the capabilities, costs, and risks of its plans, and reserve units are likely to lack some key equipment items well into the future. Second, the Army is implementing a force generation model through which reserve units' readiness will be increased as units move closer to eligibility for deployment. However, the Army has not fully determined the equipment, personnel, and training that units will require at each stage of the cycle or fully identified the resources to implement its plans. Without detailed implementation plans, decision makers will not have sufficient information with which to assess both DOD's progress and performance in transforming the Army reserve components and whether investment decisions are being targeted to the highest priority areas.[Read More…]
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- Woman Arrested for Fake COVID-19 Immunization and Vaccination Card SchemeBy Sam NewsJuly 14, 2021A California-licensed homeopathic doctor was arrested today for her alleged scheme to sell homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets and to falsify COVID-19 vaccination cards by making it appear that customers had received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Moderna vaccine.[Read More…]
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- Service Acquisitions: DOD’s Report to Congress Identifies Steps Taken to Improve Management, But Does Not Address Some Key Planning IssuesBy Sam NewsFebruary 22, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on contractors to provide a wide array of services, including support for management, information technology, and weapon systems. DOD obligated about $190 billion on service acquisitions in fiscal year 2019 (see figure). Department of Defense Obligations for Service Acquisitions by Military Department and Defense Agencies and Field Activities, Fiscal Year 2019 Since 2001, GAO has highlighted service acquisitions as an issue for oversight within the DOD Contract Management area in its High-Risk List. Among other things, the High-Risk List and GAO's prior work have identified that: DOD's service requirements reviews were narrowly focused on individual contracts rather than entire capability portfolios, DOD's efforts to use its inventory of contracted services to inform management decisions were hindered by data collection issues, and DOD's budget exhibits did not clearly identify service acquisitions. In October 2020, DOD issued a report to Congress describing its current mechanisms and plans for managing and overseeing service contracts. GAO found that this report addresses some of the key issues identified in GAO's High-Risk List, but does not address others. Requirement reviews. The DOD report summarizes guidance the department issued in January 2020 that links requirements reviews to budget trade-offs, and clarifies the relationship between service acquisition management and category management activities. Category management is an Office of Management and Budget-led, government-wide initiative to reorganize government spending around fewer, larger contracts and use the government's purchasing power to buy like a single enterprise. These efforts have the potential to improve how requirements reviews support budget trade-off decisions within and across capability portfolios. Inventory of contracted services. The DOD report discusses the department's recent transition to the government-wide system other federal agencies use to collect data for their inventories of contracted services, and explains that this transition is intended to reduce the burden of data collection for defense contractors and improve compliance. However, the report does not discuss how DOD plans to use this data to inform decision-making and workforce planning, the key issues GAO has identified in past work. Future-year spending plans. The DOD report does not discuss our finding in a prior report that DOD could improve its ability to strategically manage service acquisitions by improving visibility on future budgetary requirements. Instead, DOD's report states that DOD plans to address capability gaps in budget planning for service contracts in a separate effort in response to a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that might address GAO's recommendations. DOD officials told GAO they are working to better understand that provision before initiating their effort. The Senate report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on current mechanisms for overseeing defense service contracts, and for GAO to assess this report. DOD issued its report to Congress in the second week of October 2020. This GAO report assesses the extent to which that DOD report addresses service acquisition issues identified in GAO's High-Risk List and other products. GAO reviewed DOD's report to Congress on defense service acquisitions and GAO's past reports on defense service acquisitions, including GAO's 2019 High-Risk List and 11 other products issued between 2011 and 2018. GAO collected and assessed additional documentation from DOD offices and military departments, and interviewed officials from these offices and departments to collect additional information about DOD plans to improve service acquisitions. For more information, contact Timothy DiNapoli at (202) 512-4841 or DiNapoliT@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks Announcing Lawsuit Against the State of Georgia to Stop Racially Discriminatory Provisions of New Voting LawBy Sam NewsJune 25, 2021Good morning, I’m pleased to be joined by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke.[Read More…]
- Science & Tech Spotlight: Advanced Plastic RecyclingBy Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2021Why This Matters Plastic waste in the U.S. has grown tenfold from 1970 to 2018, while recycling rates have remained low. Mounting plastic waste in landfills and oceans can contaminate ecosystems and adversely affect human health and wildlife. Chemical recycling technologies have the potential to improve plastic recycling, but several challenges remain. The Technology What is it? Plastics are found in many everyday items—including food packaging, water bottles, bags, and appliances. They are largely made from fossil fuel-based chemicals combined with various additives—such as stabilizers or flame retardants—to achieve a desired result (e.g., strength, rigidity, color, heat resistance). The majority of plastic waste in the U.S. ends up in landfills, with a relatively small portion incinerated and an even smaller portion recycled. The accumulating plastic waste in landfills generally does not biodegrade or break down. Figure 1. Methods of plastic waste disposal in the U.S. Plastic recycling technologies reprocess or remanufacture plastic waste for reuse. Currently, the dominant technology for plastic recycling is mechanical recycling, which uses physical processes—such as sorting, grinding, washing, separating, drying, and re-granulating—to recover plastics that can be substituted for virgin, or new, plastics. However, mechanical recycling technology is expensive, labor intensive, and generally results in lower quality plastics than virgin plastics. Consequently, industry is considering advanced recycling technologies— namely, chemical recycling—as an alternative or complement to mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling technologies use heat, chemical reactions, or both, to recycle used plastic into virgin-equivalent plastic, fuel, or other chemicals. In addition, recent advances in sorting technology—one of the physical processes common to both chemical and mechanical recycling technologies—may also increase the efficiency of chemical recycling and lead to increased plastic recycling. For example, artificial intelligence technologies have the potential to increase automated sorting efficiency. Similarly, another advanced technology efficiently sorts materials by identifying their molecular vibrations. How does it work? Chemical recycling can promote a closed-loop system, known as a circular economy, wherein plastics are reused rather than discarded in landfills or incinerated. There are three general categories of chemical recycling technologies: conversion, decomposition, and purification. Figure 2. Closed-loop chemical recycling Conversion focuses on converting polymers—long-chain hydrocarbon molecules built from smaller repeating units called monomers—in mixed or sorted plastics into smaller molecules. This can occur through a variety of techniques, including pyrolysis and gasification. Pyrolysis, sometimes called "plastics to fuel," turns plastic waste into a synthetic crude oil that can be refined into diesel fuel, gasoline, heating oil, or waxes. This process involves heating the plastic waste to high temperatures (300-900°C) in the absence of oxygen. Different forms of pyrolysis use different temperatures, pressures, and processing times. Gasification also heats plastic waste to high temperatures (500- 1300°C) in a low-oxygen environment to convert plastic waste to synthesis gas, or "syngas." Syngas—a fuel mixture containing mainly hydrogen and carbon monoxide—can be combusted for electric power generation or converted into other fuels or chemicals, such as ethanol and methanol. Decomposition breaks down polymers in sorted plastics into monomers to produce new plastics. This decomposition can be done with heat or chemicals. Chemical decomposition uses solvents to break the polymers into monomers. Some decomposition technologies use enzymes to break down polymers at temperatures as low as room temperature, resulting in less energy consumption. Purification uses solvents to separate polymers from additives or contaminants. Unlike other types of chemical recycling, purification does not break or modify the polymer. Purification may be used with mixed or sorted plastics. How mature is it? While technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification are mature, their use in plastic recycling is relatively new, due in part to the low cost of virgin plastic material and the challenges associated with recycling contaminated or complex plastic products. Conversion is currently the most mature of the chemical recycling technologies, with several companies using pyrolysis, and at least one company using gasification on a commercial scale. Several companies are also developing, or are in the initial phases of piloting, thermal and chemical decomposition. Purification is the least mature chemical recycling technology, although research into it is ongoing. Advanced sorting technologies vary in maturity, with molecular vibrations for material identification already in use, and artificial intelligence sorting still under development. Opportunities Resource conservation. Chemical recycling can produce raw materials of virgin quality, thereby decreasing demand for fossil fuels and other natural resources. Reduced landfill use. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in landfills. New technologies could reduce the need for landfills, which may reduce the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. New markets. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Chemical recycling creates a market for plastic waste and a new way to reuse some plastics. Challenges Adoption hurdles. Companies looking to use chemical recycling may face several hurdles, including process and technology challenges, high startup and operating costs, underdeveloped domestic markets for recycled products, and limited incentives for recycling innovation and investment. Suitability. Chemical recycling may not be suitable for all types of plastic, particularly when polymer chains are irreversibly bonded together. Competition. Virgin plastics are typically cheaper to produce than recycled plastics, in part due to transportation costs and limited recycling infrastructure, making it hard for recycling processes to compete. Policy Context & Questions With the volume of plastic waste expected to grow over time, some key questions for policymaker consideration include: What steps could the federal government, states, and other stakeholders take to further incentivize chemical recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of these approaches? What steps could policymakers take to support a transition toward a circular economy, including innovation and investment in manufacturing and recycling capacity? What might policymakers do to promote advanced recycling technologies while also reducing the hazards associated with existing plastic production and recycling methods? For more information, contact: Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Defense Acquisitions: Restructured JTRS Program Reduces Risk, but Significant Challenges RemainBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021In 1997, the Department of Defense (DOD) initiated the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, a key element of its effort to transform military operations to be network centric. Using emerging software-defined radio technology, the JTRS program plans to develop and procure hundreds of thousands of radios that give warfighters the capability to access maps and other visual data, communicate via voice and video, and obtain information directly from battlefield sensors. The JTRS program has encountered a number of problems, resulting in significant delays and cost increases. The program is currently estimated to total about $37 billion. Given the criticality of JTRS to DOD's force transformation, Congress directed GAO to continue its ongoing review of the JTRS program. This report (1) assesses whether a recent restructuring puts the program in a better position to succeed and (2) identifies any risks that challenge the successful fielding of JTRS.The proposed JTRS restructuring--a plan DOD approved in March 2006--appears to address and reduce program risks that GAO and others have documented in recent years. While still meeting key requirements, including those related to DOD's network centric transformation effort, the revised approach is expected to develop and field capabilities in increments rather than attempting to develop and field the capabilities all at once. Costly and non-transformational requirements will be deferred to later increments. Deferring these requirements will allow more time to mature critical technologies, integrate components, and test the radio system before committing to production. JTRS program management has also been strengthened through the establishment of a Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO). The more centralized management structure should help the program improve oversight and coordination of standards, system engineering, and development of the radios. The real test will be in execution, and, for that, several management and technical challenges remain. First, JPEO must finalize the details of the restructuring, including formal acquisition strategies, independent cost estimates, and test and evaluation plans. DOD also needs to develop migration and fielding plans for how JTRS networking capabilities will be used. Completing and obtaining DOD's approval of these activities is needed to ensure the JTRS program is executable. There are also a number of longer-term technical challenges that the JTRS program must address. For example, the proposed interim solutions for enabling network interoperability among different JTRS variants have yet to be developed. In addition, integrating the radio's hardware onto diverse platforms and meeting respective size, weight, and power limitations has also been a longstanding challenge that must be overcome. Furthermore, operating in a networked environment open to a large number of potential users has generated an unprecedented need for information assurance. This need has resulted in a lengthy, technically challenging, and still evolving certification process from the National Security Agency. At the same time, the program must address the need to obtain and sustain commitments and support from the military services and other stakeholders--a challenge that has often hampered joint development efforts in the past. The extent to which DOD overcomes these challenges will determine the extent to which the program manages cost, schedule, and performance risks and supports JTRS-dependent military operations.[Read More…]
- Commercial Space Transportation: FAA Continues to Update Regulations and Faces Challenges to Overseeing an Evolving IndustryBy Sam NewsJune 17, 2021What GAO Found The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently updated and streamlined its launch and reentry licensing regulations but has made less progress on other key commercial space transportation regulations. The new licensing regulations, issued in December 2020, replaced prescriptive requirements—in which a certain technology or action was required—with a performance-based regulatory framework, which provides applicants flexibility in how they achieve required outcomes, such as a specific level of safety. Given its focus on the licensing regulations, FAA placed on hold revisions to other regulations governing commercial space transportation—revisions which, according to FAA officials, are warranted given the industry's evolution. For example, FAA has not yet begun to revise its financial responsibility regulations, which require launch companies conducting FAA-licensed launches to purchase insurance to cover damage to third parties in case of a launch mishap. According to FAA officials, revising these regulations is their next planned rulemaking and when finalized, will respond to GAO's recommendations to improve FAA's methodologies for evaluating and calculating potential third-party losses from launch and reentry mishaps and help ensure the federal government is not exposed to greater liability than expected. FAA also faces ongoing challenges regulating an evolving industry. In particular, as GAO previously reported, FAA continues to face the challenge of whether and when to regulate the safety of crew and spaceflight participants. While some companies have announced plans to take tourists to space within the next several years, FAA is prohibited by statute from regulating crew and passenger safety before 2023, except in response to events that caused or posed a risk of serious or fatal injury. However, FAA has taken some steps in anticipation of the expiration of the statutory moratorium, such as working with its industry advisory committee to develop and disseminate human spaceflight best practices. FAA also has taken some steps to help the agency keep pace with changes in the industry. For example, in response to recommendations GAO made in 2019, FAA recently assessed its workforce to identify skills and competencies that are needed among its workforce and is working to improve its workload projections to better account for the full range of its regulatory activities and the timeline of its licensing process. Such efforts are critical for ensuring FAA can better anticipate and respond to the growing and evolving commercial space industry and FAA's emerging workforce needs. Why GAO Did This Study The commercial space transportation industry provides launch services for government and private customers that carry objects, such as satellites and vehicles with scientific research, or passengers to or from space. Continued growth and evolution in the industry is expected as reliance on space-based applications increases. Within FAA, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is charged both with overseeing the industry, including licensing and monitoring launch vehicle operations, and promoting the industry. This statement describes FAA's efforts to update regulations governing commercial space transportation; challenges FAA faces regulating an evolving industry; and steps FAA has taken to help ensure it is positioned to meet the needs of the evolving industry. This statement is based largely on GAO's body of work on commercial space transportation, including GAO-19-437 issued in May 2019. To update this information, GAO interviewed FAA officials and reviewed applicable statutes, regulations and selected industry documents.[Read More…]
- Mail-Order Diabetic Testing Supplier and Parent Company Agree to Pay $160 Million to Resolve Alleged False Claims to MedicareBy Sam NewsAugust 2, 2021Arriva Medical LLC (Arriva), at one point the nation’s largest Medicare mail-order diabetic testing supplier, and its parent, Alere Inc. (Alere), have agreed to pay $160 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act.[Read More…]
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