Office of the Spokesperson
The United States will join the High-Level Dialogue on Climate Action in the Americas, hosted by the Government of Argentina, on September 8, 2021. The one-day virtual event will bring together countries in the Americas to discuss our shared commitment to enhancing climate ambition. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will provide remarks during the high-level opening segment of the dialogue along with Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, the UN Secretary General, and other special guests.
The dialogue will build further momentum for climate action ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which will be held October 31 to November 12, 2021, in Glasgow, United Kingdom. The event is being co-organized by the Governments of Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Panama, and will include interventions from governments, the private and financial sectors, development banks, academia, and civil society organizations. The dialogue will include panel discussions on topics including enhancing climate ambition on the road to Glasgow, accelerating climate action through regional cooperation, and strengthening adaptation and resilience to the impacts of climate change.
The event will be broadcast live and is open to the public at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLoS47z2FoU&feature=youtu.be.
For media inquiries, please contact ClimateComms@state.gov.
- San Benito man sent to prison for robbing bank via threatening messageBy Sam NewsIn Justice NewsAugust 26, 2021A 26-year-old local man [Read More…]
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- Contingency Contracting: Improvements Needed in Management of Contractors Supporting Contract and Grant Administration in Iraq and AfghanistanBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The Departments of Defense (DOD) and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have relied extensively on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, including using contractors to help administer other contracts or grants. Relying on contractors to perform such functions can provide benefits but also introduces potential risks, such as conflicts of interest, that should be considered and managed. Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, GAO reviewed (1) the extent to which DOD, State, and USAID rely on contractors to perform contract and grant administration in Iraq and Afghanistan; (2) the reasons behind decisions to use such contractors and whether the decisions are guided by strategic workforce planning; and (3) whether agencies considered and mitigated related risks. GAO analyzed relevant federal and agency policies and agency contract data, and conducted file reviews and interviews for 32 contracts selected for case studies.DOD, State, and USAID'suse of contractors to help administer contracts and grants was substantial, although the agencies did not know the full extent of their use of such contractors. GAO found that the agencies had obligated nearly $1 billion through March 2009 on 223 contracts and task orders active during fiscal year 2008 or the first half of fiscal year 2009 that included the performance of administration functions for contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan. The specific amount spent to help administer contracts or grants in Iraq and Afghanistan is uncertain because some contracts or task orders included multiple functions or performance in various locations and contract obligation data were not detailed enough to allow GAO to isolate the amount obligated for other functions or locations. Overall, the agencies relied on contractors to provide a wide range of services, including on-site monitoring of other contractors' activities, supporting contracting or program offices on contract-related matters, and awarding or administering grants. For example, Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment officials noted that contractors performed quality assurance for all of the center's construction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. In another example, USAID contractors awarded and administered grants on USAID's behalf to support development efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Decisions to use contractors to help administer contracts or grants are largely made by individual contracting or program offices on a case-by-case basis. In doing so, the offices generally cited the lack of sufficient government staff, the lack of in-house expertise, or frequent rotations of government personnel as key factors contributing to the need to use contractors. Offices also noted that using contractors in contingency environments can be beneficial, for example, to meet changing needs or address safety concerns regarding the use of U.S. personnel in high-threat areas. GAO has found that to mitigate risks associated with using contractors, agencies have to understand when, where, and how contractors should be used, but offices' decisions were generally not guided by agencywide workforce planning efforts. DOD, State, and USAID took actions to mitigate conflict of interest and oversight risks associated with contractors helping to administer other contracts or grants, but did not always fully address these risks. For example, agencies generally complied with requirements related to organizational conflicts of interest, but USAID did not include a contract clause required by agency policy to address potential conflicts of interest in three cases. Also, some State officials were uncertain as to whether federal ethics laws regarding personal conflicts of interest applied to certain types of contractors. In almost all cases, the agencies had designated personnel to provide contract oversight. DOD, State, and USAID contracting officials generally did not, however, ensure enhanced oversight as required for situations in which contractors provided services closely supporting inherently governmental functions despite the potential for loss of government control and accountability for mission-related policy and program decisions.[Read More…]
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- Military Personnel: DOD Has Taken Steps to Address Servicemembers’ Financial Needs, but Additional Effort Is WarrantedBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The finances of servicemembers and their families have been an ongoing concern of Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD), especially in light of more frequent deployments to support conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Adverse effects that may result when servicemembers experience financial problems include loss of security clearances, criminal or nonjudicial sanctions, adverse personnel actions, or adverse impacts on unit readiness. To decrease the likelihood that servicemembers will experience financial problems, DOD has requested and Congress has granted annual increases in military basic pay for all active duty servicemembers and increases in special pays and allowances for deployed servicemembers. The military has also developed personal financial management (PFM) programs to help avoid or mitigate adverse effects associated with personal financial problems. However, studies published in 2002 showed that servicemembers continue to report financial problems. This testimony provides a summary of GAO's prior work examining (1) the extent to which deployments have affected the financial conditions of active duty servicemembers and their families, and (2) steps that DOD has taken to assist servicemembers with their financial needs.DOD data suggests that deployment status does not affect the financial condition of active duty servicemembers, although some deployed servicemembers faced certain problems. Data from a 2003 DOD-wide survey suggests that servicemembers who were deployed for at least 30 days reported similar levels of financial health or problems as those who had not deployed. For example, of junior enlisted personnel, 3 percent of the deployed group and 2 percent of the nondeployed group indicated that they were in "over their heads" financially; and 13 percent of the deployed group and 15 percent of the nondeployed group responded that they found it "tough to make ends meet but keeping your head above water" financially. However, problems receiving family separation allowance and communicating with creditors may result in financial difficulties for some deployed servicemembers. Based on DOD pay data for January 2005, almost 6,000 of 71,000 deployed servicemembers who had dependents did not obtain their family separation allowance in a timely manner. Furthermore, problems communicating with creditors--caused by limited Internet access, few telephones and high fees, and delays in receiving ground mail--can affect deployed servicemembers' abilities to resolve financial issues. Additionally, some financial products marketed to servicemembers may negatively affect their financial condition. DOD has taken a number of steps to assist servicemembers with their financial needs, although some of this assistance has been underutilized. These steps include PFM training for servicemembers, which is required by all four military services. DOD also provides free legal assistance on purchase contracts for large items and other financial documents. However, according to the attorneys and other personnel, servicemembers do not make full use of available legal services because they may not take the time to visit the attorney's office or they fear information about a financial problem would get back to the command and limit their career progression. In addition, each service has a relief or aid society designed to provide financial assistance through counseling and education as well as financial relief through grants or no-interest loans. Some servicemembers in our focus groups stated that they would not use relief from a service society because they take too long, are intrusive, require too much in-depth financial information, or may be career limiting if the command found out. Servicemembers may use non-DOD resources if they do not want the command to be aware of their financial conditions or they need products or support not offered through DOD, the services, or the installation. Although DOD has taken these steps to assist servicemembers with their financial needs, it does not have the results-oriented departmentwide data needed to assess the effectiveness of its PFM programs and provide necessary oversight. Without an oversight framework requiring evaluation and a reporting relationship between DOD and the services, DOD and Congress do not have the visibility or oversight needed to assess the effectiveness of DOD's financial management training and assistance to servicemembers.[Read More…]
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- Unmanned Aircraft Systems: New DOD Programs Can Learn from Past Efforts to Craft Better and Less Risky Acquisition StrategiesBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021Through 2011, the Department of Defense (DOD) plans to spend $20 billion to significantly increase its inventory of unmanned aircraft systems, which are providing new intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike capabilities to U.S. combat forces--including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite their success on the battlefield, DOD's unmanned aircraft programs have experienced cost and schedule overruns and performance shortfalls. Given the sizable planned investment in these systems, GAO was asked to review DOD's three largest unmanned aircraft programs in terms of cost. Specifically, GAO assessed the Global Hawk and Predator programs' acquisition strategies and identified lessons from these two programs that can be applied to the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program, the next generation of unmanned aircraft.While the Global Hawk and Predator both began as successful demonstration programs, they adopted different acquisition strategies that have led to different outcomes. With substantial overlap in development, testing, and production, the Global Hawk program has experienced serious cost, schedule, and performance problems. As a result, since the approved start of system development, planned quantities of the Global Hawk have decreased 19 percent, and acquisition unit costs have increased 75 percent. In contrast, the Predator program adopted a more structured acquisition strategy that uses an incremental, or evolutionary, approach to development--an approach more consistent with DOD's revised acquisition policy preferences and commercial best practices. While the Predator program has experienced some problems, the program's cost growth and schedule delays have been relatively minor, and testing of prototypes in operational environments has already begun. Since its inception as a joint program in 2003, the J-UCAS program has experienced funding cuts and leadership changes, and the recent Quadrennial Defense Review has directed another restructuring into a Navy program to develop a carrier-based unmanned combat air system. Regardless of these setbacks and the program's future organization, DOD still has the opportunity to learn from the lessons of the Global Hawk and Predator programs. Until DOD develops the knowledge needed to prepare solid and feasible business cases to support the acquisition of J-UCAS and other advanced unmanned aircraft systems, it will continue to risk cost and schedule overruns and delaying fielding capabilities to the warfighter.[Read More…]
- [Request for Reconsideration of Protest of Army Bid Rejection]By Sam NewsAugust 12, 2021A firm requested reconsideration of its dismissed protest against the Army's rejection of its bid for whip antennas. GAO had held that the Army's corrective action rendered the protest academic. In its request for reconsideration, the protester contended that: (1) the Army enjoyed an improper relationship with the awardee and would improperly evaluate the protester's bid; and (2) it was entitled to reimbursement for its protest costs. GAO held that the: (1) protester's anticipation that the Army would act improperly did not constitute a valid basis for protest; and (2) protester was not entitled to reimbursement for its protest costs, since the Army acted promptly upon the protest. Accordingly, the request for reconsideration was denied and the claim was denied.[Read More…]
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- Dow Chemical Company and Two Subsidiaries will Reduce Harmful Air Pollution at Four U.S. Chemical PlantsBy Sam NewsJanuary 20, 2021The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) announced a settlement with Dow Chemical Company and two subsidiaries, Performance Materials NA Inc. and Union Carbide Corporation, that will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from four of Dow’s petrochemical manufacturing facilities in Texas and Louisiana.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of Georgia to Stop Racially Discriminatory Provisions of New Voting LawBy Sam NewsJune 25, 2021The U.S. Justice Department announced today that it filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia, the Georgia Secretary of State, and the Georgia State Election Board over recent voting procedures adopted by Georgia Senate Bill 202, which was signed into law in March 2021. The United States’ complaint challenges provisions of Senate Bill 202 under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Announces Settlement with Ashley Home Store Over Discrimination Claims of Indiana Army National GuardsmanBy Sam NewsMay 27, 2021The Justice Department resolved Tuesday a lawsuit in which an Indiana Army National Guardsman, Captain Christopher Robbins, alleged that The Dufresne Spencer Group, a limited liability corporation doing business as Ashley Home Store, violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). Captain Robbins specifically alleged that The Dufresne Spencer Group violated USERRA when it failed to promptly offer him re-employment after a period of active duty military service.[Read More…]
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- Man Convicted of Receiving, Soliciting, and Promoting Child PornographyBy Sam NewsMarch 4, 2021A federal jury convicted a Virginia man today for downloading images and videos depicting children as young as four years old being sexually abused and for utilizing the Darknet to solicit and promote child pornography.[Read More…]
- Amazon Marketplace Seller Pleads Guilty to Price Fixing DVDs and Blu-ray DiscsBy Sam NewsJuly 23, 2021A Tennessee man pleaded guilty today to fixing the prices of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs sold on Amazon Marketplace.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Issues Favorable Business Review Letter to Institute of International Finance for Sovereign Debt Information Sharing PrinciplesBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division announced today that it has completed its review of the proposal by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) to promulgate voluntary guidelines, called the Principles for Debt Transparency (Principles), allowing for public disclosure of information regarding the issuance of sovereign debt. Based on the representations in IIF’s letter request, including its description of certain safeguards, the department has concluded that the principles are unlikely to harm competition. Therefore, the department does not presently intend to challenge IIF’s proposed principles.[Read More…]
- Owner of Montana Construction Company Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison for Employment Tax FraudBy Sam NewsMay 20, 2021A Montana man was sentenced today to 15 months in prison for employment tax fraud.[Read More…]
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- Medicare: Additional Reporting on Key Staffing Information and Stronger Payment Incentives Needed for Skilled Nursing Facilities [Reissued with revisions on Aug. 10, 2021.]By Sam NewsAugust 11, 2021What GAO Found Medicare covers short-term care for residents in about 15,500 skilled nursing facilities (SNF) after a hospital stay. GAO's analysis of 2019 staffing data found that almost all SNFs frequently met a federal requirement for a registered nurse (RN) on site for 8 hours per day. Fewer SNFs frequently met two other staffing measures that specify different numbers of nursing hours per resident per day. For example, about half of SNFs frequently met Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) case-mix measures—hours worked per resident that vary based on the medical needs of each SNF's residents—that CMS uses to set SNF staffing ratings. Further, about one-quarter of SNFs frequently met staffing thresholds for minimum RN and total nurse staffing that a CMS staffing study identified as needed to avoid quality problems. SNFs are not subject to these quality thresholds for ratings or as requirements, but many stakeholders have recommended that they be used as SNF staffing thresholds. Percent of Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) That Met Registered (RN) Nurse Staffing Requirement or Measures, 2019 CMS reports certain key staffing information—such as RN overall staffing hours—on its Care Compare website, but does not report other important information. For example, GAO found that average RN staffing hours decreased about 40 percent on weekends, but CMS does not directly report this information. This limits the ability of beneficiaries to make informed choices among SNFs when choosing a facility. GAO estimated that in 2018 Medicare spent over $5 billion on critical incidents that CMS defines as potentially preventable—which are mostly about 377,000 hospital readmissions occurring within 30 days of the SNF admission. Current law directs CMS to make reductions of up to 2 percent to certain SNFs' payments to incentivize them to improve care, but does not address additional reductions. Experts have noted that payment incentives under current law may not be sufficient to motivate SNFs to improve their staffing, which in turn could lead to reductions in critical incidents. Without stronger payment incentives, Medicare is unlikely to reduce the billions in spending on potentially preventable critical incidents or the patient harm that can occur from them. Why GAO Did This Study In 2019, Medicare spent nearly $28 billion on care provided to 1.5 million beneficiaries in SNFs—a type of nursing facilty that provides residents short-term rehabilitation care after a hospital stay rather than long-term nursing home care that Medicare does not cover. SNFs must meet federal standards to participate in Medicare. CMS rates SNFs on factors such as staffing and quality of care and publishes its ratings on the Care Compare website. GAO was asked to examine SNF staffing and rates of critical incidents. This report examines (among other objectives): SNF performance on staffing measures, CMS reporting of staffing information on Care Compare, and Medicare payments for critical incidents. GAO analyzed CMS staffing and critical incidents data, information on Care Compare, and Medicare claims data for 2018 and 2019. GAO also interviewed CMS officials and other stakeholders such as key researchers and beneficiary groups.[Read More…]
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