Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the United States of America, I extend best wishes to the people of Hungary as you celebrate Saint Stephen’s Day on August 20.
We greatly value our partnership with Hungary and all we have undertaken together to strengthen global security, enhance energy diversification, and grow our trade and investment relationship. This year, the United States and Hungary also mark the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. We appreciate Hungary’s rich history and traditions as well as the many unique and valuable contributions Hungarian immigrants have made to the United States. As NATO Allies, we are connected through our commitment to democracy, and we continue to support the Hungarian people’s pursuit of a democratic future based on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It is in this spirit of friendship and collaboration that the United States looks forward to working with our Hungarian partners to enhance the resilience of the Transatlantic community in the face of challenges to democracy and rule of law.
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- Retirement Security: Other Countries’ Experiences with Caregiver PoliciesBy Sam NewsOctober 30, 2020For over a decade, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom (UK) have developed and implemented national approaches—including strategies, laws, and policies—to support family caregivers, according to experts GAO interviewed. Specifically, experts noted that these efforts could help caregivers maintain workforce attachment, supplement lost income, and save for retirement. As a result, their retirement security could improve. For example, experts said: Care leave allows employees to take time away from work for caregiving responsibilities. Australia's and Germany's policies allow for paid leave (10 days per year of work or instance of caregiving need, respectively), and all three countries allow for unpaid leave though the duration varies. Caregivers can receive income for time spent caregiving. Australia and the UK provide direct payments to those who qualify. Germany provides indirect payments, whereby the care recipient receives an allowance, which they can pass on to their caregiver. Other Countries' Policies to Support Caregivers Experts in all three countries cited some challenges with caregiver support policies. For example, paid leave is not available to all workers in Germany, such as those who work for small firms. In Australia and the UK, experts said eligibility requirements for direct payments (e.g., limits on hours worked or earnings) can make it difficult for someone to work outside their caregiving role. Experts in all three countries said caregivers may be unaware of available supports. For example, identifying caregivers is a challenge in Australia and the UK. As required under the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened the Family Caregiving Advisory Council (FCAC)—a stakeholder group that is to jointly develop a national family caregiving strategy. As of July 2020, HHS and the FCAC reported limited information on other countries' approaches, and neither entity had concrete plans to collect more. In September 2020, HHS officials provided sources they recently reviewed on selected policies in other countries, and they further noted that HHS staff, FCAC members, and collaborating partners have subject-matter expertise and bring perspectives about other countries' efforts into their discussions. Family caregivers play a critical role in supporting the elderly population, which is growing at a rapid rate worldwide. However, those who provide eldercare may risk their own long-term financial security. Other countries have implemented policies to support caregivers. In recognition of challenges caregivers face in the United States, Congress directed HHS, in consultation with other federal entities, to develop a national family caregiving strategy. GAO was asked to provide information about other countries' efforts that could improve the retirement security of parental and spousal caregivers. This report examines (1) other countries' approaches to support family members who provide eldercare, (2) challenges of these approaches, and (3) the status of HHS' efforts to develop a national family caregiving strategy. GAO conducted case studies of three countries—Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom—selected based on factors including rates of informal care (i.e., help provided to older family members or friends) and the types of policies they have that could improve caregivers' retirement security. GAO interviewed government officials and experts and reviewed relevant federal laws, research, and documents. GAO's draft report recommended that HHS collect additional information about other countries' experiences. In response, in September 2020, HHS provided an update on its efforts to do so. As a result, GAO removed the recommendation and modified the report accordingly. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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These funds have been used for, among other things, infrastructure repair of the electricity, oil, water, and health sectors; training and equipping of the Iraqi security forces; and administrative expenses. Specifically, the testimony focuses on (1) security, (2) management and reporting of the program to train and equip Iraqi security forces, (3) contracting and contract management activities, and (4) Iraqi capacity and commitment to manage and fund reconstruction and security efforts.Despite U.S. and Iraqi efforts to shift a greater share of the country's defense on Iraqi forces, the security situation continues to deteriorate. Poor security conditions have hindered the management of the more than $29 billion that has been obligated for reconstruction and stabilization efforts since 2003. Although the State Department has reported that the number of Iraqi army and police forces that has been trained and equipped has increased from about 174,000 in July 2005 to about 323,000 in December 2006, overall security conditions in Iraq have deteriorated and grown more complex. These conditions have hindered efforts to engage with Iraqi partners and demonstrate the difficulty in making political and economic progress in the absence of adequate security conditions. GAO's ongoing work has identified weaknesses in the $15.4 billion program to support the development and sustainment of Iraqi security forces. Sectarian divisions have eroded the dependability of many Iraqi units, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside the areas where they were recruited. Corruption and infiltration by militias and others loyal to parties other than the Iraqi government have resulted in the Iraqi security forces being part of the problem in many areas instead of the solution. While unit-level transition readiness assessments (TRA) provide important information on Iraqi security force capabilities, the aggregate reports DOD provides to Congress based on these assessments do not provide adequate information to judge the capabilities of Iraqi forces. The DOD reports do not detail the adequacy of Iraqi security forces' manpower, equipment, logistical support, or training and may overstate the number of forces on duty. Congress will need additional information found in the TRAs to assess DOD's supplemental request for funds to train and equip Iraqi security forces. DOD's heavy reliance on contractors in Iraq, its long-standing contract and contract management problems, and poor security conditions provide opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse. First, military commanders and senior DOD leaders do not have visibility over the total number of contractors who are supporting deployed forces in Iraq. As we have noted in the past, this limited visibility can unnecessarily increase costs to the government. Second, DOD lacks clear and comprehensive guidance and leadership for managing and overseeing contractors. In October 2005, DOD issued, for the first time, department-wide guidance on the use of contractors that support deployed forces. Although this guidance is a good first step, it does not address a number of problems we have repeatedly raised. Third, key contracting issues have prevented DOD from achieving successful acquisition outcomes. There has been an absence of well-defined requirements, and DOD has often entered into contract arrangements on reconstruction efforts and into contracts to support deployed forces that have posed additional risk to the government. Further, a lack of training hinders the ability of military commanders to adequately plan for the use of contractor support and inhibits the ability of contract oversight personnel to manage and oversee contracts and contractors in Iraq. Iraqi capacity and commitment to manage and fund reconstruction and security efforts remains limited. Key ministries face challenges in staffing a competent and non-partisan civil service, fighting corruption, and using modern technology. The inability of the Iraqi government to spend its 2006 capital budget also increases the uncertainty that it can sustain the rebuilding effort.[Read More…]
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems: FAA Could Strengthen Its Implementation of a Drone Traffic Management System by Improving Communication and Measuring PerformanceBy Sam NewsJanuary 28, 2021The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with industry and public stakeholders to develop a traffic management system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones. The UAS traffic management ecosystem (referred to as UTM) involves developing a framework of interconnected systems for managing multiple UAS operations. Under UTM, FAA would first establish rules for operating UAS, and UAS-industry service providers and operators would then coordinate the execution of flights. Operators would likely be able to access UTM, for example, through smart phone applications to map routes for UAS flights and check for flight restrictions. FAA began collaborating in 2015 with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish and implement a framework to research, develop, and test increasingly complex UTM concepts and capabilities with industry stakeholders. For example, in one scenario tested in Virginia, UAS operators using UTM were alerted to a rescue helicopter, allowing the operators to avoid the area. Example of a Traffic Management Scenario Simulating a Real-World Situation for an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) To further develop and implement UTM, FAA conducted tests through its UTM pilot program, completed in November 2020, and is working on a UTM implementation plan. However, industry stakeholders said they need more information on the next steps, and it is uncertain whether FAA's plan will include performance goals and measures. FAA has reported that it plans to use results from the pilot program to inform its implementation plan, statutorily required one year after the pilot program concludes. UAS stakeholders generally agreed with FAA's approach for moving UTM toward implementation. However, they said that they face planning challenges because FAA provides limited information on timing and substance of next steps, such as areas of UTM technology that FAA will focus on during testing. In addition, FAA has not indicated whether the implementation plan will include performance goals and measures, instead stating that such metrics are not statutorily required. Providing more data to the UAS industry and public stakeholders in the short term and including goals and metrics in the plan could help stakeholders make informed decisions and better align their activities with FAA plans for UTM testing and implementation. Why GAO Did This Study UAS have potential to provide significant social and economic benefits in the U.S. FAA is tasked with safely integrating UAS into the national airspace. UTM, as planned, will be a traffic management system where UAS operators and service providers are responsible for the coordination and management of operations at low altitudes (below 400 feet), with rules established by FAA. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review infrastructure requirements for monitoring UAS at low altitude. This report examines, among other things, the actions FAA has taken to develop UTM and additional steps needed to achieve UTM's implementation. GAO reviewed relevant statutes, regulations, and agency documents; assessed FAA's efforts against internal controls for communicating quality information and GAO's work on results- oriented practices and performance measures; and interviewed 19 UAS industry and public stakeholders selected to achieve a range of perspectives. GAO is recommending that FAA: (1) provide stakeholders with additional information on the timing and substance of UTM testing and implementation efforts using FAA's UTM website or other appropriate means, and (2) develop performance goals and measures for its UTM implementation plan. The Department of Transportation generally concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- National Weather Service: Reform Efforts Could Benefit from Additional Actions and Continued AttentionBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Commerce's National Weather Service (NWS) initiated the Evolve Program in 2017 to carry out a series of agency reforms to help achieve its strategic vision of strengthening the nation's readiness for and response to extreme weather events. The program has 20 reform initiatives, in varying stages of completeness, that are intended to free up staff time and improve service to the agency's partners (e.g., state emergency managers), among other things. In September 2021, GAO found that NWS has substantially followed five of the eight leading practices for effective agency reforms that GAO examined. Extent to Which NWS Has Followed Selected Leading Practices for Effective Agency Reforms Practice Extent followed Establishing goals and outcomes ◒ Involving employees and key stakeholders ◒ Using data and evidence ● Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication ● Leadership focus and attention ◒ Managing and monitoring ● Strategic workforce planning ● Employee performance management ● Legend: ● Substantially followed —NWS took actions that addressed most or all aspects of the selected key questions GAO examined for the practice. ◒ Partially followed —NWS took actions that addressed some, but not most, aspects of the selected key questions GAO examined for the practice. Source: GAO analysis of National Weather Service (NWS) documents and interviews with NWS officials. | GAO-22-105449 However, there are gaps in the extent to which the agency has followed the other three leading practices. For example, in the area of leadership focus and attention, NWS has designated three leadership positions as having primary responsibility for leading the implementation of the reforms under the Evolve Program. However, the agency has not established a dedicated implementation team with the capacity to manage the reform process. Instead, the agency has primarily relied on rotating leaders and part-time staff for the Evolve Program, an approach that has not provided adequate leadership continuity, staff continuity, or staff resources for the program. By revising its approach to staffing the Evolve Program and addressing the other gaps, as GAO recommended in September 2021, NWS would have better assurance its reform efforts will succeed. The agency also faces staffing challenges that could affect its reform efforts. In its 2019 strategic human capital plan, NWS highlighted challenges related to staffing levels, vacancies, and hiring that could affect the agency's resources and capacity to implement its proposed reforms. These are long-standing issues that have been highlighted in previous studies, including a May 2017 GAO report. In September 2021, GAO found that these challenges continue. Continued attention to addressing these staffing challenges could help to reduce the risk that they will impede the agency's reform efforts. Why GAO Did This Study Extreme weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, can devastate communities across the United States. NWS plays a critical role in the nation's efforts to prepare for and respond to such events, including by developing weather forecasts and issuing warnings to help protect life and property. NWS has determined that it needs to reform its operations and workforce to effectively carry out its responsibilities and to improve its provision of services to emergency managers and other partners. This testimony discusses (1) the extent to which NWS has followed selected leading practices for effective agency reforms and (2) staffing challenges NWS faces as it pursues its reform efforts. The testimony is based on a report GAO issued in September 2021, GAO-21-103792, on the agency's reform efforts, as well as previous GAO work on NWS from May 2017 and January 2020.[Read More…]
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- U.S. Public Diplomacy: State Department and Broadcasting Board of Governors Expand Post-9/11 Efforts but Challenges RemainBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Polls taken in Islamic countries after 9/11 suggested that many or most people had a favorable view of the United States and its fight against terrorism. By 2003, opinion research indicated that foreign publics, especially in countries with large Muslim populations, viewed the United States unfavorably. GAO issued two studies in 2003 that examined (1) changes in U.S. public diplomacy resources and programs since September 11, 2001, within the State Department (State) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG); (2) the U.S. government's strategies for its public diplomacy programs and measures of effectiveness; and (3) the challenges that remain in executing U.S. public diplomacy efforts. GAO made several recommendations to State and the BBG to address planning and performance issues. Both agencies agreed with these recommendations and have made some progress in implementing them. On July 22, 2004, the 9/11 Commission released its report and recommendations. Two of the Commission's recommendations relate to the management of U.S. public diplomacy. For this testimony, GAO was asked to discuss its prior work as it relates to these recommendations.Since September 11, 2001, State has expanded its public diplomacy efforts in Muslim-majority countries considered to be of strategic importance in the war on terrorism. It significantly increased resources in South Asia and the Near East and launched new initiatives targeting broader, younger audiences--particularly in predominantly Muslim countries. These initiatives are consistent with the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the United States rebuild its scholarship, library, and exchange programs overseas. Since 9/11, the BBG has initiated several new programs focused on attracting larger audiences in priority markets, including Radio Sawa and Arabic language television in the Middle East, the Afghanistan Radio Network, and Radio Farda in Iran. The 9/11 Commission report highlights these broadcast efforts and recommends that funding for such efforts be expanded. While State and BBG have increased their efforts to support the war on terrorism, we found that there is no interagency strategy to guide State's, BBG's, and other federal agencies' communication efforts. The absence of such a strategy complicates the task of conveying consistent messages to overseas audiences. Likewise, the 9/11 Commission recommended that the United States do a better job defining its public diplomacy message. In addition, we found that State does not have a strategy that integrates and aligns all its diverse public diplomacy activities. State, noting the need to fix the problem, recently established a new office of strategic planning for public diplomacy. The BBG did have a strategic plan, but the plan lacked a long-term strategic goal or related program objective to gauge the Board's success in increasing audience size, the key focus of its plan. We also found that State and the BBG were not systematically and comprehensively measuring progress toward the goals of reaching broader audiences and increasing publics' understanding about the United States. The BBG subsequently made audience size a key performance goal and added broadcaster credibility and plans to add other performance measures that GAO recommended. In addition, State and BBG face several internal challenges in carrying out their programs. Challenges at State include insufficient public diplomacy resources and a lack of officers with foreign language proficiency. State officials are trying to address staffing gaps through increased recruitment. The BBG also faces a number of media market, organizational, and resource challenges that may hamper its efforts to generate large audiences in priority markets. It has developed a number of solutions to address these challenges.[Read More…]
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