Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
In the midst of ongoing violence, abuses against civilians, and growing humanitarian plight in Ethiopia, President Biden today signed an Executive Order (E.O.) establishing a new sanctions regime in response to the crisis. With it, the United States will be able to impose financial sanctions on individuals and entities in connection with the conflict, including those responsible for threatening peace and stability, obstructing humanitarian access or progress toward a ceasefire, or committing serious human rights abuses. Designated individuals are also subject to visa restrictions. This conflict has sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with more than five million people requiring assistance, of which over 900,000 are living in famine conditions. This new tool underscores our resolve to use every appropriate tool at our disposal to bring relief to the long-suffering people of the region.
For too long, the Government of Ethiopia, the Government of Eritrea, the Amhara regional government, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have failed to stop fighting and invest in diplomacy required to solve the ongoing crisis. Instead, violence has escalated and spread, and human rights abuses and obstruction of humanitarian access continue. The Administration, in concert with our international partners, including in the region, has employed a range of diplomatic tools. Most recently, the United States designated Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) Chief of Staff General Filipos Woldeyohannes under the Global Magnitsky sanctions authority in connection with serious human rights abuses committed by the EDF in Ethiopia. In May, we also announced a visa restriction policy on the issuance of visas for individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the resolution of the crisis in Tigray.
The United States calls on the Ethiopian government and the TPLF to cease ongoing hostilities and enter into ceasefire negotiations immediately and without preconditions. Talks to achieve a negotiated ceasefire should lead to a broader dialogue to find a durable political solution to the conflict. Eritrean forces should immediately and permanently withdraw from Ethiopia. If the parties take immediate steps in this regard, the United States is prepared to delay imposition of sanctions and focus on supporting a negotiated process.
Absent clear and concrete progress toward a negotiated ceasefire and an end to abuses – as well as unhindered humanitarian access to those Ethiopians who are suffering – the United States will designate imminently specific leaders, organizations, and entities under this new sanctions regime. Any sanctions imposed under this new authority would target those responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that are prolonging the conflict in northern Ethiopia, obstructing humanitarian access and a ceasefire, or committing serious human rights abuses. We have taken a series of steps to help ensure legitimate humanitarian assistance (including COVID-19 related assistance), as well as personal remittances, food, and medicine continue to reach the Ethiopian and Eritrean people and that the activities of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in Ethiopia and Eritrea can proceed.
Today’s action demonstrates that the United States will continue to use all appropriate tools at our disposal to end the conflict.
- Forced Labor Imports: DHS Increased Resources and Enforcement Efforts, but Needs to Improve Workforce Planning and MonitoringBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020Since 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has increased its resources to enforce a prohibition on importing goods made with forced labor, but has not determined its workforce needs. CBP formed the Forced Labor Division in 2018 to lead its efforts, and increased expenditures for the division from roughly $1 million in fiscal year 2018 to $1.4 million in fiscal year 2019. However, CBP has not assessed and documented the staffing levels or skills needed for the Forced Labor Division. For example, the division suspended some ongoing investigations due to a staff shortage and has plans to expand and train its workforce; however, the division has not assessed the number, type, locations, or specialized skills of positions it needs to achieve programmatic results. Without assessing its workforce needs, the division lacks reasonable assurance that it has the right number of people, with the right skills, in the right places. CBP has increased forced labor investigations and civil enforcement actions, but managers lack complete and consistent data summarizing cases. CBP detained shipments under 13 Withhold Release Orders (WRO) from 2016 through 2019, as shown in the figure below. However, the Forced Labor Division uses incomplete and inconsistent summary data to monitor its investigations. For example, data were missing on the sources of evidence collected for almost all active cases. Incomplete and inconsistent summary data on the characteristics and status of cases may hinder managers' effective monitoring of case progress and enforcement efforts. Figure: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Forced Labor Withhold Release Orders, 2016 through 2019 With regard to criminal violations, DHS's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased its resources to investigate allegations of forced labor, including those related to U.S. imports. ICE coordinates criminal investigations of forced labor, conducted in the U.S. and abroad. ICE reported spending about $40 million on forced labor investigations in fiscal year 2019, an increase of over 50 percent since 2016. Forced labor investigations often involve a range of criminal violations, including violations that are not related to the importation of goods. As such, reported expenditures include costs for cases on related issues, such as human trafficking. Forced labor is a global problem in which individuals are exploited to perform labor or services. The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labor generates profits of $150 billion a year globally. CBP is responsible for enforcing Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labor. CBP has authority to detain shipments when information indicates that forced labor produced the goods. ICE is responsible for investigating potential crimes related to forced labor, and importers may be subject to prosecution. GAO was asked to review the status of DHS resources for implementing the Section 307 prohibition on forced labor imports, following an amendment of the law in 2016. This report examines (1) the extent to which CBP assessed agency needs for the enforcement of the prohibition on forced labor imports, (2) the outcome of CBP enforcement activities and monitoring of such efforts, and (3) ICE resources for investigations on forced labor. GAO reviewed CBP and ICE documents and data, and interviewed agency officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report GAO issued in July 2020. Information that CBP deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO is making three recommendations, including that CBP assess the workforce needs of the Forced Labor Division, and improve its forced labor summary case data. CBP concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Information Technology: DHS Directives Have Strengthened Federal Cybersecurity, but Improvements Are NeededBy Sam NewsMay 6, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established a five-step process for developing and overseeing the implementation of binding operational directives, as authorized by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA). The process includes DHS coordinating with stakeholders early in the directives' development process and validating agencies' actions on the directives. However, in implementing the process, DHS did not coordinate with stakeholders early in the process and did not consistently validate agencies' self-reported actions. In addition to being a required step in the directives process, FISMA requires DHS to coordinate with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to ensure that the directives do not conflict with existing NIST guidance for federal agencies. However, NIST officials told GAO that DHS often did not reach out to NIST on directives until 1 to 2 weeks before the directives were to be issued, and then did not always incorporate the NIST technical comments. More recently, DHS and NIST have started regular coordination meetings to discuss directive-related issues earlier in the process. Regarding validation of agency actions, DHS has done so for selected directives, but not for others. DHS is not well-positioned to validate all directives because it lacks a risk-based approach as well as a strategy to check selected agency-reported actions to validate their completion. Directives' implementation often has been effective in strengthening federal cybersecurity. For example, a 2015 directive on critical vulnerability mitigation required agencies to address critical vulnerabilities discovered by DHS cyber scans of agencies' internet-accessible systems within 30 days. This was a new requirement for federal agencies. While agencies did not always meet the 30-day requirement, their mitigations were validated by DHS and reached 87 percent compliance by 2017 (see fig. 1). DHS officials attributed the recent decline in percentage completion to a 35-day partial government shutdown in late 2018/early 2019. Nevertheless, for the 4-year period shown in the figure below, agencies mitigated within 30 days about 2,500 of the 3,600 vulnerabilities identified. Figure 1: Critical Vulnerabilities Mitigated within 30 days, May 21, 2015 through May 20, 2019 Agencies also made reported improvements in securing or replacing vulnerable network infrastructure devices. Specifically, a 2016 directive on the Threat to Network Infrastructure Devices addressed, among other things, several urgent vulnerabilities in the targeting of firewalls across federal networks and provided technical mitigation solutions. As shown in figure 2, in response to the directive, agencies reported progress in mitigating risks to more than 11,000 devices as of October 2018. Figure 2: Federal Civilian Agency Vulnerable Network Infrastructure Devices That Had Not Been Mitigated, September 2016 through January 2019 Another key DHS directive is Securing High Value Assets, an initiative to protect the government's most critical information and system assets. According to this directive, DHS is to lead in-depth assessments of federal agencies' most essential identified high value assets. However, an important performance metric for addressing vulnerabilities identified by these assessments does not account for agencies submitting remediation plans in cases where weaknesses cannot be fully addressed within 30 days. Further, DHS only completed about half of the required assessments for the most recent 2 years (61 of 142 for fiscal year 2018, and 73 of 142 required assessments for fiscal year 2019 (see fig. 3)). In addition, DHS does not plan to finalize guidance to agencies and third parties, such as contractors or agency independent assessors, for conducting reviews of additional high value assets that are considered significant, but are not included in DHS's current review, until the end of fiscal year 2020. Given these shortcomings, DHS is now reassessing key aspects of the program. However, it does not have a schedule or plan for completing this reassessment, or to address outstanding issues on completing required assessments, identifying needed resources, and finalizing guidance to agencies and third parties. Figure 3: Department of Homeland Security Assessments of Agency High Value Assets, Fiscal Years (FY) 2018 through 2019 Why GAO Did This Study DHS plays a key role in federal cybersecurity. FISMA authorized DHS, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, to develop and oversee the implementation of compulsory directives—referred to as binding operational directives—covering executive branch civilian agencies. These directives require agencies to safeguard federal information and information systems from a known or reasonably suspected information security threat, vulnerability, or risk. Since 2015, DHS has issued eight directives that instructed agencies to, among other things, (1) mitigate critical vulnerabilities discovered by DHS through its scanning of agencies' internet-accessible systems; (2) address urgent vulnerabilities in network infrastructure devices identified by DHS; and (3) better secure the government's highest value and most critical information and system assets. GAO was requested to evaluate DHS's binding operational directives. This report addresses (1) DHS's process for developing and overseeing the implementation of binding operational directives and (2) the effectiveness of the directives, including agencies' implementation of the directive requirements. GAO selected for review the five directives that were in effect as of December 2018, and randomly selected for further in-depth review a sample of 12 agencies from the executive branch civilian agencies to which the directives apply. In addition, GAO reviewed DHS policies and processes related to the directives and assessed them against FISMA and Office of Management and Budget requirements; administered a data collection instrument to selected federal agencies; compared the agencies' responses and supporting documentation to the requirements outlined in the five directives; and collected and analyzed DHS's government-wide scanning data on government-wide implementation of the directives. GAO also interviewed DHS and selected agency officials.[Read More…]
- [Request for Reconsideration of Sustained Protest of Labor Contract Award]By Sam NewsAugust 16, 2021The Department of Labor requested reconsideration of a decision which sustained a protest against a contract award for social services. GAO sustained the protest because of: (1) Labor's agreement with one of two offerers within the competitive range following best and final offers concerning government-furnished property; and (2) a resulting cost analysis which possibly prejudiced the protester. GAO recommended the reopening of negotiations with a clear statement of the requirements and termination of the awardee's contract should the protester's proposal prove more advantageous. Labor requested reconsideration on the grounds that the protester was not prejudiced by the negotiations with the awardee and contended that the recommended corrective action was inappropriate. GAO found that it was not clear that the changes effected by the negotiations were not prejudicial to the protester because a reallocation of savings which followed best and final offers allowed the awardee to reduce its bid. Furthermore, GAO found that Labor presented no convincing evidence that GAO erred in concluding that the protester might have successfully competed had it received the same access to government-owned property which had been developed by the awardee. Therefore, GAO held that the negotiations after best and final offers resulted in a substantial change in contract requirements which possibly prejudiced the protester. Accordingly, GAO affirmed its prior decision; however, since less than 3 months' performance remained on the contract, and Labor had decided not to exercise the contract's option but to issue a new solicitation, GAO had no objection to Labor's not reopening negotiations on the original contract.[Read More…]
- Joint Statement by the Secretary of State of the United States of America, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, and ItalyBy Sam NewsMay 25, 2021
- Indiana Man Pleads Guilty to Lacey Act ViolationsBy Sam NewsMay 25, 2021An Indiana man pleaded guilty today to three felony counts of illegally harvesting American paddlefish and its roe.[Read More…]
- Court Orders Toledo Pharmacy and Two Pharmacists to Stop Dispensing Dangerous Doses and Combinations of Opioids and Other Controlled SubstancesBy Sam NewsJune 7, 2021A federal court in Ohio ordered a Toledo pharmacy and two of its pharmacists to pay a $375,000 civil penalty and imposed restrictions related to the dispensing of opioids and other controlled substances.[Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al ThaniBy Sam NewsNovember 21, 2020
- Disaster Resilience: FEMA Should Take Additional Steps to Streamline Hazard Mitigation Grants and Assess Program EffectsBy Sam NewsFebruary 2, 2021From fiscal years 2010 through 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) obligated over $11 billion through four grant programs that fund state and local hazard mitigation efforts. FEMA awarded about 88 percent of this amount through the two grant programs that fund hazard mitigation post-disaster. State and local officials from selected jurisdictions reported challenges with FEMA's hazard mitigation grant programs. Specifically, officials GAO interviewed from 10 of the 12 jurisdictions said grant application processes were complex and lengthy. To address this, FEMA officials augmented guidance and began monitoring application review time frames for one program and said they intend to assess two other programs to identify opportunities to streamline. However, they did not have a documented plan for doing so. By developing and implementing a plan to identify ways to streamline applications and reviews for all four programs, FEMA could reduce barriers to investments in hazard mitigation. Officials from eight of the 12 jurisdictions also cited challenges with applicants' technical capacity to successfully apply for grants. To address this, FEMA developed training and guidance, but GAO found that these resources are listed on different parts of its website and can be difficult for state and local officials to locate. Creating a centralized inventory of resources could improve applicant capacity to successfully develop mitigation projects and apply for grants. Examples of Hazard Mitigation Projects FEMA has assessed some effects of grant-funded hazard mitigation projects, but could expand efforts and better share results. FEMA uses benefit-cost analysis, which estimates the benefits over the life of a project, and post-disaster loss avoidance studies, which estimate project benefits from actual hazard events, to assess project effects. However, the loss avoidance studies have been limited to hurricanes, floods, and tornados, and have not assessed wildfires, winter storms, or other disasters. FEMA officials stated that they would like to expand these studies but do not have specific plans to do so. In addition, FEMA requires some states to assess the effectiveness of their mitigation projects, but does not share these studies. Developing a plan to conduct loss avoidance studies for other hazards and sharing the state studies could help FEMA and stakeholders make better informed mitigation investment decisions. The rising number of natural disasters and increasing reliance on federal assistance are key sources of federal fiscal exposure. FEMA has four grant programs to increase disaster resilience through hazard mitigation projects. The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019, included a provision for GAO to review the federal response to disasters in 2018. This report addresses 1) FEMA's use of grants to support hazard mitigation; 2) challenges reported by selected jurisdictions applying for grants; and 3) how FEMA has assessed the effects of its hazard mitigation projects and shared the results. GAO analyzed FEMA's grant data for fiscal years 2010 through 2018 to capture the most complete recent data, conducted nongeneralizable site visits with 12 state and local jurisdictions selected to capture a range of grant funding levels and hazards, reviewed FEMA grant documents, and interviewed FEMA mitigation officials. GAO is making six recommendations, including that FEMA develop a plan to assess and streamline its hazard mitigation grant programs, create a centralized inventory of related resources, develop a plan to conduct more loss avoidance studies, and share state studies on hazard mitigation effectiveness. The Department of Homeland Security concurred with our recommendations. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or CurrieC@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Former Colorado Police Officer Sentenced on Sexual Assault ChargesBy Sam NewsFebruary 1, 2021Curtis Arganbright, 43, a former Westminster Police Department (WPD) officer, was sentenced today in federal court in Denver, Colorado, to 72 months in prison and three years supervised release. In addition to his prison sentence, Arganbright will forfeit his law enforcement certification and be required to register as a sex offender.[Read More…]
- Federal Court Finds Miami-Area Tax Preparer in Contempt for Violating Permanent InjunctionBy Sam NewsAugust 18, 2021A federal court in the Southern District of Florida has held a Miami-area tax preparer in contempt for violating a permanent injunction that barred her from preparing, filing or assisting in the preparation or filing of federal tax returns for others.[Read More…]
- More Achieved in 2020 to Improve Kidney Care Than in DecadesBy Sam NewsSeptember 24, 2020Since the Department of [Read More…]
- U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry to Mark Official U.S. Reentry into Paris AgreementBy Sam NewsFebruary 17, 2021
- Readout of Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco’s First DayBy Sam NewsApril 21, 2021Today, Lisa O. Monaco was sworn in as the 39th Deputy Attorney General (DAG) of the United States. She returns to the Department of Justice where she first arrived as an intern 26 years ago, and went on to hold a variety of leadership roles at both the Department and the FBI. DAG Monaco held a series of meetings with DOJ staff and received briefings on the January 6th Capitol Attack investigation and on national security. In an all hands meeting with her immediate staff, DAG Monaco reiterated her commitment to reaffirming the Department’s foundational mission and core values, pursuing the Constitution’s promise of equal justice, and ensuring the safety of all who call America home. Late in the day she sent an email to the DOJ workforce thanking them for their dedication, and conveying how honored she is to serve alongside them.[Read More…]
- Lithuanian National DayBy Sam NewsFebruary 16, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- System Review Report of the GAO OIG Audit Organization (prepared by the Architect of the Capitol OIG)By Sam NewsOctober 1, 2021Government Auditing Standards require that each organization conducting engagements in accordance with these standards must obtain an external peer review. The objectives of a peer review are to determine whether (1) the reviewed audit organization's system of quality control is suitably designed and (2) the organization is complying with its quality control system so that it has reasonable assurance that it is performing and reporting in conformity with professional standards and applicable legal and regulatory requirements in all material respects. Peer reviews of Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) must be conducted by reviewers independent of the audit organization being reviewed at least once every three years in accordance with guidance established by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. The GAO OIG received a peer review rating of "pass." The Architect of the Capitol OIG completed the peer review of the GAO OIG audit organization for the year ending March 31, 2021 and concluded that the system of quality control has been suitably designed and complied with to provide the GAO OIG with reasonable assurance of performing and reporting in conformity with applicable professional standards and applicable legal and regulatory requirements in all material respects. For more information, contact Mary Arnold Mohiyuddin at (202) 512-3087 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Terrorist Attacks in BaghdadBy Sam NewsJanuary 21, 2021Daniel B. Smith, Acting [Read More…]
- Workrite Companies to Pay $7.1 Million to Settle Alleged Furniture OverchargesBy Sam NewsDecember 3, 2020Ergonomic office furniture maker Workrite Ergonomics LLC, a Delaware company, and its parent, Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Co. (collectively, Workrite), have agreed to pay $7.1 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that they overcharged the federal government for office furniture under General Services Administration (GSA) contracts, the Department of Justice announced today.[Read More…]
- VA Disability Benefits: Process for Identifying Conditions Presumed to be Service Connected and Challenges in Processing Complex Gulf War Illness ClaimsBy Sam NewsDecember 9, 2020GAO has reported on the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) use of research to identify and add new illnesses to its list of presumptive conditions for both Gulf War Illness and Agent Orange—a tactical herbicide used extensively during the Vietnam Era. VA entered into agreements with the National Academy of Sciences to assess the link between certain exposures and illnesses experienced by veterans, and uses the Academy's findings to inform its lists of presumptive conditions. GAO also reported in 2017 that VA did not have a single set of uniform criteria to define Gulf War Illness (a case definition) that could improve research, clinical diagnosis, and treatment of Gulf War veterans. GAO recommended that VA prepare and document a plan to develop a single case definition. In response, VA convened a group of subject matter experts from VA and the Department of Defense to create a multi-step plan to develop a case definition. According to VA, it is in the final stages of the plan and will bring together experts in 2021 to review new research and work toward delineating a definition. Further, according to VA, the department continues to support research on conditions related to Gulf War service as well as Agent Orange exposure and will use the findings to consider future presumptive conditions. In 2017, GAO reported on challenges that VA faced in processing complex, presumptive disability claims for veterans who served in the Gulf War—claims that were being denied at higher rates than other disability claims. At the time of GAO's review, VA officials stated that Gulf War Illness claims may be denied at a higher rate, in part, because they are not always well understood by VA staff, and veterans sometimes do not have medical records to adequately support their claims. The challenges we identified included: Inconsistent requests for disability medical exams. VA claims processors can request that a veteran undergo a disability medical exam to help determine whether the conditions in the claim exist and are linked to service. GAO found that claims processors were inconsistent in asking for an exam, in part, due to confusion about the guidance. VA issued training on the topic and in April 2017 completed a review of Gulf War claims to assess the effectiveness of the training and help ensure future consistency. Inconsistent disability medical exam reports. Veterans Health Administration disability medical examiners did not always complete medical exam reports properly and sometimes offered a medical opinion when one was not necessary. GAO recommended that VA require all examiners to complete Gulf War medical exam training before conducting these exams, and VA implemented this recommendation. Since our 2017 report, VA has allowed contracted medical examiners to complete these exams, and in 2018 GAO found VA was not monitoring whether all contractors completed required training. GAO recommended VA improve its oversight of training, but the department has not fully implemented this recommendation from GAO's 2018 report. VA provides disability compensation to millions of veterans with service-connected disabilities. Veterans are generally entitled to these benefits if they can prove their injuries or illnesses were incurred or aggravated by active military service. For certain claims, VA presumes a condition is due to a veteran's service. For example, VA can provide benefits to any veteran with certain symptoms, from respiratory disorders to gastrointestinal issues, who served in Southwest Asia from 1990 to the present, without the veteran needing to prove cause. GAO refers to these as Gulf War Illness claims. In 2017, GAO issued Gulf War Illness: Improvements Needed for VA to Better Understand, Process, and Communicate Decisions on Claims ( GAO-17-511 ), which identified needed improvements in VA's processing of Gulf War Illness claims. In 2018, GAO issued Agent Orange: Actions Needed to Improve Accuracy and Communication of Information on Testing and Storage Locations ( GAO-19-24 ). This statement summarizes information from these reports on how VA determined certain presumptive conditions and challenges VA faced with processing Gulf War Illness claims. In GAO's 2017 report, it recommended that VA develop a plan to establish a single case definition of Gulf War Illness and make Gulf War Illness training mandatory for medical examiners. VA implemented the recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Afghanistan Development: USAID Continues to Face Challenges in Managing and Overseeing U.S. Development Assistance ProgramsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021This testimony discusses oversight of U.S. assistance programs in Afghanistan. Strengthening the Afghan economy through development assistance efforts is critical to the counterinsurgency strategy and a key part of the U.S Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan. Since fiscal year 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded over $11.5 billion in support of development assistance programs in Afghanistan. Since 2003, GAO has issued several reports and testimonies related to U.S. security, governance, and development efforts in Afghanistan. In addition to reviewing program planning and implementation, we have focused on efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of the U.S. investment, which are essential to reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. Over the course of this work, we have identified improvements that were needed, as well as many obstacles that have affected success and should be considered in program management and oversight. While drawing on past work relating to U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan, this testimony focuses on findings in our most recent report released yesterday on the USAID's management and oversight of its agricultural programs in Afghanistan. It will address (1) the challenges the United States faces in managing and overseeing development programs in Afghanistan; and (2) the extent to which USAID has followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures.Various factors challenge U.S. efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan. Among the most significant has been the "high-threat" working environment, the difficulties in preserving institutional knowledge due to the lack of a formal mechanism for retaining and sharing information during staff turnover, and the Afghan government ministries' lack of capacity and corruption challenges. USAID has taken some steps to assess and begin addressing the limited capacity and corruption challenges associated with Afghan ministries. In addition, USAID has established performance management and evaluation procedures for managing and overseeing its assistance programs. These procedures, among other things, require (1) the development of a Mission Performance Management Plan (PMP); (2) the establishment and approval of implementing partner performance indicators and targets; and (3) analyses and use of performance data. Although USAID disseminated alternative monitoring methods for projects in high-threat environments such as Afghanistan, USAID has generally required the same performance management and evaluation procedures in Afghanistan as it does in other countries in which it operates. Summary USAID has not consistently followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures. There were various areas in which the USAID Mission to Afghanistan (Mission) needed to improve upon. In particular, we found that the Mission had been operating without an approved PMP to guide its management and oversight efforts after 2008. In addition, while implementing partners have routinely reported on the progress of USAID's programs, we found that USAID did not always approve the performance indicators these partners were using, and that USAID did not ensure, as its procedures require, that its implementing partners establish targets for each performance indicator. For example, only 2 of 7 USAID-funded agricultural programs active during fiscal year 2009, included in our review, had targets for all of their indicators. We also found that USAID could improve its assessment and use of performance data submitted by implementing partners or program evaluations to, among other things, help identify strengths or weaknesses of ongoing or completed programs. Moreover, USAID needs to improve documentation of its programmatic decisions and put mechanisms in place for program managers to transfer knowledge to their successors. Finally, USAID has not fully addressed the risks of relying on contractor staff to perform inherently governmental tasks, such as awarding and administering grants. In the absence of consistent application of its existing performance management and evaluation procedures, USAID programs are more vulnerable to corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. We reported in 2009 that USAID's failure to adhere to its existing policies severely limited its ability to require expenditure documentation for Afghanistan-related grants that were associated with findings of alleged criminal actions and mismanaged funds. To enhance the performance management of USAID's development assistance programs in Afghanistan, we have recommended, among other things, that the Administrator of USAID take steps to: (1) ensure programs have performance indicators and targets; (2) fully assess and use program data and evaluations to shape current programs and inform future programs; (3) address preservation of institutional knowledge; and (4) improve guidance for the use and management of USAID contractors. USAID concurred with these recommendations, and identified steps the agency is taking to address them. We will continue to monitor and follow up on the implementation of our recommendations.[Read More…]
- Facing Long Post-Hurricane Recovery, Court in La. Gets Help From FriendsBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsSeptember 21, 2020Hurricane Laura has left a lasting impact on the Western Louisiana community of Lake Charles, and the federal courthouse could be closed a year or more. Despite the disarray, courts in New Orleans, Texas, and even Alaska have reached out to support the court’s staff in getting back on their feet.[Read More…]