Launch of United Women’s Economic Development Network

Office of the Spokesperson

Women business leaders and entrepreneurs from the United States, Bahrain, Morocco, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Kosovo convened today for the virtual launch of the United Women’s Economic Development Network, hosted by U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Kelley Currie, Special Envoy for Economic Normalization Aryeh Lightstone, and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Global Women’s Issues Charity Wallace.

Following the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, signatory parties have worked to establish across the region a warm peace, inclusive of all, and to develop new cross-country economic partnerships. In pursuit of those goals, the advancement of women’s economic empowerment has come to occupy a role of central importance.

The United Women’s Economic Development Network will provide a platform for building ties and trust among women in each country, deepening the greater regional cooperation promised by the Abraham Accords and bringing the economic benefits of normalization to businesswomen and leaders in Abraham Accords countries and other likeminded countries. The Network will also advance women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, a major facet of U.S. foreign policy, in line with the White House-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative.

Special Envoy for Economic Normalization Aryeh Lightstone welcomed the group of approximately 40 women to the event, noting that in business you look for trends, and trends on women’s economic empowerment are positive. He also noted that the Abraham Accords countries are ascendant and female entrepreneurship in those countries has unlimited potential. Lightstone closed by stating that the women leaders at the event today are building directly on the Abraham Accords and translating it into tangible and sustainable benefits that will reach all sectors of society.

In her remarks, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Kelley Currie applauded Marwa Al Mansouri, an Emirati entrepreneur and board member of the UAE’s Economic Collaboration Committee, and Netta Korin, co-founder of Israel’s largest blockchain infrastructure company Orbs, for founding the network, which will complement U.S. objectives under W-GDP and contribute to lasting peace across the region. The launch of the Network also builds on the announcement last week of the DFC’s W-GDP 2X MENA initiative, launched in Morocco by Ambassador Currie and DFC SVP Wallace.

 

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    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. This testimony summarizes GAO's report on grid resilience to climate change. Specifically, the testimony discusses (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • NASA Human Space Exploration: Significant Investments in Future Capabilities Require Strengthened Management Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) again delayed the planned launch date for Artemis I, the first uncrewed test flight involving three closely related human spaceflight programs—the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System (SLS), and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS). Together, these programs aim to continue human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. The most recent delay, to November 2021, resulted in part from manufacturing challenges and represents a 36-month slip since NASA established a schedule to measure performance in 2014. This new launch date does not account for the effects of COVID-19. According to NASA officials, COVID-19 delays and schedule risks will place pressure on NASA's ability to achieve this launch date. Development cost estimates for key programs also increased. The cost of the SLS program increased by 42.5 percent and the EGS program by 32.3 percent since 2014, for a combined increase of over $3 billion, bringing the total to $11.5 billion. NASA does not plan to complete revised estimates for Orion, which are tied to the second, crewed test flight (Artemis II) before spring 2021. Key Parts of Space Launch System Ready for Testing at Stennis Space Center NASA awarded billions of dollars in development and production contracts to support flights beyond Artemis I, but the flight schedule has changed frequently due to a lack of clear requirements and time frames for planned capability upgrades. Limited NASA oversight also places efforts to plan and execute future flights at risk of adverse outcomes, such as increased costs or delays. For example, NASA is committed to establishing cost and schedule performance baselines for these efforts, but it plans to do so too late in the acquisition process to be useful as an oversight tool. In addition, senior leaders do not receive consistent and comprehensive information at quarterly briefings on future efforts, such as a program to begin developing a more powerful upper stage for SLS. This is because current updates provided to NASA management focus primarily on the more short-term Artemis I and II flights. This approach places billions of dollars at risk of insufficient NASA oversight. NASA is pursuing an aggressive goal to return American astronauts to the surface of the Moon by the end of 2024. The success of NASA's plans hinges, in part, on two upcoming test flights. An uncrewed test flight and subsequent crewed test flight are intended to demonstrate the capability of a new launch vehicle, crew capsule, and ground systems. The House Committee on Appropriations included a provision in its 2017 report for GAO to continue to review NASA's human space exploration programs. This is the latest in a series of GAO reports addressing this topic. This report assesses (1) the progress the programs are making towards the first test flight, known as Artemis I, with respect to schedule and cost, and (2) the extent to which NASA's human space exploration programs are positioned to support the planned Artemis flight schedule beyond Artemis I. To do this work, GAO examined program cost and schedule reports, test plans, and contracts, and interviewed officials. GAO also assessed the extent to which the COVID-19 state of emergency has affected schedules for these programs. GAO is making two recommendations to NASA to establish baselines ahead of a key design review and improve internal reporting about capability upgrades for human space exploration programs beyond Artemis I. NASA concurred with the recommendations made in this report. For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
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  • Financial Audit: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Funds’ 2020 and 2019 Financial Statements
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found (1) the financial statements of the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) and of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC) Resolution Fund (FRF) as of and for the years ended December 31, 2020, and 2019, are presented fairly, in all material respects, in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles; (2) although internal controls could be improved, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the DIF and to the FRF as of December 31, 2020; and (3) with respect to the DIF and to the FRF, no reportable instances of noncompliance for 2020 with provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements GAO tested. In commenting on a draft of this report, FDIC stated that it was pleased to receive unmodified opinions on the DIF's and the FRF's financial statements. In regard to the significant deficiency in internal control over contract payment review processes, FDIC stated that it began taking steps to address this issue and will work to enhance control activities and expand monitoring capabilities in this area. Further, FDIC stated that it recognizes the essential role a strong internal control program plays in an agency achieving its mission. FDIC added that its commitment to sound financial management has been and will remain a top priority. Section 17 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, as amended, requires GAO to audit the financial statements of the DIF and of the FRF annually. In addition, the Government Corporation Control Act requires that FDIC annually prepare and submit audited financial statements to Congress and authorizes GAO to audit the statements. This report responds to these requirements. For more information, contact James R. Dalkin at (202) 512-3133 or dalkinj@gao.gov.
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Air Quality Sensors
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Air quality sensors are essential to measuring and studying pollutants that can harm public health and the environment. Technological improvements have led to smaller, more affordable sensors as well as satellite-based sensors with new capabilities. However, ensuring the quality and appropriate interpretation of sensor data can be challenging. The Technology What is it? Air quality sensors monitor gases, such as ozone, and particulate matter, which can harm human health and the environment. Federal, state, and local agencies jointly manage networks of stationary air quality monitors that make use of sensors. These monitors are expensive and require supporting infrastructure. Officials use the resulting data to decide how to address pollution or for air quality alerts, including alerts during wildfires or on days with unhealthy ozone levels. However, these networks can miss pollution at smaller scales and in rural areas. They generally do not measure air toxics—more localized pollutants that may cause cancer and chronic health effects—such as ethylene oxide and toxic metals. Two advances in sensor technologies may help close these gaps. First, newer low-cost sensors can now be deployed virtually anywhere, including on fences, cars, drones, and clothing (see fig. 1). Researchers, individuals, community groups, and private companies have started to deploy these more affordable sensors to improve their understanding of a variety of environmental and public health concerns. Second, federal agencies have for decades operated satellites with sensors that monitor air quality to understand weather patterns and inform research. Recent satellite launches deployed sensors with enhanced air monitoring capabilities, which researchers have begun to use in studies of pollution over large areas. Figure 1. There are many types of air quality sensors, including government-operated ground-level and satellite-based sensors, as well as low-cost commercially available sensors that can now be used on a variety of platforms, such as bicycles, cars, trucks, and drones. How does it work? Low-cost sensors use a variety of methods to measure air quality, including lasers to estimate the number and size of particles passing through a chamber and meters to estimate the amount of a gas passing through the sensor. The sensors generally use algorithms to convert raw data into useful measurements (see fig. 2). The algorithms may also adjust for temperature, humidity and other conditions that affect sensor measurements. Higher-quality devices can have other features that improve results, such as controlling the temperature of the air in the sensors to ensure measurements are consistent over time. Sensors can measure different aspects of air quality depending on how they are deployed. For example, stationary sensors measure pollution in one location, while mobile sensors, such as wearable sensors carried by an individual, reflect exposure at multiple locations. Satellite-based sensors generally measure energy reflected or emitted from the earth and the atmosphere to identify pollutants between the satellite and the ground. Some sensors observe one location continuously, while others observe different parts of the earth over time. Multiple sensors can be deployed in a network to track the formation, movement, and variability of pollutants and to improve the reliability of measurements. Combining data from multiple sensors can increase their usefulness, but it also increases the expertise needed to interpret the measurements, especially if data come from different types of sensors. Figure 2. A low-cost sensor pulls air in to measure pollutants and stores information for further study. How mature is it? Sensors originally developed for specific applications, such as monitoring air inside a building, are now smaller and more affordable. As a result, they can now be used in many ways to close gaps in monitoring and research. For example, local governments can use them to monitor multiple sources of air pollution affecting a community, and scientists can use wearable sensors to study the exposure of research volunteers. However, low-cost sensors have limitations. They operate with fewer quality assurance measures than government-operated sensors and vary in the quality of data they produce. It is not yet clear how newer sensors should be deployed to provide the most benefit or how the data should be interpreted. Some low-cost sensors carry out calculations using artificial intelligence algorithms that the designers cannot always explain, making it difficult to interpret varying sensor performance. Further, they typically measure common pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter. There are hundreds of air toxics for which additional monitoring using sensors could be beneficial. However, there may be technical or other challenges that make it impractical to do so. Older satellite-based sensors typically provided infrequent and less detailed data. But newer sensors offer better data for monitoring air quality, which could help with monitoring rural areas and pollution transport, among other benefits. However, satellite-based sensor data can be difficult to interpret, especially for pollution at ground level. In addition, deployed satellite-based sensor technologies currently only measure a few pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide. Opportunities Improved research on health effects. The ability to track personal exposure and highly localized pollution could improve assessments of public health risks. Expanded monitoring. More dense and widespread monitoring could help identify pollution sources and hot spots, in both urban and rural areas. Enhanced air quality management. Combined measurements from stationary, mobile, and satellite-based sensors can help officials understand and mitigate major pollution issues, such as ground-level ozone and wildfire smoke. Community engagement. Lower cost sensors open up new possibilities for community engagement and citizen science, which is when the public conducts or participates in the scientific process, such as by making observations, collecting and sharing data, and conducting experiments. Challenges Performance. Low-cost sensors have highly variable performance that is not well understood, and their algorithms may not be transparent. Low-cost sensors operated by different users or across different locations may have inconsistent measurements. Interpretation. Expertise may be needed to interpret sensor data. For example, sensors produce data in real time that may be difficult to interpret without health standards for short-term exposures. Data management. Expanded monitoring will create large amounts of data with inconsistent formatting, which will have to be stored and managed. Alignment with needs. Few of the current low-cost and satellite-based sensors measure air toxics. In addition, low-income communities, which studies show are disproportionally harmed by air pollution, may still face challenges deploying low-cost sensors. Policy Context and Questions How can policymakers leverage new opportunities for widespread monitoring, such as citizen science, while also promoting appropriate use and interpretation of data? How can data from a variety of sensors be integrated to better understand air quality issues, such as environmental justice concerns, wildfires, and persistent ozone problems? How can research and development efforts be aligned to produce sensors to monitor key pollutants that are not widely monitored, such as certain air toxics? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • Freedom of Information Act: Actions Needed to Improve Agency Compliance with Proactive Disclosure Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 expanded the requirement for agencies to proactively disclose certain records—making the records publicly available without waiting for specific requests. Of the three agencies GAO reviewed—Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Health Administration (VHA)—only VHA aligned its policies and procedures with applicable Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) proactive disclosure requirements. Although FAA officials stated that the agency has processes to identify and post proactive disclosures, it has not documented these processes. HUD has FOIA regulations, updated in 2017, that address proactive disclosure, but its standard operating procedures have outdated sections that do not reflect statutory requirements. GAO also found that HUD, VHA, and FAA did not fully comply with the statutory reporting requirements and Department of Justice's (DOJ) guidance to accurately report proactive disclosures. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires agencies to report the number of records the FOIA and program offices proactively disclosed each fiscal year. From fiscal years 2017 through 2019, HUD incorrectly reported zero proactive disclosures, while VHA and FAA did not track and report all required categories of proactive disclosures in fiscal year 2019 (see table). Selected Agencies' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Offices' Reported Proactive Disclosures Fiscal year Federal Aviation Administration Housing and Urban Development Veterans Health Administration 2019 8 0 16 2018 89,687 0 0 2017 90,486 0 58 2016 68,046 12 0 Source: FOIA.gov. | GAO-21-254 DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP) is responsible for encouraging agencies' compliance with FOIA, including overseeing the Annual FOIA Report that agencies submit to OIP. OIP told GAO that it asked agencies that report zero proactive disclosures to confirm that this was accurate, but it did not follow up with these agencies. For example, OIP asked HUD officials to confirm that HUD intentionally reported zero proactive disclosures, but did not ask why HUD had zero proactive disclosures. In addition, GAO's review of annual FOIA data found that 25 of 118 agencies reported zero proactive disclosures in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. OIP said that agencies with a low volume of requests may have fewer records to proactively disclose. However, by not following up with agencies that report zero proactive disclosures, OIP is not using an available tool that may strengthen its efforts to encourage agencies to make required disclosures. OIP and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)'s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) officials stated that making proactive disclosures accessible is a challenge for agencies. To assist agencies in addressing such challenges, OGIS periodically reviews agencies' compliance with FOIA and recently issued a report that included strategies for making proactive disclosures accessible. Why GAO Did This Study FOIA, enacted into law more than 50 years ago, requires federal agencies to provide the public with access to government records and information, including through proactive disclosures. FOIA proactive disclosures enhance transparency by ensuring that certain information about the operations and activities of the government is publicly available. GAO was asked to review federal agencies' efforts to implement FOIA requirements regarding proactive disclosures. This report assesses the extent to which selected agencies (1) aligned their policies and procedures with FOIA requirements, and (2) tracked and reported these disclosures. GAO also assessed the effectiveness of the tools, resources, and oversight provided by DOJ and NARA to address known challenges to agencies' FOIA compliance. GAO selected three agencies—FAA, HUD, and VHA—that reflect, among other things, a range in the agency-reported number of FOIA requests received and records proactively disclosed. GAO reviewed DOJ, NARA, FAA, HUD, and VHA documents and interviewed agency officials.
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    In U.S GAO News
    From October 2019 to March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), implemented expedited fear screening pilot programs. Under the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (for non-Mexican nationals) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (for Mexican nationals), DHS sought to complete the fear screening process for certain individuals within 5 to 7 days of their apprehension. To help expedite the process, these individuals remained in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody during the pendency of their screenings rather than being transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). From October through December 2019, DHS implemented the programs in the El Paso, Texas, sector and expanded them to nearly all other southwest border sectors before pausing them in March 2020 due to COVID-19. DHS data indicate that CBP identified approximately 5,290 individuals who were eligible for screening under the pilot programs. About 20 percent of individuals were in CBP custody for 7 or fewer days; CBP held about 86 percent of individuals for 20 or fewer days. Various factors affect time in CBP custody such as ICE's ability to coordinate removal flights. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data indicate that the majority of individuals (about 3,620) received negative fear determinations from asylum officers (see figure). About 1,220 individuals received positive credible fear determinations placing them into full removal proceedings where they may apply for various forms of protection such as asylum. However, as of October 2020, DHS and EOIR could not account for the status of such proceedings for about 630 of these individuals because EOIR's data system does not indicate that a Notice to Appear—a document indicating someone was placed into full removal proceedings before an immigration judge—has been filed and entered into the system, as required. Specifically, DHS and EOIR officials could not determine whether DHS components had filed the notices for these cases with EOIR, nor could they determine if EOIR staff had received but not yet entered some notices into EOIR's data system, per EOIR policy. Ensuring that DHS components file Notices to Appear with EOIR and that EOIR staff enter them into EOIR's data system in a timely manner, as required, would help ensure that removal proceedings move forward for these individuals. Outcomes of Screenings Under Expedited Fear Screening Pilot Programs, October 2019 through March 2020 (as of August 11, 2020) Note: Percentages do not total 100 due to rounding. Individuals apprehended by DHS and placed into expedited removal proceedings are to be removed from the U.S. without a hearing in immigration court unless they indicate a fear of persecution or torture, a fear of return to their country, or express an intent to apply for asylum. Asylum officers conduct such “fear screenings,” and EOIR immigration judges may review negative USCIS determinations. In October 2019, DHS and DOJ initiated two pilot programs to further expedite fear screenings for certain apprehended noncitizens. GAO was asked to review DHS's and DOJ's management of these pilot programs. This report examines (1) actions DHS and EOIR took to implement and expand the programs along the southwest border, and (2) what the agencies' data indicate about the outcomes of individuals' screenings and any gaps in such data. GAO analyzed CBP, USCIS, EOIR, and ICE data on all individuals processed under the programs from October 2019 to March 2020; interviewed relevant headquarters and field officials; and visited El Paso, Texas—the first pilot location. GAO is making two recommendations, including that DHS ensure components file Notices to Appear with EOIR for all those who received positive determinations under the programs, and that EOIR ensure staff enter all such notices in a timely manner, as required, into EOIR's case management system. DHS concurred and DOJ did not concur. GAO continues to believe the recommendation is warranted. For more information, contact at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.
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