Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
In commemoration of your 54th Independence Day, I send my heartfelt congratulations to the people of the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Together we seek to achieve our common goal of a stable and bright future for the citizens of Lesotho. Our partnership on health matters has brought Lesotho ever closer to HIV/AIDS epidemic control and has supported Lesotho’s COVID-19 response. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) continues to deepen our economic and trade ties to the mutual benefit of both our countries. The United States looks forward to continued partnerships in the areas of democratic governance and access to justice, and to Lesotho’s enhanced efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
As Lesotho celebrates, I wish all Basotho a prosperous, healthy, and peaceful year.
- Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination in Residential Rental Properties in North DakotaBy Sam NewsAugust 16, 2021The Department of Justice announced today that Hampton Corporation Inc. and several related individuals and entities have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to design and construct apartment complexes and a rental office in North Dakota so they are accessible to people with disabilities. The Department of Justice previously resolved claims against the architect and engineer involved in the design of one of the four apartment complexes at issue in the lawsuit.[Read More…]
- Supporting a Healthy, Sustainable Mekong RiverBy Sam NewsFebruary 24, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
- Acting AG and Five Country Statement on the Temporary Derogation to the ePrivacy Directive to Combat Child Sexual Exploitation and AbuseBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen joined the Home Affairs, Interior, and Security Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom in issuing the following statement:[Read More…]
- Operation Legend: Case of the DayBy Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2020Each weekday, the Department of Justice will highlight a case that has resulted from Operation Legend. Today’s case is out of the Eastern District of Michigan. Operation Legend launched in Detroit on July 29, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Statements to the PressBy Sam NewsMay 25, 2021
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi Before Their MeetingBy Sam NewsMay 12, 2021
- Insurance Broker Sentenced for $3.8 Million Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsMay 27, 2021A licensed insurance broker and the owner of Benefits Consulting Associates LLC was sentenced to 70 months in prison Wednesday for his role in a scheme to defraud CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield of more than $3.8 million.[Read More…]
- State Department Terrorist Designation Reviews and AmendmentsBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Open Data: Agencies Need Guidance to Establish Comprehensive Data Inventories; Information on Their Progress is LimitedBy Sam NewsOctober 8, 2020The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act of 2018 (OPEN Government Data Act) codifies and expands open data policy and generally requires agencies to publish information as open data by default, as well as develop and maintain comprehensive data inventories. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not issued statutorily-required guidance for agencies to implement comprehensive data inventories, which could limit agencies' progress in implementing their requirements under the act. OMB also has not met requirements to publicly report on agencies' performance and compliance with the act. Access to this information could inform Congress and the public about agencies' open data progress and statutory compliance. Implementation Status of Selected OPEN Government Data Act Requirements Assessment Federal data catalogue: By July 2019, the General Services Administration (GSA) must maintain a point of entry dedicated to sharing agency data assets with the public, known as the “Federal data catalogue”. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and GSA must ensure agencies can publish data assets or links on the website. ✓ Online repository: By July 2019, OMB, GSA, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) must collaborate to develop and maintain an online repository of tools, best practices, and schema standards to facilitate the adoption of open data practices across the federal government. ✓ Implementation guidance: By July 2019, OMB must issue guidance for agencies to implement comprehensive inventories. ✖ Biennial report: By January 2020, and biennially thereafter, OMB must electronically publish a report on agency performance and compliance with this act. ✖ Legend: ✓Requirement fully met I ✖ Requirement not met Source: GAO analysis of Pub. L. No. 115-435, 132 Stat. 5529(Jan. 14, 2019), resources.data.gov, www.data.gov , and an interview with OMB staff. | GAO-21-29. GAO found that all 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies display their data inventories on their websites, as well as on an online catalogue of federal data assets. Agencies took a variety of approaches to providing public access to individual data assets such as using Data.gov as the human-readable public interface, hosting searchable inventories on their own agency websites and providing lists of data or downloadable files on their websites. Information on the extent to which agencies regularly update their data inventories is limited. OMB and GSA do not have a policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in electronically published information. The absence of such a policy limits publicly available information on agency progress. As of September 2020, seven of the 24 CFO Act agencies had also publicly released COVID-19 related datasets or linked to related information from their open data web pages as required by the Federal Data Strategy. These datasets provide data on a range of COVID-19 related topics including data on disease transmission and loans provided to businesses. Federal agencies create and collect large amounts of data in support of fulfilling their missions. Public access to open data—data that are free to use, modify, and share—holds great promise for promoting government transparency and engendering public trust. Access to open data is particularly important in the current pandemic environment as government agencies, scientists, and the public work to understand and respond to COVID-19 using data-focused approaches. The OPEN Government Data Act includes a provision for GAO to report on federal agencies' comprehensive data inventories. This report examines the extent to which 1) OMB, GSA, and NARA met their statutory requirements to facilitate the establishment of federal agencies' comprehensive data inventories; and 2) CFO Act agencies developed data inventories in accordance with OMB guidance. GAO reviewed agencies' websites and related documentation, and interviewed OMB staff and GSA and NARA officials. GAO is making two recommendations to OMB to issue required implementation guidance and report on agency performance. GAO also recommends that OMB and GSA establish policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in agency data. GSA concurred with GAO's recommendation and OMB did not comment on the report. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or SagerM@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Andorra Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsIn TravelSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
- Freshwater Programs: Federal Agencies’ Funding in the United States and AbroadBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021As the world's population tripled during the past century, demand for the finite amount of freshwater resources increased six-fold, straining these resources for many countries, including the United States. The United Nations estimates that, worldwide, more than 1 billion people live without access to clean drinking water and over 2.4 billion people lack the basic sanitation needed for human health. Freshwater supply shortages--already evident in the drought-ridden western United States--pose serious challenges and can have economic, social, and environmental consequences. Multiple federal agencies share responsibility for managing freshwater resources, but consolidated information on the federal government's financial support of these activities is not readily accessible. GAO was asked to determine for fiscal years 2000 through 2004 how much financial support federal agencies provided for freshwater programs in the United States and abroad. For the purposes of this report, freshwater programs include desalination, drinking water supply, flood control, irrigation, navigation, wastewater treatment, water conservation, water dispute management, and watershed management.Of the over $52 billion in total financial support provided by federal agencies for freshwater programs during fiscal years 2000 through 2004, about $49 billion was directed to domestic programs and about $3 billion supported programs abroad. Domestic program activities involved 27 federal agencies, but 3 agencies--the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Agriculture's (Agriculture) Rural Utilities Service--accounted for over 70 percent of the financial support. Eighteen agencies supported domestic drinking water supply programs and 16 supported domestic wastewater treatment and watershed management programs. Grant programs of over $22 billion and direct federal spending of about $22 billion accounted for most of the domestic financial support. In addition to the about $49 billion that directly support freshwater activities in the United States, some agencies also have programs that may indirectly support such activities, but it is difficult to determine the dollar value of this indirect support. For example, Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program supports multiple activities, including irrigation, but information on each activity supported by the program is not readily available. Also included in the domestic program is about $175 million that the United States provided to three commissions that conduct freshwater activities along U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada. Of the estimated $3 billion in total financial support directed toward freshwater programs abroad between fiscal years 2000 through 2004, about $1 billion was recently provided for freshwater projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of the financial support for international freshwater programs was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Foreign wastewater treatment and watershed management programs were the ones that most of the agencies supported. The vast majority of the U.S. support for international programs was provided through grants. Not included in the $3 billion for international support are the contributions that the United States made to the general budgets of numerous international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank. The international organizations used some portion of the U.S. contributions to support freshwater activities around the globe.[Read More…]
- Indian Education: Schools Need More Assistance to Provide Distance LearningBy Sam NewsApril 29, 2021What GAO Found The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), within the Department of the Interior (Interior), has not provided BIE-funded schools with comprehensive guidance on distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, BIE issued a short memo directing schools to “deliver flexible instruction” and “teach content,” but did not offer specific guidance on how to do so. In July 2020, 13 of the 25 schools that responded to GAO's survey said they wanted BIE to provide information on developing and implementing distance learning programs. In addition, 12 schools responded that they wanted information on distance learning methods for areas without broadband internet access. In August 2020, after some schools had already begun the school year, BIE issued a re-opening guide for the 2020-2021 school year. BIE's guidance focused primarily on preparations for in-person instruction at schools, although nearly all schools provided distance learning during the fall of 2020. The guidance contained little information on distance learning. Providing schools with comprehensive distance learning guidance will help them better navigate the current pandemic as well as potential future emergencies that lead to school building closures. BIE helped improve internet access for students at BIE-operated schools during the pandemic, but many students had not received laptops to access online learning by the end of fall 2020. BIE and other Interior offices provided over 7,000 hotspots to students to improve home internet access, but they did not order laptops for most students until September 2020. Interior officials said a nationwide IT supply shortage contributed to the delayed order for about 10,000 laptops. GAO found, however, that delays were also caused in part by BIE not having complete and accurate information on schools' IT needs. Most schools received laptops from late October 2020 to early January 2021, although some laptops still had not been delivered as of late March 2021. Once laptops were delivered, however, schools also faced challenges configuring them, leading to further delays in distributing them to students. BIE officials told GAO that to address schools' challenges with configuring laptops, they are assessing schools' IT workforce needs. Most BIE students did not receive laptops until months after the school year began, according to GAO's analysis of Interior information. Specifically, none of the laptops Interior ordered in early September 2020 arrived in time to distribute to students by the start of the school year in mid-September; by the end of December 2020, schools had not distributed over 80 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered; and as of late March 2021, schools had not distributed about 20 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered. Without accurate, complete, and up-to-date information on schools' IT needs, BIE was unable to ensure that students received laptops when they needed them. Establishing policies and procedures for assessing schools' IT needs would help guide the agency's IT purchases now and in the future, and position schools to integrate technology into their everyday curricula. Why GAO Did This Study BIE's mission is to provide quality education to approximately 41,000 students at 183 schools it funds on or near Indian reservations in 23 states. About two-thirds of these schools are operated by tribes and the remaining third are operated by BIE. In March 2020, all BIE schools closed their buildings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed distance learning at BIE schools as part of its oversight responsibilities under the CARES Act. This testimony examines the extent to which (1) BIE has provided schools with guidance to develop and implement distance learning programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) students have had the technology they need to participate in such programs. GAO analyzed the guidance BIE provided to schools on distance learning, examined BIE's provision of technology to schools and students, surveyed a non-generalizable sample of 30 schools—including 19 operated by tribes and 11 operated by BIE— with 25 schools responding, selected for geographic diversity and level of community broadband access, among other criteria, reviewed relevant federal statutes, regulations, and agency documentation, and interviewed BIE and school officials.[Read More…]
- Tennessee Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate CrimeBy Sam NewsMay 17, 2021Christopher Beckham, 35, of Nashville, Tennessee, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Beckham was indicted in April 2018 after an investigation into an incident that occurred on Oct. 24, 2017.[Read More…]
- Federal Employees’ Compensation Act: Comparisons of Benefits in Retirement and Actions Needed to Help Injured Workers Choose Best OptionBy Sam NewsAugust 21, 2020Factors such as the timing of an injury in a career affect how Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) total disability benefits compare to income security from typical federal retirement. The FECA program compensates federal employees for lost wages from work-related injuries, among other benefits. FECA recipients can receive this compensation for as long as their disability continues. At retirement age, they can remain on FECA or, instead, choose to receive their benefits from the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Thus, FECA benefits represent a significant portion of retirement income for some injured federal employees. Through simulations, GAO found that factors such as the length of retirees' careers absent injury affected how similar their hypothetical FECA benefits packages were to their FERS packages in 2018. FERS benefits increase substantially the longer a federal employee works. As a result, median current and reduced FECA packages were greater than the FERS median for retirees with shorter careers absent injury. However, median FECA packages were similar to or less than FERS for retirees with longer careers (see figure). Median FECA Benefits as a Percentage of FERS Benefits by Career Length Absent an Injury For FECA recipients who choose to compare their FECA and FERS benefit options at retirement, estimates for most components of those benefits packages are available. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) does not routinely remind recipients to compare benefits, so they may be unaware of their options or how to consider them. In addition, DOL and the Social Security Administration (SSA) use a manual and highly complex process to calculate one key component of a FECA recipient's compensation in retirement related to Social Security benefits. As a result, estimates of FECA benefits in retirement that include this component are not readily available prior to retirement. These challenges hinder recipients' ability to accurately compare their options and may result in some recipients not choosing their best option at retirement. The President's budgets for fiscal years 2019-2021 have proposed several FECA reforms, including reducing disability compensation at retirement age. In a series of reports published in 2012, GAO analyzed the effects of similar proposed revisions to FECA compensation. GAO was asked to update its FECA and FERS benefit comparisons. This report examines (1) how FERS and total disability FECA benefits at retirement age compare under current and previously proposed reduced FECA compensation rates, and (2) the extent to which FECA recipients have access to information to compare their FECA and FERS benefits options. GAO compared the FERS benefits selected retirees received in 2018 with the hypothetical total disability FECA benefits they would have received from simulated injuries. GAO reviewed agency documents and interviewed officials from DOL, SSA, and other federal agencies. GAO is recommending that DOL remind FECA recipients as they approach retirement to obtain FERS benefit estimates for comparisons with FECA, and that DOL and SSA take steps to modernize and improve their process for calculating and providing information on certain FECA benefits in retirement that would enable recipients to make complete comparisons of retirement options. DOL and SSA concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Senior State Department Officials Briefing to Traveling PressBy Sam NewsNovember 16, 2020Istanbul, Turkey [Read More…]
- Veterans Justice Outreach Program: Further Actions to Identify and Address Barriers to Participation Would Promote Access to ServicesBy Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2021What GAO Found In response to the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data show the agency hired 51 Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists, though VA completed its hiring and reporting after the statute's deadline. The program relies on nearly 400 VJO specialists—primarily social workers—who work with jails and municipal courts to identify and assess the needs of arrested or incarcerated veterans, and connect them to VA health care services. In addition, VA's reporting to Congress lacked required information, such as the number of veterans who lack access to VJO specialists. Although VA does not collect these data, VJO program officials said that future research will help them estimate this number. VA has identified and taken some steps to address barriers that veterans may face in accessing VJO specialists and receiving services. GAO additionally found that veterans with other-than-honorable discharges—often at greater risk of mental health issues and suicide—may not know they are eligible under a 2020 VA policy that extends mental health care services to certain members of this subgroup. (See figure.) In addition, this policy change and newly available services are not reflected in training for VJO specialists. As a result, veterans may not meet with VJO specialists and miss an opportunity to get help accessing VA's health care services. Barriers Justice-Involved Veterans (JIV) May Face Accessing VJO Specialists VA and others have conducted research on the use of VA services by veterans in the VJO program, and VA officials have used this research to improve the program by educating staff and further directing their research. However, VJO research and improvement efforts are not guided by project plans that define goals and identify needed resources, such as stakeholder expertise, as called for by generally recognized project management practices. VJO officials told GAO that research is a key strategy for improving VJO services and that they intend to develop a plan, but do not have a timeframe for doing so. Until the VJO program develops detailed project plans that also identify needed resources, program officials will not have a road map to improve the use of VA services by veterans in the VJO program. Why GAO Did This Study Veterans who have been arrested and jailed are at an increased risk of homelessness, mental health conditions, and suicide. To address these concerns and prevent re-incarceration, VA created the VJO program, which served over 30,000 veterans in fiscal year 2020. The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to assess VA's implementation of the act's requirements. This report examines the extent to which VA has (1) implemented the act's hiring and reporting requirements, (2) identified and addressed barriers that veterans face in accessing VJO specialists, and (3) conducted and used research to improve the use of VA services by veterans in the program. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and VA documentation, including program guidance, policies, plans, and reports; reviewed selected studies on veterans' use of the VJO program; interviewed VA and VJO officials; and analyzed VA data for fiscal years 2016 through 2020 on veterans served by the program.[Read More…]
- Former Owners of Telemarketing Company Agree to Pay At Least $4 Million to Resolve False Claims Act AllegationsBy Sam NewsMarch 16, 2021Two Florida men have agreed collectively to pay at least $4 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by engaging in schemes to generate prescriptions for compounded drugs and refer those prescriptions to pharmacies in exchange for illegal kickbacks. Many of those prescriptions were billed to TRICARE, the federal health care program providing insurance for active duty military personnel, military retirees, and military dependents.[Read More…]
- Timor-Leste National DayBy Sam NewsMay 19, 2021
- Military Airlift: DOD Should Take Steps to Strengthen Management of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet ProgramBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021To move passengers and cargo, the Department of Defense (DOD) must supplement its military aircraft with cargo and passenger aircraft from commercial carriers participating in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program. Carriers participating in CRAF commit their aircraft to DOD to support a range of military operations. In the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD to sponsor an assessment of CRAF and required GAO to review that assessment. GAO briefed congressional staff on its observations. As discussed with the staff, GAO further analyzed some of the issues identified in its review. This report assesses (1) the extent to which DOD has assessed potential risks to the CRAF program, and (2) the extent to which DOD's management of CRAF supports program objectives. For this engagement, GAO reviewed DOD-sponsored CRAF study reports and interviewed study leadership. GAO also interviewed over 20 of 35 CRAF participating carriers that responded to a request for a meeting, DOD officials, and industry officials.DOD needs to establish the level of risk associated with declining charter passenger capabilities and DOD's increased need to move very large cargo. Although DOD depends on CRAF charter passenger aircraft to move more than 90 percent of its peacetime needs, there has been nearly a 55 percent decline in this CRAF capacity since 2003. In addition, since 2003, DOD's large cargo movement needs have increased with the acquisition of over 15,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Since there are no U.S. commercial cargo aircraft capable of moving cargo this size into Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD is using foreign-owned carriers to assist its military aircraft in such movements. However, there are scenarios where foreign-owned carriers may be unwilling or not allowed to fly. As a result, the lack of a commercial U.S. outsized cargo capability might restrict DOD's ability to meet its large cargo airlift needs in a timely manner. DOD has not quantified the risks these challenges pose to the CRAF program's ability to meet DOD's future transportation requirements because DOD has not completed risk assessments as described in the 2008 National Defense Strategy. Until risk assessments are conducted, DOD will not be sufficiently informed about potential risks in the CRAF charter passenger segment and in very large cargo airlift capability that could prevent DOD from managing its future airlift needs and the CRAF program effectively. DOD's management of CRAF has not provided CRAF participants with a clear understanding, which could strengthen the program's ability to support its objectives, in some critical areas of the program. Although internal controls such as policies can help meet program objectives, CRAF business partners do not have a clear understanding of DOD's expectations concerning four CRAF objectives--an enhanced mobilization base, modernization, increased air carrier participation, and communication--because DOD has not developed policies in these four areas. First, DOD has not developed policies regarding the enforcement of its business rules, such as the 60/40 rule that states that participants should fly only 40 percent of their total business for DOD. DOD does not consistently enforce this rule and this may decrease the mobilization base since it is difficult for carriers to size their fleets to meet DOD demands. Second, DOD has not developed policies or economic incentives that promote CRAF modernization and this may hinder CRAF carriers from modernizing their aircraft. Third, DOD has not developed policies regarding oversight of the distribution of its peacetime airlift business, the primary incentive to carriers for participating in CRAF. DOD has no involvement in this distribution, and the perceptions of some carriers that this process is unfair could ultimately reduce carrier participation in CRAF. Fourth, DOD has not developed policy concerning communication with the carriers on CRAF studies or proposed changes to the CRAF program. DOD has not always communicated with carriers prior to implementing changes or completing studies. Until DOD develops policies that provide carriers with a clear understanding of CRAF, DOD cannot provide reasonable assurance that CRAF will meet its primary objective of providing critical airlift.[Read More…]
- Department Press Briefing – February 12, 2021By Sam NewsFebruary 13, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]