October 19, 2021

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Liberia National Day

23 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the United States of America, I congratulate the people of the Republic of Liberia as it marks 174 years of statehood.

The special bond that exists between our two countries dates from the very foundation of Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic. Almost two centuries later, our relationship is stronger than ever, and we are dedicated to working together with Liberians to fight COVID-19, facilitate peace and reconciliation, strengthen democratic institutions, and support economic development.

The United States stands proudly with our Liberian partners on this Independence Day. We are committed to our partnership with Liberia as it strives to strengthen democratic principles and enhance economic growth and investment.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Vaccine Safety
    In U.S GAO News
    Why this Matters Safe vaccines are critical to fighting diseases, from polio to COVID-19. Research shows that the protection provided by U.S. licensed vaccines outweighs their potential risks. However, misinformation and unjustified safety concerns can cause people to delay or refuse vaccination, which may increase preventable deaths and prolong negative social and economic impacts. The Science What is it? A vaccine is generally considered safe when the benefits of protecting an individual from disease outweigh the risks from potential side effects (fig. 1). The most common side effects stem from the body's immune reaction and include swelling at the injection site, fever, and aches. Figure 1. Symptoms of polio and side effects of the polio vaccine. A vaccine is generally considered safe if its benefits (preventing disease) outweigh its risks (side effects). In rare cases, some vaccines may cause more severe side effects. For example, the vaccine for rotavirus—a childhood illness that can cause severe diarrhea, dehydration, and even death—can cause intestinal blockage in one in 100,000 recipients. However, the vaccine is still administered because this very rare side effect is outweighed by the vaccine's benefits: it saves lives and prevents an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 childhood hospitalizations in the U.S. each year. The two messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines authorized for COVID-19—a disease that contributed to more than 415,000 American deaths between January 2020 and January 2021—can cause severe allergic reactions. However, early safety reporting found that these reactions have been extremely rare, with only about five cases per 1 million recipients, according to data from January 2021 reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, side effects from vaccines are less acceptable to the public than side effects from treatments given to people who already have a disease. What is known? Vaccine developers assess safety from early research, through laboratory and animal testing, and even after the vaccine is in use (fig. 2). Researchers may rely on previous studies to inform future vaccine trials. For example, safety information from preclinical trials of mRNA flu vaccine candidates in 2017 allowed for the acceleration of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine development. Vaccine candidates shown to be safe in these preclinical trials can proceed to clinical trials in humans. In the U.S., clinical trials generally proceed through three phases of testing involving increasing numbers of volunteers: dozens in phase 1 to thousands in phase 3. Although data may be collected over years, most common side effects are identified in the first 2 months after vaccination in clinical trials. After reviewing safety and other data from vaccine studies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may license a vaccine to be marketed in the U.S. There are also programs to expedite—but not bypass—development and review processes, such as a priority review designation, which shortens FDA’s goal review time from 10 to 6 months. Safety monitoring continues after licensing. For example, health officials are required to report certain adverse events—such as heart problems—following vaccination, in order to help identify potential long-term or rare side effects that were not seen in clinical trials and may or may not be associated with the vaccine. Figure 2. Vaccine safety is assessed at every stage: development through post-licensure. Following a declared emergency, FDA can also issue emergency use authorizations (EUA) to allow temporary use of unlicensed vaccines if there is evidence that known and potential benefits of the vaccine outweigh known and potential risks, among other criteria. As of January 2021, two COVID-19 vaccines had received EUAs, after their efficacy and short-term safety were assessed through large clinical trials. However, developers must continue safety monitoring and meet other requirements if they intend to apply for FDA licensure to continue distribution of these vaccines after the emergency period has ended. What are the knowledge gaps? One knowledge gap that can remain after clinical trials is whether side effects or other adverse events may occur in certain groups. For example, because clinical trials usually exclude certain populations, such as people who are pregnant or have existing medical conditions, data on potential adverse events related to specific populations may not be understood until vaccines are widely administered. In addition, it can be difficult to determine the safety of new vaccines if outbreaks end suddenly. For example, vaccine safety studies were hindered during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic when a large increase in the number of cases was followed by a sharp decrease. This disrupted the clinical trials of Ebola vaccine candidates, because the trials require many infected and non-infected people. Furthermore, a lack of understanding and/or misinformation about the steps taken to ensure the safety of vaccines hinders accurate public knowledge about safety concerns, which may cause people to delay or refuse vaccination. This resulting hesitancy may, in turn, increase deaths, social harm, and economic damage. Opportunities Continuing and, where necessary, improving existing vaccine safety practices offers the following opportunities to society: Herd immunity. Widespread immunity in a population, acquired in large part through safe and effective vaccines, can slow the spread of infection and protect those most vulnerable. Health care improvements. Vaccinations can reduce the burden on the health care system by reducing severe symptoms that require individuals to seek treatment. Eradication. Safe vaccination programs, such as those combatting smallpox, may eliminate diseases to the point where transmission no longer occurs. Challenges There are a number of challenges to ensuring safe vaccines: Public confidence. Vaccine hesitancy, in part due to misinformation or historic unethical human experimentation, decreases participation in clinical trials, impeding identification of side effects across individuals with different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Mutating viruses. Some viruses, such as those that cause the flu or COVID-19, may mutate rapidly and thus may require new or updated vaccines, for which ongoing safety monitoring is important. Long-term and rare effects. Exceedingly rare or long-term effects may not be identified until after vaccines have been widely administered. Further study is needed to detect any such effects and confirm they are truly associated with the vaccine. Policy Context & Questions What steps can policymakers take to improve public trust and understanding of the process of assessing vaccine safety? How can policymakers convey the social importance of vaccines to protect the general public and those who are most vulnerable? How can policymakers leverage available resources to support ongoing vaccine development and post-licensure safety monitoring? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • Human Trafficking: Monitoring and Evaluation of International Projects Are Limited, but Experts Suggest Improvements
    In U.S GAO News
    Human trafficking--a worldwide crime involving the exploitation of men, women, and children for others' financial gain--is a violation of human rights. Victims are often lured or abducted and forced to work in involuntary servitude. Since 2001, the U.S. government has provided about $447 million to combat global human trafficking. As GAO previously reported, estimates of the number of trafficking victims are questionable. In this report, GAO examines (1) collaboration among organizations involved in international antitrafficking efforts, (2) U.S. government monitoring of antitrafficking projects and difficulties in evaluating these projects, and (3) suggestions for strengthening monitoring and evaluation. GAO analyzed agency documents; convened an expert panel; interviewed officials; and conducted fieldwork in Indonesia, Thailand, and Mexico.While governments, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations have recognized the importance of collaborating and have established some coordination mechanisms and practices, they will need to overcome challenges that have impeded collaboration in the past for their efforts to be successful. In two of the three countries GAO visited, it found that host governments--which bear ultimate responsibility for combating trafficking within their borders--have passed national antitrafficking laws and enacted national action plans. However, organizations continue to face numerous challenges when collaborating to combat human trafficking, including varying levels of government commitment and capacity. For example, some governments treat foreign trafficking victims as illegal immigrants and deport rather than protect them. In addition, according to officials in two of the three countries GAO visited, the ministries responsible for coordinating antitrafficking efforts have limited authority and capacity. U.S. government-funded antitrafficking projects often lack some important elements that allow projects to be monitored, and little is known about project impact due to difficulties in conducting evaluations. Project documents GAO reviewed generally include monitoring elements, such as an overarching goal and related activities, but often lack other monitoring elements, such as targets for measuring performance. To oversee projects, State officials supplement their efforts with assistance from U.S. embassy staff, but have not established written guidance for oversight. Officials said that they are working to improve performance measures and develop monitoring guidance. Conducting impact evaluations of antitrafficking projects is difficult due to several factors, including questionable project-level estimates of the number of trafficking victims. These estimates are needed for baselines by which to evaluate how effectively specific interventions are reducing trafficking. Elements in the design of certain projects, such as objectives that are too broad, further impede evaluation. Because of these difficulties, few impact evaluations have been completed, and little is known about the impact of antitrafficking interventions. A GAO-convened panel of experts identified and discussed ways to address the factors that make it difficult to monitor and evaluate antitrafficking projects. Panelists' suggested approaches included improving information on the nature and severity of trafficking and addressing monitoring and evaluation in project design. To improve information on trafficking, panelists suggested methods that have been used to sample other hard-to-reach populations, including domestic violence victims. One suggested method is sampling of "hot spots"--an intensive search for victims in areas known to have high concentrations of victims. To address weaknesses in project design that impede monitoring and evaluation, panelists suggested that officials design projects that clearly link activities to intended outcomes, identify measurable indicators, and establish procedures for setting and modifying targets.
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  • Civil Rights Division Opens Investigation into Potential Discrimination in Public Contracting
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into whether the public contracting and procurement practices of Kansas City, Missouri comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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  • Bank Supervision: FDIC Could Better Address Regulatory Capture Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has designed policies to address the risk of regulatory capture by reducing the potential benefit to industry of capturing the examination process, reducing avenues of inducement, and promoting a culture of independence and public service (see figure). Framework for Reducing Risk and Minimizing Consequences of Regulatory Capture FDIC has several policies for documenting bank examination decisions that help promote transparent decision-making and assign responsibility for decisions. Such policies are likely to help reduce benefits to industry of capturing the examination process. However, GAO found that some examinations were not implemented consistent with FDIC policies and that gaps in FDIC policies limited their effectiveness. For example, GAO found that managers sometimes did not clearly document how they concluded that banks had addressed recommendations. By improving adherence to agency policies, FDIC management could better address threats to capture in the examination process. GAO found that FDIC has policies to address potential conflicts of interest that could help block or reduce avenues of inducement. For example, FDIC has post-employment conflict-of-interest policies designed to prevent former employees from exerting undue influence on FDIC and to reduce industry's ability to induce current FDIC employees with prospective employment arrangements. One such policy requires the agency to review the workpapers of examiners-in-charge who accept employment with banks they examined in the prior 18 months. However, FDIC has not fully implemented a process for identifying when to review the workpapers of departing examiners to assess whether independence has been compromised. In particular, FDIC does not have a process for collecting information about departing employees' future employment. By revising its examiner-departure processes, the agency could better identify when to initiate workpaper reviews. FDIC has identified regulatory capture as a risk as part of its enterprise risk management process. The agency has documented 11 mitigation strategies that could help address that risk. Identified mitigation strategies include rotating examiners-in-charge, national examination training, and ethics requirements. FDIC supervises about 3,300 financial institutions to evaluate their safety and soundness. Some analyses by academic researchers have identified regulatory capture in supervision as one potential factor contributing to the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Regulatory capture is defined as a regulator acting in the interest of the regulated industry rather than in the public interest. GAO was asked to review regulatory capture in financial regulation. This report examines FDIC's (1) processes for encouraging transparency and accountability in the bank examination process, (2) processes to minimize potential conflicts of interest among examination staff, and (3) agency-wide efforts to address the risks of regulatory capture and compromised independence. GAO reviewed FDIC's policies and enterprise risk management framework, analyzed bank examination workpapers, and interviewed supervisory staff. GAO is making four recommendations to FDIC related to managing the risk of regulatory capture, including improving documentation of banks' progress at addressing FDIC recommendations and revising examiner-departure processes. FDIC neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations, but described actions it would take in response to them. FDIC's actions, if fully implemented, would address two of the four recommendations. For more information, contact Michael Clements at (202) 512-8678 or clementsm@gao.gov.
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  • Human Capital: Complete Information and More Analyses Needed to Enhance DOD’s Civilian Senior Leader Strategic Workforce Plan
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundDOD's approach for determining its civilian senior leader workforce projections to meet future requirements incorporated the results of two separate assessments. In its 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan, DOD presented data that projected reductions of 178 civilian senior leader positions within its five career civilian senior leader workforces during fiscal years 2011 and 2012. To conduct its assessment for the strategic workforce plan, DOD used a computer modeling system that is managed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and used by several agencies across the federal government. The system models significant career events, such as promotions, reassignments, and retirements, to produce projections. During this same time period, DOD also completed an efficiency initiative at the direction of the Secretary of Defense to, among other things, ensure that DOD's senior leader workforce is properly sized and aligned with DOD's mission and priorities. For its efficiency initiative, the department devised an internal DOD methodology in which it rank ordered positions in terms of higher and lower priority in order to identify reductions. This assessment identified a reduction of 178 civilian senior leader positions within DOD's civilian senior leader workforce for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. From the plan, it is not clear how these two efforts fit together, or how DOD drew from the strengths of each analysis. DOD officials explained to us, however, that they incorporated the results of the efficiency initiative into the strategic workforce plan when they issued that plan, so that the projections of the workforce plan and the results of the efficiency initiative would be consistent.DOD assessments of the critical skills, competencies, and gaps of its career civilian senior leader workforces did not identify areas that will require increased focus to help the department meet its vital missions. Most of DOD's civilian senior leader workforce can be categorized into five separate workforces, and our review found that DOD conducted assessments of skills, competencies, and gaps for two of them--the Senior Executive Service and Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service workforces. However, the department did not include the results of either assessment in its 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan and only discussed the processes it used for conducting the assessment of its Senior Executive Service workforce. Further, DOD did not conduct assessments of skills, competencies, and gaps for the remaining three career civilian senior leader workforces--its Senior Level, Senior Technical, and Defense Intelligence Senior Level workforces. Officials told us that they did not assess these three workforces because the skills and competencies of these workforces are position-specific. However, section 115b of Title 10 of the United States Code requires that DOD conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all its senior leader workforces. Without conducting such assessments and reporting on them, it is difficult to identify those areas that will require increased focus on recruiting, retention, and training. Therefore, we are recommending that DOD conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all five of its career senior leader workforces and report the results in its future strategic workforce plans.Why GAO Did This StudyThe ability of the Department of Defense (DOD) to achieve its mission and carry out its responsibilities depends in large part on whether it can sustain a civilian senior leader workforce that possesses necessary skills and competencies. Managing civilian senior leaders effectively is imperative, especially in light of DOD’s plans to reduce at least 150 civilian senior leader positions, the department’s current cap on civilian personnel numbers, and the existing pay freeze. Further, as DOD faces fiscal constraints, implements its efficiency initiatives, and prepares for an anticipated drawdown in Afghanistan, the department is faced with the complex task of re-shaping its workforce to meet future needs. This includes assessing the requirements for approximately 2,900 civilian senior leaders who help manage DOD’s overall civilian workforce of more than 780,000 personnel. In managing these senior leaders, the department must ensure that they are sufficient in number and properly prepared to achieve DOD’s mission. One particular challenge, noted in DOD’s 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan, is that more than 60 percent of DOD’s civilian senior leader workforce will be eligible to retire by 2015.Accordingly, section 115b Title 10 of the United States Code, enacted in October 2009, requires DOD to submit to congressional defense committees, on a recurring basis, a strategic workforce plan to shape and improve its civilian senior leader workforces. While this law does not specify a date for DOD to submit the plan, it does stipulate several requirements for the plan. These include an assessment of (1) the critical skills and competencies of the existing workforce of the department and projected trends in that workforce based on expected losses due to retirement and other attrition, and (2) gaps in the existing or projected workforce of the department that should be addressed to ensure that the department has continued access to the critical skills and competencies it needs. DOD's mandate previously required that the department's assessments cover a 7-year period following the year in which the plan is submitted to Congress. Therefore, DOD's latest civilian senior leader workforce plan covered the period 2010-2018.Following the enactment of this legislation, the Secretary of Defense, in August 2010, announced an efficiency initiative to eliminate unnecessary overhead costs by, among other things, reviewing DOD’s entire senior leader workforce and reducing the total number of civilian senior leader positions by at least 150. The Secretary’s guidance called for these reductions to take place in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. After the Secretary’s announcement, DOD’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness created the Civilian Senior Executive Study Group, and directed the group to conduct a DOD-wide survey of the number, placement, skills, and competencies of civilian senior leader positions and to provide recommendations for restructuring civilian senior leader positions to best align with missions and responsibilities. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness also directed the group to consider how to inform follow-on efforts to further analyze civilian senior leader appointment, management, and renewal policies. The Civilian Senior Executive Study Group, which consisted of Senior Executive Service and General Schedule-15 representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, each of the military departments, the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, issued its final report to the Secretary on November 23, 2010. The Secretary of Defense announced his decisions based on recommendations developed as part of the efficiency initiative, including recommendations made in this report on March 14, 2011.Subsequently, on March 27, 2012, DOD issued its 2010-2018 Strategic Workforce Plan, and GAO, as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, is required to report on that plan within 180 days of its submission to Congress. For this report on DOD's 2010-2018 plan we (1) reviewed DOD's approach for determining its civilian senior leader projections to meet future requirements and (2) evaluated the extent to which DOD's assessment of the critical skills, competencies, and gaps in the existing and future civilian senior leader workforces identified areas that will require increased focus to help the department meet its vital missions.
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  • St. Jude Agrees to Pay $27 Million for Allegedly Selling Defective Heart Devices
    In Crime News
    St. Jude Medical Inc. (St. Jude) has agreed to pay $27 million to settle allegations under the False Claims Act that, between November 2014 and October 2016, it knowingly sold defective heart devices to health care facilities that, in turn, implanted the devices into patients insured by federal health care programs. St. Jude was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in January 2017.
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  • United States Seizes Oil Tanker Used to Violate Sanctions Against North Korea
    In Crime News
    A New York federal court today entered a judgment of forfeiture regarding the M/T Courageous, a 2,734-ton oil-products tanker used to make illicit deliveries of petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers with vessels flagged in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.
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  • Colorado Man Convicted of Production, Transportation, and Possession of Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    An Englewood, Colorado, resident was convicted today after a three-day jury trial on six child exploitation offenses, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer of the Western District of Texas.
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  • Accelerating Innovation in Diagnostic Testing for Lyme Disease: HHS Request for Information (RFI)
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  • Central and Southwest Asian Countries: Trends in U.S. Assistance and Key Economic, Governance, and Demographic Characteristics
    In U.S GAO News
    Following the terrorist attacks of September 2001, prosecuting the global war on terrorism became the United States' primary foreign policy priority. The United States focused its initial efforts on Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom because the country harbored elements of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. As a result, countries in the region--Pakistan and the five Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan--became frontline states in the war on terrorism, raising the profile of U.S. relations with these countries.Since the attacks of September 2001, the United States has broadened its priorities and increased its assistance and presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the five Central Asian republics--countries with significant political and economic challenges that may affect the United States' priorities and programs in the region. While not specific to all countries in the region, the United States continues to focus on priorities that were in place prior to September 2001: political and economic reform, nonproliferation, energy development, counternarcotics, and trafficking. However, since that time, the United States has emphasized enhanced security and counterterrorism relationships accompanied by increased military and economic assistance and U.S. military presence. For example, in fiscal year 2001 the United States provided about $342 million in assistance to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the five Central Asian republics. In fiscal year 2002, the United States planned to provide about $1.9 billion in assistance for these countries, primarily for Afghanistan and Pakistan.1 Further, since September 2001, the United States has deployed forces to a number of military facilities in the region to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan. These expanded activities and investments occur in an environment generally marked by authoritarian regimes, poor economic outlooks, and large youth populations vulnerable to the appeal of radical movements.
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  • Texas Clinic Owner and Clinic Employee Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Unlawfully Prescribe Hundreds of Thousands of Opioids
    In Crime News
    A Houston-area pain clinic owner and a clinic employee who posed as a physician were sentenced to 240 months and 96 months in prison, respectively, today for their roles at a “pill mill” where they and their co-conspirator illegally prescribed hundreds of thousands of doses of opioids and other controlled substances.
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  • University of Arkansas Professor Indicted for Wire Fraud and Passport Fraud
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    The Department of Justice announced today that Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas on 42 counts of wire fraud and two counts of passport fraud.
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  • Department of State: Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist Despite Significant Increases in Hiring
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundThe Department of State (State) faces persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps have not diminished since 2008. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, State increased the size of the Foreign Service by 17 percent. However, these new hires will not have the experience to reach midlevels until fiscal years 2014 and 2015. GAO found that 28 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions were either vacant or filled by upstretch candidates—officers serving in positions above their grade—as of October 2011, a percentage that has not changed since 2008. Midlevel positions represent the largest share of these gaps. According to State officials, the gaps have not diminished because State increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging priorities. State officials noted the department takes special measures to fill high-priority positions, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.State has taken steps to increase its reliance on Civil Service employees and retirees, as well as expand mentoring, to help address midlevel experience gaps overseas; however, State lacks a strategy to guide these efforts. State is currently implementing a pilot program to expand overseas assignments for Civil Service employees. Efforts to expand the limited number of these assignments must overcome some key challenges, such as addressing new gaps when Civil Service employees leave their headquarters positions and identifying qualified Civil Service applicants to fill overseas vacancies. State also hires retirees on a limited basis for both full-time and short-term positions. For example, State used limited congressional authority to offer dual compensation waivers to hire 57 retirees in 2011. As a step toward mitigating experience gaps overseas, State began a pilot program offering workshops that include mentoring for first-time supervisors. State acknowledges the need to close midlevel Foreign Service gaps, but it has not developed a strategy to help ensure that the department is taking full advantage of available human capital flexibilities and evaluating the success of its efforts to address these gaps.Why GAO Did This StudyIn 2009, GAO reported on challenges that State faced in filling its increasing overseas staffing needs with sufficiently experienced personnel and noted that persistent Foreign Service staffing and experience gaps put diplomatic readiness at risk. State is currently undertaking a new hiring plan, known as “Diplomacy 3.0,” to increase the size of the Foreign Service by 25 percent to close staffing gaps and respond to new diplomatic priorities. However, fiscal constraints are likely to delay the plan’s full implementation well beyond its intended target for completion in 2013. In addition, State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review highlighted the need to find ways to close overseas gaps. GAO was asked to assess (1) the extent to which State’s overseas midlevel experience gaps in the Foreign Service have changed since 2008 and (2) State’s efforts to address these gaps. GAO analyzed State’s personnel data; reviewed key planning documents, including the Five Year Workforce Plan; and interviewed State officials in Washington, D.C., and at selected posts.
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