Media Freedom Coalition Statement on the Arrest of Roman Protasevich

Office of the Spokesperson

The text of the following statement was released by the Governments of Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Begin text:

The undersigned members of the Media Freedom Coalition condemn in the strongest terms Belarus’ forced diversion and landing of a commercial aircraft and subsequent arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich.

This unprecedented and shocking action constitutes a full frontal attack on media freedom and has serious implications on the right of freedom of expression and opinion more broadly.  This action is all the more troubling when seen in the context of the large-scale campaign to silence independent voices in Belarus, including the May 18 raid on the offices of independent news site tut.by and the subsequent arrest of several staff.  Some 400 journalists and workers in the media in Belarus have faced various forms of repression in the course of the August 9 election and its aftermath.

The Media Freedom Coalition demands the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Protasevich as well as other journalists and media workers who have been detained in Belarus for doing their jobs.  Those responsible must be held accountable for attacks on journalists and media workers.

Media freedom is an important part of democratic societies and essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

End text.

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    What GAO Found GAO's preliminary work has identified a number of management and operational challenges, including frequent leadership turnover, since fiscal year 2015 that have impeded the overall effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). DHS OIG senior leaders have acknowledged that these challenges have contributed to organizational weaknesses, and have taken steps to begin addressing some of them. GAO's preliminary work has identified issues in the following areas, among others: Strategic planning: DHS OIG has not consistently developed strategic plans, which are a necessary input for developing the organization's other guiding documents and governance framework. Specifically, DHS OIG has operated for 4 of the past 6 years without a strategic plan, and the plan it adopted for fiscal years 2018–2019 included some, but not all, of the elements considered standard for federal entities. In 2020, DHS OIG contracted with a nonprofit academy of government experts to develop a strategic plan for fiscal years 2021–2025, with expected delivery in June 2021. Quality assurance: Internal and external reviews have reported on concerns about quality assurance in some of DHS OIG's work. In 2017 and 2018, after an internal review found that some reports issued by DHS OIG may not have adhered to the professional standards cited, DHS OIG retracted 13 audit reports that had been issued over a 5-year period. In 2018, an external review determined that DHS OIG needed to improve its system of quality control. Though DHS OIG concurred with all of the recommendations from that external review, it did not fully implement them. In addition, DHS OIG has not established roles and responsibilities for an organization-wide quality assurance program. Moreover, GAO's preliminary work indicates that current staff allocations may limit DHS OIG's quality assurance reviews to focusing on audit work and not on the other types of work it produces, including inspections, evaluations, special reviews, and management alerts. Timeliness: DHS OIG project time frames for work from its offices of Audits and Special Reviews and Evaluations have increased over the 4 fiscal years GAO assessed. For example, in fiscal year 2017, 79 of 102 Office of Audits projects were completed in 1 year or less and eight of 102 took more than 18 months. In fiscal year 2020, seven of 67 reports were completed in 1 year or less and more than half (35 of 67) took more than 18 months. In addition, DHS OIG has not assessed time frames for work completed by these offices, though timeliness in reporting is a key element of effective oversight and DHS OIG staff considered it an organizational weakness. GAO will complete its evaluation of these and other management and operational areas, and will issue a final report in the coming months. Why GAO Did This Study DHS OIG has a critical role in providing independent and objective oversight of DHS, which encompasses multiple operational and support components. OIGs are expected to maintain high standards of professionalism and integrity in light of their mission, according to quality standards developed by the community of federal Inspectors General. However, DHS OIG has faced a number of challenges that have affected its ability to carry out its oversight mission effectively. This statement is based on GAO's draft report on DHS OIG's management and operations, which is currently at the agency for comment. It provides preliminary observations on DHS OIG's strategic planning processes; quality assurance processes; and reporting time frames for work from DHS OIG's offices of Audits and Special Reviews and Evaluations. To develop these preliminary observations, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and quality standards for federal OIGs as well as DHS OIG documentation, including organizational policies; internal communications such as emails and memoranda; and DHS OIG's semiannual reports to Congress and published reports. GAO also analyzed DHS OIG project data from fiscal years 2015 through 2020, and interviewed DHS OIG leaders and other staff.
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    What GAO Found Traditional public schools were the most commonly available schooling option for military families near military installations, similar to schools available to U.S. families in general, according to GAO's analysis of Department of Education 2018-19 data. Over 90 percent of installations had at least one public schooling option nearby—such as a charter or magnet school—in addition to traditional public schools (see figure). Similar to U.S. schools in general, rural installations generally had fewer schooling options compared to their more highly populated urban counterparts. In addition, about one-half of the military installations GAO analyzed are in states that offer private school choice programs that provide eligible students with funding toward a non-public education. At least two of these states have private school choice programs specifically for military families. Public School Options within Average Commuting Distance of Military Installations, School Year 2018-19 Note: According to GAO's analysis of the Department of Transportation's 2017 National Household Travel Survey, the average commuting distance for rural and urban areas is 20 miles and 16 miles, respectively. For the purposes of this report, the term “military installations” refers to the 890 DOD installations and Coast Guard units included in GAO's analysis. Military families in GAO's review commonly reported considering housing options and school features when choosing schools for their children; however, they weighed these factors differently to meet their families' specific needs. For example, one reason parents said that they accepted a longer commute was to live in their preferred school district, while other parents said that they prioritized a shorter commute and increased family time over access to specific schools. Military families also reported considering academics, perceived safety, elective courses, and extracurricular activities. To inform their schooling decisions, most parents said that they rely heavily on their personal networks and social media. Why GAO Did This Study Approximately 650,000 military dependent children in the U.S. face various challenges that may affect their schooling, according to DOD. For example, these children transfer schools up to nine times, on average, before high school graduation. Military families frequently cite education issues for their children as a drawback to military service, according to DOD. GAO was asked to examine the schooling options available to school-age dependents of active-duty servicemembers. This report describes (1) available schooling options for school-age military dependent children in the U.S.; and (2) military families' views on factors they consider and resources they use when making schooling decisions. GAO analyzed data on federal education, military installation locations, and commuting patterns to examine schooling options near military installations. GAO also conducted six discussion groups with a total of 40 parents of school-age military dependent children; and interviewed officials at nine military installations that were selected to reflect a range of factors such as availability of different types of schooling options, rural or urban designation, and geographic region. In addition, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and guidance, and interviewed officials from DOD, the Coast Guard, and representatives of national advocacy groups for military children. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found GAO has identified key characteristics of an asset management framework designed to optimize funding and decision-making related to capital assets. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to have challenges meeting at least three of these key characteristics. Staffing resources. This key characteristic calls for organizational leadership to provide the necessary resources for asset management to succeed. Previously, VA officials described problems resulting from low levels of staffing resources, including project delays and difficulties in managing projects. VA has taken some actions to improve staffing levels, such as establishing special salary rates for engineers, and VA's vacancy rate for general engineers has improved, decreasing from 17.2 percent in fiscal year 2019 to 12.6 percent in fiscal year 2020. VA officials, however, continue to describe staffing difficulties in planning and executing projects and limits on the number of projects that facilities can undertake. Communication and collaboration. This key characteristic calls for organizations to promote a culture of information-sharing across traditional agency boundaries to help ensure that agencies make effective, enterprise-wide decisions regarding their assets. VA has taken steps to improve communication among offices with asset management responsibilities, such as by issuing an asset management directive that VA officials said would help to facilitate such collaboration. However, in current work GAO has found instances of insufficient communication, such as lack of (1) collaboration early in project development between local offices and the Office of Construction and Facilities Management and (2) coordination between construction offices and the Office of Information and Technology when bringing facilities online. Measurement and evaluation. This key characteristic calls for agencies to continuously evaluate the performance of their asset management systems and implement necessary improvements to optimize the assets' value and ensure the assets reflect the organization's current goals. VA previously developed goals and measures for its program of inspections to identify maintenance and repair needs in health care settings. However, currently VA lacks goals with related measures that would evaluate its asset management processes and point the way to necessary improvements. Why GAO Did This Study VA manages a vast portfolio of real property assets, including a healthcare system that provides care at 171 VA medical centers and 1,112 outpatient sites to over 9 million veterans enrolled in the VA health care program. VA has pressing infrastructure needs, including adapting to changes in veterans' demographics and maintaining or replacing aging facilities. GAO's key characteristics of an asset management framework state that effectively managing assets requires, among other things, maintaining leadership support that provides the necessary resources; a collaborative organizational culture; and a system for evaluating and improving asset management performance. However, GAO's previous and ongoing work has found that VA continues to face challenges on these fronts. Although VA has implemented some GAO recommendations, several priority recommendations remain outstanding in areas related to asset management, such as staffing and capital planning. GAO was asked to testify about VA's management of its capital asset portfolio. This statement summarizes GAO's findings from prior reports and preliminary observations from ongoing work examining VA's capital asset management. In ongoing work, GAO reviewed VA documentation and interviewed officials from VA headquarters offices involved in asset management. GAO also interviewed personnel at a selection of eight VA medical centers and seven regional offices and from four Veterans Service Organizations about VA's asset management. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • Navy and Marine Corps: Services Continue Efforts to Rebuild Readiness, but Recovery Will Take Years and Sustained Management Attention
    In U.S GAO News
    The Navy and Marine Corps continue to face significant readiness challenges that have developed over more than a decade of conflict, budget uncertainty, and reductions in force structure. These challenges prevent the services from reaping the full benefit of their existing forces and attaining the level of readiness called for by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Both services have made encouraging progress identifying the causes of their readiness decline and have begun efforts to arrest and reverse it (see figure). However, GAO's work shows that addressing these challenges will require years of sustained management attention and resources. Recent events, such as the ongoing pandemic and the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard affect both current and future readiness and are likely to compound and delay the services' readiness rebuilding efforts. Selected Navy and Marine Corps Readiness Challenges Continued progress implementing GAO's prior recommendations will bolster ongoing Navy and Marine Corps efforts to address these readiness challenges. The 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasizes that restoring and retaining readiness is critical to success in the emerging security environment. The Navy and Marine Corps are working to rebuild the readiness of their forces while also growing and modernizing their aging fleets of ships and aircraft. Readiness recovery will take years as the Navy and Marine Corps address their multiple challenges and continue to meet operational demands. This statement provides information on readiness challenges facing (1) the Navy ship and submarine fleet and (2) Navy and Marine Corps aviation. GAO also discusses its prior recommendations on Navy and Marine Corps readiness and the progress that has been made in addressing them. This statement is based on previous work published from 2016 to November 2020—on Navy and Marine Corps readiness challenges, including ship maintenance, sailor training, and aircraft sustainment. GAO also analyzed data updated as of November 2020, as appropriate, and drew from its ongoing work focused on Navy and Marine Corps readiness. GAO made more than 90 recommendations in prior work cited in this statement. The Department of Defense generally concurred with most of GAO's recommendations. Continued attention to these recommendations can assist the Navy and the Marine Corps as they seek to rebuild the readiness of their forces. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.
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