Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. There we go. Mr. Chairman, Vice Chairman Shelby, Chairman Coons, Ranking Member Graham, all the committee members, thank you very much for coming together today and giving me this opportunity to talk about the administration’s proposed budget and how we believe it will help us achieve our national security priorities and deliver results for the American people, which is our common mission.
Let me just say that the last time I had the honor of actually appearing before the subcommittee, and Senator Graham will remember this, I had – was seated next to another witness who seemed to get a lot more attention: Bono. (Laughter.) So a very, very memorable day before the subcommittee, but Senator Coons, Senator Graham, very much looking forward to working with you going forward as well.
This is a critical moment for the United States and for our global leadership. We have major tests, including stopping COVID-19; rising to the challenge of the climate crisis; supporting a global economic recovery that delivers for American workers and families; we have to revitalize our alliances and partnerships; outcompete China and defend the international rules-based order against those who seek to undermine it; renew democratic values at home and abroad; and push back against malign activity by our adversaries.
In a more competitive world, other countries are making historic investments in their foreign policy toolkit. We need to do the same thing. That’s why in this budget we proposed $58.5 billion for the State Department and USAID for Fiscal Year 2022. And just to cover some of the specifics, this budget will strengthen global health. The United States has been a leader in this field for decades – in Africa, around the world. We’re asking for $10 billion for global health programs, including nearly $1 billion for global health security to help us prevent, prepare for, respond to future global health crises so we can stop outbreaks before they turn into pandemics that put our safety and prosperity in danger.
The budget will accelerate the global response to the climate crisis by providing $2.5 billion for international climate programs, including 1.25 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries implement climate adaptation and emissions mitigation programs, which is directly in our interest.
The budget will double down on the fight for democracy, which, as we all know, is under threat in many places around the world. People talk of a democratic recession around the world. Our budget request includes $2.8 billion in foreign assistance to advance human rights, fight corruption, stem the tide of democratic backsliding, and strengthen and defend democracies – for example, through technical training for elections and support for independent media and civil society. It also requests $300 million for the National Endowment for Democracy.
The budget will support a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of irregular migration from Central America. It will invest 861 million in the region as a first step toward a four-year commitment of $4 billion to help prevent violence, reduce poverty, curtail endemic corruption, and expand job and educational opportunities.
The budget would re-establish U.S. humanitarian leadership with a request of $10 billion in assistance to support refugees, victims of conflict, other displaced people, and to rebuild our refugee admissions program.
It will support our partners in the Middle East by fully funding our commitments to key countries, including Israel and Jordan, and by restoring humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.
It includes a budget request of 3.6 billion to pay our assessed contributions in full to international organizations, initiatives, peacekeeping efforts, including to restore our annual contributions to the World Health Organization.
As China and others work hard to bend international organizations to their worldview, we have to ensure that these organizations instead remain grounded in the values, principles, and rules of the road that have made our shared progress possible for so many decades.
Finally, to deliver in all of these areas, the budget will reinvest in our most vital asset, and that’s our people. It will provide new resources to recruit, to train, and to retain a first-rate, diverse global workforce, with nearly 500 additional Foreign and Civil Service positions – the largest increase for State Department staffing, excuse me, in a decade. And it will modernize our technology – cybersecurity – protect our embassies and consulates, and include a direct appropriation of $320 million for consular services worldwide so that we can continue to provide these vital services to Americans and those who seek to study, to travel, to do business with the United States.
Our national security depends not only on the strength of our armed forces, but also our ability to conduct effective diplomacy and development. That’s how we solve global challenges, forge cooperation, advance our interests and values, protect our people, prevent crises overseas from becoming emergencies here at home. And that’s why diplomacy and development are smart investments for American taxpayers.
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chairman, a top priority for me as Secretary is to restore the traditional role of Congress as a partner in our foreign policymaking. That’s the spirit that I bring to today’s conversation, the spirit I’ll bring to all future conversations and engagements with this committee, and I’m grateful for the chance to answer your questions. Thank you very much.
Greetings I’m Sam.
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Figure 1. A simplified depiction of disease transmission. Through contact tracing, an infected individual’s contacts are notified and may be asked to quarantine. (In reality, some contacts may not become infected, and some of those infected may not show symptoms.) How does it work? In traditional contact tracing, public health officials begin by identifying an infected individual. They then interview the individual to identify recent contacts, ask the individual and their contacts to take containment measures, if appropriate (e.g., a 14-day quarantine for COVID-19), and coordinate any needed care and testing. Proximity tracing apps may accelerate the process by replacing the time-consuming interviews needed to identify contacts. Apps may also identify more contacts than interviews, which rely on interviewees' recall and on their being acquainted with their contacts. Public health authorities provide the apps, often using systems developed by companies or research groups. Users voluntarily download the app for their country or region and opt in to contact tracing. In the U.S., state or local public health authorities would likely implement proximity tracing apps. Proximity tracing apps detect contacts using Bluetooth, GPS, or a combination of both. Bluetooth-based apps rely on anonymous codes shared between smartphones during close encounters. These codes contain no information about location or user identity, helping safeguard privacy. The apps allow public health authorities to set a minimum time and distance threshold for someone to count as a contact. Contact tracing can be centralized or decentralized. With a centralized approach, contacts identified by the app are often saved to a government server, and an official notifies contacts of possible exposure. For a decentralized approach, contact data are typically stored on the user's device at first. When a user voluntarily reports infection, the user's codes are uploaded to a database that other app users' phones search. Users who have encountered the infected person then receive notifications through the app (see fig. 2). Figure 2. Bluetooth-based proximity tracing apps exchange information, notify contacts exposed to an infected person, and provide follow-up information. How mature is it? Traditional contact tracing is well established and has been an effective infectious disease response strategy for decades. Proximity tracing apps are relatively new and not as well established. Their contact identifications could become more accurate as developers improve app technology, for example by improving Bluetooth signal interpretation or using information from other phone sensors. Opportunities Reach more people. For accurate COVID-19 contact tracing using traditional methods, public health experts have estimated that the U.S. would require hundreds of thousands of trained contact tracers because of the large number of infections. Proximity tracing apps can expedite and automate identification and notification of the contacts, reducing this need. Faster response. Proximity tracing apps could slow the spread of disease more effectively because they can identify and notify contacts as soon as a user reports they are infected. More complete identification of contacts. Proximity tracing apps, unlike traditional contact tracing, do not require users to recall or be acquainted with people they have recently encountered. Challenges Technology. Technological limitations may lead to missed contacts or false identification of contacts. For example, GPS-based apps may not identify precise locations, and Bluetooth apps may ignore barriers preventing exposure, such as walls or protective equipment. In addition, apps may overlook exposure if two people were not in close enough proximity long enough for it to count as a contact. Adoption. Lower adoption rates make the apps less effective. In the U.S., some states may choose not to use proximity tracing apps. In addition, the public may hesitate to opt in because of concerns about privacy and uncertainty as to how the data may be used. Recent scams using fake contact tracing to steal information may also erode trust in the apps. Interoperability. Divergent app designs may lead to the inability to exchange data between apps, states, and countries, which could be a problem as travel restrictions are relaxed. Access. Proximity tracing apps require regular access to smartphones and knowledge about how to install and use apps. Some vulnerable populations, including seniors, are less likely to own smartphones and use apps, possibly affecting adoption. Policy Context and Questions Although proximity tracing apps are relatively new, they have the potential to help slow disease transmission. But policymakers will need to consider how great the benefits are likely to be, given the challenges. If policymakers decide to use proximity tracing apps, they will need to integrate them into the larger public health response and consider the following questions, among others: What steps can policymakers take to build public trust and encourage communities to support and use proximity tracing apps, and mitigate lack of adoption by some populations? What legal, procedural, privacy, security, and technical safeguards could protect data collected through proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to improve coordination of contact tracing efforts across local, state, and international jurisdictions? What can policymakers do to expedite testing and communication of test results to maximize the benefits of proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to ensure that contact identification is accurate and that its criteria are based on scientific evidence? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Laredo men receive significant sentences for trafficking $4 million of marijuanaBy Sam NewsMay 2, 2021A 35-year-old Laredo [Read More…]
- Three Individuals Affiliated With the Oath Keepers Indicted in Federal Court for Conspiracy to Obstruct Congress on Jan. 6, 2021By Sam NewsJanuary 27, 2021Three individuals associated with the Oath Keepers, a paramilitary organization focused on recruitment of current and former military, law enforcement, and first responder personnel, were indicted today in federal court in the District of Columbia for conspiring to obstruct Congress, among other charges.[Read More…]
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Information on the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability ProgramBy Sam NewsJanuary 22, 2021The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has taken steps to implement its Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP)—a dual-purpose program for navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration along the Upper Mississippi River system. Specifically, in 2004 the Corps identified 24 navigation improvement projects and 1,010 ecosystem restoration projects and proposed a plan for implementing them. For example, the Corps plans to construct or extend 12 locks to facilitate commercial barge traffic along the river system (see fig.), which the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin have generally relied on as their principal conduit for export-bound agricultural products. The Corps also plans to restore floodplains along the river system and backwaters that provide habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife. While the total estimated program cost is $7.9 billion, as of October 2020, the Corps has initiated technical studies and designs for 47 NESP projects at a cost of approximately $65 million. Barge Tow at Lock and Dam 15 in Rock Island, Illinois However, the Corps has identified several challenges facing the program, and it has taken steps to mitigate them. Specifically, the Corps was unable to implement NESP projects for 7 years because the program did not receive funding in fiscal years 2011 through 2017, in part because the Corps identified other projects as higher priorities. To mitigate this challenge, the Corps reprogrammed funding to help ensure projects could be executed when funds became available. Another challenge is that the Corps has not yet established partnership agreements that are needed for some NESP ecosystem projects. Corps officials said that about 15 to 20 percent of the ecosystem projects will require partnership agreements in which partners commit to share 35 percent of the project costs, typically through the purchase of land for the project. The officials said that partners may be reluctant to make financial commitments to projects while NESP funding is uncertain. Furthermore, the partnership agreements can take up to 18 months to put in place. To help expedite program implementation, Corps officials said they have pursued projects in fiscal year 2020 that can begin without a commitment from project partners. The Upper Mississippi River system provides approximately $1 billion in annual benefits to the nation’s economy through boating, fishing, and other uses, according to a Corps report. It also supports more than 2.5 million acres of aquatic, wetland, forest, grassland, and agricultural habitats. In 1986, Congress declared its intent to recognize the system as a nationally significant commercial navigation system and a nationally significant ecosystem. However, the Upper Mississippi River’s navigation system has faced significant delays in commercial boating and barge traffic, and human activity has caused a decline in environmental quality, according to a 2004 Corps report. The Corps initiated studies in 1989 and 1990 to identify ways to improve the river system. The Corps issued a feasibility report in 2004 that identified improvement projects, and in 2007 Congress formally authorized NESP and the projects identified in the report. GAO was asked to review NESP. This report describes (1) the steps the Corps has taken to implement NESP and (2) the challenges the Corps has identified to fully implementing the program and steps the Corps is taking to address these challenges. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed Corps reports, documents, and data from fiscal year 2005—the year in which the Corps began implementing NESP projects—through fiscal year 2020. GAO also interviewed Corps officials. For more information, contact Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- U.S. Department of State and National Park Service Partner to Strengthen Fulbright Exchanges and Increase Global Environmental AwarenessBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021