Opening Statement Before the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, DC

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate it, and again, it’s really a pleasure to be with both of you and all the members of this committee, and I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about the administration’s proposed budget and how it will help achieve our national security priorities and deliver results for the American people, which is our common objective.

I do think this is a critical moment for the United States and our global leadership.  As you both alluded to, we face 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; out-compete 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’ve requested 58.5 billion for the State Department and USAID for Fiscal Year 2022.  And Ranking Member Rogers, I just want to point out I’m already saving you some money right there.  I think it’s 58.5 billion, so I’ve been responsive to your concern.

And let me just give you some specifics about how we plan to spend these funds if you support them.

First, the 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, and respond to future global health crises so we can stop outbreaks before they turn into pandemics that put our safety and prosperity in danger.

This 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 would double down on the fight for democracy, which, as we all know, is under threat in too many places.  The 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 opportunity.

It will re-establish American humanitarian leadership, with a request of $10 billion in assistance to support refugees, victims of conflict, other displaced people, and to rebuild the 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, and peacekeeping efforts, including to restore our annual contribution to the World Health Organization.

As China and others work hard to bend international organizations to their worldview, we need to ensure that these organizations remain grounded in the values, principles, and rules of the world – road, excuse me – that have made our shared progress possible for so many decades.

Finally, to deliver in all these areas, the budget will reinvest in our most vital asset – our people.  It will provide new resources to recruit, train, and retain a first-rate, diverse global workforce, with nearly 500 additional Foreign and Civil Service positions – the largest increase in State staffing in a decade.

And it will modernize our technology and cyber security; protect our embassies and consulates; and include a direct appropriation of $320 million for consular services worldwide, so we can continue to provide these vital services to Americans and those who seek to travel, study, or 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, and prevent crises overseas from turning into emergencies here at home. And that’s why diplomacy and development are smart investments for American taxpayers.

A top priority for me as Secretary is to restore the traditional role of Congress as a partner in our foreign policy making.  That’s the spirit that I bring to today’s conversation, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity and the chance to answer any questions.

Thank you.

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    GAO identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE), including billing schemes, conflicts of interest, and payroll schemes. For example, a subcontractor employee at a site created fraudulent invoices for goods never received, resulting in a loss of over $6 million. In another scheme, a contractor engaged in years of widespread time card fraud, submitting inflated claims for compensation. The contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the case. DOE reported that it identified nearly $15 million in improper payments due to confirmed fraud in fiscal year 2019. However, due to the difficulty in detecting fraud, agencies—including DOE—incur financial losses related to fraud that are never identified or are settled without admission to fraud and are not counted as such. Fraud can also have nonfinancial impacts, such as fraudsters obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing legitimate businesses from obtaining contracts. DOE has taken some steps and is planning others to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, consistent with the leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. However, GAO found that DOE has not assessed the full range of contracting fraud risks it faces. Specifically, GAO found DOE's methods for gathering information about its fraud risks captures selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs. As shown in the figure, DOE's risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not capture four of nine fraud schemes that occurred at DOE. For example, one entity did not include any fraud risks in its risk profiles, yet GAO identified six types of fraud schemes that occurred at the entity's site. DOE plans to expand its risk assessment process, but officials expect the new process will continue to rely on a methodology that gathers information on selected fraud risks. The Fraud Risk Framework states that entities identify specific tools, methods, and sources for gathering information about fraud risks. Without expanding its methodology to capture, assess, and document all fraud risks facing its programs, DOE risks remaining vulnerable to these types of fraud. Fraud Risks Identified in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 Risk Profiles Compared with Types of Fraud Schemes That Have Occurred at DOE DOE is planning to develop an antifraud strategy in fiscal year 2022 and has taken some steps to evaluate and adapt to fraud risks, consistent with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Part of DOE's effort to manage fraud risks includes adapting controls to address emerging fraud risks. Additionally, DOE is planning to expand its use of data analytics to detect contracting fraud, beginning in fiscal year 2022. DOE relies primarily on contractors to carry out its missions at its laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its total obligations on contracts. GAO and DOE's Inspector General have reported on incidents of fraud by DOE contractors and identified multiple contracting fraud risks. GAO was asked to examine DOE's processes to manage contracting fraud risks. This report examines, for DOE, (1) types of contracting fraud schemes and their financial and nonfinancial impacts, (2) steps taken to commit to combating contracting fraud risks and the extent to which these risks have been assessed, and (3) steps taken to design and implement an antifraud strategy and to evaluate and adapt its approach. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance; reviewed agency media releases, Agency Financial Reports, and DOE Inspector General reports to Congress from 2013 through 2019; and reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 42 DOE field and site offices, contractors, and subcontractors, representing a range of sites and programs. GAO is making two recommendations, including for DOE to expand its fraud risk assessment methodology to ensure all fraud risks facing DOE programs are fully assessed and documented in accordance with leading practices. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-6722 shear@gao.gov or Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841, bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Immigration Detention: ICE Should Enhance Its Use of Facility Oversight Data and Management of Detainee Complaints
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other DHS entities use, in part, inspections to oversee detention facilities and address identified deficiencies. As shown below, in fiscal year 2019, most of ICE's 179 facilities that housed adults for over 72 hours underwent inspections by contractors or its Office of Detention Oversight, while smaller facilities conducted self-assessments. ICE also conducted onsite monitoring at facilities. Further, two DHS offices conducted inspections related to certain aspects of facilities. ICE collects the results of its various inspections, such as deficiencies they identify, but does not comprehensively analyze them to identify trends or record all inspection results in a format conducive to such analyses. By ensuring inspection results are recorded in a format conducive to analysis and regularly conducting comprehensive analyses of results, ICE would be better positioned to identify and address potential trends in deficiencies. Detention Facility Oversight by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Entities at 179 Facilities, Fiscal Year 2019 ICE and DHS entities have various mechanisms for receiving and addressing detention-related complaints from detainees and others. However, while some of these entities conduct some analyses of the complaint data they maintain, ICE does not regularly analyze detention-related complaint data across all of its relevant offices. By regularly conducting such analyses, ICE could identify and address potential trends in complaints. Additionally, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices—which oversee and manage detention facilities—address and record outcomes of detention-related complaints referred to them for resolution, or do so in a timely manner. For example, GAO's analysis of data from one referring office—the Administrative Inquiry Unit—indicated that for certain noncriminal complaints the unit refers, ERO field offices did not provide resolutions back to the unit for 99 percent of referrals. Without requiring that ERO field offices record any actions taken on, and the resolutions of, detention-related complaints, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that field offices are addressing them. ICE is the lead agency responsible for providing safe, secure, and humane confinement for detained foreign nationals in the United States. ICE has established standards for immigration detention related to complaint processes, medical care, and other areas. The joint explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review ICE's management and oversight of detention facilities and detention-related complaints. This report examines ICE and other DHS entities' mechanisms for (1) overseeing compliance with immigration detention facility standards and how ICE uses oversight information to address any identified deficiencies; and (2) receiving and addressing detainee complaints, and how ICE uses complaint information. GAO analyzed documentation and data on inspections and complaints at facilities that held detainees for over 72 hours during the last 3 fiscal years—2017 through 2019; visited 10 facilities selected based on inspection results and other factors; and interviewed officials. GAO is making six recommendations, including that ICE ensures oversight data are recorded in a format conducive to analysis, regularly conducts trend analyses of oversight data and detention-related complaint data, and requires that ERO field offices record the resolutions of detention-related complaints. DHS concurred. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler, (202) 512-8777) or gamblerr@gao.gov.
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    William M. Kelly Inc. and Omega Imaging Inc., together, operate 11 radiology facilities in Southern California, have agreed to pay the United States $5 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by knowingly submitting claims to Medicare and the military healthcare program, TRICARE, for unsupervised radiology services and services provided at unaccredited facilities, the Department of Justice announced today.
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    Federal and state courts reported a combined 10 percent increase in authorized wiretaps in 2019, compared with 2018, according to the Judiciary’s 2019 Wiretap Report. Convictions in cases involving electronic surveillance also increased.
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  • Private Equity CEO Enters into Non-prosecution Agreement on International Tax Fraud Scheme and Agrees to Pay $139 Million, to Abandon $182 Million in Charitable Contribution Deductions, and to Cooperate with Government Investigations
    In Crime News
    Robert F. Smith, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of a San Francisco based private equity company, entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement (the agreement) with the Department of Justice, for his involvement from 2000 through 2015 in an illegal scheme to conceal income and evade millions in taxes by using an offshore trust structure and offshore bank accounts, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Tax Division, U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson for the Northern District of California, and Chief of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Jim Lee. In that agreement, Smith admits his involvement in the illegal scheme and agrees to cooperate with ongoing investigations and to pay back taxes and penalties in full. 
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    In Crime News
    Today, Attorney General William P. Barr and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump announced that the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), has awarded $35,104,338 in grant funding to provide safe, stable housing and appropriate services to victims of human trafficking.
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  • General Aviation: Stakeholders Expressed Mixed Views of FAA Policies on Private Pilot Expense Sharing
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) primary rationale for its policies on private pilots' sharing expenses with passengers is based on passenger expectations of safety. FAA policies allow private pilots to share the cost of certain flight expenses with passengers but prohibit these pilots from engaging in “common carriage,” which is communicating to the public a willingness to fly in exchange for compensation. These policies generally prohibit pilots from using the internet to find passengers. FAA officials said these policies are in place because they are concerned the public might expect a similar level of safety on private expense-sharing flights as commercial flights. However, the safety record of commercial aviation is better than that of private flying (general aviation). For example, according to data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), commercial carriers had a fatal accident rate around 30 times lower than general aviation in 2018. FAA officials said their goal for FAA's 2020 guidance on expense sharing was to restate and clarify existing policies. Example of an Aircraft Private Pilots Could Use for Expense-Sharing Flights Stakeholders described benefits of expense sharing but expressed mixed views on FAA's policies and guidance. For example, stakeholders cited potential economic benefits to the general aviation sector and a potential expansion of the pool of future professional pilots as benefits of expense sharing. Most (eight of 13) stakeholders said FAA's 2020 guidance on expense-sharing is clear and provides sufficient information. However, some stakeholders said the guidance could provide more definitive examples of allowed expense-sharing flights, and others disagreed with how FAA defined certain concepts such as how pilots can be compensated for flying passengers. Also, stakeholders split on whether FAA should allow pilots to use the internet to find expense-sharing passengers. Seven of 15 stakeholders, including four representatives from companies with expense-sharing applications, said FAA should allow pilots to use the internet to find these passengers by citing, for example, ongoing positive experiences in Europe. However, eight stakeholders, including six of seven professional organizations, said FAA should not. These stakeholders cited safety-related risks of expense sharing including what they characterized as FAA's limited capacity to enforce current regulations and flights using less experienced pilots. Private flying is expensive, and FAA allows private pilots to reduce their costs by carrying passengers and sharing certain flight expenses with them. However, private pilots cannot engage in common carriage. If pilots do engage in common carriage, they are subject to FAA's more stringent regulations covering commercial air carriers. Some private pilots have sought to use internet applications to find expense-sharing passengers. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 directed FAA to issue advisory guidance clarifying how private pilots may share expenses. In February 2020, FAA released this guidance as an advisory circular. The Act also includes a provision for GAO to review FAA's policies on expense sharing. This report describes: (1) FAA's rationale for its policies on how private pilots may find expense-sharing passengers and (2) selected stakeholder perspectives on FAA's policies and the risks and benefits of arranging these expense-sharing flights online. GAO interviewed FAA officials on how FAA developed its policies and guidance related to expense sharing. GAO also reviewed FAA's data on enforcement actions related to expense sharing and safety data from NTSB. In addition, GAO interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 15 private-sector stakeholders, including professional organizations, such as trade groups representing general aviation pilots, companies that developed expense-sharing internet applications, and flying clubs. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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  • Defense Health Care: Efforts to Ensure Beneficiaries Access Specialty Care and Receive Timely and Effective Care
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has a general expectation that its health care beneficiaries, upon receiving an urgent referral to see a specialist, will access that specialty care in 3 days or less. GAO's analysis of 16,754 urgent referrals at military treatment facilities (MTF) shows that DOD beneficiaries accessed specialty care services in 3 days or less for more than half of the urgent referrals. About 9 percent of the urgent referrals involved beneficiaries waiting 3 weeks or longer to be seen. According to DOD officials, some beneficiaries may have waited longer than 3 days due to factors such as patient preference, appointment availability, or waiting for lab results. Time to access care varied by specialty, with beneficiaries urgently referred to ophthalmology generally seeing a specialist the fastest, and those urgently referred to mental health and oncology generally waiting the longest. According to DOD officials, MTFs are responsible for monitoring beneficiaries' access to specialty care through urgent referrals. GAO found that the monitoring processes used varied by MTF and specialty care clinic at the five selected MTFs that GAO reviewed. For example, officials from one MTF told GAO they centrally manage all urgent referrals using a daily report to address any delays, while officials from another MTF told GAO that individual specialty care clinics are responsible for managing their own urgent referrals. DOD officials acknowledged such variation and MTFs have been directed to centralize their referral management and monitoring processes—an effort that is currently underway. GAO found that DOD monitors the rates at which beneficiaries receive timely and effective care, in part, through 10 outpatient health care quality measures. These measures allow DOD to make comparisons to civilian health care systems, and they are reviewed by various DOD groups at least quarterly. However, DOD officials told GAO that since October 2017, they have been unable to monitor nine of the 10 measures for MTFs using Military Health System (MHS) Genesis, DOD's new electronic health record system. According to the officials, DOD's current data warehouse—a system that stores some MHS Genesis data and can be used by MTFs to create reports on quality measures—is not capable of producing accurate reports for those measures. DOD officials told GAO they expect to implement a new data warehouse by the end of 2020. DOD officials also said they are importing data related to quality measures into another system used for quality monitoring; however, DOD does not have a targeted date for completing these data imports. Until these actions are fully implemented, groups responsible for monitoring quality care will continue to lack the data needed to offer assurance that the growing number of MTFs using MHS Genesis are providing beneficiaries with timely and effective care that will lead to better health outcomes. A draft of this report recommended that DOD establish a timeline to complete importing the quality measure-related data from MHS Genesis into DOD's system used for quality monitoring. In its review of the draft, DOD concurred with the recommendation and established a timeline for importing the data, to be available in DOD's system no later than May 2021. After reviewing the information DOD provided, GAO removed the recommendation from the final report. DOD is responsible for ensuring that beneficiaries have access to specialty care for conditions that, while not life-threatening, require immediate attention, as well as for ensuring that beneficiaries receive timely and effective care for certain routine or other services. A report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review the quality of health care in the MHS. This report examines (1) the timeliness with which beneficiaries access specialty care at MTFs through urgent referrals and DOD's efforts to monitor access, and (2) DOD's use of quality measures to monitor and improve the rates of timely and effective care received by beneficiaries at MTFs. GAO examined relevant policies, national DOD referral data (a total of 16,754 urgent referrals) for a 1-year period ending August 2019, and the most recent available quality measure data (April 2020). GAO interviewed officials from five MTFs, selected for variation in military services, geography, provision of select specialty services, and use of the electronic health record system. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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