Cale Brown, Principal Deputy Spokesperson
We are deeply saddened by the passing on December 16 of His Excellency Abdallah Wafy, Ambassador of Niger to the United States, and offer our sincere condolences to his family and all those who worked with him. Ambassador Wafy was a valued partner and friend who worked tirelessly over the years in Washington, New York, and Niamey, to strengthen the relationship between our two countries.
Ambassador Wafy’s long career in law enforcement and diplomacy reflected his strong commitment to public service. During his service with United Nations Peacekeeping missions and as Niger’s Ambassador to the United Nations and later to the United States, Ambassador Wafy advanced peace and security for both Niger and the wider region. Through his leadership and skillful diplomacy, he increased understanding of the diversity of the countries of the Sahel and helped forge deeper bonds between Niger and the United States.
The Department of State honors Ambassador Wafy’s leadership and service.
- Transportation Security Administration: Clear Policies and Oversight Needed for Designation of Sensitive Security InformationBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021Concerns have arisen about whether the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is applying the Sensitive Security Information (SSI) designation consistently and appropriately. SSI is one category of "sensitive but unclassified" information--information generally restricted from public disclosure but that is not classified. GAO determined (1) TSA's SSI designation and removal procedures, (2) TSA's internal control procedures in place to ensure that it consistently complies with laws and regulations governing the SSI process and oversight thereof, and (3) TSA's training to its staff that designate SSI.TSA does not have guidance and procedures, beyond its SSI regulations, providing criteria for determining what constitutes SSI or who can make the designation. Such guidance is required under GAO's standards for internal controls. In addition, TSA has no policies on accounting for or tracking documents designated as SSI. As a result, TSA was unable to determine either the number of TSA employees actually designating information as SSI or the number of documents designated SSI. Further, apart from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests or other requests for disclosure outside of TSA, there are no written policies and procedures or systematic reviews for determining if and when an SSI designation should be removed. TSA also lacks adequate internal controls to provide reasonable assurance that its SSI designation process is being consistently applied across TSA. Specifically, TSA has not established and documented policies and internal control procedures for monitoring compliance with the regulations, policies, and procedures governing its SSI designation process, including ongoing monitoring of the process. TSA officials told us that its new SSI Program Office will ultimately be responsible for ensuring that staff are consistently applying SSI designations. This office, which was established in February 2005, will also develop and implement all TSA policy concerning SSI handling, training, and protection. More detailed information on how this office's activities will be operationalized was not yet available. Specifically, TSA officials provided no written policies formalizing the office's role, responsibilities, and authority. TSA has not developed policies and procedures for providing specialized training for all of its employees making SSI designations on how information is identified and evaluated for protected status. Development of such training for SSI designations is needed to help ensure consistent implementation of the designation authority across TSA. While TSA has provided a training briefing on SSI regulations to certain staff, such as the FOIA staff, it does not have specialized training in place to instruct employees on how to consistently designate information as SSI. In addition, TSA has no written policies identifying who is responsible for ensuring that employees comply with SSI training requirements.[Read More…]
- Hospice Administrator Sentenced for Role in Hospice Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsFebruary 19, 2021The administrator of a Southern California hospice was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in prison for his role in a multimillion dollar hospice fraud scheme.[Read More…]
- United States Sanctions Russian Government Research InstitutionBy Sam NewsOctober 23, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on the Life of Judge Robert KatzmannBy Sam NewsJune 10, 2021U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made the following statement on the passing of Judge Robert Katzmann:[Read More…]
- U.S.-Bulgaria Sign Nuclear Cooperation Memorandum of UnderstandingBy Sam NewsOctober 23, 2020
- Departure of Qatar Airways Charter Flight from KabulBy Sam NewsSeptember 9, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Wife of “El Chapo” Arrested on International Drug Trafficking ChargesBy Sam NewsFebruary 22, 2021The wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, leader of a Mexican drug trafficking organization known as the Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested today in Virginia on charges related to her alleged involvement in international drug trafficking.[Read More…]
- Veterans Community Care Program: Improvements Needed to Help Ensure Timely Access to CareBy Sam NewsSeptember 28, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established an appointment scheduling process for the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) that allows up to 19 days to complete several steps from VA providers creating a referral to community care staff reviewing that referral. However, as the figure shows, VA has not specified the maximum amount of time veterans should have to wait to receive care through the program. GAO previously recommended in 2013 the need for an overall wait-time measure for veterans to receive care under a prior VA community care program. Subsequent to VA not implementing this recommendation, GAO again recommended in 2018 that VA establish an achievable wait-time goal as part of its new community care program (the VCCP). Potential Allowable Wait Time to Obtain Care through the Veterans Community Care Program Note: This figure illustrates potential allowable wait times in calendar days for eligible veterans who are referred to the VCCP through routine referrals (non-emergent), and have VA medical center staff—Referral Coordination Team (RCT) and community care staff (CC staff)—schedule the appointments on their behalf. VA has not yet implemented GAO's 2018 recommendation that VA establish an achievable wait-time goal. Under the VA MISSION Act, VA is assigned responsibility for ensuring that veterans' appointments are scheduled in a timely manner—an essential component of quality health care. Given VA's lack of action over the prior 7 years implementing wait-time goals for various community care programs, congressional action is warranted to help achieve timely health care for veterans. Regarding monitoring of the initial steps of the scheduling process, GAO found that VA is using metrics that are remnants from the previous community care program, which are inconsistent with the time frames established in the VCCP scheduling process. This limits VA's ability to determine the effectiveness of the VCCP and to identify areas for improvement. In June 2019, VA implemented its new community care program, the VCCP, as required by the VA MISSION Act of 2018. Under the VCCP, VAMC staff are responsible for community care appointment scheduling; their ability to execute this new responsibility has implications for veterans receiving community care in a timely manner. GAO was asked to review VCCP appointment scheduling. This report examines, among other issues, the VCCP appointment scheduling process VA established and VA's monitoring of that process. GAO reviewed documentation, such as scheduling policies, and referral data related to the VCCP and assessed VA's relevant processes. GAO conducted site visits to five VAMCs in the first region to transition to VA's new provider network, and interviewed VAMC staff and a non-generalizable sample of community providers receiving referrals from those VAMCs. GAO also interviewed VA and contractor officials. GAO recommends that Congress consider requiring VA to establish an overall wait-time measure for the VCCP. GAO is also making three recommendations to VA, including that it align its monitoring metrics with the VCCP appointment scheduling process. VA did not concur with one of GAO's recommendations related to aligning monitoring metrics to VCCP scheduling policy time frames. GAO continues to believe this recommendation is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Four California Residents Found Guilty of Scheming to Fraudulently Obtain Millions of Dollars in COVID-19 Relief ProgramsBy Sam NewsJune 29, 2021A federal jury convicted four California residents on June 25, for scheming to submit fraudulent loan applications seeking millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID-19 relief funds.[Read More…]
- Zimbabwe Independence DayBy Sam NewsApril 18, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- NASA’s Perseverance Rover Will Carry First Spacesuit Materials to MarsBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020In a Q&A, spacesuit [Read More…]
- Briefing with Senior State Department Officials On U.S. Engagements at the United Nations and on the Margins of High-Level WeekBy Sam NewsSeptember 22, 2021
- Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Claire McCusker Murray Closing Remarks for the 2020 Violence Against Women Tribal ConsultationBy Sam NewsNovember 2, 2020Thanks so much for that kind introduction, Laura. And thanks to all the tribal leaders who joined us this week and helped to make the 15th Annual Violence Against Women Government-to-Government Tribal Consultation a meaningful step towards enhancing the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women and their communities.[Read More…]
- Identifying Organizations Engaged in Anti-Semitic BDS ActivitiesBy Sam NewsNovember 19, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- DHS Employee Morale: Some Improvements Made, but Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Employee EngagementBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and each of its major components face the same key drivers of employee engagement—as measured by the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (OPM FEVS)—as the rest of the federal government (see table). Higher scores on the OPM FEVS indicate that an agency has the conditions that lead to higher employee engagement, a component of morale. Key Drivers of Employee Engagement across the Federal Government, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and within Each DHS Component Agency DHS has implemented department-wide employee engagement initiatives, including efforts to support DHS employees and their families. Additionally, DHS's major operational components, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration, among others, have developed annual action plans to improve employee engagement. However, DHS has not issued written guidance on action planning and components do not consistently include key elements in their plans, such as outcome-based performance measures. Establishing required action plan elements through written guidance and monitoring the components to ensure they use measures to assess the results of their actions to adjust, reprioritize, and identify new actions to improve employee engagement would better position DHS to make additional gains in this area. In addition, approval from the DHS Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) and component leadership for these plans would help ensure department-wide commitment to improving employee engagement. DHS has faced challenges with low employee morale and engagement—an employee's sense of purpose and commitment—since it began operations in 2003. DHS has made some progress in this area, but data from the 2019 OPM FEVS show that DHS continues to rank lowest among similarly-sized federal agencies. GAO has reported that increasing employee engagement can lead to improved agency performance, and it is critical that DHS do so given the importance of its missions. GAO was asked to review DHS employee morale. This report addresses (1) drivers of employee engagement at DHS and (2) the extent that DHS has initiatives to improve employee engagement and ensures effective engagement action planning. To answer these objectives, GAO used regression analyses of 2019 OPM FEVS data to identify the key drivers of engagement at DHS. GAO also reviewed component employee engagement action plans and met with officials from DHS and component human capital offices as well as unions and employee groups. GAO is making three recommendations. DHS OCHCO should, in its anticipated written guidance, establish the elements required in employee engagement action plans and the approval process for these plans. OCHCO should also monitor components' action planning to ensure they review and assess the results of their actions to improve employee engagement. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or CurrieC@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Department of State Named 2020 Government Employer of the Year by CAREERS& the disABLED MagazineBy Sam NewsJanuary 29, 2021
- Secretary Pompeo Approves New Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies BureauBy Sam NewsJanuary 7, 2021
- Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister ChungBy Sam NewsMarch 17, 2021
- U.S. Ports of Entry: Update on CBP Public-Private Partnership ProgramsBy Sam NewsJanuary 29, 2021Since GAO's January 2020 report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security, continued to expand its public-private partnership programs—the Reimbursable Services Program (RSP) and the Donations Acceptance Program (DAP). The RSP allows partners, such as port authorities or local municipalities that own or manage ports, to reimburse CBP for providing services that exceed CBP's normal operations, such as paying overtime for CBP personnel that provide services at ports of entry (POE) outside regular business hours. The DAP enables partners to donate property or provide funding for POE infrastructure improvements. Regarding RSP, in 2020, CBP selected an additional 25 RSP applications for partnerships, bringing the total of RSP selections to 236 since 2013. There are many factors that CBP considers when reviewing applications for RSP including operational feasibility, and CBP may choose to not select certain applications. According to officials, CBP denied three RSP applications since GAO's January 2020 report. For example, CBP denied one application because the proposed agreement site was located too far away from the nearest CBP facility to make CBP officer travel time practicable. As of October 2020, CBP and its partners executed 157 memoranda of understanding (MOU) from RSP partnerships that they entered into from fiscal years 2013 through 2020. These MOUs outline how agreements are to be implemented at one or more POE. Of those 157 MOUs, 11 cover agreements at land POEs, 49 cover agreements at sea POEs, and 99 cover agreements at air POEs. The majority of MOUs executed since 2013 were at air POEs and focused on freight, cargo, and traveler processing. Although the number of RSP partnerships has increased, the growth in the total number of reimbursable CBP officer assignments, officer overtime hours, and the amount of reimbursed funds provided to CBP declined significantly in 2020. CBP officials explained that the decline in trade and travel at U.S. POEs contributed to the decline in requests for RSP services. Regarding DAP, in fiscal year 2020, CBP entered into one new donation acceptance partnership, bringing the total number of agreements to 39 since fiscal year 2015. Partners span a variety of sectors such as government agencies, private companies, and airline companies. Correspondingly, program donations served a variety of purposes such as expanding inspection facility infrastructure, providing biometric detection services, and providing luggage for canine training. As of October 2020, 27 out of 39 these projects, or 69 percent, were at land POEs. CBP officials estimated that the total value of all donations entered into between September 2015 and October 2020 was $218.2 million. On a daily basis in fiscal year 2020, over 650,000 passengers and pedestrians and nearly 78,000 truck, rail, and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately $6.6 billion entered the United States through 328 U.S. land, sea, and air POEs, according to CBP. To help meet demand for CBP inspection services, since 2013, CBP has entered into public-private partnerships under RSP and DAP. The Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2016 included a provision for GAO to annually review the agreements along with the funds and donations that CBP has received under RSP and DAP. GAO has issued three annual reports on the programs—in January 2020, March 2019, and March 2018. This fourth annual report updates key information from GAO's January 2020 report by examining the status of CBP public-private partnership program agreements, including the purposes for which CBP used the funds and donations from these agreements in fiscal year 2020. GAO collected and analyzed all RSP agreements, DAP agreements, and MOUs for both programs for fiscal years 2019 and 2020, excluding those analyzed in GAO's January 2020 report. GAO also analyzed data on use of the programs and interviewed CBP officials to identify any significant changes to how the programs are administered. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Gender Pay Differences: The Pay Gap for Federal Workers Has Continued to Narrow, but Better Quality Data on Promotions Are NeededBy Sam NewsDecember 3, 2020The overall pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce has narrowed considerably, from 19 cents on the dollar in 1999 to 7 cents in 2017, but the current pay gap is greater for certain groups of women, according to GAO's analysis of data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Two trends help explain why the pay gap has narrowed: (1) men and women have become more similar in measurable factors related to pay, such as occupation; and (2) women have earned slightly higher rates of pay increases than men. In 2017, most of the overall pay gap—or 6 of 7 cents on the dollar—was not explained by differences between men and women in measurable factors (see figure). This unexplained portion of the pay gap may be due to factors not captured in the data GAO analyzed, such as work experience outside the federal government, or factors that cannot be measured, such as discrimination and individual choices. In 2017, the overall and unexplained gaps were greater for certain groups. For example, compared to White men, the unexplained gap was greater for Hispanic/Latina, Black, and American Indian or Alaska Native women than for White and Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander women. Pay Gap between Men and Women in the Federal Workforce, 1999 to 2017 OPM and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have taken steps to analyze data on the pay gap and help agencies address it. From 2014 to 2016, OPM implemented a government-wide strategy to address the pay gap, and officials said their future efforts will include monitoring the pay gap periodically. EEOC annually collects workforce data from agencies and provides related technical assistance, and officials said they plan to expand these efforts. These data include promotions by gender and race and ethnicity, which EEOC and agencies use to identify potential barriers to career advancement, but GAO found these data were not sufficiently complete. Of the 51 data tables GAO requested, 35 were either missing or had at least one incomplete data element. EEOC officials said this is partly due to promotion applicants not being required to provide demographic information. However, EEOC has not fully assessed the reliability of these data and generally does not follow up with agencies about missing data between technical assistance visits. Without taking steps to assess and improve the quality of these data in a timelier manner, EEOC may miss opportunities to ensure equal opportunity for all promotion applicants. As the nation's largest employer, the federal government employed about 2.7 million workers in 2019. Although the pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce is smaller than it is for the entire U.S. workforce and has narrowed over time, studies show that pay disparities continue to exist. GAO was asked to explore the current status of pay equity in the federal workforce. This report examines how the pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce has changed since 1999, and what factors account for any remaining gap; and the extent to which OPM and EEOC have monitored and taken steps to address the pay gap in the federal workforce, including assessing potential disparities in promotions; among other objectives. GAO analyzed OPM's Enterprise Human Resources Integration data on about 2.1 million federal employees from September 1999 to September 2017 (the most recent reliable data available at the time of GAO's review); reviewed federal agency promotion data collected by EEOC for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 (the most recent available data); and interviewed OPM and EEOC officials and reviewed relevant documentation. GAO recommends that EEOC take steps to assess the quality of federal agency promotion data and address missing data with agencies in a timelier manner. EEOC neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or email@example.com.[Read More…]